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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Free Fire Zone Afghanistan (Part 1) 

UPDATE 2: According to the Guardian and The Independent, the number of civilian dead in Hyderabad has been reduced to 45. First, the Guardian account:

Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has called for an investigation into reports that 45 innocent Afghans were killed in a Nato-led air assault in the south of the country, the latest in a series of attacks which an incensed public is calling "civilian massacres".

Clashes began on Friday when Taliban fighters ambushed a joint US-Afghan military convoy, which was attempting to clear the Helmand river of Taliban positions.

The international forces, including British troops who suffered fatalities on Saturday and yesterday, then called in air strikes on houses in the village of Hyderabad, in Helmand's Gereshk district where they said insurgents were sheltering.

Despite ongoing fighting, an Afghan team of investigators was able to establish that 62 Taliban were also killed during the attack, said Dur Ali Shah, the mayor of Gereshk, and Muhammad Hussein Andewal, the provincial police chief.

Hyderabad resident Muhammad Khan told the Associated Press that the air strikes killed seven members of his family, including his brother and five of his brother's children. A "lot of dead bodies" were buried on Saturday, he said by telephone.

The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) admitted some innocent villagers had died but denied the toll reported by the two Afghan officials.

"We had evidence of less than one dozen apparent civilians who were killed in that engagement," said Major John Thomas, spokesman for Isaf, the Nato-led force tasked with bringing stability to Afghanistan.

Isaf has repeatedly lamented the Taliban's tactic of dispersing among the Afghan population, blaming them for innocent loss of life.

"The civilian dead that we surveyed were in a trench line, in an enemy position, where the Taliban were using heavy machine guns, mortars, small arms and rocket propelled grenades," he said.

While Mr Karzai has condemned the Taliban for using human shields, he has also said the foreign soldiers consider Afghan lives "cheap".

For completists, here is the one in The Independent.

UPDATE 1: According to the Washington Post, the death toll from the air strikes in the city of Hyderabad in Helmand province may now be 100 or more:

Just a week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai chastised international forces for being "careless," Afghan officials reported Saturday that possibly 100 or more civilians had been killed in a NATO and U.S.-led assault.

The battle in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, which was prompted by a Taliban ambush, began Friday night and continued into Saturday morning, Afghan officials said. It ended with international forces bombing several compounds in the remote village of Hyderabad.

"More than 100 people have been killed. But they weren't Taliban. The Taliban were far away from there," said Wali Khan, a member of parliament who represents the area. "The people are already unhappy with the government. But these kinds of killings of civilians will cause people to revolt against the government."

Another parliament member from Helmand, Mahmood Anwar, said that the death toll was close to 100 and that the dead included women and children. "Very few Taliban were killed," he said.

Spokesmen for the international forces acknowledged that civilians were killed in the battle, though they disputed the numbers. Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for the NATO force, said the civilian death toll was "an order of magnitude less" than what Afghan officials reported.

Thomas said U.S. ground forces helping to carry out a NATO mission had come under fire by Taliban insurgents using small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Thomas said the troops responded by firing on insurgents who were shooting from a compound and a network of trenches. U.S. helicopters and NATO bombers were later brought in for support, he said.

Thomas said troops returned to the area after the battle and found what appeared to be civilian bodies among the dead insurgents in the trenches. "This confirms for us again that militants are willing to fire from among civilians," he said.

"We are deeply saddened by any loss of innocent lives," U.S. Army Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition forces spokesman, said in a statement. "Insurgents are continuing their tactic of using women and children as human shields in close combat."

Karzai has not accepted that argument, repeatedly criticizing international troops for not doing more to protect noncombatants. After a series of particularly deadly incidents in June that Karzai blamed on poor coordination, he told reporters that international troops would have to "work the way we ask them to work."

A war to eliminate al-Qaeda was transformed into one to eradicate the Taliban. This is the inevitable consequence, as will be our eventual defeat. We are not far from NATO spokespeople describing much of the populace of the countryside as Taliban, because, how else to justify the escalation in violence being used to such horrible effect? One naively wonders, will the perpetrators of these attacks some day be brought before The Hague? Doubtful, of course. As already mentioned below, people angered by these killings have other means to register their displeasure, and we should anticipate that they will do so.

ORIGINAL POST: It seems to get worse and worse with each passing day:

Anti-Taliban air strikes by US- and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan killed 65 villagers including children, a local official said Saturday, amid growing anger here over civilian deaths.

The toll from Friday's operation in the southern province of Helmand given by a district mayor was the highest since 2001, when US-led forces used heavy bombing in their campaign to drive the extremist Taliban from power.

It was impossible to independently verify the number of civilians killed in Girishk district, as the area is remote and difficult to access, but local residents also claimed that scores had been killed and wounded.

Of course, this is just the worst of several such incidents in recent weeks, such as this one and this one, and, back in March, this one. It is quite remarkable that the Europeans are so willingly participating with us in these killings, this apparent effort to punish provincial Afghans for their unwillingness to support the suppression of the Taliban.

Someday, a tireless historian will document how NATO was transformed from a military alliance created for the purpose of confronting the prospect of Russian armour spilling into West Germany through the Fulda Gap into one conducting nearly daily airstrikes in Helmand province reminiscent of the Condor Legion's assault upon Guernica. One wonders how long this can continue without violent blowback in Europe, and, yes, even here in the US. Perhaps, this is what the British are experiencing today.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Who knew? 

Craig Murray blogs? I mean I knew he had a website because of that time his website almost got him thrown in jail, but I didn't know that he was seriously blogging, i.e. posting frequently. Learned this via Cursor

(Craig Murray was the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was fired after exposing Uzbekistan's use as a destination for extraordinary rendition and for exposing the warm relationship between the US and the Karimov regime.)

Bush and Al-Qaeda Fighters vs. Liberal Bloggers and Mainstream Newspapers 

About a week ago Glenn Greenwald posted a piece called "Everyone we fight in Iraq is now 'al-Qaida'", about the change in White House rhetoric such that Bush and his sock puppets currently insist on referring to the insurgents in Iraq as "al-Qaeda fighters" rather than as "insurgents". I had meant to flag the Greenwald post because I had noticed the same thing, and Greenwald had saved me the trouble of having to write about it.

Labeling everyone the US fights in Iraq as "al-Qaeda" is, of course, wildly inaccurate: it's common knowledge that foreign fighters are the smallest group of militants in Iraq, and even if that were not the case referring to foreign fighters as "al-Qaeda fighters" would still be deeply misleading.

As Greenwald and others have pointed out, this is a new development. Remember that whole almost year-long era of White House Frank-Talk-on-Iraq? -- when Bush would gamely characterize the largest group of insurgents as "Sunni rejectionists", i.e. ordinary Iraqis. In a post about Bush's State of the Union last year, for example, I was talking about the Frank-Talk-on-Iraq era when I wrote

The talking heads in the State of the Union postmortems seemed to be enchanted by Bush's distinction between the good war critics and the bad war critics; however, that whole line was boiler-plate from the nineteen thousand terrorists-rejectionists-and-Saddamists speeches he gave in the fall after his numbers dipped below forty.

Greenwald makes it pretty clear that this new direction in White House and Pentagon rhetoric is intentionally deceptive, and he discusses the extent to which the media is complicit in the deception.

Anyway, why am I bringing this up? -- check out this article from McClatchy Newspapers:

Facing eroding support for his Iraq policy, even among Republicans, President Bush on Thursday called al Qaida "the main enemy" in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts.

The reference, in a major speech at the Naval War College that referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues.[...]

U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides.

You know, Glenn Greenwald is as close to mainstream media as you can get and still be a blogger -- actually, in a sense, he's not a blogger: he's a columnist for Salon -- so he's probably widely read among journalists. I don't think it's far-fetched to believe that the above is the result of the Greenwald post. One might imagine we'd see more newspaper articles like the above given that Bush's numbers have been in Nixon territory for as long as I can remember now, but what do I know.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

The Illiterati 

From Raw Story:

A new Newsweek poll out this weekend exposed "gaps" in America's knowledge of history and current events.

Perhaps most alarmingly, 41% of Americans answered 'Yes' to the question "Do you think Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?"

That total is actually up 5 points since September 2004.

Further, a majority of people couldn't identify Saudia Arabia as the country of origin of most of the 9/11 hijackers, even given the question in multiple choice format. 20% answered Iraq, while 14% believed the hijackers came from Iran.

Probably, a lot of the same people who bought homes at the top of the real estate market in early 2006 with subprime, adjustible rate mortgages. But that hasn't gotten anyone killed.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Support the Troops (Part 2) 

From the YouTube account of empireburlesque by way of lenin over at Lenin's Tomb:

The reality of the secret air war in Iraq, as described brilliantly here and here by Nick Turse, perpetually ignored, with rare exceptions, by the mainstream media. Dig that exclamation right near the end: Damn, that's a lot of dead hajis!

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Psychologists and the War on Terror 

The willing participation of medical professionals in the brutalities at Guantanamo has been a periodic feature of this blog, as indicated here and here. Psycholgists are equally culpable, and their contribution goes far beyond Guantanamo, as demonstrated by this excerpt from a compelling open letter by dozens of psychiatrists to American Psychological Association president Sharon Brehm:

We write you as psychologists concerned about the participation of our profession in abusive interrogations of national security detainees at Guantánamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the so-called CIA "black sites."

Our profession is founded on the fundamental ethical principle, enshrined as Principle A in our Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct: "Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm." Irrefutable evidence now shows that psychologists participating in national security interrogations have systematically violated this principle. A recently declassified August 2006 report by the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (OIG) –Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse—describes in detail how psychologists from the military's Survival, Evasion Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program were instructed to apply their expertise in abusive interrogation techniques to interrogations being conducted by the DoD throughout all three theaters of the War on Terror (Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq).

SERE is the US military's program designed to train Special Forces and other troops at high risk of capture to resist "breaking" during harsh interrogations conducted by a ruthless enemy. During SERE training, trainees are subjected to extensive abusive treatment, including sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, isolation, cultural and sexual humiliation, and, in some cases, simulated drowning ("waterboarding"). By SERE's own admission, these techniques are classified as torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

The OIG report details a number of trainings and consultations provided by SERE psychologists to psychologists and other personnel involved in interrogations, including those on the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT), generally composed of and headed by sychologists. The OIG confirms repeated press accounts over the last two years that SERE echniques were "reverse engineered" by SERE psychologists in consultation with the BSCT psychologists and others, to develop and standardize a regime of psychological torture used by interrogators at Guantánamo, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. The OIG report states: "Counterresistance techniques [SERE] were introduced because personnel believed that interrogation methods used were no longer effective in obtaining useful information from some detainees." The OIG report also clearly reveals the central role of psychologists in these processes:

"On September 16, 2002, the Army Special Operations Command and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency [the military unit containing SERE] co-hosted a SERE psychologist conference at Fort Bragg for JTF-170 [the military component responsible for interrogations at Guantánamo] interrogation personnel. The Army's Behavioral Science Consultation Team from Guantánamo Bay also attended the conference. Joint Personnel Recovery Agency briefed JTF-170 representatives on the exploitation techniques and methods used in resistance (to interrogation) training at SERE schools. The JTF-170 personnel understood that they were to become familiar with SERE training and be capable of determining which SERE information and techniques might be useful in interrogations at Guantánamo. Guantánamo Behavioral Science Consultation Team personnel understood that they were to review documentation and standard operating procedures for SERE training in developing the standard operating procedure for the JTF-170, if the command approved those practices. The Army Special Operations Command was examining the role of interrogation support as a 'SERE Psychologist competency area'" (p. 25, emphasis added).

It is now indisputable that psychologists and psychology were directly and officially responsible for the development and migration of abusive interrogation techniques, techniques which the International Committee of the Red Cross has labeled "tantamount to torture." Reports of psychologists' (along with other health professionals') participation in abusive interrogations surfaced more than two years ago.

One of the common features of an increasingly violent, unaccountable society is the degradation of its professional classes. Now, to some extent, they always invariably serve as functionairies for their masters, only the most independent minded align themselves with movements for radical social change, but, even so, they perform within a complex network of ethical limitations and analytical standards that legitimize their outward appearance of objectivity.

Indeed, such limitations are essential to their effectiveness. After all, how else could Blackstone have permanently established the principles of larceny within Anglo-American jurisprudence in the 18th Century, thus criminalizing perquisites, an opaque, informal means of shared property rights in the production process by laborers, entrepreneurs and merchants in England, leading to the enshrinement of new, substituted system of wage labor? How else could Lombroso have persuaded so many that people reveal an inherent criminality through purported physiological deformities, deformities that, not coincidentally, matched the common perception of what was then known as the lower orders?

In both instances, education, ethics and methodology merged quite seamlessly with the prevailing elite social ideology of the day. Other examples abound. Eugenics, homosexuality as a mental disorder, and, more recently, The Arab Mind, a book that remains influential to this day, in spite of (or, is it because of?) its portrayal of Arabs and Arab culture as juvenile. As reported by Seymour Hersh in May 2004, the author's description of Arab sexuality strongly influenced the Pentagon:

The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. One book that was frequently cited was “The Arab Mind,” a study of Arab culture and psychology, first published in 1973, by Raphael Patai, a cultural anthropologist who taught at, among other universities, Columbia and Princeton, and who died in 1996. The book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. “The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world,” Patai wrote. Homosexual activity, “or any indication of homosexual leanings, as with all other expressions of sexuality, is never given any publicity. These are private affairs and remain in private.” The Patai book, an academic told me, was “the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.” In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged—“one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.”

The government consultant said that there may have been a serious goal, in the beginning, behind the sexual humiliation and the posed photographs. It was thought that some prisoners would do anything—including spying on their associates—to avoid dissemination of the shameful photos to family and friends. The government consultant said, “I was told that the purpose of the photographs was to create an army of informants, people you could insert back in the population.” The idea was that they would be motivated by fear of exposure, and gather information about pending insurgency action, the consultant said.

Not surprisingly, it didn't happen, just as Lombroso's biological determinism failed to predict criminal conduct. For our purposes, however, the important point is that The Arab Mind provided a pseudo-scientific justification for brutalizing Arabs in line with prevailing ideological norms much as Lombroso provided one for the suppression of non-Anglo Saxons and poor people. Unfortunately, as explained by the signatories to the letter, the application of these manufactured principles of Arab cultural behaviour violate the most commonly understood ethical principle of the profession: Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.

Accordingly, instead of the education, ethics and methodology of the psychology profession legitimizing the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, quite the opposite has occurred. The abuse and the transparent rationalizations for them are delegitimizing the profession, exposing some of its participants, and its primary organization of governance, the American Psychological Association, as willing facilitators of these sadomasochistic practices. A similar phenomenon has occurred in the legal profession in regard to the judicial defense of these indefinite detentions and the conditions of confinement associated with them. One can only assume that the increased freedom to act violently and abusively more than compensates for the loss of institutional credibility and the potential domestic risk associated with it.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Film Notes: A History of Postwar Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess 

Last summer, Imamura Shohei, one of the great Japanese directors of the postwar era, died. A self-described anthropological filmmaker, he emphasized the means by which people survive the commodification of the most intimate aspects of human behaviour in movies like The Insect Woman and The Pornographers.

Given that the colonization of everyday life is implicit in many of his films, even if accidentally, he could be described as the great Situationist director, except that, in a departure from Situationist thought, his protagonists are never victims. He celebrates their capacity to adapt to their perpetually changing surroundings even as he suggests, unlike Fassbinder, that such adaptability paradoxically results in an a social and cultural identity that is essentially immutable. Indeed, when interviewed by Audie Bock in the 1970s, he asserted that the modernization of Japanese society was an illusion. He insisted that the Japanese people retained their fokloric perception of the world, with all attendant superstitions.

Last night, I had the good fortune to see Imamura's 1970 documentary, A History of Postwar Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess at the Pacific Film Archive. In this film, Imamura engages in a truly radical enterprise, he contrasts the official postwar history of his country, as depicted in the media, with the real life experiences of a bar hostess, Etsuko Akaza, near the US airbase in Yokosura. Etsuko has just closed her bar, the Bar Onboro, and Imamura interviews her in the now nearly empty business, asking her about her life and her responses to the newsreel depiction of major postwar events screened upon a back wall. A visually simple, yet explosive means of presenting the narrative.

Etsuko recalls the dismissive response in her neighborhood to the Emperor's radio broadcast announcing the end of the war. Everyone was relieved, although careful to make sure that the police did not see it, and no one felt compelled to bow in his honor. She, like the rest of her family, is a barukumin, stigmatized as part of a lower caste in Japan associated with professions like the slaughering of animals, but they profit from shortages of meat. While the left and the labor unions protest the newly elected government under US occupation, they focus upon making money and enjoying themselves. Her encounters with American troops are favorable, and she considers them superior to Japanese men like her husband, who she frequently maligns as a loafer prone to episodes of spousal abuse. In the early 1950s, she moves to Yokosura to open a bar for off duty US troops stationed there.

Etsuko is the right person in the right place. Her bar flourishes, and her love life does as well, even if monogamous bliss remains unattainable. It is not something that worries her very much. Unlike Maria, the protagonist in Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun, another woman in another defeated Axis power, Germany, a woman who prospers in the immediate postwar period, but, ultimately, does not survive, Etsuko is not prone to guilt and remorse, and seems to delight in the challenge of gratifying her appetites. And, of course, she most definitely survives.

As she does so, Japan becomes independent, and memorializes its subordination to the US through the US-Japan Security Pact in 1960. The terms of independence, especially the retention of the royal family, use of Japanese territory by the US military during the Korean War, and the granting of permanent bases to the US in 1960, provoked intense left protest. None of this touches Etsuko's life, except when the protests reach Yokosura. She observes, rather cynically, the contrast between the chants in Tokyo and Yokosura. In Tokyo, the protesters chanted, Down with the US-Japan Security Pact!, while, in Yokosura, they chanted, Yankee, go home! In Yokosura, she explains, the people only cared about closing the base.

By contrasting Etsuko's life with these highly charged political events, Imamura engages in a profound revisionism of one of the most highly charged questions of this period: why did the left fail? Oshima Nagisa, another directer who traveled over similar social and cultural terrain, attributed it to the corruption of Stalinism, as manifest politically and personally, in his film completed shortly after the 1960 protests, Night and Fog in Japan. It is an important question, because the US-Japan Security Pact has been the linchpin of US geopolitical dominance in East Asia.

Imamura, unlike Oshima, did not emerge from the 1950s Japanese left, and so, his evaluation of the question through Etsuko is so daring that he renders the question itself irrelevant, if not absurd. When asked about the Communist protests back during the occupation, Etsuko blandly observes that there were none in her town. Her brother talked like the reds, but even he did not travel to Tokyo to participate in them. Etsuko suggests that the town, much like herself, did not display hostility towards them, but, rather, even worse, indifference.

Such indifference persists through the newsreel footage of protests in the 1950s that foreshadowed the explosion of 1960. Her only remark about the 1960 protests is that a young college student killed by the police may have been paid to join them. For her, such an explanation is entirely logical. Overall, the implication is that the Japanese left failed to find a way to communicate with, much less organize, some of the very people that it purported to represent.

Even more importantly, Imamura implies that there was no way for the left to do so, because Japanese people like Etsuko rejected the notion that such relationships mattered. Etsuko, and people like her, lived a curiously anarchic social life. They engaged in activities that, while legal, were socially disreputable, and frequently crossed the boundary into criminality.

For them, the nation state of Japan, while they would never deny its existence, was not especially important to them as a day to day proposition. They made money during the occupation, they made money after independence, they were confident that they could make money under any regime. Etsuko drives this point home at the end of the film when, after another marriage to an American soldier, she describes how she plans to make money running a bar in . . . you guessed it, the US! She observes, rather pragmatically, that it is easier to run a bar there because she doesn't need hostesses, just a bartender, although it is difficult to obtain a license. Of course, she would still be Japanese, but she could be Japanese anywhere. Shortly therefter, she departs, along with her husband, to San Diego.

In other words, the left could only reach people like Etsuko by understanding that they identified themselves more as part of a social world than a jurisdictional one, a geopolitical one. Such a message, such a vision, would necessarily involve a political philosophy that evokes anarchism more than socialism or communism. It would have to be more Argentina, a country where the informal sector has flourished out of necessity, much like 1950s Japan, than Cuba.

Interestingly, the only protest that sparks an emotional response from Etsuko is an incident associated with the royal wedding of Prince Akihito in 1959. As the royal couple travels down a boulevard in an open car, a young man runs out into the street and throws stones at them. This, Etsudo viscerally understands, as she condemns the extravagant spending associated with the event. That's probably why he did what he did, she speculates. Of course, such a populist act is more akin to anarchism by the deed than to socialist reformism or Marxist-Leninist governance in the name of the proletariat.

Finally, Imamura paradoxically praises Etsuko's resistance to information produced and presented by the media. Etsuko is noteworthy for her absence from the media induced spectacles that had already begun to encroach upon our lives. In the late 1960s, protests against the Vietnam War erupt in Yokosura, and Etsuko recognizes that the salad days are over, that there is not much more money to be made running a bar for Americans, prompting her to leave for San Diego, as already mentioned. No doubt, if she is still alive, she is doing quite well there.

Imamura presses her about the war, showing her pictures of the My Lai massacre in a magazine. What does she think about it? She doesn't believe it, she says, Americans have always been well behaved. Imamura presses her further, turning through the pictures in the article, one by one. She still doesn't believe it. Why? I don't believe anything I can't see or touch. I don't believe the horse races because I can't touch the horses. Situationists like Debord and Vanetgem would have approved.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Emperor's New Clothes 

How does a party in opposition that supports the indefinite occupation of Iraq try to persuade the public of the contrary? Easy:

Rep. Ellen Tauscher of Walnut Creek thinks she knows the way to get the United States out of Iraq. She wants to repeal the October 2002 resolution that authorized President Bush to launch a war to oust Saddam Hussein.

And her California colleague and fellow Democrat, Sen. Barbara Boxer, thinks she has an equally good idea. She wants the United States to admit that the idea of a strong national government in Iraq won't work and instead aim to set up a federal system in which Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds can separate, cool the sectarian killings and manage their own affairs.

Both ideas have been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks and both seem headed for action in the House or Senate, or in both chambers of Congress, as Democrats seek ways to keep pressure on Bush and congressional Republicans standing behind his war policy to change course in Iraq.

"I've begun to think this is about the need for two political settlements,'' Tauscher said of the war in Iraq, now into its fifth year with a U.S. death toll that exceeds 3,500 military personnel. "There is one needed in Iraq and one here. There is no military solution in Iraq.''

Her proposal, which she calls the Change the Course in Iraq Act, is going places in Congress because it has acquired a most-powerful patron, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. The speaker has written Tauscher a letter expressing support and pledging a vote on the legislation at some point in the next few months.

Pelosi wrote, "As we discussed, I believe it is appropriate that there be a national debate on the existing authorization for the war in Iraq and how that authorization has been affected by the events'' since March 2003, when U.S. forces entered Iraq and scored an easy initial victory over Hussein's military.

Of course, the measure, if passed, is meaningless. It would not necessitate the withdrawal of any troops from Iraq, now or ever. Furthermore, Representative Ellen Tauscher, the author so enthusiastically praising herself for her creativity, is well known for voting for the Iraq war resolution in 2002, and frequently opposing measures to bring the occupation to an end. Boy, you'd think that they could find a better front person for the bill than one of the most notorious Democratic hawks in the Congress.

Tauscher does deserve credit, though, and her enthusiasm gives her away. Her purpose is to channel public opposition to the occupation into harmless measures that will allow it to persist indefinitely, while creating the illusion that the Democrats are trying to end it and bring the troops home. No wonder she is so pleased with herself.

In this, Tauscher is aligned with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who wants to achieve the same objective by the same means. Clinton, however, let the cat out of the bag when she said she wants to retain a lesser, permanent occupation force in Iraq, a proposal that, according to the New York Times, is similar to one suggested by an aide to Donald Rumsfeld, Dov S. Zakheim, a few years ago.

Yet more proof that the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing occupation of the country has always been a bipartisan enterprise. No need to worry, though, Zakheim estimated that the number of US troops in Iraq would be reduced to approximately 75,000. Predictably, Clinton wasn't nearly as candid when asked how many troops would remain. And, equally predictably, the Times didn't bother to ask any Iraqis what they thought about the concept, even though Clinton was talking about stationing US troops indefinitely in their country.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

A Good Question 

Pat Buchanan is curious:

"As many as 200 American soldiers" may have been killed by Iranians or Iranian-trained insurgents, Lieberman claimed. Petraeus and Nick Burns would not be making these charges publicly if the White House did not want them made publicly.

What is going on? The most logical explanation is that the White House is providing advance justification for air strikes on camps of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that are allegedly providing training for and transferring weapons to Afghan and Iraqi insurgents. And if the United States conducts those strikes, Iranians will unite around Ahmadinejad, and Tehran will order retaliatory strikes against U.S. targets in Iraq and perhaps across the Middle East.

President Bush will then have his casus belli to take out Natanz and all the other Iranian nuclear facilities, as the Israelis and the neocons have been demanding that he do. This would mean a third Middle Eastern war for America, with a nation three times as large and populous as Iraq. Perhaps it is time to begin constructing a new wing on Walter Reed.

Which raises the question: Where is the Congress? Why is it not holding public hearings and sifting the evidence to determine if Tehran is behind these attacks on Americans and if the United States has not itself been aiding insurgents inside Iran? Or is it all up to George W. as to whether we launch a third and wider war in the Middle East, which could result in an economic and strategic disaster for the United States?

Clearly, Buchanan doesn't believe the new propaganda line that the Iranians are assisting attacks upon US forces in Iraq, although he is uncharacteristically subtle in his mode of expression. But, while the Democratic Congress is embarassingly derelict in its duties, we should not assume that, if hearings were conducted, that they would be especially useful, because long time readers of this blog will recall how, in the late summer and early fall of 2002, Senate Democrats refused to call witnesses like Stephen Zunes, Scott Ritter and Phyllis Bennis to refute claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Is Modernization Always a Good Thing? 

I was reading Sascha Matuszak's column over at antiwar.com, An American in China, and I came across this rather troubling passage:

The South Korean reporter Cha Han-phil stirred up a hornet's nest with a post on his personal blog about "Shameless Chinese People." In the post he describes a scene on a train ride through Henan province that leads him to conclude Chinese people "lack public morality." For his comments, Cha was labeled a racist. He has since removed the post from his blog.

All accusations of racism aside, anyone who has traveled on a hard-seat train in China can attest to the kernel of truth in Cha's description. The ride is indeed a chaotic affair. Peasants lean back, take their shoes and socks off, and make themselves as comfortable as possible, which includes spitting shells and rinds onto the floor, putting their calloused feet up on tables, and leaning out of the windows hollering and smoking.

It seems to be implicitly assumed by both Sascha and Cha that such behaviour, the persistence of this sort of rambunctious, indigenous, dare one say it, pre-capitalist, social life is a bad thing, one that should be consigned to the dustbin of history. Personally, the spontaneity of it strikes me as rather cool, and I am delighted to discover that there are still places in the world which have not been ruthlessly rationalized by a sinister combination of urban planners, security consultants, transportation experts and the necessity to conform to the sterile standards of middle class etiquette.

Sascha accepts the notion that it is important to modernize this world, as the Chinese elite has been attempted for over one hundred years, and describes the most current efforts to do so:

Here in Chengdu, Zhou's reforms have been reincarnated. The district of Xiao Jia He in the southwest of the city was once one large, tremendous brothel. In the Strike Hard campaigns of 2002-2004, the red-light districts were shut down and moved out of the city limits. Beggars and itinerant workers were shoved out of the Second Ring Road or put to work. Rickshaws, a luxury item in Zhou's Chengdu, were put under police supervision. Land was reclaimed and developed. An exhibition center was built, an underground is under construction, factories in the east side of the city have been shut down, schools shoot up left and right… the list is endless. Since the Develop the West forum in 2000, Chengdu has shaken off the doldrums of provincial life and the Communist era and begun to modernize itself.

Naturally, hot-pot restaurants in Chengdu are still filthy, greasy, boisterous places. Public bathrooms, though greatly improved, are still rather putrid. But one must keep in mind that Chengdu is roughly 10 years into a reform movement with the goal of transforming this provincial capital into a modern East Asian city like Singapore or Tokyo.

Most of East Asia, with the exception of Myanmar and North Korea (both still wallowing in Mao-like lunacy), has long since modernized. Of course, those countries had the luxuries of an unbroken development process and manageable population levels. China, one of the last of the great nations to modernize, has a 50-year gap in its development and a population of more than 1.3 billion.

As he breathlessly races through the anticipated urban transformation of Chengdu, Sascha forgets to ask the obvious question: is it such a good thing for Chengdu to become another Singapore or Tokyo? Of course, brothels are pretty hard to defend, even if they form part of the cultural richness of the heritage of East Asia, as manifest in the art and literature of both China and Japan. And, similarly, it is equally difficult to make a case for inadequate public sanitation. But, surely, the eradication of them does not justify the demolition of much of the provincial culture of the city?

Interestingly enough, there are people expressing alarm other than incurable, nostalgic romantics like myself:

China’s rapid urbanization has devastated the country’s architectural and cultural heritage sites, state news organizations reported Monday.

“Senseless actions” by local officials in their pursuit of renovation and modernization have “devastated” the sites, Qiu Baoxing, the vice minister of construction, was quoted as saying by the newspaper China Daily.

He said the destruction was similar to what happened during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution, from 1966 to 1976, when relics and sites of historical value were destroyed.

China’s cities have been transformed in recent years, with old neighborhoods being pulled down to make way for high-rise buildings and highways. But many historic buildings have also been destroyed.

“They are totally unaware of the value of cultural heritage,” Mr. Qiu was quoted as saying about some officials.

This is leading to a poor sight — many cities have a similar construction style,” he was quoted as saying on the sidelines of an international conference on urban culture and city planning. “It is like 1,000 cities having the same appearance.”

It is possible Qiu and I diverge on the question of what actually constitutes China's cultural heritage. He seems to define it in terms of architecture, while I would include an entire social world. But, even so, it is encouraging to see a dissenting voice to the prevailing view that modern urban development constitutes an essential, inevitable transformation of the lesser developed world.

Despite our possible points of divergence, Qiu identifies the fundamental problem, the neoliberal insistence of uniformity across countries and cultures when it comes to contemporary urban societies. The well educated professional and businesses classes must feel that comforting reassurance of familiarity whether they are visiting San Francisco, Berlin, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro or . . in this instance, Chengdu. Anything more than some entertaining indigenous cultural color in the background, such as a restaurant, a carefully choreographed festival or the creations of local artisans, is just too unnerving.

Accordingly, the city must be redesigned to fulfill the expectations of a global class of entrepreneurs, financiers, corporate executives and tourists, a redesign that is incompatible with the social life and culture with many of its actual residents. Hence such development is predictably promoted by the unproven neoliberal assertion that there is no alternative, and we encounter it, to a much lesser degree, in the cities of this country as well.

For example, here in Sacramento, the city's elite has been insistent that the central city must be transformed by expelling many of the existing small, independent businesses (they don't generate enough sales tax revenue) and the lower middle income people who live there (yes, you've got it, they are the ones who don't spend enough to generate the sales tax), so that they can be replaced by upper middle income residents who will live in the grandiose condominium developments currently under construction and spend freely at the new entertainment district planned for them.

There's just one problem with this perverse utopian vision. The money has dried up. Just yesterday, CALPERS, the state employee pension fund, announced that it was taking over a massive condominium project near the Sacramento River, one that would have included not one, but two 53 story highrise towers, with the purchase price for the condominium units starting at over $400,000. CALPERS is now conducting an 18 month study to determine the most appropriate alternative use for the site.

Much like Chengdu, Sacramento posseses a provincial history and social life for which its current elite has little appreciation. Perhaps, the collapse of the two towers project demonstrates that it is not quite so easy to eradicate it, even in an era of neoliberal economics and postmodern culture. At least, let's hope so. And, let's also hope that residents of the city of Chengdu finds a way to slip their heads out of the collective noose that its urban planners and economic development proponents have apparently prepared for them.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Norman Finkelstein Denied Tenure 

UPDATE: From As'ad Abukhalil, The Angry Arab:

Did you notice that the language that was used by the president of DePaul University to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein was the same language used by Alan Dershowitz?

Insightful. It was not only necessary that DePaul deny tenure, but that it do so by legitimizing Dershowitz's objections. Anything less would not have achieved Dershowitz's broader purpose of intimidating US universitites in regard to anti-Zionist scholarship.

ORIGINAL POST: Utterly and sadly predictable, I guess, but I still remain rather shocked that DePaul University allows a psuedo-intellectual bully like Alan Dershowitz to make decisions for it about the composition of its faculty. Apparently, DePaul administrators and faculty lacked the backbone displayed by Governor Schwarzenegger and the University of California Press when Dershowitz covertly attempted to stop publication of Finkelstein's most recent book.

Why is this episode so important beyond the personal academic career of Finkelstein? Let's go back to the statement issued in support of Finkelstein by the Scholars, Teachers, and Professionals for Intellectual Freedom In Support of Dr. Norman Finkelstein:

We know that any teaching and writing about culture, and politics can seem controversial. This is especially so in fields such as Latin American studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, and Middle Eastern studies. In such areas of intense debate, a polemical tone is not unusual, and does not discredit the underlying scholarship. Tenure exists precisely to allow scholars the pursuit of candid intellectual inquiry, even the most controversial fields, without fear of retribution. To challenge the status quo of Zionist historiography in the U.S., as Finkelstein has done in his scholarship, most certainly ignites controversy; but his ability to address the subject with thorough documented evidence that encourages readers to see the subject of Palestine and Israel anew is precisely why scholars around the world value his work. While researchers—like diplomats and heads of state—cannot avoid appearing polemical given the highly charged nature of fields such as Dr. Finkelstein’s, it is imperative that we protect the right of research scholars and teachers to work in this field unhindered by fears of retribution.

Dershowitz creates the impression that his hostility to Finkelstein is personal, based upon Finkelstein's debunking of his work, but, as this quote indicates, his motivations require a much larger canvas to display. He aspires to nothing less than intimidating academia into refusing to permit anti-Zionist scholars like Finkelstein to participate in its environment of intellectual freedom and free ranging inquiry. To its great shame, DePaul has provided Dershowitz with a great victory, one that he will regrettably put to good use as he moves along to his next target.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Oil and Labor Rights in the Liberated Iraq 

From United Press International:

With an arrest warrant looming, an Iraqi union leader warned during a U.S. visit failed negotiations will escalate the standoff in Basra's oil sector.

Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions, said a five-day cooling off/negotiation period, which began Wednesday, is crucial to keep Iraq's oil sector pumping and 1.6 million barrels per day flowing to the global oil market.

IFOU, an umbrella group representing more than 26,000 workers, has threatened to strike since early May over the draft oil law and other working conditions.

It postponed the strike twice after meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki May 16. IFOU says Maliki agreed to their demands, which included union entry to negotiations over the oil law.

Citing a lack of response from Maliki, and sparked by the Iraq Pipeline Company's halt of regular bonus payments, the Iraq Pipelines Union began the strike Monday, shutting off oil products from Baghdad and the southern regions.

The situation in Basra, Iraq's main port city and oil export hub, escalated Tuesday as Iraqi armed forces surrounded striking workers and Maliki issued arrest warrants for union leaders.

"I am one of them," said Umara, waiting to talk to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, in his office. "Luckily I was out of the country." Warrants were issued for 10 union leaders, he added.

While the strike is on hold until Monday, Naftana, a British solidarity group, reports union officials in Basra say troops are still surrounding workers in Sheiba, in Basra province, and the warrants are still active.

U.S. Labor Against the War, a large, anti-war faction of U.S. unions, reports a Iraqi general tasked with arresting protesters refused, threatening to resign and join the striking workers.

Umara said if no deal is reached, the warrants will likely be executed and the strike back on.

"Not just the oil unions are going to strike throughout the country," he said, "but all the other unions will be striking as well, in solidarity."

Of course, the draft oil law referenced in this article is the one that the US insists that the Iraqis implement, the one that, according to US Labor Against the War, would result in the stealth privatization of the Iraqi oil industry, a privatization on terms very favorable to transnational corporations:

The labor movement in Iraq is fighting to stop a proposed “hydrocarbon law” that would turn over the lion’s share of their country’s oil reserves to major foreign oil companies. U.S. Labor Against the War is calling on U.S. unionists to help the Iraq´s unions.

The oil law was drafted at the direction of eight major multinational oil companies, the Bush administration, the British government, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the summer of 2006. Members of the Iraqi parliament, who are being told to pass the bill, did not see it until March, after it was endorsed by the Iraqi cabinet, which was pressured to do so by the Bush administration and IMF.

The law as proposed would enable foreign oil companies to gain control Iraq’s undeveloped oil reserves – estimated to be two-thirds of Iraqi oil – for 30 years or longer, with most of the profits (as much as 87.5 percent) going to those companies.

Iraqi unionists have been speaking and organizing against this proposed law for months. Leaders from five major Iraqi labor federations met in Amman, Jordan last December, to analyze and discuss the draft oil law. In a joint statement they declared, “Iraqi public opinion strongly opposes the handing of authority and control over the oil to foreign companies, that aim to make big profits at the expense of the people. They aim to rob Iraq’s national wealth by virtue of unfair, long term oil contracts that undermine the sovereignty of the state and the dignity of the Iraqi people.”

Under the proposed oil law, big oil companies would be awarded “production-sharing agreements.” These are very different from the service contracts under which oil companies operate in other Middle East countries. Under a service contract, control over oil resources and profits remains exclusively with the country’s government. But with production-sharing agreements, Iraq would give up control over its oil, and much of its national independence, to oil executives. Foreign oil companies could repatriate (take home) all the profits they make, reinvesting nothing in Iraq, and they would likely be given seats on the “Oil and Gas Council” that would award contracts. In other words, the fox will be in charge of the henhouse.

There is a strong possibility that the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, and perhaps other unions, will go on strike to try to stop the oil law. If that happens, what would the U.S. military do? That’s a legitimate question, because in late February, U.S. and Iraqi troops twice raided the Baghdad offices of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW.) UE President John Hovis wrote to the Iraqi embassy and the U.S. government at the time, protesting these attacks against a legitimate, democratic and non-violent labor union. It is widely suspected that the raids were an attempt to intimidate all Iraqi unions because of their active opposition to the proposed oil law.

Curiously enough (or it it predictably enough?), the adoption of the draft oil has been included among the Democratic benchmarks by which the success of the US occupation of Iraq should be measured:

Democrats in Congress passed a supplemental war funding bill, HR 1591, that calls on Pres. Bush to certify that the Iraq’s government is meeting certain “benchmarks” in order for full war funding to continue. Among those conditions the bill lists the enactment of “a broadly accepted hydro-carbon law that equitably shares oil revenues among all Iraqis.”

U.S. Labor Against the War is demanding that Congress remove that particular “benchmark” be removed. “Athough HR 1591 makes no explicit reference to it,” says USLAW in an “Open Letter” to antiwar members of Congress, “inclusion of this provision for all practical purposes puts the Congressional stamp of approval on privatization of the vast majority of Iraq’s undeveloped oil reserves.”

“Equal sharing” among the conflicted groups in Iraq sounds good. But the oil law giving most of Iraq’s oil wealth to private foreign oil companies is the only “hydrocarbon law” under consideration by Iraq’s parliament. So all the talk by U.S. politicians and news media about “equitable distribution of oil revenue” between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions is really about “equitably sharing” the mere 12 or 13 percent of Iraqi oil revenues that would be left over after the big oil companies have fattened themselves.

USLAW is encouraging U.S. unions and union members to contact members of Congress, demanding that Congress stop pressuring the government of Iraq to hand over control of its oil to ExxonMobil, ChevronUnocal, Shell and BP.

Democrats in Congress acting adverse to the interests of Iraqi labor unions, and more broadly, the Iraqi people, by insisting upon the transfer of control of Iraqi oil resources to transnationals? Sounds strange, unless you visited this site earlier in the week, and read about Paul Baran's insight into the consequences of imperialism in regard to economic development in the Global South, especially the insistence of the US that underdeveloped countries allow multinational corporations to exploit their natural resources to their own detriment, a subsidy, in effect, from the poorer countries of the world to the capitalist engine of the global economy.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Looking Through a 1950s Window to See the Present: Paul Baran, Imperialism and Economic Development 

John Bellamy Foster, in a Monthly Review article recalls a groundbreaking work of Paul Baran, his 1957 book, Political Economy of Growth:

. . . Baran acknowledged the great variance in conditions in the underdeveloped world. But he argued that there were common conditions that justified viewing these countries together at a high level of abstraction. The characteristics they shared were: (1) a history of imperialist penetration, (2) low per capita incomes and low levels of economic development, and (3) similar internal and external obstacles to development resulting from the history of colonialism/imperialism. Since all of these countries were far behind the advanced capitalist states, the goal of rapidly catching up required not simply an industrial take-off but economic growth rates of 8–10 percent per annum for extended periods, as opposed to the historical average of around 3 percent. Such growth rates had occurred before, with the United States reaching an 8.6 percent rate of growth in the second half of the 1880s, Russia 8 percent in the 1890s, Japan 8.6 between 1907 and 1913, and the Soviet Union credited with double digit rates of expansion in 1928–40. The principal question was therefore how to mobilize and rationally utilize surplus to achieve the goal of catching up with the advanced capitalist countries, as opposed to falling further behind as at present.

This framework led Baran to a consideration of the class and imperial environment of underdeveloped countries governing the use and misuse of society’s potential surplus: what he called “the morphology of backwardness.” Here he concentrated on how his four major leakages to potential surplus were related to the dominant class (and intra-class) structure of underdeveloped societies, focusing on the role of (1) a semi-feudal landlord class, (2) the proliferation of mercantile interests and money lenders of all kinds, (3) the small, monopolistic industrial bourgeoisie that tended to be heavily dependent on foreign enterprise, (4) foreign capital, and the (5) state. The entire distorted class structure that emerged was prone to waste: luxury consumption by the wealthy coupled with loss of output and misallocation of surplus due to the irrational and wasteful organization of production and chronic unemployment/underemployment. The state apparatus was often distorted by these developments reflecting the parasitical class relations. “What results,” he stated, “is a political and social coalition of wealthy compradors, powerful monopolists and large landowners dedicated to the defense of the existing feudal-mercantile order.” The ruling elements in the underdeveloped countries tended to invest large parts of the surplus at their disposal abroad “as hedges against the depreciation of the domestic currency or as nest eggs assuring their owners of suitable retreats in the case of social and political upheavals at home.” The mobilization of the surplus for new investment was thus typically blocked at every turn, leading to dismal economic performance and the expansion of poverty in a vicious circle. “Just as investment,” Baran wrote, “tends to become self-propelling, so lack of investment tends to become self perpetuating.”

A crucial element was the disarticulated, outward orientation of the peripheral capitalist economies, which were geared to the requirements of foreign capital and the markets of the advanced capitalist countries more than to their own internal needs. This dependence took various forms, including: remittance of surplus abroad to foreign investors and reinvestment of some of the surplus by multinational corporations: “While there have been vast differences among underdeveloped countries,” Baran wrote, with regard to the amounts of profits plowed back in their economies or withdrawn by foreign investors, the underdeveloped world as a whole has continually shipped a large part of its economic surplus to more advanced countries on account of interest and dividends. The worst of it is, however, that it is very hard to say what has been the greater evil as far as the economic development of underdeveloped countries is concerned: the removal of their economic surplus by foreign capital or its reinvestment by foreign enterprise.

Such reinvestment was normally directed at the export economy, organized around the export of raw or semi-processed agricultural products, minerals, and other primary commodities—and tended to weaken rather than strengthen the internal development linkages of the underdeveloped country thus impeding any possible “investment snowball effect.”

Although the rate of exploitation in certain sectors of third world economies was very high, this was predicated on low wages and very high unemployment and underemployment, which meant that the internal market within the economy was virtually non-existent. The typical underdeveloped country was constituted as “an appendage of the ‘internal market’ of Western capitalism,” blocking the rational allocation or even retention of the economic surplus produced. Rapacious imperialism, moreover, robbed the land of the conditions of its reproduction on a scale exceeding the ecological destruction wrought by the advanced capitalist nations on their own environments—disregarding nature’s “lasting assets” in the pursuit of mere accumulation of capital.

The dialectic of imperialism and underdevelopment was most obvious in the case of major third world resource-exporting countries. Baran closely analyzed the case of VENEZUELA, including the U.S.-supported coup in 1948 after a decade in which the surplus produced from oil revenues had been diverted increasingly to economic and social development. “Under the reign of the present companies-supported dictatorship,” he wrote, “what is spent on economic development is considerably less than what is at its disposal, and the purposes of such spending are determined not by the best interests of the Venezuelan people but by the requirements of foreign capital.”

Those third world countries that sought to break out of this trap through the growth of an oppositional state apparatus aimed at mobilizing the potential surplus for development either on democratic or authoritarian lines were faced with direct or indirect intervention by the United States and other center capitalist states. Thus the United States, acting in the interests of the imperialist bloc frequently intervened militarily (by overt or covert means) to stop development. Moreover, it did so, Baran pointed out, whether the challenges came from democratic movements/states (such as Venezuela, Guatemala, and British Guiana), indigenous popular struggles (such as Kenya, the Philippines, and Indochina), or nationalist-authoritarian governments (such as Iran, Egypt, and Argentina). “Operation Killer” thus reinforced “Operation Strangle” in keeping the underdeveloped countries in their place. The huge waste on military expenditures in underdeveloped countries was part of the imperialist control system, aimed at facilitating comprador regimes and targeting internal populations rather than external dangers.

The tragedy of the situation,” Baran wrote, has the dimensions of a Greek drama. In Hitler’s extermination camps the victims were forced to dig their own graves before being massacred by their Nazi torturers. In the underdeveloped countries of the ‘free world,’ peoples are forced to use a large share of what would enable them to emerge from the present state of squalor and disease to maintain mercenaries whose function it is to provide cannon fodder for their imperialist overlords and to support regimes perpetuating this very state of squalor and disease.

One can only imagine what Baran would write if he were alive today. A key concept here, a concept that can be easily overlooked, is Baran's contention that the US, along with its other G-8 allies, intervenes covertly and, if necessary, militarily, to stop development within what we now call the Global South. Recall Alexander Cockburn's remark that a journalist friend told him that the need to invade Iraq in 2003 acquired greater and greater urgency precisely because the sanctions were no longer effective in hobbling the Iraqi economy. It sounded rather odd at the time, but, given the consequences of the war and occupation, it no longer does.

Or, consider Iran. With oil selling above $60 a barrel, and the prospect of nuclear power, replete with the capacity to enrich its own fuel domestically, thus releasing more of what remains of its reserves for the international market . . . well, something must be done, and, predictably, the bipartisan American political elite is insistent about the importance of stopping the Iranian nuclear program, even though Iran is a long time signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that, to date, there is no evidence that it has violated its treaty obligations.

Or, let us look to the north, to the Russian Republic. Upon the breakup of the Soviet Union, the US, by persuading to the Russians to adopt the remorseless economic policy known as shock therapy, turned back the clock, transforming Russia into a state with the social conditions associated with the Global South, with the ultimate goal being the transfer of control of Russia's state controlled resources, especially oil and natural gas, to global transnationals through the intermediary of the oligarchs, who purchased them at fire sale prices when they were privatized. Yeltsin, the man who oversaw this corrupt process, along with the implementation of the increasingly autocratic practices required to pursue it, was, upon his recent death, hailed as a democratic reformer, while his successor, Putin, is perpetually maligned in the US as an incipient authoritarian, even though he never launched a military attack upon his own Parliament, as Yeltsin did, precisely because he has undertaken actions to reestablish Russian sovereignty and economic independence.

And, finally, there is, of course, Venezuela, which I helpfully capitalized in the quote from Bellamy's article. As it became increasingly evident that Chavez was about to assert control over the country's primary resource, oil, and use the proceeds for economic development, the Bush administration did nothing to dissuade coup plotters from going forward, and immediately recognized them as the new government in April 2002 after Chavez had been arrested, as did their friends like the editorial writers at the New York Times. The democratically elected Chavez, it was said, had "brought it on himself", an explanation aphoristically echoed throughout the opinion elite within the US media, but the explanations as to how he had done so rang hollow. By contrast, US intolerance for an alternative development approach in South America, one independent of the neoliberal constraints of US controlled global financial institutions, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, was a much more persuasive one, and, predictably, either ignored or deliberately concealed.

As always, we must be careful to avoid the mechanical application of reductionist doctrines to explain the patterns and practices of US imperialism, but Baran's explanation of the reasons for underdevelopment in the Global South forces us to address it in new ways, supplementing the contemporary theorization of cultural, social and economic motivations for it, as subsumed within the concept of military neoliberalism.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Quotes of the Day 

An exchange between two fictional characters involved in the covert creation of a terrorist cell, P. J. Lurz, a German electronics entrepreneur, and Gerhard Gast, a Berlin police inspector, in Fassbinder's ascerbically dark humored 1979 film, The Third Generation:

Inspector Gast: I had a dream that capitalism invented terrorism to force the state to protect it better . . . . . .

P. J. Lurz/Inspector Gast: (spontaneous laughter)

Inspector Gast: (smiling cynically) Very funny.

Or, as Fassbinder himself said more directly, describing the thesis of the film:

Nowadays its capitalism that brings forth terrorism, to boost itself and strengthen its system of hegemony.

Along these lines, Seymour Hersh's remarks about the Lebanese military assault upon Palestinian refugee camps containing Fatah al-Islam militants can be seen in a different light:

AMY GOODMAN: The Lebanese government accuses Fatah al-Islam of having ties with al-Qaeda and the Syrian government. But there’s another theory of who’s backing the militant group: the Lebanese government itself, along with the United States. Last March, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker magazine that the US and Saudi governments are covertly backing militant Sunni groups like Fatah al-Islam as part of an overarching foreign policy against Iran and growing Shia influence.

Seymour Hersh joins us now on the phone from his home in Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sy.

SEYMOUR HERSH: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what you learned?

SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, very simply -- this is over the winter -- the government made -- I think the article is called “The Redirection.” There was a major change of policy by the United States government, essentially, which was that we were going to -- the American government would join with the Brits and other Western allies and with what we call the moderate Sunni governments -- that is, the governments of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- and join with them and with Israel to fight the Shia.

One of the major goals for America, of course, was the obsession the Bush White House has with Iran, and the other obsession they have is, of course -- is in fear -- is of Hezbollah, the Party of God, that is so dominant in -- the Shia Party of God that’s so dominant in southern Lebanon that once -- and whose leader Hassan Nasrallah wants to play a bigger political role and is doing quite a bit to get there and is in direct confrontation with Siniora.

And so, you have a situation where the Sunni government, pretty much in control now, the American-supported Sunni government headed by Fouad Siniora, who was a deputy or an aide to Rafik Hariri, the slain leader of Lebanon, that government has -- we know, the International Crisis Group reported a couple years ago that the son Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik Hariri, who’s now a major player in the parliament of Lebanon, he put up $40,000 bail to free four Sunni fundamentalists, Jihadist-Salafists -- which you will -- who were tied directly to -- you know, this word “al-Qaeda” is sort of ridiculous -- they were tied to jihadist groups. And God knows, al-Qaeda, in terms of Osama bin Laden, doesn’t have much to do with what we’re talking about. These are independently, more or less, you can call them, fanatical jihadists.

And so, the goal -- part of the goal in Lebanon, part of the way this policy played out, was, with Saudi help, Prince Bandar -- if you remember him -- we remember Prince Bandar, the Saudi prince, as a major player in Iran-Contra and also in the American effort two decades ago -- if you remember, we supported Osama bin Laden and other jihadists in Afghanistan against the Russians, and that didn’t work out so well. Well, we run right back to the well again, and we began supporting some of these jihadist groups, and particularly -- in the article, I did name Fatah al-Islam.

The idea was to provide them with some arms and some money and some basic equipment so -- these are small units, a couple hundred people. There were three or four around the country given the same help covertly, the goal being they would be potential enemies of Hezbollah in case of warfare; in case Nasrallah decided to do something physical, get kinetic, in Lebanon, the Sunni Siniora government would have some very tough guys on its side, period. That’s the policy.

Gilbert Achcar provides another interesting piece of the puzzle when he identifies the essential role of the Siniora government in promoting neoliberal economic policies within Lebanon:

. . . In the press there’s been talk of union protests against neoliberal policies and a new agreement in Paris, which is about imposing neoliberal policies in Lebanon. Has Hezbollah attempted to organize resistance around it?

Here we come to the issue of the January 25 Paris III meeting. It was a meeting of donors, rich donors, both Western and oil countries, gathered to supposedly help Lebanon. It was called by French president Jacques Chirac, who has been working in very close alliance with Washington on the Lebanese issue since 2004. Chirac is one of the strongest backers of Siniora’s government and of the Hariri clan—he used to have very close links with Rafik Hariri. The conference was organized around an economic and social program that is a classical “Washington consensus” program. I’m referring here to the IMF-World Bank standard neoliberal measures that were forced on so many countries during the 1980s and 1990s and are still enforced. The program of the Siniora government for the Paris III conference is a crude version of that. You name it you get it: privatization, and value added taxes instead of progressive income tax. The plan contains all the classical recipes through which the poorest layers of society are made to bear the brunt of measures that are supposed to lead to a healthier financial equilibrium and enable the government to pay back its debt. Lebanon has accumulated a huge debt over the years (currently over $40 billion). So this is on the one hand a classic IMF-World Bank kind of program. On the other hand, this conference was a political tool. It was meant by Chirac, and with him Bush, as a way of giving strong support to the Siniora government and the “majority” in Lebanon.

Covert operations, neoliberalism, the discovery of a purported new al-Qaeda cell that requires military operations and the delivery of US weapons, nah, it's all just a coincidence. After all, we should never take movies, especially older ones made by Europeans, too seriously.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Steve Gilliard, Dead at 41 

Bad news:

Steve Gilliard, 1966-2007

It is with tremendous sadness that we must convey the news that Steve Gilliard, editor and publisher of The News Blog (www.thenewsblog.net), passed away early this morning. He was 41.

To those who have come to trust The News Blog and its insightful, brash and unapologetic editorial tone, we have Steve to thank from the bottom of our hearts. Steve helped lead many discussions that mattered to all of us, and he tackled subjects and interest categories where others feared to tread.

We will post more information as it becomes available to us.

Please keep Steve's friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

Steve meant so much to us. We will miss him terribly.

-- the news blog team

I posted frequently on Steve's blog, and interviewed him twice on the radio, KDVS 90.3 FM. He was generous with his time, opinions and knowledge, and charmingly cantankerous. He was, as I posted here after learning of the severity of his condition, a man of integrity. He played an admirable role in pioneering the use of the Interent for unfettered political discourse, and spoke with an unprecedented candor about race relations in this country. He was a strong African American voice in a medium that has historically lacked them. A tremendous loss of a man who showed us how to create community in cyberspace.

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