Thursday, April 29, 2004
They place a hood over their head, attach wires to their hands and stand them on a box. Then they torture them, and sexually molest them.
Cynics might suggest a connection between this sort of behaviour and the fact that "US soldiers are killing themselves at an unusually high rate" but, as General Sanchez will tell you, "There is no morale problem."
US marines in Falluja prepare to pull out of the city. Photograph: Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images
US forces today announced an end to their siege of Falluja, saying they will pull out immediately to allow a newly-created, Iraqi security force to secure the city.
The new force, known as the Falluja Protective Army, will consist of up to 1,100 Iraqi soldiers led by a former general from the military of Saddam Hussein and will begin moving into the city tomorrow.
Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne said the agreement was reached late last night between US officials and Falluja police and civilian representatives. "The plan is that the whole of Falluja will be under the control of the FPA," Lt Col Byrne told the Associated Press.
I believe it's called, "running away with your tail between your legs". This is, of course, not the first time that the occupiers have attempted to get locals to take bullets for them. And it should not be a terrific surprise that the FPA
The only oddity is that as late as this afternoon, the US was pretending that no deal had been struck and "there could still be reasons to continue attacking selected insurgent targets in the turmoil-ridden city of 300,000 people." Well, if they didn't exist, you'd have to invent them, wouldn't you?
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
"Presently, although crime seems to have abated, the country is still racked with problems. An estimated 20.1% of the population has AIDS, 50% of the population is below the poverty line, and 37% of the population is unemployed. The current life expectancy is 46.56 years.
Now, very few people on any side of the political spectrum would argue that South Africa was "better off" under apartheid. Yet, those that oppose our war in Iraq often bitterly complain that the Iraqis are not better off. Both countries, when liberated, were coming from oppressive governments with people unaccustomed to the democratic process. It has taken ten years to get South Africa to the still troubled, but gradually improving, state it is currently in. Why is so much expected of Iraq so quickly? Apparently, the left's criterion for democratic progress is a double standard."
And, do you know, Andrew never thought to mention in respect of this that a) South Africa liberated itself, it did not require bombing out of its apartheid shell and b) because of this, South Africa has no gruesome, violent war between the "liberated" and the "liberators". Elementary observation, but apparently quite above the touch of Andrew Sullivan. I suppose it is merely pedantic to mention that, of course, "by late-2002, more than 60 percent of South Africans thought the country had been governed better by the white minority" . (I'm not endorsing this view, merely pointing out that many people on whatever side of the political spectrum do think this). Sullivan, of course, memorably mistook Najaf for Fallujah, Sunnis for Shi'ites and decided that resistance in Fallujah had been quelled. This morning's headlines rather invite a different view.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Like the Private Eye sketch only funny. Today on NormBalls, we consult the doyen of "liberal Marxism", Norman Geras , on the notorious cigar-chomper, George Galloway:
George Galloway denies any distinction between war and what some of us call terrorism, other than that one is ordered 'by men in suits', the other 'by men in sandals'. And so blowing up a bus full of schoolchildren isn't terrorism, it's just 'a grisly aspect' of revolutionary insurgency.
This, in reaction to an interview with Galloway conducted by Tim Adams of The Guardian.
Oddly enough, Galloway does not say this - the interviewer says this for him. Galloway, for his part, says:
"'Well, occupation is ugly, resistance can hardly be pretty. I never called on people to fight. But I never had any doubt that they would either.'"
"'Innocent civilians were killed. That was vile. But we still kid ourselves that acts ordered by men in suits is war. And that the same acts ordered by men in sandals is terrorism. There is no distinction.'"
To this latter, Norman Geras retorts:
This is similar to the can't-be-choosy option made famous by John Pilger. Here, then, is something to think about. What would these two have to say, do you reckon, to the suggestion that their logic might just as well be reversed so that from now on the US and Britain (etc.) at war may just freely target civilians? I'm predicting neither of them would approve. It's a hunch based on what they already think about civilian casualties provided these are inflicted by the 'right' countries, and even when not deliberately.
Norman Geras does not provide a single atom of evidence that either Pilger or Galloway have ever considered it correct that the Iraqi resistance or anyone else "may just freely target civilians". This is for the perfectly excellent pragmatic reason that he is making it up. Neither Galloway nor Pilger have ever suggested such a thing. Geras avers that those who opposed the war but will not oppose the Iraqi resistance in similar terms are "essentially know-nothings when it comes to the moral questions of the just war." But since he has mistaken their elementary moral stance, it does not quite sit well for him to be so aggressive.
He also complains, in a linked piece , that those who refuse to condemn Palestinian terrorism "without scare-quotes and unconditionally" are a "disgrace" "to a great historical ideal." Since he is advancing himself as an apologist for liberal imperialism, I wonder if he has any questions about his own fidelity to that "great historical ideal" or if, perhaps, he can bring himself to condemn US massacres in Iraq "without scare-quotes and unconditionally". Of course not. Bush is there to democratise the region, Blair is an avowed opponent of tyrants (except when he's not) and the (vastly greater) terror perpetrated by the "coalition" is meant well. Who but a "know-nothing" could think otherwise? It's a sad end for a sad end.
Schadenfreude: Part Three
The future of Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people. After years of dictatorship, Iraq will soon be liberated. For the first time in decades, Iraqis will soon choose their own representative government ... The day when Iraqis govern themselves must come quickly ... Coalition forces will remain in Iraq as long as necessary to help the Iraqi people to build their own political institutions and reconstruct their country, but no longer.
JOINT STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
AND PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR ON IRAQ,
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
April 8, 2003
"The new Iraqi interim government scheduled to take control on July 1 will have only "limited sovereignty" over the country and no authority over U.S. and coalition military forces already there, senior State and Defense officials told Congress this week ... "So we transfer sovereignty, but the military decisions continue to reside indefinitely in the control of the American commander. Is that correct?" Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, on Tuesday. "That's correct," Myers replied."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday that the war in Iraq is going "reasonably well" but acknowledged the United States faces long-term involvement there ... "Decades is probably not unreasonable."
As the old saying goes, you can lead a dickhead to war, but you can't make him think.
And meanwhile: The New Iraq Has a New Flag! The colour scheme looks vaguely familiar. Blue, white, religious symbol in the centre... Could this be the new Islamic Israel ? And why is Syria suddenly aflame? Wasn't the Middle East supposed to be on the verge of peace ?
Did you hear that correctly? You can get some ethical bombing done and be back in time to watch the glowing reviews on Newsnight.
Monday, April 26, 2004
The Emperor's New Song: #It's Gettin Hot in Here, So Take of All Your Clothes...#
Boy, that road map to "peace" in the Middle East is taking its fricking time. Fallujah is up in flames again, Baghdad's taking it in the neck , especially Sadr City . Meanwhile, Israel "withdraws" from some parts of the West Bank (translation: they annexed what they wanted and tossed the crumbs to the Palestinians), assassinates two Palestinian leaders and hints that Yasser Arafat may get a bullet or two in the head, and the Prime Minister's reaction to this is to ignore the first assassination, rap Israel's knuckles for the second, but continue to flush the Middle East with arms alongside the US. His position is so servile that "More than 50 former British diplomats have signed a letter to Tony Blair criticising his Middle East policy" .
And Rumsfeld says he was "surprised" by the reaction of Iraqis to their occupation. No shit. It's a quantum leap from flowers and kisses on the cheek to bombings , shootings , mercenaries , kidnappings , and rape . Yet, noone has any right to be surprised by this. Even old hand imperialists like General Anthony Zinni are scathing about the neocon misadventure:
"I'm surprised that he is surprised because there was a lot of us who were telling him that it was going to be thus. Anyone could know the problems they were going to see. How could they not?"
There's none so blind as those who do not want to see, General.
Asia Minor calling Bush Junior
Yet, this is so much more than a simple bout of radical rightism in American foreign policy. The structure of US policy in the Middle East is essentially responsible for where we are today. There are three essential coordinates of US policy in that region:
1) Support for autocratic regimes against their radical nationalist/Islamist/socialist opponents.
2) Support for Israel against radical nationalists/Islamists/socialists.
3) Opposition to radical nationalists/Islamists/socialists.
I hope that boils it down for you. Basically, the US has been flooding the Middle East with weapons and military aid for decades, but especially the last decade. In 2003, 72% of US foreign aid to the Middle East was military aid. Totalling $3.8 billion, US military aid to the Middle East is 90% of the its total worldwide. Since the Gulf War, this aid has totalled $90 billion. Much of it has gone to Israel, encouraging a rapid build-up in military capacity in a country where external security threats were declining - the usual trend is that countries spend less on their military when there are fewer threats to contend with. Iraq was a wreck after 1991, Syria had lost its Soviet backer, Iran was busy chasing a writer of fiction and most of the other regimes in the Middle East are basically pro-Israel. Following the Gulf War, Middle Eastern countries spent on average 20.1% of their GDP on defense - well above the Western average. This has forced quite dramatic cuts in social spending in many of these states, even as US arms producers (their overwhelming suppliers) garner enormous profits. Moreover, since Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morrocco and other Arab states have relied on Saudi aid for some time, the pressures causing Saudi Arabia to be less generous have reduced their ability to spend. What aid they do get is being used by Egypt to finance its arms purchases and pay off debts incurred from previous purchases, and by Morrocco to subsidise its occupation of the Western Sahara.
With this level of military spending and the population increases associated with greater urbanisation, there is now emerging a "food deficit" across the Arab world. They are not producing enough food to feed their population, because not enough is being invested in agriculture. The result is that in the slums of Rabat in Morrocco, for instance, radical Islamist groups are thriving, one of which carried out attacks on a Jewish community centre in Casablanca last year. In Saudi Arabia itself, the tale could not be more obvious or more chilling. (See, for example, Stephen Zunes, Tinderbox, Zed Books, 2003; and Anne Ashford, "The Politics of Terror: Who Are Al Qaeda?", Socialist Review, April 2004).
In order to control the chaos they've unleashed in the Middle East, the US have been obliged to commit most of its armed forces (yes, there are 1.4 million standing and reserved troops, but there are 400,000 committed at the moment and, since rotation is a three-phase task, this means that 1.2m troops are tied up with current deployments, leaving on 200'000 to work with - which actually means the US can only deploy a third of that - about 70'000 ground troops ). They may be planning on another war. They may try to reintroduce the draft. But, most importantly, they're having to detain many of the Iraqis they don't manage to kill. Guess that's so they don't have any room for Chalabi.
Sunday, April 25, 2004
"So does anyone know what the deal was with Kimmitt fainting at the podium during a press briefing a week or so ago? Was it just stress or what?"
Indeed, it would be intriguing to learn exactly what brought on the General's sudden woozy slump into the microphone. On seeing it, I thought that it might have been a petit mal epileptic seizure, but the reports seem to rule that out:
The top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq appeared to briefly lose consciousness during a news conference Saturday, bumping his face into a podium microphone. He left the room for a period but returned smiling and answered more questions.
There was no immediate explanation for the apparent fainting spell suffered by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy head of operations in Iraq, who delivers daily briefings to Baghdad-based journalists alongside the top U.S. coalition spokesman Dan Senor.
Kimmitt had left the podium for a few minutes earlier in the press conference, which was broadcast live internationally. He returned, looking pale, to take more questions.
Just after answering a question, Kimmitt leaned toward Senor and whispered, "I gotta go."
Senor nodded and said, "OK," and then told reporters the next question would be the last.
As he listened to the question, Kimmitt's eyes rolled upward and he began leaning forward into the podium. The podium's small black microphone struck him on the right side of the mouth. After a few seconds leaning against the microphone, he slumped backward but remained standing.
Senor stepped toward him and said, "You all right?"
"No, I'm not," Kimmitt mumbled. Two aides approached the podium and led him out a side door.
Heart problem? Drugs? Stress of being the centre of loathing and fear in an occupied country? Answers in the comments boxes, please! (Of course, you could e-mail him at kimmit dot m at skynet dot be, and ask him for yourself. Just say, "What's the big fuckin deal, bitch? You sick or somethin?" I'd do it, but I have to be somewhere.)
Note: Haloscan are fixing their server, so the comments boxes may not appear periodically. Fan-fuckin-tastic.
The Answer is Blowing in the Wind
MarxMail is currently discussing, among other things, a recent US opinion poll on whether to reinstate the draft. CNN's poll on the issue of whether there ought to be a reinstatement of the draft was both encouraging and discouraging.
Encouraging because of the results:
"Among 30 and over, 79 percent opposed, 18-29, 88 [percent] opposed."
Discouraging because the matter has even come up for discussion. The draft is a contemptible form of state coercion, one of the few forms of extreme authoritarianism to retain a modest aura of respectibility in liberal democracies.
It is amazing enough that Larry King can say on national television that "I have no basic objection to a draft" , but the re-emergence of the question reminds me of the way the topic of torture was introduced as a tacitly acceptable method of state interrogation after 9/11. It is even more insidious to say "okay, let's talk about it, who are we harming if we just discuss the possibilities" than if there was an attempt to pass legislation making such methods legal.
Why is the draft suddenly back on the agenda? Well, apart from the official 143,000 troops "inside Iraqi borders", there are tens of thousands of US troops in surrounding countries. This could elevate the total to perhaps 200,000. The US army is completely over-stretched, with commitments in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and of course Iraq. The Iraqi Resistance cannot be put down by the current troop levels. British forces have admitted that they could not possibly hold Basra if the population enacted a Fallujah-style uprising. US troops are finding themselves frequently on the run . And the loose bands of mercenaries they've got in there for "protection" are presumably not going to be up to the task either.
I would therefore expect there to be a big push to reinstate the draft. The US authorities in Iraq are presently holding out for a political solution, but that is unlikely to happen. If all else fails, of course, Negroponte can simply whip up some death squads like he did when he was "Ambassador" to Honduras. (Yeah, how did that work? "Oh, Mr Ambassador, with these drug-funded ex-Nazis you are really spoiling us!")
I hope you guys are up for it. Pack some clean underwear cos if I were you, I'd be shitting myself.
For more on this, click here or, indeed, take a look at the comments box.
Ruling Class Confessions, part II
"I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar soaked fingers out of the business of these [Third World] nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the 'haves' refuse to share with the 'have-nots' by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans."
-General David Shoup [Former United States Marine Commandant, at Junior College World Affairs Day in May, 1966]
( Source ).
Ruling Class Confessions
"Rising unemployment was a very desirable way of reducing the strength of the working classes.... What was engineered--in a Marxist sense--was a crisis in capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labor, and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since."
--Alan Budd, chief economic advisor to HM Treasury 1991 - 1997.
( Source ).
Saturday, April 24, 2004
"Sometimes a guy will go down, and I'll let him scream a bit to destroy
the morale of his buddies," a Marine corporal said, "then I'll use a second
shot." ("For Marine snipers, war is up close and personal", Tony Perry,
Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2004)
In nearly two weeks of conflict in Falluja, the unnamed corporal has emerged
as the top sniper, with 24 confirmed kills. By comparison, the top Marine
Corps sniper in Vietnam killed 103 people in 16 months. ”I couldn't have
asked to be in a better place,” the corporal said. “I just got lucky: to
be here at the right time and with the right training."
"Leave it, son, leave it!"
This is liberation.
Dangerous, corrupt and violent. (21) 46%
Eerily calm and charmingly picturesque. (16) 35%
Huh? (1) 2%
Sweet and juicy, like a fattened mango. (2) 4%
Allahu Akhbar! (5) 11%
Ahura Mahzda, the Wise Lord, is upon us. (1) 2%
( View Results )
This week, we have a new poll - this time about your opinion of this website. I realise I'm chancing my neck, so I'll be logging on and off this motherfucker to make sure I get the right result - did I type that out loud? Please scroll down to participate...
Censorship And the Iraq War
Russ Kick, editor of such glossy books as Abuse Your Illusions and Everything You Know Is Wrong, (which seem eerily close to my own planned books, Abuse Your Relations and Everyone I Do Is Wrong), has made the news with his excellent website, The Memory Hole .
What has he done that has so troubled President Bush and made the front pages (in the non-Murdoch press)? He has filed for and successfully obtained the right to pictures taken of coffins draped in Stars n Stripes flags on their way to burial back home. Under the Freedom of Information Act, he has obtained 361 such photographs. And the President is pissed off .
Russ explains it thus:
Since March 2003, a newly-enforced military regulation has forbidden taking or distributing images of caskets or body tubes containing the remains of soldiers who died overseas...
Immediately after hearing about this, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the following:
All photographs showing caskets (or other devices) containing the remains of US military personnel at Dover AFB. This would include, but not be limited to, caskets arriving, caskets departing, and any funerary rites/rituals being performed. The timeframe for these photos is from 01 February 2003 to the present.
I specified Dover because they process the remains of most, if not all, US military personnel killed overseas. Not surpisingly, my request was completely rejected. Not taking 'no' for an answer, I appealed on several grounds, and—to my amazement—the ruling was reversed. The Air Force then sent me a CD containing 361 photographs of flag-draped coffins and the services welcoming the deceased soldiers.
Score one for freedom of information and the public's right to know.
The Independent reports:
Aware of the power of these pictures and their potential to inflict political damage on Mr Bush as he campaigns for re-election, his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, is desperate that they should not be published. Under a White House directive, the press has not been permitted to photograph the return of such coffins for more than a year. But last week 361 images of military coffins being returned to Dover air force base in Delaware were released to an internet news site under the Freedom of Information Act.
This week the Pentagon decided it should not have provided the pictures after all, and barred further releases. "Quite frankly, we don't want the remains of our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice to be the subject of any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified," said John Moline, a deputy undersecretary of defence.
Since their release, the photographs have been published prominently by newspapers and received widespread coverage by the television networks triggering further debate about the war. Only Rupert Murdoch's Fox News has declined to show the pictures or report any discussion about the White House's decision to prevent their publication...
...The images the White House wanted to censor were obtained by Russ Kick, from Tucson, Arizona, who runs a website called The Memory Hole (www.thememoryhole.org) and who filed a Freedom of Information Act application. Air force officials denied the request but decided to release the photos after Mr Kick appealed against their decision. Mr Kick was unavailable for comment yesterday, but on his website he wrote: "These are the images that the Pentagon prevented the public from seeing."
Well, they may yet succeed in doing so, Russ. Remember the late J H Hatfield, and watch your everloving hide.
Freedom of the Grave.
Meanwhile, General Myers has told the Duluth News Tribune that the "war is going well" - so well, in fact, that US soldiers may have to remain in Iraq for "decades". It will depend, he says, on "how quickly Iraqis stand up and take responsibility for their country."
General, you appear to be giving way to your inner termites. Iraqis stood up and took responsibility for their own country not more than a few weeks ago. They knocked you out of several towns. You sent helicopter gunships in to slaughter them. They routinely tell opinion pollsters that they want you out of their country and power handed to an elected government. Your cohorts tell us, on the quiet, that Iraqis will only be granted "limited sovereignty". Perhaps, however, you mean "Iraqis" in the same sense that Bush Senior meant it when he called upon them to over-throw Saddam Hussein - that is, the senior Ba'athist generals who will rule once more with an iron fist, and whom you are now so anxious to make welcome in "the new Iraq".
Endnote: JustiC has an excellent little piece on Melanie Phillips and Mordechai Vanunu . Go see.
Friday, April 23, 2004
If you prefer the modern, industrialised phalanx of grey and fuscous brown, then I refer you to Eamon McCann in the Belfast Telegraph .
If you'd rather have the de-industrialised slums of South America and South Asia, then Mike Davis in the New Left Review is your man.
Schadenfreude: Part Two
"Does my right honourable friend agree that, with the publication of the road map for Palestine having given real hope for the people of Palestine...there are now no valid reasons whatever for any Labour MP not to support our government tomorrow?" GEORGE FOULKES, Labour MP for Carrick, Cumnock & Doon Valley, 18th March, 2003.
What the Foulkes?
Yes, new Labour MPs have been tanning their noses in the glorious sunshine of Tony Blair's radiant gloriole for some years now. But, as someone else once said, I didn't think it polite to listen. But George Foulkes is a particularly odious Blairite toady, and he fully deserves the scorn that his own words heap on him. Excelsior to you, George!
Slaying the Nationalist Dragon
My grandfather kicked the bucket in 1983. The reading of his will raised some eyebrows, to riot in understatement. To his only daughter, he left his prodigious smoking habit, while to his sons he left his many fine stomach ulcers "which I hope will bring you as many hours of pleasure as they have me." I remember this taunt from the grave whenever people speak to me of cultural heritage and such. For instance, Andrew Rosindell, the Romford Conservative MP has announced that "23rd April - St George's Day - should be carved on the heart of every Englishman." Andrew, I should be delighted to carve those words into your heart the second you present yourself to me. I have, however, one question: Why?
Andrew Rosindell: Pride of Romford.
Seems an easy enough question. The answer announces itself in every patriotic mind:
I am proud of my cultural heritage, of my roots, of the rich and elegant language which is spoken the world over, of those great characteristics which have distinguished the true Englishman down the generations, from the poetry of Tennyson to Winston Churchill, to Shakespeare, the Queen and the numinous pound.
I may not be alone in finding such an impressionistic answer singularly unsatisfactory. For one thing, Rosindell's idea of an "Englishman" may not be everyone's cup of tea - a former member of the Monday Club, which called for "voluntary repatriation" of non-whites living in Britain, he complained bitterly about "political correctness" when asked to leave by the Tory party chairman. For those not of Rosindell's racist ilk, England's cultural heritage seems not qualitatively better than those of other nations - Andorra, or Iceland for example. True, English is spoken widely but so have many other languages been - French, Portuguese and Spanish for example. Laud English culture as you must but, as Terry Eagleton once reminded an English audience, "The Irish were good enough to write some of your best literature for you". The Indians fought one of your most successful wars for you, since you mention Churchill (who was, after all, a class-conscious bigot and imperialist whose well-girded aura owes itself to his ennoblement in a war sold as "anti-fascist"). And why insist on taking "pride" in the acheivements of others who just happen to have lived in the same locality? If you want to feel proud of something, do something worth taking pride in. A couple of laps round the block, a letter to the local newspaper... your choice. The Queen is about as important in my life as the most distinguised pond-life and currencies have never set my pulse racing.
The Queen: Low German Interloper.
So, to probe this mystery further, I hit the streets with my cheap dictaphone (made in Japan, but sold in glorious Albion). Getting sensible answers from passers-by proved a considerable challenge - but anyone calling himself a revolutionary socialist in these times cannot be averse to challenge. Here is a rush transcript:
Some muffled noises, feet moving, cars racing in the background.
VOX POPULI: Why don't you just fuck off back to yer own country?
NARRATOR/LENIN: They're not eager to have me return, madam. But thanks for your time!
Yes, that is "it". Fact is, I've edited out all the insults, as well as the beating I received from someone whom I elected to call - for reasons which now escape me -an "absurd fanny-pad of a man with a face like a pissed-on pancake and a whipped dog-turd posing as a fringe." Turns out I was insulting the Labour mayor of Lewisham.
Abandoning the street altogether, I sought refuge in a nearby pub where - astonishingly - the mood was reflective, considered and thoughtful. It takes a drink or two to sober the Englishman up, I noted. For example, one retired policeman told me, through a dense fog of pipe smoke, that he loved his country passionately - but this did not mean he thought any the less of others.
"Why," I enquired, "this unrequited love? What's in it for you? Is it not better to love people and faces than races and places?
"As a matter of principle," he said, somewhat astounded by my ignorance, "and pride. I love my country out of principles that are axiomatic."
"What principles are these? Allow me to know."
"Why..." he paused, and flicked suspicious brown eyes at me. "Look, do you want a clip round the ear, sunshine?"
"You're not Dixon of Dock Green you know." I was insolent. "Do I take it that the principle to which you adhere is one of purblind service and loyalty to the state which claims sovereignty over the land mass on which you happened to be born?"
"Oh, don't be a cunt all yer life," he waved a hand, dismissing me. "Goo on, fuck off. And take Patch Adams there with you."
To this day, I have no idea who he was referring to.
Dixon of Dock Green.
Anyway, I played a few rounds of poll with some young - how to put it? - wankers in England shirts and Ben Sherman gear. I would have patronised them with perfect pleasure for hours had I not felt oddly compelled to preserve my skeletal structure and internal organs.
"Everyone always knocks England," one complained. "It's like the trendiest thing you can do now. Know what I mean? Just because it's politically correct. But you shouldn't because, you know, its your country. Its where you're from. Its your people. You never see animals shit in their own nest."
I asked him if he had ever seen a cow field.
"But seriously," I said, wiping the stupid grin from my face in deference to the stupid frown on his, "is it really all that trendy to 'knock' England? I don't hear Tony Blair or Cilla Black doing it. Neither Blue nor the Sugababes have insulted England of late and neither, to my knowledge, has any leading sports star, politicians or musician. Pubs and shops are replete with the blood-red cross of St George, the infidel-slayer. Frank Skinner still has a boner from the money he had on that stupid song that was number one when everyone thought England would win Euro '96. For Christ's sake, even the Duke of Edinburgh hasn't got round to slagging off the English yet!"
I smiled a radiant smile, triumphant at such a splendid argument.
"Yeah but," he said with a grunt that brought me hurtling to earth, "you know what I mean..."
"Yeah, yeah," I nodded, "I know what you mean."
"Know what I mean?"
"Yeah, that's what I'm on about."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
I then became modestly intoxicated and remember nothing of the subsequent 36 hours and pray that noone else does either. However, not to invite doubt as to my patriotism, my jingoism and my infinite malleability, I should like to propose a patriotic toast - To St George of Galloway and Mordechai Vanunu, a Spock for our troubled enterprise. WHAT?? Not English you say? But, dear boy/girl, neither was St George of Arabia. And neither, come to that, am I.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
Schadenfreude: Part One
I today begin a new series dedicated to rubbing salt in the Prime Minister's wounds, specifically pertaining to his bleat that "a significant part of Western opinion is sitting back, if not half-hoping we fail, certainly replete with Schadenfreude at the difficulty we find". From the mouth of an idiot comes wisdom.
In that same article, the Prime Minister described the Iraqi resistance as, among other things, " remnants of a brutal dictatorship which murdered hundreds of thousands of its own people and enslaved the rest". That sounds terrifying. Who would associate themselves with such bloodied foes?
Answer - the United States and Great Britain:
"The United States is moving to rehire former members of Iraq's ruling Baath Party and senior Iraqi military officers fired after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, in an effort to undo the damage of its two most controversial policies in Iraq, according to U.S. officials ... The U.S.-led coalition is already bringing back senior military officers to provide leadership to the fragile new Iraqi army, with more than half a dozen generals from Hussein's military appointed to top jobs in the past week alone, U.S. officials said. Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, chief of Central Command, is working to identify other commanders to bring back, officials added."
Meanwhile, back in our haven of democracy, we learn that all that bullshit we promised to the Iraqis was just PR :
"The new Iraqi interim government scheduled to take control on July 1 will have only "limited sovereignty" over the country and no authority over U.S. and coalition military forces already there, senior State and Defense officials told Congress this week ... "So we transfer sovereignty, but the military decisions continue to reside indefinitely in the control of the American commander. Is that correct?" Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, on Tuesday. "That's correct," Myers replied."
General Myers has all the persuasive skill of the recently lachrymose Ron Atkinson. He has insisted that Fallujah was a "humane" campaign:
"There has never been a more humane campaign... and that goes for operations in Falluja".
Well, General, if its okay for you to shoot at unarmed boys , and kill enough people to fill a football field, (see photo), would you care to explain the simple humanity of those bombers who took comparatively fewer lives in Madrid?
And here is the greatest Schadenfreude shot of them all - it's not working. Everything they are doing is making the Iraqis even more pissed off, even more inclined to send bullets of gratitude the way of their ersatz liberators. Or, as one Iraqi told the BBC:
"When the Americans arrived there were only about 50 guerrillas - by the end of the week there were a few thousand." Nada Rabee, Falluja resident.
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
Well, if it is just "Islamo-fascists", the fighting now seems to have spread to Saudi Arabia . How's that for a geographical leap?
Not exactly "localised", then. And furthermore, it ain't all over.
Fallujah is once more aflame .
The truce has broken , 9 people have so far been killed by US helicopter gunships (as they went after those incorrigible insurgents, naturally).
Of course, this will all be over soon and Iraq will have a democracy (to be run by the infamous purveyor of death squad terror, Mr John Negroponte). A corrupt IGC may not have much to say if Mr Negroponte feels it necessary to once more recruit a motley crue of neo-Nazis and violent scum to deter the threat of a good example once again. He will have Ba'athist soldiers and mercenaries at his disposal too. That should put the locals in their place.
Yes, yes. I know. The British are much better at Empire than the Americans. We know how to treat the natives, while the vulgar yanks do not. However, it now seems that the British are hated as well. I certainly feel safer, and I hope you are not so cynical as to detect sarcasm in any of this.
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
"'The problem of Sadr is bigger than Sadr. It is the whole Shiite community and the holy shrine,' [Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq] said. 'We have just about eliminated all his influence across the south.'" (Source)General Sanchez on why troops are withdrawing from the big tiger-fight in Najaf.
Monday, April 19, 2004
Five US Marines were killed and nine wounded in Iraq when hundreds of guerrillas attacked American forces near the Syrian border, a sign that the rebellion is spreading to regions which have hitherto been peaceful.
The pitched battle on Saturday started when the marines were ambushed in Husaybah, 240 miles west of Baghdad, according to a reporter from the St Louis Post-Dispatch, who was with the Marines. A doctor at the nearby city of al-Qaim said 10 Iraqis were killed and another 30 wounded, including guerrillas and civilian bystanders. The Husaybah police chief, Imad al-Mahlawi, was reportedly killed by a Marine sniper.
In order to combat this growing problem, the United States have decided that those who could previously only be controlled with an iron fist will be so again - or so General Sanchez told the press :
"Well, the fact of the matter is
that some of them did very well and some of them did not...And in the
south, a number of units, both in the police force and also in the ICDC
[Iraqi Civil Defense Corps], did not stand up to the intimidators of the
forces of Sadr's militia and that was a great disappointment to us...With
regard to the new Iraqi army, I think we can look for better performance in
the future once we get a well-established Iraqi chain of command. The truth
of the matter is that until we get well-formed Iraqi chains of command, all
the way in the police service from the minister of interior to the lowest
patrolman on the beat in whatever city it may be, and the same for the
army, from private to minister of defense, that it's going to be tough to
get them to perform at the level we want. The good news is, we're working
on those chains of command, and I'm confident that with work on our part
and work on their part, we'll have better performance. .... It's also very
clear that we've got to get more senior Iraqis involved, former military
types involved in the security forces. And in the next couple of days
you'll see a large number of senior officers being appointed to key
positions in the Ministry of Defense and in Iraqi joint staff and in Iraqi
field commands." (My emphasis).
Perhaps another solution is to ensure that Iraqi journalists don't get any funny ideas - by blowing their brains out . Another good way to punish the bastards is to close their hospitals :
When the United States began the siege of Fallujah, it targeted civilians in several ways. The power station was bombed; perhaps even more important, the bridge across the Euphrates was closed. Fallujah's main hospital stands on the western bank of the river; almost the entirety of the town is on the east side. Although the hospital was not technically closed, no doctor who actually believes in the Hippocratic oath is going to sit in an empty hospital while people are dying in droves on the other bank of the river. So the doctors shut down the hospital, took the limited supplies and equipment they could carry, and started working at a small three-room outpatient clinic, doing operations on the ground and losing patients because of the inadequacy of the setup. This event was not reported in English until April 14, when the bridge was reopened.
In Najaf, the Spanish-language "Plus Ultra" garrison closed the al-Sadr Teaching Hospital roughly a week ago (as of yesterday, it remained closed). With 200 doctors, the hospital (formerly the Saddam Hussein Teaching Hospital) is one of the most important in Iraq. Troops entered and gave the doctors two hours to leave, allowing them to take only personal items -- no medical equipment. The reason given was that the hospital overlooks the Plus Ultra's base, and that the roof could be used by resistance snipers. Al-Arabiya has also reported that in Qaim, a small town near the Syrian border where fighting recently broke out, that the hospital had been closed, with American snipers positioned atop nearby buildings.
Add to this the sight of US soldiers shooting at ambulances and perhaps it is no longer a particular mystery why there is an uprising in Iraq, and why it is spreading to parts unknown. Even Andrew Sullivan is having trouble keeping tabs on which place is in uproar and where and why:
SADR CAPITULATES: I'm unnerved by the presence of Iranians helping to broker some kind of deal with al Sadr, but heartened by the fact that the extremist revolt in Fallujah seems to have been quelled – largely by Marine force and by moderate Shiite realism.
As Justin Raimondo points out, "Sadr is in Najaf, not Fallujah, which is Sunni, not Shi'ite. And somebody ought to tell those rebellious Fallujans they've been 'quelled,' because they don't seem to have realized it as yet." In the meantime, the media can't seem to see the massacre for the bodies . Must be something in the water.
Tales From the Script
Something of an unwelcome fugitive from the grave, the 72 year old Donald Rumsfeld is increasingly inviting accusations of senility, if not downright idiocy. Reacting to reports from Al Jazeera that the US had massacred hundreds of innocent civilians in Fallujah by indiscriminate shooting, the US Secretary of Defense (sic) launched some pretty indiscriminate shooting off at the mouth. The reports were "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable" , he said before adding, "It's just outrageous nonsense." Well, he is the expert.
Rumsfeld: "Outrageous Nonsense".
The facts, as ever, make him foolish. But let's stick with some lies for a moment. According to General John Abizaid, it was a "judicious use of force", while the head of the US marines suggested that "95% of those killed were legitimate targets". Pratfall. Here are the facts.
Among the 600 to 1000 murdered in Fallujah, 300 were women and children. I know, I know. They were probably terrorists in the making, or providing succour to terrorists, or breathing the same air as terrorists. But women and children do not fight either in the Mehdi Army or in the Mujahideen Brigades. So, it is illuminating to note that the US army now regards civilian non-fighters are "legitimate targets". Further, the way in which these attacks occurred throws light on the intent behind the attacks. Ronan Bennett reports :
"Let's look at just a handful of the 5% of civilian casualties the Americans concede they have inflicted.
These include the mother of six-year-old Haider Abdel-Wahab, shot and killed while hanging out laundry; his father, shot in the head; Haider himself, and his brothers, crushed but dug out alive after a US missile struck their house. They include children who died of head wounds. They include an old woman with a bullet wound - still clutching a white flag when aid workers found her. They include an elderly man lying face down at the gate to his house - while inside terrified girls screamed "Baba! Baba!" They include ambulance crews fired on by US troops - and four-year-old Ali Nasser Fadil, wounded during an air strike. The New York Times reporter who found the infant in a Baghdad hospital described him lying in bed, "his eyes wide and fixed on a spot in the ceiling". His left leg had been crudely amputated. The same reporter found 10-year-old Waed Joda by the bedside of his gravely wounded father. "American snipers shot at us as we were trying to flee Falluja," said Waed."
What? You dare to doubt the man who has written such inspired movie scripts as Lucky Break? Well, then, case your eyes on that Guardian article reporting Rumsfeld's comments:
"In the intensive care unit at Medical City hospital in Baghdad Yusuf Fayar Ali said his son Mohammad, 12, was shot through the mouth when troops attacked gunmen in his village, al-Na'amiya just south of Falluja, last week. The boy, seriously ill, is on a ventilator.
"The fighting lasted for an hour and we tried to take our women and children away out of the house," he said.
"We were hiding in the trees by the Euphrates. My son was hiding in a small furrow between the trees. He lifted up his head and suddenly a bullet hit him through the cheek. I am sure it was an American bullet."
In the next bed a young girl called Iftihal has a bullet lodged inside her skull. She was injured in the same attack when US troops crossed the river to her village, Amariya.
"The Americans were just shooting, there was no specific target," her father Ismail Obaid, 51, said. "We were inside the house - the bullet came through the door and hit her in the head."
"The Americans came to our area and were shooting randomly and that is why a lot of civilians were injured," he said.
In the next ward Sa'adia Mohammad was with her niece Noor, 11, who was injured in Falluja two weeks ago as they were taking in the washing.
"There was a large explosion and I saw Noor lying on the ground. Her face was painted with blood."
Her shrapnel wound became badly infected."
The only reason civilian casualties died down was "because many families left the city when the ceasefire began."
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being Bombed.
There is a perfectly plausible excuse, of course, and the Prime Minister gives it:
"Fallujah is historically a terrible place that even Saddam Hussein could not control."
Not exactly Saddam loyalists, then. How "terrible" indeed!
And in even better news ,
"An Iraqi has died of his wounds after US troops beat him with truncheons because he refused to remove a picture of wanted Shiite Muslim leader Moqtada Sadr from his car, police said today.
"The motorist was stopped late yesterday by US troops conducting search operations on a street in the centre of the central city of Kut, Lieutenant Mohamad Abdel Abbas said.
"After the man refused to remove Sadr's picture from his car, the soldiers forced him out of the vehicle and started beating him with truncheons, he said.
"Qassem Hassan, the director of Kut general hospital, identified the man as Salem Hassan, a resident of a Kut suburb. He said the man had died of wounds sustained in the beating."
Tony Blair is, as he so loves to be, correct - but not in any sense which would make his golden gloriole radiate with greater magnificence. The terrorists are indeed in the ascendancy in Iraq. The trouble is, how can the Iraqis evict them? Well, there is one encouraging possibility:
"[T]he commander of British troops in southern Iraq, Brig Nick Carter, admitted that he would be powerless to prevent the overthrow of Coalition forces if the Shia majority in Basra rose up in rebellion. Brig Carter, of the 20 Armoured Brigade, who has been in Iraq for four months, said British forces would stay in Basra with the consent of local Shia leaders, or not at all."
Belatedly, they are asking permission! Hopefully, residents of Basra will undertake the Bush doctrine and grab an historic opportunity :
Q: (Egyptian President) Hosni Mubarak is saying the new U.S. policy on the West Bank could escalate violence. How do you respond to his concerns?
BUSH: Yes, I think this is a fantastic opportunity.
A perfect Freudian shit, no?
PS: much of the material for this post comes from Left I On the News a source of incalculable value for unpackaging and dissecting the day's news. I commend all to visit.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
"Are you fit and adventurous? Want to earn $500 a day? Here's the ideal job," it enthuses, before entering the caveat, "There is only one drawback - it's in Iraq." No sale. Not for me, anyway. I never got into violence, despite the best efforts of my friends and relatives.
If, however, you consider yourself among what the Absurder describes as one of the "new Klondikers", then you might be interested to know that "'The recent instability is good for anybody who is actually here. It is reducing the competition, because people are taking the Wall Street walk.'" Further, "the money can be fantastic", and "life - on both sides - is cheap". Those of you who caught my post about Iraq's mercenaries will not be astonished, but it's nice to see the liberal papers finally catching up.
Still, it's equally important to remind ourselves why this bastion of Sunday liberalism deserves pity, derision and scorn. Last weeks's editorial, accompanying Blair's article, (mailed directly from the vital Carribean), included the usual liberal self-torturing. Amid the epithets and sobriquets dispensed therein (the Iraqi resistance are "bandits", just as Jomo Kenyatta's comrades were once "savages"), editor Roger Alton reached new depths of Absurdity with this thought on the violence in Iraq:
"Optimists will say that last week's violence was to be expected. Dealing with the insurgents and al-Sadr had to be done and was never going to be easy. Pessimists see Iraq as on the brink of general insurrection, with growing bonds between Sunni and Shia radicals threatening to make the country ungovernable within months. As ever, the truth lies somewhere in between."
Between fact and fiction? Dear Roger, if the "optimists" truly believe that last week's violence was "to be expected", then they deserve to have their heads on spikes for having supported such a venture. Be upstanding, sir.
Friday, April 16, 2004
Meanwhile, Bush let slip the biggest open secret of the entire campaign:
"You see, I believe (dramatic pause, hand on chest) that free countries are peaceful countries."
You heard it here first. Iraq is not a free country. (Actually, this is a long-running Bushism, like so many of the quack sound-bites that eventually reach our screens. A google search shows that he's been saying this shit for the last year and a half).
And finally, don't be fooled by all this negative media coverage of Iraq. Things are going well. The uprisings prove it. In fact, according to General Myers, if things weren't going so well, there wouldn't be any uprisings. You are, General, beating your gums together. As even the Thinker President admits, "people don't like being occupied" . Nor do they appreciate having their cities turned to rubble, hundreds of their citizens murdered, and then being told that only bad guys got killed. Still, as a Leninist, I'm vaguely inclined to go along with the General's unique logic. The worse it gets, the better it gets.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
The US has decided that the man chiefly responsible for implemented outrageous terrorist atrocities in Nicaragua, John Negroponte, is to be the new US ambassador to Iraq . As US ambassador to Honduras, he directed a CIA operation to train, fund and arm violent extremists in the Honduran hinterland, whereupon they were sent into Nicaragua to raid local schools and medical centres, raping and torturing as they made their merry way to destiny.
Osama bin Laden has offered Europeans a "truce" if they cease attacking Muslim countries. My advice is, invite him round for talks. Seriously. Because you have to figure that wherever he is... Of course, the last thing bin Laden expects or desires is for Europe to actually say "great, we've been waiting for this chance to make ourselves look like pansies!" He expects a bellicose reaction. I have no hesitation in predicting he will get one.
Kosovo, that island of liberity, security and nascent democracy in the neoliberalised Balkans, is experiencing something of an iron fist clamp-down by the regime, while mobs affiliated to KLA tributaries are planning the final "cleansing" of Serb minority zones.
#Hail, Hail Freedonia...#
"It's all pretty quiet, really."
I recall similar optimism about a year ago when Simpson appeared on Ruby Wax’s morning BBC show (in an indecent moment, the Beeb decided that daytime television could also be entertaining). He described Afghanistan’s recovery following the American ouster of the crazy Caliphs of Kabul. Would the Taliban make a resurgence, Ruby wondered, eyes agleam with fear of the bhurka-botherers. No! John laughed, with demonic mirth. They’ve gone. Like post-war Germany, no one has ever been a Talib, no one knows one, and few would deign to say they’d met one on the flight to Kashmir. He then recounted a surreal, but traumatic encounter with make-up wearing Taliban fighters who clacked toward him on high heels, pointing Kalashnikov rifles. Women wore the burlap sacks while their theocrat masters wore the eyeliner and spike heels, brandishing weapons and mascara as certain San Francisco dwellers are known to do. And suddenly, with a magical poof, they had disappeared into a thousand tanning salons and manicurists.
The Taliban, of course, are not gone. Instead, they fight pitch battles for control of the country with the old warlords, the very same who made the Taliban seem like a good idea in the first place. The lesson was clear. Words like “stability” are always relative terms, especially when uttered by someone who drifts to sleep to the gentle lullaby of conflagration. I feared a similar Panglossian streak had befallen Johann Hari until his recent confessional for The Independent. As it transpires, Hari has been tortured by doubt and worry, like a lapsed Catholic - he is nothing if not reflective. Hari reports that his decision to support a US invasion was consolidated in Kerbala in 2002, where he witnessed some of the bizarre cruelty of Saddam’s power. (I recall him telling an ITV news magazine show that he had known Iraqis who were ready to commit suicide if the war didn't come soon. I hope he knew a few who now no longer have that choice.) Having formerly believed that Bush was on the imperial road to Damascus, paved with malign intent, he now believed that liberation worked in mysterious ways. Whatever the motives, war would bring peace, and occupation would bring emancipation. Come 2004, the citizens of Kerbala are hearkening to a new redemption song. Armed and blessed, the Shi’ites of Iraq are belatedly giving Bush his devoutly wished for uprisings. Hari is aghast. The exact same square in which he had been touched by epiphany is now the scene of riot. The level of security and welfare is just south of that in Beirut during the wild heyday of Israeli expansionism.
Johann Hari: Glum.
Hari confesses his doubts to some Iraqi friends, ex-pats working for the Iraqi Prospect Group . One of them, a “feisty” lass, admits to similar feelings but cheerfully dispenses a pat formula for Hari to put in his column. You see, supporting the invasion doesn’t necessitate support for every US concoction and confection in Iraq. It has been, says Hari’s friend, an ABC in how to breed terrorists. One may be angered, depressed, appalled by what the United States has done to Iraq since emancipation yet still support the invasive surgery that cut out the cancer. Since the Iraqi Prospect Organisation was, according to Hari, "set up to convince the world that the Iraqi people wanted and needed Saddam's regime to be overthrown, even if that meant an invasion" and to "persuade people that the anti-war movement did not speak for the Iraqis or Kurdish people" it is not difficult to sympathise with this ideological gesture.
Would that it was so simple. Unfortunately for the imperialist internationalists of the liberal press, the consequences of this invasion were predictable to all but the congenitally purblind. The uneasy separation of motive from outcome, which Hari blithely assumes in theory, is inoperable in practise. Hari is disgusted by the extremist neo-liberalism being imposed on Iraq – the same, he notes, which has decimated much of Latin America and Africa. But did not the aggressors announce this intention quite plainly (hidden in plain view, as it were)? Hari is depressed by tales of US brutality in Iraq – should he really be cheering this on? He would like to say he doesn’t have to, but I’m afraid it is a well-established hallmark of imperial occupiers that they exert brutal authority over conquered territory if the population is not sufficiently compliant. These lessons were available in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Bosnia – the crucial difference being that there hasn’t been much of a resistance of any kind to the occupiers in these countries. Hari’s favoured outcome of a peaceful, post-war Iraq depends on Iraqi servitude.
Stay In Line, Motherfuckers.
Hari then stuns us with some “facts” which he hopes will save him from absurdity. No chance. He cites a claim from the Human Rights Centre in Khadimiyah that Saddam Hussein would have killed 70,000 people in Iraq over the next year if he had remained in power. They’ve found documents, you see. And since the occupiers have not managed to kill a total of 70,000 people over the last year, lives have been saved. Apparently, Saddam sat in his palaces, surrounded by courtiers, and with evil cackling crossed out names from the census. Further, extensive records were kept on who was to be murdered this year. We're in doubting mode, and strange to relate, I doubt Hussein’s murderous state catalogued its own sins, much less recorded exact figures for intended killings over the next year. I further doubt that if this figure is a statistical projection it has anything beyond speculative validity. I'm not saying that 70,000 is above Saddam's touch. But it would seem to contradict a trend toward diminishing human rights violations noted by Human Rights Watch recently. And it would certainly be a conspicuous jump on the previous year. (I did e-mail Johann while composing this article and asked him if there was any way of reading a first-hand report, or even an explication of these figures in some depth. He repeated that the figures had been "calculated by going through the newly opened Ba'athist archives". I had similar trouble getting answers out of John Sweeney when he made outlandish claims about Iraq's dead babies - he invited me to visit Iraq, which I took to be somewhat in the spirit of the spider inviting the fly to supper.) Still, taking the statistics at face value offers no help at all. Even if it is true, and "lives have been saved" in that dilute sense, we have yet to see what awaits us. It took a day for the US forces to kill approximately 400 in Fallujah - and the scary thing is that records are made to be broken. The trouble with utilitarianism, especially in such a heavy-handed guise, is that we are never done with consequences. The reductio ad absurdum of such a stance is the vapid phrase-mongering of Chairman Mao's CCCP chum Chou En-Lai who, asked about the outcome of the French Revolution, said "It is too soon to tell" .
Hari’s extreme utilitarianism sets him up for yet another pratfall. He reminds us of opinion polls taken in Iraq in which a majority of Iraqis say that their lives have improved since the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime. He suggests that the polls cannot be blighted by public apprehension of the coalition, forcing them to attenuate their criticisms of the new imperial masters because, after all, they do say a lot of bad things about the coalition. It would be odd if conditions didn’t improve somewhat upon the release of strangling sanctions. And, it is true that colonial despotism is more liberal than Ba’athist tyranny - sometimes. These axiomatic truths, Hari says, ought to be confronted by the anti-war Left. Of the former one need only say that it is over a decade too late. Of the latter, one is inclined to wonder if Iraqis might not have been better placed to liberate themselves in more propitious circumstances had the US not blocked their insurgency in 1991, then subjected them to a genocidal sanctions regime (quite on purpose, as DIA documents reveal).
Hari says that only 15% of Iraqis support an immediate end to the occupation. Those who marched to End the Occupation Now, he says, are supported by only 15% of Iraqis. He got this little canard from Harry’s Place, where he occasionally romps. True, some Iraqis would prefer the troops to stay until June 30th, or until security is achieved. He does not mention that most Iraqis oppose the planned long-term military occupation, or that in their overwhelming numbers they say the best way to achieve security – the number one priority – is to hand over power to an elected, accountable Iraqi government. (Not the IGC which, an Iraqi tells me, is “rotten to the bore” with corrupt nonentities with less credibility than Saddam Hussein, as Hari’s polls also reveal). But Hari is mistaken about the objection to polling evidence. It isn’t that Iraqis are simply afraid the answer negatively. It is that the poll involves a conditional – namely, the successful invasion and occupation of Iraq. Retrospective opinion polls are not a particularly good way to judge the merits of a war. Hari’s devout fidelity to what he selects as genuine Iraqi opinion becomes quite comical as he ends his confessional-cum-triumphal.
Most Iraqis, he says, don’t want the occupation to end right away. They do want a democratic Iraqi government. They don’t want Muqtadr. But they’d sooner not see him killed either. So, Hari tailors his opinion to fit theirs – or rather, tailors theirs to fit his. He speaks for “most Iraqis”. “Most Iraqis” speak through him. The war has generated good consequences, which over-ride the bad (“accentuate the positive!”). Motives are irrelevant. The occupation should hang in there, ride out the (desert) storm, and hand over the government to a free Iraq. Unfortunately, to draw on a meteorological metaphor, the tornado engulfing Iraq is the result of two fronts colliding. One must vanquish the other. Remaining in Iraq (indefinitely, it now seems) is unlikely to mean anything other than the annihilation of US opponents with extreme force – a fact which court ideologists like Hari must perforce avoid acknowledging. If only I had “doubts” as vanquishable as Hari’s! Like the bewitched Hansel, he takes many wonderful and frightening paths through the woods only to arrive back at the same damn gingerbread house.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
The “mean square mile” is as secular and de-spiritualised a zone as one can imagine, a concrete conurbation of finance and corruption. It radiates hard-headed realism, icy egoism and unsentimental calculation. Why should it be, therefore, that in one of its most esteemed corporations there exists a tyranny of religious fanaticism every bit as doctrinal, rigid and ethereal as Orthodox Christianity, say, or Scientology. Welbeck Consulting, a franchise of the infamous Zurich, is for all intents and purposes a telesales company seeking to flog tax advice, life assurance, unit trusts and pensions to rich people – the generally accepted threshold being an annual salary of £100,000+. Self Invested Personal Plans (SIPPs) also rake in substantial sums, as they help the client avoid inheritance tax because money invested in SIPPs is not considered part of the client’s estate when he or she dies. In fact, a great deal of their work is tax relief for the wealthy, using perfectly legal loopholes. Higher Rate Tax relief gives the client back £22 for every £100 paid in tax. If the client is aged thirty-five, married with two children and a working wife on a similar income, Welbeck will have struck gold. Stakeholder pensions can be allocated to the kids, the wife can partake of joint life assurance, and tax avoidance can go double trouble.
Appointments are made by staff who are employed on a commission basis. They search for the names and numbers of CEOs, CFOs, investment bankers, fund managers, managing directors and others likely to be in the upper income bracket. The only wealthy clients they don’t want, generally speaking, are lawyers. Staff are obliged to seek these details themselves, because Welbeck don’t purchase databases. They are given a script which they learn, then cold-call prospective clients whom they invite to a 45 minute presentation at the office. The expectation is that a good caller will yield at least six appointments per day out of fifty cold-calls – but this is not a reliable guide to actual achievement. Naturally enough, approximately half of those who even agree to an appointment fail to attend. Only one out of three clients are likely to be “closed”. Staff begin work at 8.30am and may be compelled to stay until 9pm – depending on how soon they reach their target of six appointments.
I don’t outline these working arrangements to cast any particular pall on Welbeck. Employment in the City typically does involve long hours, and the expectation of employees is that they may make a lot of money with sufficient dedication. I am merely spelling out what ought to be obvious constraints on their capacities. Reality dictates that even the most skilled salespeople have their limits. Yet, this is a disavowed reality in Welbeck. Such thoughts are “negs”. If staff members suggest, for example, the telesales script is unworkable in practise, they are being “neg”. If they challenge apparently ridiculous working practises, they are being “neg”. If they do not have Olympian illusions in their own unlimited ability, they are being “neg”. If they mention that their clients happen to be on voice-mail over a holiday period, they are told not to discuss it. It is “neg”, and only successes are to be discussed. You didn’t fail to get through; you made arrangements to call back. You weren’t told to fuck off; you caught a prospective client on the back-foot. Your wife didn’t die; you just dramatically cut your heating costs.
Staff are encouraged to draw up a “wheel of life” in which each area of their lives are examined, and to which they attach specific long- and short-range goals, which are numbered in order of priority. They may then be asked at a later time which of those goals they have achieved. They are probed for personal details, as these are taken to be the key to motivated salesmanship. They are encouraged to have material goals which require substantial assets – again, so that they will be motivated sellers. Motivational meetings assure staff of the ease of the job. “It’s a piece of piss”, they are told. “Pigs do fly here”, it is said. If they fail to achieve it will be because they do not want it enough, they have too many inner conflicts, they are “neg”. Use of the words “don’t” and “won’t” is also “neg”. In fact, any attitude that is not rangy and cocky and game is considered “neg”. What the hell is going on?
The straightforward answer is “indoctrination”. The company presumably would not see it that way, but I’ll just venture a suggestion that if you create a corporate climate in which staff are heavily pressured to internalise values specific to that company and its leadership, and a Nietzchean doctrine of super-human will triumphing over material reality, this might be some kind of ideological control. Failure is never a matter of material fact in this world – it is a matter of the wrong attitude, insufficient adherence to the shared values of the company, personal inadequacy. In fact, there is a strange emphasis on individualism, yet the overwhelming dynamic is conformity – reinforced by the ubiquitous “neg”. It may seem perfectly natural in some senses that a capitalist enterprise which depends on the efforts and achievements of staff on commission would generate such an ideology. But it does, in fact, have a source.
Anthony Robbins , the quack guru of global repute, is the idol of staff and executives alike. Robbins runs costly motivational seminars for company executives and ambitious employees in which they are apprised of the “power of the human brain”. The mind, it seems, is an infinite source of a power which defeats reality, hands down. Problems don’t really exist, as such – it is how one views a situation that makes it a problem. In fact, Robbins promises to help you annihilate limiting beliefs and ideas. He promises to show you how to turn your company around, how to bust through mental barriers and reach peak performance. An accomplished capitalist himself, Robbins also makes much out of his many charitable and “humanitarian” works. His website enumerates the many obscure awards he has won for being nice to inner city kids and feeding an alleged 1 million people around the world. His books, about as thick and heavy as your average pile of horse apples, explain through various parables, fables, mangled quotations and homilies the infinite power of the human brain. It seems that people who want to achieve should believe in destiny, rather than chance. They should have life goals and design life strategies. They should ask positive questions rather than negative ones. He offers this advice to fatties on his website:
"If you have repeatedly tried and failed to lose weight, could it be that you were asking yourself the wrong questions? Questions like "What will fill me up?" or "What's the sweetest, richest food I can get away with?"
What if you were to ask instead, "What would really nourish me?" "What light, delicious dish can I eat that would give me energy?" "Will this cleanse me or clog me?" And, if you're tempted to binge: "If I eat this, what will I have to give up in order to still achieve my goals? What's the ultimate price I'll pay if I indulge now?"
A single change in the habitual questions you ask yourself can and will profoundly change the quality of your life."
Staff at Welbeck who have attended his seminars all attest to his power to “make you believe you can do anything”. His ideas are considered tried and proven. The reverence they nurture for Robbins defeats all objections to his prattling dogma. Staff read his books, follow his methods, even adhere to a diet they attribute to him. They each carry a “book of goals” in which goals are recorded for a 48 hour period. The “wheel of life”, too, is a prescription of Robbins. His method and madness is replicated with astonishing fidelity in the company. He is a Corporate Christ. One of the stories retailed is of how enthusiastic members of Robbins’ paying audience queue up to walk over hot coals – not because they have to, but because they want to. Quite literally, armies of poorly suited, sweaty, unkempt, red-faced execs of both genders swarm around a track of red hot embers and cheer as gormless wonders swan across on bare feet pretending not to be affected. The power of belief, you see. I believe! I believe! The truth is that many end up with aching feet for weeks. In fact, I venture to suggest that those who deny any experience of pain following this astoundingly stupid feat are simply avoiding “negs”. One just doesn’t discuss these things – and if they aren’t discussed, they don’t exist.
I suppose it is too utterly easy to patronise the Walking Brain-dead who take Robbins and his proto-Nietzchean bullshit seriously. That a market exists for such vapid wank is not a spectacular surprise. The world of selling is a particular haven of deception, and self-deception is the most priceless asset of all. What is astonishing is that such conceits become the unwritten norms and forms of acceptability and employability in a respected company. Their implementation is approximately the most absurd form of totalitarianism I have ever heard of, which would be sinister if it wasn’t so comical. I had always thought that the kind of person who would excel in the sales world is likely to be unpleasantly arrogant, self-absorbed and sleazy. It now seems that they can also be demented fanatics who are obliged to change their relationship to ordinary facts in order to sustain their success-driven outlook. Would that I could meet these people and irradiate their filthy, soiled world-view with some perfectly vile explosions of “neg”. I’d like to detonate “don’ts” “won’ts” and “can’ts” under their up-turned noses. I’d like to bring their coarse, vulgar, pea-brained skulls to the earth with a shattering thud. Fight Club was too moderate.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
“My name is Octave… I’m an advertising executive… I pollute the universe. I’m the guy who sells you shit. Who makes you dream of things you’ll never have… when, after painstakingly saving, you manage to buy the car of your dreams… I will already have made it look out of date. I’m three trends ahead, and I make sure you’re always frustrated… No one in my profession actually wants you to be happy, because happy people don’t spend.” (Frederic Beigbeder, £6.99, 2002, Picador, London, p. 5)
“These individuals have nothing but contempt for the general public. They want to keep them in a permanent, conditioned state: buying.” (Frederic Beigbeder, £6.99, 2002, Picador, London, p. 25)
“It finances the television, dictates what’s printed in the papers, governs sport, shapes society, influences sexuality and encourages inflation.” (Frederic Beigbeder, £6.99, 2002, Picador, London, p. 35)
“Advertising is essential to our economic system, because it disguises the truth and encourages forms of behaviour that maintain the system and make it seem tolerable.” – Denys Thompson (Quoted, Fred Inglis, The Imagery of Power. A Critique of Advertising, 1972, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, London, forward)
“The alienation and isolation of individuals in mass society, cut off from old loyalties and former group ties, spawns a need for new guides to behaviour and new clues to identity. Advertising must therefore sell, not only goods and services, but also definitions of life and of status, images, hopes and feelings.” (Terence. H. Qualter, Advertising and Democracy in the Mass Age, 1991, Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd, Basingstoke, p.viii) – Professor of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Canada
The Republic of Cancer Needs You.
“Advertisers, the missionaries of the consumer society, envisage a world in which well-being is equated with the accumulation of things.” (Terence. H. Qualter, Advertising and Democracy in the Mass Age, 1991, Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd, Basingstoke, p.viii) – Professor of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Canada
“It does this first by restating essential dilemmas of the human condition and second, by offering a solution to them… The general argument runs something like this: If the advertisers product is purchased, one will belong rather than be excluded, one will have happiness rather than misery, good rather than evil, life rather than death. Advertising simultaneously provokes anxiety and resolves it.” – V. L. Leymore, Hidden Myth, 1975 (Quoted, Terence. H. Qualter, Advertising and Democracy in the Mass Age, 1991, Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd, Basingstoke, p.viii) – Professor of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Canada
You're Still Driving This Piece of Shit?
“Advertising is, overall, a reluctant and largely ineffective initiator of social change beyond the trivia of fashion. Even as it introduces an endless array of new products, and new models of the old, it is an overwhelming conservative social force, powerful in defining and preserving the status quo… They do not encourage reflection on the underlying character or motivation of a consumer society, or of the social attitudes that sustain it. On the contrary, almost all the images in advertising contribute to the preservation of the existing order. Advertisers prosper through the perpetuation of traditional stereotypes of class, race and sex.” (Terence. H. Qualter, Advertising and Democracy in the Mass Age, 1991, Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd, Basingstoke, p.69) – Professor of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Canada
“Advertisers thus present two conflicting and irreconcilable claims about themselves. The first assertion, intrinsic to a liberal ideology, is that advertising does no more than provide necessary information for autonomous, rational individuals. Its persuasive powers are limited to encouraging buyers to test new products. The second argument, that advertising stimulates demand and generates new desires, seriously undermines the notion of autonomous self-determining human desires… They like to boast of their contribution to an expanding economy, and their special talents in securing a greater share of the market for their clients. At the same time they are anxious to avoid any charge of sinister manipulative power, so that when addressing the general public they tend to deny they have either the psychological insights or the technical instruments necessary to dominate thought. Advertisers want to appear enormously skilled and influential, and at the same time not particularly powerful providers of neutral information.” (Terence. H. Qualter, Advertising and Democracy in the Mass Age, 1991, Macmillan Academic and Professional Ltd, Basingstoke, p.103) – Professor of Political Science, University of Waterloo, Canada
If all that is far too creepy for you, let Bill Hicks settle the score:
"By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself. No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers, Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you're going, "there's going to be a joke coming," there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, "he's doing a joke... there's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a friend - I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations. I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, "Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart." Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! "Ooh, you know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We've done research - huge market. He's doing a good thing." Godammit, I'm not doing that, you scum-bags!
Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!
"Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill's very bright to do that." God, I'm just caught in a fucking web! "Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market - look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar..." How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don't you?"