Friday, January 28, 2005

The illiberators

/ torture / liberatory /
This is a story getting unbelievably little coverage by most media outlets, considering its enormity. The ACLU (bless them - they embody all that's good about US democracy) has issued a report titled: "Special Forces, Including TF 6-26, Implicated in Numerous Incidents; Abuse Not Confined to Abu Ghraib", which details that:

Investigative files released today by the American Civil Liberties Union suggest that the Army failed to aggressively investigate allegations of detainee abuse. Some of the investigations concern serious allegations of torture including electric shocks, forced sodomy and severe physical beatings.

"Government investigations into allegations of torture and abuse have been woefully inadequate," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "Some of the investigations have basically whitewashed the torture and abuse. The documents that the ACLU has obtained tell a damning story of widespread torture reaching well beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib."

Some utterly shocking details are included in the report, and the full vileness of the occupation is displayed in these released Pentagon documents - which, I warn, are not for those easily upset.

Meanwhile the Iraqi security forces, are themselves emulating their patrons and trying to re-establish the sort of astronomical vileness quotient that their predecessor government (also initially armed and trained by the same people) had become renowned for.

Tom Tomorrow offers the appropriate commentary.

via the unending fountain of web info that is Cursor

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Eric Hobsbawm: Delusions About Democracy

/ commodities / export / democracy /
The leading (probably) Marxist historian of our era, Eric Hobsbawm, refutes the simple-minded notions assosiated with the supposed spreading of democracy (to the Middle East or elsewhere). In the process he makes some pertinent points about democracy and international relations in general.
...Although great power action may have morally or politically desirable consequences, identifying with it is perilous because the logic and methods of state action are not those of universal rights. All established states put their own interests first. If they have the power, and the end is considered sufficiently vital, states justify the means of achieving it--particularly when they think God is on their side. Both good and evil empires have produced the barbarisation of our era, to which the "war against terror" has now contributed...

...While threatening the integrity of universal values, the campaign to spread democracy will not succeed. The 20th century demonstrated that states could not simply remake the world or abbreviate historical transformations. Nor can they easily effect social change by transferring institutions across borders. The conditions for effective democratic government are rare: an existing state enjoying legitimacy, consent and the ability to mediate conflicts between domestic groups. Without such consensus, there is no single sovereign people and therefore no legitimacy for arithmetical majorities. When this consensus is absent, democracy has been suspended (as is the case in Northern Ireland), the state has split (as in Czechoslovakia), or society has descended into permanent civil war (as in Sri Lanka). 'Spreading democracy' aggravated ethnic conflict and produced the disintegration of states in multinational and multicommunal regions after both 1918 and 1989...

...The effort to spread democracy is also dangerous in a more indirect way: it conveys to those who do not enjoy this form of government the illusion that it actually governs those who do. But does it? We now know something about how the actual decisions to go to war in Iraq were taken in at least two states of unquestionable democratic bona fides: the US and the UK. Other than creating complex problems of deceit and concealment, electoral democracy and representative assemblies had little to do with that process. Decisions were taken among small groups of people in private, not very different from the way they would have been taken in non-democratic countries...."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Irreligious intolerance in the EU

/ bull / papal /
I'm really not sure why the EU is worried about religious fundamentalism and freedom of speech in, say, Turkey, when as the above link demonstrates, (and this link as well), they should be doing something about the attitudes of existing member states....

Kosovo: The dice are rolling

/ kosovo / mess /
The International Crisis Group has published a report (the full report can be found here [pdf document]) describing the situation in Kosovo and proposing some recommendations as to the developments that should follow. Given the reputation and the board members of the ICG, it wouldn't be too much speculation to consider this as something that is being seriously considered and rather likely to be implemented (or attempted to be implemented anyway).
The proposal suggests that the push to reach "final status" in Kosovo (meaning independence) should start ASAP - and actually offers a timeline for its materialization. This, the report recommends, should proceed even if some won't play along:

It has to be contemplated that Serbia -- and perhaps Russia as well ­-- will refuse to cooperate with part or all of this. But the proposed process should not be held hostage to that eventuality: the situation on the ground in Kosovo is too fragile, and the status quo too unsustainable in too many ways, for the international community to allow its future status to be put on indefinite hold. While legitimate Serbian concerns should be taken fully into account, particularly about the status of Kosovo's Serb minority, Belgrade should be cautioned from the outset that "the train is leaving, with or without you", and encouraged to participate fully in achieving the best possible terms of settlement.

(I would hasten to note that this would create serious problems in Greece too and even if the Greek government went along with this plan, the consequences could be politically damaging for the Conservatives.)

Yet this proposal is, IMHO, dangerous and would, if implemented, create an even more unstable Western Balkans (and beyond?)... It would potentially spread further the destabilization that NATO's bombing disaster has inflicted in an already unstable area. This because it would legitimize nationalist violence and make it attractive to all sorts of secessionist movements, since the successful example of the Kosovo's violent secessionists, would be a guiding light to a variety of extreme nationalist elements in the broader region - with (part of) the Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia surely next in line.

The substantial arguments in support of Kosovo's independence are related to the containment of an already existing problem. However, should Kosovo be granted independence based on its majority's desires, it's hard to see on what grounds one can deny the will of , say, a majority (apparently - I'd be happy to stand corrected) of Bosnia's population and artificially keep a federation that these majorities do not desire... Bear in mind that I'm not talking about problems that will appear today or next year. This precedent will haunt the area for years to come and could contribute to conflagrations at any time - and you really never know when that time might come, as the example of the FRY shows clearly. The future is inherently uncertain - but creating extra sources of volatility, in an area that has a history of violently erupting tensions, is IMHO criminally idiotic - and I say this as someone who lives in the likely to be affected area and has no intention of fighting, or sending my children to fight, wars over anyone's nationalist autism.

The other problem for Kosovo, not addressed in the proposed "solution" is economic - and it concerns the fact that Kosovo has never been economically self-supporting and is not likely to become so anytime soon. Thus (given the fact that unification with Albania is explicitly rejected in the report) it appears that Kosovo will have to be sustained by the "international community" (whatever that means). Is this the sort of statelet/protectorate that the area needs?

OK, I'll try to avoid dwelling on the huge mess the NATO bombardments created (and my opinion, as has been stated here many times, is that, besides being criminal and illegal, the bombings made a bad situation worse at the time when realistic options existed that could have significantly improved it)... and try to be (uncharacteristically) constructive: What now then? Is there a solution that does not perpetuate and export the problem?

I never expected to be proposing this, but a possible way that, in my admittedly limited understanding, the Kosovo question can be now resolved is through a Regional Conference that will discuss the issue of borders, states and minorities in the region as a whole, and will arrive at an general solution for all of ex-Yugoslavia and conceivably beyond. This should be convened under the auspices of the UN and the EU, and should involve all affected and/or interested parties. The whole process will involve national trade-offs, but should conclude with an across the table deal, accepted and signed by all (major) parties. This comprehensive charter for the Balkan peninsula, would, in all probability include, for example, the eventual accession of (all or most of) Kosovo to Albania, in exchange for extensive autonomy / secession rights for Kosovar Serbs (and a possible redrawing of the map in Bosnia?)

P.S. I'd like to point out two things about the International Crisis Group:

- First, that having a group that includes Wesley Clark in its board, propose a solution for Kosovo, should be as attractive an idea for Serbs as having the hitman that shot at you among the medical team that will undertake the surgery.
- This is a very *ideological* outfit, really, as evidenced from their reports about Iraq, most glaringly in reporting the events leading to the war on Iraq. This report on whether there is an alternative to war in Iraq [pdf file], written a little before the invasion, provides for amusing reading today, especially in regard to Iraq's containment and weapons threat. Interestingly and characteristically when listing the possible rationales for going to war they name the following:

International consensus on whether there is a case for waging war against Iraq is hindered by disagreement about what such a war would be for, i.e. for which one or more of the three objectives outlined at the outset a war is to be fought:
  • External threat: Is it a war to remove a threat to international peace and security?

  • Disarmament: Is it a war to enforce Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1441 and previous resolutions demanding that Iraq disarm itself of all remaining weapons of mass destruction?

  • Internal Threat: Is it a war to overthrow an Iraqi regime that has behaved monstrously toward its own people?

  • The possibilty that the war might not be waged at all for these (rather ludicrous in realistic terms) benign motives, but rather it might involve (ah, the horror!) more mundane and materialistic strategies and benefits, is not at all considered. This is either an impressive show of Stalinesque indoctrination, or a statement about the honesty and the agenda of the group. You decide.

    link via balkan-scissors

    Monday, January 24, 2005

    Final edition for the press

    / press / pressured /
    As the ex-Maoist daily Libération ceded a large part of its shares to the banker Edouard de Rothschild, Ignacio Ramonet talks about the crisis of the press, of journalism and of the media in general. A very informative article - and allow me to quote the scariest, possibly, part:

    Recent statements by Serge Dassault confirm the worst fears. When he took over Le Figaro, he told his editors: “I would hope that, where possible, the newspaper will devote more thought to our commercial interests. In my view, there are sometimes news items that require a lot of caution. For instance, articles that talk about contracts being negotiated. There is some news that does more harm than good. The risk is that it threatens the commercial or industrial interests of our country”. What he meant by “our country” was his arms manufacturing company, Dassault-Aviation. Presumably it was also to protect his company that he censored the story about the fraudulent sale of Mirage aircraft to Taiwan, and the story about discussions between Jacques Chirac and Abdelaziz Bouteflika on the planned sale of Rafale aircraft to Algeria.

    He set off alarm bells for journalists when he expanded on his reasons for deciding to buy L’Express and Le Figaro. A newspaper, he said, “makes it possible to convey a certain number of healthy ideas . . . Leftwing ideas are non-healthy ideas. Today we’re in a mess because of leftwing ideas that are still around”. We could put these remarks beside comments by Patrick Le Lay of French media giant TF1. Describing his company’s mission he said: “The job of TF1 is to help Coca-Cola to sell its product. What we sell to Coca-Cola is an availability of human brain-time”. Such statements express starkly the dangers inherent in the overlap of information and marketing. Obsessive commercialism directly contradicts the ethics of journalism.

    Welcome to the information revolution.

    Profound Insight Watch: George Bush

    / answers / brilliant /
    I heard this on TV, and I had to find the transcript... This is close enough:

    As for perhaps the most notorious terrorist, Osama bin Laden, the administration has so far been unsuccessful in its attempt to locate the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Asked why, Bush said, "Because he's hiding."

    Ah! Yes, that explains it!
    Plus! for a treasure of daily fresh bushisms consult dubyaspeak. Guaranteed.

    Does this look like a blog deserving wider recognition?

    / awards / unlikely /
    The really nice folks over at A Fistful of Euros, have decided to nominate this insignificant radical's rather humble weblog in two (well not major but c'mon... what did you expect?) categories of the Satin Pajama - European Weblog Awards, namely "Weblog Most Deserving of Wider Recognition" and "Best Southeastern European Weblog". Both categories feature blogs run by people more deserving and erudite than me - but I probably have the blog "farthest to the left" among the blogs nominated by the nice, civilized, moderate (more or less) crowd at AFOE (a close call with DoDo's I think). This is due to the elaborate facade of gentleness that I have, over the years, cultivated to disguise the my inner violent Netchayevist and my revolutionary fervor.

    Well, the voting starts today, I'm confident that if you browse through the nominees you'll find some great blogs. Go vote - although if awards changed the world they'd be illegal, wouldn't they?

    Thursday, January 20, 2005

    A chronicle of lies

    / bliar / blies /
    Given the fact that everyone's given up on ever finding WsMD in Iraq, and given the fact that Tony Blair is the one leader of the Coalition of the Killing mentally fit to stand trial in a war crimes tribunal, I'd like to highlight some not too distant statements made by the British Prime Minister, contained in the above linked BBC summary compiled a few months after the invasion of Iraq. Like:

    "Saddam Hussein's regime is despicable, he is developing weapons of mass destruction, and we cannot leave him doing so unchecked.

    "(Saddam's) weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The weapons of mass destruction programme is not shut down. It is up and running....
    ...The intelligence picture (the intelligence services) paint is one accumulated over the past four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative. "

    "If we don't act now, then we will go back to what has happened before and then of course the whole thing begins again and he carries on developing these weapons and these are dangerous weapons, particularly if they fall into the hands of terrorists who we know want to use these weapons if they can get them."

    "The biological agents we believe Iraq can produce include anthrax, botulinum, toxin, aflatoxin and ricin. All eventually result in excruciatingly painful death."

    "We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years-contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence-Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd."

    Similar gems can be found in this list of UK statements concerning WsMD, which includes such unforgettable news-story titles as "Iraqi Weapons proof will be found", "Blair unbowed in weapons row", and my favourite quote:

    UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that those who doubt Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction will have "to eat their words".

    Yet even more of a scandal, if possible, is the fact that the final admission that this whole Iraq Freedom nonsense was just that, was pretty much non-news in most of the US media that paraded the claim and thus helped make the case for the war. The attitude and the size of their indifference is captured by this blog's favourite columnist, Matt Taibbi, in his latest article, from which I quote the following:

    Descriptions of the story's small stature were usually followed by a similarly quiet mea culpa. They usually read something like this: Now that we know the truth for sure, we media organizations must try to unravel how it "could have happened"—how we failed to see through it all, or "deconstruct all the faulty spin and intelligence," as the Times put it.

    Regarding the first point, what could be funnier than the sight of the New York Times calling a story "little noted," when the paper itself only gave the story 3.5 inches on Page A16! Like almost all the rest of the papers in the country, what the Times meant was not "little noted," but little covered. Amazingly, only two major dailies in the entire country—the Washington Post and the Dallas Morning News—even put the official end to the WMD search on the front page. The rest of the country's news organs buried the story deep in the bowels of their news sections, far behind Prince Harry's Nazi suit and the residual tsunami stuff. And then they have the balls to turn around and say this news was "quiet"?

    As for the second question—how it could have happened—I have an answer. It is an answer that will not require the convening of a special symposium at the Columbia Journalism School, the commission of a new study by the Brookings Institution, or a poll by Poynter. The answer is this: You lied!

    It's really as simple as that. Everyone knew it was bullshit. I defy Bill Keller to stare me in the face and tell me he didn't know the whole Iraq war business was a lie from the start. Whether or not there were actually WMDs in Iraq is a canard; this was essentially unknowable at the time. It was the rest of it that was obviously idiotic, yet even the pointiest heads in the business, like the folks at the Times, swallowed it with a smile.

    Wednesday, January 19, 2005

    The Cuban Biotech Revolution

    / scientific / revolutions
    The extraordinary performance and the humanitarian ethic of Cuba's biotechnology industry, which is apparently quite impressive...
    "It's like Castro said: They don't really like patents. They like medicine. Cuba's drug pipeline is most interesting for what it lacks: grand-slam moneymakers, cures for baldness or impotence or wrinkles. It's all cancer therapies, AIDS medications, and vaccines against tropical diseases.

    That's probably why US and European scientists have a soft spot for their Cuban counterparts. Everywhere north of the Florida Keys, once-magical biotech has become just another expression of venture-driven capitalism. Leave it to the Cubans to make it revolutionary again."

    Monday, January 17, 2005

    Pillaging Babylon

    / liberation / continued /
    The coalition currently occupying Iraq, after successfully indulging in murder and plunder, have apparently excelled also in pillage and destruction, at the site of Babylon's archeological area. The full report by John Curtis, head of the dept. of Ancient and near East Studies at the British Museum, is titled: "Report on Meeting at Babylon 11th – 13th December 2004" [MS Word file], and gives a pretty grim picture of the damage done by the US and Polish troops (though the latter deny causing any damage)....

    Now, given the scale of the destruction wrought on Iraq (as demonstrated amply in Fallujah), and the rather problematic relationship with history and culture that most members of the Bush administration regularly demonstrate, one should not be really surprised at all this. Anyway this sort of behaviour is not unprecedented. What I can't fathom really, is [and excuse my descent to vulgarity, as words fail me] who the fuck thought of the idea of setting up a military base inside a fucking archeological site - no, one of the most important archeological sites on the fucking planet? This military base contained at one point 2000 fucking soldiers. What were they thinking? "Oh, hey this ziggurat sure does provide a decent view of the surrounding area?"
    I'm guessing that the selection of the archeological site was done on purpose, and was meant to signify some sort of triumph, either Biblical in a symbolic way (and that is certainly within the known submicroscopic width of the mindset of the people currently running things in Washington), or in a more blunt "we own your history even", old-school colonial sort of way, though I'm open to any other suggestions, because one really can't convince me that the particular choice was borne out of an absolute tactical military necessity.

    Sunday, January 16, 2005

    Imad Khadduri's weblog! - Free Iraq

    / bloggers / nuclear scientists / iraqi
    Riverbend has started blogging again, taking advantage of a resumption of phone service in Baghdad, after a long interruption. In her latest post she informs us that Imad Khadduri, the Iraqi nuclear scientist who escaped to the west in 1998, and insisted and wrote a book about the non-existence of an Iraqi nuclear threat, has started a very interesting weblog.

    Saturday, January 15, 2005

    Creating gays in the military

    / freudian / warfare /
    The pentagon according to the New Scientist was involved in some rather inventive chemical warfare plans, including the mother of all freudian slips - in the form of a sex bomb.

    "THE Pentagon considered developing a host of non-lethal chemical weapons that would disrupt discipline and morale among enemy troops, newly declassified documents reveal.

    Most bizarre among the plans was one for the development of an 'aphrodisiac' chemical weapon that would make enemy soldiers sexually irresistible to each other. Provoking widespread homosexual behaviour among troops would cause a 'distasteful but completely non-lethal' blow to morale, the proposal says."

    Read the report [pdf file] - Read some more non-lethal weapon ideas the pentagon was thinking about.

    Well, anyway, as the always trustworthy Weekly World News reveals, the technology is already in enemy hands! [Note the photo]... Take note:

    EXTREMIST Muslim scientists are developing a bomb that turns anyone within a 30-mile radius of its blast into a homosexual, say U.S. Intelligence insiders.

    It's all a part of the Al Qaeda master plan to pull our country apart and kill the patriotism that makes us strong. "

    all links via MeFi

    Friday, January 14, 2005

    Attila descendants want recognition

    / family / affair /
    a. I say, give it to then, as long as they agree to pay reparations for their grandfather's damage - among others to me because, statistically speaking, I'm bound to have at least one ancestor that was killed by Attila's hordes.
    b. Me and some friends demand to be recognized as a minority of descendants of the pirate Barbarossa - and should be appropriately subsidized.

    Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Intellectual treason

    / superstition / collaborators /
    Meera Nanda, an Indian biologist and progressive, writes with passion about the complicity to the re-sacralisation of science and the aiding and abetting of various strains of extreme Hindu nationalism by postmodern / "multiculturalist" critics of "enlightenment values":

    As a student of the history and philosophy of science, I have been watching with concern how modern science itself — perhaps the single most powerful force for secularisation — is being re–coded as sacred, either as affirming the Bible or the Vedas, or as ‘lower knowledge’ of ‘dead matter’, in need of spiritualisation. As an old–time partisan of the Enlightenment and scientific temper, I have been watching with concern as my fellow intellectuals and activists, in the United States and India, who identify themselves with social justice, anti–imperialism, women’s rights and sustainable development, have themselves paved the way for re–enchantment or re–sacralisation of science...

    ...Long ago, Julien Benda wrote in his La Trahison De Clercs, that when intellectuals betray their calling — that is, when intellectuals begin to exalt the particular over the universal, the passions of the multitude over the moral good — then there is nothing left to prevent a society’s slide into tribalism and violence. Postmodernism represents a treason of the clerks which has given intellectual respectability to reactionary religiosity. With the best intentions of giving marginalised social groups — especially if they were women and if they belonged to the non–western world —the right to their own ways of knowing, western academics, in alliance with populist Third Worldist intellectuals, have succeeded in painting science and modernity as the enemy of the people. Rather than encourage and nurture a critical spirit toward inherited traditions, many of which are authoritarian and patriarchal, postmodernist intellectuals have waged a battle against science and against the spirit of the Enlightenment itself. As the case of Vedic science in the service of Hindu nationalism in India demonstrates, this misguided attack on the Enlightenment has only aided the growth of pseudoscience, superstitions and tribalism.

    This was posted by MadOwl in Metafilter... My reaction there was the following, in reply to a post about the different epistemological objectives of Science and Religion:

    Science is primarily concerned with HOW.

    Religion is primarily concerned with WHY.

    Well, no, if we really must make such a distinction, philosophy is primarily concerned with WHY. Religion is a system that strives to control peoples ethics through the evocation of a (quite possibly) fictional superior being, a being whose existence is but a small, secondary, and IMHO rather boring, area of philosophical inquiry. Why people believe that a series of organized, institutionalized superstitions, have a major role to play in determining any aspect of whatever they're referring to when they talk of "truth" is beyond me.

    Anyway the linked article is a magnificent exposition of the reactionary character of the whole pseudo-leftist post-modernist maelstrom. The "cultural studies" world view is, when judged by its own standards, an ideal philosophy for the advertiser: A system where all statements are equally valid, is a sales person's natural intellectual habitat. It's also the religious fundamentalist's last escape and the exploiter's excuse. For a similar complaint from an Islamic background, see here...

    An aside: Note that the article also hints of the deep reactionary character of the Indian religious zealots (idealized in certain western circles) - something that was amply evident in the recent Gujarat massacres....

    Coming from a country with a less than perfect separation of church and state, I think I have ample justification to say that people who think that religious superstition is in any way liberatory or empowering - or provide pseudo-intellectual excuses that aid the various authoritarian, dangerous, powerful kooks that support this sort of ethno-religious nonsense - have as much to do with the emancipatory project that the left supposedly upholds, as the "traditional" wise men and women that perform clitoridectomy, or the assorted wingnuts of the American creationist fundamentalist right.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2005

    Fallujah - City of ghosts

    / war crimes / documented /

    "On November 8, the American army launched its biggest ever assault on the Iraqi city of Falluja, considered a stronghold for rebel fighters. The US said the raid had been a huge success, killing 1,200 insurgents. Most of the city's 300,000 residents, meanwhile, had fled for their lives. What really happened in the siege of Falluja? In a joint investigation for the Guardian and Channel 4 News, Iraqi doctor Ali Fadhil compiled the first independent reports from the devastated city, where he found scores of unburied corpses, rabid dogs - and a dangerously embittered population"

    Watch an extract from the documentary here.

    I'd say more but Lenin has pretty much covered me...

    Wednesday, January 5, 2005

    Aiding Aceh

    / aid / carefully /
    Allan Nairn, whose brave and brilliant reports from East Timor were instrumental in keeping up world attention to the beleaguered nation and the destruction wrought by Indonesian occupation forces, and who knows Indonesia from up close, has a few important things to say about aiding Aceh, the northern part of Sumatra and hardest hit by the earthquake/tsunami (the casualties are probably near 100,000 in the province), in an interview to Seven Oaks magazine:

    [Q]: A number of activist groups in the United States have concerns that the Indonesian government will hamper disaster relief efforts, and also that they will exploit the situation to further repress Acehnese political activists. Do you know of, or see evidence of this taking place in Aceh?

    [AN] Well, the Indonesian military is doing that as we speak. They are continuing to attack villages, more than a dozen villages in East Aceh and North Aceh away from the coast, even though General Susilo, the president of Indonesia, announced that they would be lifting the state of siege. He hasn’t actually done it. And an Indonesian military spokesman came out and said, ‘we will keep attacking until the President tells us to stop.’

    The military is also impeding the flow of aid. They’ve commandeered a hanger at the Banda Aceh airport, where they are taking control of internationally shipped in supplies. We just got a report this afternoon that the distribution of supplies is being done in some towns and villages only to people who hold the ‘red and white,’ which is a special ID card issued to Acehnese by the Indonesian police. You have to go to a police station to get one of these ID cards, and it is only issued to people who the police certify as not being opponents of the army, not being critics of the government. Of course many people are afraid to go and apply for such a card.

    Importantly he goes on to suggest a way to circumvent the Indonesian military's handling of aid:

    [Q] You’ve mentioned some problems with the established NGOs working in Indonesia and Aceh. Is there a way that people can contribute to the relief effort, and to efforts to raise awareness about the situation in Aceh more generally?

    [AN] Yes, fortunately there is a way around the problem of Indonesian military cooptation of the UN and big mainstream relief channels. And that is to give directly to the grassroots Acehnese groups, which have been working for years with people in the refugee camps and which – even though their people are at risk – can deliver aid directly to the public because they do not have these contractual relationships with the Indonesian government and military. One such group is the People’s Crisis Center (PCC) of Aceh, which for years has been going into the ‘re-education camps,’ which are set up by the Indonesian military – farmers are driven off their land, put into these camps to have their thoughts cleansed by military propagandists. And the children in these camps were often going hungry, not getting clean water, not getting schooling, and people from the PCC would come in and try to aid the children and give some education and some subsistence. And now they’re working on disaster relief. Over the years their organizers were often targeted by the military, but they’ve persisted, they’ve been very brave.
    Now the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) of the United States is channeling aid to the PCC and similar on-the-ground Acehnese groups. So if people want to donate, they can go to the ETAN U.S. website.

    That last site, has information for American citizens' contributions and refers Europeans to the TAPOL site, which also offers important background information on Aceh and the insurgency there.

    An Afghan Quandary for the U.S.

    / choices / choices /
    With a bumper poppy harvest expected in Afghanistan in the new year, a debate has erupted within the Bush administration on whether the United States should push for the crop's destruction despite the objections of the Afghan government.

    Some U.S. officials advocate aerial spraying to reduce the opium crop, warning that if harvested, it could flood the West with heroin, fill the coffers of Taliban fighters and fund terrorist activity in Afghanistan and beyond. They estimate the haul could earn Afghan warlords up to $7 billion, up from a record $2.2 billion in 2004...

    Although Afghan President Hamid Karzai has declared a "jihad" against the drug trade, he has vetoed aerial spraying. And his stance is supported by some U.S. officials, who warn that attempts at mass crop eradication in spring, during the campaign season for parliamentary elections scheduled for April, will alienate rural voters. Instead, they argue for a delay in crop eradication but a vigorous crackdown on drug traffickers.

    The dispute underscores a vexing dilemma for the United States. Having ousted the Taliban from power, the Bush administration now finds that its three main policy objectives in the strategically important country — counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and political stability — appear to be contradictory.

    [via the invaluable cursor]

    Well, welcome to the real world. Note that the final decision will be taken by the US government, mindful that their puppet not be perceived by the natives as a... well... a puppet.

    Note also this interesting part:

    U.S. officials say the herbicide used is a very diluted form of Monsanto's Roundup, a glyphosate that is approved for use in American gardens and has been sprayed safely in Colombia and elsewhere.

    Eh, well some would argue with the "safely" part:

    The United States has sprayed tons of Roundup and Roundup Ultra, produced by the St. Louis-based chemical and biotechnology giant, Monsanto, during the 24 year-long drug war in Colombia. The use of these herbicides (both of which we refer to as Roundup in this story) has consistently produced health complaints from campesinos in the Colombian countryside. Those complaints have gone largely ignored by government officials in Washington and corporate honchos within Monsanto...

    ...Colombian indigenous leaders visited Congress to personally speak out against the fumigation: "The twelve indigenous peoples have been suffering under this plague as if it were a government decree to exterminate our culture and our very survival," said José Francisco Tenorio, the only leader who was not afraid to use his real name. "Our legal crops -- our only sustenance -- manioc, banana, palms, sugar cane, and corn have been fumigated. Our sources of water, creeks, rivers, lakes, have been poisoned, killing our fish and other living things. Today, hunger is our daily bread. In the name of the Amazonian Indigenous people I ask that the fumigations be immediately suspended..."

    And also:

    The herbicide used contains RoundUp Ultra, manufactured by the agro-chemical transnational Monsanto, with the active ingredient glyphosate. Cosmo-Flux 411F is added to the Roundup Both are highly toxic, says the environmental organization.

    Lucía Gallardo, head of Ecological Action's biodiversity campaign, pointed out that Roundup Ultra contains 26 percent glyphosate, instead of the one percent recommended for use as an herbicide.

    ''That percentage is exceptionally dangerous to human health, but even worse is the use of Cosmo-Flux, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency has classified as 'extremely toxic','' Gallardo told IPS.

    So great... spray on... heck, at least they are liberated now (enough to indulge enthusiastically in opium cultivation), they can't have it all, can they?

    The persecution of Maoists in China

    / mao / on / mao /
    The times are a-changing indeed:

    ...On December 21, 2004, four Maoists were tried in Zhengzhou for having handed out leaflets that denounced the restoration of capitalism in China and called for a return to the “socialist road.” The leaflets had been distributed in a public park in the City of Zhengzhou on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the death of Chairman Mao Zedong. Two of the defendants, Zhang Zhengyao, 56, and Zhang Ruquan, 69, were both found guilty of libel, and each given a three-year prison sentence on December 24, 2004...

    An excerpt from the leaflet:

    ...In the past 28 years, the reactionary forces headed by capitalist roaders within our Party have usurped the state and Party powers and divided up state assets among themselves. Meanwhile, they have been spewing deep-seated hatred and venom against Mao Zedong and his socialist legacy. They have done their utmost to attack and slander Mao Zedong, by the use of such tactics as concocting Party resolutions, issuing official documents or reports, and publishing articles and editorials in official news media; moreover, in there attempt to smear Mao Zedong, they have resorted to such low blows as "Democracy Wall" posters, rumors and innuendos, personal memoirs and interviews with foreign journalists...

    ...The laborers are no longer working for themselves; they are working to create surplus value for the capitalist class. Another part of working people have in effect become slaves for large and small capitalists. They suffer from even more crueler exploitation and oppression. In addition, hundreds of millions of workers and peasants have been constantly subjected to layoffs, and forced migration, living from hand to mouth, always on the march, looking for jobs, and struggling for mere survival. Labor has become the only means for the survival of themselves and their families. Work is no longer a guaranteed right. As a result of the commercialization of education, health care, cultural activities, sports and legal recourse, they have been in effect deprived of the right to send their children to school, access to health care, the right to pension and other rights associated with old age, the right to participate in cultural, recreational and sports activities; and even the right to legal protection. Moreover, as a result of the waste of resources and environmental pollution caused directly by the rapacious development pursued by the capitalist class, the working people have even lost their right to healthy food, clean water and fresh air. Poverty has brought them untold suffering!...

    It would be interesting to see how the Chinese government deals with a "Maoist insurgency". Not that they would have serious ideological problems mind you... note this tidbit of news: "China to help Nepal against Maoists"

    Tuesday, January 4, 2005

    The Darfur crisis

    / disasters / darfur /
    An excellent and illuminating analysis of the situation in Drafur, beyond media myths and rhetoric by Mahmood Mamdani. It also suggests a few steps that can be made to handle the crisis. Excerpt:

    ...Does that mean that we cannot hold the Sudan government responsible for the atrocities committed by Janjawid militias that it continues to supply? No, it does not. We must hold the patron responsible for the actions of the proxy. At the same time, we need to realize that it may be easier to supply than to disband local militias. Those who start and feed fires should be held responsible for doing so; but let us not forget that it may be easier to start a fire than to put it out.
    The fight between the militias on both sides and the violence unleashed against the unarmed population has been waged with exceptional cruelty. One reason may be that the initiative has passed from the communities on the ground to those contending for power. Another may be the low value on life placed by the security cabal in Khartoum and by those in the opposition who want power at any cost...

    ...there is need to beware of groups who want a simple and comprehensive explanation, even if it is misleading; who demand dramatic action, even if it backfires; who have so come to depend on crisis that they risk unwittingly aggravating existing crisis. Often, they use the call for urgent action to silence any debate as a luxury. And yet, responsible action needs to be informed.
    For the African Union, Darfur is both an opportunity and a test. The opportunity is to build on the global concern over a humanitarian disaster in Darfur to set a humanitarian standard that must be observed by all, including America's allies in Africa. And the test is to defend African sovereignty in the face of official America's global 'war on terror.' On both counts, the first priority must be to stop the war and push the peace process.

    The ICG for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific web site

    / tsunami / info /
    The International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific web site has all sorts of detailed information about the Indian Ocean tsunami, including an animated gif of the movement of the tsunami in the first two and a half hours, and links other relevant information on the catastrophe.

    Also, the NASA earth observatory has (among other data) satellite images from the disaster (i.e. from Little Andaman) and a profile of the height and speed of travel of the tsunami waves.

    For those in Greece there is a (national)TV- (private)radio aid marathon happening today. Info for non-greek speakers currently here - in greek see here. There is also an SMS option, where you send the message "ASIA" or "ΑΣΙΑ" to 4536 (only in Greece!) and to donate 1 Euro (per message sent).

    I hope the effectiveness of this disaster relief campaign (they had gathered ~20.000 Euros from SMS messages alone in the first hour or so after setting up the special number!), becomes a standard for aid for the many, many huge disasters, natural and man-made, occurring all over the world. Wealthy states would do well to follow the example of Canada.

    Monday, January 3, 2005

    Killing democracy in Iraq

    / politics / iraq /
    Naomi Klein and Haifa Zangana discuss the current situation in Iraq and its implications for the anti-war movement... Excerpt:

    NK: They’re using feminism and women’s issues to advance the occupation in a really dangerous way, because they are sullying the reputation of women’s issues, which could be seized upon by anti-women forces in Iraq. It is easy then to say, ‘if you are advocating women’s rights, you’re for the occupation’.
    You could hear how people talked about Moqtada Sadr when I arrived. Support for him at that time was 7 or 8 per cent. But the more he was attacked, the more support grew for him, for a religious state. Combine decreasing support for secularism with the Americans marketing feminism: it’s not only a disastrous recipe for women: it’s a disastrous strategy against women.
    HZ: Yes, they come with millions of dollars, while Iraqi women struggle for the most basic services and goods.
    I don’t care about programmes for democracy because democracy is coming back like a joke. If you want to say a bad word about someone, you say they’re democratic. What Bush and Blair have achieved in the occupation is they’ve killed democracy.

    Also by Haifa Zangana: "Iraqi women were long the most liberated in the Middle East. Occupation has confined them to their homes"... She seemed to have had from early on a good idea of where the "liberation" of Iraq was leading

    Happy New Year

    /2005 / ! /
    May I wish all my readers for the new year, patience (so that they can bear me), and the fulfillment of their deepest desires. Apparently you can all sleep peacefully this year as there are no end-of-the-world predictions for the year (yet). Unlike 2004.