Monday, March 24, 2008

US death toll in Iraq hits 4,000 (and weekly Iraq news roundup)

Yet another sad milestone is reached in Iraq, with Reuters reporting today that four US soldiers killed in Baghdad, pushing the US military death toll in Iraq to 4,000 just days into the sixth year of a war that Bush is still publicly maintaining we are on track to win. According to the Pentagon, the soldiers were killed by an IED (roadside bomb), the leading source of casualties of American soldiers in the country in the last five years.

The dispatch also states: "On the same day dozens of Iraqis were killed in rocket and mortar attacks on the U.S.-protected Green Zone government and diplomatic compound in central Baghdad, and in other bombings in the capital and elsewhere." This is, not surprisingly treated more as an inconsequential aside, at least compared to the death of occupying military personnel. The wire service chose not to report on whether these "Iraqis" were civilians, militia members or part of the Iraqi government's army, apparently operating under the unspoken theory that the death of an Iraqi is a source of far less outrage to Western readers compared with the death of an American GI.

Further, what exactly is one to take away from the statement that "dozens" of these Iraqis, again, perhaps civillians, were killed. Are we talking 20? 30? 100 people were killed? The unstated assumption, once again, is that Western audiences really don't care, and since the Pentagon never really kept track of civilian casualties since first invading the country in 2003, it is a moot point anyway. But I think it's quite revealing that the death toll of US soldiers is assumed (correctly) as the most newsworthy milestone to report as compared to the multitude of other human rights atrocities continually being perpetuated by the occupation.

Here are some links for some other significant developments in Iraq this week — all of them pointing to the fact that the surge policy has meant nothing in terms of curbing civilian deaths and chaos.

McClatchy's Washington Bureau: "A critical cease-fire in Iraq [is] appearing to unravel."

• AP reports: "At least 61 people (civilians) were killed across the country."

The Guardian (UK): "80,000 angry men: Is the US surge collapsing?"

• ABC News: "Iraqi families angered by Blackwater's attempts to buy them off with 'blood money'."

The Guardian (UK): "Bush likely to delay planned withdrawal of troops from Iraq."

• Foreign Policy in Focus (via Alternet): "The Iraqi Civil War Bush and the Media Don’t Tell You About."

• IPS News: "More Iraqis continue to flee their country than the numbers returning, despite official claims to the contrary."

Friday, March 21, 2008

End of the line for Neoliberal economics?

InterPress News reports that in Germany, the first signs are beginning to appear that "the financial crisis around the world marks the end of Neoliberal globalization and the beginning of a new era of regulation of the global economy." Skeptical? So am I.

Still, some encouraging news in yesterday's dispatch from Berlin by Julio Godoy. For example, in the wake of the collapse of Bear Sterns and the global repercussions being felt from investment banks' losses from their investments financial derivative instruments hit hard from the US mortgage crisis, German banks are actually asking for an end to Laissez Faire free-market self-regulation and actually asking the government to step in and regulate the banking industry more closely!
Josef Ackermann, chief executive officer of Deutsche Bank, the largest private bank in Germany, said in a remarkable speech Mar. 17 that he did not believe any more in "self-regulatory forces of the market." Given the dimensions of the crisis over the last couple of months, "governments must intervene to influence the market," he said.

Ackermann's position was echoed by Deutsche Bank head economist Norbert Walter and by other leading economists. Walter said at a press conference that the financial crisis could last until late 2009. "We need a new organisation and new thinking on regulation of the financial markets."

Michael Heise, head economist at the Allianz/Dresdner Bank, warned that numerous international banks would go bankrupt in the months to come, both in Germany and elsewhere, as a consequence of the financial crisis.

However, I think a reasonable interpretation of these comments from the captains of industry in Germany are a transparent attempt to have their government come in a do whatever it takes to stanch the flow of blood from these banks' treasury departments. As the article points out, loan guarantees, "nationalization" of private institutions and other state responses are providing a bit of corporate welfare to the millionaire bankers who rolled the dice and came up short.

But what of the banks' investors? And what of the taxpayers who will end up having to foot the hundreds of millions of dollar bill to "nationalize" these financial institutions currently on life support?

As Juergen Trittin, leader of the Green party, and former German Minister for the Environment from 1998 and 2005 puts it so well: "Banks first gambled away their clients' money in hazardous speculation, and now expect that the clients, as taxpayers, foot the bill."

IPS reports that he further pointed out that until very recently, corporate execs including Ackermann and Walter had been asking the state to keep its hands out of the economy. "Now, it is the state who must play the saviour."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama disappoints

The New York Times helpfully published the full text of Obama's Philadelphia speech, in which he tries to do some damage control in the aftermath of a lot of critical media coverage of his long-term relationship with his Chicago pastor and "mentor." The speech is, of course, eloquent and on-message, but ultimately does not change my diminished feelings about his candidacy. Reviewing the record, Wright seems to be a much more outspoken critic of US policy, both foreign and domestic, than a critic of the American Jewish community, its support for Zionism, or Israeli policy in general. But the fact that his pastor of twenty years has given the public the strong impression (which, I would argue is a reasonable perception) that he supports the work and message of bigoted anti-Semite and anti-Zionist Louis Farrakhan is more enough to make me very disappointed in Obama's judgement.

I want to make sure I'm being as clear as I can with this statement: I do not believe Obama is in any way anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, anti-Israel or anti-American and I don't see how anyone else could reasonably think he is any of these things either absent some evidence I'm not aware of. But it shows a total lack of good judgement from the Senator, and this choice of a mentor just doesn't make sense for someone as smart and purportedly politically inclusive as him. Yes, it's true other Chicago-based celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey have also chosen Wright as their pastor, it's true the Reverend counseled Bill Clinton in the wake of the Lewinsky Affair, and it's true that I know many people who have strongly disagreed with the public pronouncements and stated beliefs of their religious leaders or teachers. But in the end, It is still a sad statement that someone with as much potential as Obama would decide to align himself with an individual who preaches so much hate.

Does this mean I disagree with all of Wright's critical pronouncements on US foreign and domestic policy for the past four decades? No, I actually agree with a lot of them, as well as Wright's guiding thesis that racial injustice and bigoted attitudes continue to make the realization of true socioeconomic equality for African Americans impossible in the 21st Century. But my problem with Wright, and by extension Obama's association with him, is that beyond doing the important public service of educating his followers in the very dark history of America's gross mistreatment of minorities (as well as its litany of abuses of others both at home and abroad), he stops there and does not encourage reconciliation.

While it's true that African Americans have been treated in a truly horrific manner by this country since slaves were first brought across the Atlantic Ocean four centuries ago, and while it's true that the American people must be educated about the sordid history of their chosen homeland in order to ensure future generations can be made to be hyper-aware of future transgressions, some sort of reconciliation is still important, and necessary for this country to move beyond the past and lay the groundwork for a future of racial justice and equality. I just don't see where Wright has used his clout to push the ball forward, so to speak, so it makes me more than a little concerned with Obama's constant talk of wanting to create a post-racial American society.

But isn't this really just an example of assigning guilt by association on my part in tying Obama to Wright to Farrakhan? It is, but I hold presidential candidates who purport to be progressives to an even higher standard than I would a candidate whose positions and vision I disagree with. The company you choose to keep is an important measure of one's true priorities and beliefs, far moreso than promises casually offered up in a speech. While one should not, I would argue, be found guilty for this sins of his or her parent, those a candidate for the highest public office in the country does have an important bearing and deserves careful consideration.

I was also very disappointed, but not quite disillusioned, by the news a while back that Obama's economic policy advisor Alastair Goolesby had quietly assured Canadian government officials that the candidate's public criticisms of NAFTA and Neoliberal "free-trade" policy were mere public posturing. Again, I am completely aware that Hilary Clinton is worse than Obama in terms of her support for these disastrous trade pacts, but that doesn't make this revelation any less troubling.

So in balance, I still like Obama marginally better than Clinton, but that margin has narrowed significantly in the past few months. In the general election, I'm going to vote for whomever ends up garnering the Democratic party's nomination, but the difference now is I'll probably be less disappointed if that person ends up being Clinton. (I do think it is looking increasingly like it will be Obama, however.)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Did Wall Street play a role in launching Spitzer investigation?

The UK broadsheet Times Online/Sunday Times offers up a tantalizing theory regarding the end of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's career in politics, due to his own stupidity and self-destructive inability to control his sexual appetite, a scandal that first became public thanks to extensive reporting by the New York Times.

First, the background. On March 10, 2008, the NYT broke the story that Spitzer was repeatedly patronizing a "high-priced prostitution service" named the Emperors Club VIP and meeting with a $1,000-an-hour call girl. Interestingly, this information originally came to the attention of authorities as a result of a federal wiretap. Spitzer was found to have had "at least seven or eight liaisons with women from the agency over six months, and paid more than $15,000. According to published reports, investigators claimed that the former Governor had "paid up to $80,000 for prostitutes over a period of several years while he was Attorney General, and later as Governor."

He initially drew the attention of federal investigators when his bank reported suspicious money transfers, which initially led investigators to believe that Spitzer may have been hiding bribe proceeds; this investigation of the Governor ultimately led to the discovery of the prostitution ring.

According to the report from the Sunday Times:
[N]ot even a hoard of saucy . . . photographs unearthed by the New York Post . . . could distract Wall Street lawyers and bankers from intriguing anomalies in the small print of the prosecution case against Spitzer, who announced his resignation as governor on Wednesday and will formally yield power to his deputy, David Paterson, tomorrow. Paterson will become both the first African-American and first partially blind governor of New York.

While there was little sympathy, there were plenty of questions about how a handful of outwardly innocuous payments from his bank account came to trigger a federal investigation into his sexual activities.

“The movement of the amounts of cash required to pay prostitutes, even high-priced prostitutes over a long period of time, does not commonly generate a full-scale investigation,” noted Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and former member of OJ Simpson’s legal team. Others on Wall Street were wondering whether Spitzer’s financial dealings had been singled out for scrutiny as revenge for his past prosecutions.

The beginning of Spitzer’s end can be traced to three banking transfers that left his personal account at the North Fork Bank in New York last spring and summer. For reasons that have not been satisfactorily explained, these payments totalling $15,000 attracted the attention of bank employees who monitor accounts for signs of suspicious activity.

After the terrorist attacks of 2001 on New York and Washington, laws relating to money-laundering were significantly tightened, requiring banks to file so-called “suspicious activity reports” whenever there is evidence that clients might be trying to sidestep routine regulations.

Spitzer’s transfers to a company called QAT International Inc – later revealed to be a front for the Emperors Club – were reportedly considered by the bank to be an attempt to avoid another law that requires all transactions over $10,000 to be reported to the US Treasury. Breaking down payments with intent to avoid reporting is an offence known as “structuring”.

Yet Spitzer is the son of a multi-millionaire property tycoon and has substantial assets of his own. The notion that as few as three payments from his account of less than $10,000 might be considered suspicious “raises as many questions as answers”, said Dershowitz.

“We are talking about a man who is a multi-millionaire with numerous investments and purchases,” he said. “It’s simply none of the federal government’s business that a man may have been moving his own money around in order to keep his wife in the dark about his private sexual peccadilloes.”

Prosecution sources said last week they had no idea at first that the money was related to prostitution. Even after a second bank, HSBC, reported suspicious activity at QAT’s account – and a link was found to Spitzer – it was at first assumed that the money might be related to corruption or improper use of political campaign funds.

The case was initially turned over to the section of the Manhattan prosecutor’s office that deals with political corruption. The ensuing investigation duly established QAT was banking payments to a prostitution network and that Spitzer was a client.

When the case against the one man and three women accused of running the international network reached court earlier this month, it was the presence of a federal prosecutor from the political corruption squad that first alerted New York Times reporters to the possibility that a politician might be involved.

It has since been established that both North Fork and HSBC were on the receiving end of Spitzer investigations in his days as attorney-general. In 2003 North Fork was obliged to refund $20,000 to dozens of home-owners after Spitzer claimed that the bank had been charging illegal fees.

No evidence has been produced that the bank reporting of Spitzer’s transactions was maliciously intended, yet Dershowitz and other commentators have noted that the system was designed to ferret out drug dealers, the mafia, terrorists and major financial fraud.

“Once federal authorities concluded that the ‘suspicious financial transactions’ attributed to Mr Spitzer did not fit any of [these categories], they should have closed the investigation,” said Dershowitz.

For more on this particular conspiracy theory, be sure to listen to — or read — the analysis from BBC investigative journalist Greg Palast on what he accurately refers to as the "suspicious timing" of the Spitzer scandal breaking when it did, and how he argues it was connected with the Federal Reserve's bailout of banks wrapped up in the subprime mortgage scandal.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Interview: Former Israeli intelligence chief discusses Hamas

Laura Rosen interviews former Mossad (Israeli intelligence) chief Efraim Halevy for Mother Jones, discussing his views on how best to address Israeli security issues and hammer out a peaceful solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Among his offered suggestions are for the US and Israel to begin negotiating with Hamas, albeit through the necessary back channels. His reason is more pragmatic than ideological: Abu Mazen's Fatah has evidenced increasingly less relevance and clout in Palestinian civil society, and a policy which contemplated engaging both Fatah and Hamas would have a greater likelihood of reaching diplomatic goals, as opposed to the current policy of isolating Hamas (which won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election by a wide margin) and basically pretending they don't exist.

Unfortunately, as Halevy notes, there is no possibility of such an engagement with Hamas occurring in the near future. Bush has been pretty consistent in telling the world the US has no intention of negotiating with terrorists, and I don't see how anyone who has credibility with the US and Israeli governments could argue convincingly that Hamas is not a terrorist organization.

Friday, March 14, 2008

New major survey finds public opinion "fractured" among anti-war Americans

USA Today reports on the split in public opinion in the US over when - or whether - a military withdrawal should begin from Iraq. Based on a qualitative survey (with interviews) the paper conducted in Delaware, along with the findings of the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll, the paper finds public opinion frustratingly divided into numerous blocs. As has been widely reported, approximately 60% of the US public favors setting a timetable for withdrawal, while the remaining 40% are dead-enders who want to "stay the course" . . . forever.

But there is a wrinkle, as the report explains:
The survey finds the 40% of Americans who want to stay the course in Iraq are relatively united — confident the invasion was justified and the consequences of withdrawing too soon disastrous.

However, the 60% who call the invasion a mistake and want to set a timetable to get out are fractured into four distinct groups, a USA TODAY analysis of public opinion toward the war concludes.

They include those who want U.S. troops out immediately and others, like Tease, who argue America has an obligation to improve Iraq's stability before going. Such divisions have complicated efforts in Congress to force a change in President Bush's war policy.

Roubini reflects on "The Coming Financial Pandemic"

NYU economics professor and perpetually bearish macro forecaster Nouriel Roubini has one doozy of a prediction in the latest (March-April) issue of Foreign Policy Magazine: We can look forward to a "financial pandemic", coming soon to a theater near you!

(The magazine has added a special section for the issue on the spreading recession currently taking place in the US, which can be read here.)

According to Roubini: "The U.S. financial crisis cannot be contained. Indeed, it has already begun to infect other countries, and it will travel further before it’s done. From sluggish trade to credit crunches, from housing busts to volatile stock markets, this is how the contagion will spread." And our recession will likely spread throughout the world, seeing as how the world's sole remaining superpower accounts for approximately 25% of global GDP.

He correctly notes that while economists and politicians have been debating whether or not this country is indeed heading into a recession, the jury is now conclusively in:
President George W. Bush can tout his $150 billion economic stimulus package, and the Federal Reserve can continue to cut short-term interest rates in an effort to goose consumer spending. But those moves are unlikely to stop the economy’s slide.

The severe liquidity and credit crunch from the subprime mortgage bust is now spreading to broader credit markets, $100 barrels of oil are squeezing consumers, and unemployment continues to climb. And with the housing market melting down, empty-pocketed Americans can no longer use their homes as ATMs to fund their shopping sprees. It’s time to face the truth—the U.S. economy is no longer merely battling a touch of the flu; it’s now in the early stages of a painful and persistent bout of pneumonia.

Meanwhile, other countries are watching anxiously, hoping they don’t get sick, too. In recent years, the global economy has been unbalanced, with Americans spending more than they earn and the country running massive external deficits. When the subprime mortgage crisis first hit headlines last year, observers hoped that the rest of the world had enough growth momentum and domestic demand to gird itself from the U.S. slowdown. But making up for slowing U.S. demand will be difficult, if not impossible. American consumers spend about $9 trillion a year. Compare that to Chinese consumers, who spend roughly $1 trillion a year, or Indian consumers, who spend only about $600 billion. Even in wealthy European and Japanese households, low income growth and insecurities about the global economy have caused consumers to save rather than spend. Meanwhile, countries such as China rely on exports to sustain their high economic growth. So there’s little reason to believe that global buyers will pick up the slack of today’s faltering American consumer, whose spending has already begun to drop.

Roubini is the real deal: A brilliant macro forecaster, not just a left-wing journalist looking to score political points against George W. Bush and the until-recently controlled Republican Congress. Read the whole article, and don't say you weren't forewarned.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

CENTCOM Commander resigns over Bush's Iran policy

The big news of the day is CENTCOM Commander William J. Fallon - the top commander of US forces in Iraq - has resigned his post apparently over a difference of opinion with the administration over Iran policy. But as DailyKos diarist SusanG correctly observes, it is wholly inappropriate for members of the progressive anti-war movement to identify Fallon as some sort of hero: Citing an excerpt from the interview Esquire did of the Admiral, he may have disagreed with Bush on some details of the War on Terror, but very much was along with the wider plan.

Another diarist at DailyKos argues that while the move reflects a resignation in protest - Fallon's hand was very much forced by a weak Congress and an administration led by a President who despises dissent (which he reflexively views as disloyalty) more than anything else.

Mark Perry, writing in Asia Times, argues that the article in Esquire linked to above ought to come in for a great deal of close criticism and explains exactly why: The writer seems to paint Fallon as some sort of against-the-odds freedom fighter willing to do whatever it takes to prevent Bush from going to war with Iran. Perry shows that the opposite is far more likely to be true in this case, and that it was precisely his participation in the interview which precipitated his firing in the first place.

Finally, Axis of Logic (linking to an old article by Gareth Porter for IPS News from last September) recounts the shark difference in opinion between Fallon and Gen. Petreaus, particularly regarding the Surge plan for Iraq in this post. According to the report, Fallon was more in favor of a partial, but significant drawdown of US forces from Iraq due to his concerns about Pakistan, Iran and his "unhappiness with the policy of U.S. occupation of Iraq for an indeterminate period. Military sources explained that Fallon was concerned that the concept of a long war would alienate Middle East publics by suggesting that U.S. troops would remain in the region indefinitely."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Senate panel critiques prewar claims by White House

Is the Senate Intelligence Committee, now under control of the Democratic party majority, finally about to spring into action and perform its oversight responsibilities? According to this report in the Los Angeles Times, the answer appears to be yes. Looks like a new report is in the publishing pipeline :
After an acrimonious investigation that spanned four years, the Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to release a detailed critique of the Bush administration’s claims in the buildup to war with Iraq, congressional officials said.

The long-delayed document catalogs dozens of prewar assertions by President Bush and other administration officials that proved to be wildly inaccurate about Iraq’s alleged stockpiles of banned weapons and pursuit of nuclear arms.

But officials say the report reaches a mixed verdict on the key question of whether the White House misused intelligence to make the case for war.

The document criticizes White House officials for making assertions that failed to reflect disagreements or uncertainties in the underlying intelligence on Iraq, officials said. But the report acknowledges that many claims were consistent with intelligence assessments in circulation at the time.

Because of the nuanced nature of the conclusions, one congressional official familiar with the document said: “The left is not going to be happy. The right is not going to be happy. Nobody is going to be happy.”

My Question: Since when has the investigation into whether the President lied to the American people and misused intelligence to launch a war become an issue only for the "left"? Surely there are some Republicans and conservatives still out there who suspect that some lines may have been crossed in selling the war to the media and the American people.

Analysis: Bush Surveillance Program Resurrection of TIA?

Over at TPM Muckraker, Paul Kiel links to a story in the Wall Street Journal regarding the massive domestic and international surveillance program put together by the Bush administration - a program that is only now being uncovered and explained.

The post - and especially the excellent original reporting by the WSJ - effectively summarizes the nature of the program, how it works and how the "transactional nature" of its searching through electronic communications manages to skirt the law and remain legal.

Most troubling is the assertion by the WSJ that this latest surveillance program is mostly just a ressurrection of the infamous Total Information Awareness program instituted by the Pentagon from 2002-2003 until it was defunded due to more than reasonable civil liberties concerns.

Globalization & War

The website Global Policy republishes a speech given by anti-globalization activist and fellow at the Transnational Institute Professor Susan George exploring the often obscured relationship between Neoliberal capitalist activity and the decisions made by countries such as the US to launch wars (against Third World Nations).

As a way of engaging with the subject matter, she mentions the recently published "The Three Trillion Dollar War" by Nobel Laureate economist and fair trade advocate Joseph Stiglitz - a book I am currently reading and hope to a review of shortly.

She sums up the connection between "globalization" and war quite ably in the beginning of the speech, although the entire transcript makes good reading as well since she takes some pains to define terms with more precision than most writers are able to provide:
Corporate-led, finance-driven globalisation has successfully transferred wealth from labour to capital. This has resulted in inequality and exclusion on a massive scale which, combined with the pressure on water and other environmental resources, is likely to fuel new conflicts.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Gaza Crisis

It's taken longer than usual for me to decide upon a title for this post; somehow the word "crisis" seems inappropriate for the situation currently at hand in the Occupied Territories, yet a better word choice escapes me (I'm still open to suggestions from the peanut gallery). This all reminds me of two years ago when I began my coverage of the Israel-Lebanon military operation - surely, such a one-sided and disproportinate affair does not warrant being described as a "war" - a slight moral queasiness which I suppose comes from writing about a true story where there is no protagonist, only criminals on all sides. No one ever said that journalism comes without its psychological baggage.

In this case, I'm going to decline choosing a side in this lopsided war, as there is really no lesser of two evils I can discern. I'll just report the facts according to the mainstream media - mostly consisting of foreign news agencies (which tend to do better fact-gathering and analysis on the Israel-Palestine/Islamic conflict than the overtly Likudnik oriented US media.

Covering the horrific humanitarian disaster and violence in the Mid-East region for the Independent (UK), Donald MacIntyre writes that according to a new report from human rights groups like Oxfam and Amnesty International, conditions in Gaza are the worst they have been in forty years. The article notes, among other things, that:

"The agencies, including Oxfam, Amnesty International, Save the Children UK, Care International UK and Christian Aid, say that last weekend's "upsurge in violence and human misery" in which more than 100 Palestinians were killed in Israeli military operations against rocket attacks "underlines the urgency of this report". They call for pressure on Israel to reopen the Gaza crossings.

The report says that with 80 per cent of families in Gaza are currently dependent on food aid humanitarian conditions in Gaza are now worse than "at any time since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967".

With unemployment set to rise to 50 per cent, 95 per cent of Gaza's industrial operations have halted because of the closures of Gaza crossings. It says that between 40 million and 50 million litres of untreated sewage continue to pour into the Mediterranean daily because of a lack of fuel for treatment plants and warns of a current "60-70 per cent" shortage of diesel required for hospital power generators.

It quotes World Health Organisation estimates that the proportion of patients given permits to leave Gaza for medical treatment has fallen from 89 per cent in January 2007 to an "unprecedented low" of 64.3 per cent in December 2007 and that 20 per cent of patients, including five children, have died while waiting for permits. Christian Aid's director, Daleep Mukarji, said yesterday: "The UK Government should acknowledge that a new strategy is needed for Gaza. The current policy does not secure vital security for Israeli citizens, and even if it did the blockade policy would still be unacceptable and illegal."

He added: "Humanitarian aid can help stave off total collapse but it will not provide a long-term solution. Gaza cannot become a partner for peace unless Israel, Fatah and the Quartet engage with Hamas and give the people of Gaza a future."

Oxfam International has been covering the violence and reporting on its grim death toll as well. On March 3, they state in an article entitled "Children and Civilian Bystanders In Gaza Death Toll" that
"Many of the Palestinians killed were militants involved in attacks on Israel, but others were unarmed civilians taking no part in the hostilities, including some 25 children. The precise number of civilians killed is unclear and difficult to establish.

The Israeli chief of staff is reported to have claimed that 90 percent of those killed were militants, but the UN and other sources, including those in Gaza, suggest that as many as half of the dead were civilians. More than 250 other people, including scores of unarmed civilians, have been injured.

Israeli forces also destroyed houses and property across the Gaza Strip, including at least two medical facilities, before withdrawing on 3 March.

Amnesty International said on Sunday that the Israeli military air strikes and artillery attacks on the Gaza Strip were being carried out with reckless disregard for civilian life, and called on Israel to put an immediate end to such disproportionate and reckless attacks.

"Israel has a legal obligation to protect the civilian population of Gaza,” said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. “These attacks are disproportionate and go beyond lawful measures which Israeli forces may take in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups."

The US media aren't giving these atrocious allegations of human rights violations by the Israel government against the citizens of the Occupied Territorites the kind of comprehensive and balanced coverage and analysis as it would seem to me to deserve.

Reuters is also providing its readers with some solid coverage of what is going on, again, another example of the British press playing close attention to the story. I think its dispatch is worth a read, even though it only covers the same details as the Independent.

Finally, on the topic of the US's foreign policy toward Hamas and the Palestinians, check out this big story from Vanity Fair on the Bush administration's plot to instigate an civil war among the Palestinians after Hamas unexpectedly won the Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006. Observers are already touting this as being as bad as Iran-Contra was in the 1980s.