Thursday, January 31, 2008

Celebrating the Tet Offensive posted by Richard Seymour

It started forty years ago today:

Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh! He's the one that filled you in!

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The other Cairo Conference posted by Richard Seymour

Western television viewers and newspaper readers would be hard-pressed to know too much about the Cairo process. Have you even heard of it? Well, for a while now, US negotiators, the Iraqi puppet government, and representatives of the Iraqi resistance, have been meeting in Cairo for talks. The blog missing links, which usefully translates stories in Arabic for English-speakers, has been covering this for a while.

Although many resistance groups are opposed to the process, and many of the same Baathists whom the US has been courting are not engaging, it does look like a serious diplomatic 'surge' (odd, is it not, how addictive these propaganda cliches are). Several groups are involved, including the Sadrists (whose strategy has always been somewhat opportunistic, a syncopated enterprise of resistance and collaboration, of nationalism and occasional sectarianism). Ibrahim Jafaari is now talking to the resistance. Jafaari, of course, was deposed as leader of the Dawa Party and as Prime Minister of Iraq last year when Bush pulled the plug on the old geezer, despite the fact that he was approved by the Assembly. There are rumours that this is because he admits to being partial to Noam Chomsky. That can get you into a lot of trouble. Anyway, he is now the front man for a US-led negotiation process.

Now, it seems to me that one obvious conclusion is that for all the talk of success in the last few months of 2007, there is absolutely no confidence on the US side that this is likely to be enduring. In fact, a recent increase in attacks suggests that the temporary lull in attacks on US troops, won through a combination of bribery in some areas, escalation in others, and decisively redirecting Sunni fire onto 'Al Qaeda' (which is the name any gang of petty ultra-sectarian thugs gives itself these days in order to look well-hard), is coming to an end.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Gaza is quite a dynamic place now" posted by Richard Seymour

Eyad Sarraj:

Well, most people are not in Gaza at the moment. Some say that almost 700,000 people have been traveling in and out of Egypt. Gaza is flooded with the things that Israel did not allow us to have before and people are swarming to the markets to buy computers, cement, lamps, oil, fuel and even windows. When Israel bombed the deserted Palestinian interior ministry (on 18 January 2008), all the windows in the surrounding [3] buildings were shattered. With no windows allowed in from Israel, they could not replace them before, but now there are new windows in place.

Everything is available in the market [4] now. From forty NIS [5] ($10.8) a packet, cigarettes are now down to six. There is chocolate for the children. People are almost euphoric since they can get out of the prison, even if it is only for a short respite. People go to El-Arish for a picnic, eat fish there and spend a couple of hours. Families sometimes go for the day and come back at night. Gaza is quite a dynamic place now.

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Israel blocks aid to Gaza posted by Richard Seymour

Of course, in this case, they're more worried about the public appearance of solidarity than the aid itself.

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Confirmed: over 1 million violent deaths in Iraq posted by Richard Seymour

ORB has produced more research on deaths in Iraq:

Following responses to ORB’s earlier work, which was based on survey work undertaken in primarily urban locations, we have conducted almost 600 additional interviews in rural communities. By and large the results are in line with the ‘urban results’ and we now estimate that the death toll between March 2003 and August 2007 is likely to have been of the order of 1,033,000. If one takes into account the margin of error associated with survey data of this nature then the estimated range is between 946,000 and 1,120,000.

This is only an imprecise register of overall deaths, in no way as rigorous as the two Johns Hopkins studies (Lancet 1 & Lancet 2 for short). Until a further epidemiological survey is carried out, it's probably the best figure available. I would point out that the data provided [pdf] breaks down the sources of death in a fashion approximately similar to Lancet 2 [pdf]. Intriguingly, it has a separate category for "sectarian violence" to which it attributes only 4% of violent deaths. Perhaps this reflects the fact that much of what is reported as 'sectarian' violence is in fact the body count from paramilitary probes into communities by coalition appendages such as the police commandos. On the other hand, how is a 'sectarian' death by gunshot separable from an 'ordinary' death by gunshot? To put it a different way, gun-fire is a means of killing and sectarian violence is a mode of killing. The category doesn't belong in the same list and would probably invite confusion.

Aside from gunfire (40%), the biggest category of deaths is attributed to car bombings (21%). As I understand it, the more you break these figures down, the less accurate they become. If the overall figure is accurate to a 95% confidence level, that doesn't mean the figure for car bombings is accurate to the same level. However, all surveys register a high proportion of deaths from car bombings. If the trends in this survey hold, you are talking about 200,000 deaths from this tactic alone. If the trend in Lancet 2 holds, it would be closer to 130,000. Either way, it is spectacularly large and points to an intense war on various fronts that - even though car bombs draw more attention than other forms of death - is still airbrushed from general view. Both a weapon of state terror and the poor man's airforce, the weapon is effective, but also deadly. As Mike Davis put it, the car bomb is a weapon whose use is "guaranteed to leave its perpetrators awash in the blood of innocents", a "categorical censure" that applies "even more forcefully to the mass terror against civilian populations routinely inflicted by the air forces and armies of so-called 'democracies'". Not least because those air forces and armies are the instigators, originators and pioneers of the destruction of Iraq.

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

George Habash 1925-2008 posted by Richard Seymour

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Torture Fashion posted by Richard Seymour

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Benazir Bhutto, the Fairytale Princess. posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by Ajit Hegde:

Who gets a profit out of it? Nobody but a parcel of usurping little monarchs and nobilities who despise you; would feel defiled if you touched them; would shut the door in your face if you proposed to call; whom you slave for, fight for, die for, and are not ashamed of it, but proud; whose existence is a perpetual insult to you and you are afraid to resent it; who are mendicants supported by your alms, yet assume toward you the airs of benefactor toward beggar; who address you in the language of master to slave, and are answered in the language of slave to master; who are worshiped by you with your mouth, while in your heart -- if you have one -- you despise yourselves for it.

-- Mark Twain in Mysterious Stranger

Benazir Bhutto's life can be regarded as a microcosm of Third World liberal aristocracy's betrayal of their Countries. The sordid record liberal aristocracy which she represented can be summed up as follows.

(1) Gain power promising people liberation from their sorry state of affairs and outright destitution.

(2) When in power , simply betray people who believed them and elected them, Indulge in obscene levels of corruption, behave as if the people who elected you simply doesn't exist.Build a cult of personality which may make even Stalin green with envy.

(3) Get kicked out of power, sometimes by rightwing political parties , sometimes the military.

(4) Start all over again.

The vicious cycle continues, Ad Nauseum.

This has been the story, more or less, of the South Asian nations like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. If anyone is responsible for driving the people of these countries into the hands of diabolical religious fundamentalists of all sorts, then it should be the Liberal Aristocrats like Bhutto of these countries. In India, this role is played by Congress Party, the family heirloom of Nehru Gandhi Family. In Pakistan It is Pakistan People's Party(PPP), the family heirloom of Bhutto Family.

Third world Aristocrats are the kind who helped the Westerners of a bygone era to loot their countries and then simply took over when the Westerners shuffled home.

Benazir and her fellow Aristocrats of every country have only contempt for the masses. We are fooling ourselves if we think they really care for us. For them, the masses are simply raw materials for their boundless ambitions. They are egomaniacs with a sense of entitlement. I have seen quite a few aristocrats in my life. Whatever difference they may have there are some things which are surprisingly consistent. It is their contempt for the masses. Of course they wouldn't talk down to people like they do to their servants in public. It would be suicidal to do so. But now and again, there is some story about them which gives an insight into the mindset of these elites.

A couple of examples would suffice to show the nature of Benazir's relationship with the masses she claimed to represent.

(1) Fawzia Afzal Khan who teaches at Montclair State University was a student in Radcliffe College when Benazir came there to give a speech. After listening to a particularly unimpressive speech Fawzia and others stayed in the lecture hall to ask her some questions. When her turn came Fawzia asked a rather innocuous question "what was her election platform or manifesto by which one could gauge the sincerity and depth of her commitment to a truly democratic agenda?" Fawzia describes Benazir's reaction.

"I thought she was about to have an epileptic seizure by the way her eyes glazed over, then started to turn bloodshot, and the foam began forming at the corners of her bright red lips ... She virtually spat out her answer, anger and arrogance on display in every word she uttered. 'Do you know who I am?' incredulity at my naivete hissing through her words. 'Cassettes of my speeches sell like hotcakes in every market in Pakistan,' and when my expression must have betrayed some level of incomprehension, she lashed out, 'that means the people of Pakistan love me, they know how I have suffered for them when I was jailed following my father's execution, just because as his daughter and the one groomed to be a future leader of Pakistan, the army just could not take the chance of my being free to assume that mantle.' Her final comment to me-which led to a young man standing next to me pulling me away and advising me to leave before things got really ugly-was something to the effect that she would 'see me outside.' Was that a veiled threat, in the manner of a feudal lord to a servant who has spoken out of line, or an invitation to speak to her 'outside' after the evening was over?" (Fawzia Afzal Khan, Counterpunch, 29/20 December 2007)

(2) Owen Bennet Jones, a BBC Journalist, once visited Benazir's ancestral Home in Larkana, Sindh. After having the dinner with 40 people, Benazir moved into a large hall. Read what happened later in his own words, "On the outer fringes of the throng around Benazir Bhutto that night in Larkana eight years ago were the local villagers who had somehow blagged their way in. They were welcome enough - as long as they stayed in their place. But one had a camera and took a picture. The flash had not even faded away before - with a ferocious imperious expression - Benazir Bhutto pointed in his general direction. Her minders, who had obviously been mingling in the crowd for just such an eventuality, wrestled him to the ground, grabbed his camera, ripped out the film and hurled him out of the door into the courtyard. I looked at her surprised, shocked." (Owen Bennett Jones, 'Face to Face with Benazir Bhutto', 29 December 2007)

Thus the so called saviour of democracy treated her alleged equals. It is not much different from what a Feudal lord in Europe might have done in his heyday. She was simply a pathetic woman who had no concern for the millions of her countrymen and women who live a life of destitution. She proved it again and again. Life is too short. We wouldn't give a benefit of doubt to a used car salesman or a conman who has already deceived us once. Why not do the same in politics, a far more important arena than personal finance? Benazir got two chances. That was one too many in my books. She screwed up both times.

There is a lot of talk about Benazir's courage. Even some leftist commentators are saying she was a woman of great personal courage. For them I can only quote Gore Vidal who said "There is something strangely infantile in this obsession with dice-loaded physical courage when the only courage that matters in political or even 'real' life is moral." Benazir and courage. The word courage is disgraced and degraded by such uses. Actually they are misdiagnosing her. It was not courage but a gambler taking his or her chances. Politics, especially in a country like India and Pakistan, is a dangerous business. If you win you will rule like a Roman Emperor or Empress. If you lose there is a high probability of going bust.

Now the word comes Benazir has appointed her 19 year old son as her heir to Pakistan People's Party(PPP) in her will. Just like her father gave her the PPP. Kind Reader, when I see this I am reminded of Karl Marx's aphorism about History repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. If Bill Clinton or George Bush did such things in their will I am sure there will be howls of derision across America.

The people of India, Pakistan or for that matter any other nation must wise up quickly. They should not degrade themselves by giving free rein to discredited autocrats who treat their parties as their personal property. At least Musharraf, that megalomaniac general, gave his country a whole new crop of leaders, albeit unintentionally. Musharraf sacked the Chief Justice of Pakistan in March 2007. But the Judge didn't simply walk away. He decided to fight his unjust dismissal. His rather extraordinary courage in resisting the dreaded Generals inspired an entire nation to wake up from it's slumber. The lawyers were at the forefront of the movement. There were pitched battles between Musharraf's goons aka Army and Police on one side and the Lawyers on the other.

It was possibly the most extraordinary movement of people in that country's history. The lawyers actually won the battle. Emboldened by the resistance of lawyers the supreme court judges threw out Musharraf's case against the Chief Justice. Never before in history the Supreme Court of Pakistan dared to disobey the Military Masters. The Lawyers movement threw up a number of potential leaders who offer a real alternative to the Bhutto clan. Aitzaz Ahsan (he was actually Benazir's lawyer), Ali Ahmad Kurd, Munir Malik all of them played major role in resisting the Generals. Nobody in Pakistan's history has addressed the military overlords in such belligerent tone on live TV as Ali Ahmad Kurd. Kurd is the man who literally held the audience spellbound with his oratorical skills.

"He is not a man who has no passion, and that passion is useless that does not challenge general Pervez Musharraf. Enough of this fooling around! Enough of this fooling around! Today a man on the basis of his arrogance! Today a man on the basis of his haughtiness has dared to challenge the Chief Justice of Pakistan. If you are men you'll stay in the battlefield and not turn your back."

“Today, Pervez Musharraf has again said that no reference (against Chief Justice of Pakistan) will be withdrawn. When did we ask you to withdraw the reference? We say it is a war! It is a war! If you (Pervez Musharraf) are in your uniform, then so are we (the lawyers). Come fight us! Come fight us! No power in this world can defend this reference." (Read more about this extraordinary man).

Any society should be proud of people like Kurd. It takes guts to challenge the Generals of Pakistan who have time and again proved they have no compunction in shedding the blood of their own countrymen.

It is true Musharraf quickly hit back within a couple of months. And sacked the reinstated Chief Justice , purged the Supreme Court and imprisoned his Lawyers. But it is more like the final desperate attempt by a cornered crook to hang on to power. The Lawyers and others will definitely fight back. And what did Benazir do for her country's most extraordinary movement against the Rulers? Well, She didn't even lift her pinkie to support the lawyers' movement. She actually was busy cutting deals with Musharraf at that time.

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The Gazan "Shopping Spree" posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by EasyWind:

The sad old saga of what passes for news in the United States is highlighted (or in this case, circled with a red crayon) in the accompanying image.

Starving masses under siege break through the wall enclosing them, and the American journal of record talks about shopping sprees, as if there was some mythical Nordstrom's or Macy's in the desert beyond the wall, staffed presumably by Egyptian conscripts in tasteful couture, their caps scented with high notes of peach.

Meanwhile in Israel, the sabers are rattling, rattling, rattling. The Gaza situation is ranked as having "middling" importance by the left-wingers (because starving millions of Gazans is not against their
ethical standards) and welcomed by the Israeli right wingers, who seem overjoyed at the opportunity to get the occupier's responsibility for Palestinians off their hands.

But it isn't just the right wingers. There has been, this week, a shift toward war rhetoric among some of the journalists on the left, ones who frequently reflect the mood of that nation. There is a campaign of interviews with soldiers talking about how they'll do to Gaza what they couldn't do in Lebanon (seen on Ynet -link in Hebrew), and fear mongering about expected attacks on Israelis in the Sinai are being bandied about widely (link in Hebrew).

All that, and starving masses obtaining food through a walled enclosure are on a "shopping spree". Historians of the future, take note: spinning the ghetto break as "shopping" reflects a mood of the moment. Evil is as banal as it ever was.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Up in Flames posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by redbedhead:

When the US Federal Reserve Bank decides to cut interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point, between meetings, that’s what you call the smoke that tells you there’s a fire. This is the first time that the Fed has cut rates at an emergency meeting since September 2001, after the World Trade Center attacks. And it’s the biggest single cut in interest rates since 1982. And word is that there will be another half percentage point cut by the end of the month if this adrenaline shot to the heart attack patient doesn’t revive it. But a lot of folks are worried it’s too little too late and that the economy is already in a self-reinforcing downward spiral.

A look at the numbers certainly would indicate that things are not good:

“U.S. payrolls rose by 18,000 in December, capping the worst year for job creation since 2003, and unemployment jumped to a two-year high of 5 percent, according to Labor Department figures released Jan. 4.
“The housing slump also deepened last month, with home construction falling 14 percent. Starts were down 25 percent for all of last year, concluding the worst year for the industry since Jimmy Carter was president. Sales of previously owned homes also slid in December, as single-family property prices posted their first annual decline since the Great Depression, the National Association of Realtors said today.”

Claims that the US isn’t already in recession are belied by these kinds of numbers and the panic that’s setting in on stock markets and in government. The degree of slowdown isn’t known yet but what is known is that it is greater than they’re saying. The stats for the third quarter in the US indicated that growth had “rebounded” to 3.9% but once inflation and population were factored in, it was actually closer to 1.5%. The fourth quarter numbers haven’t been released yet but don’t be surprised if we’re already in a contraction. In the face of this unfolding debacle the US government has also stepped in with its own $150 billion economic stimulus package. However, that package is entirely in the form of tax rebates of up to $600 per head, plus $300 per child. In other words a family of four that earns a household income of less than $75,000 would get a cheque for $1,800.

Now, $1,800 is nothing to sneeze at and it shows what bogus are the claims of from politicians and economists that the market should rule. $150 billion dollars is a big interference in the market. But the package specifically doesn’t include extending unemployment benefits or granting more food stamps. US rulers live in fear that workers in the US will get uppity or decide that the poverty of unemployment insurance is better than their shitty, soul-destroying and/or dangerous job.

There’s a problem here though and it is two-fold. The basis for restoring the US economy is consumer spending, which makes up 70% of GDP. But the trouble is that consumers have no more cash. In fact, they are drowning in debt, which has been increasing at a rate of 7.5% per year since 1997. In that time the amount of household debt has increased from $8 to $14 trillion dollars. In other words household debt as a percentage of GDP has rocketed from 66% to around 95%.

And not surprisingly, debt servicing payments are now at record highs. I haven’t even gotten into the massive and ballooning US government debt, which is headed towards $10 trillion. The point of all this is that the $1,800 that family of four is about to get in the mail is probably going to go on paying down the credit card to ease the interest burden. This is especially the case since some see house prices declining by 20 to 30 percent, which means that any further credit against home value will have dried up for a lot of Americans.

And credit card payments are not an economic stimulus – that’s just paying for old growth, not creating new growth. So, the layoffs will continue, which will reduce demand and create more layoffs. Giving out money is also stupid economics. $150 billion dollars that is dedicated towards specific employment projects, such as they had in the 1930s is a much more efficient way to spend money than to just throw it in the air. Economic enterprises have multiplier effects on the economy – building the Hoover dam gave jobs to thousands of workers, those workers spent money, the project bought equipment and raw materials, those materials had to be shipped, etc. Of course, other than in the field of military spending, this doesn’t fit with the neo-liberal consensus. What does that mean – the shithouse is going up in flames and they’ve locked us inside.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Respect and the GLA Elections posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by EastIsRed.

Last Saturday, around fifty activists crammed into one of the University of London Union's third-floor rooms to discuss the Respect campaign for the Greater London Assembly elections. The size of the meeting, and the geographical breadth it represented, came as a very pleasant surprise to many. Branches had sent on or two delegates each, which meant that the meeting represented a large and geographically diverse range of branches. Even areas where we are relatively weak, like south-east London, had some representation. Despite the internal arguments of the last few months, Respect activists across London were prepared to throw themselves into the campaign.

Because the possibilities remain: from the incipient recession, to the continuing occupation of Iraq , the space for a non-Labour left has expanded as perhaps never before. One important indicator is that those representing Old Labour values and significant social forces, previously tied exclusively to Labour, have seen where Brown is taking the Party, and have started to look elsewhere – not necessarily to Respect, naturally, but outside of Labour's thinning ranks.

So the large turnout was important. This was pretty much the first chance for Respect activists to meet up since "Respect Renewal" split from the organisation, and the first that provided the opportunity for a serious discussion of our strategy. George Galloway's exit from Respect had proved a distraction from real political work.

Discussion centred on two main points: first, a broad look at our strategy in the campaign; second, getting down to the hard slog of building an organisation and campaigning on the ground. The London elections are complex, by British standards: there's a mayor and a GLA to vote for. Each uses a somewhat different electoral system: you cast a first preference and a second preference for mayor, but you vote for a constituency candidate and then a party list for the GLA.

The party list vote is used to ensure the proportion of seats on the GLA matches parties' proportions of the citywide vote, and so smaller parties can manage to get a seat with a good poll across London. And – importantly – the preference system in the mayoral vote means you can vote for the candidate you actually like, followed by the candidate that will keep the Tories out – current mayor, Ken Livingstone. As he said, back in 2004, calling for a second preference Livingstone vote allowed Lindsey German and Respect to "campaign for her political position without risking a Tory victory."

This matters, because Livingstone's posse have been putting the word out that a left-wing challenge to the incumbent mayor will let the Conservatives take power in London. Either they don't understand the voting system or, more likely, they are being totally disingenuous: standing in the mayoral contest provides a brilliant platform for a candidate, with invites to hustings, media interviews, and so on, as well as London-wide mailshot of the candidate's manifesto. You don't get any of this if you just stand for the Greater London Assembly – a credible campaign for the GLA, in other words, absolutely demands that you also stand a candidate for mayor.

If you're pessimistic about building a non-Labour left, or simply wedded to the Labour Party, a credible campaign by the non-Labour left is the last thing you want to see. But Livingstone needs a left-wing challenge. His combination of nice noises about the war with appeasement for the City of London deserves to meet some opposition from the Left. It's absurd that Livingstone's (correct and necessary) opposition to Islamophobia should be taken as the only test he needs to pass; actually, this is the minimum we should be expecting from the "socialist" mayor of one of the most unequal cities in Europe. We simply have to raise our sights, and start to challenge the revolting concentrations of wealth, power and privilege that exist in London and across the UK.

Respect is unique in being the only electable organisation standing in these elections with anything worthwhile to say about the economy and, in particular, the City. No-one else will touch the bankers and the speculators: Livingstone has bent over backwards to accomodate them for the last eight years; Johnson doubtless fagged for a few at Eton; and the Lib Dems are firmly committed to the City's agenda, proposing (amongst other things) to ban strikes for public sector workers. Even the Green Party in London , as far as can be told, has said nothing on the issue.

So on what is fast becoming the most decisive political question – and the economy is a political question, whatever our neoliberal friends say – the main parties are in consensus: no challenge to the City, no change to the status quo.

This is hugely to Respect's advantage. There's a crying need for someone to stand up to the sort of free-market vanishing-point lunacy that has just seen the Government desperately bribing fat cats with our money to take Northern Rock off its hands. Livingstone and the London Labour Party aren't going to.

Of course, the recent attacks on Livingstone have been unfair: in many ways, I can't think of a better Mayor for the City, one better able to soft-soap his left-leaning constituents into accepting a London Plan written fundamentally entirely around the City's needs, or into tolerating a chief economic advisor (John Ross) who sings the praises of hedge funds. Former Tory candidate Stephen Norris couldn't do it: much of London would be up in arms if this king of PFI tried anything similar. Likewise for Johnson. That Livingstone's vision for the capital has effectively collapsed into City boosterism is a terrible shame – it's not particularly surprising since he's pulled, especially, by his ties to New Labour - but it is still a shame.

As such, there's an air of unreality about the politically unhinged Martin Bright laying into Livingstone for being too left-wing. It goes without saying that Livingstone needs defending from the red-baiting filth Bright and his new Tory friends are hawking about: Bright, this professional Islam-basher and habitual friend of the hard Right, should be treated with the contempt he richly deserves. It should go without saying, too, that Livingstone deserves any left-winger's second preference – better a London mayor who opposes the Iraq war and racism, than a racist who militantly supported the invasion of Iraq. It's perfectly obvious which one is closer to ordinary Londoners.

There's an argument out there that the Left shouldn't even stand against Livingstone for precisely those reasons. It was kind of "Respect Renewal" to confirm everything we said about their split from Respect by having their leadership come out in wholehearted support of Labour's candidate for Mayor. It's perfectly clear, now, that what took place was a left-right split: one side wanted an independent, non-Labour organisation of the Left; the other side was quite prepared to compromise with New Labour, even to the point of ducking key political questions. And the outbreaks of bafflement and consternation amongst the waifs and strays on what we must suppose is Renewal's left-wing show exactly why a new formation of the Left needs a leadership accountable to its members – which was, of course, precisely the point.

Although I strongly suspect those elements of Renewal's leadership now trooping off rightwards to a happy marriage with New Labour would dearly love to really trash Respect on the way, they're not in a good position to do so: they've ruled out a mayoral candidate and they're only standing one constituency candidate in the GLA. However, they've put the word out that George Galloway will be heading up an anti-Respect GLA slate.

This may just be an attempt to put the frighteners on Respect, because it looks distinctly cack-handed otherwise: aside from the lopsidedness of supporting Livingstone, but then opposing his party, I will be amazed if they can mobilise the sort of London-wide political resources they need to run a convincing campaign across the city – especially without the added publicity of a mayoral candidate. One of the perils of relying too heavily on local opportunism is that you end up with the bulk of your membership scarcely bothered by what happens on the other side of Whitechapel High Street, let alone Norwood or Uxbridge.

Last April, when Lindsey German was selected unanimously by a meeting of more than 300 Respect members, the arguments were very different. Responding to a Morning Star editorial, which opposed a Respect mayoral bid, George Galloway MP and Lindsey German wrote a 900 word reply, which the Morning Star reprinted. They expressed surprise that the Star would urge a "free run" for Livingstone. "The Respect candidate came fifth in the last election, beating both the British National Party and the Greens. Yet you do not direct your appeal to the Green Party, which could also be accused of splitting the vote." Further:

The electoral system for London mayor actually makes it very hard for the vote to be split, since it operates on the basis of transfers - all candidates bar the top two have their second preference vote distributed to eventually determine the winner. Respect's candidate was the only one to call clearly for transfers to Ken in 2004 and more than a quarter of those voters responded - a relatively high proportion. And there is no reason to suppose that, if Respect does not stand, its voters will turn out in a greater proportion than our transfers and vote for Ken.

They stressed the importance of a "strong left voice" being expressed on "the issues facing Londoners - the acute housing crisis, which is not being dealt with, the transport system, which is both the most expensive and one of the worst in the world, the privatisation of the East London Line and the business agenda, which is making London a worse place for many of the poor to live". And they added:

Many Londoners are dissatisfied with the record of new Labour in government and will not turn out to vote Labour in the numbers that they once did. A vote for Respect by these people will help the left and can help Ken by lifting the left vote overall from people who might otherwise abstain.

A good vote for Respect will also help to keep the fascist BNP off the assembly. More votes for new Labour will not keep the BNP off the assembly, because the proportional representation system favours the election of smaller parties. So, the only way of keeping the BNP off is to vote for a left-wing, smaller party.

Respect is the obvious candidate for this vote - but its chances will be undermined without the publicity that comes from standing a mayoral candidate.

These arguments are as incisive today as they were in April. The difference is that George Galloway and his supporters are no longer making them. No matter. Respect, as the GLA meeting showed, has activists in place from Newham to Neasden. Reports across the city are promising: Respect members are involved in campaigns to defend victimised trade unionists, against council house stock transfer, and against city academies. In Waltham Forest, north-east London, we face an immediate electoral challenge with a local council by-election. There are very good reason to think we can get a credible vote. There's no guarantee about this, especially with Labour and the Lib Dems throwing themselves into the contest, but if our candidate, Carole Vincent, can get the sort of vote Respect has been achieving up and down the country, we'll be on target for the GLA. (Anybody wanting to help with the campaign can find details here.)

Lindsey German was, after all, just 4,000 votes short of election last time round – and that was when Respect was just a few months old. We beat the BNP and even the Greens into 6th and 7th places on the mayoral vote. Just 0.43% more of the vote would've lifted Lindsey over the magic 5% hurdle, and onto the GLA.

Around 23% of our vote came from the City and East constituency, where Galloway currently has his only activist base. Even if half of that vote disappears as a result of the split, a good campaign across the rest of London still puts the GLA well within our grasp. There is not only a need but a real thirst for a left-wing challenge to the neoliberal consensus. It can be seen all over: from the sold-out film-showing we held last Sunday, to the excellent recent attendances for Respect meetings across the country.

We've also had vastly more experience running elections now, and have a hugely higher brand recognition, and a significantly larger membership and activist base. The split has damaged us, of course, but not as much as might be supposed: and, remember, we elected our first councillor a long time before we elected George Galloway. It was impossible to come away from the GLA planning meeting without thinking that we were in with a shout, giving a voice to the hundreds of thousands of ordinary, working-class Londoners excluded by all the main parties.

The Respect GLA campaign launch is a week today, Thursday, 31 January, at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square WC1, from 7.30pm. If you want an alternative in London to the parties of neoliberalism and war, you need to be there.

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Lebanon Strike posted by Richard Seymour

Via 3arabawy and Sursock, I hear that there's a general strike in Lebanon. Apparently, the army are being sent in to, er, keep order. Though I've seen no indication that Hezbollah are backing the strikes themselves, pro-American commentators are blaming Hezbollah for the general sense of disorder. The truth is that Hezbollah have been extraordinarily tentative about the effective collapse of the government, and are rather too reluctant to rock the boat.

Check out Sursock and 3arabawy for updates.

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Beyond the Ken posted by Richard Seymour

Look, if anyone asks, I wasn't here. I'm busy. I have things to do. But as it's my coffee-break, allow me to expatiate a bit on this nasty little witch-hunt against London mayor Ken Livingstone. He is, according to creeps like Martin Bright and the Evening Standard crowd, a drunk, a brawler, a cronyist, a confederate of "Trotskyists" (Socialist Action, a tiny group that operates within the Labour Party), and a collaborator with evil (the Muslim kind). As Seumas Milne points out, where it isn't irrelevant, it's largely reactionary whinging. It isn't the first time there's been a media frenzy over Livingstone's alleged failings. There were the allegations of anti-Semitism from the Evening Standard a while ago when Ken Livingstone compared an Evening Standard reporter to a concentration camp guard and the guy happened to be Jewish. The Sun routinely attacks Livingstone, especially over his "shocking anti-US rants". Labour Friends of Israel once tried to undermine Livingstone's mayoral campaign with a dossier accusing him of an "anti-Zionist bias". But the recent spiral of attacks is designed to ensure he is replaced as London mayor by Boris Johnson. There's a section of New Labour opinion that would rather have four years of the tweedy twit from Henley and then get a proper pro-war Blairite figure selected as the Labour candidate next time round. Nick Cohen is such a one. Amazingly, Johnson was just 1% behind Livingstone in a recent poll.

The mayor of London has one or two things going for him. He has resisted, by and large, the Islamophobic agenda of his opponents. He has opposed the war on Iraq. He cut a nice little oil deal with Hugo Chavez which cut bus fares for low income earners. And even though the congestion charge is unfairly applied it did succeed in reducing traffic in Central London, and he is successfully reducing emissions. He also didn't allow himself to be bullied by the pro-pigeon lobby. These things count. On the other hand, he has largely been a pal to New Labour, ditched his efforts to block tube privatisation, pushed neoliberal fiscal policies, and promoted the interests of the City. He has attacked striking tube workers and called on people to cross picket lines. He smeared the tube driver Chris Barrett who was unfairly sacked by London Underground as a "parasite". He has attacked anticapitalist protesters. He has defended the police who shot Jean Charles De Menezes and particularly the Met Commissioner. While he has promoted the idea of a limited amount of affordable housing - a good idea, but drastically short of what's needed - he has decided to allow the market to determine what counts as "affordable". In fact, he usually gives in to pressure from the Home Builders' Federation, as when he abandoned minimum space requirements that were designed to prevent Londoners being cramped into smaller and smaller homes - this matters a lot when, especially in places like Tower Hamlets, few family-sized homes are built by the private sector, and overcrowding is endemic. I might mention that before he became mayor, Livingstone was one of the most disgusting cheerleaders of the war on Yugoslavia. Livingstone doesn't recognise the category of a principle, and is notorious for flopping left or right depending on the circumstances. As he is a creature of the Labour Party electoral machine, he usually flops to the right. Like I say, his strengths do count - they just don't count for much.

However. Livingstone is much better than his bigoted neoconservative opponent, Boris Johnson. Johnson is not merely an old reactionary racist twit, he is aggressively pro-imperialist, aligned with the Ed Vaizeys and Michael Goves of the Tory party, the Henry Jackson wing. When it comes to a contest with the Tories, there is no contest. The Tomb should have something about the upcoming GLA and mayoral elections shortly. I don't know about you, but I will be voting for Respect candidates where I can. That will include putting my cross beside Stop the War convenor Lindsey German for London mayor. However, I will put Ken Livingstone for my second preference, as I did in 2004. My understanding is that the Respect candidate is urging people who vote for her to put Livingstone as the second preference. Interestingly, when Lindsey German stood in the last mayoral election, Livingstone took the trouble to praise her, noting that the non-sectarian way in which she mobilised "allows her to campaign for her political position without risking a Tory victory". He was right. Lindsey was able to beat both the BNP and the Greens and come out fifth, but at the same time the Tories lost by a decent margin. Backing Livingstone for a second preference, in order to properly campaign on the issues that matter while doing nothing to assist a Johnson victory, is obviously the best way to proceed. But right at this moment, and whatever criticisms are justly levelled at the mayor, I think it obvious that everyone on the Left ought to defend Livingstone against this tetra-tsunami of reactionary twaddle. As you were.

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Left Party rattles the German mainstream parties posted by Richard Seymour

As the Left Party looks to make a historical breakthrough in the Western German state of Hesse, the mainstream parties - particularly the SPD, are looking to exclude them at all costs. This, one of four states being contested this year, is significant because it would be the first time the Left Party has broken through in the West of Germany. The party polls in double digits nationally, with up to 30% in the East and between 6-10% in the West, and may well be able to carry this through into the Bundestag elections next year. In the last elections in 2005, it won 8.7% of the vote and 54 seats, polling particularly strongly in Berlin, Saxony, Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, all in the East. Making it in the West would make it plain that they're here to stay. The SPD, currently in a national coalition with the CDU, says it would rather ally with the right-wing Free Democrats than form any coalition with the Left Party, which is the main national opponent of the 'Agenda 2010' reforms introduced by Schroeder and backed by Merkel. That's what happens when you challenge neoliberalism - the mainstream parties know that they share far more than they let on, and will do anything to avoid a serious challenge to that consensus.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Score one for Hamas posted by Richard Seymour

The Times reckons it has an exclusive:

...a Hamas border guard interviewed by The Times at the border today admitted that the Islamist group was responsible and had been involved for months in slicing through the heavy metal wall using oxy-acetylene cutting torches.

That meant that when the explosive charges were set off in 17 different locations after midnight last night the 40ft wall came tumbling down, leaving it lying like a broken concertina down the middle of no-man's land as an estimated 350,000 Gazans flooded into Egypt.

If that's true, then Hamas have just blown Annapolis out of the water, flipped off the corrupt Fatah leadership, and probably undone several months of vilification. At any rate, many seem eager to credit Hamas:

"I’m Fatah, but today, I wish I could see (Hamas prime minister Ismail) Haniyeh and kiss his forehead, because without the gunmen doing this, we would have been stuck in the Gaza Strip"

But, already, Israel is preparing its own narrative: Palestinians buying diesel is, apparently, a "first class security threat". Yeah, just like tall those children Israel guns down in the streets, often as a sport. Big security risk.

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"Britain's Muslims too Extreme": a mountebank whines. posted by Richard Seymour

Dr Barham Salih of the PUK, deputy prime minister of Iraq, has said that he is "shocked" by the level of extremism among British Muslims:

After visiting mosques in Lancashire, Dr Salih said: "I am not surprised that you British are facing so many problems with extremists after what I saw in those mosques in Blackburn. What I saw would not be allowed in Iraq – it would be illegal."

Very well, then. What sort of things would be allowed in Iraq?

Torture, rape with chemical lights, death by drill, Palestinian hanging, electrocution, burning, tearing off strips of skin, beating, etc etc. No, they don't allow any of that in Blackburn. Perhaps that's what's ailing us. We need a bit of torture in public life to control the restive populace.

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Palestinians break the blockade! posted by Richard Seymour

Tens of thousands of Palestinians, led by women, have broken through the border wall at the Rafah crossing. Hossam el-Hamalawy has some footage here. Yesterday there were some clashes with Mubarak's thugs, but today they forced their way through and are now purchasing desperately needed supplies. They risked attack by Egypt's security forces, which have effectively acted as paid retainers for Washington and Tel Aviv in supporting the blockade. Mubarak has declared a state of emergency, but his thugs haven't dared attack the Palestinians yet. The rebellious Egyptian working class (also with women taking the lead) are sympathetic to the Palestinians, and they may have something to say about their government supporting the Israeli seige.

فلسطين الحرة!!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Back to Basics posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by EasyWind:

Israel's weapons engineers have struck another coup in their long-term quest to produced the biggest and most phallic piece of anti-Palestinian ballistic equipment. Dashing the dreams of satire writers and comedians the world over, the Israeli weapons engineers have obtained one of the more suggestive poses in the history of rocketry.

The screen shot above was clipped of Israeli news portal YNET. The text says:

Exposed[1]: An Israeli Missile Against Hizbullah. First publication: this evening the Stunner missile being developed by the Defense System [2] against the Zilzal and Fajr - the Hizbulla's long-distance rockets - was revealed for the first time. The RAFAEL scientists today showed the Prime Minister the missile, as well as the Kipat Habarzel [3] [which is supposed to work] against the Qassem [missiles]. Olmert: Speed up the development.

Later versions of the story used this picture with the dignitaries clipped from the chest up ... Tomb-goers have the privilege of seeing the original version.

Linguistic note: one of the many Hebrew words for weapons is "kley zayin" or "phallic implements".

[1] OK, that *should* be translated "revealed". But the Hebrew word is the same for both, and I think what they're doing is more "exposing"...

[2] [sic]. This implies "government-financed corporations that were privatized and are now under the control of formerly-Russian arms dealers and American Neocons.

[3] This is both the Iron Dome and the Iron Yarmulka (ritual head covering identifying the Zionist-nationalist orthodox Jewish men from the ultra-orthodox men, who wear harder hats, and secular Jewish men, who wear no head covering, even if they are nationalist.)

EasyWind is a Hebrew translator, who watches the Israeli press and blogosphere for Lenin's Tomb.

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How bad can it be? posted by Richard Seymour

According to Soros, it's the worst financial crisis since World War II. Michael Metz of Oppenheimer Funds says it's "the worst post-war recession" so far. Despite the Fed's sharp rate cut, it looks like "the most serious recession since World War II". The Bank of America's Quarter 4 profit was 95% down on last year, and Wachovia - the fourth largest bank in the US - lost 98% of its profits. The US stock exchange and the FTSE fluctuated wildly today in reaction to the interest rate cut, but such sharp movements almost always happens before a big crash. China is taking a huge knock from the US decline, and Asian stocks were particularly badly hit yesterday. The current problems could be the tip of the proverbial iceberg and, to stretch the metaphor a bit further, the global economy is looking increasingly like the Titanic.

Well, who really knows what could happen? On the one hand, the experts always panic when the economy shows signs of tanking, and the global economy has so far survived. On the other, the reason they panic is that the fundamentals are not sound, and the next recession could always be The Big One. These are the profit rate trends for a selection of the most powerful economies:

This is the root of the problem. Without the return on investment, there is little impetus to invest. As Robert Brenner points out in The Economics of Global Turbulence, the steps taken to curtail wage growth and reduce labour costs are rational from an individual company's perspective, but the aggregate result is a massively reduced utilisation of existing capital and a decreasing willingess to invest. Investment barely rose above its 2000 level even during the recovery, which is acknowledged to have been weak. But the problem expresses itself in this way, because the decline takes place in a context in which manufacturing is already weakened. As Ha-Joon Chang points out, to demote manufacturing in the hope of growth through the services industries can be a bigger mistake than relying on the extraction of raw materials since productivity levels in the services sector are generally very low, and those that have potentially high productivity growth (banking and IT) have manufacturers as their main clients. But it would be wrong to see this as simply a mistake. The financialization of the US economy and the abolition of international restraints on capital flows was a political project. It has made it possible for the US ruling class to restore its power domestically, by breaking up labour and reorganising property forms; and it has enabled it to daringly re-assert its global hegemony on the basis of a realisation made by Wilson's government as it entered World War I - the global scale of US interests does not require direct territorial rule. Rather, the US can extract surplus value from the world as long as advantageous market relations are in place. This state of affairs demands the constant threat and use of force. Capital deterritorializes and reterritorializes very rapidly, so it falls to whoever would rule to guarantee an orderly and pliable system of nation-states based on the most sophisticated information available. The rapid re-organisation of Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the Central Asian states after the collapse of the Soviet Union is a dramatic case in point. It didn't usually require force on the part of the United States, just bribery, threats, cajoling, the steady supply of 'expertise' under the direction of Jeffrey Sachs, and so on. But some recalcitrant cases did require a bit of bludgeoning, and it was necessary to expand the system of bases. At any rate, with the decisive transformation after the Volcker recession, US companies were able to intensify their rate of extraction from the rest of the world, and the IMF and World Bank have always been on hand to assist that project.

As two stories linked by Chabert indicate, the larger part of the cost can and will be passed on to the working class (in this case African American workers) unless there is substantial resistance. The Washington Post reported yesterday that "workers who lost a job in 2001 to 2003 took an average pay cut of 17 percent in their new jobs, more than double the average cut of those displaced in the late 1990s". Recessions destroy capital, and many of the world's richest people and companies are panicking. However, from the point of view of the broader capitalist class, that destruction can be brilliantly creative. It can create opportunities for highly profitable redeployment after the smoke clears, and for the further consolidation of class power as the labour market is successfully disciplined. If the crisis is very deep, it can be system-threatening, but only if there is a movement ready with an alternative. As things stand, the global Left and the working class do not meet this crisis in an optimal condition to ensure that it results even in social-democratic reform, much less fundamental social transformation. And there is always the far right waiting in the wings. How bad can it be? Very bad.

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Bloggery posted by Richard Seymour

A few quick notes. The Lenin's Tomb mailing list has about 160 subscribers, who receive some irregular notice of posts I want to draw attention to. It is not a discussion forum, although people very occasionally use it to pass on information about campaigns or whatever. And it can be quite useful for spreading info. It can easily handle more subscribers, so feel free to sign up using the box in the sidebar to your right if you want.

The second thing is, the Sitemeter at the bottom of this page is inaccurate, and not in the good way (ie, it doesn't inflate the numbers). I've only recently discovered that Sitemeter and other similar services have a reputation for seriously undercounting visitors. It is true that another service that doesn't appear on the site gives me an extra hundred unique visitors a day, Google Analytics ditto, and a system that used to exist but went out of business gave me a couple of hundred more. However, some say that no free service really tells you how many page views, or unique visits, you get. The professional services that you pay for, or get free with certain packages like Wordpress, apparently describe five or six times more unique visits. Now, since I don't have advertisements on the site, I would generate no revenue from having five or six times more visitors - this is entirely an ego issue. As such, I'm not going to change the hosting service or pay for some package or other. But I am going to piss and moan about it. And perhaps find some way to get a proper counting device free.

The third matter is the breakdown of visits that are picked up. Over the last month, according to Google Analytics, the numbers of people visiting the site from from the US and the UK were almost identical. Canada was the third largest supplier of Tombsters, with Australia, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Sweden picking up the rest. I am surprised by the ratio of American visitors, since in the past the main readership has been British, but you are all welcome as long as you leave your guns at home. The next step is to conquer China and India, both of which need more and better Leninism. According to sitemeter's continental breakdown, only 6% of my readers are in Asia (3% from Israel, if you can believe that), and only 1% in Africa (almost all Egyptian readers). I am a bit tied up at the moment, but clearly an intercontinental push is called for. Fourth, the comments facilities continue to be moderated, which is a mild pain in the arse, but it does prevent those rapid-fire comment-wars that usually degenerate rather quickly, and it weeds out trolls who make the comments unreadable. For that reason, until I can come up with a better solution, moderation has to stay on. As the amount of recent pro-Israel bile indicates, this doesn't mean that political adversaries are unwelcome. But it does give yours truly a tiny sense of what it's like to be God (a lot more boring than people imagine).

And the final point is on submissions. Yes, it's time you did your fair share, you bastards. Ask not what your blog can do for you, ask what you can do for your blog. If you have something to get off your chest that isn't a sticky residue, then why not send it to the Tomb (e-mail in the sidebar) as a candidate for a guest post. We've had guest posts from 'elpresidente', Guy Taylor, 'Strategist', John Brissenden, Leon Kuhn, K-Punk, Andy Zebrowski, Gareth Dale and others on topics as diverse as the environment, the Cairo Conference, the teachers' strike, mass protests in Mexico, etc etc. They have all been well-received, and often provided info that wouldn't be available through the corporate media, so it's an important part of Tomb culture and I want more of it. Don't make me send out a requisition for it.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

9/11 on the stock exchange posted by Richard Seymour

Biggest plunge since 9/11. Bush advocating a stimulus package (tax cuts for business, mainly). Wall Street panicking. Dramatic increase in long-term joblessness among skilled workers. What on earth is going on?

Some sort of crisis, I wager.

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Collective Punishment - Olmert Explains posted by Richard Seymour

"As far as I'm concerned, all the residents of Gaza can walk and have no fuel for their cars, because they have a murderous terrorist regime that doesn't allow people in the south of Israel to live in peace ... We are trying to attack terrorists, but we also show the population that it cannot shed itself of responsibility for the situation. We won't allow the Palestinians to fire on us and destroy life in Sderot, while in Gaza life is going on as usual."

Life as usual. What does that look like, I wonder? It wouldn't be starvation, fuel shortage, water shortage, disease, regular raids, blockade and occupation, would it? It would? Ah. Alright so.

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"Empires crumble" posted by Richard Seymour

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Every Day Is Ashura, Every Land Is Karbala posted by Yoshie

Listen to "Salam bar Hossein," sung by Sadegh Ahangaran, to commemorate the day of Ashura.

Via Ihsan

Ali Shariati said, "Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala." It means the same thing as Karl Marx's answer to John Swinton (John Swinton, "Karl Marx," The Sun, 6 September 1880):

"What is?" I had inquired, to which, in deep and solemn tone, he replied: "Struggle!"

PS: Several other songs by Ahangaran are made available at the Web site of Radio Iran.

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Getting away with murder in Gaza posted by Richard Seymour

It turns out that this is stupendously easy. The magic word is "Sderot". Poor old Sderot. Poor, wretched Sderot. Gaza is a place where "rage" boils and bubbles over, especially since the "Hamas takeover" (the failed Fatah putsch, in other words), and Sderot pays the price. Rockets, empty streets, fleeing mattresses, the dog not getting walked. Poor, miserable Sderot.

Gaza has been under Israeli siege for some time. It is starving. Aid can't get in, because of Israel's blockade. Israel continues to ravage the territory with air strikes. As usual, Israel's imposition of its preferred racial order in the Middle East regionally intersects with its domestic racial order. The daily massacres in Gaza coincide with the the internal campaign against the Bedouin of the Negev, the ongoing theft of Palestinian land and property, the 'Judaising' of annexed territory, the construction of segregated roads, all the usual. In the West Bank, a Fatah fiefdom since June, attacks are frequent. It doesn't matter how much Abbas connives - even his allies are not safe from Israeli assassination.

Gaza, elevated to the happy status of an open air prison since Israel's 2005 redeployment, a move designed to reproduce Israel's "Jewish-democratic character" (Israel can't absorbe too many Arabs, as its political and military leadership is often at pains to point out), is now in full lockdown. Long before Hamas was elected in 2006, Israel was busily establishing "facts on the ground" across Palestine, with repeated attacks to back them up, and with a feckless and increasingly coopted Fatah incapable of doing anything much about it. One notorious attack in Gaza was launched against a refugee camp. From 2000-2006, Israel killed 2,300 Gazans, mainly civilians (whom it deliberately targets). Ever since, it has been using a combination of Quartet-supported blockade and routine attacks to ramp up the terror and suffering. The imposed power cuts and fuel shortages have entailed a shortage of clean water, with predictable effects. The seige launched in mid-2006, with extensive use of human shields, power stations bombed, and hundreds killed, was eclipsed by an all-out war on Lebanon. But the attacks on Gaza didn't stop. A single Israeli bomb killed two families, eighteen Palestinians, in Gaza in November 2006. In the same month, the IDF distinguished itself with a public massacre of female demonstrators outside a mosque. Shells were deliberately fired at Palestinian homes. In 2006 and 2007, Israel killed 816 Palestinians, including 152 children. Almost every child in Gaza has witnessed shootings, attacks, had their homes bombarded. 99.4% of Gazan children suffer trauma. The response from Palestinian groups, even with the determined effort to inflict some damage after the murder of the Ghaliya family, has been pretty low-key. Qassam rockets, smarties-tubes packed with gunpowder and sherbert, pathetically inept devices that rarely hit their intended target, or even any target at all. Since Israel's strategy of promoting civil war culminated in the loss of Gaza, it has been threatening to attack the strip. This attack has now begun in earnest.

Oh, but the luckless Sderot happens to be located nearby, thus copping a few miserable Qassam rockets that leave potholes in the streets and damage the walls. Poor, woebegone Sderot.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Can you tell me how to get to K Street? posted by Richard Seymour

Because I need to kick somebody's ass. Have you seen this?

After a series of legislative defeats in 2007 that saw the year end with more U.S. troops in Iraq than when it began, a coalition of anti-war groups is backing away from its multimillion-dollar drive to cut funding for the war and force Congress to pass timelines for bringing U.S. troops home.


The groups believe this switch in strategy can draw contrasts with Republicans that will help Democrats gain ground in November and bring the votes to pass more dramatic measures. But it is a long way from the early months of 2007, when Democrats were freshly in power and momentum for a dramatic shift in Iraq policy seemed overpowering.

“There was a consensus that last year was not productive,” John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World, said of a meeting attended by a coalition of anti-war groups last week. “Our expectations were dashed.”

The meeting, held at an office on K Street, was attended by around 20 representatives of influential anti-war groups, including and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which spent $12 million last year opposing the war.

Isaacs said he thought the meeting would be a difficult one, with an adamant faction pressing for continued focus on timelines and funding. It wasn’t to be.

“We got our heads together and decided to go a different way,” Isaacs said. “The consensus was not to keep beating our heads against the wall trying to block every funding bill — not because we don’t agree with it, but because we don’t have the votes.”

Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for AAEI, was also at the meeting. “There was a lot of agreement that this is really the way that we can best get our message across about endless war versus end-the-war and draw clear distinctions between anti-war Democrats and pro-war Republicans. They really don’t want to end the war. This is the perfect legislative opportunity.”

This sadly reflects one of the weaknesses of the US antiwar movement - its deep fragmentation with much of the leadership composed of supporters of the Democratic Party. Since when were there "clear distinctions" available between "anti-war Democrats and pro-war Republicans"? The only way this fiction can be maintained is if they maintain the pretense, as they do, that funding for the war couldn't be shot down because they "didn't have the votes". The claim from the Democrats was that an executive veto, which can be issued whenever there is less than two-thirds Congressional support for a given bill, prevented them from withholding funding. It's a lie. In order for funding to be issued, Congress has to vote in the affirmative for it, which couldn't have happened without the Democrats who are now in the majority. This is an extremely costly war, and even if there is considerable troop "drawdown", the Congressional Budget Office expects it to cost a total of $2.73 trillion. To fork over this much on behalf of the taxpayer while blithering on about balanced budgets and so on is a serious commitment. The lie can only survive if people ignore the fact that Democrats already had plenty of opportunity to set withdrawal timetables and chose not to pursue it. The first time they bothered to even ask nicely was in November last year - arguably a necessary pitch before the elections - but they quickly caved in and gave Bush an extra $70bn to pursue the ongoing occupation, sans strings. But who am I to question success? The subordination of the priorities of the antiwar movement to the electoral strategy of the Democrats worked well in 2004, did it not? And the conduct of Democrats elected in 2006 has been a real blast, hasn't it? Let's have more of that, why not?

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

The limits of humanitarianism. posted by Richard Seymour

About a month after bloggers noticed, the Washington Post has reported on the confirmation of a vast escalation in aerial attacks on Iraq. Of course, they have done so only after carefully filtering the information through Pentagon spokespeople, which means that they have seriously described the attacks as being directed at weapons caches, safe houses and bomb making facilities. Presumably, if they have intelligence that good, it would be a relatively simple matter to go and find the caches and bomb equipment and take them back to base - while also taking snapshots for the media to reproduce as part of the 'success' story. However, leave that aside. Far more problematic is the obligatory 'humanitarian' angle: yes, this aggressive new campaign by General David Petraeus is striking the insurgents hard, but what about the innocent? Thus:

The greater reliance on air power has raised concerns from human rights groups, which say that 500-pound and 2,000-pound munitions threaten civilians, especially when dropped in residential neighborhoods where insurgents mix with the population. The military assures that the precision attacks are designed to minimize civilian casualties -- particularly as Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy emphasizes moving more troops into local communities and winning over the Iraqi population -- but rights groups say bombings carry an especially high risk.

"The Iraqi population remains at risk of harm during these operations," said Eliane Nabaa, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq. "The presence of individual combatants among a great number of civilians does not alter the civilian character of an area."

UNAMI estimates that more than 200 civilian deaths resulted from U.S. airstrikes in Iraq from the beginning of April to the end of last year, when U.S. forces began to significantly increase the strikes to coordinate with the expansion of ground troops.


Human rights groups estimate that Afghan civilian casualties caused by airstrikes tripled to more than 300 in 2007, fueling fears that such aggressive bombardment could be catastrophic for the innocent.

Marc Garlasco, a military analyst at Human Rights Watch who tracks airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the strikes carry unique risks. "My major concern with what's going on in Iraq is massive population density," he said. "You have the potential for very high civilian casualties, so you need really granular intelligence on what you're going to hit. But I don't think they're being careless."

Leave aside the fact that the numbers they give for civilian deaths are utterly risible, an unbelievably low estimate by any standards. Leave aside the fact that it is completely implausible that the strategy of aerial bombardment is only killing large numbers of 'baddies'. We know enough about US military strategy to know that they consistently carry out attacks which deliberately kill large numbers of civilians. Even Mark Garlasco knows this. The only question they see fit to ask is whether some civilians might be "caught in the cross-fire" as it were, and whether the planners are being "careless", (even where they admit half-way through the article that the bombings are partially designed to terrorise). And not only is this the automatic purview of the Washington Post, it happens to be shared by Human Rights Watch. I can think of other problems that might be raised, one of which is that those resisting the US forces militarily are no more in need of swift airborne death than those who are not directly involved in combat. The US, after all, has no business being in Iraq, much less razing the country to the ground in order to kill those who do not assent to them being there. But humanitarian discourse in this context admits no knowledge of the criminality of US-orchestrated mass violence designed to subdue the country.

Human Rights Watch distinguished itself during the attack on Lebanon with a set of spurious attacks on Hezbollah for allegedly deliberately targeting civilians with its rocket-fire. It later emerged that while Israel's claims that Hezbollah hid its rocket launchers among civilians were bogus, Israel had certainly located prime military targets right among its population centres. HRW blithely insisted that this made no difference to its claim that Hezbollah indiscriminately attacked civilians. The point isn't really that HRW and like organisations are inconsistent in their determination of criminality. On the contrary, they are consistently biased toward the purlieus of power when they systematically fail to acknowledge or take account of prior, ongoing aggression. In the almost exclusive emphasis on the civilian-military distinction (which matters, I make no bones about it), they reproduce an ideological formation which holds that the incineration, shredding and dispersing of those designated combatants is perfectly acceptable: even if there are other options; even if the war need never have taken place; even if the murder is being perpetrated by aggressors who have it within their power to terminate hostilities at any point.

It is easy to understand why the reigning ideology sets aside a substantial space for 'human rights' criticism, which can be incorporated provided it doesn't "go too far" or step outside its designated boundaries and offer what is invariably construed as "politicised" commentary (whereas omitting the salient facts is not at all politicised). Humanitarianism in action mandates the most extraordinary barbarism. Impeccable sources of moral jurisdiction, authoritatively coequivalent with the missionaries, the court clerics and the piritual advisors. They bear the ensign of opposition, and a purpose derived from a higher authority (natural rights), and all the while they consistently absolve. Is it any wonder the new imperialists spent the greater part of the 1990s refining the categories of humanitarianism?

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Is Hip Hop Dead? posted by Richard Seymour

A vital debate, I feel. Here's Nas's contribution:

And this is the retort from KRS-One:

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Nasrallah on the Bush administration. posted by Richard Seymour

From Hezbollah TV, an interesting discussion of Nasrallah's impressions of the US:

Sayyed Nasrallah said that to better understand this visit, one can refer to studies, facts, researches and books issued in the US by reliable think tanks. "From these studies, we can conclude that the current US administration continues to be a coalition of three groups: The first is major oil firms, since key figures in this administration either own oil companies or arms factories. So the second is large arms industries. The third group is a religious trend in the US called Christian Zionists. However I do not want to use this term so that the Divine Christian religion is not offended." His eminence explained that this religious group is a strong constituent of the tripartite coalition. The other two groups are interested in controlling oil resources and marketing weapons, he added.
"However the third religious group has millions of supporters, controls media outlets and enterprises. This group believes that it is paving the way for the return of Jesus Christ to Earth, They believe that one of the conditions for his return is the rise of a Jewish state; a condition that materializes in Israel. It is also required that all the Jews from across the globe live in Palestine.
What they are doing for the Jews is not out of love, not to defend Semitism, not to show regret for massacres, but because they deride Israel for the sake of their own ideological project. Hence, I would like to point to two issues: What this religious trend is undertaking should not give anyone in our Arab and Islamic worlds any reason whatsoever to hold the Christians responsible for it. Whatever they are doing will backlash because Jesus Christ peace be upon him will not advocate Israel, oil firms, weapons industries or any tyrant on this Earth. He will advocate the oppressed."

This is worth mentioning because it amounts to a slightly more sophisticated analysis than some of Nasrallah's previous statements (I mean the ones that can be verified) in which he appeared to subscribe to the sort of "wag the dog" thesis that John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt and even James Petras have been putting about.

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Weird exchange posted by Richard Seymour

The Tory MP Edward Leigh gets up and asks the Prime Minister "what was the point of invading Iraq, and killing 150,000 [sic] Iraqis, only to leave Basra to the Shi'ite militants?" Gordon Brown replies by praising the troops and pointing out that "violence has declined considerably in the last few months". So, Leigh points out that the war has been an absolute disaster, and then wonders why we didn't stick with it. And Brown defends the war by saying that violence declined as soon as we stopped fighting it. Anyone would think their dialogue had been written by Bird and Fortune.

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