Saturday, July 31, 2010
Floyd is on to something here, even I don't agree with his conclusion, as it strikes me as too reductionist. Admittedly, the logs have a multifaceted quality that tend to confirm the preconceived notions of those who learn about them. Hence, in the US, the emphasis has been, as noted by Floyd, upon the the purported deceit of the Pakistanis and the alleged covert operations of the Iranians. We may well paradoxically remember the release as part of the inexorable momentum in support of an attack upon Iran. But, as I noted on Monday, the primary impact of the disclosures is in Europe, where restive populations of the UK and Germany have been even more disquieted by US mendacity and lack of concern about civilian casualties.
So in the end, what really is the takeaway from this barrage of high-profile revelations dished up by these bold liberal gadflies speaking truth to power? Let's recap:
Occupation forces kill lots of civilians. But everybody already knew that -- and it's been obvious for years that nobody cares. How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war?
Pakistan is pursuing its own strategic interests in the region: interests that don't always mesh with those of the United States. Again, this has been a constantly -- obsessively -- reported aspect of the war since its earliest days. How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war?
The Afghan government installed by the occupation is corrupt and dysfunctional. Again, this theme has been sounded at every level of the American government -- including by two presidents -- for years. How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom of the war?
There is often a dichotomy between official statements about the war's progress and the reality of the war on the ground. Again, has there been a month in the last nine years that prominent stories outlining this fact have not appeared in major mainstream publications? Is this not a well-known phenomenon of every single military conflict in human history? How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war?
Iran is evil and is helping bad guys kill Americans and should be stopped. It goes without saying that this too has been a relentless drumbeat of the American power structure for many years. The occupation forces in Iraq began blaming Iran for the rise of the insurgency and the political instability almost the moment after George W. Bush proclaimed mission accomplished and all hell broke loose in the conquered land. The Obama administration has continued -- and expanded -- the Bush Regime's demonization of Iran, and its extensive military preparations for an attack on that country. The current administration's diplomatic effort is led by a woman who pledged to obliterate Iran -- that is, to kill tens of millions of innocent people -- if Iran attacked Israel. The American power structure has seized upon every single scrap of Curveball-quality intelligence -- every rumor, every lie, every exaggeration, every fabrication -- to convince the American people that Iran is about to nuke downtown Omaha with burqa-clad atom bombs.
So once again, and for the last time, we ask the question: How does this alter the prevailing conventional wisdom about the war?
It doesn't, of course. These media bombshells will simply bounce off the hardened shell of American exceptionalism -- which easily countenances the slaughter of civilians and targeted killings and indefinite detention and any number of other atrocities anyway.
But there is more to it, more to the US intervention in Afghanistan that has been commonly understood, and the WikiLeaks release does little to clarify it. As I remarked here on Tuesday:
Afghanistan is therefore a foreshadowing of possible conflicts throughout the most impoverished regions of the lesser developed world, especially Africa, which has become a Pentagon preoccupation.
Unlike the invasion of Iraq, which has been a tawdry exercise in imperialist competition, the occupations of Afghanistan, both the Russian and the American ones, are about something else. Both have been modernization exercises, attempts to coerce a pre-industrialized society into the circuits of globalization. It is an effort similar to the centuries long effort of sedentary, agricultural societies in China and Southeast Asia to enclose the more migratory hill peoples and reduce them to state subjects, as described by James Scott in his magisterial The Art of Not Being Governed.
As explained by Scott, peoples that remain outside the state system are considered existential threats. Hence, the contemporary designation of regions around the world with limited to non-existent state authority as especially perilous, as rogue states, failed states and terror havens. David Graeber, the anarchist anthropologist, has, much like Scott, a different perspective as expressed in his articles based upon his field work in Madagascar in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For him, the erosion of centralized authority creates an opportunity for people to develop their own informal practices of government and social relations.
Thus, in regard to Afghanistan, the liberal emphasis upon subjects such as the lack of any significant al-Qaeda presence in the country or the need to redirect our effort away from military activities to economic development misses the point. People within much of Afghanistan, as well as the hill regions of Pakistan, object to modernization as imposed from the outside, whether by force or by economic assistance. Given that the state and capital are interwoven forms of social control that must expand to encompass all the space provided, both outwardly (the entirety of the territory of the world) and inwardly (every aspect of daily life, including the extremes of childhood and human sexuality), the war in Afghanistan is a perpetual one, one in Brezhnev, Bush and Obama have all found themselves on the same side.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Quick, someone needs to get ahold of Tutu and explain that boycotting Israel hurts the Palestinians that he wants to help. Surely, he will release a repudiation of this statement after someone tells him what Chomsky has to say about it.
I, Desmond Tutu, fully support and endorse the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli products. The Olympia Food Co-op has joined a growing worldwide movement on the part of citizens and the private sector to support by non-violent tangible acts the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination. Cooperatives have a long history of working for and with the oppressed to strive for a better world, and now Olympia Food Coop has been the first to build off of that legacy in support of freedom for Palestinians. I encourage other cooperatives, grocers, and businesses to follow their courageous example of boycotting Israeli goods and for shoppers to support their principled stand.
On a more serious note, Tutu's statement is just another reflection of how there are no longer any gatekeepers when it comes to support for the Palestinians. People like Tutu and Tariq Ali understand, but others don't. The spontaneous energy is with those in the BDS movement, with those who are working to try to try break the siege of Gaza, instead of those who remain constrained by a romanticized Zionism that never existed. Palestine is an essential arena of conflict against US imperialism in the Middle East, a conflict that cannot be prosecuted to a successful conclusion absent the creation of a secular, multiethnic state.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Hopefully, someone will leak the logs about this incident in the next year or so.
Survivors of an alleged Nato rocket attack on a small town in Helmand, which the Afghan government says killed 52 civilians, spoke today of their anger at what they claim was a deliberate air strike, despite coalition denials.
The incident is alleged to have taken place last Friday in Regey, in the volatile Sangin district of Helmand. News of it came as a deluge of leaked US army documents about previously unreported civilian killings threatens to ruin Nato's attempts to persuade Afghans that it takes innocent deaths seriously.
Many residents of the town say they believe the strike, which they say was a missile attack on a mud house where people were hiding from nearby fighting, was deliberate. The foreign forces could see us, said Haji Abdul Ghafar, a 38-year-old farmer who had fled to Regey from a nearby village. We were not in any hideouts. The Americans can see tiny things on the ground, but they could not see us. I think they bombed us on purpose.
Ghafar said at first he had not known whether shooting was coming from tanks or from aircraft. But people a bit far from us said that the foreign troops' tank fired a cruise missile. It hit the house and destroyed the front of the house and the left wall.
He was speaking to the Guardian at the Mirwais hospital in Kandahar city, where he went with his son, Agha Shereen, who suffered a broken leg and nose, and a seven-year-old nephew, Abdul Jabar.
Abdul was still suffering from severe shock, appearing to believe he was still at home and looking for his sandals to go out and play with other children. In total, Ghafar said, 17 members of his extended family were killed, including three sisters, three daughters and one son.
Monday, July 26, 2010
INITIAL POST: Click on the link for a useful interactive feature that the Guardian has provided to enable readers to found some of the more interesting reports, such as, for example, this one. Others can be found in an article summarizing civilian casualties inflicted by CIA forces that the US refuses to acknowledge to this day. Some of these incidents, such as the one contained in this article, were already known to many, including readers of this blog, but the release of the sanitized report itself illustrates how many casualties have been concealed. The primary benefit of the release of these reports by wikileaks is that it will tend to confirm what many critics have said about the war in Afghanistan.
Curiously, the release of bureaucratic reports seems to instill a credibililty in terms of the description of past events that didn't previously exist. It is also very damaging to the Obama administration, as it proceeded to order the escalation of the war with full knowledge of what was contained in them. One suspects that the most immediate consequence of the release will be increased pressure within Germany to remove troops from Afghanistan, as the deployment has been very contentious there.
Not surprisingly, the Guardian has covered the extent of civilian casualties extensively, while another recipient of the reports, the New York Times, has emphasized national security concerns, such as the possible association of the Inter-Services Intelligence with Taliban resistance, an article highlighted at the top of its webpage dedicated to the logs. Afghan civilians don't count for much in relation to the Times perspective on the conflict, only becoming a problem when they undermine support for the occupation.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Tom Eley of the World Socialist Website provides more background:
Dramatic increases in infant mortality, cancer and leukaemia in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was bombarded by US Marines in 2004, exceed those reported by survivors of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to a new study.
Iraqi doctors in Fallujah have complained since 2005 of being overwhelmed by the number of babies with serious birth defects, ranging from a girl born with two heads to paralysis of the lower limbs. They said they were also seeing far more cancers than they did before the battle for Fallujah between US troops and insurgents.
Their claims have been supported by a survey showing a four-fold increase in all cancers and a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in under-14s. Infant mortality in the city is more than four times higher than in neighbouring Jordan and eight times higher than in Kuwait.
Dr Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster and one of the authors of the survey of 4,800 individuals in Fallujah, said it is difficult to pin down the exact cause of the cancers and birth defects. He added that to produce an effect like this, some very major mutagenic exposure must have occurred in 2004 when the attacks happened.
One suspects that similar, if not more destructive, radiation weapons would be used in an attack upon Iran, with potentially even more severe consequences.
According to the authors of a new study, “Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005–2009,” the people of Fallujah are experiencing higher rates of cancer, leukemia, infant mortality, and sexual mutations than those recorded among survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the years after those Japanese cities were incinerated by US atomic bomb strikes in 1945.
The epidemiological study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Studies and Public Health (IJERPH), also finds the prevalence of these conditions in Fallujah to be many times greater than in nearby nations.
The new public health study of the city now all but proves what has long been suspected: that a high proportion of the weaponry used in the assault contained depleted uranium, a radioactive substance used in shells to increase their effectiveness.
In a study of 711 houses and 4,843 individuals carried out in January and February 2010, authors Chris Busby, Malak Hamdan, Entesar Ariabi and a team of researchers found that the cancer rate had increased fourfold since before the US attack five years ago, and that the forms of cancer in Fallujah are similar to those found among the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors, who were exposed to intense fallout radiation.
In Fallujah the rate of leukemia is 38 times higher, the childhood cancer rate is 12 times higher, and breast cancer is 10 times more common than in populations in Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait. Heightened levels of adult lymphoma and brain tumors were also reported. At 80 deaths out of every 1,000 births, the infant mortality rate in Fallujah is more than five times higher than in Egypt and Jordan, and eight times higher than in Kuwait.
Strikingly, after 2005 the proportion of girls born in Fallujah has increased sharply. In normal populations, 1050 boys are born for every 1000 girls. But among those born in Fallujah in the four years after the US assault, the ratio was reduced to 860 boys for every 1000 female births. This alteration is similar to gender ratios found in Hiroshima after the US atomic attack of 1945.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
There are a number of things worth mentioning here beyond Chomsky's reflexive tendency to require that any attempt to liberate the Palestinians must not inflict any damage upon the Zionist state. First, Chomsky has long self-identified as an anarchist, although in a distant, abstract way independent of expressions of anarchism in contemporary social movements. Here, we have a classic instance of it, as Chomsky maligns the efforts of activists and Palestinians social organizations to organize the BDS campaign from the bottom up. If the target of the BDS campaign was a country other than Israel, it is likely that he would be supportive, characterizing it as a praiseworthy example of direct action. Instead, he adopts a hectoring, elitist perspective, one more consistant with American liberalism's hostility to any form of populism. Indeed, there is nothing in his perspective on Palestine that most American liberals couldn't swallow whole.
I examined Chomsky’s history in some detail in an article that I wrote for Left Curve in 2005 that called attention to the destructive role he has played regarding the Palestinian-based boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel and the equally destructive impact of his dismissal of the pro-Israel lobby as an influential force in shaping US Middle East policy.
That he is still at it, and that his influence among what are considered progressives has lessened only imperceptibly, requires another look at the professor’s fierce and unyielding opposition to the BDS campaign launched by the leading organizations of Palestinian civil society. This movement has been gaining support in the world that exists outside of the United States, particularly among trade unions, a fact that is causing considerable concern within Israel and among its lobbyists/agents around the world who claim it is a campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state.
Within the United States, however, this campaign challenging Israel has frequently and in certain instances, intentionally, been confused with a vastly different, US-centered, campaign that avoids penalizing Israel while targeting US companies that provide goods and services that assist Israel in maintaining the occupation.
This latter campaign Chomsky does support as does the leading Jewish peace group, Jewish Voice for Peace which has recently been conducting a drive to get 10,000 signatures for its campaign to pressure Caterpillar to stop selling bulldozers to the Israel military which it has used to destroy Palestinian homes. While this is a worthy endeavor, does anyone seriously think that a refusal by Caterpillar to halt its sales to Israel would change the current situation for the Palestinians in any significant way? Or are we seeing something else here on the part of both Prof. Chomsky and JVP with their competing campaign, namely, damage control on Israel’s behalf?
One might certainly draw that conclusion from comments Chomsky has made over the past several years and most recently in interviews with Israeli television (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCtYecGbQz8) and with Alison Weir of If Americans Knew, the newly appointed president of the Council for National Interest (CNI), on Jerusalem Calling, the CNI’s online radio program. (http://www.wsradio.com/internet-talk-radio.cfm/shows/CNI:-Jerusalem-Calling.html)
In the interview with Alison Weir, Chomsky not only repeatedly attacks advocates of an Israeli boycott as being hypocritical, he accuses them of doing damage to the Palestinian cause.
What I have opposed, says Chomsky, is BDS proposals that harm Palestinians. If we are serious about BDS or any other tactic, we want to ask what the consequences are for the victims. We have to distinguish always in tactical judgments between what you might call ‘feel good’ tactics and ‘do good’ tactics. There are tactics that may make people feel good in doing something, but maybe they harm the victims.
Pushed on the subject by Weir, he repeats that a boycott of Israel is harmful to Palestinians and the reason is harmful is very obvious. And what is obvious about it, Chomsky tells us in the very next sentence. It is so hypocritical that it discredits the whole effort. I mean, he says, why boycott Israel and not boycott the United States? The US has a much worse record.
When reminded by Weir that Palestinian civil society issued a call, signed by dozens of diverse organizations calling for a boycott of Israel, Chomsky was dismissive and condescending.
There are groups who call themselves Palestinian civil society who are calling for a boycott, he responds, and I think they are making a mistake and I’ve explained why. I’m not going to take, adopt positions which have already been and will continue to be quite harmful to Palestinians.
If you want to, then do it, Chomsky adds, upbraiding Weir and by implication, the Palestinian people themselves, but it’s clear why the call for a boycott [of Israel] has been harmful for Palestinians and will continue to be.
The reason, he repeated, is very simple. It’s so utterly hypocritical that it’s basically a gift to the hardliners. They can say, ‘Look, you’re calling for a boycott of Israel, but you’re not calling for a boycott of the United States which has a much worse record', in fact, it’s even responsible for most of Israel’s crimes.
So therefore, if your position, and from his tone of voice he is clearly jabbing a verbal finger at Weir, is that hypocritical, how can we even take you seriously? That’s like giving a gift to the hard-line elements.
One might be forgiven for thinking that when Chomsky says we and refers to hard-line elements he is speaking of himself. He seems to confirm that later when, continuing his attack, he tells Weir:
I find your commitment to harming Palestinians surprising. It is quite obvious why a call for a boycott of Israel is a gift to AIPAC. It’s a gift because they can point out that it is utterly hypocritical and again, like a well rehearsed mantra he repeats, We are not boycotting the United States, for example, which has a much worse record and is responsible for a lot of Israel’s criminal behavior.
I can give you cases if you want where the calls like the one you’re advocating have, in fact, for good reasons, harmed Palestinians, and he repeats once again that Weir’s “support for the efforts which are basically gifts to the hardliners…”
Second, Chomsky's insistence that the BDS campaign is a serious error because, by hurting Israel, it would also hurt the Palestinians, is a shockingly simplistic analysis, something that one might expect to hear from Bill or Hillary Clinton. Obviously, it ignores the increasingly ghettoized conditions of social control that Israel has imposed upon the Palestinians in the occupied territories as a consequence of the siege of Gaza, the ongoing construction of the wall in the West Bank and a maze of armed checkpoints that render any semblence of normal life impossible. Furthermore, it is dismissive of the installation of increasingly sophisticated, violent surveillance technologies, such as the killing and wounding of Palestinians who approach the fence constructed between Israel and Gaza by remote control. IDF women soldiers, in a tower in the southern Negev, use a Playstation type joystick as they Spot and Strike Palestinians that they consider a threat. For Israel, such technology allows it to employ woman soldiers in a situation that would otherwise be considered combat if they were stationed at the fence itself.
Beyond the brutality of the occupation, Chomsky fails to address the exploitative economic relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Consider, for example, the one between Carmel Agrexco, a company that exports fruits, vegetables and herbs, and the Palestinians who live within the occupied territories:
Of course, many of the substantial infrastructure projects under construction in the West Bank are settlements and services designed to integrate them with Israel, while separating them from the Palestinians, such as transportation. In effect, Israel is imposing an economic model upon the occupied territories similar to the global, neoliberal one, whereby the populace of an undeveloped or lesser developed region is treated as a low wage work force so as to facilitate the process of capital accumulation. Such workers have no labor rights, and find themselves subjected to planning policies that segregate them in areas without essential public services. Yet Chomsky tells us that we shouldn't boycott firms like Carmel Agrexco because it would hurt Palestinians! Perhaps, Chomsky still believes in Israel as a modernizing force for development of Palestine, even if he remains savvy enough not to say so.
Agrexco say that 90% of the goods they export are from Israel, 5% from the occupied territories and 5% from elsewhere.
Thousands of Palestinians are employed in packing houses on Israeli settlements packing goods to be exported by Carmel Agrexco. These packing houses are often on land which has been forcibly taken from their communities Palestinian workers may be paid as little as 30 shekels (4 pounds) a day and have no sick pay, holiday pay, rights to unionise or contracts. Children are often employed on these settlements. These workers are compelled to work for the settlements because of the complete strangulation of Palestinian agriculture by the occupation. Many settlement workers have called on the international communtiy to boycott and campaign against Carmel Agrexco.
All Carmel Agrexco's directors, shareholders and company records are in Israel.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
And, there is also this troubling incident in San Antonio, Texas over the weekend as well, although the perpetrator and his motivation are still unknown.
Convicted felon Byron Williams loaded up his mother's Toyota Tundra with guns, strapped on his body armor and headed to San Francisco late Saturday night with one thing in mind: to kill workers at the American Civil Liberties Union and an environmental foundation, prosecutors say.
Williams, an anti-government zealot on parole for bank robbery, had hoped to start a revolution with the bloodshed at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation in San Francisco, authorities said.
But before he made it to the city, Williams was stopped at early Sunday by California Highway Patrol officers for speeding and driving erratically on westbound Interstate 580 west of Grand Avenue in Oakland.
Police say he then initiated a chaotic, 12-minute gunbattle with officers, firing a 9mm handgun, a .308-caliber rifle and a shotgun. He reloaded his weapons when he ran out of ammunition and stopped only after officers shot him in areas of his body not covered by his bullet-resistant vest, authorities said.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I can, however, confidently say that his novels are enjoyable to read, even as they address difficult and challenging subjects. It is tempting to say, at the risk of incurring his wrath, that Ali is a postmodern novelist, one who manipulates language, history and past experience so as to undermine, if not eradicate, the notion of grand narratives by substituting highly subjective personal ones in their place. I have no doubt that he would be angry with such a characterization, because I did get a rare opportunity to interview him several years ago, and he venomously expressed his contempt for such literary practices. I can still hear my ears ringing when he said, I just hate that! Instead, it is more accurate to say that he is fascinated with the subject of how the grand narratives of history are often subverted by others that his protagonists dismiss or fail to recognize until it was too late.
Clearly, this is one of Ali's major preoccupations in his series of novels known as the Islam Quintet, a series that just concluded with the publication of Night of the Golden Butterfly. In Butterfly, he wistfully contemplates the Pakistani disapora and the degradation of the Pakistan that they left behind. His protagonists are a group of aging Pakistanis who grew up together in Lahore in the late 1950s and early 1960s before leaving for Europe and the US (as he did), never to return except for short visits. He recalls the Lahore of that time with great fondness as a place of intellectual and social ferment, with the leftist characters, much like him, placing their faith in the future in Maoism.
The thread that runs through this group of characters is an intellectual and artist, Mohammed Aflatun, Plato for short. All of them know him, a man who was slightly older, a half generation ahead of them, in Lahore, with one of them, the narrator, Dara, a novelist, subsequently retaining a personal connection with him. Plato, like Dara, spent some time in London in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming a successful artist, known for his ascerbic paintings pillioring the Pakistani elite. Unlike Dara and the other characters of the novel, he returned to Lahore. Even if he was incapable of arresting the ascendency of corruption, Islamic fundamentalism and American clientelism within Pakistan, he preserved a cultural alternative, one rooted in historic Islamic intellectual traditions of tolerance and dissent. Ali relates the toxic effects of these enduring features of Pakistani life in a highly personalized manner, such as, for example, the violence and depravity of the Pakistani officer corps, and the exploitation of antiquated religious practices like Koranic marriage to preserve landed estates for male heirs. He implies that American imperialism gave harsh, outdated religious doctrines a new life in Pakistan after it seemed that they were on the way out during the heyday of 20th Century modernism.
Decades after their time together in Lahore, Plato sets the narrative of the novel in motion by calling Dara, and requesting that Dara write his biography, calling due an old debt. His current lover, the engaging Zaynab, has demanded one. Dara thereafter reestablishes contact with the friends of his youth, and confronts how their lives, and the future of Pakistan, turned out very differently from what they anticipated. Personal and familial achievements have not fully compensated for their failure to attain their idealistic aspirations. And, they live in a European and American world in which their status remains conditional, as Zahid, a surgeon, discovers when Vice President Cheney has him removed from his medical team immediately after 9/11, even though Zahid had saved his life. Ali's prose is clear and sharp, his characterizations devoid of sentimentality, yet empathetic, and his exaltation of the profane is again on display to charming effect.
Interestingly enough, all of the main characters, Dara, Plato, Zahid, Jindie, and Zaynab have created a new elite in exile in contradistinction to the ones that govern Pakistan. Dara is a critically acclaimed novelist, while Plato is a highly regarded artist. Zahid, as noted, is a surgeon, and Jindie, the lost love of Dara's youth, is Zahid's wife. Zaynab comes from a privileged Pakistani family, and finds a way to evade the strictures of a marriage to the Koran, a perverse marriage that even Wahhabi Muslims condemn. It is something worth noting, because it points towards a paradoxical fact: Ali comes from privileged Pakistani origins as well, and his leftism is infused by his anger at the corruption and hypocrisy that he has perpetually encountered. Has his Trotskyism has been a form of leftist refuge that permitted him to retain many of the features of his background in his daily life? Only a diligent and thorough biographer, if one is willing to step forward, can help us answer that question.
One of the most compelling aspects of the novel is Ali's recognition that the adored Maoism of his youth was rooted in Han Chinese nationalism, and hence, could not ultimately provide a model for revolutionary change in the lesser developed world. Here, we hear an echo of his tragic recollection of China's realpolitik decision to align itself with Pakistan when Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) attempted to secede in 1971. Islamic rightists taunted leftists like Ali as they killed and raped the populace, shouting Chairman Mao is with us, not you! He brings this out through the Jindie, a Pakistani Chinese Muslim woman whose family emigrated to Pakistan in the late 19th Century after the Han suppression of a Muslim rebellion in Yunnan province.
Here, too, as he has done in the earlier novels of the Quintet, Ali touches a upon a theme much highlighted by anthropologists in recent decades, the mutability of ethnic identity. In The Art of Not Being Governed, James Scott describes how the hill peoples of Southeast Asia took on new identities, with changes of religion, social organization and language, seemingly at the drop of a hat in response to perils. While the course of Jindie's life is not this extreme, she is, by the end of the novel, a Pakistani Chinese Muslim who has raised a family in the US. What is she? Pakistani? Chinese? Muslim? American? Of course, the answer is that she is all of them, and more, she is, first and foremost, a woman.
Ali has publicly said that he was motivated to become a novelist by his interest in discovering what do you do in a period of defeat? His brilliance lies in his decision to excavate, contemplate and give fictional representation to this subject within the context of Islam and its relationship with Christianity and the West. But his recognition of the importance of the experiences of people like Jindie also suggests that a resurgent left will someday emerge, centered around an understanding that people have a multiplicity of identities beyond the simplistic ones imposed upon them.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Embedded within this article is an illustration of the mendacity of the Israeli peace movement. Surely, Avnery knows that Zionism has always been about getting the Arabs out of Palestine, with the exception of various manifestations of cultural and religious Zionism that rejected the creation of a Jewish state. And, there is the darkly hilarious reference to the racist purpose of the policy by placing the term in quotes, with the implication that it is merely an exaggerated, propagandistic response.
New Israeli citizens may soon be required to swear an oath of loyalty to a Jewish and democratic state, a step that has drawn harsh criticism from human rights groups.
Israel's Cabinet, which meets tomorrow, is expected to approve this and extend a raft of existing measures that make it harder for Palestinians to achieve citizenship.
The wording of the oath, which would apply to new applicants for citizenship, was slammed by Arab advocacy groups, who accused Israel of racist policies that attempt to link citizenship to ideology.
It's another step in the direction of getting the Arabs out of Israel, said Uri Avnery, a former MP and founder of the Israeli Gush Shalom peace movement. Parliament has become a lynching mob.
The Knesset, Israel's parliament, voted this week to strip Hanin Zuabi, an Israeli Arab politician, of her parliamentary privileges for taking part in the Gaza flotilla aimed at breaching Israel's sea blockade.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Jane Hamsher is providing an essential service by having people do such important spade work, making firedoglake a excellent website for understanding the ongoing effort to dismantle what remains of the New Deal, even if you don't agree with the overall ideological perspective. Now, even Donna Smith of Reuters is reporting what the Commission wants to do:
The Deficit Reduction Commission is the instrument by which the sub-proletarianization of the US will be accomplished. Reduced social security benefits, the reduction, if not elimination of the home mortgage deduction and substantially less government assistance, this is the future, coming soon to your neighborhood. And, just in case there was any confusion:
Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson made clear at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event that the bipartisan panel is eying tax breaks, including the popular mortgage interest deduction, as well as slashing government spending in its effort to recommend ways to cut the estimated $1.4 trillion federal deficit.
It is all going to be very painful, Bowles said.
The 18-member commission has been tasked by Obama to deliver its recommendations in December, well after the November congressional elections in which the deficit and $13 trillion debt have become major issues.
Bowles and Simpson provided some insight into what the commission might suggest.
Bowles, who served as former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, said most of the effort has to come from spending, a view that puts him at odds with some of his fellow Democrats who are looking to pare back President George W. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to reduce the deficit.
I just want to see the vast majority of it come out of spending, Bowles said.
He said about 75 percent of the deficit reduction effort should come from spending cuts and 25 percent from revenue increases.
If such measures are proposed and adopted, we will experience an exponential increase in already extreme disparities of wealth within this country. Governmental expenditures and income taxes are generally redistributive, while a tax on consumption is regressive, reducing the amount of taxes that the wealthy pay upon investment income while placing more of the tax burden upon the middle and lower class.
Bowles also called for capping government spending at 21 percent of the overall economy. Government spending now accounts for 24 percent of the economy and could rise to 27 percent, according to Republican Senator Judd Gregg, who is also a panel member.
I would like to see us take a hard look at tax expenditures, Bowles said, adding that they amounted to government spending by a different name. Bowles said he favors lowering corporate and individual income tax rates and putting in place a tax on consumption.
Approval of the sorts of measures suggested by Bowles would enshrine the imperialism of market "reason" so incisively critiqued by lenin earlier today. In the UK, it is manifesting itself in the most extreme form through plans to privatize much of the provision of health care by the National Health Service.
As described by lenin:
There are three critical things to understand about the public statements by commissioners like Bowles and Simpson in relation to lenin's insight: First, and most obviously, the implementation of policies designed to facilitate such a philosophy, as the Commission intends to do, will inflict social hardships upon Americans to a potentially unprecendented degree, perhaps even worse than those experienced during the recessions of the 1870s and 1890s and the Great Depression of the 1930s.
One aspect of this specious conception of reason is the encroachment of a set of analytical principles established by marginalist economics into other fields of social science. Though specifically concerned with the workings of markets, it is assumed by their advocates that these could apply universally. And, as Ben Fine and Dimitris Milonakis argue (From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics, Routledge, 2009), the 20th Century saw a growing tendency for various authors, including the writers of such ordure as Freakonomics, to extend them as universally as possible. Freakonomics (and its Super- sequel) discovers a market logic behind a bewildering variety of social phenomena. Gary Becker finds that market logic explains a wide range of phenomena including crime and punishment. For Robert H Frank, economics explains everything, and he encourages his students to find ways to apply market laws to all manner of questions. Everything up to and including romantic relationships can be understood in terms of utility maximization. Thus, the search for a partner can be interpreted as a petty entrepreurial activity in a competitive market, in which - acting on information and incentives - couples form property-based relational contracts as a means for effectively utilizing resources, and the relationship is only sustained for as long as each maximises the utility that the other receives.
Underpinning this approach is three basic analytical principles. The first is individualism. The individual is taken to be the self-sufficient unit of all forms of behaviour, the real basis of all fictitious corporate entities. The second is rational self-interest. The individual behaves in ways that will maximise utility to herself, on the basis of a rational assessment of the information available in the market. Here, utility is purely subjective - whatever is useful to an individual is whatever she thinks is useful, while there is an assumption of an implicit market in all walks of life, even where there are no commodities, no price signals, and no currency. The third principle is exchange. Utility maximisation optimally takes place through the act of exchange, and that exchange can take place between the drug dealer and the addict as much as the lover and the pursued. This kookiness, where it is not merely circular and vulgar, descends into absurdity when the suitability of the theory can only be established through an ad hoc proliferation of conceptual innovations, as when - for example - Becker explains criminal recidivism in terms of a preference for risk. This naturalises and universalises the cut-throat self-advancement of career-minded bourgeois WASPs, distilling it into a set of puerile anthropological axioms. Middle market books such as The Economic Naturalist probably aggrandise the narcissism of the bourgeois, allowing them to read about themselves and their conduct in flattering terms, giving it a metaphysical twist, endowing it with transcendent validity. And small wonder that such people like to hear that everyone else has exactly the same petty, criminal mentality that they do - it is not capital that is self-maximising, it is humanity itself! - and that they have merely been more successful utility-maximisers than the majority of humankind.
Second, and also fairly evident, it will result in a period of violent unrest, again, perhaps worse than any comparable periods in American past. Given the lack of any publicly recognized left alternative, or for that matter, any political alternative, the prospects for horrible incidents like, say, the pogroms in Russia in the 19th Century, are more likely than we want to admit. Perhaps naively, I still hope that we won't descend something akin to the worst excesses of fascism.
Third, and more subtlely, there is, as emphasized by lenin, the effort to impose a vision of all human experience as one limited to the rationality of market transactions. Beyond intensifying the devastation of the global environment, it will further impair the ability to persuade people to act collectively and have a sincere interest in the well being of others. It will also result in harsh emotional dissonances for everyone subjected to it. People find fulfillment in life for many reasons other than personal economic success, and the inabililty to seek to attain such fulfillment will have nasty consequences for those frustrated by it, whether they are conscious of it or not. A fuller understanding of this emergent phenomenon awaits a 21st Century Freud or Jung, but, for now, the peril is that such repressed resentments will erupt violently, reordering society along explicitly authoritarian lines.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Post-9/11, post-invasion of Afghanistan, it was open season on jihadis. For more background on Deghayes, check out this wikipedia entry about him. Beyond a description of the torture that Deghayes says was inflicted upon him after the US subsequently transported him to Guantanamo, the entry is enlightening for its presentation of the way that administrative tribunals evaluated detainees. Detainees, like Deghayes, were only provided with an unclassified summary of evidence against them, although a personal representative was allowed to aid the tribunal in its determination while not, paradoxically, acting as an advocate.
In an MI5 report on the interrogation of Omar Deghayes, a Libyan-born British resident held by the Americans at Bagram airbase north of Kabul, an officer wrote to his superiors in London: Deghayes was brought to the interview room manacled and hooded. When the hood was removed, Deghayes looked pale and shaky.
After offering water and asking Deghayes whether he felt well enough to continue, the officers introduced themselves as Paul and Martin, and explained the role of MI5.
They warned Deghayes that he was facing a long period of incarceration in US hands and that they would not consider helping him unless he told them everything they wanted to know. Deghayes was mumbling and incoherent at times but the officers told him they knew he was lying when he answered questions about links with jihadist organisations in Libya.
After another interrogation a week later, an MI5 officer reported back to London that Deghayes was thinner but mentally alert. Throughout the interview Deghayes expectorated rather disgustingly into a tissue as if he were still tubercular. These moments usually coincided with those answers where he was most evasive.
Deghayes told the officers that he was suffering internal bleeding and complained that no evidence had been presented against him. He was also being treated badly, with head-braces and lock-down positions being the order of the day, wrote the officer. He was treated better by the Pakistanis; what kind of world was it where the Americans were more barbaric than the Pakistanis? We listened but did not omment.
Hence, we will never know whether there was independent corroboration of any of statements set forth in the summary of evidence memoranda provided Deghayes. To the extent that they were true, we will also never know whether the enumerated facts actually justified an enemy combatant designation or merely constituted an after the fact rationalization for Deghayes' continued confinement. We do, however, know that there is good reason to be skeptical, given what the Washington Post discovered when the entire case file for Murat Kurnaz was accidentally declassified.
Monday, July 12, 2010
My purpose in writing this post is to examine the incident in light of the ambivalent relationship between BART and the communities associated with Oscar Grant, the impoverished, predominately neighborhoods of color in the East Bay. Planning for BART predates World War II, and financing for the system was put in place in the early 1960s. Trains began running in 1972, with the Transbay Tube opening in 1974. Trains ran between the Daly City station south of San Francisco and the Fremont, Concord and Richmond stations in the East Bay. It is fair to say that no infrastructure project of the last 60 years, with the possible exception of the interstate highway system, has had as much of an influence on the Bay Area.
In conjunction with the interstate highway system, BART facilitated the ongoing suburbanization on the east of eastern Contra Costa and southern Alameda counties, across the hills from Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond,fueling population growth in cities like Concord, Pleasanton, Lafayette, Livermore, Hercules and Pinole, among others. People who moved to these places could take the interstate to a BART station, and then commute to work in the East Bay or the City. Given that three of the four train lines traversed the financial district in downtown San Francisco (and still do), the result was the intensification of highrise development, a process that went by the name of Manhattanization. San Francisco was transformed into a central city employment and entertainment destination after a long history of economically diverse interconnected neighborhoods.
For East Bay cities like Oakland, Richmond and Hayward, BART was just another excuse for white flight, leaving behind, first, islands of poor, predominately African American neighborhoods, and then, as a result of Latino and Asian immigration, poor, predominately neighborhoods of color. The departing middle class could now travel through these neighborhoods while safely esconsced inside comfortable, silver high speed metallic trains. Later, people priced out of expensive real estate markets by the bay found themselves relying upon them as well. BART was a physical manifestation of the phenomenon of physical isolation that rendered lower income communities west of the hills subject to the economic asphyiation of Reaganism and neoliberalism. By placing these communities out of sight, it was then fairly easy to initiate the demonization of the people within them as expressions of various artificially created social pathologies.
There reverse side of this coin of suburbanization was the increased mobility that BART provided for young people, including those who lived the lower income communities of the East Bay. I have traveled on BART frequently over the last 30 years, and I have observed how young people have come to rely upon it more and more as a form of social networking. Before there was Facebook, there was BART. Teens and young adults move between San Francisco, the East Bay and the East Bay suburbs almost effortlessly. Within a day, one could see friends in the Mission, go to a concert in Oakland or Berkeley and then return home. By adding one's bike to the equation, one's range grows even greater. Oscar Grant himself was an example of this in the hours before he was killed when he traveled from Hayward to the Embarcardero in San Francisco to participate in the New Year's Eve celebration there. Without BART, he and his friends may well have decided to do something else because of difficulty of driving into the City and the cost of parking once they arrived.
But there is a problem. The suburbanites that use BART to travel to work and entertainment activities all around the bay find these young people rather unnerving. Like most young people, they can be boisterous and sometimes rude. A few, it must be conceded, commit crimes, although I am not sure whether they do so at a rate substantially higher than older adults. So BART faces a dilemma: how to manage a system so as to maintain the confidence of those who use it to commute to work and travel to evening entertainment events, like, say, a baseball game at AT&T Park. Not surprisingly, the response has been to rely upon a highly visible police presence, and the characterization of young people traveling on the system as anticipated perils.
It was this, the collision between the fears of an older, more suburban ridership, and the social exploitation of it by young people, that contributed to the killing of Oscar Grant by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle. On New Year's Eve, BART trains operated into the early morning hours past the usual midnight shut down of the system. Officers on duty that evening were instructed to anticipate potentially serious problems with rowdy young New Year's Eve celebrants. According to BART, a couple of guns had been recovered on the line in the hour before the shooting, and Mehserle had been involved in an incident earlier that evening when a teen age boy with a semi-automatic weapon had broken bones after jumping over a fence. Given BART's spotty, seemingly self-interested, record of public disclosure and disinterest in promptly communicating with the witnesses to the incident, I will leave it to the reader to decide whether these events actually happened. Just prior to the shooting of Grant, BART police were responding to reports that up to 20 people were involved in a fight on the BART train approaching Fruitvale station.
Grant did not know it, but, as he was traveling home on the Fruitvale line, he satisfied two of the major criteria for being targeted by the police as the source of the reported trouble on the train, he was young, and he was a black male. As the train arrived, another BART police officer, Tony Pirone, was detaining a drunk man in the station. Pirone ran upstairs to meet the train, and forcibly detained Grant, ordering Mehserle to arrest Grant and a friend for, yes, resisting arrest. Of course, one is immediately struck by Pirone's decision to detain Grant, who was, after all, getting off the train, without any apparent effort to determine if the report was true, and, if so, what assertion of authority was required. Immediately thereafter, Mehserle pulled out his gun, shot Grant in the back as he lay on the ground, and killed him. Three eyewitnesses testified at Mehserle's trial that neither Grant nor his friend resisted, and expressed disgust at the aggressive conduct of the officers.
Thursday, July 08, 2010
INITIAL POST: As someone who has abandoned the electoral process, I always respected Matt Gonzalez, the former chair of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. A Democrat who turned Green, he almost became the mayor, narrowly losing an election to Gavin Newsom in 2003 after the intervention of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. He was a rarity in American politics, someone who could translate global and national trends down to the community level, with an admirable record of progressive achievement. With the exception of the late Peter Camejo, no one had more integrity as a progressive political figure in California in the last 10 to 15 years.
In 2008, Gonzalez ran for Vice President on a ticket lead by (who else?) Ralph Nader. At the time, I told friends that I would have considered breaking my pledge of electoral non-participation if the ticket had been the other way round, with Gonzalez as the presidential candidate. But times have changed. With the collapse of the global economy, and the exposure of the speculative financial practices that caused it, Gonzalez has decided to go in a different direction. After maligning Wall Street for the excesses that generated the housing bubble, and the bailout that followed, he has acquiesced to the merciless process of sub-proletarianization under way around the world. Like the Marxist-Leninists of the global South in the 1990s that made their accomodation with IMF structural adjustment plans and the diversion of domestic resources for export lead economic development, Gonzalez has decided to participate in the impoverishment of American workers so as to increase the rate of primitive accumulation for transnational finance capitalists.
What, pray tell, has Gonzalez done to provoke such harsh criticism? He has decided to sponsor a measure for the San Francisco ballot, along with public defender Jeff Adachi, to require the public employees of the city and county of San Francisco to pay substantial increases in the amount that they pay towards their pensions and health benefits. It is, essentially, the same position that Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken in negotiations with state employee unions, with the back stage assistance of the Democratic majority in the legislature. Both Gonzalez and Adachi defend the measure as necessary to preserve public services provided by the city and county. Over the years, progressives have pushed several measures to require the financial district and its predominately commuter workforce to pay more towards covering the cost of local services. Now, Gonzalez has moved hard to the right, deciding that the burden should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the public sector employees, many of whom make far less than most San Franciscans. In other words, much as the American working class is supposed to subsidize finance capital, San Francisco public sector workers are supposed to subsidize the populace of one of the most affluent cities in the world.
Gonzalez has, after years of incisive criticism of neoliberalism, adopted one of its core principles, that global economic growth has stagnated because workers in the developed world make too much, not too little. Of course, besides being regressive, the measure is also bad economic policy because the removal of more money from the paychecks of these middle income and lower middle income workers will invariably be deflationary, putting more downward pressure on the city's budget deficit. Ironically, Gonzalez and Adachi find themselves looking to the city's downtown business interests, the ones that have opposed progressive policy measures for decades, to obtain the money necessary to qualify the measure for the ballot. One suspects that Gonzalez already has plans to exploit these new political relationships in the future.
Faced with a situation in which working class politics in the US is moribund, Gonzalez finally decided to throw in the towel, and seek to create a new, populist politics in support of public services at the expense of those who provide them. It is a sort of perverse left stance within an overall rightward movement towards the radical curtailment, if not elimination, of the public sector through financial starvation and privatization. One sees the same phenomenon in the California legislature, where Democratic leadership figures like Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg are attempting to lead the state employee unions, like lambs to the slaughter, into new adverse collective bargaining agreements on terms imposed by the Governor. Unlike Steinberg, Gonzalez sees a political benefit to personally leading the effort in a highly publicized manner. Last weekend, Gonzalez was scheduled to speak at the West Coast Socialism 2010 conference in honor of Camejo, who was apparently a close friend. Quite reasonably, the sponsors of the conference, the International Socialist Organization, disinvited him after he announced support for the Adachi measure. To have done anything otherwise would have been an insult to our memories of Peter Camejo.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
But where? Keep in mind that one of the overriding considerations is to escape the heat of the Central Valley. Berkeley has an all day event with music at the marina, crowned with a fireworks show at the end (which looks great, I'm sure, unless the fog has arrived). Interestingly, the announcement for the event this year warned of a possible cancellation if there was unrest in Oakland in response to a verdict in the Joseph Mehserle criminal case, the prosecution of the BART cop who killed Oscar Grant. It might be necessary, according to the announcement, for the Berkeley police to assist the Oakland PD in suppressing rioting and vandalism. Given that the 4th was on a Sunday this year, and the courts are closed on the weekend, the warning seemed to serve little purpose except to frighten the populace.
If you hadn't guessed, July 4th in Berkeley is a multicultural, with blues, funk and Zydeco. By contrast, the alternative, in Nevada City, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is old fashioned Americana, with a parade in the early afternoon and music afterwards at the county fairgrounds. It is a celebration of manifest destiny accompanied by a soft focus white supremacy. After all, Nevada County is, according to the most recent census figures, over 94% white. Contingents of veterans start the parade, followed by tea party participants, with the Democratic Party contingents conspicuously towards the end. The local natural foods coop participates, along with the peaceniks, but Latinos, and any acknowledgement of immigration as being part of the historical narrative of the US, are absent. Liz Cheney would approve.
We ended up in Nevada City for these reasons: it is easier to travel there than Berkeley (which we visit much more frequently than the foothills, anyway), the smaller scale of the parade makes it more enjoyable (my son is only 3 years old, and I personally don't like large crowds) and my wife can't resist the nostalgia of a small town July 4th. So, away we went. My son loved the local bands and an old steam engine used at the nearby mines long ago. Meanwhile, I got to see some tea party people in the flesh, a group with an obvious "I've Got Mine" perspective. Interestingly, the militarism, while present, was low key. I got the impression that people there were getting more tired of Iraq and Afghanistan than they might otherwise admit. It lacked the erotic exhuberance encountered on PBS's A Capitol Fourth. For, in Nevada City, the emphasis remains the community, not the purported omnipotence of the US military.
Of course, like much of the country, Nevada City celebrates a past that never existed. Racial and class struggles are forgotten or diminished in the forging of a mythology that focuses upon the militia, community identity and mutual aid as the foundations of the republic. Oddly enough, by doing so, it integrates some historic anarchist themes in the service of a decentralized nativist vision that paradoxically facilitated the accumulation of enormous reserves of capital for industrial development and imperial expansion. But the Berkeley event may well have its own failings.
If one can rely upon the description of it, Berkeley is, in essence, celebrating the civil rights movement as one that acknowledged the real, multi-ethnic dimension of the American experience. July 4th comes across as an extension of the Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez holidays there. By doing so, Berkeley risks concealing the resegregation of American life, and the stigmatization of youth of color as an invariably criminal class. More subtlely, it fails to come to terms with the extent to which the multicultural metanarrative has served as an essential cultural foundation for the war on terror after being cross-pollinized by the American exceptionalism on display in Nevada City. Neither acknowledges the sinister transformation of the US into a country in which a substantial amount of its public expenditures are directed towards military operations, military research and the creation of surveillance technologies for the avowed purpose of global social control.
Thursday, July 01, 2010
This has been a primary objective of President Obama since before he took office, and, within the next six to seven months, he will achieve it. Quietly, earlier this year, he appointed a commission, a purported deficit reduction commission, with a sufficient number of members in support of cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Predictably, the commission has adopted such a focus, prioritizing the financing military operations around the world instead of providing for the retirement of millions of Americans. The propaganda effort in support of these measures has been lead by America Speaks, a Pete Peterson funded organization dedicated to eviscerating Social Security and Medicare.
Last weekend, despite being subjected to rigged presentations about the perils of the deficit, attendees at forums organized by America Speaks rejected measures that would result in Social Security and Medicare cuts, opting instead for more government stimulus to spur economic recovery. Perhaps, it was this disasterous outcome that prompted Pelosi to take action today to ensure that the cuts are pushed through Congress before sufficient public momentum can develop to derail them. But what will the commission propose for adoption during the holiday season after the November election?
We have some good, reliable general ideas: an increase in the age for qualifying for full Social Security benefits from 67 to 70, means testing and the implementation of some form of limted investment in the stock market, either by the Social Security Trust Fund itself, or through personal retirement accounts. Meanwhile, as for Medicare, in addition to the successful stealth effort to cut Medicare through health care reform, the commission may find such proposals as increasing co-payments and other disincentives for seeking medicare care appealing. By early 2011, we shall have entered a brave new world, unless there is an unprecendented mass movement to stop the political and economic elites from implementing these policies. To be successful, it may well require civil disobedience on a scale not experienced since the civil rights movement.