'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Life on the Ground in Venezuela 

UPDATE: Two good sources for news and commentary about events in Venezuela: Oil Wars and venezuelanalysis.com.

INITIAL POST: Last year, I visited Venezuela as part of a tour conducted by Global Exchange, and post several entries about it here. One of them addressed the resistance to the privatization of the aluminum and steel industries in Puerto Ordaz. Sadly, the public steel company, SIDOR was privatized, but ALCASA and VENALUM, the aluminum companies, were not, as Chavez arrived on the scene just in time.

The consequences of the privatizations of the 1990s in Venezuela remains an enduring issue, as the following article demonstrates, and reveals that the social reality of Venezuela is far different than what is described by right wing sources in the US media:

A large scale protest yesterday by workers from the Sidor steelworks secured the release of five of their co-workers after they were arrested by the National Guard on charges of undue expropriation and seizure of plant machinery. The protest, supported by the unions at the plant, partially closed down the steelworks and brought the city of Puerto Ordaz, in Venezuela’s Bolívar state to a standstill. The five men deny any wrongdoing and say the management tried to intimidate them.

On exiting the Palace of Justice where they were held, Juan Valor, Leonel Grisset, Richard Gregorio Alfonzo, Joel Hernández Ruiz and Osmel Ramírez spoke in front of thousands of supporters. Valor, who is the press secretary of Sutiss, the largest steelworkers union said, “The union won’t shut its mouth, and we’re going to keep struggling for workers’ rights. There are more than 8,000 workers that are being exploited and the Ministry of Work doesn’t try to solve the problems that exist in the country.”

The five men work for Transporte Camila, one of 232 private contracting companies that employ workers on a casual basis – on lower wages and with less benefits than permanent workers. The General Secretary of Sutiss, José “Acarigua” Rodríguez, spoke fully in support of the protest and said the situation was a “reflection of what occurs in many other contracting firms that exploit the workers of Sidor in order to obtain large profits, without consideration to their salary and social rights.”

The protests started at six o’clock on Tuesday morning when the workers of the plant blocked the routes in and out of Puerto Ordaz. They then made their way in their thousands towards the Palace of Justice, blocking the streets on their way. By 10.30 they had blocked all the main arteries of the city. Outside of the palace they shouted slogans such as “freedom for our comrades.” According to Rodríguez, at least 3,000 of the protesters were permanent workers in solidarity with their less fortunate compañeros.

Rodríguez also claimed that the protests, while focused mainly on the five arrested men, were about other more general grievances the workforce has towards the management. Outstanding wages, unpaid benefits such as health insurance & holiday pay and bad safety practices by employers are just some of the issues around which workers are united.

Orlando Aguilar the owner of Transporte Camila and the president of the Chamber of Service Industries (CESA) said the five men forcefully took machinery which caused losses to the steelworks and for that reason, “there remained no alternative but to call the law.” He also said the industrial action by the workers will have exceeded $2 million.

Francisco Rangel Gómez, governor of Bolívar State, also condemned the protests and called the continuous militancy of the unions in the state, which he said often leads to battles between unions, “union terrorism.”

Sidor, a former state-owned company, was privatised in 1998. Until then it had 18,000 permanent workers employed under a collectively negotiated contract. After privatization the total number employed was reduced to 15,000 with 10,000 of those forced to accept temporary contracts. Inevitably, conflict between management and workers has been common with many strikes occurring over the last eight years. During the opposition sponsored oil industry shutdown in 2002, the Sidor management closed down the plant in solidarity. At the time the workers backed the government and worked across the state to keep gas flowing.

While the protesters can claim a victory from their organisation it wasn’t outright. The five freed men still have to present themselves at the Palace of Justice every thirty days. Officials there may have a surprise waiting for them on October 5, however.

“They have imposed the ruling that we present ourselves every thirty days, and I want to make a call to the conscience of all the workers so that we all present ourselves here every thirty days at the tribunals,(..), I’ll see you all on October 5”, shouted Juan Valor at the end of his speech.

Such a seemingly simple story, a labor dispute, but rich in its implications. Upon a cursory examination, we immediately recognize that the American discourse about Chavez subjecting Venezuela to a dictatorial regime is false. Look at the cast of characters: the Chamber of Service Industries, SUTISS, the steel workers labor union, the Governor of Bolivar state, Francisco Rangel Gomez, five organizers of steel plant temporary workers, Juan Valor, Leonel Grisset, Richard Gregorio Alfonzo, Joel Hernández Ruiz and Osmel Ramírez, and the owner of the private contractor, Transporte Camilia, Orlando Aguilar, pretty much the same cast that you would except to encounter during the course of an American, European, Brazilian or Japanese labor dispute, and all acting to aggressively assert what each perceives as their self-interest. Protests, arrests, job actions, public statements to the press . . . this is not the behaviour of people fearful of reprisal.

After this observation, more subtle revelations specific to Venezuela come to the surface. As I emphasized in a post here in October 2005, Chavez has encouraged the implementation of a labor policy known as cogestion, roughly translated as co-management, to empower workers in the Venezuelan economy:

Currently, cogestion is an evolving concept, as Chavez has yet to seek legislation to provide for its implementation throughout the country, rendering it highly susceptible to people projecting their own societal visions upon it. According to BBC reporter Iain Bruce, it is only being attempted within some publicly owned companies, primarily within the aluminum industry, and a couple of bankrupt ones. Elie Sayago, an environmental specialist at CVG Alcasa, the state controlled aluminum company in Puerto Ordaz that produces primarily for the domestic market, defined cogestion as a radical break with the traditional hierarchical methods of management. Workers participate in the fundamental decisions of the company, such as the methods of production, the election of managers, including the director, and the preparation of the budget. Both myself and Bruce, who must have visited the facility shortly after I left the region, had similar conversations with line workers, workers who expressed improved morale and enhanced productivity as a result of their direct involvement in the management of the company. Carlos Lanz, the recently appointed president of CVG Alcasa, told Bruce, "This is about workers controlling the factory and that is why it is a step towards socialism of the twenty-first century."

Clearly, the organizers of temporary workers at SIDOR were motivated to put cogestion into practice, and, given that they were not collectivized and lacked labor representation, they selected a particularly radical form of it: the seizure of SIDOR machinery and equipment in one of the plants. Accordingly to the article, the action was part of a larger pattern of labor unrest at SIDOR that commenced with the privatization of the plant in 1998, and, in fact, even before, as I was told by labor organizers in Puerto Ordaz.

While it appears that the seizure was an escalation of this ongoing conflict, it is not possible to make such a statement with certainty. It should additionally be noted that the conflict also has roots in the late 2002-early 2003 sabotage, the attempt by the management of PDVSA, the state run Venezuelan oil company, to depose Chavez after the failed coup by shutting down production. The article helpfully informs us that the management of SIDOR shut down the plant in solidarity, so the temporary workers, and their unionized allies in SUTISS, undoubtedly have a more serious political purpose to take control of the plant away from its anti-Chavez managers and owners.

One would therefore assume that the recently elected governor of Bolivar state, Francisco Rangel Gomez, described as a close friend of Venezuelan Hugo Chavez, would support the workers. Such an assumption is incorrect: Francisco Rangel Gómez, governor of Bolívar State, also condemned the protests and called the continuous militancy of the unions in the state, which he said often leads to battles between unions, “union terrorism.”

Why? A couple of explanations suggest themselves. First, as I said in my post from September 2005, linked at the top of this article:

It is perhaps a telling indication of the Chavez regime's sensitivity towards the need to attract foreign investment and technology that no effort has been made to renationalize SIDOR.

Second, there is fact that the relationship between Chavez and the labor unions of Venezuela is an ambiguous one, as I noted in the October 2005 post already linked as well:

According to Sayago, the concept of cogestion has been driven more by the government than by trade unions, which is consistent with their past collaboration with the political parties of the pre-Chavez era in facilitating privatization.

Perhaps, there is a residue of mistrust that persists to this day.

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Friday, September 29, 2006

The Twilight of the American Republic 

UPDATE: The Attorney General sends a message to the judiciary:

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is defending President Bush's anti-terrorism tactics in multiple court battles, said Friday that federal judges should not substitute their personal views for the president's judgments in wartime.

He said the Constitution makes the president commander in chief and the Supreme Court has long recognized the president's pre-eminent role in foreign affairs. "The Constitution, by contrast, provides the courts with relatively few tools to superintend military and foreign policy decisions, especially during wartime," the attorney general told a conference on the judiciary at Georgetown University Law Center.

"Judges must resist the temptation to supplement those tools based on their own personal views about the wisdom of the policies under review," Gonzales said.

And he said the independence of federal judges, who are appointed for life, "has never meant, and should never mean, that judges or their decisions should be immune" from public criticism.

Naturally, like we wouldn't want them to substitute their personal views by reference to things like the Constitution, the Magna Carta, things like that, because, that, you know, might reveal that the President is, like, subject to legal restraints like the rest of us, and can't just do anything he wants.

INITIAL POST: From today's Washington Post:

The military trials bill approved by Congress lends legislative support for the first time to broad rules for the detention, interrogation, prosecution and trials of terrorism suspects far different from those in the familiar American criminal justice system.

President Bush's argument that the government requires extraordinary power to respond to the unusual threat of terrorism helped him win final support for a system of military trials with highly truncated defendant's rights. The United States used similar trials on just four occasions: during the country's revolution, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and World War II.

Included in the bill, passed by Republican majorities in the Senate yesterday and the House on Wednesday, are unique rules that bar terrorism suspects from challenging their detention or treatment through traditional habeas corpus petitions. They allow prosecutors, under certain conditions, to use evidence collected through hearsay or coercion to seek criminal convictions.

The bill rejects the right to a speedy trial and limits the traditional right to self-representation by requiring that defendants accept military defense attorneys. Panels of military officers need not reach unanimous agreement to win convictions, except in death penalty cases, and appeals must go through a second military panel before reaching a federal civilian court.

By writing into law for the first time the definition of an "unlawful enemy combatant," the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have "purposefully and materially" supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death.

At the same time, the bill immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees who the military and the CIA captured before the end of last year. It gives the president a dominant but not exclusive role in setting the rules for future interrogations of terrorism suspects.

Written largely, but not completely, on the administration's terms, with passages that give executive branch officials discretion to set details or divert from its protections, the bill is meant to provide what Bush said yesterday are "the tools" needed to handle terrorism suspects U.S. officials hope to capture.

After the issuance of the United States Supreme Court's decision declaring the use of military tribunals to try suspects was unconstitutional, I wondered if the consequence would be a constitutional crisis. At the time, I emphasized the possibility that the President would openly defy the decision.

Silly me. No need to do so when the legislative branch of government is so willing to pass a measure that blatantly eviscerates legal protections against indefinite detention, conditions of confinement and fair trial. It can be safely said, without fear of contradiction, that these protections against arbitrary state action against the person have been the soul of Anglo American jurisprudence, the fundamental conditions of liberty that expanded into the more mundane liberties that we enjoy today. The real crisis, as with the Japanese internment, is whether the judiciary will serve its historic function to restrain the President's appetite for power, and one suspects that now, as then, it will not do so, especially after senators like Joseph Lieberman, Maria Cantwell and Ben Nelson broke ranks and voted for cloture to permit John Roberts and Samuel Alito to accede to the their seats on the Court.

But, of course, you can read about these subjects in depth on the liberal blogs, passionate statements by people who have a strong emotional bond with the republican philosophy upon which the United States was created. Here, at American Leftist, let's confront some of the possible consequences as they may manifest themselves outside the United States. Most of them arise as a quite predictable response to the vigilantism at the heart of the practice of seizing and detaining foreign nationals, and the use of it for purported intelligence purposes:

(1) People around the world can now legitimately claim that they need to arm themselves against possible seizure by the United States, as the United States has abrogated the right to seize, detain and torture anyone indefinitely, based upon the authority of the President, as delegated to the military and intelligence services (and, it is important to observe that many detainees have been seized in non-violent situations and subsequently found to have no connection to any violent actions against the US).

(2) People can thus additionally assert a right of self defense against the United States, because, again, once seized they have no rights of any kind, and can be held indefinitely, under conditions over which they have no control.

(3) Other individuals, groups, and even countries, may assert the right of moral necessity to defend people from seizure by any means that is considered proportionate to the threat. In other words, they can arm themselves and fire upon US military and intelligence officers who attempt to conduct such seizures, and potentially, even conduct covert operations.

(4) Other individuals, groups, and even countries, may assert the right of moral necessity to engage in covert activities to discover the locations of detention facilities, and and take action, perhaps violently, if necessary, to release detainees. For example, could Cuba assert the right, under international law, to demand the closure of Guantanamo, and respond with force if the demand was rejected?

(5) Individuals, groups, and even countries, may seize Americans abroad (and, possibly, within the United States?), and take action against American businesses and facilities, in an attempt to compel the release of detainees, because, now, after all, the American public, through the passage of the bill by Congress, has validated the President's policy.

Of course, we might, depending on the circumstances, vehemently object to such actions, but, on what basis? If one person, the President, can decide how, say, the citizens of Afghanistan, may be seized, detained and tortured, how are we to object to the decision of one, five or 500 Afghanis to oppose it, and the means by which they do so? The passage of this bill, as demanded by Bush, is yet another example, as is the war and occupation of Iraq, of his insistence that personal liberty and the sovereignty of nations must be subservient to his whim and the whim of future Presidents, and it will, as has the occupation of Iraq, inevitably engender violent resistance.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Swimming in the Sea of the People 

Recent polls reveal, yet again, what has been obvious since late 2003, that the occupation of Iraq is unsustainable:

A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers.

In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends keep permanent military bases in the country.

Pretty smart, those Iraqis, aren't they? Congress apparently recognizes the problem as well:

The U.S. Congress this week finalized legislation that bars funding to construct permanent military bases in Iraq, and states definitively that it is the policy of the United States government not to exercise control over Iraq’s petroleum resources.

“The perception that the U.S. military plans to stay in Iraq indefinitely has fueled the insurgency and undermined the stability of the Iraqi government,” said Ruth Flower, legislative director for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). “This legislation is an important first step in changing the failed U.S. policy in Iraq.”

The 63-year-old Quaker lobby, FCNL, has been working with members of Congress on this policy since January 2005. Reps. Barbara Lee (CA) and Tom Allen (ME) advanced stand-alone bills to bar permanent bases in 2005, and in 2006 the House and the Senate approved similar amendments banning permanent bases as part of an emergency supplemental spending bill and then as part of the military authorization legislation. In both cases, the administration persuaded leaders in the House and Senate to strip out the “no permanent bases” language during conference committee negotiations.

But when similar language was attached to the FY07 military appropriations bill (H.R. 5631) by Rep. John Murtha (PA) in the House and Sen. Joe Biden (DE) in the Senate, negotiators from the House and Senate held firm. The final conference report on the military appropriations bill released September 25 prohibits the Pentagon from spending money to establish military installations or bases in Iraq. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the final version of this legislation later this week.

Of course, one has to wonder whether Bush will comply, as he has already expressed his belief that he has the power to disregard the provisions of laws with which he disagrees, but it would be quite remarkable if he abrogated the power of the purse to himself. I suspect that the answer to this dilemma is a little more prosaic: the US has already built them, as half a billion dollars was apparently allocated for this purpose in 2005.

In any event, such action, after over three years of occupation is far too late, as more than half of Iraqis support attacks on US forces. After episodes like this, is it any wonder why? Brzezinski, clear-eyed as usual, sees the obvious solution that dares not speak its name in either party:

SPIEGEL: The U.S. administration has declared Iraq the central front in the war on terror, but instead of disseminating democracy, Iraq today serves as a magnet for new terrorists. How can the United States extricate itself from its own trap?

Brzezinski: We should neither run nor should we seek a victory, which essentially would be a fata morgana. We have to talk seriously with the Iraqis about a jointly set withdrawal date for the occupation forces and then announce the date jointly. After all, the presence of these forces fuels the insurgency. We will then find that those Iraqi leaders who agree to a withdrawal within a year or so are the politicians who will stay there. Those who will plead with us, please, don't go, are probably the ones who will leave with us when we leave. That says everything we need to know about the true support Iraqi politicians have.

SPIEGEL: Would such a rapid withdrawal not leave chaos behind?

Brzezinski: The Iraqi government would have to invite all Islamic neighbors, as far as Pakistan and Morocco, for a stabilization conference. Most are willing to help. And when the United States leaves, it will have to convene a conference of those donor countries that have a stake in the economic recovery of Iraq, in particular the oil production. That is foremost a concern of Europe and the Far East.

SPIEGEL: The donor conference will take place in the fall anyway.

Brzezinski: Yes, but I doubt that it will create much enthusiasm as long as U.S. soldiers are in the country indefinitely. Incidentally, this is not just my argument. All this corresponds almost verbatim with the proposals of the new Iraqi security advisor.

SPIEGEL: Opponents of a rapid withdrawal make the case that the sectarian war between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis would become even more violent than it is already.

Brzezinski: Everyone who knows the history of occupying armies knows that foreign armed forces are not very effective in repressing armed resistance, insurgencies, national liberation movements, whatever one wants to call it. They are after all foreigners, do not understand the country and do not have access to the intelligence needed. That is the situation we are in. Moreover, there is this vicious circle inasmuch as even professional occupying armies become demoralized in time, which leads to acts of violence against the civilian population and thus strengthens resistance. Iraqis can deal with religiously motivated violence in their country much better than Americans from several thousand kilometers away.

SPIEGEL: So there is no alternative to troop withdrawal, even if there is an initial escalation of violence?

Brzezinski: Iraqis are not primitive people who need American colonial tutelage to resolve their problems.

Such candor presents a remarkable contrast to liberal apologists for the occupation, like David Corn and Marc Cooper, who have gone through peculiar contortions to justify its continuance as good for the Iraqis themselves, despite the opinion of Iraqis to the contrary.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

A Thug Speaks, Again 

UPDATE: Charlie Hardy, an American expatriate who lives in Caracas, observed the following response to Chavez's speech:

I watched Chavez's speech in the office of a public building. The secretaries were all cheering Chavez as he spoke the words.

Here is the link for the rest of Charlie's perspective about the speech that emphasizes how much of the rest of the world views the US.

INITIAL POST: Chavez elaborates on his UN speech in this interview with Tim Padgett of Time:

TIME: Why do you attack President George W. Bush with such jolting language?

CHAVEZ: I believe words have great weight, and I want people to know exactly what I mean. I'm not attacking President Bush; I'm simply counterattacking. Bush has been attacking the world, and not just with words--with bombs. When I say these things I believe I'm speaking for many people, because they too believe this moment is our opportunity to stop the threat of a U.S. empire that uses the U.N. to justify its aggression against half the world. In Bush's speech to the U.N., he sounded as if he wants to be master of the world. I changed my original speech after reading his.

TIME: But doesn't your rhetoric--referring to Bush, for example, as an "alcoholic"--risk alienating potential allies?

CHAVEZ: First of all, Bush has called me worse: tyrant, populist dictator, drug trafficker, to name a few. I was simply telling a truth that people should know about this President, a man with gigantic power.

Chavez specifically describes the evolution of his thought in light of the hubris of the United States in the mid-1990s, as it, through the International Monetary Fund, ruthlessly imposed structural adjustment plans throughout the Americas, and, indeed the world:

TIME: You said recently that you believe the "Bolívar Doctrine is finally replacing the Monroe Doctrine" on your watch. Why?

CHAVEZ: For two centuries in this hemisphere we've experienced a confrontation between two theses--America's Monroe Doctrine, which says the U.S. should exercise hegemony over all the other republics, and the doctrine of Simón Bolívar, which envisioned a great South American republic as a counterbalance. Bush has spread the Monroe thesis globally, to make the U.S. the police of the world--if you're not with us, he says, you're against us. We're simply doing the same now with the Bolívar thesis--a doctrine of more equality and autonomy among nations, more equilibrium of power.

TIME: What's the difference between your "socialism for the 21st century" and past attempts to fix the region's economic inequality?

CHAVEZ: 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.

It is this refusal to accept direction from the United States and its G-8 allies that earned Chavez the honor of being described as an everyday thug by Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Like Samson in the temple, Chavez repudiated the edifice of neoliberal technical and financial assistance as it has evolved in institutions created by United States, Europe and Japan, since the end of World War II.

While the trial of Saddam Hussein goes on and on, with the trial of O. J. Simpson now looking like an example of judicial efficiency by comparison, Chavez indicted, tried and convicted an engrained model of global social control in about half an hour. With the rise in commodity prices, including, but not limited to, oil and natural gas, empowering him, and the leaders of other developing countries, Chavez publicly shattered the chains of a debtor/creditor relationship that has required that they remain subservient to the United States, so subservient, in fact, that any public pronouncements other than obsequious gratitude are received as the most grave insults.

Poor Nancy. Upon seeing Chavez's speech, she must have experienced an overwhelming visceral sensation of abject fear as if discovering that the residents of San Francisco housing projects like Sunnydale were now financially and politically independent. Conservatives may ruthlessly exploit the peoples of the developing world, but it is liberals like Pelosi that must rationalize their abuse as an inevitable aspect of global economics so as to justify a privileged position as the intermediary of their grievances. Chavez pretty much said, I don't need you, anymore, I can speak and act for myself.

Faced with such an assertiveness, predictably received quite favorably by people all over the world, especially among people of color, Pelosi stared into an abyss of irrelevancy, feeeling herself disappear as if Dorothy had thrown water on her. Only a thug could do such a terrible thing, just as the only solution to rulers like Chavez and Ahmanijedad is military force, because only the use of such force constitutes an effective example of discipline to keep others in line.

It brings to mind the need to execute rebellious slaves like Nat Turner, because, after all, if we do not make an example of them, others might join the resistance. It is an insight into the times in which we live that Turner was hung for actually organizing a violent uprising against slavery, but rulers like Chavez and Ahmanijedad face threats from the US, as well as covert operations, for merely opposing US policy.

According to wikipedia, Turner was skinned, beheaded and quartered, with body parts kept by whites as souvenirs. One can grotesquely imagine US special forces turning Chavez's corpse over to the Venezuelan elite for similar treatment. Times have changed, however, and the price of regime change in Venezuela, as in Iran, is nothing less than the collapse of the American empire, and its transformation into a pariah state. But are Bush and the neo-conservatives alarmed about such a prospect, or have they been incorrigibly seduced by the allure of self-destruction?

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Chavez: We are Men and Women of the South 

UPDATE: Too funny:

But compared with Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Chávez was just more colorful. He brandished a copy of Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance” and recommended it to members of the General Assembly to read. Later, he told a news conference that one of his greatest regrets was not getting to meet Mr. Chomsky before he died. (Mr. Chomsky, 77, is still alive.)

INITIAL POST: In his own words:

Representatives of the governments of the world, good morning to all of you. First of all, I would like to invite you, very respectfully, to those who have not read this book, to read it.

Noam Chomsky, one of the most prestigious American and world intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, and this is one of his most recent books, 'Hegemony or Survival: The Imperialist Strategy of the United States.'" [Holds up book, waves it in front of General Assembly.] "It's an excellent book to help us understand what has been happening in the world throughout the 20th century, and what's happening now, and the greatest threat looming over our planet.

The hegemonic pretensions of the American empire are placing at risk the very survival of the human species. We continue to warn you about this danger and we appeal to the people of the United States and the world to halt this threat, which is like a sword hanging over our heads. I had considered reading from this book, but, for the sake of time," [flips through the pages, which are numerous] "I will just leave it as a recommendation.

It reads easily, it is a very good book, I'm sure Madame [President] you are familiar with it. It appears in English, in Russian, in Arabic, in German. I think that the first people who should read this book are our brothers and sisters in the United States, because their threat is right in their own house.

The devil is right at home. The devil, the devil himself, is right in the house.

"And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here." [crosses himself] "And it smells of sulfur still today.

Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.

I think we could call a psychiatrist to analyze yesterday's statement made by the president of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism, he came to share his nostrums, to try to preserve the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.

An Alfred Hitchcock movie could use it as a scenario. I would even propose a title: "The Devil's Recipe."

As Chomsky says here, clearly and in depth, the American empire is doing all it can to consolidate its system of domination. And we cannot allow them to do that. We cannot allow world dictatorship to be consolidated.

The world parent's statement -- cynical, hypocritical, full of this imperial hypocrisy from the need they have to control everything.

They say they want to impose a democratic model. But that's their democratic model. It's the false democracy of elites, and, I would say, a very original democracy that's imposed by weapons and bombs and firing weapons.

What a strange democracy. Aristotle might not recognize it or others who are at the root of democracy.

What type of democracy do you impose with marines and bombs?

The president of the United States, yesterday, said to us, right here, in this room, and I'm quoting, "Anywhere you look, you hear extremists telling you can escape from poverty and recover your dignity through violence, terror and martyrdom."

Wherever he looks, he sees extremists. And you, my brother -- he looks at your color, and he says, oh, there's an extremist. Evo Morales, the worthy president of Bolivia, looks like an extremist to him.

The imperialists see extremists everywhere. It's not that we are extremists. It's that the world is waking up. It's waking up all over. And people are standing up.

I have the feeling, dear world dictator, that you are going to live the rest of your days as a nightmare because the rest of us are standing up, all those who are rising up against American imperialism, who are shouting for equality, for respect, for the sovereignty of nations.

Yes, you can call us extremists, but we are rising up against the empire, against the model of domination.

The president then -- and this he said himself, he said: "I have come to speak directly to the populations in the Middle East, to tell them that my country wants peace."

That's true. If we walk in the streets of the Bronx, if we walk around New York, Washington, San Diego, in any city, San Antonio, San Francisco, and we ask individuals, the citizens of the United States, what does this country want? Does it want peace? They'll say yes.

But the government doesn't want peace. The government of the United States doesn't want peace. It wants to exploit its system of exploitation, of pillage, of hegemony through war.

It wants peace. But what's happening in Iraq? What happened in Lebanon? In Palestine? What's happening? What's happened over the last 100 years in Latin America and in the world? And now threatening Venezuela -- new threats against Venezuela, against Iran?

He spoke to the people of Lebanon. Many of you, he said, have seen how your homes and communities were caught in the crossfire. How cynical can you get? What a capacity to lie shamefacedly. The bombs in Beirut with millimetric precision?

This is crossfire? He's thinking of a western, when people would shoot from the hip and somebody would be caught in the crossfire.

This is imperialist, fascist, assassin, genocidal, the empire and Israel firing on the people of Palestine and Lebanon. That is what happened. And now we hear, "We're suffering because we see homes destroyed.'

The president of the United States came to talk to the peoples -- to the peoples of the world. He came to say -- I brought some documents with me, because this morning I was reading some statements, and I see that he talked to the people of Afghanistan, the people of Lebanon, the people of Iran. And he addressed all these peoples directly.

And you can wonder, just as the president of the United States addresses those peoples of the world, what would those peoples of the world tell him if they were given the floor? What would they have to say?

And I think I have some inkling of what the peoples of the south, the oppressed people think. They would say, "Yankee imperialist, go home." I think that is what those people would say if they were given the microphone and if they could speak with one voice to the American imperialists.

And that is why, Madam President, my colleagues, my friends, last year we came here to this same hall as we have been doing for the past eight years, and we said something that has now been confirmed -- fully, fully confirmed.

I don't think anybody in this room could defend the system. Let's accept -- let's be honest. The U.N. system, born after the Second World War, collapsed. It's worthless.

Oh, yes, it's good to bring us together once a year, see each other, make statements and prepare all kinds of long documents, and listen to good speeches, like Abel's yesterday, or President Mullah's . Yes, it's good for that.

And there are a lot of speeches, and we've heard lots from the president of Sri Lanka, for instance, and the president of Chile.

But we, the assembly, have been turned into a merely deliberative organ. We have no power, no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world. And that is why Venezuela once again proposes, here, today, 20 September, that we re-establish the United Nations.

Last year, Madam, we made four modest proposals that we felt to be crucially important. We have to assume the responsibility our heads of state, our ambassadors, our representatives, and we have to discuss it.

The first is expansion, and Mullah talked about this yesterday right here. The Security Council, both as it has permanent and non-permanent categories, (inaudible) developing countries and LDCs must be given access as new permanent members. That's step one.

Second, effective methods to address and resolve world conflicts, transparent decisions.

Point three, the immediate suppression -- and that is something everyone's calling for -- of the anti-democratic mechanism known as the veto, the veto on decisions of the Security Council.

Let me give you a recent example. The immoral veto of the United States allowed the Israelis, with impunity, to destroy Lebanon. Right in front of all of us as we stood there watching, a resolution in the council was prevented.

Fourthly, we have to strengthen, as we've always said, the role and the powers of the secretary general of the United Nations.

Yesterday, the secretary general practically gave us his speech of farewell. And he recognized that over the last 10 years, things have just gotten more complicated; hunger, poverty, violence, human rights violations have just worsened. That is the tremendous consequence of the collapse of the United Nations system and American hegemonistic pretensions.

Madam, Venezuela a few years ago decided to wage this battle within the United Nations by recognizing the United Nations, as members of it that we are, and lending it our voice, our thinking.

Our voice is an independent voice to represent the dignity and the search for peace and the reformulation of the international system; to denounce persecution and aggression of hegemonistic forces on the planet.

This is how Venezuela has presented itself. Bolivar's home has sought a nonpermanent seat on the Security Council.

Let's see. Well, there's been an open attack by the U.S. government, an immoral attack, to try and prevent Venezuela from being freely elected to a post in the Security Council.

The imperium is afraid of truth, is afraid of independent voices. It calls us extremists, but they are the extremists.

And I would like to thank all the countries that have kindly announced their support for Venezuela, even though the ballot is a secret one and there's no need to announce things.

But since the imperium has attacked, openly, they strengthened the convictions of many countries. And their support strengthens us.

Mercosur, as a bloc, has expressed its support, our brothers in Mercosur. Venezuela, with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, is a full member of Mercosur.

And many other Latin American countries, CARICOM, Bolivia have expressed their support for Venezuela. The Arab League, the full Arab League has voiced its support. And I am immensely grateful to the Arab world, to our Arab brothers, our Caribbean brothers, the African Union. Almost all of Africa has expressed its support for Venezuela and countries such as Russia or China and many others.

I thank you all warmly on behalf of Venezuela, on behalf of our people, and on behalf of the truth, because Venezuela, with a seat on the Security Council, will be expressing not only Venezuela's thoughts, but it will also be the voice of all the peoples of the world, and we will defend dignity and truth.

Over and above all of this, Madam President, I think there are reasons to be optimistic. A poet would have said "helplessly optimistic," because over and above the wars and the bombs and the aggressive and the preventive war and the destruction of entire peoples, one can see that a new era is dawning.

As Silvio Rodriguez says, the era is giving birth to a heart. There are alternative ways of thinking. There are young people who think differently. And this has already been seen within the space of a mere decade. It was shown that the end of history was a totally false assumption, and the same was shown about Pax Americana and the establishment of the capitalist neo-liberal world. It has been shown, this system, to generate mere poverty. Who believes in it now?

What we now have to do is define the future of the world. Dawn is breaking out all over. You can see it in Africa and Europe and Latin America and Oceanea. I want to emphasize that optimistic vision.

We have to strengthen ourselves, our will to do battle, our awareness. We have to build a new and better world.

Venezuela joins that struggle, and that's why we are threatened. The U.S. has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela, and it continues to support coup attempts in Venezuela and elsewhere.

President Michelle Bachelet reminded us just a moment ago of the horrendous assassination of the former foreign minister, Orlando Letelier.

And I would just add one thing: Those who perpetrated this crime are free. And that other event where an American citizen also died were American themselves. They were CIA killers, terrorists.

And we must recall in this room that in just a few days there will be another anniversary. Thirty years will have passed from this other horrendous terrorist attack on the Cuban plane, where 73 innocents died, a Cubana de Aviacion airliner.

And where is the biggest terrorist of this continent who took the responsibility for blowing up the plane? He spent a few years in jail in Venezuela. Thanks to CIA and then government officials, he was allowed to escape, and he lives here in this country, protected by the government.

And he was convicted. He has confessed to his crime. But the U.S. government has double standards. It protects terrorism when it wants to.

And this is to say that Venezuela is fully committed to combating terrorism and violence. And we are one of the people who are fighting for peace.

Luis Posada Carriles is the name of that terrorist who is protected here. And other tremendously corrupt people who escaped from Venezuela are also living here under protection: a group that bombed various embassies, that assassinated people during the coup. They kidnapped me and they were going to kill me, but I think God reached down and our people came out into the streets and the army was too, and so I'm here today.

But these people who led that coup are here today in this country protected by the American government. And I accuse the American government of protecting terrorists and of having a completely cynical discourse.

We mentioned Cuba. Yes, we were just there a few days ago. We just came from there happily.

And there you see another era born. The Summit of the 15, the Summit of the Nonaligned, adopted a historic resolution. This is the outcome document. Don't worry, I'm not going to read it.

But you have a whole set of resolutions here that were adopted after open debate in a transparent matter -- more than 50 heads of state. Havana was the capital of the south for a few weeks, and we have now launched, once again, the group of the nonaligned with new momentum.

And if there is anything I could ask all of you here, my companions, my brothers and sisters, it is to please lend your good will to lend momentum to the Nonaligned Movement for the birth of the new era, to prevent hegemony and prevent further advances of imperialism.

And as you know, Fidel Castro is the president of the nonaligned for the next three years, and we can trust him to lead the charge very efficiently.

Unfortunately they thought, "Oh, Fidel was going to die." But they're going to be disappointed because he didn't. And he's not only alive, he's back in his green fatigues, and he's now presiding the nonaligned.

So, my dear colleagues, Madam President, a new, strong movement has been born, a movement of the south. We are men and women of the south.

With this document, with these ideas, with these criticisms, I'm now closing my file. I'm taking the book with me. And, don't forget, I'm recommending it very warmly and very humbly to all of you.

We want ideas to save our planet, to save the planet from the imperialist threat. And hopefully in this very century, in not too long a time, we will see this, we will see this new era, and for our children and our grandchildren a world of peace based on the fundamental principles of the United Nations, but a renewed United Nations.

And maybe we have to change location. Maybe we have to put the United Nations somewhere else; maybe a city of the south. We've proposed Venezuela.

You know that my personal doctor had to stay in the plane. The chief of security had to be left in a locked plane. Neither of these gentlemen was allowed to arrive and attend the U.N. meeting. This is another abuse and another abuse of power on the part of the Devil. It smells of sulfur here, but God is with us and I embrace you all.

May God bless us all. Good day to you.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oil Wars v. American Leftist: Continued Reflections on 9/11 

Recently, I posted a commentary entitled, The Ghosts of 9/11. Ow, the blogger at Oil Wars, an essential source of information about events in Venezuela, commented upon my perspective, considering it overly harsh, initiating this dialogue:


I disagree somewhat with your last two paragraphs. People like Navarro and Cummins didn't have anything to do with the US invading Iraq. There was no public clamor for that war. Maybe you could say there was for going after the Taliban but that was a seperate issue.

The US went to war in Iraq because it had wanted to take over that country for some time to control its oil, extract revenge, and take out what it considered a regional threat to its very large interests in the M.E. All 9/11 did was provide the pretext.

And in point of fact, at the time they did use the WMD BS a lot more than 9/11 to justify the war. Its only after the invasion when the WMD line was revealed as non-sense and any "threat" from the Ba'athists was long gone that they now need to milk 9/11 as a last ditch justification for continueing the war.
ow | Homepage | 09.12.06 - 8:25 am | #


There was plenty of information around before the war that Iraq wasn't a threat. It didn't possess WMDs, and its military capabilities had been degraded by the 1991 Gulf War and sanctions.

Indeed, one of the reasons Iraq was selected for attack, beyond the geopolitical ones that you mention, was precisely because it was perceived (wrongly) as a cakewalk. People just didn't want to listen, just like they didn't listen to the warnings about the NASDAQ bubble. They had a pre-existing disposition to believe, and that pre-disposition was based upon their anger at Arabs as a result of 9/11, and possibly, even a racism towards Arabs that existed pre-9/11.

Now, I agree with you that there was no clamour for the war. But there was no opposition to it, either, and why was that? I believe it was because of what I have written here. Once Bush targeted Iraq, for the reasons you state, people of the right, especially men for some reason, started pushing the line about how evil Saddam was, how terribly he had treated his people, how something had to be done about him. Bush, and his radio apparat, lead by people like Limbaugh, skillfully tapped into it.

I heard this all the time. People, mind you, who had never expressed the slightest concern about treatment of people in the Middle East before, and who, quite predictably, and contradictorily, support any Israeli brutality against the Palestinians.

This, as they say in poker, was a tell. Saddam was a chance to get even after 9/11, as Afghanistan and the hunt for Bin Laden was not sufficient to slake their thirst for revenge, and their concern for the people of Iraq was an excuse for what they already wanted to do, attack Iraq after Bush so conveniently suggested it to them. Saddam was the stereotype of the evil Arab, the personification of what they held responsible for 9/11, Arabs in the Middle East.

More confirmation can be found after the war was started. These same people, who purportedly supported the war partially because of their humanitarian concern for the Iraqi people, never express any concern for what our troops have done there. Never any concern about the use of cluster bombs, the poverty, the lack of medical care, killings of civilians at checkpoints, or, more tellingly, the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. On that one, they were, and remain, silent as church mice, if they aren't mimicking Limbaugh's characterization of them as fraternity pranks.

And, lastly, people continue to this day to volunteer to to participate in this horror, they enlist and re-enlist, despite the knowledge that Iraq had no connection to 9/11. Factually no, but, emotionally, it still endures for many people, as it does for Cummins and Navarro.

So, people like them go about their business, tormenting the people of Iraq, as they continue to lie to themselves about their motivations, which have nothing to do with fighting terror and WMDs. And, they are perfectly willing to participate in admiminstration public relations events, like the one described in the article, a 9/11 memorial in Iraq, to continue to persuade all of us to believe in the lie as well.

For me, I have come to the conclusion that the institution of the state itself is inclined to manipulate these sorts of motivations, and as you post on a blog about Venezuela, it is one of the anxieties that I have about the future of the revolutionary project there.
Richard Estes | Homepage | 09.12.06 - 11:54 am | #

I have some additional comments that I’d like to make, especially on your last comments. Rather than a debate or disagreement I think they are just a difference of perspectives which are in and of themselves interesting and educational so let me share them:

[There was plenty of information around before the war that Iraq wasn't a threat. It didn't possess WMDs, and its military capabilities had been degraded by the 1991 Gulf War and sanctions. ]

True, but I think 9/11 inclined a lot of people to give the government the benefit of the doubt. And just to give my own experience with this as you can imagine I am highly skeptical of what the US government says. Yet, I at least half way believed them on the WMD issue. The government lies about a lot of things but it also tells the truth about a lot of things. For people like me who have no information outside of what is provided in the mass media it is hard to know when they are being truthfull and when they are lying. My rational for believing them was that if they were to invade and then be discovered to have not told the truth about this it would be a big blow to them. So I thought this was simply too big a lie for them to tell. Obviously I was wrong.

BTW, I was still dead set against the war regardless of the WMD issue. My view was (and is) is that as a soviergn nation Iraq had just as much right to decide what weapons it wants to posses as the US, Britian, Russia or China do.

[Indeed, one of the reasons Iraq was selected for attack, beyond the geopolitical ones that you mention, was precisely because it was perceived (wrongly) as a cakewalk. People just didn't want to listen, just like they didn't listen to the warnings about the NASDAQ bubble. They had a pre-existing disposition to believe, and that pre-disposition was based upon their anger at Arabs as a result of 9/11, and possibly, even a racism towards Arabs that existed pre-9/11.]

Again, on this I was wrong too. I thought that Iraq would indeed be a cakewalk for them. My reasons for thinking that had nothing to do with hatred for Arabs, but rather that as a brutal dictator Saddam was probably despised by the vast majority of Iraqis and that they would indeed welcome being freed from his rule. And they may well have felt that way right after the initial invasion. If the US had toppled Saddam and immediately left its possible they would be viewedfavourably in Iraq. But their intention was clearly to occupy and control the country and the rest is history. So while you sure have me pegged in terms of being wrong I’m not sure that most people’s believing this stemmed from hatred of Arabs. In fact Bush was at least initially very careful not to go the route of race baiting or religion baiting. The US was supposedly going there to help people and “democratize” the M.E.. I always new THAT was bullshit (after all, if that was their goal why didn’t they start by just cutting off the money to all the dictatorships they support there) but I think many people believed it.
ow | Homepage | 09.12.06 - 9:29 pm | #

[Now, I agree with you that there was no clamour for the war. But there was no opposition to it, either, and why was that? I believe it was because of what I have written here. Once Bush targeted Iraq, for the reasons you state, people of the right, especially men for some reason, started pushing the line about how evil Saddam was, how terribly he had treated his people, how something had to be done about him. Bush, and his radio apparat, lead by people like Limbaugh, skillfully tapped into it.

I heard this all the time. People, mind you, who had never expressed the slightest concern about treatment of people in the Middle East before, and who, quite predictably, and contradictorily, support any Israeli brutality against the Palestinians.

This, as they say in poker, was a tell. Saddam was a chance to get even after 9/11, as Afghanistan and the hunt for Bin Laden was not sufficient to slake their thirst for revenge, and their concern for the people of Iraq was an excuse for what they already wanted to do, attack Iraq after Bush so conveniently suggested it to them. Saddam was the stereotype of the evil Arab, the personification of what they held responsible for 9/11, Arabs in the Middle East.]

I see this a little differently. I think 9/11 definitely DID help the selling of the Iraq invasion. No two ways about it. But again I don’t see it as a thirsting for revenge. I think most people are inclined to believe their political leaders until reality smacks them in the face and convinces them that they are being misled. That is always a majority of the population. What 9/11 did was bump way up the number of people who were willing to give the government a free pass and accept everything it said at face value. Say it increased it from 60% to 80%. And it did so even amongst normally skeptical people. Of course, the insurgency happened and so did Katrina so a lot of people have been smacked back to reality now.

[More confirmation can be found after the war was started. These same people, who purportedly supported the war partially because of their humanitarian concern for the Iraqi people, never express any concern for what our troops have done there. Never any concern about the use of cluster bombs, the poverty, the lack of medical care, killings of civilians at checkpoints, or, more tellingly, the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. On that one, they were, and remain, silent as church mice, if they aren't mimicking Limbaugh's characterization of them as fraternity pranks.]

I agree with your observation but not with your conclusion on this. Yes, people care about the US troops much more than the Iraqis. I think there are two explanations for this (not justifications, but explanations). First, a big part of this is the effect of the propaganda of the media. The media shows and humanizes the American troops. So you empathize with the young 20 year old who had big dreams for his life but died in Iraq. It is only human to have such empathy. But of course the media never does anything to humanize the Iraqi insurgents or tell us of their dreams and their suffering. To the contrary, the few times they are portrayed in any way it is simply as the bad people who have caused the tragic death of that 20 year old that we empathize with. This is of course very deliberate on the part o f the media and its how they rally support for the war which is their clear mission. Maybe people shouldn’t so easily fall for propaganda but they do (somewhat understandably) and I am always going to apportion a lot more of the blame for those creating the propaganda than for those who fall for it.

Secondly, most human beings are going to care much more about people who are like themselves then people who are dissimilar to themselves. Seeing something bad happen to people close to you fosters a “there but for the grace of god go I” mentality whereas when something happens to people who don’t speak your language, don’t look like you and who live a very long ways away it’s not likely to have much of an impact. I’m not trying to justify this, but I do think most human beings, not just Americans, are this way.
ow | Homepage | 09.12.06 - 9:30 pm | #

[And, lastly, people continue to this day to volunteer to to participate in this horror, they enlist and re-enlist, despite the knowledge that Iraq had no connection to 9/11. Factually no, but, emotionally, it still endures for many people, as it does for Cummins and Navarro.]

On this I do share your sentiments more. For the first few years I could see the US soldiers as sort of being victims too. For all I knew they signed up for the educational benefits, not to kill anyone. But now its pretty much impossible to believe that. So I too have little patience at this point for the “support the troops” mentality. I’m not going to support people who joined the military to go fight this war.

[So, people like them go about their business, tormenting the people of Iraq, as they continue to lie to themselves about their motivations, which have nothing to do with fighting terror and WMDs. And, they are perfectly willing to participate in admiminstration public relations events, like the one described in the article, a 9/11 memorial in Iraq, to continue to persuade all of us to believe in the lie as well.]

This is true, but do remember MOST Americans oppose the war at this point. Unfortunately they don’t oppose it ENOUGH to actually do anything about it (much to our shame) . But don’t let the few hand picked examples that the media use for their propaganda purposes lead you to think this is how most people think.

[For me, I have come to the conclusion that the institution of the state itself is inclined to manipulate these sorts of motivations, and as you post on a blog about Venezuela, it is one of the anxieties that I have about the future of the revolutionary project there.]

Well, that is a REALLY big topic for thought and discussion. So big I’ll leave it alone for now.
ow | Homepage | 09.12.06 - 9:31 pm | #

A HOFSTADTER-MOEBIUS LOOP?: From tomorrow's Guardian:

"The question needs to be asked: if the governments of the United States or the United Kingdom who are permanent members of the security council, commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law, which of the organs of the UN can take them to account?"

Let's hope that the solution is not as dire as described in 2010: Odyssey Two.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

I, Neo-Conservative (Part 1) 

With the furor over the Pope Benedict XVI's recent remarks about Islam, it is worth examining his speech for what he did not say:

In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..."

One need not have the education and intelligence of Tariq Ali to identify the omissions of one of the most profoundly ignorant public statements in recent memory:

The reaction in the Muslim world was predictable, but depressingly insufficient. Islamic civilization cannot be reduced to the power of the sword. It was the vital bridge between the Ancient world and the European Renaissance. It was the Catholic Church that declared War on Islam in the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily. Mass expulsions, killings, forced conversions and a vicious Inquisition to police the cleansed Europe and the reformist Protestant enemy.

The fury against 'heretics' led to the burning of Cathar villages in Southern France. Jews and Protestants alike were granted refuge by the Ottoman Empire, a refuge they would have been denied had Istanbul remained Constantinople. 'Slaves, obey your human masters.For Christ is the real master you serve' said Paul (Colossians 3: 22-24) in establishing a collaborationist tradition which fell on its knees before wealth and power and which reached its apogee during the Second World War where the leadership of the Church collaborated with fascism and did not speak up against the judeocide or the butchery on the Eastern Front. Islam does not need pacifist lessons from this Church.

Violence was and is not the prerogative of any single religion as the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestine demonstrates. During the Cold War the Vatican, with rare exceptions, supported the imperial wars. Both sides were blessed during the First and Second World wars; the US Cardinal Spellman was a leading warrior in the battles to destroy Communism during the Korean and Vietnam wars. The Vatican later punished the liberation theologists and peasant-priests in Latin America. Some were excommunicated.

So, after engaging in the laborious task of hacking through the underbrush of the language of Vatican pseudo-scholarship (strangely enough, eerily reminiscent, in its own way, of the purported dialectical analyses of Russian and Chinese Communist Party figures in the 1950s and 1960s), and discovering the avoidance of the most commonly known aspects of the history of the Pope's own church, it is evident that he is implicitly expressing one of the great historical fictions, namely, that Islam is singularly responsible for the legitimization of religiously inspired violence.

We must speak candidly here: the Pope's emphasis upon Islam as the progenitor of religious violence is as credible as the astronomy of Aristotle, and as offensive as claims of racial intellectual superiority and Holocaust denial. As Ali so bluntly observes, Islam needs no pacifist lessons from this Church. But why has the Pope embraced the deliberate distortion of history in a way that is so transparent? To what end?

Imperialism is the magic interpretative key to the discovery of the answers, as suggested by Ali's article. Through imperialism, the Catholic Church spread its faith all around the world at the point of swords held by the soldiers of Spain, Portugal and France. It is rarely recognized that the old adage, the sun never sets on the British Empire, first applied to the Catholic Church. Priests enriched themselves upon the slave labor of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, with Father Junipero Serra being one of the most notorious examples.

Hence, the Pope sought to exploit the violence of Islamic fundamentalism as a means of trying to more effectively suppress the more odious aspects of the Church's own conduct. He was promoting a mythology of Catholicism as a religion that has inspired billions to spiritually identify themselves with it non-violently. Under this Pope, the Church cannot acknowledge the history of Western imperialism without condemning itself.

All of this should have a familiar ring, especially to Americans. It is the same propaganda exercise utilized by the neo-conservatives to justify the invasion of Iraq and the purported war on terror. An emphasis upon Islamic terrorism facilitates that concealment of the much greater evils of American foreign policy over the last 200 years just as it also effectively distracts from the Church's even longer association with imperial conquest and cultural destruction. It transforms the violence and coercion of American policy into the rhetoric of democracy, free trade and free association, just as the brutal proselytization of the Church is described as the liberating, divine discovery of faith by the individual.

Pope Benedict XVI has not yet joined his fellow neo-conservatives, and openly supported the violence of the present by reference to the violence of the past, but he came dangerously close to doing so in Germany, an accidental geographical symbolism of the most frightening kind, and his remarks may foreshadow even greater conflagrations just over the horizon.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

2 Seemingly Unrelated Articles 

MEXICO, AGAIN: More about the turmoil in Mexico, as John Ross describes the certification of Calderon as President:

In an epiphany of how he might have to govern Mexico if the left opposition allows him to assume the presidency December 1, right-winger Felipe Calderon had to be helicoptered to the bunker in the deep south of this conflictive capital where the nation's top electoral tribunal, doing business as the TRIFE, was to hand him the certificate attesting that he had, in the judges' less-than-august opinions, won the July 2 election from leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO.).

Upon emerging from the chopper which had been accompanied by a military gunship, the stubby, balding Calderon was quickly hustled into the TRIFE headquarters by the back door a full 90 minutes before the actual ceremony was to commence, a subterfuge necessitated by the presence by thousands of AMLO's enraged supporters, some of whom had already stripped naked.

Calderon's witnesses -- members of his campaign team and functionaries of the archly-rightist PAN party who had the misfortune to arrive by land -- were greeted by clods of earth and screams of "Rateros!" (Thieves) and "Fraude!" (Fraud.) The ritual unfolded under a steady barrage of rotten eggs and tomatoes which AMLO's people kept hurling at the TRIFE bunker, a kind of Aztec version of a U.S. missile silo, to express their unhappiness with the seven-judge panel that had neither heard nor seen any evil in the maladroit machinations of President Vicente Fox, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), and the PAN to steal the election from their candidate.

As with most of Ross' articles, it proceeds to provide a riveting account of the contentious faultlines within Mexican society.

BRZEZINSKI THE BAPTIST: Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski has always been an anomaly, a blunt spoken person in a field, foreign policy, where subtlety and indirectness is normally prized. But, in an interview with the German publication Der Spiegel, he outdoes himself to an extent to where the simplicity of his speech takes on the aphoristic quality of prophecy:

SPIEGEL: Are there any conditions under which America could lose its current political supremacy?

Brzezinski: One would only have to continue the current policies and, also, in future not give a serious response to increasingly louder complaints of global inequality. We are now dealing with a far more politically active mankind that demands a collective response to their grievances from the West.

SPIEGEL: Is your demand to eradicate global inequality not as illusionary as Bush's demand that America free the world from evil?

Brzezinski: Achieving equality would indeed be an illusionary goal. Reducing inequality in the age of television and Internet may well become a political necessity. We are entering a historic stage in which people in China and India, but also in Nepal, in Bolivia or Venezuela will no longer tolerate the enormous disparities in the human condition. That could well be the collective danger we will have to face in the next decades.

SPIEGEL: You call it a "global political awakening."

Brzezinski: Yes, and it is essentially a repetition, but now on a global scale, of the societal and political awakening that occurred in France at the time of the revolution. During the 19th century it spread through Europe and parts of the Western hemisphere, in the 20th century it reached Japan and finally China. Now it is sweeping the rest of the world.

A global political awakening! Brzezinski invokes the rhetoric of 19th Century Protestant evangelicalism, while simultaneously channeling Mike Davis, as American Leftist readers will recall this passage from his recent book, Planet of Slums:

In summary, the Pentagon's best minds have dared to venture where most United Nations, World Bank or Department of State types fear to go: down the road that logically follows from the abdication of urban reform. As in the past, this is a "street without joy," and, indeed, the unemployed teenage fighters of the "Mahdi Army" in Baghdad's Sadr City--one of the world's largest slums--taunt American occupiers with the promise that the main boulevard is "Vietnam Street." But the war planners don't blanch. With cold blooded lucidity, they now assert that the "feral, failed cities" of the Third World--especially their urban outskirts--will be the distinctive battlefield of the twenty-first century. Pentagon doctrine is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor. This is the true "clash of civilizations".

Say, perhaps, someday in Mexico? In any event, I strongly encourage people to read the interview in its entirety, as Brzezinski addresses a broad spectrum of topics, including the necessity of an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, the variegated nature of Islamic fundamentalism and the absurd inflation of Bin Laden into a figure of global influence:
SPIEGEL: So it is exaggerated rhetoric which ensures that Osama bin Laden is elevated to the level of a Mao or Stalin?

Brzezinski: Correct. And that is of course a distortion of reality - notwithstanding the fact that bin Laden is a killer. He is a criminal and should be presented as such, and not intentionally elevated into a globally significant leader of a transnational, quasi-religious movement.

Here is the link again for anyone who wants to enjoy Brzezinski's ability to simply communicate complex ideas. Or, is it the inability of others to convey them in a straightforward manner that makes them appear complex?

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Monday, September 11, 2006

The Ghosts of 9/11 

From today's San Francisco Chronicle:

By the numbers
Sept. 11 and its aftermath:

2,973: Victims of the 9/11 attacks

272: Deaths of U.S. servicemen and women in and around Afghanistan

2,666: Deaths of U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq war

21,000: Members of U.S. military now in Afghanistan

145,000: Members of U.S. military now in Iraq

1.35 million: Members of U.S. military deployed for Afghan and Iraq wars since 2001

Anyone notice something missing here? US military deaths resulting from the war in Iraq are mentioned, but the deaths of the Iraqis themselves are ignored.

Isn't it rather odd, given that the US launched this war without provocation, resulting in the deaths of anywhere between 40,000 to 500,000 Iraqis and the destruction of the country's infrastructure and social life? The Iraqis apparently have no existence, no stories to tell, independent of a narrative imposed by an outside imperial power. Like a sinister family secret in a novel by Poe, Faulkner or Caldwell, we must repress their experiences, erase them from our conscious daily lives, despite the risk, if not probability, of greater future turmoil.

After all, acknowledgement of the atrocity in Iraq, and its roots in 9/11, unravel a simple moral tale of victimization, raising troubling questions about how a country that was so brutalized could then proceed to inflict exponentially greater brutality upon people in another country, people without any connection to the original incident. It is as if our leaders, understandably lacking the capacity to comprehend the 9/11 attacks rationally, felt compelled to try to create an after the fact justification for them, with the Iraqis misfortunate enough to find themselves selected as the target.

Not surprisingly, some of the troops in Iraq are engaged in tangled contortions to create a connection between 9/11 and the war:

Staff Sergeant Adam Navarro was just a New York City police cadet when the Twin Towers came crashing down and his class was thrown into uniform and put onto the city streets to keep order.

"To my back were the Twin Towers, still in flames, with smoke and debris and that smell. We set up barriers and basically we shut down that whole street," he recalled at a ceremony outside Baghdad marking the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

"They told us: 'This is our street, protect this street, one street at a time we are going to take back this city,'" he recalled. "For me this is one long day that 9/11 started. And now the United States is in Iraq, and I'm still serving that day."

Or, consider:

"We were living there non-stop for the first three weeks -- except for the funerals," recalled Sergeant Sean Cummins, a firefighter who remembers the eerie silence when he first rushed into the disintegrating towers.

"There are still a lot of people for whom no remains have ever been found, so their family members, they will never move on," he said in his soft Irish brogue. "And I'm here in Iraq, this is my way of moving on."

For Cummins, who grew up in Ireland and witnessed at first hand activities of the Irish Republican Army, coming to Iraq was a way of fighting the scourge of terrorism -- a belief which the Senate report denying any link between Saddam and 9/11 hasn't dimmed.

"You can say he wasn't supporting (terrorism) but I believe he was. The Senate may say there's no evidence ... but you can support terrorism just in a passive way by not expelling them," he said with an intense look in his fierce blue eyes.

This is the terrifying legacy of 9/11 that will haunt us for years to come: soldiers like Navarro and Cummins were so grief stricken, so angry after 9/11 that they wanted to kill Arabs, and the leadership of this country, Republican and Democrat, callously provided them an opportunity to indiscriminately do so with the sanction of the state. We are creating monsters who will someday return home, and, then, we will have to ask ourselves, was the gratification of our bloodlust for 9/11 sufficient reward for what we encouraged these men to do to themselves?

For me, as I reflect upon 9/11, as someone fortunate enough not to have been directly touched by it, I understand that it has philosophically pushed me away from socialism and towards anarchism, because it was the vicious interplay between hierarchy, nationalism and racism that made this war inevitable after 9/11, and, so, naturally, I have gravitated towards a social perspective that explicitly rejects and condemns them, even as I recognize that, in my personal life, I will invariably fall short of fulfilling such a utopian vision.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Weekend Update: Mexico and Israel 

UPDATE: Lopez Obrador avoids conflict with the Mexican military:

Leftist opposition leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced that he was temporarily ending a mass protest over disputed election results that had paralyzed much of downtown Mexico City since July 30.

Lopez Obrador, who officially lost the July 2 election by a razor-thin margin to president-elect Felipe Calderon, said the protest would be lifted to allow the popular September 16 independence day military parade to proceed.

The protest has "nothing against" the military, an "institution that guarantees our sovereignty," he told a downtown gathering of thousands of supporters.

However, in a challenge to outgoing President Vicente Fox, Lopez Obrador vowed to deliver a rival ceremonial public call for independence late September 15 at the Zocalo, the giant downtown square where the protests are centered.

TWO POPES IN MEXICO? Felipe Calderon has been declared President of Mexico, but the crisis persists, and may be intensifying:

Felipe Calderón, a former energy minister and onetime long-shot candidate, was unanimously declared president-elect of Mexico on Tuesday in a court decision that capped a two-month legal battle but did not end the nation's political crisis.

Calderón's opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, refused to recognize the decision. During a fiery address before thousands of supporters in Mexico City's downtown square, the Zocalo, he mocked Calderón as an "illegitimate president" and pledged to create an "alternate government" to "refound the Republic and reestablish constitutional order" before the Dec. 1 presidential inauguration.

Backers of runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador protest at the electoral court in Mexico City. López Obrador had vowed to defy such a ruling and set up a parallel government.

Speaking moments later, Calderón called for conciliation, saying, "Mexicans can think differently, but we are not enemies." He declared that "the electoral process is over and the hour has arrived for unity." The dueling speeches were tracked minutely by Mexicans both puzzled and fascinated by the prospect of two men simultaneously claiming to lead the nation.

For an American Leftist evaluation of the nature of the vote fraud that appears to been have perpetrated in Mexico, go here. Anticipating this result, Obrador called upon his supporters to create an alternative government before the result was announced:

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, convinced he won't be awarded the presidency, has vowed to create a parallel leftist government and is urging Mexicans not to recognize the apparent victory of the ruling party's Felipe Calderon.

While his party lacks the seats in Congress to block legislation, Lopez Obrador can mobilize millions to pressure his conservative rival to adopt the left's agenda — or to clamp down and risk a backlash.

Both scenarios are possibilities as the former Mexico City mayor lays out plans to create his own government to rule from the streets, with the support of thousands who are already occupying protest camps throughout downtown Mexico City.

Some predict his parallel initiative — which Lopez Obrador's supporters call the "legitimate government" — could turn those protest camps into the core of a violent revolt, especially if the government tries to shut it down.

Such violence broke out in the southern city of Oaxaca after Gov. Ulises Ruiz sent police to evict striking teachers. Outraged citizens' groups joined the protests, setting fire to buildings and public buses, seizing radio and TV stations and forcing the closure of businesses in a city known throughout the world as a quaint tourist destination.

"Everything we do, from property taxes to permits to natural resources, will go through the 'legitimate government,'" said Severina Martinez, a school teacher from Oaxaca camped out in a tent in Mexico City's main Zocalo plaza. "We won't have anything to do with the official government."

Reading this makes me wonder: to what extent do many of the poor, the indigenous population of Mexico already live under an alternative government? In other words, with the implementation of neoliberalism in Mexico since the election of Carlos Salinas in 1988, to what extent do they already have to meet their daily needs of food, shelter, schooling, medical care, transporation and police protection independent of the government? Is it possible that, by depriving Obrador of the presidency, the Mexican elite is accidentally accelerating a decomposition of the Mexican state? Something much greater, much more significant than an electoral dispute could be developing south of the border.

As reported here at American Leftist, Uri Avnery confirms that there is no significant peace movement in Israel, describing, as I did here, the cynicism of left intellectuals in supporting, and then, abandoning, the war in Lebanon:

WHILE ANALYZING the Second Lebanon War, it is impossible to ignore the role played by the Leftists, with or without quotation marks, during the fighting.

The day before yesterday I saw on TV an interview with the playwright Joshua Sobol, a likeable person known as a regular leftist. He explained that this war has brought us important benefits, and sang the praises of the Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz.

Sobol is not alone. When the government started this war, an impressive line-up of writers supported it. Amos Oz, A.B.Yehoshua and David Grossman, who regularly appear as a political trio, were united again in their support of the government and used all their considerable verbal talents to justify the war. They were not satisfied with that: some days after the beginning of the war, the three published a joint ad in the papers, expressing their enthusiastic backing for the operation.

Their support was not purely passive. Amos Oz, a writer with considerable literary prestige throughout the world, wrote an article in favor of the war, which appeared in several respected foreign newspapers. I wouldn't be surprised if "somebody" helped to distribute it. His two comrades, too, were active in propagating the war, together with a long row of writers like Yoram Kaniuk, assorted artists and intellectuals, real or imagined. All of them volunteered for the propaganda reserves without waiting to be drafted.

I doubt that the war would have attained its monstrous dimensions without the massive support of Leftists-but, which made it possible to form a "wall to wall consensus ", ignoring the protest of the consistent peace camp. This consensus carried away the Meretz party, whose guru Amos Oz is, and Peace Now, in whose mass rallies Amos Oz used to be the main speaker (when they were still able to stage mass rallies).

Some people are now pretending that this group was really against the war. To whit: some days before the end they published a second tripartite ad, this time calling for its termination. At the same time, Meretz and Peace Now also changed course. But not one of them apologized or showed remorse for their prior support for the killing and devastation. Their new position was: the war was indeed very good, but now the time has come to put an end to it.

Such conduct exposes the reality that Israel now has no intention to relinquish control of the West Bank and Gaza:

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres has reiterated that his government had abandoned plans to withdraw from most of the occupied West Bank.

"The idea of unilateral disengagement or realignment is over. It is over politically, psychologically as well as operationally," Peres was quoted as telling the top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily on Friday.

"There will not be a manifold repetition in Judaea and Samaria (the southern and northern West Bank) of the withdrawal from Gaza. There will not be massive evacuation of the settlements," he added, giving three reasons.

He listed them as continued Palestinian attacks from Gaza despite Israel's withdrawal last year, fractured Palestinian politics with no one to take responsibility, and unfavourable public opinion in Israel.

Peres said Israel would instead hold talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, albeit bypassing the governing Hamas movement that does not officially recognise Israel's right to exist.

What on earth does Peres mean? Talks about what? The old favorite of American liberals appears to showing signs of senility, but they will no doubt find some obscure logic that evades the rest of us. And, again, here is yet another example of Israel's historic practice to select its negotiating partner, regardless of what the Palestinians think about it. A good way to make sure that Israel remains in the occupied territories permanently.

Zionism has now been officially reduced, as I posted here earlier, to a social enterprise of militarism and occupation, with the starvation of the Palestinians in Gaza the current objective:

"Women in Gaza tell me they are eating only one meal a day, bread with tomatoes or cheap vegetables," said Kirstie Campbell of the UN's World Food Programme, which is feeding 235,000 people. She added that in June, since when the crisis has worsened, some 70 per cent of people in Gaza could not meet their family's food needs. "People are raiding garbage dumps," she said.

Not only do Palestinians in Gaza get little to eat but what food they have is eaten cold because of the lack of electricity and money to pay for fuel. The Gaza power plant was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in June. In one month alone 4 per cent of Gaza's agricultural land was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Go for the Throat 

UPDATE 2: Naturally, in this day and age, it is necessary to intimidate and indoctrinate the students who participated in the protest against Blair yesterday at the Quintin Kynaston school in North London (see UPDATE 1 below). Someone over at Lenin's Tomb has posted a statement from the headteacher:

Many thanks for your email. I can assure you that this behaviour was not supported by anyone at the school. Indeed we were horrified that our children had been exploited and abused by a political organisation, members of which had been outside the school gates since 8am. Somehow details of the visit, though confidential, had been leaked through a website and a picket and demonstration had been organised without our knowledge or consent.

The school had not been closed specifically for the visit. We had a planned half day induction for students followed by staff training in the afternoon. Organisationally this had been in the school calendar since before the summer break.

Our students were put in serious danger physically and emotionally by the outrageous actions of these political 'rabble rousers' who had no concern for them as young people but simply used them as pawns for their own political ends.

I have today held a staff meeting and will be holding a whole school assembly later to explain to the students how the actions of 50 out of 1500 have been perceived and how it clearly reflects so poorly on the school.

We pride ourselves on being one of the most improved schools in the UK. Our students are always our pride and joy. It is completely out of character for them to behave in such an unruly, rude and disrespectful manner. However the role played by these activists was cleverly orchestrated and the children were merely fodder for a political campaign.

I personally remain a big supporter of Tony Blair whose policies I value and who I personally feel is a man of integrity and honesty.

Many thanks for taking the time to contact me. I hope that this will help to set the record straight.

Jo Shuter

QK School

I will leave it to discerning readers to identify the numerous absurdities in this statement, with one exception: . . . a picket and demonstration had been organized without our knowledge or consent . . .

Here is Blairism in a nutshell. It encourages people in all kinds of social institutions to act in the most supercilious, self-promotional, autocratic way imaginable. For Britons, the ruthless public humiliation of Tony Blair serves the purpose of repudiating the grip that people like him, and people like this headmaster, have over their lives. Someday, we might begin to emulate them here in America.

UPDATE 1: Blair can't even visit a school without being reviled by the students and their parents. A hilarious report from lenin at Lenin's Tomb:

Blair made his announcement about resigning 'within the next twelve months' at the Quintin Kynaston School in North London. It is one of his Specialist Schools, and it happens to get very flattering inspection reviews from Ofsted. He had been before in 2003, and presumably thought it would be a doss. It's one of those schools he hopes to hand over to the private sector and remove from local democratic control. Plus, Suggs went there, and it must appeal to his rock-star fantasies.

However, some of us got wind of this, and the protesters were right down there waiting for him. Now, the school headteachers had decided that since it was Blair's big day they would send most of the pupils home and keep only the exceptionally well-behaved ones behind. So, as we were setting up for our protest, the children were filing out in huge numbers. Guess what? Blair is extremely unpopular in this neck of the woods, and some of them wanted to take part in the protest. To be more precise, there was already a School Students Against the War movement in the school and I expect they had been ready for Blair's visit. This is not unusual - tonnes of young kids have been to the huge antiwar demonstrations in London. Some of the kids' parents were there too. Many of these children were Muslim. One kid explained that he was Lebanese; a lot of others simply hated Blair, as you'll discover from the footage.

Yes, that's right, there's more, much more, including pictures and video, and an account of how school teachers and administrators forcibly, but ineptly, failed to shut down the protest, which will no doubt be the source of hilarity among the students for the rest of the year. Don't be surprised if the Blairs permanently move to America after he leaves Downing Street. Here's the link again if you can't resist the lure of vicarious participation.

INITIAL POST: Finally, at long last:

An all-out power struggle between the chancellor and the prime minister, culminating with allegations of blackmail by Tony Blair and a ferocious shouting match between the two men, appeared last night to have forced Mr Blair to publicly declare as early as today that he will not be prime minister this time next year.

That may not be enough for Gordon Brown, who is understood to have demanded that Mr Blair quit by Christmas, with an effective joint premiership until a new leader is anointed by the party.

Now is not the time to hesitate, but, rather, the moment to put the stake through the vampire's heart. Of course, it is unlikely that Brown will be markedly different than Blair on foreign policy. Both supported the war in Iraq. Instead, it is about making a statement, a statement that those, like Blair, who accelerated the march to war, to the destruction of Iraq, should not only be held accountable, but personally humiliated.

As lenin over at Lenin's Tomb posted earlier today:

It would be a good idea if we made the September 23rd demonstration outside the Labour Party conference the biggest in ages. Activists all over the country are getting ready for this. No, Brown won't be any better: we know this. No one likely to succeed Blair as Prime Minister is going to be more principled, nor more left-wing, nor antiwar. But believe me - they'll know why Blair got kicked out, finishing his career as one of the most unpopular leaders we have ever had, and the whole country will know as well. Every MP will know the risk of pursuing Blair into oblivion. And it'll give us a shot in the arm as well. I suggest street celebrations on the night that this pious hypocrite with blood on his hands is finally driven out.

But even as Blair's narcissism compels him to endure otherwise intolerable public embarassment in a desperate, pathetic attempt to retain power, it is important to dispel some common misconceptions about him. First, as recognized by Richard Gott in an excellent, essential New Left Review article, Blair is not, and has never been, George Bush's poodle. Indeed, if anything, it has been the other way round:

Blair is wrongly characterized as the lapdog of George W. Bush. He has developed into a politician with a programme of his own, and he seeks to use the power of the United States to support it. During the second world war, in what was still the era of Franklin Roosevelt, us rhetoric was hostile to the empires of Europe, and the withholding of American money in the postwar period was instrumental in accelerating their collapse. Blair’s aim is to reverse that policy, and persuade the Americans to use their ‘blood and treasure’ to restore the old empires in a form suitable for the age of globalization. His Commission for Africa, and the neo-imperialist New Partnership for Africa’s Development (nepad), are designed to re-introduce strategies of colonial control with American support.

It is of course a pipe-dream. The clock cannot be turned back in such a way. Old empires cannot be recovered or reconstructed. The citizens of ‘Old’ Europe have no great taste for war, while the United States—when true to its historical record—remains isolationist at heart. Blair may seek to find fame as a professor of international relations, and maybe a retirement home could be found for him at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, but in office he has been found seriously wanting. Few British prime ministers have been so inadequately prepared for government, and few have been so arrogantly unaware of their failings.

Second, and consistent with such arrogance, Blair does not, as superficially appears, strike a more urbane, secular contrast to Bush. If anything, he has been equally religious, equally self-assured about being selected to perform a predestined historical role:

The strongest support for Bush's war came from Tony Blair, Britain's most religious leader since Gladstone. Like Bush, Blair prays. He keeps a Bible by his bed and says he will only answer to "my maker" for British deaths in Iraq. When David Frost asked if he and Bush prayed together on Iraq, Blair declined to answer.

Predictably, Blair has, with the passage of time, increasingly echoed Bush's hyperbolic rhetoric about the Middle East, as he did about a month ago:

Tony Blair has warned that an "arc of extremism" is stretching across the Middle East and said "an alliance of moderation" was needed to defeat it.

Mr Blair also told the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles that Syria and Iran had to stop supporting terrorism or they would "be confronted".

His speech was planned some weeks ago but he said the Lebanon crisis had "brought it into sharp relief".

He said there was now a war "of a completely unconventional kind".

The prime minister said: "There is an arc of extremism now stretching across the Middle East and touching countries far outside that region."

Patrick Cockburn directed his trenchant response personally to the Prime Minister:

I only hope al Qaeda, Hezbollah or Hamas do not translate your speech into Arabic since every paranoid paragraph confirms their claim that they are battling a western crusade against Islam.

Strangest of all, however, was the recently leaked memorandum describing an exit strategy for Blair's departure:

The retirement blueprint aims to promote the "triumph of Blairism" and allow the PM to quit on a wave of euphoria after 10 years in office.

The secret strategy - drawn up by a small group of loyalists - is well under way.

Mr Blair's "farewell tour" includes plans to appear on Blue Peter, Songs of Praise and Chris Evans' radio show.

The five-page memo, drawn up by a close-knit group around the leader including party guru Philip Gould, suggests the PM is nearer to stepping down than he publicly admits.

It warns: "Time is not an unlimited commodity."

And more concerned with his place in history than the success of his policies, the paper - seen by the Mirror - boasts: "His genuine legacy is not the delivery, important though that is, but the dominance of new Labour ideas...the triumph of Blairism.

"As TB enters his final phase he needs to be focusing way beyond the finishing line, not looking at it.

"He needs to go with the crowds wanting more. He should be the star who won't even play that last encore. In moving towards the end he must focus on the future."

As the Labour party leadership drags Blair out of No. 10, he is being exposed for what he has always been: a fantasist. My belief is that, at the end of day, 10 to 15 years from now, when all the personal memoirs have been published, the public will discover that Blair is the weird one, the strange one, more so than Bush, who, after all, presents a familiar masculine personality, at least to Americans. A psychotic, creepy Anthony Perkins to Bush's alcoholic, tempermental impersonation of John Wayne.

Gott, again:

Blair’s second unusual characteristic is his ability as an actor. Both at Fettes, the Scottish private school he attended in the 1960s, and at St John’s College, Oxford, where he was a mediocre law student, he was an accomplished thespian, appearing in the classics, in comedy revues, and fronting a band. His capacity to act and to put on an act, to perform his lines, and to diverge from a script when circumstances demand, has become the hallmark of his career as a politician, unequalled since Harold Macmillan, Britain’s last great showman prime minister.

What remains a mystery even today, and is not adequately explained in any of the Blair biographies, is how the Labour Party allowed a maverick right-winger to become their leader, a man who became a close intimate and political ally not only of a neo-conservative Republican like George W. Bush, but also of José María Aznar of Spain and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy—European right-wingers of a definably unpleasant slant. Blair is no Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour traitor of the 1930s who was seduced by the rich and famous. He is, and clearly always has been, a deep-dyed Tory, far further to the right than recent Conservative leaders like John Major or William Hague, who, as One Nation Tories, appear benign by comparison. So why did the Labour Party fall for Blair? Partly, of course, because of his surface charm and verbal felicity. In an indifferent field he made his way swiftly to the front, before anyone had had the time to penetrate beneath the veneer of competence and ideological neutrality. With the defenestration of the useless Neil Kinnock, the death of the dreary John Smith, and the lack of killer instinct in the gloomy Gordon Brown, the bland figure of Blair, youthful and glib, was seen as the only class act available.

Over 100,000 Iraqis died as a result.

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