Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Iraq deaths "could be as high as half a million". posted by lenin

An interesting article on the Lancet study from Andrew Cockburn at Counterpunch:

Seeking further elucidation on the mathematical tools available to reveal the hidden miseries of today's Iraq, I turned to CounterPunch's consultant statistician, Pierre Sprey. He reviewed not only the Iraq study as published in the Lancet, but also the raw data collected in the household survey and kindly forwarded me by Dr. Roberts.

"I have the highest respect for the rigor of the sampling method used and the meticulous and courageous collection of the data. I'm certainly not criticizing in any way Robert's data or the importance of the results. But they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble had they discarded the straitjacket of Gaussian distribution in favor of a more practical statistical approach", says Sprey. "As with all such studies, the key question is that of 'scatter' i.e. the random spread in data between each cluster sampled. So cluster A might have a ratio of twice as many deaths after the invasion as before, while cluster B might experience only two thirds as many. The academically conventional approach is to assume that scatter follows the bell shaped curve, otherwise known as 'normal distribution,' popularized by Carl Gauss in the early 19th century. This is a formula dictating that the most frequent occurrence of data will be close to the mean, or center, and that frequency of occurrence will fall off smoothly and symmetrically as data scatters further and further from the mean - following the curve of a bell shaped mountain as you move from the center of the data.

"Generations of statisticians have had it beaten in to their skulls that any data that scatters does so according to the iron dictates of the bell shaped curve. The truth is that in no case has a sizable body of naturally occurring data ever been proven to follow the curve". (A $200,000 prize offered in the 1920s for anyone who could provide rigorous evidence of a natural occurrence of the curve remains unclaimed.)

"Slavish adherence to this formula obscures information of great value. The true shape of the data scatter almost invariably contains insights of great physical or, in this case medical importance. In particular it very frequently grossly exaggerates the true scatter of the data. Why? Simply because the mathematics of making the data fit the bell curve inexorably leads one to placing huge emphasis on isolated extreme 'outliers' of the data.

"For example if the average cluster had ten deaths and most clusters had 8 to 12 deaths, but some had 0 or 20, the Gaussian math would force you to weight the importance of those rare points like 0 or 20 (i.e. 'outliers') by the square of their distance from the center, or average. So a point at 20 would have a weight of 100 (20 minus 10 squared) while a point of 11 would have a weight of 1 (11 minus 10 squared.)

"This approach has inherently pernicious effects. Suppose for example one is studying survival rates of plant- destroying spider mites, and the sampled population happens to be a mix of a strain of very hardy mites and another strain that is quite vulnerable to pesticides. Fanatical Gaussians will immediately clamp the bell shaped curve onto the overall population of mites being studied, thereby wiping out any evidence that this group is in fact a mixture of two strains.

"The commonsensical amateur meanwhile would look at the scatter of the data and see very quickly that instead of a single "peak" in surviving mites, which would be the result if the data were processed by traditional Gaussian rules, there are instead two obvious peaks. He would promptly discern that he has two different strains mixed together on his plants, a conclusion of overwhelming importance for pesticide application".

(Sprey once conducted such a statistical study at Cornell - a bad day for mites.)

So how to escape the Gaussian distortion?

"The answer lies in quite simple statistical techniques called 'distribution free' or 'non parametric' methods. These make the obviously more reasonable assumption that one hasn't the foggiest notion of what the distribution of the data should be, especially when considering data one hasn't seen -- before one is prepared to let the data define its own distribution, whatever that unusual shape may be, rather than forcing it into the bell curve. The relatively simple computational methods used in this approach basically treat each point as if it has the same weight as any other, with the happy result that outliers don't greatly exaggerate the scatter.

"So, applying that simple notion to the death rates before and after the US invasion of Iraq, we find that the confidence intervals around the estimated 100,000 "excess deaths" not only shrink considerably but also that the numbers move significantly higher. With a distribution-free approach, a 95 per cent confidence interval thereby becomes 53,000 to 279,000. (Recall that the Gaussian approach gave a 95 per cent confidence interval of 8,000 to 194,000.) With an 80 per cent confidence interval, the lower bound is 78,000 and the upper bound is 229,000. This shift to higher excess deaths occurs because the real, as opposed to the Gaussian, distribution of the data is heavily skewed to the high side of the distribution center".

Cockburn adds:

Of course the survey on which all these figures are based was conducted fifteen months ago. Assuming the rate of death has proceeded at the same pace since the study was carried out, Sprey calculates that deaths inflicted to date as a direct result of the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq could be, at best estimate, 183,000, with an upper 95 per cent confidence boundary of 511,000.

In many ways, what we are seeing is a continuation under occupation of the genocidal level of deaths that we witnessed in the 1990s, about which more later.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

"Demographic" business as usual with or without Sharon posted by Levi9909

Ha'aretz reports that there is a "conference to be held on achieving Jewish majority in Acre."

A conference on finding ways to achieve a permanent Jewish majority in Acre is to be held on Sunday in the northern Jewish-Arab city. The convention, the first of its kind, was initiated by the New Forum for Strengthening the Jewish community in Acre, lead by council member Muli Cohen, a member of Mayor Shimon Lankri's faction in the city council.

Over the weekend, Cohen told a local newspaper that Acre has the right to exist as a mixed city only if it has a permanent Jewish majority. "The real solution is to establish appropriate institutions so that the city would be able to receive nationalist ultra-Orthodox families," he told the Zafon1 newspaper.

The Acre municipality said in response that "the mayor supports any activity that may advance the city and bring in strong populations to advance it."

I'm fairly certain that these conferences would still take place without Sharon and even under the Geneva Accords. Worse still, any recommendations they make could still be implemented.

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Readying the Cataclysm. posted by lenin

First of all, on Haiti, I want to know how some reporters can write sentences like "the troubled Caribbean country struggles to hold its first election since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in an armed revolt in February 2004" and still sleep at night. Aristide was deposed by US marines, a straightforward and widely reported fact that was occluded only briefly by a weak lie that Aristide had 'resigned'. The press aren't even bothering to claim that this is the case any more. As for the "struggle" to hold an election, isn't it mind-numbingly obvious that the reason it continues to be put off is because the French-American-Canadian occupation wants to destroy Lavalas and its supporters first?

In this light, I can only agree with Le Colonel Chabert's suggestion that Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, the Brazilian head of the UN forces was whacked on account of some dispute with the new sweatshop-deathsquad rulers. Chabert cites Haiti Action:

Bacellar's death comes on the heels of Boulos's announcement of a nationwide general strike on Monday aimed at forcing the UN mission to get tough with bandits in Cite Soleil. The term "Bandits" is often seen as a code word for Lavalas supporters, and Cite Soleil has served as a launching site for massive demonstrations demanding the return of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Mario Andresol, the current Chief of Police, representing the US-installed government of Gerard Latortue, recently alleged that the community was also being used by Columbian drug traffickers and "certain political forces" to hide victims of a recent spate of kidnappings in the capital.

It transpires that the recent UN assassination of Emmanuel Wilme, a key Lavalas grassroots activist, exacted a heavy toll on civilians in the area. The effort to wipe out the 'street gangs' who are trying to defend themselves and their communities from the revenant genocidaires is clearly being stepped up, and the Haitian ruling class is desperate enough to turn to genocide. If they cannot persuade the UN to provide a humanitarian blue facade for it through a capital strike, who can doubt that they will visit the same cataclysm on Haitians that they did after 1991? It is, after all, what they have been preparing for.

Shortly after the coup in early 2004, Stephen Kerr wrote:

Since 1% of Haitians control 50% of the country’s wealth, and this 1% forms the backbone of opposition to Aristide, the USA, France and Canada were without a large Haitian social base from which to organize effective electoral opposition. Unable to win at the polls, they used their money and connections to arm the convicted criminal military officers and death squad commanders who in 1994 fled to the Dominican Republic and Queens NY. Behold Haiti’s latest coup d’etat, made by our “rebels.” Today armed death squads roam the streets of Haiti, killing their enemies in the streets, while Canadian and US soldiers stand aside.

And why has this hell been unleashed on Haiti? Well, just for example:

As of March 2nd, 2004 Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) states, “some Canadian companies are looking to shift garment production to Haiti.” DFAIT provides research and Haitian contacts through a variety of sub-agencies to Canadian companies that want to exploit low Haitian wages.

Montreal based Gildan Activewear is already subcontracting work to Haitian owned sweatshops, and they have opened a new factory in Port au Prince which employs 400 to 500 people. Gildan, one of the largest T shirt makers in the world, claimed recently to CBC radio to pay its workers a premium on the minimum Haitian wage. However unionized workers at Gildan’s Montreal factory earn more than 10 times the Haitian wage, and unorganized Haitian workers employed by Gildan recently told the CBC that their wages are not enough to live on. With recent increases in the cost of fuel in Haiti – the IMF demanded it be deregulated and the price has soared – Haitian workers have once again been demanding their minimum wage of 36 Gourdes per day be increased to keep up with inflation.

But what’s bad for Haitian workers - low wages and appalling conditions - are good business for the T shirt trade. At the time of writing, a blank Gildan T sells on Ebay for about $1.25. It’s a volume business, our appetite for T shirts. Gildan’s sales have nearly doubled, from $344 million in 1999 to $630 million in 2003. In the same period Gildan stock soared on the Toronto Stock Exchange from $5 to $44 per share. According to UNITE, Gildan has received over $3 million dollars of federal subsidies while it contemplated moving production offshore.


Haitian union organizers understand their situation well. According to one, “The general weakness of the bourgeoisie…makes it extremely ferocious toward the working class, seeing it as merely a means to extract the maximum profits. To do this the local bourgeoisie leans on the imperialists who, as bandleaders, manipulate and organize the forces of repression, still in the hands of the paramilitary Ton-tons Macoutes….They refuse workers any form of the historical social gains long acquired by the working class internationally and established by national legislation yet constantly violated by the bosses. By denying sick leave, pensions, severance pay, and so on, the Haitian and foreign capitalists can expect to receive super-profits in Haiti.” Your tax dollars at work, financing state terror.

Indeed, as Penny Green and Tony Ward write in State Crimes: Governments, Violence, and Corruption (Pluto Press, 2003), there is a close correlation between the level of state violence and the ability of the ruling class to satisfy demands emanating from below while remaining profitable. In particular, they note the contrast between different Latin American states in the US-sponsored drive to crush the workers and peasant movements during the 1980s:

Honduras in the 1980s faced a rebel threat of comparable severity to those in Guatemala and El Salvador, but although it employed a CIA-trained death squad to 'disappear' and torture suspected guerillas (National Commissioner 1994), it did not engage in the wholesale murder and destruction practised by its neighbours ... Brocket argues that because Honduras had a weak army, less coercive and exploitative rural class relations than Guatemala or El Salvador, and sufficient land available to concede some of the peasant movement's demands, it did not perceive the guerilla threat as warranting such an extreme response. Similarly, Jonas (1991) attributes the exceptional brutality of Guatemalan repression from the 1960s to the 1980s, in which an estimated 200,000 people were killed (CEH 1999), to the attitudes of the ruling elite following the US-backed overthrow of a progressive elexted government in 1954. The elite was unwilling to contemplate concessions to the peasants or to the working class, and unable to fomrulate any political project that would achieve broad support. Thus violent repression, for which (thanks to the US) it was well equipped, appeared the only available means to achieve its goals. [p 109]

The opportunity-motivational structure in Haiti is reasonably transparent: the Haitian ruling class and the international capital to which it is integrated is unwilling to accept trade unions, working class mobilisation, or even a modest minimum wage; has not been able to formulate a political programme with any popular purchase; and has the means available to destroy the opposition. If the UN will not step up its activities, the US, France and Canada will simply encourage the genocidaires to throw off MINUSTAH like a bespoke strait-jacket and set the rebels they have been training in the Dominican Republic to their task. Haiti, for all the bloodiness and awfulness of the past two years, has yet to see the worst.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Life in a Glass Box. posted by lenin

Inevitable thought it was, I have to salute the resourcefulness and - oh yes, indefatigability - of the Labour Party and the press in turning the spectacle of Galloway munching toast in a night gown on a celebrity charity reality teevee bash into an opportunity for some pretty obvious smears. They're only jealous because Galloway is more hip and with it than they are (although probably not quite as cool as your truly). And although it risks inflating a quite marginal issue to unwarranted import, something has to be said - preferrably by someone like me.

Item: Ireland Online, followed by a few other news outlets, claims that Galloway "voters" have mounted a protest demanding their MP back. Upon reading the story, of course, you realise that they refer to a dozen people standing about outside the surgery, none of whom are actually Galloway 'voters'. In fact, the bulk of them appear to be Labour Party members. To put it another way, New Labour raised up a bit of a publicity stunt because they're bitter whining fucks who can't handle that their slavering pro-war thick as shit MP lost to Respect.

Item: The Telegraph tries to reflate old, discredited claims about the Palestinian charity Interpal, because Galloway has chosen to direct his share of the money to them. Interpal is accused of links with 'terrorism'. It has been investigated twice by the Charities Commission and exonerated both times. The Board of Deputies was recently humiliated on account of making such claims. I love the idea, though: Celebrity Big Brother subsidising the Palestinian armed struggle would have to make my giggle-of-the-week.

Item: The Guardian instructs a few hacks to sit at their desks and make a few phone calls in between munching their pasties so as to 'discover' - aha! - that Respect ain't around for their constituents. They called here, they called there, they even used Google! Truly, journalism broke the surly bonds of earth in this spectacular. Or perhaps not:

George Galloway's office was dealing with constituents' problems on Friday just as we do every day of the week, including Christmas and New Year. Our office was, to my knowledge, unable to respond to only two calls from people saying they wanted to raise constituency problems - one who did not leave a phone number to return their call on and one where it was not possible, despite repeated attempts, to hear the number left. And this despite the fact that we were bombarded with dozens of fatuous calls from journalists like Dodd and that BT, unfortunately, failed to install the phones in our new office which was due to open on Friday.

Most MPs did not hold surgeries on Friday because of the parliamentary recess. But we did. A dozen constituents came to the surgery which we hold every Friday from 4pm to 7pm. The issues were predominantly the same as they always are - appalling housing conditions resulting from the year's of neglect and lack of investment by the New Labour government in Whitehall and the New Labour Council in Tower Hamlets, and immigration and asylum problems arising from this government's iniquitous, racist immigration and asylum legislation.

It was New Labour's propaganda before last May's election that George would not represent his constituency properly and it has remained so ever since. And yet not only has George held surgeries almost every week since his election and taken up and vigorously pursued hundreds of constituents' problems, he has spoken at more public meetings on campaigning issues around the constituency than his New Labour predecessor did in all the eight anonymous years of her incumbency. He has combined this with taking the Respect message around the country speaking to thousands and playing a very significant role building the international anti-war movement.

Rob Hoveman, Assistant to George Galloway MP

There has also been a string of Labour peers, MPs and sub-luminaries (like Helen Mirren, who apparently campaigned for Oona King, ho ho ho) issuing statements about Galloway's appearance in the glass box. It's all like, "he's in it for self-interest", or even better "he just wants publicity"! The wonder is that such folks ever appear on television, or stand in elections or do anything to further their own careers, such is their aversion to "self-interest" and "publicity". All those politicians who maintain businesses or extra-parliamentary vocations of any kind had better shrivel up into a spineless ball on the backbenches than risk the attention of these worldly asceitics!

Anyway, let's turn on E4, see what's going down: ah, Dennis Rodman's pumping iron. Disgusting.

Update: Galloway spoke with his mouth full! What a gaffe! Spread the word! This is the kind of despicable manners that the unwitting residents of Bethnal Green & Bow have voted for!

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Friday, January 06, 2006

RIP Official Secrets Act... posted by lenin

Following Craig Murray's post last week and today's leak to The Guardian, we can probably declare the Official Secrets Act a dead duck:

[A] document has fallen into the Guardian's hands that seems to explain why ministers have become so bankrupt in these failures to stem a tide of disclosures (most revolve in one way or another around Iraq and allegations of our craven relationship with the US).

Murray, abiding by official regulations, submitted his memoirs to the Foreign Office last autumn. Before sending them to the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, in December for a final ruling, an official, Heather Yasamee, was deputed to circulate each Whitehall person mentioned. In what may be the first review to decorate Murray's bookjacket, she said: "He writes vividly about his colleagues, not always flatteringly, and with much gratuitous comment."

We have obtained one of Ms Yasamee's private Whitehall letters, written last October. But publication of its contents here does not make it likely that the Guardian is in turn due for a knock on the door by Special Branch. She writes that the government is entitled to ask for alterations to passages in Murray's book that "might damage national security, international relations or confidential relationships". But this "depends on the willingness of the author to make changes".

She warns: "To succeed with any legal action, we would have to demonstrate clearly to a court that real damage would result from publication. From previous experience and advice ... we know that the damage threshold is very high for successful court action. It is questionable whether this book falls into that category." And she gives the game away by saying that it is questionable if "more public airing of Craig's alleged grievances is in anybody's interest".

Of course, this misses a very important point. Some years back, Murray's revelations would certainly have been suppressed by a complicit media, just as they comply with ludicrous D-Notices that have no legal force. The internet, and particularly bloggers, made the revelations possible, just as they made the revelations about White Phosphorus possible. One other thing occurs. The airy Oxonian condescension with which this Ms Yasamee dismisses "Craig's alleged grievances" is telling. The "grievances" relate to the government's complicity with torture, of course. To coldly reduce it to a matter of personal uppitiness, which is what is implied... well, it tells you what kind of personality succeeds in the Foreign Office. You've got to be able to separate your ordinary day-to-day behaviour from your professional role as a sociopath. About which suggestion, I am sure, there would be much snigggering if anyone in Whitehall were to read it.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Zionist Falls and the BBC Goes Nuts. posted by lenin

The BBC cannot stop itself tonight. The grief embarks from the first word of the report, stops on the faces of George Aligayah, John Simpson and Jeremy Bowen (this morning, they had former ME correspondent Orla Guerin doing the same act), and finishes on a desperate sigh from the newscaster. Ariel Sharon has had a stroke, and suddenly the Israeli-Palestine conflict is supposed to be set go aflame again. There is the usual hiding behind unidentified others: "many Palestinians" supposedly felt that Sharon may have made their lives better, for instance. But the open editorialising simply repeats these claims - Sharon had a plan for peace, and now it could all be in ruins, wrecked by a tiny clot of blood, and woe betide the Palestinians, woe betide Israel.

It bears remembering at this vital time, then, that Sharon's plan was not one of "peace" (interesting way to frame the question). He was implementing a plan which his senior adviser Dov Weisglass described as formaldehyde. As in "It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." Disengagement from Gaza was a precursor to the encroachment and final capture of the much larger West Bank. As secret British government documents revealed, Israel was engaged in actions destined to terminate the very possibility of a negotiated settlement. Gerald Kaufman MP called the process "ethnic cleansing".

Of course, the withdrawal from Gaza wasn't really quite that. Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza under international law. Israel made certain to destroy much of the area before exiting too, making 16,000 people homeless. They subsequently destroyed 3,000 homes under a spurious pretext. And of course, Israel reserves the right to attack Gaza.

At any rate, it is glaringly obvious that Sharon and his jaded ally, the loathsome Shimon Peres, were not engaging in a plan to reach a just peace with the Palestinians, even on terms that two-staters would recognise as reasonable.

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The Future of New Labour. posted by lenin

Neal Lawson writes today that Labour cannot be taken out of its perpetually expanding rut by Gordon Brown, which would seem on the face of it to be a step in the direction of political realism. Brown, as Dead Men Left notes, is not merely a leading architect in the New Labour project and the chief promulgator of neoliberalism in the Cabinet. He is also pitching forcefully in the direction of neoconservatism. Yet Lawson, quite predictably, makes nothing of those cardinal facts, preferring to indulge some rather fanciful ruminations about Comrade Brown.

Brown, in Lawson's imagining of him, uses the term "comrades", dedicates himself to setting Labour "free of its Thatcherite chains", closing the gap between rich and poor and so forth. It's the old "secret socialist" fantasy, and it ought to have long since lost any purchase it had with even the centre-left commentariat. Yet, Lawson is at least correct to note that the malaise is deeper than in the Labour leadership. He puts the matter down to a dearth of ideas, and hopes that some kind of moderately left zeal can be imported back into the government by Ed Balls, John Denham and some rather feeble think-tanks. It is a much deeper crisis than that.

Consider: the Labour membership has halved since 1997, and is now at its lowest level since Ramsay MacDonald split the party in 1931. It is 65,000 lower than when Blair became leader in 1994. That alone is quite significant for the New Labour project because the drive to increase membership was part of a strategy to minimise the input of unions at conference. The union block vote had always served the Labour right well in the past, but the Whiggish modernisers believed it would be better to take in a large swathe of atomised and largely passive members. The constitutional re-arrangements were presented as democratic reforms, but of course what actually happened of course was that power was centralised in the hands of the leadership. Well, the sharply declining membership may present a problem for any New Labour leader who wishes to cut ties with the unions. However, when you consider the kind of membership that is left behind, it also illustrates the impossibility of resuscitating radicalism in the party. Not only are they disproportionately male, middle-aged, middle class and professional, they are also disproportionately sheep. In the elections last May, Labour lost a number of heartland seats to left-wing candidates, and saw a number of supermajorities seriously eroded. All indications are that the local elections will see it receive a further blow, as it is losing both the fair-weather Tory supporters and core working class votes. The Lib Dems were a temporary beneficiary in this process, but since the Orange Book wierdos have taken over the scene they look less likely to continue to do so in the future. The Tories have elected a media darling who may well sufficiently conceal his hard right policies behind the emollient rhetoric that he is currently offering the press daily that he can pose a serious threat to Labour. (Cameron, incidentally, is mimicking Bush's 2000 strategy by calling for compassionate conservatism while nurturing a perniciously reactionary agenda. The analogy is accentuated further by the fact that this follows years of 'triangulation' by the notionally left-of-centre government).

And yet, for all this, Labour has displayed its unwillingness and inability to attract, retain and promote the kind of membership capable of renewing it. It is spent as a force for reform. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the infatuation with Brown, the desperate fantasy embellishments and the surreptitious ommissions about his record in government. Because he has introduced tax credits and finally funnelled some money into the NHS, the man who has cut benefits for single mothers, threatens to do the same to the disabled, bankrolled the war, imposed neoliberal economic policies and allowed what was left of the manufacturing sector to be destroyed is somehow a progressive viper in the New Labour nest. Brown has supported Blair on every right-wing move he has made, including this cozying up with the Euro-Right. Yet, who else is there for the anti-Blair left to look to if they intend to stick with Labour?

If it cannot be a force for reform in the traditional sense, New Labour could revive itself as an electoral force following defeat. It could do so if the left failed to make a serious incursion into its electoral base, leaving the working class to be serenaded by the Liberals or the Nazis. It could do so if all its betrayals meant was a stay-home electorate and a Tory victory, or a string of Tory victories. It could do so if the unions made no attempt to defend their members, and if the antiwar movement was to peter out, finding no permanent, broad political representation. In short, it could do so over the left's dead bodies. It is madness tantamount to suicide to insist that the Left therefore hitches itself to the Labour Party, much less a collection of New Labour ministers and emasculated think-tanks.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

It's Bigger Than Hip Hop. posted by lenin

Well, the latest outrage about Young Black Men, and the supposedly concomitant violence and misogyny, centres around the latest 50 Cent movie advertisements. Before I start, I do want to mention that I think 50 Cent is a talentless fuckwit and a relentless crawler up every rich arsehole he can find. (There's even a mixtape somewhere where he and the rest of G-Unit waste fifteen minutes of radio time sucking up to Donald Trump, of all people). But the latest manufactured controversy is about this:

You see, apparently the fact that he is carrying a baby while packing a gun is offensive because there has been gun crime in some parts of Britain, and this could be seen as 'condoning' such acts. Before we go any further, why was there no such controversy over this?:

That's not 'condoning' gun violence: it is nakedly, unashamedly, sexualising it. If you've seen the film, you know it does this more brutally and disgustingly than even the poster makes out - and, of course, the killing is on behalf of the CIA, a repulsive and bloodsoaked arm of US imperialism. So, where were all the concerned citizens then? There are countless other examples, of course, and they pass by the censorious eye of consumers and the Advertising Standards Agency without a blush or even a glint in the eye. Young Black Men are what these defenders of the peace are frightened of. For Young Black Men are supposedly especially prone to cultural manipulation, particularly unable to critically digest the fare that is placed before them by largely white, rich plutocrats.

Naturally, one couldn't indulge in such transparent racism on national television without putting a black face on it. So, ITN got soul-singer Mica Paris, whose brother was shot and killed, to denounce the 50 Cent ad. She explained that when you go to these neighbourhoods (not specified, but you know she's referring to Young Black Men), "all they're listening to is 50 Cent" and hence something is up. That is precisely wrong, of course. Via Chabert, here is bell hooks:

The sexist, misogynist, patriarchal ways of thinking and behaving that are glorified in gangsta rap are a reflection of the prevailing values in our society, values created and sustained by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. As the crudest and most brutal expression of sexism, misogynistic attitudes tend to be portrayed by the dominant culture as an expression of male deviance. In reality they are part of a sexist continuum, necessary for the maintenance of patriarchal social order. While patriarchy and sexism continue to be the political and cultural norm in our society, feminist movement has created a climate where crude expressions of male domination are called into question, especially if they are made by men in power. It is useful to think of misogyny as a field that must be labored in and maintained both to sustain patriarchy but also to serve as an ideological anti-feminist backlash. And what better group to labor on this "plantation" than young black men.

To see gangsta rap as a reflection of dominant values in our culture rather than as an aberrant "pathological" standpoint does not mean that a rigorous feminist critique of the sexist and misogyny expressed in this music is not needed. Without a doubt black males, young and old, must be held politically accountable for their sexism. Yet this critique must always be contextualized or we risk making it appear that the behaviors this thinking supports and condones,--rape, male violence against women, etc.-- is a black male thing. And this is what is happening. Young black males are forced to take the "heat" for encouraging, via their music, the hatred of and violence against women that is a central core of patriarchy.


More than anything gangsta rap celebrates the world of the "material, " the dog-eat-dog world where you do what you gotta do to make it. In this world view killing is necessary for survival. Significantly, the logic here is a crude expression of the logic of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. In his new book "Sexy Dressing, Etc." privileged white male law professor Duncan Kennedy gives what he calls "a set of general characterizations of U. S. culture" explaining that, "It is individual (cowboys), material (gangsters) and philistine." Using this general description of mainstream culture would lead us to place "gangsta rap" not on the margins of what this nation is about, but at the center. Rather than being viewed as a subversion or disruption of the norm we would need to see it as an embodiment of the norm.

That viewpoint was graphically highlighted in the film "Menace To Society" which dramatized not only young black males killing for sport, but also mass audiences voyeuristically watching and, in many cases, "enjoying" the kill. Significantly, at one point in the movie we see that the young black males have learned their "gangsta" values from watching television and movies--shows where white male gangsters are center stage. This scene undermines any notion of "essentialist" blackness that would have viewers believe the gangsterism these young black males embraced emerged from some unique black cultural experience.


Contrary to a racist white imagination which assumes that most young black males, especially those who are poor, live in a self- created cultural vacuum, uninfluenced by mainstream, cultural values, it is the application of those values, largely learned through passive uncritical consumption of mass media, that is revealed in "gangsta rap." Brent Staples is willing to challenge the notion that "urban primitivism is romantic" when it suggests that black males become "real men" by displaying the will to do violence, yet he remains resolutely silent about that world of privileged white culture that has historically romanticized primitivism, and eroticized male violence. Contemporary films like "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Bad Lieutenant" celebrate urban primitivism and many less well done films ("Trespass, Rising Sun") create and/or exploit the cultural demand for depictions of hardcore blacks who are willing to kill for sport.

50 Cent is not "all they're listening to", and even if he were, he reflects the dominant values of this society rather than presenting a deviation from them. 50 Cent and people like him merit criticism not for some pathological alterity, but for reproducing the worst aspects of culture in capitalist society - the kind, in fact, that keeps people in chains. But if you refuse to broaden the net of your critique, and obsess only about black misogyny, black violence, black gangsterism, the terrible homophobia and sexism in hip hop, the awful violence etc - as if it's a black thing - then you should least be honest and consider yourself a racist.

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Evil. posted by lenin

The liberal theodicy: how to account for evil, when the system is essentially benign? Latest theory: an "evil ideology", namely Islamism. Via interbreeding, this message in a bottle washes up in Johann Hari's bath tub:

A woman has been installed as mayor of the Palestinian Authority’s political capital Ramallah thanks to the support of the Islamist movement Hamas, officials said yesterday.

Janette Khuri, a 62-year-old Christian, became the first woman mayor of a major West Bank municipality when she was elected by a majority of her 15 fellow councillors.

Khuri, a member of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), triumphed over the ruling Fatah faction’s candidate Ghazi Hanania when the three Hamas members voted for her.

A secular Marxist woman of Christian background? Now, wouldn't you have expected her to be stuffed into a burqa and told to wash the dishes? A thought occurs: perhaps the first thing that Palestinian movements are concerned about, religious or otherwise, is obtaining their freedom from this brutal and suffocating occupation.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Pink Triangle, Yellow Crescent. posted by lenin

Following on from this guest post from last year, it is worth following up on the tendency of some gay activists to "provide a pink patina for Islamophobic stereotypes". The Guardian reports today that the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association has been harshly criticised by other gay activists and groups for describing Islam as growing like a "canker" in the UK because of "unrestrained and irresponsible breeding". I seem to recall the same sort of shit being levelled at Catholics in Northern Ireland. Dour, fearful and resentful Unionists would utter expletive-laden sentences about them fuckin taigs havin wee bastards and takin the fuckin welfare when they're not robbin the fuckin Post Offices etc etc. Galha's commentary doesn't really rise above the bar rant of your average racist.

Although Galha has apparently experienced some internal criticism of such remarks (made repeatedly and fervently, it has to be said) and has therefore had to fire the editor and deputy editor of their magazine, the group's secretary Mr Broadhead stands by his comments about Islam, which he described as a "barmy doctrine". He says:

There may be people who think of themselves as moderate but we've yet to see them coming out and condemning their fundamentalist counterparts. If they want to follow a belief that we think is execrable it's up to them - it's a question of religion per se and the damage it can do in extremist form in theocracies where gays are not just put in jail but whipped and tortured.

Never mind for a second that plenty of Muslims do criticise the 'fundamentalists' all the fucking time - Muslims, uniquely, must pass a test. This is McCarthyite witch-hunting: prove yourself! Expose and denounce your comrades before the tribunal! Imaan, the support group for LGBT Muslims, comments:

In lots of ways the gay community reflects the straight community but Galha has gone beyond what the average straight person thinks. These comments are disgusting. They are worse than what the BNP would publish. It is racist.

It is sad that Galha, who you would expect to understand how oppression works - and feels - divides itself from another oppressed group who are in considerable need of solidarity at this time, and allows itself to reproduce the most sinister bilge from the racist far right.

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Populism and Haiti. posted by lenin

Oh, you know, it's nice to have a theme. Le Colonel Chabert:

It was emphasized by CNN that Aristide, while campaigning for the 2000 election - there was a campaign of terror attacks against Lavalas during this period - this guy who poses as a man of the people, the defrocked shantytown priest, kissing the dirty slum-dwelling waifs, snicker snicker, had a chauffeur, as if presidential candidates of countries paying hundreds of millions in interest yearly to international lenders customarily drive themselves.

This somehow seems like a familiar ideological gesture. Galloway wears Guccis and smokes fat cigars, Trotsky dressed like a fin de siecle intellectual, Aristide had a chauffeur, Noam Chomsky has a share portfolio, Gore Vidal is a snooty blueblood who lives in an Italian villa - ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Of course it is particularly vile and hypocritical of the pampered, blow-dried, glittering, preening hosts of television shows in the richest country on the face of the earth (who, I presume, also have use of a chauffeur from time to time) to sneer at Aristide in this fashion, and compress his achievements into an anecdote. Presumably, the image of a black leader wearing suits and being driven around while his people starve is evocative. One is supposed to ask: Who does this jumped up little tinpot ruler of a banana republic povo shitpile think he is? Never mind that this particular black leader was popularly elected, yet bound by agreement with Washington to sustain precisely the 'free market' policies that allowed sweatshop owners and US capital to exploit the poor blind.

Anyway, more via Chabert. In preparation for the 2004 coup, the US, France and Canadian paramilitaries were busily training 'rebels' in the Dominican Republic. Coterminously, the media began to issue dire warnings about Haiti the basket-case, Aristide the dictator, fraud, corruption, thuggishness etc. After the coup, The Guardian's sub-editors managed to mangle an article written by Charles Arthur on Haiti, in order to call Aristide a "General". Aristide was not, of course, ever even in the military, much less a military leader. He had no army, having demobilised it in 1995. Still, they persist. Mark this:

In the dead of the night, some 400 Brazilian, Jordanian and Peruvian soldiers fanned through the maze of tin shacks and sewage canals to take out Emanuel "Dread" Wilmé, a gang leader who had refused to surrender one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the hemisphere.

When the sun rose after a five-hour battle, Wilmé and at least five of his crew were dead. So were dozens of men, women and children caught in the gunfire, community leaders and residents said.

UN officials hailed the July 6 raid as a turning point in ridding this shantytown of gangs loyal to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist former priest who was ousted by armed rebels 23 months ago.

But Operation Iron Fist, as the raid was called, became an Operation Band-Aid. A new gang leader quickly replaced Wilmé. And bandits and UN peacekeepers trade gunfire in the slum almost daily, injuring or killing civilians in the process.

The atmosphere of "blackness" is palpable. Gangs. Wilme has been one of those resisting the attempt to return the country to a death-squad dictatorship. The immensely popular Lavalas had a great deal of grass-roots support to organise and Wilme tried to unite what are referred to as "street gangs" against the UN invaders. Yet, they who murder and do so under the rubric of the new sweatshop regime are not gangs, any more than are those UN troops who join the new 'Haitian National Police' in cutting people down in the streets. And yes, dear me yes, Aristide was a populist.

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Populism and Council Housing. posted by lenin

Dead Men Left wrote some time ago of the overwhelming votes against stock transfer of council houses in Tower Hamlets. A few things that stood out were 1) because of the spate of 'No' votes, the tenants of Ocean Estate in Stepney were to have their vote postponed because of the 'mood' on the estate; 2) the victimisation of Eileen Short, who has been sacked from her job despite an unblemished record because - one suspects - she is publicly and vociferously opposed to the stock transfers; 3) the local Labour authority is terrified, correctly, of losing out to Respect, which has been actively campaigning for a 'No' vote on the effective privatisation of council housing.

Helene Mulholland writes on much the same themes in The Guardian today:

New Labour has a manifesto pledge to repair council homes to decent standards by 2010, but it will only release the necessary investment to achieve this to local authorities that relinquish control of their housing stock. Despite a motion passed at two consecutive Labour party conferences calling for a "level playing field" on funding for councils, the government has twice refused to implement the party's democratic wishes.

Many tenants prefer to stay with their accountable council rather than an unaccountable alternative. They don't want their homes to switch hands and believe such a move would threaten the long-term security of tenure and rent levels. Defending council housing has proved an eye-opener for all concerned. A report published last year by the local government regeneration agency revealed the tactics being used. As part of plans to transfer properties on the rundown Ocean estate in Tower Hamlets to a housing association, "housing partners and community leaders will also work to undermine the aims and integrity of those campaigning against the transfer", the document stated.

Well, some of those tactics appear to have included the farcical 'protest' by HARCA, a 'social landlord' looking to run the Lansbury Estate. They turned up with placards and all, crashed a Defend Council Housing meeting yelling abuse and so forth, and got sufficiently rowdy that the organiser called the police. As Dead Men Left says "it struck me as a classically New Labour manoeuvre: a completely simulated 'movement' papered over the atomisation of social and political life New Labour strive for." Other such tactics include re-running the vote if you didn't like the first result, with intimidation and threats of legal action.

Mulholland adds:

The future of home ownership has become a test case for the government's mantra of choice, and highlights the limits to this boast. But there is a sting in the tale. The failure of councils to respect tenants' wishes is delivering votes to other parties. In Tower Hamlets, 12 council seats are expected to be lost to Respect in the local election. And this is one ballot that cannot be delayed because of the "mood" of residents.

Quite how well Respect will do in these elections I can't judge, but there does seem to be something of the old 'populism' bogeyman in the council's moaning about the 'mood' on Ocean Estate. The Liberal Democrats in Sefton accused the DHC of frightening people "to death" with "misinformation". There were also a gaggle accusations about 'intimidation' - from whom and against whom was never specified, but the implication was allowed to malinger, without evidence. Naturally, the supposition is that outside agitators are disrupting a perfect harmony of opinion and the free exchange of professional, unbiased information between the local council and cooperative tenants. However, worked into a lather by the agitators, the tenants lose all reason and vote against their benign representatives. Clearly, something eeeeevilll must be afoot. Evidently, we must re-ballot. And so, the local government - encouraged by the national one, and supplied with immense resources - resumes the burden of explaining to the easily led exactly what's best for them. If and when Respect takes Tower Hamlets, doubtless it will be put down to demagoguery, populism etc. If the working classes must be allowed the franchise, even though their brains are surely too poor and tired with their daily concerns to properly engage in civil society, then they need to be protected from the insinuating voices and "boilerplate rhetoric" of "firebrands".

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Aceh Revisited. posted by lenin

Last year I was writing about the fact that the Indonesian military (TNI) had taken advantage of the devastation wreaked by the tsunami to intensify repression in Aceh, which predictably was blacked out by the media.

Let me just run a quick reminder. First, the Clinton gesture: Aceh is a region in the north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra (see map). What's so special about this spot in the sun is that it has been a locus for colonial predation for centuries on account of its rich resources. It had acquired some measure of autonomy in the British and Dutch competition over Javan spices, for which Aceh was a major trading centre, but the Dutch put paid to that in 1873 by invading - a decision that they were to have some small reason to regret, as the Acehnese engaged the Dutch in a war of attrition lasting right until 1942, when the Japanese took the region. The Acehnese had hoped, following the defeat of the Axis powers, that they might have autonomy, but the United Nations insisted that the region was to be included in the new Republic of Indonesia. Indonesia, for its part, secured the region by sending troops to annexe it. It was the experience of being subject to repressive military presence and intensive exploitation of the resources, particularly under the dictator Suharto that was to lead to the formation in 1976 of the Gerekan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), an armed resistance movement seeking independence for the region. Then: a thirty year war in which the TNI afford themselves of every possible means of repression: rape, torture, murder, the usual fare. Activists smuggled photographs out of the country depicting atrocities, such as the TNI forcing a pole down a prisoner's throat.

Aceh after the tsunami.

Anyway, back to last year. On Christmas Day 2004, the TNI killed 18 guerillas in Aceh. This was in the context of a harsh crackdown under martial law operative from May 2003 in which the Indonesian army admitted to having killed 8,216 people.

As Alan Nairn explained on Democracy Now:

But just five years ago, the yard in front of that mosque was filled with anywhere from 400,000 to a million Acehnese, who were carrying out a peaceful demonstration calling for referendum, a vote, a free vote, in which they could choose whether they wanted to become independent of Indonesia.

In proportional terms, Aceh has a population -- before this disaster, had a population of about four million. This means that anywhere from 10 percent to 25 percent of the entire population of Aceh turned up on the lawn of the mosque that day to call for freedom. It's -- proportionally, it's actually one of the largest political demonstrations in recent world history. If a similar thing happened in the U.S., you’d be talking anywhere from 30 to 60 million people here, to give an idea of the enormity. Faced with that kind of civilian movement, the Indonesian military moved to crush them, assassinating, disappearing leaders, raping female activists.

In the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, the repression continued (just as the Sri Lankan government continued its war against the LTTE). To such effect, in fact, that the television media did eventually begin to cover some of it (albeit, tactfully omitting any reference to British complicity in these atrocities). The GAM was predictably devastated by the disaster - not only was its base largely either dead, dislocated or traumatised, but the TNI was attempting to control the distribution of aid in such ways as to deprive actual or alleged GAM supporters. They offered several peace deals and in the end did capture the interest of the Indonesian government. The reasons for this are various, but some of them are as follows: 1) while the GAM had only a few hundred active members when martial law began, by late 2004 it had reached 10,000. The risk of this movement refounding itself was too much for the Indonesian government to countenance; 2) the US has a multitude of corporate interests in Aceh and hopes to have more. Former US diplomat Richard Holbrooke is working with the United States Indonesian Society, a group sponsored by prominent US corporations, to maximise private sector involvement in the reconstruction of the region. So, while the GAM needed a respite from the military campaign, the government and its multinational affiliates needed a stable investment climate in order to properly exploit the resource-rich zone.

A peace deal was formally signed on August 15th 2005, and on Tuesday 27th December 2005, the GAM announced that it was disbanding its military wing. It had given up its goal of independence in return for a withdrawal of Indonesian troops. This was followed by the immediate announcement by the government that a different section of the military would return - entirely for reconstruction purposes, you understand.

The US began to restore military relations with Indonesia on February 26th last year, when it readmitted the latter to its International Military Education and Training programme, (in which the US government subsidises foreign military personnel to receive training at any of its 150 military schools). On 22nd November 2005, the State Department decided to over-ride Congressional restrictions on military ties with Indonesia. Tapol, the Indonesian human rights organisation, commented:

It will allow the export of lethal equipment to Indonesia and the possibility of the US providing loans or grants for the purchase of weapons. The US could in effect end up making gifts of weaponry to the abusive Indonesian military.


Last week Congress approved a foreign aid bill which made the resumption of full military ties conditional upon the prosecution of members of the armed forces involved in gross violations of human rights, co-operation with international efforts to resolve serious crimes in East Timor, and reforms to improve civilian control of the military. The State Department has used its power to waive the conditions despite a lack of substantive progress in these areas.

The government, while taking advantage of the peace offered by the GAM, has been increasing suppression in West Papua. Oh, and check this out: The military in West Papua is receiving 'assistance' from a New Orleans-based gold company. Corporations reap considerable profits from the mineral rich territory, but aid agencies say little of that is seen by West Papuans as starvation has set in since November. In fact, as Tom Benedetti writes today in the International Herald Tribune, most of the money for the Indonesian army comes not from the government, but from various forms of business income - licit or illicit. He cites a Dutch government report which suggests that there's a lot of money in those territories and "the troops go where the money is".

Seven years after the overthrow of the dictatorship, the military remains a significant and semi-autonomous bloc in the Indonesian state. And look who it works for: the same regiments of Western capital that stitched up the economy after the British-supported Suharto coup in 1965 and that have been lining up to extract the benefits ever since.

4:43:00 PM | Permalink | | | Print

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