Friday, April 29, 2005

Labour smears Respect. posted by Richard Seymour

Yesterday, Labour issued a press-release claiming that an old age pensioner had been assaulted by Respect supporters for refusing to accept a leaflet. No national newspaper has carried this. Only an early edition of the London Evening Standard has done so. (Update: Despite being warned that the story was nonsense, this journo at the Times decided to run with the story). However, one of the Labour Party's most noxious allies, Harry's Place , has taken the press-release and published it in more or less unadulterated form, complete with a picture of Oona King MP meeting the bruised man.

The Claims

Let's get the claims right, first of all. The story goes roughly as follows: The 69-year old Les Dobrovolski was approached in Poplar by Respect members canvassing for George Galloway last Thursday, 21st April. When he refused to accept a leaflet and said he would never vote for George Galloway, he was followed by the group, who then attacked him near Spitalfields market. They pushed him to the floor, and one man stamped on the pensioner's hand before dropping a leaflet on him as he lay in agony - a trophy gesture. He was then taken by ambulance to the local hospital where he was x-rayed and given stitches. Harry's Place follows up with the sentence: "The police were informed of the attack and are currently investigating." Then a few pieties from Oona King.

The Facts

On Thursday 21st April, Les Dobrovolski told the police that he had been attacked, but there was no mention of him having been assaulted by Respect supporters or of any leaflet. The first time such a claim appeared anywhere was in the Labour Party's press-release. The police have confirmed, categorically, that no such claims were made to the police when Mr Dobrovolski was interviewed, and that they are not investigating the Respect party in connection with this. They issued it as a general statement to the press, which is why most papers did not touch it.

The claim that Mr Dobrovolski encountered Respect supporters canvassing for George Galloway in Poplar is highly improbable, to say the least, since Poplar is not in the constituency being contested by George Galloway. There were no canvassers out there. The leaflet that was allegedly dropped on Mr Dobrovolski following the attack was still in the printers on the day of the attack, and was sent out as a postal drop - ie, sent by the printers directly to Royal Mail, and not to Respect leaders or canvassers. The earliest the leaflet could have been sent out was on Saturday's post.


Oona King has a record of smearing her opponents , even repeating a libel after she had been obliged to pay an out-of-court settlement. She smeared Respect previously by claiming that Respect canvassers were advising voters not to elect Oona King again on account of her Jewish background - unaware, obviously, that Respect had not even begun campaigning in the constituency yet. Her campaign has also involved the suggestion that George Galloway is just like Oswald Mosley, despite the fact that it is her campaign leaflets, directed at 'white' areas, which say: "The Scottish MP George Galloway is stirring things up, especially in the Bengali community. He is a threat to us all." [Emphasis added]. The tactics used by Labour in Bethnal Green & Bow are becoming dirtier and dirtier. They bear the signature of despair and are the hallmark of a party without any principle, and a campaign without any appeal.

Vote Respect .

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Kennedy talks tough. posted by Richard Seymour

I'm not a fan of the Liberal Democrats, which Dead Men Left aptly describes as "yellow Tories" , and their position on the war was remarkably opportunistic. There are many other reasons why I won't be voting Lib Dem, the planned abolition of the right to strike for key workers being among them, but that made Charles Kennedy's performance on Question Time last night all the more surprising. I've just caught the clip on the BBC, which you can watch here .

Kennedy is not a cunning speaker, and is not up to dealing with heckles and hectoring. David Dimbleby was surprisingly hostile at a number of points, especially given his own support for the Lib Dems. Yet, after batting away some ubiquitous queries about council tax and his own apparent bafflement about Lib Dem economic policy, Kennedy dealt with questions about the war with unusual robustness. For instance, Dimbleby - when he saw that Kennedy's remarks were going down well - tried the "If you had your way..." gambit, as if the war was the only way to bring down Saddam. Kennedy replied, no, not necessarily. After all, the Iraq Survey Group had been into Iraq, studied it closely and found that the regime was ripe for implosion. It would have been sufficient for Iraqis to see how weak Saddam's weapons systems were. He had no more chemical weapons to dump on his people, and his army was a shambles. The Emperor, thus found without his clothes on, would in all likelihood have rapidly fallen on the sword of popular insurrection. Similarly, asked about the prospect of removing troops from Iraq, with the usual complaint that doing so would result in more Iraqi deaths (tenner to anyone who can tell me the ratio of troops to Iraqi deaths at the moment), Kennedy was stoical. Yes, he would withdraw the troops after a year (why not now?), and no it was unlikely to result in increased deaths, since the main cause of civil strife at the moment was the presence of the occupation. Further, the British government had no cause to be talking about civilian deaths in Iraq, since it could not even be bothered to take a proper count of them. "And it's not just that I disagreed with the Prime Minister on the policy here - it's that I'm ashamed of what this government has done."

Tough words from a walking jelly. It is a pity that Kennedy had none of that moral fibre while the war was taking place, and that he only finds it again now that the war is so unpopular and Blair in such trouble for it. And Kennedy admitted that he had favoured the interventions in Afghanistan and Kosovo which could have been exploited for all sorts of inconsistencies, (of which Dimbleby pointed out one or two).

And, of course, the liberal infatuation with 'international law' ought to be reproved by all principled anti-imperialists. I finally picked up a copy of China Mieville's book Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (2002) yesterday, the rough contents of which I have regurgitated on this blog more than once. I don't want to reiterate too much, but what do the UN-fetishists say about Haiti, where a UN-endorsed multilateral hit-squad took the country over after the US kidnapped Aristide, and where the imposed government of neoliberals and former genocidaires has been ruthlessly murdering its opponents with US-supplied weapons ? Imagine a mission that has been conducted with the full mandate and protection of international law that also happens to be a classic imperialist venture.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

This election is a crashing bore... posted by Richard Seymour

At least for television viewers, who are switching off the news to avoid the sterile non-debates and glib casuistries of 'the big three'. For Charlotte Street, language has been hollowed out into noises , designed to appeal to the - what was that phrase? - "gut instincts of the British people". Trouble is, the more politicians go to the gut, the more people want to vomit.

Still, there is the odd risk of excitement here and there. For instance, Labour is being obliged to pay unusual attention to a heartland constituency apparently in part because of local polls showing Respect has a very slight lead, where Peter Hain has been despatched to tell voters that George Galloway is a "playboy politician" . Unto which: "Being called a playboy politician by Peter Hain is like being told to sit up straight by the hunchback of Notre Dame." This campaign has caught the international headlines like no other seat in this election. The Canadians are curious , the Americans are appalled , Tracy Emin is proud , the Cable Street generation are too (what was that about Moseley?), the students are all sorted out for fees and piss, and the international press are watching incredulously...

Meanwhile, I am told that Salma Yaqoob's constituency is going very well in Birmingham Sparbrook. Respect won the most votes in that area during the European elections, and Salma is outdoing the local MP in the placards and posters stakes. Lindsey German is doing surprisingly well in West Ham too.

On top of which, Martin Bell is irking his nephew by supporting Reg Keys in Blair's constituency , where polls apparently show that 60% of voters are 'undecided' and the rest are split evenly between Mr Keys and Mr Blair. And Craig Murray, the former diplomat to Uzbekistan, is seriously worrying Jack Straw .

It will be extraordinarily difficult to win a seat, but the big guns of the antiwar movement are pointed right at the throats of New Labour's hottest stars. We do not have the enormous resources of the main parties, and so rely on what we can say in the few avenues of communication that we have access to. This has gone an incredibly long way so far. And we now have the forced irruption of the war onto the electoral terrain to help. The fact that Labour are feeling so threatened in a heartland constituency is encouraging - but the race is close enough that every last vote matters, including any that might be fraudulently counted . There will be a big Respect outing in the East End over the weekend, and anyone living in Birmingham might want to pop over and help Salma Yaqoob. Every vote matters. It is time for the antiwar movement to take some bodies as well.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Polly, put the kettle on. posted by Richard Seymour

And shut your face. Here's Polly Toynbee in today's Guardian, "Angry Labour voters don't care about social justice" :

Poverty and equality are low on the agenda even on the left. Deep in email debate with angry Labour voters threatening not to vote for the party this time, I find it is the war and terror legislation they care about most, not poverty. Time and again they dismiss social justice as a second-order question. All ideological fervour is expended on liberty, very little on equality.

By way of contrast, "The truth about Blair's Britain — born poor, stay poor" :

A new report by the Centre for Economic Performance has found that Britain has one of the developed world’s lowest levels of “social mobility”. It is much worse here than in the five other European countries studied.

The report found that children from poor backgrounds go to poorly funded schools and are less likely to continue their studies. This dramatically limits children’s ability to find better paid employment. And the expansion of university education in the 1980s and 1990s has benefited the wealthiest far more than the poorest.

The proportion of people from the wealthiest 20 percent getting a degree during that time rose from 20 percent to 47 percent, while from the poorest 20 percent it rose from 6 percent to 9 percent.

The report found that, far from becoming more equal, social mobility has fallen over the last 50 years. Those born in 1970 are more likely to be in the same wealth bracket as their parents than those born in 1958. The report blows apart all of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s talk of extending “opportunity for the many”.

Liberty and equality are not competing issues; especially in Blair's Britain, they are contiguous. ASBOs target the poor, the mentally ill and the disenfranchised, not the shiraz-quaffing whatchamacallems. Those targeted by the 'anti-terror' laws and locked up without charge or trial in Belmarsh are unlikely to be captains of British industry. There is much ado about economic criminals from poor backgrounds and the wrong area, while the enormous fraud and theft that takes place in the City of London each day passes with impugnity. It would be silly to take the latest bit of prolier than thou invective from Ms Toynbee seriously. But then, judging from the letters page, The Guardian has some pretty silly readers (woolly, champers-guzzling, Waitrose-shopping, patio-building Hampstead liberals prone to emotional blackmail, I mean).

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Principle. posted by Richard Seymour

The Late Christopher Hitchens is on the campaign trail for the righteous Blair these days, which is appropriate since they almost match one another in mendacity and opportunism. In doing so, he launches a sloppy attack on Respect and on the Socialist Workers' Party, which is so replete with errors that I feel some tender urge to cough politely, move on and say no more about it. How to summarise the article without being unkind? Well, it is very badly written, it says nothing new and what was worth repeating is obliterated by what was never worth saying in the first place.

Here is what the Hitch needs to know, and apologies to those for whom this is treading old ground. The Muslim Association of Britain is not a part of Respect. Some of its members left the organisation to join Respect, which means that they left an integralist organisation with some debt to Sayid Qutb to join a socialist organisation which defends gay rights and abortion rights as a matter of its constitution and manifesto, which is progress indeed. The attackers of Galloway appear to be the remnants of the violent Islamist group, al-Muhajiroun, not Hizb ut-Tahrir. Similarly, the 'invasion' was of a press release by the Muslim Council of Britain at Regent's Park mosque, not the MAB's office. The attack on the Jewish war memorial does not appear to have been directed at King, if the Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland (who was there) is accurate in his observations. It was King who immediately claimed the attack for herself, for the obvious reason that her campaign strategy against Respect has been, from day one, to stress her Jewishness and racial background. No one in Respect has given it a thought, and it has not appeared in our election literature. By way of contrast, Oona's leaflets delivered in 'white' areas efface all mention of Muslims , (a Stalinist exercise in itself), while those delivered to Bangladeshi areas say:

Labour delivers for Muslim communities

Since 1997, together with the British Muslim community, Labour has:

* Established state-funded Muslim faith-schools for the first time.

* Abolished the hated 'primary purpose' rule which stopped many
British Muslims bringing their husband or wife to the UK.

* Safeguarded Halal food production.

* Outlawed religious discrimination in the workplace.

* Doubled bi-lateral aid to Bangladesh.

* Appointed British Muslims as Ambassadors, including to Bangladesh.

* Sent the only state-funded Hajj delegation from a Western Government.

There you have communalism of a kind that would shame Respect.

The rest of Hitchens' article contains the usual array of slandering techniques - his opponents 'admit' to some terrible collusion with Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi resistance consists primarily of Zarqawi-style lunatics, Galloway was a 'loud advocate' of Ba'ath party rule, others - not him - are 'renegade pseudo-Bolsheviks' etc (as if the SWP's position on imperialism, which he would once have accepted, is heterodox). Then there are the pitifully inept formulations that have come to pepper his prose: "Blair's Britain is a sort of post-Keynesian full-employment and welfarist society." By such phrases is a neoliberal government, which has cut welfare and lost a million manufacturing jobs while creating nothing like full employment, redeemed. And the tic-like insistence that his enemies are part of the establishment, are the true conservatives: Blair "took a bold stand against the establishment and against a sullen public opinion". Some boldness that finds allies in the Conservative Party, the Bush administration, Israel, the Daily Telegraph, the Murdoch stable, the British army etc. against the combined might of public opinion.

So far so good. If the old ones don't necessarily turn out to be the best ones, they are at least endearingly familiar. What would be irksome if it weren't so tedious is Hitchens' pretense that his support for the Iraq war, and therefore of Tony Blair, has anything to do with 'principle'. Darling, give that a fucking rest. This is a man who has initially said he would not favour war with Iraq, then decided that he did; would not characterise the Ba'athist regime as fascist to score cheap points, and then decided that he would; was channeling Cassandra over the existence of WMDs in Iraq, then rejoined the chorus (only to bleat more about it when some new wafer-thin 'evidence' emerged); complained vigorously of being misrepresented and smeared by his ex-comrades, while dissembling, condescending & sneering at them himself; accused the Left of changing the subject, while at the same time expending an awful lot of energy discussing anything but the arguments he is supposedly despatching; moralises about the acts of mass murder carried out by the extreme, but minute, Wahabbi sects claiming to be part of the resistance, yet glibly passes over the far greater murder inflicted on Iraqis by the occupiers. It is hard to know which face to slap here.

If Hitchens hasn't an ounce of shame left in him, he could at least have the meaner instincts of self-preservation that would guide away from composing such missives. After all, what man of sanity would advertise to the whole world that he has no principle that he will not discard willy-nilly, and that there are no depths of bad faith that he will not plumb in doing so?

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Down with the Meritocracy!! posted by Richard Seymour

Meritocracy, which most people equate with 'fairness', 'just desert' and so on, is a remarkable idea in that it is both unattractive in itself, and far too radical for New Labour, which claims to be in the business of replacing class division with meritocracy. Brown's attack on the 'old school ties' at Oxford University amplified and exemplified this tendency: not against inequality as such, just the kind that is unmerited, that doesn't derive from entrepreneurship and 'wealth creation'. This is 'endowment egalitarianism', which seeks to equalise the opportunities that one receives as a result of one's scholastic and vocational achievements.

But even to take this ideal seriously is far too radical for New Labour because in order to achieve it, one would have to take measures that would mantle Blair's cheek with a blush of shame. For instance, when Stephen Aldridge of the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit produced a report on how meritocracy could be achieved, he wrote that a meritocratic society would involve "high rates of social mobility and the absence of any association between class origins and destinations". This would have to be achieved by, among other things, higher rates of income tax to allow children from poorer income backgrounds access to the highest educational prospects, and also the abolition of inheritance, so that dull middle class children couldn't live off their parents labour and might therefore decline in the social structure. That is, there would have to be the possibility of both upward and downward social mobility. The very day after Aldridge produced his report, the government disowned it.

At the moment, educational outcomes closely correlate to class origins - the children of wealthier children fare better in exams and therefore have better opportunities for advancement in education and employment prospects. This is because their parents are able to secure better schools by moving between catchment areas, typically have more time and money to devote to the education of their children, and don't suffer the emotional problems that poor families are often burdened with. (Fact: the poorer you are, the larger your adrenaline gland is likely to be, since you are likely to suffer more stress in life).

Similarly, one of the main sources of wealth transmission in British society is inheritance - particularly from wealthy parents to their children. The level of social mobility is very low: in 1998, according to the government's Social Trends 28 report, only 2% of people from the top decile moved to the bottom decile - deciles, of course, are very inexact, and don't measure real wealth divisions, since it is likely to be an even smaller number of the top 1% that sinks to the bottom. And, let's face it, you'd have to be pretty stupid with such advantages to end up hitting rock-bottom. To achieve a meritocratic society, enormous redistribution would have to take place, levelling the undeserved advantages of the rich, to give the poor equal opportunity. Yet, the way the current taxation system is structured, the poorest fifth of households pay approximately 41.4 percent of their income in tax, while the richest fifth pay 36.5 percent. This is largely a result of increasing emphasis on forms of indirect taxation like VAT, as well as decreasing taxes on higher income earners under Thatcher and Major, and on corporate profits and inheritance under Blair.

Under New Labour, not only has inequality of income increased , social mobility has actually decreased . This is a direct result of government policies, particularly the acceptance of neoliberal orthodoxy. For instance, in Brown's Mais lecture in 1999, he endorsed the notion of a 'natural rate of unemployment'. That is to say, he endorsed Milton Friedman's notion that full employment cannot be achieved without accelerating the rate of inflation, and therefore it is necessary to maintain people in a state of continued impoverishment. The only way that one can reduce the 'natural rate of unemployment', according to this doctrine, is to increase the profitability of hiring labour. This is achieved either by reducing real wages and taking on the bargaining power of unions, or by improving the productivity of labour - hence, such pettifogging schemes as the New Deal, which has really achieved only a minute fraction of what its proponents claim for it, and has certainly gone no way toward improving social mobility.

But a meritocracy is a fairly repugnant notion on its own terms. It is based on the notion that rewards accrue to talented individuals for their achievements - yet talent has nothing to do with desert. One does not 'merit' one's talent, any more than a disabled person 'merits' not having a pair of working legs. A true meritocracy, implemented wholeheartedly, would leave those of inferior physical and intellectual endowments to perish. Hitler was in some sense a meritocrat. Michael Young's The Rise of the Meritocracy, published in 1958, was a satire on the very notion. In it, a meritocratic society is conceived with devastating consequences for the losers. In this winner-takes-all society, the rich are even more than usually smug, more than usually certain in their sense that they are fully entitled to their gains. The society ends up being so hateful that few really want to live in it, and so there is a revolution.

That, at least, would be a highly welcome outcome.

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Giving in to the terrorists. posted by Richard Seymour

The Department of Homeland Security has, according to this report , produced a document assessing the risk of terrorist attacks from internal foes. In it, no mention is made of the risk of attack from right-wing extremist groups - 'flag n foetus' nutters who are responsible for the bulk of attacks within the US over the past 20 years.

Why? The number of attacks from such groups has diminished in recent years, in large part because their agenda is being implemented by the government. So, the Bush administration has reduced terrorism by giving the terrorists what they want. With any luck, America under Bush will give up being so 'rich n free' and then Al Qaeda will decide to jack it in. Come to think about it, reducing freedoms, ruining the economy and generating increasing poverty appear to be flagship policies of this administration. That Bush is smarter than you think.

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American fable. posted by Richard Seymour

Never mind Tacitus or Gibbons. It is Aesop that US military planners should be studying. In one of Aesops 'Fables', two hyenas are cohabiting. Now, hyenas were believed by the ancient Greeks to change sex each year. So, the male gets randy and starts trying to take the female up the chocolate donut. The female turns round and says: "If you do that, friend, next year the same thing will happen to you."

Same to Uncle Sam.

While you're here, go read Charlotte Street on Foucault, sexuality and other illusions. He should have mentioned Foucault's propensity for fisting, which surely counts as a kind of technology of the body: a transformation, as Zizek has it, of a bodily organ into an organ without a body, a detached Object, ready-to-hand (or fist) etc.

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Jamie Oliver vs The Private Finance Initiative. posted by Richard Seymour

Turns out Jamie's plea for nutritious school meals is already biting the dust :

The school meals revolution set in motion by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has already run into difficulties as long-term contracts with private companies prevent schools getting rid of junk food.
The Guardian has learned that new schools locked into 25-year contracts through private finance initiatives are finding that they cannot rid their menus of junk food despite the government's pledge.

Other schools are also running into problems as they discover that they face substantial financial penalties if they try to opt out of long-running contracts with private catering companies.

What are they, Jamie? Muppets.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Fascinating History posted by Richard Seymour

A friend of mine maintains a blog which I find very interesting, and I'd like you to have a look at. She is interested in social history, the nitty-gritty of how people lived their lives in ancient, medieval and early-modern times.

It is called Fascinating History , and in my view it lives up to the title.

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Priorities. posted by Richard Seymour

The religion of socialism, some idiot once said, is the language of priorities. This has allowed every wet-eared reformist to evade choices and propound dogma as if it were pragma.

The fundamental choice of capitalism is always-already made for us, and is not one we can unmake unless we represent a material force greater than the combined power of capital and the various national and transnational institutions which supports and regulates its functioning. If we can't do that, we'd better at least be aware of the choice we are making. Slavery, for instance.

To put a round figure on it, according to US sociologist Kevin Bales there are about 27 million slaves in the world right now. In Brazil, there are said to be thousands of slaves mining charcoal or working on the Amazonian estates, while in India bonded labour is often a life-long obligation. Hardly news. The civilised integument of capital was built around the institution of slavery, and Brazil imported almost 40% of the 11 million Africans transported to the New World. But capitalism was supposed to have somehow got over these serpentine origins - either because of the military genius of Toussaint L'Ouverture or the moral calamity of William Wilberforce, depending on whether you learnt history properly or were taught it at a British school. So, what gives? Answer at the end of this post.

But a much more widespread phenomenon is what is euphemistically known as 'sweated labour'. Yes, yes, yes - you've heard all this before. Nike, Reebok, Gap, exploiting people somewhere over There. Places like Itsamnesia and Wherethefucksthatistad. It's a lot more common than that. Sweat shops persist in developing countries like Haiti, where Disney subcontractors pay 28 cents an hour to workers. (For attempting to rectify this state of affairs, Aristide was removed from power by the US and France, acting under the rubric of the UN). And also in the Phillipines, where people work more than 60 hours a weak to stitch Levi Strauss jeans. Never mind Nike trainers in Vietnam, Adidas and Gap in Indonesia and toy production for Wal Mart, Disney and Hasbro in China. But how about California? At one particular facility in El Monte, workers - mostly illegal immigrants - were found locked into garment factory surrounded by razor-wire. When not working, they slept 10 to a small room. They worked 20 hours a day, seven days a week for 70 cents an hour. That's one example. In the US, the Department of Labor estimates that more than half of the 22,000 clothing manufacturing shops qualify as sweatshops today. The tragic deaths of 21 Chinese cockle-pickers on Morecombe Bay alerted Britain to the fact that sweated labour took place here as well - and prompted Tory MP Ann Winterton to make a filthy racist joke about it.

Then there's child labour. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are 352 million children working in the world today, of whom 211 million are aged between 5 and 14. Suffice to say, we aren't talking about washing the car or cutting the lawn. The overwhelming majority of children who work do so in labour-intensive agriculture.

And the arms trade. This is one of the few remaining industries at which Britain excels, although it faces stiff competition from the United States. It is "dangerously unregulated" according to Oxfam, which is a masterpiece in understatement. It is so protected by government secrecy that only rough estimates can be made as to the scale of the global arms trade (note, this does not include domestic contracts or government guarantees to producers), but as of 1999 it was believed to be worth a total of $20 billion. That's enough to buy Tammy Faye a new wardrobe. It is an industry that governments are curiously eager to sustain at all costs. For instance, although Indonesia is known to engage in war crimes in Aceh, and although it has a record of horrendous human rights abuses, the British government will actually provide Export Credits to Indonesia to help them buy the latest tools. In a nation where 52% of the people live on less than $2 a day, the one thing they really need is for the government to buy more weapons.

These would seem on the face of it to be just a selection of some of the intractable problems that the world is faced with that must arise from a number of causes. What connects them? Simply this. Slavery and sweated labour are forms of hyper-exploitation that are not seperable by any clear line from the ordinary, day to day exploitation that takes place in advanced capitalist societies. For instance, when research into the national minimum wage in Britain was being looked into, it was discovered that among the worst sufferers of low pay in Britain were 16-18 year olds, many of whom had to accept hourly rates of £1.60 an hour and less. Naturally, the government responded to this astounding fact by excluding 16-18 year olds from the national minimum wage. In all sorts of working environments, particularly call centres, workers are subjected to high pressure drives for greater productivity. Often they have to ask permission to visit the toilet, and many are docked for the privilege. Wages are low, hours are long and tedious, and management are often brittle and abrasive.

Similarly, the priorities of profit mean that companies respond to market demand, which is not the same thing as human need. It is need, backed up by purchasing power. If it makes more money to produce guns for warring states than it does to produce medical equipment and food for their populations, then the guns win every time. If it is more profitable to allow Africans to die from AIDS than allow the production of cheap drugs, then AIDS has a free run. If it is profitable to encourage farmers to inject their cattle with chemical substances that poison our milk, that is what will be done. If it creates higher returns to cover food with harmful MSGs that also make it very addictive, then your Happy Meal will be one MSG-covered motherfucker. And if it turns a quick buck to expose citizens to carcinogenous chemicals rather than pursue safer products, you get all the lumps. As the film The Corporation shows, corporations are legally bound to pursue nothing other than the maximisation of shareholder profit. This involves criminality on an epic scale (cue list of companies that have broken the law over the years), as well as the exploitation of people and planet. But, as companies are also "externalising machines", that is to say, organisations structurally compelled to try and transfer costs to someone else, they rely on states to regulate markets, provide infrastructure, use their diplomacy and foreign policy to create good investment climates, fight wars that clear markets etc.

I mean to say, as clearly as I can, that the priorities of capitalism are utterly inhuman, dangerous, driving us toward catastophe in the form of war and environmental breakdown, poisoning us, exploiting us and then lying to us about it. It is a global problem and it can't be shirked by isolating each aspect of it and producing some proposal for reform by stages (or by numbers). At the very least, we can agree that these fuckwits don't have the answer.

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

Notes and Links. posted by Richard Seymour

A reading list, in lieu of a proper post. A Pessimist Leftist has a nice run-down of Ehud Barak's generous offer to the Palestinians - turns out, he really did offer them a choice, which was "fuck off or die". Or both, one assumes.

Then there's this Bionic Octopus . If it sounds like an alarmingly SF-style moniker to adopt, the content is entirely temporal and earthbound. BionOc is, near as I can gather, an American ex-pat whose informed and witty political, economic and cultural ruminations are interpolated by the occasional fashion statement : boho is coming back, 's true. I was thinking of chucking on one of those gypsy skirts all the shops are selling - but like a proper boho, I'll probably nick it.

The radical, internationalist youth journal Left Hook is edited by the invaluable M Junaid Alam, and has the advantage of shredding the hypocrisy of liberal sentimentalists while also executing technically proficient take-downs on the Bush junta.

K-Punk plants a sharp boot in the throat of relativism and 'Menshevitis', recalling Malcolm X's dictum that it was easier to deal with openly racist rednecks than liberal wolves in sheep's clothing ("woolly liberals"?).

Finally, I'll be hosting Carnival of the UnCapitalists in a few weeks' time. The (evil?) genius behind these festivities is Charles Norman Todd of Freiheit und Wissen , yet another blog that I should have linked to some time ago. This week's host will be Red Harvest , and you should send submissions to, probably by tomorrow evening GMT at the latest. Then it'll be the inviting Meat Eating Leftist - the name alone promises a great deal.

Previous hosts have included Majikthise , whose post "Michelle Malkin is certainly not a cunt" should become a classic. Gretchen Ross of The Green Lantern was kind enough to carry my demented rant against hippies despite the fact that she is herself a genuine old school hippy.

I'll be asking for submissions when it's my turn, so do me a favour and check out the submission guidelines . I don't want to have to get rough with anyone.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Pub life. posted by Richard Seymour

It'll be time to hit the bar soon.

I don't know about you, but I love pubs with a passion. There are so many different moods you can get and most of them are fabulous. For instance, on a rare working day lunchtime, I might settle for a couple of pints while reading my books or the newspaper. Relaxing, peaceful. Other times, it's just meeting people I haven't seen for ages and smirking about how much better I'm doing in life than they are. Oh yeah, that's a favourite that. "You're a Hollywood producer now? Ha ha ha! You fucking idiot, how did you sink so low?"

Best times are those disputatious evenings in which veiled insults are hurled back and forth during political debate. Sometimes there's a spot of genius. Some one expatiates as if illumined by some rare spark, holds forth on crucial issues, extemporises on philosophical themes, slags off the latest boy-girl band or whatever. Or, best of all, some one breaks down and admits they are really very nice and they can't understand why everyone thinks they're cold and distant. That fucker cracks me up every time.

But the best thing about the British pub is that the unspoken subterranean electricities that are too easily submerged behind professionalism, courtesy or civility are teased out in drunken rages. How often I have heard a noxious conversation begin with the words, "I'm not a racialist, but..." Then: "These fucking asylum seekers, coming over here, taking our fucking top hotels, driving BMWs. Send em back!" Yeah, dude, I think we should send you back to the fucking womb. Dr Lenin does post-natal abortions, you know.

One thing, though. Years of experience have taught me this. Never, ever rise to any bait with a chance of physical violence when you're drunk. The best chance you've got is that they're as drunk as you are, in which case you'll both look fucking stupid as you lob slow, lumpen punches at each other. Far better, I say, to give any would-be assailant a gentle tap on the bum and remind them that Astroglide is available in all good chemists. If you're lucky, you could even get a rough shag out of the deal.

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Changing lines. posted by Richard Seymour

The Guardian seems to be covering for the government through the election. Its headlines keep altering to more upbeat ones. For instance, yesterday The Guardian began its coverage of crime figures by following the rest of the press in emphasising an increase in violent crime. Then, hours later, the headline had changed to one that stressed the 11% drop in overall crime. Today, the paper carried a story about Blair's "pledge" to clamp down on "illegal immigrants". Just hours later, without irony, the headline reads Blair hits out at Tories over asylum . Typical Blairite triangulation - pander to the right in policy, then massage the left in words.

Anyway, a far more uplifting fact is that univerity lecturers have voted to support a boycott on two Israeli universities for their complicity in Israeli state crimes.

Cue some 'left' Zionist apologia...

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City Shit. posted by Richard Seymour

It had better be quick if you work for Merril Lynch:

Toilet cubicles have also been fitted with timer switches, and doors will automatically open five minutes after staff have entered to do their business. 60 seconds before the timer is triggered, the overhead lighting in each cubicle will flash intermittently, giving staff time to finish up.

Since I mentioned Dario Fo earlier, I'm just trying to remember what play it is in which he has a character mocking the boss for trying to shorten toilet breaks. I think it's Can't Pay, Won't Pay, about Milan Fiat workers who decided not to pay the bus fares as they'd become too expensive, thus launching a popular movement...

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Tis nothing, my lord. posted by Richard Seymour

The court jester mocks the King and the divine right he claims to stand on, and is the only one whose symbolic space is so inscribed as to allow him to. Let the truth be told, it seems, as if it were a lie, mere fooling. The Fool in King Lear, aftering teaching the King a frivolous speech, is rebuked:

This is nothing, fool.

Then 'tis like the breath of an unfee'd lawyer; you
gave me nothing for't. Can you make no use of
nothing, nuncle?

Why, no, boy; nothing can be made out of nothing.

[To KENT] Prithee, tell him, so much the rent of
his land comes to: he will not believe a fool.

The idea that nothing can come from nothing is firmly embedded in capitalist ideology. Ask a capitalist or one of his trained monkeys who happens to be called 'economist', "from where do profits come?" You'll be told that it is a reward for abstinence, something that accrues to the capitalist (or the landlord) in return for them foregoing consumption in order to invest. "Yes, but where does it come from?" Well, you see, the capitalist puts his money to work, buying machinery, labour, experts, analysts and so on, and if he invests well he is rewarded. "By whom?" The purchasers of his products, no less. "So, the capitalist is rewarded by consumers for abstaining on his own consumption?" Quite so. "Very generous, these consumers. Do they never think of rewarding the workers too?"

But that's all by the by. The main point is that the Fool in traditional ideology, through pun, metaphor, synonymy and homonymy, reflected like a funhouse mirror the lie of the Big Other. The Kings are "histrios not heroes", imbeciles not avatars of Godly wisdom. As well he's only joking, or the wise King would have his head on a spike.

There's a different tradition, of course, and that is the one drawn on by Dario Fo in his plays - the clown as anarchist, or revolutionary. The Fool in Accidental Death of An Anarchist updates the medieval peasant rabble-rouser in Mistero Buffo, plants him in 1970s Italy, and sets him loose on the corrupt, fascist-loving cops. A master of disguise, he places himself in all manner of social roles, from police inspector to judge, exposing their hollowness, using their symbolic power to interrogate the policemen who finally admit to having defenestrated the poor anarchist after having arrested him on bogus charges. (The play, by the way, used the facts of a real case for its plot - an anarchist railway named Giuseppi Pinelli was arrested for a bombing in Milan, after a fascist group distributed leaflets blaming it on the commies and anarchists. Some years later, after Pinelli had already disappeared out the window of the police interrogation room, three fascists were arrested and convicted of the crime. One of them was a paid informer of the Italian police).

But neither of these traditions is quite apt to capture the role of New Labour's court jester, Mr John O'Farrell . A repentant leftie, he uses his wit to charm and pacify his audience into sullenly voting Labour. E-mails from Labour HQ purporting to be from John O'Farrell do indeed bear his trademark of whimsy, routine 'topical' reference and glibness. Absurdity, for him, is by no manner of means a way of revealing the truth - we already know the truth, but are asked to behave as if we do not. New Labour is indeed a lie, he seems to say, but it remains The Best A Man Can Get. He knows the minds of would-be deserters, and says so:

Inside the brain of every thoughtful voter are hundreds of competing concerns and counter arguments: "I was against the war in Iraq but I'm in favour of Labour's big increases in overseas aid."

As another repentant leftist once said, "anyone who can suck like that need never dine alone". It isn't a joke, by the way. O'Farrell genuinely is suggesting that these two, placed adjacent, cancel one another out. But you may as well treat his entire routine as if it were an elaborate satire on New Labour and its willingness to coopt any celebrity, any facade of faux-leftism, any cocaine socialist who can turn a good line or a charming smile. O'Farrell's feeble rib-tickling has a wheedling quality. "Come on", he coaxes, with a devilish little grin while his fingers jiggle in your sides, "who's the best? Who's the number one? You're going to vote Labour, arentcha? Arentcha? Ooh, who's a good boy? You are!" Bite that fucker's hand off.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Extremism breeds extremism" posted by Richard Seymour

Joint appeal for calm, my ass. Here's a snippet from the Beeb's account of last night's hustings:

Miss King said: "I utterly condemn any attacks on George Galloway, or any other politician, and indeed just the general atmosphere of intimidation.

"I have to say it has not been helped by some of the language used by Respect. Extremism breeds extremism."

I'd be interested to know what kind of "language" Ms King has in mind. Perhaps she reads my blog. But she obviously isn't referring to libels , since she is the chief purveyor of those in this campaign. She can't be referring to obloquy in general, since it is her campaign that is firing out slurs and false allegations at an astonishing pace.

So, what is this 'language', unique to the Respect campaign, that is encouraging 'intimidation'? I'd say that comparing someone to a dead fascist is inflammatory to say the least, so it has to be something worse than that. Any takers?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Johann Hari Embarrasses Himself... posted by Richard Seymour

File under outlandish reality bloggery. The 'Young Journalist of the Year' is getting a bit desperate in his bid to shed the guilt of having supported the mass murder in Iraq. Tonight, as you will have heard, there were hustings at The East London Communities Organisation’s (Telco) accountability assembly. Security was tight as Galloway and King were set to clash again.

Hari was seen sat at the back, noisily drawing attention to himself throughout the proceedings. He hissed when Galloway spoke, of course, cheered ostentatiously when King spoke, and generally made himself ridiculous. When the debate was finally over, Hari stood up and asked of some Labour delegates, in that stentorian voice of his: "Hey, shall I get a Respect poster and burn it?"

One man turned round at that point to regard the boyish interloper. Hari looked him square in the face and said - "tell Oona she was great, by the way!" The man looked at him and said, with considerable bearded placidity, "I am unlikely to do that since I'm the national secretary of Respect". The silly bastard had accosted John Rees. "How embarrassing," he cooed, "I thought you were her husband!"

Hari then proceeded to try and interrupt the television interviewers as they questioned Galloway. He yelled the usual nonsense, like "Galloway supports genocide, he's a - argh! - he supports a dictator of a - hello?" The reporters who, one expects, exceeded Hari in sobriety, turned round and looked in amazement at this voluble and volumous attention grabber. Hari continued apace, and was seen minutes later bragging loudly into his mobile phone about the incident. There can only be a handful of people in the land that would find that sort of idiocy impressive - but trust Hari to know every one of them.

Rick from the Young Ones is reborn: "the fascist bastard!!!"

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Protest on Brick Lane. posted by Richard Seymour

That Blair protest was called off since he's decided to tail it up to the North somewhere. But a new protest is on, and Britain's best riot squad - namely the riot police - have turned out in force to contain it.

The riot police aren't there to protect any lowly Blairite MP. No, the Mayor of London himself is descending on the East End to give Oona King a bit of left credibility. She is to to campaign with him on Brick Lane, I'm told, although she will have some difficulty.

Why? There are about a hundred protesters gathered with antiwar placards awaiting her arrival. They're gathered on Hanbury Street just off Brick Lane, and the police are preparing to protect Livingstone and King from ... well, the voters.

Why not pop along and join in?

Hat tip: Guy .

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Ugly Rumours... posted by Richard Seymour

I heard a strange rumour yesterday that the Prime Minister was bound for the East End for a quick visit - y'know, hi, yah, how d'you do, start the car Nigel... He apparently planned to swish in there at about 1pm today, and was set to be met by noisy protests, but has pulled out at the last second like the good Catholic he is (think about it).

Meanwhile, Galloway has been attacked by members of Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, the far right fundamentalist group, because - like I said the other day - they don't like Respect's socialism, support for gay rights and a woman's right to choose, and they don't like the way we bring Muslims, Jews and Christians together. This group has warned that any Muslim voting for Respect faces a "death sentence". Ironically, new Labour's best allies in Bethnal Green & Bow could be a bunch reactionary Islamists. Fuck em.

Also, Moazzam Begg, the former Guantanamo detainee who was tortured and witnessed murder, has called for a Respect vote in Birmingham Sparbrook. And the Liberal has withdrawn in West Ham, so it's a Labour-Respect race.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Resistance and representation. posted by Richard Seymour

The Gulf War did not happen, except on television. Did Baudrillard mean that there was no fighting, no death, no murder of civilians? In fact, militating against his own philosophical extremities, Baudrillard said that "What's happening on the ground there in Iraq, it's so vile. It's enough to drive you into a depression or into a rage. As an abstract problem of simulation, the war is exciting, but in the real, I experience the same anger as others." There is reality, after all. His argument was that the 'war' was an ideological construct which did not refer to what was actually taking place (or, as Bill Hicks did once put it, "there never was a war ... a war is where two armies are fighting"). True enough, what we experience as 'the war in Iraq' - an ecstatic experience for Fox News watchers, who were treated to blonde, collagen-lipped newsreaders enthusing about Navy SEALS - is indeed a simulacrum, a narrative fiction.

For instance, Patrick Cockburn wrote recently that "one reason why Washington can persuade the outside world that its venture in Iraq is finally coming right is that it is too dangerous for reporters to travel outside Baghdad or stray far from their hotels in the capital ... Most violent incidents in Iraq go unreported. We saw one suicide bomb explosion, clouds of smoke and dust erupting into the air, and heard another in the space of an hour. Neither was mentioned in official reports. Last year US soldiers told the IoS that they do not tell their superiors about attacks on them unless they suffer casualties. This avoids bureaucratic hassle and "our generals want to hear about the number of attacks going down not up". This makes the official Pentagon claim that the number of insurgent attacks is down from 140 a day in January to 40 a day this month dubious".

Similarly, in the interview with Les Roberts linked below, the leading scientist behind the Lancet report complains that: "I get very angry about the coverage of Fallujah. I heard a show last week on public radio in the US. They said that it is believed that half the 200,000 people who used to live in the city had returned. Well, the ministry of health told us the population used to be 310,000." How many times have you heard that? The disappearance of 110,000 people? Unless you're a believer in the supernatural, the obvious conclusion is that what we are seeing on the television and in newspapers is not a representation of the reality in Iraq, but a confection of lies.

The most obvious way in which the Iraq story is being 'produced' for us (and quite successfully) has been in the way the Iraqi resistance has been understood variously as head-choppers, suicide-bombers, Saddam-loyalists, fanatics or corrupt mercenaries being directed from Syria by a lunatic conspiracy between Ba'athists and Al Qaeda. The US-sponsored television network al-Iraqiya creates a spectacle for Iraqi viewers of 'terrorists' 'confessing' to murders of people who are in fact alive and well, to receiving money or intimidation for their efforts from commanders with sexual proclivities designed to scandalise innocent minds. Michael Schwartz dealt one devastating blow to that picture of a command and control structure, drawing on CIA analysis to show that the Iraqi resistance, at least the Sunni component which has been most vilified, is largely dispersed, lacking central control by either Ba'athist or clerics or 'foreign fighters', and is typically composed of nationalists offended by the occupation of their country. Now, another sharp dose of the reality principle has been injected by M Junaid Alam, in this excellent article .

It has been known for some time that the extremist Wahabbi element in the resistance, materialised for ghouls by the video footage of human beings having their heads hacked off with a short-bladed knife by - who else? - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is responsible for a tiny minority of attacks, (but also the bloodiest and most spectacular). They have, by targeting civilians in a bid to create civil war between Sunni and Shi'ite, claimed more victims than all the rest of the resistance combined. Yet, as Alam shows , the number of attacks against civilians is precisely tiny in comparison to the number directed against coalition troops. Attacks specifically targeting civilian areas make up less than 500, as do attacks on the new Iraqi police, on contractors and on public properties. The overwhelming bulk of attacks, numbering approximately 3,200, are directed against coalition forces. Even the New York Times' own graphic , working from DIA figures, show that only a fraction of resistance attacks are directed against civilians. I sense some unease on your part. Incredulity, perhaps. It can't be true! you say. I've seen it on the telly, they're bastards! Well, as Chico Marx once said, who are you going to believe - me or your own eyes?

For the sake of didactic hygeine, it is worth remarking that it is rather fanciful to assume that none of the attacks by genuine resistance groups have been conducted in ways likely to cause a large number of civilian deaths. However, part of the problem has been that as there is no national political unity, no overarching group (like, for example, the FLN) which can say "we did it" or "we denounce this". That said, there are efforts within the resistance to contain those who kill Iraqis. Also, it may be heartless to observe that at least theirs is a just war against occupation and that mistakes will be made - but morality lessons from supporters of the intentional mass murder in Fallujah simply don't sit well.

Consequences? The simulation of reality is not, contra Baudrillard, free-floating. The sign is not totally divorced from reality; rather it produces reality in certain ways, using the rough material provided by witness and official claim. The gap between the real and the phoney still matters. What would seriously disrupt the flow of dissimulation from the Pentagon through military chiefs and embedded correspondents to viewers and readers would be unity of political purpose and action by and within the resistance. By forming even a tentative united, patriotic front, Sunni and Shi'ite groups could both rein in the lunatics (including those on the Shi'ite side who beat students for listening to 'unhealthy' music), while exerting more control over how they are presented.

Malcolm X once observed that whether one is perceived as a monster or a freedom fighter is largely in the hands of who controls the image. "The mau mau," he noted ironically, "weren't image-conscious". They were concerned only with how to free themselves from what we now know to have been an even more brutal and immoral colonial domination than was imagined by anti-imperialists at the time. Having succeeded, within a very short space of time Jomo Kenyatta had become a 'moderate' among the Kikuyu, whom Western leaders prayed would not be overthrown by a more extreme force. "Yes," X chuckled, "they're praying, and they should..."

While Iraqis tend to the liberation of their country, we can tend to the prostration of Bush and his allies.

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Interview with author of Lancet report. posted by Richard Seymour

Tomorrow's edition of Socialist Worker carries an interview with Les Roberts , the scientist who led the report into Iraqi excess mortality as a result of the war:

Your research on mortality in Iraq, published in the prestigious Lancet journal, made headlines across the globe last November. What motivated you to conduct the survey?

This is about the ninth “hot war” I’ve worked in. In most wars people are killed more by disease and disruption than by bullets and bombs. But when I read the newspaper reports on the war, all I heard about were the bullets and bombs. I didn’t think the reports were describing the suffering of the Iraqis very well.

I thought it would serve the interests of Iraqis if I described what they were really dying of. So, if we found they were dying of diarrhoea we could do something about that.

If they were dying at home in childbirth because they were too scared to go to hospital, we could do something about that. Much to our surprise we found that these things weren’t what they were dying of. Most were dying violent deaths.

Tommy Franks from US Central Command told the press that the US army “don’t do body counts”, despite the duty of care the Geneva Convention imposes on occupying forces. You showed it is possible to make mortality estimates.

Absolutely. I was smuggled across the border into Iraq. I went with just a suitcase and $20,000 in my pocket. All it took was six Iraqis brave enough to do the survey.

During a war things are messy and the Geneva Convention imposes very few constraints. But during an occupation things are quite different.

As I understand it there are obligations for the occupying forces that are similar to the obligations of a police officer on the streets here towards the local population — to arrest them if they step out of line, but to protect them the rest of the time.

Most of the people killed by the coalition were women and children, which implies the use of a lot of force, and perhaps too much.

As far as I’m concerned the exact number of dead is not so important. It is many tens of thousands. Whether it’s 80,000 or 140,000 dead, it’s just not acceptable.

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On Reading. posted by Richard Seymour

Something odd is happening. In an era of global polarisation of all kinds, some of the most fundamental ideological precepts that one might have taken as agreed, already victorious, truisms, are being challenged. On the one hand, the cynosures of liberal ideology are losing their hegemony. Tolerance, openness, religious freedom, respect for the Other - all that is meeting growing resistance from a section of the population for whom it was never more than a cover for bigotry anyway. Similarly, for most Marxists, it has been shocking enough to discover that a number of erstwhile allies have reached shockingly different conclusions to us on the matter of imperialism, while claiming that they are truly consistent with their intellectual roots and that their faith in the liberatory power of imperialism is not heterodox.

Basic assumptions are having to be revisited, old arguments dredged up, canonical material critically scoured. For that reason, I think socialists and those newly drawn into the radical Left are probably reading and absorbing more information now than they might have done for a generation. In particular, philosophical and sociological arguments that might at one time have seemed obvious or pedantic are regaining considerable importance. The Middle East is an obvious hot topic, while America is a continuing conundrum. Fighting Facism is also an urgent task, particularly for the European Left.

Anyway, I'm seeking book recommendations from you, the public, the consumers and purveyors of bloggery. Stack em up in the comments box. Meanwhile, check out this online library of radical and socialist books. You can search by subject, author, title or whatever. I've just found it particularly useful for locating a copy of Ron Aaronson's Sarte and Camus, an account of that stormy friendship and intellectual rivalry.

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BBC propaganda. posted by Richard Seymour

Ordinarily, I skate over gibberish and bias in the news with a snarl of irritation while trying to find the useful material. But the report of the execrable Jalal Talabani's desire to form Shi'ite and Kurdish 'militias' to deal with the insurgency is jaw-dropping. Talabani has an abominable human rights record from the period in which he ran half of the northern 'safe zone' in Iraq during the 1990s. His politics are disgracefully sectarian, and the attempt to set Sunni against Shi'ite and Kurd could be seen in the context of that. Yet, the BBC chooses to frame Talabani's recommendations in terms of a commitment to human rights, noting that:

If Saddam Hussein is to go to the gallows, as many of his erstwhile foes insist he must, his death sentence will have to be endorsed by the new Iraqi presidency.

But Mr Talabani, a lawyer and human rights advocate who has always opposed capital punishment, made it clear that his principles would not allow him to sign such a document, despite all the suffering the Baathist regime had inflicted on his Kurdish community.

"Personally, no, I won't sign," he said.

It is often difficult to gauge the proclivities of the various leaders and would-be leaders emerging in the 'new Iraq', since they have no record. Mr Talabani is different, however. He has form. He has a record. During his governance of one half of Iraqi Kurdistan, he had cause to be involved in a civil war with the other half of power in the Kurdish Regional Government, controlled by Massoud Barzani's KDP. It was a dispute originating from control of land, borders and money, but it swiftly took on dimensions of extraordinary cruelty. Talabani deployed his peshmerga in alliance with the Iranian security forces, who in return for their support insisted that he clamp down on Iranian Kurds seeking refuge in his territory. The Iranians, you see, had their own 'Kurdish problem'. To that end, Talabani procured an agreement from those Iranian Kurds that they would cease hostile activities against Iran. What they were not to know when they signed was that Talabani, in pursuit of his war for land and power against Barzani's equally brutal KDP, would allow the Iranian security services to capture, torture and brutally kill his erstwhile comrades.

Talabani is described as a great foe of Hussein. Yet, when his fellow Kurds were butchered by Saddam's army and mukhabarat, Talabani decided to go and make a deal with Saddam. A picture of him kissing the cheek of his apparent enemy can be found in Dilip Hiro's Desert Shield, Desert Storm. Barzani is no better. When Talabani brought in the Iranians to assist his side in the civil war, Barzani invited Saddam's forces to come and kill his fellow Kurds if they happened to be supporters of the PUK. In exchange, Saddam was also allowed to crush non-Kurdish dissidents based in the north. If any judgement fits Talabani, it is that he is an unprincipled opportunist who has, along with Barzani, given terrible leadership to his people. But a supporter of human rights? Irony must have gone to the moon for a day.

The BBC's preference for government-friendly information was also revealed in a recent exchange with MediaLens over claims of the use of banned weapons by US forces in Fallujah. In a Newswatch article over the issue, Helen Boaden of the BBC claimed:

"Compellingly, Paul Wood has had meetings with the relevant specialists at Human Rights Watch, who have been very tough on the US military as regards abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Paul asked them specifically about banned weapons in Falluja. They said they had heard the claims, had made some investigations, and had found no evidence that such weapons had been used."

Now, read on to see what Human Rights Watch said about that claim.

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Tories: Enough about immigration! posted by Richard Seymour

Good news comes in threes. First the Tories sink behind in the polls; second Howard gets his ass kicked by a television audience in Oldham for promoting xenophobia (his remarks, if reported accurately, reek of Powell's "rivers of blood"); third, and most gloriously of all, leading Tories are now calling on Howard to back off over immigration:

A group of Conservative frontbenchers, including members of the shadow cabinet, have pleaded with Michael Howard to tone down his harsh rhetoric on asylum and immigration.

In the first signs of a Tory wobble - following a series of poor opinion polls - Mr Howard was warned over the weekend that he risked looking like the leader of a single-issue party.

And there is bad news today with a Populus poll in the Times which shows a dramatic leap in Labour's lead from two to nine points. No pollster has previously recorded such a dramatic jump in this election campaign.

It couldn't be sweeter. The Tories, my loves, are curling up, wilting, yellowing and slowly dying before our very eyes. Good. Feel the hate, you fuckers.

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Respect Manifesto. posted by Richard Seymour

You can download and have a gander at the Respect manifesto now.

Odd to report, it does not contain any recommendations about moving toward Shari'a law, putting Trotskyists in burkas or any of the other nonsense that certain silly-billies concern themselves with. What it does do is outline a decent, if minimal, socialist programme, (including support for a woman's right to choose and ending all forms of discrimination, in case anyone is still shitting themselves about the Muslims - "Aayeee, aayeee, the Muslims are coming!!").

Rough outline, then. The manifesto calls for higher taxes on the wealthy, and on the profits of corporations, to fund lower taxes for the poor, higher pensions and decent public services. It calls for ending the occupation of Iraq. It calls for spending less money on the arms industry, renationalising public utilities and ending PFI schemes. It calls for the abolition of ASBOs, stopping ID cards in their tracks and defending civil liberties. It calls for ending third world debt without strings, and terminating the imposition of structural adjustment programmes. It calls for limits on animal testing, determined implementation of the ban on fox-hunting. It calls for measures to protect the environment, including ending tax breaks for airliners, emergency steps to reduce fossil fuel use and increase the use of renewable energy source. It calls for repealing anti-union laws, full employment rights from day one, a national minimum wage of £7.40 in line with the European Decency Threshold. It calls for measures to end discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexuality, gender or lifestyle choices. It calls for abolishing charges for prescriptions and dental care.

Oh, there's loads of fabulous things in that particular sack of goodies. Go get yourself something nice.

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Jewish-Muslim solidarity in the East End. posted by Richard Seymour

Jonathan Freedland was right to note that Jews and Muslims in Britain have more in common than many realise. He wrote:

Prewar Jews, like today's East End Muslims, also lived in unforgiving poverty. They too were herded into the cramped streets of East London as the first stop for new immigrants. They too were reviled as outsiders, branded as parasites on the indigenous society. And they too were feared as a potential fifth column, suspected adherents of a violent, supranational ideology. The "Jewish menace" was said to be first anarchism and then Bolshevism. Today's "Muslim peril" is jihadism.

The East End of London has been the home of every great wave of immigrants fleeing oppression or seeking a better life. It has been the better for it. The great symbol of today's East End is the Jamme Masjid mosque on Brick Lane. The building was first founded as a Huguenot Church for Protestants fleeing Catholic oppression in France. It was then used by Methodists before being converted into a synagogue for Jews who had fled Eastern Europe and Russia, the Machzike Adass. As the Jewish community dispersed, the building became a mosque for Bangladeshis in 1976.

Some people imagine that the Middle East is an inevitably divider, cleaving the communities in twain. I don't think so. Some of the finest examples of Muslim-Jewish solidarity I have seen have been on antiwar and pro-Palestine demonstrations. Did I not see orthodox Jewish men holding up Free Palestine placards? Jewish left-wingers selling their magazine, the Jewish Socialist (featuring an interview with the excellent author Kinky Friedman)? Have not Muslims spoken up against the killing of innocent Jews? Did not the antiwar movement contain Jews and Muslims, as well as not a few Christians, Buddhists and Jedis? Does not Respect, which is fighting for seats in the East End, contain socialist Jews as well as left-wing Muslims?

The issues of Palestine and Iraq are universal issues, they are about human rights - not religion or identity, although they inevitably gets entangled in these. This is why organisations which predicate their politics on ultra-identitarian nonsense like Hizb'ut-Tahrir hate Respect. They hate that it unites Muslims with people of other faiths and no faith. They hate that it is an organisation that defends the rights of gays and women. They hate that it stands for election since for them voting and democracy are kufr. They hate the antiwar movement, saying "Don’t Stop the War – Except Through Islamic Politics". (More here ).

So, to the pro-war 'left' carpers, I say get a grip. Yes, you don't like us. No, we don't care.

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Sectarianism in Iraq. posted by Richard Seymour

Following the 'Terror in the Hands of Justice' show that appears on the US-sponsored television network al-Iraqiya , there can be little doubt that the occupiers intend to fuel and use sectarianism in order to minimise the threat of cross-sectional political collaboration of the kind witnessed recently in Firdus Square. The show features guests who 'confess' to various crimes of insurgency, and usually flesh them out by mentioning the alleged homosexuality of their commander or by painting lurid pictures of insurgents fucking in mosques. Usually, the victims were named as Shi'ite, while the commanders were given Sunni names. As even the timid BBC reported recently, after an item about it had been on their website for several weeks, one person confessed to having killed people who were still very much alive and well.

Now, we learn that the rumours put about of 100 Shi'ites kidnapped and held hostage by Sunni guerillas were false . Allegedly, Sunni guerillas had issued a threat to kill all 100 alleged hostages unless every Shi'ite left the town. It was such a crisis that leading Shi'ite clerics had to appeal for calm, the National Assembly engaged in a flurry of activity worrying about sectarian violence, and Iyad Allawi issued a condemnation of the "savage, filthy, and dirty atrocities" taking place. Yet:

[A]s the army battalions arrived in Madaen, they saw streets full of people calmly sipping tea in cafés and going about their business. There were no armed Sunni mobs, no cowering Shiite victims. After hours of careful searches, the soldiers assisted by air surveillance found no evidence of any kidnappings or refugees at all.

By this afternoon, Iraqi army officials were reporting that the crisis in Madaen, which had been narrated in a stream of breathless television reports and news agency stories, was nothing but a tissue of rumors and politically motivated accusations.

Psyops, anyone?

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Spinoza. posted by Richard Seymour

One of my favourite critical bloggers (next to Charlotte Street), K-Punk, finally gets round to linking to me . He remarks, on the topic of rationalism and religion:

[M]ost of the great rationalist philosophers - Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant - were religious. It's no surprise, therefore, that Zizek, Zupancic, Copjec Negri and Badiou have returned to rationalist sources to produce a counter-capitalist ethics. Rationalist religion forces a disconnection from the commonsense world of pathological interestedness; contemporary 'realism', by contrast, takes it as read that this is all there is. Religion provides a horizon beyond that of the oed-I-pod, and, at its most powerful, in Spinoza's monontheism, it can elaborate the seeming paradox that pursuing your own interests CAN ONLY be achieved by suspending your animal pathologies.

I think this is perfectly put. I'm reading Spinoza at present, (Theologico-Political Treatise), and the paradox is one that he plays with throughout. Certain naive liberals, following a certain sanitised version of Adam Smith, assume that self-interest and the general interest coincide. Precisely when it seems that this isn't the case - when the aggregate of individual interests produces a general interest that is oppressive, racist etc. - the liberal falls back on conservatism. Reduce the power of democracy, thereby freeing individual liberty.

In fact, David Chandler notes (in From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention, Pluto Press, 2002) that a new liberalism is emerging in which evil is the ultimate ethical horizon, and in which the chief problem is the emergence of democratic human rights abusers. Their recommendations usually involve reducing the scope of the democratic state, preferring the Republic of Humanitarian Management to the Democracy of Risk. Hence, Paddy Ashdown's secular-liberal dictatorship in the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Bernard Kouchner's enlightened autocracy in Kosovo. Taking the risk out of democracy is no longer the preserve of the political right; it is a prerogative of "ethical" liberalism too. However, as Chandler points out, human rights are never secure when they are purchased at the expense of political rights.

For instance, those who accept restrictions on the rights of gypsies or asylum seekers out of 'pathological' interests, risk losing their own liberties. If, insteady, they abstracted from their immediate experience (I am not speaking of 'imaginative sympathy', the liberal literateur's answer to every dilemma, but of rationalism as abstraction, of indifference to, say, the apparently obnoxious aspects of gypsies or immigrants) and demanded a principled defense of rights, they would find their own that much more secure.

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Drunk poll. posted by Richard Seymour

Okay, time to finally announce the results of the poll I've had running down near the bottom of the sidebar. I asked you all to answer the following question: What kind of drunk are you? The answers were as follows:

Sentimental: one glass of lager and you're best mates with everyone, you sad wanker. (11) 5%
Disputatious: one Tia Maria and you're the queen of logic, dispelling all foolish illusions (48) 24%
Peaceful: one glass ay whiskey and yer serene wi it all. (30) 15%
Crazy: one snakebite and you've got the old knob and arse out. (11) 5%
Mean: One Heineken and you've got your whole family pinned against the door with a python arm. (6) 3%
Rambling: One Pina Colada and the old days just come flooding back. Like the time when yer man... (14) 7%
Horny: One soupcon of punch and you want to fuck everything that walks, flies, hops, squats or swims (34) 17%
Oirish: One Guinness and you have everyone doing the Riverdance. (11) 5%
Meta-drunk: One vodka and you want to discuss the merits of being pissed. (18) 9%
British: One Hofmeister and yer out on the terraces with the Stanley Knife. (4) 2%
Depressed/Resentful: One Martini and you sink into despair, bitter self-loathing and loneliness. (15) 7%

Interestingly the two frontrunners haven't changed for some time. Most people prefer to admit to being disputatious or horny, while by far the most unpopular choice (I am glad to say) is the 'British drunk', followed by the 'Mean drunk'. A pleasing number of you are meta-drunkards, but please let's not discuss that (we'll have no meta-meta-drunks in this bar, thanks).

On the whole, there isn't a gang of pissed bastards I would rather share my Tomb with. However, please keep the place tidy. If you have to urinate or vomit, kindly do it round Harry's Place, the bar for bigots and dinner party imperialists. This is a respectable establishment.

A new poll will begin shortly. Most suggestions will be considered.

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Desperation. posted by Richard Seymour

There's a kind of joy to be had in drawing the venom of the increasingly absurd Nick Cohen . God bless him, the poor man has hardly been able to find a good word to say about the war which he so ardently supported before it began. He could find barely a word to say about Abu Ghraib, or the Lancet study. This is curious, since Cohen is known for wearing his spleen on his sleeve. Indeed, he has been bilious about the alleged desertions of the Left, the supposed fallacies of the antiwar movement and has presented the usual array of fanciful allegations of crimes and complicities. His polemic becomes all the more extreme just as he senses he is losing or has lost the argument. Hence, the Stop the War Coalition, at the height of its powers, was the biggest threat to Iraqi democracy in the world. And today, the Respect coalition, which could well evict the pro-war Blairite MP Oona King from her Bethnal Green & Bow constituency, is variously maligned as anti-Semitic, a vehicle for fascism and so on.

I get the joke, of course. Galloway is a moustache wearing ex-Labour MP campaigning in the East End. So was Oswald Mosely. Ha ha. I got the joke when Oona King's election agent, unfortunately named Graham Taylor, first cracked it at the beginning of this month. I am bereft several ribs, as you must gather.

Well, before despatching what Cohen knows full well to be lunacy and nonsense, I think it's worth pointing out that no one in Respect is guilty of supporting a war which would eventually put British soldiers ('the armed wing of Amnesty International' Cohen called them) in the docks for torture, crippling beatings, rape and so on. Never mind a 'conservative estimate' of 100,000 dead as of last year (how high must the figure be now). After all, Cohen never minds. Or does he? Guilt is one of the primary sources of aggression, and no one is looking shiftier than jolly old Saint Nick.

Working by connotation rather than denotation - as per usual - Cohen avers that in the fight for the East End:

[T]here's a whiff of old hatreds in the air. Oona King, the Labour candidate, is getting fed up with Respect supporters bringing up her Jewish mother, although she says it makes a change from the British National Party bringing up her black father.

This charge has been repeated often enough, but with what cause? What evidence does King present to justify these ridiculous claims? Nil. King remarked that it was Respect "canvassers" who had told people not to vote King on account of her Jewish background, which would be disgusting if true. Sadly for her, Respect had not started canvassing in Bethnal Green & Bow when King made her remarks. Moreover, there is ample evidence to show that King has no particular respect for the truth, at least in this campaign. Here she is hoping the campaign doesn't get too dirty , here she is libelling her opponent and paying an out of court settlement, and here she is repeating the libel . When she was caught encouraging postal voters to send their ballot papers to her campaign headquarters, she claimed that "We are working to an agreed set of rules we have had for decades" , despite the fact that the laws allowing anyone to apply for postal voting were introduced in 2000. Cohen may be right to say the Oona King is a strong woman. She's strong enough to be out the country when there's a vote as to whether her single mother constituents will have their benefits cut. Strong enough to vote for tuition fees and foundation hospitals against the wishes and needs of her constituents. Strong enough to send quite a few of them to war. But, given the above, and also the little gaff when she sent out Eid Mubarak cards to all constituents with faintly Asian names (thus offending her Hindu supporters - who's playing the 'communalism' game now?), I would suggest that whatever else Oona King is, the woman is as thick as shit.

Now, to the latest folly from the King campaign, also recycled by Cohen. It was alleged by King that Respect supporters were behind the disgraceful egging of a war memorial service attended by many Jewish people, King among them:

Last week, King and a group of mainly Jewish pensioners gathered for a 60th anniversary memorial service for the 132 people who died in the last V2 rocket attack on London in 1945. Muslim youths spat and threw eggs at the mourners and shouted: 'You fucking Jews.'

In a letter to the Guardian, members of Respect said there was 'no evidence that this egg-throwing was anti-semitic'. Although it didn't condone them, 'such episodes do occur', and Galloway, John Major, Tony Blair and John Prescott had all had eggs thrown at them.

What can you say to that? Either it's slyly trying to avoid alienating potential supporters or Respect is so morally shrivelled it can't tell the difference between disrupting a political speech and attacking a service for the victims of fascism.

There's not much clarity about who was actually behind these attacks, or what their motives were. King has suggested that the target was her, to which the letter from several Jewish members of Respect can be seen to respond. Jonathan Freedland, who was present, wrote yesterday in The Guardian :

Within minutes, the mourners were pelted, first with vegetables, then with eggs. Some said they saw stones; others said they had been spat at. Gathered in old age to remember their dead, they felt under siege.

Looking around, it was difficult to spot individual culprits. All that were visible were groups of young Asian men, standing on the balconies of the rebuilt block.

Among the dignitaries at the service was the local MP, Oona King. When she spoke, she attacked the "ignorance" of the assailants and insisted that their real target was her ... suggesting the attack was part of an increasingly vicious contest between herself and George Galloway, who is seeking to win Bethnal Green and Bow for his anti-war Respect party.

Indeed, the episode became part of a new escalation in hostilities between the two candidates which would later include King's charge -emphatically denied - that Respect activists were seeking to whip up Muslim antagonism against her by highlighting her Jewish background.

I was there and I must confess it did not look like an attack on Oona King to me. She was not especially visible, and no slogans were chanted or words uttered - as surely they would have been if this was merely a stance against King's support of the Iraq war.


Of the dozen or so people I approached, most struggled to converse in English. But not all. Syed Mumin, a 24-year-old student who has lived all his life in the block, was adamant. It was nothing to do with King. "And it's nothing to do with Iraq or Palestine or anything to do with religion," he said.

Instead, Syed explained, the area was overcrowded and rundown. "There's a lot of aggression." The result is that when the police show up they get pelted. If even a resident drives in with a newly clean car, he'll get "egged". Here was a group of outsiders, so they got the treatment too. His friend Bokkar Ali added: "They're just kids having a laugh. They do it to everyone."

Except the culprits did not look like kids; most seemed to be in their late teens or 20s. And there's the testimony of Aminur Rahman, 18, who told me: "There's a lot of hatred towards the Jewish. We've got hatred towards them." He knew Sunday's group were Jewish because of the skullcaps and he knew the story of the 1945 bomb. So was it wrong to attack people who were grieving? "It was wrong in a way, but I think they deserved it because they came into a Muslim community."

I don't know who speaks for his neighbours, Syed or Aminur. Maybe the truth is halfway between them.

I don't doubt that some of the stupider locals will be prejudiced, although it has always been known that King is Jewish, and she has never before had a problem winning a majority of the electorate in a heavily Bangladeshi area. But what is notable from Freedland's account is that it was Oona King, and no one else, who tried to make it into an election issue. From day one it has been clear that her campaign would seek to make it seem as if Respect's challenge was about religious sectarianism. Hence, before the mourners tears are even dry, King is appropriating the incident for her political campaign. Fabulous respect for the dead in that. And the fact is that the only people who are making race an issue in this campaign are Oona's rent-a-crowd .

Cohen goes on to repeat some of the siller charges about Respect - "boring old causes" like gay rights are to be dropped in pursuit of an alliance with Muslims, he claims. Remarkable stuff, but here is the text of a motion passed overwhelmingly at the last Respect national conference:

Motion 57: Gay Pride - Tyneside

This conference welcomes the production of a Respect leaflet for London Pride.

It supports the policies outlined in that leaflet, ie
- an end to discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people
- for equal partnership and pension rights
- for strong policies to tackle homophobia in all public bodies
- for an increase in public services that meet the needs of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people, rather than money wasted on war

Conference instructs the incoming National Committee to produce similar material for all Pride events next year and urges local groups to make sure material is distributed at events in their area.

Those policies go further than anything advocated by Labour or the Liberal Democrats. (Incidentally, in case anyone is asking that old question, here is part of the text of Motion 38, also passed overwhelmingly: "Respect ... opposes any change in legislation that restricts abortion rights and supports a woman's right to choose").

Cohen continues:

As the line changed, the party's paper tried to reconcile anti-capitalism and religious fundamentalism by calling on the comrades to protest against Spearmint Rhino lap-dancing clubs.

Galloway's propaganda follows the same pattern. It features a picture of Oona King with a cheesy smile and a low-cut dress. The headline doesn't say 'Decadent Western Bitch', but then it doesn't need to.

The SWP has always protested against these bloody lap-dancing clubs, and it has nothing to do with puritanism and everything to do with sexism. It was a group of our female members who floured the Miss World contest a few years back on national television (the first time Channel Five actually looked half-interesting was when that protest kicked in). I suppose Cohen is entitled to think that Spearmint Rhino clubs are an embodiment of Western secular freedom - aye, when Baghdad and Kabul rock to the sound of drunken salesman roaring at some dancing girls, we will know that freedom has finally greeted those benighted people. Yes, Baghdad Bukakke! I'm sure Nick Cohen's semiological reading of Galloway's election 'propaganda' (not, say, 'campaign material'?) is worthy of comment, but I'm afraid incredulity overwhelms me.

Oh, I could go on. Cohen recycles the old charges against Galloway - he saluted Saddam's indefatiguability. Yes, right he did, although some of Cohen's new allies in the Whitehouse went further and armed the bastard. While Galloway was trying to save lives (fancy that), a certain hard-faced Republican was helping him kill when he popped in for a cuppa. Similarly, the Gorgeous One is maligned for having called Iraqi trade unionists "quislings". This is a beautiful rhetorical technique, by the way. Suppose I criticise a group of people who defend Israel's occupation of Palestine, I remark that they are apologists for mass murder. But say the people thus identified are all Jewish. Now, you can say "the proprietor of Lenin's Tomb has described Jews as apologists for mass murder". The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions does not represent all Iraqi trade unionists - it certainly doesn't, in its support for the occupation and for the old Allawi regime that crushed all other trade unions and murdered Fallujah - nor does it represent the majority of Iraqis. When IFTU representatives attended the Labour conference and allowed themselves to become the tools of the leadership, circulating leaflets urging union leaders in Britain to reject the wishes of the overwhelming majority of their members and support a continued occupation, I don't suppose it is a remarkable fact that those opposed to the occupation criticised such activity. Yet, to do so is to be guilty of - what? - a thought crime. One is in league with the far right for doing so.

Respect, which Cohen cannot touch on its policies, is thus mangled through his kangaroo court, in which only the prosecution may speak and in which any charge, no matter how false or ridiculous, stands. Insinuation, guilt-by-association, blacklisting and interrogation with the use of phoney testimony form the bulk of Cohen's repertoire when attacking the Left. Well, I hate to reply in kind, but that too sounds very familiar.

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