Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Last Wednesday, I posted about the Appeal for Redress, active duty soldiers petitioning for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Aaron Glantz describes one of the reasons for the emergence of this movement:
One reason for the rise in discontent is the high percentage of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who return from the war with serious injuries. According to documents obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, 25 percent of veterans of the "global war on terror" have filed disability compensation and pension benefit claims with the Veterans Benefits Administration.
One is a July 20, 2006, document titled "Compensation and Pension Benefit Activity Among Veterans of the Global War on Terrorism," which shows that 152,669 veterans filed disability claims after fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Of the more than 100,000 claims granted, Veterans Administration records show at least 1,502 veterans have been compensated as 100 percent disabled.
The numbers hardly surprise Adele Kubein, a graduate student in a teaching position at Oregon State University and a member of the group Military Families Speak Out. Her daughter Makesha, a member of the Oregon National Guard, was blown out of her helicopter in Iraq.
"Her leg was shattered and she was kept in combat two more months after that with a shattered leg," Kubein told IPS. "She was eventually medically evacuated out, and she was held on a base in Colorado interminably. They were not going to release her because there was no plan in place for medical assistance for National Guard members. They were threatening to release her from the military without further medical care."
Pamuk, Snow and the Nobel Peace Prize
On Thursday, October 12th, I posted a review of Orhan Pamuk's novel Snow in response to his selection for the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. In that review, I quoted the insightful perspective of the iconoclastic Spengler as a major feature of my review. Yesterday, Spengler elaborated upon Pamuk's current predicament:
Whatever the political motivations of the Swedish Academy might have been, Snow is an indispensable tale of civilizational tragedy. The pity is that Pamuk's own case would have made an even better novel; in the best self-referential fashion, he has become the protagonist of his own fiction in the theater of the real. Jorge Luis Borges would have been amused.
When Pamuk told a Swiss interviewer in February 2005 that Turkey had massacred "a million Armenians" during World War I (the actual number was more than twice that), he joined a number of Turkish academics who broached the great taboo of Turkish history. But he underestimated his country's swing toward political Islam under Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. The following June, Turkey enacted the notorious Article 301 making it a crime to "insult Turkishness", and Pamuk was charged retroactively. A storm of international protest persuaded the Turkish government to drop the charges, but Pamuk now lives in effective exile in New York, where Columbia University shelters him with a visiting professorship.
During a June 2004 visit to Turkey, US President George W Bush offered:The bridge has fallen, leaving Pamuk gasping for breath on the Western shore. Turkey's Western loyalties were founded upon a secular nationalism that sought to bury Islam under modernizing reforms. Pamuk's theme in Snow is the horrible emptiness of secular Turkey, with its poverty, inertia, bureaucratic sclerosis and official brutality. Thoroughly secular in upbringing and outlook, Pamuk nonetheless evinces profound sympathy for the Islamic loyalties of the Turkish poor, as well as the terrible attraction that political Islam holds for Turkey's disappointed elite.
The Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk has said that the finest view of Istanbul is not from the shores of Europe, or from the shores of Asia, but from a bridge that unites them, and lets you see both. His work has been a bridge between cultures, and so is the Republic of Turkey. The people of this land understand, as that great writer has observed, that "what is important is not [a] clash of parties, civilizations, cultures, East and West". What is important, he says, is to realize "that other people in other continents and civilizations" are "exactly like you".
Did Israel Use Uranium Weapons in Lebanon?
Lastly, I posted extensive coverage of the Israeli assault upon Lebanon during July and August. Now, Robert Fisk ponders whether Israel utilized a new uranium weapon during the conflict:
We know that the Israelis used American "bunker-buster" bombs on Hizbollah's Beirut headquarters. We know that they drenched southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, leaving tens of thousands of bomblets which are still killing Lebanese civilians every week. And we now know - after it first categorically denied using such munitions - that the Israeli army also used phosphorous bombs, weapons which are supposed to be restricted under the third protocol of the Geneva Conventions, which neither Israel nor the United States have signed.
But scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel's weapons inventory - and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures". Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry - used by the Ministry of Defence - which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples.
Dr Busby's initial report states that there are two possible reasons for the contamination. "The first is that the weapon was some novel small experimental nuclear fission device or other experimental weapon (eg, a thermobaric weapon) based on the high temperature of a uranium oxidation flash ... The second is that the weapon was a bunker-busting conventional uranium penetrator weapon employing enriched uranium rather than depleted uranium." A photograph of the explosion of the first bomb shows large clouds of black smoke that might result from burning uranium.
Monday, October 30, 2006
If The Battle of Algiers is revered for being a nearly perfectly executed, almost surgical, exposition of the contours of the violent struggle for Algerian independence, so skillfully rendered that it was mistakenly accepted as an archetype for such struggles globally, Queimada, or Burn!, as it was titled upon release in the US, is the opposite, a film that mesmerizes precisely because of the grandiosity of Pontecorvo, and his scriptwriter, Franco Solanis, in attempting the impossible task of encapsulating the lessons of three hundred years of imperialism in a 2 hour and 12 minute film. If one considers Queimada as a sort of prequel to The Battle of Algiers, a film in which Pontecorvo took almost exactly the same amount of time to focus upon a three year period in the independence struggle, 1954-1957, the absurdity of the enterprise becomes apparent.
With the exception of describing Queimada as a sequel to The Battle of Algiers, despite the fact that the events of the film predate the Algerian independence struggle by about 100 years, Geoff Andrew's capsule review for the TimeOut film guide is fairly good:
As an important aside, it should be noted that Pontecorvo and Solinas substituted Portugal for Spain after being subjected to pressure by the Spanish government, historically, there was no Portuguese sugar monopoly, so the film is really centered around the substitution of a feudal form of exploitation with a mercantile one.
Pontecorvo's memorable sequel to Battle of Algiers sees Brando in finely ambiguous form as the drunken, cynical Sir William Walker, a British agent sent to the Caribbean island of Queimada in the mid-1800s to stir up a native rebellion against the Portuguese sugar monopoly; ten years later, he is forced to return there to destroy the leader he himself created, in order to open up trade with Britain. Falling between epic adventure and political allegory, the film is occasionally clumsily structured and poorly focused; but Pontecorvo, working from a script by Franco Solinas, provides a sharp, provocative analysis of colonialism, full of telling irony, bravura set pieces, and compelling imagery, while Brando's stiff-lipped performance, emphasising his character's confused mixture of dignity and deceit, intelligence and evil, determination and disillusion, never allows the allegory to dominate the human content. A flawed but fascinating film.
Now, as to the flaw, it is readily identified. Unlike in The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo and Solinas could not rely so strongly upon the accumulation of detail as a form of narrative. Instead, they had chosen a project with such a broad canvas that it was necessary to dramatically interweave three challenging elements, an evocation of a particular time and place, unfamiliar to most viewers, a more romanticized storytelling approach and a sharp ideological perspective. Furthermore, the story itself was a much more abstract one about the relatively distant past, and hence, they lacked personal access to individuals, as they did prior to making The Battle of Algiers, who, as participants in the conflict, could relate personal experiences upon which the film could be grounded.
Despite an inability to maintain a clear, consistent perspective, Queimada remains, to this day, a riveting film to watch. As New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wrote upon its release, after describing his own dissatisfactions with it: Having said all this, I must add that I wasn't bored by the film for a minute. That was my experience when I watched it on television, in a dubbed American version, in the 1970s.
Why does the film remain so compelling? Well, first of all, it is one of the finest films ever made in regard to personalizing the brutalities of colonialism so as to force us to emotionally respond. For example, the racism by which Europeans, and their mixed race offspring, governed their Carribbean colonies with contempt for the indigenous populace is effectively conveyed through everyday social contact. It is unflinching in its presentation of counterinsurgency violence, most graphically in a scene where Walker orders his troops to burn a sugar cane field, forcing the rebels hiding within to try to escape by running out of the other end, only to be shot down. The sheer physicality of the people and events is a wonder, especially when contrasted with today's digital cinema.
Interestingly, as with The Battle of Algiers, a retrospective viewing of Queimada reveals some problematic aspects that may not have been recognized when it was released because of its raw emotional power. Given its scathing indictment of colonialism, one can easy to miss the rather obvious fact that the film relies upon a narrative structure that is, in itself, imperialistic, the centering of a story about the abuse and revolutionary aspirations of the people of Queimada primarily in the person of Walker, the British mercenary. Pontecorvo and Solinas may have been an inspiration to filmmakers throughout the Global South, but with this film, unlike The Battle of Algiers, they left it to those they inspired to make films from the perspective of the colonized.
Here, as in The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo is masterful at conjoining camera movement and the choreography of large groups of people so that the screen becomes charged with collective desire. Ennio Morricone's score, similar in its insistence and repetitiveness to the one he composed for The Battle of Algiers, employs the choral harmonies and modalities of Gregorian chants with a syncopated beat that has you just about leaping out of your seat when the victorious slave army, ragtag and radiant, comes dancing and prancing on the backs of plumed horses to claim the prize for their hard-won, bloody rebellion. The prize, of course, will not be theirs. The fork-tongued Walker will convince José Dolores (Evaristo Márquez), the rebel general he has mentored, that he's gone as far as he can go - that blacks cannot govern themselves or trade on the world market.
In effect, the film, despite the best efforts of Pontecorvo and Solanis, is a European critique of an odious aspect of European history, not a multicultural presentation of the tragic intersection of European and Carribbean experience. This is most blatantly exposed in the nature of the plot itself. Walker must travel to Queimada to discover and, as Taubin accurately describes, mentor Jose Dolores so that he can expel the feudal Portuguese. Walker provides Dolores with weapons, and even instigates an incident by which the rebellion is violently launched towards its success. The possibility that the people of Queimada possessed a history and a culture by which they might have ultimately organized themselves to overcome the Portuguese apparently never occurred to Pontecorvo and Solinas. Such a lack of agency, in contrast the Algerians in The Battle of Algiers, is remarkable, and may reflect an inability of the filmmakers to understand the social world of an indigenous people prior to being subjected to the transformative aspects of the imperial project.
Indeed, when viewed in this light, Pontecorvo's selection of an amateur actor, Evaristo Marquez, to play the role of Dolores takes on a different cast. Just as it was necessary for the fictional Walker to mentor the fictional Dolores, so it was equally necessary for Pontecorvo to mentor Marquez, as if Pontecorvo had more to contribute to the cultural aspect of a film about the revolutionary potential of indigenous Caribbean peoples. Taubin identifies the most Eurocentric aspect of Pontecorvo's interpretation when she astutely emphasizes the implicit homoeroticism in the relationship between Walker and Dolores.
In other words, we have yet another exoticized, sexualized interpretation of an encounter between white and dark skinned people. By 1969 standards, it was all very daring, but from our seat in the theater in 2006, it is shop worn. Pontecorvo and Solinas made a striking film based upon the Tinkers to Evers to Chance ideological construct of the day, feudalism to capitalism to socialism, with Walker and Dolores, subjected to the personal and sexual anxieties of the filmmakers, serving as the mechanism by which the process invariably moves forward, a process made even more explicit by the ending of the film. Depending upon your political philosophy, our perspective has become either more sophisticated, or more confused, and awaits artists with the talent of Pontecorvo and Solanis to bring it to the screen.
Friday, October 27, 2006
The Washington Post observed that the brilliance of The Battle of Algiers lies not only with its masterfully fictionalized documentary appearance, but equally with its subtle, humanistic portrayal of all participants in the conflict:
Gillo Pontecorvo, who has died aged 86, was a gentle man with kind, twinkling eyes, who, among innumerable achievements, directed the classic film The Battle of Algiers (1965). Edward Said said that The Battle of Algiers and Queimada (1969), Pontecorvo's next film, were the two greatest political films ever made. He also said that Pontecorvo's political work for the cinema made it possible for directors such as Costa-Gavras to emerge, as well as influencing other film-makers in the Third World.
During the 1960s, Pontecorvo became convinced that the anti-colonialist wars of the time were an important theme for a film. In 1962, he and fellow director Franco Solinas went to Algeria - as its war of independence against France was concluding - armed with false papers and the idea of building a story around a former paratrooper during that war. Franco Cristaldi, the producer, did not want to make the film, not least since the French extreme right-wing group, the OAS, was planting bombs against those who supported the Algerian cause.
Then, in 1964, after independence, former Algerian guerrilla Salah Baazi visited Italy in search of a director to make a film on the independence struggle. He met Pontecorvo, whose idea for Para, as the film was going to be called, did not appeal. Baazi did not want a film that treated the subject from a European point of view. Pontecorvo eventually proposed an alternative scenario, offering to work for nothing in case the film did not please the Algerians. In return, the then ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) would assist Pontecorvo and Solinas to find and interview activists. The writing of the screenplay ("a fiction written under the dictatorship of fact") was long and arduous, but when Pontecorvo arrived in Algiers, it was discovered that the script had been left on the roof of a car. Two weeks later sections of it appeared in a French rightwing newspaper.
The Algerian general strike of 1957 was the focus of the black and white film. All the players, with the exception of Jean Martin (Colonel Mathieu), were non-professionals. Pontecorvo co-wrote the score with Ennio Morricone and he continued to write scores for his films, maintaining they were structured with music in mind (he regarded The Battle of Algiers as having a "symphonic structure").
When The Battle of Algiers was screened at the Venice Film Festival in 1966, it received a great ovation. Pontecorvo maintained it was the most emotional moment of his life. He won the Golden Lion, but the French delegation left in protest and the film was not distributed in France until 1971. Death threats deterred cinema owners, and it was only through pressure from the director, Louis Malle, and others that it was eventually shown.
In this, and the ironic stance required to execute it, Pontecorvo could be said, strangely enough, to be a cinematic descendant of Douglas Sirk and an anticipation of another of my favorite directors, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Indeed, Fassbinder was considered notorious by some for what they thought were overly empathetic portrayals of the ideological enemies of his time, whether developers, financiers, cops, soldiers or even influential ex-Nazis permitted by the US to have prominent roles in the West German republic.
Based on interviews with soldiers and Resistance leaders, Mr. Pontecorvo and his frequent scriptwriting collaborator Franco Solinas showed the cruelty and humanity of all sides in the fight. The scenes of torture by the French authorities are weighed against the insurgents' massacre of young civilians at a cafe.
In another memorable scene, the French colonel who is the chief nemesis of the Algerian guerrillas lectures the visiting press about the political situation. He articulates an awareness that he is on the wrong side of history but that as a soldier, he has a role to fulfill.
The colonel's ambivalence is central to Mr. Pontecorvo's powerful filmmaking. "Pontecorvo makes many French soldiers and colonists credible and sympathetic figures, caught up in a larger, politico-economic pattern of exploitation," film historian David Thomson wrote. "In short, it is the more politically convincing because it does not manipulate its people."
Pontecorvo described his own feelings about the film:
Having watched The Battle of Algiers in the theater recently, I pondered how its significance has evolved with the passage of time. Initially understood as the transmutation of the Algerian independence struggle into an enduring, politically influential cultural creation, it is now something else as well, a disturbing contemplation about how the brutal suppression of an indigenous people can elevate the most calculating, most merciless practioners of violence to positions of power.
"So many critics see The Battle of Algiers as propaganda," Mr. Pontecorvo told the New York Times in 1969. "But in the scenes of death, the same religious music accompanies both the French and Arab bombings. I am on the side of the Arabs, but I feel compassion for the French even if historically they were at fault. I do not say the French were bad, only that they were wrong."
"My subject," he said, "is the sadness and laceration that the birth of a nation means in our time."
Cognizant of the tragedy of subsequent Algerian history, especially the horrific insurgency of the 1990s, I thought that Pontecorvo must have been aware that the line between gangsterism and armed liberation struggle was often indistinct. As an Italian journalist and filmmaker, he must have known about the role of the Mafia in Italian politics, and the extent to which its methods could be extremely effective outside the world of criminal activity.
While the film focuses on the terrorist tactics of the NLF against the French army and settlers, showing them to be products of necessity and repression, there is also an implicit criticism of such tactics.
The fact that The Battle of Algiers was screened at the Pentagon prior to the invasion of Iraq has reinvigorated the film's iconic status, but the officers in attendance do not appear to have absorbed Pontecorvo's insight. Perhaps, in light of the subsequent trajectory of the war and occupation, they should watch it again.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Starbucks, the giant US coffee chain, has used its muscle to block an attempt by Ethiopia's farmers to copyright their most famous coffee bean types, denying them potential earnings of up to £47m a year, said Oxfam.Apparently, after Starbucks withdrew a earlier application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for one of these varieties, Sidamo, Ethiopia attempted to obtain copyright protection for all three of them, and Starbucks objected.
The development agency said the Ethiopian government last year filed copyright applications to trademark its most famous coffee names - Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe. Securing the rights to these names would enable the impoverished African country to control their use in the market and allow farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price.
The move would have increased its annual export earnings from coffee by 25%.
It is easy to read this story as a classic instance of attempted transnational expropriation of the brand identification created by the peoples of Ethiopia, and it is certainly an accurate one. But, there is more to the story. For example, the very fact that consumers around the world apparently relate to Ethiopian coffee as a function of its brand names is noteworthy, an indication that the abstraction of the corporate business model into intellectual property, such as brand names, trade secrets and patents, has permeated even the most undeveloped countries. We are far beyond the boundaries of the branded world described by Naomi Klein in No Logo in 1996.
After all, there is something quite striking about an agricultural commodity having a substantially increased value because of the public's identification with its name. To some extent, this has always been true. I grew up in Georgia, and Vidalia onions are nationally praised for their gentle, sweet flavor. In this instance, however, economic value has been split into the components of the physical bean itself and its varietal name.
The consequences of such a subconscious consumer separation of value between commodity and varietal name is alarming, because it compels Ethiopian coffee growers to play by the rules of the neoliberal legal and economic system. As the article states: Securing the rights to these names would enable the impoverished African country to control their use in the market and allow farmers to receive a greater share of the retail price. In other words, Ethiopia could monopolize the marketing of their coffee globally by reference to the same intellectual property rights enforced by the transnationals.
Sadly, it appears that such an approach is necessary to defend against corporate predations into the world of indigenous peoples. As Vandana Shiva has written:
The expansion of "intellectual property rights" into the domain of life forms and biodiversity, and the globalisation of this regime through Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreements of GATT/WTO, has been an attempt to enclose the biological and intellectual commons. This publication is a step towards the recovery of the commons, especially for the two - thirds of India who live outside the livelihoods provided by the state and the market in what is referred to as the biodiversity based economy.Shiva emphasizes what she and others have described as biopiracy, the expropriation of indigenous innovation through patents, which grant the recipient the right to charge a fee for its use, but this Ethiopian episode reveals that, even if one successfully resists the seizure of the intangible value of a commodity through a patent, transnationals may now accomplish a similar objective by copyrighting the varietal names by which it is known in the marketplace.
The biodiversity based economy of India represents the poorest communities in the marginalised regions. Their access to biodiversity and their use of their indigenous knowledge and skills is their primary means of livelihood security.
The "piracy" of their indigenous innovation through patents, and the diversion of their biological resources to global markets undermines the livelihoods of the two - thirds of India - women, tribals, peasants, pastoralists and fisherfolk. It also threatens the biodiversity base which they have protected because their survival has depended upon it.
The recovery of the commons for traditional communities is based on their recognition of their own rights and recognition by the state that communities have their own rights, knowledge, and values. This recognition by the formal legal systems would not give the state the right to intrude in local biodiversity utilisation patterns based on community rights, but it would create an obligation on the state to prevent external actors from "pirating" local resources and indigenous knowledge, and from imposing property rights regimes that counter community rights and cultural values.
Even worse, as already suggested, indigenous peoples must implicitly accept the terms of the neoliberal system to preserve what little has been left to them, at least as measured financially, by perfecting patents and copyrights before transnationals do so. There is no recovery of the commons, merely a more benign enclosure by Ethiopia to avoid the more pernicious one sought by Starbucks.
Hat tip to the Angry Arab for bringing the Guardian story to my attention.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
INITIAL POST: Dissent to the war has now entered the enlisted ranks:
More than 100 U.S. service members have signed a rare appeal urging Congress to support the "prompt withdrawal" of all American troops and bases from Iraq, organizers said yesterday.The statement, and the effort to solicit more signatures, evokes memories of the suppressed history of resistance to the Vietnam War within the US military, as summarized by Matthew Rinaldi:
"Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home," reads the statement of a small grass-roots group of active-duty military personnel and reservists that says it aims to give U.S. military members a voice in Iraq war policy.
"As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of American military forces and bases from Iraq," it reads. The group, which aims to collect 2,000 signatures and deliver the "Appeal for Redress" to Congress in January, is sponsored by antiwar activists including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.
Significantly, there are no draftees in Iraq, just enlistees. Of course, we are nowhere near the level of resistance that emerged during the Vietnam War, although it is entirely possible that the combative readiness of the military has been comprised more than has been publicly reported. After all, morale is low, reminiscent of the malaise of evasion of combat acknowledged by the officers quoted by Rinaldi. Frightening episodes of grotesque torture and violence inflicted upon Iraqis have become commonplace.
. . .The feeling spread among U. S. troops that they were fighting this war all alone. These experiences created a mood of despair, disgust, and anger, as GIs turned increasingly to dope and played out their time with the simple hope of survival. As one GI put it, "Our morale, man ? Its so low you can't even see it."
This situation led to the rapid decay of the U. S. military's fighting ability in Vietnam. The catchword was CYA ("cover your ass"); as one GI expressed it, "You owe it to your body to get out of here alive." Low morale, hatred for the Army, and huge quantities of dope all contributed to the general desire to avoid combat. One platoon sergeant stated, "Almost to a man, the members of my platoon oppose the war . . . The result is a general malaise which pervades the entire company. There is a great deal of pressure on leaders at the small unit level, such as myself, to conduct what are popularly referred to as 'search and avoid' missions, and to do so as safely and cautiously as possible." The brass watched these developments with general helplessness. As a brigade commander in the 25th Division put it, "Back in 1967, officers gave orders and didn't have to worry about the sensitivities of the men. Today, we have to explain things to the men and find new ways of doing the job. Otherwise, you can send the men on a search mission, but they won't search."
While this malaise seriously affected the war effort, the spectre of open mutiny was even more startling. In 1968 there were 68 recorded incidents of combat refusal in Vietnam. By 1969 entire units were refusing orders. Company A of the 21st Infantry Division and units of the 1st Air Cavalry Division refused to move into battle. By 1970 there were 35 separate combat refusals in the Air Cavalry Division alone. At the same time, physical attacks on officers, known as "fraggings", became widespread, 126 incidents in 1969 and 271 in 1970. Clearly, this army did not want to fight.
The situation stateside was less intense but no less disturbing to the military brass. Desertion and AWOL became absolutely epidemic. In 1966 the desertion rate was 14.7 per thousand, in 1968 it was 26.2 per thousand, and by 1970 it had risen to 52.3 per thousand; AWOL was so common that by the height of the war one GI went AWOL every three minutes. From January of '67 to January of '72 a total of 354,112 GIs left their posts without permission, and at the time of the signing of the peace accords 98,324 were still missing. Yet these figures represent only the most disaffected; had the risks not been so great, the vast majority of Vietnam era GIs would have left their uniforms behind.
There is a common misconception that it was draftees who were the most disaffected elements in the military. In fact, it was often enlistees who were most likely to engage in open rebellion. Draftees were only in for two years, went in expecting the worst, and generally kept their heads down until they got out of uniform. While of course many draftees went AWOL and engaged in group resistance when it developed, it was enlistees who were most angry and most likely to act on that anger. For one thing, enlistees were in for three or four years; even after a tour of duty in Nam they still had a long stretch left in the service. For another thing, they went in with some expectations, generally with a recruiter's promise of training and a good job classification, often with an assurance that they wouldn't be sent to Vietnam. When these promises weren't kept, enlistees were really pissed off. A study commissioned by the Pentagon found that 64% of chronic AWOLs during the war years were enlistees, and that a high percentage were Vietnam vets.
Troops were sent into Baghdad in June to contain sectarian conflict, but, earlier this month, coalition forces acknowledged that this endeavor, Operation Together Forward, has failed. With 91 dead Americans, and six days remaining, October is the deadliest month for US forces since January 2005, and we may see the first month with more than 1000 wounded since November 2004.
Iraqi dead bodies are being exported for burial, and rumors abound. The US is engaged in secret negotiations with Sunni insurgents; The US has offered amnesty to these insurgents to bring them into the poliical process; The US is meeting with Iraqi officers to plot a coup against Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. Increasingly, many believe that the US and the British recognize that the war is lost, and are therefore seeking an exit strategy for extricating themselves from Iraq.
Soldiers have Internet access, and can draw similar conclusions, which don't motivate them to dedicate themselves to the mission. As they return home wondering how this could have happened, lenin has identified a related malaise, a beneficial one:
But there could be equally important domestic consequences. One wonders the extent to which Kevin Tillman, the brother of Pat Tillman, and a veteran in his own right, speaks from them:
Precisely as the loss in Vietnam opened up possibilities for revolutionaries in US-supported regimes like South Korea, Nicaragua, Iran, Angola, even Portugal and Spain. It reduced the US scope for direct military intervention for decades. Imperial malaise is not something the Bush administration wants to accomplish. Yet, if the army is increasingly unwilling to fight, and if the local surrogates will not do as they are told, no other outcome is available.
The Appeal for Redress statement is a profoundly important event, one that may be remembered as foreshadowing a new politics in America. But what will it be? It may depend upon how soldiers returning from Iraq respond to the eclectic fusion of patriotic and progressive sensibilities expressed by the signatories.
Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.
Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.
Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.
Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.
Somehow this is tolerated.
Somehow nobody is accountable for this.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Ellsberg, one of the most principled, most courageous people in America in our lifetime, still commands our attention, because, despite all that he has experienced, his optimism is undiminished. He speaks to our personal idealism with a strongly held belief that people can be induced to do the right thing, the moral thing, and that by doing so, they can literally change history.
A hidden crisis is under way. Many government insiders are aware of serious plans for war with Iran, but Congress and the public remain largely in the dark. The current situation is very like that of 1964, the year preceding our overt, open-ended escalation of the Vietnam War, and 2002, the year leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
In both cases, if one or more conscientious insiders had closed the information gap with unauthorized disclosures to the public, a disastrous war might have been averted entirely. . . .
We face today a crisis similar to those of 1964 and 2002, a crisis hidden once again from the public and most of Congress. Articles by Seymour Hersh and others have revealed that, as in both those earlier cases, the president has secretly directed the completion, though not yet execution, of military operational plans—not merely hypothetical “contingency plans” but constantly updated plans, with movement of forces and high states of readiness, for prompt implementation on command—for attacking a country that, unless attacked itself, poses no threat to the United States: in this case, Iran.
According to these reports, many high-level officers and government officials are convinced that our president will attempt to bring about regime change in Iran by air attack; that he and his vice president have long been no less committed, secretly, to doing so than they were to attacking Iraq; and that his secretary of defense is as madly optimistic about the prospects for fast, cheap military success there as he was in Iraq.
Even more ominously, Philip Giraldi, a former CIA official, reported in The American Conservative a year ago that Vice President Cheney’s office had directed contingency planning for “a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons” and that “several senior Air Force officers” involved in the planning were “appalled at the implications of what they are doing—that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack—but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objection.” . . . .
Assuming Hersh’s so-far anonymous sources mean what they say—that this is, as one puts it, “a juggernaut that has to be stopped”—I believe it is time for one or more of them to go beyond fragmentary leaks unaccompanied by documents. That means doing what no other active official or consultant has ever done in a timely way: what neither Richard Clarke nor I nor anyone else thought of doing until we were no longer officials, no longer had access to current documents, after bombs had fallen and thousands had died, years into a war. It means going outside executive channels, as officials with contemporary access, to expose the president’s lies and oppose his war policy publicly before the war, with unequivocal evidence from inside.
Frankly, I'm not sure that I share his perspective, I have a more deterministic turn of mind, even as I hope that social movements in Venezuela, in China, in India and elsewhere around the world can transform a world dominated by US neoliberalism. I am more certain, however, that, in the absence of people like Ellsberg, there would be no hope at all.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Workers, students, and poor people generally (which includes the vast majority of Chinese) have frequently responded on a mass basis to perceived official slights, broken promises of governmental assistance, favoritism towards the wealthy, intolerable working conditions and attempts to seize and dismantle whatever remains of the collective property, services and security of the iron rice bowl. Peter Kwong, in a seminal article that I mentioned here previously, has described the chaotic unrest that now engulfs China:
It can plausible be said that violent protest in China exceeds the unrest experienced in the United States, Japan and Western Europe in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We can only hope that social historians are already out in the field, conducting investigations and interviewing participants so as to create an oral and documentary history of these momentous events. In Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of this series, I have suggested that President Hu Jintao, as he has consolidated his control over the party and the government, has abandoned over 25 years of neoliberal policy to preserve the integrity of the Chinese nation itself.
The Chinese public is not indifferent; demonstrations of discontent are on the rise. In 2004, the Public Security Bureau reported that the number of "mass incidents" had risen to 74,000. In 2005, the number jumped another 13 percent. "A protest begins in China every five minutes. If the protests run longer than five minutes, then there are two going on at the same time," observed David Zweig, an expert on Chinese politics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
As the number of protests increases, so does the intensity of violence used to suppress them. The worst occurred last December, when a special paramilitary unit of the national police force shot and killed as many as 20 protesters in the Guangdong village of Dongzhou. This is the largest known killing of unarmed civilians in China since 1989, and has been dubbed as the "Mini-Tiananmen Massacre." The protest began over the forced eviction of villagers from their land to make room for the construction of a foreign-financed wind power plant. When the villagers rejected the official offer of $3 per family in compensation, which one resident described as "not enough to buy toilet paper to wipe one's ass," they were brought face-to-face with paramilitary policemen carrying AK-47 assault rifles and flanked with tanks. According to the New York Times, the police started firing tear gas into 1,000 demonstrators around 7 p.m. When that failed to scare the people, "at about 8 p.m. they started using guns, shooting bullets into the ground, but not really targeting anybody. Finally, at about 10 p.m. they started killing people." Vicious repressions similar to this have been reported all across the country.
Intellectuals have also been begun to challenge the dominant economic orthodoxy. The New York Times, in a rare instance of quality journalism, presented the odyssey of one such intellectual, Wang Hui, in a lengthy, insightful article entitled, China's New Leftist. Visitors to this site are encouraged to click upon the link and take the time to read the article in its entirety. Wang participated in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and had this experience after being subsequently subjected to re-education:
Wang acknowledged that there was initially strong support for Deng Xiaoping's market-oriented policies, but, with the passage of time, intellectuals reconsidered:
In Wang's case, punishment by pedagogy seems to have been more successful than the Chinese authorities could have anticipated. He dates his "real education" to the time he spent in Shaanxi, one of the poorest regions of China. He was shocked by the obvious disparity between the coastal cities, then enjoying the first fruits of economic change, and the provinces. He was shocked, too, by his own ignorance and that of his colleagues in the 1989 social movement. "We had no idea that the old order in much of rural China was in deep crisis," he said.
The commune system in Shaanxi was dismantled as part of Deng Xiaoping's reforms, and land was redistributed. But the area produced nothing of much value, not even enough food. Deepening poverty led to a sharp increase in crime and social problems; violent conflicts broke out over land; men took to gambling, beating up and selling their wives and daughters.
"It was during that year," Wang said, "that I realized how important a welfare system and cooperative network remained for many people in China. This is not a socialist idea. Even the imperial dynasties that ruled China kept a balance between rich and poor areas through taxes and almsgiving.
"People confine China's experience to the Communist dictatorship and failures of the planned economy and think that the market will now do everything. They don't see how many things in the past worked and were popular with ordinary people, like cooperative medical insurance in rural areas, where people organized themselves to help each other. That might be useful today, since the state doesn't invest in health care in rural areas anymore."
Has the state already commenced to implement changes, or are they merely cosmetic, or, even worse, an attempt to reimpose autocratic methods of social control in the guise of social welfare? Time will tell, of course, but, as I have already said, effective implementation of the last alternative appears unlikely, given the withering away of community oversight of personal behaviour and the enforceability of restrictions upon travel, employment and residency.
Only in the last decade, Wang said, have intellectuals of the New Left begun to challenge the notion that a market economy leads inevitably to democracy and prosperity. China's intention to join the World Trade Organization (which it did in 2001) provoked unexpectedly sharp debates among scholars. As Wang described it, the terms of the debate had changed: "Many people knew by then that globalization is not a neutral word describing a natural process. It is part of the growth of Western capitalism, from the days of colonialism and imperialism."
Which is not to say the New Left embraced an easy antiglobalist position; it has been critical of recent anti-Japanese and anti-American outbursts among urban, middle-class Chinese - of what Wang dubbed "consumer nationalism."
Wang added: "Many people also learned that the reason the Chinese economy did not collapse like the Asian tiger economies in 1997 was that the national state was able to protect it. Now, of course, China with its export-dominated economy is more dependent on the Western world order, especially the American economy, than India."
In January of this year, Wang published a long investigative article exposing the plight of workers in a factory in his hometown, Yangzhou, a city of about one million. According to Wang, in 2004 the local government sold the profitable state-owned textile factory to a real estate developer from Shenzhen. Worker-equity shares were bought for 30 percent of their actual value, and then more than a thousand workers were laid off after mismanagement of the factory led to losses.
In July 2004, the workers went on strike. In what Wang calls an agitation without precedent in the history of Yangzhou, the workers obstructed a major highway, halted bus traffic and attacked the gates of local government buildings.
Wang told me that he was helping the workers to sue the local government. "People claim," he said, "that the market will automatically force the state to become more democratic. But this is baseless. We only have to think about the alliance of elites formed in the process of privatization. The state will change only when it is under pressure from a large social force, like the workers and peasants."
By conventional accounts, President Hu is a traditional reformist Chinese Communist leader, supporting policies that would improve the lives of his impoverished people, achieve greater transparency in governmental activities, while retaining the party's monopoly on power. He has reportedly called Gorbachev a betrayer of socialism, and has aggressively suppressed political dissent.
But does Hu believe that he can accomplish his goals by recourse to the tried, true, and consistently flawed methods of the state security forces, the party apparat and popular sentiment, as filtered through state controlled media? Mao manipulated these levers, and incited the masses by urging them to attain impossible, utopian dreams, leading to the catastrophic excesses of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Deng had a gentler touch, and released the entrepreneurial energies of the elite, but left most people defensiveless in the face of a sinister, covert network of developers, business owners, investors and Marxist-Leninist bureaucrats.
Now, Hu is moving to shatter it, recognizing that it has substituted itself for the rule of the party and the state, but what will replace it? Hu maligns Gorbachev, but he must be aware that when Gorbachev dismantled state socialism, he also destroyed the legitimacy of the military and security services and, hence, the institutions that protected the party from the hurricane of popular discontent.
If Hu moderates his social welfare and anti-corruption efforts, there is the peril that it will fail, engendering more public dissatisfaction, and, potentially, even more violent unrest. If he presses ahead with a firm resolve, there is the possibility, as with Gorbachev, that the remaining authority of the party will dissolve.
Wang Hui hints at a path to a solution, the creation of a social system based upon the more benevolent aspects of Chinese history: Even the imperial dynasties that ruled China kept a balance between rich and poor areas through taxes and almsgiving. Most leaders understand that radical political change is facilitated by inscribing it within their country's history and culture. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has gone much further than Hu, but it is no accident that he has identified Simon Bolivar as the touchstone for his political movement.
Friday, October 20, 2006
There were more revelations this week indicating that Hu's interrelated efforts to investigate and prosecute corrupt party officials, closely aligned with major business interests, and empower labor unions is a serious one.
First, in regard to the government sponsored unionization effort:
Clearly, one should not exaggerate, and characterize these developments as the creation of adversarial, French-style labor unions. But it is indicative that social conditions have degenerated to such a degree that there is an urgency to collectivizing workers, even migrant ones, into organizations that will curtail the most extreme abuses. No doubt, there is also a more sinister social control purpose to such a collectivization, but it is hard to see how it can succeed, especially given the loss of the ability to restrict the movement of the populace, unless these organizations produce a recognizable improvement in their lives.
China's top trade union has called on all foreign companies operating in China to establish union branches. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) urged foreign companies to follow the example of Wal-Mart, which has initiated a process of setting up unions in all its stores throughout the country. . . .
Notably, Xu slammed multinationals such as Foxconn, Kodak and Dell for their long refusal to allow the establishment of trade unions, and called on unionists at all levels to make the establishment of branches at those companies' bases in China "breakthrough goals".
Xu said resistance from foreign companies sprung from their lack of understanding of the status and function of Chinese trade unions, which they consider opponents.
"A trade union should unite and organize employees, boosting the development of a company, guarding employees' rights and maintaining harmony in the workplace," said Xu . . . .
Sixty percent of the more than 150,000 foreign companies in the country are expected to have their own trade unions by the end of this year, Xu predicted.
Meanwhile, China's trade unions expect to recruit 8 million rural migrant workers in each of the next three years, an official with ACFTU said.
"Hundreds of millions of migrant workers have become an important part of the Chinese workforce and they are helping drive economic and social development, so it's imperative to safeguard their rights," said Sun Chunlan, vice chairman of the ACFTU, at Sunday's national conference on protecting migrant workers' rights.
Second, the anti-corruption drive has brought down another high level party official:
Power that flowed one direction has changed course, and is now flowing in a much different one. As in countries like Indonesia and Russia, neoliberalism created an interconnected social elite, one that seized control of businesses, property, resources, and, yes, even people, exploiting them to personal advantage without any accountability and social responsibility, destroying public confidence in the party and the state as they did so.
Releasing economic statistics for the first three quarters of this year, China on Thursday confirmed that the recently sacked director of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Qiu Xiaohua, was under investigation for his suspected involvement in a scandal in Shanghai involving the embezzlement of social security funds worth billions of dollars.
Qiu thus becomes the first minister-level official in the central government netted in Beijing's investigation into the Shanghai affair, which now appears to be snowballing. . . .
"In their investigation of the case of embezzling of Shanghai's social security funds, relevant authorities found that Qiu Xiaohua has seriously violated [the party and government's] disciplines. He is now under investigation by the [Communist Party's] central commission for disciplinary inspection," said Li Xiaochao, spokesman for NBS, at a press conference to release economic statistics in Beijing on Thursday.
Last Friday, the State Council, China's cabinet, suddenly announced the removal of Qiu as NBS director without offering any explanation. Qiu, 48, was only promoted to the post seven months ago. At the same time, the State Council appointed Xie Fuzhan, 52, as the new NBS director, replacing Qiu immediately.
The anti-corruption drive is cutting the cords of covert influence that enabled this system to flourish, and intimidating anyone who might raise a voice to object. For now, the sensibility is reformist, but the nature of the conflict, and public expectations, could transform the endeavor into a more radical one, with the potential of revolutionary transformation.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Earlier this month, Pakistan cut a peace deal with the Taliban: Pakistan agreed to withdraw troops from the Afghanistan border and freed hundreds of prisoners in exchange for pro-Taliban tribal militias promising to stop attacking the Pakistani army and to reframe from entering Afghanistan. The peace deal was widely criticized in the US and British press. The CSM quoted an unnamed source who called the agreement "a total capitulation" by Islamabad. The Times described it as a "face-saving retreat for the Pakistani Army" and "one of the most obvious capitulations since it began its campaign to rout foreign fighters from [North Waziristan]" that has "in effect ceded the militants a sanctuary in the area." The Post quoted an "official at an international agency" as follows:
This could be a very dangerous development. [...] Until recently there has been relative stability in eastern Afghanistan, but now that could start to deteriorate.
In this context, last week, British Gen. David Richards, commander of NATO forces, met with President Musharraf, and the pre-meeting spin, particularly in the British press, played up the meeting as an attempt by NATO to rein in or otherwise chastise Pakistan. A Guardian piece titled "Musharraf faces new questions over Taliban" noted that the meeting followed "a string of accusations, some from within Nato, that Pakistan [had] failed to close down Taliban sanctuaries in the northern tribal belt, and that elements within its [intelligence] agency may be assisting the insurgency", and an article in the Sunday Times openly referred to the meeting as a "confrontation". Rumor had it that Richards was going present Musharraf with an address in Quetta where Mullah Omar could be found and demand his arrest.
But this showdown never came to pass. In fact the Australian press reported that the much-maligned Pakistan-Taliban peace deal might actually be a "blueprint for a possible [NATO] accord with the Taliban in Afghanistan":
[F]ar from criticising General Musharraf, it appears the Pakistani leader's deal with Taliban-supporting tribal militants in the North Waziristan district of the North West Frontier Province could form the basis of an accord aimed at ending the insurgency and bringing the Taliban into the Government in Kabul.
From General Musharraf down, senior Pakistani officials are insisting that NATO is now supporting Islamabad's bid to reach a peace accord with the Taliban. Reports in New Delhi quoted General Richards as supporting the agreement with the Taliban in North Waziristan, saying it could set an example of how best to deal with such problems
Dealing with questions about the previous frame, that NATO displeasure with Pakistan forced Richards to confront Musharraf, Richards in a briefing yesterday claimed that the British press simply had the story wrong:
[...]I was really angry about that report [in the Sunday Times] And I have to say, the journalist in question, and not many of you will know this, was really angry too, because they talked about me going to confront the Pakistanis, and nothing could be further from the truth. And I have actually had an apology from the Sunday Times journalist because she was so angry. [ ... ] And I did have to explain early on to the Pakistanis that I was not going in a confrontational mood or mode, because both having had long discussions with President Karzai before I went, and with my own political leaders in NATO, that we are in this together. Pakistan and Afghanistan, who do have differing interpretations over what is happening here in terms of the insurgency, are quite clear that they've got to solve it together as a team, and that is the essence of the Tripartite Commission. And that is the spirit with which I went to Pakistan. I was very-well received.
which is all fine and good, but not very credible. That Richards went to Pakistan to scold Musharraf may well be false, fine -- but the reports that there were voices within NATO accusing Pakistan of refusing to defend its border with Afghanistan are a matter of the public record; that is, I don't think the Sunday Times was manufacturing quotations.
This whole story seems a lot like what may be about to happen in Iraq. One of the most controversial policy option Baker and the boys are supposed to be considering is the so-called "Iran-Syria plan" in which the US would attempt to cut some sort of deal with Iran and Syria in order to stabilize Iraq. Looks like the plan is already being implemented ... in Afghanistan.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I asked the F.B.I.’s spokesman, John Miller, about [bureau counterterrorism chief Gary Bald not knowing the difference between Sunnis and Shiites]. “A leader needs to drive the organization forward,” Mr. Miller told me. “If he is the executive in a counterterrorism operation in the post-9/11 world, he does not need to memorize the collected statements of Osama bin Laden, or be able to read Urdu to be effective. ... Playing ‘Islamic Trivial Pursuit’ was a cheap shot for the lawyers and a cheaper shot for the journalist. It’s just a gimmick.” [...]
Take Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.
“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.
Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”
To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.” [ ... ]
Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.
“Do I?” she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. “You know, I should.” She took a stab at it: “It’s a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it’s the Sunnis who’re more radical than the Shia.”
Did she know which branch Al Qaeda’s leaders follow?
“Al Qaeda is the one that’s most radical, so I think they’re Sunni,” she replied. “I may be wrong, but I think that’s right.”
Did she think that it was important, I asked, for members of Congress charged with oversight of the intelligence agencies, to know the answer to such questions, so they can cut through officials’ puffery when they came up to the Hill?
“Oh, I think it’s very important,” said Ms. Davis, “because Al Qaeda’s whole reason for being is based on their beliefs. And you’ve got to understand, and to know your enemy.”
Of course, I guess this all shouldn't be too surprising ... remember this little anecdote from last summer?
Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq, RAW STORY has learned.
In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Labels: Jonathan Schwarz
What is amazing is that Iraqi police and military forces seem to just be standing aside and letting the bloodletting and attacks go on. Either they are collaborating or afraid, and either way they are not doing their jobs. As long as they don't, the bloodletting in Iraq, which is killing 200,000 a year, will go on. [...]
I called for a phased withdrawal of US troops because I despair of getting Shiites and Kurds to compromise with Sunni Arabs in any other way. I realize that they still might not compromise, but at least there is a chance they would come to their senses if they couldn't have the Marines keep their enemies down for them.
Yeah, he's not advocating pulling all US troops out of Iraq immediately, but it's better than his previous calls for a policy of "Special Forces and air power to support Iraqi forces". Or, maybe, you know, he's still talking about the same damn thing...
(hat tip JustForeignPolicy)
An Iraqi detainee has died of an apparent heart attack in Camp Bucca, a US-run prison in southern Iraq, the US military said on Saturday.
"The detainee was admitted to the hospital on October 5 after complaining of chest pains," the military said in a statement.
In the early hours of Thursday morning he called for assistance.
"Doctors in the intensive care unit attempted to assist him in breathing; however, a cardiac monitor showed no pulse," the statement said.
"Further attempts to resuscitate the detainee failed."
which sounds a lot like the last time someone died of a heart attack at Camp Bucca: (from a CENTCOM release, 1/31/04)
A security detainee died Wednesday afternoon at the Camp Bucca internment facility of what appears to be natural causes. An autopsy is pending to determine the cause of death.
Detainees notified the guards at approximately 2:40 p.m. that the individual appeared to be suffering a medical problem. A medic immediately provided life-saving first aid for what appeared to be cardiac arrest. The detainee was immediately transferred to the Internment Facility Aid Station, where the medical staff continued life-saving measures, which failed to revive him. An attending physician pronounced him dead shortly after 3 p.m. at the aid station.
The deceased is a 31-year-old male, who had been
which sounded, you know, a lot like that time a year before when a prisoner died from "a medical problem": (from ArmyTimes, 10/20/04)
A 26-year-old male security internee died of undetermined causes at the U.S.-run Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq, the U.S. military reported Wednesday.
Fellow prisoners notified the guards about 4:20 p.m. Tuesday that the detainee was suffering “a medical problem,” the U.S. statement said.
“Guards immediately notified medics, who performed emergency life-saving measures at the scene, including CPR, and transported him to the detainee medical facility at the camp,” the statement added. “He was pronounced dead shortly after 5 p.m. by an attending physician.”
The prisoner, who was not identified by name, had been held as a security internee at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca since November 2003, the statement said. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of death
All of which might seem a little fishy if we didn't know that Camp Bucca isn't a cruel forced-masturbation-and-torture type prison but a progressive experiment in passive intelligence-gathering in which prisoners are free to play soccer and take painting classes: (via Knight-Ridder, circa Oct. 2004)
While Abu Ghraib became famous for interrogation practices that skirted international law on prisoner treatment, Bucca is gaining a military-wide reputation for an innovative blending of prisoner-of-war doctrine with the "passive intelligence-gathering" used in many American maximum-security prisons. [ ... ]
"Abu Ghraib gave a special meaning to what we're doing here, and we understand that this is going to change how the Army does detention operations," said Master Sgt. Jonathan Godwin, 39, the warden at Camp Bucca. "We're taking detainee operations and Army corrections, putting them in one big bag here and shaking it up to see what happens. This is all brand new."
Busload by busload, the military is emptying Abu Ghraib and shipping detainees south. At Bucca, now the military's largest detainee installation in the world, there are reading lessons and art classes - not sleep deprivation and stress positions. There are evening soccer games and special mealtimes for Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of daylight fasting. The detainees want to learn needlepoint, but "we're still trying to determine the security risks of that one," one military police officer said.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Thank you for your concern, which we share. We have not heard from Riverbend either, but hope that, as in the past, she has traveled to safer areas.
I wish I could say we knew more.
which isn't encouraging.
However, this isn't the first time that RiverBend has failed to post for an extended period of time. For example, someone in the comments of this post of mine from 7/26/04, writes of her concern for RiverBend's safety due to a long hiatus. Probably RiverBend was "travel[ing] to safer areas" during this period. If anything major is up, I hope that it is only that she and her family have decided that it is simply too dangerous to remain in Iraq and have left. It's hard to read the last post on Baghdad Burning, "Summer of Goodbyes" without coming to the conclusion that she is at least considering leaving:
I’ve said goodbye this last month to more people than I can count. Some of the ‘goodbyes’ were hurried and furtive -- the sort you say at night to the neighbor who got a death threat and is leaving at the break of dawn, quietly.
Some of the ‘goodbyes’ were emotional and long-drawn, to the relatives and friends who can no longer bear to live in a country coming apart at the seams.
Many of the ‘goodbyes’ were said stoically -- almost casually -- with a fake smile plastered on the face and the words, “See you soon”… Only to walk out the door and want to collapse with the burden of parting with yet another loved one.
During times like these I remember a speech Bush made in 2003: One of the big achievements he claimed was the return of jubilant ‘exiled’ Iraqis to their country after the fall of Saddam. I’d like to see some numbers about the Iraqis currently outside of the country you are occupying… Not to mention internally displaced Iraqis abandoning their homes and cities.
I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever know just how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis left the country this bleak summer. I wonder how many of them will actually return. Where will they go? What will they do with themselves? Is it time to follow? Is it time to wash our hands of the country and try to find a stable life somewhere else?
Actually perhaps the most well-known female Iraqi blogger besides RiverBend has already left. Kitten-obsessed fourteen-year-old Raghda from Baghdad Girl and family have relocated to the UAE. Raghda wrote the following last month:
Living in war is the hardest thing in the world because you'll see the place you have lived in for your whole life is being destroyed completely and all the people you love are getting hurt, growing up in war is very hard, all the things you used to do is impossible to do now including going out that's because it is very dangerous to go any where so you have to stay home all the time and even home isn't safe, for me the most thing I missed was going out and visit my relatives and friends, when school starts my life become like this: Waking up at 6:30 am and get ready to go to school and then I leave the house at 7:45 am and back to it at 2:00 pm, I have lunch and start studying till I finish the piles of homework and then watch TV till 10:00 pm when I go to sleep and wake up at 6:30 am to relive the same events every day, and when the situation become really bad like it it is now in Iraq, you do the only thing you can do to get your life back which is leaving the country, and that's what I done, I still and will all ways feel like there is some thing missing in me, and that’s my friends is growing up in war.
NPR profiled Raghda earlier this year.
This may be well-known to people who listen to Democracy Now more regularly than I do, but Goodman is about to have a mainstream syndicated column called "Breaking the Sound Barrier" -- here's E&P:
Investigative journalist Amy Goodman -- host of the award-winning news program "Democracy Now!" -- will write a weekly column for King Features Syndicate starting Oct. 24.
"Amy Goodman: Breaking the Sound Barrier" will discuss politics, the media, and current affairs.
In her introductory column, Goodman writes: "My goal as a journalist is to break the sound barrier. To cut through the static and bring forth voices that are not usually heard. I am not talking about a fringe minority, or the 'Silent Majority,' but a silenced majority, increasingly restless, of people who are looking for alternative sources of information in a complex world. My column will include voices so often excluded, people whose views the media mostly ignore, issues they distort and even ridicule."
which seems like something of a big deal to me.
A pro-U.S. billionaire [Alvaro Noboa] and a leftist economist who admires Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez headed to a runoff campaign Monday that threatens to aggravate political instability in Ecuador, where the last three presidents have been driven from power by street protests. [...]
Correa had been favored to lead Sunday's voting and didn't take well to being edged out by Noboa, who had been rising fast in pre-election polls. Correa complained he had been robbed of votes that would have given him a first-round victory, but presented no proof.
Man, haven't heard this story before...
The title of this post is taken from a week-old fair and balanced report by someone named Mary Anastasia O'Grady in the Wall Street Journal that Paul Henry discusses in a NarcoSphere post noting,
O'Grady's characterization of the growing list of Latin American countries that have chosen paths not prescribed by Washington as outcasts rings more hollow as the list gets longer.
(Also, in other NarcoSphere-related news, Al Giordano has a postmortem in New Left Review on "Mexico's presidential swindle".)
Again, as observed in Part 1, it is difficult to differentiate between the personal and the political. As reported by Asia Times Online on September 1st:
Unlike the rest of China, the Shanghai party leadership had successfully avoided the seasonal anti-corruption campaigns that have been so prominent since the adoption of neoliberal economic policies, and there was an explanation:
Beijing is waging a whirlwind anti-corruption campaign in Shanghai to shake up the so-called Shanghai Club or Shanghai Gang, headed by former president Jiang Zemin. The group dominated China's political power scene for more than a decade until Jiang began to fade from active political life in late 2002.
The anti-graft campaign has been launched one year ahead of the all-important 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and thus is seen as President Hu Jintao's maneuver to gain full control by eliminating all Jiang's influence.
The latest target was Qin Yu, chief of Shanghai's Baoshan district, who has been linked to a severe breach of party discipline and laws and is now under investigation by the CCP's central commission for disciplinary inspection.
What is striking about Qin's arrest is that before taking up his present position, he had worked for years as the personal secretary of Shanghai Communist Party chief Chen Liangyu. Chen is a local-level affiliate of the Shanghai Gang and also a member of the all-powerful politburo in Beijing.
Qin's arrest clearly serves as a warning that Chen himself might be next on the hit-list. This would take the power rivalry between Jiang and Hu into its final stages, marked by the crackdown on corruption in Shanghai.
The implication of the Asia Times Online article was clear: Chen Liangyu was a political corpse. On September 25, he was sacked, described as someone who had created malign political effects. One report described his removal as a classic instance of killing one to scare a hundred, except that Gan Yisheng, general secretary of the party's Discipline Inspection Commission, chillingly stated that the inquiry was far from concluded:
So what was it that allowed all those Shanghai officials to remain so clean in the face of so much temptation in the booming city? Was it because they were all saints, or that the municipality had created a perfect environment to immunize officials against graft-prone temptations? Neither, is the answer.
As with other parts of mainland China, Shanghai is ruled in the so-called socialistic system with Chinese characteristics under which bureaucrats wield vast power. The evidence points to their using this influence to line their pockets, and the pockets of business associates.
Two former Shanghai party chiefs were said to have been hand-in-glove with disgraced Shanghai property tycoon Zhou Zhengyi. That Zhou was able to obtain multibillion-yuan bank loans and valuable downtown land can only be attributed to close ties with municipal authorities.
Zhou, who was suspected of a huge loan swindle, was finally brought to justice in 2003, but he was only found guilty of "manipulating stock prices and misreporting registered capital", for which he received a three-year jail sentence. By contrast, the former president of the Bank of China (Hong Kong), Liu Jinbao, implicated in the same case, was eventually given a suspended death sentence by a court in Changchun, the provincial capital of Jilin province in northeastern China.
Quite simply, for many years Shanghai officials had been able to escape scot-free because of the protection given to them by the most powerful man in China - Jiang Zemin. This was especially true after 1989, when Jiang was promoted to CCP general secretary from his post as Shanghai's party chief.
Under the umbrella of Jiang's administration, corruption scandals involving the Shanghai Gang were swept under the carpet.
All that has changed. In recent months, the central government has mobilized more than 100 commissioners in Shanghai to rake out the filth.
Already they have found some. Zhu Junyi, chief of Shanghai's Labor and Social Security Bureau, was found to have been bribed into illegally lending 3.2 billion yuan (US$405 million) from the city's social-security funds to a private enterprise, China Fuxi Group. The Fuxi group had participated in the restructuring of Shanghai Electric Corp. As the snowball kept rolling, senior officials of many companies and government departments associated with the business of these companies were detained for investigation.
Most important, Baoshan district chief Qin has been implicated in the same case. As mentioned, Qin was Chen Liangyu's secretary and assistant. In February 2002, Chen was made Shanghai mayor. In October of that year, Chen took over the position as Shanghai's party chief, and Qin was promoted to deputy director of both the general offices of the Shanghai Communist Party Committee and the Shanghai municipal government.
The Qin case shows that Chen, a local shepherd of the Shanghai Gang, is no longer powerful enough to protect his cronies, nor can he depend on his chief mentor, Jiang Zemin.
Is there a broader context beyond criminality? Invariably, as the resolution of political conflict and momentum towards a significant change in policy are inseparable. Last week, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party conducted it annual plenary policymaking session, and addressed social inequality for the first time in 25 years. On Thursday, October 12th, the Washington Post reported:
Eight auditing teams are looking for misconduct by senior government officials and leaders of large financial institutions in areas across the country, Gan said.
Inspections of officials in 30 provinces and cities as well as nine state banks have been carried out, and the insurance industry and major state companies are next, Gan said.
And, for once, the New York Times got it right:
China's Communist Party on Wednesday formally endorsed a political doctrine laid out by President Hu Jintao that calls for the creation of a "harmonious society," a move that further signaled a shift in the party's focus from promoting all-out economic growth to solving worsening social tensions.
The endorsement, made at a closed-door plenary session held by the party's Central Committee, underlined Hu's increasing power. It effectively enshrined his doctrine in the same pantheon as those of Mao Zedong and other predecessors.
China's leaders have become concerned in recent years about problems tied to the country's blistering economic growth. Anger over a growing gap between rich and poor and an inadequate social security system is feared to threaten the party's stability. Retirees increasingly cannot live on their pensions, crime and divorce rates have escalated, and clashes have broken out between security forces and farmers whose fields and villages have been swallowed by development.
On the following day, Friday, October 13th, China quickly began to put the theory into practice, as it announced plans to radically reform its labor laws:
Hand-in-hand with the “harmonious society” drive, Mr. Hu and Zeng Qinghong, the vice president and the leader of the party’s secretariat, have undertaken the most sustained crackdown on official corruption since the party first embraced market-oriented economic measures nearly three decades ago.
The anticorruption sweep has already resulted in the detention of Chen Liangyu, the powerful party boss of Shanghai, as well as senior officials in Beijing, Tianjin, Fujian, Hunan and other places.
Yes, foreign corporations are quite alarmed at the prospect that they can no longer ruthlessly exploit the Chinese workforce with the support of a Marxist-Leninist government:
China is planning to adopt a new law that seeks to crack down on sweatshops and protect workers’ rights by giving labor unions real power for the first time since it introduced market forces in the 1980’s.
The move, which underscores the government’s growing concern about the widening income gap and threats of social unrest, is setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here.
Certainly, as the New York Times article notes, there is good reason to be skeptical about the extent to which the law will be enforced, as regional party figures have been adept at ignoring directives from Beijing when it suits them do so. But the anti-corruption campaign that brought down Chen Liangyu suggests, strangely enough, that this time, it will be different.
“This is really two steps backward after three steps forward,” said Kenneth Tung, Asia-Pacific director of legal affairs at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Hong Kong and a legal adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce here.
The proposed law is being debated after Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s biggest retailer, was forced to accept unions in its Chinese outlets.
State-controlled unions here have not wielded much power in the past, but after years of reports of worker abuse, the government seems determined to give its union new powers to negotiate worker contracts, safety protection and workplace ground rules.
Hoping to head off some of the rules, representatives of some American companies are waging an intense lobbying campaign to persuade the Chinese government to revise or abandon the proposed law.
The skirmish has pitted the American Chamber of Commerce — which represents corporations including Dell, Ford, General Electric, Microsoft and Nike — against labor activists and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Communist Party’s official union organization
. . . If approved and strictly enforced, specialists say the new laws would strikingly alter the country’s vast labor market and significantly push up the wages of everyday workers.
“If you really abide by the Chinese labor laws,” said Anita Chan, an expert on labor issues in this country and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, “migrant-worker wages would go up by 50 percent or more.”
One of the primary features of this campaign is that it targets party and business figures (frequently indistinquishable from one another) that have exploited regional autonomy:
If Deng Xiaping presided over the peculiar marriage of neoliberalism and a state governed according to the principles of democratic centralism, it now appears the Hu Jintao believes, unlike his predecessors, that it can be ameliorated to accomodate European style social welfare. But can it be done? I recall the recent remarks of another political figure, one who, interestingly enough, just visited China about a month and a half ago:
Although China's economy has become relatively market-oriented, many resources are still in the firm grip of the government. Hence for a private business person, the shortcut to becoming rich is to collude with officials. A private businessman in Shenzhen said: "If one relies on his own hard work, one may in practice make a living by running a small business, but if one wants to become rich, one must gang up with officials."
Therefore collusion between entrepreneurs and officials is running wild. One of the most notorious shortcuts for some to become rich quickly has been to collude with officials to speculate on land lots for construction. The parcels are taken away from farmers with minimal compensations and then sold at high prices. Land acquisition has become such a problem that most of the nearly 90,000 mass demonstrations (those involving more than 100 protesters) in 2004 were triggered by unjust land requisition.
Entrepreneur-official collusion has also been rampant in coal-mining. With the protection of local officials, private coal-mine owners simply ignored safety regulations to cut production costs. As a result, thousands of miners are killed in accidents.
Perhaps, Hu Jintao and Hugo Chavez had an animated conversation on just this very subject in August.
When I was released from prison [in 1994] and began my political life, I naively took as a reference point Tony Blair's proposal for a "third way" between capitalism and socialism--capitalism with a human face. Not anymore. After seeing the failure of Washington-backed capitalist reforms in Latin America, I no longer think a third way is possible. Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation, of the kind of misery and inequality that destroys social values. If you really look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ--who I think was the first socialist--only socialism can really create a genuine society.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
The features of this system are so unique that there is no agreement on how to characterize it, although one favorite is High-tech feudalism with Chinese characteristics. But there are signs that this era has some to an end, much as, in it is own way, there are indications that neoconservatism has been globally repudiated. While the latter is visible, with the implications frequently discussed, the former is equally significant, and yet, as with many subjects related to China, goes unremarked, unless it has some tangential relationship to an event like the North Korean nuclear test.
Predictably, the initial signs were submerged within the confines of a political power struggle. Hu Jintao supplanted Jiang Zemin, the man who subsequently presided over Deng's Marxist-Leninist neoliberalism after his death, as Communist Party chief in 2002 and President in 2003. By July 2004, there were reports of conflict between the two men, with Jiang clinging to his control over the military to preserve his influence:
The pundits were proven wrong just over two months later:
. . . the Hu-Jiang power struggle began earlier this year. In April, Premier Wen Jiabao, the incumbent president's ally and part of the one-year-old Hu-Wen administration, launched a series of macro-control policies to cool down the country's red-hot economy, to no avail in quarters such as real estate, steel and cement. Some measures encountered powerful resistance, overtly and covertly, by obstinate Jiang officials who preferred massive, showy, high-cost projects while the economy was still rising at an amazing speed. In the first quarter, China's gross domestic product grew at a rate of 9.7% and the investment in fixed assets surged by 43% to 879.9 billion yuan (US$106 billion); the rate in January and February was even higher at 53%.
. . . President Hu is expected to come up with new, pragmatic reform measures to "enhance the Chinese Communist Party's governance", which surely will compromise the vested interests of the pro-Jiang faction. Presumably, Jiang will not acquiesce to Hu's efforts.
In a few months, public attention will focus on Jiang to determine whether he will relinquish his current position as the country’s commander-in-chief in the party's upcoming plenum scheduled for this autumn.
Judging from his recent military promotions, most political pundits believe Jiang will not make the final but inevitable handover to Hu any time soon.
Inside baseball for sinophiles? Not quite, as the macroeconomic policy disagreement implied a more fundamental divergence between the two men. Jiang has promoted a controversial doctrine entitled The Three Represents:
BEIJING, Sept. 19 - China's president, Hu Jintao, replaced Jiang Zemin as the country's military chief and de facto top leader on Sunday, state media announced, completing the first orderly transfer of power in the history of China's Communist Party.
Mr. Hu, who became Communist Party chief in 2002 and president in 2003, now commands the state, the military and the ruling party. He will set both foreign and domestic policy in the world's most populous country, which now has the world's seventh-largest economy and is rapidly emerging as a great power.
The transition is a significant victory for Mr. Hu, a relatively unknown product of the Communist Party machine. He has solidified control of China's most powerful posts at a younger age - he is 61 - than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, and is now likely to be able govern relatively unimpeded by powerful elders.
Mr. Jiang's resignation, which surprised many party officials who expected the tenacious elder leader to cling to power for several more years, came after tensions between Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu began to affect policy making in the one-party state, some officials and political analysts said.
Mr. Jiang, 78, may be suffering from health problems, several people informed about leadership debates said. But he appeared robust in recent public appearances and was widely described as determined to keep his job - and even expand his authority - until he submitted a letter of resignation this month.
The leadership transition was announced Sunday in a terse dispatch by the New China News Agency, followed by a 45-minute broadcast on China Central Television. Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu appeared side by side, smiling, shaking hands and praising each other profusely in front of applauding members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which formally accepted Mr. Jiang's resignation and Mr. Hu's promotion at the conclusion of its four-day annual session.
Mr. Jiang's offer to retire, which was first reported by The New York Times earlier this month, was given no advance publicity in state media. China Central Television read the text of Mr. Jiang's resignation letter on its evening broadcast, emphasizing that his resignation was voluntary. The letter was dated Sept. 1.
. . . Even by the strict standards of secrecy within the party, the decision about Mr. Jiang's fate was closely held. For a vast majority of the 70 million party members, not to mention the general public, there had been no indication that he was planning to retire, and his abrupt departure seems likely to increase the sense that the most important personnel decisions are made without broad consultation.
And Hu is clearly one of the many. As reported by the official Xinhua news agency last May:
The formal statement of the theory is:The . . theory . . legitimizes the inclusion of capitalists and private entrepreneurs within the Communist Party, and as a result has been the subject of quiet but heated opposition within the party. . .
Reviewing the course of struggle and the basic experience over the past 80 years and looking ahead to the arduous tasks and bright future in the new century, our Party should continue to stand in the forefront of the times and lead the people in marching toward victory. In a word, the Party must always represent the requirements of the development of China's advanced productive forces, the orientation of the development of China's advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China.
. . . Although open criticism of the Theory of the Three Represents is taboo, there have been reports of private unease at this theory from within the Communist Party of China for a number of reasons. Many dislike the focus of the theory on the advanced social productive forces, meaning businessmen, since it ignores the widening social gap between the rich and poor.
What has provoked such a change in attitude? Perhaps, it is, as described here previously, that the populace is on the verge on open revolt. Here's one example from July 2005:
The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) met here Friday to look at ways to more fairly distribute incomes in society.
Chinese President Hu Jintao presided over the meeting.
A news release from the meeting said that China should uphold and improve the system in which distribution according to work is dominant and coexists with other modes of distribution.
The release said future reforms should concentrate on increasing incomes of poorer people, expanding the moderate-income population, effectively taxing high-income earners and banning illegal income.
Power was cut off to the police station? Clearly, something had to be done, and one of the responses was that May 2006 meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee to look at ways to more fairly distribute incomes in society, a meeting considered so important that Hu himself presided. But that was only the beginning. For the rest of the story, please return for Part 2.
Social tensions in China are taking on an increasingly explosive form. A riot by 10,000 people triggered by a car accident in the city of Chizhou in Anhui province is the latest case to be reported. Around 3 p.m. on June 26, a Toyota sedan hit a teenage student as he was riding a bike. As the student and driver began to argue, three men emerged from the car and along with the driver began to beat up the student.
A group of taxi drivers tried to help the injured student, insisting on compensation from the driver, who is the owner of a local private hospital. In response, the driver ordered his thugs to attack the taxi drivers with knives. He openly boasted that, even if someone was killed, he would get away with the crime by paying a bribe of 300,000 yuan ($US36,000).
Police arrived on the scene but only escorted the driver and his thugs away. Onlookers were left stunned and angry. Many were outraged at the arrogance of the driver and the indifference of the police to ordinary working people. The incident reinforced their daily experience of the contempt of the newly rich and officialdom towards the lives of the poor.Word of the incident soon spread to the working class suburbs of the city and by 6 p.m. thousands of people surrounded the local police station. They demanded the police hand over the driver and his thugs, who at that stage had not been charged with any offence, and then flipped over, smashed and torched the Toyota sedan and three police cars.
Firefighters who arrived on the scene quickly fled when confronted by the angry crowd. Police stepped in but were beaten back by the protesters hurling rocks and firecrackers. Power was cut off to the police station, windows broken and firecrackers were thrown inside. The protesters looted a nearby supermarket, partly owned by the Toyota driver. Around midnight, the provincial police chief arrived along with 700 paramilitary police officers in full riot gear and dispersed the protest.