Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Appeal for Redress

Last Wednesday, I posted about the Appeal for Redress, active duty soldiers petitioning for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Aaron Glantz describes one of the reasons for the emergence of this movement:

One reason for the rise in discontent is the high percentage of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who return from the war with serious injuries. According to documents obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, 25 percent of veterans of the "global war on terror" have filed disability compensation and pension benefit claims with the Veterans Benefits Administration.

One is a July 20, 2006, document titled "Compensation and Pension Benefit Activity Among Veterans of the Global War on Terrorism," which shows that 152,669 veterans filed disability claims after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of the more than 100,000 claims granted, Veterans Administration records show at least 1,502 veterans have been compensated as 100 percent disabled.

The numbers hardly surprise Adele Kubein, a graduate student in a teaching position at Oregon State University and a member of the group Military Families Speak Out. Her daughter Makesha, a member of the Oregon National Guard, was blown out of her helicopter in Iraq.

"Her leg was shattered and she was kept in combat two more months after that with a shattered leg," Kubein told IPS. "She was eventually medically evacuated out, and she was held on a base in Colorado interminably. They were not going to release her because there was no plan in place for medical assistance for National Guard members. They were threatening to release her from the military without further medical care."

Pamuk, Snow and the Nobel Peace Prize

On Thursday, October 12th, I posted a review of Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow in response to his selection for the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. In that review, I quoted the insightful perspective of the iconoclastic Spengler as a major feature of my review. Yesterday, Spengler elaborated upon Pamuk's current predicament:

Whatever the political motivations of the Swedish Academy might have been, Snow is an indispensable tale of civilizational tragedy. The pity is that Pamuk's own case would have made an even better novel; in the best self-referential fashion, he has become the protagonist of his own fiction in the theater of the real. Jorge Luis Borges would have been amused.

When Pamuk told a Swiss interviewer in February 2005 that Turkey had massacred "a million Armenians" during World War I (the actual number was more than twice that), he joined a number of Turkish academics who broached the great taboo of Turkish history. But he underestimated his country's swing toward political Islam under Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. The following June, Turkey enacted the notorious Article 301 making it a crime to "insult Turkishness", and Pamuk was charged retroactively. A storm of international protest persuaded the Turkish government to drop the charges, but Pamuk now lives in effective exile in New York, where Columbia University shelters him with a visiting professorship.

During a June 2004 visit to Turkey, US President George W Bush offered:

The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk has said that the finest view of Istanbul is not from the shores of Europe, or from the shores of Asia, but from a bridge that unites them, and lets you see both. His work has been a bridge between cultures, and so is the Republic of Turkey. The people of this land understand, as that great writer has observed, that "what is important is not [a] clash of parties, civilizations, cultures, East and West". What is important, he says, is to realize "that other people in other continents and civilizations" are "exactly like you".

The bridge has fallen, leaving Pamuk gasping for breath on the Western shore. Turkey's Western loyalties were founded upon a secular nationalism that sought to bury Islam under modernizing reforms. Pamuk's theme in Snow is the horrible emptiness of secular Turkey, with its poverty, inertia, bureaucratic sclerosis and official brutality. Thoroughly secular in upbringing and outlook, Pamuk nonetheless evinces profound sympathy for the Islamic loyalties of the Turkish poor, as well as the terrible attraction that political Islam holds for Turkey's disappointed elite.

Did Israel Use Uranium Weapons in Lebanon?

Lastly, I posted extensive coverage of the Israeli assault upon Lebanon during July and August. Now, Robert Fisk ponders whether Israel utilized a new uranium weapon during the conflict:

We know that the Israelis used American "bunker-buster" bombs on Hizbollah's Beirut headquarters. We know that they drenched southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, leaving tens of thousands of bomblets which are still killing Lebanese civilians every week. And we now know - after it first categorically denied using such munitions - that the Israeli army also used phosphorous bombs, weapons which are supposed to be restricted under the third protocol of the Geneva Conventions, which neither Israel nor the United States have signed.

But scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel's weapons inventory - and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures". Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry - used by the Ministry of Defence - which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples.

Dr Busby's initial report states that there are two possible reasons for the contamination. "The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or other experimental weapon (eg, a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash ... The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium." A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gillo Pontecorvo, Director of The Battle of Algiers and Queimada: Dead at 86 (Part 2) 

Part 1 is a retrospective evaluation of Pontecorvo's most popular, and most critically well-received film, The Battle of Algiers.

If The Battle of Algiers is revered for being a nearly perfectly executed, almost surgical, exposition of the contours of the violent struggle for Algerian independence, so skillfully rendered that it was mistakenly accepted as an archetype for such struggles globally, Queimada, or Burn!, as it was titled upon release in the US, is the opposite, a film that mesmerizes precisely because of the grandiosity of Pontecorvo, and his scriptwriter, Franco Solanis, in attempting the impossible task of encapsulating the lessons of three hundred years of imperialism in a 2 hour and 12 minute film. If one considers Queimada as a sort of prequel to The Battle of Algiers, a film in which Pontecorvo took almost exactly the same amount of time to focus upon a three year period in the independence struggle, 1954-1957, the absurdity of the enterprise becomes apparent.

With the exception of describing Queimada as a sequel to The Battle of Algiers, despite the fact that the events of the film predate the Algerian independence struggle by about 100 years, Geoff Andrew's capsule review for the TimeOut film guide is fairly good:

Pontecorvo's memorable sequel to Battle of Algiers sees Brando in finely ambiguous form as the drunken, cynical Sir William Walker, a British agent sent to the Caribbean island of Queimada in the mid-1800s to stir up a native rebellion against the Portuguese sugar monopoly; ten years later, he is forced to return there to destroy the leader he himself created, in order to open up trade with Britain. Falling between epic adventure and political allegory, the film is occasionally clumsily structured and poorly focused; but Pontecorvo, working from a script by Franco Solinas, provides a sharp, provocative analysis of colonialism, full of telling irony, bravura set pieces, and compelling imagery, while Brando's stiff-lipped performance, emphasising his character's confused mixture of dignity and deceit, intelligence and evil, determination and disillusion, never allows the allegory to dominate the human content. A flawed but fascinating film.

As an important aside, it should be noted that Pontecorvo and Solinas substituted Portugal for Spain after being subjected to pressure by the Spanish government, historically, there was no Portuguese sugar monopoly, so the film is really centered around the substitution of a feudal form of exploitation with a mercantile one.

Now, as to the flaw, it is readily identified. Unlike in The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo and Solinas could not rely so strongly upon the accumulation of detail as a form of narrative. Instead, they had chosen a project with such a broad canvas that it was necessary to dramatically interweave three challenging elements, an evocation of a particular time and place, unfamiliar to most viewers, a more romanticized storytelling approach and a sharp ideological perspective. Furthermore, the story itself was a much more abstract one about the relatively distant past, and hence, they lacked personal access to individuals, as they did prior to making The Battle of Algiers, who, as participants in the conflict, could relate personal experiences upon which the film could be grounded.

Despite an inability to maintain a clear, consistent perspective, Queimada remains, to this day, a riveting film to watch. As New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wrote upon its release, after describing his own dissatisfactions with it: Having said all this, I must add that I wasn't bored by the film for a minute. That was my experience when I watched it on television, in a dubbed American version, in the 1970s.

Why does the film remain so compelling? Well, first of all, it is one of the finest films ever made in regard to personalizing the brutalities of colonialism so as to force us to emotionally respond. For example, the racism by which Europeans, and their mixed race offspring, governed their Carribbean colonies with contempt for the indigenous populace is effectively conveyed through everyday social contact. It is unflinching in its presentation of counterinsurgency violence, most graphically in a scene where Walker orders his troops to burn a sugar cane field, forcing the rebels hiding within to try to escape by running out of the other end, only to be shot down. The sheer physicality of the people and events is a wonder, especially when contrasted with today's digital cinema.

As Amy Taubin observed:

Here, as in The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo is masterful at conjoining camera movement and the choreography of large groups of people so that the screen becomes charged with collective desire. Ennio Morricone's score, similar in its insistence and repetitiveness to the one he composed for The Battle of Algiers, employs the choral harmonies and modalities of Gregorian chants with a syncopated beat that has you just about leaping out of your seat when the victorious slave army, ragtag and radiant, comes dancing and prancing on the backs of plumed horses to claim the prize for their hard-won, bloody rebellion. The prize, of course, will not be theirs. The fork-tongued Walker will convince José Dolores (Evaristo Márquez), the rebel general he has mentored, that he's gone as far as he can go - that blacks cannot govern themselves or trade on the world market.

Interestingly, as with The Battle of Algiers, a retrospective viewing of Queimada reveals some problematic aspects that may not have been recognized when it was released because of its raw emotional power. Given its scathing indictment of colonialism, one can easy to miss the rather obvious fact that the film relies upon a narrative structure that is, in itself, imperialistic, the centering of a story about the abuse and revolutionary aspirations of the people of Queimada primarily in the person of Walker, the British mercenary. Pontecorvo and Solinas may have been an inspiration to filmmakers throughout the Global South, but with this film, unlike The Battle of Algiers, they left it to those they inspired to make films from the perspective of the colonized.

In effect, the film, despite the best efforts of Pontecorvo and Solanis, is a European critique of an odious aspect of European history, not a multicultural presentation of the tragic intersection of European and Carribbean experience. This is most blatantly exposed in the nature of the plot itself. Walker must travel to Queimada to discover and, as Taubin accurately describes, mentor Jose Dolores so that he can expel the feudal Portuguese. Walker provides Dolores with weapons, and even instigates an incident by which the rebellion is violently launched towards its success. The possibility that the people of Queimada possessed a history and a culture by which they might have ultimately organized themselves to overcome the Portuguese apparently never occurred to Pontecorvo and Solinas. Such a lack of agency, in contrast the Algerians in The Battle of Algiers, is remarkable, and may reflect an inability of the filmmakers to understand the social world of an indigenous people prior to being subjected to the transformative aspects of the imperial project.

Indeed, when viewed in this light, Pontecorvo's selection of an amateur actor, Evaristo Marquez, to play the role of Dolores takes on a different cast. Just as it was necessary for the fictional Walker to mentor the fictional Dolores, so it was equally necessary for Pontecorvo to mentor Marquez, as if Pontecorvo had more to contribute to the cultural aspect of a film about the revolutionary potential of indigenous Caribbean peoples. Taubin identifies the most Eurocentric aspect of Pontecorvo's interpretation when she astutely emphasizes the implicit homoeroticism in the relationship between Walker and Dolores.

In other words, we have yet another exoticized, sexualized interpretation of an encounter between white and dark skinned people. By 1969 standards, it was all very daring, but from our seat in the theater in 2006, it is shop worn. Pontecorvo and Solinas made a striking film based upon the Tinkers to Evers to Chance ideological construct of the day, feudalism to capitalism to socialism, with Walker and Dolores, subjected to the personal and sexual anxieties of the filmmakers, serving as the mechanism by which the process invariably moves forward, a process made even more explicit by the ending of the film. Depending upon your political philosophy, our perspective has become either more sophisticated, or more confused, and it awaits artists with the talent of Pontecorvo and Solanis to bring it to the screen.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Gillo Pontecorvo, Director of The Battle of Algiers and Queimada: Dead at 86 (Part 1) 

I missed the passing earlier this month of one of the great radical filmmakers of my youth:

Gillo Pontecorvo, who has died aged 86, was a gentle man with kind, twinkling eyes, who, among innumerable achievements, directed the classic film The Battle of Algiers (1965). Edward Said said that The Battle of Algiers and Queimada (1969), Pontecorvo's next film, were the two greatest political films ever made. He also said that Pontecorvo's political work for the cinema made it possible for directors such as Costa-Gavras to emerge, as well as influencing other film-makers in the Third World.

During the 1960s, Pontecorvo became convinced that the anti-colonialist wars of the time were an important theme for a film. In 1962, he and fellow director Franco Solinas went to Algeria - as its war of independence against France was concluding - armed with false papers and the idea of building a story around a former paratrooper during that war. Franco Cristaldi, the producer, did not want to make the film, not least since the French extreme right-wing group, the OAS, was planting bombs against those who supported the Algerian cause.

Then, in 1964, after independence, former Algerian guerrilla Salah Baazi visited Italy in search of a director to make a film on the independence struggle. He met Pontecorvo, whose idea for Para, as the film was going to be called, did not appeal. Baazi did not want a film that treated the subject from a European point of view. Pontecorvo eventually proposed an alternative scenario, offering to work for nothing in case the film did not please the Algerians. In return, the then ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) would assist Pontecorvo and Solinas to find and interview activists. The writing of the screenplay ("a fiction written under the dictatorship of fact") was long and arduous, but when Pontecorvo arrived in Algiers, it was discovered that the script had been left on the roof of a car. Two weeks later sections of it appeared in a French rightwing newspaper.

The Algerian general strike of 1957 was the focus of the black and white film. All the players, with the exception of Jean Martin (Colonel Mathieu), were non-professionals. Pontecorvo co-wrote the score with Ennio Morricone and he continued to write scores for his films, maintaining they were structured with music in mind (he regarded The Battle of Algiers as having a "symphonic structure").

When The Battle of Algiers was screened at the Venice Film Festival in 1966, it received a great ovation. Pontecorvo maintained it was the most emotional moment of his life. He won the Golden Lion, but the French delegation left in protest and the film was not distributed in France until 1971. Death threats deterred cinema owners, and it was only through pressure from the director, Louis Malle, and others that it was eventually shown.

The Washington Post observed that the brilliance of The Battle of Algiers lies not only with its masterfully fictionalized documentary appearance, but equally with its subtle, humanistic portrayal of all participants in the conflict:

Based on interviews with soldiers and Resistance leaders, Mr. Pontecorvo and his frequent scriptwriting collaborator Franco Solinas showed the cruelty and humanity of all sides in the fight. The scenes of torture by the French authorities are weighed against the insurgents' massacre of young civilians at a cafe.

In another memorable scene, the French colonel who is the chief nemesis of the Algerian guerrillas lectures the visiting press about the political situation. He articulates an awareness that he is on the wrong side of history but that as a soldier, he has a role to fulfill.

The colonel's ambivalence is central to Mr. Pontecorvo's powerful filmmaking. "Pontecorvo makes many French soldiers and colonists credible and sympathetic figures, caught up in a larger, politico-economic pattern of exploitation," film historian David Thomson wrote. "In short, it is the more politically convincing because it does not manipulate its people."

In this, and the ironic stance required to execute it, Pontecorvo could be said, strangely enough, to be a cinematic descendant of Douglas Sirk and an anticipation of another of my favorite directors, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Indeed, Fassbinder was considered notorious by some for what they thought were overly empathetic portrayals of the ideological enemies of his time, whether developers, financiers, cops, soldiers or even influential ex-Nazis permitted by the US to have prominent roles in the West German republic.

Pontecorvo described his own feelings about the film:

"So many critics see The Battle of Algiers as propaganda," Mr. Pontecorvo told the New York Times in 1969. "But in the scenes of death, the same religious music accompanies both the French and Arab bombings. I am on the side of the Arabs, but I feel compassion for the French even if historically they were at fault. I do not say the French were bad, only that they were wrong."

"My subject," he said, "is the sadness and laceration that the birth of a nation means in our time."

Having watched The Battle of Algiers in the theater recently, I pondered how its significance has evolved with the passage of time. Initially understood as the transmutation of the Algerian independence struggle into an enduring, politically influential cultural creation, it is now something else as well, a disturbing contemplation about how the brutal suppression of an indigenous people can elevate the most calculating, most merciless practioners of violence to positions of power.

As Joe Allen observed:

While the film focuses on the terrorist tactics of the NLF against the French army and settlers, showing them to be products of necessity and repression, there is also an implicit criticism of such tactics.

Cognizant of the tragedy of subsequent Algerian history, especially the horrific insurgency of the 1990s, I thought that Pontecorvo must have been aware that the line between gangsterism and armed liberation struggle was often indistinct. As an Italian journalist and filmmaker, he must have known about the role of the Mafia in Italian politics, and the extent to which its methods could be extremely effective outside the world of criminal activity.

The fact that The Battle of Algiers was screened at the Pentagon prior to the invasion of Iraq has reinvigorated the film's iconic status, but the officers in attendance do not appear to have absorbed Pontecorvo's insight. Perhaps, in light of the subsequent trajectory of the war and occupation, they should watch it again.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Paradoxical Struggle Between Starbucks and Ethiopia 

An interesting item from the Guardian:

Starbucks, the giant US coffee chain, has used its muscle to block an attempt by Ethiopia's farmers to copyright their most famous coffee bean types, denying them potential earnings of up to £47m a year, said Oxfam.

The development agency said the Ethiopian government last year filed copyright applications to trademark its most famous coffee names - Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe. Securing the rights to these names would enable the impoverished African country to control their use in the market and allow farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price.

The move would have increased its annual export earnings from coffee by 25%.

Apparently, after Starbucks withdrew a earlier application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for one of these varieties, Sidamo, Ethiopia attempted to obtain copyright protection for all three of them, and Starbucks objected.

It is easy to read this story as a classic instance of attempted transnational expropriation of the brand identification created by the peoples of Ethiopia, and it is certainly an accurate one. But, there is more to the story. For example, the very fact that consumers around the world apparently relate to Ethiopian coffee as a function of its brand names is noteworthy, an indication that the abstraction of the corporate business model into intellectual property, such as brand names, trade secrets and patents, has permeated even the most undeveloped countries. We are far beyond the boundaries of the branded world described by Naomi Klein in No Logo in 1996.

After all, there is something quite striking about an agricultural commodity having a substantially increased value because of the public's identification with its name. To some extent, this has always been true. I grew up in Georgia, and Vidalia onions are nationally praised for their gentle, sweet flavor. In this instance, however, economic value has been split into the components of the physical bean itself and its varietal name.

The consequences of such a subconscious consumer separation of value between commodity and varietal name is alarming, because it compels Ethiopian coffee growers to play by the rules of the neoliberal legal and economic system. As the article states: Securing the rights to these names would enable the impoverished African country to control their use in the market and allow farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price. In other words, Ethiopia could monopolize the marketing of their coffee globally by reference to the same intellectual property rights enforced by the transnationals.

Sadly, it appears that such an approach is necessary to defend against corporate predations into the world of indigenous peoples. As Vandana Shiva has written:

The expansion of "intellectual property rights" into the domain of life forms and biodiversity, and the globalisation of this regime through Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreements of GATT/WTO, has been an attempt to enclose the biological and intellectual commons. This publication is a step towards the recovery of the commons, especially for the two - thirds of India who live outside the livelihoods provided by the state and the market in what is referred to as the biodiversity based economy.

The biodiversity based economy of India represents the poorest communities in the marginalised regions. Their access to biodiversity and their use of their indigenous knowledge and skills is their primary means of livelihood security.

The "piracy" of their indigenous innovation through patents, and the diversion of their biological resources to global markets undermines the livelihoods of the two - thirds of India - women, tribals, peasants, pastoralists and fisherfolk. It also threatens the biodiversity base which they have protected because their survival has depended upon it.

The recovery of the commons for traditional communities is based on their recognition of their own rights and recognition by the state that communities have their own rights, knowledge, and values. This recognition by the formal legal systems would not give the state the right to intrude in local biodiversity utilisation patterns based on community rights, but it would create an obligation on the state to prevent external actors from "pirating" local resources and indigenous knowledge, and from imposing property rights regimes that counter community rights and cultural values.

Shiva emphasizes what she and others have described as biopiracy, the expropriation of indigenous innovation through patents, which grant the recipient the right to charge a fee for its use, but this Ethiopian episode reveals that, even if one successfully resists the seizure of the intangible value of a commodity through a patent, transnationals may now accomplish a similar objective by copyrighting the varietal names by which it is known in the marketplace.

Even worse, as already suggested, indigenous peoples must implicitly accept the terms of the neoliberal system to preserve what little has been left to them, at least as measured financially, by perfecting patents and copyrights before transnationals do so. There is no recovery of the commons, merely a more benign enclosure by Ethiopia to avoid the more pernicious one sought by Starbucks.

Hat tip to the Angry Arab for bringing the Guardian story to my attention.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Appeal for Redress: An Important Development 

UPDATE: Organizers said the number of signatories has climbed from 65 to 219 since the appeal was posted a few days ago and Wednesday when it was publicly launched.

INITIAL POST: Dissent to the war has now entered the enlisted ranks:

More than 100 U.S. service members have signed a rare appeal urging Congress to support the "prompt withdrawal" of all American troops and bases from Iraq, organizers said yesterday.

"Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home," reads the statement of a small grass-roots group of active-duty military personnel and reservists that says it aims to give U.S. military members a voice in Iraq war policy.

"As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of American military forces and bases from Iraq," it reads. The group, which aims to collect 2,000 signatures and deliver the "Appeal for Redress" to Congress in January, is sponsored by antiwar activists including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.

The statement, and the effort to solicit more signatures, evokes memories of the suppressed history of resistance to the Vietnam War within the US military, as summarized by Matthew Rinaldi:

. . .The feeling spread among U. S. troops that they were fighting this war all alone. These experiences created a mood of despair, disgust, and anger, as GIs turned increasingly to dope and played out their time with the simple hope of survival. As one GI put it, "Our morale, man ? Its so low you can't even see it."

This situation led to the rapid decay of the U. S. military's fighting ability in Vietnam. The catchword was CYA ("cover your ass"); as one GI expressed it, "You owe it to your body to get out of here alive." Low morale, hatred for the Army, and huge quantities of dope all contributed to the general desire to avoid combat. One platoon sergeant stated, "Almost to a man, the members of my platoon oppose the war . . . The result is a general malaise which pervades the entire company. There is a great deal of pressure on leaders at the small unit level, such as myself, to conduct what are popularly referred to as 'search and avoid' missions, and to do so as safely and cautiously as possible." The brass watched these developments with general helplessness. As a brigade commander in the 25th Division put it, "Back in 1967, officers gave orders and didn't have to worry about the sensitivities of the men. Today, we have to explain things to the men and find new ways of doing the job. Otherwise, you can send the men on a search mission, but they won't search."

While this malaise seriously affected the war effort, the spectre of open mutiny was even more startling. In 1968 there were 68 recorded incidents of combat refusal in Vietnam. By 1969 entire units were refusing orders. Company A of the 21st Infantry Division and units of the 1st Air Cavalry Division refused to move into battle. By 1970 there were 35 separate combat refusals in the Air Cavalry Division alone. At the same time, physical attacks on officers, known as "fraggings", became widespread, 126 incidents in 1969 and 271 in 1970. Clearly, this army did not want to fight.

The situation stateside was less intense but no less disturbing to the military brass. Desertion and AWOL became absolutely epidemic. In 1966 the desertion rate was 14.7 per thousand, in 1968 it was 26.2 per thousand, and by 1970 it had risen to 52.3 per thousand; AWOL was so common that by the height of the war one GI went AWOL every three minutes. From January of '67 to January of '72 a total of 354,112 GIs left their posts without permission, and at the time of the signing of the peace accords 98,324 were still missing. Yet these figures represent only the most disaffected; had the risks not been so great, the vast majority of Vietnam era GIs would have left their uniforms behind.

There is a common misconception that it was draftees who were the most disaffected elements in the military. In fact, it was often enlistees who were most likely to engage in open rebellion. Draftees were only in for two years, went in expecting the worst, and generally kept their heads down until they got out of uniform. While of course many draftees went AWOL and engaged in group resistance when it developed, it was enlistees who were most angry and most likely to act on that anger. For one thing, enlistees were in for three or four years; even after a tour of duty in Nam they still had a long stretch left in the service. For another thing, they went in with some expectations, generally with a recruiter's promise of training and a good job classification, often with an assurance that they wouldn't be sent to Vietnam. When these promises weren't kept, enlistees were really pissed off. A study commissioned by the Pentagon found that 64% of chronic AWOLs during the war years were enlistees, and that a high percentage were Vietnam vets.

Significantly, there are no draftees in Iraq, just enlistees. Of course, we are nowhere near the level of resistance that emerged during the Vietnam War, although it is entirely possible that the combative readiness of the military has been comprised more than has been publicly reported. After all, morale is low, reminiscent of the malaise of evasion of combat acknowledged by the officers quoted by Rinaldi. Frightening episodes of grotesque torture and violence inflicted upon Iraqis have become commonplace.

Troops were sent into Baghdad in June to contain sectarian conflict, but, earlier this month, coalition forces acknowledged that this endeavor, Operation Together Forward, has failed. With 91 dead Americans, and six days remaining, October is the deadliest month for US forces since January 2005, and we may see the first month with more than 1000 wounded since November 2004.

Iraqi dead bodies are being exported for burial, and rumors abound. The US is engaged in secret negotiations with Sunni insurgents; The US has offered amnesty to these insurgents to bring them into the poliical process; The US is meeting with Iraqi officers to plot a coup against Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. Increasingly, many believe that the US and the British recognize that the war is lost, and are therefore seeking an exit strategy for extricating themselves from Iraq.

Soldiers have Internet access, and can draw similar conclusions, which don't motivate them to dedicate themselves to the mission. As they return home wondering how this could have happened, lenin has identified a related malaise, a beneficial one:

Precisely as the loss in Vietnam opened up possibilities for revolutionaries in US-supported regimes like South Korea, Nicaragua, Iran, Angola, even Portugal and Spain. It reduced the US scope for direct military intervention for decades. Imperial malaise is not something the Bush administration wants to accomplish. Yet, if the army is increasingly unwilling to fight, and if the local surrogates will not do as they are told, no other outcome is available.

But there could be equally important domestic consequences. One wonders the extent to which Kevin Tillman, the brother of Pat Tillman, and a veteran in his own right, speaks from them:

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

The Appeal for Redress statement is a profoundly important event, one that may be remembered as foreshadowing a new politics in America. But what will it be? It may depend upon how soldiers returning from Iraq respond to the eclectic fusion of patriotic and progressive sensibilities expressed by the signatories.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


From the October 2006 issue of Harper's:

A hidden crisis is under way. Many government insiders are aware of serious plans for war with Iran, but Congress and the public remain largely in the dark. The current situation is very like that of 1964, the year preceding our overt, open-ended escalation of the Vietnam War, and 2002, the year leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In both cases, if one or more conscientious insiders had closed the information gap with unauthorized disclosures to the public, a disastrous war might have been averted entirely. . . .

We face today a crisis similar to those of 1964 and 2002, a crisis hidden once again from the public and most of Congress. Articles by Seymour Hersh and others have revealed that, as in both those earlier cases, the president has secretly directed the completion, though not yet execution, of military operational plans—not merely hypothetical “contingency plans” but constantly updated plans, with movement of forces and high states of readiness, for prompt implementation on command—for attacking a country that, unless attacked itself, poses no threat to the United States: in this case, Iran.

According to these reports, many high-level officers and government officials are convinced that our president will attempt to bring about regime change in Iran by air attack; that he and his vice president have long been no less committed, secretly, to doing so than they were to attacking Iraq; and that his secretary of defense is as madly optimistic about the prospects for fast, cheap military success there as he was in Iraq.

Even more ominously, Philip Giraldi, a former CIA official, reported in The American Conservative a year ago that Vice President Cheney’s office had directed contingency planning for “a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons” and that “several senior Air Force officers” involved in the planning were “appalled at the implications of what they are doing—that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack—but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objection.” . . . .

Assuming Hersh’s so-far anonymous sources mean what they say—that this is, as one puts it, “a juggernaut that has to be stopped”—I believe it is time for one or more of them to go beyond fragmentary leaks unaccompanied by documents. That means doing what no other active official or consultant has ever done in a timely way: what neither Richard Clarke nor I nor anyone else thought of doing until we were no longer officials, no longer had access to current documents, after bombs had fallen and thousands had died, years into a war. It means going outside executive channels, as officials with contemporary access, to expose the president’s lies and oppose his war policy publicly before the war, with unequivocal evidence from inside.

Ellsberg, one of the most principled, most courageous people in America in our lifetime, still commands our attention, because, despite all that he has experienced, his optimism is undiminished. He speaks to our personal idealism with a strongly held belief that people can be induced to do the right thing, the moral thing, and that by doing so, they can literally change history.

Frankly, I'm not sure that I share his perspective, I have a more deterministic turn of mind, even as I hope that social movements in Venezuela, in China, in India and elsewhere around the world can transform a world dominated by US neoliberalism. I am more certain, however, that, in the absence of people like Ellsberg, there would be no hope at all.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

China: End of an Era? (Conclusion) 

Fundamental socioeconomic changes, such as those currently being pursued by the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, do not happen overnight. Invariably, they emerge from years of accumulated human experience, among workers, among intellectuals, and, in the case of China, among the members of the party itself. In a late July post that predates this series, I attempted to summarize the extent of anarchic protest and violence that has swept China in recent years.

Workers, students, and poor people generally (which includes the vast majority of Chinese) have frequently responded on a mass basis to perceived official slights, broken promises of governmental assistance, favoritism towards the wealthy, intolerable working conditions and attempts to seize and dismantle whatever remains of the collective property, services and security of the iron rice bowl. Peter Kwong, in a seminal article that I mentioned here previously, has described the chaotic unrest that now engulfs China:

The Chinese public is not indifferent; demonstrations of discontent are on the rise. In 2004, the Public Security Bureau reported that the number of "mass incidents" had risen to 74,000. In 2005, the number jumped another 13 percent. "A protest begins in China every five minutes. If the protests run longer than five minutes, then there are two going on at the same time," observed David Zweig, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

As the number of protests increases, so does the intensity of violence used to suppress them. The worst occurred last December, when a special paramilitary unit of the national police force shot and killed as many as 20 protesters in the Guangdong village of Dongzhou. This is the largest known killing of unarmed civilians in China since 1989, and has been dubbed as the "Mini-Tiananmen Massacre." The protest began over the forced eviction of villagers from their land to make room for the construction of a foreign-financed wind power plant. When the villagers rejected the official offer of $3 per family in compensation, which one resident described as "not enough to buy toilet paper to wipe one's ass," they were brought face-to-face with paramilitary policemen carrying AK-47 assault rifles and flanked with tanks. According to the New York Times, the police started firing tear gas into 1,000 demonstrators around 7 p.m. When that failed to scare the people, "at about 8 p.m. they started using guns, shooting bullets into the ground, but not really targeting anybody. Finally, at about 10 p.m. they started killing people." Vicious repressions similar to this have been reported all across the country.

It can plausible be said that violent protest in China exceeds the unrest experienced in the United States, Japan and Western Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We can only hope that social historians are already out in the field, conducting investigations and interviewing participants so as to create an oral and documentary history of these momentous events. In Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series, I have suggested that President Hu Jintao, as he has consolidated his control over the party and the government, has abandoned over 25 years of neoliberal policy to preserve the integrity of the Chinese nation itself.

Intellectuals have also been begun to challenge the dominant economic orthodoxy. The New York Times, in a rare instance of quality journalism, presented the odyssey of one such intellectual, Wang Hui, in a lengthy, insightful article entitled, China's New Leftist. Visitors to this site are encouraged to click upon the link and take the time to read the article in its entirety. Wang participated in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and had this experience after being subsequently subjected to re-education:

In Wang's case, punishment by pedagogy seems to have been more successful than the Chinese authorities could have anticipated. He dates his "real education" to the time he spent in Shaanxi, one of the poorest regions of China. He was shocked by the obvious disparity between the coastal cities, then enjoying the first fruits of economic change, and the provinces. He was shocked, too, by his own ignorance and that of his colleagues in the 1989 social movement. "We had no idea that the old order in much of rural China was in deep crisis," he said.

The commune system in Shaanxi was dismantled as part of Deng Xiaoping's reforms, and land was redistributed. But the area produced nothing of much value, not even enough food. Deepening poverty led to a sharp increase in crime and social problems; violent conflicts broke out over land; men took to gambling, beating up and selling their wives and daughters.

"It was during that year," Wang said, "that I realized how important a welfare system and cooperative network remained for many people in China. This is not a socialist idea. Even the imperial dynasties that ruled China kept a balance between rich and poor areas through taxes and almsgiving.

"People confine China's experience to the Communist dictatorship and failures of the planned economy and think that the market will now do everything. They don't see how many things in the past worked and were popular with ordinary people, like cooperative medical insurance in rural areas, where people organized themselves to help each other. That might be useful today, since the state doesn't invest in health care in rural areas anymore."

Wang acknowledged that there was initially strong support for Deng Xiaoping's market-oriented policies, but, with the passage of time, intellectuals reconsidered:

Only in the last decade, Wang said, have intellectuals of the New Left begun to challenge the notion that a market economy leads inevitably to democracy and prosperity. China's intention to join the World Trade Organization (which it did in 2001) provoked unexpectedly sharp debates among scholars. As Wang described it, the terms of the debate had changed: "Many people knew by then that globalization is not a neutral word describing a natural process. It is part of the growth of Western capitalism, from the days of colonialism and imperialism."

Which is not to say the New Left embraced an easy antiglobalist position; it has been critical of recent anti-Japanese and anti-American outbursts among urban, middle-class Chinese - of what Wang dubbed "consumer nationalism."

Wang added: "Many people also learned that the reason the Chinese economy did not collapse like the Asian tiger economies in 1997 was that the national state was able to protect it. Now, of course, China with its export-dominated economy is more dependent on the Western world order, especially the American economy, than India."

In January of this year, Wang published a long investigative article exposing the plight of workers in a factory in his hometown, Yangzhou, a city of about one million. According to Wang, in 2004 the local government sold the profitable state-owned textile factory to a real estate developer from Shenzhen. Worker-equity shares were bought for 30 percent of their actual value, and then more than a thousand workers were laid off after mismanagement of the factory led to losses.

In July 2004, the workers went on strike. In what Wang calls an agitation without precedent in the history of Yangzhou, the workers obstructed a major highway, halted bus traffic and attacked the gates of local government buildings.

Wang told me that he was helping the workers to sue the local government. "People claim," he said, "that the market will automatically force the state to become more democratic. But this is baseless. We only have to think about the alliance of elites formed in the process of privatization. The state will change only when it is under pressure from a large social force, like the workers and peasants."

Has the state already commenced to implement changes, or are they merely cosmetic, or, even worse, an attempt to reimpose autocratic methods of social control in the guise of social welfare? Time will tell, of course, but, as I have already said, effective implementation of the last alternative appears unlikely, given the withering away of community oversight of personal behaviour and the enforceability of restrictions upon travel, employment and residency.

By conventional accounts, President Hu is a traditional reformist Chinese Communist leader, supporting policies that would improve the lives of his impoverished people, achieve greater transparency in governmental activities, while retaining the party's monopoly on power. He has reportedly called Gorbachev a betrayer of socialism, and has aggressively suppressed political dissent.

But does Hu believe that he can accomplish his goals by recourse to the tried, true, and consistently flawed methods of the state security forces, the party apparat and popular sentiment, as filtered through state controlled media? Mao manipulated these levers, and incited the masses by urging them to attain impossible, utopian dreams, leading to the catastrophic excesses of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Deng had a gentler touch, and released the entrepreneurial energies of the elite, but left most people defensiveless in the face of a sinister, covert network of developers, business owners, investors and Marxist-Leninist bureaucrats.

Now, Hu is moving to shatter it, recognizing that it has substituted itself for the rule of the party and the state, but what will replace it? Hu maligns Gorbachev, but he must be aware that when Gorbachev dismantled state socialism, he also destroyed the legitimacy of the military and security services and, hence, the institutions that protected the party from the hurricane of popular discontent.

If Hu moderates his social welfare and anti-corruption efforts, there is the peril that it will fail, engendering more public dissatisfaction, and, potentially, even more violent unrest. If he presses ahead with a firm resolve, there is the possibility, as with Gorbachev, that the remaining authority of the party will dissolve.

Wang Hui hints at a path to a solution, the creation of a social system based upon the more benevolent aspects of Chinese history: Even the imperial dynasties that ruled China kept a balance between rich and poor areas through taxes and almsgiving. Most leaders understand that radical political change is facilitated by inscribing it within their country's history and culture. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has gone much further than Hu, but it is no accident that he has identified Simon Bolivar as the touchstone for his political movement.

Friday, October 20, 2006

China: End of an Era? (Part 3) 

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series examined how internal party political conflict, rampant corruption, poverty and social unrest is transforming Chinese society. President Hu Jintao is consolidating political power, and pursuing economic policies that, if successfully implemented, will constitute a repudiation of the neoliberal model that has held sway since 1978.

There were more revelations this week indicating that Hu's interrelated efforts to investigate and prosecute corrupt party officials, closely aligned with major business interests, and empower labor unions is a serious one.

First, in regard to the government sponsored unionization effort:

China's top trade union has called on all foreign companies operating in China to establish union branches. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) urged foreign companies to follow the example of Wal-Mart, which has initiated a process of setting up unions in all its stores throughout the country. . . .

Notably, Xu slammed multinationals such as Foxconn, Kodak and Dell for their long refusal to allow the establishment of trade unions, and called on unionists at all levels to make the establishment of branches at those companies' bases in China "breakthrough goals".

Xu said resistance from foreign companies sprung from their lack of understanding of the status and function of Chinese trade unions, which they consider opponents.

"A trade union should unite and organize employees, boosting the development of a company, guarding employees' rights and maintaining harmony in the workplace," said Xu . . . .

Sixty percent of the more than 150,000 foreign companies in the country are expected to have their own trade unions by the end of this year, Xu predicted.

Meanwhile, China's trade unions expect to recruit 8 million rural migrant workers in each of the next three years, an official with ACFTU said.

"Hundreds of millions of migrant workers have become an important part of the Chinese workforce and they are helping drive economic and social development, so it's imperative to safeguard their rights," said Sun Chunlan, vice chairman of the ACFTU, at Sunday's national conference on protecting migrant workers' rights.

Clearly, one should not exaggerate, and characterize these developments as the creation of adversarial, French-style labor unions. But it is indicative that social conditions have degenerated to such a degree that there is an urgency to collectivizing workers, even migrant ones, into organizations that will curtail the most extreme abuses. No doubt, there is also a more sinister social control purpose to such a collectivization, but it is hard to see how it can succeed, especially given the loss of the ability to restrict the movement of the populace, unless these organizations produce a recognizable improvement in their lives.

Second, the anti-corruption drive has brought down another high level party official:

Releasing economic statistics for the first three quarters of this year, China on Thursday confirmed that the recently sacked director of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Qiu Xiaohua, was under investigation for his suspected involvement in a scandal in Shanghai involving the embezzlement of social security funds worth billions of dollars.

Qiu thus becomes the first minister-level official in the central government netted in Beijing's investigation into the Shanghai affair, which now appears to be snowballing. . . .

"In their investigation of the case of embezzling of Shanghai's social security funds, relevant authorities found that Qiu Xiaohua has seriously violated [the party and government's] disciplines. He is now under investigation by the [Communist Party's] central commission for disciplinary inspection," said Li Xiaochao, spokesman for NBS, at a press conference to release economic statistics in Beijing on Thursday.

Last Friday, the State Council, China's cabinet, suddenly announced the removal of Qiu as NBS director without offering any explanation. Qiu, 48, was only promoted to the post seven months ago. At the same time, the State Council appointed Xie Fuzhan, 52, as the new NBS director, replacing Qiu immediately.

Power that flowed one direction has changed course, and is now flowing in a much different one. As in countries like Indonesia and Russia, neoliberalism created an interconnected social elite, one that seized control of businesses, property, resources, and, yes, even people, exploiting them to personal advantage without any accountability and social responsibility, destroying public confidence in the party and the state as they did so.

The anti-corruption drive is cutting the cords of covert influence that enabled this system to flourish, and intimidating anyone who might raise a voice to object. For now, the sensibility is reformist, but the nature of the conflict, and public expectations, could transform the endeavor into a more radical one, with the potential of revolutionary transformation.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Iran-Syria Plan in Afghanistan 

There's been a lot of talk lately about what James Baker's Iraq Study Group is going to mean for Iraq policy. I think we can get a glimpse of things to come by taking a look at what's been going on with the US's other war.

Earlier this month, Pakistan cut a peace deal with the Taliban: Pakistan agreed to withdraw troops from the Afghanistan border and freed hundreds of prisoners in exchange for pro-Taliban tribal militias promising to stop attacking the Pakistani army and to reframe from entering Afghanistan. The peace deal was widely criticized in the US and British press. The CSM quoted an unnamed source who called the agreement "a total capitulation" by Islamabad. The Times described it as a "face-saving retreat for the Pakistani Army" and "one of the most obvious capitulations since it began its campaign to rout foreign fighters from [North Waziristan]" that has "in effect ceded the militants a sanctuary in the area." The Post quoted an "official at an international agency" as follows:

This could be a very dangerous development. [...] Until recently there has been relative stability in eastern Afghanistan, but now that could start to deteriorate.

In this context, last week, British Gen. David Richards, commander of NATO forces, met with President Musharraf, and the pre-meeting spin, particularly in the British press, played up the meeting as an attempt by NATO to rein in or otherwise chastise Pakistan. A Guardian piece titled "Musharraf faces new questions over Taliban" noted that the meeting followed "a string of accusations, some from within Nato, that Pakistan [had] failed to close down Taliban sanctuaries in the northern tribal belt, and that elements within its [intelligence] agency may be assisting the insurgency", and an article in the Sunday Times openly referred to the meeting as a "confrontation". Rumor had it that Richards was going present Musharraf with an address in Quetta where Mullah Omar could be found and demand his arrest.

But this showdown never came to pass. In fact the Australian press reported that the much-maligned Pakistan-Taliban peace deal might actually be a "blueprint for a possible [NATO] accord with the Taliban in Afghanistan":

[F]ar from criticising General Musharraf, it appears the Pakistani leader's deal with Taliban-supporting tribal militants in the North Waziristan district of the North West Frontier Province could form the basis of an accord aimed at ending the insurgency and bringing the Taliban into the Government in Kabul.

From General Musharraf down, senior Pakistani officials are insisting that NATO is now supporting Islamabad's bid to reach a peace accord with the Taliban. Reports in New Delhi quoted General Richards as supporting the agreement with the Taliban in North Waziristan, saying it could set an example of how best to deal with such problems

Dealing with questions about the previous frame, that NATO displeasure with Pakistan forced Richards to confront Musharraf, Richards in a briefing yesterday claimed that the British press simply had the story wrong:

[...]I was really angry about that report [in the Sunday Times] And I have to say, the journalist in question, and not many of you will know this, was really angry too, because they talked about me going to confront the Pakistanis, and nothing could be further from the truth. And I have actually had an apology from the Sunday Times journalist because she was so angry. [ ... ] And I did have to explain early on to the Pakistanis that I was not going in a confrontational mood or mode, because both having had long discussions with President Karzai before I went, and with my own political leaders in NATO, that we are in this together. Pakistan and Afghanistan, who do have differing interpretations over what is happening here in terms of the insurgency, are quite clear that they've got to solve it together as a team, and that is the essence of the Tripartite Commission. And that is the spirit with which I went to Pakistan. I was very-well received.

which is all fine and good, but not very credible. That Richards went to Pakistan to scold Musharraf may well be false, fine -- but the reports that there were voices within NATO accusing Pakistan of refusing to defend its border with Afghanistan are a matter of the public record; that is, I don't think the Sunday Times was manufacturing quotations.

This whole story seems a lot like what may be about to happen in Iraq. One of the most controversial policy option Baker and the boys are supposed to be considering is the so-called "Iran-Syria plan" in which the US would attempt to cut some sort of deal with Iran and Syria in order to stabilize Iraq. Looks like the plan is already being implemented ... in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Islamic Trivial Pursuit 

Jonathan Schwarz flags a Times editorial that, as the kids say, would be funny if it wasn't so scary. Seriously, this one really would be funny if it wasn't so scary -- oh hell, actually it's still pretty funny. Apparently loads of high-ranking republicans, counterterrorism chiefs, and so forth don't know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites: (from here)

I asked the F.B.I.’s spokesman, John Miller, about [bureau counterterrorism chief Gary Bald not knowing the difference between Sunnis and Shiites]. “A leader needs to drive the organization forward,” Mr. Miller told me. “If he is the executive in a counterterrorism operation in the post-9/11 world, he does not need to memorize the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be able to read Urdu to be effective. ... Playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit’ was a cheap shot for the lawyers and a cheaper shot for the journalist. It’s just a gimmick.” [...]

Take Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.” [ ... ]

Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.”

Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?

“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”

Did she think that it was important, I asked, for members of Congress charged with oversight of the intelligence agencies, to know the answer to such questions, so they can cut through officials’ puffery when they came up to the Hill?

“Oh, I think it’s very important,” said Ms. Davis, “because Al Qaeda’s whole reason for being is based on their beliefs. And you’ve got to understand, and to know your enemy.”

Of course, I guess this all shouldn't be too surprising ... remember this little anecdote from last summer?

Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq, RAW STORY has learned.

In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Inching Towards Out Now! 

Juan Cole finally comes around to the position that the US is doing more harm than good in Iraq and called for a "phased withdrawal" on yesterday's NewsHour. Cole had been the commentator for whom I have the most respect who up to now had stuck to the US-must-remain-in-Iraq-as-a-bloodbath-deterrent position. Commenting on the NewsHour appearance Cole writes

What is amazing is that Iraqi police and military forces seem to just be standing aside and letting the bloodletting and attacks go on. Either they are collaborating or afraid, and either way they are not doing their jobs. As long as they don't, the bloodletting in Iraq, which is killing 200,000 a year, will go on. [...]

I called for a phased withdrawal of US troops because I despair of getting Shiites and Kurds to compromise with Sunni Arabs in any other way. I realize that they still might not compromise, but at least there is a chance they would come to their senses if they couldn't have the Marines keep their enemies down for them.

Yeah, he's not advocating pulling all US troops out of Iraq immediately, but it's better than his previous calls for a policy of "Special Forces and air power to support Iraqi forces". Or, maybe, you know, he's still talking about the same damn thing...
(hat tip JustForeignPolicy)

Another Freak Needlepointing Accident? 

So AFP reports another prisoner died of a heart attack at America's biggest prison in Iraq, (that no one's ever heard of)

An Iraqi detainee has died of an apparent heart attack in Camp Bucca, a US-run prison in southern Iraq, the US military said on Saturday.

"The detainee was admitted to the hospital on October 5 after complaining of chest pains," the military said in a statement.

In the early hours of Thursday morning he called for assistance.

"Doctors in the intensive care unit attempted to assist him in breathing; however, a cardiac monitor showed no pulse," the statement said.

"Further attempts to resuscitate the detainee failed."

which sounds a lot like the last time someone died of a heart attack at Camp Bucca: (from a CENTCOM release, 1/31/04)

A security detainee died Wednesday afternoon at the Camp Bucca internment facility of what appears to be natural causes. An autopsy is pending to determine the cause of death.

Detainees notified the guards at approximately 2:40 p.m. that the individual appeared to be suffering a medical problem. A medic immediately provided life-saving first aid for what appeared to be cardiac arrest. The detainee was immediately transferred to the Internment Facility Aid Station, where the medical staff continued life-saving measures, which failed to revive him. An attending physician pronounced him dead shortly after 3 p.m. at the aid station.

The deceased is a 31-year-old male, who had been

which sounded, you know, a lot like that time a year before when a prisoner died from "a medical problem": (from ArmyTimes, 10/20/04)

A 26-year-old male security internee died of undetermined causes at the U.S.-run Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq, the U.S. military reported Wednesday.
Fellow prisoners notified the guards about 4:20 p.m. Tuesday that the detainee was suffering “a medical problem,” the U.S. statement said.

“Guards immediately notified medics, who performed emergency life-saving measures at the scene, including CPR, and transported him to the detainee medical facility at the camp,” the statement added. “He was pronounced dead shortly after 5 p.m. by an attending physician.”

The prisoner, who was not identified by name, had been held as a security internee at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca since November 2003, the statement said. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of death

All of which might seem a little fishy if we didn't know that Camp Bucca isn't a cruel forced-masturbation-and-torture type prison but a progressive experiment in passive intelligence-gathering in which prisoners are free to play soccer and take painting classes: (via Knight-Ridder, circa Oct. 2004)

While Abu Ghraib became famous for interrogation practices that skirted international law on prisoner treatment, Bucca is gaining a military-wide reputation for an innovative blending of prisoner-of-war doctrine with the "passive intelligence-gathering" used in many American maximum-security prisons. [ ... ]

"Abu Ghraib gave a special meaning to what we're doing here, and we understand that this is going to change how the Army does detention operations," said Master Sgt. Jonathan Godwin, 39, the warden at Camp Bucca. "We're taking detainee operations and Army corrections, putting them in one big bag here and shaking it up to see what happens. This is all brand new."

Busload by busload, the military is emptying Abu Ghraib and shipping detainees south. At Bucca, now the military's largest detainee installation in the world, there are reading lessons and art classes - not sleep deprivation and stress positions. There are evening soccer games and special mealtimes for Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of daylight fasting. The detainees want to learn needlepoint, but "we're still trying to determine the security risks of that one," one military police officer said.

Monday, October 16, 2006

RiverBend's Summer of Goodbyes 

So RiverBend hasn't posted since early August and, to be blunt, given the state of Iraq one must wonder if she is among the living. I wrote to an editor at Feminist Press, the publisher of volumes I and II of Baghdad Burning, the book, and got the following reply:

Thank you for your concern, which we share. We have not heard from Riverbend either, but hope that, as in the past, she has traveled to safer areas.

I wish I could say we knew more.

which isn't encouraging.

However, this isn't the first time that RiverBend has failed to post for an extended period of time. For example, someone in the comments of this post of mine from 7/26/04, writes of her concern for RiverBend's safety due to a long hiatus. Probably RiverBend was "travel[ing] to safer areas" during this period. If anything major is up, I hope that it is only that she and her family have decided that it is simply too dangerous to remain in Iraq and have left. It's hard to read the last post on Baghdad Burning, "Summer of Goodbyes" without coming to the conclusion that she is at least considering leaving:

I’ve said goodbye this last month to more people than I can count. Some of the ‘goodbyes’ were hurried and furtive -- the sort you say at night to the neighbor who got a death threat and is leaving at the break of dawn, quietly.

Some of the ‘goodbyes’ were emotional and long-drawn, to the relatives and friends who can no longer bear to live in a country coming apart at the seams.

Many of the ‘goodbyes’ were said stoically -- almost casually -- with a fake smile plastered on the face and the words, “See you soon”… Only to walk out the door and want to collapse with the burden of parting with yet another loved one.

During times like these I remember a speech Bush made in 2003: One of the big achievements he claimed was the return of jubilant ‘exiled’ Iraqis to their country after the fall of Saddam. I’d like to see some numbers about the Iraqis currently outside of the country you are occupying… Not to mention internally displaced Iraqis abandoning their homes and cities.

I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever know just how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis left the country this bleak summer. I wonder how many of them will actually return. Where will they go? What will they do with themselves? Is it time to follow? Is it time to wash our hands of the country and try to find a stable life somewhere else?

Actually perhaps the most well-known female Iraqi blogger besides RiverBend has already left. Kitten-obsessed fourteen-year-old Raghda from Baghdad Girl and family have relocated to the UAE. Raghda wrote the following last month:

Living in war is the hardest thing in the world because you'll see the place you have lived in for your whole life is being destroyed completely and all the people you love are getting hurt, growing up in war is very hard, all the things you used to do is impossible to do now including going out that's because it is very dangerous to go any where so you have to stay home all the time and even home isn't safe, for me the most thing I missed was going out and visit my relatives and friends, when school starts my life become like this: Waking up at 6:30 am and get ready to go to school and then I leave the house at 7:45 am and back to it at 2:00 pm, I have lunch and start studying till I finish the piles of homework and then watch TV till 10:00 pm when I go to sleep and wake up at 6:30 am to relive the same events every day, and when the situation become really bad like it it is now in Iraq, you do the only thing you can do to get your life back which is leaving the country, and that's what I done, I still and will all ways feel like there is some thing missing in me, and that’s my friends is growing up in war.

NPR profiled Raghda earlier this year.

Amy Goodman's "Breaking the Sound Barrier" 

I saw Amy Goodman when she came to Pittsburgh on Saturday. She's on a book tour for Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back.

This may be well-known to people who listen to Democracy Now more regularly than I do, but Goodman is about to have a mainstream syndicated column called "Breaking the Sound Barrier" -- here's E&P:

Investigative journalist Amy Goodman -- host of the award-winning news program "Democracy Now!" -- will write a weekly column for King Features Syndicate starting Oct. 24.

"Amy Goodman: Breaking the Sound Barrier" will discuss politics, the media, and current affairs.

In her introductory column, Goodman writes: "My goal as a journalist is to break the sound barrier. To cut through the static and bring forth voices that are not usually heard. I am not talking about a fringe minority, or the 'Silent Majority,' but a silenced majority, increasingly restless, of people who are looking for alternative sources of information in a complex world. My column will include voices so often excluded, people whose views the media mostly ignore, issues they distort and even ridicule."

which seems like something of a big deal to me.

Atenco Update 

As long as I'm posting about Latin America (see previous post) for what it's worth, Amnesty International and Mexico's National Human Rights Commission have confirmed claims of sexual abuse by state and federal police forces during the Atenco conflict, according Bill Weinberg in WW4 Report who cites Spanish language sources. Background on Atenco can be found in this post of mine from last spring...

Will Ecuador Join the Axis of Outcasts? 

Ecuador's richest man did slightly better than front runner Rafael Correa in Sunday's presidential election leading to a Nov. 26 runoff. Here's the Post:

A pro-U.S. billionaire [Alvaro Noboa] and a leftist economist who admires Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez headed to a runoff campaign Monday that threatens to aggravate political instability in Ecuador, where the last three presidents have been driven from power by street protests. [...]

Correa had been favored to lead Sunday's voting and didn't take well to being edged out by Noboa, who had been rising fast in pre-election polls. Correa complained he had been robbed of votes that would have given him a first-round victory, but presented no proof.

Man, haven't heard this story before...

The title of this post is taken from a week-old fair and balanced report by someone named Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal that Paul Henry discusses in a NarcoSphere post noting,

O'Grady's characterization of the growing list of Latin American countries that have chosen paths not prescribed by Washington as outcasts rings more hollow as the list gets longer.

(Also, in other NarcoSphere-related news, Al Giordano has a postmortem in New Left Review on "Mexico's presidential swindle".)

China: End of an Era? (Part 2) 

In Part 1, I described how a transfer of power and social unrest resulted in a willingness to publicly discuss extreme income inequality within Chinese society. Now, there are indications that Hu Jintao, having consolidated the power of the party and the state in his hands, intends to implement policies to confront the problem. But can he do so without abandoning the neoliberal program by which Chinese economic development has proceeded since 1978?

Again, as observed in Part 1, it is difficult to differentiate between the personal and the political. As reported by Asia Times Online on September 1st:

Beijing is waging a whirlwind anti-corruption campaign in Shanghai to shake up the so-called Shanghai Club or Shanghai Gang, headed by former president Jiang Zemin. The group dominated China's political power scene for more than a decade until Jiang began to fade from active political life in late 2002.

The anti-graft campaign has been launched one year ahead of the all-important 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and thus is seen as President Hu Jintao's maneuver to gain full control by eliminating all Jiang's influence.

The latest target was Qin Yu, chief of Shanghai's Baoshan district, who has been linked to a severe breach of party discipline and laws and is now under investigation by the CCP's central commission for disciplinary inspection.

What is striking about Qin's arrest is that before taking up his present position, he had worked for years as the personal secretary of Shanghai Communist Party chief Chen Liangyu. Chen is a local-level affiliate of the Shanghai Gang and also a member of the all-powerful politburo in Beijing.

Qin's arrest clearly serves as a warning that Chen himself might be next on the hit-list. This would take the power rivalry between Jiang and Hu into its final stages, marked by the crackdown on corruption in Shanghai.

Unlike the rest of China, the Shanghai party leadership had successfully avoided the seasonal anti-corruption campaigns that have been so prominent since the adoption of neoliberal economic policies, and there was an explanation:

So what was it that allowed all those Shanghai officials to remain so clean in the face of so much temptation in the booming city? Was it because they were all saints, or that the municipality had created a perfect environment to immunize officials against graft-prone temptations? Neither, is the answer.

As with other parts of mainland China, Shanghai is ruled in the so-called socialistic system with Chinese characteristics under which bureaucrats wield vast power. The evidence points to their using this influence to line their pockets, and the pockets of business associates.

Two former Shanghai party chiefs were said to have been hand-in-glove with disgraced Shanghai property tycoon Zhou Zhengyi. That Zhou was able to obtain multibillion-yuan bank loans and valuable downtown land can only be attributed to close ties with municipal authorities.

Zhou, who was suspected of a huge loan swindle, was finally brought to justice in 2003, but he was only found guilty of "manipulating stock prices and misreporting registered capital", for which he received a three-year jail sentence. By contrast, the former president of the Bank of China (Hong Kong), Liu Jinbao, implicated in the same case, was eventually given a suspended death sentence by a court in Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin province in northeastern China.

Quite simply, for many years Shanghai officials had been able to escape scot-free because of the protection given to them by the most powerful man in China - Jiang Zemin. This was especially true after 1989, when Jiang was promoted to CCP general secretary from his post as Shanghai's party chief.

Under the umbrella of Jiang's administration, corruption scandals involving the Shanghai Gang were swept under the carpet.

All that has changed. In recent months, the central government has mobilized more than 100 commissioners in Shanghai to rake out the filth.

Already they have found some. Zhu Junyi, chief of Shanghai's Labor and Social Security Bureau, was found to have been bribed into illegally lending 3.2 billion yuan (US$405 million) from the city's social-security funds to a private enterprise, China Fuxi Group. The Fuxi group had participated in the restructuring of Shanghai Electric Corp. As the snowball kept rolling, senior officials of many companies and government departments associated with the business of these companies were detained for investigation.

Most important, Baoshan district chief Qin has been implicated in the same case. As mentioned, Qin was Chen Liangyu's secretary and assistant. In February 2002, Chen was made Shanghai mayor. In October of that year, Chen took over the position as Shanghai's party chief, and Qin was promoted to deputy director of both the general offices of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee and the Shanghai municipal government.

The Qin case shows that Chen, a local shepherd of the Shanghai Gang, is no longer powerful enough to protect his cronies, nor can he depend on his chief mentor, Jiang Zemin.

The implication of the Asia Times Online article was clear: Chen Liangyu was a political corpse. On September 25, he was sacked, described as someone who had created malign political effects. One report described his removal as a classic instance of killing one to scare a hundred, except that Gan Yisheng, general secretary of the party's Discipline Inspection Commission, chillingly stated that the inquiry was far from concluded:

Eight auditing teams are looking for misconduct by senior government officials and leaders of large financial institutions in areas across the country, Gan said.

Inspections of officials in 30 provinces and cities as well as nine state banks have been carried out, and the insurance industry and major state companies are next, Gan said.

Is there a broader context beyond criminality? Invariably, as the resolution of political conflict and momentum towards a significant change in policy are inseparable. Last week, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party conducted it annual plenary policymaking session, and addressed social inequality for the first time in 25 years. On Thursday, October 12th, the Washington Post reported:

China's Communist Party on Wednesday formally endorsed a political doctrine laid out by President Hu Jintao that calls for the creation of a "harmonious society," a move that further signaled a shift in the party's focus from promoting all-out economic growth to solving worsening social tensions.

The endorsement, made at a closed-door plenary session held by the party's Central Committee, underlined Hu's increasing power. It effectively enshrined his doctrine in the same pantheon as those of Mao Zedong and other predecessors.

China's leaders have become concerned in recent years about problems tied to the country's blistering economic growth. Anger over a growing gap between rich and poor and an inadequate social security system is feared to threaten the party's stability. Retirees increasingly cannot live on their pensions, crime and divorce rates have escalated, and clashes have broken out between security forces and farmers whose fields and villages have been swallowed by development.

And, for once, the New York Times got it right:

Hand-in-hand with the “harmonious society” drive, Mr. Hu and Zeng Qinghong, the vice president and the leader of the party’s secretariat, have undertaken the most sustained crackdown on official corruption since the party first embraced market-oriented economic measures nearly three decades ago.

The anticorruption sweep has already resulted in the detention of Chen Liangyu, the powerful party boss of Shanghai, as well as senior officials in Beijing, Tianjin, Fujian, Hunan and other places.

On the following day, Friday, October 13th, China quickly began to put the theory into practice, as it announced plans to radically reform its labor laws:

China is planning to adopt a new law that seeks to crack down on sweatshops and protect workers’ rights by giving labor unions real power for the first time since it introduced market forces in the 1980’s.

The move, which underscores the government’s growing concern about the widening income gap and threats of social unrest, is setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here.

Yes, foreign corporations are quite alarmed at the prospect that they can no longer ruthlessly exploit the Chinese workforce with the support of a Marxist-Leninist government:

“This is really two steps backward after three steps forward,” said Kenneth Tung, Asia-Pacific director of legal affairs at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Hong Kong and a legal adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce here.

The proposed law is being debated after Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s biggest retailer, was forced to accept unions in its Chinese outlets.

State-controlled unions here have not wielded much power in the past, but after years of reports of worker abuse, the government seems determined to give its union new powers to negotiate worker contracts, safety protection and workplace ground rules.

Hoping to head off some of the rules, representatives of some American companies are waging an intense lobbying campaign to persuade the Chinese government to revise or abandon the proposed law.

The skirmish has pitted the American Chamber of Commerce — which represents corporations including Dell, Ford, General Electric, Microsoft and Nike — against labor activists and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Communist Party’s official union organization

. . . If approved and strictly enforced, specialists say the new laws would strikingly alter the country’s vast labor market and significantly push up the wages of everyday workers.

“If you really abide by the Chinese labor laws,” said Anita Chan, an expert on labor issues in this country and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, “migrant-worker wages would go up by 50 percent or more.

Certainly, as the New York Times article notes, there is good reason to be skeptical about the extent to which the law will be enforced, as regional party figures have been adept at ignoring directives from Beijing when it suits them do so. But the anti-corruption campaign that brought down Chen Liangyu suggests, strangely enough, that this time, it will be different.

One of the primary features of this campaign is that it targets party and business figures (frequently indistinquishable from one another) that have exploited regional autonomy:

Although China's economy has become relatively market-oriented, many resources are still in the firm grip of the government. Hence for a private business person, the shortcut to becoming rich is to collude with officials. A private businessman in Shenzhen said: "If one relies on his own hard work, one may in practice make a living by running a small business, but if one wants to become rich, one must gang up with officials."

Therefore collusion between entrepreneurs and officials is running wild. One of the most notorious shortcuts for some to become rich quickly has been to collude with officials to speculate on land lots for construction. The parcels are taken away from farmers with minimal compensations and then sold at high prices. Land acquisition has become such a problem that most of the nearly 90,000 mass demonstrations (those involving more than 100 protesters) in 2004 were triggered by unjust land requisition.

Entrepreneur-official collusion has also been rampant in coal-mining. With the protection of local officials, private coal-mine owners simply ignored safety regulations to cut production costs. As a result, thousands of miners are killed in accidents.

If Deng Xiaping presided over the peculiar marriage of neoliberalism and a state governed according to the principles of democratic centralism, it now appears the Hu Jintao believes, unlike his predecessors, that it can be ameliorated to accomodate European style social welfare. But can it be done? I recall the recent remarks of another political figure, one who, interestingly enough, just visited China about a month and a half ago:

When I was released from prison [in 1994] and began my political life, I naively took as a reference point Tony Blair's proposal for a "third way" between capitalism and socialism--capitalism with a human face. Not anymore. After seeing the failure of Washington-backed capitalist reforms in Latin America, I no longer think a third way is possible. Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation, of the kind of misery and inequality that destroys social values. If you really look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ--who I think was the first socialist--only socialism can really create a genuine society.

Perhaps, Hu Jintao and Hugo Chavez had an animated conversation on just this very subject in August.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

China: End of an Era? (Part 1) 

In 1978, China repudiated the egalitarian policies of the Gang of Four, and moved down the path of incorporating neoliberal market economics and deregulation into a repressive political system as a means of pursuing economic development. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping toured the Special Economic Zones of southern China, and declared to get rich is glorious, initiating a period of unprecedented entrepreneurial activity, corrupton and the creation and expansion of the manufacture of computer and electronics equipment that has persisted to this day.

The features of this system are so unique that there is no agreement on how to characterize it, although one favorite is High-tech feudalism with Chinese characteristics. But there are signs that this era has some to an end, much as, in it is own way, there are indications that neoconservatism has been globally repudiated. While the latter is visible, with the implications frequently discussed, the former is equally significant, and yet, as with many subjects related to China, goes unremarked, unless it has some tangential relationship to an event like the North Korean nuclear test.

Predictably, the initial signs were submerged within the confines of a political power struggle. Hu Jintao supplanted Jiang Zemin, the man who subsequently presided over Deng's Marxist-Leninist neoliberalism after his death, as Communist Party chief in 2002 and President in 2003. By July 2004, there were reports of conflict between the two men, with Jiang clinging to his control over the military to preserve his influence:

. . . the Hu-Jiang power struggle began earlier this year. In April, Premier Wen Jiabao, the incumbent president's ally and part of the one-year-old Hu-Wen administration, launched a series of macro-control policies to cool down the country's red-hot economy, to no avail in quarters such as real estate, steel and cement. Some measures encountered powerful resistance, overtly and covertly, by obstinate Jiang officials who preferred massive, showy, high-cost projects while the economy was still rising at an amazing speed. In the first quarter, China's gross domestic product grew at a rate of 9.7% and the investment in fixed assets surged by 43% to 879.9 billion yuan (US$106 billion); the rate in January and February was even higher at 53%.

. . . President Hu is expected to come up with new, pragmatic reform measures to "enhance the Chinese Communist Party's governance", which surely will compromise the vested interests of the pro-Jiang faction. Presumably, Jiang will not acquiesce to Hu's efforts.

In a few months, public attention will focus on Jiang to determine whether he will relinquish his current position as the country’s commander-in-chief in the party's upcoming plenum scheduled for this autumn.

Judging from his recent military promotions, most political pundits believe Jiang will not make the final but inevitable handover to Hu any time soon.

The pundits were proven wrong just over two months later:

BEIJING, Sept. 19 - China's president, Hu Jintao, replaced Jiang Zemin as the country's military chief and de facto top leader on Sunday, state media announced, completing the first orderly transfer of power in the history of China's Communist Party.

Mr. Hu, who became Communist Party chief in 2002 and president in 2003, now commands the state, the military and the ruling party. He will set both foreign and domestic policy in the world's most populous country, which now has the world's seventh-largest economy and is rapidly emerging as a great power.

The transition is a significant victory for Mr. Hu, a relatively unknown product of the Communist Party machine. He has solidified control of China's most powerful posts at a younger age - he is 61 - than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, and is now likely to be able govern relatively unimpeded by powerful elders.

Mr. Jiang's resignation, which surprised many party officials who expected the tenacious elder leader to cling to power for several more years, came after tensions between Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu began to affect policy making in the one-party state, some officials and political analysts said.

Mr. Jiang, 78, may be suffering from health problems, several people informed about leadership debates said. But he appeared robust in recent public appearances and was widely described as determined to keep his job - and even expand his authority - until he submitted a letter of resignation this month.

The leadership transition was announced Sunday in a terse dispatch by the New China News Agency, followed by a 45-minute broadcast on China Central Television. Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu appeared side by side, smiling, shaking hands and praising each other profusely in front of applauding members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which formally accepted Mr. Jiang's resignation and Mr. Hu's promotion at the conclusion of its four-day annual session.

Mr. Jiang's offer to retire, which was first reported by The New York Times earlier this month, was given no advance publicity in state media. China Central Television read the text of Mr. Jiang's resignation letter on its evening broadcast, emphasizing that his resignation was voluntary. The letter was dated Sept. 1.

. . . Even by the strict standards of secrecy within the party, the decision about Mr. Jiang's fate was closely held. For a vast majority of the 70 million party members, not to mention the general public, there had been no indication that he was planning to retire, and his abrupt departure seems likely to increase the sense that the most important personnel decisions are made without broad consultation.

Inside baseball for sinophiles? Not quite, as the macroeconomic policy disagreement implied a more fundamental divergence between the two men. Jiang has promoted a controversial doctrine entitled The Three Represents:

The formal statement of the theory is:

Reviewing the course of struggle and the basic experience over the past 80 years and looking ahead to the arduous tasks and bright future in the new century, our Party should continue to stand in the forefront of the times and lead the people in marching toward victory. In a word, the Party must always represent the requirements of the development of China's advanced productive forces, the orientation of the development of China's advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China.

The . . theory . . legitimizes the inclusion of capitalists and private entrepreneurs within the Communist Party, and as a result has been the subject of quiet but heated opposition within the party. . .

. . . Although open criticism of the Theory of the Three Represents is taboo, there have been reports of private unease at this theory from within the Communist Party of China for a number of reasons. Many dislike the focus of the theory on the advanced social productive forces, meaning businessmen, since it ignores the widening social gap between the rich and poor.

And Hu is clearly one of the many. As reported by the official Xinhua news agency last May:

The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) met here Friday to look at ways to more fairly distribute incomes in society.

Chinese President Hu Jintao presided over the meeting.

A news release from the meeting said that China should uphold and improve the system in which distribution according to work is dominant and coexists with other modes of distribution.

The release said future reforms should concentrate on increasing incomes of poorer people, expanding the moderate-income population, effectively taxing high-income earners and banning illegal income.

What has provoked such a change in attitude? Perhaps, it is, as described here previously, that the populace is on the verge on open revolt. Here's one example from July 2005:

Social tensions in China are taking on an increasingly explosive form. A riot by 10,000 people triggered by a car accident in the city of Chizhou in Anhui province is the latest case to be reported. Around 3 p.m. on June 26, a Toyota sedan hit a teenage student as he was riding a bike. As the student and driver began to argue, three men emerged from the car and along with the driver began to beat up the student.

A group of taxi drivers tried to help the injured student, insisting on compensation from the driver, who is the owner of a local private hospital. In response, the driver ordered his thugs to attack the taxi drivers with knives. He openly boasted that, even if someone was killed, he would get away with the crime by paying a bribe of 300,000 yuan ($US36,000).

Police arrived on the scene but only escorted the driver and his thugs away. Onlookers were left stunned and angry. Many were outraged at the arrogance of the driver and the indifference of the police to ordinary working people. The incident reinforced their daily experience of the contempt of the newly rich and officialdom towards the lives of the poor.Word of the incident soon spread to the working class suburbs of the city and by 6 p.m. thousands of people surrounded the local police station. They demanded the police hand over the driver and his thugs, who at that stage had not been charged with any offence, and then flipped over, smashed and torched the Toyota sedan and three police cars.

Firefighters who arrived on the scene quickly fled when confronted by the angry crowd. Police stepped in but were beaten back by the protesters hurling rocks and firecrackers. Power was cut off to the police station, windows broken and firecrackers were thrown inside. The protesters looted a nearby supermarket, partly owned by the Toyota driver. Around midnight, the provincial police chief arrived along with 700 paramilitary police officers in full riot gear and dispersed the protest.

Power was cut off to the police station? Clearly, something had to be done, and one of the responses was that May 2006 meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee to look at ways to more fairly distribute incomes in society, a meeting considered so important that Hu himself presided. But that was only the beginning. For the rest of the story, please return for Part 2.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Orhan Pamuk: 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature 

UPDATE: Pamuk's acceptance statement:

I received word that I had been awarded the Nobel Prize early this morning by telephone. I was in bed in New York City. It was so dark that I thought it was the middle of the night. The phone rang, and it was Sarah Chalfant of The Wylie Agency, who told me that news of this award had been received in the agency's London office.

I was told that the Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Horace Engdahl, would be calling me, which in fact he did, a minute later; and he told me I'd received the Nobel Prize and that he was going to announce it in three minutes. He asked me whether I would accept. And I agreed joyously first as a celebration of Turkish language, of Turkish culture, which I'm part of; and second, personally, I accepted this prize gratefully as a recognition of my 32 years of humble devotion to the great art of the novel.

INITIAL POST: Orhan Pamuk, an author who has devoted his life to the study of mixture and plurality, wins the Nobel Prize:

Pamuk's novels, the best known of which are Snow and My Name Is Red, evoke modern Turkey's complex blending of westernized culture and Ottoman tradition. It is a mix, Pamuk said, that puts the lie to the simplistic notion of a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West.

"That is a fanciful, very dangerous idea," he said, "and so many people have been killed" because of it. His writing career, he added, is a testament to the fact that East and West can meet rather than clash.

My primary exposure to the work of Pamuk has predictably been these two novels, with Snow being most impressive, and it is no surprise that the eclectic Spengler of Asia Times Online has provided the most concise insight:

Suicide is the recurring theme of Pamuk's new novel. Franz Kafka's "K" provides the archetype for his protagonist, the poet "Ka", with characters and situations borrowed explicitly from The Trial and The Castle, down to the setting in a snowbound provincial town. But the town in this case is Kars, where Armenians outnumbered Turks 14-1 at the outbreak of World War I. After the extermination or exile of the local Armenian population, their monuments and churches remain as a ghastly admonition to the impoverished and largely idle Turkish inhabitants. The Turks of Kars live on foreign ground, buffeted by the Westernizing ideas of Kemal Ataturk and the Arabic ideas of the Koran. Ultimately they have nothing of their own, and dwell on the idea of suicide.

Ka is there to look up an old girlfriend, but as a pretext secures an assignment to report on an epidemic of suicides among young women. Female suicide is widespread in the Islamic world; such an epidemic occurred in Turkey during the early 1990s, and another one claimed the lives of several dozen young women in the Afghan city of Herat during 2002.

Not only the women want to die. Another character explains, "You see hundreds of these jobless, luckless, hopeless, motionless poor creatures in every town ... They've forgotten how to keep themselves tidy, they've lost the will to button up their stained jackets ... their powers of concentration are so weak they can't follow a story to its conclusion ... they watched TV not because they liked or enjoyed the programs but because they couldn't bear to hear about their fellows' depression, and television helped to show them out; what they really wanted was to die, but they didn't think themselves worthy of suicide," that is, unlike their women.

Not only the unemployed but the intelligentsia hover at the edge of a suicide's grave. Ka's love interest divorced her husband who embraced Islam after attempting to freeze himself to death in the street. The young seminarians who puppy-like approach Ka cannot understand why he, an atheist, wants to live: "If a person knows and loves God, he never doubts God's existence," one of them says to Ka. "It seems to me you're not giving me an answer because you're too timid to admit that you're an atheist. But we knew this already ... Do you suffer the same pangs as the poor atheist in the story? Do you want to kill yourself?"

Why are the inhabitants of Kars, even the transitory ones like Ka and another character, the Islamic terrorist, Blue, so fixated with death? There is no straightforward answer to the question, but it can be better understood by reference to one of the essential themes of the novel: the failure of utopian ideologies, such as Ataturk's nationalism, the Marxism of Ka and his contemporaries in the 1960s and 1970s and the neoliberalism of the present, to provide the means for people to live personally and socially fulfilling lives. Instead, they are perpetually entrapped in one role after another, each initially infused with the promise of liberation, a promise that is invariably broken in the most demoralizing ways.

Through this inescapable process of disillusionment, the people of Kars have become sad and weary, and their emotional state is mirrored by the decay of the city around them, a city in which the remorseless advance of neoliberalism has rendered much of the populace superfluous, as there is no work for them and they lack access to the money and credit needed for consumerism. Neoliberalism is the nihilistic force that sweeps away the debris of the shattered dreams of the past.

It is so pure, so comprehensive in scope, such an annihilation of spontaneous self-expression that Ka can only perform sexually by duplicating acts that he has seen in pornographic videos, one of the original postmodern commodities. In such a world, Political Islam ignites the embers of unextinquished hope, and encourages people to believe, one last time, that fulfillment lies through violence and the embrace of death. Rejecting the hypocrisy of the secular world, the young women of Kars adopt Political Islam as a radical doctrine for change and kill themselves as a liberatory act to indict society. The allure is so strong that even the cosmopolitan Ka cannot resist and publicly adopts the faith.

It is through this interweaving of the personal, the political and the social that Pamuk displays his brilliance, and justifiably received this award. His ability to place Political Islam in the context of intimate individual experience is unique and compelling, at least for European and American readers. Evocative of the work of the enfant terrible of the New German Cinema, Fassbinder, Pamuk possesses a similar culturally anarchistic sensibility, an ability to convey the sadness of our time in order to induce us to consider alternatives, to recognize that another way is possible.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

655,000 Dead Iraqis? 

Nothing is more vexing than the subject of Iraqi deaths as a result of the invasion, a subject examined here on three occasions: November 10, 2005, January 9, 2006 and February 9, 2006.

Readers of these earlier posts may recall two prominent interrelated themes: first, the extent to which the October 2004 Lancet study was credible, a study that concluded that between 8,000 and 194,000 people had died as a result of the invasion and occupation, with the most probable number being approximately 98,000, and, secondarily, the extent to which the work of Iraq Body Count, which relies exclusively upon media reports, had either wittingly or unwittingly begun to serve the propaganda purposes of the occupation by understating the number of Iraqi deaths.

Yesterday, the Lancet released the results of a new study which again brings these troubling subjects to the forefront:

A team of American and Iraqi epidemiologists estimates that 655,000 more people have died in Iraq since coalition forces arrived in March 2003 than would have died if the invasion had not occurred.

The estimate, produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other groups, including Iraq's government.

It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group.

Of these deaths, approximately 601,000 resulted from violence, and, for once, the mainstream media addressed the question of the Lancet's methodology with sincerity, or, at least, the Washington Post did:

The survey was done by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings are being published online today by the British medical journal the Lancet.

The same group in 2004 published an estimate of roughly 100,000 deaths in the first 18 months after the invasion. That figure was much higher than expected, and was controversial. The new study estimates that about 500,000 more Iraqis, both civilian and military, have died since then -- a finding likely to be equally controversial.

Both this and the earlier study are the only ones to estimate mortality in Iraq using scientific methods. The technique, called "cluster sampling," is used to estimate mortality in famines and after natural disasters.

While acknowledging that the estimate is large, the researchers believe it is sound for numerous reasons. The recent survey got the same estimate for immediate post-invasion deaths as the early survey, which gives the researchers confidence in the methods. The great majority of deaths were also substantiated by death certificates.

"We're very confident with the results," said Gilbert Burnham, a Johns Hopkins physician and epidemiologist.

A Defense Department spokesman did not comment directly on the estimate.

"The Department of Defense always regrets the loss of any innocent life in Iraq or anywhere else," said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros. "The coalition takes enormous precautions to prevent civilian deaths and injuries."

He added that "it would be difficult for the U.S. to precisely determine the number of civilian deaths in Iraq as a result of insurgent activity. The Iraqi Ministry of Health would be in a better position, with all of its records, to provide more accurate information on deaths in Iraq."

Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years, called the survey method "tried and true," and added that "this is the best estimate of mortality we have."

This viewed was echoed by Sarah Leah Whitson, an official of Human Rights Watch in New York, who said, "We have no reason to question the findings or the accuracy" of the survey.

"I expect that people will be surprised by these figures," she said. "I think it is very important that, rather than questioning them, people realize there is very, very little reliable data coming out of Iraq."

Meanwhile, the New York Times, apparently intent on demonstrating that the ghost of Judith Miller still resides there, took a different tack:

Gilbert Burnham, the principle author of the study, said the figures showed an increase of deaths over time that was similar to that of another civilian casualty project, Iraq Body Count, which collates deaths reported in the news media, and even to that of the military. But even Iraq Body Count puts the maximum number of deaths at just short of 49,000.

As far as skepticism about the death count, he said that counts made by journalists and others focused disproportionately on Baghdad, and that death rates were higher elsewhere.

“We found deaths all over the country,” he said. Baghdad was an area of medium violence in the country, he said. The provinces of Diyala and Salahuddin, north of Baghdad, and Anbar to the west, all had higher death rates than the capital.

Statistics experts in the United States who were able to review the study said the methods used by the interviewers looked legitimate.

Robert Blendon, director of the Harvard Program on Public Opinion and Health and Social Policy, said interviewing urban dwellers chosen at random was “the best of what you can expect in a war zone.”

But he said the number of deaths in the families interviewed — 547 in the post-invasion period versus 82 in a similar period before the invasion — was too few to extrapolate up to more than 600,000 deaths across the country.

Donald Berry, chairman of biostatistics at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was even more troubled by the study, which he said had “a tone of accuracy that’s just inappropriate.”

A couple of things jump off the page here, the tried and true technique of the Times to reinforce the acceptable government narrative by undercutting the general conclusion (Statistics experts in the United States who were able to review the study said the methods used by the interviewers looked legitimate) by highlighting the most vociferous critics with personal quotes (Robert Blendon and Donald Berry), and, more disturbingly, the uses and abuses of the Iraq Body Count estimates.

As I observed my February post, the IBC admission that it relies predominately upon Western media sources to confirm Iraqi deaths, more specifically reports published in English, is problematic, and potentially indicative of an ingrained cultural bias:

Given such an admission, it is hard to understand how anyone could consider the efforts of IBC credible, and it is even more extraordinary that American and British media commonly cite figures from it without acknowledging this embarrassing disclaimer, while ignoring the results of the study published by the Lancet. As an aside, am I the only person who finds the IBC explanation for relying solely upon reports "published in English" unpersuasive? After all, why is it necessary for "all team members" to be fluent in the language of a published report? Is this just a roundabout way of avoiding an acknowledgement that none of the participants of IBC can read and speak Arabic? Or is it also a means of ensuring that most reports will originate from sources reflexively sympathetic to the cultural perspective of the occupying forces?

Perhaps, I am being too sarcastic about an enterprise that started with such good intentions. Even so, we should not hesitate to wonder whether IBC has been transformed into an endeavor that puts a human face on the occupation, highlighting killings by the resistance and suicide bombers, while lacking the motivation to document killings by occupation forces. As Sam Ramadani said today in the Guardian:

Admittedly, reports on the ground are difficult and dangerous. But while western media are not averse to revealing deceptions around the WMD scare and pre-war lies, occupier-generated news still takes pride of place, and anti-occupation Iraqi voices of all sects - particularly Shia clergy such as Ayatollahs Hassani, Baghdadi and Khalisi - are ignored.

A few months before US soldiers boasted of using white phosphorus, the BBC's Paul Wood defended his reporting from Falluja in the November 2004 siege, telling Medialens: "I repeat the point made by my editors, over weeks of total access to the military operation, at all levels: we did not see banned weapons being used ... or even discussed. We cannot therefore report their use." Doctors and refugees fleeing US bombardment talked of "chemical attacks" and people "melting to death". But for the BBC, eyewitness testimony from Iraqis is way down the pecking order of objectivity.

It would clearly be wrong to portray victims' claims as uncontested facts, but there is a duty to publish and investigate them. Had, for example, Iraqi families' claims been highlighted shortly after the occupation began, the world would not have waited over a year to learn of torture at US-run jails. It was not until US soldiers gleefully circulated sickening pictures of tortured Iraqis that the media paid attention.

One must give the John Hopkins supervised research team credit. It, unlike the Occupation Authority, sought and utilized the expertise and experience of Iraqis, in this instance, Iraqi doctors. Even more impressive, it interviewed Iraqis themselves, instead of relying upon newspaper articles like the IBC. If anything, estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths, like those of the IBC, that rely predominately, if not exclusively, upon surveys of English language articles about events in Iraq, should be considered a floor, and thus, a general indicia of credibility of the challenging research performed by the John Hopkins supervised team to estimate the total number of Iraqi deaths, civilian, military and resistance.

In other words, it strongly suggests that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, even if we reject the assertions of epidemiological statistical accuracy claimed by the John Hopkins team. Regrettably, neither the Post nor the Times drew such a common sense conclusion, as each predictably placed the IBC estimate in juxtaposition to the one published in the Lancet. Perhaps, IBC could step forward and object to such exploitation of its work, and demand a proper context in relation to the work of the John Hopkins team?

Doubtful. My impression of IBC has been that it acknowledges the limitations of its methodology on its website, while gaining notoriety for itself by allowing the mainstream media to use it for exactly the purpose encountered here, to discredit the work of others that place the war and occupation in a harsher, merciless light. After all, Dahr Jamail has reported that IBC actually criticized the earlier Lancet study. Imagine, a research group that estimates civilian deaths by reading the newspaper maligning the work of people who actually interviewed people in the field!

But we should resist the temptation to center the debate as a dispute between IBC and the John Hopkins team, pushing the Iraqis, yet again, to the margins. After all, 655,000 deaths, if one extrapolates from wikipedia, would constitute the death of roughly 2.5% of the populace (just over 26,000,000 in July 2005), with a potentially exponentially greater number of Iraqis wounded. If the number is reduced to 510,000, we are still confronting the deaths of 2% of the Iraqi population.

Significantly, the previous distinction between the earlier Lancet study and IBC estimates, that the John Hopkins team reached to record deaths from disease and lack of medical care connected to the war and occupation, while IBC relied solely upon estimating deaths from violence, has been obliterated, as the new Lancet study asserts, as already noted, that approximately 601,000 of the 655,000 deaths were violent. Unlike many, I have tried to avoid the debasement of the word genocide, but it is hard to find another term to properly describe such mortality from violence. For those of you inclined to dissassociate the US from the deaths of what has been described as sectarian violence, please consider my recent post on US involvement with Iraqi security forces implicated in death squad violence. While certainly traumatic for the families and communities involved, the deaths of 2,751 Americans are inconsequential by comparison.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Robert Fisk Visits Greendale 

Journalist Robert Fisk has lived a life that has frequently been frustrating, frustrating because of the failure of the US and Europe to act in response to the self-evident realities of the Middle East, realities that he has encountered over the course of his long career as a correspondent. In a column published in The Independent, Fisk warns us yet again of the probable consequences of US policy:

And so on we go with the Middle East tragedy, telling the world that things are getting better when they are getting worse, that democracy is flourishing when it is swamped in blood, that freedom is not without "birth pangs" when the midwife is killing the baby.

It's always been my view that the people of this part of the Earth would like some of our democracy. They would like a few packets of human rights off our supermarket shelves. They want freedom. But they want another kind of freedom - freedom from us. And this we do not intend to give them. Which is why our Middle East presence is heading into further darkness. Which is why I sit on my balcony and wonder where the next explosion is going to be. For, be sure, it will happen. Bin Laden doesn't matter any more, alive or dead. Because, like nuclear scientists, he has invented the bomb. You can arrest all of the world's nuclear scientists but the bomb has been made. Bin Laden created al-Qa'ida amid the matchwood of the Middle East. It exists. His presence is no longer necessary.

Of course, as usual with Fisk, it is the interweaving of personal experience with analysis that makes the conclusion, one that, standing alone, is rather banal, so frightening. Just one example:

This failure to see the Other as the same as "us" is now evident across the Middle East. Some months ago, I received letters originally written to his family by a young Marine officer in Iraq who was trying - eloquently, I have to add - to explain how frustrating his work with Iraqis had become. "There is something culturally childish in their understanding of Western governance and management that will require immeasurable education and probably several generations to overcome if they find it of any interest," he wrote. "Our understanding of their tribal governance and its relationship to formal civil management is equally naïve and charges our frustration... The reality is that they cannot, culturally, comprehend our altruism or believe our stated intentions... Liberation will compete with invasion as our legacy but locally we are ideologically irrelevant... I share the American fascination with action and it has consistently betrayed us in our foreign policy."

Within this statement of seemingly innocuous frustration, one hears echoes of Kurtz's infamous exhortation, Exterminate the brutes!, as people across the Middle East, with a much more acute sense of sight and sound than Americans recall the past like a black and white super 8 and hear the sound of the future on a scratchy old 78.

Yes, Neil Young and Robert Fisk are on the same page, as Young's lyrics from the film Greendale, are more appropriately construed as a harbinger of things to come instead of a backhanded reference to 9/11:

meanwhile across the ocean
living in the internet
is the cause of an explosion
no one has heard yet

but there's no need to worry
there's no reason to fuss
just go on about your work now
and leave the driving to us

and we'll be watching you
no matter what you do
and you can do your part
by watching others too

The distance between the journalist and the artist can be measured by the fact that Fisk took approximately 7000 words to say about the same thing that Young said in 58, and each is, in his own way, equally compelling.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Chinese Face of Neoliberalism 

On July 17th, I posted an entry entitled, High Tech Feudalism with Chinese Characteristics, a title taken from a comment by a Chinese sociologist. I was inspired to write the post after reading a fascinating article by Peter Kwong, an Asian American Studies professor at the City College of New York, an article in which Kwong explained that China, in the immediate period after the arrest of the Gang of Four, was one of the first countries to adopt neoliberal economic practices, creating a uniquely oppressive social system by fusing the Chinese variant of authoritarian Marxist vanguardism with deregulation and incentives for foreign investment.

During the course of this post, I cited Kwong's article, having received it as a Counterpunch newsletter subscriber, and even typed out a brief quote from it, but could not link to it, as it was not available on the Internet at that time. Now, Cockburn and St. Claire, the Counterpunch editors, have posted on it on the web side of the operation, and I recommend it highly.

An excerpt, more detailed than the abbrieviated one that I referenced on July 17th:

For China and its communist leaders to come this far it has been a long, hard road that started in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping took control of the country. Deng had been purged from the party leadership as "China's No. 2 Capitalist Roader" during the Cultural Revolution on account of his pro-private enterprise leanings, because he had advocated that the peasants be allowed private plots within the people's communes to earn extra income. After Mao's death, Deng kicked off his version of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" with the maxim that individual initiatives must be allowed to flourish in order to increase productivity. His most notable slogan of the time was to "let some get rich first, so others can get rich later", openly condoning the inequality that would result from his reform process. If this sounds like Ronald Reagan's neo-liberal "trickle down economics," it's because that's exactly what it is: both Ronald Reagan and Deng Xiaoping were great fans of the neo-liberal guru Milton Friedman.

In 1980, I was a visiting professor at the People's University in Beijing, which was at the time the elite party cadre training school. In October of that year, the chair of my Scientific Socialism Department informed me that I was given the unique honor, as a China-born foreign expert teaching social sciences, to attend a lecture at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference that was to be given by the Nobel Laureate and America's best selling author of Free to Choose, Milton Friedman. When I arrived at the majestic conference hall, Friedman was already sitting at the dais, flanked by top Communist Party leaders and ministerial-level officials. His lecture focused on the inflationary crisis in the West, but his message to the Chinese was clear: inflation and slow growth are the results of intrusive government policies that hinder the functioning of a free market economy. To turn their economies around, countries had to cut taxes, shrink the size of the governments, and reduce labor costs. Friedman predicted that in November of that year his friend Ronald Reagan would be elected U.S. president and that he would enact policies according to that vision. He also prophesied that Ronald Reagan and Great Britain's Margaret Thatcher would lead the rest of the world into the promised land of growth and prosperity.

The industrialization of China under such extreme conditions presents consequences for the rest of the world that cannot be readily dismissed, as I observed in my first blog foray into this subject:

Like much of the rest of the world, China is a turbulent society, as the globalization process, combined with a corrupt, autocratic political system, intensifies income disparities between rich urbanites and poor peasants. . . . Meanwhile, China has been described as a unique, contentious zone of cultural synergy arising from the intersection of pre-modern, modern and post-modern values as China enters the global marketplace. If anything, for an American like myself, it echoes what has been transpiring in Mexico. Could it be possible that the left must prevail within the sweatshops, academia and culture industries of countries like these in order to overcome the imperial neo-conservative vision?

If anything, the question has become more urgent with the passage of time, as highlighted by Kwong's article. Unfortunately, Isabel Hilton's lengthy exposition, Made in China, based upon compelling first hand experience, remains unavailable.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Deconstruction + War on Terror = $$$$$$ 

Never underestimate the ability of American academics to transform a perceived crisis into a grant writing opportunity:

A consortium of major universities, with Homeland Security Department funds, is developing software that would let the government monitor negative opinions of the United States or its leaders in newspapers and other publications overseas.

The "sentiment analysis" is intended to identify potential threats to the nation, security officials said.

Researchers at institutions including Cornell, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Utah intend to test the system on hundreds of articles published in 2001 and 2002 on topics like President Bush's use of the term "axis of evil," the handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the debate over global warming and the coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

A $2.4 million grant will finance the research over three years.

American officials have long relied on newspapers and other news sources to track events and opinions here and abroad, a goal that has included the routine translation of articles from many foreign publications and news services.

The new software would allow much more rapid and comprehensive monitoring of the global news media, as the Homeland Security Department and, perhaps, intelligence agencies look "to identify common patterns from numerous sources of information that might be indicative of potential threats to the nation," a statement by the department said.

It could take several years for such a monitoring system to be put in place, said Joe Kielman, coordinator of the research effort. The monitoring would not extend to U.S. news, Kielman said.

"We want to understand the rhetoric that is being published and how intense it is, such as the difference between dislike and excoriate," he said.

Naturally, Lucy Dalglish, who never quite recognized that Judith Miller was a propagandist disquised as a journalist, is fearful of what is essentially an academic featherbedding opportunity:

Even the basic research has raised concern among journalism advocates and privacy groups, as well as representatives of the foreign news media.

“It is just creepy and Orwellian,” said Lucy Dalglish, a lawyer and former editor who is executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Clearly, this is a situation that qualifies more for a Golden Fleece award than it does the intervention of the ACLU. Sentiment analysis appears to be a skillful academic entrepreneurial effort to cross deconstruction with the war on terror and create a research money tree:

In contemporary philosophy and social sciences, the term deconstruction denotes a process by which the texts and languages of (particularly) Western philosophy appear to shift and complicate in meaning when subjected to the textual readings of deconstruction. Jacques Derrida coined the term in the 1960s, and found that he could talk more readily about what deconstruction was not that about what it was, most especially in reply to questions posed by others about it. The problem was that deconstruction attempts to alter the ordinary understanding of what reading and method mean. One could say then that it is not a "method" in the sense of that word prior to deconstruction.

Subjects relevant to deconstruction include the philosophy of meaning in Western thought, and the ways that meaning is constructed by Western writers, texts, and readers and understood by readers. Though Derrida himself denied deconstruction was a method or school of philosophy, or indeed anything outside of reading the text itself, the term has been used by others to describe Derrida's particular methods of textual criticism, which involved discovering, recognizing, and understanding the underlying—and unspoken and implicit—assumptions, ideas, and frameworks that form the basis for thought and belief, for example, in complicating the ordinary division made between nature and culture.

A research project created for the purpose of encoding Derrida in endless variations within software so as to differentiate between people who dislike the US from those who excoriate it, and hence, bringing Baudrillard off the bench, identify possible threats. And, once the threat is identified? Time to consume the magical 'he-man' elixier created by The Nutty Professor? Or, perhaps, because the threat is written or verbal, it can be effectively resisted through a written or verbally abusive response?

As with deconstruction itself, the inquiry appears to generate more questions than answers, even more ideal from the research perspective, because, as one of the participants breathlessly informs us:

“There has to be guidelines and restrictions on the use of this kind of technology by the government,” Professor Wiebe said. “But it doesn’t mean it is not useful. It can just as easily help the government understand what is going on in places around the world.”

Personally, I think that it is more likely to generate results not markedly superior to Bushinator v1.0.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Negroponte's People 

Iraqi death squads periodically receive media attention, but the most recent revelations were shocking to those uninitiated into the byzantine ways of the occupation:

Interior Minister Jawad Al Bolani ordered the suspension yesterday of two police commanders in the wake of a brazen high-profile kidnapping operation in the Iraqi capital.

“The minister of interior ordered the suspension of the commander of the 8th Brigade of the National Police and another battalion commander and he initiated an investigation into the security violations in Amil neighbourhood,” Major General Rashid Fulayah said on state television. Hundreds of residents of the south-west Baghdad neighbourhood, mostly Sunni, demonstrated yesterday against the police, accusing them of turning a blind eye to the kidnappers, who snatched 26 people from a food processing plant on Sunday.

Many of those taken subsequently turned up dead in Abu Chir neighbourhood to the south. There have long been complaints over Iraqi security forces, particularly the police forces controlled by the interior ministry, of turning a blind eye to Shi’ite armed gangs involved in kidnapping and assassinations.

US military commanders operating in south-west Baghdad have also expressed their suspicions about the National Police in these mixed Sunni-Shi’ite neighbourhoods with strong a strong militia presence.

One of the demonstrators’ demands was for US soldiers to replace the National Police in the neighbourhood.

US and Iraqi authorities have said a shake-up of the National Police, which was hurriedly thrown together over a year ago and filled with militia-sympathisers, is imminent.

Even Steve Gilliard, no angel, was dismayed:

This is really simple.

The death squads aren't police impersonators.

The death squads ARE the Iraqi police.

But such disclosures shouldn't be so surprising. lenin, over at Lenin's Tomb helpfully diagrammed the situation for us back in June, replete with the appropriate links in the original source material:

6,000 bodies in Baghdad's mortuaries since the start of the year, and what's more, "no-one believes these are the true figures from the violence in and around Baghdad as many bodies are not taken to the morgue, or are never found".

Here's the thing: the US government can openly announce its intentions. It can even be reported once in a while (albeit with a rather crude apologia bracketing the facts). Knight Ridder correspondent Yasser Salihee can die while uncovering the truth behind it. Yet somehow, invariably, it's simply taboo to mention what is richly evident. The BBC did not mention any of this either on television or on the internet. No one mentions that the bulk of these deaths are attributed to the Special Police Commandos, who

were formed under the experienced tutelage and oversight of veteran US counterinsurgency fighters, and from the outset conducted joint-force operations with elite and highly secretive US special-forces units.

Yasser Salihee found that "many of the dead were apprehended by large groups of men driving white Toyota Land Cruisers with police markings. The men were wearing police commando uniforms and bulletproof vests, carrying expensive 9-millimeter Glock pistols and using sophisticated radios". He died shortly after reporting this at a US checkpoint, with a bullet in the head.

lenin links Sahilee's submission to Knight Ridder prior to his death, and it is riveting:

Days after Iraq's new Shiite-led government was announced on April 28, the director of Baghdad's central morgue began noticing that the bodies of Sunni Muslim men were turning up after the men had been detained by people wearing Iraqi police uniforms."

"Faik Baqr, who is also the chief forensic investigator at the morgue, said the corpses first caught his attention because the men appeared to have been killed in methodical fashion. They were blindfolded and their hands had been tied or handcuffed behind their backs, Baqr said. In most cases, the morgue director said, the dead men looked as if they had been whipped with a cord, subjected to electric shocks or beaten with a blunt object and shot to death, often with a single bullet to the head."

"Iraqi and American officials said the killings were not being investigated systematically, but in dozens of interviews with families and Iraqi officials, and a review of medical records, a reporter and two special correspondents found more than 30 examples of this type of killing in less than a week. They include 12 cases with specific dates, times, names and witnesses who said they might come forward if asked by law-enforcement officials."

"U.S. officials, who have advisers in the Interior Ministry, have said they are aware of the abductions and killings, but think insurgents posing as police are responsible."

lenin also connects the dots to two of the mercenaries associated with this program, described by the Pentagaon as the Salvadoran Option:

Iraq's Ministry of Interior was co-constructed by Steven Casteel, Vice-President of Vance Global International, a global 'security' and 'investigation' firm which he hooked up with after being made 'advisor' to the Interior Ministry. He helps "businesses and governments in the U.S., Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East" "respond to security and investigation risks ". He is also a former affiliate of Colombian death squads as a DEA man. Casteel also created the Special Police Commandos. Clearly the right man for the task. The man he placed in charge of the commandos is General Rashid Flayih, a former Ba'athist general who helped suppress the Shi'ite uprisings in 1991. Another perfectly cast role.

Again, lenin's original post has essential links for additional background.

Now, courtesy of Dahr Jamail, we discover that the US is creating Sunni militias in al-Anbar province:

Some Sunni leaders from the troubled al-Anbar province west of Baghdad recently met away from their tribes to set up new militias, according to local reports.

These new armed groups have received early praise from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. officials. The United States had earlier called for the disarming of all militias for the sake of social peace and reconciliation, but that policy has clearly changed. The occupation forces now back both Shia and Sunni militias in different areas of the country.

These new groups are drawing strong condemnation from other Sunni tribal chiefs.

"They are a group of thieves who are arming thieves, and this is something dangerous and nasty," Sheik Sa'adoon, chief of a large Sunni tribe near Khaldiyah in al-Anbar, told IPS. "This only means we will have more disturbances here, and it could create local civil war."

Another tribal leader in the area, speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity, said "they are only doing this in order to kill as many Sunnis as possible, and this time with Sunni hands."

With the US military defeated, insurgent attacks now increasing to 800 to 900 a day, and an even worse 2007 anticipated, the Salvadoran Option is now the only remaining viable vestige of American policy to perpetuate an indefinite occupation. Victory is an illusion, but the vengence of scorched earth is an acceptable substitute, one that delays, and may destroy, the prospect that an independent Iraq will emerge from the collapse of the occupation.

No wonder that Iraqi civilian deaths during the month of September set a new, horrifying record:

The number of Iraqi civilians killed in violence may have jumped to a record high in September, data from the Iraqi government indicated on Sunday.

Partial statistics compiled by the Health Ministry and issued by the Interior Ministry put civilian deaths last month at 1,089, a 42 percent increase from 769 in August and more than the previous record in this series of data -- 1,065 in July.

Sadly, the news of each passing day suggests that this record will be eclipsed, probably not once, but numerous times, with a continuing internal displacement of the Iraqi populace, 9,000 people a week, 190,000 since mid-February. The deaths of 21 American soldiers since Saturday is a historical footnote by comparison.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Banned from the US: Tariq Ramadan 

For the Bush administration, there are only two kinds of Muslims, obsequious or extremist. Tariq Ramadan is neither. From Sunday's Washington Post:

For more than two years now, the U.S. government has barred me from entering the United States to pursue an academic career. The reasons have changed over time, and have evolved from defamatory to absurd, but the effect has remained the same: I've been kept out.

First, I was told that I could not enter the country because I had endorsed terrorism and violated the USA Patriot Act. It took a lawsuit for the government eventually to abandon this baseless accusation. Later, I reapplied for a visa, twice, only to hear nothing for more than a year. Finally, just 10 days ago, after a federal judge forced the State Department to reconsider my application, U.S. authorities offered a new rationale for turning me away: Between 1998 and 2002, I had contributed small sums of money to a French charity supporting humanitarian work in the Palestinian territories.

I am increasingly convinced that the Bush administration has barred me for a much simpler reason: It doesn't care for my political views. In recent years, I have publicly criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, the use of torture, secret CIA prisons and other government actions that undermine fundamental civil liberties. And for many years, through my research and writing and speeches, I have called upon Muslims to better understand the principles of their own faith, and have sought to show that one can be Muslim and Western at the same time.

My experience reveals how U.S. authorities seek to suppress dissenting voices and -- by excluding people such as me from their country -- manipulate political debate in America. Unfortunately, the U.S. government's paranoia has evolved far beyond a fear of particular individuals and taken on a much more insidious form: the fear of ideas.

In January 2004, I was offered a job at the University of Notre Dame, as a professor of Islamic studies and as Luce professor of religion, conflict and peace-building. I accepted the tenured position enthusiastically and looked forward to joining the academic community in the United States. After the government granted me a work visa, I rented a home in South Bend, Ind., enrolled my children in school there and shipped all of my household belongings. Then, in July, the government notified me that my visa had been revoked. It did not offer a specific explanation, but pointed to a provision of the Patriot Act that applies to people who have "endorsed or espoused" terrorist activity.

The revocation shocked me. I had consistently opposed terrorism in all of its forms, and still do. And, before 2004, I had visited the United States frequently to lecture, attend conferences and meet with other scholars. I had been an invited speaker at conferences or lectures sponsored by Harvard University, Stanford, Princeton and the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Foundation. None of these institutions seemed to consider me a threat to national security.

The U.S. government invited me to apply for a new visa and, with Notre Dame's help, I did so in October 2004. But after three months passed without a response, I felt I had little choice but to give up my new position and resume my life in Europe. Even so, I never abandoned the effort to clear my name. At the urging of American academic and civic groups, I reapplied for a visa one last time in September 2005, hoping that the government would retract its accusation. Once again, I encountered only silence.

Finally, in January, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center filed a lawsuit on my behalf, challenging the government's actions. In court, the government's lawyers admitted that they could establish no connection between me and any terrorist group; the government had merely taken a "prudential" measure by revoking my visa. Even then, the government maintained that the process of reconsidering my visa could take years. The federal court -- which issued a ruling recognizing that I have been a vocal critic of terrorism -- rejected the indefinite delay. In June, it ordered the government to grant me a visa or explain why it would not do so.

On Sept. 21, the long-awaited explanation arrived. The letter from the U.S. Embassy informed me that my visa application had been denied, and it put an end to the rumors that had circulated since my original visa was revoked. After a lengthy investigation, the State Department cited no evidence of suspicious relationships, no meetings with terrorists, no encouraging or advocacy of terrorism. Instead, the department cited my donation of $940 to two humanitarian organizations (a French group and its Swiss chapter) serving the Palestinian people. I should note that the investigation did not reveal these contributions. As the department acknowledges, I had brought this information to their attention myself, two years earlier, when I had reapplied for a visa.

In its letter, the U.S. Embassy claims that I "reasonably should have known" that the charities in question provided money to Hamas. But my donations were made between December 1998 and July 2002, and the United States did not blacklist the charities until 2003. How should I reasonably have known of their activities before the U.S. government itself knew? I donated to these organizations for the same reason that countless Europeans -- and Americans, for that matter -- donate to Palestinian causes: not to help fund terrorism, but because I wanted to provide humanitarian aid to people who desperately need it. Yet after two years of investigation, this was the only explanation offered for the denial of my visa. I still find it hard to believe.

What words do I utter and what views do I hold that are dangerous to American ears, so dangerous, in fact, that I should not be allowed to express them on U.S. soil?

I have called upon Western societies to be more open toward Muslims and to regard them as a source of richness, not just of violence or conflict. I have called upon Muslims in the West to reconcile and embrace both their Islamic and Western identities. I have called for the creation of a "New We" based on common citizenship within which Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims and people with no religion can build a pluralistic society. And yes, I believe we all have a right to dissent, to criticize governments and protest undemocratic decisions. It is certainly legitimate for European Muslims and American Muslims to criticize their governments if they find them unjust -- and I will continue to do so.

At the same time, I do not stop short of criticizing regimes from Muslim countries. Indeed, the United States is not the only country that rejects me; I am also barred from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and even my native Egypt. Last month, after a few sentences in a speech by Pope Benedict XVI elicited protests and violence, I published an article noting how some governments in the Muslim world manipulate these imagined crises to suit their political agendas. "When the people are deprived of their basic rights and of their freedom of expression," I argued, "it costs nothing to allow them to vent their anger over Danish cartoons or the words of the Pontiff." I was immediately accused of appeasing the enemies of Islam, of being more Western than Muslim.

Nothing is more dangerous to the neoconservatives than the humanization of Muslims and Islam because it threatens their ability to appeal to the racial and religious bigotry of Americans to facilitate their imperial design through violence.

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