New oil war in Asia: Saudi Arabia versus Russia

New oil war in Asia: Saudi Arabia versus Russia

A worker of an oil company cycling through a store yard. To get an edge in the competition with Russia, Saudi Arabia will have to reduce global oil prices. (File photo)

A worker of an oil company cycling through a store yard. To get an edge in the competition with Russia, Saudi Arabia will have to reduce global oil prices. (File photo)
By ALEJANDRO BARBAJOSA

REUTERS SINGAPORE

Top exporter Saudi Arabia is struggling to sell more crude to Asia because rival producer Russia has taken an expanding share of the world’s fastest-growing market by pumping more oil into the region.

To get an edge in the competition with Russia and ship more barrels into Asia, the Saudis will have to take the next painful step in reducing global oil prices − slashing their own.

The kingdom has ignored opposition from fellow OPEC members and moved to boost oil supplies to cool prices that have slowed economic growth. Most of any increase in Saudi supplies would flow eastwards to feed rapid Asian economic expansion.

Russian supply to northeast Asia is almost five times more than in 2008 as crude flows through Russia’s East Siberia-Pacific Ocean (ESPO) pipeline.

“Not only will the Saudis need to amend official selling prices (OSPs) to a level that would entice refiners, but you may also see competition from alternatives,” said Harry Tchilinguirian, head of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas in London. “And if ESPO keeps building up, the pressure keeps on growing.”

A glut in North American crude markets has made it unprofitable to send ESPO crude to the US West Coast, leaving more supply in Asia. The US typically absorbs the surplus.

The emergency release of oil stocks by International Energy Agency members Japan and South Korea, two of the region’s top consuming nations, is adding even more oil to the market. With so much crude on offer, refiners have been reluctant to sign up to buy more from Saudi Arabia.

ESPO is also higher quality than most Saudi crude, giving refiners that lack capacity to process heavier crude little incentive to buy more Arab grades.

Oil pumped through the ESPO pipeline has changed the game in Asia, previously almost completely captive to Middle East sellers. Russia sells 300,000 barrels per day to China, while another 600,000 barrels a day can be shipped to the Pacific and on to the Americas and even Europe.

OPEC member Saudi Arabia and independent producer Russia pump almost a quarter of the globe’s crude, each holding a similar share of about 10 million barrels a day. While the Saudis have restrained output since the financial crisis with OPEC agreements, Russia’s non-alignment has allowed it to pump freely.

Russia is pumping ESPO crude directly to China through a new pipeline section that opened this year, obviating the need for some imports from Saudi Arabia. In addition, rising exports of east Siberian oil through the Russian Pacific port of Kozmino have gained acceptance among refiners in three continents.

“Saudi Arabia and Russia will always be competing for market share in most regions,” said John Vautrain, director at Purvin & Gertz energy consultants in Singapore, adding that “from a geopolitical perspective, they both have interests to supply a diversified base of customers in Europe, Asia, and the US.”

“The waterborne nature of ESPO from Kozmino is allowing Russia to target northeast Asian markets that it could not reach economically before, and it’s also better quality than most of the Saudi crude,” Mr. Vautrain said.

Five ESPO cargoes due to load in Kozmino by early August have yet to be sold, as the arbitrage to the US West Coast remains closed.

Tightness for Brent-related grades in Europe because of Libya’s civil war and wide discounts for crude priced off the Dubai benchmark, including ESPO, have created unprecedented opportunities for east Siberian cargoes to move as far away as Spain, at least on paper.

That could mean more Russian crude produced halfway round the world and priced off Dubai is shipped to fill a gap that the Saudis could not plug in the Mediterranean.

“The ESPO quality is closer to the Libyan crude,” a trading source familiar with purchases of Saudi crude said. “It’s also attractive versus crude from West Africa, which is linked to more expensive Brent.”

The discount of Dubai crude to Brent widened to $9.20 a barrel on June 15, the biggest discount since October 2004, less than a week after the Saudis signaled they would increase supplies to Asia. That discount prompted Repsol-YPF, Spain’s largest oil company, to buy a cargo of ESPO Blend.

“There may be more opportunistic purchases of ESPO Blend by European refiners subject to freight conditions,” Mr. Tchilinguirian from BNP Paribas said.

“Brent is supported by a limited spare production capacity in light quality crude and Dubai will be kept under pressure as OPEC Gulf producers try to place additional medium to heavy barrels in the market.”

The competition for market share in Asia is the latest in a long tussle between the two giants of the oil-producing world. Moscow provoked the ire of some OPEC members after failing to deliver on pledges to trim output in line with record cuts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in late 2008.

The race between the two to conquer the Asian oil market could benefit consumers from China to the US as it puts pressure on prices just as the global economic recovery falters under the burden of high energy costs.

“There has never really been much cooperation between Russia and OPEC,” said Greg Priddy, global oil analyst at Eurasia Group in Washington. “The Saudis have never expected Russia to cooperate or share their burden as a swing producer.”

For peace to prevail

For peace to prevail

Barack Obama’s claim that the war in Afghanistan has ‘turned the corner’ enough for the US to begin its withdrawal hardly reflects the reality. If anything, the situation in Afghanistan has seldom seemed more parlous. There were more civilian deaths in May (368) than in any other month since 2007. Neither have the Afghan security personnel acquired a level of proficiency needed to cope with the Taliban challenge; nor will they by 2014, when the Americans plan to complete their withdrawal. Besides, the Afghan army being overwhelmingly Tajik in composition is hardly national and hence lacks stature.

Secondly, the legitimacy of Afghan state institutions has not taken root. The current parliament, for example, is being reduced to a rubber stamp with Karzai’s machinations, one of which is to have 62 opposing MPs disqualified by a special tribunal appointed for this very purpose. Moreover, Karzai has neither shaken off his image of a quisling nor demonstrated panache for leadership. Under him massive corruption has transpired with his brothers and cousins taking the lead.

In other words, the American strategy in Afghanistan has little to do with Afghanistan ‘turning the corner’ and more with Obama’s internal compulsions. The chief of which is public disenchantment with the inconclusive Afghan War; changing opinion in Congress due to the debt crisis and growing cost considerations; reduced concern about Al-Qaeda after OBL’s killing and, of course, the presidential election campaign that will soon begin.

Hence, Obama’s claim that the worst is over in Afghanistan is beguiling to say the least. Not that it fooled anyone at home or abroad. The ‘isolationist’ lobby in Congress finds the cut-back too small and the withdrawal process too dilatory, while ‘interventionists’ are appalled that he is pulling out when so much remains to be done. Abroad it is being taken as an admission of defeat.

But what concerns Pakistan more than the withdrawal plan is the language in which it was couched. ‘We will not tolerate safe havens in Pakistan and we will hold you to your commitment to fight (our) enemies’, said Obama, in nearly those words. Hillary was more forthright, ‘Pakistan must fight or else forget the cash and weapons promised’. And Gates, as he leaves office, chimed in with ‘We don’t need Pakistan either to fight or to win in Afghanistan.’

The New York Times, that repository of American-Jewish wisdom, followed with a bunch of stories hinting at the ISI’s complicity in OBL’s extended sojourn in Abbottabad. An ‘intriguing lead’ from the cell phone belonging to OBL’s courier sufficed to give the story front page coverage. Reacting with exceptional alacrity, the ISPR succinctly claimed that ‘actions on the ground (by the ISI in apprehending numerous Al-Qaeda terrorists) spoke louder than the words of the NYT’.

Soon after announcing the troop withdrawal, Obama described the current US-Pakistan relationship as ‘more honest’ than before. What he perhaps meant was that the while the people of both countries had always been honest about their mutual suspicions, the truth had finally caught up with the situation. However, this is not the time for recriminations and especially not for Pakistan since it has too much at stake to indulge in suspicions and aspersions. What then are the prospects for peace?

On Afghan peace, the US continues to reiterate that the Afghan Taliban must be prepared to concede on three things: making a break with Al-Qaeda; abandoning violence; and accepting the existing Afghan constitution.

Making a break with Al-Qaeda should not be a big problem for the mainstream Taliban leadership. The latter lost its grip on power because of Al-Qaeda’s declared war on the US and its use of Afghan territory as its headquarters until both were ousted after 9/11. Abandoning violence will test their intentions with regard to reconciliation and giving up any ambition they may still harbour to regain the control they enjoyed before 9/11. But more challenging will be accepting the existing constitution. Of course, if they decide to convert to a political force and abandon their old ambitions, then accepting the constitution will be less difficult but they may still want changes that decentralise the country in favour of more power for the provinces.

The most challenging will be the permanent military presence the US seems determined to maintain in Afghanistan. Without some resolution of this issue, it is impossible to start serious negotiations or to bring any negotiations to a positive conclusion. A trade-off on this issue will have to occur at some stage for an eventual peace settlement.

For the moment, at any rate, serious negotiations seem premature. This is not just because some tough issues may have to be discussed confidentially first to see if either side is prepared to show reciprocal flexibility, but also because we have another year of war under Obama’s withdrawal plan.

The Pentagon is going to use this period to fight the Taliban while it still has the surge troops at its disposal and the Taliban will likely hold their ground and bounce back after the combat withdrawal starts in earnest next summer. So even if there are some tactical shifts on the ground, at the political level, a stalemate will most likely persist.

Yet, it would be myopic for the Obama administration to wait another year before it signals serious interest in a negotiated peace. Another year of intense fighting would mean little to the Taliban if only because they can sit it out until the going gets easier next year. It is the US that faces a serious problem with its aggressive military strategy. A year will not make much difference to the ground situation. Indeed, the US may have to concede some ground seized from the Taliban once the Afghan army takes over and is unable to consolidate those gains, as is widely accepted to happen.

So instead of prevaricating or delaying the inevitable, the US should abandon its war strategy altogether and replace it with a peace strategy. And that will not only require showing some flexibility towards the Afghan Taliban but also a major overhaul of its underlying policy – that is, a paradigm shift to a multilateral approach. Just as its unilateral military approach has failed, so will America’s political approach if that too remains essentially unilateral when stripped of its rhetoric.

Unless this shift occurs, the key regional players, notably Pakistan, will not find enough space to help Afghanistan make the difficult transition from war to peace. These persisting problems should not however deter Pakistan from rebuilding its frayed ties with Kabul. The two countries must recognise their legitimate interest in improved relations.

Pakistan’s supreme interest lies in helping to bring about reconciliation in Afghanistan. If bilateral ties move forward, it will be a lot less difficult to counteract American unilateralism. So even if a stalemate persists for the moment, there is a lot that a regional diplomacy initiative can do in the meantime to lay the ground work for an eventual peace process.

Unfortunately, that may not happen. Having lost his patience, Obama has designated Pakistan as the next battle ground for America’s War on Terror and seems eager to launch his complement of drones and Special Ops teams. To what end is clear, but to what avail, is not. Unshackling the United States from its failed policies in the Muslim world seems a task beyond Obama.

To sum up, if the veritable Afghan knot is to be untied, the irreducible minimum prerequisites for peace would be: the Afghan Taliban transform themselves into a political force; the US abandons a permanent military presence in Afghanistan; and Pakistan helps out in the Afghan reconciliation process. All these prerequisites presuppose that the principal protagonists (Afghanistan, the US and Pakistan) can be convinced to trade off irreconcilable ambitions for a pluralistic peace.

Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

Pouring the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Down the Economic Rat Hole

[SEE:  Manipulating Oil Prices To Hide Economic Collapse for a While]

IEA Oil Dump A Disaster In The Making

Brandon Smith

It’s amazing. In the wake of the 2008 derivatives and housing bubble collapse, created by the U.S. Treasury and the private Federal Reserve with engineered low interest rates and easy money designed to artificially pump up the economy after the effects of the dot-com bust, the faltering markets of 2000-2001, and the rapidly depreciating dollar, we have now seen these same entities pour Trillions, yes, TRILLIONS in fiat injections into every conceivable corner of the markets. They have spent incredible sums on toxic equities (worthless equities, and don’t let anyone tell you different) to “ease” the debt spiral, they have propped up almost every large international bank, they have propped up the Federal Government and the Dollar itself with sizable purchases of our own Treasury debt, and, they have even thrown money into the pockets of foreign institutions and corporate beggars. Keep in mind, that all the debt that these actions generate is eventually placed squarely in the lap of one group of people; the American Taxpayer!

They have manipulated unemployment figures. They have consistently released completely fraudulent CPI (inflation) figures based on calculations which neglect numerous factors that used to be counted only two decades ago. They have used coordinated naked short selling in precious metals markets to hold back the natural spikes in gold and silver values. They have blamed every negative development in the economy (that they could not hide) on extraneous circumstances and outside culprits rather than themselves. They have done all this, to conjure the illusion of recovery for an increasingly agitated general public.

So much tap dancing and snake oil selling, and all it took, was the pain of $4 a gallon gas to wipe everything away…

That’s right, when the cost of driving to work, driving to shop, or driving for vacation doubles, the naïve notion that everything is perfectly normal goes right out the window. Americans complain a lot, but they rarely accept a bad situation as inexorable and take measures to fix it themselves.There is always the “chance” that things will get better tomorrow, or so we tell ourselves. We just ride the wave, and expect the pack of sharks at our back will never quite catch up to our boogie-board of blind optimism. However, when something takes a Great White sized bite out our very wallets, we take notice, and search the horizon for a bigger boat.

I have commented in the past that after only a few months of high gas prices, the wind would easily be knocked right out of our puffed up bailout driven recovery, and so far, that is exactly what is happening. Retail sales are fumbling, vacation destinations are crippled, the housing market continues to dive, in part due to the relentlessly high price of energy. When people travel less, they spend less, they buy less, and they relocate less.

In response, the IEA (International Energy Agency), an organization of 28 countries, has made a very sudden and startling announcement; each member nation will begin dumping their strategic crude oil reserves onto the global marketplace to flood the supply side of the equation, and, in theory, drive down overall oil prices. The IEA will release over 60 million barrels over at least 30 days into the markets, half of which will come directly out of the strategic reserves of the U.S. This is only the third time in the 37 year history of the IEA that this kind of action has been taken. Surely, governments around the world have finally realized that inflation in energy is going to completely derail what’s left of our financial structure, and they are working to prevent this, right…?

Some economists and many in the public will cheer this decision as a fast and decisive solution to the growing oil crises. These people would be foolish. But, perhaps we should look at the debate points from their side of the field, or even the U.S. government and the IEA’s side of the field. Below, we will look at the arguments made in support of the IEA oil dump so far, and why they are utter nonsense…

Lie #1: Oil Prices Are High Because The War In Libya Has Diminished Supply

Better throw on some boots and grab a shovel! Digging through this crap might take all day…

I’ll tell you a little secret, something mainstream economic analysts would rather you didn’t hear: there is NO lack of supply in crude markets. Sorry, the facts are clear. I realize that there are also proponents of ‘peak oil’ out there that fervently want to believe that there is a current and substantial supply side crisis in crude. Whether they are correct or not about the eventuality of peak oil remains to be seen, however, we are certainly not seeing any semblance of an oil shortage today, despite events in Libya.

Libya’s crude production before the war accounted for only 2% of the world’s entire oil output.Oil prices were climbing back towards the high levels seen in 2008 long before the “Arab Spring” broke out in the region. In February, the IEA itself reported that the world oil supply rose to an all time high of 89 million barrels per day. After the Libyan conflict erupted, this production fell by a marginal 700,000 barrels per day:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/04/iea-reports-that-world-oil-supply-rose.html

The establishment’s assertion that Libya is somehow the direct cause of energy inflation is a distraction. Libya has little or nothing to do with anything.

Lie #2: The IEA Oil Dump Will Create A Supply Glut And Drive Down Prices

The position that a “lack of supply” is the culprit behind rising gas prices is an outright falsehood. In fact, markets are already awash in oil, and our government is fully aware of this.The U.S. Energy Department has shown a global trend of falling demand for gasoline, and, the IEA has even admitted that this trend is likely to continue through 2011:

http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2011/05/17/IEA-sees-US-gasoline-demand-falling/UPI-99911305637281/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-23/-head-scratcher-petroleum-release-to-inflate-u-s-crude-glut.html

Anyone who follows the Baltic Dry Index also knows that freight shipping has collapsed back down to levels near those that appeared right before the 2008 debt bubble burst. This means around the world there is less demand for nearly ALL goods, and many commodities necessary for manufacturing, not just oil. Lower demand means greater available supply.Therefore, supply is in no way the issue when it comes to high oil prices. Again, the supply argument is a distraction away from the truth. Yet, this has been Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s primary rationale for supporting the IEA dump:

“We saw a very substantial sustained supply disruption. These reserves exist in part to offset those kind of disruptions,” Geithner told CNBC television.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/24/us-usa-economy-geithner-oil-idUSTRE75N5ZK20110624

So, to reiterate, there is ALREADY a glut in oil markets, and there has been since at least 2008.If there was actually a supply side crisis, trust me, you would know it. If you want to study a true crude supply crisis, then you only need glance back at the energy crisis of 1979 when Jimmy Carter ordered a cessation of Iranian oil imports and the Iran/Iraq war began. When you have to wait in long lines at the gas station just for a few gallons of unleaded, then you might be in the middle of a supply crisis.

After we accept the fact that supply is high and demand is low, we are then faced with an important question; why in the world would the IEA report high supply and low demand, and then expect to have any significant effect on oil markets by dumping our strategic reserves?!

Lie #3: The IEA Oil Dump Was Designed To Hit “Speculators”, Who Are The “Real” Cause Of Energy Inflation

Back in 2009 after the first major gasoline spike subsided, I spoke often about the mainstream financial media’s strange obsession with “speculators”, and the consistent use of talking points obviously designed to condition the American public into associating all oil price jumps with scheming investors in the shadows out to corner the market. My theory back then was that once oil began to skyrocket again due to the crumbling value of the dollar, establishment pundits and government officials would come back once again to point a finger at the speculator boogie man, and draw attention away from our inflating currency. Sure enough…

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/04/22/obama-form-task-force-tackle-rising-gas-prices/

As we have seen, supply is not an issue, and so speculation should not be either. However, if speculators have actually been hoarding stocks and supplies in order to artificially drive up the price of crude, then the IEA announcement should have sent them scrambling to phone their brokers to sell-sell-sell! The shock to oil markets should have been extraordinary. But what happened? Not much to write home about…

The Brent crude index saw a relatively moderate price drop from around $113-$115 a barrel down to $105 a barrel, and currently, the price is showing potential to climb back up!

Initiating the release of the strategic oil reserves of nations across the globe caused an overall price drop of a few bucks? I guess speculators weren’t having much of an effect on the market after all.

So, if speculators aren’t the cause, and neither is limited supply or high demand, then what IS the phantom driver of inflation in energy? There is only one other possible answer; devaluing currencies. The IEA can pour all the oil they want into the markets and it won’t change a damn thing, because higher supply does nothing to strengthen the foundation of the dollar, which is being swiftly eroded by the Federal Reserve. Have they accomplished a minor halt to rising prices and visible inflation? Yes. Will prices bounce back even higher in the near future as the Fed continue to inject fiat into the economy? Absolutely.

The Consequences Of Reserve Depletion

The IEA announcement comes directly after the last OPEC meeting ended in a bitter split between member countries over whether to raise crude production levels. The decision by every country except Saudi Arabia to keep production steady was the right one, of course.However, elements of the U.S. and the EU were downright unhappy with OPEC’s unwillingness to help hide the weakness of their respective currencies. An OPEC decision to increase production would have at least influenced market psychology, and allowed prices to soften for a short time. So, without OPEC support, the central banker controlled apparatus turned to the IEA to open the floodgates of petroleum. OPEC nations, as one might imagine, are not happy…

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/23/us-opec-iea-idUSTRE75M6J520110623

There are several threats associated with this development, and there is a distinct possibility that these have been deliberately provoked, if one considers that a weakened America ripe for centralization is the true goal.

First, OPEC countries could easily retaliate against the IEA by dropping their own production levels. Not only will the IEA action be meaningless (as we have shown above), it could also directly trigger a REAL supply crisis if OPEC decides to dam up the river. The U.S. is very unpopular in the Middle East, Africa, and Venezuela already. Now, the IEA has just given these regions a perfect excuse to dish out some economic vengeance.

Second, traditionally, if there is a real supply side crisis caused by OPEC, our most important stop-gap would be to tap into our strategic reserves. Unfortunately, we have just put those reserves on the market without batting an eye. So, in essence, we paid a very high price for a bullet that we will one day shoot ourselves in the foot with. That is to say, we have dumped our strategic reserves and set in motion a possible disaster which those reserves were supposed to save us from! Its mind boggling!

Third, there is very little stopping OPEC at this point from decoupling from the U.S. dollar completely, especially if crude prices continue to rise despite the IEA dump. The fact of currency inflation and dollar implosion will be so exposed that no one, not even “Tiny Tim” Geithner, will be able to deny it. Once the illusions of “limited supply” and “speculation” are cast aside, the global focus will end up squarely on the dollar, and the IEA dump will have sped up the process dramatically.

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but this country has been thoroughly gutted over the past few decades. Our industrial base has been dismantled and shipped overseas to the benefit of foreign nations and corporate feudalists. Our grain reserves, once ample, have been depleted to an all time low. Our currency has been systematically debased. And now, our oil reserves, without rational cause, are being sold off only to feed the catastrophe our government is supposedly out to stop. Are the American people being prepped like a glazed ham for the fires of the globalist oven? Is this really all due to coincidence and stupidity as skeptics claim, or is there something else at work here? I find it hard to believe that the IEA and our government are not aware that their proposed strategies conflict with their own source data, or that they are completely oblivious to the destruction they are about to reap upon our economy. The latest IEA decision is just one more piece of evidence of an agenda of deliberate financial destabilization trending towards a disaster that serves the interests of a select few, to the detriment of all the rest.

 

You can contact Brandon Smith atbrandon@alt-market.com


Israel is tearing apart the Jewish people

[In keeping with my policy of promoting peace through understanding, I offer the following article on the Jewish mind, with my accompanying clarifications, as a necessary step toward global understanding of the Palestinian issue.  The radical thinking of the Israeli government is causing an estrangement with the remainder of world Jewry, wherever they are to be found (mostly in the US, even though the numbers returning to Russia are increasing by the minute).  This separation in thinking between Israeli Jews and American Jews represents disillusionment with the Zionist ideals.  This is the only real “existential threat” to Israel’s existence. 

This estrangement is a difference of opinions, between the basic liberal beliefs of the majority of non-Israeli Jews and the fascist militarist ideas being promoted in the name of Jewish “exceptionalism,” which teaches that Jews are higher lifeforms (the only true humans) to the non-Jewish “goyim” (who are cattle). 

The Jewish writer of the following article builds on this idea of a growing separation, which will lead to either a violent dissolution of the “Jewish state,” or the downsizing of Israel with the permanent foundation of the Palestinian state.  If the end result of this downsizing is the formation of an Israeli government dedicated to “Universalist values,” then that should prove acceptable to all fair-minded observers:

Universalism in its primary meaning refers to religious, theological, and philosophical concepts with universal (“applying to all”) application or applicability….Judaism holds that God had entered into a covenant with all mankind as Noachides, and that Jews and non-Jews alike have a relationship with God.“[8]   

Noachides, abide by the following Seven Laws of Noah:

  1. Prohibition of Idolatry: You shall not have any idols before God.
  2. Prohibition of Murder: You shall not murder. (Genesis 9:6)
  3. Prohibition of Theft: You shall not steal.
  4. Prohibition of Sexual immorality: You shall not commit any of a series of sexual prohibitions, which include adulteryincest, anal intercourse between men and bestiality.
  5. Prohibition of Blasphemy: You shall not blaspheme God’s name.
  6. Dietary Law: Do not eat flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. (Genesis 9:4, as interpreted in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 59a))
  7. Requirement to have just Laws: Set up a governing body of law (e.g. Courts)

As a religious person, I can find nothing on the surface in those Seven Laws that I can object to (not considering what might be hidden); I don’t know about the rest of you.  If the state of Israel was dedicated to the universal protection of the rights of every human being and it coexisted alongside the state of Palestine, then True Peace in the Middle East could be possible.  Such a reformed state could provide a shining example to the world, if it chose to do so.  The Christian in me says, Why wouldn’t we give them a second chance, along with the Palestinian people?  In such a theoretical, nearly ideal set-up, there would be no room for racist beliefs that condemn entire peoples for the evil works of a sinister minority.

Let us hope and pray that Zionist radicalism divides the Jewish people, so that reason and sanity can prevail.]

Israel is tearing apart the Jewish people

Israel has never had a government that so blatantly violates the core values of liberal democracy, which dismisses identities of 85% of the world’s Jewry.

By Carlo Strenger

In June last year, Peter Beinart published an article in the New York Review of Books that created quite a storm by pointing out the deep estrangement between the young generation of American Jews and Israel. A year later, it is time to take stock.

Unfortunately, the situation has only grown a lot worse. In my travels to Europe I speak to predominantly Jewish audiences, but also to non-Jews who care deeply about Israel. They voice their pain and anguish openly: They want to understand what has happened to Israel. They desperately want to stand by it, but they are, increasingly, at a loss of knowing how to do so.

Evacuating settlers in 2005. Evacuating settlers in 2005.
Photo by: Nir Kafri

Their questions are simple. They know that Israel is located in one of the world’s most difficult neighborhoods; they have no illusions about the Iranian regime or Hezbollah; and they know the Hamas charter. But they don’t understand how any of this is connected with Israel’s settlement policies, the dispossession of Palestinian property in Jerusalem, and the utterly racist talk about the ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem. They feel that they no longer have arguments, even words, to defend Israel.

Israel has never had a government that so blatantly violates the core values of liberal democracy. Never has a Knesset passed laws that are as manifestly racist as the current one. Israel has had foreign ministers who were unworldly and didn’t know English; but it has never had a foreign minister whose only goal is to pander to his right-wing constituency by flaunting his disdain for international law and the idea of human rights with such relish.

Moreover, there has never been a government so totally oblivious of its relation to world Jewry. It passes laws that increase the Orthodox establishment’s stranglehold on religious affairs and personal life – completely disregarding that 85 percent of world Jewry are not Orthodox – and simply dismissing their Jewish identities and their institutions. As a result, this majority of world Jewry feels Israel couldn’t care less about its values and identity.

Israel’s Orthodox establishment claims that by monopolizing conversion to Judaism and the laws of marriage, they are preventing a rift in the Jewish people. The exact opposite is true: It is Israel’s turn toward racism that extends not only toward its Arab citizens, but toward Ethiopian youth not accepted into schools in Petah Tikva, toward Sephardic girls not allowed to study in Haredi schools in Immanuel, that most Jews in the world cannot stand for. It is the unholy coalition between nationalism and Orthodoxy that is tearing the Jewish people apart.

The overwhelming majority of American and European Jews are deeply committed to Universalist values, and have been so for most of their existence. This commitment is not a fad or an attempt to be fashionable and politically correct. It is the deeply felt conclusion the majority of world Jewry draws from Jewish history: After all that has happened to us, we Jews must never, ever allow violation of universal human rights.

This is why Jews in the U.S. have been central in the Civil Rights movement; this is why Jews in Europe will never forget that only Universalist liberals stood by Alfred Dreyfus in 1890s France. For most Jews of the world, it is simply unfathomable: How can we, who have suffered from racial and religious discrimination, use language and hold views that – as Israel Prize laureate and historian of fascism Zeev Sternhell argued – were last held in the Western world by the Franco regime?

For most of world Jewry, the idea of Yiddishkeit in the second half of the 20th century meant that Jews must never compromise on the equality of human beings before the law and the inviolability of their rights. So how can they stand by a state that continues to pay rabbis who argue that Jewish life has a sanctity that doesn’t extend to gentiles, and that it is forbidden to rent property to Arabs?

In moments of despair, I try to remember that Israel’s move to the right is driven by fear and confusion, ruthlessly fanned by politicians whose hold on power depends on the panic of Israel’s citizens. I feel it can’t be true that the country that was supposed not only to be the homeland of the Jews, but a moral beacon, is descending into such darkness. I try to remember that such times of darkness do not reflect on the human quality of a whole nation; that countries like Spain, Greece and Portugal emerged from dark times into the free world; that even though the winds of right-wing nationalism are sweeping over Israel, it is still a democracy.

Sometimes, along with the majority of Jews committed to liberal and Universalist values, I feel as if I were simply in a bad dream; that when I wake up, Herzl’s vision of a Jewish state committed to the core values of liberalism will be the reality.

Two Drones Downed In Eastern Afghanistan In One Day

US drone goes down in Afghanistan

The Taliban claim they have shot down two unmanned drones belonging to the US-led forces in Afghanistan in the past 24 hours.
An unmanned aircraft belonging to US-led forces has reportedly crashed in Afghanistan’s troubled eastern province of Kunar.

The US has not commented on the cause of the crash, which marks the second US unmanned plane going down in Afghanistan in the past 24 hours.

On Monday, another US drone crashed in Kapisa province. The Taliban claim they have shot down both planes.

The militants have proven resilient despite the presence of 150,000 US-led forces in Afghanistan. They have steadily stepped up their attacks on the US-led forces, inflicting heavy casualties and damage.

The developments also come as Taliban militants have been making inroads in different parts of Afghanistan.

The Taliban claim they have shot down several aircraft and NATO choppers in different parts of Afghanistan over the past few months.

Isolationism Is for Pussies

[The Republican division reflects the moral split that is rending the Nation, after ten years of a seemingly futile pair of wars.  It is not only the Republican Party which is torn between those who claim that America does not have the moral authority to push the world around and those who claim that Americans do not have “the balls” needed to fulfill some divine mission to bring American order to the world.  McCain is taunting his fellow party members over “isolationist” tendencies in the face of a global challenge from immoral terrorists, falling-back to his military basic training, which ingrains male machismo as the highest driving force.  Military brass have always tended to blame their mission failures on either cowardice, lack of true dedication to the task, or opposition from “treasonous” antiwar elements.  This macho militarism has been the driving force behind fifty years or more of American intervention in country after country, where we had no business being.  It is the macho interventionism that has flowed from the manly image of our manly actor/president Ronald Reagan, as he was leading a new crusade to liberate the enslaved peoples of the world, to George Bush taking up Reagan’s torch and carrying it wherever oil or gas might flow.  This macho, gung-ho war spirit was reflected by the most enthusiastic Iraqi veterans, who believed that “victory” was obtainable with the application of sufficient force and determination.  In the early years of the Iraq war is was fashionable to claim that:  “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad, but real men want to go to Teheran.”   This militarist mindset is still the impetus that is driving our leadership of both parties farther to the right.

After ten years of chasing ghosts and leaving a bloody trail of corpses from Asia to Africa, Americans have begun to question the wisdom of military leaders like McCain, who see war as the answer to all of our problems.  Americans have begun to question the apparent lack of morality of leaders who see our Nation’s responsibility only in terms of the preservation of the American security state, regardless of the number of lives taken in the process, or the greater moral question of their innocence or guilt.  If the preservation of “the American way of life” (as it is defined by elitist minds) is more important than the millions of mostly innocent lives wasted in our attempt to stave-off necessary changes to that lifestyle, then our military efforts have all been in violation of the most elemental Laws of God and the Rights of Man.

Whenever the preservation of a lifestyle is elevated over the preservation of life itself, then someone is in very grave error.  The grave error demonstrates a basic lack of morality in the minds of American military and political leaders.  We are arguing over whether or not it is cowardice to end our immoral military interventions.  The only further intervention that should be seriously contemplated is one to commence after the military mission ends, to rebuild, or to replace that which we have destroyed in our attempt to run over the world, in order to have our way, without consideration for the desires or human needs of our victims.]

Interventionists split GOP over foreign policy

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has not been able to keep his vow of staying out of the 2012 presidential primaries, but that is only a subplot to a larger foreign policy debate that has broken out inside his Republican Party.

Actually, broken out may be the wrong phrase. Resurfaced may be more accurate.

With no GOP president in the White House and, consequently, no Republican foreign policy to defend, historic fissures have reappeared among interventionists like McCain, who see democracy as a prime export and projection of American power an essential guarantor of peace and freedom at home; fiscal conservatives, who perennially question spending on foreign affairs, particularly during a budget crisis; and isolationists, who think that America has no business in others’ affairs if it is not a direct threat to the nation’s security.

“I am not sure that these kinds of differences might not have been there in a more latent form when you had a Republican president,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side.”

The splits can be consequential. In 1992, Pat Buchanan challenged President George H. W. Bush in the Republican primaries just a year after Bush’s job-approval rating soared to astronomical levels in the wake of the first Iraq War. The economy had soured, and Buchanan accused Bush of being “a globalist” with no concern for domestic problems. Later that year, Bush lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

The divisions have come into starkest focus in the war in Libya, where the United States has been engaged in a support role that President Barack Obama, in a highly controversial finding, does not define as “hostilities.” Some Republicans, like McCain, have pushed for a more direct military involvement to topple Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi. Others, like GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, question why the United States got involved in another nation’s civil war in the first place.

The GOP foreign policy splits have also come to bear over the war in Afghanistan, where Obama has announced a phased pullout of 33,000 troops by September 2012. A robust debate has ensued, as generals, politicians and average Americans debate whether the war has been won, or whether it can be.

Obama himself stayed away from defining victory in America’s longest war; instead, he said in his speech announcing the troop reductions that wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were coming to a “responsible end.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a New Hampshire debate that “it’s time to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can,” and then added a more provocative line to GOP hawks: “One lesson we’ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence.”

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, another GOP contender, went further, arguing that Obama was not pulling troops out fast enough.

Romney and Huntsman are “playing to this sense of frustration that is prevalent, that we ought not to be spending so much money overseas that we don’t have at home, and to a deeper sense inside the Republican Party that we don’t do nation-building, that we have kind of lost our way on that score,” said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“We do see a great increase of isolationism for Republicans, a sort of come-home sentiment,” said Pew Director Andrew Kohut.

An ironic observation for those who remember 1972 Democratic nominee George McGovern’s “come-home America” anti-Vietnam War campaign theme.

Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett.