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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Free Fire Zone Afghanistan (Part 11) 

You may have seen this elsewhere already, but I think it is important to acknowledge these atrocities. From Mark Boal's article in Rolling Stone, The Kill Team:

The morning of May 2nd, the platoon was on a routine patrol in a village called Qualaday, a few miles from base. Following standard procedure, the unit's leaders entered a house to talk with a man who had previously been arrested for having an IED. That inadvertently left the rest of the platoon free to roam the village looking for targets, without having to worry about an officer's supervision.

Outside the house, Morlock was overheard instructing Winfield in how a grenade explodes, cautioning him to remain on the ground during the blast. Then the two soldiers moved off with Gibbs. Nearby, in a compound filled with children, they picked out a man with a white beard and escorted him outside. He seemed friendly, Winfield recalled. He didn't seem to have any sort of animosity toward us.

Gibbs turned to his men. You guys want to wax this guy or what? he asked. Morlock and Winfield agreed that the man seemed perfect.

Gibbs walked the Afghan to a nearby ditch and forced him to his knees, ordering him to stay that way. Then he positioned Morlock and Winfield in a prone position behind a small berm no more than 10 feet away. To be honest, Morlock later told investigators, me and Winfield thought we were going to frag ourselves, 'cause we were so fucking close.

With everyone in position, Gibbs took cover behind a low wall and chucked a grenade toward the Afghan. All right, dude, wax this guy! he shouted. Kill this guy, kill this guy!

As the grenade went off, Morlock and Winfield opened fire. Morlock got off several rounds with his M4. Winfield, who was armed with the more powerful SAW machine gun, squeezed off a burst that lasted for three to five seconds.

Gibbs shouted for Morlock to proceed with the next stage of the plan. Get up there and plant that fucking grenade!

The man lay where he had fallen. One of his feet had been blown off by the blast; his other leg was missing below the knee. Morlock ran up and dropped the Russian pineapple grenade near the dead man's hand. Gibbs walked up to the body, stood directly over it, and fired twice into the man's head, shattering the jaw.

Later, when the scene had calmed down – after soldiers had pushed away the dead man's wife and children, who were screaming, hysterical with grief, and Morlock had spun the story to the higher-ups – Gibbs took out a pair of medical shears and cut off the corpse's left pinky finger, which he kept for himself. Then, wearing a surgical glove, he reached into the dead man's mouth, pulled out a tooth and handed it to Winfield.

No wonder the US tried to prevent Malalai Joya from entering the country. As I observed when the allegations about the kill team were first publicized: If anything, the conduct of these troops, if substantiated, brings to mind attacks upon homeless people by young males. But Boal goes beyond the brutality of the kill team members, as grotesque as it is, and exposes the unwillingness of higher ranking officers to stop them.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Sub-Proletarianization of America (Part 9) 

UPDATE 1: t responds to this post at Pink Scare.

INITIAL POST: General Electric made 14.2 billion dollars in profit last year, paid no taxes and now insists upon substantial concessions from its unionized workers:

This year, 14 unions representing more than 15,000 workers will negotiate a new master contract with General Electric. Among the major concessions GE has signaled that it will ask of union workers is the elimination of a defined contribution benefit pension for new employees, a move the company has already implemented for its non-union salaried employees. Likewise, GE is signaling to the union that it will ask for the elimination of current health insurance plans in favor of lower quality health saving accounts, a move the company has already implemented for non-union salaried employees as well.

In addition, General Electric may ask some workers for a wage freeze.

As David Dayen of firedoglake says, we have truly entered a New Gilded Age. Perhaps, we may have to painfully acknowledge that the Gilded Age was more representative of life under capitalism than the social welfare of the post-World War II era. Even worse, it is entirely possible that the current form of the collective organization of workers in large, bureaucratically administered labor unions, developed along corporate lines, is coming to an end. As ineffectual as they have been over the last 40 years, as mendacious as some specific unions have been, like SEIU in recent years, it is hard to imagine that workers will do better in an alienated, atomized environment.

I'm not aware of many Marxists or anarchists who have critically engaged the prospect of organizing for a socialist future in the absence of labor unions, although there must be some anti-authoritarians who have engaged the subject. Classical Marxists and anarchists, if one may use such a term, remain philosophically wedded to the notion that the union represents an essential, intermediate means of collectively organizing workers for the purpose of progressing towards the implementation a socialist society. In both instances, workers assume more and more responsibility within the union so as to be able to take control of their workplace. But how is this possible in the absence of a vibrant, viable union movement?

Globally, such an approach may already be antiquated, as many workers around the world are considered wageless, as addressed in this provocative New Left Review article by Michael Denning:

The first great theoretical engagement with this new form of wageless life also came out of a reflection on the Algerian revolution: Frantz Fanon’s revival of the nineteenth-century Marxist word ‘lumpenproletariat’ in The Wretched of the Earth. Coined by Marx in the 1840s as one of a family of terms—the lumpenproletariat, the mob, i lazzaroni, la bohème, the poor whites—it characterized the class formations of Second Empire Paris, Risorgimento Naples, Victorian London and the slave states of North America. In most cases, Marx even used the original language to suggest the historical specificity of these formations rather than the theoretical standing of the concept. For him, such expressions had two key connotations: on the one hand, of an unproductive and parasitic layer of society, a social scum or refuse made up of those who preyed upon others; on the other hand, of a fraction of the poor that was usually allied with the forces of order—as in the account of Louis Napoleon’s recruitment of the lumpenproletariat in The Eighteenth Brumaire, or Marx’s analysis of the slaveholders’ alliance with poor whites in the US South.

In these formulations, Marx had two antagonists. First, he was combating the established view that the entire working class was a dangerous and immoral element. He drew a line between the proletariat and the lumpenproletariat to defend the moral character of the former. Second, he was challenging those—particularly his great anarchist ally and adversary Bakunin—who argued that criminals and thieves were a revolutionary political force. By the mid-twentieth century, the concept of the lumpenproletariat had pretty much disappeared from socialist and Marxist discourse. However, its reinvention in The Wretched of the Earth to describe the entirely new urban populations of the Third World made it one of the key stakes in the theoretical debates of the 1960s and 1970s. The discussion of the lumpenproletariat comes primarily in the book’s second essay, Spontaneity: Its Strength and Weakness, in which Fanon delineates the contradictions of the anti-colonial coalition, as urban nationalist militants turn to the peasant masses. He makes three powerful and controversial claims. The first is a sociological one about the emergence of a new dispossessed population, the people of les bidonvilles: Abandoning the countryside . . . the landless peasants, now a lumpenproletariat, are driven into the towns, crammed into shanty towns and endeavour to infiltrate the ports and cities, the creations of colonial domination; These men, forced off the family land by the growing population in the countryside and by colonial expropriation, circle the towns tirelessly, hoping that one day or another they will be let in. Fanon resorts to biological metaphors: The shanty town is the consecration of the colonized’s biological decision to invade the enemy citadels at all costs, and, if need be, by the most underground channels. It is an irreversible rot, a gangrene eating into the heart of colonial domination. However hard [this lumpenproletariat] is kicked or stoned it continues to gnaw at the roots of the tree like a pack of rats.

Secondly, Fanon, like Marx, argues that this lumpenproletariat is readily manipulated by the repressive forces of colonial order—if it is not organized by the insurrection, it will join the colonialist troops as mercenaries—and gives examples from Madagascar, Algeria, Angola and the Congo. Thirdly, and most famously, against the accepted wisdom of both nationalist and communist movements, he insists that

it is among these masses, in the people of the shanty towns and in the lumpenproletariat that the insurrection will find its urban spearhead. The lumpenproletariat, this cohort of starving men, divorced from tribe and clan, constitutes one of the most spontaneously and radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people . . . These jobless, these species of subhumans, redeem themselves in their own eyes and before history.

Of course, the problem in the US, Europe and much of East Asia is that the lumpenproletariat, for lack of a better word, isn't large enough or desperate enough yet to present the prospect of violent, revolutionary action described by Fanon, although, interestingly enough, it has been a prominent feature of the revolutionary movements throughout North Africa and the Middle East, which is why it has the potential to spread to other parts of the world with similar social conditions. Furthermore, this vaguely defined lumpen group is not of peasant origin, but the refuse of deindustrialization and the decline of the collective solidarity among semi-skilled workers. Fanon describes a lumpen class of dispossessed peasants in the lesser developed world created by capitalist industrial development, whereas some G-20 countries like the US, the UK and much of Europe, with the exception of Germany, are arguably creating a lumpen group as a consequence of the radical financialization and marketization of their societies. Hence, the question of how to politically reach these people by means of a social doctrine that doesn't rely upon the dystopian disintegration of society.

For Fanon's warning may still be apt: if it is not organized by the insurrection, it will join the colonialist troops as mercernaries. In the context of the developed world, his remark can be posthumously construed as pointing towards the failure of the left to organize increasing numbers of temporary and informal workers, leaving them susceptible to appeals from the right, particularly racist and xenophobic ones. So far, in the US at least, the union movement has been incapable of meeting this challenge, as the percentage of unionized workers remains shockingly low. Meanwhile, in Europe, the overt bigotry of public racism and xenophobia, as has been on display in Germany, France and Italy in recent years, may, paradoxically, indicate that unions remain a source of effective resistance. Even so, if the world of temporary and informal employment, as well as the increasing recourse to barter, is still relatively small in comparison to the lesser developed world, it is growing, making it all the more urgent that they be encouraged to socially organize themselves and assert a political role in society.

Denning provides this example in his article, an example that may have contemporary relevance for developed countries as well:

In 1972, an activist in the Gandhian Textile Labour Association, Ela Bhatt, began to bring together the women head loaders and street vendors of the Gujarat mill town of Ahmedabad into a union, the Self-Employed Women’s Association. She had been assigned to survey families affected by the closure of two major textile mills.

While the men were busy agitating to reopen the mills . . . it was the women who were earning money and feeding the family. They sold fruits and vegetables in the streets; stitched in their homes at piece-rate for middlemen; worked as labourers in wholesale commodity markets, loading and unloading merchandise; or collected recyclable refuse from city streets . . . jobs without definitions. I learned for the first time what it meant to be self-employed. None of the labour laws applied to them; my legal training was of no use in their case.

Ironically, she recalls three decades later, I first glimpsed the vastness of the informal sector while working for the formal sector.

Over the next thirty years, SEWA became a cluster of three types of membership-based organizations of the poor: first, a union—by 2004, the largest primary union in India—of a variety of informal trades—rag pickers, home-based chindi and garment stitchers, bidi rollers, vegetable vendors—bargaining with buyers, contractors and municipal authorities over piece-rates and pavement space; second, a coalition of dozens of producer co-operatives, producing shirt fabrics, recycling waste paper and cleaning offices; and third, several institutions of mutual assistance and protection, including a SEWA bank and health cooperatives, organized around midwives who were themselves part of the informal sector.

A key part of its history has been a struggle over representation. When someone asks me what the most difficult part of SEWA's journey has been, Bhatt writes,

I can answer without hesitation: removing conceptual blocks. Some of our biggest battles have been over contesting preset ideas and attitudes of officials, bureaucrats, experts and academics. Definitions are part of that battle. The Registrar of Trade Unions would not consider us ‘workers’; hence we could not register as a ‘trade union’. The hard-working chindi workers, embroiderers, cart pullers, rag pickers, midwives and forest-produce gatherers can contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product, but heaven forbid that they be acknowledged as workers! Without an employer, you cannot be classified as a worker, and since you are not a worker, you cannot form a trade union. Our struggle to be recognized as a national trade union continues.

SEWA rejected the rhetoric of the informal sector that dominated official discourse: dividing the economy into formal and informal sectors is artificial, Bhatt argues, it may make analysis easier, or facilitate administration, but it ultimately perpetuates poverty: to lump such a vast workforce into categories viewed as “marginal”, “informal”, “unorganized”, “peripheral”, “atypical”, or “the black economy” seemed absurd to me. Marginal and peripheral to what, I asked . . . In my eyes, they were simply “self-employed”. Indeed the women street vendors who were among the first to build SEWA called themselves traders.

Constructing such a collective social identity within the US, and possibly, even within Europe and East Asia as well, is a daunting prospect. But it may have better chances for success than seeking to induce people to associate themselves with sclorotic labor unions lead by people who travel to Davos, legitimize neoliberal policy and fight amongst each other for members. Unions effectively organized workers during industrialization, but seem incapable of doing so as developed countries become more and more service oriented.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

A New Japan? 

An excerpt from a thoughtful article by Kojin Karatani:

In the ruins of postwar Japan, people reflected upon the path the country had taken in modern times. Standing against the Western powers, modern Japan strived to achieve the status of a great military power. The shattering of this dream in the nation's defeat led to another goal, to become a great economic power. The ultimate collapse of this ambition has been brought into sharp relief by the recent earthquake. Even without the earthquake, it was fated for destruction. In truth, it is not the Japanese economy alone that is failing. In the early 1970s, global capitalism entered a period of serious recession, and since then it has been unable to overcome the decline in the general rate of profit. Capital has sought a way out of this decline through global financial investment and by extending industrial investment into what had formerly been "third world" regions. The collapse of the former strategy has been exposed by the so-called Lehman shock. Meanwhile, the accelerated development of countries such as China, India, and Brazil, continues. Yet such accelerated growth cannot last long. It is inevitable that wages will rise and a limit on consumption be reached.

For this reason, global capitalism will no doubt become unsustainable in 20 or 30 years. The end of capitalism, however, is not the end of human life. Even without capitalist economic development or competition, people are able to live. Or rather, it is only then that people will, for the first time, truly be able to live. Of course, the capitalist economy will not simply come to an end. Resisting such an outcome, the great powers will no doubt continue to fight over natural resources and markets. Yet I believe that the Japanese should never again choose such a path. Without the recent earthquake, Japan would no doubt have continued its hollow struggle for great power status, but such a dream is now unthinkable and should be abandoned. It is not Japan's demise that the earthquake has produced, but rather the possibility of its rebirth. It may be that only amid the ruins can people gain the courage to stride down a new path.

It is well worth reading Karatani's article in its entirety, as he also has some interesting observations as to how the much less severe 1995 Kobe earthquake served the purposes of neoliberalism. If one does so, one hears the echo of left alternatives to the postwar military and economic alignment of Japan with the US, an alignment that provoked intense political conflict during the 1950s and 1960s, as addressed in my 2007 review of Shohei Imamura's daring documentary, A History of Postwar Japan as Told by a Bar Hostess. Some of Nagisa Oshima's films engage this subject as well, especially Three Resurrected Drunkards, which is available on DVD. Unfortunately, his 1960 film, Night and Fog in Japan, a film that indicts the autocratic practices of the student left as being responsible for its failure to prevent the approval of the US-Japan Security Pact, the treaty that memorialized the subordination of Japan to the US, remains unavailable. In many of his writings and interviews from this period, as translated in Cinema, Censorship, and the State, Oshima express his hostility to the Vietnam War and the use of US military facilities in Japan to conduct it. He also integrates the history of Japanese imperialism in Korea within this context as well.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Libyan Enigma 

UPDATE 4: Sarkozy and Erdogan are still going at it:

Nicolas Sarkozy has belittled Nato's role in the military operations against Muammar Gaddafi, re-igniting the row over who replaces the Americans in charge of the campaign in Libya.

Senior Nato officials said the alliance would decide within days whether to take over the bombing campaign against Gaddafi's forces and David Cameron announced that Nato would "shortly be providing the command and control and the machinery" for the attacks on ground targets in Libya.

The Nato decision is expected by Monday, before foreign ministers meet in London on Tuesday to discuss Libya. Senior officials were confident that the alliance would agree to assume command of all three elements of the campaign against Gaddafi – the air assaults, as well as the no-fly zone and arms embargo already under Nato command.

Turkey and France have been embroiled in a bitter row all week, with Ankara demanding that the Nato alliance, of which it is the member with the second biggest army after the US, takes over and Sarkozy opposed.

Sarkocy wants NATO to provide the force, while leaving the decisions as to the deployment of it to the eleven countries taking part in operations, thus excluding Turkey. Is this an indication that ground troops may soon be necessary? What are the consequences for the future of NATO if Sarkozy prevails? Germany is already on the sidelines, and Turkey may soon find itself there.

UPDATE 3: Libyan airstrikes have brought the economic ambitions of competitors, such as Turkey's Recip Tayyip Erdogan and France's Nicholas Sarkozy to the surface:

The clash between Turkey and France over Libya is underpinned by acute frictions between Erdogan and Sarkozy, both impetuous and mercurial leaders who revel in the limelight, by fundamental disputes over Ankara's EU ambitions, and by economic interests in north Africa.

The confrontation is shaping up to be decisive in determining the outcome of the bitter infighting over who should inherit command of the Libyan air campaign from the Americans and could come to a head at a major conference in London next week of the parties involved.

Using incendiary language directed at France in a speech in Istanbul, Erdogan said: I wish that those who only see oil, gold mines and underground treasures when they look in [Libya's] direction, would see the region through glasses of conscience from now on.

President Gül reinforced the Turkish view that France and others were being driven primarily by economic interests. The aim [of the air campaign] is not the liberation of the Libyan people, he said. There are hidden agendas and different interests.

France is, of course, adamantly oppposed to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

UPDATE 2: Oh, by the way, could someone just tell Dennis the Menace to shut up and go away? He seems to have forgotten that he further embarasses himself every time he purports to represent an ethical liberal position in public. He'll stick with his assertion that the President should be impeached over bombing Libya until . . well, you know, until the President takes him for a ride on Air Force One again. And, then, there are sell outs like Juan Cole and David Corn.

Cole has always been phony. Years ago, in 2006, I posted a comment on his blog in response to his post about his sadness over the fact that the son of the Israeli novelist David Grossman had been killed during the Israeli ground invasion of southern Lebanon, emphasizing Grossman's opposition to it. I responded with a comment to the effect that Grossman did not oppose the Israeli attacks upon Lebanon until he was afraid that his son was going to be ordered to participate in the pending invasion. I also observed that, according to press reports, Grossman expressed no remorse over the loss of Lebanese lives as a result of the Israeli air strikes and ground assault. Cole deleted it, of course, and I thereafter stopped paying attention to anything he had to say.

UPDATE 1: A provocative commentary by Vijay Prashad:

Such options are no longer central, or even on the table. Qaddafi’s rule might fall in a week or a month. In the interim, he is a caged animal, and his loyalists will not dissolve easily. In the short term, he may conduct some kind of spectacular attack on a tanker in the Mediterranean, or else, as he himself warned, inside Europe. This is precisely the kind of pretext that the warmongers seek. The Gulf of Sidra will stand in for the Gulf of Tonkin. Ships of war will dock at Benghazi, and the ground troops will slide along the road that was once the graveyard of Field Marshall Montgomery and Rommel (their half tracks and tanks still litter the road outside Tobruk). Such an assault, which might be inevitable, will revive the debacle in Iraq that lasted from 2003 to 2007, with loyalists now underground in a brutal insurgency against the foreign troops and the people of the east, a defense of their realm and a sectarian conflict at the same time. If this were the scenario, then, as Michael Walzer put it, it would extend, not stop, the bloodshed.

The forces of counter-revolution line up with the West. The Gulf Cooperation Council hastened to pledge its unequivocal support. The United Arab Emirates is sending twenty-four aircraft and Qatar will send as many as six. They will also help fund the between $1-2 billion/month cost of the enforcing the no-fly zone. Saudi Arabia’s troops remain in Bahrain. Their air force is geared up, and it too might fly alongside the French over Libyan skies. No Tunisian and Egyptian planes are on the offer. It is a telling sign that only the counter-revolutionary regimes are excited at the prospect of this battle. They know that it is precisely the best opportunity to stop the tide of the Arab Revolt of 2011.

Meanwhile, Germany is staying out of it as arguments over the mission erupt within NATO. And, not surprisingly, Steven Erlanger and Judy Dempsey of The New York Times are hysterical over this continuing newfound German assertion of independence from the US and France.

INITIAL POST: No doubt you've noticed that I haven't posted anything about the US, French and British airstrikes against Gaddafi's forces in Libya. There is a good reason for it. I don't understand it, so maybe some of you out there can help.

I've heard a number of explanations as to the objectives of the participants, but I've yet to be fully convinced of any of them. Let's go through them. First, there is the claim that the US, France and the British want to assist the rebels in overthrowing Gaddafi so as to increase their influence in the country, a country with the largest known oil reserves in Africa, with much of it being easily refineable, high quality crude. There is a superficial logic to this, except that the US and Europe had a good working relationship with Gaddafi, and Gaddafi was playing by the rules of the game by kleptocratically investing his oil profits in Europe, so much so that he counted former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi among his friends. He also provided assistance to Berlusconi in regard to preventing African immigrants from crossing the Mediterranean through Libya. As for the US, he was a staunch supporter of the so-called war on terror.

Perhaps, the US, the French and the British believe that they can cut a better deal on the sharing of profits from future oil exploration and sales than they had with Gaddafi. Much of the oil is supposedly in the eastern regions of Libya under rebel control, and, by this line of reasoning, a line in favor among some on the British left, they would be satisfied with a de facto partition of Libya that resulted in the rebels taking control of much of the country's oil reserves. Possibly. But there are some obvious problems with this, most importantly the fact that the rebels remain more unpredictable in their future dealings with the US and Europe than Gaddafi would have been. So, there is no certainty that the rebels would supply oil on terms more favorable than Gaddafi. Furthermore, there is also no certainty as to how the rebels would put their oil profits to use. There is still a possibility that they would put them to the sort of mischievous use for which Gaddafi and the Iranians have been known. One wonders if the US and Europe expect the rebels to conduct themselves in a manner similar to the mafiosos of Kosovo, with whom they have a good relationship.

Second, there is the belief that the Libyan airstrikes are a sort of camouflage, an intentional effort to distract attention from the US/Saudi efforts to suppress democratic movements in Yemen and Bahrain. Here, again, there is a superficial logic, but it assumes that there is a necessity for the effort, a necessity that I fail to perceive. In the US, there is no significant outcry about the violence inflicted upon protesters in Yemen and Bahrain, indeed, few Americans are even aware of it. To the extent that they are aware, they have, at least in regard to Bahrain, accepted the new propaganda line that the protesters must be suppressed to contain Iran. Apparently, even the Europeans have accepted it, with a European Union foreign policy advisor, Robert Cooper, recycling US fears of the Iranians by expressing alarm over the prospect of a Shia government there. As for the crackdown itself, he concluded accidents happen. His boss, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, is impressed by the offer of talks by the Crown Prince. No one has been willing to touch the most taboo subject of all, the question as to whether the Iranian social model, as seriously flawed as it is, would constitute a significant improvement in the lives of everyone in Bahrain with the exception of the wealthy elite that runs the country. In any event, there is no indication that a Libyan distraction is required.

Third, there is the possibility of another, potentially more compelling distraction. Both Europe and the US are imposing harsh austerity programs after having channeled trillions of dollars of through transnational finacial institutions to preserve them and the investments of the people who purchased their financial instruments. Clearly unable to resist the cuts of a Republican House of Representatives, President Obama shows that he can stand up to that evil African Gaddafi. Similarly, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is implementing a harsh austerity program that will inflict the most punishment upon the poorest people in society. Reminscent of Thatcher'as response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he has also been the most strident advocate for military action. Meanwhile, the last member of the intervention triumvirate, the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, finds himself extremely unpopular, so he may believe that the airstrikes will improve his domestic political prospects. French pilots flew the first missions over Libya. It is, however, a doubled edged sword. In addition to the possibility that the intervention will fail, people are beginning to notice, at least in the US, that the military operation is substantially eroding the proposed savings from domestic budget cuts proposed by Republicans, placing the credibility of the austerity effort at risk. For now, though, it is merely an indication that the accumulation of capital through the military industrial complex still works as it has done since the beginning of World War II. After all, governments have to purchase those weapons somewhere.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Revolution the Only Solution (Part 4) 

Good news in Yemen:

Defense Ministry Mohammad Nasser Aliis just gave a brief statement saying the army would defend Saleh against any coup against democracy.

There have been dozens of major defections today, including the most powerful military officer, who controls 60 percent of the army.

France's foreign ministry has said that Saleh's departure is is unavoidable, according to Al Jazeera. Washington is still sticking with its ally.

Meanwhile, in Bahrain, Secretary of State Clinton announces US support for the Saudi troops that have entered the country:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton affirmed here Saturday the US commitment to protect the security of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, accusing Iran of being a factor of instability in the region.

Iran pursues a private agenda to destabilize neighboring countries and undermine peace and stability in the Gulf region, Clinton said.

She made the remarks in a press conference at the Elysee Palace after a summit of world leaders on the international military action against the regime of Libyan leader Col Muammar Qaddafi.

It’s a priority for the US administration to work with partners in the Gulf region against the concern over the behavior of Iran, she said.

Commenting on the deployment of troops from the Peninsula Shield Force in the Kingdom of Bahrain in the wake of violent protests, Clinton said it was a sovereign right for Bahrain to seek help from GCC member states under the joint defense treaty they had signed.

Has no one told Clinton that she sounds eerily like the Soviet apparatchiks who justified the 1968 invasion of Czechoslavakia on the ground that the people there needed to be protected against a bourgeois counterrevolution? I am starting to worry that, while the Iranian nuclear research program has not ignited a conflict between the US and Iran, turmoil in Bahrain just might.

And, right on cue, Ethan Bronner of The New York Times writes an article empathizing with the plight of the Sunni elite:

When Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement began its demonstrations in Pearl Square last month, Atif Abdulmalik was supportive. An American-educated investment banker and a member of the Sunni Muslim elite, he favored a constitutional monarchy and increasing opportunities and support for the poorer Shiite majority.Atif Abdulmalik, an investment banker, was initially supportive of the protests, but then feared they would harm the economy.

But in the past week or two, the nature of the protest shifted — and so did any hope that demands for change would cross sectarian lines and unite Bahrainis in a cohesive democracy movement. The mainly Shiite demonstrators moved beyond Pearl Square, taking over areas leading to the financial and diplomatic districts of the capital. They closed off streets with makeshift roadblocks and shouted slogans calling for the death of the royal family.

Twenty-five percent of Bahrain’s G.D.P. comes from banks, Mr. Abdulmalik said as he sat in the soft Persian Gulf sunshine. I sympathize with many of the demands of the demonstrators. But no country would allow the takeover of its financial district. The economic future of the country was at stake. What happened this week, as sad as it is, is good.

I'm shocked, shocked to find that the Times considers the perspective of an American educated investment banker critical to understanding events in Bahrain. After all, it is physically located in Manhattan. Here we have an illustration of what As'ad Abukhalil stated in relation to Egypt, that the movement would, over time, become more and more class conscious with the passage of time.

While the US and Saudi Arabia act to polarize the political struggle along sectarian lines so as to make the Iranians the fall guy, the situation on the ground is one of increasing class conflict, with the the predominately Shia poor focusing their anger on the obscene wealth and power of the al-Khalida family. Clearly, there is a synergy between the sectarianism of the US and the Gulf States, and the emerging class consciousness on the streets. It is a sign of the desperation of the US and Saudi Arabia that they have no choice but to adopt a strategy for containing the protests that has the alarming consequence of bringing the class struggle to the fore.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Revolution the Only Solution (Part 3) 


At least 35 people have been shot dead and hundreds wounded in Sana'a after soldiers and plain-clothed government loyalists opened fired on protesters trying to march through the Yemeni capital.

The death toll, which is expected to rise, is the highest seen in more than a month of violence in Yemen, with protesters demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh step down.

The protest on Friday had started peacefully. Tens of thousands filled a mile-long stretch of road by Sana'a University for a prayer ceremony mourning the loss of seven protesters killed in similar violence last weekend.

As the prayers came to an end, however, the sight of black smoke from a burning car caught the attention of protesters, who began surging towards it.

Witnesses say the first shots were fired by security forces trying to disperse the protesters and they were joined by plain-clothed men who fired on the demonstrators with Kalashnikovs from the roofs of nearby houses.


On Friday, the family of Ahmed Farhan, 30, who was killed on Tuesday by security forces in Sitra, an island south of the capital, received the body of their son, with its shotgun pellet wounds to the back and gaping hole in the skull. The family had been trying to bring him home to this activist Shiite village and bury him here, but permission was withheld.

In Bahrain, the Arab spring turned to winter in less than a week. Martial law was declared on Tuesday. It is now illegal to hold rallies. Tanks remain outside the central hospital and Saudi troops are here as back-up. Still, on Friday the Farhan family buried their son and, despite the ban on protests and gatherings, some 5,000 people helped them do it in their home village of Sitra. The village, once an island, is now linked to the mainland by landfill and causeway. It turned into a sea of raised fists and tearful wailing, piety and political indignation, the core of what has been driving the Bahraini protests since mid-February.

The Farhan family is poor, like many in this village, and like many of the 70 percent of the country that is Shiite. Ahmed Farhan, who never married, lived with his family in a ramshackle structure around a courtyard, having lost his job as a fisherman some years ago after harbor construction made fishing impossible. He was taking part in a protest demonstration when he was killed.

If I may be permitted one criticism of the revolutionary movement in the Arab world, as someone comfortably esconsced in California, it is this: the participants have been naive about the implacable US opposition to their liberation. They have believed that the imperial power of the US can be neutralized through massive, non-violent mobilizations. Sadly, they are learning a hard lesson, one already understood by the Iraqis, Palestinians and the people of Afghanistan. The US, and its most stalwart allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, will utilize whatever level of violence that they consider necessary to suppress a perceived threat. In this instance, they consider the revolutionary movements in North Africa and the Middle East as an existential one to their continued hegemonic control, and the US and Saudi Arabia have responded accordingly.

If Salih in Yemen and al-Khalida in Bahrain succeed in suppressing public protest, they will then proceed to impose even more severe authoritarian measures of social control, with the assistance of private contractors recommended by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. As with the current violence, the US will issue public denunciations without adopting any measures to induce Salih and al-Khalida to ameliorate their repressive measures, indeed, as noted, it will instead provide covert aid to intensify them, hidden from public view through the black box of war on terror programs. The poor populace of both of these countries are going to soon find themselves subject to the sort of technological surveillance and violence inflicted upon people in the occupied territories and Afghanistan. The need to economically exploit these people for the benefit of the elites will be the only contraint upon it.

My guess is that the people of these countries will adapt, and develop new ways to resist based upon the need to confront the US and the Saudis, as well as their kleptocratic rulers. They may initially limit themselves to non-violent practices, but they will be prepared to respond to violence with violence, and they will direct any such violence towards targets designed to inflict the greatest possible hardship upon their enemies. Indeed, we should not dismiss the possibility that the future resistance will, from the inception, embrace violence as the means for their liberation. While it is far too soon to say that the revolutionary movements of 2010 have been effectively suppressed, it is likely that, if they are, they will reemerge in a much more violent manifestation with severe global consequences.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Black Rain 

UPDATE 1: Having grown up among Japanese Americans in Northern California, I find these stories to be especially heartwrending:

The devastating impact of the Japanese earthquake on the country's ageing population was exposed on Thursday as dozens of elderly people were confirmed dead in hospitals and residential homes as heating fuel and medicine ran out.

In one particularly shocking incident, Japan's self-defence force discovered 128 elderly people abandoned by medical staff at a hospital six miles from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Most of them were comatose and 14 died shortly afterwards. Eleven others were reported dead at a retirement home in Kesennuma because of freezing temperatures, six days after 47 of their fellow residents were killed in the tsunami. The surviving residents of the retirement home in Kesennuma were described by its owner, Morimitsu Inawashida, as alone and under high stress. He said fuel for their kerosene heaters was running out.

And, it's not much better for children, either:

The very young too were suffering. Save the Children on Thursday reached Ishinomaki, Nobiru and Onagawa, north of Sendai, and reported children living in miserable conditions. There were some terrible scenes, in some places like Onagawa there was nothing left, said Ian Woolverton, who led the mission. In other places like Ishinomaki we found children in evacuation centres huddled around kerosene lamps.

The charity said they met Kazuki Seto, eight, at an evacuation centre not far from Sendai. He told them: We are really worried about the nuclear power plants. We are very afraid of nuclear radiation. That's why we don't play outside. Another, Yasu Hiro, 10, added: We know about the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we are very scared. It makes us really worry. If it explodes it is going to be terrible.

INITIAL POST: Beyond the refusal of people to make deliveries to areas adjancent to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, there is the tragic possibility of social ostracism for a new generation of people exposed to radiation:

For Japanese, the desperation has an added dimension: Already the name Fukushima is laden with something beyond the fear of damaged health.

The Japanese survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lived the rest of their lives with the stigma of having been exposed to radiation, a stain that years never erased. Known as Hibakushas, they are formally recognized by the government if they lived within proximity of the blasts, and receive a special medical allowance.

But the designation also led to them being ostracized by other Japanese, who feared wrongly that the contamination was contagious or could be hereditary. The result was that many survivors of the bombings, and even their children, lived ghettoized lives because of their exposure to radiation.

The prospect of a similar stigma now worries some of those in and around the Fukushima plant.

I am worried about the future, said a 65-year-old retired engineer from Sugagawa City, 30 miles from the plant, who was interviewed by phone and didn't want his name used.

There could be some rumors that the people from this area are contaminated by radiation, and that people should not get close to us.

Masuji Ibuse fictionalized the experience of the people who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki in his acclaimed novel, Black Rain, and the great, folkloric Japanese director, Shohei Imamura, subsequently made a film based upon it. I recommend both highly. They are discomforting for both American and Japanese audiences, as they reveal not only the horrors of the bomb, but the everyday fascism embedded within the treatment of the surviving victims by many Japanese. Hopefully, the people of Japan have learned from the past, and will treat the victims of Fukushima disaster with respect and compassion.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some Reflections About the Japanese Nuclear Catastrophe 

UPDATE 1: From a New York Times article about the remaining workers at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station:

They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air.

They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.

They are the faceless 50, the unnamed operators who stayed behind. They have volunteered, or been assigned, to pump seawater on dangerously exposed nuclear fuel, already thought to be partly melting and spewing radioactive material, to prevent full meltdowns that could throw thousands of tons of radioactive dust high into the air and imperil millions of their compatriots.

INITIAL POST: The nuclear catastrophe in Japan is beyond my capabilities to address on this blog, there's just too much happening too fast, and I lack the expertise to add much beyond what one can find at the Guardian, the New York Times and the BBC. Of course, you have to carefully sift through what you find there. There is, however, one subject that deserves emphasis, the extraordinary efforts of the Tokyo Electric Power workers to prevent full meltdowns at six Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants in northeastern Japan, meltdowns that would result in massive releases of life threatening amounts of radiation. Five workers have died, 22 others have been injured and two others are still missing.

As described yesterday in the New York Times:

The nuclear plants’ operator, Tokyo Electric Power, has declined to provide details about the workers.

But Arnold Gundersen, a consultant who worked in American plants nearly identical to the stricken Japanese ones, said it was likely that the company was calling in retirees and workers from unaffected plants for help. And perhaps for sacrifice, as well. They may also be asking for people to volunteer to receive additional exposure, he said.

People who are working close to the reactor — pumping water, or operating valves inside the secondary containment structure — would almost certainly be wearing full bodysuits and air packs, Mr. Gundersen said. But some forms of radiation can penetrate any gear.

Gamma rays and other penetrating radiation can cause cancers and other long-term illnesses or, in high amounts, near-term illness or death.

Health physicists should gauge the radiation level in the work area, and the workers would normally be told how long they can remain. There may be a health physicist who will say, You only have an hour or two to do this job, Mr. Gundersen said. Each worker would carry a dosimeter, which measures radiation exposure, and they’ll be looking at it, he added. When it hits a certain number, they should leave.

Suits and air packs are meant to keep radioactive particles off the skin and out of the lungs until the workers return to a safer area.

Workers are trained to remove the gear in a specific way to avoid leaving any particles on their skin that would result in continuing exposure.

It seems probable that we will learn of specific acts of heroism reminiscent of firefighters like Viktor Birkun at Chernobyl in 1986, even if, unlike Birkun and the firefighters, they have been supplied with protective clothing:

As the plant managers and technicians fled or frantically tried to contact Moscow, the firefighters rushed straight into the inferno. With only a cotton uniform to protect him, Mr Birkun drove his fire truck over the reactor’s metal roof, now lying on the ground, and up to 15m (50ft) from Reactor 4.

Using his bare hands he lowered the engine’s siphon into the nearest cooling pool to suck up water for his colleagues as they battled 300 fires around the complex. Within seconds he began to feel the effects of the gamma rays that were bombarding his internal organs.

He started vomiting about every 30 seconds. He grew dizzy and weak. After two hours he could not stand.

Doctors later gave him a certificate indicating that he had received 260 ber (biological equivalents of roentgen), equivalent to 1,000 years of background radiation.

But experts estimate that the radiation that he absorbed was even higher, and enough to cause acute radiation sickness (ARS).

I’m amazed he survived, Michael Repacholi, the top radiation expert at the World Health Organisation, said.

It was a hugely heroic effort, and I suspect anyone who understood how much radiation was there would never have gone in.

Twenty years on Mr Birkun knows he is lucky to be alive and living in Moscow with his wife, Nadezhda, and his daughters, Lyudmila and Valentina.

Of the 134 liquidators with a diagnosis of ARS, 28 died in 1986, including at least six firefighters. Mr Birkun, now 56, is proud of the sacrifice that his team made to reduce the cloud of smoke that spread radioactive particles across Europe and even as far as Japan.

These were the people who saved Europe, he said, fingering a black-and-white photograph of his former colleagues. If they had not done what they did, the fire would have spread to Reactors 1, 2 and 3.

One of curious aspects of the use of nuclear energy over the course of my life has been the extent to which it has transcended ideology. Initially promoted as the peaceful use of the atom, a non-military justification for research that has produced the most frighteningly destructive weapons ever known, nuclear energy has been almost universally embraced by elites. During the Cold War, capitalist countries, such as the US, the UK, Canada, France, West Germany and Japan, as well as socialist ones, like the USSR and the German Democratic Republic, embarked upon nuclear plant construction programs, often against intense grassroots opposition. Lesser developed countries of this period, such as India, Spain and South Africa also brought nuclear power plants on line, although, interestingly, Central and South American countries were laggards, with most countries building no plants, the exceptions being the more industrialized ones, such as Mexico and Brazil, who built only one. Now, even purportedly anti-imperialist countries like Iran and Venezuela have adopted plans to rely upon nuclear power for future energy supplies.

Despite difficulties with the costs of construction and operation, nuclear power has persisted, and, as a possible response to global warming, may flourish yet again, despite the catastrophe in Japan. The explanation for such persistence lies, I think, in the compatibility of nuclear power with the intertwined interests of the state and capital, regardless of the way particular states describe themselves. From the standpoint of capital, whether aggregated in capitalist or socialist societies, the construction of nuclear power plants wasadvantageous when compared with alternatives. First, they obviously required a lot of capital investment. Hence, they absorbed large concentrations of it associated with governments, corporations and, particularly, financial institutions. Gigantism had an allure for all of them, because it served the purpose of oligopolizing the accumulation of capital, the production of energy and, more covertly, the knowledge associated with scientific and economic decisions. No other energy source had the ability to facilitate this objective like nuclear power, except for those associated with hydrocarbons.

Second, the construction of such facilities was a substantial endeavor. Capital was put to use employing large numbers of workers, ranging from architects, to nuclear engineers, to attorneys, to construction workers, to steel workers, to transport workers, just to name a few. A government regulatory apparatus was required to oversee nuclear plant construction projects as well as the subsequent operation of the completed plants. Such projects participated in the acceleration of the division of labor within society, a division of labor whereby more and more specialized knowledge and expertise was created to address activities of ever increasing complexity. Workers were therefore transformed in a way so as to enhance their utility while severing common bonds of collective identity. Meanwhile, the power to influence political and economic decisions was concentrated in fewer and fewer people, not so much because only a small number of people possessed the information necessary to make them, but, instead, because only a small number of people had access to the people with supposedly sufficient information to legitimize them. Needless to say, the entire process was self-referential. Capitalism and the centralized state depended upon the proliferation of hierarchy to more firmly entrench themselves, and few things, other than the military-industrial complex and the emerging technologies of surveillance and social control, were as harmonious with this proliferation as the increased use of nuclear power.

Accordingly, for many years, nuclear projects constituted a form of economic development, a glamorous, modern form of industrialization, because they employed large numbers of people in jobs with good wages and benefits while simultaneously disempowering them and promoting even more extreme concentrations of capital and state power. It was, in effect, close to a perfect circle. Advocates for alternative energy sources therefore failed to understand that the scope and expense of these projects were actually a strong argument in their favor from the standpoint of capitalists and the proponents of the centralized state. One of the worst qualiaties that one could attribute to any energy source or policy was that the infrastructure is easy to construct and maintain, or, even more heinous, that anybody can do it, which is why conservation was usually considered an inferior alternative to investing in new supply.

Given all this, it may not be coincidental that the advent of neoliberalism, and its attendant financialization of the economies of nation states, has been accompanied by a substantial decline in nuclear power plant construction, as well as an increased emphasis upon conservation, in some parts of the world, especially the US. Having overcome the socialist and social democratic alternatives, capitalists and their allies within the state redirected the vast expenditures upon nuclear power plant construction into the development of more and more speculative financial instruments. Countries more resistant to neoliberalism, such as France and Japan, pressed forward. Some research on this subject might result in some fascinating discoveries. In any event, it appears that such construction is now seen as compatible with the globalization of investment, production, transportation and communication, given the number of countries that now publicly state that they intend to move towards nuclear energy as a power source. Or, to put it differently, we have lived through the neoliberalization of nuclear power. The fact that it is prone to catastrophic accidents like Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi in 2011 only increases its allure. As described by Naomi Klein, Greg Palast and others, the current economic order depends upon periodic turmoil, whether generated virtually in financial markets through the mendacious actions of investors, regulators and politicians, or in the real, tangible world by them in conjunction with the unpredictability of the environment, to thrive.

Hat tip to Jack Crow over at The Crow's Eye for educating me as to the heroism of Viktor Birkun and the other firefighters at Chernobyl.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Revolution the Only Solution (Part 2) 

UPDATE 1: Saudi troops have entered Bahrain:

Troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates crossed into Bahrain on Monday under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council to help quell unrest there, a move Bahraini opposition groups denounced in a statement as an occupation.

Witnesses said a convoy of 150 armored troop carriers and about 50 other lightly armed vehicles crossed the bridge linking Saudi Arabia to the tiny island kingdom, and a Saudi security official told The Associate Press that the troops were there to protect critical buildings and installations like oil facilities. However, witnesses later said that the convoy seemed to be heading for Riffa, a Sunni area that is home to the royal family and a military hospital that is closed to the public, Reuters reported.

The opposition statement said it considered the arrival of any soldier or military vehicle an overt occupation of the kingdom of Bahrain and a conspiracy against the unarmed people of Bahrain.

Rather oddly, the Saudis have justified this action by reference to a request by the Crown Prince of Bahrain for assistance from the Gulf Cooperation Council, much as the Russians maintained that it invaded Czechoslavakia in 1968 in response to a Czech governmental request for assistance from the Warsaw Pact. Meanwhile, the US is definitely concerned.

INITIAL POST: From the Guardian:

Saudi forces are preparing to intervene in neighbouring Bahrain, after a day of clashes between police and protesters who mounted the most serious challenge to the island's royal family since demonstrations began a month ago.

The Crown Prince of Bahrain is expected to formally invite security forces from Saudi Arabia into his country today, as part of a request for support from other members of the six-member Gulf Co-operation Council.

Thousands of demonstrators on Sunday cut off Bahrain's financial centre and drove back police trying to eject them from the capital's central square, while protesters also clashed with government supporters on the campus of the main university.

Amid the revolt Bahrain also faces a potential sectarian conflict between the ruling minority of Sunnis Muslims and a majority of Shia Muslims, around 70% of the kingdom's 525,000 residents.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised, as the extension of the protests to the financial district crossed a red line, as reported by Ethan Bronner of The New York Times, oddly enough, from Cairo:

Thousands of antigovernment protesters in Bahrain blocked access to the financial district in Manama, the capital, on Sunday, preventing workers from getting to their offices and pushing back police officers who tried to disperse them.

It was the most serious challenge to the royal family that rules Bahrain since protests began last month.

Witnesses said the police used tear gas and fired on the protesters with rubber bullets.

This was a very, very big day, Mohammed al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights, said by telephone from Pearl Square, the epicenter for protests in central Manama. Now the protesters control these streets. There are walls of rubble keeping out the police and armed groups. People say they will not sleep tonight.

There were also clashes at the campus of the main university, where protesters contended that the security forces were protecting armed vigilantes accused of fomenting tensions between the 70 percent of the population that is Shiite Muslim and the Sunni ruling family and elite.

The seriousness of a Saudi intervention cannot be exaggerated. One gets the impression that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates green lighted the Crown Prince's decision during his trip to Bahrain on Friday. Apparently, the prospect of social movements in opposition to the monarchy in places like Bahrain partially explains why Saudi Arabia has the third highest level of defense spending per capita, with only Oman and Qatar ahead of it. Or, to put it more bluntly, the suppression of the Shia remains an essential feature of the policies of the US and its Gulf State allies.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Disaster Averted? 

From the Guardian:

For locals in Fukushima prefecture, still reeling from frequent aftershocks and clearing up after the first disaster, the prospect of another on the way in the form of nuclear meltdown was unwelcome in the extreme.

"It is frightening. You get used to living with the nuclear plants and then something like this happens. When I saw smoke from the plant, I thought, 'Uh oh'," said Kato Tomiyama, a convenience store employeet. "I couldn't believe it," said Seiko Sato, a teacher. "We need more information."

For several hours, observers feared the worst: loss of coolant inside one of the plant's six reactors had caused a dangerous build-up of heat. A second, more deadly explosion – one that would have released a vast radioactive plume over the nation – seemed a real prospect until it was announced that, although the outer structure of the 40-year-old reactor building had been blown off by the blast, the actual reactor inside had not been breached.

Disaster had been avoided – but by the narrowest of margins. It was confirmed last night that radioactive caesium, one of the elements released when overheating causes core damage, had been detected around the plant. The discovery indicates that meltdown, caused by a nuclear reaction running out of control, had indeed affected the reactor's fuel rods – although possibly only to a limited extent. The revelation did little to reassure local people.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami 

For updates, go here and here and here. The situation in Japan is almost beyond comprehension, as indicated by this Guardian live blog entry:

9.01pm GMT: Kyodo news agency is reporting that four commuter trains are still unaccounted for in the Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, the coastal area of northeastern Japan that were hardest hit by the tsunami.

Now, there is increasing concern about radiation releases from the damaged Fukushiima Daichi nuclear power plant, with the evacuation area around the plant expanded from three miles to ten miles. According to an Associated Press news alert, radiation levels have surged outside the plant, and it has already been reported that radiation levels inside the control room are 1,000 times normal. The sun has risen in Japan and the scope of the destruction is becoming shockingly known.

On a more mundane note, the New York Times can't resist exploiting the situation as an opportunity to cast the US military presence in Japan, disliked by many people there, in a favorable light. The US military is, after all, first and foremost, a humanitarian institution.

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Revolution the Only Solution (Part 1) 

A report on the ongoing protests in Bahrain:

As security forces and pro-government vigilantes beat back protesters here on Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived on an unannounced visit to offer American support to the royal family and prod the king and crown prince toward talks with protesters demanding more democracy.

His visit took place against a backdrop of large and continuing protests across numerous Arab capitals on Friday, with neither repression nor government concessions succeeding in stemming the growing tide of anger and demands for change.

The protests were for the most part peaceful, although there were scattered reports of injuries from tear gas and other attacks by government security forces seeking to prevent the demonstrations.

Here in this tiny Persian gulf kingdom, security forces firing rubber bullets and pro-government Sunni vigilantes wielding sticks and swords beat back tens of thousands of predominantly Shiite protesters as they neared the royal palace.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, a massive deployment of security forces suppressed protests there:

The calm in the Saudi capital may have been achieved partly by an incident on Thursday in the eastern city of al-Qatif, where police shot and wounded at least two protesters. Unconfirmed reports described trouble there again.

Protesters rallied in Hofuf, close to the eastern Ghawar oil field and major refinery installations. The city has seen scattered protests by Shias who complain of discrimination by the Sunni majority.

Saudi sources also reported marches involving hundreds of people in al-Ahsa and Awwamiya near al-Qatif.

Security in Riyadh was high-profile and intense, with helicopters hovering overhead and police checks on cars and individuals heading for mosques, where protests were expected after prayers.

Police cruisers were given orders to pull over any car, tweeted Mohammed al-Qahtani, president of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association. I saw several cars being searched by officers, and they checked IDs.

It is becoming more and more evident that the most prominent adversary of the protests is the US:

So Mr. Obama has thrown his weight behind attempts by the royal family of Bahrain, the home of the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, to survive, although protesters say their demands have not been met. He has said little about political grievances in Saudi Arabia, a major oil supplier, where there were reports on Thursday of a violent dispersal of Shiite protesters. And he has limited White House critiques of Yemen, where the government is helping the United States root out a terrorist threat, even after that government opened fire on demonstrators.

If only all those protesters would just go away, and allow the President to sleep more soundly.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Sacramento Deflated (Part 2) 

An air of resignation has settled over Sacramento in regard to the loss of the city's NBA franchise, the Sacramento Kings. Our mayor, former NBA player Kevin Johnson, has publicly stated that there is nothing more that the city can do to retain the team. The Kings will only stay in Sacramento if negotiations to move the team to Anaheim collapse. No one thinks that such an outcome is likely, and the more cynically minded believe that an agreement for the team to play in The Pond, the sports arena in Anaheim, has already been reached, concealed for the purpose of ensuring high levels of attendance in Sacramento until the end of the season.

For Sacramento, this is the best possible outcome, although the mayor will persist in efforts to construct a publicly subsidized entertainment facility. In the absence of the Kings, and Governor Jerry Brown's effort to redirect state redevelopment funds towards education, as given expression by his remark that we have to put education first and entertainment second, the probability of such a project going forward has dropped significantly. Without the Kings, it will be even more difficult to persuade the public to support any subsidy, and, without redevelopment funds, it will be hard to develop a plausible financial plan to pay for building and operating it. Upon being asked specifically about the use of redevelopment funds to build stadiums for football teams, such as the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, Brown stated, Private enterprise should be able to survive on its own, as witnessed at Pac Bell Park. His reference to Pac Bell Park alludes to the fact that the owners of the San Francisco Giants built a stadium south of Market in the 1990s without the use of such funds.

So, instead of directing municipal resources towards a redevelopment scheme that will require millions of subsidy dollars to enrich the owners of a sports franchise, Sacramento can now rationally attempt to address the needs of the city's people, such as indigent health care, recreational activities, assistance for the homeless, who, by the way, just got evicted from their self-governed camp along the river, treatment for the mentally disordered, police and fire protection and affordable housing, among others. By liberating itself from the neoliberal insistence that the city must be gentrified with municipal funds to provide a comfortable entertainment playground for middle and upper middle class people who predominately live on the city's periphery, Sacramento can focus its resources upon improving the city's quality of life, not just for people who can afford events at a glamourous entertainment facility and patronize the upscale restaurants and bars associated with it, but for all of the people who live within the various communities within its boundaries. In this, Sacramento can set an example for other cities around the country to emulate. Yes, there is life after the loss of a professional sports franchise, and a pretty good one with possibilities that were foreclosed by the demands of the team's millionaire owners and their fans.

But, beyond this, there is an interesting social question. Over the past couple of weeks, I have perused the Sactown Royalty website, where local Kings fans have expressed their dismay over the prospect of losing the franchise. While some have expressed a predictable right wing anger towards those who would dare suggest that the city should use its funds to assist the homeless instead of subsidizing an arena for the owners of the Kings, the wealthy Maloofs, many others say that they will be adrift without the Kings and the NBA. Much of their life away from work appears to have been centered around going to Kings games, watching Kings games on television and following the NBA more generally. It is easy to dismiss them as a subculture of obsessed fans, but I think that this is mistaken. There are a lot of people who believe that Sacramento is nothing without the Kings, and have a limited concept of fulfillment through participating within the larger community around them. Instead, they conflate their gratification with the ability of the Maloofs to enrich themselves while providing an entertainment facility for them. The notion that their lives might be better in the absence of their deference to the Maloofs doesn't occur to them. Fans have accepted a neo-feudal identity demanded of them by the Maloofs and the NBA. As a result, we are subjected to fans complaining on local radio sports talk shows about what the Maloofs have put up with, as if the Maloofs have been victimized because of the city's failure to subsidize their basketball team.

Of course, it is easy to ridicule this, but, if we do so, we miss something more important. Professional sports are serving the purpose of atomizing society in such a way as to impair the ability of people to see themselves as part of a larger collective. Or, perhaps, more accurately, professional sports have substituted an innocuous collective identity for one that would encourage people to understand how they could work together and challenge those who take advantage of them and worsen the conditions of their daily lives. Embedded within this fandom is a tendency to induce people to accept a conservative, socially Darwinian vision of society that they might otherwise never accept, hence, the willingness to cast the Maloofs as victims of a government that refuses subsidize them. The means by which we can overcome the allure of this branded form of social identity is not readily apparent. For those of us on the left, we should consider how to confront this dilemma, a dilemma that is central to the persistence of neoliberalism, and, possibly, capitalism itself.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Chavez and the Arab Revolution (Part 2) 

As Louis Proyect states with precision, you can't simply put a minus where the ruling class puts a plus:

The struggle in the Arab world is for democratic rights. That trumps any diplomatic deal struck between Venezuela and Libya. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels first came into prominence as activists in the revolutionary upsurge of 1848 that sought to abolish feudal despotism. The ground had to be cleared for battles between the working class and the bourgeoisie. To hasten that showdown it was necessary to fight for a democratic republic with full rights for working people, including the right to form trade unions, to vote and to assemble peacefully. That is exactly the same kinds of battles taking place in the Arab world today and those on the left who oppose it through malicious propaganda are serving the counter-revolution.

In regard to Chavez, Proyect states that the more he obfuscates, the worse it will get for him. I'm more pessimistic, and believe that the damage may already be irreversible.

Or, to put it more bluntly, as As'ad Abukhalil did last Thursday:

I just can't stomach those leftists who stood with Saddam, and who are standing today with Qadhdhafi. There is nothing leftist about those two reprehensible tyrants. Those two tyrants are very similar, as I argue in my Al-Akhbar article for this coming Saturday. They both were unpopular and charismatic and suffering from an acute case of Nasser's syndrome. They both wanted to be intellectuals and novelists. Tariq Aziz tells that Saddam was sending him his last novel manuscript a day before the US invaded his country. There are tyrants with talents and neither of the two were. At least Stalin was really well-tread and wrote very well (he wrote his own books too), while Mao was really smart and wrote good poetry. You can't even compare the aphorisms of Mao to the drivel of the two lousy tyrants. Oh, and I never treated the clown, Chavez as a leftist. I view him more as a clown in the same league with Sa'ib `Urayqat but with different momentary politics.

Personally, I don't consider Chavez a clown, as a close reading of my post on this subject last week indicates, as well as others about him and Venezuela that I have presented here over the years. There is much about him that is praiseworthy, with his speech in opposition to the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 being one of the bravest acts by a political figure in recent memory, but he is displaying a dogged refusal to recognize that world events no longer confirm to his Manichean, post 9/11, post April 2002 coup perspective about the perils of US imperialism. He is revealing himself as an example of precisely what Proyect deplores, putting a minus where the ruling class puts a plus. As one of the most important creations of a left culture that developed over several decades in South America, he is risking the future maginalization of it through his support for Gaddafi, which is more important than whether he reveals himself to be a clown or not.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

They Got What They Deserved 

A few weeks ago, Arianna Huffington, and other investors associated with her, sold The Huffington Post to AOL. Besides receiving millions of dollars, she was appointed to some position within AOL related to news and opinion content. As most of you know, Huffington built up the Post by relying upon articles and columns submitted by people for free. In the beginning, the writers were primarily celebrities, as this was the initial cachet of the Post, the opportunity to read the opinions of high profile entertainment figures. But, over time, the Post gravitated towards the work of individuals with some sort of journalistic or political connection to the subjects that they wrote about.

Now, with Huffington pocketing a lot of money partially as a consequence of their efforts, some of these writers, as well as some journalists, have expressed anger that none of the money obtained through the sale to AOL is going to them. We have even been subjected to such nonsense as the notion that some provided their work for free because they considered the Post a political enterprise, part of a movement to challenge the ascendancy of the right in the US. Of course, it's ludicrous, and I don't have the slightest bit of sympathy for them. Huffington made it clear from the inception that the Post was a business enterprise, subsequently obtaining approximately $20 million in outside capital several years ago. She made no secret that she wanted to grow the readership for the purpose of increasing the Post's profitability, and did so by highlighting celebrity gossip on the site. Perhaps, we have an example of a particular kind of paradoxical liberal thinking among these writers whereby they really believed that they could change the world with the assistance of a self-serving Internet entrepreneur like Huffington.

Furthermore, and perhaps more insidiously, Huffington was also clear about the constraints upon content imposed by her business plan from the beginning as well. She solicited Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com to post opinion pieces on the site shortly after the Post was launched, and then quickly dropped him when he, quite predictability, expressed his hostility to Zionism. Conversely, the pro-Israel apologetics of Alan Dershowitz have been an enduring feature. She personally expressed support for Israel on the site when it attacked Lebanon in 2006. Since the election of Obama, the Post has been known, in contradistinction to a site like firedoglake, as a cheerleader for the Obama presidency.

Does Arianna do such things for profit, or does she believe them? We will never know. But the writers should have known what they were getting into. For their own reasons, they decided that they would undermine the efforts of their brethren who have been insistent upon compensation for their work, and submit their writings to the Post for free. In this, Huffington is correct, there was a deal, and the writers thought that they could promote themselves by grabbing onto her coattails. Instead of acting in solidarity with others who were attempting to prevent the Internet from becoming a place where capital expropriated the work of writers for free for its benefit, they played along in the expectation that, through their association with the Post, they were be among the few winners, some of the few writers who could actually earn a living by publishing over the Internet. Or, they were so intoxicated by the opportunity for exposure, that they were grateful just to have their work posted there. Or, maybe both. In any event, they, as the title of this post says, got exactly what they deserved.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Chavez and the Arab Revolution (Part 1) 

Predictably, the Libyan rebels have rejected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's offer to negotiate a truce between them and Muammar Gaddafi. After all, he refuses to condemn Gaddafi for his use of violence against the Libyan people, providing him with qualified suppport.

Instead, Chavez emphasizes the prospect of a US invasion to seize control of Libyan oil reserves. It is not a ludicrous notion, that the US and the EU want to establish a military presence in the country so as to exert influence over a post-Gaddafi regime in regard to the exploitation of Libyan oil reserves. But if that is his real concern, shouldn't he advise Gaddafi to depart as quickly as possible so as to enable the rebels to take power without any purported US assistance? Furthermore, the US did invade Iraq for this purpose, and it hasn't worked out nearly as well as planned.

More generally, Chavez has personalized the situation, resulting in a political debacle that may permanently reduce his authority within and without Venezuela. Instead of recognizing similarities between the aspirations of the Arab masses, and those in South America who put people like him, Morales, Lula and Kirchner, among others, into power, he has decided to give priority to his personal relationship with Gaddafi, saying that he would be a coward if he condemned his friend. Protests throughout North Africa and the Middle East have highlighted themes that should be familiar to Chavez and South American leftists, such as demands for greater inclusion within existing political and economic structures and dismay at the impoverishment that has resulted from the implementation of neoliberal economic policies, even if they are not as prominent a feature as they have been in South America. Yet Chavez implies that Gaddafi is closer in spirit to the South American left than the rebels.

This was always the peril of Chavez's realpolitik foreign policy, a policy that sought allies to resist US threats to the sovereignty of Venezuela in the most unsavory of places, in Iran, in Libya, even in Belarus and Zimbabwe. While I personally question to effectiveness of such a policy, even on its own terms, I don't criticize Chavez for undertaking measures that he felt necessary to preserve the power of the left in Venezuela. The problem is rather different, as explained by Louis Proyect:

Now it should be clearly understood that there is nothing wrong with forming alliances with Zimbabwe, Iran or Libya. Countries that are trying to develop a foreign policy independent of imperialism will by necessity adopt a kind of socialist realpolitik. When the government of Mexico made the streets run red with the blood of student protesters in 1968, it was understandable why Cuba remained silent. When Cuba had few friends in Latin America, Mexico’s PRI had a shred enough of remaining nationalism to stand up to the OAS and trade with Cuba. Furthermore, Cuba was in its rights to maintain diplomatic relations with Spain when Franco was dictator. Beggars cannot be choosers.

What is not acceptable is elevating despots like Mugabe, Qaddafi and Ahmadinejad into revolutionaries even though they have had confrontations with imperialism. We are not trying to build an anti-imperialist movement. Our goal instead is to build a socialist movement, which is alone capable of ridding the world of capitalism. In the final analysis, imperialism is the latest stage of capitalism and not some new economic system.

Of course, the consequence of Chavez's support for Gaddafi is that it will discredit him and the Bolivarian Revolution with many people around the world who have been sympathetic to it. It legitimizes rightist claims that Chavez will, if necessary, use whatever force is necessary to preserve his power. Never mind that Chavez is noteworthy for his refusal to order the mass suppression of the opposition in Venezuela after the 2002 coup and the 2002-2003 strike at the state run PDVSA oil company, a strike instigated by the opposition to bring about the sort of economic chaos that lead to the coup against Allende in 1973. Never mind that he thereafter proceeded to defend himself politically in an August 2004 referendum on the question of his removal from office. Now, the methods of Gaddafi are associated with the methods of Chavez. Beyond that, it discredits the internationalism of anti-imperialism and socialism through the association of them with kleptocratic dictators like Gaddafi.

Sadly, Chavez, as well as President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, have created a fissure between leftists in South America and Arabs in North Africa and Middle East, people who, as already noted, find themselves struggling against similar forms of oppression. Superficially, there appears to be a different social context in the current protests, one in which the middle class, people within the military, concerned about their economic privileges, and even heretofore longtime supporters of the regimes participate, but it does not justify a dismissive attitude towards them. Upon closer examination, such a process, marked by the specific conditions of the Arab countries in question, is actually somewhat similar to the ones that resulted in the elections of Chavez and Lula. Even if the composition and conduct of these movements can be described as objectionable in some way from a left perspective, it does not necessarily invalidate them as ones that faciliate the eventual defeat of imperialism and capitalism, as Proyect observes by reference to Lenin's positive response to the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland.

Lenin understood that if one insists upon a properly constituted revolutionary movement before proceeding to participate, then one would be waiting a very long time indeed, perhaps forever. Back in the 1990s, Chavez had a similar understanding, when he distanced himself from the more radical leftist groups in Venezuela because of what he considered their unrealistic expectations as to how Venezuela could be transformed. Chavez recognized that, in such a situation, the left must seek to present a plausible, persuasive critique of the existing social order and offer a credible alternative, which he did, quite effectively. With his support for Gaddafi, he has drifted away from his past history of left pragmatism. We can only hope that it has not already created an irreparable separation between the leftists of South America and the revolutionaries of the Arab world, a separation that can only serve to perpetuate US global influence and capitalism.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 17) 

As explained here. Not surprisingly, one of my senators, Dianne Feinstein, is primarily concerned about budget cuts that would affect water deliveries to agribusiness.

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