Saturday, August 30, 2008

No shit. posted by Richard Seymour

After seeing the latest batch of dismal economic statistics and hearing ominous noises about new cut-backs and another round of lay-offs, I was going to write one of those posts pointing out that "It's worse than you think". I don't need to now, since the Chancellor has just come out and said we are in for the worst economic downturn in sixty years. The reason why it could get particularly bad in Britain was spelled out by Larry Elliott a while ago. To wit, the government's babbling insistence that Britain is particularly well-placed to withstand a credit crunch is absolute drivel, because the government's growth strategy has depended to a large extent on the City, even as they have allowed over 1.5 million manufacturing jobs to be lost. Having allowed the fundamentals of the economy to be eroded, there is little to help us weather the financial storm. Further, the government has relied on a personal debt surge to sustain consumption, with the total amount of debt more than doubling since 1997. The ratio of debt to disposable income in the UK was 162.9 percent [pdf] as of late 2006, which was even higher than the figure in the US. Real household incomes in the UK have risen by only 0.35% a year since 2001-2. Now that the debts are being called in and credit is increasingly difficult to get, we are arguably more exposed to a terrifying slump than America, which has a far more activist state, much more investment in manufacturing and is very quick to slash interest rates should the going get tough.

Officialdom is torn between the need to alleviate the problems faced by industry and the desire to avoid strengthening labour's hand. Take a look at the battle going on over interest rates in the UK. Practically everyone outside the Bank of England appears to be pleading for a cut, including the most powerful sectors of capital. The only person on the Monetary Policy Committee who has been calling for a cut, however, is the labour economist David Blanchflower. His colleagues argue that rates have to be kept high to counteract potential wage rises. In fact, far from the likelihood of real-terms wage rises being unleashed by a rate cut, real wages have fallen. In the last quarter, median wage rises were 3.5%, but the inflation rate (CPI) rose to 5% in the same period. At the same time, however, outside the UK Continental Shelf (oil and gas), profits have been falling - from 6.6% to 4.9% in manufacturing, and with a slight dip of 0.1% in the services sector. An overriding priority of capital, therefore, is to curb its costs. If they can't transfer the costs to workers as producers, in terms of real wage cuts, they will try to transfer them to workers as consumers, in terms of price increases. The government has taken the lead on this with its incomes policy in the public sector, cutting real wages for millions of workers. This is why wages rose by only 2.7% in the public sector, compared to 3.8% in the private sector, last quarter.

The political class is hardly divided on this question: the argument is only over the rate at which the burdens of the recession should be transferred to workers. The Tories are taking the opportunity to demand a tax cut for businesses. Cut taxes for capital, and you're going to have to cut public spending on services depended on by the poor. Either that or, as the Tories have a propensity for doing, tax consumption more. The trouble they will almost certainly face in a year's time, barring a Lazarus-like revival for the government, is that pay cuts have stimulated successive waves of labour struggle, which are likely to intensify as the crisis worsens. It will be a raucous period, whoever governs, simply because we can't afford to let them pass the costs of their crisis onto us. And I'm not talking about 'we might have a one day strike and hope the government makes a small concession'. It has gone way beyond that: with ongoing real-terms wage cuts, and an anticipated 2 million officially unemployed by Christmas (meaning the real unemployment rate will be over 3 million), government efforts to discipline trade union members through their leadership are apt to flounder. If the present course continues, it will probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

Given that Alistair Darling can see the shit hitting the fan in slow motion, does he have any solutions? Well, no. The government is still pursuing its blessed "knowledge economy" [pdf], as evidenced by the continued encroachment of private capital into academic institutions and the recent announcement that City Academies might run failing primary schools, even as the academies are themselves failing. It is devoted to neoliberal policy solutions, which is why it is set to plough a billion pounds into the nationalised Northern Rock even as they slash jobs, just to keep it running as a possible private sector entity. Brown remains intransigently opposed to any windfall tax on energy companies who are reaping obscene profits while we... well, you know what we reap. Even the moderate lefties at Compass are starting to sound like class warriors in contrast to this spent administration (not that the Compass group of MPs have a spine between them). There is going to be no relief for manufacturing: the government isn't about to abandon a strong pound when London is the financial centre of the world and try to build an export-driven manufacturing economy. I need hardly say that all of this punishes Labour's core voters for the benefit of the wealthy, just when the collapse of the core vote is looking deadly to the government. This is why it could be heading toward another 'heartland' wipe-out, this time in Glenrothes (where, lord save us all, Gordon Brown is 'masterminding' Labour strategy). And to think - the only likely alternatives to Brown that the big battalions of the labour movement can produce are Alan Johnson and David Miliband.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not free speech martyrs posted by Richard Seymour

Those who keep themselves mercifully removed from the murky world of blogging narcissism will not be aware that for a brief period today, Harry's Place had their free speech violated. Their service provider removed their blog on the grounds that it violated the user agreement. The cry went up that censorship was afoot, and several blogs - several left-wing ones at that - protested in the name of free speech. It transpired that there had been a complaint. Someone had complained that a post on Harry's Place concerning one Jenna Delich, a Sheffield-based academic, was slanderous. Allegedly, the complaint was from Jenna Delich herself. The service provider apparently agreed with the complaint at any rate and, referring to their terms of use, pulled the blog for several hours before restoring it.

The post concerning Jenna Delich was actually one of a series of perfectly frantic and childish provocations about her - and, beyond her, about the true bête noire of Harry's Place, the Left. Delich was and is the subject of Harry's Place scrutiny for several reasons. The first is that she is an academic, and therefore is someone whose ideas can get her fired, particularly in light of well-known precedents. The second is that she contributes to the UCU mailing list, excerpts from which are regularly 'leaked' to Harry's Place, and the UCU is a regular target of HP saucery because a significant number of its members are prepared to support the Palestinian campaign to boycott Israeli institutions. (See this for a past example of HP's attempts to intimidate UCU academics). The third is that, in an absolute gift to Harry's Place and its miniature deep throat, she chose to support an argument about Israel by linking to a story on the website of David Duke, the white supremacist and antisemite. In and of itself the story does not appear to be explicitly antisemitic or fascist - although its author, who is not David Duke, may well be. It was reproduced from another website, which is apparently devoted to 'alternative' theories about 9/11 and other major events (both paranormal and parapolitical). It may be objectionable for other reasons, or it may contain alarming formulations, but a casual reader might easily read it and mistake it for a useful summary of facts.

In due course - or rather with indecent haste - Harry's Place posted the comment that she had made, along with a crudely subtitled photograph of her with her name featured in white-on-black lettering. In the photograph's subtitle, a deliberately ambiguous wording is deployed: "Sheffield-based academic, Jenna Delich - links to far right websites associated with the Ku Klux Klan". This could be read as meaning that she has links to far right websites associated with the Ku Klux Klan, rather than that she has 'linked', once, to said websites. The ambiguity was, in all probability, intentional. They headed their post 'UCU and the David Duke Fan'. Thus, Harry's Place asserted, based on this single incident, that Jenna Delich was a 'fan' of a Nazi ideologist. Further to this, the post accused her of "viciousness against Jews", which it said the UCU union had refused to act against (ie, it had refused to suppress her speech).

None of this is subtle. It is not a dog-whistle, even if it did set off a round of ferocious barking. It is a quite explicit campaign of vilification and demonisation, fucking someone over before the full facts are known, while distorting such facts as are known. The effects of falsely identifying someone as a Nazi sympathiser and an antisemite, particularly if they work in an educational institution, can be terrifying for the person thus calumnied. Universities are charged by the government with combatting 'extremism', monitoring both staff and students as part of the UK's 'war on terror'. Academics can be dismissed if they are explicit racists or Nazis. Reading about herself online, the academic would have realised that being identified in this way could mean her being fired. She would have known that it could mean her not being able to work in education any more. At the very least it would draw opprobium from colleagues and students alike. Personally, unless someone was an explicit or obvious member of a Nazi organisation, I would not like to be the one to expose them to that risk. I am not an investigator, nor a jury of her peers, nor a judge unto myself. And I do not carry out God's will, as far as I know (He is not as talkative as He once was). But Harry's Place, which is no better qualified than I am, had no hesitation in putting Jenna Delich through all that, without knowing what the situation was. It could be that Ms Delich was or is an antisemite, but it could just as well not be the case. She may have made a mistake; she may have been careless; she may have posted in haste having followed a chain of links from other less toxic websites; she may not know a great deal about the American far right. When Harry's Place decided to launch their attack on Jenna Delich, they did not know what the case was.

Or did they? They may at least have had good reason to think that she goofed up and was not being deliberately malicious. Their secret informer will surely have told them that, contrary to their insistence that UCU is filled with antisemites, the posting by Ms Delich was met with immediate criticism. That person would not have ommitted to mention, either, that Ms Delich acknowledged her mistake and apologised. If Harry's Place has been made aware of either fact at any point, it has ommitted to mention them. Instead, it has persisted with the insinuation that it is exposing a Nazi sympathiser and antisemite. Jenna Delich listened the advice of a Jewish socialist academic named Mike Cushman at the LSE, who was participating in the UCU forum. He advised her that she had a legitimate grievance, that she had been potentially libelled by Harry's Place, and that the proper procedure was to complain to the internet service provider. Whatever one thinks of the libel laws, this does not seem to me to be an unreasonable response. Harry's Place was quite vindictively sabotaging her career, and she had a right to seek accountability somewhere. However. Because the service provider in question warned the blog proprietors that they were in breach of their terms of use, and that as such it would be removed, Harry's Place was able to reinterpret its attack on free speech as the defense of free speech. They have behaved unconscionably, thuggishly, in a manner that befits far right websites such as Redwatch (to my knowledge, one of the few other websites that posts photographs, personal information and inflammatory material about private individuals). Because their behaviour resulted in their being pulled, if only for a few hours, bloggers who had utterly ignored the campaign against Jenna Delich decided that Harry's Place were free speech martyrs. It was a natural, but regrettable, instinct. They saw their own toys being taken away from them by moaning minnies, and their hearts went out to their fallen comrades. They extended 'solidarity' to the tormenters of Jenna Delich, but none to her. Even the Index on Censorship published a brief article about it, quoting David T, the blog's proprietor.

Jenna Delich has now been removed from the UCU discussion forum. In a message from the moderator, Matthew Waddup, it was averred that "having reviewed this and previous conduct; I have now suspended their list membership indefinitely". Waddup implied that he had acted on the basis of information that he had not previously considered. My own provisional conclusion, (you may draw a different one at liberty), is that he is caving in under a virulently nasty campaign of vilification. According to one of her colleagues, Jenna is now receiving hate mail and death threats. Her sole crime, so far as I am aware, is to have posted a link to a far right website featuring an article that in itself made no explicitly antisemitic or Nazi-like claims. If this was malicious, intending to cause hurt and offense, I would believe that further action would need to be taken both within the union and her educational institution. But as she apologised and accepted her mistake, it ought to have gone no further than that. Those who decided to take it further, and to distort the evidence to fit a prefabricated template for discussing such matters, are bullies, not defenders of free speech.

One last thing. It is important to at least take note of the broader political argument within which this preposterous, ugly saga has unfolded. David Hirsh of Goldsmiths College, and the website Engage, makes the argument explicit in his contribution:

Antisemitism within the UCU started to become a serious problem when people in the union began to support the campaign to exclude Israelis from British universities as a protest against Israeli human rights abuses. This campaign has dominated academic union Congresses in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

It is an antisemitic campaign. There is no proposal to boycott any academics from any country other than Israel. It seeks to exclude a significant proportion of the world’s Jewish academics. It treats Israel as though it was a unique evil in the world and as though it was an illegitimate state.

Predictably the campaign for this antisemitic exclusion creates an antisemitic atmosphere within the union.

The argument that a boycott campaign against Israel is 'antisemitic' is unsustainable and invidious. States have been singled out in the past and will be in the future. It is in the nature of politics that such 'singling out' will happen. Some states have been treated as illegitimate in the past (South Africa and Rhodesia, for example), and it is unsurprising that a minority of supporters of the Palestinians (myself included) don't accept Israel's inherent 'right to exist' as a state based on Zionist organising principles. Particularly since such an assumed 'right' seems to militate against the demands of justice for millions of refugees. What is distinctive about Israel's oppression of the Palestinians, however, is how little attention has been paid to it in the past, and how much effort went into explaining and justifying its actions. That this is no longer the case, and that a growing minority of people are deciding to take action in solidarity with the Palestinians - in this case, at the specific request of Palestinian trade unionists who are bearing the brunt of Israeli oppression - is not something to be angry about. Historically, the British Left has been complicit with the dispossession of the Palestinians, and a particular responsibility therefore falls on the British Left to help undo the effects of this (just as it once bore a particular responsibility for helping to combat colonialism and apartheid). In truth, there is something shameful and a little sordid about those whose response to this is to classify the whole enterprise antisemitic. Yet, without so branding it, and without therefore slandering thousands of well-meaning left-wing activists as antisemitic in toto, this cruel and idiotic spectacle would have been impossible.

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Russia cashes in, America blusters. posted by Richard Seymour

Well, as Alex Callinicos writes, the fallout from Georgia has revealed the weakness of the Bush clique. Russia has cashed in by recognising the independent states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which will - whether they are formally subsumed or not - now be effective Russian territory. America blusters: it will block this 'irresponsible' move at the United Nations Security Council. But they aren't in a position to do much unless they really are prepared to escalate the conflict to dangerous levels, and it seems that stronger elements in the state are resisting such a strategy. The warships were sent to Georgia after all, but the latest shipment has been cancelled. Miliband is calling for a European coalition of the willing against "Russian aggression" - but he knows full well that European states are deeply divided on this issue. Even the hallowed Sarkozy is showing signs of being a surrender monkey.

This division runs deep throughout NATO. As Callinicos writes: "The US's weakness is more tellingly exposed when it comes to how it will fulfil its repeated threats to punish Russia. Nato foreign ministers met last week to denounce Russia and champion Georgia – but decided on nothing concrete. The Russian ambassador to Nato jeered that 'the mountain gave birth to a mouse'." When the Russian government freezes its military cooperation with NATO, it drives a large crowbard into that divide. Russia is now also taunting the US on its Afghanistan turf, just as it has been gloating that, yes, you talk big, but you need our help with Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. As Edward Pearce writes, despite the sprightly efforts by Anglo-American pundits to raise the spectre of 'the West', the whole affair calls into question the purported unity and cohesion of such an entity.

America is racking up losses. Aside from Georgia, one of America's big foreign policy successes in the region was assisting the Orange revolutionaries to victory in Ukraine, and >it now looks as if the pro-US incumbent is going to be turfed out in the upcoming elections. As for US hegemony in the Middle East, apparently Iran and Syria - the two remaining hold-outs against the American ascendancy - like what they see in this newly assertive Russia and have been extending a bit more warmth to Moscow. Syria hopes to negotiate a new arms deal to protect itself against Israel.

Once again, the demands of perspective call for some qualification to all this. Russia remains a much smaller competitor to the US, with regional rather than global hegemonic aims. This is hardly the rebirth of the Tsarist empire. On the other hand, the mere fact of pronounced inter-imperial competition having re-emerged in a decisive way is of world-changing import. It signifies the failure of America's 1990s bid to incorporate Russia as a subjugated junior partner, the costliness of overstretch in the 'war on terror', and the immense danger involved in the American policy of re-militarisation and nuclear weapons development, initiated under Clinton and continued under Bush. The kaleidoscope, as Blair once said in his vexatious way, has been shaken up. The sickening thud of dread that the world experienced then should be magnified several times over now. Wall Street wisdom says that when there is blood in the streets, buy property. No one is going to go broke from owning shares in armaments and private armies in the coming epoch.

ps: BHL is bearing witness again. Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Thou hast gone right up to within 100 miles of the Jabberwock and bravely thou didst stay at the Marriot!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama forgives - because He would have. posted by Richard Seymour

As soon as Biden announced he was an official presidential candidate in February 2007, he had to apologise after stating that Obama was "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean".

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On 'totalitarian jurisprudence' posted by Richard Seymour

James Petras writes that:

The Financial Times (FT), once the liberal, enlightened voice of the
financial elite (in contrast to the aggressively neo-conservative
Wall Street Journal) has yielded to the totalitarian-militarist
temptation. The feature article of the weekend supplement of August
16/17, 2008 – “The Face of 9/11” – embraces the forced confession of
a 9/11 suspect elicited through 5 years of hideous torture in the
confines of secret prisons. To make their case, the FT published a
half-page blow-up photo first circulated by former CIA director
George Tenet, which presents a bound, disheveled, dazed, hairy
ape-like prisoner. The text of the writer, one Demetri Sevastopulo,
admits as much: The FT owns up to being a propaganda vehicle for a
CIA program to discredit the suspect while he stands trial based on
confessions obtained through torture.

From beginning to end, the article categorically states that the
principle defendant, Khalet Sheikh Mohammed, is the “self-confessed
mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the US.” The first half of
the article is full of trivia, designed to provide a human-interest
feel to the courtroom and the proceedings – a bizarre mixture
discussing Khaled’s nose to the size of the courtroom.

The central point of departure for the FT’s conviction of the suspect
is Khaled’s confession, his ‘desire for martyrdom’, his assumption of
his own defense and his reciting the Koran. The crucial piece of the
Government’s case is Khaled’s confession. All the other ‘evidence’
was circumstantial, hearsay and based on inferences derived from
Khaled’s attendance at overseas meetings.

The FT’s principle source of information, an anonymous informant
“familiar with the CIA interrogation program” states categorically
two crucial facts: 1. How little the CIA had known about him before
his arrest (my emphasis) and (2) that Khaled held out longer than the

In other words, the CIA’s only real evidence was extracted by torture
(the CIA admitted to ‘water boarding’ – an infamous torture technique
inducing near death from drowning). The fact that Khaled repeatedly
denied the accusations and that he only confessed after 5 years of
torture in secret prisons renders the entire prosecution a case study
in totalitarian jurisprudence.

KSM spent six months in Guantanamo and the rest of the time in various locations hitherto undisclosed. The US deliberately made a song and dance about its internment camp in Guantanamo, where its procedures were slightly less filthy than on the offshore prison ships. He was tortured and, when he confessed, he decided to confess to everything: his confession was false, in other words, which is almost invariably true of confessions obtained by torture. Nevertheless, the assertion that KSM is a "self-confessed" mastermind of 9/11 is quite popular. Forget what you think about KSM for a second. The issue is exactly what Petras says it is: not whether KSM may be a bad man, or whether he committed other crimes, or whether he may be found guilty of this one by some other means, but whether we should adopt the increasingly fashionable practise of deeming someone guilty by virtue of their having confessed under obvious duress. Because once we do that, we do it for everyone - the tricky thing about law is precisely its universalising dimension.

And we might add that, whatever you think about Slobodan Milosevic, the same applies to his trials. A show trial is a show trial, regardless of his evident (amateur) gangsterism. And when Radovan Karadzic testifies before an ICTY court, it will still be preposterous even if you assume that he is guilty of everything they say he is. Even if they extract the full evidence of his having ordered and directed the planned extermination of Bosnian Muslims, cut short only by belated Western intervention, it will still have been a farce. All that said, and I think it an obvious spiel, you would be doing well to find more than 0.01% of the media coverage that will say anything remotely like it. The regnant assumptions are indeed the 'totalitarian' ones that Petras refers to: if the Fuhrer wants it, two and two make five. All they desire is the confession, to expiate their misdeeds, prove their virtue, keep the vassals playing ball, and ultimately show who is boss.

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It has come to something... posted by Richard Seymour

...when you think a Status of Forces Agreement would be an improvement. The recent massacre in Afghanistan turns out to have killed up to 96 civilians (a "legitimate strike", says the Pentagon), and after a series of incidents in which US soldiers have murdered civilians and declined to take responsibility, the Karzai administration is getting desperate. But such agreements always entail immunity for US troops, and no US administration is going to negotiate one that doesn't. Historically, these agreements have tended to be seen as humiliating in themselves. In fact, one of the earliest opposition statements from Khomeini attacked such an agreement between the US military and the Shah, which he said reduced the status of an Iranian to beneath that of a dog, since a US soldier would have more to answer for if he ran over a dog in America than if he ran over a human being in Iran.

This just speaks of the subjection of the Afghan parliament, and its absolute lack of authority either with its paymasters or in Afghanistan as a whole. Every indication is that they are struggling to keep their heads above water even as a nominal administration. The Taliban have long held most of the country, it seems. And this article by Jason Burke suggests that the Taliban are winning simply by creating a "parallel administration, which is more effective, more popular and more brutal than the government's". Maybe take Burke's reporting with a little pinch of salt, however: apparently, he doesn't know when he's talking to a well-known member of the Taliban and minister in Mullah Omar's cabinet.

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Ken still doesn't get it. posted by Richard Seymour

Apparently, his loss in the mayoral elections had nothing to do with anything he actually did, was no reflection on the failure of his psephological strategy, but was all the fault of Andrew Gilligan, whom he also holds responsible for the death of David Kelly:

“I would question him about his role in the death of Dr David Kelly. I remember hearinghis controversial piece on the Today programme, it was quite early but my kids had woken up. I heard him mention a senior intelligence source and I immediately thought one of the top ten people in MI6 has grassed up the government. It turns out to be poor old David Kelly. Basically what Gilligan did was what has destroyed so many otherwise good coppers, they’ve caught a criminal but they haven’t got the evidence, so they falsify the evidence. If Gilligan hadn’t distorted what Kelly had said, grossly exaggerated it, Kelly would be alive today.”

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

The blackness of Dessalines posted by Richard Seymour

In the comments to the post below, it is pointed out that the early outstanding strike against white supremacy was the Haitian revolution. It was also pointed out to me that when it comes to subverting the racial order, there is no better example than Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first ruler of an independent Haiti:

All Haitians, - Ayisyen yo - "shall hence forward be known only by the generic appellation of "Blacks." (See, Dessalines' 1805 Constitution).

Thus, in Dessalines' Haiti, "Black," is deracialized. We all now know that race is purely a social construct with no scientific grounds. The truth is there is just one race, the human race. But back at its creation, the country of Haiti was based on this truth.

For, Dessalines defined those who fought for the abolishment of chattel slavery in Haiti and against colonialism, including the few whites that did fight on the side of the Africans, as "Blacks." To study Dessalines' life, achievements and first Constitution is to come to know that a "Black" is a person (no matter his/her skin color, European or African) who stands for freedom, human dignity and against slavery, colonialism and imperialism. No ideal in this modern world so directly confronts and conquers the biological fatalism of white privilege. In Dessalines' 1805 Constitution, all Haitians are "known only by the generic appellation of "Blacks." And "Blacks" included even the Polish and Germans who fought with the African warriors on the side of liberty and equality, not slavery, plunder and profit. Black people in Dessalines' Haiti are "lovers-of-liberty" who are willing to live free or die. To reiterate, there is no modern philosophy or ideal that has so directly provided the world with an ALTERNATIVE to the manufactured "race game," based on skin color, as this Dessalines ideal.

The Constitution of 1805 declared that no white, of whatever nation, could set foot on Haiti as a master or owner of property. This was reasonable enough: the last time they came in that guise, they totally wrecked the place and turned it into the most miserable slave colony in the world. But white people were in fact permitted to stay and be naturalised as Haitians - namely, those who had fought alongside the indigenes. But they would be referred to as "black", not white. This was partly a domestic strategy to defuse the tension between newly freed black Haitians (nouveaux libres) and those mulattoes who had been freedmen under the French empire (ancien libres). Indeed, it was Dessalines attempt to redistribute the estates confiscated from the French to the nouveaux libres that raised the ire of the ancien libres and led to his assassination in 1806. But in effect as well as in intent, it subverted the very idea of 'race' by interpreting blackness as a mode of social equality, not of natural hierarchy.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

BHL bears witness posted by Richard Seymour

One of the most hilarious passages in Philippe Cohen's biography of Bernard-Henri Lévy is the description of BHL's attempts to refashion himself as a journalist. Amid the usual impostures and vanity, Lévy consistently gets the facts wrong, bungles his analysis, regurgitates propaganda, and then justifies it all on the basis that whatever the flaws in his reporting, it has helped to mobilise international communities in opposition to this or that atrocity. And despite his obvious moral fervour, he has never been one to waste too much time in the sticks. Thus, when he was campaigning for Izetbegovic and decided to make a documentary about Bosnia, Susan Sontag (who contributed a great deal to that campaign) suggested that he might well change his acronym to DHS - Deux Heures a Sarajevo, on account of his having spent a single afternoon there with his film crew before jetting back home on a French military plane. Well, here he is again, reporting direct from vital Gori! Behold the moving "testimony" on a shattered city and its beleaguered residents! Gasp as BHL witnesses scores of Russian tanks crawling menacingly toward Tbilisi! There is truly no hardship that BHL will not endure to get the real story. The trouble is, it is all fantasy: he spent two and a half days in Georgia, never got into Gori, and didn't see "at least a hundred" Russian tanks heading toward the Georgian capital. He did, however, eventually make it to Tbilisi - to the Marriot hotel in fact, where he loafed around, smoked endless fags, and chattered with his intellectual confrères. Surely at this point the normal procedure would be for the French government to appoint BHL as 'special envoy' to Georgia? It must happen - I demand it! The world demands it! Gori demands it!

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Afghanistan: the air war intensifies. posted by Richard Seymour

Remember that this is how it's done:

"Yes, it is a civilian village, mud hut, like everything else in this country. But don’t say that. Say it’s a military compound. It’s a built-up area, barracks, command and control. Just like with the convoys: If it really was a convoy with civilian vehicles they were using for transport, we would just say hey, military convoy, troop transport."

As Tom Engelhardt has pointed out, this is an American tradition:

"On its front page, the New York Times labeled the operation in and around a village called My Lai 4 (or "Pinkville," as it was known to U.S. forces in the area) a significant success. "American troops caught a North Vietnamese force in a pincer movement on the central coastal plain yesterday, killing 128 enemy soldiers in day-long fighting." United Press International termed what happened there an "impressive victory," and added a bit of patriotic color: "The Vietcong broke and ran for their hide-out tunnels. Six-and-a-half hours later, ‘Pink Village' had become ‘Red, White and Blue Village."

All these dispatches from the "front" were, of course, military fairy tales. (There were no reporters in the vicinity.) It took over a year for a former GI named Ronald Ridenhour, who had heard about the bloody massacre from participants, and a young former AP reporter named Seymour Hersh working in Washington for a news service no one had ever heard of, to break the story, revealing that "red, white, and blue village" had just been red village -- the red of Vietnamese peasant blood. Over 400 elderly men, women, children, and babies had been slaughtered there by Charlie Company of Task Force Barker in a nearly day-long rampage."

The one thing the United States military can always be counted on to do, in other words, is to kill large numbers of civilians and then brazenly lie about it. This is why a US bombing raid that kills 76 civilians, following an attack the previous day that killed at least twenty, is described as a successful strike against 30 'insurgents'. The truth is that the entire military strategy of the US-led occupation is implicated in these massacres. As the quote from Chief Warrant Officer Dave Diaz above indicates, the American military is fully aware that a) it is fighting an unconventional guerilla force that doesn't have formal military outposts, bases and convoys, and b) it is a movement with roots in the civilian population itself. And since the US is increasingly reliant on aerial bombardment (more so in Afghanistan than in Iraq), it is inevitably going to slaughter large numbers of civilians. And then lie about it. Marc Garlasco, who used to work as an adviser to the Pentagon on high-value targeting, told Salon last year that the "magic number" was thirty: if the anticipated number of civilians who would die in an air strike was to be lower than thirty, it could go ahead without executive approval. Otherwise Bush or the Secretary of Defense would have to give approval. Well, of course, such expectations are entirely framed by the military's own requirements. They're not obliged to 'expect' large numbers of civilian casualties in a particular area, even where there are large numbers of civilians. If they want to hit the target, they can simply determine an area to be exclusively populated by insurgents, get JTAC to confirm a 'successful strike' and then move on to the next target.

Recall the data published by the CSIS last year, confirming a massive spike in US bombing raids in the summer of 2007, with 368 major strikes in July and 670 in August. This July, it was reported that air strikes had almost doubled since the previous year according to official figures (and, incidentally, the official figures seem to suggest an even higher daily strike rate than last year's CSIS figures did). This means that on average there are 68 major air strikes across Afghanistan each day, using 500 - 2,000lb bombs to pummel the area and then cannon fire to finish off the target. That's well over 2000 air strikes a month. I should say that increases the odds of blitzing someone's house, or a wedding ceremony, somewhat. This is a very rough extrapolation from last year's chart (click to enlarge):

I should point out that support for these bombing raids has rapidly evaporated even among the client elite. Every major political figure from Karzai downward prefers a truce with the opposition whom we so lazily dub 'Taliban' - but, of course, they don't run the show any more than the population, which also overwhelmingly prefers negotiations to the American escalation. Afghan newspapers, including the daily Hasht-e Sobh which broadly supports the occupation, have publicly called for an end to the bombing raids and no increases in foreign troops. They will be disappointed. On both sides of the Atlantic, the signs are that the war on Afghanistan is going to be intensified. The UK military leadership is recommending pulling troops out of Iraq and increasing troop levels in Helmand by 50%. Obama has consistently called for an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan, talking recently of an increase of 10,000 American soldiers to start with, more than a fifty percent increase on present levels.

The main aim of a future US presidency will be to get NATO members to commit more soldiers, and stop the coalition from fragmenting any further, especially after the Georgian debacle. An interesting article by Ian Traynor in today's Guardian confirms the diagnosis that NATO is hobbled by divisions, and overstretched in its commitments. Some of its members are wondering what use such an alliance has in this era. The fact is that in its main current role as an international fighting force in Afghanistan, it is currently being beaten by a poorly armed guerilla army which it substantially outnumbers. And you have to wonder what proportion of those guerillas are well-trained, seasoned combatants. If it were to get drawn into a simmering conflict with Russia, it would less resemble the military alliance of the Cold War than one of the pre-WWI treaty organisations like the Triple Alliance. Its longevity and stability would be in question, because of the differing orientations toward Russia within the organisation.

However, Obama would have the chance in the short-term to turn matters around, at least so far as Afghanistan is concerned. The Canadian government, and European governments which have sent troops to Afghanistan, continue to resist popular pressure to stop sending the troops there. Sarkozy, for example, is a strong backer of the war in Afghanistan. He will have to allow a parliamentary vote in September on whether France should continue to participate in the occupation, due to recent constitutional changes. Despite a clear majority wanting troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan, parliament is sure to approve Sarkozy's policy of getting up America's arse and staying there (although it would seem an opportune point for mobilising the French antiwar movement). The German Defense Minister is pushing to increase troop levels by a thousand, about a 20% increase. Berlusconi has removed restrictions on Italian troop operations to enable them to take on more dangerous missions. All indications are that European political elites remain strongly committed to pacifying Afghanistan and by extension, the adjacent, strategically crucial, region. Obama can sell American hegemony on that front, for the time being, and it seems that some of his 'progressive' supporters are quite keen on the occupation of Afghanistan. So, lucky Afghanistan: a heightened sense of liberation, at gunpoint as well as from 20,000 feet, is coming soon.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Israel's crisis of legitimacy posted by Richard Seymour

The decline in Israel's legitimacy among previously supportive populations in Europe and (to a much lesser extent) America was always going to be a syncopated and drawn out affair. The French Left followed Charles de Gaulle in supporting a two-state settlement after 1967. The British Left first decisively broke with Israel during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The American Left has been gradually adopting Palestine as a serious cause and the first time Palestinian flags made a significant appearance in American streets was as part of the antiwar movement. (Of course there remains an intransigent liberal bloc who are stridently supportive of Israel). And that's just the Left. It has taken much longer for public opinion as a whole to become hostile to Israel. That crisis would be significant enough, but one aspect of it that ought to be drawn out and looked at more is the extent of Jewish disaffection with Israel.

Gary Younge, writing in The Guardian some years back, cited research by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research from as long ago as 1995 which found that 20% of British Jews held hostile feelings toward Israel. Not to a policy or a particular leader such as Netanyahu - and this in the middle of the so-called Oslo peace negotiations. A 1999 research draft by Stephen Cohen of The Hebrew University suggested that among American Jews there was "a gradual and nearly uniform slippage in Israel attachment as we descend the age ladder, from older, to middle-aged, to younger Jews." He reviewed survey data that showed that just over a quarter of American Jews would say they were "very attached" to Israel. Conforming to this trend was a general decline in "involvement in Jewish life", by which he seems to mean involvement in the religious traditions of Judaism. It is worth noting at the same time that a scholarly essay published in 2000 by Moshe and Harriet Hartman noted that among American Jews, a denominational difference was also evident, with Orthodox Jews far more attached to Israel than Reform Jews. Various measures to combat this, such as arranging trips to Israel for Jewish students, have only limited impact since those most willing to visit the country are those more likely to identify with it in some way already. Other research data presented by Steven Cohen and Charles Liebman found that "more Jews identify Judaism with a commitment to social equality than with support for Israel or religious observance". Further research from 2002 by the American Jewish Committee confirmed all of these trends, despite a brief surge in support for Israel after 9/11 and during the early months of the second Intifada. It also documented a steep rise in support for a Palestinian state, which had reached almost 70% by 2002.

The reasons for this growing disaffection are discussed by Steven Rosenthal in his 2003 book, Irreconcilable Differences? The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair With Israel. Discussing findings that show only a third of American Jews see Israel as being important to their sense of Jewishness, while almost a third evince no attachment to Israel at all and a mere 20% thought it essential for a good Jew to support Israel, he offers three key explanations. They are: defeats inflicted on Israel after its 1967 triumph; the rightward drift of the Israeli mainstream since the late 1970s and particularly the enduring militarism of Israeli life; and the increasing harshness of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and also in Lebanon. American Jews, having been extremely supportive of Israel thus far, were revolted by the idea of being associated with the right-wing elements in Israel, from Ariel Sharon to the lunatics of the Orthodox fringe. Unsurprisingly, given the relationship between liberal or left-wing views and hostility to Israeli policy, by far the biggest supporters of Israel in American public opinion surveys on all questions, from the future of the West Bank to US government support for Israel, are the Christian fundamentalists. This is one of the reasons why various Jewish organisations which have themselves warned against the antisemitism of the Christian Right in the past have subsequently become their staunch allies in American politics.

This is not an uncomplicated matter, and it is important to put these findings in perspective. In the case of American Jews particularly, there is still vastly more support for Israel than there is for the Palestinians. The Palestinian struggle carries overwhelmingly negative connotations, while Israel is generally perceived as desiring peace and security. This is true of American public opinion in general, of course, but this story is about Israel's relative success and failure in maintaining Jewish support. Notwithstanding such qualifications, there is clearly a crisis brewing in Israel's global legitimacy particularly with respect to its most desired constitency, Jewish people themselves. A crucial argument of Zionism, which is not a recent innovation but has been with it since its inception, is that Jewish people in particular owe support to the Zionist movement and to Israel. It is their homeland and as such, the failure to support it can be seen as self-hating assimilationism among the Diaspora. Much of the research I've cited above is given over to bemoaning the emerging situation and trying to find ways to reverse it. Retaining the basic ideological attachment of non-Israeli Jews is seen as crucial for sustaining support among Western political classes. To that extent, this puts Israel and its apologists on the defensive. That is why, when Jewish people organise in support of the Palestinians and protest against Israeli aggression, the usual unpleasant and vindictive voices are raised in denunciation. It is why they are admonished in the terms of authoritarian communalism: "Do not separate yourself from the community". It is why some of Israel's supporters are increasingly estranged from reality, looking more and more demented as they struggle to defend the indefensible.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Achievement" posted by Richard Seymour

From the archives: colonialism and ethnic cleansing as a baccalaureate:

[I]s there anything of, let's just say, achievement in the fact that the Jewish people, after what befell them in Europe and surrounded by enemies, created a Jewish homeland, and a democracy at that in a region not exactly brimming with democracies?

By the way, as far as I know, "the Jewish people" didn't 'create' Israel. Some Jewish people did, most didn't. Most of the Jewish survivors of the Nazi holocaust created decent communities in America and Europe that did not depend on the ethnic cleansing or subordination of others. Many participated in an historic coalition that brought American segregation to an end: a project that I admit I find far more admirable than that of Ben Gurion and his confederates. By another way, is it reasonable to refer to any polity as a "democracy" when most of the inhabitants of the land are expelled, refugees, scattered to the four corners of the earth, denied their right to return, and thus denied any vote?

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beating them at their own game. posted by Richard Seymour

This is about what Hamid Dabashi calls 'colonial modernity', the strange process in which the practises supposedly associated with Enlightenment, daring to know, using one's own intelligence, were exported by virtue of military force in a way that deprived the supposed subjects of such Enlightenment of the agency to fulfil the Kantian imperative. I do not need to elaborate on the common theme in imperial ideology, from Mill to Whitman Rostow, in which the colonised world was regarded as being in need of a violent military ruler who would impose such Enlightenment until the subjects were of age. But this is particularly about a pre-emptive strike by the targets of colonial powers, by states that sought aggressively to appropriate the forms of colonial modernity before it was imposed on them. This process was an important, if complicated, component of the global challenge to European rule. Gerald Horne writes that the decline of white supremacy as a global system of state organisation was signalled by developments in the 1890s, particularly in the form of an event quite often just overlooked or skated over in the histories of Italy: the Italian defeat at the hands of Ethiopians in 1896. Horne writes that: "at the time there was “no parallel case in modern history” of a “European army . . . annihilated by a native African race.”" Before Ethiopia became a global beacon of resistance to Mussolini, a focal point in the struggle against white supremacy in its most pernicious forms, it had already made anti-colonial history right in the middle of the Scramble for Africa.

Less than a decade later, Japan would prove its mettle against Imperial Russia. The dynamics of state formation are crucial here: Japan had reacted defensively to incursions by the West, specifically Commodore Perry's 'opening' of the country in 1854, by building a form of state capitalism. It had built a modern state, and was admired by American politicians and thinkers for its willingness to imitate the white man. Similarly, Ethiopian modern state formation was driven by self-defense against the forays of European colonial states.

In the north of Africa and parts of western Africa, Islamic reformism provided the legitimising ideology for strategies of state-building and the development of 'legitimate commerce' (which is not to imply that capital accumulation was always coterminous with the development of modern states - it isn't the case with Ethiopia). So, for example, attempts by colonial powers to prevent Egypt from industrialising and maintain it as an agrarian periphery of Manchester (which was, apparently, to its "comparative advantage" in the Ricardian terminology of the time) were resisted by the subalternised elites increasingly under the banner of reviving Islam. Ethiopia was not Muslim but Christian, and according to prevalent raciological assumptions, the 'true' Ethiopians were 'white' since they could trace their descendants to the Hamitic invaders of north Africa. Indeed, Ethiopia was seen by some colonial sources as a welcome bulwark against Arab-Islamic expansion. But, according to the historian Teshale Tibebu, its processes of state formation in the nineteenth century, centralising rule over previously disunited sovereignties, were similarly defensive and similarly offensive. That is, to resist European colonial powers, Ethiopia's rulers understood well enough that a strong state could be built much as they had been in Europe: through territorial conquest, and by integrating parcellised groups and statehoods into a larger polity. The same military build-up and use of imported rifles that enabled the construction of a centralised Ethiopian state also facilitated its victory in the 1896 Battle of Adwa.

The very logic of centralisation and homogenisation - under which Emperor Haile Selassie would later repress regional demands for autonomy and quash the Ethiopian-Eritrean federation, and which validated the destructive centralism of the Derg - would have important consequences for the emergence of Ethiopian nationalism partly as a result of the victory at Adwa. On the one hand, it created a predatory state in which the martial class was at liberty to appropriate from the peasants even during peacetime. It also threatened to undermine the basis for national unity precisely through its repression of regional identities. On the other hand, though a relatively powerful army had been built, the Battle of Adwa was notable for being a popular war. Peasants from across the country, including the 'colonised' domains marched by foot, carrying their own equipment, to deliver a crushing defeat to the Italian would-be colonists. The Ethiopian army was 100,000 strong and, had it not been for the arrogance of the Italians in sending 14,500 troops to fight a vaster army of well-armed Ethiopians, the war may have been won without a shot being fired. The peasants who rallied to the defense of Ethiopia did so not to defend the aspirations of the monarchs. After all, it was Emperor Menelik who had signed a treaty with the Italian rulers, allowing them to rule Eritrea - and it was that treaty which, it turned out, gave all of Ethiopia to Italy in the Italian language version. The peasants had every reason to distrust and despise the Ethiopian ruling class, but they mobilised to resist what they knew would be an even more predatory and oppressive ruler, and thus opened the space for a generalised critique of the oppressive colonial modernity into which they were being integrated. The national identity that emerged after Adwa cannot be read off from 'natural' ethnic allegiances (even supposing such a thing could exist), but from a popular desire for equality and justice that could be turned against the ruling class itself.

This dynamic of national liberation was evident throughout the twentieth century: the attempt to subvert the racial hierarchy (or in the case of Japan, to invert it, to place white Euro-Americans at the bottom of the pyramid) involved a dual process in which national rulers sought to emulate the colonists through the construction of developmentalist states, and at the same time mobilised popular movements who would challenge the colonial model in its entirety. And of course, the model for popular insurgency, or at least the informing lexicon, came from the Russian Revolution. Horne argues that this revolution was by far the key moment in the attack on white supremacy. American race theorists certainly saw it in such terms:

The implications of the Bolshevik Revolution for “white supremacy” were glimpsed early on by Lothrop Stoddard, Madison Grant, and other theorists of “white supremacy.” The latter saw “Asia in the guise of Bolshevism with Semitic leadership and Chinese executioners organizing an assault upon western Europe.” The former saw Lenin as “a modern Jenghiz Khan plotting the plunder of a world”; Bolshevism, he exclaimed, was “in fact, as anti-racial as it is anti-social” and “thus reveals itself as the arch-enemy of civilization and the race. Bolshevism is the renegade, the traitor within the gates, who would betray the citadel. Therefore, Bolshevism must be crushed out with iron heels, no matter what the cost.”

Even racist American rulers entertained respect for 'plucky' little Japan. Theodore Roosevelt admired their martial capabilities a great deal, and there was in fact a brief period of conviviality between the US and Japan after the defeat of Russia, which lasted until Wilson's role in thwarting a clause calling for racial equality at the Paris Peace Conference. But Bolshevism was something different. It was a frontal attack on a whole model, a whole 'way of life' as it would come to be called. It was fundamentally alien and threatening precisely because it sought to revolutionise modernity, to draw out its democratising, egalitarian impulses and bring them to their logical conclusion. There could be no co-existence with it, and no mutual respect, because Bolshevism didn't just mean healthy competition with white ruling classes: it meant death to them.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Race doesn't matter in America any more. posted by Richard Seymour

Race doesn't matter in America any more. All that stuff you heard about black people dying younger, getting the worst jobs, getting poverty and neglect, being thrown into jail disproportionately, suffering from police brutality - apparently, it's all bullshit, and people are going to vote for Obama and prove that race doesn't matter in America any more. Yes, we can! On the other hand. A while ago, McCain's campaign accused Obama of playing 'the race card' when Obama suggested that there might be a bit of racism in some of the GOP machine's lines of attack. I had to stop and think about this for a moment. Then, I heard that Rush Limbaugh had aired a sketch of sorts describing Barack Obama as "The Magic Negro". I had to think about that for a second too. Then, the New Yorker recently produced a front page that 'ironically' depicted Obama and his wife as Arab terrorists. And CNN ran a spot asking 'What's In a Name?' which compared Obama to Osama, and juxtaposed images of the two (presumably, CNN could then point out that the obvious answer was 'nothing' and then congratulate itself for a program that actually contributed to the race-baiting). One of Hillary Clinton's many touching little gestures during her race-baiting campaign was to 'darken' an image of Obama, so that white voters remembered that they were dealing with one of them. One could go on at some length about the proliferating images and statements on the theme that, just a reminder, he's one of them.

Consider the first two instances that I mentioned above. Obama vaguely hints that some right-wing propaganda about him is a little bit racist, and McCain's campaign is rapidly on the phones, blitzing the media with the news that Obama is playing the 'race card'. Normally the 'race card' is something played by racists not by the victims of racism - but here, we are supposed to conclude that Obama is one of those over-sensitive, prickly whiners who 'reads things into things' and uses his, er, 'background' to victimise well-meaning white people. You know the type I mean - Mr Angry in work, who always thinks you're being racist just for telling harmless jokes. Yeah, that guy. Vote against that bastard. Affronted by Obama's popular edge over McCain, even when the latter is being wildly misrepresented as a normal human being, Limbaugh's show dubs him 'The Magical Negro'. A pathetic Paul Shanklin 'imitates' Al Sharpton singing a bitter little ditty about how "Barack the Magic Negro" is taking away his popularity and not being a real black man like Farrakhan and Snoop Dogg. If you want to familiarise yourself with the traditions of racial denigration involved here, here are some examples from the archives:

While the racist tirade from Limbaugh's program makes light of the gap between those depicted as illiterate demagogues and crooks and the 'eloquent' Obama, it is also designed to remind viewers that he is indeed one of them, and that they are all essentially the same, and that guilty white liberals are going to sell out the country to them. You might argue that all of this is the last refulgence of an ideology of white supremacy that is about to perish, even if the material conditions which such doctrines defend are in rude health. You'd be a sap, but you might argue that.

Yet, Obama has not been particularly admirable in his responses to this kind of thing, except for one occasion when he was cornered by the reactionaries. As Gary Younge pointed out, 'race' is the one thing Obama is never going to be any good on. So, he has duly told reporters that if he loses, it will not be anything to do with 'race'. Rather, it will be because of mistakes he has made. He has backed the killers of Sean Bell, repudiated demands for reparation, cooperated with the prevailing racist ideology by helping blame black people for the problems they experience in a racist society, and has generally done as much as he can possibly do to separate himself from those 'angry' types that you see on the news. As Paul Street argues, he is also doing everything he can to bore, frustrate and alienate the base, because his campaign is a centrist one hitched to the interests of Wall Street. Distilled to its essence, and denuded of its sonorous slogans, Obama's message is that real change is both impossible and unnecessary. No, we can't. And the result may be that racial block voting kills the Obama campaign, puts a crazy old cracker in the White House and leaves Obama's supporters miserable and dejected, wondering how race can still matter so much to so many people.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

American depression posted by Richard Seymour

The latest statistics suggest that unemployment in the US has risen to 5.7%. But that is the official, joke figure. At the height of the Clinton boom in 1997, unemployment was estimated by the Council on International and Public Affairs to be around 11.4% - more than double the official figure at the time. Almost ten years later, in early 2007 and before the housing crisis started to hammer the stock market, the official US unemployment rate was 4.5%, but the real figure was closer to 13%, nearly three times the official figure. So, when you hear that today it is around 5.7%, you have to think that the real figure is close to 15%, which is about 23 million people.

The official poverty rate in America is 11-12%. About 40% of Americans fall below the federal poverty level at some point in a given ten year period. But that is the official figure, an 'absolute' poverty threshold based on an absolute minimum income that would be required to meet the basic material needs. At present, it is set at $10,400 (£5,570) for a single person. Most anti-poverty campaigns use a relative measure, and for good reason. Poverty is a matter of social justice, not of charity - it has to be considered in light of the society's capacity to produce wealth, which is why one doesn't expect Sudan to meet the same criteria as the United States. The UNDP estimated that relative poverty, defined as 50% of median income, was 17% in the US, as of 2006. Today, amid record foreclosures (17% of all homes for sale in the US are repossessed) and as the credit crunch bites, even the absolute poverty figures will be soaring. Bear in mind that the trend has been for deep poverty to rise most significantly. Even in periods of growth, a third of US jobs pay low wages, and almost 1.5m workers receive less than the minimum wage (again, by official statistics that are certain to be an underestimate). The use of soup kitchens - corporate America's preferred response to poverty - has been rising for some years. In 2003, 31 million Americans didn't know where their next meal was coming from. Given the spate of news items detailing a recent rise in demand on the food lines and the disproportionate impact of food price rises on the poor, you can judge for yourself how much that figure must rise by. As you would expect, all of this has been taking place against a background of soaring inequality, so that during the Katrina crisis it was disclosed that the total number of millionaires in America had reached 8.9 million.

I just raise all this because, as the recession bites, there is some predictably callow commentary from American opinionators, generally of the variety that it isn't all that bad and the country is full of whiners. And, of course, for said opinionators, it probably isn't all that bad. For those who have little to complain about it, all this talk of depression probably does look like whining. One cannot help but recall the infamous Newsweek frontpage bemoaning "The Whine of '99: 'Everyone's Getting Rich But Me!'" What will "The Whine of '09" look like, I wonder? "Everyone's Getting Fed But Me"?

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tribune of the Plebs posted by Richard Seymour

When a member of the ruling class switches sides...

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Stop the War meeting on "Georgia, Nato and the Spread of War" posted by Richard Seymour

Ady Cousins has done the usual sterling work:

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The costs of NATO expansionism posted by Richard Seymour

The confusing, and increasingly shrill, coverage of the ongoing impasse in Georgia has made it difficult to assess what is actually going on. For example, this would appear to vindicate the judgment that the crisis betokens renewed multipolar rivalry. If Russia truly is threatening a strike against the nuclear 'missile shield' in Poland, it is fair to say that this escalates matters somewhat. Poland is not Iran - you can't threaten a European country which is part of NATO and protected by the US without consequences. But I'm afraid it's as difficult to put faith in such reports as it is to take seriously everything that appears on 'Russia Today'. British and American media outlets have been absolutely appalling over this crisis, dissembling ridiculously and doing everything to give the impression that the issue is purely the result of Russian aggression. This, as Paul Reynolds points out, is part of a Bush administration effort to turn a geopolitical loss into a propaganda success.

This week, a constant theme has been that Russia is violating its peace agreement. Now, I know that Russian troops are not welcome in Georgia, and should get out. I don't need to be reminded that Putin has blood on his hands. But it is ridiculous to hear that a peace deal has been abrogated, and at the same time be told both that Saakashvili had refused to sign the deal (just as he and his supporters had blocked a UNSC peace deal), and that the deal included provisions allowing for unspecified Russian 'security operations' inside Georgia. Clearly, the situation was that the Georgians were playing for time, hoping that the US could swing some weight behind them and make the deal less humiliating. The Russians, meanwhile, were demonstrating their overwhelming ability to subjugate Georgia if they wanted to, so that Saakashvili never gets ideas again. However, the editorial priority at each stage of this saga appears to have been to frame it in terms of what has now become the Bush narrative: straightforward Russian predation against local democracies. Mock the neoconservatives' on their 'Munich' binge if you like, but perfectly mainstream reporting has done everything to create the propaganda background against which such drivel appears comprehensible, even sensible. In light of this, it is likely that something very important is being left out of the story on Russia's alleged nuclear threat. For example, and this is just a thought, it could be that General Nogovitsyn actually intimated that Poland's missile sites would be a target in the event of an attack on the Russian Federation.

However that turns out, the struggle appears to be tilting in Russia's direction in the short term. As I suggested, Bush's speech appears to have contained a few things that made the military leadership nervous, and it really doesn't look like the navy is going to be sent in there. Turkey, whose permission would have to be sought, has a neoliberal Islamist leadership that wants America to 'share power'. In Georgia, meanwhile, Saakashvili's opponents are now mobilising against him (the Irish Times assures us that he reamins "broadly popular" despite the fact that his approval ratings had dropped to 23% within a year of the 'Rose Revolution'). The main opposition forces in Georgia are actually moderately conservative, and broadly pro-US: their beef with Saakashvili is that he is an undemocratic blundering idiot who brought this shit on Georgia and uses conflict with Russia to justify terror against his opponents. So, if they have their shit together, and if the Georgian state is in a sufficient panic, Saakashvili may be gone soon.

In the long run, the future of NATO will have a lot to do with whether this localised conflict becomes outright hostility between two nuclear states. Recall that NATO is no longer purely a defence pact (it never really was, but that was its formal remit). It did not disappear after the Warsaw Pact collapsed, because the Warsaw Pact had never been its sole target: in fact, the Warsaw Pact was founded in response to NATO, six years after its inception, rather than the other way round. But it could no longer simply pretend that it was a defensive organisation whose duration was determined by an external threat. It had to reconfigure its political and strategic justifications, and its organisational structure. The new mantras were "From Containment to Enlargement" (Anthony Lake), and "Out of area, or out of business" (Senator Richard Lugar). All this, of course, was complementary to Lord Ismay's old formulation of NATO's raison d'etre: to "keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down". So, NATO's new strategic concept was to advance far into Eastern Europe, and commit itself to actions outside its traditional zone, mainly in the "axial" super-continent of Eurasia. A Europe "whole and free" would be America's ally as it expanded its hegemony across the Eurasian land-mass. Friendly critics such as Edward Luttwak maintained that this strategy would dilute the political cohesion of the organisation and provoke Russia. The transatlantic axis, though apparently assured by America's evidently superior dynamism and drive, and the EU's temporary acquiescence, would be put in peril.

These criticisms turn out to have been prophetic. One also has to consider the related attempt to get Russians to let America "do their thinking for them", which has roots in late 19th Century US imperialism. That project was, at times, violently undemocratic, as when the West backed Yeltsin's coup in order to further the most extreme variant of neoliberal ideology. By 1996, the result was so transparently catastrophic that it had produced a nationalist reflux among substantial sectors of the elite as well as among the bulk of the population. Stephen F Cohen writes (in Failed Crusade, 2001) that it resulted in "more anti-Americanism than I had personally observed in forty years of studying and visiting Soviet and post-Soviet Russia". There was just no way that this could fail to result in a popular constituency for assertive nationalism. The Bush administration's Cold War-style belligerence and pursuit of an even more expansive missile shield than the former Vice President had proposed, was tied with the abrogation of the ABM treaty, and the determination to continue the expansion of NATO to the East. But these were more extreme variants of the previous administration's policies. In respect of the transatlantic axis, which is looking quite strained as Berlusconi sides with the Russians and Merkel takes an equidistant posture, many would have been surprised by the alacrity with which the Bush administration sought to thwart the policy goals of West European governments regarding the WTO, and browbeat them over Iraq. However, these tendencies were again prefigured in the Clinton administration. And the cooperation of the EU was partially based on the project in which the EU sought to develop its own independent military capacity (the so-called 'Rapid Reaction Force' under the rubric of the Common European Security and Defence Policy). The lack of military capacity and financial constraints always made such a project dependent on NATO in its germinal phase. But if such a project were ever to get off the ground, which seems highly unlikely, it is not necessarily the case that it would remain compatible with NATO. Even if, in the foreseeable future, the EU is not going to be able to project military force globally in anything like the capacity that the US can, it doesn't absolutely have to remain under US tutelage if a sufficient portion of its members feel that its policies are costing them. And it is abundantly apparent that many major EU states resent US policy toward Russia because it causes them to lose out in the struggle over energy access.

What this terminus has revealed, ironically, is that NATO's expansion is becoming the basis not of sustained American hegemony, but of multipolar rivalry, and a sharp fissure in the transatlantic coalition.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

"The Great Illusion" posted by Richard Seymour

Good piece by Paul Krugman on this dangerous conjuncture:

And now comes “militarism and imperialism.” By itself, as I said, the war in Georgia isn’t that big a deal economically. But it does mark the end of the Pax Americana — the era in which the United States more or less maintained a monopoly on the use of military force. And that raises some real questions about the future of globalization.

Most obviously, Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, especially natural gas, now looks very dangerous — more dangerous, arguably, than its dependence on Middle Eastern oil. After all, Russia has already used gas as a weapon: in 2006, it cut off supplies to Ukraine amid a dispute over prices.

And if Russia is willing and able to use force to assert control over its self-declared sphere of influence, won’t others do the same? Just think about the global economic disruption that would follow if China — which is about to surpass the United States as the world’s largest manufacturing nation — were to forcibly assert its claim to Taiwan.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Just shut up. posted by Richard Seymour

This is John "100 Year Reich" McCain:

"I want to have a dialogue with the Russians. I want them to get out of Georgian territory as quickly as possible. And I am interested in good relations between the United States and Russia. But in the twenty-first century, nations don’t invade other nations."

Shut up, McCain. Just shut up.

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Washington to Saakashvili: shut up, already. posted by Richard Seymour

Was it all just bravado? Well, Washington's escalation was carefully pitched: in Bush's announcement there were plenty of veiled threats and few specifics. He did not say "we are going to take over Georgia's military command and run the shit from the Pentagon", nor did he say "the US ministry of defense is going to take over Georgia's airports and sea ports". But he left enough threads dangling that one could infer a wide range of possible US actions - and from this administration, you certainly wouldn't rule out the most aggressive strategies. There is an element of the 'madman theory' in action here: let the world think we're about nuts enough to do anything, and they'll go along with our preferred strategy with some relief and gratitude. Saakashvili spoiled it by blustering that, uh huh, America was going to take over Georgia's airports and sea ports and run them from Washington. This provoked an immediate denial from his nervous American backers. As the Washington Post points out, the US appears to have been relying on "mixed signals", by "pointedly using military planes and ships and warning Russia not to block sea, air or land transport routes, while insisting it had no plans to intervene militarily." But the Pentagon insists that: "This is not an attempt to put military assets in closer proximity to inject U.S. forces into this conflict". It also denies that naval vessels will actually be sent to the Black Sea. And the US has, apparently, warned Saakashvili not to provoke Russia militarily by sending Georgian troops into South Ossetia and they had ruled out any U.S. military action to defend Georgia.

Saakashvili may be upsetting the American posture with his mercurial performances, but that doesn't mean we can feel at ease. The crucial point here is that the situation has its own deadly dynamics that can override the exiguous constraints of diplomacy. Bearing in mind the context of a brutal struggle over the control of energy supplies in the region, and given America's determination to maintain the encirclement of Russia, Georgia is still a dangerous frontline. The US mission, moreover, is clearly not a 'humanitarian' one, and to that extent Pentagon disavowals are totally unbelievable. The US may deliver substantial relief supplies (the scale of the proposed aid is supposedly unusually large), but I expect they will do so in addition to supplying military aid and direction. Already they have helped deliver 2,000 Georgian troops from Iraq and supplied substantial military training, and among their current avowed aims is to send a few dozen officers to liaise with the Georgian military. There is also the question of divisions in the American state. It seems as if there is an effort by some in the defense establishment to take the heat out of Bush's remarks. The US military leadership may not want anything that could even approach a confrontation with Russia - but the civilian leadership is quite ruthless and has a knack for outmanoeuvering its opponents in the state. Regionally, the US may also decide to up its game. The presence of US troops across the former Soviet states has thus far been quite limited: no need for them as long as there's a pro-Washington regime and no serious military threat. Although the 'lily-pads' are significant in terms of their potential uses, securing strategic routes for US troops should the need arise, the total number of US troops in the former Soviet countries as of 2005 was 132 [pdf] (by contrast, there were over 35,000 troops stationed in Japan and almost 30,000 in South Korea). In light of intensified struggles in the Caucasus and Central Asia, that figure may rise substantially. And as I have said before, even if the current dilemmatic is temporarily resolved, it is bound to flare up again soon. The fact that this contest is rooted in something as central to global capitalism as the extraction and transport of energy means that it is permament and inclined to escalate - and that ought to give us a presentiment of real horror.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

US forces to be sent to Georgia. posted by Richard Seymour

Talk about an escalation: Bush is sending in the navy and the airforce. You would have to be dead from the neck up to think that this is just about 'delivering humanitarian aid'. You don't need hawk airjets and naval vessels to deliver relief supplies. You do need them if you intend to fight somebody. Clearly, it's Washington stepping up, and it's a very dangerous gambit. Russia, having taken advantage of Georgia's attack on South Ossetia, is reported to be still engaging in military attacks despite the claim of a ceasefire. This has been both vicious and reckless, regardless of the fact that Georgia initiated the hostilities. It is possible that some of these reports are fabricated, or exaggerated, but it seems indubitable that Russia is not abiding by its own ceasefire. America is saying that it will place its military forces right in Georgia, and if Russian forces somehow inhibit their activities, well... anything that happens then will be blamed on Moscow. That too is reckless, presumably a victory for Dick Cheney and his allies in the administration. It seriously raises the possibility of war between two nuclear states - and that makes the antiwar movement more necessary than ever.

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Plausible deniability posted by Richard Seymour

An airborne laser weapon dubbed the "long-range blowtorch" has the added benefit that the US could convincingly deny any involvement with the destruction it causes, say senior officials of the US Air Force (USAF).

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Putin wins (confirmed) posted by Richard Seymour

We have just watched the world become more dangerous. I'll come back to this point later, but here is the deal as it stands: Georgia will abjure violence as a means of resolving the South Ossetian conflict, withdraw all forces from South Ossetia and no longer be part of the 'peacekeeping' force, and permit referendums to allow South Ossetia and Abkhazia to join Russia. In return for this, Russian tanks and jets will not raze Georgia to the ground. In addition, the conclusion to the conflict has confirmed a shift in the balance of power in the region. US and allied forces are busy holding down Iraq and Afghanistan, thus freeing up Russia to be far more aggressive. Georgia stupidly gave the Russian government the opportunity to close the deal in South Ossetia with a brutal and humiliating military assault, and evidently no one had any power to stop it. Any efforts at punishing Russia's aggression are likely to be symbolic (not to mention utterly hypocritical). So, I guess the war games conducted by the US military in Georgia last month were futile. My sense is that, like the manoeuvres we keep hearing about in the Gulf, such activities are intended as much to intimidate as to gain experience for a potential attack, but Saakashvili evidently blew away any leverage this gave Georgia with his crazy attack on South Ossetia. And he has been rapidly frittering away his remaining credibility by making absurd claims like this one. First, Russia is planning genocide that mysteriously doesn't come to pass, then its bombing pipelines that BP says are intact, then it has invaded and taken control of the majority of the Georgian land mass without being spotted doing so. Now, if he could get BHL and Medicins du Monde to make these claims on his behalf, then he might be getting somewhere.

Georgia's NATO bid, by the way, is also finished for the time being. Saakashvili has quixotically decided to leave the CIS in anticipation of America being able to accelerate the country's membership of NATO, but let's be serious. Forget what the AP says, forget what the NATO Secretary-General says, and forget what John McCain says - NATO is not going to be swooning for Saakashvili right now. And if it was divided before, the balance of opinion in the alliance is now likely to be strongly against even leaving the door open for a future Georgia bid. Even the Secretary-General merely confirms in a vague, diplomatic fashion that the Bucharest communique, which allows Georgia to potentially be a member at some point in the indefinite future, stands. This is how a sceptical EU official puts it today:

"I think the current conflict has moved us away from the MAP plan. Moving forward wouldn't be a great idea," says one European Union official. "When you look at it, we feel validated."

The violence this week, and the events that precipitated it, have raised some new concerns as well. "It makes you ask about Georgia's motives for joining NATO," adds the official, positing that one motive might be an expectation of protection on the heels of its attempts to retake by force its breakaway region of South Ossetia, which has expressed a desire to become part of Russia. And the willingness to undertake such military campaigns is not what NATO is currently looking for in expanding its membership. "This," he says, "is an alliance of responsibility."

The ubiquitous "analysts" are also agreed that this crisis has checked NATO's eastward expansion for the time being. However, this doesn't mean the crisis is over. The longer term effect of this war will be to sharpen the struggle for energy resources and to increase America's determination to somehow rein in the local power. Russia will almost certainly throw its weight around a lot more in the Caucasus and Central Asia, probably arming and subsidising local proxies. America and those who support it globally will flood regional allies with weapons and money, build up the 'lily-pads', support any potentially secessionist current within Russia, anything that might be destabilising and drain resources, try to lure the country into a war it can't win, and so on. In short, as I've said, we've just watched the world become more dangerous. Those who thought it would improve stability if US power was 'balanced' by two, three, many imperialisms were mistaken. Watch the arms race resume, see that new generation of nuclear weapons proliferate, observe as the mini-conflicts and conflagrations sponsored by different players leave thousands dead, and witness the deadly escalation in global tensions... and then you'll see what I mean.

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