Monday, 19 December 2011

The US is blind to the price of war that is still being borne by the Iraqi people

The US is blind to the price of war that is still being borne by the Iraqi people...

Gary Younge                                    Guardian/UK                                         18 December 2011

In 19 November 2005 a US marine squad was struck by a roadside bomb in Haditha, killing one soldier and seriously injuring two others. According to civilians they then went on the rampage, slaughtering 24 people. They included a 76-year-old man in a wheelchair and a three-year-old child. It was a massacre. "I think they were just blinded by hate … and they just lost control," said James Crossan, one of the injured marines.

When he heard the news, Major General Steve Johnson, the American commander in Anbar province at the time, saw no cause for further examination. "It happened all the time … throughout the whole country… If I was sitting here [in Virginia] and heard that 15 civilians were killed I would have been shocked and done more to look into it. But at that point in time I felt that it was just a cost of doing business on that particular engagement." Eight soldiers were originally charged with the atrocity. Charges against six were dropped, one was acquitted and the other is awaiting trial. We know this because a New York Times reporter found documents from the US military's internal investigation in a rubbish dump near Baghdad.

The case against this war has been prosecuted extensively both in this column and elsewhere. This war started out with many parents but has ended its days an orphan, tarnishing the reputations of those who launched it and the useful idiots who gave them intellectual cover. Nobody has been held accountable. It was only possible thanks to the systemic collusion of a supine political class and a jingoistic political culture, not to mention a blank cheque from the British government. When the war started, almost three-quarters of Americans supported it. Only politicians of principle opposed it – and there were precious few of those.

Polls show more than 70% support withdrawal, roughly two-thirds oppose the war, and more than half believe it was a mistake. But there is a difference between regretting something and learning from it. And while there is ample evidence of the former, there is little to suggest the latter. According to Christopher Gelpi, a political science professor at Duke University who specialises in public attitudes to foreign policy, the most important single factor shaping Americans' opinions about any war is whether they think America will win. It's a mindset that understands the war in Vietnam as being wrong not because an independent country was invaded, flattened, millions murdered and thousands tortured. It was wrong because the US lost.

And it pervades the political spectrum. Even when the war's critics slam the blood and treasure squandered, they usually refer only to American lives and American money. The cost to Iraqis simply does not feature. . Rightly Americans fret about the fate of veterans returning to a depressed economy with a range of both physical and mental disabilities. But Iraqi civilians barely get a look-in.

According to the New York Times report, among the discarded testimony was an interview with Sergeant Major Edward Sax. "I had marines shoot children in cars, and dealt with the marines individually, one on one, about it because they have a hard time dealing with that." When they told him they didn't know there were children on board he told them they were not to blame, claiming killing would impose a lifelong burden on them.

The combined effect of all of this is like breaking someone's jaw with your fist only to bemoan the excruciating pain that has been visited on your hand. America is not alone in this. Amnesia and indifference are the privileges of the powerful. It is for the Kenyans and Algerians to recall the atrocities committed by the British and French under colonialism while the colonisers remain in flight from their history. "The essential characteristic of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common," wrote the 19th-century French philosopher Ernest Renan, "and must have forgotten many things as well."

No wonder then that a recent Pew poll found that despite all the evidence to the contrary 56% of Americans said they thought the invasion had succeeded in its goals while the number of those who think the invasion was the right decision stands at its highest in five years. The cost of doing business always seems more reasonable when someone else is paying the price. 


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Faith and Reason by Ian Harris

Ian Harris                         Otago Daily Times                              Dec. 9, 2011

On a visit to St Paul’s in London last month, I picked up a leaflet that summed up the dilemma in which the cathedral is embroiled over the tent protest on its forecourt. “Encounter the history and people of this nation,” it invites, “and witness the 21st-century church.” And on the back, an advertisement for the London musical We Will Rock You. Unfortunately, this 21st-century church was caught flat-footed as demonstrations against the corporate greed of the mighty financial institutions nearby rocked St Paul’s more than anything else in recent history. For the cathedral, the 200-tent city is an accident and an opportunity. It was meant to take place outside London’s Stock Exchange a few blocks away. But when in September the police thwarted the protesters there, they moved to the nearest open space, which happened to be the area in front of the cathedral.

St Paul’s flip-flopped, first recognising the validity of the protesters’ cause, then locking its doors in their faces, then seeking an eviction order on health and safety grounds, then backtracking to allow the tents to stay. The cathedral is clearly torn. It has benefited financially from local institutions and the City of London Corporation (which administers the central borough taking in St Paul’s), and the corporation wants the protesters out. It is also losing revenue because thousands of potential visitors (entry costs £14.50, or $29) are staying away. Tugging hard the other way is a banner challenging the Christian conscience: “What would Jesus do?” The cathedral’s choice is therefore stark. Is its priority property management? Or acting on the ethics of love and integrity in pursuit of a just society?

I wandered among the tents one Saturday, reading the statements hung on a mesh fence and talking to participants. They represented a jumble of causes. Environmentalists rubbed shoulders with Marxists, Christians with the Earthian Unite Forum, campaigners for a Kurdish political prisoner with Hare Krishna devotees handing out free meals, sensible folk with the marginally weird. But the core of the protest, in London as in 1500 other cities round the world, is a wholly reasonable anger that bankers whose machinations triggered the global financial meltdown in 2008 have been bailed out, leaving the rest of society to pick up the multibillion-dollar tab.

Adding insult to injury, in the midst of all this came a report that remuneration for directors of the Stock Exchange’s top 100 companies soared 49 per cent in the latest year, while ordinary wage-earners fell further behind. Budget cuts to social programmes also impact most heavily on the poor. The protesters I spoke to were not political revolutionaries, nor do they have a blueprint for change. They are rather seeking acknowledgment of the huge distress which the financial moguls’ drive for excessive profits has inflicted on society, and open debate about reshaping systems to advance human and ecological ends instead. One summed up his concerns as “corporate greed, money in politics, and the growing gap between rich and poor”. He thought change could be achieved within the capitalist system – “we’d solve a lot of problems if people only had jobs.”

The Christian tradition has a lot to say about greed, money, politics, the rich, and the poor. So, curious to see how St Paul’s was tackling the issues raised by the tent city, I attended choral matins next day. I might as well have been on another planet. The distant choir sang endless praises to a God conceived as royal, mighty and remote, its strains blurring in the cavernous acoustics of the vast cathedral. The sermon, full of lofty sentiments about “seeing with the eyes of the heart”, managed not to see what was happening on the church doorstep, or draw any connection between faith and the currents swirling in the world outside.

Sympathy with the protesters’ cause, though not necessarily with their methods, is widespread. Caught in the spotlight, St Paul’s leaders were gifted an opportunity to build on their image of the cathedral as “a place of pilgrimage and witness” – bringing the City and protesters together, steering the debate into more constructive channels, and seeking to “reconnect the financial with the ethical”, as some expressed it. One vicar commented: “At best the church’s role is to act as a counter-balance to the predations of power and the aching emptiness of materialism – to provide a different perspective on wealth and poverty. We have not been true to our calling.”

That takes the challenge way beyond St Paul’s, and into churches everywhere.

Land of the free, home of the hungry

Nowhere is the chasm between America's political class and its working poor more vast than in the demand to cut food stamps.

Gary Younge                                      Guardian/UK 9                                     December 2011

On Monday afternoon this week, Rachelle Grimmer went into a Department of Health and Human Services in Texas with her two children, Timothy, aged 10, and Ramie, aged 12, and asked for a new case worker who could assist her application for food stamps. She was taken to a small room, where she pulled a gun, sparking a seven-hour standoff with police. Shortly before midnight, three shots were heard. Rachelle had shot both herself and her kids. Police rushed in to find the mother dead and Ramie and Timothy in critical condition. Ramie actually hung on until Wednesday. Timothy's condition remains critical.

In this period between Thanksgiving and Christmas (when many Americans are worrying about what overindulging will do to their waistline), a significant number is wracked with an entirely different concern: not having enough to eat. In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, food insecurity is a common, growing and enduring problem. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of those living on food stamps, assistance to those who lack sufficient money to feed themselves and their families, soared by 50%, putting one American in seven in the programme. Catholic Charities recently revealed that requests for the working poor were up 80% over the second quarter, and up 59% for the middle class.

Similarly, Operation Homefront, a national organisation that feeds the families of military personnel, has seen demand for help double over the last two years. The Washington Post reported that in Fort Hood, Texas, military families stayed up after midnight to register for a free turkey online for Thanksgiving. The 450 birds were gone within an hour. Even as soldiers fight for empire abroad, their families struggle for food at home.

But want has become a term of political abuse, with Newt Gingrich launching his campaign earlier this year by branding Obama "the food stamp president" and continues to berate him as such. Indeed, rather than impose taxes on millionaires, Republicans are eager to balance the budget on the stomachs of the hungry.

These benefits are not particularly generous. "The average [food stamp] recipient gets $134 a month in assistance, which works out to $4.40 a day. That's 10% less than the US Department of Agriculture's "thrifty" meal budget, and about half its "moderate" budget. For your average well-fed American, living on a daily ration of less than $5 for food prepared at home would be hard to imagine. But without SNAP benefits, 46 million people would be in a state of anguish rather than just scraping by."

Yet the Republicans want to reduce spending on food stamps by around 20%. This will be the primary terrain on which the forthcoming elections will be fought: the needs and aspirations of the working poor. Not so much the destitute – America is always forgetting about them – but the working poor and those who fear descending among them. But for the Democrats to capitalise on these anxieties, they will have to shift the country's sense of what it takes to be poor and convince them that government has a role in alleviating that condition before desperation kicks in.

You'd think that would be straightforward. But illusions of meritocracy, equal opportunity, class fluidity and social mobility die hard. Sooner or later, though, reality tends to intrude. There is only so long you can pretend that such a large group of people doesn't exist, and as the poverty rates grow, more and more people who are likely to vote become ensnared in it. A new measurement of poverty by the Census Bureau, which takes regional cost of living, medical payments and other expenses that do not intrude on the official poverty count, found a third of Americans are either in poverty or desperately close to it.

"These numbers are higher than we anticipated," Trudi Renwick, the bureau's head poverty statistician, told the New York Times recently. "There are more people struggling than the official numbers show." Poverty may be relative but hunger is absolute. The third world is alive and struggling in the heart of the first. And those who claim they can't see it, either refuse to see it for what it is or simply do not want to look.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

Bankers are the dictators of the West

Robert Fisk                    Independent/UK 10                            December 2011

I have never read so much utter drivel, as I have about the world financial crisis. It seems to me that the reporting of the collapse of capitalism has reached a new low for unadulterated obedience to the very institutions and Harvard "experts" who have helped to bring about the whole criminal disaster.

Let's kick off with the "Arab Spring". We've been deluged with reports of how the poor or the disadvantaged in the West have "taken a leaf" out of the "Arab spring" book, how demonstrators in America, Canada, Britain, Spain and Greece have been "inspired" by the huge demonstrations that brought down the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and – up to a point – Libya. But this is nonsense.

The real comparison has been dodged by Western reporters, so keen to extol the anti-dictator rebellions of the Arabs, so anxious to ignore protests against "democratic" Western governments. What drove the Arabs in their tens of thousands and then their millions on to the streets of Middle East capitals was a demand for dignity and a refusal to accept that the local family-ruled dictators actually owned their countries. The Mubaraks and the Ben Alis and the Gaddafis and the kings and emirs of the Gulf and the Assads all believed that they had property rights to their entire nations. Egypt belonged to Mubarak Inc, Tunisia to Ben Ali Inc, Libya to Gaddafi Inc. And so on. The Arab martyrs against dictatorship died to prove that their countries belonged to their own people.

And that is the true parallel in the West. The protest movements are indeed against Big Business – a perfectly justified cause – and against "governments". What they have really divined, however, is that they have for decades bought into a fraudulent democracy: they dutifully vote for political parties – which then hand their democratic mandate and people's power to the banks and the derivative traders and the rating agencies, all three backed up by the slovenly and dishonest coterie of "experts" from America's top universities and "think tanks", who maintain the fiction that this is a crisis of globalisation rather than a massive financial con trick foisted on the voters.

The banks and the rating agencies have become the dictators of the West. Like the Mubaraks and Ben Alis, the banks believed – and still believe – they are owners of their countries. The elections which give them power have become as false as the polls to which the Arabs were forced to troop decade after decade to anoint their own national property owners. Goldman Sachs and the Royal Bank of Scotland became the Mubaraks and Ben Alis of the US and the UK, each gobbling up the people's wealth in bogus rewards and bonuses for their vicious bosses on a scale infinitely more rapacious than their greedy Arab dictator-brothers could imagine.

How come the BBC and CNN and – oh, dear, even al-Jazeera – treat these criminal communities as unquestionable institutions of power? Why no investigations into these scandalous double-dealers? It reminds me so much of the equally craven way that so many American reporters cover the Middle East, eerily avoiding any direct criticism of Israel, abetted by an army of pro-Likud lobbyists to explain to viewers why American "peacemaking" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be trusted, why the good guys are "moderates", the bad guys "terrorists".

The Arabs have at least begun to shrug off this nonsense. But when the Wall Street protesters do the same, they become "anarchists", the social "terrorists" of American streets who dare to demand that the Bernankes and Geithners should face the same kind of trial as Hosni Mubarak. We in the West – our governments – have created our dictators. But, unlike the Arabs, we can't touch them.

The Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, solemnly informed his people this week that they were not responsible for the crisis in which they found themselves. They already knew that, of course. What he did not tell them was who was to blame. Isn't it time he and his fellow EU prime ministers did tell us? And our reporters, too?


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The New Cyber-Industrial Complex Spying on Us

WikiLeaks' Spy Files reveal the frightening scale and ambition of the industry now devoted to surveillance of all our daily lives

Pratap Chatterjee                               Guardian/UK via Common Dreams                          Dec. 3, 2011

We live digital lives now, flitting from Facebook to YouTube, checking our iPhones and BlackBerries, and chatting with our loved ones on Skype. Very few of us worry too much about tweeting our personal opinions on politics or chatting with a new social network "friend" on the other side of the world, whom we barely know. Yet all these interactions have become fodder for a new industry that secretly vacuums up the data and preserves it forever. This industry offers new tools to search that data and reconstruct our past, and even our real-time movements via our mobile phones, in a way that could well come back to haunt us.

WikiLeaks has just released the Spy Files – a trove of almost 300 documents from these companies that shine a light into this industry. It's worth spending some time browsing through this material because what this new industry offers to do is nothing short of Orwellian. "We are all aware of traditional spy stories of intelligence agencies like MI5 bugging the phones of one or two people," Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, told us. He continued: "In the last ten years, something else has happened. We now see mass surveillance, where the entire phone calls of a nation can be and are recorded by a company. In five or six years' time, if your brother or someone becomes of interest to that company or the government, they can go back to see what you said or what you emailed." Government authorities and the makers of these products argue that there is an urgent need for these tools – to track down criminals and terrorists, to block child pornography and computer viruses – a practice known as "lawful interception".

This is big business for i2, a company based in Virginia, which sells software that allows law enforcement to make sense of reams of data. Government Computer News ran a story earlier this week about the "Digital Dragnet" – extolling the benefits of data analysis. The magazine quoted Bob Griffin, the CEO of i2:

When we started this more than ten years ago, we talked about things like information-sharing and gathering as much data as you could," Griffin said. "In those days, people would look at you like you're a green banana. Why would I want to bring information from business licenses or hunting and fishing licenses into the policing environment?

Police authorities are excited about the potential: Jason Scheiss, analytical services division manager at the Durham police department in North Carolina, told Government Computer News that they were hoping to expand the data-collecting to include data on water and sewage billing, visitor logs from parks and recreation facilities and correlate it with the daily jail list. "So we could say, 'Hey, look here. All of these crimes only occur when this one guy's not in jail,'" he told the magazine.

Therein lies the rub: apart from the massive violation of individual privacy, or the risk of abuse by corrupt officials, these tools could easily allow security agencies to jump to the wrong conclusion. Indeed, these tools have the potential to make computer cables as dangerous as police batons. "What we are seeing is the militarization of cyberspace. It's like having a tank in your front garden," says Assange.

You have been warned and you have a choice: you can avoid the wonderful world of the internet (unlikely, since you are reading this online) and digital data (virtually impossible if you pay for electricity or go camping) – or you can join the movement to say there need to be limits to how government authorities use our information against us. And if you choose the latter, check out WikiLeaks and Privacy International.


© 2011
Pratap Chatterjee is the author of two books about the war on terror.

Monday, 5 December 2011

War on Iran has begun. And it is madness

Paul Vallely                         Independent/UK                    4 Dec. 2011

British memories may stretch back to 1989 when Iran's then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued his fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie for his blasphemous novel The Satanic Verses. But Persian memories are longer still.

It was MI6, along with the CIA, which orchestrated the overthrow in 1953 of the popular, democratically elected, secular prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. He had brought about major social reforms but had also had the temerity to nationalise the petroleum company which became BP. Through the Sixties and Seventies, Britain backed the Shah of Iran, a man whose regime rested on secret police and torture but who was seen as a plausible counterweight to Soviet influence.

And so it continued. Britain consistently backed the wrong leader. We favoured Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war. We derided the reactionary mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For the past year, Iran has had no ambassador in London and has failed to explain the vacancy. Britain taking the lead in international opinion against Tehran's nuclear programme is perceived in Iran in the context of a long history of British perfidy. London is seen as a stooge for Washington, which has no embassy in Tehran. Britain is "the Little Satan" in contrast to the United States, which is "the Great Satan".

The build-up of hostilities has unnerving parallels with the case for war conjured by Blair and George Bush against Iraq. We have another dodgy dossier, in the shape of the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which claims Iran is developing nuclear weapons but says so largely on the basis of intelligence which ends in 2003. On that is based hawkish noises and sabre-rattling sanctions.

Intelligence chiefs publicly say such things as, the West must use covert operations to sabotage Iran's nuclear programme. Politicians make thinly veiled threats of military attack using weasel words such as "all options are on the table". Pardon me if it feels like Iraq all over again.

Of course, some political leaders in Tehran do want the bomb. It is not hard to understand why. Everyone else in the region has one – Israel, Pakistan, India and Russia. US nuclear weapons have Tehran within range. And make no mistake, the war has begun. Virulent computer viruses disabled Iran's nuclear centrifuges last year. Two of the nation's leading nuclear physicists have been assassinated, and a third was wounded by assassins on motorbikes. Hawks talk openly of deploying unmanned drones against nuclear power stations and provoking an uprising against the government in Tehran. Now comes all the EU sound and fury about ‘Iran's intimidation and bullying". The hollow laughter from Tehran reflects heightened nationalist resolution and increased hostility to the West.
What is needed is the opposite. Instead of feeding a siege mentality in Tehran we should find ways of keeping open the engagement through trade and cultural exchange as Washington does with Pakistan, whose nuclear weapons appear to have provoked no threats of US attack.

There is another consideration. Iran is the world's second-largest producer of oil and gas. (Which does make you wonder why it needs to exercise its "inalienable right" to produce nuclear fuel.) What if Iran were to turn the tables and cut off oil to Europe, concentrating on its massive sales to India and China? Or Tehran might announce a selective oil embargo against Britain, France and Germany – leaving its biggest clients in southern Europe untouched. The markets have already anticipated this: oil went up by $2 in a day after the storming of the British embassy, and oil futures are up 4 per cent on the week.

This rush to madness could backfire terribly in so many ways. If we had as long an historical memory as the Iranians we would know that.


Honest to God

Ian Harris                   Otago Daily Times       October 21, 2011

REMEMBER those reassuring lines from poet Robert Browning, “God’s in his heaven – all’s right with the world”? Or those of the spiritual, “He’s got the whole world in his hands”?  You don’t hear them so much these days, and for good reason. It’s not just that for many people the idea of a physical heaven as the dwelling-place of God has evaporated, nor that they find the traditional concept of God more problematical than they used to.

It is also, as July’s Norwegian massacre and recurrent Islamist bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere remind us, that all is obviously not right with the world. Even more pointedly, it would seem that God has not “got the whole world in his hands” – increasingly, we humans do.

This is one of the starkest and, for some, most unsettling contrasts between old and new understandings of the way the world works, and it has big implications for the way people think about God. Indeed, some theologians would say that God – that is, God as experienced in human consciousness – has emptied himself into humanity. Some would add that that was the point of the Incarnation of God in the human Jesus. Others again would fume at the very idea.

Whatever, it is an observable fact of the modern secular culture that people are aware as never before that in their hands lies the power to shape the world for good or ill. There is power for good in the skill of doctors and surgeons to prevent illness, heal diseases or, where a cure is beyond them, at least make the patients’ lives tolerable. Agricultural science is continually improving animal breeds, strains of crops and pest control. Industrial know-how adds to the quality of life in myriad ways. The communications media have a role in spreading literacy and promoting health.

The other side of the coin is that nations and, increasingly, bands of fanatics now have advanced weaponry capable of destroying life indiscriminately. There is huge destructive force in the drugs trade. Some industries seriously pollute the air, water and the earth itself, raze primeval forests and exterminate species. Genetic engineering sits on the cusp of promise and peril. Harnessing the genes to make food more nutritious, correct genetic defects and produce medicines offers prospects of enhancing human life no less dramatically than all the progress in medicine over the past 100 years. Misusing the opportunities inherent in genetic engineering could result in unpredictable catastrophes, some of which might not emerge for years or even decades.

Given the possibilities for good or evil, everything will depend on how people exercise their growing power to determine the future of the planet. The ultimate control which our ancestors believed to lie in God’s hands is now seen to rest in our own. To that extent, humankind has come of age, and must accept the enormous increase in responsibility that goes with that.

In the new era, five great salvation/destruction issues loom – or, to express that in a mythological way, the future poses five pivotal choices between heaven and hell. These are not so much questions of what happens to the individual soul, which used to be the prime preoccupation, but what happens to humanity as a whole. They fall into two groups.

In the first category are racism, poverty, sexism and war. These are all destructive of human relationships, crushing the victims and breeding division, resentment and hate. All are rooted in a lack of respect for other people. All devalue human life, whichever side of the divide people find themselves on. The remaining issue arises from the demands which a burgeoning human population is making on the planet. Soil, water, minerals and other resources are finite, and it is always easier to damage ecological systems than repair them.  It is therefore urgent that we accept full responsibility for stewardship of the planet that sustains all life, not just for our own sake but for the benefit of future generations.

No external God will intervene to solve these problems for us. Human beings have both the power and the responsibility to do it for themselves – and we know it. The growing interest in ethics in so many fields is a sign that the point is being taken. And since both salvation and ethics have been a prime focus of the church during its 2000-year history, it has a unique contribution to make to the new world, if only it could adapt in time. The question is: will it?

[Full Text]

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Orthodoxies and Adolescents

by Thomas S. Harrington                   Common Dreams                     December 1, 2011

One day when I was twelve years old, I told my grandmother, born in 1890 and a staunch believer in the Church of Rome, that I had doubts about the existence of God, as well as the idea that her beloved religion had a corner on the game of eternal salvation.

I knew that I was courting trouble. But still, I wasn’t prepared for what came next. This woman, who had always cooed my name with love and laughed at almost everything I said, turned to me with a look that was equal parts disgust and disdain and said very angrily: “you’ll never amount to anything with ideas like that!”

This event came to mind while watching Bob Schieffer’s interview of Ron Paul on Face the Nation two Sundays ago. In it, Paul tells the long-time establishment reporter that there is a strong causal link between the way we as a nation conduct ourselves overseas (bribing, bullying, invading, occupying, assassinating and destroying) and the hostility that citizens of many foreign cultures have toward us.

Upon hearing this rather unassailable fact, the supposedly objective Schieffer was, like my grandmother all those many years ago, overcome (watch the clip) by a wave of physical repugnance. And like her, he did his best during the rest of the interview to shame the libertarian candidate into hedging or renouncing his position.

Wednesday’s New York Times reported that the growth of the British economy is stalled, and that as a result, the Cameron government is contemplating the application of still more budget cuts. As Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs and others have ceaselessly pointed out, only people lacking the most basic understanding of economics would ever engage in sweeping austerity measures in a time of economic recession/depression. So why, after predictably failing with its first application of such measures is the British Government now talking about doing more of the same?

Because the people that control the politicians see this as their big chance to finally destroy the "aberration" of the mid 20th century welfare state, you know, the thing that delivered hundreds of millions of people into the security of the middle class. For thirty years, the large-scale capitalists have, through their control of media, hammered home the idea that government only screws things up…and that anyone who doesn’t believe this is a na├»ve child unable to grasp how the world really works.

An essential enabling factor in all this is the abject historical ignorance of the political class and the "media pundits" now in power, people born, for the most part, between 1955 and 1975. They, like most of the people they grew up with, have no real understanding of the fact that the middle class lifestyle they have enjoyed did not--as the ideologues of the Right have told them throughout their entire adult lives--just appear because of market forces, but that it was mindfully engineered to happen. That’s right, it was meticulously and consciously engineered to happen by the political class that came of age in the wake of the Depression and the Second World War.

History is, at its core, an intellectual toolbox. By providing us with a broad longitudinal perspective it allows us to exercise critical judgment about the many things that are presented to us as "unassailable facts" in the heat of a given moment. Without it, we are reduced to the status of children, people imprisoned by the need to respond in "socially appropriate" ways to the "urgent" stimuli of the cool (read powerful) people in our midst.

Look around. The coreless children (Cameron, Sarkozy, Obama…) are now in charge everywhere, arrivistes all, careless and heedless in the way that only spoiled children who have not been forced to engage with tragedy always are. As people floating in the adolescent angst of the eternal present, subject above all, to a desire to please those they see as being smarter or cooler than themselves, they are resolutely incapable of developing the only real compensations of maturity: courage, wisdom and compassion. They are, sad to say, the perfect mirrors of their generation. Our children will pay mightily for their arrested development. 


Tuesday, 29 November 2011

More articles, and sad news

Dear everyone,

Dorothy Brown is no longer with us in person. She died on 28 November.  Her funeral is at All Saints Church, 284 Ponsonby Road on Friday, Dec. 2 at 1.30 pm.
Dorothy has had a distiguished career as an educator and passionate peace advocate, as well as being a wonderful mentor for many individual searchers in person and in small groups, including our ecumenical discussion group in New Lynn. The Aotearoa-NZ Peace and Conflict Studies Centre Trust owes much to Dorothy's hard work and persuasive powers in getting it started.


A new study gives us the truest picture yet – in contrast to the CIA's own account – of drones' grim toll of 'collateral damage'
Clive Stafford Smith                Guardian/UK                    11 August 2011

George Orwell wrote of V2 attacks on London in 1944. Yet, there are many more in Britain who identify with that voice, speaking 67 years ago, than with events that are a regular reality in Pakistan today.
This week, a new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism gives us the best picture yet of the impact of the CIA's drone war in Pakistan. The CIA claims that there has been not one "non-combatant" killed in the past year. This claim always seemed to be biased advocacy rather than honest fact. Indeed, the Guardian recently published some of the pictures we have obtained of the aftermath of drone strikes. There were photos of a child called Naeem Ullah killed in Datta Khel and two kids in Piranho, both within the timeframe of the CIA's dubious declaration.
The BIJ reporting begins to fill in the actual numbers. It's a bleak view: more people killed than previously thought, including an estimated 160 children overall. This study should help to create a greater sense of reality around what is going on in these remote regions of Pakistan. This is precisely what has been lacking in the one-sided reporting of the issue – and it doesn't take an intelligence analyst to realise that vague and one-sided is just the way the CIA wants to keep it.
The BIJ's study is everything that the CIA version of events is not: transparent, drawn from as many credible sources as possible and essentially open. It is clear about where its material comes from and what the margin of error may be. You should look, and you should engage, not just with the bare numbers, but also some of the stories: the attack on would-be rescuers by drones that had lingered, circling over the site of a previous strike, and opened fire – on the cruel assumption that any Good Samaritan must be a Taliban Samaritan; or the teenager who lost both legs when his family home was hit.
Sadaullah was 15 when the missiles, aimed at a militant leader who was never there, struck a family gathering, killing his wheelchair-bound uncle and two cousins. When he woke up in hospital, he was missing both legs and an eye. "The injured who survive with their severed limbs, they often tell me, 'you cannot really call me lucky'," says his lawyer Mirza Shahzad Akbar. "This is not London or Islamabad. There are no facilities for the disabled in Waziristan; such people can have zero opportunities ahead of them in life."
The primary question the CIA should answer is how it comes to be conducting an undeclared and illegal war in Pakistan, which is nominally a US ally. But beyond this, every time we read news of the latest drone strike in Pakistan, we need an honest assessment of the civilian casualties – and of whether we feel comfortable with an unaccountable spy agency carrying out killings on a military scale (the CIA's strikes now outweigh the firepower used in the opening round of the Kosovo war).
We also need to think about what it is like for ordinary people to live under George Orwell's circling threat, wondering whether it is going to strike, or to die away into the distance. And to note what lengths the CIA will go to silence human rights lawyers such as Akbar, who are trying to break the cycle of violence by bringing victims' cases against the CIA through the courts.
Or we could think in terms of enlightened self-interest: what do these strikes do to people's views of the US and its allies? Sixty-seven years after Orwell warily wondered whether he would be the next victim, how many angry relatives of a Waziristan child are plotting an attack on London or Washington, DC?
The BIJ study begins to bring the CIA's covert war out of the shadows. Since we may all become collateral damage, we should be grateful to them.

by Rick Salutin    Toronto Star   November 25, 2011 

This is a time of rejuvenation for non-violence. The Occupy movements were built on what one writer called “the courage of young people to fly into conflict on Gandhi’s wings.” The Arab Spring won its tenuous victories non-violently. A leader of the Tunisian Islamist party said recently, “I wish in the West they would focus on our non-violence when they talk about Islam, how the masses of people did not react to the incredible violence thrown at them.” He meant this in contrast to the bloody civil war that Algerian Islamists fell into after being robbed of their election victory in 1992.
The U.S. civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King in the 1950s and 1960s was a high point for non-violence. But that was also a time when young activists were enthralled by freedom fighters and national liberation wars. Among African-Americans, the Black Panthers challenged King. They said change must come “by any means necessary,” and they preferred guns.
The non-violent movement itself lacks an extensive history. If you exclude Jesus of Nazareth (turn the other cheek) due to ambiguity (I come not to bring peace but a sword), it fills a small bookshelf with brief texts — as if the idea was to do something, not write something — over a short time span. It includes Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, King and, near the start, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He wrote The Masque of Anarchy in 1819 after the “Peterloo” massacre of protesters against economic crisis and lack of democracy by British cavalry. It was called Peterloo as an ironic comment on Britain’s defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
Shelley proclaimed: “Let a great assembly be/ Of the fearless, of the free . . . Stand ye calm and resolute,/ Like a forest close and mute,/ With folded arms and looks which are/ Weapons of unvanquished war . . . With folded arms and steady eyes,/ And little fear, and less surprise/ Look upon them as they slay/ Till their rage has died away/ Then they will return with shame/ To the place from which they came . . .” It’s probably the first depiction of non-violent action. I particularly like his use of “assembly,” still common in the Occupy movements.
Now think of Black Bloc actions during the G20 here, like the clip of a masked protester bashing an ATM on Queen St. frenetically, which was replayed endlessly. It wasn’t violence against people, it was against a thing. But contrast that to Shelley’s image and you catch the active, even menacing nature of true non-violence. The Black Bloc attack things; the non-violent refuse to attack people, and confront them with their own violence instead. It’s far scarier. Ben Kingsley caught this ferocious quality of Gandhi’s non-violence in the 1982 film.
Or think of University of California Davis occupiers being pepper sprayed last week by a Darth Vaderish cop as they sat impassively (shades of a Mountie spraying Vancouver protesters at APEC in 1997). There’s a sense of cowardliness in the sprayer versus purposefulness among the sprayees. It’s Shelley’s image. The police look fearful and diminished. You see them cringe a bit as the crowd chants, Shame. They might look even more intimidated if everyone stayed utterly silent, “calm and resolute, like a forest close and mute.”
These writers were aware of each other. Gandhi often quoted Shelley, during strikes or protests. (I’ve never understood why strikes aren’t treated as a core component of the non-violent tradition.) King said he discovered non-violence through Thoreau. Tolstoy’s last letter, in 1910, was to Gandhi.
There’s also a theme in non-violence that has to do with wishing not to recreate what you hate through the very act of opposing it. I can relate to that. In Gandhi’s introduction to Tolstoy’s Letter to a Hindu, he says: “It is for us to pause and consider whether, in our impatience of English rule, we do not want to replace one evil by another and a worse.” Thoreau wrote: “What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.” 
Thoreau’s perfect little essay appeared in a collection called A Yankee in Canada. Its title is Civil Disobedience, with the stress, I like to think on “civil.”
© 2011 Toronto Star          Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright, journalist, and critic .

Wadah Khanfar   Guardian/UK                    27 November 2011
Ennahda, the Islamic party in Tunisia, won 41% of the seats of the Tunisian constitutional assembly last month, causing consternation in the west. But Ennahda will not be an exception on the Arab scene. Last Friday the Islamic Justice and Development Party took the biggest share of the vote in Morocco and will lead the new coalition government for the first time. And tomorrow Egypt's elections begin, with the Muslim Brotherhood predicted to become the largest party. There may be more to come. Should free and fair elections be held in Yemen, once the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh falls, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, also Islamic, will win by a significant majority. This pattern will repeat itself whenever the democratic process takes its course.
In the west, this phenomenon has led to a debate about the "problem" of the rise of political Islam. In the Arab world, too, many voices warn that the Arab spring will lead to an Islamic winter, and that the Islamists, though claiming to support democracy, will soon turn against it. In the west, stereotypical images that took root in the aftermath of 9/11 have come to the fore again. But the uproar that has accompanied the Islamists' gains is unhelpful; a calm and well-informed debate about the rise of political Islam is long overdue.
First, we must define our terms. "Islamist" is used in the Muslim world to describe Muslims who participate in the public sphere, using Islam as a basis. It is understood that this participation is not at odds with democracy. In the west, however, the term routinely describes those who use violence as a means and an end.  This disconnect in the understanding of the term in the west and in the Muslim world was often exploited by despotic Arab regimes to suppress Islamic movements with democratic political programmes. It is time we were clear. Reform-based Islamic movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, work within the political process. They learned a bitter lesson from their armed conflict in Syria in 1982, which cost the lives of more than 20,000 people and led to the incarceration or banishment of many thousands more. The Syrian experience convinced mainstream Islamic movements to avoid armed struggle and to observe "strategic patience" instead.
Perhaps one of the most influential experiences has been that of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, which won the elections in 2002. Although the AKP does not describe itself as Islamic, its 10 years of political experience have led to a model that many Islamists regard as successful. The model has three important characteristics: a general Islamic frame of reference; a multi-party democracy; and significant economic growth.
However, political Islam has also faced enormous pressures from dictatorial Arab regimes, pressures that became more intense after 9/11. Islamic institutions were suppressed. Islamic activists were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Such experiences gave rise to a profound bitterness. Given the history, it is only natural that we should hear overzealous slogans or intolerant threats from some activists. Some of those now at the forefront of election campaigns were only recently released from prison. It would not be fair to expect them to use the voice of professional diplomats.
Despite this, the Islamic political discourse has generally been balanced. The Tunisian Islamic movement has set a good example. Although Ennahda suffered under Ben Ali's regime, its leaders developed a tolerant discourse and managed to open up to moderate secular and leftist political groups. The movement's leaders have reassured Tunisian citizens that it will not interfere in their personal lives and that it will respect their right to choose. The movement also presented a progressive model of women's participation, with 42 female Ennahda members in the constitutional assembly.
The Islamic movement's approach to the west has also been balanced, despite the fact that western countries supported despotic Arab regimes.  Now there is a unique opportunity for the west: to demonstrate that it will no longer support despotic regimes by supporting instead the democratic process in the Arab world, by refusing to intervene in favour of one party against another and by accepting the results of the democratic process, even when it is not the result they would have chosen. Democracy is the only option for bringing stability, security and tolerance to the region, and it is the dearest thing to the hearts of Arabs, who will not forgive any attempts to derail it.                        [Abridged]