Letters to the editor, comments, etc


A sort of blog, but without any claims to regularity - and all back-to-front


6 April 2006.

  • Thought I'd post some of my letters and comments on this page, along with relevant links and URLs. They cover the (almost) three-month period from 6 April to to 30 June 2006, by which time, I felt, the page had become entirely too unwieldy. I have therefore stopped posting items to the it, and elected instead to continue on a new page, under the heading «Letters to the editors, comments, ect (2)». Please note that items are published in chronological order, rather than the inverse order which has become customary on blogs. Readers desiring to read the last item first, are urged to scroll down to the bottom of the page and work upwards....

«How will the ventriloquist's dummy of History judge Mr Blair's foreign policy?» Why, as that of the ventriloquist's dummy, of course !...

Was not one of the major promises made by Mr Blair and his «New Labour» during his first campaign as party leader to push for a system of proportional representation in order to make the Commons more responsive to the electorate ? As we in Sweden know from our own experience, proportional parliamentary representation does not constitute a panacea or key to the paradise of good representative government, but had such a system been in force in the UK, we should probably not now be observing the present spectacle, in which a small inner clique of a demoralised party which managed to attract not much more than 1/3 of the voting electorate at the last UK general elections, is in the process of dismantling essential freedoms which it took a millennium of struggle to win. As I say, not a panacea, but would it be too incredibly naive on my part to suggest that the campaign for proportional representation be made the centrepiece of work for the next general elections - i e, in the event that these are allowed to be held ?...

  • Can't help also providing a link to a recent Independent article, Helen and Sylvia, the new face of terrorism, which begins as follows : «Helen John, 68, and Sylvia Boyes, 62, both veterans of the Greenham Common protests 25 years ago, were arrested on Saturday after deliberately setting out to highlight a change in the law which civil liberties groups say will criminalise free speech and further undermine the right to peaceful demonstration.» It needs no comment from me, save only to point out that Mr Blair's government, like that of Mr Bush, has given itself the task of bringing something called «democracy» and «the rule of law» (Cui bono ?) to countries like Iraq. For more on this particular example of not-so-free trade, cf my web page Bringing «democracy» to the whole world....

12 April 2006.

  • Back from a lengthy sojourn in that always fascinating city of Praha, I was inspired to write the following letter by an OpEd entitled Iran - Are they inviting attack ; if so why by a Mr Steven Leser on Rob Kall's always interesting OpEd News site. Mr Leser opines that the present Iranian leadership is driven by millenarian motives to «provoke» the Bush administration (not, the reader will perhaps agree, a very difficult task), who suggests therefore that the US do everything short of appeasement [emphasis addedMHD] to defuse the situation, prevent a further destabilization of the Middle East and the pushing of its peoples into the camp of the Radical Islamicists». Given his earlier assessment of the inevitability of a US nuclear war on Iran if that country's leadership does not change its present course, one may be forgiven for interpreting Mr Leser's definition of «appeasement» as rather broad. Here, at any rate, is my response, as posted to the OpEd News thread :

The USA - Are they inviting attack ; if so why ?

«You could argue that countries have the right to pursue peaceful uses of nuclear power. However, combine that assertion with a country that recently has developed and tested MIRV missile technology, combine that with a country that has recently developed and tested missile technology that has a low radar visibility, and a country that has just tested extremely advanced torpedo technology, one for which there may be no current countermeasures...» If the above list characterises countries that represent a clear and present danger to humanity and therefore should be attacked, what is then to be said of countries that not only possess nuclear energy programmes but also nuclear weapons in addition to the type of military technology described above, and which moreover have a well-documented propensity to go to war against other nations to promote their agendas, both foreign and domestic ? China ? Meets the criteria, save for that propensity to go to war - with the exception of Deng Xiaoping's brief adventure in Vietnam in 1979, for the last thirty years the Chinese leadership has been very reluctant to engage in military actions abroad. This may change as China's military strength increases, but for the present - not qualified. Russia ? Same as China as regards weapons and military technology, only more so - but fails again to meet the criteria of current military adventurism (the task of bombing villages in Afghanistan has been turned over to others). France ? There are certainly those who would like to see the country nuked on the grounds of insolence, but recent French foreign policy has not been characterised by military adventurism - France only picks on small African countries or places like Haiti which cannot defend themselves. The UK ? Here, of course, we come nearer the mark. Armed and dangerous, always willing to respond to those tugs on the leash its master provides from time to time, when not actively pulling on the leash itself, as in the Balkans in the preceding decade. A good target. What about Israel ? This one is a sleeper. Armed to the teeth and with both a foreign and a domestic policy which can only be characterised as extremely aggressive, the leaders of this state have shown themselves to be highly adroit in getting the reigning bully on the block to attack its enemies, while staying out of the fray themselves (of course, while Iraq was engaged in the war with Iran in 1981, they did manage to pull of a bombing raid, and then there's the little matter of the invasion of Lebanon a year later, but to those not directly affected, these are perhaps minor matters). Its tactics and strategy have not changed ; witness its current lobbying for a US attack on Iran. In occupation of foreign territory for nearly four decades, despite innumerable UNO resolutions. Comes very close to fulfilling the criteria for pre-emptive attack....

But wait, we seem to have forgotten that 300 kg gorilla ! The most clear and present danger to the peace of the world is a country with a military budget which exceeds that of the rest of the world combined, with hundreds of military bases on foreign territory and more a-building, and which is presently engaged in overt wars on two foreign countries, with many covert operations going on throughout the world. This country possesses the technological leadership in the military field, and a political leadership which steadfastly refuses to «take the military option off the table». Moreover, at least portions of that leadership seems to be driven by chiliastic visions at least a match for anything an Iranian Shiite could dream - in their mouths the term «democracy» seems to have become a code word for «Rapture». Perhaps Mr Leser would be advised to re-title his OpEd....

13 April 2006.

Ms Bennett strikes me as fundamentally dishonest. She writes an article which purports to concern Eric Blair (no relation, I hope), but which, the reader discovers, after having made his or her way through Ms Bennett's somewhat less than pellucid prose, in reality is a puff for the Chang/Halliday hatchet-job on Mao Zedong. Why then, didn't she say so from the very beginning ? «Truth in advertising» is not a half-bad concept, after all !...

  • And now for something a bit less political, but which I found too fascinating not to pass on to my faithful readers (if any). (Un)intelligent designers beware !

Controversial findings help explain evolution of life from PhysOrg.com

Chemists at Oregon State University have pioneered a controversial theory about how supposedly-stable DNA bases can be pushed into a "dark state" in which they are highly vulnerable to damage from ultraviolet radiation – an idea that has challenged some of the most basic concepts of modern biochemistry.....

14 April 2006.

No, those «empty feelgood words» should not be banned, for to ban them would merely be for us to take several steps further on that «road to intolerance and extremism». Moreover, doing so would prove ineffective, and provide those who employ these words with the gloria of a matryrhood they do not deserve, thereby further strengthening their message. Look, e g, at the advertising on the net for books about «Intelligent Design», filled with phrases of the type «the book that scientists don't want you to read». Rather, we have to attempt to counter these empty phrases with reasoned argument, and perhaps most importantly of all, with humour. And if reasoned argument and humour do not suffice, we shall just have to accept that natural selection is going to sweep away H sapiens sapiens as it has so many other species before us....

17 April 2006.

  • Some ten days ago the UK weekly, theNew Statesman, published something called the Euston Manifesto, allegedly the product of the cogitations of «a group of progressive journalists, academics and others» meeting at a pub in Euston. To, I suspect, no one's particular surprise, this earth-shaking event has been picked up in a big way by the Guardian, which, among other articles, published a comment entitled Time to part - The pro-war left needs to go its own way, and oppose those who subordinate progressive values to simplistic "anti-imperialism" by a Mr John Lloyd in its commentisfree section a few days ago. The comments that have been received on the two forums have not been without interest ; here below, for the convenience of my many (?) readers, is my own, which alas, may very well fall into the category «simplistic 'anti-imperalism'» :

I fail to see how a group purporting to stand for a manifesto which includes among its guiding principles that of «democracy» (Preamble, Principle 1) can number among its members persons who supported what is so delicately referred to as «the military intervention in Iraq». What democratic procedures were used to allow the population of Iraq to determine whether it wished to be subject to warfare on the part of the United States and Britain ? Even if a majority of the populations of these latter two countries had voted to go to war against Iraq - which, of course, they did not - such a version of «democracy» would have been as perverted as that under which Athenian troops invaded the island of Melos, put the adult male population to the sword, and sold the women and children into slavery in 415 BPE. Democracy, if the concept is to be meaningful and worthy of our support, is something other than the principle recorded by Thoukydides, that «the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must». Or is this rather precisely what the signers of the Euston Manifesto have in mind ?

At the end of World War II, principles for resolving disputes among nations were enshrined in Chapters VI - VII of the United Nations Organisation. Military force was to be exercised only after a decision to do so on the part of the Security Council (Article 42), with the single exception of the right of self-defence in the case of armed attack, «until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security» (Article 51). Does the Euston Manifesto Group feel bound by these stipulations, or does it believe that they are not to be followed vis à vis a state which is not determined (by whom ?) to be (sufficiently) democratic ? In the latter case, do they, in the name of freedom of action to bring democracy to the benighted, call for the UK’s (and presumably, that of the United States as well) withdrawal from the UNO, until such time as the Charter of that organisation has been sufficiently amended to be worthy of their support ?…

18 April 2006.

  • Here some comments in response to articles recently published on the Uruknet site. The first is a reply not so much to Robert Dreyfuss's excellent article, Iraq war, round two, as to the comment by «ricky_radical», which advocates boycotting the US elections this fall :
Ricky_radical's frustration with (the leadership of) the Democratic Party in the US is entirely justified. But staying away from the polls in an attempt to send «a message of discontent with the American way of government» is hardly a solution, as it allows Mr Bush's party to mobilise its own core voters on pseudo-issues like gay marriage, displaying the Decalogue in the courts, and other matters which seem to arouse a predictable knee-jerk reaction among certain sectors of the population, at the same time that people concerned with vital questions like the present war on Iraq, the coming war on Iran, the creation of an executive dictatorship are discouraged from exercising their franchise. Remember that a large majority of the Democrats in the House voted against abdicating their constitutional responsibilities over war and peace to Mr Bush, and that almost half of the Democratic senators did the same. The Democratic Party is susceptible to pressure over the consequences of the disastrous course in both foreign and domestic affairs that the present administration is following, and a decisive victory for that wing of the Democratic Party that opposes these policies in the elections this fall would do much to prevent them from being continued. Voting in the elections is certainly not the only thing that a concerned citizen must do, but don't throw away your franchise - it was not purchased cheaply !...

  • Next my response to Jack Random's incisive analysis of Donald Rumsfeld as a fall guy and of who bears the ultimate responsibility for the US war on Iraq (this, of course, is not to suggest that Mr Rumsfeld should not appear in the dock before a properly constituted International War Crimes Tribunal, along with his colleagues and superiors, Messers Bush and Cheney) :

Nothing random about Jack Random's analysis of who bears the major responsibility - when he is not on vacation - for the Crime against the Peace that is the illegal US war on Iraq. Where is Justice Jackson when we need him now ?...

Yet another point should be made here. A campaign against a US war on Iran can be expected to have a certain amount of influence - not, perhaps, as much as lobbyists' chequebooks, but nonetheless, some - upon that body charged by the US Constitution (Article I, Section 8) with making decisions on War and Peace, i e, the US Congress. But if that body abdicates from its responsibilities, as it did in the run-up to the US war on Iraq, then that same Constitution (Article II, Section 2) makes the US President Commander In Chief of the US military, which of course includes the responsibility for the ultimate decision as to what weapons are to be used in any conflict. Thus there is no legal basis in the US Constitution for restricting the President's choice of weapons. A campaign against the use of nuclear weapons can, of course, exert political pressure, but there are no legal consequences if a Commander in Chief chooses to ignore such pressure. The only legal means available to the residents of the United States for preventing the use of nuclear weapons is to see to it that there is no war....

*Note, however, the letter addressed to Mr Bush by 13 of the most eminent physicists in the US, which strongly urges him «to refrain from such an action [i e, the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear power like Iran] that would have grave consequences forAmerica and for the world»....

  • And so a response (a letter directly to the author) to columnist Richard Cohen's article, A campaign Gore can't lose, in today's online edition of the Washington Post :

Dear Mr Cohen,

Repeating that Mr Bush «beat» Mr Gore in the US presidential elections of 2000 twice in your brief article doesn't increase the truth value of the proposition in the least. Duplicated, it is equally as false as it would have been had you only written it once....

M Henri Day

19 April 2006.

  • On the occasion of Chinese president Hu Jintao's visit to the United States, concerning the character of which the US and Chinese governments «agreed to disagree», Tom Engelhardt has just published an important essay, entitled Containing China by Professor Michael Klare on his TomDispatch site (see also my Links page). Below my response :

Dear Tom,

Thanks for publishing Professor Klare's clear-sighted analysis of the present US administration's policy towards China ! Although Klare, unlike you in your introduction, does not deal with this matter, his analysis provides the background we need to understand why the US government has been so intransigent about refusing the Chinese request to have Hu Jintao's visit to the United States called a «state visit», a courtesy which in the normal course of affairs would certainly be extended to so important a guest. Bush, Rice, and Cheney (never forget Cheney !) are sending an unmistakable signal to the Chinese that they are considered an enemy which the United States will do everything in its power to keep in a subordinate position, both in the world as a whole and in East Asia in particular. This also explains the enormous pressure to which European governments are being subjected not to rescind the boycott on arms sales to China....

The interesting question here, to my mind, is how the Chinese leadership, which, of course, is well aware of what is going on, will react to this policy. The Chinese effort during the last decade to modernising their military is well known, but as Professor Klare points out, the latter is far from representing a threat to the US, which spends perhaps 15 - 20 times as much on its military (as much or more than the rest of the world combined) as the Chinese do on theirs. Hitherto, the Chinese build up has been well within the power of the growing Chinese economy to sustain, and the Chinese leadership, which is well aware of the enormous domestic problems it is facing, has refrained from attempting to compete in an arms race with the United States à la that which took place between the latter and the Soviet Union during the second half of the previous century. Is it part of US strategy to attempt to lure the Chinese into engaging in an economically (and politically) ruinous arms race with the United States, and will the Chinese leadership take the bait ? My guess, without having privileged access to the thinking of either the US or the Chinese leadership, is that the answer to the first query is yes, to the second, no. Time will tell....

  • Not surprisingly, even the dailies are writing about Sino-US relations. Thus Clifford Coonan gets to pontificate in the Independent, and Simon Tisdall, scarcely less inadequately, in the Guardian.Here's my response to the latter (with slight editorial modifications ; for example, I have here placed the link within the text itself, rather than simply providing the URL) :

«The US president has never made up his mind how to deal with China's rise.» Mr Tisdall seems singularly misinformed concerning the subject on which he writes. No one who has followed the disposition of its military forces made by the US administration these last few years - or its policies in, say, East and South Asia - need be in any doubt whether it is as «partner» or «competitor» that administration, which tends, to say the least, to a Manichean view of the world, sees China. Those interested in these matters could do worse than read Professor Michael Klare's recent TomDispatch article, which was also published in the Asia Times.

One of the better analyses of Mr Blair's personality and the factors that motivate him that I have seen. Thank you Jonathan Freedland - and you as well, MrPikeBishop, for reminding us of certain home truths !...

  • For a brief and incisive analysis of why people in the US allow their leaders to commit the crimes they do - both at home and abroad, but especially the latter - despite the fact that some democratic controls over the government still remain, a good place to look is Professor Howard Zinn's essay, America's Blinders in the April 2006 issue of the Progressive. The feeling of being specially entitled is very seductive - and very dangerous, especially when combined with a military budget as large as or larger than that of the rest of the world combined....

20 April 2006.

Is it not amazing how Professor Garton Ash manages to make the true victims of an unprovoked US attack on Iran residents of New York, London, and Tel Aviv ? Of course, in Professor Ash's universe, these - and the «remaining western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan» - are the only people whose deaths merit consideration. I believe that in polite circles this ideology is referred to as «liberalism»....

  • The Washington Post's military affairs blogger William Arkin has posted a comment, entitled Counter-Terrorism Profiteers, With Your Money to his Early Warning blog. My response :

«It makes you wonder why it could be that if this information is so useful to Space Command and the government that it shouldn’t be provided by our $40 billion intelligence community directly.» Would it be too far out of line to suggest that that particular intelligence (as in «Intelligent Design») community is too busy dreaming up scenarios at the behest of the unitary executive to keep track of what's actually going on ?...

23 April 2006.

  • <I take the liberty of here publishing not my own, but someone else's letter to the editor, in this case to the New York Times :

To the Editor:

In "Blood and Oil" (editorial, April 16), you say, "It is time for Nigeria's government to begin taking into account the plight of the people who live around the oil wells that have sustained the country for so long." You object that Nigeria's oil money has lined the pockets of military dictators and corrupt officials instead.

Your position does not appear to square with your view of Venezuela. In "Hugo Chávez and His Helpers" (editorial, Dec. 10), you excoriated President Hugo Chávez as a "quasi dictator" and denounced him for using "high world oil prices to increase funds for popular social programs for the poor, making him electorally unassailable."

Why do you think the poor in Nigeria should benefit from oil revenue, but not the poor in Venezuela?

Bonnie R. Nelson
Robert S. Nelson
Brooklyn, April 16, 2006

Why, indeed ? Thank you, Mr and Ms (as I presume them to be) Nelson !...

24 April 2006.

  • Here below I reproduce without comment an article by a Mr Stephen King published in today's Independent. As a manager of his particular bank, Mr King is, of course, speaking in his own interest, but his article offers a perspective on the demonisation of China which, in my humble opinion, should be more widely disseminated. I am more than willing to share the burden with the Independent :/li>

Stephen King: The US and China have a lot to learn from Arsène Wenger

It seems that football teams have become the living embodiment of globalisation

Published: 24 April 2006

Arsenal have one foot in the Champions' League final. Should the Gunners prevail against Villareal tomorrow, we can celebrate the renaissance of English football. An English team winning the Champions' League last year, potential finalists - and possible winners - this year: it sounds marvellous. Sven-Göran Eriksson must be licking his lips: with all this English success, he has an embarrasse de riches from which to select his team for this summer's World Cup.

So who would he choose from Arsenal's stars? If he was at last week's match, Sven could think about Henry, Flamini or Pires (French), Toure or Eboue (Ivorian), Bergkamp or Van Persie (Dutch), Senderos (Swiss), Silva (Brazilian), Fabregas (Spanish), Ljungberg (Swedish), Hleb (Belorussian) or Lehmann (German). An embarrasse de riches indeed: French players, French-speaking players, a few other non-English nationalities and a French manager. Judged by playing staff alone, Real Madrid, with David Beckham and Jonathan Woodgate, is more English than Arsenal.

Soccer teams these days are the living embodiment of globalisation. We don't mind that the players at our favourite club aren't English: what matters is that the club wins. It may be that the playing field is not always as level as it might be - there aren't enough Roman Abramoviches to go around - but few Arsenal fans are likely to be disappointed should Arsène Wenger's men lift the Champions' League trophy.

Those Arsenal fans who also happen to be English - the vast majority, I assume - will soon find themselves with divided loyalties. On 20 June, when England play Sweden, most fans will be hoping John Terry makes the smart tackle to prevent Freddie Ljungberg from breaching the English defences: Arsenal fans will be supporting the Chelsea player at the Arsenal star's expense.

We all have these divided loyalties. And divided loyalties make it difficult at times to reach the right decision. Globalisation has changed the ways in which we think about the beautiful game: clubs these days have to attract the world's best players, not just the best players from a single country. Most of us have few problems with this idea.

In other spheres of life, we have difficulty with globalisation. When it comes to economic policy, countries sometimes cannot agree on the right approach: they protect their own at the expense of the greater good.

It was probably asking too much to see anything of great significance emerge from President Hu Jintao's trip to Washington last week. Mr Hu spent more of his time with American business leaders than with George Bush and his Washington colleagues. That, in itself, reveals the overriding importance of the growing economic relationship between the two superpowers. But this relationship is upsetting a lot of US politicians: they regard China less as an economic partner and more as a threat.

Many political leaders, for example, are happy to point the finger at China as the underlying cause of America's ever-increasing trade deficit. Their view is simple: good US manufacturing jobs are being lost to low-cost operations in China. To prove this, they highlight, first, America's bilateral trade deficit with China, second, China's increased share of American imports and, third, the decline in manufacturing activity within the American economy.

As with many political arguments, hyperbole seems to get in the way of the facts. China may have increased its share of US imports, but these gains have been mostly at the expense of other nations exporting to the US. China's bilateral trade surplus with the US may have gone up in recent years, but this partly reflects China's growing role as the world's assembly base.

Thirty years ago, Japanese companies would export directly to the US: now, they're more likely to send their exports to China for final assembly before being shipped off to America. The effect? Japan's bilateral trade surplus with the US ends up lower, China's ends up higher, but it's difficult to argue that the US has lost out from this process. Meanwhile, the share of manufacturing in US economic activity has been falling for decades.

There's no doubt that China has contributed to America's larger current account deficit. But to single out China as public enemy No 1 seems strange. After all, for every increase in the US current account deficit, there has to be an increase in the rest of the world's current account surplus: the great thing about accounting is that everything has to add up. An easy way to show this is through the surplus countries that act as the counterparts to ... While China's current account surplus has increased, the biggest increases have been in the Middle East and Germany. Russia is not as big a country as China, but the dollar increase in its current account surplus has matched China's. Japan's surplus, meanwhile, was big in the first place and is still big.

But China is an easier target than the Middle East or Russia. They've got oil so they're treated with kid gloves. China is a threat to the US not so much because of its manufacturing capabilities but because it competes with the US for access to scarce raw materials. And, because the US and China have huge appetites for energy, both countries have a strategic interest in securing supplies from sometimes dodgy regimes.

It's important to recognise these competing demands for energy are, in many ways, not really competing at all. The US and China have seen a fusion of economic interests over the past 30 years. Politically, they may be strange bedfellows but, economically, they have become increasingly dependent on one another. The combination of US capital and Chinese labour has led to huge increases in global output which have made many goods and services cheaper.

A failure to recognise this team effort would have unfortunate consequences for the world economy. Attempts to prise apart US and Chinese economic interests would be damaging for both sides. Separation would be a mistake. In Arsenal's case, Mr Wenger's job is, in part, to ensure that his multinationalplayers talk to one another: perhaps we need stronger multilateral institutions to ensure good communications between America and China.

Stephen King is managing director of economics at HSBC
stephenking@ hsbcib.com

Ms Russell is correct : Mr Blair is a dangerous man - not because of his personal qualities, which are unexceptional (albeit a cut above those of his soul-mate, Mr Bush) - but because the eternal vigilance against government encroachments necessary to maintain hard-won liberties has, with the help of a self-seeking, corrupt, and sycophantic press, fallen into abeyance among the people. That formally democratic institutions do not suffice to protect against deeply undemocratic decisions on the part of state leaders who have learned how to manipulate these institutions is a lesson that dates at least from 415 BPE, i e, more than two millennia before Hitler's ascension to power in Germany in 1933. All one has to do, as Göring said, is to frighten the people by telling them they are under attack, from which they can only be saved by stern and resolute measures on the part of the government. A naive observer would perhaps be surprised by how effective this simple formula generally proves to be....

29 April 2006.

  • Judith Colburn's essay, Coming home from war on the cheap, which details how the present US administration is short-changing the very soldiers it is using to maintain and expand its hegemony over the rest of the world is a must read - check out the link above. Here, my response in a letter to Tom Engelhardt, who published the essay on his invaluable TomDispatch website :

A vivid description of the class warfare which, while hardly unique to the Bush administration, has been carried out more nakedly than ever before during the last 70 years under its aegis. While the information she presents can hardly be called surprising, Judith Coburn's description of the cynical manner in which the administration is abandoning the soldiers which it coerced and suckered into fighting its illegal and unjust wars, is enough to bring tears to the eyes of the most hard-hearted misanthrope. But to my mind, the way to attack this problem is not simply to insist that the VA be given the funds to care for the soldiers for which it bears responsibility under existing law, but rather to make it clear to US citizens that the plight of the military is shared by the residents of the US as a whole, and that the only solution is to see to it that ALL persons residing in the US are covered by a single-payer medical care system, funded at a level adequate to its responsibilities by public taxes. Nothing less will suffice....

30 April 2006

  • Under the intriguing title Still a street-fighting man, Stephanie Merritt has published an interview with no less than José Saramago in today's Observer. My thoughts upon reading it were :

«If they don't get it right, then out!» Think, if we could only get things to work according to Saramago's formula !...

  • Tom Engelhardt has published a first-hand account of yesterday's demonstration in New York under the title Giving the President a Pink Slip in New York City. Here in Sweden, people who are summarily fired are traditionally said to be informed of their dismissal on a grey sheet of paper. Somehow I find a pink slip more appropriate in this particular case....

1 May 2006.

  • Congratulations on the day ! In what seems to be (justified) desperation and rage over the organisation's impotence and inability to prevent or even impede the US thrust to war against Iran (or Syria or whomever - l'ennemie du jour), Mike Whitney has published an article under the title Time to shut-down the UN on the Information Clearing House website, in which he advocates allowing the UNO to go the way of the League of Nations, which died due to its failure - and the failure of the nations comprising it, who were far more concerned about the Soviet Union - to check fascist aggression on the part of Germany, Italy, and Japan. Now we are there again. There is much that could be said about the less-than-noble role being played by UNO and the IAEA in today's crisis, and what should and can be done to change that role, but the following is what I chose to post to the site :

«We are quickly moving towards Bush’s dream of a world that is divided into "us against them".» What is worse is that we seem to be quickly moving to a nightmare of a world which has been largely incinerated in a nuclear holocaust, and in which distinctions between us and them, at least among humans, have become completely academic....

4 May 2006.

When Professor Lifton speaks, we should all do well to listen....

  • In yesterday's Asia Times, Allen Quicke published a review under the telling title, The loose supercannon, of Professor Emeritus Gabriel Kolko's latest work, The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World, in which he (Quicke) points out that Professor Kolko does not indulge in the now O-so-fashionable Bush-bashing, but traces the development of US foreign policy from the immediate post-WW II period onward. Here my comment, as published on my StumbleUpon page :

Now that his credibility even among the faithful seems to be sliding towards the goose egg, it is wise to remember that not all that is problematic in US foreign (or, for that matter, domestic) policy began with the egregious Mr Bush - although admittedly, he has done little to make it better. Readers of Mr Quicke's review - and hopefully of Professor Kolko's book - owe the author(s) a debt of gratitude for reminding them of this unpalatable - but O-so-real, fact....

5 May 2005.

  • In the current issue of the New Statesman, John Pilger has published an article, which I take the liberty of reproducing below in full, followed by my response in a letter to the editor of that journal (which was also posted to StumbleUpon in a slightly modified form) :

John Pilger detects the Salvador Option

John Pilger
Monday 8th May 2006

  • The American public is being prepared. If the attack on Iran does come, there will be no warning, no declaration of war, no truth, writes John Pilger

The lifts in the New York Hilton played CNN on a small screen you could not avoid watching. Iraq was top of the news; pronouncements about a "civil war" and "sectarian violence" were repeated incessantly. It was as if the US invasion had never happened and the killing of tens of thousands of civilians by the Americans was a surreal fiction. The Iraqis were mindless Arabs, haunted by religion, ethnic strife and the need to blow themselves up. Unctuous puppet politicians were paraded with no hint that their exercise yard was inside an American fortress.

And when you left the lift, this followed you to your room, to the hotel gym, the airport, the next airport and the next country. Such is the power of America's corporate propaganda, which, as Edward Said pointed out in Culture and Imperialism, "penetrates electronically" with its equivalent of a party line.

The party line changed the other day. For almost three years it was that al-Qaeda was the driving force behind the "insurgency", led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a bloodthirsty Jordanian who was clearly being groomed for the kind of infamy Saddam Hussein enjoys. It mattered not that al-Zarqawi had never been seen alive and that only a fraction of the "insurgents" followed al-Qaeda. For the Americans, Zarqawi's role was to distract attention from the thing that almost all Iraqis oppose: the brutal Anglo-American occupation of their country. Now that al-Zarqawi has been replaced by "sectarian violence" and "civil war", the big news is the attacks by Sunnis on Shia mosques and bazaars. The real news, which is not reported in the CNN "mainstream", is that the Salvador Option has been invoked in Iraq. This is the campaign of terror by death squads armed and trained by the US, which attack Sunnis and Shias alike. The goal is the incitement of a real civil war and the break-up of Iraq, the original war aim of Bush's administration. The ministry of the interior in Baghdad, which is run by the CIA, directs the principal death squads. Their members are not exclusively Shia, as the myth goes. The most brutal are the Sunni-led Special Police Commandos, headed by former senior officers in Saddam's Ba'ath Party. This unit was formed and trained by CIA "counter-insurgency" experts, including veterans of the CIA's terror operations in central America in the 1980s, notably El Salvador. In his new book, Empire's Workshop (Metropolitan Books), the American historian Greg Grandin describes the Salvador Option thus: "Once in office, [President] Reagan came down hard on central America, in effect letting his administration's most committed militarists set and execute policy. In El Salvador, they provided more than a million dollars a day to fund a lethal counter-insurgency campaign . . . All told, US allies in central America during Reagan's two terms killed over 300,000 people, tortured hundreds of thousands and drove millions into exile."

Although the Reagan administration spawned the current Bushites, or "neo-cons", the pattern was set earlier. In Vietnam, death squads trained, armed and directed by the CIA murdered up to 50,000 people in Operation Phoenix. In the mid-1960s in Indonesia CIA officers compiled "death lists" for General Suharto's killing spree during his seizure of power. After the 2003 invasion, it was only a matter of time before this venerable "policy" was applied in Iraq.

According to the investigative writer Max Fuller (National Review Online), the key CIA manager of the interior ministry death squads "cut his teeth in Vietnam before moving on to direct the US military mission in El Salvador". Professor Grandin names another central America veteran whose job now is to "train a ruthless counter-insurgent force made up of ex-Ba'athist thugs". Another, says Fuller, is well-known for his "production of death lists". A secret militia run by the Americans is the Facilities Protection Service, which has been responsible for bombings. "The British and US Special Forces," concludes Fuller, "in conjunction with the [US-created] intelligence services at the Iraqi defence ministry, are fabricating insurgent bombings of Shias."

On 16 March, Reuters reported the arrest of an American "security contractor" who was found with weapons and explosives in his car. Last year, two Britons disguised as Arabs were caught with a car full of weapons and explosives; British forces bulldozed the Basra prison to rescue them. The Boston Globe recently reported: "The FBI's counter-terrorism unit has launched a broad investigation of US-based theft rings after discovering that some of the vehicles used in deadly car bombings in Iraq, including attacks that killed US troops and Iraqi civilians, were probably stolen in the United States, according to senior government officials."

As I say, all this has been tried before - just as the preparation of the American public for an atrocious attack on Iran is similar to the WMD fabrications in Iraq. If that attack comes, there will be no warning, no declaration of war, no truth. Imprisoned in the Hilton lift, staring at CNN, my fellow passengers could be excused for not making sense of the Middle East, or Latin America, or anywhere. They are isolated. Nothing is explained. Congress is silent. The Democrats are moribund. And the freest media on earth insult the public every day. As Voltaire put it: "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

As Mr Pilger clearly demonstrates, the Bush administration, which to a remarkable degree comprises people who committed war crimes under the aegis of earlier administrations, has brought no new concepts or tools to the game of imperialist aggression; rather it has only been slightly more inept than its predecessors....

8 May 2006.

I wonder if we are not indeed living through the last days of the US empire, hastened by the ill-conceived policies of Mr Bush and his consiglieri (as predicted, not least, by Professor Galtung). The near-home, in the Latin America that the US has dominated and exploited since the 1830s, is crumbling (think Russia's relations with parts of the Russian Empire that now, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, have broken away), and despite a military budget greater than that of the rest of the world combined, there seems to be little that the US administration can do to prevent it. This is not to say that the bag of dirty tricks is empty ; a new coup, for example, against the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is very possible, this time with Mr Chavez being assassinated during the initial stages, instead of being taken in hand for later disposal as during the farce of 2002. We live in exciting times ; it is only to be hoped that in their despair at seeing their power slip away, people like Messers Bush and Blair do not unleash a nuclear conflagration upon the world....

10 May 2006.

  • Simon Jenkins has published a comment entitled If this is Ahmadinejad's bluff, it is bluff worth calling in today's Guardian, in which he calls for a reply to Iranian president Ahmadinejad's letter to the US president and negotiations between the two countries. This commonsensical position is unfortunately marred by a rhetoric designed, I suggest, to uphold Mr Jenkin's credentials as a right-thinking liberal Western columnist. My response to his article is found below :

The good sense and sound practical advice that Mr Jenkins puts forward in his article is, alas, almost vitiated by his demonisation of one of the important people with whom any settlement must be discussed. Does Jenkins possess a personal knowledge of the Iranian president – who, it might be wise to remember, was elected in elections certainly less open to question than those which, after the intervention of the US Supreme Court, brought Mr Bush to power in 2000 and allowed him to remain there in 2004 – which wouldsuffice to make his insinuations about the man’s instability at least reasonable, if still unwise ? Or is it so that Mr Jenkins is merely establishing his credentials as a member of good society – «I hate Ahmadinejad just as much as you do, but still it would be unwise to bomb just now» ? The fact remains that the Iranian leaders, including Mr Ahmadinejad, unlike their counterparts in Britain and the US, have not committed the gravest of all war crimes, viz, the crime against the Peace, by attacking another country which had not invaded their own. Nor has the IAEA, despite three years of intensive inspections, managed to find any proof that Iran is doing anything more than it says it is doing and which it is permitted to do under the provisions of the NPT, i e, enrich uranium so that it may be used as nuclear fuel. Mr Jenkin’s call for negotiations with – not ultimatums to - Iran, which is the only reasonable course, would be strengthened, not weakened if he could stop pretending that the «West» would have to hold its nose while engaging in them….
  • An English translation of Mr Ahmedinejad's remarkable letter has been published in extenso in today's (or if you like, tomorrow's, given that the Earth is a sphere which revolves from West to East, and Asia is several hours ahead of Europe - ex Oriente lux) Asia Times. While I do not share Mr Ahmedinejad's religious Weltanschauung, I certainly applaud his decision to send the letter and that of the Asia Times to publish it. As Mr Churchill is reputed to have said, «it is better to jaw-jaw, than to war-war». Mr Ahmedinejad's letter, written in a language that Mr Bush will perhaps be able to understand, should make it easier to do so - that is to say, if the decision to go to war has not, as in the case of Iraq, been made long ago, and the public posturings about seeking a diplomatic solution are no more than just that. For a thought-provoking analysis of this letter, one could hardly do better than to study Times correspondent Kaveh L Afrasiabi's commentary,Ahmadinejad's letter: An opening quickly sealed. Dr Afrasiabi enjoys the advantage of an intimate familiarity with the region and the people he describes. Of course, to some, these may seem more like a disqualification....
11 May 2006.
  • Under the suggestive title We need to change our policies as well as our leader, former Labour Environment Minister Michael Meacher has published a comment in today's Guardian, which addresses what we may call structural problems within the Labour Party. My rather lengthy reponse to both the article and the debate which followed in in the Guardian's commentisfree section follows below :

As a Swedish citizen - or should I say «subject» ? - I know from my own experience that introducing proportional representation will not usher in political paradise. Even here, we have problems with a government (which calls itself Social-democratic) which internally exhibits more and more the characteristics of the «unitary executive» so beloved by certain theorists on the other side of the Pond, and externally is doing everything in its power to drastically change the balance of power between citizens and government in favour of the latter. And to turn to the opposition, composed of what is termed an «alliance» of four parties, for redress is as little wise in the case of Sweden as turning to the Tories is in the case of the UK ; if one takes their manifestos seriously, they would do even more to strengthen government and business at the expense of the ordinary citizen, and their obsequiousness with respect to the US and Israel is yet more pronounced than that of the present government.
Still, proportional representation is a much fairer and more «democratic» system than the «first-man-past-the post» system in use in the UK and the US ; it tends to introduce a certain amount of moderation in government in that voters' views are more directly represented in parliament. It does make the forming of governments more difficult and them once formed less stable - but given the relations obtaining between governments and citizens, this is perhaps rather an advantage than a disadvantage. There are thus two things (out of a very long list) that should be done : 1) strengthen the control of citizens over parliament, and 2) strengthen the control of parliament over government. That even then, as mentioned above, paradise will elude us is simply the human condition....

  • Columnist, broadcaster, and academic Martin Jacques has published a comment in the Guardian's commentisfree section entitled Eye off the dragon, which is introduced with the following lines : «China's opposition to action against Iran shows how it is increasingly at odds with the United States. It is a shame Washington hasn't noticed.» Finding his analysis a far cry from what I perceive to be the facts, I dispatched the following comment to the website :

It is both surprising and disturbing that someone as well-informed as Martin Jacques usually is has failed to recognise to what degree Washington has indeed noticed China's increasing independence of action and the fact that it has responded, mainly, as is its wont, with military measures. For readers who desire a more clear-sighted analysis, based upon such nitty-gritty matters as where Washington is dispatching the troops, should read - or, as the case may be, re-read - Professor Michael Klare's clear-sighted article Containing China, which was posted on the invaluable TomDispatch website nearly a month ago....*

*Attentive readers will note that Professor Klare's article was mentioned, and a link provided on this page on 19 April, the day after it was published on Tom Dispatch - a claim which can easily be verified by scrolling up this page to that date....

13 May 2006.

  • In today's number of the Asia Times, Gareth Porter has published a thoughtful article, entitled Iranian nukes not the issue, on what really is at issue between that country and the United States, i e, Iran's (and the United States') future role in Southwest Asia. Below, the comment I posted to my StumbleUpon page :

Just as the US war on Iraq was never about the latter's non-extant WMD (the former, of course, has quite a few), neither is the crux of the US-Iranian problem Iran's alleged - but never demonstrated - nuclear weapons programme ; rather it is the US desire to remake Southwest and Central Asia in its own neoconservative, corporate image. Gareth Porter provides some details...

14 May 2006.

  • A Mr Aleksander Boyd, with whom I previously have had the not unalloyed pleasure of corresponding (more on that below) recently published a comment, entitled, Guess who's coming to dinner with Red Ken (the title doesn't leave much to the reader's imagination concerning Mr Boyd's attitude to the dinner party, does it ?), in the London Times. Below the response, with slight editorial modifications, I posted to StumbleUpon

To my mind, there is no activity so destructive of human - and all other - rights than War ; those who desire confirmation need merely turn their gazes toward what is going on in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. To the best of my knowledge, unlike the type of leaders that Mr Boyd so fervently admires, Señor Chávez has not led his country to war, pre-emptive or otherwise. So more power to Mr Livingstone - please go on choosing the dinner guests you invite to the mayor's mansion from among those who are not enamoured of war. As for Mr Boyd, a measure of his thinking - and the validity of his claims concerning electronic voting irregularities - can be taken by reading his postings and the responses, among those my own, on the Venezuelan Truth Dig

16 May 2006.

  • In an article entitled Now America reacts, published yesterday on his Working for change site, Geov Parrish notes the unspoken priorities that seem to lie behind the continuing decline in Mr Bush's poll numbers in the USA. This is the comment I posted to my Stumbleupon page :

It is always edifying - if not always flattering to our sense of justice - to see what priorities we exhibit when we choose to become outraged. It was not the three million dead in Indochina which finally turned the people of the United States against the war of aggression being conducted there, but the approx 55 000 deaths of US soldiers, mainly draftees. In Iraq, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead weigh little when placed in the balance against (acknowledged) US military deaths, now creeping up to 2500. And it seems that rather than the criminal war in Iraq (and one might add, equally criminal threats of going to war against Iran), it is now domestic spying that is pushing Mr Bush's poll numbers ever lower and lower. But as Mr Parrish puts it, « if Saddam Hussein is on trial for crimes against humanity, why isn't George W. Bush ?»....

18 May 2006.

  • In an article in today's Guardian, il Professore, Romano Prodi, Italy's new prime minister, is cited as describing the United States' invasion of Iraq as a «grave mistake» (grave errore). That it was that - even though Halliburton and certain oil companies have managed to profit handsomely from it - is uncontestable. But there is more to be said, as I note in a posting to StumbleUpon :

What Professore Prodi has not said - does not dare to say - was that the invasion was «pire qu'une faute, c'était un crime» (pace Talleyrand)....

  • A couple of days ago, Peter Dyer published a guest essay entitled Iran, Bush & Nuremberg on Robert Parry's indispensible Consortiumnews site, in which he cited from Justice Jackson's opening statement before the Nürnberg Tribunal. My comment, as posted to StumbleUpon :

Even more relevant than the «poisoned chalice» metaphor with which Justice Jackson exemplified his concern that the Nürnberg defendants be given a fair trial, is his all too often neglected comment in his report to the US State Department on the Trial : «If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us[emphasis addedMHD]». Alas, that is precisely what the US government has been doing ever since the judgement at Nürnberg, and never more egriegously than in the case of Mr Bush and Iraq....

19 May 2006.

When a conviction that life matters - even when lived in places that we've never visited and have no intention to visit - shows in our actions, as well as in our rhetoric, then H sapiens sapiens might just have a chance to make it into the 22nd century. But don't take odds....

  • In today's - or rather, tomorrow's - Speaking Freely section of the Asia Times, Emma Bjornhed has published a commentary entitled Don't judge somebody by the (terror) label, which deals specifically with the conflict in Nepal and how labels have been (mis)applied, removed, and applied again there in accordance with variations in the political cycle, but without any relation to the realities on the ground. Inspired by her article - and no less by those published in the same journal several weeks ago by the two authors mentioned below, I posted the following commentary to StumbleUpon

The import of Emma Bjornhed's commentary extends far beyond the boundaries of the present conflict in Nepal. If a humanity certain sections of which are armed with weapons that can destroy us all many times over, is to survive the next few decades, we are going to have to learn to refrain from arrogating to ourselves a moral high ground which at best is imaginary, at worst - and most often - merely a cover for deceit and lies, and start speaking with - rather than merely to - those with whom we are in conflict. In this connexion, don't fail to read Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke's two articles in the same journal, entitled Talking with the 'terrorists' and Handing victory to the extremists, resp, which record an attempt to apply these principles to the Israel-Palestine conflict....

27 May 2006.

  • In yesterday's Guardian, Scott Ritter published a commentary entitled The hardest word, in which he takes up the rather pathetic attempt of the Bush-Blair duo to demonstrate that the criminal war on Iraq was justified, while at the same time showing how manly they are by claiming to take some responsibility for so-called «failures of execution». The discussion which follows on the commentisfree thread is unfortunately marred by the tendency of certain participants to interest themselves more for each other's persons - and in certain cases, that of the author - than for the argument presented in the commentary. Below, my own brief response, which I also posted to my StumbleUpon page :

Saying it like it is - on the part of Mr Ritter, of course, not Messers Bush or Blair, who rather seem to suffer from a constitutional (in Mr Bush's case, Constitutional ?) inability to tell the truth....

28 May 2006.

  • A Mr Andrew Rawnsley has published a comment (largely, according to a number of postings to the forum, the product of unabashed plagiarism) in the commentisfree section of today's Guardian, under the title The ideals worth rescuing from the deserts of Iraq, with, as if the title itself did not suffice, the following subtitle, Despite the terrible mistakes made after the removal of Saddam, the case for liberal interventionism is still compelling, which does sort of give the whole game away. Here's my response to the thread (with minor editorial modifications) :

All the posturing about a presumed right to intervene in the affairs of other lands for «humanitarian» reasons by B&B, the finders-of-bad-arguments-for-what-we-want-to-do-anyway employed in government and what is called journalism, and certain contributors to this column whom we shall presume are not paid for their work in the good cause, demonstrates no more than that they still live - and desire to live - in a world dominated by Thoukydides' ancient maxim to the effect that «the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must». At the judgement in Nürnberg at the end of WWII an attempt was made to sketch another world, in which, while hardly eliminated, the cynicism of the powerful would be restrained, by declaring the crime of aggression, the so-called Crime against the Peace, to be the worst of all war crimes and the source from which all others spring. The UNO was set up to control this type of criminality by requiring the consensus of five powers before military force could be legitimately employed. This was not done because the statesmen of of the day had suddenly become pacifists, but because even they had been sufficiently impressed with the power of the weapons their scientists had created to realise that without restriction, war could easily bring an end to human life on this planet. As might have been predicted, however, the most powerful of the post-WWII nations, the United States, has consistently utilised military force in pursuit of its own national goals (those of its economic and political elite), whether or no such five-power consensus could be obtained. The question now, apart from that of H sapiens sapiens surviva/, is whether or not by so doing, that country has not hastened, rather than postponed the fall of its own Empire. He who survives - in the event that any of us do - will see, but Professor Galtung's prediction that the Empire will soon come to an ignoble end does seem to be borne out by present events in Southwest Asia. That a nation of 300 millions with a military budget exceeding that of the rest of the world combined has been unable to impose its will on a poverty-stricken and weakened nation with one tenth its population argues that the Pax Americana, though as bloody and as little of a pax veridica as the Pax Romana, will be much less long-lived....

  • That excellent purveyor of the unvarnished truth, the Daily Mail, published an article yesterday entitled One thousand UK troops AWOL in Iraq. The British military leadership, of course, denied any connexion whatever to the war in Iraq, saying «[m]ost servicemen who go absent do so for personal and family reasons». My comment, as posted to the readers' forum (we shall have to see if the Daily Mail's monitors allow it to be published on the site - my guess is that they will not) :

Of course the AWOLs and desertions have nothing to do with Iraq (or Afghanistan) - nor did the 7 July bombings ! Indeed, NOTHING has anything to do with Iraq - it almost makes one wonder, why, in that case, the US and British administrations deemed - and deem - being there so vital as to justify an illegal war of aggression !...

31 May 2006.

  • Yesterday the Independent published an excerpt from Professor Chomsky's latest book, Failed States, under the somewhat misleading heading Why it's over for America (for why I believe the heading to be misleading, see my comment below). For reasons also explained below, the link above goes not to the original article, but rather to the version published in ICH, Information Clearing House. The following is an edited version of my posting to StumbleUpon :

The title of this article as given above is not Professor Chomsky's but that of the editors of the Independent, in which the original article was first published (in a few days the Independent article will no longer be available to non-paying readers). In my reading of the article, what Chomsky is saying is not that it is all over for the United States, at least not if understood as a country «of, by, and for the people», but rather that the elite's nearly 200-year attempt to turn that state into a full-fledged empire is now, inevitably, coming to a close. What this will mean to the ordinary people of the United States will depend on how adept they prove themselves at seizing democratic power back from an elite which has stolen so much of it away, not least through the skilful (mis)use of terms like «democracy» and «patriotism» on the one hand, and «atheism» and «communism» on the other, in order to blindside any possible opposition....

  • *The excellent burghers of Düsseldorf has seen fit to rescind this year's Heinrich Heine Prize, worth €50000, as it was unable to agree with the prize jury's choice of winner, the eminent German writer Peter Handke. His crime ? Casting a critical eye on the «West»'s - and not least, Germany's - role in the break-up of the former Jugoslav Republic, and the subsequent wars in that tortured land. Such people should not be allowed to poke holes in our convenient and self-serving views of the world, and they certainly are not to be awarded prizes for doing so ! In addition to Handke's own analysis of his evolving position and the discussion it has engendered, Am Ende ist fast nichts mehr zu verstehen (a revised version of two articles earlier published in the French newspaper Libération, see also literary critic Thomas Steinfeld's article Die Selbstinszenierung der üblen Nachrede, which accompanied the former in yesterday's Süddeutsche Zeitung....

*The above is a revised version of my posting to StumbleUpon....

2 June 2006.

  • David MacNiell and Ian Mather have each published an article (Japan ready to battle 'culinary imperialists' as whaling debate turns nasty and Whaling ban on edge of extinction, respectively) in the latest issue of Japan Focus. My comments, as posted to StumbleUpon :

Why hunt whales ? I pose the question not on the individual level, where everybody, including whalers, just tries to make a living as best they can, but on the national - what is it that leads political leaders to insist on maintaining the slaughter of these animals when the cost for doing so is far higher than the income brought by sale of the meat and fat it produces (which I understand to be the case in Norway as well as Japan) ? Subsidies to local political constituencies are, of course, nothing new - in Norway, for example, in certain areas politicians can win much local popularity by supporting whaling, while on the national level most people who don't live by whaling don't care enough to make much of a difference. But to my mind, there is another reason, which has everything to do with politicians' search for a national constituency - in both Japan and Norway, foreign policy is strongly dominated by the US. Residents of these countries are not always enamoured of this state of affairs, and whaling - like certain other peripheral issues - provides a perfect forum for politicians who wish to demonstrate a spurious independence from the Empire centre to profile themselves, without endangering important commitments, like that of Japan to the US war in Iraq, or the Norwegian one to the US war in Afghanistan. Isn't independence wonderful ?...*

*Here below a link to a satirical reflection on whaling by the eminent cartoonist Mark Fiore, as published 21 June on his website, and a copy of my posting to StumbleUpon the following day :

    Remember that Greek word σοφροσύνη (sophrosynē) meaning wisdom and self-restraint ? Alas, as a species we do not seem capable of exercising that restraint, as politicians from so diverse lands as Japan, Norway, and Iceland have, at great cost and for short-term political gain, managed to bribe a sufficient number of member states in the International Whaling Commission to obtain a decision to allow open commercial whaling once again, and thus risk the destruction of the great cetacean species....

    鯨万歳 !

3 June 2006.

  • Mr Stephen Lendman from the United States, who introduces himself as a «retired, progressive small business man concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them, has published a commentary on a WSJ article om Ms Rice's latest diplomatic venture in the OpEd News, under the somewhat lengthy, but precise and very much to-the-point title of Sham US proposal to Iran evokes memories of past similar ones. The comment, which due to restrictions on length, was a slightly abbreviated version of the original posted to OpEd News, I posted to StumbleUpon reads as follows :

Stephen Lendman's thought-provoking article shows just how bad the US «mainstream» press (which, hardly surprisingly, is generally picked up without comment here in Europe) can be. It should, however, be acknowledged that Iran has indeed at times been in violation of some of its reporting requirements under the NPT ; hardly surprising given the risk that their facilities, had they become publicly known, would have been bombed, either by the Israelis, who bombed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981 (an act of aggression for which Israel, of course, has never been sanctioned by the UNO) or indeed by the Iraqis, with whom it should be remembered, Iran was engaged in an internecine war between 1980 and 1988 (Mr Reagan's US gave aid to both sides, in order to increase the toll of death and destruction ; thus does the US promote «democracy» in Southwest Asia). But during the last three years of intrusive inspections by the IAEA no evidence has turned up that indicated that Iran was or is attempting to produce nuclear weapons - so the argument that Iran cannot be trusted and will obviously proceed towards the production of nuclear weapons if allowed to master the process of uranium enrichment allowed it under the NPT is more than a little self-serving, coming from a United States that wishes to enter an agreement, itself in flagrant violation of the NPT, with India, a non-signatory which does possess nuclear weapons, that bankrolls Israel, also a non-signatory which does possess nuclear weapons - lots and lots of them - and that supports Pakistan as well, a ditto. All this, not to mention the US refusal to ratify the CTBT, which might just put a crimp in King George and his minions' plans to develop new nuclear weapons for such peaceful purposes as «bunker blasting». But the WSJ does not see fit to remind its readers of these facts, nor to comment on the strange fact that that which is to be the subject of and from the US side the goal of the negotiations - agreement on Iran's part to cease working on enrichment, is laid down as a prerequisite for holding them at all ! Pardon me if I suggest that the magnanimous offer fronted by Ms Rice was specifically designed to elicit a rejection from the Iranians. As Mr Lendman points out, it is merely the latest example of the negotiating tactics consistently employeded by the US, i e, to propose something so preposterous as a condition for negotiations that the other side is forced to refuse, at which point the press, wiping away its profuse crocodile tears, writes more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger articles about how this intransigence compels the US to use its last resort, military force, in order to eliminate the latest «threat to peace». A well-trodden path. What is new here, however, is the fact that the US, with a population of 300 millions and a military budget well in excess of that of the rest of the world combined (and with the kind aid of such advocates of true democracy as Mr Blair's UK) has been unable to force its will upon a nation with less than one tenth its population and utterly lacking - at least at the start of the invasion in 2003 - an adequate defensive force. The objective of destroying Iraq as a regional power in Southwest Asia has indeed been attained, and the war has indeed raised oil prices to the degree that Mr Bush's friends are rolling in even more money than usual - but US ground forces are over-extended and nearer to the point of collapse than at any time since the US war on Indochina, and threats of a major invasion of Iran ring hollow in many ears, not least those of the Iranians themselves. Bombs, of course, can be dropped, and missiles fired, but they risk merely demonstrating the fundamental uselessness of Mr Rumsfeld's military in seizing and controlling hostile territory. Killing people it is good at - not least unarmed civilians - but as a «Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln» it doesn't cut the mustard....

5 June 2006.

  • In her article Power Grab in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew has catalogued George W Bush's hitherto rather successful attempt - due not least to an unwillingness to confront him on the part of the US Congress and the judiciary - to subvert the US constitution, which he has twice publicly sworn to «preserve, protect, and defend», and turn the office of the Presidency into an (rigged) electoral Kingship under the doctrine of the so-called «unitary executive». My response to Ms Drew's article, which I posted to StumbleUpon, follows below :

After, as provided by Article II, section 4 of the US Constitution, Messers Bush and Cheney are «removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors», some of which are detailed in Elizabeth Drew's article, the question will then arise as to whether they should be turned over to a properly constituted International Tribunal to be tried for crimes against the peace and other war crimes. In my opinion, such a procedure is absolutely necessary, so that others, in the US and elsewhere, who might by tempted to once again take the path of aggressive war in the interests of an elite which dreams of world hegemony - and there is no guarantee that such persons will not come to power again - will be forced to consider the consequences of such actions for their own persons....

6 June 2006

Exactly five months ago on this day, BBC's Panorama aired a programme with the telling title Climate chaos : Bush's climate of fear. After watching the video, available on the Information Clearing House site, I posted the following commentary to StumbleUpon :

Along with nuclear weapons, the greatest danger to our lives on this planet is the enormously accelerated pace of climate change, now known to be directly related to our activities, in particular our prodigious burning of fossil fuels, and the concomitant release of greenhouse gasses. Is it any surprise that King George's administration in the US is doing every thing in its power to cover up the consequences of its actions in the one case, and its inaction in the other* ? In whose interests is this continual deceit proceeding ? Follow the money !...

*Can there be any doubt but what the failure to work to prevent the drastic changes in the Earth's climate occurring as a result of human activity and, on the contrary, attempting to delude the people of the US and the rest of the world as to the real state of affairs, constitute a High Crime, which, according to Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution, is ground for impeachment and upon conviction, removal from office ? Why has this issue not been raised in the US Congress ?...

  • Under the title If we knew more about Ireland, we might never have invaded Iraq, George Monbiot has, against the background of Ken Loach's new film, The wind that shakes the barley, winner of this year's Palm d'or at Cannes, and the reception it has received in certain British newspapers (whose reviewers had not been unduly prejudiced by actually having seen the film*) had the temerity to compare British activities in Ireland some 85 years ago with what is going on today (and what had, 85 years ago, already been going on for more than a decade in Iraq). As often in Monbiot's case, his commentary, published in the Guardian's commentisfree section has waked a heated discussion ; here below my own contribution :

George Monbiot's article does us all a service, both by drawing some of the many parallels that need to be drawn between British aggression in Iraq and British aggression in Ireland (more have been supplied by knowledgeable commentators to the thread) and by showing how attempts to set the record straight are dealt with by the spinmeisters and their sycophants in what is called «journalism», when simple repression and censorship is not an alternative. But when he writes that «[i]f we knew more about Ireland, the invasion of Iraq might never have happened» without adding «or then the cost of doing so against a even greater and more sustained outpouring of public opposition would have been judged too great» he risks being misleading. As I understand it, the illegal invasion of Iraq was not generally supported by the British public, but Mr Blair and his coterie judged that this opposition was not so strong that the political costs of doing so were insurmountable (this assessment, alas, proved quite correct) and that the invasion and subsequent transformation of Iraq would go so according to the PNAC script that the public would soon be won over (this assessment, however, proved - tragically for the Iraqi people - wrong, and indeed, revealed their utter lack of historical understanding, both specifically with respect to the course previous British invasions of Iraq, and more generally, as regards how invasion inevitably calls forth resistance). But how can one expect people like Tony Blair and his King, George W, who believe they are God's anointed, to understand the historical limitations on their power ?...

*Interestingly enough, as one commentator on the Guardian site has pointed out, in the Irish editions of two of the newspapers whose critics castigated Mr Loach's film without ever having seen it, i e, the Sun and the Daily Mail, it was warmly applauded. A perfect illustration of the concept of glocalisation....

An analysis, by someone with the experience to know what he's talking about and no obvious reason to dissemble, of the offer for negotiations transmitted to Iran by the so-called Iran Six, which discounts the attempt on the part of certain US officials, under cover of anonymity, to put the best possible face on what amounts to a prestige loss - although a step forward into reality - for the that country. Note especially AmbassadorBhadrakumar's last three sentences :
    «That leaves the [US] administration with an extremely narrow corridor to traverse - appearing not to be obdurate over the looming crisis while having to be seen, being a first-rate world power, as doing something about the crisis.
    This as opposed to being swept along by the undercurrents, but having to realize at the same time the bitter truth that it is unable to be flexible on the fundamentals of its Iran policy while in an increasingly multipolar world it finds itself unable to change unilaterally the course of events regarding Iran and the Middle East. The result is the grandstanding.»
Let us hope that this administration, which so often has opted for military «solutions» to problems which do not admit of such, does not, in its frustration, its greed, and its arrogance, make the wrong choice once again....

7 June 2006.

I am appalled and disgusted by the complicity and collusion of European states in the crimes committed by United States, but I am hardly surprised. When it comes to human rights, we in Europe - and in particular our leaders - exhibit a well developed tendency to behold the mote in our neighbour's eye rather than the beam in our own, particularly when by so doing we can accommodate our imperial masters in the United States. But we cannot evade our imperative responsibility to control those whom we allow to lead us. Here in Sweden, the government's whole-hearted collusion in the illegal CIA transport of two Swedish residents of Egyptian origin to that country for interrogation and torture - Vilken skam* ! - will not, alas, become an issue in our coming elections. We seem to have lost our moral compass - to the degree that we ever had one. But that won't prevent us and our leaders from, like our counterparts in the USA itself, criticising countries like China as if we were in undisputed possession of the Moral High Ground - just wait and see !...

*Heidenstam får ursäkta, men det är skam, det är fläck på Sveriges banér att människorätt här bestämmes av andra !...

13 June 2006

  • Yesterday, that proud «journal of record», the New York Times, published a leader and an article which, taken together, clearly reveal how that journal manages to maintain its reputation as a bastion of «liberalism» (in the sense in which that term is used in the United States), while in reality supporting all US administrations, including the present one, in their foreign adventures. Below the response I posted to StumbleUpon :

It is impossible not to agree with this leader (editorial) in today's number of the New York Times, and in particular its final two paragraphs :

    «Admiral Harris's response was as appalling as the suicides. "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us," he said. The inmates, he said, "have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own." These comments reveal a profound disassociation from humanity. They say more about why Guantánamo Bay should be closed than any United Nations report ever could.»

But as so often before, even here the Times speaks with a cloven tongue, as can be seen by the headline to the lead article in the very same issue of the newspaper, Prisoners' Ruse Is Suspected at Guantánamo. The whole thrust of David Cloud and Neil Lewis' article is, like that of Rear Admiral Harris' egregious comment, to portray the victims as aggressors - by practicing their «deception» on the poor naive US guards, who were led to think they were safely abed sleeping, they were able to wage their nefarious «asymmetrical warfare» (to the reader with no knowledge of the fact that the term refers to the few and inadequate means, like suicide, available to the powerless to resist the powerful, it certain does sound vicious, at any rate !) against the hapless US military, no doubt, as General Craddock allowed himself to speculate, in order «to affect the Supreme Court decision on the Hamdan case». The lengthy article, it must be said, does include quotes from interviews with others, including a Human Rights Watch director, who considered the suicides to be «an indication of the incredible despair that the prisoners are experiencing», but these statements appear only towards the end of the article, when most readers have already abandoned it, taking with them only the impression of evil Islamistic prisoners who, even in death work their dastardly will on a bumbling, but well-meaning USA. The truly amazing thing is that for the most part, the Times seems to get away with these manoeuvres - talk about asymmetric warfare !...

17 June 2006.

Professor Klare's clear-sighted view of what's at stake in Iran for both the present imperial US leadership and its rivals. For those struggling to understand why a nuclear energy programme supported by the US when the late, by most of us unlamented, Shah was in power has presently become a casus belli for that nation, which at the same time ignores, when it doesn't support, regimes armed with nuclear weapons in Israel, Pakistan, and India, Professor Klare provides an excellent guide....

Eugene Robinson is right about the peculiar nature of the «course» chosen by King George's administration, but he errs in not looking more closely at what, in fact, these leaders have gained from it. While they have been unable to impose their control over Iraq, as some of the most naive neo-cons seem to have believed they could (how much of this belief was real and how much spin, I, not having connexions with these exalted spheres, am unable to judge), they certainly have managed to attain an unprecedented control over the governmental machinery - and not least, access to the tax revenues - of the United States. Zbigniew Brzezinski is famously cited as defending his «Afghan trap», which succeeded in drawing the Soviet Union into intervening in Afghanistan (nota bene at the invitation of the government of that country) by funding and supplying a fundamentalist uprising against that secularist government, with the following observation :

    What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Perhaps Mr Bush and his friends also feel that their intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which in the end will cost the US taxpayer some 1 - 2 thousand thousand million dollars (much of which will go to them) also was worth it, as it gave them what they seem to hope is perpetual control over the very heartland of the US Empire. But if, as seems not unlikely, it in fact will entail the end of that Empire, much as the Soviet intervention contributed to the Soviet Empire's demise, they may not, in the end, find their wars so very well advised after all....

19 June 2006.

Professor Chomsky is entirely right about the three steps that the United States should take, not merely to defuse the confrontation its present administration has created with Iran, but also in order to prevent what he refers to as «biology's only experiment with higher intelligence» coming to an end with a bang rather than a whimper. That Professor Chomsky concentrates his efforts more on what the US government should do than on what actions its counterpart in Iran should take is only natural - not only is the «crisis» made in USA, but it is the government of that country which speaks in his name (and that of his nearly 300 million fellow citizens). Unlike most of the sycophants (those whose views are purveyed by the mass media) that unfortunately populate the academic and journalistic worlds - not only in the United States but here in Europe as well, not to speak about Asia - Professor Chomsky has shouldered his democratic responsibilities by calling his (s)elected representatives to account, rather than making himself popular with them by pointing out the mote in his fellow's eye. What is missing, to my mind, in Professor Chomsky's analysis - and this lack seems to me directly related to his propensity to discuss the policies of his own country, as being those which he can hope to influence and for which he has a responsibility - is that he discusses the situation as if it were exclusively bilateral, i e, a matter dependent exclusively upon the perceptions and the actions of two countries, the US and Iran. But given that what the «crisis» is about, as some perceptive posters to this forum have pointed out, is less nuclear power or even nuclear weapons than the place the US envisages for Iran in the world it wishes to continue to dominate, other powers, notably Russia and China, have a say in the matter (and conversely will be greatly affected by its outcome). For those interested in a view of the situation as a tri-polar version of the Great Game, Professor Michael Klare's perceptive essay is available at Tom Dispatch (a shorter version, but without Tom Engelhardt's valuable introduction, is to be found on the Asia Times website)....

  • Another thought-provoking article published today is that by Robert Dreyfuss under the title Permanent war - Dealing with realities in Iraq and Washington in TomDispatch, in which Mr Dreyfuss mounts a powerful argument to the effect that the US leadership has not, in fact, lost the Iraq War, and points out the importance of domestic resistance in the US to the war and the need to force unilateral withdrawal on an unwilling government, which alas, is likely to be a successor, perhaps even several times removed, to the present Bush administration. Below, my response in a letter to Tom Engelhardt :

Dear Tom,

Everything Robert Dreyfuss writes about the US invasion of Iraq - that the destruction of Iraq as a power able to offer resistance to US policy in Southwest Asia was a deliberate consequence of the decisions made in Washington and, indeed, the main reason for making them is true (although, no doubt, many neocons did share Paul Wolfowitz's dream - which I think was not entirely spin - that the Iraqis would welcome US troops with flowers and that the invasion would «pay for itself», which would have made «regime change» to a US puppet regime like most of the others in the region O so much easier). If the cost of that destruction is the destruction of Iraq as a united polity and the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of its residents, that's no skin off, say, Richard Bruce Cheney's nose. Nor, is it implausible that the people of the US can be made, by appealing to the «GWOT» or whatever the permanent war is being called nowadays, to support the kind of attrition - perhaps 3000 dead and 20000 wounded (contract employees included) in about 40 months of fighting - that they have hitherto been taking. So far, indeed, the war hasn't gone too badly - if less well than they hoped - for its perpetrators. And no, the Iraqi resistance, for various reasons, some of them home-grown, some of them a consequence of the TINA attitude which has spread throughout the world - enjoys neither the kind of international popular support nor that of the governments of major powers given the Indo-Chinese peoples in their earlier struggle against imperialist aggression....

So if the US leadership could be satisfied with its four monster bases in post-Iraq (plus one in the Kurdish regions) and control over the economy (what there is of that) and oil production (what there is of that), it might well «win» the war - or at least not lose. But, and to my mind it is a very large «but», the US leadership will not and cannot be satisfied with what it has attained - as US goals are not limited to Iraq, the control over which constitutes only one step, albeit a major one, towards achieving that dominance over Southwest and Central Asia which is the essential aim of its policy. The 300 kg gorilla remains Iran : taking out Iraq was not enough - to establish its dominance in the energy heartlands of the planet, the US must succeed in installing a client government in Tehran, just as it did when Mohammed Mossadegh was overthrown in 1953. The Iranian government is, despite the spin, not made up of fools, and they are quite willing to come to a modus vivendi with the United States concerning Iraq, nuclear power, etc, etc. But it strikes me as extremely unlikely that their willingness to accommodate the United States extends quite to the point of self-destruction. And the ability of the US to seize the prize of Iran, while being constrained to be so heavily engaged in Iraq is certainly open to question - why else are the hot-warriors of the present administration now pursuing the «diplomatic route» (while, of course, continually threatening to use weapons, including nuclear ones, to resolve the self-made «crisis») ? And as Professor Klare made clear in his recent article, while neither China nor Russia will go so far as to militarily confront the United States (their leaders are not fools either), they are going to strongly resist that country's attempt to obtain total hegemony in that vital region. Whatever happens in Iraq, I think it unlikely that the US will ever find the glass of Southwest and Central Asia more than half full....

20 June 2006.

  • The US proconsul in Iraq (in more polite circles aka as the «ambassador» to the latest version of the «Iraqi government», installed by the US to carry out certain tasks which it is believed are best left to the locals), Zalmay Khalilzad - an interesting figure who performed similar functions in Afghanistan, another US «success story» - sent a memo on 6 June to Condoleeza Rice which has now been leaked and and an edited version made available in today's Independent. Even in edited form, the memo seems to offer a far more realistic view of the results of the US invasion of Iraq than the pronouncements with which the Departments of Spin and Propaganda of that faith-based US administration are wont to provide us. Given the Independent's distressing propensity to require fees for access to its articles after only a few day's free online availability, I copy below the article in extenso so that my readers might know whereof I speak. First my comments, as posted to StumbleUpon, and then the article :

Things are getting better in Iraq, the US administration tells us - one might ask, better for whom ? If they are not improving for employees of the imperial embassy, what do they look like for ordinary Iraqis ? But the US administration, which is not known for tender concern for its employees, whether Iraqis or US citizens (note how it treats its soldiers and veterans), does seem to have come a long way towards attaining its primary objective in Iraq : the destruction of Iraq as a unified polity capable of resisting US hegemony in the region. However, the region cannot be adequately controlled if the US cannot also determine the course of events in Iran - will the attempt to subjugate that country be the straw that finally breaks the back of the US empire ?...

The ugly truth about everyday life in Baghdad (by the US ambassador)

FROM: US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Baghdad
TO: Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State

Published: 20 June 2006

1. Iraqi staff in the Public Affairs sector have complained that Islamist and Militia groups have been negatively affecting daily routine. Harassment over proper dress and habits is increasingly persuasive. They also report power cuts and fuel prices have diminished their quality of life.

Women's Rights

2. Two of our three female employees report stepped up harassment beginning in mid-May. One, a Shia who favors Western clothing, was advised by an unknown woman in her Baghdad neighbourhood to wear a veil and not to drive her own car. She said some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.

3. Another, a Sunni, said people in her neighbourhood are harassing women and telling them to cover up and stop using cell phones. She said the taxi driver who brings her every day to the green zone has told her he cannot let her ride unless she wears a headcover. A female in the PAS cultural section is now wearing a full abaya after receiving direct threats.

4. The women say they cannot identify the groups pressuring them. The cautions come from other women, sometimes from men who could be Sunni or Shia, but appear conservative. Some ministries, notably the Sadrist controlled Ministry of Transportation, have been forcing females to wear the hijab at work.

Dress Code For All?

5. Staff members have reported it is now dangerous for men to wear shorts in public; they no longer allow their children to play outside in shorts. People who wear jeans in public have come under attack.

6. One colleague beseeched us to help a neighbor who was uprooted in May from her home of 30 years, on the pretense of application of some long-disused law. The woman, who is a Fayli Kurd, says she has nowhere to go, but the courts give them no recourse to this new assertion of power. Such uprootings may be response by new Shia government authorities to similar actions against Arabs by Kurds in other parts of Iraq. (NOTE: An Arab newspaper editor told us he is preparing an extensive survey of ethnic cleansing, which he said is taking place in almost every Iraqi province, as political parties and their militias are seemingly engaged in tit-for-tat reprisals all over Iraq.)

Power Cuts and Fuel Shortages a Drain on Society

7. Temperatures in Baghdad have already reached 115 degrees. Employees all confirm that, by the last week of May, they were getting one hour of power for every six hours without. By early June, the situation had improved slightly. In Hal al-Shaab, power has recently improved from one in six to one in three hours. Other staff report similar variances. Central Baghdad neighborhood Bab al-Nu'atham has had no city power for over a month. Areas near hospitals, political party headquarters and the green zone have the best supply. One staff member reported a friend lives in a building that houses the new minister; within 24 hours of his appointment, her building had city power 24 hours a day.

8. All employees supplement city power with service contracted with neighborhood generator hookups that they pay for monthly. One employee pays 7500 Iraqi dinars (ID) per ampere to get 10 amperes per month (75,000 ID = $50/month). For this, her family gets eight hours of power per day, with service ending at 2am.

9. Fuel queues. One employee told us that he had spent 12 hours on his day off waiting to get gas. Another staff member confirmed that shortages were so dire, prices on the black market in much of Baghdad were now above 1,000 ID per liter (the official, subsidized price is 250 ID)

Kidnappings, and Threats of Worse

10. One employee informed us that his brother-in-law had been kidnapped. The man was eventually released but this caused enormous emotional distress to his family. One employee, a Sunni Kurd, received an indirect threat on her life in April. She took extended leave, and by May, relocated abroad with her family.

Security Forces Mistrusted

11. In April, employees began reporting a change in demeanor of guards at the green zone checkpoints. They seemed to be militia-like in some cases seemingly taunting. One employee asked us to get her some press credentials because the guards held her embassy badge up and proclaimed loudly to passers-by "Embassy" as she entered. Such information is a death sentence if heard by the wrong people.

Supervising Staff At High Risk

12. Employees all share a common tale: of nine employees in March, only four had family members who knew they worked at the embassy. Iraqi colleagues who are called after hours often speak in Arabic as an indication they cannot speak openly in English.

13. We cannot call employees in on weekends or holidays without blowing their "cover". A Sunni Arab female employee tells us family pressures and the inability to share details of her employment is very tough; she told her family she was in Jordon when we sent her on training to the US. Mounting criticism of the US at home among family members also makes her life difficult. She told us in mid-June that most of her family believes the US - which is widely perceived as fully controlling the country and tolerating the malaise - is punishing the population as Saddam did (but with Sunnis and very poor Shia now at the bottom of the list). Otherwise, she says, the allocation of power and security would not be so arbitrary.

14. Some of our staff do not take home their American cell phones, as it makes them a target. They use code names for friends and colleagues and contacts entered into Iraq cell phones. For at least six months, we have not been able to use any local staff for translation at on-camera press events.

15. We have begun shredding documents that show local staff surnames. In March, a few members approached us to ask what provisions would we make for them if we evacuate.

Sectarian Tensions Within Families

16. Ethnic and sectarian faultlines are becoming part of the daily media fare in the country. One Shia employee told us in late May that she can no longer watch TV news with her mother, who is Sunni, because her mother blamed all the government failings on the fact that Shia are in charge. Many of the employee's family left Iraq years ago. This month, another sister is departing for Egypt, as she imagines the future here is too bleak.

Frayed Nerves and Mistrust

17. Against this backdrop of frayed social networks, tension and moodiness have risen. A Sunni Arab female apparently insulted a Shia female by criticizing her overly liberal dress. One colleague told us he feels " defeated" by circumstances, citing the example of being unable to help his two-year-old son who has asthma and cannot sleep in the stifling heat.

18. Another employee tells us life outside the Green Zone has become "emotionally draining". He claims to attend a funeral "every evening". He, like other local employees, is financially responsible for his immediate and extended families. He revealed that "the burden of responsibility; new stress coming from social circles who increasingly disapprove of the coalition presence, and everyday threats weigh very heavily".

Staying Straight with Neighborhood Governments and the 'Alama'

19. Staff say they daily assess how to move safely in public. Often, if they must travel outside their neighborhoods, they adopt the clothing, language, and traits of the area. Moving inconspicuously in Sadr City requires Shia dress and a particular lingo.

20. Since Samarra, Baghdadis have honed survival skills. Vocabulary has shifted. Our staff - and our contacts - have become adept in modifying behaviour to avoid "Alasas", informants who keep an eye out for "outsiders" in neighborhoods. The Alasa mentality is becoming entrenched as Iraqi security forces fail to gain public confidence.

21. Staff report security and services are being rerouted through " local providers" whose affiliations are vague. Those who are admonishing citizens on their dress are not well known either. Personal safety depends on good relations with "neighborhood" governments, who barricade streets and ward off outsiders. People no longer trust most neighbours.

22. A resident of Shia/Christian Karrada district told us "outsiders" have moved in and control the mukhtars.

23. Although our staff retain a professional demeanor, strains are apparent. We see their personal fears are reinforcing divisive sectarian or ethnic channels. Employees are apprehensive enough that we fear they may exaggerate developments or steer us towards news that comports with their own world view. Objectivity, civility, and logic that make for a functional workplace may falter if social pressures outside the Green Zone don't abate.

(This is an edited version of the memo)

The problem with Mr Gittings' analysis lies not so much in the answers he provides to the questions he poses - no, a test of a long-range missile (not prohibited, as he points out, under international law, so long as proper notice is given) would not reasonably constitute a 'provocation' to that easily provoked entity, the US administration, and no, North Korea does not represent a threat to the United States - but in the questions themselves. They represent a kind of bait-and-switch tactic designed to prevent the questions that need to be asked - does the United States, with its nuclear arsenal and its missiles, both short-, medium-, and long-range, represent a threat to North Korea ? Are the tens of thousands of US troops in South Korea and tens of thousands more in nearby Japan (from which Korea has been invaded several times) a provocation to North Korea ? Does the US refusal to sign, or even negotiate, a peace treaty with the North Koreans to put a formal end to the Korean War constitute a danger to world peace ? - from coming to the fore. Mr Gittings refrains from posing these vital questions, placing himself instead securely in the ranks of those who assume as a matter of course, never, never to be examined, that, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary amassed during the last six decades, it is only the United States which can legitimately be 'provoked' by the action of another state (usually described as 'failed') and that only other states, not the United States, can constitute a threat to world peace. Mr Gittings' analysis certainly does not provide a justification for a US attack, nuclear or otherwise, on North Korea, but the questions he chooses to ask and his refusal to pose the uncomfortable questions that need to be asked do provide, along with the work of other like-minded academics and journalists, the background against which just this type of intervention are justified to credulous residents of countries like the US and the UK by their leaders (cf the discussion as to whether or not Saddam Hussein's Iraq represented a threat to the US or the UK in the lead-up to a war decide upon at least a year and a half before it started). And the effect of such academic ground work should not be minimised - just look at Mark Regan's posting from Bethel Alaska complaining that Mr Gittings should not take the 'North Korean threat' to Alaska so cavalierly ! Just to put the matter in perspective, one might like to ask Mr Regan : how many troops armed with both conventional and nuclear weapons, does North Korea have in northwestern Canada, poised to destroy Alaska ? It is a pity we do not have a correspondent from Pyongyang or Kangye to present us with a different perspective....

23 June 2006.

  • Henry C K Liu, a frequent contributor to the pages of theAsia Times, and who is there presented as «chairman of a New York-based private investment group» has today published the first part of a two-part essay, entitled CHINA AND THE US - The lame duck and the greenhorn. Below, the response I posted to StumbleUpon and which, in slightly abbreviated form, was posted to and published in the letters section of the A-Times :

I strongly recommend this article to my fellow stumblers, not merely or even mainly for the quality of the analysis, but because the Weltanschauung lying behind it is so very different from that almost inevitably embraced, implicitly if not explicitly, by commentators from the US or Europe, no matter what their declared political colour ; i e, that the United States is the centre of the planet, if not the universe («the indispensable nation» in Mme Albright's memorable phrase), and that the rest of the world is mere periphery. Mr Liu obviously does not share this view, and it is therefore refreshing - and not a little shocking - to read him....

  • Natürlich, das einfache Volk will keinen Krieg […] Aber schließlich sind es die Führer eines Landes, die die Politik bestimmen, und es ist immer leicht, das Volk zum Mitmachen zu bringen, ob es sich nun um eine Demokratie, eine faschistische Diktatur, um ein Parlament oder eine kommunistische Diktatur handelt. […] das Volk kann mit oder ohne Stimmrecht immer dazu gebracht werden, den Befehlen der Führer zu folgen. Das ist ganz einfach. Man braucht nichts zu tun, als dem Volk zu sagen, es würde angegriffen, und den Pazifisten ihren Mangel an Patriotismus vorzuwerfen und zu behaupten, sie brächten das Land in Gefahr. Diese Methode funktioniert in jedem Land.» (Hermann Göring - WikiQuote)

A telling example of how this method has been and is presently being employed in a United States where Franklin Roosevelt's dictum that «the only thing we have to fear is fear itself» seems to have been successfully extinguished from the consciousness of the people is detailed by Tom Barry in an article entitled US : Danger, danger everywhere, also in today's number of the Asia Times. A military budget which exceeds that of the rest of the world combined - and yet it is the Other who is dangerous !...

  • Greg Palast has published a comment entitled Democracy in chains in the commentisfree section of today's Guardian. My response (with minor editorial modifications) as posted to the thread :


Mr Palast seems to have discovered the source of the «democracy» that the United States administration has so kindly and of its own free will exported to the people of Iraq ; there not being quite enough to go 'round, that which was dispatched to Iraq with white phosphorous bombs and shells and new, improved versions of napalm has been taken from the people of the United States itself. Hardly anything surprising in this - is that not the way empires are supposed to work, in jedem Land ?

At left, satellite image of Florida today ; at right, projection with sea-level increase of 5-6 metres

    Jim Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University's Earth Institute, has written a review under the title The threat to the planet, which he finds it necessary to characterise «as personal views under the protection of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution», of three books on global warming and one related film in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. Below the response I posted toStumbleUpon :

Let us hope that King George and his unitary executive will not succeed in abolishing the First Amendment to the US Constitution* and that those who dare to speak up - albeit at a rather late stage in the game - like Dr Hansen will attract enough listeners in the United States to make a difference. If King George had not been selected by the US Supreme Court in December 2000, things would probably look a lot different today - and not only in the United States, but in China and India as well, as these countries tend to imitate what the former country does (not, of course, what it says, which is usually a different matter entirely), no matter how pig-headed and idiotic....

*It is a rather telling comment upon the state of affairs in the United States today that a man like Dr Hansen would find it incumbent upon himself to make explicit the Constitutional basis for his right to express his opinions on a scientific matter....

  • A few days ago, in the latest issue of his Anti-Empire Report, William Blum published a summary of the present state of affairs in Iraq, more than three years after the United States invaded that country. The list makes depressing reading, even if it hardly comes as a surprise to those who have made an attempt to penetrate behind the spin. Below my posting to StumbleUpon :

That «democracy» which was removed from the USA and brought to Iraq (cf my review yesterday of Greg Palast's article) seems to have become strangely distorted in transition. One wonders what other distortions are in store, when troops traumatised and brutalised in the vicious repression in Iraq come home to the USA and take jobs in such sectors as the police or private «security» firms. Something perhaps can be learned from the French experience after the war in Algeria - and that does not bode well for the residents of the USA. The price of empire is paid not only abroad, but also at home....

  • Terrorists in Miami, O my ! Robert Parry has just published an article in his Consortiumnews in which he compares the arrest of seven young black men in Miami whose crime, according to the FBI was more «aspirational than operational», with the lack of action taken against Bush-family protogees like Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, whose crimes have been operational indeed, killing many. Señor Bosch walks the streets of Miami a free man, and while Señor Posada has been taken into custody after Venezuela requested extradition (it was Posada who, together with Bosch, in 1976 arranged for the bombing of a Cubana Airlines flight originating in Caracas, which resulted in the loss of 73 lives), the Bush administration has stalled on sending Posada to Venezuela. It is reassuring to know that the Bush administration doesn't draw all terrorists over one comb, but continues to make those essential distinctions between «friendly» and «unfriendly» terrorists. Below, my brief response in a posting to StumbleUpon :

Obviously, to those in Washington whose notions of reality are «faith-based» (a faith mainly in their own righteousness), not all terrorist cats are grey in the dark...

25 June 2006.

  • Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, recently published an leader on truthout entitled Next victim : Iran or North Korea. Given his background, he not unnaturally concentrated on the perversions to which the process of conveying intelligence to decision makers, in particular Mr Bush, who seems to be left out of the loop at least as regards the details, has been subjected by the present US administration. My response, as posted to StumbleUpon, discusses neither intelligence nor Iran, but deals exclusively with relations between the US and North Korea :

More on the present US administration's inability to conceive of a diplomacy that is not either an excuse for or a prelude to war. The obvious solution would be to enter into secret talks with the government of the DPRK concerning the signing of a treaty of peace between the two nations - 53 years after the armistice which ended the large-scale hostilities in the Korean War, it does seem about time ! Naturally such a step would have costs - just as, for example, Nixon's trip to China in 1972 involved costs (the Japanese were not entirely pleased then and would not be pleased now, and how the Chinese would react is not easy to gauge), but the benefits to the US would be great, if not quite on the scale of those gained by Nixon when China attached itself firmly to the US side in the latter's contest with the USSR. But the present US regime has been seduced by its own military power and is incapable of thinking out of the box. Thus do empires destroy themselves....

  • A 99 minute long video, entitled Why we fight and directed by Eugene Jarecki, has been made available on the Information Clearing House website for viewing or download. It contains the prophetic passages from US President Dwight David Eisenhower's Farewell Address warning of the «military-industrial complex» (yes, the same Dwight David Eisenhower that ordered the CIA to organise and carry out the plot to overthrow Dr Mohammed Mossadegh, the elected Prime Minister of Iran, in order to maintain access to cheap oil - Eisenhower was a complex man) and film sequences from some of the United States' many wars and military «interventions» since the end of the last war to be declared, as the US Constitution demands, by the Congress - WW II. But its main thrust is on the background to the war on Iraq, with interviews with both victims and perpetrators. A must see !...

  • ESA has released an attention-grabbing video taken during a Venus Express orbit of the planet, which shows a double vortex made by winds about the planet's South Pole. The mission is shaping up to be a redounding success, and will no doubt teach us a great deal about our sister planet. But I can't help thinking that the most important lessons to be learned deal not with Venus but with Terra. This, at any rate, is the brief posting I sent to StumbleUpon :


Fascinating ! But please, let's do something about the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, before we end up with the same oven-like environment on Terra as that obtaining on Venus !...


29 June 2006.

  • Henry Porter, the London editor of Vanity Fair, has published an commentary entitled Blair's Big Brother Legacy in the Round Table sectionen of that journal's latest issue. The commentary will not reassure those alarmed by the on-going erosion of civil liberties in what is often referred to as «the Western World», and might even suffice to awaken some of those who hitherto have preferred to ignore the question entirely. My comment, as posted to StumbleUpon :

Should anyone doubt that during the last nine years, Mr Blair and his ministers have been successfully engaged in a steady, serious, and, alas, largely successful encroachment upon the liberties of the residents of the UK, reading Mr Porter's article* will suffice to disabuse them. And these things spread, whether due to example or as a response to similar circumstances : the present Swedish government in the person of Minister of Justice (sic !) Thomas Bodström is doing what it can to erode our liberties here in Sweden as well. But, the attentive reader will say, you have a general election coming up in September and can throw the bums out ! Yes, indeed, but alas, only the congenitally naive can believe that the alternative, the so-called «Alliance», would not, in their attempts to recast Swedish society along US/UK lines, prove even worse....

*Reprinted in today's Independent

30 June 2006.

Why this enormous increase - over 25 % - in the prison population in the UK during Mr Blair's term of office ? Has this been a necessary response to an increase in crime (and how is it, then, one would need to ask, that this purported increase has come about ?) or has it rather a basis in Mr Blair's hatred and fear of the poor ? And why are prisons permitted to be run in such a way as to allow such events as that described in this article to occur ? Is there a connexion, if not operational then at least ideological, to the trigger-happy antics of the British, in particular London, police, who seem to take a particular joy in shooting those of darker complexions than those of a majority of Britons....

  • In today's number of that same newspaper, the reader also finds Steve Connor's article entitled Global warming may lead to colder winters in Britain, which points out the danger presented by global warming to the thermo-haline circulation in the North Atlantic, so decisive for the climate of Northern Europe. Below, the brief response I posted to StumbleUpon :

And if winters get colder in Britain, think what they're going to be like here in Fenno-Scandia ! Brrrr !...