Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Awful Truth: There is No Santa Claus. posted by lenin

"But what becomes of the Santa Claus when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme authority, simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or is it volatilized into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination - the visible machinery of icons being substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of Santa Claus? This is precisely what was feared by the Iconoclasts, whose millenial quarrel is still with us today. Their rage to destroy images rose precisely because they sensed this omnipotence of simulacra, this facility they have of effacing Santa Claus from the consciousness of men, and the overwhelming, destructive truth which they suggest: that ultimately there has never been any Santa Claus, that only the simulacrum exists, indeed that Santa Claus himself has only ever been his own simulacrum." - Ecclesiastes.

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A Christmas Carol posted by lenin

Silent night
Holy night
All is calm
All is bright.

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Happy Little Elves. posted by lenin

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Chavs" posted by lenin

I am so sick of hearing about this shit. Alright, I get the joke: poverty is big fucking laugh, and anyone who gets ideas above their station (for instance, saves money to buy Burberry gear) is clearly readying themselves for social ridicule. This pathetic, obnoxious middle-class party conversation point is so openly class-supremacist that pointing it out defeats satire. Take this website, which describes the poor who have to eat at McDonalds and whose only social frisson is donning branded sports gear as "Britain's new ruling class". What a service to the actual ruling class that is - those who are accoutured in bespoke suits and leather loafers, whose teeth are perfectly formed, and whose fingers and nails are perpetually manicured.

"Chavscum", as the website is so enlighteningly named, is replete with working class vulgarity that university educated, sneering, 'ironic' liberals can guffaw about. The images are the most potent message, and they do a better job at relaying class-hatred than all of New Labour's subliminal messages about the deserving and undeserving poor ever could. If Blair wanted to justify benefit cuts, he could not say himself that the poor only spend this money on bookies, pubs and drugs. He would have to rely on liberal intellectuals like David Aaronovitch to do it for him. (Delegating nastiness is New Labour's modus operandi). And if he wanted to jusify ASBOs, on-the-spot fines and tougher rules to put them fags out, he'd have no better alibi than this ridiculous cultural pustulation about 'chavs'. And of course, multinationals who purvey mythologies about 'real' brands are immensely assisted by those who deride 'chavs' for wearing 'counterfeit' clothing or jewellery (as if the brand itself was anything more than a signifier of 'authenticity').

Oh, their scorn for the working class woman who happens to be either up the duff or with child is most amusing. (Single mothers, too, deserve to have their benefits cut.) If such a woman dyes her hair and pulls it back in a pony tail, this is known either as a 'Croydon facelift' or a 'council house facelift'. If she pushes a pram along, she is a 'pramface'. This naked and unadorned hatred for the working class could not be made more apparent by adornment, and yet it is accepted because the stilleto knife is coated with the unction of 'satire' before slid between the ribs. Poisonous as it is, the main point is that someone who isn't me is having the piss taken out of them. Shit comics like Jimmy Carr make a living out of that. You can be as vile as you like about fat women, mother-in-laws and even members of your audience, provided it is presented on the prettifying chopping board of irony. 'Little Britain', similarly, provides an 'ironic' veneer for social resentment (of 'chavs', wheelchair layabouts, gays etc), validating the undercurrents of hatred that it purports to satirise.

This is the striking thing about the 'chavs' phenomena - its micro-progenitors are often middle class 'liberals', racist, classist and ignorant to the very marrow, yet who operate under the strange illusion that they are enlightened, liberal, anti-racist while it is their designated 'chavs' who are racist, sexist, vulgar etc.

The discourse is notable for one other curiosity - it 'ethnicises' poverty. K-Punk asked some while back: "Why is it that the desire to eliminate poverty - which, presumably, we all share - inevitably becomes a desire to eliminate the poor? It is because, in capitalist ideology, poverty has to be thought of as an ethnic, rather than a social or economic, trait? The poor are those who are genetically destined to fail, those who lack 'middle-class skills' as the Herald and Tribune put it the other day". The very word 'chav' appears to derive from the 'gypsy' word 'chavo' meaning 'little person'. It has long been used in the South East, and has now become a chic reference for 'culturally aware' apolitical liberals. Often it is the same people who indulge in gypsy-bashing who retail the schtick. They also seem to be the same who purvey and circulate the hysteria about "hoodies". Much of the e-mail traffic in workplaces is saturated with knowing references to this sort of shit. Office workers, unaware that they are allowed their e-mail and internet usage as a means of releasing job resentment, indulge in it as if it were slightly subversive and witty. And the news media, forever amused by the sumptuary proclivities of the working class, feed off this meme when they illustrate their stories about late night drinking with footage of some pissed women falling on their arses and disporting themselves across the pavement.

I can't say I wish these fervid nightmarish imaginings about the working class (violent, drunk, uncouth, branded, depoliticised, unsophisticated, thuggish etc) were expressed more honestly. Because they couldn't be expressed more honestly. It is exhibited in front of your very nose, and you are invited to revel in it. The victims of the Thatcherite purge on welfare and unions, of the atomisation and deprivation that this has produced, are now to be endlessly mocked for their condition, and this is authorised by the hilarity about "chavs". What a larf.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Johann Hari, liberalism, Islamism, Palestine and more discursive debris. posted by lenin

While you puny earthlings have been working, travelling on the tube, and pursuing similarly contemptible human pursuits, I have been lying around on the sofa with my fingers prodding several orifices, reading newspapers and books. Today, boys and girls, I read Johann Hari, for perhaps the first time in months. I'll give Hari this: unlike most of his colleagues at the Independent, he does appear to read the very occasional book or two. He still evinces extraordinary ignorance, of course, not least when confronted with a left-wing intellectual whom he can't possibly match (Derrida, Negri, Pinter, Chomsky, Hobsbawm etc). I recall when he was still doing his best to land a few blows on George Galloway, and he claimed (in his "review" of Galloway's book) that 800,000 Jews were 'ethnically cleansed' from Arab countries after 1948. I won't disclose private correspondence, but his reply when asked about this raised a chuckle or two, reminding me of the gentleman who when asked by Mark Twain if he believed in baptism replied "Believe in it? Hell, I've seen it done!" (If anyone is interested in the actual history of the Jewish exodus to Israel, you could do worse than read, for instance, Abbas Shiblak's Iraqi Jews: A History of Mass Exodus, 2005, which documents the complicity between the Jewish Agency in Israel and the pro-British Hashemite monarchy in forcing Jews to flee Iraq. Just like the Mizrahi Jews of the Maghreb, the Sephardic Jews in Arab countries were treated by the Zionists as a pool of useful labour, not to mention as footsoldiers for expansionist war).

Well, anyway, here he is again, worrying about the success of Hamas in the Palestinian elections. As a good liberal secularist, he is horrified at the prospect that Hamas will now use its power to oppress women and gays, which is a reasonable and valid concern (unless the whole thing is harnessed to an apologia for Israel, in which case it becomes an empty shell, a fascia, a simulation of principle). I can't accuse Hari of being anything but a liberal two-stater on that matter, however, and there are worse things to be. A few glaring moments caught my eye, however. For instance:

Palestinian identity has evolved many times since it was first smelted in reaction to Zionism in the 1930s and 40s. At first, the Palestinians saw themselves primarily as Arabs and looked to the rest of the Arab world – led by Colonel Nasser – to destroy the "Zionist entity" and restore them to their homes. This pan-Arabism died on the battlefields of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It was replaced with a more local, romantic Palestinian nationalism – familiar to Europeans – that reveres the peasant and the shepherd and dreams of reaping the land. It focused on Yassir Arafat and his Fatah Party.

Here, the glibness and snarkiness that is the hallmark of liberal journalistic idiom is encapsulated. By mere insinuation, one is led to the supposition that there is a causal chain leading from Palestinian identity to their dependence upon Arab regimes and thence to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Forget, if you like, that Palestinian identity could be said to pre-date the 1930s and 40s (Arab states recognised Palestine as an independent, sovereign identity in 1921, and as Rashid Khalidi shows in Palestinian Identity: The Formation of Modern National Consciousness, 1996, there is a case for dating a unique Palestinian identity that superseded Arab nationalism well before that - histories of the Palestinian people by Baruch Kimmgerling & Joel S Midgal as well as Ilan Pappe locate its origins in the 1834 revolt against Pashim). The reliance of the Palestinians on Arab leaders resulted partially from the feudal social structure and the consequences of the 1936-9 upheavals. The feudal structure placed families, often hostile to one another, at the head of the Palestinian national movement. And it was leading notables like Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem and head of the “political wing of the Arab Higher Committee”, were responsible for allowing the initiative in the Palestinian cause to be appropriated by Arab states, preventing the establishment of independent institutions and leadership. I hope I don't need to explain why the ethnically cleansed and scattered Palestinian populace then took a couple of decades to develop resilient nationalist structures, particularly under the watchful eye of the pro-Zionist Hashemite police state in Jordan. Further, the British exiled much of the leadership as part of its crackdown on the revolt. What is more, the 1967 war was really more to do with Israeli expansionism in the 'demilitarized zones' as well as its opportunistic carping over the Tiran Straits 'blockade' than a Nasserist attempt to crack the 'Zionist entity'. By all accounts, this was a war that neither Nasser nor the Syrian leadership, nor especially the Jordanian leadership wanted. See any number of books by Yapp, Shlaim, Kimmerling, Pappe, Finkelstein etc for a thorough account of that war if curiosity really prods your divinely shaped rear.

Also noticeable is that Johann must think he is providing an unusually sympathetic portrayal of the Palestinians here, and yet he cannot help but describe every stage of alleged Palestinian identity with condescension and derision, from Colonel Nasser to idle rural nationalist fantasies and now to the dread "Islamism". Then there's this:

Has ethnic cleansing, topped with four decades of occupation and bone-breaking, driven the Palestinians so crazy that they will turn to this?

And this:

The Hamas victory is an urgent tick-tock underneath Ariel Sharon’s hospital bed. The longer this occupation goes on, the more enraged, incoherent and fundamentalist the Palestinian people will become. The annexation of a great chunk of the West Bank will simply be a continuation of the occupation by other means. If Sharon sticks to his current mockery of a peace plan and continues to rule out “any possibility of a return to the 1967 borders”, his people will be locked in a bloody tango with Islamic fundamentalism for another century.

The 'again' in the last sentence is redundant, since Israel has been in conflict with no one or nothing for a century, least of all 'Islamic fundamentalism'. But the penny drops: this is a plea to the supremacist Israeli state to cease winding up the Arabs so much, lest they go Islamic and "fundamentalist", become "incohrent". And "fundamentalism" undergoes some curious shifts in definition. To attenuate the notion that Palestinians really voted for "Islamism", Hari remarks that: "To gain mainstream support, Hamas has had to flirt with a ceasefire and indicate it would accept a two-state solution along the 1967 border." The axis of acceptability has shifted from treatment of homosexuals and women to one's attitude to Zionism.

This reminds me of Johann's reaction to the July 7th bombings, in which he wrote that "The best way to undermine the jihadists is to trigger a rebellion of Muslim women". This is to be achieved by implementing Irshad Manji's idea(!) of instituting a system of low-interest loans for women across the Middle East to set up businesses. Muslim women, then, if they are not concerned about usury are at least desperate to join the petit-bourgeoisie. This suggestion presumably strikes Hari as a deft combination of munificence and strategic prowess, and yet the New Labour idiotology underlying it is glaringly apparent. "Jihadis" are to be brought to heel by a Western-created class of female employers, Prada-wearing, maid-owning, 'empowered' women who idolise their 'assertive' role models in Sex and the City. Feminism is to be subsumed into a movement of US-sponsored poujadistes. This troop of would-be Irshad Manjis, aspiring capitalists, will march on every mosque and announce to the mujahids secreted within that they have replaced religious garb with Jimmy Choo high heels and lipstick - to which, the "jihadis" will reply: "you're too late, the Taliban have already tried that." This imaginary social force, which is supposed to be seeded and fertilised by the West, will not think of anything so distant to their immediate interests as colonialism and imperialism - heaven forfend! - but shall instead think of how rich and free they will be when they turn Arabia into wholly owned subsidiary of the United States.

There is an even more grotesque notion at work in Hari's thought here: Muslim women are posited as an inert mass to be operated on by cunning anti-terror strategists, with no agency of their own. Meanwhile, who are these "jihadis"? The term is a suitably vague one, and so is widely used since it appears to mean something and conveys and appropriately condemnatory stance. The term connotes more than it denotes: "Jihadis" are wicked, evil people, who chop off heads, kidnap civilians, crash planes into buildings and blow themselves up on a crowded London Underground. Yet, in simple terms, it denotes any fighter for a cause using any method, and who can be found to be doing so in the name of some variant of Islam. Movements from the FLN moujahidine to the Palestinian and Lebanese groups with some affiliation to Political Islam to the Iraqi resistance, can be "jihadis". The use of the term is that it obliterates all distinctions and provides a negative mirror to Western self-adulating fantasies. The old word would have been "terrorists", which isn't without its own problems of consistency, but being a "jihadi" appears to be worse - as if being Muslim while detonating a bomb somehow compounds the offense.

This is all part of Hari's version of the Prime Minister's "evil ideology" thesis. "Islamism" is merely spread - like a contagion, one assumes - through various vectors like mosques, universities and secret gatherings in that reputedly enclosed community (how are they so unresponsive to the White Man's Serenade?). Hari's psychologising - Islamism's adherents are all, apparently, sexually repressed, hence the armies of female antibodies - is really diagonisis and suggested cure all at once. And if the phenomenon cannot be medicalised, phrenologised, then it remains an inexplicable eeeevillll, issuing from the heart of darkness.

Call me an idle fantasist, but there will be a time when even liberals will resile from these synecdoches, cliches, and cynosures of imperialist discourse: when the decadence of empire is more apparent than it already is, perhaps. The perceptual violence wreaked by this intellectual clutter will be so embarrassingly apparent that only the lunatic right will avail itself of such rhetoric. And again, I don't think I am being hopelessly Whiggish when I suppose that there may also be a time when liberals will not try to master oppressed groups whom they purport to support. Every declaration of such support will not be appended with a series of prefatory clauses, conditions and stern instructions that insists the group lives up to one's ego-ideal of secular, liberal and - oh dear me, yes - 'nonviolent' resistance. They will not try to make every movement congruent with their own attachment to capitalist democracy. They will engage with the oppressed as equals, with a right to articulate their own narrative about their suffering and elaborate their own strategies for dealing with its causes - not uncritically, but without continually asserting their right as Western liberals to demand some emollient unction for their residual prejudices. And they will be humble enough not to pretend to enlighten their readers as to the history and background of the oppressed unless they have also taken the trouble to know of which they speak. You may call me a dreamer, and indeed I do colour my dreams with Johann Hari - but I know, reader, I am not the only one.

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New York Strike. posted by lenin

Watch this very closely:

New York transit workers walked off the job for the first time in 25 years on Tuesday, stranding millions of people who rely on the bus and subway system each day.

Last-ditch talks between the Transport Workers Union and the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority collapsed shortly before a 12:01 a.m. (0501 GMT) strike deadline when the union rejected the MTA's offer and left the bargaining table.

"Transit workers are tired of being underappreciated and disrespected," TWU chief Roger Toussaint said in announcing the walkout about three hours after the deadline.

"The Local 100 has voted overwhelmingly to extend strike action to all MTA properties immediately," he added, referring to the union that represents 34,000 transit workers.

The strike shut down the entire subway and bus system, which carries 7 million daily passengers, and promised to cause an arduous if not chaotic morning rush hour.

As dawn approached, police set up checkpoints as part of a plan to ban cars carrying fewer than four people from midtown Manhattan. The city has contingency plans such as strict car pool rules to help avoid gridlock.

Isn't it interesting that the only time the United States government shows any interest in reducing the use of cars is when they're on a strike-breaking contingency plan?

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Morales wins Bolivian election. posted by lenin

With 51% of the vote:

"We have a responsibility to change Bolivia's history," Morales — who has vowed to roll back the U.S.-funded drug war here and hike taxes on foreign energy companies — said in a rousing victory speech. "We must get rid of the neo-liberal (economic) model and our status as a colony."

More here.

Morales is, importantly, the first South American Indian to lead a government in the continent. He has already credited the insurgency of Bolivian workers and peasants with having produced his victory, as well he might. Morales didn't lead this movement, and tended to lag behind in terms of his demands, but I suspect that - like Chavez - he has been radicalised by a recognition of what he owes to the masses. It is worth bearing in mind that Morales accepted the deal to help end the strikes and revolt earlier this year on the advice of various Latin American leaders, including Chavez. There are good reasons to suppose that if too much faith is placed in Morales, the revolt will find its terminus in another failed neoliberal government like Lula's in Brazil.

However, much more important for now is that Bolivia has elected a leftwing leader from the workers' movement who intends to cease the promulgation of an economic model and orthodoxy that is robbing Bolivian workers blind and working them to death. Latin America is slipping out of the hands of the US and its client ruling classes, and is limited to failing covert policies to try and retrieve it.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Iraq Elections: What's Changed? posted by lenin

Peshmerga and Badr Corps interfere with voting. Dead Men Vote. United Iraqi Alliance claims victory.

Baghdad Burning wrote some while back that many secular voters might back Iyad Allawi's list, despite his backing the atrocities in Fallujah, because "He who sees death, is content with a fever." I doubt the vote for Allawi will be very much more significant than it was in January. The LA Times indicates that Allawi has not done very well at all.

One thing that has changed however is the alignment within the Shi'ite voting bloc. It appears that the Sadrists did better than any other partner in the UIA coalition, and that the SCIRI did rather badly. (See Cole's caveats on this). Also, of course, the Sunni Arab voters who had largely boycotted the vote last time round voted in very large numbers this time. Adnan al-Dulaimi of the National Concord Front, an Islamist group, thanked the resistance for protecting voting booths, as they had during the constitutional referendum. He also indicated his willingness to join in a coalition with Shi'ites, Kurds, or indeed anyone who will reject "communal dispensations". The other major winner from the elections is Salih Mutlak, a secular Arab nationalist who has been doing the rounds on television denouncing the occupation.

There is an awful lot of talk, and rather too much of it, from Bush and his apologists to indicate that the US thinks the vote will now start to swing things its way. Sunnis (and, one might add, Sadrists) embracing 'the democratic process' is allegedly going to staunch the flow of violence, isolate the evildoers and allow the US to begin withdrawing troops. We've got to hear the last of this stupidity soon. The US resisted having any kind of elections to begin with, only ceding them when the SCIRI threatened to join the armed insurrection. Now that there have been elections, the US candidate has been creamed twice. The only question for the US is just how adamantly against the occupation the government is likely to be, how easily it can be bought off, how much they can temporise, how quickly their vast bases can be built and protected. For this much is transparent: the US has no intention of withdrawing. It may well wish to make some reduction in the open presence of troops in Iraqi towns and cities, diminish the exposure of soldiers to enemy fire and generally retreat to its bases. There may be some draw down in the numbers come March 2006. But then again, perhaps not. Either way, this will not be the beginning of the end of US troops in Iraq.

Nor, to tarry with the negative, do these elections signify the end of the resistance, armed or unarmed. There has been a clear shift in tactics by the resistance, which started well before the elections. I don't know whether suicide bombings will end as such - initially, much of this aspect of the resistance was driven by advice from Hamas, not by the Salafis. But there is a dual politico-military approach emerging. The new strategy is, as Juan Cole points out, much more like Irish Republicanism's bullet and the ballot box strategy than a farewell to arms. It is reported, in fact, that the nationalist resistance is about to "announce a Front for the Iraqi Resistance", to be led by a Consultative Council with the aim of ending attacks on civilians and expelling the occupiers. The Iraqi National Foundation Congress is, I am told, moving to fulfill its name and become a political front for all anti-occupation forces. The occupiers really aren't entitled to their unworldly confidence.

In other election news: The Democrats will not take a position on Iraq in 2006. The major opposition party not taking a stance the most important foreign policy decision taken by the incumbent government - I don't think there is a word for just how gutless, venal and pathetic this is.

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WTO deal a sham. posted by lenin

Focus on the Global South:

“This text is a recipe for disaster, and many developing countries will not be able convince people back home that they have come back with a good deal. The intention of the final G20 meeting headed by Brazil’s Celso Amorin and India’s Kamal Nath was to compliment one another to cover up the fact that they have agreed to a disaster,” said Dr Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South.

In agreeing to slash tariffs in their agricultural, services and industrial markets, developing countries sanction of the text is a failure for development and a victory for corporate globalisation.

On export subsidies, the EC is extracting a high price, in return for doing nothing. A large proportion of EU supports go into subsidizing exports. However, only a small part is classified as export subsidies. Most fall into the WTO-legal “Green Box” which has escaped disciplines in the current negotiations.

‘The G20 has sold the developing countries out. They know well, that there are no real cuts in domestic supports and export subsidies by the EU or US with this text. This is a box-shifting exercise and EU export subsidies will simply still take place in another form to the tune of 55 billion Euros per year,” said Aileen Kwa of Focus on the Global South.

“India and Brazil have led the developing countries down the garden path in exchange for some market access in agriculture for Brazil, and services outsourcing for India.”

Despite a completely hollow package on agriculture, the developing world has been forced to swallow the bitter pill of aggressive services market access. The text sanctions the launch of sectoral negotiations, which will force developing countries to provide foreign investors with the same rights as local suppliers. This would lock up their ability to develop their own services sectors. The G90 along with countries such as Venezuela, Cuba fought a valiant battle to preserve the flexible nature of the GATS but they were thwarted with Brazil and India joining hands with the US and EU.

‘It’s clear once again that the WTO cannot subordinate the narrow goals of market access and trade liberalisation to the genuine concerns of development,’ said Dr. Bello.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hong Kong protester dead. posted by lenin

I've just had a quick message from Guy Taylor, the Tomb's correspondent at the Hong Kong protests to indicate that one demonstrator has died in hospital. The state has embarked on a huge spree of violence against the protests. The BBC reports:

Protesters with bamboo sticks stormed police lines, as officers used pepper spray and batons to push them back.

Nine hundred demonstrators have been "rounded up", police say, and are being held on a road near the talks venue.

Bamboo sticks? How does one "storm" several lines of shielded, tooled-up riot police with fucking bamboo sticks? Bamboo is what they use to make Kendo sticks, so I'm sure Hong Kong's finest thugs can handle it. Especially if they have pepper spray handy. Nevertheless, the tactic of 'rounding up' and isolating hundreds of protesters in small spaces where you can kick the fuck out of them without anyone noticing is fairly familiar, and not just from Genoa.

One reason why they've decided to turn nasty on the protests is that they are having the desired effect: emboldening poor and developing countries to unite against an imposed deal. The talks may be near collapse, which is the best thing that could happen under the circumstances.

Aside from Guy Taylor's regular dispatches, you can follow the protests here.

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BBC & Cultural Hegemony posted by lenin

Well, this is a perfect example of what Joseph Nye calls "soft power":

The BBC World Service announced Tuesday it would close 10 foreign language radio services, mostly to eastern Europe, and open an Arabic-language television news and information service in the Middle East.

BBC Arabic Television Service- is to broadcast 12 hours a day across the Middle East, beginning in 2007, and will be free to anyone with a satellite or cable connection.

The move will make the BBC the only"tri-media international news provider offering Arabic news and current affairs on television, radio and online," the company said in a news release.

Broadcasts in Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai will stop by the end of March 2006.

Hosam el-Sokkari, head of the BBC's Arabic Service, said there was no political motivation behind the new Arab channel. It will be"there to inform, educate and entertain, not to take part in the political process," he told reporters.

The new Arabic TV channel was formed at the request of the British Foreign Office, which funds the World Service through a direct grant worth 239 million pounds in 2005-2006.

The BBC has a mythical reputation among some as an impartial, quality provider of news and information about world events. I have never found it to be that, exactly. For instance, a study of reporting of the Iraq war conducted across five countries found that the BBC had the least expression of antiwar views, a mere 2 per cent of its coverage. (And don't we remember the demobilising saga of endless military experts, punditry, guesswork, false stories fed by the army etc?). Then there was its retailing of fake news fed to it by the MoD. And of course, there was the hiring of the disgusting big-eared lout Andrew Marr as political editor, a man who announced when he took the job that his Organs of Opinion had been removed, and then creamed his pants over the Iraq war. And yet, despite all, the BBC has been a very effective signifier of quality and depth which, as the Foreign Office notes, enhances Britain's reputation across the world, even as 'hard power' makes its effects felt in Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, Palestine, Aceh etc etc.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

US Tortures its Own Prisoners. posted by lenin

We used to hear quite a bit, and no doubt will hear more in the future about official enemies torturing their own people (the implication being that torturing Others, as the CIA did, was perfectly natural). Well, forget about that for a second: are you still shocked by this? Click on the link, and watch the video of a BBC4 documentary that shows US prison guards torturing prisoners - in some cases to death. If the treatment of these prisoners is disgusting, you won't be able to contain your revulsion at the rhetorical strategies used to justify this behaviour. The prisoners, some of them mentally ill, are dehumanised beyond belief; the Sherrif in charge of the revolting prison in Phoenix takes pleasure in putting the prisoners down and hearing of how tough his regime is; some of the prison guards display lumpen arrogance and conceit.

If for any reason you can't watch the video, there's a brief synopsis by the documentary's author, Deborah Davies, on the site:

The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’

If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.

Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.

Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.

Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.

The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.

And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.

But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas.

And so how can this be surprising, given the kind of state we are discussing? How can Abu Ghraib be a surprise? We knew that the CIA had been using torture for decades. We knew that the US government was prepared to murder its own citizens - in Waco, on Ruby Ridge, in John Africa's community, and now also in New Orleans. The cops shoot people to death quite frequently, as they are increasingly doing in the UK. There were reports of torture and ritual beatings in the US before. But it's the first time I've ever seen it on video footage. And it needs to be said, and repeated and amplifed: the US government tortures its own people. And some are prepared to trust these people, these sociopaths, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Haiti?

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International Peace Conference: Tomb report posted by Meaders

I was a delegate at the International Peace Conference, organised by the UK Stop the War Coalition last Saturday. Tomb comments box habitue Roobin, now blogging at Through the Scary Door, also went, and has excerpts from some of the speeches. Some of these were outstanding, most especially those of the ex-soldiers. Ben Grier’s is worth excerpting:

“Until June this year I was a soldier in the SAS and was serving in Iraq. What’s going on there is like a gold rush town in 19th century America.

“The indigenous people are having a way of life forced on them on the one side, on the other multinational corporations are plundering resources and making money out of the people’s misery.

“Look at what’s happened over the last eight years. In 1997 we were told we would have an ethical foreign policy. Now we have become the lap dogs of US imperialism.

“We are supposedly fighting for democracy, but Tony Blair is ripping apart democracy at home.

“I volunteered nine years ago, but I have to say I was wrong to go to Iraq. I have recovered broken bodies from the battlefield and all for what? It was for the interests of the multinational companies.

“I volunteered for the army. But the Iraqis didn’t volunteer for ten years of sanctions, to be invaded, for the destruction of their country or for production sharing agreements that drain the country’s oil wealth.

“They didn’t volunteer to have thousands of mercenaries roaming the country and doing what they want. They didn’t volunteer for white phosphorous, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

“You face a moral dilemma in the army. You are trained to follow orders, but you also have a moral obligation to do what is right. Standing by while others commit crimes makes you guilty as well.

“And history has shown that using the excuse that you were only following orders is unacceptable.”

Andy McNab it ain’t, thankfully. Kelly Dougherty, from US-based Iraq Veterans Against the War, was also superb, and managed to avoid the slightly apologetic tone some of the US speakers affected. Roobin picked up on this as well: the US delegates don't seem to have quite the confidence yet that they don’t need to keep apologising for opposing the war. Partly this is can be blamed on the Bush regime’s mobilisation of 9/11 to whip up popular bellicosity, and the subsequent squeezing of dissent. Partly, though, given the increasing unpopularity of both Bush and his wars, at least some of the soft-footing results from the long-standing attachment of the US Left to the Democratic Party, and the catastrophic self-inflicted defeat this lead to last November. Cindy Sheehan managed to break some of the consequences of that defeat over the summer, with her Bush ranch encampment, but her own speech was amongst the softest of the day.

Good, also, was Ayatollah Khalisi, from the Iraqi National Foundation Conference. It’s always difficult to know precisely how representative anyone and anything is; the IFNC has been around for some time now, aiming to function as a united, non-sectarian political voice for opposition to the occupation, but how genuinely representative it is inside Iraq is hard to judge. Nonetheless, Khalisi gave a speech that, deficiencies in simultaneous translation allowed for, did all the right things: stressing the importance of unity amongst Iraqis and the need for international solidarity, in particular. (You can get a flavour of it from the short interview here.)

I strongly suspect his views are broadly in line with what Iraqis in general think, and polling evidence certainly points that way, but the structure of the colonial set-up now in place in Iraq functions very effectively to create and exacerbate confessional divisions. Perhaps the biggest challenge the resistance faces is not so much defeating the occupation as such - fighting them to a standstill, as it were - but in creating the necessary conditions by which defeat becomes possible. That means building unity against the occupiers, and so it was important to have a Shi'a leader speaking on the Peace Conference platform. It would have been better still to also have Moqtada al-Sadr’s representative speak, but – in an predictable, and political, move – he was refused a visa by the Foreign Office.

There should, one hopes, be howls of outrage from the assorted colonial “liberals” at the very idea that an Ayatollah would be speaking at a left-wing political meeting. The guy had a turban and a big bushy beard, and not once did he pronounce his support for the Enlightenment- indecency! for shame! Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, gave the best possible response to this whole faux-Left folderol:

[Hayes] warned that this solidarity [with Iraqi trade unionists] must not come at the expense of opposition to the US-led occupation of the country. “Those who say these links are more important than getting the troops out of Iraq are missing the point,” he said.

“If a country is occupied, sending trade unionists a few typewriters is no substitute for campaigning to get those troops out of that country.”

Nice one, Billy: of all the stupid arguments advanced in support of the occupation, perhaps the most stupid was that the trade union struggle would serenely continue as if nothing untoward was happening in a country occupied by 140,000 foreign troops. It was either stupid, or thoroughly dishonest: an underhanded attempt to undermine the fight for the liberation of Iraq, now given a spurious left-wing gloss.

But what did the Conference achieve? First, rounding up 1,500 delegates from the UK, the US, Iraq, Iran and the wider Middle East is an achievement in itself. There’s no doubt that the anti-war movement, in the UK and internationally, has been given a boost by this. Second, the conference endorsed a call for mass protests on the anniversary of the invasion next year. There’s the real possibility, now, of ensuring that those marching in London and Washington will be matched by those in Baghdad and Basra: that’s real international solidarity. The pressure the occupation exerts on both US and UK governments has never eased. The more we in the movement here can do to bear down on Bush and Blair, the closer we get to ending the occupation. We can chalk up last Saturday’s conference as an unqualified success.

Update: Kevin Zeese was there, too, and his report's a somewhat fuller account. (via)

5:27:00 PM | Permalink | | | Print

Another World is Possible. posted by lenin

Photos courtesy of Guy Taylor.

9:45:00 AM | Permalink | | | Print

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Anti-capitalism hits Hong Kong: Kong Yee Sai Mau! posted by lenin

The irony is that the only way to have prevented waves of anti-capitalist protesters from taking to Hong Kong over the latest round of world trade talks would have been to have China annexe the former colony. The alternative to that has been to deploy the classic methods of dissimulation about the protests: worry and gripe about 'violence', make the odd contemptuous concession to the Geldof-Oxfam spectrum of feed-the-world opinion and reproduce the protest slogans without explanation so as to make them appear absurd. Like this, this, this and this.

The issues are concisely summarised by Nurul Qoiriah of the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Union and Focus on the Global South:

Under Gats one country may request another country to open up several service sectors, but the requested government is also free to offer only those it is willing to open up, or even not to make any offers at all.

The Hong Kong text subverts this. It stipulates that the requested countries shall enter into negotiations. And, once this happens, all manner of pressure can be applied.

“Model agreements” will be set up to privatise and liberalise key sectors, and these will then be generalised.

WTO director-general Pascal Lamy tries to cover this up with the offer of “Aid for Trade”. This is a ploy to confuse and weaken the resistance of developing countries as the programme only goes towards building the capacity of developing countries to implement agreements that they were forced to accept in the first place.

The text on agriculture reflects the positions of exporting countries and the interests of their agribusiness. Despite longstanding demands to cut their direct and indirect export subsidies, the tabled proposals are “paper-cuts” that do not change the status quo in favour of developing countries.

Instead, what the European Union and the US have done is reinforce the imbalance by expanding the “Blue Box” (subsidies which are on hold and not for immediate removal), which will allow an additional US $5 billion of farm support for the US and the maintenance of the “Green Box” (permitted subsidies) which the European Commission will use for its agribusiness support.

The text also does not give any date for an end to export subsidies.

Such subsidies, which are largely provided to the biggest producers and their agribusiness as opposed to family farm based agriculture, will be allowed to continue unabated.

In return for this, developing countries are expected to fully open their markets through drastic tariff reduction and to cut their remaining, if any, domestic supports.

It is impossible to see how this agreement, which threatens to wipe out peasants and small farmers, can be classified as a “development round”.

The Non-Agricultural Market Access text has been strongly criticised for its bias towards developed countries as it glosses over the wide opposition from least developed and developing countries to the proposals.

The text is a threat to developing countries as the draconian formulas proposed threaten to wipe out their industries and remove any future policy space to determine their own development priorities.

Movements are as one in voicing their opposition to this threat to the world’s peoples. They are intensifying their struggle in order to prevent this deal from going through in the coming WTO ministerial in Hong Kong.

Vandana Shiva:

What is offered as the “Development Package” in the draft Hong Kong declaration of 26th November 2005 is “Aid for Trade” with World Bank and IMF further locking Third World countries in debt through loans for ‘trade related infrastructure” – more ports, more superhighways, leading to more green house gases, more climate change. This is not a “development package” but a recipe for environment disaster. World Bank is also pushing water privatization as trade related infrastructure.

The “Aid for Trade” package is in fact World Bank and IMF loans joining with WTO rules to impose trade liberalization on Third World Countries. Now that the marginalized and excluded players have learnt to exercise their power in WTO through non-cooperation, they are refusing to cooperate with demands for further trade liberalization in agriculture, and introduction of trade liberalization in services and industrial production. And they need to reject the “Aid of Trade” package in the draft Hong Kong Ministerial Text.


The Draft Hong Kong Declaration is an attempt to retreat from commitments made at Doha. Para 18 of the Doha Declaration addressed the extension of the protection of geographical indications provided for in Article 23 to products other than wines and spirits. These products are of interest to developing countries and include products such as Basmati rice (pirated and patented by Ricetec corporation of Texas) and Darjeeling tea. The Hong Kong Declaration makes no reference to extension of geographical indicators to other products.

Para 19 of Doha was an instruction to undertake the mandatory review of Article 27.3(b) of TRIPS and the review of the implementation of the TRIPS agreement under Article 71.1, taking fully into account the development dimension. The work programme of Para 19 related to review of TRIPS finds no mention in the Hong Kong draft.

The phasing out of export subsidies agreed to in Doha has disappeared in the new text.

The Doha text had reaffirmed “the right of members under the General Agreement on Trade in Services to regulate, and to introduce new regulations on the supply of services”. For Hong Kong this has been diluted to “with due respect to the right to regulate”.

So, we're talking about an attempt to force developing countries to open up their markets to Western capital to the enormous disadvantage of local industries. The quite predictable effect of forcing South Korea to open up its market to international rice producers when its farmers already produce more than the country actually consumes will be to drive farmers out of business. The usual corrollary is that rural workers flee to towns and cities to seek work, and end up in dirty, overcrowded accomodation with exorbitant rents to pay and high levels of unemployment. For those who try to stick it out, there's always poverty and malnutrition. And that just repeats a pattern seen all over the world.

If you want to know what TRIPs are about, consider the attempt by US agribusiness outfit RiceTec to patent a broad range of Basmati rice strains - that is, to own the kinds of rice that Indian farmers have been growing for centuries. Or the attempt to stop India producing cheap AIDS drugs. It is about extending the capitalist logic of turning everything - including killer diseases - into property, and a profit opportunity. You want to know who the businesses are which are pushing for success in this round of trade talks? Consider ABCDoha who regard human rights laws as a "competitive disadvantage". And what exactly is a rules-based global economy under the rubric of the WTO? One in which El Salvador is obliged to reduce its minimum wage from 60 cents an hour to 36 cents an hour because 60 cents is an unfair barrier to trade.

That's the kind of world the capitalist class is trying to construct with the aid of governments and a few coopted NGOs. That is why this round of talks deserves to fail, and why there are protests in Hong Kong. Tomb regular Guy Taylor of Globalise Resistance is blogging the protests at regular interventals, while Focus on the Global South has some excellent material and regular updates.

7:48:00 AM | Permalink | | | Print

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