Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Post-Christmas Rampage

/ season's greetings /
...'Tis the season for some follies. A quick denouncement of the rotund commercialising icon in red, british parental concerns save children from the ugly truth - and the Perfect Christian Gift.

1. Letter to Santa

Dear Santa

OK, to be frank I don't like you. Apart from your garish sartorial habits and the fact that you make elves and other vertically challenged minorities (quite possibly underage) to work in what are (no doubt) sweatshop conditions (and thus help legitimize child labor in the process - or  simply outsource it), under permanent surveillance (and note the sign: it's been "0 days" since they had an accident, which means no labour safety standards), and surely abuse your reindeer making them travel the whole world in a single night, you are the personification of the overcommercialization of everything. Your likeness is used to sell everything from condoms, to cigarettes, to, of course Coke, which was the corporate sponsor of the spread and internationalization of your current shape and form.

Add to that the fact that over here (as in many places the world over) you have been slowly displacing the local traditions: Saint Nicholas, from whom you are derived, is the patron saint of seafarers and ships in the Greek tradition and most certainly was not fat and did not dress in drag to deliver presents to children on Christmas. This was done, minus the suit, the chimney and the reindeer, according to Greek Orthodox lore, by Saint Basil of Caesarea, a scholar and a theologian of great calibre who was indeed active in creating poorhouses and charities during his life. Instead of this ascetic saint - we are now presented with an image (for the saint that brings gifts is still named Ayios Vassilis here and that means that the fat guy in red is supposed to represent him) of a guy in weird clothes residing in some snow-covered place, far, far away...

2. No! Not the Tooth Fairy!

As far as myths are concerned, they seem to be protected as such by the British school system, thanks to parental vigilance. The story reads like a spoof, but apparently it's real and actually it's two incidents, in one of which:

...At yet another school, pupils went home in tears after being told Father Christmas does not exist by a teacher who was telling a class of nine-year-olds how Christmas is celebrated across the world.

Angry parents at Calcot Junior School in Berkshire said the teacher had 'ruined' Christmas for their children.

Mel Barefield, whose son was in the lesson, said: 'The teacher had said to them that Father Christmas wasn't real, Rudolph was a cartoon character and that Christmas trees come from Germany.'

A governor said: 'It's not just Father Christmas that's the problem. We also have issues with things like the Tooth Fairy...

3. Onward Christian Soldiers: Kill them all and let God sort them out... and a very Merry Christmas:

Known Christmasphobe Matt Taibbi, reports on the one present that he really would like to get from Santa: Left Behind: Eternal Forces, the game version of the well known Left Behind Christian fundamentalist action novel series. The whole concept is so grotesque that it is some kind of genius in an accidental post-dada happening sort of way, in which cultural artefacts themselves serve as their own magnificent, marketable parodies. To quote Taibbi on the pre-launch press releases (prayer requests actually) for the game, which he celebrates as "easily some of the greatest examples of unintentional comedy ever to grace the Internet" (after cheering for nativity desecrations the world over):

...But when the date arrived, the company's "Prayer Team leader," Annette Brown, began to get more and more specific in her corporate prayer goals [circulated by email]:

   1. Pray God will put it on the heart of the consumers to purchase our product at select Walamart [sic] Stores (top 100 stores) that have our invetory [sic].

    2. Next weekend is the biggest shopping weekend of the year, pray the game hits record sales for PC Games.

    3. The press is still reviewing the game, pray they will be kind in their reviews.

    I mean, how twisted do you have to be to pray that consumers will buy your product at select Wal-Mart stores? Wouldn't you hesitate and call a psychiatrist before sending that out into cyberspace?

... And a Happy New Year everyone!
[Cross-posted in the European Tribune]

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

And the winner is...

/ evilest lobby /
The final results for the 2006 Worst EU Lobby Award, are in!

ExxonMobile's efforts in generously funding misinformation campaigns which try to convince people that there is no climate change problem, really, at all, swept the Worst EU Lobbying award, gathering more than 50% of all votes - an acknowledgment of their hard work and open purses...

In the category of "Worst Privileged Access", the award went to Directorate-General Internal Market, "For manipulating a consultation on EU patent policies"...

The list of runner-ups includes some impressive nominees, a true pity that there are no awards for them - maybe next year, eh?

[and an update on C4C, last year's winner]

In denial

/ iran's aryan fans /
Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad (his site) has recently proved without a doubt that he lacks basic political skills, to a degree I never thought possible for a leader of such a huge country. His recent "Holocaust conference", is an affair of such astounding stupidity and ignorance that, were it not a fact that he is pretty much under the command of the (ruthless yet) rather more intelligent religious leadership, might be really bloody scary - if only because of the childishness that this whole matter indicates residing in the upper levels of a powerful country.

As Norman Markowitz notes in a recent article in Political Affairs magazine:

If I were a conspiracy theorist, which I am not, I would say that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's far right president, was an agent provocateur of the Bush administration, working to isolate his country from the civilized world and set the stage for a military attack on it. Ahmadinejad seems to think that the best way to advance himself is to seek alliances with open fascists throughout the world while distracting his own people's attention from the high unemployment and inflation that they face, posing as the defender of the Palestinian people and the enemy of the U.S. and the Israeli governments.

In fact, as Markowitz concludes:

Actually Ahmadinejad has helped Bush more than if he were an agent. He has on his own given the Bush administration a propaganda victory against his country that millions of CIA dollars could not have accomplished. If he continues on this path he may even top Saddam Hussein as a paragon of political wisdom.

Alternatively, inviting a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (among other similar illuminaries) as a panelist, might indeed indicate that the man is truly a racist and a fascist, in which case it would be nice if someone would ask his theologically erudite superiors if they consider racism and nazi ideology compatible with Islam.

Despite the regime making an effort to exclude from the conference, participants who were in a position to dispute the holocaust denialists, there was a host of reactions from the Arab and Muslim world. Especially worthy of note is the open letter of Mahmoud Al-Safadi, in Le Monde (original in French), who is a PFLP member, recently released from an Israeli prison, where he was locked up for 18 years for throwing molotov cocktails (no, really). In it he decries Ahmadinejad's conference and holocaust denial, stating among other things that:

...Whatever the number of victims -- Jewish and non-Jewish -- the crime is monumental. Any attempt to deny it deprives the denier of his own humanity and sends him immediately to the side of torturers. Whoever denies the fact that this human disaster really took place should not be astonished that others deny the sufferings and persecutions inflicted on his own people by tyrannical leaders or foreign occupiers...
...Concerning the struggle of my people for their independence and their freedom: perhaps do you regard the negation of the Holocaust as an expression of support for the Palestinians? There, again, you are mistaken. We fight for our existence and our rights and against the historical injustice which was inflicted on us in 1948. We will not win our victory and our independence by denying the genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people, even though the forces who occupy our country today and dispossess us are part of the Jewish people...

[Translation: MRZine]

Similar condemnation comes from the Muslim American Society:

...President Ahmedinejad should recognize that the issue of the Palestinian people must not, and cannot, be transmogrified into the ugly and spiritually bankrupt context of racial hatred. The cause of freedom must never drink from the well of hatred and racism...

Finally, Fawwaz Traboulsi, writing in the Beirut daily as-Safir of 14 December 2006 has much to comment on, regarding the regional contradictions of holocaust denial:

...How can we ever hope to make a convincing contribution to the unmasking of the "Holocaust industry" if we deny Nazi crimes against the Jews? How can we ever hope to draw attention to the crimes of the "new Nazis" against the Palestinian people if we decrease the number of victims of the historical Nazis? What is the significance of making comparisons between Nazism and Zionism, in order to denounce the latter, if we also exonerate the Nazis of their greatest historical crime, which is the Holocaust? And is this not the mirror image of what the Zionists have done when they appropriate the role of victims and deny the Palestinians of even claiming they are victims?...

The apologetics for Nazi Germany, are not acceptable. The reality of the holocaust and the colossal human toll of the Nazi hordes in all of Europe, is only denied by committed fascists and assorted nuts. In aligning himself with the global extreme-right, Ahmadinejad reveals his utter cluelessness. At the same time he is providing the New Colonialists with more fodder for their spin machines.

Thankfully, things aren't going too well for him on the electoral front, recently.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Death and the Dictator

/ a death too quiet /

So on Human Rights Day, 2006, Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte, died, aged 91 and not in custody. The death of the man responsible for thousands of deaths, torture and imprisonment in Chile, a crook, who supported a bizzare zoo of sadists, and turned Chile into a neoliberal Guinea Pig, was a cause for joy to many, a relief to some. It also means that among the protagonists of September 11, 1973 in Chile, only one remains alive today...
Instead of further expounding on the man's horrors, I present the following poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (who died a few days after Pinochet's coup).

The Dictators

An odor has remained among the sugarcane:
a mixture of blood and body, a penetrating
petal that brings nausea.
Between the coconut palms the graves are full
of ruined bones, of speechless death-rattles.
The delicate dictator is talking
with top hats, gold braid, and collars.
The tiny palace gleams like a watch
and the rapid laughs with gloves on
cross the corridors at times
and join the dead voices
and the blue mouths freshly buried.
The weeping cannot be seen, like a plant
whose seeds fall endlessly on the earth,
whose large blind leaves grow even without light.
Hatred has grown scale on scale,
blow on blow, in the ghastly water of the swamp,
with a snout full of ooze and silence
[translator unknown, found i.e. here,
more info on the translator welcome]
Los Dictadores

Canto General (1950)

Ha quedado un olor entre los cañaverales:
Una mezcla de sangre y cuerpo, un penetrante
Pétalo nauseabundo.
Entre los cocoteros las tumbas están llenas
De huesos demolidos, de estertores callados.
El delicado sátrapa conversa
Con copas, cuellos y cordones de oro.
El pequeño palacio brilla como un reloj
Y las rápidas risas enguatadas
Atraviesan a veces los pasillos
Y se reúnen a las voces muertas
Y a las bocas azules frescamente enterradas.
El llanto está escondido como una planta
cuya semilla cae sin cesar sobre el suelo
y hace crecer sin luz las grandes hojas ciegas.
El odio se ha formado escama a escama,
Golpe a golpe, en el agua terrible del pantano
Con un hocico lleno de légamo y silencio.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution - by DoDo

/ hungarian / revolution /
DoDo (owner of the lately inactive Manic Net Preacher, inter alia) has completed his "1956 Hungarian revolution" series over at the European Tribune, offering an excellent acount of the events of half a century ago, their context and their aftermath.

It's an exemplary article, and if somewhere, someone, is thinking about an award for "Best Historical Blog Post of 2006", or something, this should be a major contender.


  • Prelude (communism in Hungary and the forces behind the revolution)

  • Outbreak (the turbulent events of 23 October)

  • Turmoil (the hectic events in the next twelve days)

  • Fighting (the final losing battle against the Soviet tanks and its background)

  • Personal Memories (eyewitness accounts from DoDo's relatives)

  • Aftermath (what happened to the country and the people, and what role did its memory play later)
  • Monday, November 20, 2006

    Mike Davis: Fear and Money in Dubai

    / neoliberal / dreamworlds /
    From the New Left Review, Mike Davis writes about the new entrepreneurial, feudal modernity of Dubai:

    "On the rim of the war zone, a new Mecca of conspicuous consumption and economic crime, under the iron rule of Sheikh al-Maktoum. Skyscrapers half a mile high, artificial archipelagoes, fantasy theme parks—and the indentured Asian labour force that sustains them...
    ...Al-Maktoum, who fancies himself the Gulf’s prophet of modernization, likes to impress visitors with clever proverbs and heavy aphorisms. A favourite: ‘Anyone who does not attempt to change the future will stay a captive of the past’. Yet the future that he is building in Dubai—to the applause of billionaires and transnational corporations everywhere—looks like nothing so much as a nightmare of the past: Speer meets Disney on the shores of Araby."

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Post-American Geopolitics

    / empires in upheaval /
    There has been ample discussion of the USA's decline as a superpower, other than as a military superpower that is. Immanuel Wallerstein has been arguing as much for a long time, most recently in his essay "The curve of American Power". Dennis Redmond chips in, in a piece in MRzine titled "Post-American geopolitics", about the emerging multi-polar world, a world of "three metropoles and four peripheries", as he puts it. Excerpt:

    Many of us on the Left have pondered what would replace the Cold War division of the planet into the First, Second, and Third World. Though the three worlds thesis was arbitrary at best -- the social divisions within nation-states are often more significant than the distinctions between nation-states -- it did have the merit of emphasizing the primacy of the US Empire. From 1945 to 1985, the US was the reigning global superpower. It had the richest economy in the world, the most advanced technology, and the most productive workforce on the planet. While it did have significant regional challengers, e.g. the Soviet Union and China, and suffered local defeats everywhere from Cuba to Vietnam, it had no truly worldwide economic or cultural competitors.

    Times have changed. Today, the European Union and the East Asian region have caught up and surpassed their erstwhile mentor. The EU and East Asia are self-financing, autonomous economies, endowed with world-class technologies and some of the highest productivity levels on the planet. They dominate world trade and financial flows the way the US once did. Both are the leading creditors in the world-economy, and control most of the key levers of the world financial system. Today, the US is not only the world's biggest debtor, it is also shockingly dependent on capital inflows from East Asia and Europe.

    Perhaps the best way to think of the contemporary world-system is to see it as "three metropoles and four peripheries." Contrary to what you may have heard, most global trade occurs within each metropole and its corresponding semi-periphery, and only secondarily between metropoles or semi-peripheries. The four peripheries, by contrast, have the blessing (or curse) of not yet being fully integrated into any single bloc. They do have significant trading links with one or two metropoles, but they are not structurally integrated into any single metropole. This makes it more difficult for them to access metropolitan markets, but also gives them more freedom to maneuver.

    The article contains some interesting data, notably on world banking shares and "cultural production" world-wide.

    Also interesting, and related to this whole discussion, is Jerome's commentary in Eurotrib, on an Economist article regarding Asian technological ascendancy. Note the graph on published articles in Phys.Rev. - an unimaginable inversion since the early nineties, to be sure.

    Chomsky and Trivers on deceit

    / faculty of undeceit /
    Seed magazine has a transcript of a discussion between MIT linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers, an evolutionary biologist at Rudgers, a founder of sociobiology, and (surprising for those that expect a close correlation between perceived political implications of scientific theories and actual political positions) member of the Black Panther Party. The subject discussed is deceit and self-deception, an issue that they have written about from different perspectives. A brief part of the discussion is shown in the video below:

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    Politkovskaya and hypocrisy

    / the plank in the eye /
    Mark Ames in the eXile, considers the dearth of American "Politkovskayas" and the inability of the mainstream US press (and it isn't just a US phenomenon) to approximate anything remotely as brave as Politkovskaya's reporting. Extended excerpts:

    "The West has used poor Anna Politkovskaya's corpse to do exactly what she fought against: whipping up national hatred, lying, and focusing on evils committed safely far away, rather than on the evils committed by your own country. The West has exploited her death with all of the crudity and cynicism of an Arab mob funeral...only at least the Arabs use their own people's corpses to demonize an enemy that actually kills them. Whereas in this case, the West stole another country's corpse, then paraded it at home in order to whip up hatred against the corpse's birthplace. It would be like the Palestinians slipping into Tel Aviv, grave-robbing Rabin's corpse after his murder, then parading it around Gaza City, ululating hate towards Israel for allowing the great peacemaker to get killed.

    That's kind of how Russians reacted when they saw that the West crudely exploited Politkovskaya's murder. The West's crude reaction only increased Russia's crude counter-reaction.

    If you ask me, what is most significant for us in the West about Anna Politkovskaya's death, and her courageous life (btw, a big 'fuck you' to our nationalist readers who don't agree with this), is not so much what it says about Russia -- it doesn't say much new at all, to be honest, but instead is another chapter in an increasingly depressing story that started under Yeltsin.

    Rather, what is significant about her death is this: Why doesn't America have an Anna Politkovskaya? Why don't we have someone as courageous as she was to tell the story of how we razed Fallujah to the ground Grozny-style? How we bombed to smithereens and ethnically cleansed a city of 300,000 people in retaliation for the deaths of four American contractors? Where is the American Anna Politkovskaya who will tell us about how we directly killed roughly 200,000 Iraqis, and indirectly are responsible for about half a million Iraq deaths since our invasion? Why isn't there a single American willing to risk almost certain death, the way Politkovskaya did, in the pursuit of truth and humanity?..."

    ...The lesson of Anna Politkovskaya's fearless journalism was completely lost on the West. It's up to Russians to figure out the significance of her murder to their culture and their civilization. But in a West increasingly drowning in lies, war, murder and hatred, the last thing her death should give us is the opportunity to create another enemy, another nation to hate, another regime to be changed.

    Monday, October 23, 2006

    On Nobel prize recipients

    / nobel reactions /
    In light of the recent Nobel prize awards in Economics and Peace, let me present for the sake of argument some critical commentary:

    Girish Mishra
    : Meaning of the Nobel Peace Prize to Phelps. Excerpt:

    Assuming that a government tries to maintain the natural rate of unemployment as computed according to the formula of Phelps, it means a number of workers who possess the necessary qualifications and physical ability to participate in the process of production and contribute to the national wealth, are told that they are redundant. It is sure to hurt their self-respect and inculcate a feeling in them that the government and economy have no relevance for them. If they, in these circumstances, have no stake in the society, country and the economy, they may take to subversive activities and to some kind of nihilism or commit suicide. It is a sad commentary on the system that allows people to spend valuable resources in acquiring requisite capabilities and skills and when they acquire them and are ready to contribute, they are told that they are unwanted. How humiliating it is!

    Notwithstanding all the sophistications of Phelps' analysis and models, his pontifications violate human dignity. His kind of economics may earn a Nobel prize and endear him to monopoly capital in the present era of globalization, it cannot be accepted by people who care for human dignity and think that human beings must be at the of all economic policies.

    Alexander Cockburn: The Myth of Microloans. Excerpt:

    ...microlending can be a useful tool but it should not be romanticized as some sort of transformational activity. On that plane it's useless. By contrast, as Bob Pollin stresses, "the East Asian Tigers, like South Korea and Taiwan, relied for a generation on massive publicly-subsidized credit programs to support manufacturing and exports.
    They are now approaching West European living standards. Poor countries now need to adapt the East Asian macro-credit model to promote not simply exports, but land reform, marketing cooperatives, a functioning infrastructure, and most of all, decent jobs."

    Walden Bello: Microcredit, Macro Issues. Excerpt:

    So probably the best way we can honor Muhammad Yunus is to say, Yes, he deserves the Nobel Prize for helping so many women cope with poverty. His boosters discredit this great honor and engage in hyperbole when they claim he has invented a new compassionate form of capitalism--social capitalism, or "social entrepreneurship"--that will be the magic bullet to end poverty and promote development.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    The Iraqi trail of Death

    / massacres: ongoing /

    A new study published in the respected medical journal "Lancet", recounts and revises the death toll in post-invasion Iraq.

    Its findings? Let's put it this way: If one were to line up carefully the corpses on a road, they would extend from Brussels to Marseille (or from Chicago to DC).

    Or another way: given that the costs of this war run at 200 million dollars per day, that's about 400.000$ spent per dead Iraqi, putting an end to the notion that the Bush administration doesn't value Iraqi lives.

    Yet another way: Since the invasion, the total number of Iraqi casualties is approximately equal to four 9/11 death tolls (that no Iraqi played a part in) for every state in the US.

    Or if one made a pyramid out of the sculls of the dead, its height could be over 20 meters (and its base 40x40m).

    Or even: the casualties in Iraq are about the same in number (but twice in proportion to the population) as the total casualties in France during WWII.

    Or plainly:

    Pre-invasion mortality rates were 5·5 per 1000 people per year (95% CI 4·3–7·1), compared with 13·3 per 1000 people per year (10·9–16·1) in the 40 months post-invasion. We estimate that as of July, 2006, there have been 654,965 (392,979 –942,636) excess Iraqi deaths as a consequence of the war, which corresponds to 2·5% of the population in the study area. Of post-invasion deaths, 601 027 (426,369 – 793,663) were due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    Iran and Turkey Prepare for War in Iraqi Kurdistan?

    / extreme screw-up? /
    This is rather worrying news and, if true, its about to explode the whole Iraq disaster into unimaginable proportions:
    "A new Middle East war is in the offing. DEBKAfile’s exclusive military sources in Iraq and sources in Iran reveal that Turkish and Iranian air units as well as armored, paratroop, special operations and artillery forces are poised for an imminent coordinated invasion of the northern Iraqi autonomous province of Kurdistan.

    Our sources pinpoint the target of the combined Iranian-Turkish offensive as the Quandil Mountains (see picture), where some 5,000 Kurdish rebels from Turkey and Iran, members of the PKK and PJAK respectively, are holed up. Iranian and Turkish assault troops are already deployed 7-8 km deep inside Iraqi territory."

    Monday, September 25, 2006

    Chavez's immoderate proposal

    / refusing cheaper oil /
    Greg Palast, interviews Hugo Chavez
    "You'd think George Bush would get down on his knees and kiss Hugo Chavez's behind. Not only has Chavez delivered cheap oil to the Bronx and other poor communities in the United States. And not only did he offer to bring aid to the victims of Katrina. In my interview with the president of Venezuela on March 28, he made Bush the following astonishing offer: Chavez would drop the price of oil to $50 a barrel, 'not too high, a fair price,' he said -- a third less than the $75 a barrel for oil recently posted on the spot market. That would bring down the price at the pump by about a buck, from $3 to $2 a gallon."

    BTW Hugo has done an impressive job of exploding Chomsky's book sales with his UN speech last week (here mp3) - a big hit in many places.

    Monday, September 4, 2006

    The uncataclysmic events of August 22

    / lunacy in government /
    Bernard Lewis, the old orientalist dean of Middle Eastern studies, and Bush cabal advisor, saw fitting to warn about a month ago, through the opinion pages of the WSJ (which are becoming ever more bizarrely nuts lately) that the End Is Nigh and possibly - though not definitely (as we all surely noticed) coming on August 22d 2006:
    "...In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time--Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as 'by the end of August,' but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.

    What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to 'the farthest mosque,' usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (cf Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind."

    The Foreign Policy blog, notes that:
    If a well-known orientalist hawk like Lewis - who believed that fraudster Ahmad Chalabi could save Iraq, who told the White House that "I believe that one of the things you've got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick", and who now believes Ahmadinejad is on the verge of nuking Israel - is shaping the current U.S. administration's vision of the Middle East, then perhaps "there is good reason to believe that this government is actually a conspiracy within a conspiracy," as George Kennan once said about self-deluding Soviet policymakers.

    It turns out that the Syrian Chalabi wannabe, was either Lewis source, or gazed at the same crystal ball. All this apocalyptic nonsense is quite funny of course, but were these the musings of an aging imperial apologist, nonwithstanding his ties to the current administration, it wouldn't matter that much (although one does expect from a Princeton scholar not to compete with the Weekly World News in predicting the Apocalypse). It turns out however that the Milleniarist, Armageddon-loving fundamentalists, are more conspicuous in the GOP camp, then among Teheran's mullahs, as Matt Taibbi writes in his latest Rolling Stone piece:

    Anyway [B. Lewis' WSJ article] seemed to start the ball rolling on the August 22nd front. From there, a whole host of ostensibly serious commentators started appearing on American television braying horrible warnings about the coming end of the world. Worse still, some of them claimed real ties with the White House. Chief among those was probably John Hagee, a San Antonio pastor whose End Times credentials have already been reported in many outlets (among others, by Sarah Posner of Alternet).

    The significance of Hagee is that he chairs a group called Christians United For Israel (CUFI) which believes that the U.S. must unite to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to precipitate Armageddon, followed by the more desirable Second Coming of Jesus. Hagee would be just another sweating evangelist lunatic if it weren't for the fact that his group has the ear of the White House. RNC chair Ken Mehlman took time out from bashing Ned Lamont to speak at CUFI's inaugural banquet in Washington in July, and both Sam Brownback and Rick Santorum also addressed the group. Meanwhile, Hagee at the banquet reportedly read out greetings from Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush himself, who apparently said, "God Bless and stand by the people of Israel and God Bless the United States."

    If that weren't scary enough, the Washington Post on August 4th published a story by Dan Froomkin suggesting that a certain Joel C. Rosenberg, another prominent subscriber to the August 22nd theory, had been invited to the White House. Rosenberg told Froomkin that he had spoken to a "couple dozen" White House aides on February 10th, 2005, and had been in touch with some of them ever since. Rosenberg said the meeting came after an unnamed White House staffer called him and said "A lot of people over here are reading your novels" -- novels which presumably include the recent The Ezekiel Option, which is about, God help us, a White House staffer who urges a highly religious president to bomb Russia and bring about the End of Everything...

    ... When the end of the world is being soberly predicted on most of our major television networks and in the Wall Street Journal, and a group dedicated to End Times fantasies can summon the attention of senators, a Republican Party chairman and the heads of two nuclear states, this matter stops being a conspiracy theory. We might have to face the fact that American politics has departed the world of the rational and has entered the realm of a cultist dynamic.

    Consider this possibility: With its administration's earthly policies in shambles, and no way left to compete in the normal political arena in the upcoming elections, Karl Rove and Co. may be flirting with selling the same thing cult leaders throughout history have sold their followers: the afterlife. And who better to sell a Revelations storyline than the guardians of the world's biggest army, already deployed in the Holy Lands against the unbelievers? It's a crazy idea, but it's also inspired. And would you put it past them?

    Quite. In a world were even Fareed Zakaria tells people to chill out as per the destructive capabilities of Iran, and the John Birtch Society (for Chrissake), calls the Bush administration "fascist", it's quite obvious that fire and brimstone is the only tried and true strategy left for the Bushites to follow. Hopefully they won't have the opportunity to turn Iran into a desert of fire and brimstone as well. Hopefully.

    Tuesday, August 22, 2006

    Ovine transgressors

    Lambs in wolves' clothing
    Not quite home yet, but I couldn't resist posting this superb example of the desperate agony of equal distances, as per the situation in Lebanon, coming from the UN. The Organization's press release, reporting on cease-fire violations, states that:

    ...On two instances yesterday morning, Israeli aircraft violated Lebanese airspace in the central sector. Also, violation of the Blue Line on the ground in Shebaa area has resumed. Yesterday, two Lebanese shepherds and approx. 100 sheep crossed the Blue Line towards Israel. Such incidents can endanger very fragile and tense situation...

    Spotted by Blogging the Middle East, Anarchistian's excellent Lebanese Blog that I've been following closely during this whole criminal mess...

    Thursday, August 3, 2006

    Trips down memory lane

    / history? what history? /
  • From the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs: abduction as baragaining tool, the prequel:
    On 28 July 1989, Israeli commandos kidnapped Sheikh Abdul Karim Obeid, the leader of the Hezbollah in Lebanon. He was taken from his home in southern Lebanon to Israel. Obeid was held responsible, among other activities, for the kidnapping of an American Marines Colonel William R. Higgins in February 1988. Israel had hoped to use the sheikh as a card to affect an exchange of prisoners and hostages in return for all Shiites held by it.

    As pointed out by Siddharth Varadarajan in the Hindu, in a very informative article.

  • A few years ago Amnesty was codemning KLA guerillas for abducting 8 Yugoslav Army soldiers. Inexplicably, Serbia's right to defend itself never became a part of the international debate.

  • Noam Chomsky reminds us how collective responsibility is abhorrent when applied against us, but pretty much OK when we apply it to others, a point made by Billmon in a different context, as well.

  • And from current news: You know the sad excuse that Israel is spinning about the Qana massacre? That there were nearby rockets fired that day by Hezbollah? Well Red Cross Workers at the scene apparently didn't see any such launches.
  • Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    Hariri's Murder was indeed the Beginning

    / connecting the dots /
    A year and a half ago, immediately after the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, Ramzy Baroud, an Arab-American journalist and editor of the Palestine Chronicle, wrote an article about the assassination, not so much to answer the question of "who did it?" (although one would expect that these queries might be connected), but rather the question "who benefits?". Because quite a bit of what he wrote can be seen to day in a new light, I'll highlight a few passages:

    ...The tide is turning against Syria, and it is turning fast. Both Israel and the United States are up in arms to bring an end to Syria's hegemony over Lebanese affairs. But one must not be too hasty to believe that the American-Israeli action is motivated by their earnest concern for Lebanese sovereignty. Look a few miles to the east, to Iraq, and be assured that meaningful national sovereignty is the least of Washington's concerns at this point. Skip through the brief, albeit bloody, history between Israel and Lebanon, and you'll reach the same conclusion: Lebanon's sovereignty is nowhere to be found on Israel's list of things to do. In fact, Israel's violations of Lebanon's sovereignty continue unabated...

    [Israel's] mission therefore, has always been to separate individual Arab countries from the pack, to pressure them, allure them, or beat them senseless (as in the cases of Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian leadership) until a peace deal on Israeli terms is finally reached.

    But Syria and Lebanon have thus far maintained a different dynamic in their dealings with Israel.

    To begin with, Lebanese resistance demonstrated that Israel would only honor international law if forced to do so. The partial Israeli implementation of UN resolution 425 and its forced withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 are evidence of that claim.

    To Israel, that was a very dangerous and alarming precedent...

    ...The killing of Rafik al-Hariri will be exploited by those who want Israel to be the only regional power broker. Hariri's assassination is the kind of provocation that precedes a major military undertaking or political reshuffling. The latter is the most likely prospect for now, and the U.S. move to recall its ambassador from Syria "for urgent consultations," coupled with the organized anti-Syria campaign, will serve that goal.

    One must have no illusions that Syria's presence in Lebanon is for the sake of Lebanon. Far from it. But Damascus is terrified at the possibility that its withdrawal from Lebanon could risk the loss of a strategic ally. Moreover, the return of instability to the tiny Arab republic adjacent to Syria will turn the tables in any future peace talks. Israel will hold all the cards.

    The Lebanese people have the right to demand and expect full sovereignty. Yet it would be a tragedy if Lebanon found itself free from an Arab neighbor only to fall under the grip of an alien foe that has killed tens of thousands of Lebanese over the years.

    It is a difficult position for Lebanon as well as Syria, which finds itself at the mercy of a hungry predator ready to make his final leap.

    We might never know who is responsible for Hariri's death, but it will almost certainly cultivate political turmoil that benefits only Israel.

    Also from the distant past:
    - On Hezbollah's disarmament: Nadim Hasbani July 11 2006, Roger Shanahan, February 2006.

    - On July Invasions of Lebanon: Noam Chomsky 2003: "Limited War" in Lebanon, this is eerily reminiscent of the recent events:

    "On July 25, Israel launched what the press described as its "biggest military assault on Lebanon" since the 1982 invasion. The assault was provoked by guerrilla attacks on Israeli troops in southern Lebanon, killing seven Israeli soldiers. By the time a US-arranged cease fire took hold on July 31, about 125 Lebanese were reported killed, along with three Syrians and three Israelis, one a soldier in southern Lebanon, while about 500,000 people were driven from their homes according to reports from Lebanon..."
    [remembered by Blogging the Middle East]

    Finally, in the ultimate ironic event of the bombing raids, the Israelis bombed al-Khiam, the theater of many horrors inflicted on the Lebanese resistance during the Israeli occupation, and not only through Israel's proxies (SLA)...

    Sunday, July 23, 2006

    War Crimes, somebody is saying War Crimes!

    / the rape of Lebanon /
    At last an international body not afraid to speak its mind. The International Commission of Jurists seems to not have lost the ability to call a war crime a war crime, when it's happening. They are among the few international bodies that are "extremely concerned by the apathy of the international community and the inactivity of key governments toward the ongoing Israeli military actions in Lebanon as well as in Gaza" and they point out that:
    For the past eight days and nights, the Israeli air forces have destroyed countless civilian buildings, infrastructure and means of transportation in operations that have killed more 300 people - most of them civilians - and wrecked havoc on Lebanese cities, harbours, airports and other infrastructure, leading to the displacement of more than half a million people. Appalled by the impact of the ruthless military operations, the ICJ recalls that Israel has to unconditionally respect the lives and security of civilians and abide by the Geneva Conventions to which it is a party. Under the law of war, intentional attacks against the civilian population as such or against civilians not taking direct part in hostilities, as well as the extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity, constitute war crimes. The wanton destruction of the Beirut airport and civilian aircrafts are blatant examples of these destructions. Similarly, the bombing of undefended towns, villages and dwellings that are not military objectives, as well as the intentional attacks that will knowingly cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians also constitute war crimes for which individuals can be held criminally responsible.

    "While Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself against hostage-taking and the launching of rockets by the Hezbollah over Israeli territory, this right is not unlimited and is subject to the restrictions of international law," said Mr Andreu-Guzman. "Indeed, the disproportionate and indiscriminate reactions of the Israeli military are reprisals against the civilian population and thus amount to collective punishment. Collective punishments constitute a war crime under international law", added Mr Andreu-Guzman...

    On a similar vein UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, to her credit, noted that:

    "Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians,"...

    "Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable."

    Ms Arbour expressed "grave concern over the continued killing and maiming of civilians in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory".

    Without pointing to specific individuals, she suggested that leaders could bear personal responsibility.

    "I do believe that on the basis of evidence that is available in the public domain there are very serious concerns that the level of civilian casualties, the indiscriminate shelling of cities and so on, on their face raise sufficient questions that I think one must issue a sobering signal to those who are behind these initiatives to examine very closely their personal exposure," she told the BBC.

    As to the use of disproportionate force, Israel's ambassador to the UN pretty much conceded that point, when he said:

    Referring to complaints that Israel was using disproportionate force, Dan Gillerman, IsraelÂ’s United Nations ambassador, said at a rally of supporters in New York this week, "“You'’re damn right we are."”

    "“If your cities were shelled the way ours were,"” he said, addressing critics, "“you would use much more force than we are or we ever will."

    Anyway the sad reluctance around the world to state anything that might actually challenge Israel's right indiscriminately whoever and whatever it wants and cause (until now) more than 300 deaths of civilians and more refugees per capita than the Yugoslav wars, is becoming really worrying. Zapatero seems to be the only European leader to manage to actually condemn Israel's actions and demand that they cease - good for him.

    [As I write this I see that Jon Egeland, the UN's emergency relief chief has also said that the "disproportionate response" by Israel was a "violation of international humanitarian law"]

    Let me add that the whole idea that by bombing Lebanon back to the stone age, Israel will be safer, is idiotic. Similarly idiotic is the idea that Hezbollah can be removed from Lebanon - in fact the recent events make it quite likely that Hezbollah will emerge from this round of events stronger - as pointed out be no less a figure than Lebanese President Fuad Siniora:

    "...the criminal Israeli bombardments must stop immediately. Israelis are bombing civilians and this increases Hezbollah's popularity, even among people who would not normally support it..."

    Add to this the fact that it doesn't seem at all likely that by shelling apartment buildings, refugee convoys and airports any serious blow against Hezbollah is being struck, and one is left wondering... what is this ongoing massacre really about?

    Monday, July 17, 2006

    Letters from Lebanon

    / The crisis in Lebanon /
    And on to Lebanon... I received from a friend in the Middle East the following witness report from a Lebanese artist (whose name will remain unpublished for the time being - these being difficult times) in Beirut, yesterday, which I post in its entirety

    > This morning
    > A.
    > Yet another day of bombing all over the place. In the mountain here,
    > we were subject to about three different bombing runs: 1 to continue
    > destroying the Beirut to Damascus road; another to destroy the cell
    > phone antennas; and another to again hit the Beirut to Damascus road.
    > Just a few minutes ago, the house was shaking again, and I only
    > assume the Israelis are pounding the same area. The safe areas are
    > much further to the north, the northeastern enclave, an area
    > traditionally christian. Listening to Nasrallah's speech tonight was
    > not reassuring one bit. After pleading with the Lebanese to stand
    > firm, and after denouncing Arab government leaving Lebanon to pay the
    > price for Israeli aggression, he asked us all to look at sea and watch
    > the Israeli gunboat that had been pounding the coast and hills all
    > day. he said that it was about to be hit by a HizbAllah missile. He
    > promised that it will burn, that it will sink, that its sailors will
    > die. It made me sickto my stomach, almost as much as it makes me sick
    > to hear Olmert, Bush, the Saudi, and Palestinian position about this.
    > Nasrallah also called for an open war against Israel, and that he
    > will hit Haifa, and what is behind Haifa, and behind and behind Haifa.
    > What this means remains unlcear. But clearly it is worrying. Within
    > minutes of the speech, parts of West Beirut were celebrating. The
    > city is about to be reduced to rubble, and fireworks are being fired
    > in the air. Incredible. Al-Jazeera and most local networks pointed
    > their lenses towards to sea, to look for a missile launch, which came
    > but was not visible. This is just not good. This is just about to
    > get worse. I dont know what to think anymore. Pundits are
    > speculating, making noise: Did HizbAllah need to drag Lebanon into
    > this mess at this time? How can HizbAllah monopolize the decision to
    > launch a war, to destroy the country? Others are convinced that Israel
    > is simply intent on enforcing resolution 1559, namely to disarm
    > HizbAllah by force. HizbAllah is asking everyone to stand form, and to
    > be patient. This has happened before and we have triumphed. We will
    > triumph again, they say. Whatever all this leads to, one thing is
    > certain, the scale of the destruction is enormous. People are dying
    > in the south and elsewhere. Too many. The bombing has moved to the
    > north and in the past hour positions inside Syria were hit. Iran has
    > said that were Syria to be hit, they will respond. A regional war?
    > What's going on?
    > Embassies here are starting to remove their citizens. the French,
    > canadians, germans, and the americans just announced the same.
    > I cannot imagine this going on for months, despite what some officials
    > up high are stating. I assume that the regional ploy is to disarm
    > hizbAllah. This will only happen is Syria and Iran get something in
    > return. What is the U.S. willing to grant them? Also, they have to
    > find a way out for HizbAllah. Which means that their position inside
    > the Lebanese government will have to be negotiated. They may disarm
    > them, but they have to give them a way out as well. After all,
    > HizbAllah represents 1 million folks here. Israel and the U.S cannot
    > kill them all.
    > Rumors aplenty, every ten minutes. The news, all of it, Arab and
    > international, makes me sick. We are stuck with a false choice:
    > Support HizbAllah, or be an Israeli agent. That is at least what
    > HizbAllah and their Syrian allies are saying. The Christian right's
    > position is equally naive. They want to assume that HizbAllah will
    > just go away. they are wishing it at least. That wont happen, no
    > matter what. Everyone is miscalculating it seems: HizbAllah, the
    > Americans, the Israelis, The Saudis, the Palestinians, The French, The
    > Russians, The Chinese. You name it. The effects on the ground will
    > remain once this crisis is resolved, and has already generated enough
    > antagonism to last us another decade.
    > We are trying to think of what to do. To leave, and be stuck in the
    > U.S glued to the TV trying to figure out what is happening will be
    > maddening.
    > This will clearly get worse before it gets better, and we have not
    > seen the worse yet. Now, all parties are slowly revealing their
    > cards.
    > best
    > w.
    > This evening ....
    > We still have the land-line. Cell phones are working from time to
    > time. Electricity is being rationed. We are getting around 8 hours a
    > day. Generators provide the rest at this point. It is a situation we
    > are used to, one that is decent -- even very good compared to what
    > other areas of the country are living through at the moment.
    > More idiots on Lebanese TV speculating some more about Israel's and
    > HizbAllah's intentions. More shelling in the Southern Suburb. More
    > massacres in the South. More missiles to northern Israel. More
    > fireworks celebrating HizbAllah's resistance.
    > Doi we need to say this again and again and again: There is no such
    > thing as targeted/surgical shelling in a city with hundreds of
    > thousands of homes, built cheek to cheek. Israel shelled the house of
    > Hassan Nasrallah. I suppose they thought he would be home enjoying
    > his afternoon tea at the time. They took out the light house that
    > stood on the Corniche, lest it send out distress signals that the
    > world will not see. A family leaving, fleeing its village in the
    > South was pulverized -- surely the smoke from the shelling blinded the
    > scope of the gunner, preventing him/her from seeing that the small
    > people in the car were not extremely short HizbAllah fighters. Should
    > we tally numbers? Do we need to open more morgue doors b to reveal
    > yet another mangled body, yet another weeping parent, yet another
    > angry relative denouncing this or that government? this or that
    > policy?
    > Amr Moussa stated tonight, after the spineless meeting of Arab
    > ministers, that it is clear now that the U.S. has handed Israel a free
    > hand in solving the Mid-East crisis, as it sees fit. Whether it
    > decides unilaterally to withdraw from Gaza, from the West Bank, from
    > destroying Gaza again, from destroying Beirut, etc. I wonder what
    > took them so long to figure this out. Is the oil in the Gulf still a
    > weapon in their hands? Surely not, as we are reminded time and time
    > again. What is the price of oil again? How much of Europe's oil
    > supplied by the Saudis and the Kuwaitis? How much of the U.S. oil is
    > supplied by the Middle East? Did we reach 78 USD a barrel yet? Maybe
    > the Saudis will use some of the surplus to rebuild the country again.
    > What's a billion dollars when the price of oil reaches 78 USD?
    > Someone knows this somewhere, and is most likely depending on it.
    > Israeli cease-fire conditions announced -- as I write this:
    > -Retreat of HizbAllah fighters to behind the Litani river in the
    > south.
    > -Hand-over of all HizbAllah missiles to the Lebanese Army
    > -Deployment of the Lebanese Army in the South.
    > On this end, I am tired, and am not able to think straight anymore.
    > Hoping for a quiet night, and to wake up with a cease-fire declared.
    > w.

    And this report (minus the pictures which my correspondent refrained from forwarding) I received today - the author will remain similarly anonymous for the time being:

    Dear friends and colleagues,

    I'm sending theses new pictures now. Last night , 60 raids were executed all
    over Lebanon , from Tripoli in the north to Baalback in the East ,and in
    Beirut. Since Thursday 197 civilians were killed and 35o injured according
    to the health ministry , but this can not be a finel account since whole
    villages and cities are completely cut off , there' s no way to reach them
    or know wht's happening there.
    Now what happened in the south last night seems to be outrageous . People
    are fleeing in masses , there are humongous traffic jams in Saida , caused
    by hundreds of people fleeing to Beirut through the South. Those people have
    nowhere to go in here , and that's way they hadn't left their villages so
    far. This morning, the streets of beirut were full with families carrying
    plastic bags in whivh they packed their belongings , or what's left of them.
    Appartement buildings in beirut are either full or over priced.
    People took in relatives and friends in their houses .
    Now all this is fine, it's war , killing destroying , moving people ,
    cutting off cities , destroying infrastructure , it's calssical.
    But , please , take a minute and look at any of these pictures in a
    different way. Some countries said they will help lebanon's reconstruction
    (thanks) . Saudi Arabia said it will give 50 milion $ in aid. A small
    calculation of the difference in oil prices between last Wednesday and today
    will show how generous this offer is , especially that the Saudis political
    stand almost gave the israelis a green light to go on.
    Anyway , that was not my point .
    The point is , if you take a real look at the pictures , you will see: a
    house , a car , a shop... Destroyed ones. But , 6 days ago , they were
    somebody's car , shop , and house. Inside the houses were toys for children
    , books and music. All gone, and no one will pay for it.
    The shops are all what these people own. The harbour that was burnt last
    night , contained goods someone had paid for. People will go bankrupt.
    Did I mention that the targeted areas are the poorer in Lebanon?
    Oh yeah , and I forgot to mention all the people who died.

    Related news. Nasrallah's public statement (the man is either on crack, suicidal, or knows something the rest of the world doesn't - what the hell is he expecting to gain from all this? Can the current situation empower Hezbollah? Can they "win" in any meaningful sense? Did they expect anything less than the current massacre from the always happy-to-kill-an-Arab IDF racists? What?)

    An article in the Asia Times about the war, by Sami Moubayed, a Syrian analyst, which is the only piece that I've read recently that makes some sense - and sort of answers ny question above...

    An article over at EuroTrib about the rather abrupt decline of the "Cedar Revolution" rhetoric...
    Juan Cole on the war in Lebanon.

    Noam Chomsky about the situation in Gaza and the Lebanon

    And a few Lebanese blogs (where self-righteous republicans, from the safety of their condos together with ultranationalist Israelis, vent their collective wrath against those "damn Arabs" in various comment sections...) providing excellent coverage of the situation and the developments in Lebanon.

    Blogging the Middle East

    The Lebanese Bloggers

    Lebanese Blogger Forum

    Ur Shalim

    Lebanese Political Journal

    Letters Apart

    Jamal's Propaganda Site

    The Beirut Spring...

    Gaza in tatters

    / Stripping Gaza /
    If one notes what the UN Special Rapporteur on OPT reported on his visit (21 June 2006), it seems the kidnap of the Israeli soldier by the Palestinians in Gaza wasn't an act out of the blue, but a response to daily Israeli practices:

    Gaza is under siege. Israel controls its airspace and has resumed sonic booms which terrorize and traumatize its people. The targeted killing of militants is on the increase. Inevitably, as in the past, such killings have resulted in the killing and wounding of innocent bystanders. Israel also controls Gaza's territorial sea and fires missiles into the territory from ships at sea. The no-go area along the border of Gaza has been extended to some 500-600 metres to enable the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinian militants. IDF policy now allows it to fire shells up to 100 metres from civilian houses. Within Gaza, medical services have been seriously affected by the prohibition on the funding of medical equipment and medical supplies managed by the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. The non-payment of salaries to Palestinian Authority employees has affected both hospitals and schools as employees cannot afford to travel to work. Unemployment and poverty are on the increase. After a long period of closure of the Karni commercial crossing, this crossing has been re-opened but it still processes only a limited number of trucks with the result that Gaza is still short of basic foodstuffs and is unable to export its produce.

    Human rights violations in the West Bank have also intensified. The construction of the Wall continues to impact severely on human rights. In farming areas, lands are being abandoned in the closed zone (the area between the Wall and the Green Line) as farmers are denied permits to farm their land. Families both within the closed zone and its precincts have been substantially impoverished as a result. The impact of the Wall is no less severe in the cities. The Wall in Jerusalem divides Palestinian neighbourhoods and in so doing separates families who hold different identity documents. The law prohibiting Israeli Arab spouses from co-habiting with their West Bank and Gaza Palestinian spouses has further damaged family life. Travel into and out of Jerusalem has become a nightmare for Palestinians as a result of new travel restrictions.

    However more importantly the abduction of an Israeli soldier in Gaza happenned two days after Israel invaded the Gaza strip to abduct two Palestinian civilians, who were charged with being... "Hamas members", that is members of the legally elected governing party in the Palestinian Territories.

    In fact, despite protestations to the contrary there was a low level war going on in Gaza, as soon as Hamas was elected - as the UN situation report made clear, this past April. They noted that:

    Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have fired more than 2,300 artillery and tank shells into the Gaza Strip since 29 March, more than 150 shells a day. This intensified IDF shelling comes as Palestinians over the same period fired more than 67 home made rockets (around 5/day) and an alleged Katyusha rocket (a longer range rocket) that was found south of Ashqelon on 28 March.

    The shelling has been concentrated in the northern Gaza Strip – As Siafa in the northwest, Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun in the north/northeast and areas east of Jabalia camp in the north and Gaza City.

    Over the same period, the Israel Air Force (IAF) launched 34 missiles inside the Gaza Strip targeting wanted people, buildings, roads and other infrastructure.

    Seventeen Palestinians have been killed, among them two children in artillery shelling and missile strikes since 29 March. One was a five-year-old boy, killed together with his father when an IAF aircraft targeted a training base used by Palestinian militants in Rafah on 7 April. An eight-year-old girl was killed and eight children from her family injured when an artillery shell hit her family's house in Beit Lahia on 10 April.

    At least 62 Palestinians have been injured, including one woman and 11 children. One Israeli was also injured after a home made rocket was fired from inside the Gaza Strip and landed south of Ashqelon on 6 April.

    The continuous firing of artillery shells and launching of IAF missiles are causing immense psycho-social strain on the Gaza population, especially on children. There are also additional risks from unexploded shells, particularly Palestinian farmers and shepherds and for children playing in the fields. Residents of As Siafa, for instance, reported that 15 shells out of a total of 200 that landed in the area in the three days from 30 March to 1 April, have not exploded.

    So the rape of Gaza is continuing, even now that the world's attention has shifted over to Lebanon:

    Southern Gaza is in TOTAL DARKNESS. Three quarters of the television frame is PITCH BLACK while northern Gaza has a few lights. About an hour ago, Israel bombed with F-16's the only power station left in Khan Younes plunging it in TOTAL DARKNESS too.

    Do you know what it means to be without electricity for 10 days in today's world??? No water, no sewage, no cooling, no storing of whatever food is left, no communication... etc. As though this were not sufficient for those poor Palestinians, tonight, like every night, Israel has been bombing and sending missiles into Gaza and flying over it all night with sonic booms to scare the people and especially the children who are totally terrified.

    Yesterday a one and a half year old child died in an awful way of injuries sustained by Israeli bombing and mainstream media instead of covering it, is allowing a terrorist like Ehud Olmert to take the microphone and tell the world that Israel never targets civilians. It has been 10 days now and all Israel has done is target civilians and kill dozens!

    Finally, a statement regarding Gaza from the Communist Party of Israel...

    Sunday, July 9, 2006

    More on the DR of Congo

    / colonialism / new and improved /
    PambazukaNews interviews Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Director of UNDP Oslo Governance Centre, regarding the DRC, in which he portrays the situation in the DR of Congo as it is - and it is colonialism repackaged:

    ...What is evident is that France and its allies, African as well as non-African, do not wish to see the DRC become a regional power in Central Africa, and thus constitute a threat to French hegemony and Western interests in the sub-region. A strong state in the Congo will not only threaten French control over the resource-rich countries in the sub-region, namely, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe. Moreover, the DRC has enough arable soil, rainfall, lakes and rivers to become the breadbasket of Africa, and enough hydroelectric power to light up the whole continent from the Cape to Cairo. While its mineral resources are so abundant that a young Belgian geologist declared the country a geological scandal at the beginning of the last century, the real scandal of the Congo include the facts that its uranium was used to build the first atomic bombs in the world and its wealth has since the days of King Leopold II been used not in the interests of its people but to the benefit of its rulers and their external allies...

    ...The forthcoming election means more to the international community, which is spending heavily on it and even sending in European Union forces to supplement MONUC to ensure that it is being held, than to the Congolese people. The major powers of the world and the international organizations under their control would like to legitimize their current client regime in Kinshasa so they can continue unfettered to extract all the resources they need from the Congo...

    ...Since the current transitional government has not fulfilled the requirements laid out in the Sun City/Pretoria accord for free and fair elections, the ritual of 30 July is likely to confirm Joseph Kabila as President, but it will not change the political situation of the country for the better. Violence will continue in the northeast, and corruption and incompetence will remain the most salient features of a government with an externally-driven agenda...

    [via Black looks]

    I needn't add too much here, just point out a Global Witness Report, on "Fraud, abuse and exploitation in Katanga’s copper and cobalt mines", confirming empirically the gist of the African political scientist's main claims:

    ...The mining sector in Katanga is characterised by widespread corruption and fraud at all levels. A significant proportion of the copper and cobalt is mined informally and exported illicitly. Government officials are actively colluding with trading companies in circumventing control procedures and the payment of taxes. The profits are serving to line the pockets of a small but powerful elite – politicians and businessmen who are exploiting the local population and subverting natural riches for their own private ends. Large quantities of valuable minerals are leaving the country undeclared, representing a huge loss for the Congolese economy and a wasted opportunity for alleviating poverty and enhancing development. A local source estimated that at the end of 2005, at least three quarters of the minerals exported from Katanga were leaving illicitly...

    [via Eurotrib]

    Friday, June 16, 2006

    The Destroyed Republic of Congo

    / death and destruction / outside the visible media universe /

    "I am convinced now, that the lives of Congolese people no longer mean anything to anybody. Not to those who kill us like flies, our brothers who help kill us or those you call the international community. Even God does not listen to our prayers any more and abandons us."

    Salvatore Bulamuzi, a member of the Lendu community whose parents, two wives and five children were all killed in recent attacks on the town of Bunia, north-eastern DRC. - from an AI 2003 report

    If there was ever any real doubt that Africans are simply not considered important by the rest of the world - and particularly by the rest of the world's media - the sheer fact that the little news item, linked to from this post's title, was indeed, a little news item, should put it to rest. I quote:

    Some 1,200 people in the DRC die daily from conflict-related causes. More than 20 per cent of the children die before their fifth birthday and one in 10 die in the first year of life. The refugee agency’s appeal last year for the repatriation and reintegration of Congolese refugees received only 14 per cent of the needed funding, or $10.6 million out of the $75 million required.

    Meanwhile, of $14.7 million requested for UNHCR's programme for internally displaced people (IDPs) in a country the size of Western Europe, only $3.2 million had come in.

    Now this is not the result of war - this is just the aftermath of a war: the deadliest war after WWII, whose victims direct and indirect numbered by 2004, a year after the peace accord was signed, around 4 million people. These were butchered, fell ill, starved or wasted away in the period of just five years. If the 1,200 figure is any guide we're talking about an extra ~0.8 million dead since the official ceasefire.

    No wonder then that the UN has listed the Congo disaster as one of the "10 Stories the World Should Hear More About" or that Reuters had it at the top of its "forgotten" disasters list.

    The sheer numbers are so huge as to be almost inconceivable. Yet it turns out that the per capita foreign aid that Congo receives is minimal, when it gets there at all. Why is that? Why is Congo receiving, per capita, 25 times less foreign aid than Kosovo for example? How are the needs prioritized? After all as dire as the situation in Kosovo might be, there certainly aren't any plague epidemics and reports of little girls being boiled alive, so by all indications one would expect a similar level of news exposure and humanitarian aid.

    An interesting answer comes from Larry Thompson, Director of Advocacy for Refugees International, in an article posted in the International Council of Voluntary Agencies' website, he suggests:

    Why do some humanitarian emergencies receive more attention than others?

    Answers to this question usually focus on three topics. First, media coverage of the emergency; secondly, the national interests of the aid donors, and third, the influence of aid organizations.

    * Media coverage. This is what is often called "the CNN factor" Humanitarian emergencies which receive extensive publicity, such as Kosovo and, recently, Afghanistan are believed to get more attention and assistance from donors. Thus, humanitarian emergencies which are unpublicized, such as the Congo, may receive less assistance. The theory behind the "CNN factor" is that people and governments respond to the needs of people they see on their television screens.

    * National Interests of the AID donors. Humanitarian assistance is perceived by the big donors as an arm of their foreign policy. Afghanistan is a recent example in which the United States and its allies perceived that providing humanitarian aid to Afghan civilians was important to achieving political and military objectives.

    Humanitarian aid in Kosovo in 1999 had an even closer link to the interests of the large powers, especially the Europeans. Certainly, one reason why large amounts of aid was provided to Kosovar refugees in Macedonia and Albania was to prevent the refugees from trying to immigrate to other countries in Europe. "Keep the refugees comfortable in Macedonia - and they won't try to go to Paris" was how one relief worker described to me a factor underlying the generosity of European aid donors. U.S. humanitarian aid to Haiti in the mid 1990s had much the same purpose: keep the Haitians at home.

    * Influence of aid organizations. Another factor influencing the level of humanitarian aid is the lobbying and influence of aid and citizen's organizations for a particular cause. Southern Sudan, for example, is cited as one area in which donors have provided humanitarian assistance over a long period of time primarily because aid agencies and non-governmental organizations have maintained pressure on donor countries to provide assistance.

    An even better example might be the cause of the Tibetans versus that of the Uighers [note: that's Uighurs properly]. The plight of the Tibetans, whose culture is being overrun by the Han Chinese, is familiar to most of us. But how many have ever heard of the Uighers - a people in western China who have a similar cause? Why? Some observers have said the difference is that the Tibetans have a support structure of foreigners and foreign organizations plus a charismatic leader - and the Uighers do not.

    So, what is the answer to the question as to why Kosovar refugees received $207 each in UN assistance in 1999 and Congolese refugees and displaced persons received only $8? The Kosovars had on their side at least two of the above three factors: their plight had the attention of the media and they were important to the national interests of the large donors of international assistance. The Congo had none of the three factors listed above operating in its favor.

    The author then goes on to add such factors as racial and ethnic kinship, traditional ties and accessibility of stricken area to humanitarian organizations...

    Yet there are other sides to this: who's arming the conflict, what's fueling it and who profits?

    On the first question the answer is "a lot of people": from the US military aid that helped arm the warring parties in the first place, to the fact that 17% of all weapons in the DRC were found to be made in China, to "arms dealers, brokers and transporters from many countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, the UK and USA", there is certainly money to be made selling weapons - and its very easy to smuggle them in through porous borders - with countries that were themselves embroiled in the war. It seems that the ban on arms exports to any of the warring factions is more or less moot: AK-47's are jokingly referred to as Congolese credit cards...

    As for the root cause of the fighting, it suffices to note that in the DRC:

    "...The Congo River system has 10 percent to 12 percent of the world's hydroelectric capacity. More than 50 percent of all the tropical hardwoods in Africa are inside the Congo. It has been in the top 10 in terms of production of five or six major minerals: gold, industrial diamonds, copper, cobalt and coltan - the material from which cellular telephones are made..."

    So while it is a given that all sorts of local and neighbouring military units and armed groups were struggling to gain control of and riches from Congo's fabulous mineral and forest wealth, at great pain and cost to the local population, it is worth remembering a UN report on plunder in the DRC, that pointed to quite less marginal figures as culprits in the wartime pillage. In fact as Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski write on Znet:

    ...Some people are aware that war in the Congo is driven by the desire to extract raw materials, including diamonds, gold, columbium tantalite (coltan), niobium, cobalt, copper, uranium and petroleum. Mining in the Congo by western companies proceeds at an unprecedented rate, and it is reported that some $6 million in raw cobalt alone: an element of superalloys essential for nuclear, chemical, aerospace and defense industries exits DRC daily. Any analysis of the geopolitics in the Congo requires an understanding of the organized crime perpetrated through multinational businesses, in order to understand the reasons why the Congolese people have suffered a virtually unending war since 1996...

    The UN has 17000 troops in the area and all sorts of diplomats and mediators, doing what they can (and a few implicated in a major scandal as well), but to limited effect - though one has to give the UN credit for brokering the peace process in the Congo - whatever the shortfalls of this peace may be. They are quite proud - and justifiably so - of the fact that they are about to oversee elections in the DRC and of the general progress achieved:

    Look at where the country was even three years ago, at the time the [peace] agreements were signed, and look now, with most of the country pacified and the [armed groups in the] east increasingly being put under pressure.

    The great hope here is the determination of the Congolese people. There are an estimated 28 million voters here. [Of them,] 25.6 million went out and registered. That's not like driving up to the shopping centre and going to register. These people have had to walk 20km or 30km, stand in line for seven or eight hours, perhaps come back the next day in order to get that voting card.

    Then these same people went out - two-thirds of them, 15 million - in December to vote for a constitution that most had never seen and very few had ever read, because they saw this as the next ticket to be punched on the way to elect their own leaders.

    Locals seem to be less optimistic about the elections:
    ...There are hardly any colours flying for any of the other candidates contesting the election. It looks as if Oriental Province is a sure thing for the young and incumbent president. Almost every observer IRIN encountered said the same thing: "Kabila has the money, so he will win."

    At Yasira market, a vendor sells unlicensed drugs; others offer smoked fish, bananas and cassava cake wrapped in leaves. Aside from petty trade, the economy is at a virtual standstill. The electorate here, as in other villages throughout the impoverished heart of the Congo, is needy: "We want money, beer or T-shirts," one voter said.

    In Kisangani, people walked around in T-shirts emblazoned with the images and names of candidates a month before the official start of campaigning.

    "In all this misery, you can buy a poor man with a piece of soap," said Sister Marie Madeleine Bofoe, head of the Catholic NGO Caritas in Isangi.

    This also illustrates a paradox: an election to end despotism is making an entire society gamble with its future. "We don't know any of the candidates, and we have no idea who to vote for," said Bebale Bombole, a fish vendor.

    With more than 9,600 parliamentary candidates and a campaign period limited to one month, many voters will not be able to make an informed decision...

    Meanwhile the opposition isn't really impressed by the process either:

    We have said to everybody that the electoral process imposed on the Congolese people is not a good one. The impression we have gotten is that our [international] partners don't want to organise [proper] elections. We can't understand why our partners are just pushing us to go to elections without asking the question, "But what about after the elections?"

    With all this as background, the EU is about to embark on a military mission to the DRC to help with the elections. The mission will "support MONUC in its peacekeeping efforts where necessary; the EU is responsible for protecting and -- if necessary -- evacuating election personnel, election observers and U.N. personnel. They will also protect and remove civilians out of danger zones, if such form, and provide MONUC with information from the EU's military intelligence services." The mission will consist of 2000 troops and be under German command. There are serious misgivings about this deployment in Germany however. Deutsche Welle notes:

    "..how serious can Europe really be about this mission, when Central Africa's big hope rests on the shoulders of just 2,000 European soldiers, many of whom will never actually be stationed in the country? And what are they supposed to secure in this country saddled with unrest? A poorly prepared election in which former warlords will surrender to the ballot?

    If the observers are right, then interim President Joseph Kabila will profit more than anyone else from the presence of European soldiers in DR Congo. As far as security goes, he prefers to rely on his private army. Kabila is friendly with the French, who are involved in power politics in the region and therefore play a decisive role in the conflict. Paris is only concerned with stability and the status quo in Africa, regardless of whether dictators or democrats come out on top. Since no one wants to hear about that in Berlin, France was able to lure the Germans into DR Congo by assuring them that the mission would strengthen the European Union's position as a global security power...

    ...That all sounds very nice, but DR Congo is a poor choice for improving the EU's reputation. As soon as the situation escalates, the European mini-force will have to make a run for it -- and leave a lot of disappointed people behind.

    It seems that the main motive for this expedition is less the protection of the (already flawed) Congolese elections and more a grand opening for the European Security an Defense Policy and, possibly, the protection of French interests in the country. Already the opposition is calling EU Envoys in the country "public enemies":

    ...According to Bomanza the International Electoral Commission (IEC) has been instructed to organize the polls to convert them into a plebiscite for Kabila. For this the European Development Commissioner, Louis Michel bears a large responsibility. His support for Kabila can be traced back to January 2002, when he managed to convince Congolese participants at a round-table meeting in Brussels to accept Kabila as the president of the future transitional government, said Bomanza.

    "The Congolese people consider the EU's Special Envoy in the Great Lakes, Aldo Ajello, and Louis Michel as its public enemies", he added.

    while the sentiment on the street in Kinshasha isn't exactly always pro-european:

    Tyres were burning on Kinshasa's main boulevard, tear gas hung in the air and the whole angry mob was screaming at once.

    But one voice eventually rose above the rest: "The Belgians and the rest of their European friends will have to watch out," shouted Jean Bosco Muaka.

    "This place is no longer their colony and, if they aren't careful, we may have to burn a few of them," the lawyer and parliamentary candidate added as some fellow protestors ran their fingers across their necks in a menacing gesture.

    Just weeks ahead of Democratic Republic of Congo's first free elections in 40 years, visiting U.N. Security Council delegates this week told politicians to tone down election rhetoric and avoid inflaming ethnic tensions.

    But Monday's protests, called by opposition parties unhappy with preparations for the July 30 polls which are meant to draw a line under years of war and chaos, demonstrated mounting hostility to foreign involvement in Congo.

    "There is a clear 'anti-international community' sentiment growing out there," a U.N. official told Reuters.

    "They see us as having already decided who will be elected," said the official, who asked not to be named. "They are totally frustrated with the process and could start taking it out on soft targets, which is worrying."

    The scope, the circumstances and the timing of this EU unit is troubling: rather than being sent there under UN command with some tangible humanitarian goal, the EU's presence is seen as legitimizing rather suspicious elections - in a country in which at least one of its member states has both interests and clients. Having said that, this mission is indeed at the UN's request and is thus surely legitimate. Whether it is wise, relevant or disinterested, is another matter.

    Meanwhile, from another point of view, this operation is described as "cosmetic" by those that wish to see a more "militarily involved" EU. Jean-Yves Haine and Bastian Giegerich write in the IHT that:

    ...The mission's rationale has more to do with French-German cohesion and with the EU's desire to bolster the credibility of the European Security and Defense Policy after the fiasco over the European constitutional treaty's rejection in referendums in France and the Netherlands. The actual reality on the ground in Congo is only a secondary factor...

    To sum it up the two facts that are making me suspicious of whether anybody has a clear and acceptable goal in mind is that a. the EU force will be there to safeguard against "bad losers" and oversee the elections which b. most consider very one-sided and the opposition is renouncing as rigged - so if the elections are "flawed" the EU force will be using force against people who will rightfully demonstrate. So are "we" (in the EU) helping in setting up another de facto dictator by lending him credibility or are "we" doing whatever the UN tells us with no agenda of our own...? I'd love to read some local perspective on this - so I would be grateful for any suggested sources (or your personal views if you are from the DRC or the region).

    Anyway, the story developing in the DRC needs some drastically more serious exposure - and since the Real Media aren't doing that job, I wonder if bloggers can step up and try to publicize the extent and urgency of the DRC's ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, that is currently claiming one Bosnia every three months...

    Cross posted over at the European Tribune, slightly edited