Monday, September 27, 2004

Greatly indebted

/ Greece / budget / imaginary /
Well, it's not as if this was unexpected... Kathimerini is right in claiming that "...ever since 1997" they have "...repeatedly drawn attention to the government’s falsification of budget data..." Even my humbleness would have been willing to bet good money that the miraculous numbers that the Greek economy was achieving were in large part fictitious. PASOK has chosen to attack rather than accept the blame:

“We were insistent from the start of the government’s tenure that a non-transparent audit would result in the defamation of our country,” said PASOK leader George Papandreou. Christodoulakis claimed the government was “rewriting history” in order to cover up its lack of policies, while Papantoniou said the audit had been conducted in secret, “in the corridors of government.” He also claimed that PASOK had an understanding with Eurostat as to how to incorporate military spending into the government accounts.

Yet the EU denies such an arrangement:

European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia denied Friday that Greece's previous socialist government had an arrangement with the EU's statistics arm Eurostat on how to calculate the country's public deficit.

Asked by private radio station Flash if such an accord existed, Almunia said: "No. Statistical information is not a question of negotiations but of substantiated data". The remarks were a translation into Greek.

...but this is certainly not the whole story... I find it hard to believe that the Commission was surprised by the discrepancies:

...Doubts over the reliability of Greek economic figures are not new and were not provoked by the government's audit, said Alogoskoufis, who claimed the IMF and Eurostat had expressed concern over Greece's official returns in the past. «There was a huge discrepancy, creating a lot of suspicion from everybody, which undermined the trustworthiness of the country,» said Alogoskoufis.

On Saturday, European Central Bank Vice President Lucas Papademos, former governor of the Bank of Greece, said the revisions should have come as no surprise as the figures were in Greek central bank reports and known to Eurostat...[emphasis mine]

Apart from PASOK's fraud and the blatant hypocrisy, there is a real issue here, concerning both the military and the Olympic expenditures (if I hear any more gloating about "our successful Olympics" I swear I'll kill a pundit or two!)

In terms of military expenditure Greece is up there above Lebanon, Pakistan and the DR of Congo! (and they're not counting various "black" budget expenses and allocations to other ministries for military-related expenses...) Frankly, whether the current détente with Turkey persists or not, the EU can't really hinder military expenditures. I am well aware that many in Europe consider that Greece is under no external threat whatsoever, I tend to agree, but I would advise all of them to spend a few months on the island of Lesvos and see the nice Turkish fighter planes roaring directly overhead. Given the fact that the military elite, which is still playing a major role in governing our heavily armed Eastern neighbour, harbours a rather expansionist mentality (something that might change with Erdogan - let's see), the only way that Greece can accept the indirect limitation of its right to self-defense is if the EU guarantees its current legal borders. In that case I would be willing to participate in all kinds of civil unrest in order to disband the Greek army and turn swords to ploughshares...

So, yes Papantoniou is probably talking nonsense, but this is a real and non-trivial issue for the time being.

...And don't even get me started on the discussion of what exactly the deficit and debt caps achieve... (quick and fast answer: among other things it's a tool for the dismantling of the European welfare state and the Americanization of European economies - and thus societies... Well, Northern European societies... over here we have a mixed economical model, part Russian oligarch-type capitalism with widespread corruption and part selectively unregulated market economy, with a heavy dose of the most inefficient public sector imaginable). And, as a thought-experiment, imagine the US economy burdened by anything as restrictive as our growth and stability pact: imagine its growth rate...

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Chomsky succumbs to lesser-evilism, endorses Kerry

/ lesser / evils /
Well, not that there's anything wrong with that, in this particular case, and it's not new... Anyway, he seems to see this as a "popular front" issue, where it is imperative to block the nutters from returning to power, even at the cost of strengthening policies one is also opposed to.
John Pilger vehemenhtly disagrees:
The multilateralism or "muscular internationalism" that Kerry offers in contrast to Bush's unilateralism is seen as hopeful by the terminally naive; in truth, it beckons even greater dangers. Having given the American elite its greatest disaster since Vietnam, writes the historian Gabriel Kolko, Bush "is much more likely to continue the destruction of the alliance system that is so crucial to American power. One does not have to believe the worse the better, but we have to consider candidly the foreign policy consequences of a renewal of Bush's mandate . . . As dangerous as it is, Bush's re-election may be a lesser evil." With Nato back in train under President Kerry, and the French and Germans compliant, American ambitions will proceed without the Napoleonic hindrances of the Bush gang.

Michael Albert has a more inclusive (one would say diplomatic) approach to this...

So we are down to one debatable disagreement, it seems. In contested states should leftists spend any time trying to increase the vote for Cobb or Nader instead of being quiet or aiding Kerry? This is contentious. Logically, writing and speaking about it could affect people’s choices. But I bet those who are for aiding Cobb or Nader are not going to convince those who are against doing so that they should start doing it. And I bet those who are against aiding Cobb or Nader are not going to convince those who are for doing so that they should stop doing it. So what is the point of reams of back and forth debate that can sour otherwise positive relations, I wonder?

At this point, the arguments have been made. So why don’t we just do our things, hopefully including non electoral things, leaving one another alone, and letting the results of our separate efforts impact subsequent choices? I bet all sides will be better off for it.

And I'd love to see Pilger debate Chomsky on this...

Monday, September 20, 2004

The Turkish Bell Jar [pdf file]

/ turkey / crossroads /
From the New Left Review, Çaglar Keyder presents a very interesting analysis of Turkey, the decisions it is facing and the societal transformations it is undergoing

..."Against a background of high unemployment and fragile economic recovery, the neo-Islamist AKP is submitting its supporters among the urban poor to the programmes of the IMF, Pentagon and Kemalist elite. Internal pressures on NATO's Middle East bridgehead and EU candidate member."

And as a side comment on Erdogan's recent anti-adultery laws and the resulting furor, let me point out two things:
1. To fellow Greeks: adultery over here was decriminalized sometime in the early 80s by PASOK over the loud protests of the "righteous", church-going right.
2. It's a good thing that the state of Virginia won't be applying for EU membership anytime soon, since it is one of the 23 US states, where adultery is considered a crime (while having sex out of wedlock is considered a crime in ten)! In the American Bible Belt Erdogan's Islamic party would be considered way too permissive I fear...

Planet of the Slums

/ urbanization / cancerous /
Urban theorist Mike Davis, author of the celebrated "City of Quartz" talks about the "future history of the Third World’s post-industrial megacities. A billion-strong global proletariat ejected from the formal economy, with Islam and Pentecostalism as songs of the dispossessed."
"Sometime in the next year, a woman will give birth in the Lagos slum of Ajegunle, a young man will flee his village in west Java for the bright lights of Jakarta, or a farmer will move his impoverished family into one of Lima’s innumerable pueblos jovenes. The exact event is unimportant and it will pass entirely unnoticed. Nonetheless it will constitute a watershed in human history. For the first time the urban population of the earth will outnumber the rural. Indeed, given the imprecisions of Third World censuses, this epochal transition may already have occurred..."

Joanne Mariner: Inside Darfur, a Photo Essay

/ sudan / darfur / destruction /
Just a few images from the darfur. Hardly much, but highly suggestive, especially since I haven't been able to find other photos from the devastated area. Traces of large scale mayhem and murder.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Chechnya and the Caucasus

/ geopolitics / caucasus / bloody /
This is an excellent and thorough summary of the situation in the Caucasus, not only as far as Chechnya is concerned but for the whole region... It's a great primer on what the hell is going on over there... Gary Leupp's conclusion is worth noting:
Thus the main issue in the Caucasus is not Islam, or Chechen terrorism, but geopolitical control, with the U.S. and Russia competing to depict their competition as a War on Terror.

To this the world should simply say, with Bertolt Brecht, "The valley to the waterers, that it yield fruit." (Caucasian Chalk Circle, Act V)

Speaking of Chechnya and Caucasian geopolitics, let me introduce you to the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC, mentioned in the linked article). It's members include Richard Perle and a hoarde of major and minor US establishment figures... Can anyone think of anything more ironic than Richard Perle supporting the Chechen cause?... The double standard seems almost too painful to bear... I mean, doesn't anyone ask him about it?

Also well worth reading is an analysis of the situation in Chechnya, published in the Asia Times, titled "Russia's second Afghanistan" written by Dr Michael A Weinstein. This confirms the issue's geopolitical angle:

...Just as was the case in its intervention in Afghanistan, Russia faces the additional problem that the opposition to its policies is aided by the US. Chechen businessman Malik Saydullayev, who would have been the only credible candidate contesting Alkhanov in the presidential election had he not been barred from running because of a technical problem with his passport, has said that "Russia has geopolitical and geostrategic interests in the Caucasus, the heart of which is Chechnya, and developed NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] countries also have interests in the Caucasus. This war is over these interests."

In the current strategic environment, the US is constrained to give public support to Russian efforts to curb terrorism, but that does not mean that it takes Russia's side in practice. Not only did the US criticize the August 29 election as being "neither free nor fair", but it has granted asylum to Ilyas Akhmadov, the foreign minister of Maskhadov's opposition government, leaving him free to pursue diplomacy aimed at winning international support for Maskhadov's Republic of Ichkeria....

... Maskhadov is pursuing a novel strategy of sending his government ministers into exile in different countries so that they can gain maximum diplomatic leverage. Culture minister Akhmed Zakayev has been granted asylum in Great Britain; health minister Umar Khanbiyev is in France; social defense minister Apti Bisultanov is based in Germany. Maskhadov's dispersion strategy has led to publicity for his proposal to internationalize the Chechen conflict through guarantees of the country's autonomy and to contacts with non-government organizations. Whether NATO powers are formally involved with the Ichkerian exile government is unclear, but at the very least they are granting it a measure of legitimacy and sending a signal to Moscow that they are not supportive of its success in Chechnya.

A maze of a situation, in which the innocent are routinely paying for the "strategic moves" of various states and interests. "Third forces" are invoked (interestingly "those who brought Putin to power" - the FSB?), the west is accused of aiding and abetting terrorists, John Laughland nods in agreement, yet the wise folks over at the "exile" provide proof that the western media are placating Putin's atrocities...

Nothing is what it seems to be.

A Gandhi in Palestine

/ politics / non-violent / worth a try /
Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi's grandson visited Israel / Palestine a couple of weeks ago..."Observing that the Jews were "dehumanising" the Palestinians by allowing "discriminatory" acts against them, [he] has urged the strife-torn sides to banish the philosophy of hate." He also told Palestinian protesters at Israel's West Bank barrier that "the wall recalled the way South Africa's former white-minority regime treated blacks."
Gandhi "emphasised the need for Palestinians to adopt peaceful methods in their struggle against Israelis.'You need to concentrate on a policy of non-violence for the long term...If the Palestinian people rise up and start a non-violent movement, it will boost world sympathy,' he told reporters, adding 'the nations of the world will rise up and put more pressure on Israel.'"

Now that is good advice. At the present moment with the Palestinian struggle facing a murderous opponent, the literally suicidal strategy of direct confrontation is leading nowhere... Or to somewhere very unpleasant.
Not that I'm among those who see non-violent resistance as a cure-for-all (it assumes a certain amount of humanity from the oppressor that is most definitely not always there), rather it's that there can be no real solution to the Palestinian problem (one- or two-state) that doesn't require the creation of political ties with that part of Israeli society most uncomfortable with Israel role as ruthless occupier: the Israeli left... This echoes in a sense the late Edward Said, who, addressing the people of Palestine, pointed out that

"... We have not at all understood the politics of non-violence. Moreover, neither have we understood the power of trying to address Israelis directly, the way the ANC addressed the white South Africans, as part of a politics of inclusion and mutual respect.

Coexistence is our answer to Israeli exclusivism and belligerence. This is not conceding: it is creating solidarity, and therefore isolating the exclusivists, the racists, the fundamentalists..."

The added benefit is that such a strategy would create an atmosphere in which the Palestinian left would have the upper hand over the Islamic groups, while shifting Israeli politics noticably away from Sharon and the hawks in general... Which is exactly the reason that such a strategy would be bitterly fought against by both the fundamentalists and the militarists...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

An explosive concert?

/ marketing / 2004 /
Ivan Shapovalov is probably the most unscrupulous man in show business anywhere on the planet...
Russians, still in shock at the Beslan tragedy, have reacted angrily to a music producer’s plans for what he calls a “terror concert”, with a female singer dressed as a suicide bomber on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The singer, called n.A.T.o. in a spin-off of the “lesbian schoolgirl” t.A.T.u. duo that took the West by storm, wears a long black dress, a veil, and sings in Arabic. Producer Ivan Shapovalov, who launched both groups, does not deny that the resemblance to a suicide bomber is intentional.

Tickets to Saturday’s show have also been made to look like plane tickets.

“Shapovalov is exploiting the topical theme of terrorism ... The tragedy in Beslan did little to stop his creative drive,” the Izvestia daily wrote.

In less important news from Russia, Putin has, yet again used terrorism as a vehicle to transform Russia from a mob-ruled kleptocracy to a centralized authoritarian state...

Friday, September 10, 2004

Reinventing democracy

/ democracy / fixes /
Nobel prize winner in literature José Saramago, talks about the waning of democracy and how to save it. Excerpt:

To describe a government as socialist or social-democratic, or even conservative or liberal, and to apply the word power to it, is a cosmetic operation. Real - economic - power lies elsewhere. We perceive it only dimly. It slips away whenever we approach it yet hits hard if we attempt to loosen its grasp and subordinate it to the public interest. Citizens do not elect governments so that those governments can serve up the citizens to the market on a platter. But the market conditions governments to make a present of their citizens. In our era of free-market globalisation, the market is the super-instrument of the only powers worthy of the name, economic and financial power. That power is not democratic: it was not elected by the people; it is not managed by the people; and the people’s happiness is not its aim.

These are elementary truths. Political strategists of whatever shade impose a safe silence so that no one dare imply that we are continuing to nurture a lie and act as willing accomplices. What we call democracy looks more and more like government by the rich and less and less like government by the people. We cannot deny the obvious: the masses of the poor called upon to vote are never called upon to govern. Assuming the poor could form a government in which they were the majority, as Aristotle imagined, they would lack the means necessary to change the organisation of the universe of the rich who dominate and control them.

In Afghanistan, Selling War As Peace

/ afghanistan / remember / afghanistan? /
Marc W. Herold writes on this first "liberated" country and the upcoming election sham:
...The one striking "success" of the United States has been its ability to get Afghans to do the fighting and be killed. This year has been a difficult one for an Afghan soldier serving the Karzai regime, much more deadly than being a Taliban or Al Qaeda member. For every Euro-American soldier who died, 10-13 Afghan troops were killed. "Afghanization" has been carried out with a vengeance, repeating the U.S. effort at Vietnamization. For every U.S. soldier killed in the Afghan theater, the Taliban/Al Qaeda has suffered 7-9 deaths - a relatively low ratio by historical standards....
...Does anyone really believe that on-the-ground reality in Afghanistan will change after October 9, 2004? October 9, 2004 will be for U.S. consumption, a veritable post-modern spectacle. Huge problems of vote-buying, intimidation, extremely biased resource availability to candidates (with Karzai and some Northern Alliance thugs holding the disproportionate amounts), the holding by one person of many voter cards, etc., but most importantly, how can a western-style election be realistically carried out in an environment where illiteracy rates are extremely high, and rampant violence abounds? More males are registered to vote as of August 25th then the number of eligible male voters. Indeed, the U.N. continually adjusts upwards its numbers of eligible voters! An Afghan voting card sells for $100 today....

See also The Afghanistan Failure

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Lliljana Colic is an idiot

/ serbia / political / de-evolution /
Serbia has suspended the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution for the current school year.

...The country's predominantly secular schools will eventually be allowed to reinstate it in the curriculum only if they balance it with lessons on creationism - the Old Testament belief in human descent from Adam and Eve.

The education minister, Ljiljana Colic, said: "Darwinism is a theory as dogmatic as the one which says God created the first man."

Ms Colic, an Orthodox Christian, did not dispute that her beliefs had influenced her decision.

"It is normal that a minister's personality leaves a mark", she said. "This is my mark and time will tell if I was right."

Two things crop up to mind:

a. This is an instructive lesson on what happens when you let Orthodox priests spread their ignorance on a country. An object lesson on what our own fundamentalist and power-mad archbishop here in Greece might attempt, given the opportunity.

b. Isn't the post-Milosevic political scenery enlightened?... Moving along with great strides to the 12th century, Serbia follows the most benighted of religious fanatics in middle America to join the most backwards wastelands of christian religious hysteria. And I'm sure the fundamentalists in the US are jumping up-and-down from joy now that they have an ally in a European country...

Always trust Kostunica to know how to pick them...

update Sept 10: Common sense has triumphed: "...After a deluge of protest from scientists, teachers and opposition parties, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica called Ms Colic in for a meeting.

They agreed to drop the move, [deputy education minister] Mr Brdar said..."

Relief... the post title remains accurate however. Let me also add that the first to attempt this return to ignorance in Europe was that other beacon of rationality and clarity of thought, the quasi-fascist Burlesquoni coalition... Over here in Greece the situation has had many ups and downs, though I'm under the impression that evolution is taught in Greek schools as biology ever since I was a schoolboy - although frankly I don't remember anymore!

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

March to a new drum

/ politics / effective /

Matt Taibbi on the recent NY protests. This makes so much sense to me that it hurts. The ineffectiveness (nay counter-productiveness) of these latest protests is so glaringly obvious, that I'm amazed they keep going... This doesn't apply only to the States BTW, some of it certainly applies to the world over. Who can possibly disagree with the following:

"We are raising a group of people whose only ideas about protest and opposition come from televised images of 40 years ago, when large public demonstrations could shake the foundations of society. There has been no organized effort of any kind to recognize that we now live in a completely different era, operating according to a completely different political dynamic. What worked then not only doesn't work now, it doesn't even make superficial sense now."

or with the obvious truth of:

The people who run this country are not afraid of much when it comes to the population, but there are a few things that do worry them. They are afraid we will stop working, afraid we will stop buying, and afraid we will break things. Interruption of commerce and any rattling of the cage of profit—that is where this system is vulnerable. That means boycotts and strikes at the very least, and these things require vision, discipline and organization.

Time for a serious rethink of tactics, globally.

Sunday, September 5, 2004


/ putin / chechnya / the begginning /
"In September 1999, a series of middle-of-the-night explosions shook Russian cities destroying several apartment blocks. More than 300 people died as they slept. The attacks, attributed to Chechen separatists, boosted the popularity of the hawkish would-be President Vladimir Putin. Then, a strange thing happened. A bomb was defused by the local police, and the trail of evidence led to the door of the FSB, the secret service. The FSB was forced to admit "an ill-conceived exercise", which was remarkably similar to the earlier explosions. Ever since, a question has lingered over Mr. Putin's presidency: Who Done It?"

A site dedicated to the September 99 appartment block bombings in Russia. Since this was the opening act of the second Chechen war, it's a rather pertinent to the recent horrors.
Very thorough site as far as I can tell.

Thursday, September 2, 2004

An antithesis is not an alternative

/iraq / dillemas / false /

Azmi Bishara's interesting take on recent developments in Iraq... Is Moqtada Al-Sadr the alternative to the American occupation of Iraq personified? No more than Kerry is to Bush, he writes... Excerpt:

"Would you want to live under a government ruled by Moqtada Al-Sadr? This question has been posed to baffle and embarrass democratically minded persons opposed to the US occupation of Iraq and the American project of global hegemony. Well, firstly, the answer is an unambiguous no. But, secondly, the question is not only rhetorical, it is also unambiguously demagogic. What is important about the Al-Sadr movement at present is that it casts into relief the nature of Iraqi social forces, especially among the Shia poor, as shaped by the occupation and its alliances in Iraqi society. In many senses, Moqtada Al-Sadr is a tragic inverse image of Iyad Allawi; he is the antithesis not the alternative."

And from the same issue of Al Ahram: In Najaf Nermeen Al-Mufti provides an eyewitness account of a holy city under siege...

Iraq in Athens

/ olympics / reports /
One of the most level headed, interesting and surprisingly misapprehensionless reports to come out of the Athens Olympics. Some minor gripes, but too insubstantial to mention. Languagehat (from whom I found the article) has a linguistic gripe about the rendering of names... He is right of course, but it's really kind of nitpicking...

A very interesting Iraqi immigrant in Athens POV...