Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Bono is officially launching Product Red tomorrow (Wednesday 1 March). First vaunted at a press conference at the World Economic Forum in January, product Red is a promotion four "iconic brands":
A company pressurised by anti-capitalists over recent years because of their use of sweatshop labour. Now waving policy about labour rights and conditions, but all of their clothing being produced by outsourced labour, one step away from GAP being directly responsible for the workers and their rights. Certainly many recent studies of conditions in this sector have been far from favourable.
Andrew Rolfe, the president of GAP bragged about the amount of importing from Africa especially Lesotho. The t shirt available from 1 March in the UK, a 'portion of the profit' will go back to Africa in the form of donations to the Product Red campaign, cue celebrations on the streets of Lesotho.
Part of the board of American Enterprise Institute, an organisation that sets out to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism--limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, the group takes aim at NGOs and the do gooders world of civil society.
The press conference of Product Red is good entertainment. Most enjoyable is probably the marvellous cameo (about 6 minutes in) of John Harris Chief Marketing Officer of American Express. Never before has there been a man so much in need of acting lessons when it comes to "emotion: sincerity"
I really know nothing about this company, but suffice to say the very presence of Armani shows what this exercise is all about - guilt relief for the rich and aspiring middle classes. Again, the fact they chose to launch at the WEF speaks volumes, at the same time as tens of thousands of people were gathering in Caracas for the World Social Forum.
Dave Maddocks, the chief marketing officer of converse gives AmEx's Harris a run for his money on the WEF video. Perhaps most charmingly there is the new product from Converse. A sneaker, or trainer is you like, made of mud cloth from Mali. "Mud cloth carries the symbols and stories of [indigenous] people of Mali..." It is used at important times in people's lives "at birth, at marriage, at death and again at birth..." it is used to make baby clothes and wedding outfits.
Guess what? Yeah, they're making training shoes out of the stuff now!
Bobby Shriver the CEO of Red wants the range of products to be sustainable "by sustainable we mean profitable to the companies which will lead to investment in these brands". Forget all that fair trade and environment shit, hey Bobby!
"We're not endorsing these products, in fact these products are endorsing us."says Bono on the day these products get the promotional exposure money cannot buy.
Fuck even the weakest attempts of NGOs and campaigners, you can buy into our exploitation of the world's resources and people and think you're doing the opposite.
Give. Me. Strength. The man who could write a cheque to relieve a good proportion of the suffering in Africa and refused to even mention the war (some of the people he works with started it), is at it again. Once you've bought your t shirt, got your credit card or wrapped your feet in mud cloth, you can rest easy - you done your bit.
Today they reached the point of ridiculing the prophet. This incident is worse than the 11 September ttacks in the US and the 7/7 incidents in London. Therefore, today it is the right of Muslims to express their anger and to defend their right and faith.
Well, he didn't. The journalist who interviewed him has acknowledged that he said no such thing, and the paper has promised to issue a correction on its site. The tapes are being sent back to the Respect office, just in case any newspaper or television news programme tries repeating those claims.
It is extremely unlikely that the muppets at HP Sauce would have the imagination or initiative to subscribe to BBC Monitoring, so I suspect that some Labour apparatchik has forwarded the info, as per the fake story about Respect supporters beating up pensioners. Neverthless, nice going on their part. I mean, we at the Tomb waste our time breaking the Official Secrets Act to expose government complicity in torture, casually ignoring a D-Notice to name the MI6 officer alleged to have run a kidnapping and torturing operation from Pakistan to Greece, exposing Innovative Emergency Management's attempt to cover-up its role in Katrina, uncovering Scotland on Sunday's lies about the G8 protest etc etc. Would that we had the collective brain power to repeat a series of abortive lies about George Galloway and other assorted enemies of New Labour.
Tessa Jowell tells us she did nothing wrong. She merely signed documents to remortgage her home. She strongly asserted today that this was “a very normal thing to do, and certainly not illegal.”
It is indeed not unusual to remortgage, though it was unusual that she remortgaged with an offshore bank. It is also unusual to remortgage for as much as £400,000. But it is very unusual indeed to remortgage for £400,000, then pay off the full loan, within a month, with spare cash.
What sort of people do such a thing? Well, money launderers. If you have £400,000 of cash not easily explained, you now have remortgage papers available to show where you got it.
Now, where did the money actually come from? Well, on two occasions, David Mills has said in writing that it came from Silvio Berlusconi. He said so in a signed confession to the Italian police, which he now says was extracted under duress. And he said so in a letter to his own accountant, where he explained that it was not in fact a bribe from Berlusconi for the evidence he had just given in an Italian court to keep Berlusconi out of jail. It was rather a personal gift. Mills now says that this second occasion when he wrote that the money came from Berlusconi was in fact a lie to protect another client. One can believe him or not – he is claiming to be a liar already. What we do know for certain is that, shortly after giving evidence on behalf of Berlusconi, evidence which Italian authorities now allege was perjured, David Mills received a lot of money from an Italian source, which he has difficulty accounting for and claims he needed to disguise. His wife then took out a mortgage for about the same sum, which they almost immediately then paid off again.
It stinks to heaven.
Mills is, beyond dispute, a confidante and adviser of the odious Berlusconi. Mills’ job as an international corporate lawyer is to help the cosmopolitan super rich move their money about and avoid tax, and to disguise their cash flows if necessary. Mills is a long term shyster whose activities and profession should appal Labour supporters. Everything Mills stands for is what Keir Hardie and Clement Atlee were against. So it should be of no surprise that he is close to Blair and a member of his personal circle. The day I decided Blair was calculating and self-seeking, rather than honest and misguided, was the day that Blair first chose to spend family holidays with the Berlusconis, at some of their palaces. But Blair’s friendship with the likes of Mills should have warned all of us sooner.
Now for something else you won’t find in the mainstream media. Mills was under long term surveillance by the Serious Fraud Office for numerous dubious financial transactions. Approximately nine years ago, his office was actually raided by the SFO. As the investigation drew to a close, New Labour came to power. An inside source tells me that SFO staff believed they had a good case, and wondered whether his friendship with the new Prime Minister Blair had any bearing on it not coming to court. A Sunday Times Insight investigation into Mills was spiked by the editors.
So these current peculiar financial dealings do not drop out of a clear blue sky. A lot of taxpayers’ money has been spent investigating Mills before. He is well dodgy.
What will it take for the eyes of the very many decent people still left in the Labour Party to be opened to the appalling people who now lead their party? How many of the current cabinet are not, themselves or their partners, personally millionaires? Blair has a £3 million house. Straw has a Cotswold mansion as one of his homes. We recall Blunkett’s dodgy directorships, and Mandelson’s loan from Robinson. Who do these people represent, except a self-serving, cosmopolitan elite? Is it any wonder they are so keen on privatising health and education, when they and all their friends can afford the best? And what does any of this have to do with the aims and origins of the Labour Party, or the hopes of those who elected them?
When you have sold your soul to Mammon, you end up doing things like launching illegal wars that kill over a hundred thousand and cost the taxpayer billions, but bring massive profits to your friends who own shares in oil companies or arms manufacturers. I have no doubt that some of those who have made a killing out of the Iraq War will have paid for Mills’ useful professional advice on offshore money transactions.
Mills and Blair will be close to those making a killing, but not those suffering the killing. It is hard to see that far from the marble terrace overlooking one of Mr Berlusconi’s private beaches.
Monday, February 27, 2006
A hundred leftwing protesters barged into the Philippine congress today to protest at the charging of five legislators for plotting to overthrow the presidency of Gloria Arroyo, whose hold on power otherwise appeared to be strengthening.
Shouting "No to martial law" and displaying anti-Arroyo placards, they ran past guards and entered the lobby, but other guards quickly shut the main door to the hall.
However, the consensus appears to be that Arroyo is sticking around:
John Aglionby, the Guardian's correspondent in Manila, said Ms Arroyo appeared to be safe for now.
"The realisation is sinking in that the president is unlikely to be toppled any time soon," he said, "even though many elements in the military are wavering in their support and opposition among civil society groups is mounting all the time."
Meanwhile, Reuters is enthusing about the Steely Philippine leader. Charming.
In a cavernous factory floor here, where hundreds of North Korean women diligently cut and sewed women's jackets Monday, a South Korean businessman seemed to have found Korea's answer to China: wages at 26 cents an hour.
"Kaesong has more advantages that Vietnam, China or Guatemala," Hwang Woo Seung, president of Shinwon Ebenezer Company, said, citing other countries where his company produces clothes. "We opened here last March and we are already starting to build another factory here twice the size of this one."
Not only are the wages the lowest in Northeast Asia, but independent labor unions are banned.
"Strikes?" Hwang replied dismissively in response to a reporter's question. Raising crossed arms, he said with a slight smile: "Absolutely not."
Meanwhile, Owen who writes the excellent Kotaji blog has a perspicacious article on the history of the North Korean state here:
The reality is not only that Soviet troops liberated the northern part of the Korean peninsula from Japanese rule by occupying it in mid-August 1945, but the Soviet Union continued to exercise close control over North Korea for at least the next five years. As Lankov points out, even seemingly small matters such as the staging of a parade in 1948 required approval from Moscow.10 The North Korean regime was a ‘puppet government’ of a
variety not significantly different from the current regime in occupied Iraq.
As Kim Ha-yong emphasises, the Soviet Union did not simply
stumble into this position at the end of the Second World War—it had been aware of the strategic importance of the Korean peninsula for some time, and negotiated with the Allied powers at Potsdam and Yalta with an eye to gaining a strategic foothold in north east Asia and regaining the territory and concessions in the region lost by Tsarist Russia after its defeat in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese war. For Kim this clearly demonstrates the imperialist nature of the Soviet Union’s intentions on the Korean peninsula:The basis for Soviet policy towards the Korean peninsula was not revolutionary internationalism but the desire for imperialist expansion. Stalin’s ambition was to inherit the old possessions of the Tsar’s empire and to restore its former glory.11
She also points out the significance of the Soviet acceptance of the US military’s ‘General Order No 1’. Under this order the US divided east Asia into Soviet and US occupation zones, unilaterally splitting the Korean peninsula at the 38th parallel. In 1945 the Soviets were at pains not to upset the Americans, and dutifully observed the line arbitrarily set down across the peninsula. Both sides must have known that this actually meant the long-term division of the country into two halves, and from early on they began to construct their own systems within their zones of occupation.12
[A]s Kim Ha-yong points out, the Soviets’ original decree on administration, issued on 25 August, had called for the continuation of Japanese administrative structures and personnel. She argues that their Uturn a day later when they decided to recognise the Peoples’ Committees:…did not mean a massive change in policy for the Soviets. It meant only that by recognising the People’s Committees and controlling them, the Soviets could realise their interests in Korea. This method looked better and offered more stability than using the old Japanese-staffed administrative organs.15
Kim Ha-yong also argues that the main task facing the Soviet occupation forces was not the establishment of a society controlled by the Korean people, but actually the suppression of popular demands for democracy, independence and workers’ control of production. She writes:With Korea’s liberation on 15 August 1945 the long-suppressed demands of the Korean people began to explode into the open. The Japanese surrender created a power vacuum, and people became excited with the hopes of constructing a new state. All over the country organs of self-government were
created. The situation in the northern part of the peninsula was not particularly different to other areas.16
So, this is the new Tomb poll: could terrifying chaos, massive bloodshed and the potential annihilation of Iraq as a nation be a good thing? Think outside the box here. No, further outside the box. Try to understand how American interests are far more important than the lives of mere Iraqis. Worked your head around that concept? Okay, the comments boxes are now open for you to vote. Welcome to democracy.
In part, the crisis of hegemony for Arroyo is such that key business sectors have withdrawn their backing, about a third of her cabinet has resigned and called on her to do likewise, and one political party has left her governing coalition.
Herbert Docena of Focus on the Global South writes:
While the left groups are united in demanding the president’s removal, their tactics diverge. The Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its front organisations have publicly linked arms with the Marcoses, Estradas and other members of the elite opposition — even as they’ve sought to sideline other left groups outside their fold.
The fragmented sections of the non-CPP left, on the other hand, have achieved their highest level of political unity since the many post Marcos splits. They have formed the Laban ng Masa (Fight of the Masses) coalition, which calls for a “transitional revolutionary government” to replace Arroyo and end elite rule.
Though various religious groups have demanded the president’s resignation, the influential Roman Catholic church hierarchy has decided not to play politics this time, effectively strengthening Arroyo’s hand. It appears that the middle class — the decisive factor in previous uprisings — has yet to move decisively.
Meanwhile there is a beeline to the US embassy these days, as various sections of the elite opposition jockey to obtain Washington’s blessings. While the backing of the US may not be decisive, it could prove to be pivotal.
Ever since the US annexed the Philippines in 1899 and subsequently installed a clique of “hacienderos” (big landlords) in the colonial government, it has intervened in Philippine politics every step of the way.
In 1986 the US withdrew its support from Marcos and proceeded instead to ensure that “people power” demonstrations were contained and that moderate pro-US politicians would eventually take the helm.
The US had a major falling out with Arroyo over the latter’s decision to withdraw Philippine troops from Iraq last year. Nevertheless it is not clear that the US has abandoned her.
More than any president since the Philippine senate voted to close down US bases in the country in 1991, Arroyo has been the US’s most pliant ally in the country in recent years. She has consented to US military operations in the country and has been one of the most vocal and loyal supporters of George Bush’s “war on terror”.
US officials have repeatedly warned that they will not tolerate extra-constitutional solutions to the crisis. This means they will move to prevent a “transitional revolutionary government” or anything that cannot guarantee the protection of their interests in the country.
As Chomsky & Herman note, "the Washington Connection" is crucial. Having colonised the country, turned it over to a pliant clique hacienda owners, helped thwart peasant insurgencies and supported Marcos' sub-fascist dictatorship (capital also approved of that dictatorship, loaning the country up to $6bn in the 1970s, even as the regime was imprisoning tens of thousands of dissidents), the US now seeks to contain moves toward genuine democratisation and ensure that conservative elites continue to rule.
Arroyo may well retain the support of international capital. Forbes fairly eulogised her last year, describing her attempts to reduce poverty in the face of a burdensome "Muslim insurgency", the Moro insurgency in the southern Philippines. It is worth noting that this particular movement has had secular-nationalist and Islamist inflections, and of course Arroyo has accused the Islamist wing of being associated with Al Qaeda through Jemaah Islamiya. But this uprising is centred around the same issues that have motivated communist and nationalist insurgency in the Philippines for decades - corruption, the distribution of land and government repression.
Historically, repression of Muslims in the south has been a hallmark of politics in the Philippines since the Spanish took the island in 1521: the 'Malays' were divided into 'pagans' and Muslim 'Moros' (moors) - perhaps it isn't too hard to see, then, how a religious distinction can be racialised. The former were to be converted, and the latter simply killed - but Muslim military resistance lasted right until the Americans took the island from the Spanish in 1898 in a colonial enterprise that killed hundreds of thousands of people. The US's attempt to take the country involved defeating a patriotic resistance - because, having initiated a movement to oust the Spanish, the Philippines had the audacity to announce its national independence shortly before the Spanish ceded the islands to the US in the Treaty of Paris. It took until 1902 to pacify most of the island, but the Moro insurgency did not abate until 1913. In defeating the rebellion, the US resorted to torture and a scorched earth policy in which entire villages were simply wiped out. Troops were known to describe the war as a "n*****r killing business". General Jacob H Smith, in an infamous order memorialised below, told his men to "Kill everyone over ten". As to the enormous number of Filipino dead and injured, General McArthur quipped that Anglo-Saxons did not wound so easily as those from "inferior races".
While much of the island was subect to concentration camps and military repression, part of occupiers' divide and rule strategy was to impose sectarian laws allowing Christians to own more land than Muslims. And so, quite predictably when the Philippines was made formally independent in 1946, the Moros pleaded not to be included in the new independent republic fearing continued repression and discrimination at the hands of the US-backed elite. They were right to be worried. The nationalist resistance movement that preceded the Islamist one began in 1968, after the Jabidah massacre in which dozens of Moro soldiers were murdered by the government. The Manila government's response was to engage in artillery bombardment, mass summary executions and the use of Christian paramilitaries to terrorise the population. Martial law was declared in 1972, and over the course of twenty-five years the Manila-Washington axis waged a vicious war that killed 100,000 Moros, and left 250,000 homeless. A peace deal was reached with the nationalist wing of the insurgency in return for 'partial autonomy' in 1996, one that was shortly thereafter expanded to include the more separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. It was broken by Estrada in 2000, who launched a series of military attacks on the region. Gloria Arroyo, in 2001, dubbed her opponents in Moro 'terrorists' and linked them to bin Laden: in early 2002, the US dispatched 1,000 troops to help the government crack down on 'terrorism'. Another 300 were sent later in 2002. The constitution of the Philippines does not allow foreign troops to take part in actual fighting, so the troops are supposedly there as military advisers and nothing more than that. The US designates both the MILF and the Communist Party of the Philippines terrorist organisations, although the latter is not classified as terrorist even by the Philippine government.
On the 20th anniversary of the anti-Marcos uprising last week, state of emergency was introduced after army leaders declared that a coup plot had been thwarted. Opposition newspapers and dissidents have faced a severe crackdown, which has been compared to the harshest days of martial law under Marcos. This has produced quite a strong rebellion, and today it emerged that sections of the armed forces have threatened to withdraw from the chain of command, supporting student demonstrators. In many ways, what is emerging in the Philippines is a new left generated from the anticapitalist and antiwar movements. While the Maoist left strives to accomodate itself to sections of the elite, and the Moro rebellion forces are casually being butchered even as they have a peace deal with the government, the arrival of the Laban ng Masa coalition is a serious threat to the brutal Philippines ruling class and its US sponsors. Arroyo will probably not survive, and in the short run one assumes that she will be replaced by an elite figurehead. But this is not a movement delimited by national boundaries - in South Korea, a new and very militant left is expanding; in Nepal, the monarchy would have been overthrown by Maoist guerillas some time ago were it not for the fear that the US would intervene. The demonstrations in Hong Kong outside the WTO summit illustrated the arrival of this new movement across South East Asia, a movement which is tied to other forces of the Global South, in the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Latin America. These movements have supplied much of the militancy and political urgency of anticapitalist movements in the North. And of course it hardly needs stipulating that the demonstrators in the Philippines are our brothers and sisters, as are the Moro resistance fighters being wiped out by US-Manila forces. Were it not for the reach and might of imperialist governments, many of these people would already be free. They would, in fact, be showing us what democracy and freedom look like. Which is why it is incumbent on us to support them and oppose our own governments', whether the latter are trying to impose exploitative trade relations, patent drugs and crops, invade here, station troops there, send arms to help wipe out the Acehnese and West Papuans, subvert democracy in Haiti and so on. It should be painfully apparent, but perhaps sometimes it needs to be forcefully restated.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Insurgent attacks in Iraq reached a postwar high in the four months preceding Jan. 20, according to a Iraq progress report issued Friday by the Pentagon.
More than 550 attacks took place in Iraq from Aug. 29, 2005, to Jan. 20, 2006, according to the latest “security and stability” report the Defense Department is required to send lawmakers every four months.
Speaking to Pentagon reporters Friday, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs said that the survey’s conclusions “were not good,” but that “loving us is not what it’s about.”
Awareness of the relative unpopularity of U.S. troops “is one of the reasons we want to turn over the battlespace” to the Iraqi security forces, Rodman said.
Only one period approaches the recent numbers: From June 29 to Nov. 26, 2004, which included the battle for Fallujah and major clashes with Shiite insurgents belonging to Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
There were about 520 attacks during that period, according to the report, which follows two earlier reports submitted by DOD in July and October 2005.
Almost 80 percent of all attacks in Iraq target coalition forces, the survey said, although three-fourths of the casualties are Iraqis.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Bush denouncing the bombing of the Al Askariya Mosque in Samarra is entirely hypocritical, of course. Such pious pretenses from Western leaders are entirely predictable, contain no information, and do not deserve to be meditated on. But if the perpetrators, whoever they are, wanted to precipitate a civil war then they couldn't have done a better job. No one was killed in the actuall bombing, but 130 people have so far been killed in what is described as "sectarian violence" today. I expect the bulk of this is 'revenge attacks' on Sunnis, but Reuters reports that 47 people of both Sunni and Shi'ite denominations have been dragged out of their vehicles and shot to pieces while trying to attend a 'cross-sectarian' demonstration for unity.
The news is hot with talk of the fabled civil war, and it is all too easy to see how this might now materialise. Resistance attacks on troops have continued much as normal. Indeed, the rate of resistance attacks has been rising dramatically over the last two years. One would expect that to be reduced substantially if there were a civil war and fighting was directed inwardly. Of course, several things militate against such an outcome: a number of leading Iraqi clerics and nationalists will try to control any such movement, while a number will oppose it outright; many Shi'ites are blaming the United States, while others blame Takfiris, not the Sunni population as a whole; the fact that there have been demonstrations of 'cross-sectarian' solidarity is encouraging in itself.
So, who did it? Well, according to The Guardian:
There was no claim of responsibility, but the five police officers responsible for protecting the mosque were taken into custody, and Iraqi authorities said another 10 men "with links to al-Qaida" had been arrested.
According to ABC News:
Insurgents posing as police destroyed the golden dome of one of Iraq's holiest Shiite shrines Wednesday[.]
The latter appears to be based on the testimony on Mosque Guards.
The attack was not a resistance attack. It was not directed against troops, or the infrastructure of occupation. It was not even directed against worshippers, or even the five policemen guarding the mosque who were tied up inside it and still not killed. It might well have been associates of 'Al Qaeda in Iraq' as the assumption already goes: there have been a number of reports on anti-Shiite literature emerging from their members and supporters. They have also been behind a number of attacks on Shi'ite worshippers - but they usually take bodies with them.
However, there is no reason for anyone who is not an apologist for the US - or indeed Israel - to stop there. There are perfectly excellent reasons why the US would desire a civil war: Sectarian divisions along religious lines interrupts and militates against the possibility of generating a national, unified resistance to the occupation. It also ensures that those who might otherwise be fighting US troops are busily hunting after and killing key opponents of the occupation. It also diverts attention away from a series of scandals involving US and UK troops. And finally, it provides justification for remaining in Iraq, which means no one will ask any questions about the fourteen permanent bases they've built there. The United States has recently taken its troops out of Saudi Arabia and left its favourite desert monarchy in the tender care of American mercenaries. It would be a huge climb-down for the US to leave without defeating the resistance - because it would effectively say that the resistance won. And so, since the resistance is only increasing in strength and popularity, the US is in it for some decades to come. Iraqis know this. Mossad too, if you like. Israel has long had an interest in the break-up of Iraq, and certainly sees itself as a conditional ally of the US in the country. Just because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says it doesn't mean you have to disagree. You've got plenty else to disagree with that guy about.
As Roobin points out, during the mass disturbance in Basra last year (one recent result of which hostility is the decision of the local authorities to cut off relations with the British), arrested British SAS were found dressed as Mahdi Army fighters and equipped with various weapons as well as a remote control detonator. They were accused by police, if you remember, of planting bombs. And of course, the US has a policy of trying to provoke terrorist attacks or "stimulate reactions" from terrorist groups through the Proactive Preemptive Operations Group.
All I'm saying is, don't leap to conclusions and start bouncing your fancy conspiracy theories about jihadis this and Sunni extremists that off of me. Slow down, let the information seep in. That's all.
The boring title of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill hides an astonishing proposal. It gives ministers power to alter any law passed by Parliament. The only limitations are that new crimes cannot be created if the penalty is greater than two years in prison and that it cannot increase taxation. But any other law can be changed, no matter how important. All ministers will have to do is propose an order, wait a few weeks and, voilà, the law is changed.
For ministers the advantages are obvious: no more tedious debates in which they have to answer awkward questions. Instead of a full day’s debate on the principle of the proposal, detailed line-by-line examination in committee, a second chance at specific amendment in the Commons and a final debate and vote, ministers will have to face at most a short debate in a committee and a one-and-a-half hour debate on the floor. Frequently the Government will face less than that. No amendments will be allowed. The legislative process will be reduced to a game of take-it-or-leave-it.
Looking back at last week’s business in the Commons, the Bill makes a mockery of the decisions MPs took. Carrying ID cards could be made compulsory, smoking in one’s own home could be outlawed and the definition of terrorism altered to make ordinary political protest punishable by life imprisonment. Nor will the Human Rights Act save us since the Bill makes no exception for it.
The Bill, bizarrely, even applies to itself, so that ministers could propose orders to remove the limitations about two-year sentences and taxation. It also includes a few desultory questions (along the lines of “am I satisfied that I am doing the right thing?”) that ministers have to ask themselves before proceeding, all drafted subjectively so that court challenges will fail, no matter how preposterous the minister’s answer. Even these questions can be removed using the Bill’s own procedure. Indeed, at its most extreme, in a manoeuvre akin to a legislative Indian rope trick, ministers could use it to transfer all legislative power permanently to themselves.
Many Angry Gerbils has more:
This all sounds relatively anodyne until one considers the ‘wider law reform power’ that the Bill proposes. According to the Explanatory Notes that accompany the Bill, Ministers will be able to make orders that can ‘amend, repeal or replace legislation in any way that an Act of Parliament may do.’
Let’s go over the main points of that again. Ministers will be able to make orders amending, repealing or replacing any legislation. This includes ‘reforming’ or abolishing any body created by statute, including local authorities, the courts, private companies and, since its powers are defined by Acts of Parliament, even the House of Lords. Just think about all of that for a moment.
There are, of course, some restrictions but don’t imagine you’ll be able to take much comfort from them. Clause 5 of the Bill stipulates that Ministers cannot make an order which imposes or raises taxation unless the order is merely restating previous legislation. Clause 6 prohibits a Minister from creating a new offence that is punishable with more than two years in prison. Even here there are caveats, since Clause 6 (6a) states that this restriction does not apply if the provision ‘implements recommendations of any one or more of the United Kingdom Law Commissions.’ Clause 7 prohibits any order that allows search and seizure, forcible entry or compelling someone to give evidence unless, once again, the provision implements the recommendations of the Law Commissions.
They're really trying it on, this government. Terrorism Acts left, right and centre, detention without trial, suspension of habeus corpus, ASBOs, ID cards, withdrawal of juries from certain court cases, refugee-bashing, protesters nicked for wearing t-shirts that contain "anti-Blair info", police murder with impunity, and now the reduction of parliament to a Rubber Stamp. Presumably, this is the government readying itself for Anarchy. You can't do to people what successive governments in this country have done for decades without some kind of backlash. You can't batter the trade unions, make people work longer, and harder, for less, sell of property that belongs to the public, squander taxpayers money and send young men off on imperialist adventures without somebody doing something about it. Hence: a law that legalises everything, from - say - banning strikes to pointing guns at protesters.
Sadism comes with a goofy smile, some sleazy glitter and a cackle. It is the filler between Nescafe and the new Renault Megane. Torture is no more than a Britney Spears stage routine, or a bit of college hazing. What is it about television these days that produces such Sadism Spectaculars? From insipid dance/pop shows featuring catty judges to reality shows and - oh dear me, yes - Big Brother, the growth in programmes that actively attempt to convoke an audience of giggling torturers is just phenomenal. The latest avatar of this tendency is The Apprentice, in which a gaggle of ambitious young men and women seek to appease and impress some curmudgeonly boss (Alan Sugar? Who he?). The thrilling catch-phrase: "You're Fired". The posters with this caption show the belligerent boss sitting behind his desk pointing a smoking finger at you: being fired is so cool! [Correction: a journey to work this morning confirmed that the caption on the posters is actually "Ready. Aim. Fired." Just in case the analogy isn't obvious enough for you.]
Of course, there's always a moral escape that makes it palatable for the television audience: the scenario is carefully manipulated so that the evicted/fired/humiliated is a Bad Guy (thereby inducing Schadenfreude), or one is invited to scorn the catty judge while at the same getting a cheap thrill out of his/her nastiness (thereby inducing hypocritical righteousness). And what these have in common is their glamorisation and elevation of the dull, stressful, idiotic competition of daily life. We are at such a pretty pass that ruling norms such as competitiveness and back-stabbing can be offered as entertainment. And there is no more manipulable and pliable demographic group than the television audience.
What is this "television audience"? One thing it is not is social, organised, actively self-conscious. It's just a happenstance aggregate of people in many ways. It's about as meaningful a designation as "hair-dyers" and "baked bean-eaters". Yet as a member of this audience, you are encouraged to think of yourself as having some kind of power: an autonomous, sovereign consumer, making choices as you go about your day. The range of choices can be vast, and yet incredibly narrow. Somehow, no matter which channel you change to, you can find someone being demeaned and put down - in a harmless, fun, light-hearted, family entertainment kind of way of course. You can find 'Dr' Gillian McKeith prodding the flab on a middle-aged man, while hectoring and moaning: "lookit whit yer daein tae yer boady, yer gaunnae kill yerself", she might say while pointing to a wheelbarrow full of bacon that illustrates the amount of fat this person consumes in a week. Or you can watch a show about bailliffs chucking people out of their home because of bad debt - a stark warning, a salutary finger-wagging, a vivid image of what befalls bad debtors. Humiliation is fun, and it makes you think! And then there are what I can only call "chav" shows, those oriented around the family problems of people on low incomes from council estates with difficult lives and burdensome emotional issues. The participants are encouraged to bare all, to humiliate themselves and their relatives and loved ones in front of the camera. The studio audience, a synthetic stand-in for the viewer sitting at home, oohs, aahs, tuts, emotes and laughs. The presenter stands amid the always-already judging crowd of people (and where do they get these braying bullies from anyway?): no mistaking whose side s/he is on. Humiliation is now not only fun and thought-provoking: it is humanitarian, it helps people. We'll see you after the break when Gabby will return with the results of her son's DNA test.
Yeah, but it's just a television show. You don't have to watch it. They're only giving people what they want, after all. Oh really? When was the last time you turned on the television and found something you really, honestly wanted to watch? I thought so.
Here's Slavoj Zizek:
This choice - between Social Democrat or Christian Democrat in Germany, Democrat or Republican in the States - recalls nothing so much as the predicament of someone who wants an artificial sweetener in an American cafeteria, where the omnipresent alternatives are Nutra-Sweet Equal and High & Low, small bags of red and blue, and most consumers have a habitual preference (avoid the red ones, they contain cancerous substances, or vice versa) whose ridiculous persistence merely highlights the meaninglessness of the options themselves.
Does the same not go for late-night talk shows, where 'freedom of channels' comes down to a choice between Jay Leno and David Letterman? Or for the soda drinks: Coke or Pepsi? It is a well-known fact that the Close the Door button in most elevators is a totally inoperative placebo, placed there just to give people the impression they are somehow contributing to the speed of the elevator journey - whereas in fact, when we push this button, the door closes in exactly the same time as when we simply pressed the floor button. This extreme case of fake participation is an appropriate metaphor for the role accorded citizens in our 'postmodern' political process.
And here's Le Colonel Chabert:
Is it possible to watch this without thinking about bulldozers evicting people in Palestine, and high rents making people homeless in London? No, it is not possible. But it trains you to feel generally good about these thoughts, untroubled, to frame them in delight. One is being taught to enjoy the idea in principle, and indeed to participate in it as faux-active, controlled spectators. The audience, delighted by the circus, willingly, eagerly becomes an agent of eviction. As in life; this is the subtext of all television consumption brought up to the surface. Watch the television and as you do, evict people from their homes, disappear them, evict them from the earth. One is learning the proper posture of the spectators of politics, the politics we have, our politics, those of eviction.
England loves Big Brother more than any other audience - unsurprisingly, for there is among the propertied great widespread attachment to the property boom there, heartless self-interested cheering on despite the calamity this causes, the human catastrophe resulting in one of the richest societies on earth.
But it's just a teevee show, right? Sure it is.
Update. Noel Douglas sends me this:
In a time of enormous recession, widespread unemployment and impoverishment spreading right up into the hitherto privileged middle class, teevee gives you a chance to humiliate yourself and win a menial job.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
The people of Basra and Baghdad will be joining next month’s global protest against the US and British occupation of Iraq.
From British occupied Basra, Faraj Rabat Mizbhan of the independent Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions is urging trade unionists, peace activists and opponents of the occupation to demonstrate in their tens of thousands across the world on 18 March.
“We are indebted to the people who have raised their voices against the occupation of our country – whether they are British, Americans, Russians or from anywhere across the globe,” he told Socialist Worker from Basra.
“By opposing this war, and opposing this occupation you are standing by the Iraqis who have to endure the terror of occupation.
“You are standing up for our right to independence, our freedom from the thieves who have descended on our country.
“People in Britain will have seen the film of British soldiers savagely beating the four lads in Ammara.
“This is the reality of the occupation. Carry this image in your minds when you demonstrate. This is what we are struggling against.”
Demonstrations called in Baghdad and Basra on Friday 17 March are backed by the Al-Sadr Movement, the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions and the Iraqi National Foundation Conference.
Speaking of the torture of prisoners, here is a follow-up on the new pictures from Abu Ghraib last week:
Newly declassified documents have exposed widespread and systematic torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay by a shadowy US military unit operating as part of a “Special Access Programme”. This secret unit is funded directly by the US Congress.
The documents have been obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They reveal a cover-up of the activities of Task Force 626, comprising CIA agents and special forces involved in torture.
One set of papers refers to an investigation by the US Criminal Investigation Command into the abuse of a detainee at Baghdad international airport, a facility reserved for “high value” prisoners.
The victim’s name is blanked out, but he is referred to as the son of one of Saddam Hussein’s bodyguards captured in the city of Tikrit on 5 January 2004.
The documents reveal how the man was stripped naked, doused with water and made to stand in front of a freezing air conditioning unit. He was repeatedly beaten until he passed out, revived and beaten again.
The investigation was cut short because of the involvement of the Special Access Programme. The investigator informed his superiors that any further enquiry was useless, since Task Force 626 members had faked names, shredded medical records and wiped their computers.
The agent tells his superior, “Hell, even if we reopened it [the case], we wouldn’t get any more information than we already have.”
Central Intelligence Agency? Involved in secret activities? Torture, murder and cover-up? No! I won't hear of it!
PS: Palestine goes hip-hop.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
This is the US government's report on Katrina. I've had some time to digest it, but bear in mind that it is about 380 pages long, not including the appendices. The flavour? As the media were alerted to suggest, presumably with a digest from the Executive Summary, it is a litany of failures, slip-ups, errors, and a 'failure of initiative': it is also a disgusting, shambolic and insulting cover-up. The tone is avuncular, wry and pious. The report forever tells us what the fabled "American people" want its authors to achieve, carefully setting the boundaries in terms of failure, incompetence - who screwed up, guys? Procedures are evoked, failures in this and that elaborated, individuals and institutions found wanting.
We are informed of the terrible bad luck: the storm arrived at the weekend and people on "fixed incomes" had no money for gas, lodgings etc. This would be the poor, who were to be informed in DVDs that were eventually not delivered that no help would be forthcoming from the authorities. The report doesn't mention those DVDs. But the report goes further: "Officials had worried about the high number of people who would ignore hurricane evacuation orders in coastal areas. Indeed, thousands of people in New Orleans did not obey the mandatory evacuation order." Indeed, "thousands" of people did not, and could not, and no help was available unless they could find their way to a shelter. The findings are entirely conventional in this sense: the report speaks of a "risk averse culture that pervades big government". The report discusses how the "One-size fits all plans proved impervious to clear warnings of extraordinary peril". The President is guilty of little more than having received inadequate advice. Several individuals are found to be at fault, but only to the extent of being in error, incompetent and so on: the NRP implemented late, ineffectively or not at all; Nagin and Blanco insufficiently quick to order a mandatory evacuation; Incident of National Significance unfortunately not declared in time; IEM's precise forecast of the event somehow didn't lead to good planning (and here, the report takes the word of the president of IEM at face value); etc. The city makes mysterious decisions - "Despite the New Orleans Plan’s acknowledgement that there are people who cannot evacuate by themselves, the city did not make arrangements for their evacuation." The preference for 'shelter' rather than evacuation (and there was only one designated shelter, a "shelter of last resort" in the Superdome) is simply left unexplained.
The report never even mentions the state of martial law imposed. It notes that the Red Cross was blocked from re-entering New Orleans as it would dissuade people from evacuating, but does not connect this with the coterminous existence of road-blocks preventing exit, which it does not mention. The USS Bataan is mentioned, not in respect of the lengthy period it sat unused, but in terms of requests made from it, and what it was eventually able to deliver. Racism is not mentioned once in the main document. The police shooting of civilians is not mentioned once in the main document. The Chief of Police is described as having fuelled and legitimised false rumours that led to aid being withheld and presumably many deaths: no questions asked why, and no answers given. (He quit before he could lose his job). Other public officials, including Mayor Nagin, are cited as having contributed to this: he is either a malicious liar or a buffoon, and should be out on his ear. He ought to be in jail, too, for instructing officers to cease locating survivors and start shooting at looters: property being far more paramount in his imagination than people.
We know that there is testimony of repeated mistreatment of survivors by the authorities, including military police and armed forces, but it doesn't appear in the main report. There should be prosecutions here, for if there was a lawless, violent and chaotic force in New Orleans, it was the armed forces and military police. We know that leading army figures spoke of an "insurgency" in the city to justify taking it by force. Nowhere does this appear in the main report. We know that army officials interviewed described the situation in New Orleans as a "little Somalia" (not without obvious references), but it is not in the report. We know that many prisoners were simply left to die, locked in cells, but prisoners are only in the context of those who were moved by the authorities. Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act so that the very large companies allied to key Republicans and Democrats could exploit what labour was left there. Not a mention. Lt Gen Blum is quoted discussing delays to aid caused by the bogus media reports of raping and killing. He is not quoted as follows:
Q: One quick follow-up. Is it fair to say, using the convention center as an example, that one reason it took until Friday to get aid in is the National Guard needed time to build up a response team with military police to ensure law and order because the New Orleans Police Department had degraded so much?
GEN. BLUM: That is not only fair, it is accurate. You've concisely stated exactly what was needed, and I told you why. We took the time to build the right force. The outcome was superb. No lives hurt, nobody injured. It was done almost invisibly.
Aid was blocked, so that they could build up a sufficient force to storm the city and impose martial law. Never mentioned. Never even the courtesy of a gloss. Again and again, you go through the report and find plenty of incompetence, buffoonery, unforgiveable failure and so on, but the crucial issues of criminality are not touched upon. There should be people in jail for what they did, yet the report stretches credulity to gush about the wonderful service performed by the armed forces and the police. The report is amply decorated with photographs of National Guards and so on appearing to help senior citizens and smiling at the folks. There are photos of death: deaths caused by calamity, accident, bad weather and bungling. This issue, the report says, is "too important for carping". Certainly, no one could accuse them of carping. It is a shameful, embarrassing, hateful piece of work: it reeks of the bodies tactfully shoved under the carpet.
The only part of the report worth reading is Cynthia McKinney's excellent commentary on the findings in the appendix, here. It was McKinney who persuaded the Select Committee to listen to the survivors and let them explain what they had been through. It is she who goes to the bother of detailing what was discovered about martial law, about the prisoners, about racism and so on. It falls to Cynthia McKinney to interrogate the brutalities of police and armed forces, the withholding of aid, FEMA's apparently deliberate sabotaging of relief efforts, the history of past floods in which levees were deliberately destroyed, the precedents for martial law, the army's approach which involved a conception of New Orleans as a "combat operation" and so on. It is she who bothers to ask the right questions, and direct attention to where it matters, while criticising the main report for its glaring ommissions and bureacratic orientation. Here is a little sample:
President George W. Bush spoke of how reconstruction of the Gulf “would provide a ‘fantastic opportunity’ for private businesses and investment. ‘There is going to be a building boom down here. It's going to be an exciting time,’ he said. Bush suggested that the $85 billion in assistance already pledged by the Federal Government was sufficient. He added: “‘I'm sure there's still concern about the future, but the eyes have cleared up’”7 To suggest that none are still crying or in pain is an insult to the dignity of the survivors. A greater insult is the fact that while the Bush Administration seems unwilling to spend the sums necessary to prevent tens of thousands of poor, mostly African-American survivors from being turned out onto the streets, the reconstruction efforts he is excited about involve giving multi-billion dollar, sweetheart, no-bid contracts8 to firms like Halliburton, a company currently facing multiple investigations of fraud. For example, a Pentagon audit of the giant firm is now calling into question more than a billion dollars’ worth of the company’s bills in Iraq.9 The Select Committee Report steers clear of this scandal. The only conflict of interest involving contractors that is dealt with concerns companies pursuing contracts with both local and federal government at once.
And that's just the beginning.
In a frank interview with The Times, Dr Pace says photos and forensic records have proved that torture was rife inside detention centres. Though the process of release has been speeded up, there are an estimated 23,000 people in detention, of whom 80 to 90 per cent are innocent.
He says the Baghdad morgue received 1,100 bodies in July alone, about 900 of whom bore evidence of torture or summary execution. That continued throughout the year and last December there were 780 bodies, including 400 having gunshot wounds or wounds as those caused by electric drills.
I saw this and thought of you, dear readers.
Actually, I thought of this. The day after anger over the new, more obscene, pictures of Abu Ghraib torture and murder resounded across the world, the US suddenly discovers - gasp! - that it's policy of promulgating death squads is actually going according to plan. The death squad was operating as part of the police squad that the US built up and trained, under the rubric of the CIA. Are we supposed to have forgotten this? Was it supposed that we would not have noticed Operation Salvador? That the practises of America's Special Police Commandos would have slipped under the radar? Of course it was! That is exactly what is expected, because if you relied on the BBC or ITN for your information, you simply would not know that these things were happening. Much is said of the news being events-oriented rather than issue-oriented, but this story is presumably a daily event: the operations of US death squads on a daily basis would seem on a superficial glance to be - I dunno - newsworthy. It did feature on a web report, which worried about whether they were properly trained - "But there is no mistaking their enthusiasm." The next that was heard of the Special Police Commandos was when eleven of them died in a suicide attack. No description of who they are, and what they have been up to: that would be to give succour to the Evil Doers. Sunni resistance fighters have now apparently formed a militia to counter the incursions of Shiite death squads, called the Anbar Revolutionaries.
I noted before that one thing the death squads performed very well at was driving Iraq toward sectarian chaos, thereby raising the serious possibility of the disintegration of the country. This seems to me to be one aim of the US occupation. Israel has been working with the Kurdish leadership to precisely this end. And, of course, the Kurdish peshmerga have been ethnically cleansing Arabs from their future fiefdom. The sectarian constitution approved in a referendum last year (even while Iraqis registered majority disapproval of federalism and continue to do so) is continuing to be a divisive document. Because of the danger it poses to Iraq as a coherent polity, Iraqi nationalists have long opposed it. Today, The Guardian reports that the nationalist Shiite Moqtada al-Sadr has been using his power as a rising star in politics to oppose the constitution and refuse the re-entry of the murdering bastard Iyad Allawi to government. While Sadr's forces have been responsible for attacks on 'Al Qaeda' fighters, he has recently declared that the resistance is legitimate. He has stated that his forces will resume armed struggle with the US if it attacks Iran or Syria.
Saad Jawad of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress writes that, alerted to the barbarism threatened by sectarianism, many Iraqi groups which had previously pursued a federalist course are now looking for common cause. There is no doubt, it seems to me, that Iraq is threatened with oblivion if such a unity does not emerge. Already, courtesy of the occupiers, sectarian death squads are leaving drilled, decapitated and shot up bodies on the roadside. Kidnappings, barely reported unless a Western journalist or aid worker is held hostage, are rife. A low level war of attrition between different groups could, if anti-occupation feeling and pan-Iraq solidarity are not given institutional representation, easily meld with the ethnic cleansing programmes of various Shia and Kurdish groups, and become an all-consuming civil war. The occupiers have been driving things in that direction. It is not a coincidence, therefore, that those best placed to forge such a nationalist unity are also those most hostile to the occupation.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Never mind all that, though. It's a business opportunity! New Orleans is about to part-ay down! Roll them bones at your local casino! Bob Dylan's going to play jazz! And did someone say oink? Let's hear it for our boys in blue, as FEMA puts the boys up in new accomodation!
“When our flight landed at Luton Airport from Berlin, Shafiq Rasul was stopped at the Immigration Desk. Soon after, I was detained and questioned. I was not told the reason for this.
The officer had initially questioned me extensively by the baggage claim, taking notes from my answers and from my passport. When I asked what all these questions were for, and whether this was an interview, she led me to a small interview room and said that it was “if I want it to be”.
I gave my basic details, explained about the festival, and the film being the reason for our visit to Berlin, which she said she believed. She said they need to stop us and the Tipton boys as anyone with “terror links” must be questioned – not that I had any necessarily, she said. I added that the Tipton Three didn’t either, as is widely documented.
I was denied access to legal advice, supposedly officially, under powers used to detain me. However the specific powers under which I was being held were deliberately made unclear by the detaining Special Branch officer. She gave me a blank copy of a “Section 7 of the Terrorism Act Detention Form” to explain why I couldn’t contact anyone. The form stated that someone detained under its powers can be prevented from contacting anyone, including legal advisors, for up to 48 hours, by a superintendent officer. I asked her whether she was a superintendent. Her reply was that I was not in fact being held under the powers outlined in this form. I was only being denied legal advice for the first hour of questioning, rather than 48hours. The reason why I had been given this form was now unclear.
She left the room, and said she was bringing in a male colleague to enforce the wallet search, since “a lot of Muslims don’t like dealing with women do they.”
Under the threat of “prolonging” my detention, I cooperated in allowing her to go through my wallet. She took detailed notes on all its contents. All of my bankcard details were noted down, as were the details on other people’s business cards I had in my wallet. I was searched for objects that I might use to “hurt” the officers. However this took place about halfway through the interview after I had been with the interviewer alone for some time.
While searching through my wallet she asked me whether I intended to do more documentary films, specifically more political ones like The Road to Guantanamo. She asked “Did you become an actor mainly to do films like this, you know, to publicise the struggles of Muslims?”.
She also asked me what my political views were, what I thought about “the Iraq war and everything else that was going on”, whether the Iraq war was “right” in my view.
She then asked me whether I would mind officers contacting me regularly in the future, “in case, for example, you might be in a café, and you overhear someone discussing illegal activities”.
When I told the interviewer I’d have to take a call from Gareth Peirce’s office shortly, she said she wouldn’t allow me to. She started raising her voice, and behaving in a more urgent and aggressive way. She called in a male colleague who threateningly told me to give him the phone before gripping my hands and wrestling it from me. He then sat on a table in the room, grinned at me, winked and went through my phone. I protested, but he ignored me and continued to go through my phone. Then a third officer entered, and all three adopted very aggressive stances, threatening to take me to a police station, calling me a “fucker”, moving in very close to my face, pointing and shouting at me to “shut up and listen”. I complained at being called a fucker. The officer who still had my phone, and who had sworn at me, smiled at me and then said “now you’re making things up, no one called you that”.
I finally convinced the original officer to allow me to call Ms. Peirce’s office simply to ascertain the validity of the detention and the denial of full access to lawyers. She agreed on condition that if I tried to ask any further questions of the lawyer my phone would be taken away. As soon as I got through to the lawyer, she suddenly said “we’re done with you, you can go, whats the point in calling lawyers”. The lawyer on the phone told the officer (again, speaking directly to her on my phone) that he hadn’t heard of such powers existing in Section 7 of the TACT. She changed the subject and said that I was free to go now anyway and that I was now prolonging my detention by my own insistence on calling lawyers.
I asked for any notes from the interview, and for names/ranks of the officers. I was denied both, and given a small, pink, police search record sheet - specifying that the purpose of the search was for “intelligence” and that I had been examined under the “TACT 2000”. The reverse of the sheet, “Sheet 2 “which as stated on the form itself “officers must also complete” was missing.”
There you are: Gaslighting. No one called you a fucker. No one is looking through your 'phone. You're imagining it all. Do you plan to make any more political films? What do you think of Iraq? The struggles of Muslims? You might overhear terrorists talk in a cafe... The absurdity of it. The surrealism of power.
It's now 2006, post-Katrina, and the Bush government has handed Kellogg, Brown & Root another fat little contract to build and maintain "temporary detention facilities" in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants, or in case of another natural disaster in which thousands of people are displaced - because detaining people in a hellhole of a flooded city, depriving them of food, water & medical aid, and then subjecting them to martial law, doesn't look good on teevee (supposing one could get more than a glimpse of this picture from teevee). Kellogg, Brown & Root seem to get all the breaks with this administration. It's not even funny any more.
There had been suggestions that civilian internment camps were on the way for some while. Most of this came from various religious-style kooks and paranoid right-wingers. Big Government was comin-a-gitchoo. After Guantanamo, and the mass post-9/11 detentions in the US, it's hard to even raise an eyebrow. Mass detention camps for Arab-Americans? Blurring the distinction between terrorism and dissent? Criminalising protest? We've seen that old schtick before, over and over again.
Because these things are not a fixture of daily life for most Americans, one assumes that outright government repression is an anomaly. From John Africa to Waco, from suppression of labour to Cointelpro, the record suggests otherwise.
Sunday, February 19, 2006
As tension mounted, political analysts blamed exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for orchestrating the unrest and raising the specter of violence — a tactic remembered from his two truncated presidencies.
"Political analysts", mark you. The kinds of creatures who are impervious to bias, because they do not openly declare one (or even if they do, they shall remain nameless so that you cannot identify it). After the shit the US has just pulled in Haiti, it is Aristide after all who orchestrates unrest. Who writes this shit? And who, exactly, is expected to believe it?
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Acclaimed film director Michael Winterbottom ("A Cock and Bull Story", "24 Hour Party People", "Welcome to Sarajevo") was showing his new film, "The Road to Guantanamo", at the Berlin Film Festival, where it has won a number of top awards.
The film traces the true story of three Muslim friends from Birmingham who were picked up as aliens in Afghanistan by US forces and ended up in Guantanamo for three years, where they suffered brutal and humiliating treatment.
Extensive interrogation established that they had no connection with al-Qaida, and despite their plight being ignored by British authorities, eventually they were returned home. The UK media covered live the return of these "Suspected terrorists" and the massive police convoy that brought them in to Central London for questioning. Their release after the UK police also found they had no connection with terrorism was, naturally, hardly mentioned.
Last week the three travelled to the Berlin Festival with the Winterbottom party, and were arrested yesterday under the Prevention of Terrorism Act as they returned with the Winterbottom Party. They were held by Special Branch and questioned for several hours about where they had been and who they had met. They were also questioned on Michael Winterbottom's politics.
Even more worrying, the three actors who portrayed them in the film were also arrested and questioned. The actors have no particular political or religious affiliation and were also arrested apparently purely on the basis that they were Asian. None of the white members of the group were arrested.
Following legal intervention by Gareth Peirce, the group were eventually released. Special Branch claimed they had not been arrested, merely detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
On Saturday the party will be returning to Berlin again to accept the film's awards. We wait to see what will happen when they come home this time.
"The Road to Guantanamo" will premiere on Channel 4 on 9 March.
Friday, February 17, 2006
More details as soon as they're available.
In the meantime, go see these fabulous pics of the Haiti masses taking over a posh hotel swimming pool (via Le Colonel Chabert).
UPDATE: Victory for Belfast post workers
“It's a complete climbdown, a total capitulation, we’ve won!” Speaking surrounded by cheering mates, a Belfast postal worker told Socialist Worker on Friday afternoon that the 18 days of inspiring struggle had forced Royal Mail to concede practically all their demands.
Previous Tomb posts here and here.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Here's the World Socialist Website:
There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that Britain’s security services sheltered Hamza for many years and even worked with him. How long this relationship was maintained is uncertain. However, there is a record of meetings between Hamza and the police and secret services at least until 2000.
Additionally, there are reports that his organisation, Al-Muhajiroun, and Finsbury Park mosque, where he preached, were heavily infiltrated by agents and informers. Some allege that the state placed its agents at the very top of Al-Muhajiroun.
Media commentators have suggested that Hamza was allowed considerable free rein because the Finsbury Park mosque became a centre of terrorist activity, and this enabled MI5 and MI6 to keep track of what was happening. Even if this is all that was involved, it would be necessary to ask how much was known by Britain of planned terrorist atrocities—the July 7 bombings in London, in particular—and whether they were allowed to go ahead by the security services.
Heresy, eh? Anyway, it seems obvious to me that this 'al-Ghuraaba' that supposedly emerged from the ashes of the old Al-Muhajiroun, and which protested outside the Danish Embassy with signs Glorifying Terrorism, is probably penetrated to the hilt: possibly by the guy who wrote all those signs in the same hand. So, it's clearly a total coincidence that this demonstration occurred a week before parliament voted for a law outlawing the Glorification of Terrorism. That's just common sense. Any other possibility should be met with gales of laughter, uncontrollable hysterics, snickering, wise-ass remarks, and the evocation of nutty internet Conspiracy Theorists, keyboard nerds rallying troops behind the latest zany idea...
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
How long did you beat him for?
How many prisoners were tortured, sexually humiliated and killed? How many died from having their chest crushed and ribs snapped like Manadel al-Jamadi? How many continue to be tortured and murdered in Bagram, Guantanamo and the other torture centres in America's global gulag? And since when was it sufficient to say "we don't want these pictures of our wrongdoing released in case it stirs anger in The Muslim World?" Should it not arouse anger? And much else besides?
The image of the enemy is that of dirt in its most repulsive forms; the unclean jungle is his natural habitat, disembowelment and beheading are his natural ways of action. Consequently, the burning of his refuge, defoliation, and the poisoning of his foodstuff are not only strategic but also moral operations: removing of contagious dirt, clearing the way for the order of political hygiene and righteousness. And the mass purging of the good conscience from all rational inhibitions leads to the atrophy of the last rebellion of sanity against the madhouse: no satire, no ridicule attends the moralists who organize and defend the crime. Thus one of them can, without becoming a laughingstock, publicly praise as the "greatest performance in our nation's history," the indeed historical achievement of the richest, most powerful, and most advanced country of the world unleashing the destructive force of its technical superiority on one of the poorest, weakest, and most helpless countries of the world.
The equivalency is given in this way: instead of an advantage making up directly for the harm (hence, instead of compensation in gold, land, possessions of some sort or another), the creditor is given a kind of pleasure as repayment and compensation—the pleasure of being allowed to discharge his power on a powerless person without having to think about it, the delight in "de fair le mal pour le plaisir de le faire" [doing wrong for the pleasure of doing it], the enjoyment of violation. This enjoyment is more highly prized the lower and baser the debtor stands in the social order, and it can easily seem to the creditor a delicious mouthful, even a foretaste of a higher rank. By means of the "punishment" of the debtor, the creditor participates in a right belonging to the masters. Finally he himself for once comes to the lofty feeling of despising a being as someone "below himself," as someone he is entitled to mistreat—or at least, in the event that the real force of punishment, of inflicting punishment, has already been transferred to the "authorities," the feeling of seeing the debtor despised and mistreated. The compensation thus consist of a permission for and right to cruelty.
Previously unpublished images of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were screened on SBS television's Dateline program. The footage shows still and video images of the wounds it says were inflicted on the Iraqis by their American captors. SBS alleges that the photos were taken at the same time as those of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners inside Abu Ghraib, which sparked international outrage after they were leaked in 2004.
While some of the photographs are similar to the images made public two years ago, the latest photographs apparently reveal further abuse including new incidents of killing, torture and sexual humiliation. The program reports that some prisoners at Abu Ghraib were killed when U.S. soldiers ran out of rubber bullets trying to quell a riot at the jail and resorted to using live rounds.
On the tape, the youths' pleas for mercy are ignored. The beatings include what appears to be a British soldier kicking one of the youths, shown pinned to the ground by other soldiers, in the genitals.
In another case, a soldier puts a boy in a headlock, then releases him only to butt his head against the boy's, then strike his fist on the boy's head.
The youth's cries can be heard on the tape, which shows a minute's worth of the attack -- with 42 blows counted, according to the newspaper.
The tape includes what sounds like a running commentary of approval from the cameraman. "Oh yes! Oh yes! You're gonna get it. Yes, naughty little boys!" the narrator can be heard saying as the blows land. "Die! Ha, ha!"
When the oppressed, the downtrodden, the conquered say to each other, with the vengeful cunning of the powerless, "Let us be different from evil people, namely, good! And that man is good who does not overpower, who hurts no one, who does not attack, who does not retaliate, who hands revenge over to God, who keeps himself hidden, as we do, who avoids all evil and demands little from life in general—like us, the patient, humble, and upright"—what that amounts to, coolly expressed and without bias, is essentially nothing more than "We weak people are merely weak. It's good if we do nothing, because we are not strong enough."
The Iraqi Resistance at Work.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami Debates Outspoken Professor Norman Finkelstein on Israel, the Palestinians, and the Peace Process
What happens when a former Israeli Foreign Minister debates a scholar known as one of the world's foremost critics of Israeli policy? The answer is not what you may expect. We spend the hour with Shlomo Ben Ami, author of "Scars of War, Wounds of Peace," and Norman Finkelstein, author of "Beyond Chutzpah". They joined us in our firehouse studio for a wide-ranging exchange. We discussed the origins of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, to the Oslo Peace Process, right up to the present. [includes rush transcript]
Former Israeli Foreign Minister: "If I were a Palestinian, I Would Have Rejected Camp David"
In Part Two of our debate, former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami and scholar Norman Finkelstein address the intricacies of a question that has been the subject of much debate - what happened at the Camp David peace talks in July 2000? Both sides of the Israel-Palestinian conflict say the other rejected peace, leading to the violence that has marked the conflict since. Ben Ami -- who was a leading member of the Israeli negotiation team -- says he would have rejected Camp David if he were a Palestinian, and discusses the ensuing peace talks in Taba in January 2001.
Norman Finkelstein on the "Not-so-New New Anti-Semitism" and Shlomo Ben Ami on Terror, Torture, and Peace
Norman Finkelstein argues that some supporters of Israeli government policies have attempted to de-legitimize criticism by disingenuously heaping the charge of anti-Semitism. Shlomo Ben Ami defends Israel's record on human rights, and says peace will only come about through a negotiated two-state settlement.
Includes mp3s and transcripts.