Saturday, September 04, 2004

What Democrats Should Learn From Republicans

Jeremy at A rant against the absurdity of modern politics continues his attack on Kerry, in fact he just can't stop. However, I will deal with it here only for a brief quote:

The Democrats need to understand that they need to be just as committed to their agenda as the Republicans are to theirs.

Exactly. At present, they only seem to believe that what they need is to be just as committed to their candidate as the Republicans are to theirs.

The Horror...

It doesn't make much sense to debate issues on which the debatees, sadly, have a zero chance of a democratic influence. Even tough Israel is a democracy, this is true for most aspects of the I/P conflict and debates involving me. It is true for Kashmir. It is true for the worst conflict-related humanitarian catastrophes currently in the world, in whose top five I don't count Iraq or Palestina, but count what goes on in the Democratic Republic of Kongo (ex-Zaire), the middle of Sudan, Afghanistan - and Southern Russia, more closely Chechnya. In all cases, while outsiders might prefer to talk about 'two sides' of a conflict, those actually doing the fighting are a minority, but the fighting is done against the majority, by each and every armed 'side' in the conflict in its own way[*].

While I don't debate these or write much about them here, I do closely follow the sickening events. What is even more sickening is a consequence of the fact that while I just don't write about, most people don't care about most of this: it is when Western public outrage picks and chooses what atroticies to denounce. I won't comment further here, I just recommend "Horror and hysteria: Russia and Chechnya." over at Lenin's Tomb, with special attention to what a certain Chechenitz wrote in the comments.

[*]Note: this is not a statement about who started a specific conflict or in whose hands its solution is, and read carefully, this doesn't even say conflict parties deserve equal blame.

Friday, September 03, 2004

The Service Class

Having written about the economic problems facing the USA, some might wonder why I haven't yet commented on the latest poverty figures - i.e., that the US poverty rate rose the third year in a row, from 12.1% in 2002 to 12.5% in 2003, while real median household income remained unchanged at $43,318, and the percentage of US citizens without health insurance grew from 15.2% to 15.6%.

The reason was I don't think this is part of the reasons or signs of a coming US economic crisis. Rather, I think this outlines a social downturn (which might well lead to a crisis, or be accelerated by an economic crisis, but that's another issue). That poverty rose while median income stayed flat shows continued, strong polarisation in wealth.

The underlying process is the creation of a new socio-economic class.

Marx taught about the burgeois vs. the worker class and the proletariat, which aptly described advanced industrialised countries in the 19th and the beginning 20th Centuries (other states less so). But 20th Century capitalism - with the New Deal plus post-WWII measures like the GI bill in the USA, and the welfare state in Western Europe - rendered the traditional communist view of society outdated and useless, by creating a middle class majority and a stronger upward mobility (while communist revolutions resulted in the creation of new, cruel elites who proved the proposed cure a disastrously false hope, but that's another issue again).

The problem with a majority middle class is that contrary to the widespread belief, they are not progressive per se: for, as long as most of its relatively well off members erroneously believe they could one day become part of the elite, they won't challenge existing privileges of the elite and will support more, believing one day those could benefit them; and while forfeiting the defense of their own true interests in this way, they can also easily dismiss the problems of the underclass as those are a minority. Members of the middle class can feel progressive based on their stance on a few minor issues, while they are mostly for the status quo.

However, the status quo is always only an illusion of status quo: the slowly adopted system changes, and even the social and economic processes themselves on whose maintenance is insisted upon, transform society. Presently, across the Western world, there is a job cruch in high-wage professions, which I think comes naturally if new industries that don't just replace old ones don't appear and there is no state-run job-subsidizing. Idolising productivity, outsourcing and just plain senseless neoliberalism only accelerates this. At the same time, people are told to, and they dutifully blame the jobless for their own situation, allowing regulations to be continually eased, so that people can be forced into low-wage jobs.

This process started definitely under Reagan and Thatcher, and it has greatly accelerated in the USA under Clinton (that's how his jobless figures fell). In effect, a new large (newly large) segment of US society appeared: people jobbing at McDonalds, Wal-Mart, dialing centres etc. for a few years or months or even weeks before getting fired, or just looking for another part-time job.

The service class.

Future will show whether this segment of society, together with the remains of the worker class and other poor, will approach or even surpass the majority - and whether it will develop a class consciousness like the worker class did in the pioneering days of unions and pre-bolshevism communism.

Whatever happens, even with all my dislike for middle class conformity, I'd prefer Europe didn't follow down this path.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

RPGs In Iraq? Thank Reagan!

Just discovered this document on the Reagan administration's effort to arm Iraq:

Following is the sworn court declaration of former NSC official Howard Teicher, dated 1/31/95, regarding 'Iraqgate.'...

...7. CIA Director Casey personally spearheaded the effort to ensure that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war. Pursuant to the secred NSDD, the United States actively supported the Iraqi war effort by supplying the Iraqis with billions of dollars of credits, by providing U.S. military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis .. The United States also provided strategic operational advice [not just aerial photos as tactical help] to the Iraqis to better use their assets in combat...

...When I joined the NSC staff in early 1982, CIA Director
Casey was adamant that cluster bombs were a perfect "force multiplier"
[So THAT'S why they were so keen to get UNSCOM find Iraqi cluster bombs!] that would allow the Iraqis to defend against the "human waves" of Iranian attackers. I recorded those comments in the minutes of National Security Planning Group ("NSPG") meetings in which Casey or Gates participated.

9. The CIA, including both CIA Director Casey and Deputy Director Gates, knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to Iraq. My notes, memoranda and other documents in my NSC files show or tend to show that the CIA knew of, approved of, and assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, munitions and vehicles to Iraq. [There goes blaming France and Germany and the USSR - while leaving out Britain -, subcontractors eh...]

10. The United States was anxious to have other countries supply assistance to Iraq. For example, in 1984, the Israelis .. approached the United States in a meeting in Jerusalem that I attended with Donald Rumsfeld. Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir asked Rumsfeld if the United States would deliver a secret offer of Israeli assistance to Iraq. The United States agreed. I travelled with Rumsfeld to Baghdad and was present at the meeting in which Rumsfeld told Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz about Israel's offer of assistance. Aziz refused even to accept the Israelis' letter to Hussein offering assistance, because Aziz told us that he would be executed on the spot by Hussein if he did so. [HOLY CRAP! Never heard of this.]

11. One of the reasons that the United States refused to license or sell U.S. origin weapons to Iraq was that the supply of non-U.S. origin weapons to Iraq was sufficient to meet Iraq's needs. Under CIA DIrector Casey and Deputy Director Gates, the CIA made sure that non-U.S. manufacturers manufactured and sold to Iraq the weapons needed by Iraq. In certain instances where a key component in a weapon was not readily available, the highest levels of the United States government decided to make the component available, directly or indirectly, to Iraq. I specifically recall that the provision of anti-armor penetrators to Iraq was a case in point. The United States made a policy decision to supply penetrators to Iraq. My notes, memoranda and other documents in my NSC files will contain references to the Iraqis' need for anti-armor penetrators and the decision to provide penetrators to Iraq [read RPGs]...

...13. The United States and the CIA maintained a program known as the 'Bear Spares" program whereby the United States made sure that spare parts and ammunition for Soviet or Soviet-style weaponry were available to countries which sought to reduce their dependence on the Soviets for defense needs. If the "Bear Spares" were manufactured outside the United States, then the United States could arrange for the provision of these weapons to a third country without direct involvement. Israel, for example, had a very large stockpile of Soviet weaponry and ammunition captured during its various wars. At the suggestion of the United States, the Israelis would transfer the spare parts and weapons to third countries or insurgent movements (such as the Afghan rebels and the Contras). Similarly, Egypt manufactured weapons and spare parts from Soviet designs and porvided these weapons and ammunition to the Iraqis and other countries. Egypt also served as a supplier for the Bear Spares program. The United States approved, assisted and encouraged Egypt's manufacturing capabilities. The United States approved, assisted and encouraged Egypt's sale of weaponry, munitions and vehicles to Iraq.

Just jaw-dropping - I Googled not once for details of the Western involvement in arming Saddam, but never met with this. Nothing much to comment.

No Preferential Treatment?...

I'm surprised this doesn't feature on most blogs already.

Saw Fahrenheit 9/11

After reading countless articles about it, ranging from unlimited appraisal through appraisal with mainstream-ist caveats through ideological to outright dishonest attacks from libertarian, neoliberal, media elite, and right-wing viewpoints, and responses to these (i.e. all the things covered to death which I won't deal with here), I finally had a chance to see it in my hometown.

I liked it. It was different from Bowling For Columbine, more issue-oriented, the 'showing people are people whether they're good or bad in the story' theme I wrote about was much much weaker (for example, the two Marine recruiters in Flint Michigan were only showed while doing their despicable ratcatcher job; and while pre-live takes of the Bush admin members showed them as humans, they showed them just plain scary). However, this is a result of Moore's decision to mostly stay behind the camera this time, barring him from effectively pushing people out of the roles they play.

On the other hand, the suffering of the Iraqi people at the hands of US soldiers was much more prominent than I feared, based on all the articles reflecting only on how he portrayed the suffering of the troops. Also, except for the first and middle part of the film, Moore chose a more serious tone, and I see both choices as good ones - the issue is just too sad to ride through with cartoons and all, but the two hours of it would just have been unbearable had there been no satirical part at all. Not to mention how the target audience, conservative Middle America would take it.

What Moore's documentary is particularly strong in (and what mainstream media types hate him for) is contrasting talk with practice, filmed practice, instead of the virtual world of studio talks with 'experts' and politicians, where on-site takes are only for the background. Soldier talking about securing freedom, cut to Iraqi girl crying in night-time sweep. Patriot act as claimed, and as practiced - lack of security at airports (matchsticks can be taken on board) and on roads in Oregon (budget cuts leave eight rangers on the roads, part-time), and the full force of law against harmless people who did nothing.

It is said one picture tells more than thousand words, and sometimes one take reveals more than a thousand statistics. I say this as someone keen on analysing all kinds of data - but my data is always at best second-hand information, processed, and one shouldn't lose sight of the basics: there might always be details missed that change the meaning of the whole. The black congress members getting progressively more hurt as no Senator has the balls to support their case about the Florida voter disenfranchisement. The woman still in the bubble trying to be patriotic and insulting the mother of a dead soldier, who just realises she was a bubble-dweller like her.

Some of the best of these revealing moments came in scenes I already read of, on the ocassion of some contested data or argument or implication. For example, there is much debate about how much of the US economy the Saudis own. The number is a claim by someone Moore interviews in front of the Saudi Embassy, but just when he does, a Secret Service guy cruises up to ask what's up. I mean, the President's own bodyguards take care about Prince Bandar's security, doesn't that say more about the intimate relationship than arguments about the size of Saudi investments?

Has Kerry Already Lost The Elections, By His Own Fault?

Jeremy at A rant against the absurdity of modern politics argues thus. Interesting read, even if you don't agree with it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Of The New/Old Iraqi Police, Non-Sadrist Militias, And Other Busted Media Myths

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, the other young leftist Iraqi reporting for the Guardian, wrote in his latest 'Tigris Tales' about the new police that is just indistinguishable from the old Baathist police - i.e.:

...The police/security agencies are feeling power coming back through their fingertips, and most of the people in these services were policemen in the good old days of the father of all democracies. It will take more than a three-week crash course in human rights to rehabilitate a Saddam-trained police force.

Three months ago - that is, before the handover - I and another journalist were sitting in the office of a senior police officer in charge of the anti-kidnapping department, when he got a phone call. Heard from my end, it went like this:

Officer: "You can't give me the suspect for 24 hours and expect me to get a confession."

Caller: "..."

Officer: "Ya habibi, put him in my custody for three days and I will show you the how electricity can work."

At the time this conversation took place, that officer's building was still guarded by three American APCs and Humvees; Italian forensic experts were going in and out of his office.

So what has happened since the handover on June 30? Nothing much, just a reinstallation of the 5,000-year-old tradition of human rights in this part of the world.

In Najaf police station, mid-August: cries of pain and thuds of people getting the shit beaten out of them were coming out of the hall where detainees from the anti-government Mahdi army were kept. A policeman carrying a thick electricity cable went running into the hall after being told that new suspects had just arrived. "I will smash your camera if you go close to that door," he shouted at me...

...then he goes on to re-tell the story of how journalists in Najaf were first harrassed, then abducted, then shot at.

But Western mass media and neocon bloggers ignore all this and still speak about 'restoring law and order' and idolise the police (New Media Myth #1)... they also forget to talk about other militias beyond the Mahdi Army (NMM #2), and other Shi'a groups with much stronger and more dependant relations with Iran than the Sadrists, whom they try to source to Iran (NMM #3). So it is interesting that Ghaith mentions his latest encounters with members of the Badr Corps, the militia of SCIRI:

When everyone during the Najaf crisis was talking about the importance of ending the uprising of Moqtada and his group, and disarming the militias, uniformed militiamen with nicely trimmed beards and brand new SUVs carried on patrolling the streets - just that these guys, trained in a neighbouring country with a great record on Islamic human rights since late 70s, Iran - are affiliated with parties participating in the new Iraqi government.

(He doesn't actually name SCIRI and Badr Corps, but being trained in Iran - the Badr Corps even fought on Iran's side in the Iraq-Iran war, while its leaders the al-Hakims were in exile in Iran - is a giveaway.)

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times laudably got to reporting that US casualties since the "Handover" rose, rather than fell (NMM #4) - they even managed to check figures for themselves and not go along with the rest that now spread the myth that the Sunni insurgency supposedly went silent during the Najaf conflict (NMM #5):

Although attention in recent weeks has focused on Najaf, where U.S. forces battled Shiite Muslim militiamen, most of the deadly confrontations for American troops in newly independent Iraq have occurred in the Baghdad area and the so-called Sunni Triangle to the north and west...

...In August so far, 63 U.S. troops have died [already rose to 66 as I write this], and 54 died in July, .. In June, 42 American troops died... the three weeks of intermittent combat in Najaf .. killed at least 10 U.S. troops.

However, they still permeate another new myth (NMM #6):

...the Najaf battles didn't spark fierce uprisings in other areas of the country — as happened during the fighting in Fallouja and elsewhere in April...

This is patently untrue, fierce uprisings swept all the Shi'a South, including Basra; as the NYT article analysing how the Najaf battle emerged, which I quoted often here, put it:

...One result was a domino effect, with the fighting in Najaf soon replicated in more than half a dozen cities and towns across southern Iraq that are Mahdi Army strongholds, including the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, Diwaniya, Kut, Al Hayy, Nasiriya, Amara and Basra.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Behind The Scenes - Reconstruction of The Najaf Battle II

Earlier, I quoted a New York Times article that reconstructed the Najaf battle, as one starting with the provocations of the newly arrived Marines, and further escalated both by local commanders and John Negroponte.

A few days ago, the Alphabetcity blogger gave me, unintended, a further point that put the blame on the American side, but I realised only later (after reading a Robin Remington commentary also based on the NYT article) how important it is - it is a scoop!

For, a report translated from the Arabic of Al-Najaf News Network by DARPA TIDES claims that on July 30, "Friday afternoon, Muqtada al-Sadr met with his 17 unit commanders in his office on Al-Rasul Street. A source close to these units added that Muqtada issued his directives to his commanders and instructed them to repulse any aggression that the police patrols or others may launch against the members of the Al-Mahdi Army." It is unlikely this information didn't reach the American forces earlier through intelligence channels.

That is: the August 3 Marine incursion into Najaf that passed in front of Muqtada's house, considered the start of the current crisis by the NYT, was in all probability not an ad hoc move by someone clueless about the consequences, but a calculated provocation.

This is forther reinforced by the fact even the New York Times article left out, but by chance mentioned in the same DARPA TIDES report, this time with a al-Jazeera transscripts as source, that top Sadrist Shaykh Mithal al-Hisnawi of Karbala and others were arrested in the preceding days. It seems Negroponte, like Bremer before him, designed a series of provocations to get his all-out fight with Sadr.

When Your Friends Say It...

In the Comments on Salam Pax's new blog, I encountered the Alphabetcity blogger, who, judging from his links and news references, is a true neocon. S/He was incredulous when I mentioned the rigging of the recent National Convention in Iraq. You remember, when selected rather than elected delegates - selected to give Interim Governing Council parties a majority, and with some hundred more delegates thrown in in the last minute because they were not even territorially representative - had to vote for a list of 81 delegates into a permanent committee, rather than vote on them individually, with the remaining 19 unelected members being the ex-IGC members.

Now, in a Christian Science Monitor article that concludes from interviews in Baghdad that Muqtada al-Sadr came out strenghtened from the Second Najaf Battle (see UPDATE to the article below), a US-friendly Iraqi political activist had this comment:

"A small organized minority is more effective than an unorganized majority," says Ghassan Atiyyah, head of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy in Baghdad. "The question for the government is this: What have they offered the silent majority to get them involved in politics? They had the National Conference, and they squandered it. Instead of showing what the future of Iraqi democracy could look like, they played the same game of ruling party politics."

Meanwhile, Salam was in Sadr City, and reports that the Americans are continuing with their provocations (his word!):

What I saw there can only be described as a provocation. Sadr City is not just surrounded by American tanks but they seem to have cut it off the rest of the city. I was trying to get to the big square with the huge Sadr portraits but there was no way to get around the Americans. I had to stay in the outer quadrants moving along the inner streets and asking people which way in. We got to a street where it looked OK to film, No American troops in sight and no groups of frowning young Sadr dudes...

...Why do I think the American presence today is like poking a stick into a hornets nest? because many of the Mahdi guys will be coming back whipped and feeling they have wasted three weeks and what do they find when they get home? More Americans at their doorsteps. Not just a couple of tanks, but totally surrounding the center of the district. Am I surprised that there was a fire exchange? Not really.

NYC Protest on CNN, Dean's Scream, Vassals of The Empire

Yesterday, I was curious how CNN (International) deals with the mass anti-Republican protest in New York. Not unlike I expected. After an one-hour sycophantic Laura Bush interview, it was relegated into the middle of the news block - and they mostly showed ground-level camera images, the newscaster used the now usual "the protesters represent a wide variety of issues" phrase to talk about the issues without talking about them.

And then there was live report from the ground, a reporter asking protesters. But I couldn't understand anything, because the background crowd noise wasn't filtered out. Kind of "loud troublemakers" impression. Funny, the TV news media did manage to air a tape with crowd noise filtered out when Howard Dean addressed his followers - the result being that famous 'Scream'. (Tough ABC later admitted it - too late.)

Elsewhere, a John Pilger article titled The Warlords of America exposes the imperialist agenda of the Democrat foreign policy establishment, and has this brutally honest quote from their doyen, Zbigniew Brzezinski:

"To put it in a terminology that harkens back to a more brutal age of ancient empires," he writes, "the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."

I can understand why rightists across Europe would still play along with these people, in spite of their nationalism/patriotism: respect for authority and hierarchy isfundamental to their thinking. But why some liberal-minded Central-Eastern Europeans are still enthralled by these people is beyond me.