Wednesday, September 08, 2004

"When you are taken for granted, you are taken"

The above lesson to the Left is from independent US presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Fitting to the ocassion: two of the intellectual heavywheights from the British Rather Strongly Left in the Blogosphere, lenin at Lenin's Tomb and JamesM at Dead Men Left have weighted in on the issue of Bush vs. Kerry vs. Nader.

More On US Jobs

Cal Morton over at A Fistful Of Euros suggested me another good link [five-page pdf] on recent developments in the US jobs market. What is worth a mention here is at the beginning:

Household Survey -- The unemployment rate edged down to 5.4% in August from 5.5% in July. The decline ... reflects a contraction in the labor force (-152,000) and a small increase in employment (+21,000)...

The nation's unemployment rate overstates the strength in the labor market. In August, the participation rate (civilian labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population) dropped to 66.0% from 66.2%. The unemployment rate does not capture the steady decline in the participation since the 2001 recession and the expansion thereafter. Typically, the participation rate increases as the economy recovers. By contrast, in the current expansion, the participation rate has shown a net decline in the entire expansion period...

In other words, more long-term jobless (who didn't find a job while their jobless benefits lasted) and housewifes fall out of the statistic (especially if the availability of jobless benefits is curbed), and the jobless number is deceiving.

This kind of decrease in the jobless number is "practised" all across the world, with varied brazenness and facing varied public awareness. I think it would be wise to keep the jobless number only for budgetary reasons (to estimate how much the State or local communities will spend on this type of social help), and adopt the number of employed people as percentage of the total population (or at least the total adult working-age population) as the measure of the jobs situation.

It would make much more sense. As I have argued several times, the supposed economic danger of an ageing population as parents have few children and healthcare improves is one of the greatest social-economic myths of our times. The reality is that one has to look at the working population as supporting all the non-working population - whether by caring for children, by paying taxes that fund jobless benefits, or paying into retirement funds that pay out pension to the elderly. Any talk about fewer young people paying for more seniors forgets that retirement age doesn't have to and indeed isn't fixed over decades. It in fact is often lowered rather than raised in most of the Western world, because employers often prefer to 'rationalise' by sending older people into early retirement, or don't take older people as they have the choice when there are more jobless people than jobs on offer.

That is, the neoliberal argument that exploding sums of money to be paid into retirement funds per employee prevents more jobs is a ridiculously wrong one: if you decrease these payments by raising the retirement age, you will have to pay more taxes on jobless benefits; if you increase immigration, similarly; if you get parents to have more children, you will have to pay more so they can raise those children and on more unemployment benefits when they grow up.

To recap, arguments about the 'demographic effect' are at best wrong and repeated without much thinking, at worst a cop-out to hide an agenda, while the real big economic fact of our time is that developed nations suffer a continuing job cruch only abetted by the expansion of low-wage jobs; and proposed cures to the wrong problem will only increase the real problem, and by creating the newly wide, newly poor 'service class', ultimately (when it will again be earnings- rather than credit-based globally) cut away at one pillar of modern capitalist economy, consumption.

Bush may have got the US economy to temporarily test the edges of such a situation, at least so implies the report I started with:

...earnings increased 5 cents to $15.77, taking the year-to-year increase to 2.3%. This is the largest increase since September 2003. However, hourly earnings are falling short of the current pace of inflation (see chart 5). A decelerating trend of real earnings is a negative implication for consumer spending.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

1000, Nassiriyah, Draft, Werwolf

The number of US servicemen dead in Iraq passed the psychological barrier of 1000. If only Kerry would not listen to Bill Clinton's advice and instead keep up his recent more combative tone, then the Democrats could keep Iraq in the public consciousness - against government and a media that, true to the post-"Handover-of-Power" script, ignores even ten US deaths in one day (September 6).

Of the 1001 currently reported, by my own count, 724 to 734 are hostile deaths - maybe Karl Rove will now instruct his minions to report that number until the elections?... By my own count, because it seems the owners of the site ignore some corrections I sent. But as those give a good reminder about forgotten spin and propaganda lies in the first part of the Iraq war, here is a slightly edited reproduction:

A couple of weeks ago, I commented on the Lunaville Blog about the communications breakdown in Nassiriyah that led both to the disaster at the bridge and the destruction of Jessica Lynch's unit, of which I read a year ago in an investigative report by German quality magazine DER SPIEGEL.

It turns out an _official_ report on the first was at last released in March 2004, based on which I suggest changes in cause of death. See this pdf.

Listed on pages 35-37 are ten Marines who died in simultaneous hostile and friendly fire - what killed which Marine is deemed indeterminable. Nine of them died in one vehicle, the AAV C-208, which beyond US and Iraqi rounds was also hit by a US missile: Blair (whom you erroneously list for 24-Mar-2003!), Burkett, Cline Jr., Garibay, Gifford, Hutchings (only one you list as friendly fire), Nixon, Reiss, Williams. The tenth, Rosacker, was hit by rounds of the A-10 and the Iraqis in another AAV.

As for the Jessica Lynch unit, the Army at long last disclosed to Donald Walters's family that he was executed.

As for the other ten casualties in that event, calling it an 'ambush' (as on your list) was part of the cover story (as was stealing Donald Walters's heroism of firing his gun until the last round and ascribing it to Jessica Lynch). They weren't behind the frontlines but before them, driving up straight to the Iraqi defense lines within Nassiriyah. The above report got it right, but see also page 13 in Ret. USAF Col. Sam Gardiner's great summary of psyops in Iraq (page 13).

(Also, one 02-Apr-2003 casualty, Brian E. Anderson, is falsely listed as hostile. UPDATE 03/12/04: corrected this now.)

So, whatever Karl Rove does, the War Effort needs soldiers - hence, the Draft is coming back in the USA. Silently. Ignored by the media, not opposed loudly by Democrats in Congress, the twin draft bills S 89 and HR 163 are quietly going through the readings. Here is a scary page - Bush as Hitler might be overdone, but the written info is sound.

Speaking of Hitler, the post-war-Germany comparisons are resurfacing again, so here is a little summary[*] on the Werwolf. The 'Werwolf' were people (mainly Hitler Youth) the Nazis trained for beyond-the-frontline and post-war sabotage, assassinations. The War Party, including Condi Rice and Rummy himself, made lot of fuss about it a year ago, with part of the buzz based on a fake Reuters report from 1945, written by a Fox News employee. On the other end of the political spectrum, a decade ago Lars von Trier made a film noir in post-war German setting titled Europa(in the US: Zentropa) that features the Werwolf.

However, in real life, the Werwolf was mostly a propaganda stunt that never took off, but got the occupying powers anxious, looking for the Werwolf everywhere. In particular the Soviets, who then went on to arrest tens of thousands, including thousands of children, on suspicion of being members of the Werwolf.

Before the war ended, the Werwolf committed some lesser massacres against German communists or Russian forced-labourers, but spectacular assassinations ascribed to them were the work of SS units, and after the war, there was only sabotage - that, and paranoia, f.e. ascribing the motor accident of Berlin's Soviet military commander or a gas main explosion with US casualties in the Bremen police HQ to the Werwolf. (Good summary at flit.)

[*]: This summary is based on a little research I've done. When I set out to do it, I actually thought there were some high-profile post-war Werwolf attacks, but wanted specifics and sources - but each claim fell apart upon close inspection.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Dubya, The Jobless Wonder

Over at A Fistful Of Euros, I got involved in a discussion about the US employment level and Bush's effect on it, with special attention to various statistics used to track it. I got deeply into the details, but Frans Groenendijk made the point that the big picture can be lost while doing so, and he impressively proved it on his website.

While we can debate what factors are behind the changes in one single graph, or debate the merits of two seemingly contradictory graphs, just glance at the eight graphs Frans lined up: the correlated turn-of-worse on all of them from the start of Bush's presidency makes the point.

Iraqi Resistance Spreads To More Communities

In US propaganda, and in most of the media that blindly adopted the jargon of the former, we first had the "Baathist diehards/dead-enders", then the "Saddam loyalists and foreign insurgents", now we have "a coalition of ex-Baathists, Sunni and Shi'a Islamic fundamentalists". (Well, we have the same in the Transitional [Puppet] Government.) The picture was always much more diverse, so it is useful to recap before introducing the latest development referred to in the title. (Note: I decided not to Google for the appropiate links, too many would be needed, and Dear Reader can Google too :-))

Militant resistance came first really from ex-Baathists, who are centered on Tikrit (regarding the recent false story of Izzat Ibrahim's capture, his influence beyond Tikrit was most probaly always bloated up). But very soon the casualties from reckless US methods led many Sunni Arabs to take up arms to carry out a vendetta for a relative (son, father, daughter, mother, wife, grandmother, cousin, niece second grade - not just what are immediate family members in the much more atomic American society). By May 2003 already, in places like Fallujah, this was further escalated by large-scale massacres (shooting at unarmed protesters) and attacks on tribal sheiks, by triggering tribal militias to take up arms.

In the meantime, two allied Sunni Islamic fundamentalist terror groups also turned active: Ansar-e-Islam, a Kurdish group (beyond the two mayor, US-allied groups with militias, there were several smaller ones, Ansar just one of them, but perhaps the nastiest); and al-Tawhid, led by the now (in)famous Zarqawi. Tough Zarqawi was born in Jordania and was a warlord in Afghanistan, who was allied to Bin Laden (portraying him as a subordinate member of al-Qaida was always a convenient but dangerous misconception), much or most of his murderous group is said to consist of local Iraqi fundamentalists. Further foreigners, mainly from Saudi Arabia, Jordania and Syria, are said to having had joined resistance groups in Fallujah by more than one non-US journalist's reports from there (I recall in particular the story of a Saudi sharp-shooter taking out a US sniper). But Fallujah, erroneously portrayed in most news reports (thanks to US propaganda) as a centre of well-off Saddam loyalists, has its own Islamic fundamentalist tradition, as a centre of Salafism (Fallujah is also called "city of hundred minarets"; and speaking of being well-off, it was also famous/taunted for its stench: lack of water, no canalisation...), which was persecuted under Saddam.

It should be noted that Fallujah isn't the only local centre of Sunni resistance, it was only the first and fiercest: those in Ramadi, Samarra, Baquba, and probably the Arab part of Mosul are also local in nature, and the first three forced the US military out to the same extent Fallujah already did before the Marines arrived (but not yet as fully as when the Marines were forced out).

The developing Shi'a Arab resistance didn't start with the Mahdi Army (see next paragraph), but became big with it. The Mahdi Army is most often mentioned in connection with Najaf (which is hostile territory to Sadrism but coveted prize as religious center) and the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, but more centres are in Kufa and lots of cities to the South of Najaf (in particular Amarah). The Mahdi Army is Sadrist in origin, but it is not a disciplined, strictly hierarchic army, more a bunch of armed gangs broadly reverent of Muqtada Sadr, its core already having been reverent to his father. (Some journalists reported recently from Sadr City that some commanders don't want to stop fighting even if Sadr tells them to, for example.) Also, probably the majority of its members are not fundamentalists, but people more attracted to the nationalist and socialist element in the Sadrist credo, as a number of journalists' reports about Mahdi Army fighters imply - like, some of them drinking beer. However, the Mahdi Army isn't the only big militia fighting the occupation: elements of the Marsh Arab Hezbollah - the militia that earlier waged a guerilla war against Saddam, but whose leader resigned from the IGC during the April 2004 US assault on Fallujah - also joined in. So did smaller groups to the North, in some Shi'a enclaves in Sunni-majority cities North of Baghdad (I got this from Juan Cole).

Further mention should be of 'common criminals'. I put it between marks because in some cases kidnapping is clan or tribal 'tradition'. Criminals come into the picture from three directions. One, early US propaganda often mixed up waylaying by common criminals with acts of the resistance that targeted the occupation army's supply lines. Two, Scott Ritter and at least one more report says that the Baathist fraction within the resistance used to pay criminals for risky attacks, just to learn for their own later attacks what tactics US units use in response. Three, kidnappers for ransom (who were very much active from last summer on, especially in the Shi'a South, but most of the Western press ignored them because the victims were Iraqis) piggybacked on the surge of kidnappings for political blackmail.

Now, finally, the latest community members of which took up arms against the ocupation seems to be Shi'a Turkomen - Juan Cole reports:

Heavy fighting raged in the northern city of Tal Afar, which lies west of Mosul, again on Sunday, according to ash-Sharq al-Awsat. The population of Tal Afar is largely Turkmen Shiites, and it is unclear why the US military is fighting there. A US spokesman claimed that the city is a transit point for foreign terrorists slipping in from Syria. This could well be the case. But would Turkmen Shiites really give over their town to the control of Arab Sunni fundamentalists? Many Turkmen Shiites have given their allegiance to Muqtada al-Sadr, but no source mentions Mahdi Army as an issue there. It appears that the city, not just a handful of fighters, is resisting the US troops, though the Wall Street Journal spoke of the gunmen as a "cell". At least in the Sunni Arab cities, such as Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra, it makes sense for Sunni nationalists and fundamentalists to ally with a handful of outside Sunnis who have come as volunteers. In Tal Afar, that scenario makes no sense. Local Tal Afar medical authorities said that two Iraqis were killed and 9 wounded in battles.

Whether we'll see larger and less extreme Kurdish groups joining, and whether all or most of these groups will be able to form a stable coalition, or not and hence will instead be a basis for the inevitable breakup of Iraq into what can be best described as city-states, we'll see.