Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Natonality, the machinic and the spectacle. posted by Richard Seymour

Kasemir Malevich was by his own account the first "president of space". He said this in Summer 1917, before he became a 'Suprematist'. This statement isn't to do with outer space (that came later), nor is it a statement of egomaniacal insanity (not exclusively, at any rate). The topic of space obsessed Malevich, since what the world has been busily doing to space since the late nineteenth century was revolutionary, a profound and inconceivable break: what we can matter-of-factly refer to as technology was shattering traditional perceptual frameworks and inspiring frenzy. Whether it was the Lusitania or the Zeppelin or the first flight of an airplane, crowds in the six figures would be drawn to witness the spectacle - a spectacle commonly reported as leaving people spellbound with pleasure and excitement. When the Zeppelin was spotted flying over German workplaces, people would rush out to watch, and leave their bosses pleading with them to return. The sheer scale of these innovations and their gravity-defying activities were overwhelming traditional visual habits. I mean, to even see a thing like a ship properly, in its entirety, you would have to walk some considerable distance away from it. This revolutionising of the senses held not only for passive observers, but also for pilots who couldn't help but enthuse about the airborne way of seeing the world.

And, of course, the pilot had a different way of experiencing war - not a messy, bloody, earth-bound affair, but something noble and iconographic. Malevich dealt with all of these themes in 'Aviator' (above, click to enlarge), a 1914 painting in which the dimensions are literally shattered, proportions deliberately sent askew. The 'ace' in the aviator's hand refers to the 'flying ace', a title accrued by a pilot fighter who has shot down five or more enemy air craft. The change produced admiration and dread, a theme reflected in the advertising, in which the great ships would alternate between being "floating palaces" (which they certainly were for the pampered press corps) and "monsters", "colossuses".

Not only that - they were looming beings of great and obvious power, but also immensely fragile. Their triumphs and failures were romanticised (a cruise would literally be described as "a romance"), they were technological "miracles" but also mythopoeic monsters capable of tragic downfall as much as heroic mastery. Their creators were deified: it is said that Graf Zeppelin was more popular than the Kaiser ever was, despite the fact that his invention was a patent failure.

Indeed, it was precisely when it failed that it generated the most urgent support with donations flooding in from ordinary Germans who wished to see it succeed. Other exercises, such as the RMS Lusitania and the RMS Mauretania were conscious efforts at international military competition, especially at doing down the German chap. Indeed, if the change of scale and power produced apprehensions about the control of the technology, one way to overcome this was to embed it in a spurious 'community', an imagined community in fact - technology of such scale as, say, the Zeppelin, was not something that one could have a merely invidual relationship with. It 'belonged' to the community precisely through the media spectacle - remember, the spectacle is a social relation mediated through images. All sorts of political and social meanings could be overlaid to the happenings of these 'titans' by news editors (peculiarly emphasised was the fact that the Zeppelin did not emerge from Prussia, which is where the Kaiser was from, but from the far south-west). Further, it could be defined against other nations, as part of a great race for mastery of the skies.

The extraordinary invention of cinema left people "vibrating with emotions", their mood altered as if - so it was said - by the magician's hand, as if by sorcery in fact. As if the technology alone was insufficient to explain the powerful charm that cinema exerted. Such was the reputed power of the cinema that one headline in the British press read: "Talkie Cure for Deafness". It told the story of a 73-year old woman whose lifelong deafness came to an abrupt end while watching the sound film Singing Fool. On the one hand it was credited with "lifelike fidelity", its mimetic properties celebrated, so that the cinema acquired a more compelling reality than a cold and windy street mere yards away. On the other, it was feared and resented for creating stupefaction, for being a deception, a trick of persistence-of-vision that played on the physiological limits of human perception, for overwhelming viewers, for imposing impressions that preceded cool assessment, and for threatening to unleash latent irrationalism by bringing to life fragments of the unconscious. The cinema was not unique in producing suggestions of supernatural or miraculous power, as we've seen. Indeed, if its effects didn't seem to be obviously deducible from the technology involved, so the construction of the great ships seemed mysterious: shipyards were packed with a tangle of beams and scaffolding, a maze of girders, and soon there emerged something extraordinarily, well, "lifelike".

The advertisers caught on to the power of the spectacle: knowing full well that few took the rhetoric about 'modern wonders' strictly at face value, they used the spectacle's forms to gain the attention, capture the imagination and override rational detachment and scepticism. The political multivalency of the technology worked to their favour, and there was no need to point to any great narrative. In fact, the mark of the spectacle was its valorisation of moronic sensation, its championing of the facile sense of amazement and wonder. In the tradition of PT Barnum, bafflement was the whole point, and a tremendous source of revenue. And, of course, it was precisely where the cinema and the other new technologies interfaced, when the great ships like the Titanic were themselves represented in the powerful idiom of celluloid, that the spectacle reached its most lauded heights, with each technology imparting the other with impact. E A Dupont's 1929 film 'Atlantic' was recognised as a technological masterpiece in itself at the same time as it represented a technological masterpiece. The sense of an unprecedented innovative period in human history, with its obvious political and social connotations, had long since been reduced to its barest component of awe (the better that it could be commodified).

I think I heard a sharp intake of breathe when some of you read the word "machinic" in the title. Relax. I only wanted to mention that the very notion of the "machinic" is not strictly to do with technology. It was partially generated by Deleuze and Guattari from Bergson's critical encounter with turn-of-the-century science and its inability - as he saw it - to escape from determinism and a linear view of causation. Crudely, how is genuine innovation possible if all present possibilities are already contained within the past? How is it possible to have a radical rupture? The "machinic" is an attempt to solve this problem. I don't feel like trying to explain in detail how that is, but this explains it very clearly, and it's written by a proper philosopher. I raise it, tentatively, because these heterogenous elements - inter-imperialist rivalry, the development of new transit and military technologies, the development of a mass culture, the development of photography, the socialist challenge - was a highly efficient cultural machine, and arguably produced a novel nationalist idiom. The community is no longer imagined through the printed word and a presumed uniformity of experience. Nationhood is achieved through the spectacle, through the compelling image of 'modern wonders', whose political polyvalency both assures the widespread acceptance of technology as thoroughly imbricated with progress even after World War I and perpetuates the notion of a national community in which all endeavours are to the same end, all part of a Promethean struggle for the triumph of the human spirit. It is arguably much more powerful and persuasive than appeals to eccentric notions of Heimat or Albion.

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The strappado and the serum. posted by Richard Seymour

The Enlightened absolutists of Europe abolished torture in the 18th Century: Leopold, Frederick II, Gustavus III, Louis XVI, Joseph II. Regimes founded on dynastic, patrimonial power, but influenced by Enlightenment ideas about how to run a state, outlawed their tool kits and sometimes even got rid of the death penalty while they were at it. America's unEnlightened polyarchy has legalised torture, long a clandestine practise of its intelligence agencies, is enamoured of the death penalty and mass incarceration, and has even revived that medieval tool of pain, the strappado, (what Israelis call a 'Palestinian hanging').

Systematically, they are now said to be driving hundreds, perhaps thousands of prisoners insane with the use of chemicals, sensory deprivation and sensory overload. Is it news? After all, the US has systematically tortured its prisoners for some time now. Well, let's say this is more systematic, and is being promulgated by new doctrines embodied in the 'war on terror'. What does the Padilla case reveal, or what can it reveal? Naomi Klein reports that it is now going to come to court:

Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an “enemy combatant” and taken to a navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a cell 9ft by 7ft, with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a “truth serum,” a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.

According to his lawyers and two mental health specialists who examined him, Padilla has been so shattered that he lacks the ability to assist in his own defence. He is convinced that his lawyers are “part of a continuing interrogation program” and sees his captors as protectors. In order to prove that “the extended torture visited upon Mr Padilla has left him damaged,” his lawyers want to tell the court what happened during those years in the navy brig. The prosecution strenuously objects, maintaining that “Padilla is competent” and that his treatment is irrelevant.

The US district judge Marcia Cooke disagrees. “It’s not like Mr Padilla was living in a box. He was at a place. Things happened to him at that place.” The judge has ordered several prison employees to testify on Padilla’s mental state at the hearings, which began yesterday. They will be asked how a man who is alleged to have engaged in elaborate anti-government plots now acts, in the words of brig staff, “like a piece of furniture.”

The American government's behaviour is interesting. Jeff Stein of Congressional Quarterly, argues that there's something up with the fact that the US government won't even deny that it used serums on Padilla. He is certain that the government do not, in fact, use any kind of truth serum on Padilla, because although these have been used in the past, they have never been effective (at what?), and because medical experiments are still illegal in America (didn't stop Tuskegee or thousands of eugenics inspired sterilisation programmes), and because most US agencies disapprove (but Padilla is not held by, say, the police or the FBI. He is held by the Navy as an "enemy combatant"). And his sources tell him that, in fact, if it has sufficient level of political approval, government agencies will consider practically any option.

Stephen Soldz produces a reply to the Stein article from a psychologist working in the field of drugs and addiction, indicating that the lawyers are barking up the wrong tree entirely: "It would sort of be like a NUCLEAR WEAPON hitting a city and saying, we know it must be an enormous amount of DYNAMITE that they used." Truth serums of the old fashioned kind (LSD, for instance) are "child's play" where the government is concerned, and they have all sorts of hormones that they can play with, which are much more effective. Soldz also notes that since much of the case in the upcoming trial will depend on Padilla's mental state, the government has found itself an authentic catch 22: "Rodolfo Buigas, the psychologist of the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami, testified 'that the affidavit Mr. Padilla signed alleging mistreatment at the brig was evidence of his mental competence.'"

Well, torture is a global industry, a source of surplus extraction as well as the extraction of confessions. Disciplining bodies for capital, it is also a phenomenal source of profit in itself. America is one of the biggest exporters, as one would expect: it may not personally use the thumb-screw, but it does like its electro-shock belts to keep prisoners from getting out of line, and it does invest a huge amount in the various ways of inflicting psychological and physical pain. And, the British government has a stake in the trade, which is why it prevented a serious fraud office investigation into British Aerospace, whose products include tools for the efficient obliteration of human beings, or their rapid capitulation under massive pain. The government also has its own history of torture, which was routinely used against Irish internees. It would be amazing if they don't use it today, although there is the possibility of outsourcing, which is what the illegal torture flights and the legal international removal pacts are about. An interesting case of this is Abu Qatada who has now been deported. It is easy to be impressed by the fact that Qatada is someone with a profoundly unpleasant ideology, but that misses the point: he doesn't deserve to be tortured for it, and now that the precedent has been established, the case will be used to deport others to situations where they can be tortured without disturbing our sanctimonious, pristine culture of 'human rights'.

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Tariq Ali speaks. posted by Richard Seymour

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Genocide, Bosnia and the ICTY posted by Richard Seymour

After all that, this. According to the Associated Press report, the International Court of Justice finds that no one in Serbia, or any official organ of the state, could be shown to have had the deliberate intention to "destroy in whole or in part" the Bosnian Muslim population. "The judges found that Serbia, although it supported the Bosnian Serbs, fell short of having effective control over the Bosnian army and the paramilitary units that carried out the massacre". Further, "Unusual for such an important case, most judges were in accord, voting overwhelmingly on the various points of the decision."

This assessment results from a case put by the Bosnian government, and it conclusively debunks the legal case that the massacres carried out by the Bosnian Serb army were part of a campaign of genocide. There is no question that the Bosnian Serb army committed atrocities, as did the Bosnian Croat army and the Bosnian Muslim army; further, Serbian and Croatian forces carried out the most killings and atrocities, reflecting their relative strength in the civil war that they were fighting (a civil war that need not have happened, had the United States government not encouraged its client Alia Izetbegovic to withdraw from an already negotiated settlement). However, there is no basis for the claim that the Serbian government ordered, encouraged or participated in a genocide against Bosnian Muslims. Why does this matter? Well, truth matters. It does matter if the repeated claims of an expansionist Serbian state recreating fascism, genocide and concentration camps on European soil were a pack of lies. It does matter if Western states and media organisations retailed a fairy tale, with Izetbegovic given a size-nine halo, Tudman largely acquitted (until he conveniently snuffed it) and Milosevic equipped with horns and trident. It does matter if those apologists for Western state aggression, Glucksmann, Ignatieff, Hitchens et al, regurgitated propaganda with the ludicrous result that when Yugoslavia was bombed Western liberals were actually able to derive some libidinal satisfaction from it, guilt-free. It does matter if our language is degraded so that the word genocide can be promiscuously bruited by those who, by their own implicit definitions, could find themselves charged with genocide practically every week.

It also sheds some light on the procedures of another court. As Ed Herman has correctly pointed out:

Milosevic was not indicted along with Mladic and Karadzic in 1995 for the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia in prior years, so the belated attempt in The Hague in 2002 to make him responsible for those killings suggests that UN war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte did this because she saw that the killings in Kosovo fell far short of anything she could pass off as "genocide".

The ICTY, which is to be distinguished from both the ICC and the International Court of Justice, has been pursuing a process of indictments of senior state and army personnel, including most notoriously the trial of Milosevic. It has refused to take up the issue of war crimes committed by the United States in Yugoslavia, because it owes its existence to the United States. It was and remains an auxiliary of American power, and this verdict lends some weight to Herman's suggestion.

You may say, reasonably, that the ICTY's own verdicts and conclusions also make the point well enough. You may fairly add that the ICJ doesn't challenge the ICTY's definition of the Srebrenica massacre as 'genocide' - indeed, affirms it - but merely says that this was the responsibility of the Bosnian Serb army under General Krstic, who himself is presumed to have been acting under orders from Ratko Mladic. That is true, and strange: the massacre of thousands of men of military age is an atrocity, but under no reasonable definition is it genocide. Although if we were to expand the definition of genocide in that fashion, we would end up including several recent massacres by the United States government in the category of genocide: in fact, the massacre at Mazar i-Sharif would also be genocide. The sole purpose of using the word here is to instrumentalise its normative force, to affirm the basic narrative, and to avoid the reality that a civil war driven by competing nationalist states pursuit of influence in the post-federal polity, and manipulated by imperialist states, killed 100,000 people in Bosnia, with the dead including 55,261 civilians, of which 38,000 were Muslims and Croats, and 16,700 Serbs. As Ed Herman has written elsewhere, the narrative of a Srebrenica genocide has been politically useful in various ways: first, it obscured the process of massacres and ethnic cleansing being carried out by Croat forces at the time, when Croatia was being supported by Western powers; second, it provided an excellent cover story for the 1995 bombing of Serb positions and subsequent carve-up, with its disastrous consequences; third, it has provided a compelling excuse for prolonged intervention into the former Yugoslavia long after the massacre, with the West's political and military control effectively persisting in both Bosnia and Kosovo to this day. They are, you are supposed to gather, holding back the next genocide.

Because there was not genocide, but massacres on all sides, as it were, because none of the state leaderships was angelic, does not mean we should be satisfied with the repellent explanation offered by some that nationalist/tribal hatreds dunnit. That culturalist explanation is every bit as facile as Hitchens' understanding of the conflict, which was that it was between those who loved cosmopolitanism and religious freedom, and those who supported segregation and religious intolerance and so on. The story initially is one of state failure, of ruthless IMF-driven neoliberalism that produces wave after wave of political crisis and struggle, of savage cutbacks and extraordinary levels of unemployment, and of recrudescent nationalism among the intelligentsia that is increasingly instrumentalised by the various states in the federal republic. Secondly, it is one of conflict over the power that each state would have in the future. For Croatia and Slovenia, the two richest states, the promise of Europe was alluring compared to remaining in a failing state with massive problems of production and cohesion. On the other hand, they weren't too solicitous with constitutional law on matters of secession, and Croatia in particular had begun to repress its Serb minority in ways that gave them ample reason to worry about their illegal secession (part of the illegality of Croatia's secession was that it ignored the wishes of the Serb minority, in violation of constitutional law). Izetbegovic began planning for a war as early as February 1991, and had formed paramilitaries and started to seek assistance from Muslim supporters several months before declaring independence and long before the founding of the Republic of the Serbian People of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Thirdly, the story is one of imperialist intervention. Western powers saw the crisis and attempted to turn the situation to their advantage. Germany was swift to recognise Croatia an Slovenia when they decided to break away. The United States and the EU recognised Bosnia and Herzogovina as an independent state in 1992, despite the fact that only 39% of voters had registered support for secession, and despite the obvious opposition of Bosnian Serbs. This last resulted in Bosnian Serbs declaring their own independent republic, thus prompting Izetbegovic's declaration of war. The Yugoslav national army intervened in a half-hearted, brief effort to prevent Slovenian secession, but made a more successful and sustained bid to capture large areas of Croatia, including those areas with dense Serb populations. Croatia, for its part, sought not only to recapture lost territory but to annexe a sizeable portion of Bosnia too. In 1995, Croatia launched an ethnic cleansing drive in Krajina called Operation Storm, driving out not only the Serb forces but the pesky Serb population whose complaints of suffering oppression at the hands of a Nazi sympathiser and his army had caused some problems. Two months previously, Bosnian Serb forces committed the notorious massacre at Srebrenica. Several smaller massacres were also being carried out by Serb, Croat and Muslim forces, as is well-known and partially attested to by the mortality figures. And the US, amid a flurry of self-righteous propaganda, launched bombing raids on Serbian positions until it achieved acquiescence and cemented partition on terms amenable to itself, with a Western-imposed polity ruling in Bosnia, pro-Western regimes in Croatia and Slovenia, and the FRY substantially reduced in size. With the glorious intervention into Kosovo, whose noble impress includes ethnic cleansing, child sex slavery, corrupt occupation and immiseration, a second military base in the Balkans was established, using the KLA as a political foil. In 2000, David Benjamin, a member of the US National Security Council under Clinton, took Bush to task over his early criticisms of "nation-building" in Kosovo:

Mr Bush showed a misunderstanding of a major strategic achievement of the Clinton administration ... In particular [he] missed the intrinsic connections between enlargement and the conflict in the Balkans ... NATO enlargement advanced US interests in dealing with one of the country's foremost strategic challenges: coping with a post-communist Russia whose trajectory remains in question. (Quoted in Vassilis K. Fouskas, Zones of Conflict: US Foreign Policy in the Balkans and the Greater Middle East, Pluto Press, 2003, p 49).

NATO enlargement, hedging in post-communist Russia, advancing US strategic interests. For such prizes, they helped bring devastation to Yugoslavia. For such rewards, they spent years promoting a heavily politicised 'tribunal' to produce a background noise of "genocide" on European soil. And it is to preserve the utility of this tactic that anyone, like Chomsky or Herman, who happens to take truth seriously, is ritually denounced for "downplaying" atrocities, or even supporting genocide.

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Terrorism, Glorification Thereof. posted by Richard Seymour

So, anyway, while some people have been entertaining themselves with the fantasy that British imperialism supports the Kurds, there was an interesting episode involving the publication of Abdullah Ocalan's book Prison Writings: The Roots of Civilisation, which has been well-received by a number of academics. Now, it so happens that the PKK have been feeling the heat of British laws long before evildoers interrupted Bush's pedagogy, but last week something rather interesting happened. The Peace in Kurdistan campaign had been due to host a meeting to launch Ocalan's book, which is a history of the Near East from anciency until the present, written during the years he has spent in prison since being kidnapped by Turkish intelligence in February 1999, approximately a month before Turkish planes were bombing Yugoslavia. The launch of the book was to take place in the House of Commons, however, there had been repeated indications in the Turkish press that Ankara wanted the book suppressed, and it transpired that the Foreign Office had the organisers kicked out - on the grounds that debating the book amounted to "glorification of terrorism". In a way, the organisers were fortunate that this was all that happened, since in Turkey two people have been sentenced to prison terms this week for "glorifying" Abdullah Ocalan.

Now, the British state has used its 'anti-terror' laws, in which the PKK is listed as a proscribed organisation, to clamp down on supporters of the Kurds in the past, and to block Kurdish television. Its foreign policy disposition is to support Turkish state crimes with arms, diplomacy and domestic targeting of Kurdish supporters. That happens to be a logical part of the European collective security system set up under US tutelage, in which the Turkish paramilitaries who took part in butchering and torturing the Kurds in their tens of thousands were an integral part of NATO's secret stay-behind armies. The Foreign Office's move raises the spectre of the law being used against this book - since if to debate it is to glorify terrorism, what is the position when it comes to placing the book on prominent shop shelves? Or reading it on the train? The hammering irony is that this has taken place one week after David Lammy launched Labour Friends of Turkey with the aim of assisting Turkey's accession to the EU. The Turkish government appears to have plenty of friends. The British ambassador to Turkey insists that to refuse Turkey admission would be a "gift to the terrorists", while only today the EC has apparently decided that Ocalan cannot be re-tried. At the same time, a wave of arrests of PKK supporters and activists has been conducted across Europe recently, coordinated by the United States and Turkey with the assistance of EU states, because the EU considers the PKK a terrorist organisation.

You can read the press release from Peace in Kurdistan at the bottom of this post. One other thing - if I urge you to purchase the book in question and conduct an open public reading in the no-protest zone, does that make me a glorifier of terrorism? Merely checking.

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Who are the real criminals? posted by ejh

This thought was probably prompted rather more by the appalling standards of driving in my part of the world - and perhaps the recent letter-bomb campaign - than any immediate political events.

But wherever it came from, it occurred to me that the apologists for Israel, and in particular those who take the line "why do you always pick on Israel when there's worse régimes in the world", are rather like those drivers who having driven at excessive speed, dangerously close to other vehicles, endangering the lives of everybody on the road, are finally flagged down by the police.

At which point, rather than accept the fact of their reckless behaviour and the consequences it entails, they wind down the window as the officer approaches and say:

"Shouldn't you be out catching real criminals?"

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The Redirection posted by bat020

The latest Seymour Hersh piece in the New Yorker covers the "redirection" of US foreign policy towards cultivating the Saudi dictatorship against Iran - and details US plans to bomb Iran at 24 hours notice. There's also a wealth of detail about what the US is up to in Lebanon and Syria, plus an interview with Hassan Nasrallah. As ever, it's a must read.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Guess who supports terrorism? posted by Richard Seymour

About a quarter of all Americans:

Those who think that Muslim countries and pro-terrorist attitudes go hand-in-hand might be shocked by new polling research: Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria.

The survey, conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland's prestigious Program on International Public Attitudes, shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."

Contrast those numbers with 2006 polling results from the world's most-populous Muslim countries - Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Terror Free Tomorrow, the organization I lead, found that 74 percent of respondents in Indonesia agreed that terrorist attacks are "never justified"; in Pakistan, that figure was 86 percent; in Bangladesh, 81 percent.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Troops Out, No Trident: report from London demonstration. posted by Richard Seymour

Ya hala Tomb-readers. I'm updating this report as fast as I can upload material. First indications is that was about 100,000-strong, which is probably one of the larger anti-nuclear demonstrations that we've had in recent years. I didn't hear any figures for the Glasgow demo, but I'm told it was enormous: unsurprisingly, since Scotland is where the British ruling class likes to keep its nukes. It goes without saaying that most of the media are blacking out the demo, and the BBC gives it only a few inches in a local section (misquoting the figures too). Bizarrely, they actually devote more space to the demonstration in Glasgow which they say was much smaller. It's quite interesting: clearly, the story of the boy who gave David Cameron the one-gun salute being arrested for possessing cannabis is much more important, as is the startling revelation that Hazel Blears wants to be the deputy Prime Minister. Here are some pictures of the demo as it began. My footage has been uploaded to Youtube, but they are taking their time approving some of it, so I will post as it becomes available.

It's not easy capturing the crowd scenes with my camera, but it's a bit more difficult when certain people, who shall remain nameless because I don't know their names, insist on drawing attention to themselves. Like this purveyor of apocalyptic gloom. Then there was the man at the far back of the demonstration who kept shouting "Anti-Blair whistles! Only a pound!" How the fuck can you have an anti-Blair whistle? He then went on to chant, while rattling his blowholes: "Troops out, Blair out, Don't attack Iraq". Not Iran, Iraq. Which seems to miss the point that we already did attack Iraq. Then there was this call for international solidarity and equality from a pair of Iranian demonstrators. And a Spoonerist. Actually, for some reason, I quite like 'nucking fuclear', perhaps because it's an anagram for 'fucking unclear'. There was also a very young child with a t-shirt that read: "Unfuck the World". It looked like one of those produced by Globalise Resistance. Finally, there was a man in a mask.

Well, hear we are proceeding up Picadilly:

Here are some CND people. I have quite a lot of time for them, but they do have this alarming penchant for breaking into song at a moment's notice. A speaker from the Aldermaston Womens' Group approached the mic and immediately gave us a few bars of 'Five Minutes to Midnight'. What we really need, as I think someone said long ago, are more men of violence:

Some more for you:

I recorded many of the speeches, which were brilliant. I regret that I did not capture any of Galloway's, although it was a vintage performance. He got a particularly rousing close by saying that if there was an attack on Iran, there wouldn't be protests in the streets of London: there'd be riots! People exploded into applause. Lindsey German, some of whose speech I did record, got a brilliant reception when she called for strikes and protests and occupations in the event of an attack on Iran. That's the way to do it. I missed Craig Murray's speech, so I hope one of the professionals filmed that. Livingstone's speech was actually quite good, and he a got a decent cheer for his recent deal with Chavez, and Augusto Montiel of the Venezulan National Assembly was warmly welcome when he arrived at the mic in his red shirt and said: "A BIG. WARM. EMBRACE. TO LONDON!! FROM HUGO CHAVEZ! FROM VENEZUELA! FROM ALL OF LATIN AMERICA!". The speeches are still being approved by Youtube, but in the meantime, you can see some of the demo footage here, here, and here. These next guys were a lot of fun. When this part of the demo fell a bit behind, the guy on the loudspeaker announced in a mock-melodramatic cry that "we are being isolated in this demonstration in exactly the same way that Palestinians are being isolated in the world!"

Socialist Worker's report is here. Good report and pictures from the Glasgow demo by the Prophet of Rage. David Simonetti has Mark Thomas and George Galloway, and some good photos here

Update: Well, as Youtube are still bungling my video uploads, I've uploaded a few to Google Video. Here's a tour of the demo as it was lining up from near the back to near the front:

Here's Livingstone's speech:

Here's Lindsey German:

Here's Augusto Montiel:

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Atomic hypocrisy. posted by Richard Seymour

This story comes from Con Coughlin, so it must automatically be read cautiously. Nevertheless, I think it's interesting that Israel is trying to prepare the world for this possibility. Also interesting is the kind of relationship with the verities that Coughlin and most of his fellow reporters have. Coughlin, without the slightest bat of an eyelid, says:

As Iran continues to defy UN demands to stop producing material which could be used to build a nuclear bomb, Israel's military establishment is moving on to a war footing, with preparations now well under way for the Jewish state to launch air strikes against Teheran if diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the crisis.

The pace of military planning in Israel has accelerated markedly since the start of this year after Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, provided a stark intelligence assessment that Iran, given the current rate of progress being made on its uranium enrichment programme, could have enough fissile material for a nuclear warhead by 2009.

It's simply taken for granted that the UN's role is to provide the US and its allies and subordinates with the means to discipline its rivals. If the fact that these "demands" are raised through the UN mattered, there are so many obviously related topics that one could mention, one of which is to ask what attitude members of the UN - even the power elite in the UNSC - would take to an attack on Iran by Israel. Others are too obvious to mention. Further, there is no question for Coughlin and people like him that nuclear Israel is entitled to bomb neighbouring states because Mossad says that they might be have enough fissile material to produce a bomb by 2009, or they are "producing material which could be used to build a nuclear bomb". No one with an ounce of sense would take Mossad's claims, however "stark", seriously. However, Coughlin attributes the latter claim to the UN, and as it happens the UN has not made this assertion. It is simple enough to know what the UN says, because its specialised atomic energy body, the IAEA has had inspectors crawling over Iran and is in a position to make quite specific indications about the state of Iran's energy programme. The first point is that the IAEA has repeatedly stressed that the material that Iran currently produces, after many failures, is not currently producing material that could be used to produce a nuclear weapon. They are producing uranium enriched to 3.6% U-235, which as the IAEA has pointed out, is not exactly weapons-grade. Even if they began to enrich it further, they would need cascades of 3,000 centrifuges working day and night to even get sufficient materials ready. They presently have 164. There have been efforts to persuade the UN to say something different. US intelligence agencies have fed reports to the United Nations, but these have been swiftly discounted as groundless. The head of the IAEA has repeatedly indicated that there is no "imminent threat".

There happens to be an easy way to "resolve the crisis". The Iranian president happens to be have hit upon an entirely rational solution: those powers threatening Iran must also suspend their nuclear programmes. Applying the same standards to the United Kingdom as apply to Iran would yield an interesting policy option: we could cease the Prime Minister's decision to renew Trident, a vast nuclear weapons system with a current range of 4,600 miles. These are to be attached to submarines which obviously means that we would have a mobile nuclear capacity, capable of threatening practically anywhere in the world.

Something that is often missed about this is that the weapons are leased from the US: the UK purchases access to, but does not own, a pool of nuclear missiles produced by the American defense company Lockheed Martin. This has been the position since the 1958 Mutual Defense Agreement, and every aspect of UK nuclear weapons production is coordinated within that subordinate relationship. The UK has cooperation programmes with all main US nuclear research laboratories, and its model of nuclear deterrence is based on NATO membership, whose targetting strategy is based on US deterrence doctrine. The UK purchases many of the components for its weapons system 'off the shelf' from the United States, because it does not have the capacity to produce them itself. In accordance with this 'special relationship' strategy, the UK has carefully avoided stipulating a 'no first use' policy. Indeed, the UK government's entire purpose in pursuing nuclear weapons is to possess a credible threat that it can deliver a first strike, as the Defense Select Committee Inquiry reveals. This would involve "the launch of one or a limited number of missiles against an adversary as a means of conveying a political message, warning or demonstration of resolve". This conception contains the outrageous assumption that Britain is entitled to engage in a nuclear attack on another country not even in supposed self-defense, but as a warning shot to anyone who gets out of line.

The decision to renew reflects the current US posture of undermining the Treaty-based system of arms control, since it is in direct violation of the NPT of which the UK is a signatory. The British government has drastically limited the amount of information released by the Ministry of Defense since the election of New Labour in 1997, so there is much that we can't know. However, even a cursory study of openly declared US doctrine (and the American political system is much more open than the UK's in terms of information) tells you that the current nuclear posture of the US (and therefore of its subordinates) is to remove the strict barrier between nuclear weapons and conventional weapons. The US wishes to be able to visit various limited kinds of nuclear destruction on other states, with greater flexibility. It so happens that this is precisely what the Trident upgrade allows.

The decision to pursue an upgraded and more flexible nuclear arsenal when it is manifestly the case that there is not a serious countervailing nuclear pressure (as there arguably was during the Cold War) is an epic act of aggression, but one taken for granted by the intrepid reporters who tell us about the threat from Iran. If it isn't designed to force other states to try to pursue nuclear weapons, it certainly has that dimension. The current policy of the American capitalist class and its spear-carriers is normalising the prospect of a nuclear conflagration, and therefore raising the threat of the destruction of those populations that they consider superfluous. In fact, it raises the threat of full planetary destruction to a level that anyone with an atom of sense would be unwilling to tolerate. And that is one reason why the British government places such a premium on secrecy and lies, and why they develop such excellent relationships with columnists like Nick Cohen and reporters like Con Coughlin. I will see you at the demonstration in about half an hour.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Nick Cohen is being driven to Toryism by the Livingstone-Chavez axis. posted by Richard Seymour

The liberal who lost his way and joined the circus is outraged that Livingstone has cut a deal for cheap oil with Hugo Chavez, and may vote Tory if Livingstone doesn't stand down and make way for a neoconservative Labour candidate. Why? Oh, because Denis MacShane of the Henry Jackson Society says so. Because Chavez is accused of suppressing press freedom by his opponents (who control most of the media and routinely denounce Chavez, often in racialised terms). Because he cuts deals with autocrats and flatters them (hardly the only state leader to do that). Because Chavez has asked for and received powers of decree (not the first Venezuelan leader to receive those) and remove term limits (which means he could go on to win more elections). Because - aha! - Chavez once tried to mount a coup, so he probably wants to be dicator. Because Livingstone has previously "embraced" the "misogynist, homophobic, racist and dictatorial leaders of the Islamist far Right". (Much might be said against Yusuf al-Qaradawi, but I am unaware that he has dictatorial powers.)

Aside from the usual irrationality and hysteria, I note a particularly common gesture here: Cohen is shifting to the right, which is a logical result of his position on Iraq (and earlier on Kosovo), but he insists against all evidence that it's our fault. The Left is forcing him to the right, much against his will, and if he ends up having to bury the shades of his past, we are to blame. Some cheek that man has on him.

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"On supporting the Iraqi Resistance" posted by Richard Seymour

In which the Heathlander takes a well aimed shot at the convenient myths surrounding the Iraqi resistance.

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Herrenvolk posted by Richard Seymour

Here's an interesting comparison:

Prof Dugard said although Israel and apartheid South Africa were different regimes, "Israel's laws and practices in the OPT [occupied Palestinian territories] certainly resemble aspects of apartheid." His comments are in an advance version of a report on the UN Human Rights Council's website ahead of its session next month.

After describing the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, with closed zones, demolitions and preference given to settlers on roads, with building rights and by the army, he said: "Can it seriously be denied that the purpose of such action is to establish and maintain domination by one racial group (Jews) over another racial group (Palestinians) and systematically oppressing them? Israel denies that this is its intention or purpose. But such an intention or purpose may be inferred from the actions described in this report."

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Father figure. posted by Richard Seymour

"The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject's mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure."

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Harmless Childhood Fun posted by Richard Seymour

Chabert suggests in the comments box to the post below that the Muslim figures are redolent of Warner Brothers cartoons and American mas art, among other things. If anyone has seen Spike Lee's Bamboozled, you know it finishes with a montage of film and cartoon depictions of black people as inept, comical, and fundamentally as bestial. All of it giftwrapped in a posture of innocence, light-heartedness, wholesome comedy, childish fun etc.

Here are a couple of clips:

I also found some material from Disney, Warner Brothers and various advertisers. These are highly sophisticated racist caricatures, in which the cartoonists demonstrate an easy familiarity with the ways in which racism can be used for physical humour. If you simply itemise what the caricaturists choose to amplify and exaggerate for comic effect, there is a remarkable consistency in all of it: the snaggled, protrusive, outsized teeth; snarling mouths; evil or mad eyes; dripping tongues; bulbous or hooked noses; exaggerated lips etc. In the case of Arabs, one might add unkempt bushes or stubbles, which contains an implication about hygeine, and the scimitar whose connotations are obvious. The movement and posture, moreover, is either baffled or predatory, but never dignified or human. I put some of this together into a video:

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The Running of the Muslim. posted by Richard Seymour

Islamophobia Watch brings news of the climax to a recent carnival in Germany:

Some two million people took to the streets of Germany's Rhine region for the climax of the carnival season Monday but Muslim representatives were angered by floats featuring bearded men in turbans and explosives belts.

IW links to this Deutsche Welle article describing what happened:

The carnival floats in parades through the region's cities traditionally take an irreverent look at world events, but the Central Council of Muslims in Germany condemned one float in Düsseldorf which featured fiberglass models of two bearded men wearing turbans and explosives belts and brandishing guns.

The word "Cliche" was printed on one of the men, while the other bore the word "Reality."

"Irreverent". Oh yes, clearly le mot juste. Here is another "irreverent" depiction. Actually, let's get the pedigree right - here are some "irreverent" depictions:

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New Orleans posted by Richard Seymour

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Prodi forced out over Afghanistan. posted by Richard Seymour

Well, well... Prodi has resigned. After the ridiculous display made last year by the Italian communists in supporting troops to Afghanistan, the Rifondazione Comunista has inflicted a defeat on Prodi's government, that is the government that they decided to collude in. (I told them not to participate in the government but, for reasons he has yet to satisfactorily explain, Fausto Bertinotti doesn't read my blog).

The defeat has been inflicted over both an expanded US base in Italy and the continuation of troops in Afghanistan. The expansion of the base was an agreement made between Bush and the departed Berlusconi. Not only the communists, but also the Greens and much of the Democratic Left that supports Prodi have been outraged by the attempt to persist with this policy. Prodi has repeatedly used confidence votes to get his way in the past, and this time it has flown back in his face.

There was a huge rally against the base last Saturday, and all the Berlusconi media were printing claims that some protesters were planning a terrorist attack against opposition leader Silvio himself. It's very strange: Berlusconi has compared himself to Christ in the past, and is clearly nailing himself to the cross for this, but why do so many people take him seriously? Now, because Prodi insisted on following Berlusconi's policy at the risk of collapsing the government, there is the prospect of fresh elections. The left coalition won by a tight margin last time, so there is a serious risk that in such an election Berlusconi would be re-elected. The war and the base are genuinely unpopular policies, and the campaigns are likely to have mobilised the left in a way that the timid rhetoric of last year's election could not, and it is hard to see how Berlusconi can capitalise on dissatisfaction with a policy that he supports. Berlusconi boasts that the polls give him and his coalition an eight to fifteen per cent lead. But these are the unreliable and self-serving polls conducted by Forza Italia that Berlusconi's newspapers print.

Nevertheless, Prodi has adopted the right-wing economic agenda of the Berlusconi coalition, merely avoiding the corrupt frills. He has even spoken of introducing "shock therapy" into the economy, invoking the disastrous neoliberal experiments in post-Stalinist Russia or Eastern Europe. Now, if that's the agenda, then why do Italians need an idiot like Prodi to do it? The whole point was that his government was supposed to be different. It is hard to see how it has been so: and that could cost his coalition dearly.

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A letter to Comment is Free. posted by Richard Seymour

So anyway, Georgina (hello, by the way), I was talking things over with the vassalage the other day and someone said to me, they said, "But lenin, why has The Guardian never offered you a Comment is Free column? After all, you're at least as notorious as David T and a damn sight more fuckable than Oliver Kamm." Instantly impressed by the logic of this, I inquired further. "Well, lenin - if that is your real name - the way I see it, the purpose of Comment is Free is to stimulate a sort of artificial background noise of ferocious debate and democratic participation and discussion. In this way, they attract audiences for advertisers and give them a sense of ersatz involvement. Now, you've got a penchant for irritating liberals, and we all know that you're practically handcuffed to your personal computer. LT and CiF would be no mere marriage of convenience. It was meant to be."

Well naturally, Georgina, I had this upstart shot. Nevertheless, it's food for thought, no? Do not, please, evacuate your bowels immediately, but look! Look at all the no-name wonders you've got in that catacomb of commentary! Look - Brian Bivati? Who the fuck is that? Andrew Anthony? The fucking food critic? What's his excuse? "I know a fish finger when I see one, and that's why the Islamofascists must not be allowed to destroy Western civilisation"? Get real, Georgina, this is the twenty-first century. What you really need is someone called lenin on your site. (Why the small l, you ask? I'm an anti-capitalist, of course.) I'll cut you a deal: I'll supply The Guardian with free labour if you turn off Nick Cohen's booze drip and give me one minute in the dark with the bastard who designed the 'Berliner'. Who the fuck thought of that? Ich bin ein fuhrious, Georgina.

Oh, sure, G, I know I'm not famous like Oliver Tickell and Byron Taylor. I know that I shall never have the pulling power of Open Thread, whoever he is. However, I know you'll agree with me when I say, 'shut it and do exactly as I say'. I attach a copy of my first dangerously edgy and contrarian article about why the Left is wrong about the environment, the war on Iraq, nuclear weapons, Israel, Islam, trade unions and so on, for special reasons that I disclose only glancingly in a tantalising finisher, which reads: "It would be refreshing if the Left would get its act together and be realistic. Saddam Hussein clearly does have weapons of mass destruction - otherwise why is he hiding them? He clearly is linked with Al Qaeda - unless you prefer to believe bin Laden's story that they are only distant enemies. The war isn't about oil - but it should be, because only by extracting the rich, gooey contents of the earth and sending it all up in dispersed clouds into the atmosphere can we reduce heating costs for impoverished pensioners in Burnley. Not that I would expect the left to care about impoverished pensioners in Burnley unless they all suddenly became Islamofascists and deciced to blow themselves up while queuing at the Post Office. And speaking of the white working class, why doesn't the left support free speech for Nazis? I had Nick Griffin orate from my back garden yesterday, and do you know why? Free speech, you totalitarian bastards!" That should ruffle the cat among the pigeon's feathers.

I await your enthusiastic reply, G. Safe.

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The Iraq war has not caused an increase in terrorism. posted by Richard Seymour

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blair to pull out troops. posted by Richard Seymour

All previous reports of withdrawals of UK troops from Iraq have been surreptitious leaks. This one is to be official. 1,500 troops returning within weeks. That leaves 5,500 in Basra.

Well, it's a start, and I'm certain it isn't because the situation has suddenly taken a calm turn. What has actually happened is that the British have been unable or unwilling to force control over southern Iraq, or to try and do so with the ruthless measures used by the Bush administration, and have been forced to hand over control to Iraqis in province after province. The Bush administration do not and perhaps cannot do things that way, for obvious reasons. This is the beginning of the end, a partial victory, and we must absolutely pile on the pressure this Saturday to hammer it home: Troops Out.

The Financial Times has more info, and says that in fact the initial withdrawal is 1,600, but that still reduces it to 5,500 because there are 7,100 troops presently in the British occupied territories. The FT comments that:

For Mr Blair, in his final months as prime minister, Wednesday’s announcement is highly symbolic. After being dogged by the debacle in Iraq for nearly four years, today’s statement allows him to leave office conveying the impression – albeit a limited one – that the UK intervention has had some success.

If that's his thinking, he's in for a shock. Absolutely no one believes there has been a success of any kind or qualification. Blair is said to be ready to insist that Washington is not opposed to his move, but this comes as the US ruling class is increasingly divided over the escalation policy.

Since the Prime Minister is already going to be saying that the British occupation of southern Iraq has been a tremendous success, and this is why they can hand control of Basra over to Iraqi security, I think I should mention the firefight between British soldiers and local resistance fighters in Basra today. Of course, our superior management of the natives has resulted in southern, largely Shiite, Iraqis turning to support the resistance in overwhelming numbers, first in the Maysan province, then across the board. This particular PM isn't above claiming that Harry can take the place of all the withdrawn soldiers, mind you.

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Defend Council Housing posted by Richard Seymour

Today, a new report for the government will make recommendations about the future of council housing. From reports this morning, it looks as if the report will be a serious blow to the campaign to Defend Council Housing. I didn't catch the details, but in a BBC interview this morning, DHC campaigner Carol Swords was bitterly angry about it, explaining: "Twenty years ago, I was desperate, I needed a home and I got one. What about the person who's desperate tomorrow?" The Mirror's report is unequivocal: 3 million council tenants face boot. They suggest that Ruth Kelly is about to get rid of the right to remain in one's council house for life. I don't know if this is true or not, but it is certainly the case that the government is eager to push privatisation and market housing. It has long been their policy to abolish council housing, and it is expected that Ruth Kelly will raise the spectre of means-testing, so that what they hope is a diminished stock of council housing is reserved for the very poor. It is strange - on the one hand, Kelly's supporters and defenders insist that council housing is a ghetto-ised system, and people need to be freed from it. On the other, the government seems intent on making it more ghetto-ised. Meanwhile, those who aren't sufficiently poor will have to rent or buy on the market, and that'll cost you. It will cost the Treasury too, since they are obliged to subsidise homes for key workers in order that they can subsist. They are also looking at ways to remove rent controls and introduce other market measures into the council housing system.

And no wonder the charity Shelter is worried about housing security: as most experts in the field will tell you, the primary causes of homelessness are a nexus of low wages, benefit shortfalls and the unleashed housing market (indeed, if memory doesn't completely fail me, I believe that precisely such a case was put in a book by two Shelter workers in the mid-1990s). Introducing further insecurity, privatisation and higher rents is bound to exacerate the problem. While the number of rough sleepers has according to official statistics diminished sharply in the last ten years, the number of households recognised as homeless has increased to well over 100,000, and it is estimated that there are 380,000 'hidden' homeless households in the UK at any one time. See Crisis for statistics. Naturally, this is the sort of homelessness that goes through the roof during an economic downturn, when the bastards start reposessing in the hundreds of thousands. It is the pool of people at the bottom of this 'housing ladder' who are most vulnerable that the government wants to expand.

To coincide with today's report, DHC has produced a booklet [PDF], which makes the case for expanded council housing. The report notes that several select committees and the Audit Commission have examined the government's policy of stock transfer and found it bad value for money. It notes that although the government is transferring billions of pounds received from rent to what it claims is 'historic debt', there several billions unaccounted for. What is more, the government is pushing up council rents to match those of the 'social landlord' sector, and introducing separate service charges, all to make transfer more attractive. Not only does this have a devastating effect on tenants on low income, it actually costs the Treasury through increased housing benefits payouts. So, while making off with billions, the government is also going out of its way to subsidise a policy that is costly to millions of council house tenants. And they have the nerve to do so in the name of efficiency: they say that to fund council housing by direct investment would cost £12 billion, adding that this would result in higher interest rates and inflation - and, Ruth Kelly says, raising the spectre of 1979, "get back to the days when we were playing with the stability of the economy". This is a government that wants to spend an additional £70 billion in defense. The Public Accounts Select Committee has already pointed out that stock transfers are more expensive than direct investment, while there have been no official costings to back up this £12 billion figure. Further, if they insist on raising rents, the least they could do is ring-fence the increased income from them for reinvestment in council housing, but they refuse to do so. With matchless venality, this government has bribed, bullied and blackmailed to force through this neoliberal agenda. They have refused to grant repairs and improvements to those tenants who didn't want their homes transferred to Arms Length Management Organisations. They have victimised council workers who oppose their policies. They have been caught engaged in smear tactics against their opponents, deliberate misinformation campaigns where they know they are losing public support.

It's important to bear in mind that in most cases where ballots have been held on stock transfers and privatisation, the public have overwhelmingly opposed it. Labour conferences have opposed it, and the trade unions are opposed to it. 260 MPs have signed an early day motion supporting the DHC campaign and its demands. The government is being defeated left, right and centre, and they're desperate to push ahead with this policy at the expense of local democracy and in the face of all opposition. The only people loudly supporting the government's policy are the Tories and their despicable Shadow Housing Minister, Michael Gove. (Yes, the neoconservative Times columnist). The policy that DHC advocates, which has the backing of MPs, councillors, tenants and trade unionists, is called the 'Fourth Option', and it is staggeringly simple. The government should provide direct investment to fund council housing for the rising number of people who cannot afford to get on the housing ladder and for those who find it impossible to get on it. This could be paid for by ring-fencing all receipts from council housing rent for reinvestment, writing off debt and funding any gap between the resources available to carry out necessary improvements, and those necessary to do so. If the government is prepared to write-off debts on the few occasions when people opt for privatisation or 'social landlords', they should be prepared to do so when tenants prefer public provision. If they want to charge more rent, it should go back into the tenants housing. There shouldn't be any other purpose to charging rent for public housing except improvement and necessary upkeep: it is ours, after all, we own it and all the rents that are paid. This option for funding doesn't even involve significant public expenditure as Ruth Kelly claims, but it would have the effect of allowing for an expansion of socially affordable housing and therefore help reduce rents in the private sector. Who stands to lose from rolling back the tide of this absurd housing market apart from landlords and investors? Why shouldn't there be an expansion of decent, affordable housing with rent tightly controlled and receipts ring-fenced for investment? Why shouldn't there be secure housing universally available?

Anyway, if you don't fancy seeing your wallet grow thinner while the rich grow fatter, I suggest you e-mail your MP and ask if they are supporting Early Day Motion 136. If not, why not? Is your elected public servant really going to let the government get away with transferring more public assets and cash to the rich? There is also a public meeting in the House of Commons tonight.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

US Plans to Attack Iran Revealed. posted by Richard Seymour

It has been an open secret for some time. Intelligence officials, political figures and anonymous spokespeople have briefed and disclosed left, right and centre already. We have the power to strike soon, they have said, and it looks as if we will. The BBC "has learned" that there are contingency plans in place for precisely that: and they don't include merely a few targeted sites, but the entire military infrastructure. Now, American officials tell the BBC that they don't want war, desperately wish for UN sanctions to work, hope that they don't have to...

A good question at this point is who the hell are the permanent members of the security council to censure and sanction the Iranians for enriching uranium? Right now, there is no evidence of anything other than a civilian energy programme being promulgated by what The Sun prefers to call Sunni Iran, but we are right now in the middle of trying to prevent the Prime Minister from investing billions of pounds in a nuclear weapon system that can not only target a few regional foes, but actually wipe out anywhere in the world, rather quickly. The United States has not been above threatening the use of nuclear weapons against Iran. The ultimate, though anticlimactic, irony will be when we discover that the US is in fact sponsoring Sunni insurgents in Iran. It isn't as if they haven't raised the civil war option, is it?

As it stands, Iran has not threatened or invaded another country for a quarter of a millenium (notwithstanding the fabrications about wiping Israel off the map). The idea that this country is a threat to anyone, or that - god save us - its citizens are crying out for liberation, American style, is utterly utterly absurd. It could not be more important to take over London's streets this Saturday.

Meanwhile, David Osler, referring to a debate among socialists about what stance to take on US aggression (I don't believe there is much of a 'debate', in fact), is talking about Third Camps. Further, he tentatively declares his support for the restoration of the Shah as a constitutional monarch (because, like the original Third Campist, he thinks it would open up a breathing space for the left). I only raise it because I expect to hear this brand of nonsense more often. It reflects nothing about the situation in Iran, where the so-called Third Camp are practically non-existent (and I bet you won't find many eager to restore the bloody Shah either), and everything about the political drift of a certain class of former revolutionaries.

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World rejects 'clash of civilisations'. posted by Richard Seymour

New global opinion polls reflect an interesting set of divisions. Far more interesting than the BBC's middle ground, as it happens. In terms of the sources of conflict between 'Islam and the West', most people in most countries believe it is about power and interests, not culture or religion. Insofar as there are conflicts of culture, these are assigned to 'intolerant minorities' (presumably the same minorities who subscribe to the clash of civilisations thesis). Obviously, the terms of the poll are misleading: whose power and interests are they talking about? Why start by positing a conflict between 'Islam and the West'? Is Bandar Bush in conflict with George Walker Saud? Are these 'intolerant minorities' aligned with power, and where? For example, does the President of the United States belong to an intolerant minority? And what would tolerance mean? The Brzezinski Plan? Kissinger Lite? Etcetera.

A couple of points of interest. In some countries, such as Poland and India, there are fewer people who are convinced that this 'conflict between Islam and the West' is about 'power and interests' than in other countries. That said, even fewer believe it is about fundamental cultural conflicts. Muslims (55%) are somewhat more certain than Christians (51%) that the problem mostly derives from political conflict. There are reasons for this that automatically suggest themselves. But here's the thing that stands out to me: in only one country is it believed by most (51%) that a 'violent conflict' between 'Islam and the West' is 'inevitable', and it is Indonesia. Yes, I know, I know: Indonesia is thickly populated with Them. All the pseudo-internationalists remember Bali (but only as far back as 2002). However, Political Islam is far from a mainstream current in Indonesia, and the main Islamist party, the PKS, lost support when its agenda shifted from issues of corruption and democracy to issues of piety (from 10.1% of the votes to 2.7%). Further, most of those questioned there do not put the conflict down to one of 'values', but to 'power and interests'.

I simply raise this because it points to what kind of 'power and interests' we might be talking about. The interviews in Indonesia were conducted in urban clusters (it would be difficult to get in touch with the poor rural communities, and I don't think West Papua or Aceh fell under the survey's remit). On of those clusters was in Surabaya. Another was Bandung. Of course, the main sample was in Jakarta. Respectively, the scene of the heroic routing of Dutch forces (backed by 6,000 British-India troops); the scene of the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference where postcolonial states met to position themselves in the Cold War, which ultimately led to the Non-Aligned Movement; and the centre of the biggest, most intense counterrevolutionary massacre of the 20th Century that inaugurated decades of dictatorship and created the Indonesian warfare-national security state that even today is committing atrocities to keep the sweatshops open for free enterprise. Suharto is gone, but the state has not ceased to be repressive, and the hyper-exploitative arrangements based on the obliteration of organised labour and independent political parties have not gone away. Western governments continue to supply the government with hawk aircrafts, torture equipment, tanks and anti-crowd weapons; Western capital continues to work labour to the bone. (I suppose an example must be the polling organisation used to collect the information, Deka. I don't know if they pay more than the highest minimum wage of $878 a year, or 710,000 rupiah, but market research companies aren't the highest paying outfits in the world even under the best conditions.) In other words, I'm saying that if 51% of Indonesian people feel this way, it probably has to do with persisting and prolonged iniquities that they have suffered, ranging from massacre to torture to slave labour.

Do you see what they mean by 'power and interests'?

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A "perfect Petri dish of capitalism." posted by Richard Seymour

Mike Davis, writing on the November elections, says this about former House leader Tom DeLay:

One of the most savoury moments of the November vote was the election of Nick Lampson to Tom DeLay’s old seat in the 22nd District of Texas. Lampson—a school teacher who was formerly the Democratic congressman from Galveston—had been one of the principal victims of DeLay’s infamous 2003 redistricting of Texas: an unprecedented mid-decade gerrymander that was made possible by the massive and illegally laundered corporate donations that the House Majority Leader had deployed to elect a Republican majority in the Texas Legislature the year before. Thanks to the courage of a local grand jury and Travis County da Ronnie Earle, DeLay was indicted for perjury in September 2005, and soon afterward, under federal investigation for his close ties to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, he was forced to resign his majority leadership, then his congressional seat.

DeLay, of course, was the Robespierre of the 1994 ‘Republican Revolution’, perhaps the most ruthless crusader for one-party government in us history. As one of the co-founders of the so-called ‘K Street Project’, along with Rick Santorum and Grover Norquist, he was notorious for coercing huge campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists (as well as promises to hire only Republicans) in exchange for allowing them to directly write gop legislation. As Majority Leader (or ‘Hammer’ as he was known to Republicans as well as Democrats), he imposed unprecedented ideological discipline on the gop (even defying a White House attempt to give a small tax break to low-income families) while slashing at every vestige of bipartisanship and collegial civility. In partnership with the infamous Abramoff, he was also the advocate of the sleaziest causes in the Capitol, ranging from support for indentured labour in the sweatshop paradise of the Northern Marianas (a US territory without the protection of us labour laws) to under-the-table favours for a giant Russian corporation that in turn kicked back money to DeLay-related causes.

"Indentured labour", you say? Yes, DeLay famously declared that the government of the Northern Marianas was "a shining light for what is happening in the Republican Party, and you represent everything that is good about what we're trying to do in America in leading the world in the free-market system". He added that it was a "perfect Petri dish of capitalism". There, the boss can force you to have an abortion, because giving birth interrupts the labour process. You are effectively indentured since, although you are hired on a one-year contract, you have to pay a recruitment fee to the people who put you in contact with the company, and food and housing expenses to the company itself. They don't pay you enough per day, and there aren't enough work days in the year, to be able to pay it back in a year. And you're lucky if they bother to pay you at all. Their t-shirts say 'Made in the USA', and if GOP and financial lobbyists who work through people like DeLay had their way, there wouldn't be a single law to prevent it in the mainland.

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Reds posted by Richard Seymour

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The annual hunger holocaust. posted by Richard Seymour

18,500 kids a day starve to death, that's roughly 6.6 million a year. 850 million children go to bed without food in their stomachs each night. Associated Press gives it five short paragraphs.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Racism and the uses of 'genocide'. posted by Richard Seymour

The UN warns of a Rwanda-style genocide in Chad. The claim comes from Matthew Conway, a UNHCR worker, who happens to be a regular writer on this topic for the almost defunct Labour-left paper, The Tribune. But let me sample the BBC's report:

Eastern Chad and Darfur have a similar ethnic make-up, with nomadic Arab groups and black African farmers both seeking access to land and scarce water points.

Our reporter [Orla Guerlin] says the violence in Chad follows the same pattern as in Darfur - mostly Arabs on camels and horseback attacking non-Arab villages.

Without an international protection force, there is no-one to stop the Janjaweed, she says.

A similar report from Stephanie Hancock for Reuters says:

Bandala is one of dozens of villages that have been attacked in a wave of inter-ethnic violence pitting Arabs and black Africans that has displaced 120,000 civilians in eastern Chad. At least 70 of the villages attacked have also been torched.

This terminology, as I pointed out elsewhere is pernicious twaddle. As far as Darfur is concerned: "Both groups are African, both are black, both are Muslims and both are Darfurians." As Alex De Waal pointed out, depicting the conflict in this way was also tactically useful for the Khartoum government: "While insisting that the conflict is tribal and local, it turns the moral loading of the term 'Arab' to its advantage, by appealing to fellow members of the Arab League that Darfur represents another attempt by the west (and in particular the U.S.) to demonize the Arab world." Far more importantly, this focus on marauding Arab militias, racialises a multifaceted struggle that is political and economic in origins.

For instance, what could be happening in Chad aside from the Janjawid militias alleged by Idriss Deby to be supported in their attacks by Khartmoum? Well, there are two rebellions going on, one against the Chad government, and the other against the government of the Central African Republic: both staes were former French colonies, and both regimes are currently supported by French troops. (Remember this when Jacques Chirac begs Sudan to accept an 'international force' in Western Darfur). While the claims the rebels make against the regimes they oppose are often legitimate, they are not necessarily any more charming themselves. General Francois Bozize is a dictator, and Idriss Deby is corrupt (and has a bloody history), but in both cases, their armed opponents represent rival power factions. In Chad, the opposition parties boycotted the recent election when Deby decided to amend the constitution to allow himself to stand for a third time, and attempted a coup some weeks before the latest election which saw Deby confirmed as leader.

Then of course, there is oil. I said, oil. That's right, oil. The Chad-Cameroon pipeline deal, financed and supported by the World Bank with Exxon and Chevron the main partners, has been central to the insurrection in Chad. The oil ought to enrich Chadians, who are among the poorest people in the world, but two factors are thus far stopping this. On the one hand, Deby reneged on an agreement to use 80% of the revenues for development programmes, so that he could pour money into his own pockets and purchase arms. On the other hand, the agreement itself is horrendous, preventing both Chad and Cameroon governments from passing social and environmental regulatory laws should they impede upon the profits of the key operators in the project, namely the oil companies. Deby's opponents have attempted to capitalise on his corruption, accusing him of stealing Chad's money. They might, in this fashion, succeed in winning over some popular support.

As in Darfur, the conflicts in Chad and the CAR do not resolve into simple ethnic boundaries: rebels in Chad and the CAR are both Arab and non-Arab, Muslim and non-Muslim. In the case of the Chadian rebels, they include ethnic Mimi and Wadai. They are both attacking Arabs and non-Arabs. By the same token, much of Deby's support has come from Chadian Arab groups, with whom he launched his successful coup against the Habre government. Chad's rebels have happily accepted an alliance with Khartoum's militias who themselves are trained and penetrated by Sudanese government paramilitaries. In the same way, Sudanese rebel groups have accepted help from Chad, who have allowed them to operate in the east of the country. The recent agreement by the governments of the CAR, Chad and Sudan to stop supporting rebel movements in one another's territories can be taken as a collective admission of guilt on that front. As Amnesty International suggests: "Both the Sudan and Chad governments are taking advantage of conflict between different ethnic Chadian communities over access to land, water, livestock and other resources by arming them and using them to attack targeted civilian groups."

The suggestion of an impending Rwandan-style genocide is at this moment a colossal overstatement. As it stands, the three governments have reached agreement (this was negotiated by France) and the rebels in Chad have signed a peace deal with their government. They have accepted a 'beefed up' African Union presence. It is unlikely that this will automatically dissipate the violence if it does so at all, but the indication that genocide is imminent is nonetheless curious. No one but Matthew Conway has made the claim (even though it has been widely attributed to "the UN"), and there is no clear basis for such a comparison: Rwanda's genocide did unfold in the context of a civil war in which Western powers backed different sides, but it was a premeditated, conscious act of annihilation which was prepared for with noxious propaganda and carried out with ruthless efficiency in the space of a hundred days. What is happening in Chad is an attempt by disgruntled elements to sieze power by the most ruthless means possible, and this is interlocking with military rivalries between it and the Sudanese government. If there is a slaughter remotely comparable in scale and intensity, it is the killing of up to four million people in the DRC by various forces including those despatched by Rwanda's Paul Kagame, but why insist on similitude? And why the media insistence on this simplistic racist narrative of 'Arabs' attacking 'Africans'?

In a continent that is being torn apart by Western armies and mercenaries, client dictatorships, and feuds between rival power centres, all over the immense material resources of oil, platinum, cobalt, coltan, diamonds etc, why is it necessary to distill conflict into some cultural essence, as a pathological abberation rather than an outgrowth of the system? How will they explain the violence in the Nigerian oil delta, I wonder? There, oppositional militias are emerging against Olusẹgun Ọbasanjọ's Shell-backed dictatorial control over the region. Mysteriously, the President received almost 100% of the votes in the delta region at the last election - and now some of the gangs that he used to suppress the political opposition, steal ballot boxes and rig the election, are moving against him because he did not honour his promises to them. Meanwhile, much of the opposition to the regime is coming from Muslims in the north of the country: will this be depicted as a Bin Ladenist incursion, in the same way that we are now being told that the Islamic Courts movement in Somalia is an Al Qaeda conspiracy? Is this ultimately what the 'Clash of Civilisations' thesis is for?

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