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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, November 29, 2010

Zelaya's Forced Removal Clearly Illegal 

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/23/2019
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KJUS TFH01 HO
SUBJECT: TFHO1: OPEN AND SHUT: THE CASE OF THE HONDURAN COUP

REF: TEGUCIGALPA 578

Classified By: Ambassador Hugo Llorens, reasons 1.4 (b and d)

¶1. (C) Summary: Post has attempted to clarify some of the
legal and constitutional issues surrounding the June 28
forced removal of President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya. The
Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the
military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired
on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and
unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while
accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya
may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the
constitution. There is equally no doubt from our perspective
that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was
illegitimate. Nevertheless, it is also evident that the
constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing
clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by
the President and resolving conflicts between the branches
of government. End summary.

¶2. (U) Since the June 28 removal and expulsion of President
Zelaya by the Honduran armed forces, the Embassy has
consulted Honduran legal experts (one cannot find a fully
unbiased professional legal opinion in Honduras in the
current politically charged atmosphere) and reviewed the
text of the Honduran Constitution and its laws to develop a
better understanding of the arguments being parlayed by the
coup's supporters and opponents.

-------------------------------
Arguments of the Coup Defenders
-------------------------------

¶3. (SBU) Defenders of the June 28 coup have offered some
combination of the following, often ambiguous, arguments to
assert it's legality:

-- Zelaya had broken the law (alleged but not proven);

-- Zelaya resigned (a clear fabrication);

-- Zelaya intended to extend his term in office
(supposition);

-- Had he been allowed to proceed with his June 28
constitutional reform opinion poll, Zelaya would have
dissolved Congress the following day and convened a
constituent assembly (supposition);

-- Zelaya had to be removed from the country to prevent a
bloodbath;

-- Congress "unanimously" (or in some versions by a 123-5
vote) deposed Zelaya; (after the fact and under the cloak
of secrecy); and

-- Zelaya "automatically" ceased to be president the moment
he suggested modifying the constitutional prohibition on
presidential reelection.

¶4. (C) In our view, none of the above arguments has any
substantive validity under the Honduran constitution. Some
are outright false. Others are mere supposition or ex-post
rationalizations of a patently illegal act. Essentially:

-- the military had no authority to remove Zelaya from the
country;

-- Congress has no constitutional authority to remove a
Honduran president;

-- Congress and the judiciary removed Zelaya on the basis
of a hasty, ad-hoc, extralegal, secret, 48-hour process;

-- the purported "resignation" letter was a fabrication and
was not even the basis for Congress's action of June 28;
and

-- Zelaya's arrest and forced removal from the country
violated multiple constitutional guarantees, including the
prohibition on expatriation, presumption of innocence and
right to due process.

-------------------------------------------
Impeachment under the Honduran Constitution
-------------------------------------------

¶5. (U) Under the Honduran Constitution as currently
written, the President may be removed only on the basis of
death, resignation or incapacitation. Only the Supreme
Court may determine that a President has been
"incapacitated" on the basis of committing a crime.

¶6. (U) There is no explicit impeachment procedure in the
1982 Honduran Constitution. Originally, Article 205-15
stated that Congress had the competence to determine
whether "cause" existed against the President, but it did
not stipulate on what grounds or under what procedure.
Article 319-2 stated that the Supreme Court would "hear"
cases of official or common crimes committed by high-level
officials, upon a finding of cause by the Congress. This
implied a vague two-step executive impeachment process
involving the other two branches of government, although
without specific criteria or procedures. However, Article
205 was abrogated in 2003, and the corresponding provision
of Article 319 (renumbered 313) was revised to state only
that the Supreme Court would hear "processes initiated"
against high officials. Thus, it appears that under the
Constitution as currently written, removal of a president
or a government official is an entirely judicial matter.

¶7. (U) Respected legal opinion confirms that the removal of
a president is a judicial matter. According to a 2006 book
by respected legal scholar Enrique Flores Valeriano -- late
father of Zelaya's Minister of the Presidency, Enrique
Flores Lanza -- Article 112 of the Law of Constitutional
Justice indicates that if any government official is found
to be in violation of the Constitution, that person should
be removed from office immediately with the ultimate
authority on matters of Constitutionality being the Supreme
Court.

¶8. (U) Many legal experts have also confirmed to us that
the Honduran process for impeaching a President or other
senior-level officials is a judicial procedure. They
assert that under Honduran law the process consists of formal
criminal charges being filed by the Attorney General
against the accused with the Supreme Court. The Supreme
Court could accept or reject the charges. If the Court
moved to indict, it would assign a Supreme Court
magistrate, or a panel of magistrates to investigate the
matter, and oversee the trial. The trial process is open and
transparent and the defendant would be given a full right
of self-defense. If convicted in the impeachment trial,
the magistrates have authority to remove the President or
senior official. Once the President is removed, then the
constitutional succession would follow. In this case, if a
President is legally charged, convicted, and removed, his
successor is the Vice President or what is termed the
Presidential Designate. In the current situation in
Honduras, since the Vice President, Elvin Santos, resigned
last December in order to be able to run as the Liberal
Party Presidential candidate, President Zelaya's successor
would be Congress President Roberto Micheletti.
Unfortunately, the President was never tried, or
convicted, or was legally removed from office to allow a
legal succession.

-----------------------------
The Legal Case Against Zelaya
-----------------------------

¶9. (C) Zelaya's opponents allege that he violated the
Constitution on numerous grounds, some of which appear on
their face to be valid, others not:

-- Refusing to submit a budget to the Congress: The
Constitution is unambiguous that the Executive shall submit
a proposed budget to Congress by September 15 each year
(Art. 367), that Congress shall approve the budget (Art.
366) and that no obligations or payments may be effectuated
except on the basis of an approved budget (Art. 364);

-- Refusing to fund the Congress: Article 212 states that
the Treasury shall apportion quarterly the funds needed for
the operation of the Congress;

-- Proposing an illegal constitutional referendum: The
Constitution may be amended only through two-thirds vote of
the Congress in two consecutive sessions (Art. 373 and
375); a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution,
as Zelaya promoted, is therefore unconstitutional; however,
it is not clear that proposing a constituent assembly in
itself violates the constitution, only that any changes
ensuing from that assembly would be invalid;

-- Defying the judgment of a competent court: Zelaya
insisted on pushing ahead with his constitutional reform
opinion poll after both a first-instance court and an
appeals court ordered him to suspend those efforts;
however, while he clearly intended to follow through with
the poll, he never actually did it;

-- Proposing to reform unreformable articles: Since
Zelaya's proposed constituent assembly would have unlimited
powers to rewrite the constitution, it violated Article
374, which makes certain articles unamendable; once again,
though, Zelaya never actually attempted to change the
so-called "carved in stone" articles; it was only assumed
he intended to;

-- Dismissing the armed forces chief: The Supreme Court's
Constitutional Hall ruled June 25 that Zelaya was in
violation of the Constitution for dismissing Defense Chief
Vasquez Velasquez; the Constitution (Art. 280) states that
the President may freely name or remove the chief of the
armed forces; but the court ruled that since Zelaya fired
him for refusing to carry out a poll the court had ruled
illegal, the firing was illegal.

¶10. (C) Although a case could well have been made against
Zelaya for a number of the above alleged constitutional
violations, there was never any formal, public weighing of
the evidence nor any semblance of due process.

-----------------------
The Article 239 Cannard
-----------------------

¶11. (U) Article 239, which coup supporters began citing
after the fact to justify Zelaya's removal (it is nowhere
mentioned in the voluminous judicial dossier against
Zelaya), states that any official proposing to reform the
constitutional prohibition against reelection of the
president shall immediately cease to carry out their
functions and be ineligible to hold public office for 10
years. Coup defenders have asserted that Zelaya therefore
automatically ceased to be President when he proposed a
constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution.

¶12. (C) Post's analysis indicates the Article 239 argument
is flawed on multiple grounds:

-- Although it was widely assumed that Zelaya's reason for
seeking to convoke a constituent assembly was to amend the
constitution to allow for reelection, we are not aware
that he ever actually stated so publicly;

-- Article 239 does not stipulate who determines whether it
has been violated or how, but it is reasonable to assume
that it does not abrogate other guarantees of due process
and the presumption of innocence;

-- Article 94 states that no penalty shall be imposed
without the accused having been heard and found guilty in a
competent court;

-- Many other Honduran officials, including presidents,
going back to the first elected government under the 1982
Constitution, have proposed allowing presidential
reelection, and they were never deemed to have been
automatically removed from their positions as a result.

¶13. (C) It further warrants mention that Micheletti himself
should be forced to resign following the logic of the 239
argument, since as President of Congress he considered
legislation to have a fourth ballot box ("cuarta urna") at
the November elections to seek voter approval for a
constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Any
member of Congress who discussed the proposal should also
be required to resign, and National Party presidential
candidate Pepe Lobo, who endorsed the idea, should be
ineligible to hold public office for 10 years.

--------------------------------------------- -
Forced Removal by Military was Clearly Illegal
--------------------------------------------- -

¶14. (C) Regardless of the merits of Zelaya's alleged
constitutional violations, it is clear from even a cursory
reading that his removal by military means was illegal, and
even the most zealous of coup defenders have been unable to
make convincing arguments to bridge the intellectual gulf
between "Zelaya broke the law" to "therefore, he was packed
off to Costa Rica by the military without a trial."

-- Although coup supporters allege the court issued an
arrest warrant for Zelaya for disobeying its order to
desist from the opinion poll, the warrant, made public days
later, was for him to be arrested and brought before the
competent authority, not removed from the county;

-- Even if the court had ordered Zelaya to be removed from
the country, that order would have been unconstitutional;
Article 81 states that all Hondurans have the right to
remain in the national territory, subject to certain narrow
exceptions spelled out in Article 187, which may be invoked
only by the President of the Republic with the agreement of
the Council of Ministers; Article 102 states that no
Honduran may be expatriated;

-- The armed forces have no/no competency to execute
judicial orders; originally, Article 272 said the armed
forces had the responsibility to "maintain peace, public
order and the 'dominion' of the constitution," but that
language was excised in 1998; under the current text, only
the police are authorized to uphold the law and execute
court orders (Art. 293);

-- Accounts of Zelaya's abduction by the military indicate
he was never legally "served" with a warrant; the soldiers
forced their way in by shooting out the locks and
essentially kidnapped the President.

¶15. (U) The Armed Forces' ranking legal advisor, Col.
Herberth Bayardo Inestroza, acknowledged in an interview
published in the Honduran press July 5 that the Honduran
Armed Forces had broken the law in removing Zelaya from the
country. That same day it was reported that the Public
Ministry was investigating the actions of the Armed Forces
in arresting and deporting Zelaya June 28 and that the
Supreme Court had asked the Armed Forces to explain the
circumstances that motivated his forcible exile.

¶16. (C) As reported reftel, the legal adviser to the
Supreme Court told Poloff that at least some justices on
the Court consider Zelaya's arrest and deportation by the
military to have been illegal.

------------------------------------------
Congress Had no Authority to Remove Zelaya
------------------------------------------

¶17. (C) As explained above, the Constitution as amended in
2003 apparently gives sole authority for removing a
president to the judiciary. The Congressional action of
June 28 has been reported in some media as acceptance of
Zelaya's resignation, based on a bogus resignation letter
dated June 25 that surfaced after the coup. However, the
June 28 Congressional resolution makes no mention of the
letter, nor does it state that Congress was accepting
Zelaya's resignation. It says Congress "disapproves" of
Zelaya's conduct and therefore "separates" him from the
office of President -- a constitutional authority Congress
does not have. Furthermore, a source in the Congressional
leadership told us that a quorum was not present when the
resolution was adopted, rendering it invalid. There was no
recorded vote, nor a request for the "yeas" and "nays."

¶18. (C) In sum, for a constitutional succession from Zelaya
to Micheletti to occur would require one of several
conditions:

Zelaya's resignation, his death, or permanent medical
incapacitation (as determined by judicial and medical
authorities), or as discussed previously, his formal criminal
conviction and removal from office. In the absence of any of
these conditions and since Congress lacked the legal
authority to remove Zelaya, the actions of June 28 can only
be considered a coup d'etat by the legislative branch, with
the support of the judicial branch and the military, against
the executive branch. It bears mentioning that, whereas the
resolution adopted June 28 refers only to Zelaya, its effect
was to remove the entire executive branch. Both of these
actions clearly exceeded Congress's authority.

-------
Comment
-------

¶19. (C) The analysis of the Constitution sheds some
interesting light on the events of June 28. The Honduran
establishment confronted a dilemma: near unanimity among
the institutions of the state and the political class that
Zelaya had abused his powers in violation of the
Constitution, but with some ambiguity what to do about it.
Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or
whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew -- the
way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus
resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring
country. No matter what the merits of the case against
Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly
illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as "interim president"
was totally illegitimate.

¶20. (C) Nonetheless, the very Constitutional uncertainty
that presented the political class with this dilemma may
provide the seeds for a solution. The coup's most ardent
legal defenders have been unable to make the intellectual
leap from their arguments regarding Zelaya's alleged crimes
to how those allegations justified dragging him out of his
bed in the night and flying him to Costa Rica. That the
Attorney General's office and the Supreme Court now
reportedly question the legality of that final step is
encouraging and may provide a face-saving "out" for the two
opposing sides in the current standoff. End Comment.
LLORENS

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The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 15) 

This is a godsend for wikileaks, millions of federal workers now incentivized to leak information to it, but causes one to wonder, yet again, whether this administration has any interest in bringing about an economic recovery. Of course, given that any significant reduction in the federal deficit is unlikely for the indefinite future, we can assume that this pay freeze is permanent.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

As'ad Abukhalil Reviews Carlos 

Upon comparing Abukhalil's extraordinary review of Carlos, based upon his knowledge of the Palestinian struggle with my earlier, mundane one, written in the voice of someone who related to it as a work of cinematic art, I recognized the extent to which it is possible to interweave Zionist, imperialist values within an otherwise appealing transgressive, countercultural narrative. Indeed, they go down much easier with an engaged, educated audience than the crude stereotypes associated with the neoconservatives. An audience that might otherwise blanch at them in a common, melodramatic good versus evil plot finds them more appetizing when encountered in the distanced, elliptical, emotionally subdued tones of the arthouse.

Beyond this, the facility by which a skilled director like Assayas can accomplish this task raises serious questions as to whether the standards by which the cinema has been evaluated display a Eurocentric bias, especially in regard to how the social realities of non-European peoples can be manipulated to their detriment by recourse to subjective methods of narrative and cinematography. It seems to me that a film criticism that exalts the successful execution of these methods, as well those adopted by the performers, necessarily has a tendency to diminish the significance of cultural representation. My conclusion is that, if you want to effectively propagandize among elites by means of film, you will do better to select an Assayas than a Bruckheimer. But, maybe, there is nothing new about this. After all, D. W Griffith is considered more important because of his storytelling technique than his racism, and Goebbels was well aware of this, too, if one believes Fritz Lang's story that Goebbels offered him a position as head of the German film industry in 1933 after Goebbels watched The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (which wasprompted banned by the Nazis as a threat to the public order).

Of course, the challenge is to recognize the reactionary qualities in such works, while appreciating the artistry, as Edward Said did when evaluating the literature of Austen and Conrad. Or, for that matter, what Abukhalil does himself when acknowledging the great works of orientalist historiography. In any event, here is an excerpt from his review, which I strongly recommend that you read in its entirety:

. . . I should have expected the movie would be horrible when the New York Times Magazine, which opposes Arabs and their causes except for those of Muhammad Dahlan, Salam Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas (if they can be considered Arabs), enthusiastically praised the director and the movie’s research. This is important because I found the movie’s political feel, purely American in a racist and Zionist sense (according to the dominant American culture, so as not to generalize about the American people). The movie exaggerates “Carlos’” importance in the Palestinian revolution’s contemporary history and even in Wadie Haddad’s history of organizing. The man was only a footnote in the Palestinian people’s struggle as was Lawrence of Arabia a footnote in the lesser Arab Revolution. Assayas needed to exaggerate his role in order to market the movie: there are hundreds of revolutionaries with Arab names but nobody has heard of them. In other words, that “Carlos” was famous and Annis Naqqash unknown, indicates the skillfulness of the latter, not the former. Haddad didn’t want to create celebrities; he wanted to create revolutionaries. The revolutionary’s usefulness diminishes with fame and/or its pursuit. Old revolutionaries who lived the Jordan phase (before and after the September massacres) remember “Carlos.” In his first military courses he was notably brave, physically resilient and extremely enthusiastic. Those who trained with him in Jordan know he felt restrained by standing in line and training (it appears that Palestinian groups’ trainings were influenced by that of armies. This is a result of lack of experience in guerilla warfare. See Yazid Sayigh’s book Armed Struggle and Search for a State in spite of its right-wing leaning). Carlos used to object and demand more rigorous training. He was also skillful at shooting. This brought him attention as a fighter, not as a revolutionary leader as the movie portrayed.

Here is where the movie’s fiction starts. “Carlos” becomes a Palestinian leader and peer to Wadie Haddad himself. You see him at a meeting of Palestinian groups’ leaders called by Yuri Androbov. “Carlos’” story overshadows the negative aspects of the Palestinian revolution’s experience of attracting people of all backgrounds without exception. Opportunists, hooligans, criminals and intelligence agents joined the revolution. The revolution didn’t examine their backgrounds. A Palestinian entered a training camp in Al-Burj and saw a man training. He angrily asked the political supervisor: what is this man doing here? He was told that he was a comrade from the American University of Beirut. “Comrade?” he exclaimed. “I’ve known him since childhood and he’s an old Phalangist.” He refused to participate in the training (that “comrade’s” colleagues noticed that he completely disappeared after 1982 without trace). The revolution should have scrutinized the backgrounds of those who suddenly appeared in training camps and organization offices and asked to join. Of course, there were sincere internationalists militants but there were opportunists and criminals also.

Who decides “Carlos’” reality? It’s a relative matter. I consider him more of a rash rebel who turned to opportunism after the Vienna operation, if not before. It suffices that his name is connected to the distortion of the Palestinian revolution’s name internationally. The movie tried to depict Palestinian struggle as an opportunist, criminal and terrorist endeavor. There is no mistake that this is the movie’s message. The best proof of the movie’s Zionism is the complete absence of Israel from the plot. Israel is completely absent from criminal and terrorist operations in Europe although Israel had started terrorism in Europe by sending explosives to embassies in the forties (the otherwise serious Economist magazine erred in a recent article as it failed to mention Israel’s pioneering role in sending letter bombs). The movie showed no concern for victims among the Palestinian people and other Arab civilians in Europe or thousands of victims in the Arab world. But it wanted to emphasize for the viewer foreign victims of Arab violence (such as the scene of shooting a pregnant French woman in Beirut. One doesn’t know if this actually occurred or if it was one of the many lies the movie fabricated). During a seventies’ recording of Bassam Abu Sharif explaining the attack on the Zionist Marks and Spencer’s owner in London, the director should have informed the viewer, at least cursorily, that the reason behind burns and wounds on Abu Sharif’s face was the Zionist letter bomb from Israel, which is dear to Assayas and his crew.

Haddad targeted the owner of Marks and Spencer for funding Herut party and Zionist causes. The movie wanted to depict the Arab revolutionary as hostile to Jews as Jews (only one German objected to hostility to Jews while in reality the matter was debated among the ranks of the leadership and membership, but the director deliberately mis-portrayed Palestinian organizations and characterized them as fascist and dictatorial. Not all leaders of Palestinian groups were like Yasir Arafat, and even he was questioned by his cohorts especially in the early years).

If you watch the movie, you will quickly discover how the process of presenting the history of this period in intimate terms, as noted in my review, has the effect of creating an allegorical representation of the Palestinian struggle that omits much of its history.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Class Warfare in Ireland 

UPDATE: A post-euro world?

The euro plunged further into crisis yesterday as investors sold off Spanish, Portuguese and Belgian government bonds in record numbers on renewed fears that those nations would follow Greece and Ireland into the financial emergency ward, undermining confidence in the single currency.

The spreading contagion suggests that the markets now view the break-up of the euro as a realistic possibility, and that shock and awe efforts to shore up individual economies with huge bailouts have not succeeded in insulating their neighbours from infection. Spain, in particular, is regarded as being too big to save. Should Spain eventually need assistance it would also imply a much larger UK bilateral loan than the £8bn offered to Ireland – perhaps £20bn or £30bn.

The extra risk premium demanded by investors to hold Spanish government debt hit new highs during trading yesterday, and the cost to Madrid of raising money over a three-month period is the same as that demanded from the German government over a five-year term, reflecting an extreme level of nervousness about the Spanish state's ability to repay its debts. The looming possibility of Spanish insolvency would dwarf the problems of Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined.

INITIAL POST: The Irish Government announces its austerity plan to deal with the current crisis:

Spending cuts - €10bn total savings by 2014

The plan aims to cut current spending by €7bn:
• The public sector wage bill will fall by €1.2bn, with 24,500 jobs being cut. New hires will face a 10% pay cut and a "reformed" pension scheme
• The social welfare bill will be cut by €2.8bn. Many welfare payments will fall, with child benefit being lowered by 10%. The age at which citizens quality for the state pension will rise, first to 66 in 2014, then 67 in 2021 and finally 68 in 2028.
• PM Cowen also indicated that the dole could be trimmed further if the government is struggling to get the numbers to add up
• The minimum wage is being cut by €1 per hour, to €7.65 per hour - a move that is meant to help get people into work
• A further €3bn will be cut across healthcare, education, agriculture, other government operation

• The plan also involves €3bn of cuts in capital expenditure.

Tax rises - €5bn total revenue by 2014

Among other measures...
• Sales tax will rise sharply, with VAT going up by 1% to 22% in 2013, rising to 23% in 2014. That should raise €570m
• Income tax thresholds are being lowered, to bring in an extra €1.9bn. This means that by 2014, income tax will be paid by people earning at least €15,300 a year instead of €18,300 at present
• A new property tax is being brought in, to raise €530m.
• Various pension adjustments are expected to bring in €865m

But, of course, the low corporate tax rate of 12.5% must be defended at all costs:

3.58pm: Britain has apparently pledged to support Ireland's decision to maintain corporation tax at 12.5% -- in the face of pressure from other European countries who believe the rate is unfairly low. This follows the meeting at Stormont between UK City minister Mark Hoban and Northern Ireland ministers.

Like Argentina, Ireland traveled down the neoliberal road in the hope of attaining prosperity for its people. As with Argentina, the consequences for middle income and lower income people will be disasterous. Ireland already has an official 14.1% unemployment rate prior to the implementation of austerity. But, so far, there is no indication of a social movement in Ireland sufficiently strong to compel Ireland to sever its economic relationships with those institutions that would impoverish it for a generation, and perhaps longer, as the people of Argentina did.

Dean Baker is persuasive when he states that the social consequences of acquiescing to the European Central Bank and the IMF are alarming:

It is worth remembering that Ireland's government was a model of fiscal probity prior to the economic meltdown. It had run large budget surpluses for the 5 years prior to the onset of the crisis. Ireland's problem was certainly not out of control government spending; it was a reckless banking system that fueled an enormous housing bubble. The economic wizards at the ECB and the IMF either couldn't see the bubble or didn't think it was worth mentioning.

The failure of the ECB or IMF to take steps to rein in the bubble before the crisis has not made these international financial institutions shy about using a heavy hand in imposing conditions now. The plan is to impose stiff austerity, requiring much of Ireland's workforce to suffer unemployment for years to come as a result of the failure of their bankers and the ECB.

While it is often claimed that these institutions are not political, only the braindead could still believe this. The decision to make Ireland's workers, along with workers in Spain, Portugal, Latvia and elsewhere, pay for the recklessness of their country's bankers is entirely a political one. There is no economic imperative that says that workers must pay; this is a political decision being imposed by the ECB and IMF.

This should be a huge warning flag for progressives and, in fact, anyone who believes in democracy. If the ECB puts conditions on a rescue package, it will be very difficult for an elected government in Ireland to reverse these conditions. In other words, the issues that Ireland's voters will be able to decide are likely to be trivial in importance relative to the conditions that will be imposed by the ECB.

Baker concludes that it would be better for Ireland to default and leave the euro, juast as Argentina defaulted and broke the link between its currency and the US dollar. The Argentinian economy sharply contracted by over 10% in the first year after the late 2001 default, but displayed strong rates of annual growth thereafter in the 7% to 9% range through 2008. More recently, it recovered quickly from the 2009 global recession, so much so that it had a slightly positive growth rate for the year of nearly 0.9:

The Argentine economy is making a rapid recovery after the impact of the global financial crisis last year, but experts warn about the limits to growth, which will reach a ceiling shortly unless investments increase.

After a year in which GDP grew by barely 0.9 percent, a far cry from the annual average of close to eight percent over the previous six years, economic activity in this South American country is back on track, led by industry, thanks to a buoyant domestic market and strong export performance, especially in agriculture.

The government initially forecast 2.5 percent growth this year, but later revised the figure upwards to seven percent, in line with the 6.8 percent projected by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Indeed, Argentinian growth has been so strong that policymakers are afraid of inflation.

Meanwhile, young, well educated Irish people are already planning to migrate to other countries:

A lot of my friends are leaving. A lot of people in their 20s and 30s who are very educated are leaving, said Elaine Byrne, a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland's oldest university.

I teach a class in politics, and we did a poll recently in the class, and almost everybody put up their hand and said that they were leaving.

But where will they go? Perhaps, the Germans will consider them more culturally acceptable than the Turks. One has to wonder about the future of a people who educate their children so that they can depart and live elsewhere. But, not to worry, an Irish university education will soon become unattainable.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Farewell, Chalmers Johnson 

Today, we learned the sad news. Chalmers Johnson is dead at the age of 79. Over the last 15 years, he was an indefatigable opponent of US imperialism, after having been a Cold War liberal who celebrated the collapse of the Soviet Union and supported the Vietnam War. In Blowback, he identified the pathological aspect of US foreign policy:

In Blowback, I set out to explain why we are hated around the world. The concept blowback does not just mean retaliation for things our government has done to and in foreign countries. It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This means that when the retaliation comes - as it did so spectacularly on September 11, 2001 - the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback. In the first book in this trilogy, I tried to provide some of the historical background for understanding the dilemmas we as a nation confront today, although I focused more on Asia - the area of my academic training - than on the Middle East.

In this summarization, provided by him in a subsequent book, Nemesis, Johnson points out an often forgotten fact about Blowback, the fact that he developed his analysis from his study of US involvement in Asia, and not the more highly publicized US involvement in the Middle East. It is a sobering thing to remember, as it suggests that we remain vulnerable to retaliation, whether violent or economic, from people in other regions of the world, unless there is a radical, almost impossible imagine, transformation in US policy.

In recent years, I think that there was a tendency to see Johnson as a leftist. He wasn't. The willingness of some to perceive him as such points towards something that I have observed in other contexts, a tendency to confuse anti-imperialism with leftism. For example, he never repudiated his Cold War hostility towards the USSR. Rather, he was an American exceptionalist of a particular kind. Like Pat Buchanan, he believed that the USSR posed an existential threat to the US, and, like Buchanan, saw no purpose to interventionism upon the dissipation of that threat. Much like Buchanan (and Gore Vidal as well, and, even, arguably, Kurt Vonnegut), he believed that the US was exceptional because of the example it set for other countries and peoples around the world through its domestic policies and values, even if the three of them would argue vigorously over what they should be. In short, an exceptionalism that was isolationist.

Unlike Buchanan (and possibly, even Vidal), Johnson was equally concerned about the consequences of US interventionism for the people subjected to it. His mid-1990s visit to Okinawa radicalized him as he was dismayed by the US imperial arrogance associated its military presence on the island:

I first went to Okinawa in 1996. I was invited by then-Governor Ota in the wake of the rape incident. I’ve devoted my life to the study of Japan, but like many Japanese, many Japanese specialists, I had never been in Okinawa. I was shocked by what I saw. It was the British Raj. It was like Soviet troops living in East Germany, more comfortable than they would be back at, say, Oceanside, California, next door to Camp Pendleton. And it was a scandal in every sense. My first reaction -- I’ve not made a secret of it -- that I was, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, certainly a Cold Warrior. My first explanation was that this is simply off the beaten track, that people don't come down here and report it. As I began to study the network of bases around the world and the incidents that have gone with them and the military coups that have brought about regime change and governments that we approve of, I began to realize that Okinawa was not unusual; it was, unfortunately, typical.

These bases, as I say, are spread everywhere. The most recent manifestation of the American military empire is the decision by the Pentagon now, with presidential approval, of course, to create another regional command in Africa. This may either be at the base that we have in Djibouti at the Horn of Africa. It may well be in the Gulf of Guinea, where we are prospecting for oil, and the Navy would very much like to put ourselves there. It is not at all clear that we should have any form of American military presence in Africa, but we're going to have an enlarged one.

Invariably, remember what this means. Imperialism is a form of tyranny. It never rules through consent of the governed. It doesn't ask for the consent of the governed. We talk about the spread of democracy, but we're talking about the spread of democracy at the point of an assault rifle. That's a contradiction in terms. It doesn't work. Any self-respecting person being democratized in this manner starts thinking of retaliation.

Not surprisingly, Johnson's experience is a central feature of Blowback, and he was a tireless advocate for the departure of US troops from Okinawa until his death. As an area studies scholar with an emphasis upon East Asia, he respected the cultures of the countries that he studied, and highlighted how they had been economically successfully since the end of World War II by ignoring the emerging neoliberal policies of the World Bank and the IMF. Given that most people don't recognize that Blowback is focused primarily on Asia, it is not surprising that this aspect of the book is even less well known. He acknowledged that China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan had relied upon significant state intervention to economically modernize, and that the US was actively seeking to prevent others from following the same path. Indeed, he considered these policies to be as perilous as the ones associated with covert operations, expressing alarm at nationalistic hostility to the US in East and South Asia in response to the currency devaluations and foreign asset sales facilitated by the IMF to address the 1998 currency crisis.

In other words, Johnson was no orientalist with an Asian emphasis. If anything, he could be said to be an indigenous modernist, meaning that he considered it impossible for anyone to escape the modernization process, but that countries and peoples should be permitted, as much as possible, to go through it autonomously. Such a perspective was consistent with his belief that the massive economic and military infrastructure created by the US during the Cold War was an anomaly and should have been dismantled. Johnson may have been no leftist, but his analytical rigor and personal integrity demanded respect. In the introduction to Blowback, he describes how he disdained the protests against the Vietnam War at UC Berkeley because he discovered, after a trip to the library, that none of the books about Vietnam had been checked out by anyone to read. In classic academic elitist style, he concluded that there was no reason to pay attention to such know nothings. But, from the vantage point of thirty years later, he admitted that they had been right, and he had been wrong. From such a mea culpa, he commenced to write his own book of revelations about the imperial hubris of the US, which has only gotten more extreme with the passage of time.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ireland Has Lost Its Sovereignty 

snip

It cannot be denied that Ireland has lost its status as a sovereign nation. Thanks to its disastrous entanglement with the euro, it has lost any independence in domestic, foreign and above all economic policy. The Irish nation is the creature of Brussels and the European Central Bank. The Irish prime minister has effectively been turned into a pro-consul despatched to Dublin from Brussels. Brian Lenihan, the finance minister, is like an overseas manager of a Brussels subsidiary. For those of us who love Ireland, this is miserable and demeaning – but it needs to be borne in mind that a similar fate awaits a number of other European countries. Greece already does what it is told by the IMF and the ECB; the same will shortly apply to Portugal and in due course Spain.

snip

Ireland could be the next Lehman Brothers. That's what has the markets worried. If Irish leaders refuse to accept a bailout from the EU's new European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), then bondholders will be forced to take haircuts on their investments which will leave banks in Germany and France short of capital. Bonds yields will rise sharply slowing activity in the credit markets. An Irish default will trigger hundreds of billions of dollars in credit default swaps (CDS), which will push weaker counterparties into bankruptcy and domino through the financial system. Contagion will spread to Portugal, Greece, Spain and Italy widening bond yields and forcing governments to increase their borrowing at the ECB. Business activity will sputter, unemployment will rise, and growth will shrink. It will be a second financial meltdown.

But no one believes that will happen. Most people think that Ireland will take its medicine and spare bondholders any losses. Irish leaders would rather accept a decade of EU-imposed austerity measures and the loss of sovereignty, then leave the euro and start fresh. It's disappointing. The euro is not designed to meet the needs of the smaller, less industrialized countries like Ireland. They need their own, flexible currency to ease the effects of cyclical downturns. But Irish leaders are still captivated by the idea of a united Europe. So they will cast aside the independence they earned through centuries of struggle for a pipedream and the elusive promise of prosperity.

At present, the Irish government is underwriting the toxic debts of its main banks. Unfortunately, those debts far exceed the revenues of the state. According to BBC's Robert Peston, the liabilities are equivalent to an oppressive 700% of GDP when banking, public sector and private sector debts are added together. So far, the ECB has helped to keep Irish banks operating by providing 130 billion euros of emergency liquidity. But the wholesale markets no longer accept Irish debt as collateral and bond yields are in nosebleed territory. Irish politicians still maintain they have sufficient funds to get through the middle of next year, but that does not include funding for the banks. In fact, if the ECB stopped lending to the banks today, the system would crash overnight.

So the situation is tense and getting tenser. Even so, everyone expects Ireland's Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to cave in and accept a bailout. That will shift all the losses onto Irish taxpayers.

But how long before the merry-go-round stops? How long before France, Germany and the UK lose the capacity to finance these bailouts? How long before the contagion reaches these core countries of the European system? How long before public outrage makes it impossible for a government to acquiesce to institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and ECB? And when it does stop, what happens then?

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Film Notes: Carlos 

On Sunday, I had the opportunity to watch about 4 hours of the approximately 5 1/2 hour French miniseries about the notorious Carlos the Jackal at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco. You can also apparently rent a shorter version on cable if you have the Sundance Channel, and it will be released nationally in yet another edited version as well. I hope to watch the remainder of it sometime soon, but I decided to post a review before my initial impressions become stale.

As'ad Abukhalil, the Angry Arab, has said that Carlos is good entertainment, but bad politically, and that's a pretty fair assessment. I probably wouldn't gone to see it except for the fact that one of my favorite directors, Olivier Assayas, made it. I've seen a lot of his movies, going all the way back to Disorder from the mid-1980s, and think highly of him. I've always considered him to be one of the heirs to Fassbinder, with an acute sense of the internal rhythms of film narrative, a highly developed sense of the banalities of life and an empathy for what cultural studies types describe as transgressive behaviour. For my review of his movie, Summer Hours, released in the US last year, go here.

Assayas puts all of these qualities to good use in Carlos. His sympathy for transgression enables him to portray all of the characters, including Carlos, non-judgmentally, even sympathetically, and his emphasis upon the banal in the presentation of the most violent and emotional charged scenes strips away the melodramatic manipulation that is such a prominent feature of most American films (or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say that he engages in such manipulation more skillfully?). He treats Carlos' celebrity as an off screen fact that distorts his relationships with others instead of allowing it to overwhelm the story. His sense of narrative pacing is remarkable. Much as Gus Van Zant presented the essence of the life of Harvey Milk through a skillful use of interiors, and the extraction of a feeling of intimacy from his public appearances, Assayas accomplishes something similar here. Whereas many directors would have succumbed to the temptation of rendering the assault upon the 1975 OPEC meeting in Vienna in the dynamic, propulsive action film visuals suitable for Blue-Ray, Assayas sticks with his dishwater, documentary style that brings characterization and personal interaction to the forefront. I've never watched 4 hours of a movie that went by so quickly. It is hyponotic.

Some have said that Carlos is the best film that Assayas has ever made, and it is quite fine if you are disinterested in the underlying political themes. Unfortunately, for all of its brilliance, Carlos is a work of cinematic orientalism. With the possible exception of Carlos, Assayas generally portrays the South American and European characters as politically and emotionally responding to an unjust society, while the Arabs are the ones that betray the revolution. Through their contact with the Arabs, they are corrupted by money, seduced by violence and ultimately acquiesce to patriarchal authority. There is a clear binary opposition within the film in terms of the characteristics of European and Middle Eastern society. Given the actual history of the radical left in the US and Europe, where many participants fell prey to them in the absence of any contact with Arabs or Muslims, it borders on being racist. Rather oddly, the Arab characters reminded me of the yakuza ones in Japanese crime films by people like Kinji Fukasaku, which just shows the extent of the contrast. Amazingly, one ends up perceiving Carlos and his European allies as initially more supportive of the Palestinian cause than the Palestinians themselves (with the exception of lower level soldiers). Much of this comes out through the character of one of the German leftists involved in the Vienna attack, Joachim Klein, code name Angie, who explains his subsequent refusal to join Carlos' new group by reference to all the purportedly corrupting features injected as a consequence of their relations with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine ("PFLP").

Clearly, Assayas intends us to view Klein sympathetically, but Klein, for all of his idealism, has merely transferred his failings and those of his political movement to a convenient scapegoat, the Arabs, much as the German bourgeoisie similarly did with the Jews a hundred years earlier. Perhaps, I am being unfair, and this was Assayas' intention (there is always a complex ambivalence in his characterizations), but it doesn't look that way when you see it. He may not have been that interested in the Arab and Palestinian aspects of the story anyway, despite their inescapable prominence. He may have just considered the violent struggle for the liberation of the Palestinians, and those associated with it, as a sort of Hitchcockian MacGuffin, a plot device necessary for setting the story in motion and not much more. After all, Carlos' unwillingness to align himself with any particular group after being expelled from the PFLP is another variation of the lone wolf against the syndicate, another Franz as presented by Fassbinder in his first film, Love is Colder than Death, while the political and psychological dimensions of radical extremism echo another neglected Fassbinder film, The Third Generation. So, it may well be true that, for Assayas, the primary subject of his concern is the European radical left and Carlos' opportunism, with the Arabs and Palestinians serving as props.

One of the interesting subtexts of the film is the extent to which people can achieve clearly defined political ends through violence. Not surprisingly, Assayas is a pessimist, as shown in a simultaneously frightening and hilarious sequence when Carlos and an associate jump out of a car next to a terminal at Orly Airport in Paris, and, Keystone Cops style, try to blow up an El Al plane with a rocket launcher, only to miss twice and hit two other planes instead. Upon calling in to claim responsibility for the attack, Carlos discovers that a Croatian nationalist group had already done so, because one of the planes that they actually damaged was a Yugoslav one. Similarly, Carlos and the others involved in the assault upon the 1975 OPEC meeting quickly discover that the unpredictable responses to it from erstwhile covert allies make it difficult, if not impossible, to attain their objectives. Assayas also suggests that Carlos and his team were geopolitically manipulated by those who sponsored the assault. Curiously, he ignores the claim that Carlos took advantage of it to enrich himself to the detriment of the mission, a subject that Abukhalil may address in a planned future review of the movie.

To his credit, Assayas starts the movie with the Mossad's assassination of PDLP leader Mohamed Boudia in Paris in 1973. Hence, Carlos' embrace of violence is placed within the context of pre-existing Zionist violence, providing little comfort to the promoters of the current war on terror. Furthermore, throughout the film, prominent political figures, such as those kidnapped by Carlos' team in Vienna, are not portrayed deferentially. One gets the sense that Assayas would have celebrated the audacity of the kidnapping as an appropriate transgressive act if perpetrated for the right reasons, one associated with a more generalized rejection of authority, instead of being carried out by one group seeking to seize the power possessed by another. He gently exposes the hypocrisy of Saudi Oil Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani, one of the kidnapped OPEC ministers, a man who objects to his planned killing while representing a regime that hangs people for failing to conform to the strict standards of behavior imposed by his government. This big fish gets away, of course, perhaps serving as a parable for the persistence of the violent, elitist control of our lives that persists to this day.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: Clothing and Shoecare Products 

UPDATE: Perhaps, Sara Lee should be taken off the list. Hat tip to Jenny.

INITIAL POST: Youth Against Normalization has many useful lists of products manufactured by companies that support Zionism: Here's one example:

Mother Company: AUCHAN


Brands to Boycott:
Auchan


Types of Support:
Israeli Products

-------------------------------------------------


Mother Company: MARKS and SPENSER

Brands to Boycott:
Marks and Spencers

Types of Support:
Israeli Products
VIP supports Zionism

------------------------------------------------

Mother Company: CATERPILLAR

Brands to Boycott:
Caterpillar (CAT)

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

-----------------------------------------------


Mother Company: PRYCA

Brands to Boycott:
Pryca

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

-----------------------------------------------

Mother Company: SARA LEE

Brands to Boycott:
Abanderado
Bali
Champion
DIM
Gossard
Hane's
Just My Size
Leggs
Lovable
Nur Die
Outerbanks
Playtex
Wonderbra


Types of Support:
Israeli Products
Israeli Investments
Operates in Israel ('48)
Operates in OT ('67)
Supports Zionist Charities
Supports Zionist Cause

------------------------------------------------

Mother Company: PROCTER and GAMBLE

Brands to Boycott:
Boss Hugo Boss

Types of Support:
Israeli Products
Operates in Israel ('48)

------------------------------------------------

Mother Company: TIMBERLAND

Brands to Boycott:
Timberland

Types of Support:
VIP supports Zionism

------------------------------------------------

Mother Company: CARREFOUR

Brands to Boycott:
Carrefour

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

------------------------------------------------


Mother Company: J. C. Penny

Brands to Boycott:
J. C. Penny

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

------------------------------------------------

Mother Company: J-Crew

Brands to Boycott:
J-Crew

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

------------------------------------------------


Mother Company: BANANA REPUBLIC

Brands to Boycott:
Banana Republic

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

------------------------------------------------

Mother Company: CALVIN KLEIN

Brands to Boycott:
Calvin Klein

Types of Support:
Israeli Products
Operates in Israel ('48)

------------------------------------------------

Mother Company: DONNA KARAN / DKNY

Brands to Boycott:
Donna Karan / DKNY

Types of Support:
Israeli Products
Operates in Israel ('48)

------------------------------------------------

Mother Company: GAP

Brands to Boycott:
GAP

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

-----------------------------------------------


Mother Company: HEMA


Brands to Boycott:
Hema

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

-----------------------------------------------

Mother Company: LINDEX

Brands to Boycott:
Lindex

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

-----------------------------------------------

Mother Company: RALPH LAUREN

Brands to Boycott:
Ralph Lauren

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

-----------------------------------------------

Mother Company: VICTORIA'S SECRET

Brands to Boycott:
Victoria's Secret

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

----------------------------------------------


Mother Company: STRUCTURE

Brands to Boycott:
Structure

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

----------------------------------------------

Mother Company: TCHYBO

Brands to Boycott:
Tchybo

Types of Support:
Israeli Products

----------------------------------------------


Mother Company: SELFRIDGES

Brands to Boycott:
selfridges

Types of Support:
Israeli Products
Operates in Israel ('48)


----------------------------------------------

Bershka
H and M
Vero Moda Zara
WalMart


----------------------------------------------


SHOECARE

Mother Company: SARA LEE

Brands to Boycott:
Kiwi Polish

Types of Support:
Israeli Products
Israeli Investments
Operates in Israel ('48)
Supports Zionist Charities
Supports Zionist Cause

Please disseminate to anyone you think might be interested.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 14) 

The domestic blueprint for the next two years of the Obama presidency:

A draft proposal released Wednesday by the chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan commission on reducing the federal debt calls for deep cuts in domestic and military spending starting in 2012, and an overhaul of the tax code to raise revenue. Those changes and others would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020, the proposal says.

The plan would reduce projected Social Security benefits to most retirees in later decades — low-income people would get higher benefits — and slowly raise the retirement age for full benefits to 69 from 67, with a hardship exemption for people who physically cannot work past 62. And it would subject higher levels of income to payroll taxes, to ensure Social Security’s solvency for the next 75 years.

The plan would reduce Social Security benefits to most future retirees — low-income people would get a higher benefit — and it would subject higher levels of income to payroll taxes to ensure Social Security’s solvency for at least the next 75 years.

But the plan would not count any savings from Social Security toward meeting the overall deficit-reduction goal set by Mr. Obama, reflecting the chairmen’s sensitivity to liberal critics who have complained that Social Security should be fixed only for its own sake, not to balance the nation’s books.

The federal tax on gasoline, now 14.8 cents a gallon, would more than double between 2013 and 2015, so that revenue from the tax and similar user fees could cover all transportation and highway spending programs, and the funds set up for that purpose would no longer require money from the general treasury.

This is a document released by the co-chairs of the Deficit Reduction Commission, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, so it does not necessarily reflect the final report that will be released in less than a month. But it does reveal the broad contours of the discussion that will take place between the President and the new Congress that will arrive in January. It is, of course, possible that the commission will come together around a compromise version of these proposals, and submit them to the lame duck Congress for more rapid action, such as, for example, the specific recommendations related to Social Security and Medicare (addressed elsewhere towards the end of this article by David Dayen), but this now looks unlikely.

Lost in the emphasis upon Social Security and Medicare is the overall supply side orientation of the proposed policies: reductions in the top rates of taxation, reductions in government expenditures and employment, enforced through spending caps, with 75% of the proposed deficit reduction accomplished through spending cuts and only 25% attained through tax increases, with many of those regressively imposed through a fee for service, cost sharing approach, as outlined by Dayen. One needn't rely upon Marxist economists to discover that the implementation of these measures is likely to increase the deficit instead of reducing it, disciples of Keynesians like Paul Samuelson will do. Reductions in expenditures by both the government and middle and lower middle income consumers will transform the deficit into a moving target than can never be reached, with each reallocation of revenue from them to supply side investors accelerating the growth of the deficit beyond the savings attained by cuts in expenditures.

But this is probably the intention. For circumstantial proof of this proposition, we need only wait to see if the Bush tax cuts are extended for everyone, including the exhorbitantly costly ones provided to the top 2% of the population, the ones that everyone acknowledges will significantly increase the deficit. If they are, we can conclusively say what we have always suspected, that concern about the deficit is a public relations effort on behalf of elites to further concentrate wealth and power within themselves. Apparently, they are confident that they can manipulate the social unrest that is likely to result from the economic stagnation that will ensue if these proposals are adopted in any meaningful respect.

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Targeted Killings 

I came across this incident by accident, after encountering it in a post by Jason Ditz of antiwar.com:

A 21-year-old student has been jailed for life at the Old Bailey for trying to murder Labour MP Stephen Timms because he voted for the war in Iraq.

Roshonara Choudhry, of East Ham, stabbed the 55-year-old MP for East Ham twice in the stomach at a constituency surgery in Newham, east London, in May.

She was found guilty of attempted murder and two counts of possessing a knife on Tuesday.

Choudhry, of Central Park Road, was jailed for a minimum of 15 years.

Justice Cooke's condemnation of her actions was, shall we say, a bit peculiar:

Mr Justice Cooke told Choudhry: You said you ruined the rest of your life. You said it was worth it. You said you wanted to be a martyr.

You intended to kill in a political cause and to strike at those in government by doing so.

You did so as a matter of deliberate decision making, however skewed your reasons, from listening to those Muslims who incite such action on the internet.

I also hope that you will come to understand the distorted nature of your thinking, the evil that you have done and planned to do, and repent of it.

You do not suffer from any mental disease. You have simply committed evil acts coolly and deliberately.

During the trial the court heard Choudhry had made a list of MPs who had voted for the Iraq war. Choudhry would continue to be a danger to MPs, the judge added.

Of course, Tony Blair, George Bush and all of those in the Congress and House of Commons who authorized the invasion of Iraq intended to kill in a political cause. They also committed evil acts coolly and deliberately. Yet, in Blair's case, he's now a Catholic in good standing. Furthermore, Blair, like Choudhry, was also influenced by the Internet in regard to his decision to launch the war.

Beyond this, there are the additional facts, outside the record, so to speak, that the US and Israel frequently seek to assassinate people in the Middle East and Central Asia, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. In addition, they do so in circumstances that frequently result in the deaths of others who are misfortunate enough to be near the intended target. Choudhry, by contrast, attacked Timms in a setting that put the lives of no one else at risk.

So, we are left with a puzzler. What was it about Choudhry's attack that so angered Justice Cooke? As already implied here, it can't be because she sought to kill Timms for political reasons. Bush, Blair and those who supported their policies have done the same. Nor can it be because she did so coolly and deliberately. Bush, Blair and those who have supported their policies have done that, too. Rather, it appears that Justice Cooke was outraged because she wanted to be a martyr.

As noted elsewhere in the article:

Following the attack she told officers it was a punishment and to get revenge for the people of Iraq, the Old Bailey heard.

Choudhry, who had refused to appear in court, told her barrister Jeremy Dein QC she did not accept the court's jurisdiction and did not wish him to challenge the prosecution case.

Oh my, now that's not good. For if there is one thing we know about Bush and Blair, we are certain that they were not intending to martyr themselves when they invaded Iraq. Indeed, both, particularly Blair, have done quite well for themselves as a result. Killing for profit, killing for geopolitical advantage, killing for the purposes of political manipulation, that's acceptable, but seeking to kill someone for ideological reasons and taking responsibility for it, that's something not to be tolerated.

I go through all this not to make light of what happened to Timms. I'm sure that it has been a frightening and painful experience for him, although he has undoubtedly gotten better medical care for his injuries than most Iraqis wounded by US/UK weaponry. Nor do I do it to suggest that Choundhry's response to Timm's authorization for the war was legitimate. Instead, I do so to emphasize that those who live by violence should not be surprised when others decide to conduct themselves as violently as those who purport to exercise a monopoly over it.

Last year, I was having a discussion with my co-host on my KDVS public affairs program about gang violence. Not surprisingly, being the liberal sort that he is, he started complaining about the pervasive violent conduct described in a lot of hip hop songs. But, also rather predictably, he didn't mention the possibility that when young people frequently encounter the leadership of this country, including the President, perpetually using violence and the threat of it to achieve their objectives, that they, too, come to the conclusion that violence is an acceptable means to an end. If so, they rightly perceive violence as yet another form of privilege, like inherited wealth, social status and cultural reproduction, one that they therefore attempt to arrogate to themselves. Nor did he consider the potentially even more alarming possibility that life in our society is inescapably violent, rendered even more so by the attempted oligopolization of it by nation states and elites, and that the real challenge is how to transform it.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Lori Berenson to Be Released on Monday 

Looks like the State Department came through on this one. It also appears that President Garcia will issue a commutation of her sentence so that she can return to the United States with her family although the timing of such a decision remains uncertain.

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Free Fire Zone Oakland 

From today's San Francisco Chronicle:

A judge sentenced ex-BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle to the minimum term of two years in prison Friday for fatally shooting unarmed train rider Oscar Grant, saying he believed the former officer's testimony that he had confused his pistol for a Taser.

Mehserle, 28, faced as many as 14 years in prison after he was convicted in July of involuntary manslaughter and a separate charge of intentionally firing a gun at Grant at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland early Jan. 1, 2009. But Judge Robert Perry threw out the firearm conviction before sentencing Mehserle in Los Angeles County Superior Court, saying there was no evidence to support it.

Reminiscent of the absurdity of a San Francisco jury finding Dan White guilty of manslaughter for the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk because he ate too many twinkies, Judge Perry ruled that Mehserle was involuntary acting upon muscle memory when he killed Grant:

Perry's remarks suggested that, had the prosecution won the murder conviction it sought, he would have overturned it because he found no intent to kill.

Mehserle's muscle memory took over in this moment of great danger and stress, the judge said. No reasonable trier of fact could have concluded that Mehserle intentionally fired his gun."

Meanwhile, in regard to killings by the US miltary on the other side of the world:

In another top case, eight Marines were initially charged with murder or failure to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqis that occurred after a roadside bombing that killed a Marine. Six have had charges dropped or dismissed, and one was acquitted.

Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, the squad leader, is scheduled to go to trial Sept. 13 on reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter in nine of the 24 deaths and other crimes in the November 2005 shootings in the town of Haditha.

Last year, a Marine accused of killing an unarmed Iraqi detainee during a 2004 battle to recapture the city of Fallujah pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty after the government dropped a murder charge as part of a plea agreement.

The other two defendants were acquitted, one by a military jury and the other by a civilian court after he completed his military obligations and was beyond the reach of a court-martial.

Any explanation by police officers or US troops is apparently sufficient.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

The Imperialist School of Film Criticism 

Oh, you say that it doesn't exist? That I have become so paranoid that I see imperialist demons everywhere? Well, consider this review of the recently released film, Outside the Law, by Stephen Holden in the New York Times:

Some might describe Outside the Law as a historical revenge film.

The 138-minute movie begins with an emotional sledgehammer: an inflammatory prologue set in 1925 in which the French Code de l’Indigénat is applied to a poor Algerian family, summarily evicted from its ancestral home to make room for French colonists. This land was my father’s! I was born here! cries the patriarch (Ahmed Benaissa), who can produce no documents to prove that the land is his.

The story leaps ahead 20 years for an even more infuriating scene. As France is celebrating V-E Day and the surrender of Nazi Germany, Algerian nationalist marchers in Sétif are massacred by French soldiers stationed on balconies and rooftops, who open fire without warning. These scenes of French colonial oppression are portrayed without any background or shading.

Now, I haven't seen the film, so I have no idea whether it is worth seeing or not, but isn't it rather odd that Holden is infuriated by the visual representation of an event, the massacre of nationalist Algerians in 1945, that no one questions? Isn't it even more peculiar that Holden is infuriated by it because the filmmakers show it without background or shading? I mean, what would that entail? How does one provide background or shading to a massacre?

Of course, we have a pretty good idea what Holden really means. He is implying that the French troops may well have had good reason to fire indiscriminately upon a group of marchers, because, after all, as we all know, they had probably been fired upon, like the Pentagon has asserted, without any evidence, about the US troops who fired upon Iraqi protesters in Fallujah in late April 2003. It is essential to understand that Europeans, Americans, and Israelis are justified in responding to any act of violence by Muslims, or merely the fear of it, with excessive force against the populace, assuming one believes that there was any such violence, which is a huge, frequently unwarranted assumption. Any film that fails to acknowledge the legitimacy of this perspective, at least by having it related sympathetically through some of its characters, as part of a range of subjective experiences, is artistically and ideologically suspect.

In effect, Holden has culturally internalized the values of the war on terror and begun to retrospectively apply them to past episodes of imperialism. One wonders what he would say about Spielberg's film Amistad if he watched it today. Would he now say that the slaves' attack upon the crew of the ship transporting them to a US plantation is deficient because it has been insufficiently contextualized? Beyond that, there is Holden's covert sympathy for the Israeli settlement project in Palestine, as related in his description of the eviction of a poor Algerian family in 1925 as inflammatory. It is doubtful that Holden is suggesting that there was no French policy of property and land seizures. He can't be that ill-informed.

Instead, Holden objects to the exposure of the human consequences of the eviction, because it may cause the audience to question the legitimacy of French colonialism in Algeria, and analogize it to Israeli seizures of land in Palestine. His lack of any empathy with the victims is remarkable, but, then, they are Muslims. Such ruthlessness is better left concealed away from the general public, contained within the antiseptic debates of academics. Note his emphasis upon the father's failure to produce any documents to establish proof of ownership of the home. Here, we have a powerful echo of the notion that if indigenous people don't have any legally recorded private property interest in their land and home, it is perfectly legitimate for others to seize them and establish title, which must thereafter be respected. Combined with the belief that indigenous peoples are grossly economically inefficient, it justifies both the French seizure of the home as dramatized in the film, and Jewish seizures of Palestinian land. Not surprisingly, he characterizes the father's response as hysterical, bringing to mind a recent report in the occupied territories wherein the Israelis claimed that a young child's distraught response to being separated from his father was staged. Such human emotions are solely within the province of the colonizers, apparently.

Indeed, if one is compelled to attempt to summarize Holden's objection to Outside the Law, it is the insistence of the filmmakers upon melodramatically humanizing the lives of the people who resisted the French colonization of Algeria. He finds it aggravating, the cinematic equivalent of someone dragging their nails across a chalkboard. Post 9/11, I have had a sense that there has been a degradation of US culture and cultural criticism as it relates to things like art, literature and film. The free ranging curiosity that was such a prominent feature of the neoliberal 1990s is no longer so much in evidence. Instead, there has been a move towards only accepting works that criticize the US relationship with the world within limited boundaries, and maligning those that do not, as Michiko Kakutani did in her hatchet job on John Le Carre's 2004 novel, Absolute Friends. In the first sentence of the review, she described it as ham handed and didactic. I guess that's what happens if you write a novel, as Le Carre did, that finds redeeming qualities in the Berlin New Left of the 1960s and presents a US intelligence operation centered around a manufactured terrorist incident as plausible. Serving in the role of cultural gatekeepers, people like Holden and Kakutani try to bury works that insist upon being so impolite as to hold a mirror to the war on terror with the condescension of those who purport to appreciate the arts: inflammatory, infuriating, ham handed, didactic. But we know better.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Obama's Midterm Victory 

UPDATE 2: Patrick Martin of the World Socialist News Website nails it:

Establishment liberalism is concerned about lifestyle issues and identity politics, but is utterly distant from the needs of the working people who are the vast majority of the population. It has moved so far to the right that the economic program of Obama and that of the incoming House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans differs only on minor details.

Coming out of the election, Obama will renew the drive towards bipartisanship with which he began his administration, going out of his way from the moment of his election to rehabilitate a completely discredited Republican Party. All the compromises that he proposes will amount to acceptance of Republican demands for deeper reductions in social spending as well as further tax cuts and other concessions to corporate interests.

UPDATE 1: Embedded within a provocative, informed analysis of the midterm election results by lenin:

Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argued, in Why Americans Still Don't Vote, that the exclusion of the working class from elections is actively desired by politicians. They suggest that if politicians were interested in crafting a policy mix that would appeal to the poor, the poor would respond, and they would be able to command electoral majorities. Pippa Norris of Harvard University concurs: the evidence suggests that turnout among the working class will increase at elections if there are left and trade union based parties that are capable of mobilising them. But it is again worth stressing that the exclusion of the poor from the electoral system is not wholly voluntary. Thomas E Patterson, in The Vanishing Voter (2009), points out that the electoral system in the US has had a long tradition of seeking to exclude the uneducated and the poor, and Patterson argues that voter registration rules still work to limit the size and composition of the electorate. He notes that the US has a disproportionately high number of non-citizens among its total population (7%), and ineligible adults (10%). Thus, 17% of the total adult population at any given time is legally excluded from voting. The exclusion of so many voters is the result of deliberate projects: in one case to manage labour migration flows to benefit capital (non-citizens cause less trouble than those permitted to naturalise); and in the other case to construct a carceral state that imprisoned more poor and black Americans than ever before. On any given day, 1 in every 32 American adults is directly in the control of the criminal justice system, either through jail, parole, probation or community supervision. This only hints at the wider effects that this behemoth has on American society, but suffice to say that it deprives millions of the right to vote where it would easily make a significant difference to the outcome.

In 2008, liberals and progressives apparently believed that Obama was a Moses or Spartacus that would empower these people within the existing political system. There was never any factual justification for it.

INITIAL POST: Political parties have been obsolete for quite some time, at least to the extent that they actually represent coherent ideological alternatives, and serve as the administrative mechanism for holding elected officials accountable to the people who vote for them. If you turn on the television, you will hear that the Republican Party will seize power in the House of Representatives and sharply narrow the Democratic majority in the Senate. It is, according the commentators, a huge defeat for the Democrats and the President. But they are wrong, because the political parties are merely fig leafs that conceal the actual operation of power within the US political system.

In fact, the President has achieved a result that he and his advisors have wanted for quite some time, the destruction of any remaining vestiges of progressive influence in Washington. One of the worst kept secrets of the campaign has been his deliberate effort to alienate core Democratic constituencies by refusing to move on initiatives important to them, such as the DREAM Act for Latinos and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell for gays and lesbians, and maligning progressive critics, so as to depress turnout and engineer a Democratic debacle. During the first two years of his term, he struggled with the public difficulties of disciplining balky liberals and concealing his true intentions. For example, it took over a year to get a health care reform measure passed on terms dictated by health insurance companies, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies, and, it took extreme measures to do so that generated no end of embarassment, such as strongarming any Democratic Senator who was considering requesting a vote for an amendment in favor of the public option. Meanwhile, he found himself subject to perpetual sniping from those in the Congress who objected to his implementation of economic policies that favored financial institutions at the expense of a more robust recovery.

The President has never been particularly interested in the hardships of those forlornly looking for jobs that don't exist while trying to avoid foreclosure and put off bill collectors. Instead, he has been envious of the bonuses that corporate executives, like the chief executive officers of J. P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Jaime Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, received:

I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen. I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.

Of course, one can attribute the success of people like Dimon and Blankfein to many things, political influence, direct and indirect subsidies through the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the tax code, even international trade agreements and the coercion of the US military, but the illusory free market is not one of them.

The President has implemented corporate friendly policies for the benefit of capital across the board, with his top priority, health care reform, transformed from a progressive priority of social support into one requiring the middle and lower middle class to purchase policies from providers without any meaningful cost containment, a massive transfer of income from workers to investors and corporate executives. Commitments made to environmentalists and labor unions were conveniently forgotten at the behest of advisors solicitous of needs of corporate donors and potential future employers. He aligned himself unequivocally with the military-industrial complex before taking office when he retained Robert Gates as Defense Secretary.

In effect, the President positioned himself and his presidency squarely within a bipartisan group of legislators, lobbyists, academics, financial institutions and corporate enterprises that dictate policy in the US. One can perceive their influence most clearly in the US Senate, where figures like Joseph Lieberman, Max Baucus, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Charles Schumer, Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid, among others, serve as gatekeepers, allowing House members to release populist pressures by passing measures more in tune with the public mood while relying upon the cloture rule to either kill them or eviscerate them before passage. In the rarified world where important political decisions are actually made, one's party affiliation has, at best, marginal significance. The elitism of the founding fathers, as expressed in their antipathy towards political parties as disruptive factions, has prevailed in an unanticipated way.

With the progressive peril, as puny as it was, exterminated, the path is now clear to remove the legislative barriers that were manipulated to prevent progressive measures from reaching the President's desk, despite substantial Democratic majorities in both houses. Influential senators have already been reaching across the aisle before election day to negotiate possible deals that would push federal fiscal and tax policy further to the right, although one of the participants, Russ Feingold, was not reelected:

Politicians from both parties are debating ideas on taxes and spending that move the discussion to the right, putting pressure on the White House and top Democrats to work with a newly empowered Republican Party after Tuesday's election.

Politicians from both parties are debating ideas on taxes and spending that move the discussion to the right, with the GOP expected to gain power following Tuesday's election.

Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, a liberal Democrat who is trailing in his reelection bid, is working with Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), a tea-party hero, on new legislation to trim billions in federal subsidies and other spending programs, Mr. Coburn said in an interview.

Two other Democratic Senate candidates, Chris Coons of Delaware and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are bucking the Obama administration's bid to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire, as momentum builds for a broader extension of the cuts. Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky) have suggested they see room for negotiations on taxes and trade.

Most ominously, the President has finally come around to reforming the filibuster with the emergence of Republican and moderate Democrat control of the Congress. First up, cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits, as recommended by the Deficit Reduction Commission, in the lame duck session as the first, admittedly huge step, that prefigures a broader agenda to be pursued in the next Congress.

As explained by the President's chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina:

Rouse and Messina see areas for possible bipartisan agreement, like reauthorizing the nation’s education laws to include reform measures favored by centrists and conservatives, passing long-pending trade pacts and possibly even producing scaled-back energy legislation. You’ll hear more about exports and less about public spending, a senior White House official said. You’ll hear more about initiative and private sector and less about the Department of Energy. You’ll hear more about government as a financier and less about government as a hirer.

The President now resides in what he and his advisors consider to be the best of all possible worlds, one in which he can more fully carry out what I have described as the Second Reagan Revolution, while simultaneously seeking to win a second term by contrasting himself with the extremists to his right that facilitate his program. But they may discover that they have been too clever by half.

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