Palestine and the American First Amendment: A victory for the BDS movement in Arizona

Hatem Bazian writes: Friday, March 17, I reached an agreement with Arizona State University (ASU), the Arizona Board of Regents and Arizona attorney general that will allow a speaking event on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement on April 3, 2018, at the university. The agreement is a victory for the BDS movement since the speaking contract previously included an unconstitutional anti-BDS clause that prohibited me from speaking on a boycott of Israel during my visit.

The agreement with ASU is a victory for the First Amendment and the rights of free speech. Again, pro-Israel forces worked hard to silence the voices of justice and human rights, but hard work and dedication made the difference. This is a victory for the BDS movement and a victory for Palestine’s voice in the U.S. I am deeply indebted to the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) hard work that will make it possible for me to exercise the rights enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution – the right to speak at ASU on BDS and to oppose the Israeli apartheid. This success was made possible through the hard work of CAIR Arizona, CAIR National and the American Muslims for Palestine’s (AMP) team on this important legal challenge.

Last month, I received an invitation from the Muslim Student Association to deliver a lecture on Palestine, the current crisis resulting from the U.S. president’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and the effectiveness of the BDS movement at ASU. As per the regular procedure for such an engagement, the students sent me ASU’s contract detailing all the conditions that must be fulfilled as well as the costs associated with travel, accommodations and stipend.

I read the contract and started filling it out but stopped as soon as I got down to item 20 on the list of contractual conditions. Surprisingly, ASU’s contract included the following text for item number 20: “No Boycott of Israel. As required by the Arizona Revised Statutes § 35-393.01, Entity certifies it is not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel and will not engage in a boycott of Israel during the term of this Contract.” This text was added to all ASU and other Arizona state public agencies contracts to adhere to the new law, which, at the root, seeks to protect Israel from the BDS movement.

I stopped filling out the contract as a matter of principle. I cannot and would not sign this contract in full conscience, being one of the key BDS organizers in the U.S., an academic who writes on BDS and an activist on Palestine with the strategy to use a nonviolent, human rights-focused movement to address Israel’s continued violations of international law. The contractual condition creates an ethical dilemma since it stipulates individuals to sign provided they are “not currently engaged in a boycott of Israel and will not engage in a boycott of Israel during the term of this Contract,” something that I cannot do as a precondition to be able to speak at a public university on BDS.

This contractual condition boils down to ASU and Arizona setting up a prior restraint on speech. “In the First Amendment law, a prior restraint is government action that prohibits speech or another expression before it can take place,” as the Cornell Law School explains. The government or any power has “two common forms of prior restraints. The first is a statute or regulation that requires a speaker to acquire a permit or license before speaking, and the second is a judicial injunction that prohibits certain speech. Both types of prior restraint are strongly disfavored, and, with some exceptions, generally unconstitutional.” Here, the ASU contract included language that clearly sets up prior restraint on my ability to speak about BDS during my upcoming visit to the campus.

Consequently, and with the help of the CAIR office in Arizona, I challenged the law so as to not accept the prior restraint imposed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) through its work in the U.S. political system to prevent those points of view that are critical of the ongoing Israeli occupation. I believe that this regulation in Arizona and other states like it is an attempt by AIPAC, other major Zionist organizations and the Israeli government itself to win an unwinnable cause, to maintain support for an apartheid state that constantly violates international laws. The law attempts to defend the indefensible by restricting freedom of speech and academic freedom so as to rescue and protect Israel and its continued apartheid and occupation. More critically, the condition and the Arizona law treats Israel as an exception to the norm. The law restricts free speech that is foundational to the First Amendment and a constitutionally protected right – the ability to ask for public adherence to a call for BDS of Israel.

On a national level, AIPAC and all the major, mainstream and established Zionist organizations – the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), Anti-Defamation League(ADL), Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and American Jewish Committee (AJC) – are engaged in a full campaign to restrict free speech on BDS and curtail criticism of Israel and its continued human rights violations. The attempts at legislation supported by all the major mainstream Zionist organizations is intended to shield Israel from criticism and possibly cause American people to abandon Israel as they did in the past when it chose to divest from South Africa. Here, a heavily Israeli funded and full national campaign is underway to counter the BDS movement. This campaign attempts to use federal and state legislation to target individuals with structured and systematic defamation, as well as to work to recruit voices that normalize Zionism among segments of the Arab and Muslim communities through the Shalom Hartman Institute Muslim Leadership Initiative and fictitious interfaith projects that focus on silencing Palestine. Israel’s supporters have been the leading agents on restricting free speech and academic freedom on many college campuses by advocating a whole host of civility codes and conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel while using university administrations and administrative regulations to limit the free expression of solidarity with Palestinians. The cases of San Francisco State University with professor Rabab Abdulhadi’s Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED) program and the University of California Berkeley in relation to a course on Palestine is a case in point where university administrations became part of the strategy to limit pro-Palestine free speech and academic freedom while coordinating these strategies with local Zionist leadership and, at times, with the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco – the representative of a foreign state given access and solicited for ideas on how to limit the constitutional rights of American students and professors.

AIPAC and many of its regional affiliates have been working overtime to push for legislation across the U.S. to restrict free speech on BDS, and in some cases to criminalize advocacy for Palestinian human rights. The victory in Arizona is very important and serves as a model to challenge legislation that seeks to protect Israel at the expense of constitutional rights, the right of free speech and freedom of association, since considerable demonization and criminalization efforts on college campuses are directed at Students for Justice in Palestine. Israel and its supporters should not have veto power over the First Amendment and legal challenges should be mounted to expose the efforts of a foreign government and its agents to undermine the right of anyone in the U.S. to critique a country that is addicted to human rights violations and U.S. foreign aid. BDS is out of the bottle and attacking the First Amendment is a battle Israel and its supporters will certainly lose. Read original article

Beyond the brink: extinction of the Northern White Rhino

The world’s last northern male white rhino, Sudan, has died at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya due to age-related complications, survived only by his daughter, Najin, and granddaughter, Fatu.

It is strange that when first writing the title for this post, I wrote ‘on the brink of extinction’, but given that the world is inured to everything being on the brink of extinction, I changed the title.

Hopefully, given that his genetic material was collected, some serious genetic science can now get Fatu pregnant, and some luck intervenes to produce both males and females.

Wall Street corruption and Senate bill S.2155

Bernie Sanders famously made his filibuster speech on December 10 2010 on financial reform, and has tirelessly pursued the subject ever since. His inability to carry the DNC primary against Clinton was clearly due to the power of the banks. Here he is again fighting against the proposed Senate bill S.2155: “The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act”, which is likely to pass with a majority, giving the top Wall Street banks, who are serial offenders on many different levels, and a serious danger to the public, new immunities.

Russian presidential elections: March 2024

In this election, in March 2018, Putin is standing as an independent candidate allied to the so-called All-Russia People’s Front (ONF),  a coalition between the ruling party and numerous nongovernmental organizations. He will win this election: in Russia all the bargaining and power plays take place before the elections.

But what is ex-talk show host Ksenia Sobchak doing in the race? She is standing in her capacity as leader of the Civic Initiative party, and will not win in this election. However, the real purpose behind her participation is to give her the exposure to do better next time. She is also in the process of trying to get better exposure in the US, airing views that are unpopular in Russia, on Crimea and gay rights, for instance, to build a reputation as a liberal. Her views on these matters have cost her dearly, as polls show that with a bit more than 1% ready to vote for her, 80% of the electorate say they would never vote for her, making her the most unpopular of all the candidates in the race.  But clearly Sobchak and her advisers hold the view that it is better to be hated than to be unknown, and to alter her policies as she gains prominence.

In the presidential debates (in the video above), she added drama to the usually prosaic debating process by standing up to the heckling of the nationalist party candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who for decades has monopolised the dramatic limelight, storming off in tears at the end when the TV mediator wouldn’t give her extra time.

So it is quite probable that she will do well in the Duma elections in 2021, and in the presidential elections in 2024. In view of the close relationship between her family and Putin, changes in her policies over time may mean that she eventually stands as an independent candidate allied to the groups in the ONF, to become Putin’s successor. She will be 43 and Putin at 72 will become kingmaker in the establishment background. It is significant that Putin admitted in his state of the nation speech that he was now mainly concerned about reform and the future succession. The video display of new weaponry at the end of the speech was a statement, really, of what he has been doing up to now.

No candidate other than Sobchak – with her obvious standing in the Russian élite – can be the right “compromise candidate” for the warring factions in the next pre-election standoffs in Russia. The Western media’s focus on Alexei Navalny and his inability to stand in the elections, on the other hand, fails to address the main point that he is simply not trusted not to give the keys of the kingdom to foreign powers in the vein of Yeltsin and to some extent Medvedev. The reform problem in Russia is one of encouraging the development of a political class that serves Russia, hopefully the Russian people, without liquidating and absconding with the country’s resources abroad.

No new figure can emerge in such a relatively short space of time that the system will be able to digest. As for supporting the idea that Russia might give up Crimea and gay rights, this policy makes her noticed on the domestic scene and makes her look good in the West, giving her the international status her establishment backers will want. Eventually backtracking on policy proposals is what every politician ends up doing.

Update 19th March on 2018 elections: Sobchak is a credible (in the Russian system) fourth out of eight candidates with a tiny 1.67% of the national vote.

Vladimir Putin:76.66%
Pavel Grudinin:11.80%
Vladimir Zhirinovsky: 5.66%
Ksenia Sobchak:1.67%
Grigory Yavlinsky:1.04%
Boris Titov: 0.76%
Maxim Suraykin: 0.68%
Sergey Baburin: 0.65%



Clarity emerges as to the shape of the Syria to come: ethnic cleansing and emerging “sectors”

A worthless resolution was passed at the UNSC, emptied of content by the Russians, thus allowing the Iranians to continue ethnically cleansing Ghouta. On the tail of Israeli airstrikes against Iranian installations in and around Damascus, and after the Turkish army ensconced itself around the rebel capital of Idlib, Iran seeks to continue the same policy to the east of Damascus, which it has already succeeded in implementing to the west, in Darayya, namely that of ethnic cleansing. On the pretext of dealing with terrorists, it is emptying these areas of Sunni Syrians, ready for the settlement of Shi’a militias and their families.

Meanwhile Israel warns Iran that it will not allow a military build-up by its forces in southern Syria. However, Iran is not relying on military installations to expand its influence, but on populating strategic areas with communities that are faithful to its ideology. This is a policy ongoing in Syria, which worked favourably in the past in its long-term plan to bring Iraq under its control. Its military installations may be be blown up from time to time by Israel, but local populations faithful to the Iranian régime will continue rebuilding them, and ensuring that the crescent of Iranian control all the way to Southern Lebanon is established as a permanent and ineradicable feature of Middle-Eastern demography through Baghdad, Karbala, and Damascus.

The success of this Iranian strategy is evident in a reduced reliance by Iran on forces from  Lebanese Hezbollah in southern Syria, allowing Hassan Nasrallah to promise his Lebanese political partners that he will no longer have a role to play in Syria.

Meanwhile, all the noise about the Assad régime sending forces to Afrin to aid the Kurds against Turkey has also to be understood as part of the Iranian grand plan on two levels:

(1) The so-called Pro-Syria forces were actually Iranian militias. It has been clear for some time that Assad is an Iranian pawn. He is not even a Russian pawn – Russia is forced to back Iranian policy in Syria with their air power because it is Iran that has the forces on the ground in the form of militias that constitute the vast majority of the Syria government military machine. It also funds the Syrian government (such as it remains as a shadow of its former self), which has few resources remaining to it.

(2) Iran wants if possible to keep control of Aleppo. The Turkish encirclement of Afrin and Idlib which is ongoing in the slow methodical root and branch manner of the Turks, poses a problem as to where Turkish control ends and Iranian control begins. The confrontations now around Tall Rifa’at to the north-west of Aleppo, between the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Iranian militias, mean that the “border” between the new areas of influence is being decided. Iran sending militias to Afrin is not intended as a move to defend Afrin, but a tactical move to send units behind FSA lines in order to effect a better outcome for the Iranian side.

Furthermore, the alliance in Idlib province between Turkey and Tahrir as-Sham means the entire border between Afrin/Idlib and Aleppo provinces is being disputed.

In early 2017 it became clear, that the US, which had a confused, non-existent Syria policy under Obama, was turning inward under Trump. The Astana process between Turkey, Iran and Russia had begun and was clearly going to dominate the agenda in Syria for the foreseeable future. Now, a new situation has developed. This is primarily due to the unwillingness of the US to leave Syria, which is having two effects. On one hand its alliance with the Marxist-Kurdish group YPG/PYD/PKK spooked the Turks into a new military campaign in the Afrin region, and on the other its continued inexplicable presence after the defeat of DAESH/ISIS (despite the continuing rhetoric) is being interpreted by the Iranians as a ploy to break their long-term strategy.

With the US clearly posing a danger to the Assad régime (read Iranian interests) to the northwest, and Israel threatening Iran to the southeast, Iran has essentially broken away from the Astana process to carve out its area of influence in Syria as quickly as possible. This means that the Astana process is to all intents and purposes dead, as was patently clear at the Sochi conference, when the opposition objected to the hideous triumphalism of the Assad régime, and the Russian preparedness to humour the crass behaviour of Assad’s hangers on as the conference progressed.

Syria de facto is breaking into three sectors: With the US having decided some time ago to occupy Eastern Syria with the YPG/PYD/PKK militias as gophers, we have 3 “sectors” being carved out: the US, Iranian and Turkish spheres of influence. While Iran empties its zones of Sunni Syrians in order to repopulate with adherents to its ideology and interests, the Syrians all inevitably flee to the (now very crowded) Turkish zones, putting pressure on Turkey to complete its control of Idlib and Afrin, especially since Turkish voters are keen to see as many of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees within Turkey itself, resettled in their own country, as soon as possible. Note that the Astana process gave Egypt responsibility for the observation posts around Damascus. Egypt, however, is essentially a non-country at the moment, incapable of looking after its own affairs, let alone those of Syria. Perhaps that is why the ever calculating Russian diplomats gave it this sensitive task to understake.

With Astana goes the meaningfulness of all talk about the integrity of Syria, although rhetoric will always and inevitably continue to have a momentum of its own. A political process is impossible with a régime in Damascus that is a front for Iran. Russia may be claiming legitimacy for its military bases in Syria in virtue of the fact that it is the Damascus régime which has the accredited ambassador to the UN. But that is all it consists of. Iranian control of the régime can hardly be legitimised.

It is America we have to thank for causing the total destruction of Syria, the once most beautiful Arab country. Iran, Russia and Turkey may now have stepped in, but all this is due, in the first place, to US imperial rampages, its subsequent contradictory policies, and its craven political subservience to Israel. Furthermore, the problem continues as the Financial Times today calls US policy in Syria today inconsistent, and liable to lead to new dangerous outcomes, fearing especially that ‘… a miscalculation on the ground could now lead to direct fighting between NATO members’, in a reference to the US backing of the illegitimate YPG/PYD/PKK occupation of Manbij.


How US “special forces” destroy lives to no purpose in the “War on Terror”

Iona Craig won the Polk Award for the report  that destroyed mainstream media’s wholly inaccurate account of a recent raid in Yemen. The January mission was the fourth time U.S. forces have been involved in ground operations in Yemen. While none of those prior raids could be deemed successful — two were failed attempts to free an American hostage, photojournalist Luke Somers — they did not leave the same trail of destruction as the operation in al Ghayil.

Central bank manipulation of the stock market

The US stock market has seen a bounce back to retrace some 50% of the drop in prices from the late January highs, but this was led by central intervention in the S&P500 futures market. Paul Craig Roberts, Michael Hudson and Dave Kranzler write that “it appears that in May 2010, August 2015, January/February 2016, and currently in February 2018 the Fed is rigging the stock market by purchasing S&P equity index futures in order to arrest stock market declines.”

Several articles on this site have covered this subject in the past.  They followed the discovery that in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s 10-K filing with the Security and Exchange Commission March 3, 2014, Western central banks had opened commodities trading accounts with the CME, the significance of which was explored in depth. More recently, there have been revelations about the fact that the central banks of Switzerland and Israel have  bought substantial lines of stock directly on the New York Stock Exchange, without even bothering about the index futures market.



A rout, not a crash – yet. A sign of what is to come. (Updated Feb 10th)

In a single week, $4 trillion in global stock market value has vanished. The stock market had become complacent toward the fierce rise in U.S. Treasury yields. Trump’s tax cut plan was clearly going to drive yields on Treasuries up by impacting the supply and demand at a time when the Federal Reserve was cutting back on its own purchases of Treasuries in order to normalize its bloated balance sheet in a hurried acceleration of its QE unwind.

Doves on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) like Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari regularly voted against rate hikes in 2017 because inflation was too “low.” As inflation edges up now, the story will change. In its statement after the January 31 FOMC meeting, the Fed specifically pointed at the “low” unemployment rate, and some Fed governors have said that the unemployment rate, at 4.1% for the past four months, might inch down to 3.9% by the end of the year and stay there in 2019, and that these levels would put further upward pressure on wages as employers might have to raise wages to attract workers.

But it is Trump’s political future that will ultimately be the biggest story for the markets. Up until now, Trump has been supported by a calm stock market regularly scaling new heights. No longer, not with the looming mid-term elections. The Republicans having nailed themselves to Trump’s mast will face problems, as Bradford de Long writes, extraordinary or not, Trump is ‘… playing to lose’. While he was insisting that his tax cut legislation had “set off a tidal wave of good news that continues to grow every single day,” actually the markets were reassessing how much that tax cut was actually going to add to the U.S. deficit; how much it would mean in new issuance of Treasury bills, notes and bonds; and weighing how far interest rates would have to rise so that this massive doubling of debt issuance would find buyers.

The Trump tax cut legislation reduced the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and the chaos of this presidency, and volatility in the markets, will begin to feed off each other. A new Gallup poll put global approval of US leadership at just 30%, behind China at 31% and Russia at 27%.

But as Wolf Richter writes: ‘What’ll happen next? Dip buyers will come in, maybe at this very moment, or maybe later, and some of them will likely get plowed under, but there is way too much cash lined up in hedge funds specifically set up to profit from sell-offs. And dip-buyers have been rewarded relentlessly over the past eight years, and it’s not until the dip buyers get massively destroyed and stop dip-buying that the market is in real trouble.’

We will see considerable turbulence which will probably feed off the ups and downs of the Trump political journey, with a bias to the downside as money will seek rising yields in the Treasury market.

A cause for concern should be that  Robert Shiller’s cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio (CAPE) is now above 30 – a level previously reached only twice, at the peaks of 1929 and 2000 (see chart below), both of which were followed by stock-market crashes. Also if CAPE is particularly high for the US compared with all other countries, the reason is share buybacks by corporations. So if anyone tells you that the “fundamentals” of the economy are strong, you should know that shares prices and fundamentals have disconnected a long time ago. In a world of financial engineering they have nothing to do with each other.

10th February update: See Pam and Russ Martens for the observation that– on Thursday, February 8, the Dow and the NASDAQ traded in almost complete lockstep. Why would a far riskier market trade in lockstep with the far safer Dow during a market panic? This recalls the bust that began in March 2000. So there seems to have been indiscriminate, wholesale dumping of stock portfolios by traders desperate to raise cash any way they could. The monster difference between the volume of advancing stocks versus the volume on declining stocks also suggests wholesale dumping. Dow Jones’ MarketWatch reports that yesterday the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) saw 2,683 stocks decline while only 342 stocks advanced. Similarly, Nasdaq saw 2,525 stocks decline while 453 advanced. Trading volume was swamped by declining shares. On the NYSE, declining share volume reached 4.74 billion while advance volume came in at a meager 556.45 million. Nasdaq’s volume tallied out at 2.35 billion in decliners versus 363.15 million in advancers.

The key thing is that hedge funds seems to be liquidating stock portfolios to meet margin calls, that would help to explain the inability of the stock market to sustain a rally. This is what was noted on this site back in December 1, 2017.




This is how the US stock market is going to start its fall

Up until September the main driver in the US stock market has been the institutions. Then retail investors started piling in as usual at the tail end of a long rally. The chart above shows recently increasing yields in US Treasury Bonds, which until recently have been desperately low pushing institutions into equities. Now institutions will shift into Treasuries as yields rise based on (1) End or tapering of QE (which the Trump tax cut was supposed to disguise) (2) End of investment by China in Treasuries (due to  a negative view on the Trump tax cut), which means that the Fed will now have to buy most new issues.

Note that OFR Annual Report to Congress December 2017 (OFR= US Government office for financial research) on page 12 states that stock market valuations (see Market Risk – valuations, risk premiums) are extremely risky (bright red). Traditionally the Fed Reserve System doesn’t care about retail investor behaviour, merely what happens to the main institutions. This time as they are going to be lumbered with funding the US deficit by themselves ( without China, and which the Trump tax cut has made worse by widening the deficit), thus buying most of the weekly Treasury issues: they are going to want institutional support for the Treasury market.

30th January update: The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield touched 2.7 percent on Monday and early this morning it returned to that level. The sharp rise in Treasury yields produced a 177 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average yesterday. As of 10:07 a.m. this morning, the Dow had lost an additional 334 points. Many market watchers see even more dangerous headwinds for the stock market if the 10-year Treasury reaches a 3 percent yield.