Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The many faces of a news item

/ huh? /
OK, so Finnish Unions took a Finnish ferry company, Viking, to court because it replaced the crew on one of its ships with Estonian workers and relocated to Estonia to achieve this. The court ruled. The essence of the court's decision however is a highly subjective matter, at least if one judges by the title of the relevant stories in various international publications. A brief selection:

- BBC: Blow for unions in EU labour row

- The Guardian: EU court backs unions on business relocating in EU

- EUBusiness: EU court defends right for firms to move abroad to save costs

- EUObserver: Unions may take action over cheap labour, EU court says

- Jurist: European Court of Justice limits right of labor unions to strike

- EurActiv: EU court upholds right to strike but sets limits

- Maritime Global Net: International Transport Workers Federation WELCOMES VIKING JUDGEMENT

So what's up? Who won? I must suspend judgment on this, although I hope the ITF wouldn't be welcoming the judgment if it really was a "blow" for unions. People just try to understand what's happening, the media's point however is to spin it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rushing Kosovo

history repeating itself

So let me get this straight: In 1991 the EU hastily recognized Croatia and Slovenia, in a move that, rather undoubtedly, contributed (and I'm putting this rather mildly) to igniting the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Yesterday, Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband, advocating immediate EU recognition of Kosovo's independence said that:

...European nations must decide whether they want to "take a lead" on Kosovo and prevent a return to the bloodshed of the 1990s, when Yugoslavia broke up in a series of wars.

... neglecting to mention that, in fact, the EU's "lead" in the 1990s, helped the create the "series of wars" he refers to, in a process precisely described by NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, in a lecture back in 1995.

In fact Jonathan Steele writing in the Guardian a year ago, bizarrely acknowledged a need for haste, while suggesting that:

...As current president of the EU, Germany has a chance to show leadership on a major European issue. Many Europeans charge Germany with helping to precipitate the Balkan wars of the 1990s by hasty recognition of Croatia. It would be ironic if Germany over-compensates now by delaying the recognition of Kosovo, and thereby precipitating Balkan violence again.

Thus, drawing historical lessons is a form of over-compensation. The fact that hasty recognitions, in the name of "stopping the conflict" or "not precipitating violence", in the past led to all-out civil war in the same damn region, somehow is deemed as irrelevant and in fact it is claimed that a delay (that would include say some sort of UNSC deal, or even - God forbid - some sort of mutually tolerable solution) would prevent violence. As long as no-strings-attached independence id guarantied, the Kosovar Albanians don't have anything to negotiate about, no reason to make the slightest concession. The talks were theater, with deadlock as their foregone ending.

Nowhere is there even the slightest mention of the domino effect that might ensue and the precedent that this unilateral recognition will establish. The fact that Cyprus steadfastly rejects a EU recognition of Kosovo, is exactly because this would set a legitimizing precedent that might open a future recognition of the "Republic of Northern Cyprus" and half the world in fact. It will bolster bellicose separatism in Europe and certainly the Balkans, creating instability in the region that bodes ill for its future. The wheels that might be set in motion by such a recognition of Kosovo as an independent state, don't have to start immediately, nor are they inescapable. But they will be moving, and they might roll out of control in the event of any serious crisis in the Balkans, Caucasus and beyond. Awkward prevarications such as "In every case, it must be made clear that the case of Kosovo is legally unique and must not create a precedent which will have repercussions in the respect of the borders", are to be used as alibis in the event of an avalanche of resurgent secessionism, in the wake of widespread recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. Note that the affected areas will be as distant to Mr. Miliband as Bosnia was to Mr. Genscher.

I still insist on my Regional Conference idea.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Secession: beyond economics

/ is breaking up so hard to do? /
I was following, a month ago, the whole brouhaha surrounding the Belgian government crisis. Possibly the best summary of what was and is at stake in Belgium was written by Ingrid Robeyns, at Crooked Timber, a post that offers coprehensively both background and analysis of the current crisis' main events. Today, as the issue of Belgium's political impasse moved past record-breaking territory, into a major crisis, previous claims that the country quite probably is not heading towards a break-up, although quite possibly accurate, might seem less than 100% convincing. Everybody seems to agree that the financial imbalance between Flanders and Wallonia, which led to the Flemish having to subsidize the Walloons through their taxes, is a factor in the Belgian equation. It quite probably is, but the interesting thing here is that in the event of secession, both countries will remain partners within the EU, with some sort of transfers certainly flowing again from the State of Flanders to the State of (Rump) Belgium, through the Union's many funds and subsidies!

The question of independence and secession from a country, within the EU, is a novel twist to the "subnational" issue, that enhances the viability of the secessionist project and the vision of secession advocates, in many parts of Europe. To name but a few cases, this prospect has been part of the rhetoric of the Catalans, the Basques, the Scots, the Welsh, the "Padanians" and of course the Flemish. The EU offers a "safe haven" of sorts to various independence movements, a guarantee that "much will remain the same" even in the event of secession, especially regarding the economic viability of such a project. Thus, economic motives for secession can be reasonably seen as enhanced by the prospect of EU participation. Indeed, given the current ideological climate and raw economism, the concept of nation-building as an exercise in revenue maximizing state-branding, isn't beyond contemplation at all.

Economic motives for secession, or market-driven "ethnogenesis", seem very "contemporary". But is economics the driving factor (instead of a driving factor) in secessionist movements? Can states be built on economic considerations alone? Does the Flemish secession movement exist principally because of taxation issues?

I think not.

First of all it is far from obvious that the EU itself is comfortable with the idea of internally multiplying its member states. As the Economist has pointed out:

The EU is also unlikely to support moves leading to any disintegration of member states. Regional movements often point to the EU as a trans-national safeguard, allowing them more easily to dispense with their nation-state affiliation. But the EU may be more concerned about any process that upsets its own delicate institutional balance, to say nothing of making it harder to gain a consensus for a new EU constitution. Having put the brakes on further external enlargement, the EU will not welcome a form of internally-generated expansion.

In fact Prodi had warned explicitly (Scotland in that instance), as President of the EC that EU membership is not a given for any wannabe breakaway republics:

Three years ago... Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, warned that if Scotland... breaks away from the United Kingdom, Edinburgh would have to reapply for membership of the European Union (EU). "A newly-independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the (European) Union and the treaties would not apply any more in its territory," Mr. Prodi said.

One might also add that the regionalisation of Europe (as intent for the time being and not as actual pervasive policy) and the role that regions seem to be playing in EU development strategy, can act as a counterweight to separatism, as they deliver plenty of self-government to local entities, circumventing (up to a point) the hold of the national government. The prospect of a purely regional Europe however is a non-starter, among other reasons because of scaling problems. I quote from a highly relevant interview with Nicolas Levrat, the director of the Institute of European Studies at the University of Geneva, questioned by eurotopics:

Q: Could you imagine a European Union made up of regions and not of nation states?

NL: A Europe of the Regions wouldn't work. We see that the Committee of the Regions is quite inefficient. We are talking about 200 or 300 entities trying to make decisions. Imagine the procedures necessary to reach a qualifying majority in a decision making body with 300 members! It's not like your average parliament, it would be much more difficult as is already the case in the present European council with 27 members.

Then there is the issue that, apart from problematic parts of the world such as Africa and the (Western) Balkans, there is little that suggests that independence or autonomy movements are directly tied to solely economic considerations - see for example the paper by Elliot D. Green On the Endogeneity of Ethnic Secessionist Groups, which presents the theoretical context of the debate and evidence that shows that the relation between economic opportunity and secessionist power is not linear at all.

Ethnogenesis is a complex process and certainly not one that can be reduced to a purely economic cost-benefit analysis. If this is the case for well established secessionist movements, it is even more so for ad hoc potential entities constructed on economic considerations alone. In fact the only case of a country built on principally economic considerations in Europe that I can think of is Montenegro. Whether that was a wise move, is another discussion, as it isn't at all that obvious that Montenegro is more independent now (under any meaningful definition of the term "independent") than it was when it was federated with Serbia. Anyway, the post-Yugoslav Balkans, home of the smuggler-state, doesn't lend itself towider generalizations.

Note also that were regional economic inequalities a driving force for "nation building" alone (either through the logic of "liberation" from paying for the "backwards" regions, or through the aspiration of a better economic future for disadvantaged regions), the phenomenon would be vastly more widespread than it is now. The economic gaps that exist in almost countries between certain regions are often quite larger than the corresponding gaps between secessionist regions and other regions within the same country, yet not all regional income gaps lead to demands for autonomy or secession. Thus Nicholas Levrat's assertion (in the abovementioned interview) that "Contrary to what is commonly said - that the rise of regionalism is linked to the funding structure and federal EU policy - the facts suggest that it is not the regions that are heavily subsidized by the EU that are pushing for independence but rather the rich regions", is a generalization that is not even statistically valid: Not all, not even most, but just a handful of "rich regions" are pushing for independence. The ones that do are riding on and succeed because of a preexisting national identity.

Thus, the sort of mechanistic reductionism that sees national or regional aspirations of independence as a result of solely, or even principally, economic forces and motives, isn't convincing. The EU separatist movements in fact are, if anything less prevalent today than they were in the past, because political issues such as minority rights, language issues and local government are guaranteed inside the EU. There is a political primacy here that cannot be generated at whim, and is dependent on factors such as local history and past grievances. Countries are not corporations. They presuppose (and impose) a vastly deeper loyalty than any brand-name ever could. History cannot be fast forwarded nor reduced simply to the pursuit of profit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hot on eBay: Titan Missile Base Central Washington

/ Bargains : Cold War Missile Base /

For only $1,5 million bucks (that's about 1,25 million Euros) you too can own a Titan Missile Base!

57 acres more or less

16 UNDERGROUND buildings including

3 - 160' Tall Missile Silo

3 - (4 story) Equipment Terminal Bldgs

2 - Antenna Silos

100' Diameter Control Dome Bldg.

125' Diameter Power Dome Bldg.

TERMS: $300,000 down

balance @ 7% interest only all due in 3 years


$10,000 escrowed earnest money required - contingent upon inspection.

Check out the Silo's site and learn more about Cold War Missile Bases at SiloWorld!

According to the Strategy Page:

Hundreds of ICBM silos have been sold off in the last twenty years, as new missile forces were reduced with the end of the Cold War, and the enactment of arms reduction treaties.

The site warns however that

...No one has found an economically useful function for demilitarized missile silos, but the allure is still there, and people still buy them...

... which is not completely accurate as, apparently, there is the option of turning them into homes, a prospect not without certain difficulties, since:

...The interior receives little or no natural light (unless, for example, you replace the gigantic hatches and doors with skylights). Your cell phone and radio probably won’t work inside. And you’ll have to spend an enormous amount of money to make the silo habitable if someone else hasn’t already done so. (One major complication: some of the silos filled with water over the years, becoming in effect giant wells.)

Via Monochrom

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The draft reform treaty for the EU, in plain English

/ daft or draft /
Given that the new EU draft reform treaty was deliberately made unreadable, in order to avoid the nuisance of public acceptance through national referenda, and some hold that it is 96% the same as the European Constitution document that was rejected by French and Dutch voters a couple of years ago (although the BBC insists that there are some important differences), there is a rather pressing need to figure out what the damn thing says.

To this end, the kind folks over at Statewatch, a European State and Civil Liberties watchdog group, were kind enough to wade through the mire of existing treaties and present us with an analysis of the draft treaty which, while not exactly constituting easy reading by any means, makes it possible to see what the changes are about. As they put it:

...the text of the Reform Treaty is completely unintelligible unless it is read alongside the existing Treaties. Furthermore, the full impact of many of the amendments to the Treaties set out in the draft Reform Treaty needs further explanation. Finally, there has been much public discussion of whether or not the draft Reform Treaty is essentially identical to the EU's Constitutional Treaty of 2004.

In order to further public understanding of and debate upon the draft Reform Treaty, the following Statewatch analyses make the text of the draft Treaty comprehensible, by setting out the entire texts of the existing TEU and TEC and showing precisely how those texts would be amended by the draft Treaty. There are explanatory notes on the impact of each substantive amendment to the Treaties, and each analysis includes general comments, giving an overview of the changes and pointing out exactly which provisions of the draft Reform Treaty were taken from the Constitutional Treaty, and which provisions are different from the Constitutional Treaty.

There are 3 analyses, divided into ten parts.

Se also an ongoing series of articles on the proposed treaty by Francis Wurtz (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), who is President of the Group of the United European Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) in the European Parliament and a member of the French Communist Party. Further installments of Wurtz's analysis will appear (I assume) on Spectrezine, the Dutch Socialist Party's online magazine.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stuff I've been writing

/ hiatus interrupted /
Have been both busy and away, and when I wasn't I was busy writing diaries over at the European Tribune, the latest of which is about today's elections in Greece and the penultimate about last month's deadly and unprecedented forest fires.

Hopefully I'll be returning to some sort of normal schedule after the elections and will post more frequently.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Quantum Cheney

/ quantum politics /

I couldn't resist posting this, as it is a great example of a correct (ok it should have been executive/legislative duality, but lets not nitpick...) use of quantum metaphor in the service of political humor, and funny to boot. Go read the whole thing. Up next: quantum Cheney tunneling, in which Cheney escapes from a steep potential well of impeachable felonies in a mysterious yet scientifically explainable way.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Greek wiretaping scandal redux

/ bugging people /
IEEE Spectrum has an excellent article, written by two Greek Computer Scientists (V. Prevelakis and D. Spinellis) about last year's wiretapping scandal, a scandal about which I reported here and in the European Tribune at the time (1, 2, 3, 4, see also the relevant Wikipedia article, and former US diplomat's Brady Kiesling summary of the affair)

The article provides an astonishingly detailed investigation on the technical aspects of the wiretap, and explains the highly sophisticated methods used. This highlights the fact that the operation was surely the work of highly skilled professionals, with intimate knowledge of Vodafone's and Ericsson's systems (Prevelakis and Spinellis mention in a sidebar the various scenarios circulating). It's also a great introduction to various technical aspects of mobile telephony BTW.

I note that, while the official investigation did not uncover the culprits of the physical attack, it did fine Vodafone (for misdeeds and omissions mentioned in the IEEE Spectrum article) a quite substantial sum of 76 million Euros. Worth noting is that Vodafone, as the scandal was still under investigation, promoted Vodafone-Greece's CEO to regional director.

[Crossposted in the European Tribune]

Friday, June 15, 2007

The men in black: the police contingent

/ agents / provocateurs /
Victor Grossman, writing about the protests during the recent G-8 summit, reconfirms that certain police tactics are world-wide standard procedure against demonstrators (as we had the chance to observe in the recent student unrest here in Greece):

"But something was funny about four members of the black-clad contingent. One of them, possibly the leader of the little group, wore a jacket with the red logo of a music group called 'Slip-Knot,' popular with globalization opponents. This was unusual, since the others avoided any details which would make them easily identifiable on police videos. And then, as the line of cops took up position nearby, ready to end the blockade, it was these four who started picking up stones from between the railroad tracks and lobbing them over towards the police and shouting, 'Get the bulls'! Then one of the other protesters took a good look at the young man with the logo before he had a chance to pull up his bandana mask.

'That's the same fellow who arrested me during a demonstration in Bremen last year!' he cried, and he and his friends made a grab for the four. Two of the four made it to police lines, one disappeared, but they caught the one with the red logo, presumably the leader. They did not treat him exactly gently, it must be admitted, but one of the group organizers took hold of the man, sheltering him from the crowd, and dragged him over and delivered him to the police line -- and safety."

This is the same type of actions that were reported in Genoa (2001):

A moderator of the Black Bloc meetings held in Genoa declarated "All the independent property I saw destroyed was done by police provocateurs and the police were being as confrontational as possible". (US3). Nevertheless, he sums up - among other actions - one which was evidently made by agents under cover (reported below): his group had come later on and unknowingly joined the provocateurs in their action. This supports the thesis that it is difficult - even for Black Bloc members - assess what was done by infiltrated agents...
... While the Black Bloc was involved in the attempt of defending Piazza Rossetti (where the peasants had their stands) and avoid the breaking of the rally (which eventually happened) I personally saw a group of "pseudo-Black Blocs" getting to Piazza Kennedy closely followed by a crew of video-operator. This is not in their style: the Black Bloc does not want to be object of cameras attention during their actions. The pseudo-Black Bloc pretended to destroy bank windows which had already been destroyed the day before.

Besides producing nice pictures of vandalic acts to be stigmatized on the press, the pseudo-Black Blocs were locating themselves in a strategic position: inbetween the advancing police and the rally. For, they were diverting the demonstrators' attention from the real danger. In fact, the police was coming up with the clear intention of attacking the rally, breaking the river of people in two parts - despite the attempt of resistance opposed by few groups, including true Black Blocs...

...In Miami (2003):

Police infiltraitors in Miami were photographed behind police lines during the Miami FTAA protests. There were also reports that some protesters were kidnapped off the streets, and that provocateurs dressed as Black Bloc participants and other demonstrators (with buttons , banners, ect.) used tasers on real demonstrators, and were seen trying to start fights...

... In Prague (2000):

The Citizens' Legal Patrol, or OPH, which had been monitoring and documenting legal rights' violations during the demonstrations surrounding the meetings of the IMF and the World Bank in Prague, has revealed materials allegedly pointing to the presence of police provocateurs among protestors. At a press conference on Wednesday, the group presented videos, eye-witness accounts and other materials documenting the violent activities of people who were later allegedly able to easily pass through police blockades upon showing identification. According to the group's spokesman, Marek Vesely, OPH is gathering evidence of such activities and will present it to the Interior Ministry for investigation.

... In Barcelona (2001):

"Reporters saw a group of men and women in masks gathered on the fringes of the demonstration in the park. Some wore earphones, and though carrying sticks they were able to walk freely past police, pull on their masks and position themselves between police and protesters.

"One man in the group grabbed another and pulled him to the ground, and other members of the group began kicking and slugging each other.

"When demonstrators saw what was going on and joined the fight, the police charged into the park. The masked men and women involved in the scuffle walked through the police line and boarded vans.

"A reporter asked one of them if they were police. He at first said yes, and then said no, before walking by police to the vans."

... In Oaxaca (2006):

Demonstrators have appeared on the radio to denounce the presence of “provocateurs” who say have been launching rockets and rocks at police, and trying to burn police buses.

...In Gothenburg (2001):

During actions of the weekend, police continuously escalated violence by attacking demonstrators with dogs and horses unprovoked. Some non-uniformed police provocateurs destroyed private property in order to discredit demonstrators. In Saturday 16th of June a group of masked police armed with submachineguns invaded another school in which people were staying, claiming to search "arms and terrorists" which they never found. Some demonstrators did involved themselves in fighting with police, but vast majority of the demonstrators were calm even when police behavior
was endangering their lives.

... In Gleneagles (2005):

Back on the coach, I found that the nice Scottish woman I had sat next to on the way up to Gleneagles had since turned into a Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown. I told her of something I had witnessed: a group of three people dressed like activists who were huddled round a CB communicating about positions in the field - almost definately police agent provocateurs. In turn she said that a cabbie had told her of having nervously picked up a group of 'scruffies', only to find that all of them had police badges. Given that the police will go to these lengths, protesters will have to show a lot more ingenuity than they have this week if they are to seriously disrupt summits in future.

And pretty much anywhere there is any sort of massive demonstration - a practice that isn't exactly new.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Darfur, an analysis

/ deeper understanding /
As the Sudanese government has finally accepted a UN presence in Darfur, I'd like to bring to your attention this rather detailed analysis of the situation in Darfur by the (small but still a target in Sudan) Communist Party of the Sudan, which is refreshingly free of the pseudo-marxist rhetoric that plagues not a few of the Communist Parties of the world, and seems to make valid and informative points and proposals in general. It also offers quite a bit of context and background regarding the history and the recent developements in the area.

My knowledge of the situation in Darfur is whatever I get from the world media, which isn't saying much, but the analysis offered by the CPS, seems quite a bit more detailed and subtle than your average media commentary.

The continuous marginalization of Darfur since independence, and the letdown by the traditional political forces who failed to fulfill the demands of the people of Darfur, in addition to the policies of the Islamic Front government which are marked with violence and suppression: all these factor encouraged the youth of the tribes in the region to organize themselves and rebel against the status quo through the waging of armed resistance to achieve the rights of the Darfurian people to an equitable sharing of power and wealth, within the frame of a united Sudan.

On the other hand, the policy of the partial approach to the problems of the Sudan which was imposed on the country by the international community through concentrating on the civil war in Southern Sudan and recognizing as the only negotiators the armed group SPLA and the Khartoum government encouraged other regions to wage rebellion since it was seen as the only way to attract attention to their demands. Thus the region of Darfur witnesses a true civil war that raises the slogans of genuine political, social and economical equality and justice.

For another look at the developments in Sudan regarding Darfur, see also this recent Al Ahram Weekly aricle.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Profiting From Pollution: The G8 and Climate Change

/ hot air trading /

The G8 and free-market environmentalists have been at the forefront of championing a rosy narrative of ‘win-win’ scenarios in which the quest to maximise corporate profits can go hand in hand with addressing the climate crisis. But this is largely an act of faith, as there is no evidence that climate change can be tackled while maintaining an economic growth pattern based on the ever-increasing extraction and consumption of fossil fuels. Carbon trading encourages the industries most dependent on coal, oil and gas to delay shifting away from fossil fuels. There is little incentive for expensive plans for long-term structural change if you can get by in the short term by buying cheap permits-pollution rights from operations that can reduce their emissions.Yet for G8 countries seeking to demonstrate their commitment to climate action, these inherent problems of emissions trading are swept aside in favour of a system that sustains the economic dominance of the most powerful industrialised nations.

Note that: The European energy commissioner has described the carbon-trading scheme as 'a failure' in its first year.

While the Financial Times report that:

A Financial Times investigation has uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place.

Others are meanwhile making big profits from carbon trading for very small expenditure and in some cases for clean-ups that they would have made anyway.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Redirection

/ redirecting chickens so that they can eventually come home to roost /
Seymour Hersh's latest story from the Middle East, is an astonishing account of a New Great Game, played by power-drunk megalomaniacs on the backs of nutjobs, the end result (the ultimate goal perhaps?) being the destabilization of the whole Middle East and most of the Islamic World. In short it tells the story of an effort led by Dick Cheney and orchestrated by former Iran-Contra stars, to destabilize Iran by fomenting a large scale Sunni- Shia conflict throughout the region. In this scheme the US funds indirectly, through Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, various radical Sunni fundamentalist groups with ties to Al-Qaeda.

Or as Tom Engelhardt summarizes the story more extensively:
...Perhaps two years ago, an "informal" meeting of "veterans" of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal -- holding positions in the Bush administration -- was convened by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Discussed were the "lessons learned" from that labyrinthine, secret, and illegal arms-for-money-for-arms deal involving the Israelis, the Iranians, the Saudis, and the Contras of Nicaragua, among others -- and meant to evade the Boland Amendment, a congressionally passed attempt to outlaw Reagan administration assistance to the anti-communist Contras. In terms of getting around Congress, the Iran-Contra vets concluded, the complex operation had been a success -- and would have worked far better if the CIA and the military had been kept out of the loop and the whole thing had been run out of the Vice President's office.

Subsequently, some of those conspirators, once again with the financial support and help of the Saudis (and probably the Israelis and the Brits), began running a similar operation, aimed at avoiding congressional scrutiny or public accountability of any sort, out of Vice President Cheney's office. They dipped into "black pools of money," possibly stolen from the billions of Iraqi oil dollars that have never been accounted for since the American occupation began. Some of these funds, as well as Saudi ones, were evidently funneled through the embattled, Sunni-dominated Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the sort of Sunni jihadi groups ("some sympathetic to al-Qaeda") whose members might normally fear ending up in Guantanamo and to a group, or groups, associated with the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

All of this was being done as part of a "sea change" in the Bush administration's Middle Eastern policies aimed at rallying friendly Sunni regimes against Shiite Iran, as well as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Syrian government -- and launching secret operations to undermine, roll back, or destroy all of the above. Despite the fact that the Bush administration is officially at war with Sunni extremism in Iraq (and in the more general Global War on Terror), despite its support for the largely Shiite government, allied to Iran, that it has brought to power in Iraq, and despite its dislike for the Sunni-Shiite civil war in that country, some of its top officials may be covertly encouraging a far greater Sunni-Shiite rift in the region.

This is the stuff of spy-thrillers and conspiracies, one might say, but then again this was reported by Seymour Hersh (see also his interview on Democracy Now), so it's more like the stuff of nightmares. And as Engelhardt points out, amazingly, it's not even a big issue in the media, American or otherwise - and it has led to a stunning absence of calls for investigation.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kurdish questions

/ more trouble? /

As a crackdown against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the Turkish Kurd armed revolutionary organization, that Turkey (and most of the West now) considers terrorist, seems to be (had been?) unfolding in Europe (possibly with US backing), and over 10.000 Kurds from all over Europe demonstrated recently in Strasbourg for the release of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan... I'd like to recommend an excellent article on the Kurds, Turkey and Iraq from the NY Review of Books (titled The Uncontainable Kurds), which provides a good idea of the forces and attitudes involved in the greater Kurdistan area, forces that include Turkey, the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, the PKK (or whatever it calls itself nowadays), its Iranian Kurdish offshoot, the US, Iran and possibly Syria - not to mention assorted islamist groups, Shia and Sunni Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi insurgency/anti-occupation struggle.

However the situation that is unfolding doesn't seem to have some sort of stable and peaceful long-term option...

... The problem being that the Kurds - many Kurds, I should say - all over the region, see the circumstances in Iraq as providing finally a historical opportunity for the creation of a Kurdish state (the Kurds being the largest stateless nation in the world, at possibly over 25 million). This is a development feared by Turkey, which - correctly I think- believes, that the creation of a bordering Kurdish state, will empower the more radical Turkish Kurds, and conceivably spearhead Kurdish nationalism in its Southeast. This will happen of course as long as Turkey refuses to seek a broader political solution for the Turkish Kurds. Thus, Turkey has threatened to militarily intervene in Iraqi Kurdistan. The flashpoint might turn out to be the city of Kirkuk, of which a Turkish diplomat has said:

"Kirkuk is the number one security issue and public concern right now...Kirkuk is a potential powder keg. For us it has special status. It is like Jerusalem. It belongs to all the people. We do not want to intervene in Iraq. But we have red lines - Kirkuk and attacks on ethnic minorities."

A referendum on Kirkuk's fate, is set to be held by December 2007 - although there are powerful voices calling for its postponement. Control of the area around Kirkuk would give the Iraqi Kurds possession of around 40% of Iraqi oil reserves, making a Kurdish state instantly viable - something that apparently it isn't without the Kirkuk fields.

The thing is that, indeed, the Kurdish areas of Iraq can only remain part of Iraq, if the country doesn't devolve into all-out civil war that would partition the Sunni and Shiia areas, or (more probably) make remaining within Iraq quite unattractive for the Kurds. This development however cannot be ruled out - and neither can one rule out the eventual dominance of pro-independence forces in Iraqi Kurdistan that would, at some not too distant future, opt for or threaten with full independence. This could of course ignite a renewed insurgency in SE Turkey and Iran. Especially in Turkey if the political leadership - and primarily the military who in fact run "national security" matters in Turkey - don't come to some form of viable political settlement on the Kurdish issue.

The other option would be for Iraqi Kurdistan to transform into a US protectorate, a Middle Eastern "base of operations" for the US military. This option is being actively pursued by the Kurdish leaders in Iraq. This doesn't seem probable however, given the fact that such an option would require either some sort of logistical support form Turkey (unlikely in the independence scenario) or its alienation (unlikely for geopolitical reasons). It seems to me a bit more likely that the US will suggest defining a diminished territorially and politically Iraqi Kurdistan, which would be an autonomous part of a confederate or federal Iraq (assuming that such an entity exists). If the Kurds show the required patience, this is the least bloody scenario. Otherwise the US will leave any overambitious Kurdish nationalism out to dry - at the mercy of what will be called "Turkish peacekeeping operations", or "antiterrorist actions".

In this scenario however, Turkey buries decisively its European prospects, and involves itself in a major war, facing the sum total of the Kurdish nation, including the battle-ready and relatively well-armed forces of the Iraqi Kurds, in conjunction with whatever destabilizing potential the PKK will have to offer. Turkey might then join ranks with Iran in its anti-Kurdish campaign... What would happen then is anybody's guess. But one thing is certain: it would be yet another historical catastrophe for all involved.

As US withdrawal becomes inevitable (the sooner the better I say - it is quite obviously fueling the civil war, which the occupation, again obviously, ignited), the Kurds will have to develop a new strategy. Denise Natali, an Arab and Islamic scholar rightly points out that:

...[Recent] political decisions and trends are not a signal of American betrayal, but rather, a wake up call for the Kurds that US support is not obligatory, permanent, or unconditional. Despite the progress made in the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdish-American alliance, there is reason to believe that the US will assure Sunni Arab and/or Turkish nationalist interests over Kurdish ones. This possibility will become increasingly likely as the 2008 presidential elections approach, and the Iraq war - or ways to disengage from the country - becomes central to the election campaign.

Thus, just as the US is rethinking its policy on Iraq, so too, must the KRG renegotiate its strategies, alliance structures, and forms of leverage. The Kurdish elite must create a ‘plan B’ as an alternative path to ensuring Kurdish autonomy in the long term...

...Instead of waiting for the Americans to resolve the Kurdish problem, the Kurds will have to assume a more proactive role in determining their own political survival. If these necessary preparations are not made then local populations are likely to be taken by surprise once again, although this time they will have a lot more to lose than they did 15 years ago.

This "proactive" role however, should very clearly be understood for what it entails: limited autonomy inside Iraq and "antiterrorist" campaigns with broadened cultural rights in Turkey. I fear that current expectations far exceed the realistic.

Cross-posted in the European Tribune

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Fighting the relativist right

/ science wars / rewound /
In a piece written by Seed magazine's Chris Mooney and Alan Sokal, of Sokal Affair fame, they discuss how the torch of science relativism was passed from the Western academic "left" (or indeed left), to the rather non-academic folks in and around the White House:

"HOW AND WHY did the science wars move out of academia and reemerge in Washington, with political poles reversed? During the Clinton years, many of the worst science abusers — such as anti-evolution fundamentalists — remained politically out in the cold, at least at the federal level. That began to change in 1994, as the Gingrich Republicans, highly sympathetic to the party's emerging socially conservative 'base' and to the interests of private industry, laid claim to Congress.

They proceeded to attack evidence demonstrating a human role in climate change, all as well as in the depletion of the ozone layer as part of a sweeping attempt to undermine environmental regulation. Simultaneously, they dismantled Congress' world-renowned scientific advisory body, the Office of Technology Assessment, which had provided our elected representatives with reliable scientific counsel for more than two decades. "

The piece refers to Bruno Latour's doubts about the whole science studies field, in light of the use that some of its tools have been having (Latour being among those in "Science Studies" most mercilessly ridiculed by Sokal's and Bricmont's work). In an impressively self-critical article of his, published in 2003 (it seems) in Critical Inquiry, Latour has this to say about the kinship of modern conspiracy theories' core mentality with the kind of critique he quite rightly identifies as part of the arsenal of the science studies field:

...Let me be mean for a second: what's the real difference between conspiracists and a popularized, that is a teachable, version of social critique inspired for instance by a too-quick reading of, let's say, a sociologist as eminent as Pierre Bourdieu–to be polite I will stick with the French field commanders? In both cases, you have to learn to become suspicious of everything people say because "of course we all know" that they live in the thralls of a complete illusio on their real motives. Then, after disbelief has struck and an explanation is requested for what is "really" going on, in both cases again, it is the same appeal to powerful agents hidden in the dark acting always consistently, continuously, relentlessly. Of course, we, in the academy, like to use more elevated causes–society, discourse, knowledge-slash-power, fields of forces, empires, capitalism–while conspiracists like to portray a miserable bunch of greedy people with dark intents, but I find something troublingly similar in the structure of the explanation, in the first movement of disbelief and, then, in the wheeling of causal explanations coming out of the deep Dark below. What if explanations resorting automatically to power, society, discourse, had outlived their usefulness, and deteriorated to the point of now feeding also the most gullible sort of critiques?8 Maybe I am taking conspiracy theories too seriously, but I am worried to detect, in those mad mixtures of knee-jerk disbelief, punctilious demands for proofs, and free use of powerful explanation from the social neverland, many of the weapons of social critique. Of course conspiracy theories are an absurd deformation of our own arguments, but, like weapons smuggled through a fuzzy border to the wrong party, these are our weapons nonetheless. In spite of all the deformations, it is easy to recognize, still burnt in the steel, our trade mark: MADE IN CRITICALLAND.

His are of course valid concerns: the sort of boundless social constructivism that was brought to the academic forefront during the past few decades in western universities, was indeed a rather blunt and indiscriminate tool, a weapon that obviously fit perfectly with the sort of religious and market fundamentalism, conspiratorialism and the likes that was far more a dominant feature of the modern Western societies than any sort of commitment to "scientific rationality". But, I have to add, what was obvious, was that the more vapid sort of relativism that became immensely popular in the Anglo-Saxon and French universities (mostly), was the perfect philosophy for advertisers and the PR industry - and not incidentally it was widely taught in most of the US communication schools: certainly not because of its emancipatory qualities but rather for its quite comfortable fit with the marketing ethos and the spin generation that a substantial part of corporate communications requires.

Although there is an interesting debate waiting to be had somewhere about this, let me suggest that the reason of PoMo's academic dissemination and popularity was the fact that it served as a perfect ultimate and literate philosophy for the many Pepsi generations and their consumer habits and addictions, as well as a pretentious and revered excuse and justification for bold, shameful lies.

Because of course, as someone said, it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness - and their ideological roles I might add.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The attack on the US Embassy's WC - an update

/ dude, this wasn't really major /

[cellphone camera image of damage inside the US embassy, from Greek e-journal e-Liberta]

OK, since a few people in the US (the comments, see the comments) were over-reacting and being in a rather implausibly conspiratorial mood about the attack on the US embassy in Athens, I'd like to point out a few things:

  • A false-flag operation - Mossad or CIA - an Iranian retaliation, an Al Qaida attack should all have in common some level of competence. And some level of bloodthirstiness too, I guess. The guys (and gal possibly) who launched the rocket against the US embassy's loo, were neither competent or murderous: They aimed (and missed) at the shield with the eagle in front of the embassy, and fired at a time when it was least likely that any people would be inside the offices.

  • Not only that, but the missile they used was so old and badly preserved that, the reports state, it didn't do much damage (except for the bathroom). The missile was a 1974 Chinese replica of a Russian RPG-7 (but the Chinese know nothing about it), which likely found its way to the embassy via an Albanian army arsenal, raided during the 1997 pyramid scheme riots, possibly passing through Kosovo and/or Tetovo and ending up, through a rather efficient arms smuggling ring that involves (my home island of) Crete (possibly the EU region with the highest number of illegal guns and firepower per capita - hey its "tradition", what can I say..) which is a major consumer and traffic center for illegal arms in the broader Eastern Mediterranean, Near East and SE Europe, into the hands of some person related to the strike - who quite likely was ripped off in the process since the damn thing couldn't explode because its explosives were eroded/degraded, according to the Greek press and TV.

    Greek TV BTW, has gone beyond the realms of the surreal, finding first a photo of the arms stash of the "Revolutionary Struggle", right out of Wikipedia - from Fallujah it turns out, and then, despite lamenting the lack of real leads, going on to such a detailed description of the terrorists, their origins, age groups and political affiliations (leaked supposedly from the antiterrorist squad or the police) that these journalists either have very vivid imaginations, or they're psychic... Another possibility is that they're printing whatever the intelligence services are leaking - for they're own purpose.

  • If one wants to be somewhat realistically more conspiratorial, I would point out that the first reactions coming out of the Greek government were to call for a toughening of antiterror laws, including easier and more extensive wiretapping provisions, extensive use of surveillance cameras for non-traffic purposes etc. This is the same "terror group" BTW who exploded a "bomb" against the former Minister of Public Order (some sort of explosive tied to a bicycle) at a time when he and the whole government was in political deep shit, allegedly for helping and allowing foreign intelligence services to roam freely in the country and for covering up the huge wiretapping scandal. The attack happened outside his house, a few meters away from the bomb-squad which was equipped with explosives'-sniffing dogs, and "three minutes" before he was scheduled to leave his house. The attack created some sympathy for Voulgarakis and a much needed diversion for the Greek government - which was sliding in opinion polls amidst the various scandals... The Greek Intelligence Service would also be very likely to be Clouseau-like in their attempts, given their history of gaffes and would have had to operate with full knowledge of the US government (which could have used a more "successful" attack for obvious reasons of their own)... But I dislike conspiracy theories, even the marginally more plausible ones, so I suppose that it is indeed a minor local armed group, which tried to pull off a highly symbolic yet bloodless attack. As long as nobody got hurt, it would have been rather popular (occurring almost on the anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo detention camp) here, so that alone would have been reason enough for them to strike... By the way, if they're real, I expect they will probably get better at it...

  • As I noted, these inept "terrorists" supposedly called the private security company's offices to claim responsibility - a world first. One of my favourite Greek bloggers, Old Boy, announced yesterday that he received a written statement from Revolutionary Struggle, which I think is brilliant enough to be worth translating:

    We assume responsibility for yesterday's rocket attack against the American Embassy. We choose to publish our proclamation in a blog because we believe that the revolution will start and spread through the internet. In fact the revolution has already started...
    ... Unfortunately in terrorism, just like in football, everything is judged by the result: a few centimeters off and the ball hits the post, the game is lost and all the players are bums - a few centimeters off and the rocket, instead of hitting the shield, lands in the crapper. Shit.
    We live in the age of the image and the image of the destroyed US emblem would immediately reach the four corners of the planet. What's more effective than that? We would be adored across the world. Our image would become a global inspiration, a symbol, a standard. We would have become legends. But because of a few fucking centimeters, our dream was shattered like the glass and ended up in the loo. Our strike, beyond its global dimensions, would have made us especially loved and accepted by the Greeks. Just like November 17 was in the beginning, when it attacked CIA station chiefs and Greek torturers. But today, thirty years later, we, the younger generation, have realized that by killing a minor officer you simple take a life, while by blowing up a symbol you speak to the hearts of everyone and achieve a far greater effect. Honestly, which Greek hasn't looked up at that particular shield and emblem, at some point in his or her life, with hatred? We took the protester's rock and we turned it into a rocket. But we missed. And that hurts. But whether we like it or not, that's how terrorism goes, the rocket is cylindrical and a whore (to paraphrase Ivica Osim [Who had stated that in football, the ball was round and a whore]) and we have no other option but to pick ourselves up, see where we made mistakes, and work hard in correcting them, and focus on our next strike, taking each strike one at a time [standard football-coach talk after a defeat].

    R.O. Revolutionary Struggle

    Warning: For the really clever officers of the anti-terrorist and cybercrime squads: do not arrest this person! It's satire/commentary. He didn't really receive a proclamation. Seriously.

    Friday, January 12, 2007

    Rocket fired against the US embassy in Athens

    / Bomb and tell / the wrong people /

    So this morning around 6 am local time (GMT +2), a rocket was launched against the US embassy in Athens, which inflicted rather minor damage: a 30 cm hole in the window and, possibly, the destruction of a lavatory. No one was hurt. No one is sure about the identity of the perpetrators of the bombing but there are claims that a militant group calling itself "Revolutionary Struggle" called the Private Security company that was guarding the embassy, to claim responsibility for the attack in what must be a world first: not the police, the authorities or the media, but a private security company. As you might imagine I'm not inclined to take the alleged phone-calls seriously.

    Interestingly, Greek TV channels report that the missile fired was of Eastern European origin- possibly East German, this being the first time that I remember that a local armed group would be using Eastern European weapons - if indeed it is a local group - which I doubt, but can't totally dismiss as a possibility. Anyway that's what the TV reports but I'm not ready to trust them on anything...

    Despite the unspectacular character of the strike, one should remember that the US embassy in Athens is possibly among the most heavily guarded buildings in the world, and the total failure of both private security and the Greek police to prevent or capture the perpetrators is astonishing - as is the fact that the surveillance cameras in the US embassy failed to spot the attackers.

    I'm not sure about the meaning of this attack, I'm not sure who the perpetrators were, but I can report that we're being bombarded (again) here by all sorts of TV "terrorism experts", a serious threat to our nerves and general peace of mind.

    Image from which has a photo-gallery of the bombed embassy.

    ... And this analysis is almost (but not quite) correct.

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Peace, Love and Understanding in Occupied Iraq

    / the Iraqi civil war /

    Iason Athanasiadis, sent the following transcript of a talk show from Al Jazeera TV featuring Sunni MP, Mish'an Al-Jabouri (owner of Al-Zawraa TV) and Shiite Iraqi Journalist Sadeq Al-Musawi (political advisor to the President of Iraq Jalal Talabani). The debate aired on Al-Jazeera TV on January 2, 2007:

    Host: "Do you support the execution of Saddam Hussein?" 4,787 people, who constitute 88.6% of the public, say: "No." 11.4% say: "Yes." What do you want to say to them?

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: With your permission, before he responds... I would like to begin this show by calling upon the viewers to recite the Al-Fatiha verse for the soul of the martyred president Saddam Hussein...

    Sadeq Al-Musawi: We are not going to recite the Al-Fatiha for anybody. We are here to condemn a man who killed thousands and millions of Iraqis. We are not here to recite the Al-Fatiha for anybody. He was an oppressive tyrant who spilled the blood of the Iraqis. [...] Saddam Hussein was not an Arab leader. Saddam Hussein came to power by stealth, in the dark of night. He killed his friends and his comrades in order to attain power. Saddam Hussein has gone to the garbage bin of history. [...]

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: You should have some self-respect, and choose your words carefully, or else, I will do to you things you cannot even imagine, you Persian liar... Behave yourself, you liar...

    Sadeq Al-Musawi: You are a thief... You are a thief. You've been convicted for theft..

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri : Get out. Saddam Hussein is your master and the master of your parents...

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: These are your documents. You are an Iranian citizen. You are Persian... You are an Iranian citizen... Saddam Hussein is your master and the master of people like you... (throwing the pages at Al-Musawi) These are your documents...

    Sadeq Al-Musawi: Your father killed Kurds...

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: These are your Iranian documents... You are Iranian. These documents show that he applied for Iraqi citizenship in May 2004.

    Sadeq Al-Musawi: We will settle accounts with all of you...

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: To hell with you and your accounts...

    Host: Sir, I beg you to sit down...

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: You Persian shoe...

    Host: You cannot talk this way.

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: He shouldn't offend the master of his own parents... Saddam Hussein is his master and the master of his parents... That man is an Iranian...

    Host: OK. Let's sit down. Let's talk calmly, without getting upset, please. This isn't the way to hold a discussion. [...]

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: As you know, Saddam executed my own brother and many of my relatives. He executed the uncle of my children, but the way he was executed proved Saddam was a brave man. He has truly become our martyr, and we will visit his grave like the graves of the righteous. [...] They sentenced him to death and executed him on the holiday. The people who executed him are the same people who killed Omar [ibn Al-Khattab]. These are the same peple who killed Abu Bakr... Sorry, the same people who hate Abu Bakr and all the Prophet's companions... [...]

    Host: To the viewers who have just joined us, we had Mr. Sadeq Al-Musawi with us, and he left after one minute...

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: He is not Sadeq Al-Musawi. You know that's not his name. Don't make me an accomplice to this forgery...

    Host: It looks like he is coming back. I hope Mr. Sadeq will return. Please, let's not make it personal.

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: If he's rude or if he says things that are wrong about Saddam Hussein, I will do things...

    Host: Mr. Mish'an, you can say whatever you want about politics...

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: Speak politely and do not offend the memory of the martyred president. Do not offend the memory of... The martyred president Saddam Hussein has become an imam for the heroic resistance fighters around the world.

    Sadeq Al-Musawi: That's your opinion.

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: Yes it is, and you should respect my feelings and those of the public. [...] I will not allow him to curse the president....

    Sadeq Al-Musawi: I will curse him until this show is over...

    Mish'an Al-Jabouri: By Allah, I advise you not to do that....

    Sadeq Al-Musawi: Don't advise me, kill me in Iraq... Send your militia to kill me...

    [another version here].

    I note that the AJ host claims that there is some sort of poll that shows that close to 90% of respondents were against Saddam's execution. The transcript does not make clear who was asked - whether it was Arabs in general or Iraqis. If the latter, the numbers are difficult to believe, and I haven't seen anything on the english (or french, or greek) speaking websites that even mentions such a poll. We do know that when the trial started, a poll claimed that over 50% of the Iraqi population supported his hanging. On the other hand, whereas in a poll published on April 2005, only 39% of Iraqis believed that Iraq was then somewhat worse off or much worse off than before the U.S. invasion, a recent poll shows that:

    ...Only five percent of those questioned said Iraq is better today than in 2003. While 89 percent of the people said the political situation had deteriorated, 79 percent saw a decline in the economic situation; 12 percent felt things had improved and 9 percent said there was no change. Predictably, 95 percent felt the security situation was worse than before...

    However if anyone knows more about the poll quoted by the Al Jazeera anchor, feel free to comment and/or post a url.