Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Now It's Our Turn To Be Arsonists

Overshadowed by the Ukrainian and Romanian elections, there is a third European vote that should concern on-lookers. There will be a plebiscite this weekend (5 December) here in Hungary that could potentially destabilize the region.

The vote is about two issues: the less contentious is about barring the privatisation of hospitals, the troubling one is about dual citizenship.

Signatures for the former were collected by a far-left (post-communist, quasi-Stalinist) party, for the latter by the far-right-tending World Association Of Hungarians - but both themes were seized upon by the recklessly populist right-wing main opposition party, FIDESZ-MPP, while governing parties proved inept or even cowardy in confronting it. (As for the first one, disregarding its disgusting proponents, if I vote I'll vote yes - though victory won't mean hospitals get any more money, and the Constitutional Court stopped a privatisation law just after the signatures were collected.)

The dual citizenship issue is not the same as in Germany: it is not about foreign citizens living in Hungary, but ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary. Significant Hungarian ethnic minorities live on territories that belonged to Austria-Hungary before 1919 - above all, in Southwestern Slovakia and in Transsylvania.

There is already nationalist conflict with parties (and people) of majority populations. This would be greatly enhanced: an extra-territorial constituency will increase both fears of border change demands from Hungary, and far-right demands that Hungarians 'move home' to Hungary; while money paid by the Hungarian state for its extraterritorial citizens would inspire envy, and Hungarian minorities themselves could be further radicalised.

Furthermore, the right-wing parties in Hungary most probably support this not out of any misguided concern for the survival of ethnic Hungarian communities outside Hungary, but in hopes of these ethnic Hungarians voting for them in future elections - in EP elections from abroad too, in local ones when these new citizens move from their ancestral areas to present-day Hungary.

Yet, unfortunately, EU officials indicate that they are incompetent in the issue and won't intervene.

Unfortunately, a few years ago plebiscite law was changed thus that if the "Yes" or "No" vote gets 25% of all eligible voters, the vote is valid even if participation is below 50%. (This was a preemptive action ahead of decisive votes on European integration: those were issues with such wide support that not enough people cared to go voting themselves.) And since the "Yes" camp on dual citizenship is almost certainly more than 25% of all voters, while the governing parties failed to mobilise for a "No", it will probably be passed.

(BTW, I wrote earlier about the far right in the EU.)

UPDATE: Poll results can be released until 8 days before the vote, here are the last ones:

  • (poll A) participation promised/expected 54%/35-45%, "Yes" vote 51%/60-70% => 27.5%/21-27% of eligible voters vote "Yes"
  • (poll B) participation: promised/expected 49%/40%, "Yes" vote 48%(vs. 38% "No")/54% => 23.5%/21.5% of eligible voters vote "Yes"; whole population: 40% for, 42% against.

It's hairthin, but since "Yes" voters usually tend to be more faithful to their promise of participation, I think the second pollster's expectations are off - it could be up to 26.5%. Also, we are treated to a round of heightened populism in this final week. (Myself, I haven't yet decided whether lowering the turnout or lowering the "Yes" majority is a better goal - that is, whether I should bother voting.)

Ukraine III

Less good news for today - according to the opposition media Maidan, there was a first violent encounter in Luhansk:

Barely 5 minutes had passed when a huge crowd with banners and signs reading "For Yanukovych" came out onto the square. Around 60 thugs with bats and brass-knuckles ran out from their ranks and without further ado began to pummel the attendees. Result of the slaughter: broken arms, fractured skulls, smashed noses.

The police posted nearby DID NOT REACT IN ANY WAY to what was happening. This, however, hardly comes as a suprise. According to our information, police officers have an order NOT TO NOTICE attacks of thugs on people in orange. In addition, there were eyewitnesses to personal participation of employees of the city police department in the assault.

An earlier article on events in Luhansk, mostly detailing the quasi-Sicilian nature of local authorities/mafiosis, also points out local's strong fears on the language front. Michael S (who is on site) comments to an article at A Fistful Of Euros points out that there have been Yushchenko campaign errors on the language issue:

...remarkable how Yushchenko's campaign let itself be turned into a handy scarecrow for the same constituency. Even its main slogans weren't tranlated. When people gather at pro-opposition rallies in strictly russophone cities, they can only make speeches in Russian, but their chants are all in Ukrainian. In a way, it's been remarkable to see Ukrainian make the transition (in Ukrainian-Russians' eyes) from its traditional place of a bumpkin cousin of Russian to the language of civic courage, but from a political standpoint, I think it was a big tactical mistake.

...But I think Yushchenko made himself unnecessarily vulnerable. He was taking a heavy beating from a negative ad compaign on Ukrainian TV, designed by Russian advisors (whose tactics are actually a legacy of the oligarch-sponsored Eltsin reelection.) In addition, since domestically produced programs in Russian have been banned from Ukrainian TV, many people were probably tuning in to Russian channels, whose journalistic standards are hitting lows unseen since the soviet days... I've looked over a semi-transcript of the pre-election televized debate (in which Yanukovych switched to Russian for closing statements), and the only related comment from Yushchenko I could find was his dismissal of the language question as "populism". Sounds like a bad campaign move.

Another interesting Maidan article is based on conversations three days ago, in which economic motivations of Yanukovych supporters are covered. The pro-Yushchenko author argues for taking Yushchenko supporters seriously (while involuntarily exposing some rose-tainted glasses about economic policies himself):

The fellows from Lugansk, Donetsk and the counties ... at the train station right now, and they keep on arriving. Reliable sources have given me an estimate for the expected total – about 350 thousand people.

Pretty cool guys, we had a nice chat! And, what amazed me, far from stupid. They're staunch supporters of Yanukovych and don't like Yushchenko because under Yanukovych they just began to raise their heads, get salaries, and live more or less well, while under Yushchenko there was total ruin. The thing is, they're convinced one and all that Yushchenko wanted to close all mines and import coal from Poland – by doing so, taking away their income and making their kids go hungry. Our attempts to explain to them that things aren't so simple, that Yushchenko is a knowledgeable economist, and that it was a long-term economic program, were unsuccessful. :(

I want to say that they're completely reasonable people and they argue for their choice quite articulately. Therefore, in conversations with them we shouldn'g start telling them that Yanukovych is bad, but just try to explain, in neutral terms, that the rosy prospects they're seeing aren't all that rosy at all. It can work out according to the principle "water eats even through stone", but think through all your arguments clearly. These folks are well-equiped for debate - this is not drunken rabble, as many reports said, they are in fact by and large people worthy of respect.

Via A Fistful Of Euros.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Ukraine II

I wrote earlier that the best thing is mass democratic participation from both sides, peacefully - here are some striking quotes from Neeka's backlog:

...One by one, the orange guys started coming up to the blue ones; then, more and more; until they all mixed. There were only men among the blue, while the orange had men and women of all ages in their ranks.

It was totally exciting - it was hard to believe at first that it would end peacefully, but when the orange ones started their chant, I knew it'd be okay: they were chanting "Slava shakhtaryam! Slava shakhtaryam!" ("Glory to the coalminers!" - referring to those from Donetsk region, a coal-mining region that Yanukovych used to be a governor of.) Some of the blue guys sounded indignant - "But we are from Crimea, not Donbas!" - and the orange ones standing nearby replied, laughing - "Oh, who cares now... Slava shakhtaryam!" Another chant was his: "East and West together!" (strangely, I don't remember what it sounded like in Ukrainian - I mean, I know the translation, of course, but I don't remember how to say it so it rhymes, as it did then...)

...Among other things, we saw half a dozen men standing in circle, one guy holding a torn half of Yanukovych's portrait, and another guy, orange, telling everyone around loudly that it's not right to tear the portrait, that the guy who held it had the right to vote for Yanukovych, that it's not the portrait that's to blame and not the portrait's owner, etc. We saw many groups like this, the orange and the blue together, discussing something totally peacefully, like old buddies. No one was beaten, though the blue ones were in such overwhelming minority that I'm still quite shocked nothing bad happened.

We stopped one blue guy, asked him if he thought there'd be civil war, as many people were predicting. He said, "No, Ukrainians don't fight, won't fight. East and West are together." He was a metallurgic factory worker from Kryvyi Rih, a town in Dnipropetrivsk region, who came to Kyiv to support his candidate, Yanukovych.

Brilliant Analysis

Stan Goff wrote an article about his encounter with a neocon at a campus debate. He includes the text of his 15-minute introducion (scroll down to the part in Italics) - which turns into a brilliant analysis of the changing econo-political basis of the US Empire since Nixon, and its problems. Among the issues covered:

  • We have a War for Oil, but the imperial cause is not the income from selling it, but to control a big slice of the production pie when demand outstrips production.
  • Such a move was likely even without the neocons. The Empire kind of has its own momentum, where one step follows the other whichever part of the elite is in power.
  • Increased competition from Marschall Plan-helped economies and the Vietnam War led to the exhaustion of the gold reserve.
  • Nixon's abadonment of the gold standard caused immediate harm to competing economies not only by making their exports more expensive, but also because the dollar-denominated oil price was raised: that is, to secure imports of a rising price, Europeans and Japanese had to increase their purchases of dollars.
  • The above circumstance means that oil ensured the dollar's stability - while for other countries' money, free exchange rates first enabled such collapses as Mexico 1982 and East Asia 1998.
  • The IMF loans system introduced in response to the Mexican crisis got developing nations into the IMF trap of never repayable loans that can be used to prescribe economic policy (neoliberalism, or as Goff likes to call it: debt-leverage imperialism).
  • The USA's main economic competitors are bound to the system by their fear of the devaluation of central bank holdings [plus losing an export market], should the dollar collapse - even tough the maintenance of the system dictates that money invested into US treasuries increases, that is these central bank holdings are lost money. (In practice, they are an imperial tax, not lending.)
  • The current system is bound to collapse, and if the dollar falls big, it will cause a private debt crisis for US consumers.
  • Iraq is about the new system that could replace the current system: leave the impression of military invicibility on gullible leaders and populations across the world with a theatrical power demonstration (against a weak enemy talked up), and controlling oil after Peak Oil. (Shades of Emmanuel Todt here.) But, the neocons seem to have blown it. A sign of the control slipping out of the Empire's hand is the leftward push in Southern America [see previous post].

Latin America Goes Left

In Nicaraguan local elections held on the same day the Ukrainian ones, Sandinistas won almost all cities.

And while I'm a bit late to write about it, a few weeks ago the first socialist government in Uruguay since independence was elected. Elsewhere, incumbent leftists were reinforced in local elections: in Chile and Venezuela (in the former, beyond the majority centre-leftists, almost 10% went to the strong left). In South America, if I count it right, only Paraguay and Columbia remain in the hands of the right.


Since the 21 November second round voting in the Ukrainian Presidential elections, I was struggling to just keep up with the events, reading A Fistful Of Euros and other sources;I didn't come to blog about it - so here, some thoughts.

First a bit of history. People prefer to talk about an East/West, or Northwest/Southeast division, but I think a better description is to split the first in two and describe regional differences in three parts. (Of course there are even finer gradations, Alexei of The Russian Dilettante comments about a nine-way one at A Fistful Of Euros.)

Western Ukraine is the onetime Halych (Galicia) and Volodymyr (Vladimir, Ladomeria), Slavic kingdoms which were influeced by (and sometimes occupied by) not only Kyiv or Novgorod but Western neighbours Hungary and Poland, too. They were ruined in the Mongol invasion around 1240, but in the next century briefly grew into one major kingdom in the vacuum, then collapsed under invasions from newly growing Lithuania, and was divided between Lithuania (the Volhynia region) and Poland, which later united. At the same time, after the Rus' church, which previously refused to take sides in the Great Schism, split in three stages (1299-1453-1596, more on this in the Comments), this area was catholicised under Polish rule. When Poland was carved up by Prussia, Russia and Austria in the 18h century, the area mostly fell to Austria. Between the two world wars, this part again belonged to Poland, only after did Stalin add it to Ukraine. However, in the 19th century, the Ukrainian language-nationalist movement and culture was born there.

Northern-Central Ukraine was once the centre of Rus' - Kyiv was the capital of the main Rus' principality. But the Mongols utterly destroyed this region, and its remains were conquered by Lithuania, later to be under ever weaker (and receding towards the West) Polish control. In the time of constant Tatar [remains of the Mongols] - Russian - Ottoman - Polish conflicts, in this area semi-independent Cossacks were settled, who later came under increased Russian central rule - hence the dominant religion, and after later Russian 'orthodoxisation' almost exclusive religion, was Eastern Orthodox, and people feel closer to Russia. However, the "bratstva" brotherhoods that formed to resist Polish catholisation efforts, and other movements that claimed the heritage of the Kyivian Rus' as cultural center, and thought there are too many Finno-Ugrian 'barbarian' traits of Muscovite Russia, stood for an identity separate from Russian - hence they merged with/absorbed Western Ukraine easily. With the exception of Kyiv, this is a mostly agrarian region.

Finally, the Southern and Eastern regions: in this area countless nomadic tribes passed to the West in one thousand years until the Mongols, whose remains (the Golden Horde) established an empire here. Later called Tatars, they became Ottoman vassals. After a period of constant battles, Russia started to conquer and re-settle the area, a process not fully finished until the Crimean War (1853-56). Tough also agrarian, with the ascent of the Soviet Union especially the Eastern part became an industrial center. Dominant religion is Eastern Orthodox, and people obviously feel even closer to Russia.

Now, according to not just the official results: the first region voted overwhelmingly for opposition candidate Yushchenko, the second with a majority for Yushchenko, the third overwhelmingly for government candidate Yanukovych. Tough usually portrayed as the pro-Western democratic candidate vs. the oligarch-supported autocratic candidate in the West, and the mole-of-the-West divisive nationalist candidate vs. the for-the-people guarant of ethnic peace, all four portrayals are half-truths: Yushchenko was himself part of the establishment (led the Central Bank for 8 years, then PM for two), is supported by some oligarchs (blonde businesswoman-turned-politician Tymoshenko among them), he implemented late pay handouts for miners during his PM-ship, and made some cloudy remarks about withdrawing troops from Iraq; Yanukovych certainly has popular support too, while making Russian as second official language is something his party promised earlier but didn't deliver (as Yushchenko, who also promised it, rightly criticised).

I think whatever role foreigners played in organising the opposition and its post-election protests, the mass democratic participation and its peacefulness is a good thing - even more so that the opposing side responded with a similar peaceful mass mobilisation, rather than violence, so far. A less good sign is the wavered separatism in the Southeastern oblasts - and Yushchenko's threats in response.

But the facts that (1) whoever won the elections, the opposing minority is sizeable, (2) these sides are organised and passionate, (3) there is a strong regional pattern, together mean that whoever comes out as victor (even if unfairly or violently), he must give big concessions to (the supporters of) the other side. For example, if Yushchenko wins, and wants economic reforms, he must reassure people in the East that there won't be mass closures and/or sellout of mines. While exit polls and evidence for mass fraud I saw, as well as the repressive behavior of authorities, is compelling evidence that in reality Yushchenko won, the solidifying proposal of repeated elections is what I thought to be the best idea, even before Yushchenko came up with it in his 3-point demands.

Finally, what makes things more difficult is Great Powers meddling: heavy involvement in the campaign and harsh announcements only reinforce the polarisation (by reinforcing the image of the opposing side's vassaldom to the feared foreign power). While Russian Tsar-in-practice Putin's meddling is more heavy-handed, overt and stupid, American meddling is more fine and covert but of similar importance. Some representatives of the EU can also be criticised for some unthought-through declarations - on the other hand, pro-Yanukovych people who protest European involvement forget that observers like OSCE's were officially accredited, and that Ukraine is already part of some European institutions. (Also, while for Russia and the USA, there is a clear geopolitical theme of spheres of influence, in the EU that is not at all clear-cut: while Poland is a strong advocate of Ukraine's Western binding, the larger countries are weary of subsidizing yet another new EU member, and some of them - above all Schröder's Germany - have good relations with Putin's Russia.)

UPDATE: James @ Dead Men Left, apart from quoting an article with a glaring factual error (young blonde opposition sub-leader and minor oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko [<-correct spelling] is there at the protests usually behind Yushchenko, not in a US prison!...), gives his cautioned support for the uprising, where his economy-focused prediction of disillusionment with the opposition leaders' conduct in government sounds the more convincing if I recall what happened after all the revolutions in 1989 and later here in Central-Eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, Neeka's Backlog writes:

The judges look tired, interrupt every once in while, but let the Yushchenko's team guy finish. Channel 5 interrupts the broadcast from the Supreme Court midway through the questions from Yanukovych's team guy, switching live to Yushchenko's address at Independence Square.

Well, unlike Neeka, who can undoubtedly be happy about the opposition getting coverage at last, I am not sure this is a good thing. It might mean media bias turned around 180 degrees, rather than going away.

[*] Inserted texts in italics: UPDATE 17/12.

Do You See It Coming? (aka Criminal Media Panglossianism)

('Panglossianism': derives from a literary character, Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's political satire "Candide", who through ever worse man-made miseries always preached that we live in the best of all possible worlds.)

I have written on the fundamentalist Bush base and specifically expanding creationism and sings of fascism in the USA extensively. (Unlike most leftist American/America-watching bloggers/posters, I didn't form my opinions on the religion issue after this year's Presidential Elections but in the years before.)

The future is not set, but denying that some dire future is a possibility can just lead (through asquietescence) to its coming. And here I come to the media: Lenni Brenner criticises the New York Times's I/P conflict reporting, at the start listing such past Panglossianisms as these:

In 1922, Mussolini's Fascism was "the most interesting governmental experiment of the day.... We should all be glad that he is going at it vigorously". In 1933, the Jewish-owned paper had "qualms" about Hitler, but its editorial the day after Hitler came to power concluded that "national finances will be kept in strong and conservative hands.... There is thus no warrant for immediate alarm. It may be that we shall see the 'tamed Hitler' of whom some Germans are hopefully speaking."

Meanwhile, the religious nuts in the US Republican Party didn't rest: their latest step is a proposal that would bar federal judges from handling cases of Church-State Separation. One congressman openly advocates ignoring court rules not going their way - well, Congress leader Tom DeLay is already doing that for some time, in several cases now - while another even conjured that judges not bowing to Congress decisions should be impeached(!). While these conservative revolutionaries might be a minority among Congress Republicans, if Bush heads their way, the rest will follow (at least to the extent of some appeasement).

Colonial Carnage

The USA finally let aid enter Fallujah, where supposedly no civilians were present:

Convoys carrying food, water, medicine and blankets are moving around Falluja but there is still no running water or electricity.

According to the Red Crescent, 60 people came out to get assistance in one street alone.

The organisation's president, Dr Said Haqi, said it had now set up an office close to the city centre.

He described how one man in his mid-50s had approached them after staying in his house for the past month - apparently living on water and sugar.

In comments reported by the UN information network Irin, spokesman Muhammad al-Nuri said the Red Crescent believed more than 6,000 people may have died in the fight for Falluja.

He said it was difficult to move around the city due to the number of dead bodies.

"Bodies can be seen everywhere and people were crying when receiving the food parcels. It is very sad, it is a human disaster," Mr Nuri reportedly said.

The civilian toll of this operation alone far outstrips the civilian toll of all terror attacks and uncareful guerilla attacks by anti-occupation forces. But those who think we should decide what's best for other people will deny reality.

Nothing new here. Recently there is much talk about idiot British professor Niall Fergusson, who unabashedly advocates the USA turning into a full-blown (even more) ruthless Empire - based on a view of the onetime British Empire through a rose-tainted glass (with some twisted post-colonial economic arguments added in). Steve Gilliard's three part series on how 'peaceful' colonial rule was.

Let's look at another colonialism of our day of European-American origin elsewhere - one of the latest utter inhumanities at Israeli checkpoints reminds even some right-wing Israelis of Nazi behavior. (Never mind the argumentation by some in the article that a crime committed by Germans and other Europeans in Europe justifies land-taking from and ethnic cleansing of Arabs in Palestine - or that similar 'low points' weren't reached much earlier. But there are some who didn't forget about Deir Yassin, and some who don't accept whitewashed obituaries of Rafael Eitan - the openly racist former Chief Of Staff who led the savage invasion of Southern Lebanon in 1982 [remember Sabra & Satila; Eitan himself even wanted to bombard a football station during match] -; and even some former far-right Israeli-American settlers who saw the light. Thanks to Mark Elf for the links.)

Friday, November 26, 2004

Local Resistance Leaders In Fallujah

An AP story, tough loaded with probably desk writer-injected sillyness, portrays two resistance leaders in Fallujah. Both are locals, Zharkawi nowhere to be seen, nor loyalty to Saddam - for example:

In 1998, al-Janabi, married with five children, was suspended by Saddam's government from delivering Friday sermons because of his public criticism of government policies. He returned to the pulpit of Fallujah's Saad Bin Abi Waqas mosque after Saddam's ouster, devoting most of his sermons to calling on Iraqis to join in a holy war against the Americans.

This is the first instance I see a major US news medium (Newsday) referring to a clampdown of Saddam on Fallujah, even if passingly - the veil of this extremely successful propaganda ('Fallujah the pro-Saddam city') has been torn, even if it is just a small hole. (Saddam, in his let's-be-religious-hero period, demanded to be praised in sermons, but Fallujah's imams refused - many were imprisoned afterwards, and the city got economic punishment.)


I am proud of Britain. Really, I am proud of Britain. I am really, truly, deeply proud of Britain.

Bliar and his cult just doesn't get tired of ruining the Left.

UPDATE 29/11: Someone else is proud of Britain, too! Even James is proud of Britain!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Connect The Dots

While the fact that malnutrition among children in Iraq more than doubled since the invasion was widely reported, and some noted how the figure changed previously thanks to the Oil For Food program and how figures for the inevitable increased mortality is not mentioned, I will note the connection to the famous Lancet Report (which I analysed here) - the only substantial critique of the Lancet Report was regarding its child mortality rate, as they got a pre-war figure too low in comparison with pre-war estimates by humanitarian agencies working on the ground. (Altough the significance of this critique was always limited, given that an under-sampling of less-healthy-for-mothers areas would only mean an even greater increase in infant mortality.)

Fallujah Follies

Anyone remember what the US army excused its levelling of Fallujah with? Yeah, right, that Zharkawi guy? Also remember that they presented zero evidence, while local authorities denied ever seeing a muj by that name? Now the Americans admit it, too. As Eli @ Left I put it:

Now that Fallujah has been flattened, and hundreds of Iraqis (and dozens of Americans) killed, the story changes, as we learn in the Washington Post:

Claim #1: "U.S. military officials suggested that Zarqawi might be in the northern city of Mosul.

"Claim #2: "A U.S. intelligence source said that while much of Zarqawi's organization was based in Fallujah, he apparently divided his time mainly between Baghdad and Ramadi."

Oops, my bad. I mean their bad. I wonder where the people of Mosul, Baghdad, and Ramadi will be able to evacuate to when the U.S. decides to flatten their cities.

Of course, the real intent was to crush the symbol of resistance. Or the real intent may have been even darker - the reason to hold back all males could mean that they wanted to kill all militants - and all future militants, by pushing into battle everyone who would be willing to take up arms in revenge for the death of relatives. Similar arguments by Dave Lindorff.

Onward, Democracy!...

It seems the US press is again a willing cheerleader for further interventions. It is no problem when the intervention is against a democracy - they will just declare black is white, and use the very examples of democracy as a proof of anti-democratic behaviour. Of course, I am talking about Venezuela - and from here I'll simply quote Eli at Left I:

I rarely comment on editorials, preferring to stick to the news. But actually, when a key ruling class organ like the Washington Post encourages the Bush administration to end its "passivity" towards Venezuela, that is news. Not surprising news, since Venezuela, like Iraq and Palestine and Cuba and North Korea and Iran and on and on and on is one of the many places where the ruling class is in complete agreement, as we saw during the Kerry campaign.

The Post, ignoring the repeated democratic elections and the increased participation of the actual people (imagine that!) in the governing of the country, describes Venezuela as a place where democracy is not "thriving." A telling point in the motivation for this policy comes in the very first sentence of the relevant section:

"The likely focal point of trouble is Venezuela, a country of 25 million that supplies the United States with 13 percent of its oil."

Do you suppose if they supplied the United States with 13 percent of its coffee, that fact would have been mentioned in the editorial?

The editorial goes downhill from there. Here's the next sentence:

"In August, after months of heavy-handed governmental actions to influence the outcome, President Hugo Chavez survived a recall referendum; since then his supporters have gained control of 21 of 23 states, as well as the capital, in local elections."

The "months of heavy-handed governmental actions" included their allowing a special, completely a-constitutional period by which the recall proponents could "re-validate" signatures which had been questioned, something which has never been allowed in any signature-gathering effort in the United States. And note the curious phrasing of the second sentence, which first notes that Chavez supporters have "gained control," as if that were some nefarious thing, and later in the sentence throws in the word elections. The fact that they won those elections and that's how they "gained control" may be obvious to anyone who thinks about it, but the sentence is clearly worded in an attempt to influence the reader to think otherwise.

Sunk low enough? The Post continues:

"Those triumphs have prompted the erratic former military rebel to accelerate what he calls his 'Bolivarian revolution' -- a push toward authoritarian rule at home and a deepening alliance abroad with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and other antidemocratic movements."

I will grant the Post their ability to interpret actions in Venezuela as promoting "authoritarian rule" and an alliance with Cuba. But putting that in a parenthetical phrase immediately following the words "Bolivarian revolution" implies that is how Chavez interprets or promotes the Bolivarian revolution. The fact that the Bolivarian revolution involves more participation by the people in their government, and the use of government funds and actions to benefit the people as opposed to the corporations, seems to have escaped the Post.

The conclusion makes it clear that the Post is intent on following George Bush into lack-of-self-awareness-land. In one sentence, they talk about how Chavez "has adopted Mr. Castro's practice of portraying the United States as an enemy bent on imperial intervention in Venezuela," and in the very next sentence they quote Condoleezza Rice as saying Chavez is "a real problem" and how we need to "mobilize the region" to "pressure him," and then in the very next sentence the Post urges the Bush administration to "end [its] passivity." "Imperial intervention"? Where on earth would Chavez get that crazy idea? U.S. involvement and support for the coup against Chavez? Not even worth mentioning in this editorial. Wouldn't want to give the readers the impression that the U.S. is anything less than noble in its actions and intentions.

Make no mistake about it. Whatever minor divisions cropped up during the election, from Iran to North Korea to Venezuela, the ruling class is throwing itself wholeheartedly behind the Bush agenda.

As for the car-bombed judge, here is the Reuters story.

Creationism On The March

On this subject I wanted to post for a long time now. But before I deal with two current issues, a longer introducion - what is creationism?

It is not merely the belief that the holy book of Christianity, the Bible, is the literal truth. Creationism is the collection of diverse, often contradictory hypotheses, claims and phoney arguments attempting to reconcile the literalist belief with reality, and more importantly, attempting to 'disprove' and replace scientific theories with - and also the movement pushing it. Altough the bogeyman in creationist-talk is 'evolution' - or, as they like to twist the word, 'evilution' - their assault (which is integral part of the 'moral values' back-to-the-Middle-Ages offensive of evangelicals) in fact is against much of modern science in a lot of fields. So to better answer the question of what is creationism, one best starts with the attacked sciences:

Biology still needs most details, because creationists often mix up things not known reliably by most people. First there is the fact of evolution - that is, that the inherited characteristics of species change over time. (It is rarely known that 'evolution' became the term of usage only later on, Darwin used "transmutation of species".) From Darwin's finches through flu epidemics with changing viruses and domestic plants and cholesterol-resistant Italian villagers to fossils, this is an observable. Darwin could convince the scientific community about this already in the eighteen-seventies. Then there is the theory of evolution - or better, theories of evolution[*]. One Darwin also had early success with is the Theory of Common Descent (all species are connected through evolution at points of divergence in the past) - it suddenly made sense of the hierarchic taxonomy of living species and of the fossil record. A further theory that, and this is less well known outside profesional circles, Darwin had no early success with[#], is natural selection (mode of evolution driven by natural conditions, by determining which variant of an inherited trait results in a higher rate of survival and reproduction) - this one defeated rivals like lamarckism only in the nineteen-thirties.

But there are more: sexual and artifical selection (modes of evolution driven by what is coded in instincts as sexually attractive, resp. by selection with a desired outcome by humans), genetic drift (there is a population with variants that don't make much difference in fitness - say a bird species that is mostly all black but a few have white tail feathers - from which isolation or climatic change or some catastrophe breaks off a smaller sub-population with a different dominant variant - mostly white-tailed birds - that then becomes dominant); punctuated equilibrum (most evolutionary change by either of the previous modes happening in small populations that got into a new environment, by isolation or climatic change or some catastrophe; in a geologically short time - while little change happens in more time). Then there are the hypotheses of abiogenesis (which, note, is not itself part of evolution). Paleontology is incompatible with Biblical literalism not just on grounds of timescales, but also the inferred not-at-all-like-today complete biospheres and living conditions. Finally, in genetics, there are variants of the same genes in different species, with differences indicative of distance, and genes inactive in some species but active in related ones.

Then there is geology, in almost its totality - and, connected to it through dating methods, nuclear physics. Let's not forget about thermodynamics either. Cosmology is an obvious target, as are the applied basic theories of modern physics: quantum mechanics and Einstein's Theory Of General Relativity. But one field that is - to me, who was trained an astronomer (but not working as one), surprisingly - rarely recognised as under assault is astrophysics: after all, just look at stellar evolution: we have clouds condensing into main sequence stars over hundreds of thousands of years, followed by ten million to hundred billion years [depending on mass] of normal hydrogen fusion (whose energy propagates from the core to the surface of stars in roughly one million years), followed by some millions of years of blowing up into a red giant, followed by the shedding of a planetary nebula or blowing up as supernova, also shedding a nebula - expanding nebulae that are detectable for tens of thousands of years... And I din't yet mention the larger-scale Universe, for example quasars spewing yets millions of lightyears long and even more years old.

Usually, creationists counter the fact of evolution with massive denial and distortions, or special pleading - they are more imaginative with the theories. When attacking common descent, rather than attempt to pinpoint a sequence of fossils apparently fitting into a reverse family tree (i.e. looking as if a number of species subsequently merged into one) as proof that evolutionary family trees are all fantasy, they have a whole literature attempting to portray found missing links as fully integral part of one linked group (say, Archaeopteryx is a modern bird), and make much about examples of parallel evolution (even tough most of these examples show similar adaptation from different organs). Natural selection, when not countered with the 'tornado in a junkyard' or 'something from nothing' strawmen (also applied to abiogenesis), is countered with examples of organs which wouldn't function with various parts left away (even tough genes don't function like that - they change or dublicate or even make more complex a body feature, rather than make it appear from nowhere) - or, in a less clueless way, by attempting to show that intermediate stages are without benefit for survival (for example the human eye, even tough the intermediate stages actually exist in various other species).

The term p'unctuated equilibrum' is probably more widely known to creationists than even specialists: 'supported' by lots of widely circulated quotes out of context, they handle it as a 'proof', even 'admission' that evolution is unproven!... The expertise of paleontologists is dismissed on the basis of past frauds like Piltdown Man - even tough it was evolutionist paleontologists who exposed these. Also, rare examples of very fast fossilisation of dead bodies under special conditions are taken as shoes-that-fit-all explanation for all fossils.

Geology is the field where creationists are most active dishing out hypotheses: dozens of often contradictory scenarios - yeah, you'd never guess how many different literal meanings the Bible can have!... - try to explain every geologic feature with Noah's Flood, from mountain-building through tectonics, both sediments and the Grand Canyon cutting through them; while ignoring such niceties as the geographical changes in typical flora and fauna. (Connected to it, there is much activity trying to explain in detail how animals on Noah's Ark could have been sufficient for the survival of life - to the extent of raping mathematics: one celebrated 'creation scientist', instead of adding up volumes needed by various animals, calculated their mean and median - and when multiplying with the number of species to get total volume, incredibly, he declared the latter is applicable!...) Combing from the literature examples of the radiological clock in rocks not re-setting (f.e. in the relatively cold lava of a Hawaii volcano), which for science mean an error factor identified, neutralised and hence promising greater precision, creationists claim dating based on nuclear decay is unreliable. As for the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which in a simplified form says that entropy ('disorder') in a closed system increases over time[+] , the closed system part is dropped and applied f.e. to the DNA of a species - nevermind that a living bird, a bridge built by humans, or a snowflake forming from moisture violate the Creationist Second Law Of Thermodynamics, too. Basic astronomy is a tough problem, given that galaxies billions of lightyears away are seen by the light their stars emitted just as many years ago - so creationists built an extended 'theory' of changing light speed, or assume God created the photons on their way - coming dangerously close to calling God a cosmic liar. I also note that creationists make much about semantics - the "evolution" in "stellar evolution" is taken as proof that this is the same thing as in biology!

These creationists have their own 'research institutions' - like CRI or ICR. What do these 'creation scientists' research? Well, ever since one of the 'institutions' sent out two students to do field work in the Grand Canyon, who subsequently concluded that 'scientific creationism' doesn't fit reality, its not Nature. Their main work, beyond dreaming up hypotheses upon hypotheses without testing, constructing false but compelling analogies, and building a 'moral' case against 'evolution', consists of combing through scientific literature - collecting and creating hundreds upon hundreds of out-of-context quotes. Their dishonesty either covers a spineless non-believer, or a crackpot with a 'Liar For Jesus' attitude - another example: their star, one Duane Gish, tours with a story about a beetle which produces a two-component explosive in its glands - and he still does it, altough the non-explosiveness of the mix was demonstrated to him live a couple of times.

Above I cheated a little. For creationism has two versions: Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism. What I described above is the former. The latter serves the beliefs of non-fundamentalist Christians - people who acknowledge a Universe billions of years old, admit that not all of the Bible is literal truth, and even accept evolution - but believe in divine intervention at key points: kicking off Big Bang, creating life, and creating moral beings i.e. humans (by implanting a soul, or guiding evolution). The more honest and intelligent Old Earth Creationists have their hypotheses too: f.e. the nontrivially faulty argument about the improbability of a Universe fit for human life ('Strong Anthropic Principle'), and Intelligent Design. The latter is based on the faulty argument that if the origin of some complex order in nature is otherwise unexplainable, then the simplest explanation is design by some intelligence (obviously, positing the existence of some even more complex thing is not simple but exactly what Occam's Razor was invented for) - and OEC seek to present some basic molecular-level elements of living cells that couldn't have been evolved (proving a negative is problematic in itself, but worse for them that each and every of their exaples was picked apart by some scientists willing to play along).

Now here is a complication. Young Earth Creationists, after a series of failures to get legal recognition for their pseudoscience as either an equal or superior of 'evolution', have seized upon their more intelligent Old Earther counterparts' work[§], and are now promoting Intelligent Design - of course not as a complementary of, but as an alternative to 'evolution'. Here is their first success (via Steve Gilliard):

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania school district on Friday defended its decision to discount Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and take a lead in teaching what critics say is a version of creationism.

Dover Area School District in south-central Pennsylvania is believed to be the first in the country to approve the teaching of a new theory called "intelligent design," according to the National Center for Science Education.

And apparently, the creationists activated some moles, some probably Bush-appointee moles at top positions, like in the US Park Services HQ (again via Steve Gilliard):

...some four million people annually visit Grand Canyon National Park, marveling at the awesome view. In National Park Service (NPS) affiliated bookstores, they can find literature informing them that the great chasm runs for 277 miles along the bed of the Colorado River. It descends more than a mile into the earth, and along one stretch, is some 18 miles wide, its walls displaying impressive layers of limestone, sandstone, shale, schist and granite.

And, oh yes, it was formed about 4,500 years ago, a direct consequence of Noah’s Flood. How’s that? Yes, this is the ill-informed premise of “Grand Canyon, a Different View,” a handsomely-illustrated volume also on sale at the bookstores. It includes the writings of creationists and creation scientists and was compiled by Tom Vail, who with his wife operates Canyon Ministries, conducting creationist-view tours of the canyon... (Most geologists place the canyon’s age at some six million years)...

Vail’s book attracted little notice when it first appeared in the NPS stores in 2003, until a critical review by Wilfred Elders, a respected University of California geologist, brought it to light and took apart its pseudoscientific claims. That led David Shaver, who heads the Geologic Resources Division of the Park Service, to send a memo to headquarters urging that the book be removed from the NPS stores... The presidents of The American Geological Institute and six of its member societies also weighed in, expressing their dismay to the Park Service...

But when Grand Canyon National Park superintendent Joe Alston attempted to block the sale of Vail’s book at canyon bookstores, he was overruled by NPS headquarters, which announced that a high-level policy review of the matter would be launched and a decision made by February, 2004. So far, no official decision has been announced.

While you may dismiss these happenings as isolated, and point to the creationists' failure in Kansas, creationists could have a worse effect on US public education in a more subtle way: through local schoolboards. Schoolboards decide what textbooks will be ordered - and if many schoolboards are infested with creationists, it can exert market pressure on publishers, which will respond with self-censorship. And so it happened. The late Stephen Jay Gould illustrated this by comparing subsequent editions of the same biology textbook of one publisher: the treatment of evolution shrunk from two full chapters to a few obscure sentences. Over the decades, this slow but persistent pressure destroyed US public education to the same extent budget cuts did. (And the Kansas defeat may be a temporary: from 2005, creationists will have a 6:4 majority in the state schoolboard [but at least not 7:3: the Nov 2 election mentioned in the article was a hairthin victory for the moderate incumbent].)

Of course, to realise the above effect of creationists, US liberals living in the Northeast or the West Coast (or non-US-American on-lookers) first have to acknowledge their numbers (as many of them now do, belatedly) - some poll evidence for this from the latest Gallup poll, just released; showing the same trend over decades:

  1. Is Darwin's theory of evolution supported by evidence? 35% Yes, 35% No, 29% Don't Know;
  2. Origin of Man? 13% say Man evolved naturally (scientific view), 38% say God guided Man's development (OEC view), 45% say God created Man in his present form (YEC view);
  3. What about the Bible? 15% say it is fables/legend/myth, 48% say it was inspired by God and some of it not literal, 34% say it is the word of God and literal truth.

As for my fellow Europeans, this is no issue to be smug or complacent about: creationists are busy recruiting on our side of the pond, too. And at some places they already left the underground - thanks to idiots like British PM and religious nut Tony Bliar, who allowed the establishment of a small network of creationist schools from 2002!

Finally, some links for the interested: the site of the talk.origins newsgroup (in which I learnt most about creationism & attacked science not in my field), the National Center for Science Education for Americans, and the Black Shadow for Brits.

[*] I note that 'theory' in science means a hypothesis that 'works' - i.e., one that passed some tests after its proposition, and did that better than rival hypotheses. A hypothesis is what just attempts to explain already known evidence (and predicts something about evidence about to be collected).

[#] The problem was, long before DNA was understood, people assumed genes mix upon inheritance like solutions - say half a bottle of water and half a bottle of wine - which would dissolve an advantageous gene to insignificance real fast. This problem was solved with the adoption of Mendelian genetics with its discrete genes (i.e. you have two sets of genes in every cell, with one from each parent).

[+] A more precise definition of the Second Law that covers open systems too would be: the balance of imported, exported and generated entropy of a system is increasing over time. For example, while a plant's entropy declines, the entropy of incoming Sunlight and groundwater is much less than that of outgoing heat and water vapour.

[§] YEC also seized from the work of parallel pseudosciences connected to other religions - there are some not at all stupid yet silly guys [I met one, an American too, at a 'lecture' he held] connected to the Hare Krishna who try to prove a static 'Old Earth', i.e. no evolution and all species co-existing over billions of years - by collecting alleged evidence of modern animals in ancient sediments (while also believing that dinosaurs still exist, hidden somewhere).

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Quirks Of History

Another intermission into posts on current affairs...

General Purpose History is always straightforward, with good guys and bad guys and clearly separate sides. Reality was never and is never like this. Some Westerners have trouble with denouncing WWII Allied atrocities like fire-bombing Dresden, or the massive and brutal ethnic cleansings by formerly Nazi-occupied Central and Eastern European countries, and never heard of the Cap Arcona disaster or its unfortunate connection to Dresden. Russians f.e. don't know much about Stalin's decision to let the Nazis crush the Warshaw uprising, or the mass rapings on the generals' order in Vienna or Berlin. Doug Merrill @ A Fistful Of Euros quotes an article about another forgotten incident of WWII that I just can't leave unmentioned:

Vlasov's forgotten army

Communists buried legacy of Soviet General Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov and his battalion of POWs that helped free Prague from the Nazis

...Nov. 14, 1944, in the Castle's Spanish Hall brought together Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov, a Soviet General (indeed the "Savior of Moscow," who had stopped the Nazi armies from taking that city three years earlier) and much of the Nazi upper echelon. Vlasov would convince the Nazis to back a plan he had devised -- a last-ditch effort to arm prisoners of war to battle Stalin's forces.

...When Vlasov took the podium he launched into an extraordinary manifesto of his own: of equality and democracy in the new Russia which would be liberated by his army... Vlasov had refused Himmler's demand to include "an unequivocal stand on the Jewish question." In fact not a single word in Vlasov's speech had referred to Hitler or to National Socialism.

...When news that Vlasov had a green light to form this new army circulated via Russian POWs' own newspaper, by the end of the month new recruits were signing up at a rate of up to 60,000 per day.

...Between that November and April of 1945, two divisions of "Vlasov's Army," more than 50,000 men, were formed, equipped and trained. Nine officers were Jews, concealed by Vlasov personally. Germany could not afford to equip and provide munitions for more men. This army had its own hospitals, training schools for officers, supply systems and air force. And on April 14, 1945, it was sent not to liberate Russia but to try to halt the Soviet advance across the Oder, only a few hours' drive from Berlin.

Seeing how hopeless, as well as pointless, the situation was for his force, Vlasov turned his men back and decided to march across Bohemia to get to Pilsen -- where he would deliver them as prisoners to the Americans, who were halted there. Stalin had already made it known that if any of Vlasov's men fell into his hands they would receive long and painful deaths.

The army stopped to regroup near Beroun, just a half-hour drive southwest of Prague. By now it was early May. Hitler had already committed suicide. On May 5, members of the Czech National Committee came out from Prague to see Vlasov. Their uprising against the Nazis had begun but the planned British weapons drop had not come. They did not know then that Stalin had stopped Churchill. Stalin's plan, as at Warsaw, was to wait and watch the patriots and the Nazis kill each other and destroy the city.

Eventually Vlasov was persuaded and by May 6 the First Division, 25,000 men with armor, set off in three columns to save the uprising -- and Prague. In 36 hours the Nazis had surrendered and the uprising had succeeded. What followed then was a betrayal by the Czech National Committee of the army that had rescued them, more betrayals by the Americans and the British and then the Soviet Army's arrival in Prague being heralded as the liberators of the city. Stalin saw to it that Vlasov's Army would never make the history books and few Czechs even today really know of its contribution. Even the little street plaques which list those patriots who fell at that spot during the Prague Uprising do not list Vlasov's men. Sometimes the plaques simply say "... and others." That's them.

European Interventions In Africa

Yesterday, Germany decided to help the intervention troops of the African Union sent into Darfur in Sudan with two Transall transport planes, secured with 200 troops. Too little too late, I'd say.

By the way, while the Darfur conflict is an ethnic one between cattle-herding and plant-growing Muslim tribes, the genocidal civil war in the South is also a religious one - and one for oil. This time, it is not the USA but China that is the main foreign party of oil development - which explains why it is China that consistently foiled strong UN Security Council resolutions on the matter of Sudan, the last time yesterday.

In the Ivory Coast, French-led UN troops (UNOCI) do this time what they refused to do in Bosnia (with the exception of an odd general, later dismissed) or Rwanda: prevent the breakout of another civil war. Or did they? The 'offensive' against the rebel North that included the bombing of a UN base, killing nine French blue helmets, had all the hallmarks of a conscious provocation - I can't imagine Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbago[*] wouldn't have had foreseen, and hence that he didn't calculate with French retaliation, especially considering what followed - the French leaders should have guessed that what will follow will be the instigation of anti-French riots, even if those were not only based on actual French military [both UN and other, already stationed there, with the excuse of the defense of 15,000 French expats] actions but false rumours too. The diplomatic intervention of the African Union (with Mbeki from South Africa) cooled down things a little, but this time the rebels refused peace talks, saying nothing will go with Gbago - which led to an UN SC decision on arms sanctions and a promise of travel bans on both sides earlier this week. So UN troops seem likely to be poised to keep apart the two sides under ever stronger rather than abating tensions. That is, they might fail.

Finally, there was the rather limited UN-authorised Franco-German intervention in the D.R. Congo/ex-Zaire, which failed to stop the killing outside of the occupied cities, until the African Union took over and expanded the mission (MONUC).

If European leaders really want the EU to become a military power with focus on peacekeeping and conflict prevention, they must do more than sending alibi contingents or coming after the USA left a big mess, as they did on the Balkans and parts of Afghanistan. Of course, as long as many European governments refuse to admit what most of their citizens can see, that their soldiering along the USA in Iraq has nothing to do with peacekeeping or conflict prevention, it's not even the meagre efforts of the Franco-German-Belgian euro-progressives that should count as the basis of our expectations about the EU as military power...

(And indeed, when I first posted this, I forgot about another European 'intervention' in Africa: the foiled coup against the government of oil-producing Equatorial Guinea organised by British ex-PM Margaret Thatcher's son Mark, something current British foreign minister Jack Straw knew about two months before the arrests, but did nothing.)

Really, the current crop of visionless conformists must go before Europe should risk significant development in this direction.

(In case you wonder, I am a sceptical liberal interventionist becoming ever more sceptical: it's one thing that I see the one in Iraq as none at all, the ones in Kosovo, Afghanistan as utter failures, and the ones in Bosnia and East Timor as a mess; and that I think at least the latter could have been much better executed - but another thing is whether there are decision-makers, or even if there could be decisionmakers who have the insight, the nerve and the control over subordinates to do it better.)

[*] In case you wonder why I don't see the story as evil colonial power vs. rightful leader trying to regain control of his country, and see Gbago as the main problem, despite significant French industrial interests there - a little background on the Ivory Coast conflict:

Like most West African countries, the Ivory Coast has a North-South Muslim-Christian divide, and ethnic divisions that have cross-border complications. Led by the same party from independence, the country was stable until the middle of the nineties, as exemplified by having a Southern President (Henri Konan Bédié) and a Northern PM (Alassane Dramane Ouattara). But the former started to play on divisions to push out power rivals. In December 1999, there was a military coup by general Robert Gueï, a Southerner, who promised new elections. He broke his promise to not enter the race himself. His most popular opponent was Ouattara, so Gueï also attempted to capitalise on divisions, all of them, barring Ouattara from the contest because he was allegedly born in a neighbouring country. (He in fact held a Burkina Faso passport when he was dissident some years earlier.) Also disqualified was Emile Bombet, candidate of the pre-coup ruling party, and a dozen other candidates, including all from the North - but Laurent Gbago, Southern candidate of the third largest party, and three more also-runs remained on the ballot. This led to widespread boycotts of the October 2000 Presidential elections. And here is the root of the current problems: Gueï lost these sham elections to Gbago.

When Gueï saw he is losing, he halted the count by sending the military against vote-counting officials, and declared himself winner. But Gbago's followers staged a successful revolution - and Gbago, then with the foolish support of the French government, declared himself President - only to have the followers of the barred candidates against him. Subsequently, Gbago used the same divisive tactics Gueï did (whom he gave immunity in return for Gueï's appeal to the Army to accept Gbago), also barring Ouattara and others again in Parliamentary elections December 2000 - January 2001. They lasted so long because of repeats, which failed to 'ride out' the almost total Northern boycotts (while boycotts by other parties meant low turnout in the South too). Conflict ensued, breaking into a civil war in September 2002 after a mutiny and failed coup, ended by French/UN intervention (Gbago was poised to lose militarily at this time) and French-brokered peace agreement in January 2003. The peace agreement prescribed a unified transitional government, UNOCI deployed in the summer of 2003 and with new elections timetabled for 2005. But Gbago didn't rest, for example after dispersing a peaceful street rally of Ouattara's followers in March 2004, police and militias staged night raids on organisers - killing about 120, leading to a four-month boycott of the nominally joint transitional government by the Northern rebels, ended at EU pressure.

Barroso's 'New' Team Approved By The EP

As I expected, the second time around, the big fractions of the EP didn't dare to vote down the new European Commission again - the symbolic victory and a small step forward in the respect of the EU's only democratically elected institution trumped the very principles called upon when they voted Barroso down the previous time: to have qualified commissioners.

While the European version of Ashcroft, Buttiglione, was removed, and Kovács, the Hungarian candidate was shifted fron the energy post to the taxes and customs post, and the Lithuaian candidate remained, four rather problematic candidates remained: the Danish and Dutch candidates, now responsible for agrarian issues resp. competition, both likely to be corrupt and non-independent; and the Greek and Cypriot candidates, responsible for the environment resp. health care and consumer protection, both of whom are unqualified and coming from fields with opposed interests (the latter was finance minister at home!...). A first sign that this could be done is what has been done about the Dutch candidate (Tobias @ A Fistful Of Euros writes about it).

Well, the EU always advanced in small steps. The Consitution and its changed rules are coming [Lithuania already signed it]; in the meantime, I hope the Parliament will get on the neck of the above listed idiots on ocassion of at least some issues.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

So Many Lies, Some Go Unnoticed

To describe the level of lies and spins surrounding the Iraq war, 'Orwellian' might no longer be a strong enough term. Below are three that failed to get the attention of even most critics due to greater outrages.

First let's read these lines, splattered all across the news last week resp. three weeks ago:

"Associated Press
Nov. 9, 2004 08:50 AM
WASHINGTON - Eleven U.S. troops were killed in Iraq Monday, the highest single day death toll in the country in more than six months, officials said." [Source]

"BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 30 - Eight marines were killed and nine others wounded west of the capital on Saturday when a suicide car bomb rammed into their convoy... The Marines later reported a ninth combat death on Saturday... The number of American troops killed Saturday was the highest in a single day since May 2, when nine troops died in attacks across the country." [Source]

Now this is scandalous to troops-loving Americans, especially those who realise just for what these soldiers died. But there is another scandal of hiding casualty levels - the Army does it by releasing casualty reports with different delays and in a chaotic manner (some announcements are made by CENTCOM, others by DoD, still others by the local command...); the media does it by not adding up. For, there were single days with higher casualties than these which didn't make it into the headlines, or even the footnotes:

  • 9th November: just the day after the headline-making day, 14 died. (And 11 US deaths again on the 12th, and 12 deaths on the 15th.)
  • 14th September: 10 died.
  • 6th September: 12 died; I wrote about it when 10 were announced.

Second, there was much outrage about the execution of a wounded Iraqi lying on the floor, also of the open justification of it by fellow Marines, but only a few noted that contrary to what most of the media repeated without thinking or checking, the executed was not the only executed, and probably not a fighter. He was not only not armed. He was the last survivor of a different Marine unit's assault on this mosque, an assault that killed ten people inside - that unit left behind the five wounded survivors on the floor. One died until this second unit came the next day:

A marine who emerged from the mosque told an inquiring lieutenant that people had been shot inside. When the lieutenant asked if the people were armed, the soldier just shrugged, Sites said. Once inside the mosque, the NBC correspondent said he saw five injured Iraqi prisoners who had been left behind on Friday, four of whom had been shot again. [APF report]

The troops knew they were in there before they walked in, weapons down. Watch the tape. One of the soldiers clearly says "these are the injured", so they also knew that some of them were still alive. The reporter also notes that the troops knew the injured Iraqis were left there by other soldiers the day before. Add dereliction of the duty of care to prisoners, who cannot simply be left to die, to the charge of murder. [Ron F @ Lenin's Tomb, Comments]

Third, there was much talk about the sky-high hypocrisy of justifying the invasion of Fallujah with the presence of Zarkawi, something they didn't even care to prove with phoney evidence (like they did for WMD, let's not forget another stellar performance by our supposed friend, supposed moderate, outgoing Secretary Of State Colin Powell) - and then shrugging that he 'probably left' before the invasion. But Eli at Left I reminds us that the percentage of foreign fighters among those detained in Fallujah is less than the percentage of non-US fighters in the US armed forces...

Most people have been by now that only 20 out of more than 1000 insurgents captured in Fallujah were non-Iraqis. For reference, the U.S. Army has 500,000 active-duty troops, and 31,000 members of the U.S. Armed Forces (all services) are not U.S. citizens. I couldn't come up with the size of the Air Force and Marines, but assuming another 250,000 troops, that's 4% of the U.S. armed forces, more than twice the percentage of "foreign fighters" found in Fallujah. Of course, all of the 10,000 U.S. troops who bombed and invaded Fallujah were "foreign fighters."

Rule Of Law

The only law that ruled under Saddam: accept the authority or you're arrested/killed.

Under Allawi and Negroponte and Bush, the same law is the only one that rules.

It's not just what they do using armed resistance as an excuse, but the arrest of political opponents.

In the last week or two, it wasn't only the anti-occupation Sunni group Association of Muslim Scholars whose members were arrested without charges. There was, for example, a (non-Sadrist [UPDATE: by other accounts, a splintered Sadrist, i.e. not allegiated to Muqtada]) Shi'a cleric in Karbala, who after criticising Sistani's position, got his office searched and then blown up. After the major Sunni Arab party in the US puppet government, the Iraqi Islam Party, left the government in protest of the Grosny-isation of Fallujah (something they didn't do during this April's Sarajevo-isation of Fallujah), they arrested several members.

Among them, Allawi's Sunni deputy PM, a story followed by Josh Narins and no one else (not the media, not the main bloggers).

UPDATE 19/11: Reuters now has a longer story on it, quoted at Under The Same Sun. Apparently, he is not deputy PM but deputy head of the sham National Assembly, and he wasn't detained by Allawi's thugs but US troops!... Yet some people who should know better are still under the illusion that the coming Iraqi elections will have anything more to do with democracy than the elections held in Soviet-occupied Central-Eastern Europe after WWII - for example Juan "Fallujah Destruction Was Legal" Cole...

UPDATE 19/11: Guardian and James @ Dead Men Left also picked up on the story; the latter noting that Naseer Ayaef, due to his position, is supposed to have immunity under the provisional legal code.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

It's Official: US Democratic Party Commits Suicide

Apparently, those who think the losing strategy of pandering to the right should be continued are still at the helm - Left I quotes a NYT article:

"He is a teetotaling Mormon, a former Capitol Hill police officer who opposes abortion and was a cosponsor of the constitutional amendment banning flag-burning...Yet for all that, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada...is about to become the new Senate minority leader."

After Saddam's Mass Graves, Allawi's/Bush's Mass Graves

As Juan Cole hints at it too, the US refuses to let the Red Crescent convoy into Fallujah party because it wants to bury the dead - filling mass graves without informing relatives, just like Saddam. (Well, they didn't do it for the first time at all; I remember German SPIEGEL TV's images from Baghdad in April 2003, when a lone US soldier is looking on while Iraqis unearth corpses of relatives, corpses his comrades killed in battle and buried the day before.)

BTW, here is another good article on the history of Fallujah, this time back into British colonialist times.

Hungarian Soldiers Leave/Don't Leave Iraq

My home country Hungary, as member of the Coalition Of The Bribed & Blackmailed (& Foolish), sent 300 military truck drivers to Iraq last year. You shouldn't think their participation is insignificant, after all they remained to drive convoys when most civilian trucking contractors pulled out. As for the nature of their work, even until early summer this year, 95% of their transports were for fellow CotW/CotBB(&F) troops - humanitarian, helping democracy, gimme a break...

Now, for the political background, troop deployment needs 2/3 support in Parliament, to be renewed each year. That means it needs votes from both the nominally leftist government parties (the - to outsiders unlikely - coalition of ex-reformed-communists and ex-liberal-oppositionaries, who seem closer to a Western European centre-right party) and the nominally right-wing parties (a populist party that - again to outsiders unlikely - is led by ex-liberal yuppies but integrated the far right, and a small party of old conservatives with pre-WWII flair).

In June 2003, all parties voted yes. (A little background: the present opposition, which was in power until 2002, viewed Bush's election tactics and power style as one of their role models - Berlusconi was another, Tudjman yet another, you can guess it -, but the love affair ended in a funny way. To pre-empt the accusation of corruption in a fighter plane tender - a scandal exposing an all too cozy relationship of party members with Lockheed already broke -, they decided for the better Swedish-British offer rather than the F-16. But Bush responded with diplomatic Ice Age, shutting the door on our PM when he went to Washington for his pre-election photo-ops, and giving US diplomats free hand to thematise unchecked anti-semitism in Hungary. So in 2003, right-wingers being right-wingers, they probably didn't want trouble from Big Brother again...)

In November 2003, three parties voted yes on the extension into 2004, but the paleoconservatives witheld votes.

This year, our new PM (Gyurcsány replaced Medgyessy after a coup in the Socialist party) sensed that the public's opposition can't be resisted much further, and the opposition could finally take up that position - so he devised a trick: he proposed an extension of only three months, and tried to sell it as an 'early' pullout (and that's how it came across in most of the Western press). Gyurcsány also hoped that the opposition will fear a similar self-defeat as a few weeks before, when they first voted down the long-awaited law on ending conscription, but upon realising that they lost overnight masses of young voters, voted for it when presented to Parliament again just a week later. Yet the public wasn't fooled, and this only emboldened the opposition (sometimes even those I despise do something good) - and the three-month extension went down with a sub-2/3 majority of 191:159 yesterday evening.

However, that's not the end of the story. While in the panic of the defeat, our ever more silly-sounding defense minister called the decision "unpatriotic and bad" (unpatriotic???) [for Hungarian speakers and those with a translation software, good op-ed in Hungarian], an apparent brainstorming session by the tormented guards of our vassaldom under the Second Warshaw Pact produced first results:

  • (A) So OK, the mandate ends on 31 December 2004, but pullout isn't covered! Deployment took two months, pullout will take three...
  • (B) Troop deployment at NATO request doesn't need Parliament approval - so if, as it looks likely, NATO will be shoved into approving a deployment of a police/army training base to Iraq, Hungary will join that!...

...and so the merry Coalition Of The Bribed, Blackmailed & Foolish will soldier on a few more months with token units for nowhere to be seen benefits, either for us or the Iraqis.

Submarines And The Western Front

This post is a little break in the regular broadcast on current affairs...

On the question of why it took until the summer of 1944 for Britain and the USA to open a Western front against Nazi Germany, it is often claimed that the submarine attacks on Allied transport ships hindered the buildup of an invasion force and delayed the Western front two years.

I did some research, and this claim doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

The U-Boot war during WWII can be roughly separated into three phases. The first was when Britain practically stood alone, the second phase was when Britain and the USA joined forces to organise logistics and the future Western front, and the third phase was when the naval war against the Allied merchant fleet was practically lost, with only ocassional sinkings by and lots of losses for the U-boats. The end of the second phase can easily be put at May 1943, after which attacks on the Atlantic were even ceased for a few months. But the first and second phases are less clearly delineated: one could argue for the beginning of 1942, when the Allies became Allies and the opening of the Western front was promised to Stalin; or the end of 1941, when the USA entered war; or autumn 1941, when the US Congress and Senate authorised the participation of US transport ships in transatlantic military supply convoys (thereby increasing total transport capacity).

Ironically, the argument about the significance of the U-boat war rests on the same overt focus on sunk ship tonnage vs. newly built ship tonnage totals that the German leadership had. This overlooks a lot of significant details.

First, let it be noted that German captains and thus the German command significantly (in some years by 60%) overestimated their successes, but their figures get quoted unresponsibly. Or, quoted are Allied ship loss totals, which included losses to collisions, storms etc. too. (I use figures of an 1961 tally based on comparison of British and German sources by a German historian.) Second, while it is true that Allied new ship production surpassed losses to the war on their transport ships only in the second half of 1942, the merchant fleet also had other sources of growth: acquiring the ships of previously neutral countries. For example, in 1940, the Norwegian king ordered the Norwegian merchant fleet (4.2 million BRT in total) to sail into British ports - more than two-thirds did, and their volume total alone exceeded British losses until the spring of 1941. Thus in fact British/Allied transport capacity steadily grew even until the second half of 1942. Third, the decrease in transport capacity would have been only the first sign that Nazi Germany gets anywhere closer to its goal of starving Britain from its supplies - not of significant losses already.

Indeed, for the question of how much the preparation of the invasion was delayed, it's not transport capacity but trasported volume that's important - and more ignored points abound. For, while in the second phase, U-boats often sunk more than a hundred ships a month, in excess of 500,000 BRTs, this phase was also the time when U-boats were first sent out to the US coast and later the Southern seas - sinking lots of ships on coastal routes, or neutral ships (for example, Brazil entered the war on the Allied side because of such attacks) - neither of which can be viewed as even indirectly significantly impending the preparations of a European land invasion. In truth, throughout the first two phases, Nazi submarines never managed to sink more than 65-70 transport ships on transatlantic routes a month (the mean was around 40, some 250,000 BRT), equivalent to about two average convoys (the mean = to a bit more than one) - while in the spring of 1941 already, more than 50 convoys crossed the Atlantic a month!

However, what if we take the hypothetical best-case scenario, that is (1) British/Allied ship-building would have been stepped up just as much had there been no war on their transport ships, and that (2) all of these newly built and 'unsunk' ships could have been filled with materials to transport, and that (3) all 'unsunk' coastal and neutral ships would have been diverted for transatlantic transports?

According to my calculations, at no point during the second phase could transport capacity have been greater than what it was in reality by more than 20%. As for the first phase, the 'gain' of the hypothetical case would have been greater towards the end - some 30%: losses of more than 6 million BRT vs. an active fleet of more than 20 million BRT - but the aggregate transported volume 'gain' would only have been less than half of that over this period. Yet again, if we move further away from reality, and compare the two scenarios (with or without an U-boat war on the merchant fleet) had the US not joined the European war actively, Britain's war efforts would have been significantly delayed.

So as a conclusion, I think the Soviet charge that the Western front was delayed two years in the hope that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union would weaken each other rings truer. But the argument about Churchill's fear of repeating Gallipolli also caries weight - i.e. that Churchill wanted a very thorough preparation to avoid failure, which - witness the Americans at Omaha beach - was probably necessary for victory. On the other hand, the U-boat campaign's strategic 'success' was comparable to the 'success' of Allied bomb raids on German cities, which failed to impede production significantly or break war morale.

Back to regular broadcast...

Another Prediction Cometh True

As insurgents recently took over, among a lot of other cities, Mosul (see photos at Raed's blog), it is rarely noted that this was predicted - for example, by the Canadian journalist I quoted two months ago - Scott Taylor, who has been abducted by the resistance in the Iraqi Turkmen city of Tal Afar during its first siege by the US:

...I can tell you, Mosul's about to blow. The resistance can operate with impunity, and is growing, and the Americans don't have the numbers to cope … what was once 22,000 soldiers in the area with the 82nd Airborne has now been whittled down to just 6,000 soldiers with this replacement Stryker Brigade. So they're stretched too thin to deal with the coming major insurgency.

The Americans are in fact almost invisible – you don't see them on the streets of Mosul. They've ceded the underground control of the city to various factions of rebels, who are all working together, exchanging weapons, intel, hostages, etc...

Altough US propaganda and clueless journalists try to paint it as if there is a clear-cut Arab/Kurd conflict in the city, let's note that one of the strongest and most cruel fractions of the anti-occupation forces in Iraq, the Sunni fundamentalist group Ansar-e-Islam, resides in the city and is Kurdish. Now, Mosul is not a city of 300,000 but 3,000,000 - it is home to more than 10% of Iraq's population (and voters). But I don't think that will hold back the Americans from destroying this city, too. (Current 'tally': Nassiriyah, Fallujah 2x, Najaf 2x, Tal Afar, Samarrah...)

As for Fallujah, some pictures and some more [last few] at Raed - and look again at the second picture here, nothing learnt since Abu Ghraib.

As for elsewhere, noteworthy are shootings between Iraqi police and army in Karbala, curfew in Najaf, and some parts of Baghdad [first few images] openly controlled by the resistance.

Also, as Iraqi police are fired by the thousands (again via Raed), we read this euphemistic comment from a US army spokesperson on their Iraqi puppet's takeover of police recruiting and training:

The Iraqis have their own methods of recruiting police officers that might fall short of U.S. civil rights standards, but they are proving effective, according to Bradley.

'Effective', like Saddam's police...

Friday, November 12, 2004

Nader Fights For Kerry's Votes

Now this is the height of irony - while Kerry betrayed the trust and false hopes of the ABB crowd by caving in early, the man many of them derided in ways and with shoddy arguments and misinterpreted evidence reminding me of freepers, independent progressive Presidential candidate Ralph Nader, took up the cause and is campaigning for recounts. (My stolen election links roundup is here.)

UPDATE 16/11: I read that Cobbs and Badnarik also joined the call for Ohio recounts.

The Barbarian Invasions - The Vandals Are Back

I thought this one from the images Raed collected deserves its own post:

Being a European, this can only remind me of all the destructions of great architecture and other works of art by invaders (both 'barbarian' and local stock) clueless about cultural value, called vandalism ever since the 455 BC trashing of Rome by the Vandals.

Photos From Fallujah

Read Raed.

Also, what is happening in Baghdad:

I called my family to see what was happening there. One of our friends living in Abu-Ghreib told us about how a US helicopters attacked their entire neighbourhood after a US patrol was attacked from that area. He said that they have holes in the ceilings of their house because of the random attack. This collective punishment is very close to how the israeli forces treat Palestinians, trying to put pressure on the civilians not to accept any fighter in their street. As if it was the civilians’ duty to go after fighters and stop them.

My family said that many districts in the west of Baghdad are blocked, the streets leading to the areas near the airport (Al-Jihad, Al-Amryya, Al-Ghazalyya, Al-khadraa, and others) are closed due to street fighting. The airport highway is closed too. They said that the sound of explosions and bullets is continuous. My uncle lives in Ad-Dora in southern Baghdad, and they are having similar street clashes there too.

Fill In Analogy

What I thought to be the latest sign of emerging fascism proved to be a weird accident, but to fill in for it, and for people like James from Dead Men Left to better underline what I understand under fascism as a post-liberal worldview, read this part Josh Narins quotes from Corrente.

US Elections Bizarredom

Alabama voters narrowly rejected an amendment proposal that would have killed dormant provisions prescribing school segregation according to races.

Iraqi Elections Bizarredom

I read this atAtrios:

And, yes, Americablog is right - the most insightful commentary about the state of affairs before the election did indeed come from Ed Helms of the Daily Show, who raised the rather obvious but overlooked point of how does one run any kind of election campaign during a period of martial law.

No Atrios, the most insightful commentary came from Naomi Klein:

Mr. Bremer said the country was too insecure to hold elections and, besides, there were no voter rolls.... Thousands of lost Iraqi and American lives later, elections are scheduled to take place with part of the country in the grips of yet another invasion and much of it under martial law. As for voter rolls, the Allawi government is planning to use the oil-for-food lists, as was suggested and dismissed a year ago.

So the excuses were lies: If elections can be held now, they could have been held a year ago, when the country was vastly calmer. But that would have denied Washington the chance to install a puppet regime in Iraq, and possibly prevented Mr. Bush from winning a second term.

Stolen Election Roundup

Greg Palast's take on it.

Bob Fitrakis on Ohio.

Kathy Dopp on some Florida counties.

German quality magazine DER SPIEGEL's summary (in German).

Regarding electronic voting, I again link to Black Box Voting.

Good-Bye Freedom Of Press

In the last few months, three different U.S. federal judges, each appointed by President Ronald Reagan, have found a total of eight journalists in contempt of court for refusing to reveal confidential sources, and the first of them may go to prison before the year is out. Some of the rest may be in prison by spring.

The first reporter likely to go to jail is Jim Taricani, a television reporter for the NBC station in Providence. Taricani obtained and broadcast, completely legally, a videotape of a city official as he accepted an envelope full of cash.

U.S. District Judge Ernest Torres found Taricani in contempt for refusing to identify the person he got the videotape from, and the judge fined him $1,000 a day. That hasn't broken Taricani, so Torres has set a hearing for Nov. 18 to decide whether to squeeze him by throwing him in jail.

Read the other two examples here.

European Far-Right

The Vlaams Blok in the Flemish half of Belgium gets 25%, Le Pen in France gets more than 15%, Haider in Austria once almost got 30% and his party is junior party in government. Pim Fortuyn's party in The Netherlands got more than 10%, and was junior party in government. BNP and UKIP in the UK also get much. Two parties of the up until now splintered German far-right entered two regional parliaments in East Germany and forged an alliance for a common list in 2006, with 7% of Germans considering a vote. Far-right parties in Norway, Denmark and Portugal ensure the existence of right-wing minority governments in respective parliaments. In Italy, the far-right Bossi and the reformed far-right ex-fascists are coalitioneers of Berlusconi.

Now that's the story as seen from far away. For example as seen by Steve Gilliard, who has the strange misbeliefs that it was the German leftists who didn't saw the danger and didn't oppose the Nazis strong enough, and that the same is true with the current European left vs. far-right. Now the latter might to some extent be true about Dutch leftists, after all theirs is a country where the principle of gedoog let too many things be swept under the rug for too long. (I see a very dark irony in the situation after a right-wing film-maker - who mixed justified criticisms of fundie practices with deliberate insults against Muslims in general as f.e. goatfuckers - was murdered by an even nuttier young Muslim fundamentalist: Just after people began to talk about Muslim fundamentalists as 'walking time-bombs', they had to see that there were a lot of other walking time-bombs just waiting to blow up - by planting bombs at Muslim shrines or cultural houses or anything connected to Muslims; see timeline.) But the larger pattern is of course the Left constantly protesting, while the Centre-Right sinks in uncomfortable silence or mutters about a paranoid Left.

However, what I want to get at is how and when the far-right is more dangerous, and to whom. First of all, the far-right in any shape and size is always dangerous to whatever group they focus their hate on. This is something those who have never been in such a group rarely understand, so let me explain as someone in the know (I was a foreigner in Germany for two years): even if the outright racists/xenophobes are less than 5% of the population, chances are there will be one among the dozens of people you meet on every single day - worse, you don't know in advance who it will be. That is, abuse will be a fact of your daily life, even if you have no problem with, or even like, most people from the unaffected majority.

But when, and to what extent is the far-right a danger to democracy? Well, for a start, you should ask yourself, what is worse: when a racist minority has a fairly large but minority party with an open agenda, but it is kept from power by coalitions of the parties representing the majority; or when a a similar racist minority forms a major part of the base (and some part of the leaders) of a majority party in government, but practises self-censorship in public? I would say certainly the latter. I think the latter is much worse than even when a centre-right party accepts a far-right one as junior coalitioneer: for the major coalition parties tend to sideline coalitioneers to insignificant posts, and at the same time attempt to ruin them by directing all the blame the government gets at them. See Austria and The Netherlands for examples where this worked, Italy as counter-example. Consequently, from the list in the first paragraph, I see the greatest danger to democracy in Italy, not Flemish Belgium. Where the unfortunately existing racist right is represented, but is kept out and fought. (And, as can be guessed, I see the US Republican Party in a worse light than even Berlusconi's governing coalition.)

However, I see greater dangers elsewhere. One is a far-right theme that is spread well beyond the actual far-right, and seen as a justifiable populist tool by the centre-right and also some centre-left (f.e. Bliar): the fear of immigrants and immigration. This is a paranoid fear. While I argued that immigration is no solution to the Western problem of exploding retirement, jobless and social budgets; it is not really worsening the problem either: immigrants mean both new workforce and new consumers, while many of them find jobs in fields not liked by the indigenous population. (Both at the low end and the high end - when I was in Germany, my father was an engineer in a firm that simply coudn't find enough qualified engineers, even with the foreigners in.) Most immigrants do integrate, and what increases the numbers of those who don't is ghettoisation forced by blind government policies. However, this fear of immigration is alive and widespread, and could undermine the EU's unique characteristics that its neighbours are more willng to get into it than fearing takeover.

A second great danger, I am sad to say, emanates from the new members of the EU here in Central-Eastern Europe. The problem is that some racist-ethnic-national stereotypes are spread through the whole mainstream political spectrum here, and in more aggressive forms than in Western Europe. This is partly down to the tunnel vision of agoraphobic worldviews, best showcased by public discourse about and school teaching of history: rather nationalist and almost lacking of self-criticisms alike to, for example, what one finds in Germany, or to reflections upon a colonial past one finds in at least large parts of the French or British population. But in another part down to a, ehm, let's call it collective mental development missed out during communism, when the conclusions West Europe drew from WWII weren't coming while people were preoccupied with relating to the incumbent dictature.

And thus the racist policies and hates which I think poison Europe most from our quarters aren't even the neighbour hates (Polish-German, Hungarian-Romanian etc.), but (1) hate of Gypsies (a high-joblessness, blamed-for-crime, practically ghettoised large minority), (2) anti-semitism (real old-style hardcore anti-semitism, not just widespread criticism of Israel blasted by Likudnik hacks), and (3) the stateless Russian minorities in the Baltic states (having to live as officially secondary citizens due to a similarly insane 'counter-policy' to Stalin's and his successors' assimilation policies).

While I try to do my part against it, I'd hope my Western European counterparts to become aware of the problem before it seeps over as our politicians will exert their influence in European institutions. (I.e., it would be good if some 'group pressure' would be applied in the EP and elsewhere.)