Saturday, February 19, 2005

Directive From Hell

I wouldn't be ungrateful towards British Eurosceptics if they brought down Barroso with some scandal...

That idiot who presided over economic stagnation to recession at home despite EU funds, not to mention certain other issues, now styles himself as a neoliberal revolutionary (revolution from above). He has chosen a former finance minister (Stavros Dimas from Cyprus) as environment commissioner, who in his recent first communication nicely scaled back previous plans, omitting post-2012 reduction goals - just when even more alarming predictions and a revised evaluation of Antartic ice sheet stability came out. (I hope there aren't too many idiots among EP socialists - I'm already giving up on the governments - who'd let such a proposal through.)

Another issue he took up to champion was the total liberalisation of all services in the EU, the Bolkestein Directive. This is the swansong of Frits Bolkestein, former Internal Market/Taxation Commissioner in the EU, a 100% neoliberal madman (who was also the author of the software patent proposal) and Islamophobe (thinks the EU will be Islamised).

Histologion has a good link roundup on the issue - noting that Chirac may prevent it [so might Schröder - most the German government and the SPD party opposes it, but Schröder is a man of foul compromises just like Bliar], linking an excellent leftist review of the plan, and inviting us
to sign the petition against it.

As a closing note, I want to remind people (especially Eurosceptics) again that we can thank Bliar for having Barroso, who was trying to appease Eurosceptics in the process.

Unions & Social Democrats

Two current events, as symptoms of problems with the traditional workers' rights structures (in Europe).

This last Tuesday, my union achieved victory in getting a payraise closer to its demands than the employer's offer, averting a strike. (Tho' it's not that much; a general raise equivalent to €64.)

However, my employer is the Hungarian State Railways, which - beyond a few EU-supported renovation programs and a far-below-required investment into the replacement of the capital's overcrowded suburban trains - doesn't get enough money from the state to maintain services, much less to invest in what is needed to attract customers (for example more carriages for the well-frequented lorries-on-train [RoLa] services).

So while my union has recently taken on to include demands for sound railway policy and investment during protests, what it will actually pick a fight for is still just getting more money: because our payrise is not coupled with an investment funds rise, it just plays into the government's hand in its policy of creating a disaster to 'solve' it. I think this kind of short-term thinking is one of the reasons behind traditional unions' decline in the developed world.

Second story. In Social Democrat-governed Germany, the greatest private bank, Deutsche Bank, caused a storm of outrage with its plans to continue sparing by outsourcing/slashing 6400 more jobs - this after a record profit of €2.5 billion (pre-tax: €4.1 billion) in 2004!

As an example of brazen corporate greed and the hypocrisy of corporate explanations of outsourcing, this is dime of a dozen. What is more noteworthy that the government just last year appeased business with a string of employment law changes (Harz IV), expecting an improvement of the jobs situation in return - but apparently, corporations just thanked for the present and laughed in their face. Which is exactly what I expected.

If one tries to appease them, business will either have the Centre-'Left' implement the changes it wants with much less opposition than a conservative government would (Bliar's Britain), or go for what they can get without anything in return from this government while placing their bets on the takeover of the conservative opposition (Schröder's Germany).


Too many 'moderate' liberals assume a word can only have one meaning.

What the neocons call "democracy" is a Hamiltonian system in which the people exercise formal power to elect the government, but the key directions of policy are determined by a small and relatively stable Power Elite that is insulated from any real public pressure.

(from a post on the Mutualist blog, describing how the new elected powers of Iraq are straitjacketed by Bremer's pro-neoliberal laws; [Added 20/02:] also noteworthy because anti-war libertarians often take neocon rhetoric about spreading democracy at face value - so that they can denounce neocons as unrealistic dreamers, rather than cynical propagandists)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Newest Sickest Version of Christianity

(Hey, I created that phrase just today! After this story.)

Guess who replaces Jesus:

Last September, I spoke to some 2,000 students during their annual lecture at a Baptist college in Pennsylvania. After a short prayer service for peace centered on the Beatitudes, I took the stage and got right to the point. “Now let me get this straight,” I said. “Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ which means he does not say, ‘Blessed are the warmakers,’ which means, the warmakers are not blessed, which means warmakers are cursed, which means, if you want to follow the nonviolent Jesus you have to work for peace, which means, we all have to resist this horrific, evil war on the people of Iraq.”

With that, the place exploded, and 500 students stormed out. The rest of them then started chanting, “Bush! Bush! Bush!”
(From an article by Jesuit priest John Dear, quoted via Suburban Guerilla.)

'I Voted For It Before I Didn't - And After, Too'

Remember the storm in a bathtub during the US Presidential elections TV debates, regarding Kerry's usage of the $200 billion figure as the cost of the Iraq war?

Now the amount of dollars spent on the Mess-o-potamian carnage is bound to surpass that figure within a year, while the amount budgeted for this and the smaller (but no less cruel and hypocritical) Afghanistan messing-around, plus the first pay-outs for vassals like Poland, will soon grow by another $82 billion and add up to $300 million.

With John Kerry's approval.

UPDATE: via LeftI, from a Robert Higgs commentary, the total military budget of the USA (with veterans' payments, nukes managed by the DoE, and other secreted-out elements added): around $840 billion, twice the official DoD+emergency budget of $419 billion; a third of the total budget.

Model For The World

Remember Andrew Gilligan?

He was the journo whom the Bliar government picked to confront on the issue of sexed.up dossiers on Iraqi WMD presented to the public, on ocassion of a Gilligan report anonymously quoting a WMD expert working for the British Ministry of Defense; and who was forced to leave BBC after Bliar's successful effort to get a legal whitewash in the Hutton inquiry[*].

What not many non-British on-lookers realised was that Gilligan is no leftie, but a right-winger, ex-employee of the Torygraph, now employee of The Spectator. So it ain't a surprise that his latest op-ed praises Hollywood, the media and capitalism as the real positive force of the West. It is more noteworthy that he, a defense specialist to boot, makes the argument for Soft Power over Military Power in a conservative setting - if this thing catches on, it would be an important development (also for all shades of the Left to confront).

But the one point I want to quote him for is in this perfectly argued paragraph:

The idea of the US as a model for the rest of the world has also faded. Partly this is due to President Bush’s deliberate rejection of treaties, ideals and norms of international law to which all other democractic nations subscribe; Bruce Ackerman, of Yale University’s law school, says that American law, once the world standard, has become ‘provincial’. Mostly, however, it is due to the rise of alternative models. The larger democracies of the ‘New Europe’ all rejected US-style constitutions in favour of a Germanic federal parliamentary system, as did the new South Africa. It is an article of American faith that political and economic freedom go hand-in-hand; that prosperity is inseparable from democracy. China, for now and for some of its people at least, has proved otherwise, and is a powerful new non-democratic role model.
The other points are just as important (especially - my biggest worry for after a US decline - the last one), but I'm ashamed I haven't recognised the highlighted part before.

[*] Which was, I emphasize to those unfamiliar with British customs, NON-independent; Hutton was named by Bliar himself. Also, if you remember, the irony of the affair was that the government's position amounted to: "Gilligan sexed up his report"...

Brief Journey Into The Ideological Jungle

It was about five years ago when I first heard of libertarians.

Then, my on-line self used to frequent most often atheist forums. (Given that atheism entails not a single one, just the lack of one belief, people would discuss anything, with the luxury of disagreement without others' expectation of agreement.) The guys I first debated invariably were of the following kind: rabidly anti-social-spending and pro-business, rabidly anti-domestic-regulations but pro-draconic-immigration-regulations, rabidly anti-international-treaties and hence pro-Israel, rabidly pro-US-Security-State (and as it could be guessed, all Americans). These guys were stauch strong atheists, yet criticised President-(not-yet)-Selected Bush from the right! I then concluded libertarianism is fascism in new guise.

How I erred.

Of course, what changed it was discovering the site during the run-up to the Iraq war. I not only read the news but the commentaries too - only then did it dawn on me that this is a site run by anti-war libertarians. While disagreeing with arguments or the slant at places, elsewhere I found points stated forcefully which most of the anti-war Left ignored or slipped over - in particular, their focus on parallels to and consequences of past US imperial crimes, and monstrous disasters borne out of all the good intentions. (On my blogroll, tex represents them.) And I didn't yet know Justin Raimondo will vote for Nader.

Yep, as Trotsky said, march separately, strike together. But I'd like to go a bit further.

Here am I. I am kind of a political homeless, tough on the British side of the street. Growing up in a 'communist' dictature, one's first ideological experience is the discrepancy between propaganda and reality - so one either cynically throws away all the seized-upon ideals too, or keeps some in spite. The environment (ignored and destroyed by the architects of planned economy) and public transport being so important to me, my political awakening happened under a green sun. The reasons for my non-assimilation seem now pre-historic; of present-day Greens in politics (whom I would vote for if they would be organised enough to be on offer here...) and in public life, my criticism would be that in "think global, act local", the first half or first quarter seems sometimes lost.

Next I found myself in the tailwater of liberalism, whose (East) European branch in the rosy post-fall-of-communism times still had a social-liberal branch (one strong about minority rights and inequal opportunities), which unfortunately died away in the shade of populism and nationalism and its cancerous twin, neoliberal elitism.

Later, as the nineties economy-nonsense bubble grew, and the Centre-Left took another dive globally with the ascent of NuLab and those it inspired, the arrival of the 'anti'-globalisation movement[*] moved me toward the (European) Far(?) Left. It's no accident the provocatively titled Lenin's Tomb is currently my favourite blog. It seems to me these modern socialists are the most willing to think hard today.

Now if I want to specify what exactly separates me from a their kind of socialist, I get into troubles. I would stress I don't want to do away with all competition between economic entities, but from what little I know, even anarcho-syndicalists allow for competition between their autonomous producing communities (tough not an existential one). I would stress many if not most people are ignorant of their class interests when it comes to politics, or indeed that both aspiring for power and following a leader are parts of human nature[+] - but 'agitation' is a really really old keyword for them. I would also stress that I can't accept a moral worldview solely based on human beings, then again Western socialists progressed well beyond the blunt everything-else-is- means-of-production mindset I so hated from our past 'communist' dictature.

Maybe it's just that well-versed enough in their favoured authors to decide?

Maybe it's something else. Let's get back to the libertarians: there are some eerie parallels between the ideal world of libertarians and communists/socialists. Both imagine the state abolished and replaced reason-based interaction of autonomous units (whether individuals or communes), just one sees the State as the main roadblock to there, the other capitalism/MCM. As mentioned above, the latter allow for competition after all, while the others think a market of rational people would end exploitation.

Strangely enough, the better-versed libertarians don't like corporate capitalism that much either, and there is even this: a pro-free-market attack on neoliberal economics! And it happens I see a libertarian and a leftist railing against the same politicians for the same idiocies, but where one sees another sign of the State's failure, the other sees another sign that capitalist interests shouldn't have a hand in decisions.

Also, while I'm probably not the only leftist giving more thought to the libertarians' argument that good intentions won't make a decision immune against becoming the source of even greater disaster, some anti-war libertarians could see that even a corrupt UN is better than a bound-loose imperial State.

What this all boils down to is NOT some wishy-washy we're-all-the-same-deep-down New Age mumbo-jumbo, but that some differences are down to perspectives and language rather than categorical differences. From which follows, for the Left, that when marching separately, it may be wiser to confront libertarians (and others striking together) in a more nuanced way, it can be worth to listen. (And the Other Side is already trying.)

(This post was in part inspired by the discussion that followed Robert Lindsay's rant against libertarian economics, which started with my enthusiastic approval.)

[*] Not the hundreds throwing stones, sometimes orchestrated by Berlusconi sometimes not, but the hundreds of thousands protesting and discussing while CNN talking heads dismiss their own field reporters' reports... [BTW, I almost never watch CNN; anyone seen Alessio Vinci on-screen recently?]

[+] To cut through the underlying sillyness of the nature vs. nurture arguments some readers might see implied here: I think these parts of human nature are things to anticipate and sidetrack (nurture changes the effect of nature), rather than either deny them or declare that what is is what should be. For example, imagine if 90% of people would restrict followership to dancing at the tune of some musician or sports games, while they would vote or protest after criticising each alternative (and news source)?

House Of Cards

If you think the Middle East is a powderkeg, wait until Japan and China start to fight it out over - oil.

Or that is a possible scenario drawn up by William S. Lind, based on a little-noted recent Japanese provocation towards China: another Southeast Asian disputed-sovereignity dwarf island with reserves in the surrounding seabed got its patrol boats.

(The title refers to the international power balance. While I feel the above author's pre-WWI analogy for today is overstrained, it is very spot on with regards to the Japanese political mainstream's obsession with the concept of power balances. I have encountered Japanese who argued that Japan should bail out the USA in Iraq because they are failing - to prevent the collapse of the power balance... Only what is expended to maintain their power balances, that thus only collapse later while bringing greater havoc, is already more than what would have been lost had they allowed the change - a change that implies there was no power balance at all.)

Inhumane (from Mad Max To Headcutters)

I wanted to post on this yesterday, but Lenin's Tomb beat me to it: four former employees of US mercenary firm Custer Battles, who quit outraged after one or two days, testified that regular escorted runs in Iraq are conducted in the fashion of the Mad Max movies, only those shot or rolled over by the Western and Kurdish mercenaries are mostly unarmed, including children.

The four were ex-soldiers, but it was soldiers who turned Fallujah into an extermination camp. Read about their conduct and look at photos of all those killed "armed militants" here, if you can bear them. And there is worse.

Raed Jarrar[*] discovered a site where US soldiers put up pictures they made of their "work" - grisly images of blood-splattered, mutilated corpses. Yes, headless ones among them. The photos have "funny" captions. While al-Jazeera and some bolder European channels already showed the real look of this war, the hideous attitude of these producers and consumers of war-porn (and their leaders: "it's a hell of a hoot ... It's fun to shoot some people", not to mention the newest sickest version of Christianity developing behind it), is the new(ly revealed) low.

Over the past year, the hypocrisy of those really got me who are perfectly capable to see the inhumanity of decapitations when done by terrorists with knifes on Western hostages and shown on (Western) TV, but think it is somehow less cruel if the same thing is done with heavy machine guns, rockets and bombs on local people, or if people are cut to pieces alive by cluster bomb(let)s - and this indiscriminately and on an industrial scale, like in Nassiriyah 2003 or Fallujah (2x) and Najaf in 2004 -, yet not shown on (Western) TV. Even many liberals cling to the fantasy that among the armed bands in Iraq, the Western ones are somehow 'more civilised' (some citing some regulations and discipline, which amounts to not seeing the forest from the tree).

It's fitting to finish this post with the image I would pick as the Press Photo Of The Year, which, tough not too graphic, cuts brutally through the haze of moral theoretics, and which also symbolizes the fate of the common people in Iraq (story behind the picture at LeftI):

[*] He was the addressee of Salam "Baghdad Blogger" Pax's historic "Read Raed" blog. Raed was quite the moderate when I discovered his own blog a year ago (kind of a centrist liberal who professed expectations that the US will ultimately learn from mistakes and work with Iraqis for a better future). But with his triple affectedness - he has Palestinian and Iraqi parents, and an Iranian girlfriend -, and the flood of US fascists into his comments boxes, it is no surprise he is now fuming like a secular Jihadi (more a sign to the warhawks that yes, 'Arabs' can hate 'us' even more than before - but the Huntingtonite culture warriors never really cared about liberal Arabs).

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hollywood Left/Right

Hollywood is viewed as a place full of liberals, but some of the most successful genres since the late seventies play along a very much right-wing worldview.

In most action movies and thrillers, you'll see a hero (mostly white, male) failed by law and public authorities, seeking to right wrongs all by himself, in the process practising righteous torture not unlike the evil-to-be-evil 'bad guys', has to kill the enemy (or a lot of them) in the end - and never errs.

I always had the grumpling desire to see a thriller or action movie to shock all the moral imbeciles among the viewers - i.e. one that follows the above script up to a point, and then exposes our righteous mass murderer/hard-hitting cop of hitting the wrong target.

It turns out five years ago Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman teamed up to produce and play leading roles in just such a film, Under Suspicion. Also for the added benefit of focusing on what is the least discussed problem with the death penalty, I can only recommend it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Flow Of Oil

Again via Lenin's Tomb, a British soldier's letter of resignation as conscientious objector in The Guardian, from which I quote two passages:

...Soldiers from my regiment tell me that much of their work in southern Iraq involves protecting convoys of oil tankers shuttling between Basra and the Kuwaiti border. Their stories have just confirmed my growing cynicism about the motives for the war. It has taken me two years to be able to say it, but I really believe that our foreign policy is being driven by the needs of US power, particularly the need to control the flow of oil.

I observed that in the monthy US foreign trade statistics, crude oil imports from Iraq moved only slightly around 20 million barrels - irrespective of blown-up pipelines. Apparently, Kuweit served as alternative port.

People have said to me that we created this mess, we should sort it out. The Iraqis need many things: they need medical supplies, they need their infrastructure rebuilt, they need jobs. The one thing they don't need is foreign troops on their streets. In fact, it is the presence of US and British troops that is creating the tension and violence, which seems certain to continue regardless of last month's elections. We have become symbols of foreign domination. That is why there is no way we can provide security. Only the Iraqis themselves can do that, and the longer we stay, the more the situation will get out of hand. We must allow the Iraqis to get on with building their own future - even if they make mistakes.

See previous post, too. And this bizzarre quote from Guardian reporter Rory McCarthy's farewell to Baghdad, a city 'beween ruthless insurgents and an unloved occupation':

Shortly after the war a quiet Iraqi from Hilla, Ali Abid Hassan, took me to a mass grave outside the town where he was supposed to have been killed and buried along with 3,000 others after the regime crushed an uprising in 1991. He was shot but crawled away to safety.

Among the reeds he showed me where it had happened. On a pathway we found the tokens of history: some vertebrae, a rib bone, one button and 11 long, creamy-brown teeth. A year later I went back and asked him about Saddam's brief appearance in court and he of all people was deeply troubled. "I couldn't bear to see him in such a miserable condition. He shouldn't be humiliated; after all he was our president. He was our father," he said. Then I asked if he thought Saddam should be punished. "He deserves the ultimate punishment. Yes, death. He executed many of us."

How Does It Feel Like Being Taken Over by Fundamentalists

(Dear readers, sorry for another hiatus, but I was again felled by a nasty disease.)

Riverbend @ Baghdad Burning returns with post-'elections' commentary, but more interesting (and depressing) is where her post moves on: the encounters of a secular girl with the new powers-that-be. (And while she focuses on the US-anointed Shi'a fundies, no better can be expected from the majority of the current resistance.)

Meanwhile, via Lenin's Tomb, a story in the Asian Times even more alarming than recent talk about the 'Salvadorian Option': they claim to have uncovered a secret US operation to arm the loyal-to-Allawi branch of former Baathists with Pakistani-made weapons, 'to keep the Shi'a fundies in check'. Yeah, yet another armed group in Iraq, that's what we needed, suuuuure it will foil the fundie movement... (which is anti-Israel, hinting at one of the neocons' real troubles).

...and some still believe that US and vassal forces in Iraq are a force against a civil war?...

(By the way, one relatively encouraging sign of the last few days is the continued discourse beween the main anti-occupation Sunni and Shi'a political groups, that is the Association of Muslims Scholars and Moqtada al-Sadr's Current, and the interestingly pacified tone of the former towards al-Daawa - see a translation of an interview quoted by Juan Cole.)

* * *

Regarding the official election results (Juan Cole also brings probable seat distribution): while I note that it didn't increase my trust in the correctness of the results a bit that they didn't release any more partial results than those covered in previous posts, there are interesting ratios to note.

After the Americans made sure only established co-opted political forces had have any chance (for example due to people's knowledge of candidates limited by unequal campaign opportunities), and Sistani (who himself not only didn't stood for elections but isn't even Iraqi) made sure that there is no competition between the Shi'a groups among the former, and the two major Kurdish warlords' union, a largely sectarian line-up could be expected among those who vote: Shi-ites for Sistani's UIA, Kurds for the joint Barzani-Talabani list, mostly 'Sunni' secular people and ex-Baathists and the vote-for-food blackmailed for Allawi's list, part of the former for al-Yawer's list and the communists.

Under these assumptions, and for now ignoring the possibility of massive ballot stuffing, it is remarkable that the Shi'a are apparently only around 50% of even those Iraqis who bothered to vote[*] - which reminds me of my still unanswered composition of Iraq challenge. The communists did much worse than some (the Healing Iraq blogger among them) expected.

[*] Even if we can assume secular and Sadrist Shi'a boycotting, the Southern provinces had high participation.