Saturday, January 31, 2004
The Burning Question... posted by Richard Seymour
Is Tony Blair a Liar or Merely a Mass Murderer?
Increasingly, commentators of the "I'm-so-logical-it-hurts" variety have tended to reduce the Hutton Report and its attending controversies to a simple fallacy of the Left. Namely, we overshot ourselves in trying to peg Blair as a liar, and allowed the debate to be dominated by that single, narrow issue. This was inevitably a poor move, as deft manoeuvres between shades of meaning is Blair's specialty. He wouldn't outright lie - he is, after all, a lawyer. He can dissimulate without actually falsifying, misrepresent without leaving his ass uncovered. Mick Hume, from Spiked Online, notes:
"That obsession with sleaze was the framework within which the inquiry was set up by the government and run by Lord Hutton. The central question to which all sides demanded the answer was not 'Was the Iraq war right?', but 'Are Blair, Alastair Campbell and Geoff Hoon liars who deliberately misled the nation about the infamous 45 minute claim?', as suggested by Andrew Gilligan's BBC report. Unless he had been handed signed confessions by the accused, it is hard to see how the law lord could have been expected to find the prime minister guilty of such a serious charge of dishonesty."
Mick, whom we all remember for enlightening us about fake concentration camps in Bosnia during his fading stint as an RCPer , may be onto something here. Obviously, such a crucial question as the justice of war cannot be reduced to such low-key wrangling between a BBC reporter and Her Majesty's government. Similarly, when Nick Cohen (still clutching his left credentials like a moth-eaten security blanket) notes that the Hutton Inquiry cannot have been a whitewash in all seriousness because its remit was so narrow, he again has a point in directing us to the big picture.
But such exhortations risk throwing the bitch out with the bath-water. For one thing, I'm not at all sure the question of Blair's dishonesty is irrelevant, nor is it so bad from a strategic point of view to feign innocence and pretend we think Hutton will deliver something more than a whitewash. The immediate effect of Hutton's report has been to elicit a mass, hearty jeer of contempt from most of the public, matched instantly by heated applause and relief from Labour MPs so reflexive in their adulation of Tony's matchless capacity to slither out of any old shit he gets himself into. The Hutton Inquiry unearthed a mountain of evidence, which only needs looking at to realise the extensive probing and tailoring that went into the September dossier.
Honest Tony, the Used Arms Dealer, has no credibility left. Once a savvy political operator with charmed fortunes, he still knows how to rig an Inquiry and engineer victory over pitched parliamentary battles. Yet, one would expect no less from someone with the power and privileges of the British Prime Minister. What he lacks is any remaining affinity with the British voter. American voters, it is true, love him and take him to be as earnest as when he gave his marriage vows, which is exactly how they treated Clinton. But then they've got less to compare him with, and have had no time to get sick of him. His petulant outbursts of sanctimony over everything from public sector workers ("scars on my back") to antiwar demonstrators ("blood on their hands") have only depleted his moral standing in the UK. The completeness of his victory in Hutton is also a complete failure. Consider this: The Prime Minister and his staff have been completely exhonerated, their enemies utterly tossed and gored. Not a spot of blood has touched their Gucci suits, and the naked ladies on Tony's Versace shirt-cuffs remain intact. Yet, noone believes him or Lord Hutton, nor has any love for the Labour Party. The despised BBC, however, has attracted legions of sympathisers (who may yet be put off by its groaning self-abasement before power).
Those who note the narrowness of Hutton's remit only to conclude that he could not have reached different conclusions are peddling apathy as scepticism. (One doubts, somehow, that Nick Cohen would have been happy to see the government found guilty of fantastic fabrications over this.) Lord Hutton was happy to allow his remit to extend as far as excoriating the BBC for a minute slip in editorial standards, yet would not allow a similar and perfectly reasonable extension to consider the likelihood of government manipulation of intelligence information. They also miss that what has been most damaging for Blair and the government, from this report, has been the incongruence of evidence and conclusion. There is rarely a strict adherence between the two in any public inquiry, but one usually expects a sense of correlation, a sense that the judge is tending the same way as the evidence has, and that he will get there in his doddery old brain when the pension cheques start to clear. In this case, everyone who has attended the inquiry and reported from it will say more or less the same thing - it is a tragicomic farce.
Luckily, we needn't accept it. Granting the narrowness of the Hutton Report, we nevertheless have access to its evidentiary base and also the chance to tap a groundswell of public anger. Public contempt is unlikely to dissipate , and there is an excellent chance of generating a serious political challenge to the status quo. It behooves those "left cynics" who continually mewl about the larger picture and bemoan political degeneration to contribute to its regeneration. In specific, if you see a handle, turn it. Opportunities arrive even on establishment band-wagons. And Hutton, the famed nag of the Protestant Ascendancy, has dragged before us a rickety old wagon filled with thinly veiled swag.
Slavoj Zizek on Leninism posted by Richard SeymourThe man is back and on form:
What Is To Be Done (With Lenin)?
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin died on January 21 1924, 80 years ago—does the embarrassed silence over his name mean that he died twice, that his legacy is also dead? His insensitivity toward personal freedoms is effectively foreign to our liberal-tolerant sensibility – who, today, would not experience a shudder apropos his dismissive remarks against the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionaries’ critique of the Bolshevik power in 1922?
“Indeed, the sermons which...the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries preach express their true nature: ‘The revolution has gone too far. What you are saying now we have been saying all the time, permit us to say it again.’ But we say in reply: ‘Permit us to put you before a firing squad for saying that. Either you refrain from expressing your views, or, if you insist on expressing your political views publicly in the present circumstances, when our position is far more difficult than it was when the white guards were directly attacking us, then you will have only yourselves to blame if we treat you as the worst and most pernicious white guard elements.’”
This dismissive attitude towards the “liberal” notion of freedom accounts for Lenin’s bad reputation among liberals. Their case largely rests upon their rejection of the standard Marxist-Leninist opposition of “formal” and “actual” freedom, but as even ;eftist liberals like Claude Lefort emphasize again and again, freedom is in its very notion “formal,” so that “actual freedom” equals the lack of freedom. Lenin is best remembered for his famous retort “Freedom - yes, but for whom? To do what?” For him, in the above-quoted case of the Mensheviks, their “freedom” to criticize the Bolshevik government effectively amounted to the “freedom” to undermine the workers’ and peasants’ government on behalf of the counterrevolution...
Read the rest here .
Friday, January 30, 2004
Hutton Links. posted by Richard SeymourHere's a few useful bits of material on the Hutton Report for all those arch-cynics out there. Have your worst doubts confirmed before it all disappears down the memory-hole.
Rod Liddle, editor of the Today programme when Gilligan coughed up the dirt, gives his acerbic take on Lord Hutton's atrocity.
David Miller, trenchant critic of the mass media, rehearses the salient truths which Hutton ignores.
Kelly's adversaries attempted to smear him on account of his faith
Most voters think the Hutton Report was a whitewash
Intelligence expert Tom Mangold's e-mail correspondence with Peter Horrocks reveals that the original intelligence suggested that Saddam would be able "to authorise a strike within forty-five minutes ... Anyone who knows anything about biological warfare knows that it is a slow and cumbersome form of warfare, requiring careful mix of precursor chemicals before loading ... It would be well-nigh impossible to deploy such WMD within 45 minutes from a standing start."
Susan Watt's conversations with David Kelly reveal that a) He had serious doubts about the 45-minute claim, b) he expressed these to the government and c) they vigorously pressed for the claim to be inserted, regardless.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
The Dyke Busters! posted by Richard SeymourJust because Hutton was so obscenely whitewashing on behalf of the government is no excuse for us to start getting lax on the Beeb. The bulk of Gilligan's report was accurate. The Prime Minister patently lied, despite Hutton's obfuscations. So, why is Auntie suddenly rolling over like a good doggy for the government's amusement? The answer could lie in what Richard Sambrook told Geoff Hoon last year...
I Am Satisfied That...
Greg Dyke resigns , but it seems he is only following the orders of the BBC Board . You can look at this in all sorts of ways. For instance, I thought to myself: "So?" Others might be inclined to say something like "Huh?" and "Who gives a shit?"
Let's get back to the real issues. Did Alistair Campbell want intelligence about Saddam Hussein's WMD capacity to be manipulated in favour of the government's story on Iraq, and did he express this wish to John Scarlett? Yes, he did.
What did he do? He defined the terms of the dossier, how information would be presented, what kind of information was required, and to what ends . And what does it mean, for example, when Campbell tells Scarlett that "I'm sure we can make [your dossier] one that complements rather than conflicts with [Whitehouse claims]"? Does it seem possible, or perhaps even likely that Campbell was alluding to a role for him in helping determine what went into the dossier? And when he asked John Scarlett to change the wording of the dossier from the claim that the Iraqi military "may be able to" deploy chemical and biological weapons in forty-five minutes to "are able to", was this above or beneath consciousness? The final dossier reads: "Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them. "
What did David Kelly say he did? David Kelly told Andrew Gilligan that Campbell had pressed for the claim to be included although it was not in the original draft, that it was included against the wishes of weapons experts, and that it was based on the misinterpretation of a single source. The source had said that it took fourty five minutes to set up a missile assembly and this was misinterpreted. He said that the whole dossier was altered a week before publication in order to make it "sexier" and that the 45-minute claim was a classic example of this. He did not say, in precise terms, "that the government probably knew that the 45 minutes claim was wrong or questionable before the dossier was published."
What did Gilligan claim? He said, in respect of the 45-minute claim, that "what I have been told is that the government knew that claim was questionable even before the war, even before they wrote it in their dossier."
Indulge me and read that to yourself aloud. If Gilligan's notes are an accurate recording of his meeting with David Kelly, then this claim is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of that, even if it extrapolates. It is at the very least a fair inference. Lord Hutton's answer to this is that Gilligan's memory must be fucked, and he probably made half of it up. "I am satisfied that Dr Kelly did not say to Mr Gilligan that the Government probably knew or suspected that the 45 minutes claim was wrong before that claim was inserted in the dossier."
Whether this is the literal truth or not, what David Kelly is believed by Hutton to have told Andrew Gilligan remains the core of the controversy. Campbell pressed for a charge to be included in the dossier to make it "sexier" in spite of the protests of weapons experts who knew that it was probably wrong. Is it possible that the government can have defied the protests of weapons experts who maintained such beliefs and not come across the idea that the claim was incorrect? Only by the slenderest of literalisms may Hutton maintain such a position.
Similarly, with Blair's emphatic claim that he had not authorised the naming of Dr David Kelly to the press, let's recall that Sir Kevin Tebbit told the Hutton enquiry that Blair chaired the meeting which led to Kelly's name being released to the press. It gave those who communicated with the press "an authoritative basis on which to proceed" - namely that they should assent to the name if prompted to do so by the press. We don't know if this had anything to do with Campbell noting that it would "fuck Gilligan" were it revealed that Kelly was the source. Shall we just say that Blair was "subconsciously" influenced by the suggestion? No, Hutton would rather we constrained ourselves to his abstemious literalism, allowing that it is possible that Tony Blair "was instrumental in the decision to issue a statement [but that] he was not involving in "any consideration" of drawing up question and answer material ordering government press officers to confirm Dr Kelly's name if it is put to them." Lord Hutton can find no contradiction between this assumption and Tebbit's suggestion that Blair in fact chaired the meeting which gave the press officers their "authoritative basis on which to proceed" with respect to naming Kelly.
How glib Hutton's dismissals of crucial evidence and apparent contradictions, how dilute his justification for those dismissals! How Alistair Campbell's glorious triumphalism cries out for satire, ( "the Prime Minister told the truth, the Government told the truth, I told the truth." ). Not a particle of criticism has been allowed to soil the government, and not a damned word has been said about the substantive issues. An inquiry which was supposed to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dr David Kelly's death has ended as a public trial of one reporter and one report. We had no right to expect any better.
On this basis, the BBC now accepts that many of its key allegations were wrong, and apologises. There's the stinger, and it leads us happily to our conclusion.
The Big Conclusion
There's no point in fawning over Auntie just because she seems to be in a bit of trouble. We know how abusive, indifferent and callow she has been in the past, while exhibiting a craven love of power. There is no chance that the BBC is about to become a qualitatively different organisation. It was the worst performer during the war for antiwar content. It has never had an adversarial relationship with the government. After this round of spouse-beating, we can all look forward to the government crooning "I didn't mean it, baby, you just got out of line" while the Beeb sobs "I know. I'm sorry love. I know you're a good man. You didn't mean no harm." That it has always been a vehicle for MoD propaganda is one of the many things which Richard Sambrook wheeled out in his defense when Ben Bradshaw and Geoff Hoon were harrying him: "At no time in this dispute have I sought to criticise the MoD Press Office with whom we have always enjoyed excellent relations." The truth at last!
Hutton Double Take posted by Richard SeymourSo, the BBC is in "crisis". Really? It looks pretty much like the usual sterile establishment pap to me. Sorry, but while I fully commend the hard work of Andrew Gilligan in producing a worthwhile news report that was, for the most part, absolutely accurate, I can't join the chorus of liberals and right-wingers singing praise to the Beeb. The coverage of the Hutton Inquiry has involved almost at every level the unspoken assumption that somehow things might have been different. Journalists and reporters behaved as if they confidently expected Hutton to give the Prime Minister a sharp slap in the gob.
Twits. Let's see. An establishment man hand-picked by the government to conduct an inquiry directly answerable to the Prime Minister reaches conclusions which, although the fly in the face of all the available evidence and have confounded those who attended the inquiry, exclude the government from any damage. That fucking amazes you? I've got to play poker with you sharpies some time. In fact, the most interesting thing about Lord Hutton's conclusions, aside from the fabulous contortions of intellect and sense in support of the government, is the contempt in which the masses are held. It is perfectly permissible, Hutton said, for the Prime Minister to seek to beef up the wording of an intelligence dossier from the Joint Intelligence Committee if it is for the consumption of the public and not the government. One must never lie to one's colleagues, only to the people.
But I recant somewhat from my earlier thought that Hutton has been pointless. There is, after all, that mountain of evidence submitted, which Hutton has skated over, but which we may now assess. The Willesden Herald, which has had some excellent commentary on this week's events ("Note to Librarians: file Labour manifestos under Fiction", notes that:
The guilty are guilty regardless of what Judges say
Everyone can access the evidence seen by Lord Hutton. We are in the position of a jury. Nothing that a judge, court or jury says can ever change the actual guilt or innocence of anyone accused. It also has some excellent questions for his Lordship from Feargal Mooney.
And Seamus Milne, in today's Guardian, offers us some of what we may digest when we've had the chance to properly sink our teeth into the evidence:
"We know, for example, that Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell asked the joint intelligence committee's John Scarlett to redraft that part of the September dossier which suggested Saddam Hussein might use chemical and biological weapons "if he believes his regime is under threat" - and Scarlett did so, by taking out the qualifications. We know that Campbell asked Scarlett to change a claim that the Iraqi military "may be able" to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes to "are able". But Lord Hutton is of the view that this is not at all the "sexing up" that the BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan quoted Kelly as complaining about. We also know that Blair chaired the meeting at which the strategy for outing Kelly was adopted, even though the prime minister later denied having anything to do with it. But, in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Lord Hutton, that was entirely consistent and honourable."
Claire Dyer adds in today's Guardian:
"Anthony Scrivener QC, a former chairman of the bar, said: "You get a conventional, conservative with a small "c" judge. You ask whether the prime minister and other members of the government have been lying through their teeth. As a conventional judge he applies the criminal standard of proof.
"You give him no right to get documents so he only sees the documents you give him. The result is entirely predictable."
One senior QC said: "I think the report reflects his establishment background. He is a trusting man as far as officialdom is concerned.""
*Yawn*. The sordid facts about our political class never cease to amaze the gullible.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Conspiracy Theory posted by Richard SeymourSuppose I rip off a little theory imparted to me by someone who shall remain nameless because it wouldn't be a rip-off otherwise, and suggest that there was more to the vote on tuition fees than meets the eye? Not mere spinelessness, although a heavy dose of that, but also a carefully judged ploy by the New Prince and his court jesters to bring the rebellion tumbling down like so many lego bricks.
Imagine Tony Blair spies disaster in the offing with both Labour MPs and opposition parties capable of uniting to wreck his latest Flagship Policy, and invites a respected but dismally boring MP into his office for a chat. They talk about how much this bill is going to hurt the government, whether it succeeds or fails. The MP is loyal, and amiable, and what is more he is highly regarded by liberals who might otherwise be moderately suspicious of the government. Tony talks him round the issues, what is at stake for the government, how it could only be avoided by a resounding success for the bill. And suddenly, as if he'd thought of the idea himself, our loyal MP says:
"Well, what if you let me join the rebels? Let me pretend to be their most dedicated and principled spokesman, the one who won't buckle no matter what concessions the Chancellor delivers from his sack. Being a former cabinet member, with no major tarnishes to speak of, they would be hard pressed to turn away from me. Now, then, say I suddenly 'return to the fold' as it were, at the last second, citing aforementioned concessions and my enduring concern for the wellbeing of the Party. That would be certain to send a great shattering crack through any coalition of dissent."
And Blair says:
"Well, there was no need to be fucking wordy about it, Nick, but I take your point."
And over a glass or two of Kristal, they proceed to call in their political advisers, pore over the details and evolve a strategy...
Nick Brown, the mole? Too much? Would he be clever enough? Before you think about that, think about this: our government is the most fanatical government we've had in years. It has a proven track record of steamrolling legislation through parliament that is both unpopular and unsound, that will cost the public more money, that will reduce efficiency and that will lose votes. This is not the pragmatic, consensus building government of hazy liberal dreams. Tony Blair has a labrador's sense of loyalty to his business allies, and a gut loathing of everything that "has been" about Britain. His coterie of advisers are strict free marketeers, privatisers, heavy political operators. They have sacraficed much to go to war on Iraq, and almost as much to go to war on students and pensioners. And Nick Brown, whatever his reputation, is Tony Blair with the interesting bits removed.
At any rate, governments act in this way all the time. They conspire. It is in the nature of power to dissemble when its interests fail to coincide with those it is answerable to.
If, however, it were true, we're still left with the dismal fact that 85 percent of Labour MPs voted in favour of this bill. May their bodies be torn asunder and their empty skulls used as piss-pots for all eternity.
1) The report has nothing to say about the war, the misuse of intelligence, or the possibility that Tony Blair has lied.
2) The report notes that Gilligan's allegations were "grave" and "attacked the integrity of the Government and the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)". Doesn't miss much this guy, does he? He does suggest that Kelly did not tell Gilligan that the government knew the "45 minute claim" was wrong, and that therefore Gilligan has extrapolated too freely from his notes which did not support such a conclusion. He does emphasise that the BBC's editorial system in this case had been "defective". He does not say that the 45 minute claim was accurate, which is the most important point.
3) It does not tell us if the MoD were allowed "to confirm the name if it was put to them" with Tony Blair's specific say so, as many suspect.
4) It's only positive conclusion is that "Dr Kelly took his own life and no third party was involved". I have no idea how to evaluate this claim, and with all due respect to the Kelly family I have no particular interest in it. Public enquiries are not supposed to investigate conspiracy theories - at least in part because if there is a conspiracy anywhere along the line, the last place the truth is likely to emerge is in a public enquiry, particularly one directly set up and accountable to the Prime Minister.
5) It also suggests that the Joint Intelligence Committee's assessment was perhaps "subconsciously" influenced by the Prime Minister's desire to have a powerful document, (a weasel phrase), but it suggests that the assessment was "in line with available intelligence", which is to say that it presented all manner of flimsy suggestions coming from any kind of source, polished them with any lurid depiction available, and presented it in a dossier. "Available intelligence" is a non-descript, indiscriminating term, probably deliberately employed to avoid questions as to what Scarlett or Blair knew of its quality and veracity.
So, failing some subtle clause buried deep within the text which our eagle-eyed journalists have yet to spot, we have finished with a belaboured exercise in futility, and a series of splash points for The Sun. No truth, no revelation, just barrel-scraping and evasion. Thanks, your lordship.
*No I won't. Don't need any 'fans' turning up with baseball bats.
Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Cowardly Pieces of Shit posted by Richard SeymourNo time for temperate and reflective discussion of the issues. Once again, Labour has frittered way its chance to prove that it still has some fight in it , still has the ability to overcome its awful leadership. It has voted in favour of a policy which is not only opposed by a majority of the public, but also by a majority of those who voted for it. Memories of this night will return to mantle their cheeks with a blush of shame. No guts, no brains, no backbone.
It's time to stop wasting our time on these grovelling, pettifogging, supine sacks of bovine effluent and invest our energies elsewhere. The least you can do is vote with self-respect. Don't vote for some smarmy career-men in suits who buckle like paper cups the second the slightest pressure is applied. Don't give any more credibility to this weak, nasty and unpopular government. They deserve not a whit of energy or enthusiasm from you. Vote for an alternative. Vote Respect this June 10th. Don't be taken for suckers again.
Labour is dead. Don't mourn, organise!
It is January 27th, as I finish editing this article. The Guardian reports that the US is considering a deal in which it will pay for Libya to destroy it’s weapons programmes. The phrasing of the headline is curious, because it uses the term “weapons” to refer to what it later describes as “nuclear and chemical weapons programmes”, a different thing entirely. The United Kingdom government takes enormous pride in its negotiation of this ‘disarmament’ process, even though Libya voluntarily offered to relinquish the weapons it did not have . Even if such weapons existed, it would behoove Blair and Bush to abstain from their triumphant declarations that they have made the world a safer place. After all, Libya is being asked to disarm itself unilaterally. Imagine if someone were to suggest that the US and UK should rise to the moral level of Libya and disband its WMD programmes unilaterally.
Elementary perceptions such as these are usually reduced to complaints about “double standards”. But the US and UK are not schizophrenic, or morally confused. The appearance of double-standards merely points toward a single, hidden standard which eludes mainstream discourse. That standard, obviously enough, is self-interest. It could only be missed if you were eager to impute noble motives to our leaders. The story of Libya in the last two decades, however, militates powerfully against any such fantasies.
"Preemptive" Attack on Libya
On April 14th, 1986, the US launched a massive bombing assault on Libya, striking targets in Tripoli, and killing anything between 40 and 100 civilians. That this number seems low in the register of atrocities is a sobering, but not redeeming, point. The French embassy was destroyed, while Qaddafi's adopted daughter was killed. The official raison d'etre for this assault was the alleged Libyan involvement in the bombing of a West German nightclub nine days earlier, which had resulted in the deaths of two US soldiers and one civilian. Larry Speakes, the Ari Fleischer of his time, hoped that this attack would "preempt and discourage" future terrorist actions by Libya. The attack occurred the same week that the House of Representatives was to have a renewed debate on US assistance to Contra terrorists devastating towns and villages in Nicaragua. Reagan reminded the House that Qadaffi had sent "$400 million and an arsenal of weapons and advisers into Nicaragua".
The intention, it was quietly admitted, was to assassinate Qadaffi and bring about regime change. (Seymour Hersh, "Target Qadaffi", New York Times Magazine, February 17th, 1987).
Voice of America told the Libyan people that as long as they took orders from Qadaffi, they must "accept the consequences". The evidence that Libya was involved in the attack in West Germany was a pair of wire communications between Libya and it's embassy in East Berlin. Libya, it was claimed, had ordered the embassy to orchestrate a night of carnage in the nightclub and "cause maximum and indiscriminate damages". The embassy allegedly wired back that Tripoli would be happy when it saw the headlines the following day. This is the NSA's particular confection, because the German BND, who had assisted in the decoding of the two wire messages, reached a rather different conclusion. German security officials looking into the attack insisted that the accusation was premature, and continued to look into other possible culprits. German politicans, moreover, remained critical of the bombing of Libya and the US position on the attack in Berlin.
US Assault on Libya; Was Qadaffi sponsoring Hinckley?
Supposing that the US position is in each essential true, there are good reasons for positing that such an attack could well have been a response to terror campaigns on Libya itself, which began with an apparently failed assassination attempt on Qadaffi himself. On 27th June 1980, a VIP Italian airplane was shot down by a sidewinder missile, in what the Italians said was likely to be a NATO attack. As the attack occurred, a Libyan plane which may have been carrying Qadaffi was flying in the vicinity. As Reagan and his band of mercenary reactionaries took office, the first decision on the question of Libya was to authorise the CIA to concoct a wide-ranging, large-scale plan to overthrow Qadaffi. The plan included everything from propaganda operations to paramilitary campaigns and guerilla operations. (Newsweek, 3rd August 1981).
On August 19th, US planes entered Qadaffi's territory in the Gulf of Sidra and shot down to Libyan jets. Qadaffi accused the US of "international terrorism", and allegedly threatened to assassinate Reagan in a telephone call to the Ethiopian leader, (apparently he was trying to impress Jodie Foster). Shortly thereafter, the US government claimed that a Libyan hit-squad had entered America and were planning to kill Reagan. They had the evidence, Reagan claimed, and Qadaffi knew it. The evidence, when requested by the press, was not forthcoming. It later transpired that the alleged "assassins" were anti-Qadaffi Libyans who had assisted in securing the release of hostages from Iran. Nevertheless, stories of Qadaffi's perfidy abounded, and he was rumoured to be behind a number of plots on American lives, including that of the diplomat Christian Chapman, although no unsullied evidence emerged.
There were, nevertheless, real plans to do away with Qadaffi, involving the US and French intelligence. These plans were dropped when Giscard lost the 1981 election. However, they were resuscitated in 1984, when the CIA placed itself at the service of a French plot to either assassinate Qadaffi or overthrow him (he appeared to threaten French interests in Africa, an abiding concern to this day). The operations resulted in gun battles between Qadaffi loyalists and Libyan exiles. (Hersh, op cit).
The Incredible, Disappearing, "Irrefutable" Evidence Again
In Christmas, 1985, bomb attacks at Rome and Vienna airports killed 20. It didn't take long for the US to add Libya to the rapidly-expanding list of suspects. It turned out that three of the attackers had Tunisian passports, apparently traceable to Libya. Shortly thereafter, Reagan declared that there was "irrefutable" evidence of Libyan involvement in the attacks. Renewed economic sanctions were applied to Libya and, in March 1986, US navy jets once more crossed into Libyan territory. Receiving no rebuke in word or action, they returned the subsequent two days to attack a Libyan anti-aircraft site and blow up three or four ships. The Whitehouse claimed that Libya had fired two missiles at the aircraft on their return, prompting the attacks. It isn't clear who fired first, but let's once more set aside judgment and assume the Whitehouse story is unalloyed fact. Imagine another country sent military jets into US airspace, not once, but repeatedly. It is likely that not only would the jets be shot down, but the intruding nation would probably be subject to some kind of military attack - recalling that the US reacted to an alleged, failed attempt on Bush senior's life by sending 23 Tomahawk missiles into a residential area in Baghdad, killing eight and wounding a dozen. Once more, the dissoluble evidence against the alleged perpetrators was "circumstantial ... rather than ironclad". (See Noam Chomsky, World Orders, Old and New, Pluto Press, 1994, pp 16-17).
Since it isn't permissible to judge Libya by the standards the US submits itself to, Libya was deemed the "aggressor" in this case, and attempts at opening third party discussions with the US were rebuffed accordingly. (The Guardian, 3rd April, 1986). Aid was disbursed to Libyan exile groups in an attempt to unite them into an effective opposition, while financial support was given to France and Egypt to encourage activities against Libya, possibly including assassination. Although John Poindexter, the Iran-Contra criminal, noted in in August 1986 memo that no "hard evidence" existed with respect to Libya's alleged terrorist activities, Qadaffi was being blamed for every possible atrocity, and would doubtless have copped it for the earth tremors in Los Angeles if possible. The climate was being readied for an attack on Tripoli.
Pan Am 103; "The Flight From Justice"
Private Eye's prolonged recording of the campaign of deceit and illusion around the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie stands as one of its greatest achievements. The evidence, carefully marshalled, blows the official case to shreds. The trial, a mockery of justice, ended with what could have been Qadaffi's first sacrafice at the altar of international respectability, the imprisonment of one his intelligence agents for a crime which he could not have committed. The repeated warnings to Washington told of a likely plot by associates of Abu Nidal to place a bomb on a Pan Am flight. The warnings were taken so seriously that US embassy staff in Moscow were warned of the threat, and none took the Pan Am 103 flight via Frankfurt, a common and popular means of transport back to the home country. The British Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Channon, acknowledged that Britain itself had received 16 less specific threats. The State Department had received warnings of an attack by a "[t]eam of Palestinians not associated with Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)", with likely targets being "Pan Am airlines and US mil. bases".
A New York investigative company, Interfor, was hired by Pan Am and its insurers to look into the facts behind the explosion. Their findings included the suggestion that Lebanese terrorists, namely the Dalkamoni gang, had got the bomb on the airliner at Frankfurt by exploiting a security loophole. The bomb was alleged to have been in luggage which US intelligence officials believed contained drugs, which Interfor said they had been facilitating in its route from Lebanon to the US in exchange for information on US hostages in Beirut. Major Charles McKee, the head of US intelligence on the plane, had apparently been shocked by the deal, and was preparing to return home and blow the whistle. Interfor therefore infers that Pan Am 103 was sacraficed by US intelligence at least in part to do away with the whistle-blower. This would account in some measure for the appearance of suited men carrying a coffin draped in a US flag in Heathrow airport the evening Pan Am scattered in flaming ruins over Lockerbie.
Theories abound as to where and when the bomb was planted, and it has been correctly pointed out that Interfor would have every reason to concoct an explanation that would protect Pan Am from charges of negligence. On the other hand, new evidence began to emerge that perhaps the bomb originated in Malta. It seemed that Abu Talb, a well-known Palestinian terrorist associated with Dalkamonie, had visited a boutique in Malta and purchased the very clothes which were in the suitcase with the bomb. Moreover, an item of luggage was recorded on that fatal Pan Am flight as having originated from an Air Malta flight, subsequently transferred by baggage handlers at Frankfurt. There were no passengers transferring from Air Malta to Pan Am that night, so it seemed initially plausible that the bomber had let the bag go unaccompanied onto that flight. The trouble was, according to Norton Rose solicitors that the relevant documents were not designed to indicate the flight from which the bags had come. Additionally, they relied too heavily on the memory of overworked baggage-handlers. And, even if accurate, they did not preclude the possibility that the suspect bag had in fact been planted in Frankfurt airport. A compelling theory was based therefore on slender threads of evidence.
Enter Libya (boo hiss!). Vincent Cannistraro, the man in charge of the Lockerbie investigation in the US, had been involved in directing the Reagan administration's vendetta against Libya during the 1980s. His intellectual handiwork laid the basis for a new charge, emerging in 1991, that Abdel Bassett Ali al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifah Fhimah, two Libyan airline officials, had planted the bomb at Malta. One of the chief reasons for blaming Libya was that the timers which the Swiss were alleged to have sold to the Libyans were similar to the timer fragment retrieved from Lockerbie searches. Several sources report this differently, but the link's credibility at any rate depended upon the suggestion that the Swiss had only ever supplied these timers to Libya, a thought considerably diluted by the revelation that the East German Stasi had also been supplied with such timers - not an unknown source of military materials once the Eastern Bloc fell.
Nevertheless, the finger remained pointing firmly at Libya, despite all indications that other forces had been at work, and despite the flimsiness of the evidence against the two supposed culprits. Economic sanctions were weakly applied to Libya, whom the US called upon to submit the pair for trial. Libya, unapprised of any evidence against them, refused to do so. They did, however, offer to allow the men to stand trial in a neutral country like Holland or Switzerland, a plan rejected by the US and Britain for almost a decade. The relatives of victims wrote repeatedly to the authorities to ask for a trial in a neutral country, but no reply was forthcoming.
When the trial finally went ahead, its procedure was farcical, vital evidence was not heard, the most compromised evidence was allowed to stand. Several witnesses, it transpired, had been paid by the US. And, what is more, the Maltese boutique owner I referred to earlier as having incriminated Abu Talb had decided that al-Megrahi was the man he had served, and testified as such. On such flimsy grounds as these, Megrahi was sentenced to twenty years in prison, and Col Qadaffi began his journey back into the hearts of decent folks by accepting responsibility for the attacks and paying compensation to the victims - many of whom were, justifiably, loathe to accept it. It would not be the last time that Libya would confess to crimes not of its making.
Libya's Rapprochement With the West
Following years of attacks on Libya's soil, including a couple of jets shot down on the orders of Bush senior in 1989, Qadaffi made one last serenade for the tender gaze of America and it's dwarfish "coalition of the willing". It publicly repudiated its past errors, and offered to dismantle all of its programmes of Weapons of Mass Destruction under the watchful eye of inspectors. This, following the controvery over Iraqi WMDs, was a gift to the UK which was creditted with having engineered the diplomacy behind the moves. There are, the Washington Post avers, "lessons" for other "belligerent nations" who threaten America with destruction each and every day. These countries, it transpires, will learn that they "would do far better spending the funds on the welfare of their people." Yet more moral truisms which would find a good application in Britain and America.
There are lessons to be learned, but they are not the mealy-mouthed platitudes of establishment liberalism. They are in fact even more banal than that: crime pays, power prevails, terrorism works. Welcome to Blanket Security.
The Great White Lie posted by Richard SeymourThe familiar refrain that all politicians dissemble, newspapers lie, and the pope shits in the woods speaks of a commonsensical realism, all too often taken for cynicism. It isn’t uniformly the case, but at least it cuts through any bullshit. Anyway, they don’t fool us, that parcel of fuckwits. In that appendage, we take some comfort. They can spin all they like, but they won’t fool people for long.
But that isn’t the point. The point of the near-constant dispensation of lies, half-truths and irrelevancies is to create an atmosphere in which it becomes almost impossible to distinguish honesty from deception, fact from fantasy. It is sufficient, if all else fails, to muddy the waters and make the picture seem a lot less clear than certain activists and critics would make it seem. This is usually enough to maintain an inert citizenry, since moral certainty is the backbone of sustained political engagement. There is, in fact, a version of public scepticism amenable to the political Right, which roughly goes thus: there’s never enough to go around, not everyone can be happy, someone will always be left out, and anyone seeking elective office would be commiting suicide to inform the public of this reality. This is enough for some to suggest that any time spent uncovering the various lies of politicians is time mis-spent. It is decidedly small picture, and avoids the larger lie, which often underlies and sustains the whole phoney debate. This can be true, but it isn’t necessarily so. Correctly understood, the careless lies of elected representatives speak more of structure than individual psychology.
To take a few relatively familiar, white lies that have at times diminished the reputations of their authors:
Al Gore claimed to have invented the “information superhighway”. He in fact had a part in inventing the term, but not the thing itself, which was the product of the Pentagon and Geneva.
Tony Blair claimed not to have had any dealings with Peter Foster, when in fact Foster had secured two two flats in Bristol for £69,000 for him and his family.
Bill Clinton claimed not to have had “sex with that woman”. In fact, he had a variety of forms of sex with that woman, once involving a childish game with a cigar.
Bill Clinton claimed to have enjoyed the baseball games of Jackie Robinson, and in particular his stand against racism in the game. He is too young to have witnessed Robinson’s games or to have been politically active at the time of Robinson’s renunciation of racism.
This is a small sample from a literal encyclopedia of dissimulation, and that of a quite ridiculous kind. These lies confer no benefit beyond that temporary ego trip a four year old might get from making his playschool mates believe he was a spy for the Babylonian government. Yet these sometimes outlandish, and always easily checked stories are dispensed with an ease and casual disregard that calls to mind Nathanial Zuckerman’s comment in the Philip Roth novel, I Married a Communist, that anyone who can lie so easily has changed his relationship to the truth. More generally, consider Oscar Wilde’s insight in De Profundis that “every little action of the common day makes or unmakes the character”, and it's clear that a career built on carefully drafted misrepresentation and mendacity will subtly poison the character in this way. In the case of the British front-bench, we are talking of a class of human beings who are a) primarily composed of trained lawyers, b) convinced that their policies are, broadly, the absolute best available under given conditions, and c) apprised of public hostility to these policies.
Hence the in-built tendency to view all problems as being, in nature, ones of presentation rather than substance. If the public rejects a policy, it isn’t because the policy is wrong, it is because the public does not understand its true meaning, its eminent good sense, the unavailability of alternatives. In David Hare’s play The Absence of War, a group of senior Labour politicians, circa 1992, have developed a policy to increase, marginally, the tax on mortgages. They haven’t communicated this to the electorate, but they believe profoundly in its justice as a meliorative measure of redistribution. When the details are leaked to a smarmy, pampered upper-class politics discussion show host, t provokes a crisis of credibility, and contributes to the party’s eventual loss to the Tories. Such an attitude to the public, nurtured for reasons of social democracy, is a contradiction in terms. Either one is for improving the lot of the majority, in which case one should say so, or one isn’t. And therefore, one has either to ditch the condescending attitude to the electorate, or the social democracy.
Casual lying, as opposed to programmatic lying, is in this respect more revealing of the basic structure of establishment ideology. This conscious disavowal makes for a disgusting kind of sincerity, exemplified by the Prime Minister. I learned as a teenager that if I wanted to lie convincingly and successfully, I had only to believe the lie fervently enough, to round it out in my mind with all attendant details, to give it a primary reality. Thus prepared, I would orate my spotty little arse off, a precocious Cicero telling florid, self-serving lies for a delighted audience. When the Prime Minister tells us that he firmly/passionately/fervently believes something to be the case, and then issues some perfectly coherent reasons for believing it, I sense a similar mechanism at work. When Bush painfully breathes, in his State of the Union address, that “we will bring the Iraqis food, and water, and hope”, the sanctimony of the approved charlatan suggests itself.
The relationship between arbitrary, casual embellishments, and ideological lies is thus one in which the latter is the cause of the former effect. Having divorced word from meaning in one’s most ordinary speech, that related to work, it is not a simple matter to remarry them. That the Big Lie is not what Nietzche called “the Socratic lie” – that we can erase pain from our lives and make them less tragic – should be self-evident to anyone vaguely familiar with the common terms of this government’s language. As Norman Fairclough notes, New Labour language typically removes agency – things happen, but they are not done. Job losses are the result of mysterious “global forces” rather than decisions taken at board level. There is no alternative, there can be no return to the old ways, we can no longer sustain a situation in which… etc. The Big Lie is not that heaven can be created on earth, but that hell cannot be eradicated from it – the Nietzchean lie, if you like. This lie, predicated on the free market ideology that needs are infinitely expandible and that therefore there will never be a surplus of goods to share so that the market remains eternally the best mechanism for the allocation of goods, (itself mirrored in the Schopenhaueran philosophy of self-perpetuating Desire, the purposeless purposiveness at the heart of human existence), underwrites all the minor fabrications of opportunist politicians and their court intellectuals.
A story is told of a New York couple who break up, because the husband, Stanley, has informed his wife, Jessie, that for the last year he’s been having an affair. Eventually, as the divorced couple meet after court proceedings, the husband admits that the affair was a lie all along. The wife is astonished:
“I’m heart-broken! How could you lie to me like that?”
“Never mind that.” The husband rages. “How could you have believed it?”
I think he is right.
Monday, January 26, 2004
That, according to Peter Preston of The Guardian, is the national mood with respect to this government, and Tony Blair in particular. 2 million people hit the streets from sheer numbness of mind, and now they "seem indecently anxious to be rid of [Blair]" out of unalloyed lassitude. Preston complains that "the chattering classes seldom chatter about" this possibility, an odd lapse into self-loathing for someone who is himself a member of "the chattering classes", and who at any rate rectifies this sad situation with his column:
"We're bored ... Eleven years of Frasier, nine years of Friends, five years of the Sopranos, seven years of Blair ... We don't care what a twinkling bloke he is any longer. We've had it up to here with mission visions and rictoid grins. Now please, can we switch channels?"
From self-loathing we have proceed to loathing of the masses. The only reason we could have any animus against such a "star, a best for Britain" is because we want a new drama. Politics is just television, even if we occasionally trample the streets in search of a new plot. Now, we will oust Blair just to obtain a new tragicomedy to soothe our bored souls.
Blair will "get through his difficult week". "Probably deservedly".
We oppose mass murder because we are "bored". Tony Blair deserves to remain in power, despite his recent involvement in mass murder. And, to add to that, The Guardian leader tells us that Blair must be honest and admit that there was an intelligence failure in relation to Iraq, that we had gone to war on the basis of flawed information which Tony Blair allowed himself to believe. No possibility then that Blair is a liar, a mass murderer, and a discreditted charlatan whom we, the public, are anxious to rid ourselves of?
Sunday, January 25, 2004
Are You Getting Respect? posted by Richard SeymourYou're a Blairite, pissing yourself at the feebleness of the rubber-spines in the Labour back-benches, and how quickly they'll whore themselves to the Cabinet for a few crumby concessions. You're enjoying the facility with which The Guardian despatches these foolhardy radicals for standing in the way of progress. A warm feeling floods your gut as you realise that Tone will once again triumph, that dissent is always the losing side, and that the hammering steam-engine of progress will continue it's merciless trammel through all barriers. Just one thing stands in the way of a nice glass of Drambuie. The British public. The FUCKING BRITISH PUBLIC!! Lazy-minded, slackwitted, workshy, acne-scarred bastards the lot of them! And they actually give the vote to these people? Latest poll shows that 60% of the British people oppose tuition fees , Blair's new flagship policy. (Check that link, by the way, and note The Guardian's phrase "instinctively opposed" as if it couldn't be a rational choice). They damned-near fucked up the Iraq war and here they are yet again, with their 'I think they shoulds' and 'it ain't rights'. Luckily, noone in their right mind bothers to represent these arid twits...
Well, you aren't to know that today, Sunday 25th January 2004, at roughly 4pm, a new coalition was launched to fight New Labour in the polls - and it already has its first MP. Respect: The Unity Coalition is dedicated to opposing war, renationalising the rail, abolishing wasteful PFI schemes, defense of the environment, defense of asylum seekers and immigrants, freedom for Palestine, redistribution of wealth to fund increased benefits and pensions, a minimum wage of £7.40 to match the European Union Decency Threshold and a vote against the Euro which, as presently constituted, insitutionalises draconion crackdowns on public expenditure, neoliberal economic policies, and undemocratic decision-making.
It's National Executive will include:
George Galloway MP
Mark Serwotka, general-secretary of the PCS union
Salma Yaqoob, chair of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition
Dr Sidiqqu, leader of the Muslim parliament
John Rees, SWP, and co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition
Linda Smith, treasurer of the London FBU
Dr Mohammed Naseem, Birmingham Central Mosque
There were considerable difficulties to overcome before a unanimous vote was made to endorse the whole programme and executive. Some wanted clearer wording on various issues, others wanted the new coalition to be a repeat of the Socialist Alliance or a revolutionary party in drag. The Socialist Party informed us that they would not be participating in the coalition, that they would await evidence of its performance and internal democracy. A few boos at this, because the spirit of the day was supposed to be unity, but Salma Yaqoob adequately summed up my thought, which was "no matter. We will continue to work with everyone who is prepared to work with us." That's it. There are all kinds of sectarian arguments drawing on a rich past of petty squabbling that one could make, but I'll restrict myself to saying that their electoral achievements (which they loudly proclaimed, "five councillors elected") would make them a valuable addition to the Coalition, supposing they were willing to submit to the unfortunate position of being a minority in it.
There was one truly disgraceful performance of the day which oughtn't pass without comment. The attempts by members of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty to raise the ghost of McCarthy in the conference hall, in the form of a despicable series of attacks on George Galloway, aped in every essential the contemptible MI6-Telegraph campaigns of recent note. I didn't know at first whether to give out a jaw-breaking yawn or a series of back-breaking somersaults of vomit. They attempted to pass a resolution claiming that Galloway's record was "right-wing (close links with Tariq Aziz; activity financed - on Galloway's own story - by the governments of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates and by a businessman well connected to the Baghdad dictatorship)". This shameful attempt at a smear could be torn to shreds by anyone with half an education, (his record is not right-wing, that 'activity' was charitable activity, ditto the so-called 'links' with Tariq Aziz), but that would be to miss the point. The truly pressing issue for the AWL, highlighted in a "point of order" speech made by one of their members when the resolution was deemed out of order by the Convention Arrangements Committee, was that Galloway's income exceeds that of your average skilled worker. It is a long-standing principle of revolutionary socialist parties that any of their members standing for elections should not receive a wage higher than the average wage for a skilled worker. Sectarian demand for ideological purity renders purblind even the most perceptive critics of capitalism, and in this case they seem to have missed that a) this is a pitifully minor issue and b) Galloway's income ends up being the wages of half of his staff, whom he pays himself, and has also transported him from meeting to meeting, demonstration to convention, speech to caucus - for none of these services has he demanded expenses. If the handful of spiteful buffoons who decided that the best expenditure of their efforts would be to smear Galloway had matched even a fraction of his energy and vigor on behalf of the antiwar movement, they would have had more credibility.
As John Rees pointed out in his speech, Galloway has taken the road less travelled - and that has made all the difference. He didn't accept a deal to stay in the party, which would have involved him issuing an apology for his remarks in the same week that Blair refused to apologise for the bombing of Iraqi children. And once expelled, he did not go the Ken Livingstone route of urging others to stay in the Labour Party in the canny hope of returning in better climes. He put himself right at the centre of the fight against New Labour.
Aside from such torrid moments, most quibbles were overcome and a united electoral force came into being. Speeches varied, but an electrifying performance from Tommy Sheridan of the Scottish Socialist Party presaged the familiar charismatic thunderings of George Galloway, as well as an unusually impassioned performance from John Rees. Salma Yaqoob was once again dignified, calmly passionate, subtly witty and acute in her perceptions. Adept at painting the big picture, she dwarfed sectarian infighting and once again made unity the imperative, the overarching theme. Ken Loach did a creditable turn, while the Muslim Association of Britain sent a speaker to endorse the founding of Respect which, although they did not join parties, they would urge their supporters to vote for.
The goals between now and June 10th, the day of the elections to the European parliament, are:
1 Raise £1m to run a creditable campaign the length and breadth of England and Wales.
2 Build the coalition in every town and city where we have worked with antiwar activists.
3 Convince up to a million people to vote for Respect.
Like a challenge do we? Of course we do.
Saturday, January 24, 2004
Friday, January 23, 2004
These aren't peripheral issues, nor are they displacement activities away from the "real" issues of class. But they are treated as such all too often by liberals anxious to avoid blaspheming against the Holy Profit. If we can no longer talk about the substance of social justice, we are left with canards about cultural tolerance and respect, terms rendered meaningless once set in Indie typeface amid a droning few column inches of boredom, while the Business section extols the virtues of the free market.
Nevertheless, there are even more insidious denkverbotens in operation than the obligation to say "vertically challenged" instead of "short".
Jenny Tonge MP has been asked to step down as a Liberal Democrat MP for her remarks that "I might be a suicide bomber" and that she "understood" how some people could come to be suicide bombers given the desperate conditions of Palestinians. I don't want to waste a great deal of time on Jenny, since I don't particularly care for her politics or her party, but let's observe the reaction. Charles Kennedy said:
"I have asked Dr Jenny Tonge to stand down as the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for children. Her recent remarks about suicide bombers are completely unacceptable. They are not compatible with Liberal Democrat party policies and principles. There can be no justification, under any circumstances for taking innocent lives through terrorism."
Really, Charles? How about taking innocent lives through dropping bombs? You haven't always been anti-war, and I recall your ham-faced support for the destruction of lives in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.
In fact, there is not a single mainstream politician, journalist, intellectual who doesn't believe that political violence is permissible under some circumstances. Israel's ambassador Zvi Shtauber has the cheek to slap his flippers together and applaud this disgusting attack on someone for perfectly insipid remarks, while himself doing the PR for Israeli mass murder. Louise Ellman MP, who does a similar job as a member of the Labour friends of Israel group, similarly applauded.
The real political correctness comes from the Right, circumscribing the most elementary truths in the name of - well, it so turns out - liberal values.
Understanding Terror. posted by Richard SeymourHarry's Place gives stupidity a bad name by allowing a devastatingly idiotic post by someone calling himself "Gene" (I'd guess he's the rogue one causing the occasional extra chromosome). Exercised by liberal apologetics for terrorism, Gene tells us:
"While not condoning Palestinian suicide murderers, Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Tonge says she understands the conditions that create them and would consider becoming one herself if she was in their place.
I've long been mystified by those who express "understanding" for even the vilest acts of mass murder when they are committed by Palestinians. What if the friends and relatives of Israeli terror victims routinely crossed into the West Bank and carried out revenge attacks on innocent Palestinians? Would they be favored by MP Tonge's understanding too?
If you can "understand" the murderers of Israeli children, why not also understand:
--Baruch Goldstein. Maddened by violence against his fellow Jewish settlers in the West Bank, he murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994..." and so on, ad nauseum.
The "night in which all cows are black" is upon us. Apparently there is no distinction between the oppressor and the oppressed.
If you understand Algerian violence against the French, why not understand French torture of Algerian suspects? If you understand Mau Mau violence against the British, why not understand British tyranny?
"Understanding" is not a matter of desert, it's a duty and obligation for anyone interested in ceasing the tornado of violence engulfing much of our globe. An Israeli father who lost his son to a suicide bombing wrote an article published in The Guardian last year, in which he expressed sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and noted that if he were a Palestinian, he would want to kill Israelis. Rami Elhanan's 14-year-old daughter, Smadar, was killed by a suicide bomber in 1997. Elhanan is a former soldier whose father survived the Nazi's Auschwitz concentration camp; many of his relatives died in the Holocaust. He says that while he won't "forgive or forget" the actions of the bomber, people need to understand the cause of the violence. It didn't just come "out of the blue". An entire people have been brutalised and denied their rights.
“The suicide bomber was a victim the same way as my girl was, of that I'm sure”, Elhanan said.
If we, who have no murdered sons or daughters, fail to understand such elementary things as cause and effect, we have no right to cover our idiocy in sanctimonious drivel.
Shut it, Gene.
Thursday, January 22, 2004
There needs, desperately, to be unity on the Left. There is an enormous vacuum in leftwing politics since Labour vacated the territory, and noone is filling it. No single party can do it alone. And a collection of splinters doesn't make a battering ram. The proposals for a Unity Coalition to finally send those cadaverous freaks on the Labour front bench to their coffins is, in all honesty, the best thing that has happened to the Left for decades. It is a genuine move to overcome the muck of ages of sectarian nonsense. We have come through a turbulent year of protest, with popular anger reaching unprecedented levels. Blair is unpopular, his policies are unpopular, the Tories are unpopular. Conditions are ideal for a leftist revival on the electoral scene to match that on the streets and in the trade union movement.
Yet, the Communist Party of Britain - to be sure, a small sect, but also the effective owners of the Morning Star - have decided that such unity would be beneath them because, they claim, "It is a narrowly-based front for the SWP which has emerged from the remnants of the failed Socialist Alliance" . I don't buy this explanation, of course. The coalition is being proposed by, among others, George Monbiot and George Galloway representing the Green left and the Old Labour left respectively. Such independent voices are not about to submerge themselves into an SWP front, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. Far more likely, their position reflects their "assumption that it is possible to reclaim the party formed by the trade unions 100 years ago and for which Lenin urged support."
The reference to my namesake is a desperate piss-take, since I believe Lenin's formulation was that one should support reformist administrations "like a rope supports a hanging man" .
More pertinently, what is there to "reclaim"? The Labour Party is moribund, and it has neither the desire nor the ability to attract the kind of membership capable of pulling it in a different direction. As Patrick Seyd has noted, managerial and middle-class occupations are over-represented in its ranks, while the working class is proportionately under-represented. The only organic connection to the working class Labour retains is through the trade unions, whom it treats with contempt. Holding out the starved, dry carrot of reform one day, bashing with the bluntest cudgel the next. Firefighters were, for this government, "the enemy within". They are to be stripped of their right to strike, so that they may not embarrass Mr Blair anymore. Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, hears a few whispers in his ear about cooperation one minute, the next minute some Cabinet hack is briefing the BBC on the latest renunciation of fundamental social-democratic principles.
There is nothing left to reclaim.
This Sunday, there will be a National Convention to launch the alternative to New Labour. Be there.
Declaration and call for a National Convention to found an alternative to New Labour
Sunday 25 January, 10am
Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Remember The ALMO!! posted by Richard SeymourThe first rule of democracy is you never ask for permission. If you offer a referendum on something you want to do anyway, you’re only inviting trouble. So it was when residents of Camden defied government bank-rolled propaganda, wave upon wave of leaflets offering the prospect of new money and renovations for homes if only they would allow their homes to be run by private contractors, and voted the proposals down by 77% . A thumping victory like that won’t replicate itself in Westminster, because Westminster Council has already imposed ALMOs on its residents, sans scrutin. The reason for the difference may be partially due to Westminster Council being a Tory council ideologically in favour of such moves, and Camden Council being a corrupt Labour borough with a rubber spine, only in favour of ALMOs because the government says so.
The government plans to privatise all council housing by the year 2010. Confluently, it has set councils the goal of meeting all recommended renovation and repair targets by 2010. And by another happy coincidence, it has told councils involved that they may only have new government money to cover these repairs if it adopts the ALMO scheme. Such are the Mafia-like intrigues of this government, (in all probability, though, concocted by some cunning civil servants), that councils are floating on a surfeit of offers they may not refuse. This device was first deployed to force recalcitrant councils to accept PFI deals for their schools and hospitals. The only show in town was the hasty introduction of private capital to public services, which would be augmented by wads of government cash if implemented. Otherwise, nada, zilch, zero-sum, bugger all and buggered sideways.
George Monbiot describes the results in his famous treatise on late capitalist democratic degeneration, Captive State. In Coventry, it transpires, two hospitals were made one. The central one, also the easiest to get to, was closed and adjoined instead to the hospital situated on the outskirts of the city. Companies were brought in to do the work of building and also to finance the works in the short run. The agreement was that they would be paid back by the council in part sums over a period of thirty years.
However, the cost of that scheme over thirty years would be £135 million. If the council had simply undertaken the repairs itself, it would have cost £30 million. Furthermore, there would have been no need to close down one of the hospitals at a loss of staff and beds. As Monbiot explains:
"Just as the problems surrounding the plans for the new hospital on the Walsgrave site in Coventry result not from a terrible mistake but from the inevitable unfolding of the Private Finance Initiative, so the impending reduction of beds and staff nationwide is an unavoidable consequence of taking private money. Like the Walsgrave scheme, the price of all the new projects has been massively inflated in order to make them what the NHS calls 'PFI-able': attractive in other words, to private investors."
The general rule with such projects is "every £200 million spent on PFI schemes means 1,000 fewer nurses and doctors."
Taxpayers are being ripped off, end users are being ripped off, NHS workers are being ripped off. No one benefits from this apart from capital.
Back to the ALMO. The £283 million which the government promised if ALMO was adopted is now being demanded by residents, unconditionally, without strings, for the repair of their homes. This part of the battle is crucial. For one thing, there are a host of other councils eager to convince local residents to accept ALMOs and not force them into the same maligned ranks as Birmingham and Camden. Newcastle, for instance - if you live in Newcastle, you may have received a leaflet from the council telling you that failure to support the ALMO would lead to:
"Failure to hit the Government‘s Decent Homes Target by 2010. Reduced standards for windows, doors, kitchens and bathrooms. No more spending on non-Decent Homes issues such as security and environmental improvements."
They reassure tenants that the ALMO leaves the home in council hands, and that they will remain council tenants - perhaps with even more rights than before. One must assume that this is a nationally conducted campaign, since I've seen virtually the same information given to Camden residents (complete with glossy pictures of delighted residents receiving their brand new kitchens). The information is, of course, incorrect:
"In April 2002 Westminster was one of the first councils to set up an ALMO, called CityWest Homes. Now the council wants to hand ownership of three tower blocks from the ALMO to a private housing company, Stadium Housing Association.
Stadium's assistant chief executive Tim Holden boasted, "This is the first of its kind. We're testing the water to see how far we can go.""
ALMOs are supposed to be the more politically acceptable face of "stock transfers", an idea which suffered an immense defeat in Birmingham when the vote was finally taken. Stock transfers sell homes to Housing Associations, and were Labour's chief way of accelerating Tory privatisations, which is one good reason why Camden Council took great pains to emphasise that ALMOs were not like stock transfers or privatisation .
The interesting thing about all these various ploys and attempts is that, yet again, we find it costing a fortune and helping absolutely noone except capital. "The government has recently admitted that it plans to spend £800 million in 2003/4 subsidising privatisation by writing off 'overhanging debt'. This is just less than the £840 million available as housing investment for all 2.7 million council homes in England & Wales. They could almost double direct investment in council housing if they stopped privatisation."
Why? Why should this government waste billions of pounds in tax money on unpopular measures sure to have a negative impact on services? Is it a conspiracy? Are they truly the conscious servants of big business? No.
I'm not just being contrary in answering negatively, but it so happens that this is the most misunderstood government in years. Misunderstood by both its supporters and opponents as a "pragmatic", "non-ideological" government which has "taken the politics out of politics". On the contrary, this is the most ideological extremist neo-liberal government we have yet had. It truly believes that if only we increase the role of private enterprise in running public services, we will invigorate those services with "the rigour of the marketplace" as the new Clause Four says.
So, when you come to vote, remember the ALMO. Remember PFI and PPP. Remember all the money wasted and the beds and jobs lost. Remember that these were ideologically driven decisions, not pragmatic concessions to the middle class. Remember that the government are deeply unpopular in this regard, as in most others, but remain convinced of their virtue and wisdom. There has to be an alternative.
We must, in truth, you and I form an alternative to this weak and nasty government:
Declaration and call for a National Convention to found an alternative to New Labour
Annan was personally selected for his job by Madeleine "the price is worth it" Albright, the sack-faced apologist for mass murder, on account of his help in diverting attention away from the rowdy rabbles in Rwanda and onto the more pressing issue of Yugoslavia's disintegration (how to further it). So, you'd expect him to be a bit of a toadie, but to seriously consider risking the lives of his charges by tossing them into the bombed out, ruined, blood-spattered, angry-as-fuck, Iraqi lion cage? No, no, no! That's a special kind of stupidity. Annan once remarked that the UN's job in Iraq was to "confer legitimacy on the process" of occupation. (Guardian, 22/07/03) Nobody remembers that except me, but then I give a shit and you don't. His underlings paid for that "legitimacy" in blood when the UN compound was attacked by Iraqi insurgents.
Look, here's the deal: anyone dumb enough to go into Iraq right now and advertise their presence as an international organisation affiliated to the occupation should be fucking shot at! Okay?
No, no, I can hear y'all. "No, it's not! Just cos we're antiwar doesn't mean we don't care about innocent people getting killed and the UN are only trying to make things better by..." Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spare me the fucking sanctimony. If you enter Iraq on behalf of the "coalition", you have a choice between homicide and suicide. If they'd gone into South Vietnam with the US, they'd have their intestines blown out through their noses, so I think the Iraqi resistance is going easy on the fuckers. Right, enough ranting for the day. I'm supposed to be at work.
Monday, January 19, 2004
I shit you not. It seems the lachrymose Queen of our Hearts, PM Blair, really hasn't been getting the right message across, so now the public's all confused, don't know whether to trust him, the media's all confused, don't know whether he's got good enough lies up his sleeve, and the government? They've just given up on the fucking lot of us! Seriously, they're sick, sick, sick to death with these whining, nosy bastards telling opinion pollsters how much they hate the government and their policies, when everyone knows that Tony Blair is the most popular man in history ever ever ever. Think about it! Could you imagine Blair in a porn film? Exactly! He radiates virtue and honesty wherever he goes.
So, The Guardian group has devised a cunning plan. Number Ten's daily press briefings are going to be televis................................ ugh, cough, um, sorry, I fell asleep. Yeah, they want you the voter to judge the politicians on what they the politicians tell the press, so they're going to televise the press briefings! This will, apparently, bring us back into the fold of the government. Never mind Blair saying he never authorised the leak of Kelly's details to the press when he did. He's a fucking top-nosh geezer who looks after his kids and pays his bills on time. And if yer don't like it, yer can fuck of back to yer own countraaaayyy!!
Sunday, January 18, 2004
The New Jacobins... posted by Richard SeymourI don't know what it is about the French, but they seem to know how to annoy everyone. They aggravate the Right by not going along with wars, and the Left by circumscribing religious freedom.
Some have suggested that this is an argument to be had with religious nutters, a brave secular attack on the ancien regime. I hate to tell you this, but it ain't. Jaques Chirac and Jean-Pierre Raffarin are not operating in defense of the Republic, they are operating in a climate where the high vote for Jean Marie Le Pen has legitimised and sanctified racism and Islamophobia.
And note that this campaign isn't just coming from the secular liberals, it comes directly from the racist right. Le Pen's FN has demanded that "Muslims drop their veils".
This isn't like school prayers in the States. Prayers are an enforced ritual to inculcate obedience and conformity. I know this, because we had to have prayers in our school in Northern Ireland (good Protestant prayers, not like the mucky Paddy prayers they were having in the Catholic school down the road). But to choose to wear a crucifix, a hijab, a skullcap or a Scientologically Clear smile, is a personal choice. It reinforces identity in the school environment, rather than detracting from it.
I don't want to claim that parents aren't perhaps involved in imposing some kind of burden on their children by forcing (some of them) their kids to wear religious garb or ornament. But it remedies nothing of this to simply ban it in the school context, if anything a zone of much greater authoritarian control, given that it is an arm of the state devoted to churning out industrially sanctioned produce.
Some will say "well, it can't be Islamophobic if they're doing it to all religions", but that reflects a lack of attention to the debate. Chirac, for instance, raised no small amount of hell in December when he decided that there was "something aggressive" about the Muslim headscarf. Presumably, he was thinking of those Algerians and their destruction of the French Empire.
And the French government has the nerve to speak of Muslim opposition to these moves as attempts to "stir up racial tensions" . What is this "tensions" business that we keep hearing about? Surely we aren't talking about individuals on the verge of a heart attack on account of spotting someone else in a headscarf? Otherwise how do they manage to get through their shopping with all those old ladies about? Perhaps what is meant here is "racism". Yes, of course, Muslims must be desperate to stoke up racism against themselves. What greater proof of their irrationalism could there be?
But why stop at religious symbols? Couldn't it therefore be argued that any symbol reflecting one's personal beliefs has no place in a school? Are we to return to scrubbed 1950s school children wearing the same bland uniforms, lining up meekly for their morning caning session? No politics, no music, no culture. As if the 1960s had never happened?
Those who claim to be standing up for the freedom of Muslim women should pay attention to what Muslim women are actually saying.
Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights have written to the French President insisting that it is the right of all Muslim women to "practise their religion freely". They further note:
"We commend the 1989 decision of the Conseil d'Etat, ruling that the Criel school principal who suspended three Muslim school girls wearing headscarves had violated the freedom of religion of the girls, guaranteed to them by the French Constitution. We further commend the Conseil's 1995 decision, affirming that simply wearing a headscarf does not provide grounds for exclusion from school and reversing decisions that had expelled school girls in such situations."
French Muslim women have taken to the streets demanding that the state leave them in peace to practise their religion.
Sarah Whalen notes that the veil is neither compulsory under Islam, nor is what is being described strictly a "veil". Veils cover and obscure the female face, and nothing in Islam requires this, although sometimes veils are worn. What Islam does require, through combined readings of the Holy Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith (narrations about the Prophet, peace be upon him, and his companions), is modesty in dressing for both men and women. And throughout much of the Muslim world, this means loose, comfortable clothing and a headcovering of some kind for both sexes.
In other words, every signal from Muslim women is that they regard this as a devastating infringement on their right to choose, that they would rather the state did not proscribe their habits of dress, and that they would rather secularists did not feel the need to 'liberate' them all the time.
A liberal secular constitution does not mean intolerance for religious beliefs - quite the contrary. It means a secular state beholden to no particular religious orthodoxy and therefore welcoming to all. If it has stopped meaning that, we may all be in some moral peril.
Saturday, January 17, 2004
The Real Victims posted by Richard SeymourLet's be honest. Bush and Blair are the real victims of this war. They were lied to by their intelligence services, maligned by the press, scorned by the public. All for trying to overthrow a rancorous dictator who GASSED HIS OWN PEOPLE, YES HIS OWN PEOPLE.
Let's be a little bit more honest than that. The liberal defenders-cum-critics of the war on Iraq have a difficult job disguising pro-war assumptions behind tough prose that will look sufficiently like a critique. The latest method of doing it is to suggest that something went wrong for the Bush-Blair axis, that they were deceived by intelligence services and that they got carried away on their own moral righteousness, given the green light by shoddy information. Martin Woollacott tells us:
The most resounding intelligence failure of the whole intervention era has certainly been that of accurately assessing Saddam's holdings of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The US and British governments would not have gone to war if their intelligence chiefs had bluntly said there were no, or very few, such weapons or programmes. You cannot spin a No.
Apart from anything else, it isn't the intelligence services' job to "bluntly" announce "no". It is their job to describe the reality in all of its complexity. Secondly, what we now know appears to suggest that intelligence DID convey to the Prime Minister and President Bush that there were indeed "very few" WMD programmes in Iraq. The New York Times has made similar claims of 'faulty' intelligence, even as it pretends to obliterate Team Bush for its “reckless rush to invade Iraq,” and “obsession with the Iraqi dictator”.
Yet the claims made by the two administrations were the result of distortion of intelligence findings, not their purblind acceptance by idealistic politicians.
Take, for example, the claim that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction which could be deployed within 45 minutes . The Hutton Inquiry has revealed that this was false, and that it was known that the actual claims were being distorted:
Geoff Hoon, the secretary of state for defence, admitted to the Hutton inquiry on 22 September that he knew the claim in the dossier referred to battlefield weapons only.
Andrew Caldecott QC, for the BBC, then asked, "A number of newspapers had banner headlines suggesting this claim related to strategic missiles. Why was no corrective statement issued for the benefit of the public?"
Hoon replied, "I don't know."
Even more importantly, there isn't at the moment a credible source for the 45-minute claim, even in the watered-down version admitted by Hoon. Iraqi officer Lieutenant Colonel Al Dabbagh made it publicly known that he was behind the claim, to great fanfare in the pro-war press. Unfortunately, it turns out that he was a spy working for the Iraqi National Accord, not a credible intelligence source.
Donald Rumsfeld claimed that 'there are al-Qaeda in Iraq', accusing Saddam of 'harbouring al-Qaeda operatives who fled the US military dragnet in Afghanistan' . It is not clear what the basis of his claims are, but no intelligence so far provided have pointed in this direction.
The British Government claimed in its official assessment of Iraq's weapons that 'Iraq has been trying to procure items that could be for use in the construction of centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium', and has attempted to 'purchase vacuum pumps which could be used to create and maintain pressures in a gas centrifuge cascade need to enrich uranium' .
This allegation was repeated by the Whitehouse on 12th September, 2002, and was stiffly challenged . The Bush administration was subsequently obliged to admit that this claim was false and was known to be false when it was included in Bush's speech in January 2003.
It was known to be false, because intelligence officials told them it was false.
Far from the story being one of shadowy intelligence elites duping elected politicians into a war which few wanted, this is a tale of deliberate government manipulation of intelligence. The Carnegie Endowment for Peace reports that intelligence officials became increasingly alienated by the encroachments of the Bush administration:
The authors say the intelligence reports of Iraq's capabilities grew more shrill in October 2002 with the publication of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which included an unusual number of dissenting views by intelligence officials.
The intelligence community, the report says, began to be unduly influenced by policymakers' views "sometime in 2002". Repeated visits to the CIA by the US vice president, Dick Cheney, and demands by top officials to see unsubstantiated reports, created an atmosphere in which intelligence analysts were pressed to come to "more threatening" judgments of Iraq.
The report concludes that "administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile programmes".
With the CIA doing the monitoring of Iraqi weapons programmes (following the withdrawal of UN weapons inspectors as Operation Desert Fox was about to begin), it shouldn't have been too hard for the Bush and Blair administrations to discover if Saddam Hussein really did have weapons programmes which he was sneaking about from place to place. Iraq was the most spied on country on earth from 1998 to 2003. So when in Cincinnati in October 2002, for example, shortly before Congress voted in favor of a blank-check resolution authorizing war, President Bush said, "The Iraqi regime ...possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism.... The danger is already significant, and it grows worse with time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today —and we do—does it make any sense for the world to wait...for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud?" I suppose the world would be forgiven for temporarily wondering if there wasn't something in this.
Yet, not a single word from intelligence findings justifies the extraordinary, loopy claims made by President Bush, and his simpering care attendant, Tony Blair. None of the claims made by Colin Powell on the basis of alleged 'intelligence' have been shown to be true. In fact, the findings of David Kay's Iraq Survey Group suggest they were always fraudulent. Some news reports say that Powell knew some days before presenting his case to the UN that the claims were "bullshit". Indeed, to suggest that they were victims of false or flawed intelligence is both to exculpate them and to insult them. They would be guiltless to some extent in genuinely beleiving there was a mortal threat to the territory and people of the United States and United Kingdom, yet they would also be downright fools. Noone in government takes intelligence services absolutely and directly at its word - it would be a devastating dereliction of duty to do so, worthy of impeachment, because every government official knows that intelligence services are highly ideological and fanatical (take a look at former CIA director James Woolsey for your archetypal intelligence kook). And if, as Martin Woollacott suggests, it takes an unequivocal "No" to persuade our leaders not to go to war, then we are obviously talking of governments desperate to spin, seeking any margin in which they can do so, in order to present a case for war they have already decided to embark on.
Only ideological fanatics could seriously consider the contention that Bush and Blair did not lie, or did not know they were lying, when they presented their fantastic claims through 2002 and early 2003. These ideological fanatics are typically called "realists" for not subscribing to "conspiracy theorists" and for maintaining a centrist outlook. Their status as 'independent' commentators is belied by the consistency with which they cover-up, distort and dissemble on behalf of power. And, guess what, you can find them in the pages of The Guardian and the New York Times - the voices of officially sanctioned dissent.