Tuesday, January 31, 2006

On the Victory of Hamas

I wrote this in response to the Boston Globe's editorial today on the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections:
To the Editor,
The Boston Globe’s editorial, “Fund peace, not terror,” January 31, 2006, congratulates Secretary of State Rice for her “firm but fair” demand that Hamas accept “the premise of a negotiated peace…” A worthy requirement indeed, that would have been far more admirable if she had extended the demand to include the two major obstacles to a peaceful solution since the 1970s – the United States and Israel.
To take but one example, in 1976 the Security Council voted on a resolution (S/11940) calling for a two-state solution, the return or compensation of the refugees, and the security of all states. The PLO supported the measure; the US provided the sole vote against, killing it.
The Globe sternly writes that “Hamas cannot receive foreign donations if it persists in suicide bombings and its call for a one-state solution…” - no doubt a sensible sentiment. Meanwhile, Israel remains the leading recipient of US foreign aid despite killing far more civilians (often deliberately targeted, contrary to mythology) and annexes valuable portions of the West Bank, destroying the possibility of a viable Palestinian state – all without a peep from the Globe.
The Globe Editorial Board’s touching belief in the fairy tale of benevolent US foreign policy does not speak well to the state of our democracy.
Steven Fake

Outlook on it getting printed: not good.

A few updates on Colombia

A few updates on Colombia:
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia deplored the murder of political leaders Jaime Romero and Eduardo Hernandez in Valle del Cauca. According to information obtained by the office, the killers are connected to paramilitary groups. The UN described the violent deaths as a grave threat to democracy and to the free exercise of political rights, the United Nations News Service reports.

After a series of threats by alleged paramilitaries, Diro Cesar Gonzalez, director and owner of the weekly newspaper La Tarde in Barrancabermeja, was forced to suspend his business indefinitely and leave the city, the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP) reports.

According to the UNICEF annual report, Colombia and Haiti are the two countries in Latin America where children and women suffer the most. Daniel Toole, Director of the UNICEF Emergency Office, stated that the Colombian conflict has led to a serious human rights violations and a critical humanitarian situation. UNICEF will concentrate its efforts in the region on assisting national institutions to increase their response capacities, EFE reports.

Fernando Ramirez Gonzalez, member of the trade union Sintraminercol-Fenasintrap was illegally dismissed by the national mining company Minercol LTDA. Sintraminarcol members have also been victims of threats, harassments and intimidation for their stance against the privatization of the company, according to Colombian organisation Justicia y Paz.

The manual eradication of coca crops in the Macarena National Park has so far led to the displacement of 341 families, due to confrontations between guerrillas and the army, El Colombiano reports.

Source: Jan 30, 2006 edition of Colombia This Week, put out by ABColombia Group.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Illegal Force Routinely Used Against Mexican Immigrants

Apparently the US routinely violates its diplomatic agreements with Mexico and international law with lethal consequences for the migrants so often vilified in our country. Excerpts from the report:
Guillermo Martinez was only 20 years old when he was shot in the back at close range by an agent of the U.S. Border Patrol in the state of California.

Scores of migrants have been shot by U.S. immigration enforcement officers. Mexican human rights organizations count four cases just in the past six months and warn that the number is on the rise. Most fail to make the headlines. But Martinez's death comes at the same time as a series of measures to further criminalize migrants, measures that are likely to increase the chances that more young men and women lose their lives on what has become the world's most contradictory border...

As immigration mounts, so do the deaths. The Border Patrol seems to view Martinez's death as a cautionary tale for other undocumented workers rather than a red flag on its own practices. In statements to the press, the San Diego region boasted that its members are routinely equipped with expanding-bullet weapons. These are more lethal and more painful than conventional firearms, thus explaining how a man shot in the shoulder could be dead two hours later. The use of firearms against migrants is prohibited under binational agreements and the use of expanding bullets has been banned in international pacts.

Source: [Laura Carlsen, "Bad Blood on the Border," (Silver City, NM: International Relations Center, January 30, 2006)]

While I'm on the topic of border control, consider some more general aspects of the issue. I suppose a society has a legitimate right to bar outsiders from entering their nation, however I can think of no ethical justification for doing so (outside of very limited circumstances such as hostile spies, etc). Suppose people of a country with lower living standards flood another nation to improve their lives and thereby drag down the quality of life in their new homeland (a hypothetical situation - I'll put aside the question of its applicability to the US) because of an unsustainable population boom. The phenomenon would tend to equalize living standards for the populations of the two nations - and there can be no moral justification for preserving one's material wealth at the expense of others. When the more affluent country (and more specifically the elites of both countries, as in the case of the US and Mexico) bears considerable responsibility for the economic plight of the poorer nation the moral responsibility heightens.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Do Not Open - Cheney Inside

I've cut the photo at right from an image montage available here: [Andrei Codrescu and Nils Juul-Hansen, "If These Refrigerators Could Speak," New York Times, January 29, 2006]. Excerpts:
WHEN New Orleanians returned to their homes after the Storm they were struck by a smell that has no equivalent: a stupefying blend of decaying flesh as layered as the city's history. The sweet rankness of animal and human death floated around the city as it might have in the aftermath of a yellow fever epidemic in the 18th century, but added to it was the putrid efflorescence of 20th-century grocery store meat inside thousands of refrigerators.

For a week or so after the storm, when the city wallowed in its filth and misery without help from the United States of America, which it had mistakenly believed it was part of, people helped one another drag the taped-up fridges outside. Rows and rows of white metal boxes cradling generations of maggots began to fill the narrow byways of one of America's oldest cities. Waves of putrefaction rolled over the streets. New Orleans sank into the funk like a corpse into the embrace of the earth...

And here were all these metal tombs stretching as far as the eye could see, more numerous than the graves they resembled. The art appeared instantly and it was, appropriately, political.

"Chem Trails Are Real: Weather Control Is Here," was scrawled on a refrigerator below a drawing of a jet leaving behind what looked like a trail of poison. Another fridge warned severely: "Do Not Open: Cheney Inside." Inside others one could find President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Ray Nagin and Michael Brown doing obscene things with the maggots and with each other. In a short time, there were thousands of art works in the city, an exhibition that stretched for miles, that had no official opening, that was constantly in progress.

Today most of the show is closed. National Guardsmen, volunteers and city workers have incinerated the art after hauling it to vast refrigerator graveyards.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Way Forward

Michael Albert's presentation ["Anti Capitalist Strategy: Opening Presentation by Michael Albert for A Debate on Anti Capitalist Strategy (with John Holloway)", January 26, 2006] at the World Social Forum of the Americas lays out nothing less than the proper roadmap for worldwide revolution.

His talk briefly expands upon the immensely valuable contributions he and Robin Hahnel have made to theories of economic vision and democratic structure (see parecon.org). While I identify as an anarchist, the inadequate ideology of most strains of anarchism has long frustrated me. This short passage resolves two centuries of inept debate between anarchists and Marxists:
Winning the state isn't the goal. Eliminating the state isn't the goal.

Turning the state, or polity, into what we desire partly by transforming it and partly by creating new structures that will replace it, is our goal - or it should be.

Applying those principles to Venezuela, Albert continues:
In this last case the Venezuelan example, the Bolivarian Revolution, throws up incredible hope and also some worry.

That Venezuela has embarked on creating institutions of direct self management is inspiring and I think hopeful for the whole world.

That this is being initiated not so much from the bottom up, but rather at the initiative and with the full force of the existing government - which is in some sense trying to build its own replacement - is both remarkable, I think pretty much unprecedented, and certainly very hopeful, but it is also a little worrying.

It is what should be done by a revolutionary government, I think.

But the sooner the initiative and energy of popular movements in local communities and institutions throughout Venezuela starts being the driving force, the better, I also think.

U.S. is Kidnapping Iraqi Civilian Women

I'm posting this explosive report in full. Be sure to view the actual documents too, available at the links provided below.

Documents Show Army Seized Wives as Tactic

By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special CorrespondentSat Jan 28, 2:50 AM ET

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family's door telling him "to come get his wife."

The issue of female detentions in Iraq has taken on a higher profile since kidnappers seized American journalist Jill Carroll on Jan. 7 and threatened to kill her unless all Iraqi women detainees are freed.

The U.S. military on Thursday freed five of what it said were 11 women among the 14,000 detainees currently held in the 2 1/2-year-old insurgency. All were accused of "aiding terrorists or planting explosives," but an Iraqi government commission found that evidence was lacking.

Iraqi human rights activist Hind al-Salehi contends that U.S. anti-insurgent units, coming up empty-handed in raids on suspects' houses, have at times detained wives to pressure men into turning themselves in.

Iraq's deputy justice minister, Busho Ibrahim Ali, dismissed such claims, saying hostage-holding was a tactic used under the ousted Saddam Hussein dictatorship, and "we are not Saddam." A U.S. command spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, said only Iraqis who pose an "imperative threat" are held in long-term U.S.-run detention facilities.

But documents describing two 2004 episodes tell a different story as far as short-term detentions by local U.S. units. The documents are among hundreds the Pentagon has released periodically under U.S. court order to meet an American Civil Liberties Union request for information on detention practices.

In one memo, a civilian Pentagon intelligence officer described what happened when he took part in a raid on an Iraqi suspect's house in Tarmiya, northwest of Baghdad, on May 9, 2004. The raid involved Task Force (TF) 6-26, a secretive military unit formed to handle high-profile targets.

"During the pre-operation brief it was recommended by TF personnel that if the wife were present, she be detained and held in order to leverage the primary target's surrender," wrote the 14-year veteran officer.

He said he objected, but when they raided the house the team leader, a senior sergeant, seized her anyway.

"The 28-year-old woman had three young children at the house, one being as young as six months and still nursing," the intelligence officer wrote. She was held for two days and was released after he complained, he said.

Like most names in the released documents, the officer's signature is blacked out on this for-the-record memorandum about his complaint.

Of this case, command spokesman Johnson said he could not judge, months later, the factors that led to the woman's detention.

The second episode, in June 2004, is found in sketchy detail in e-mail exchanges among six U.S. Army colonels, discussing an undisclosed number of female detainees held in northern Iraq by the Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division.

The first message, from a military police colonel, advised staff officers of the U.S. northern command that the Iraqi police would not take control of the jailed women without charges being brought against them.

In a second e-mail, a command staff officer asked an officer of the unit holding the women, "What are you guys doing to try to get the husband — have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?"

Two days later, the brigade's deputy commander advised the higher command, "As each day goes by, I get more input that these gals have some info and/or will result in getting the husband."

He went on, "These ladies fought back extremely hard during the original detention. They have shown indications of deceit and misinformation."

The command staff colonel wrote in reply, referring to a commanding general, "CG wants the husband."

The released e-mails stop there, and the women's eventual status could not be immediately determined.

Of this episode, Johnson said, "It is clear the unit believed the females detained had substantial knowledge of insurgent activity and warranted being held."

On the Net:

First document: pdf document 1

E-mail exchange: pdf document 2

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Quote of the Day

Hersch Lauterpacht (perhaps the most influential figure in international law of the 20th century):
"So long as international society did not effectively guarantee the rights of men against arbitrariness and oppression by governments, it could not oblige states to treat subversive activities...… as a crime."
[(1954-I) International Law Commission Yearbook 141, cited in Ben Saul, "Two Justifications for Terrorism: A Moral Legal Response," (Silver City, NM & Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, January 10, 2006)]

Though Lauterpacht uses the past tense, the sentiment is still sadly relevant.

US Promotes Bigotry at the UN

Human Rights Watch reports on the latest outrageous action by the global champion of human rights and democracy at the UN ["United Nations: U.S. Aligned With Iran in Anti-Gay Vote," Human Rights Watch, January 25, 2006]: "In a reversal of policy, the United States on Monday backed an Iranian initiative to deny United Nations consultative status to organizations working to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people."

The U.S. was joined in this shameful action by Cameroon, China, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Senegal, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Scott Long, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch, termed it "a coalition of the homophobic." Chile, France, Germany, Peru, and Romania summoned the courage to vote for recommending consulatative status for the two groups and Colombia, India, Turkey, and Cote d' Ivoire all at least managed to not get in the way.

Background on the vote from the HRW release:
Consultative status is the only official means by which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world can influence and participate in discussions among member states at the United Nations. Nearly 3,000 groups enjoy this status.
States opposed to the two groups' applications moved to have them summarily dismissed, an almost unprecedented move at the UN, where organizations are ordinarily allowed to state their cases. The U.S. abstained on a vote which would have allowed the debate to continue and the groups to be heard. It then voted to reject the applications.

The US is justifying the vote by casting aspersion. A New York Times article [Warren Hoge, "Rights Groups Fault U.S. Vote in U.N. on Gays," NYT, January 27, 2006] on the vote discusses the pretext being used by the Administration of dubiously associating one of the groups with pedophilia. The absurdity of the rational is clear from the media bulletin [ECOSOC/6184] released by the Economic and Social Council, the UN body the organizations would have gained consultative status with, which indicates that a separate vote was taken for each organization seeking consultative states. In other words, even if one accepted the notion that the group which expelled an affiliate of NAMBLA in 1994 is tainted by pedophilia, that would have no bearing on the other organization which was rejected by the same vote count.

The vote was taken by nations that compose a committee with the task of recommending NGOs for consultative status. It's not clear to me if the recommendation is authoritative or might be ignored.

I'll close with an excerpt from the UN bulletin:
Emphasizing that the Committee had taken two decisions which "will haunt us for a long time," Germany's representative said it had committed an act of discrimination against two NGOs whose sole purpose was to combat discrimination. The message the majority of the Committee had sent to the NGOs and to the world was clear: discrimination against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation was okay.

Paradise Now

For those who haven't yet seen Paradise Now, the tale of two young Palestinian men who commit themselves to carrying out a suicide bombing, I highly recommend it. Lori Allen has written a very perceptive review for MERIP, "Paradise Now's Understated Power," Middle East Report Online, January 2006.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Region of Norway to Boycott Israel

End the Occupation is reporting the following:
The Norwegian region of Sor-Trondelag has passed a motion to boycott Israeli goods as a way of pressuring Israel to end the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people...The representatives of Sor-Trondelag have experienced massive Zionist pressure after the passing of the motion and some fear that they will vote against the boycott in a new vote. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre and other Zionist organizations called the elected representatives of Sor-Trondelag "Nazis" and "racists".

A translation of the resolution is available here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Bachelet Washington's Best Ally?

James Petras is not always the most reliable commentator but the following article is worth a read nonetheless: "Chile's New President: Washington's Best Ally?," CounterPunch, January 25, 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hugo Chavez the Anti-Semite

Some folks may have come across accusations that Chavez recently made anti-Jewish remarks. The media advisory ["Editing Chavez to Manufacture a Slur," FAIR, 1/23/06] put out by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is the most thorough refutation I've seen. The role of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in initiating the whole affair is interesting. Rather than consult with the Jewish communities of Venezuela for their interpretations of the remark, the Center issued its bulletin without conveying the slightest doubt of the anti-Semitic character of the comment.

The Center goes so far as to "call on governments of Argentina, Brasil, Paraguay and Uruguay, as well as on the Presidency of MERCOSUR (South American Common Market), to freeze the process of incorporation of Venezuela to this bloc until Chavez makes a public apology for his antisemitic statements."

In actuality, Chavez's comments plainly refer to the minority of the opulent (the unedited passage makes this clear enough, and in the context of Chavez's well known leftism and the absence of any anti-semitic past, crystalline). The history of the unethical activities of the Center is explored at length in Norman Finkelstein's revealing book, The Holocaust Industry.

Monitoring Hope in Peru

Track the poll numbers for Ollanta Humala, who is running for the Peruvian presidency on a Hugo Chávezesque platform of nationalizations and inter-Latin American solidarity. Needless to say, his victory in the April election would represent yet another step forward for a progressive Latin American alliance opposed to subservience to U.S. and corporate interests.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

How Much Is an Iraqi Life Worth to the US?

Okay, it's a trick question...we already know, for all intents and purposes, that the answer is zero. But what if the military brass, faced with mounting public opposition and an Abu Ghraib image problem, is forced to throw a sacrificial lamb into the prison yard to give the appearance of humanity?

Then the answer becomes a less-than-whopping $6000, the amount a US officer was fined for the "negligent homicide" of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush - "negligent," in this context, meaning that US Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr. fully intended to tie up Mowhoush, place him into a sleeping bag, and sit on him, but apparently couldn't have reasonably expected that this might be a death-inducing measure. Why do plastic bags have suffocation warnings on them again?

Of course, don't expect those who order the carrying out of such techniques to ever see the inside of a courtroom.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Rumsfeld: Venezuela "Overspending"

I really can't add anything to this:
DAVE LINDORFF, "It Would be Funny, If It Weren't So Tragic - Rumsfeld: Venezuela 'Overspending,'" January 21/22, 2006

U.S. Government Planting Questions with Journalists

At the risk of being ridiculous in blogging another blog... Jim Shultz's post yesterday at his blog had the following interesting passage:
Yesterday Morales passed through another inauguration, standing atop the 1000 year old ruins at Tiahuanaco. In a ceremony that hasn’t taken place since the consquest half a millenia ago, Bolivia´s first indiginous president was granted powers by the indian communities of the altiplano. Indiginous leaders from throughout the Americas and elsewhere were on hand to participate – from Guatemala to the USA. An indiginous leader from the US handed Morales an eagle feather, noting that the eagle would fly with the condor.

Reporters, many sunburned from yesterday´s harsh altiplano sun in Tiahuanaco, asked me all the usual questions. Won´t MAS screw up at governing? What government have they ever run?...

The U.S. government has planted some of these questions I learn, at a private off-the record chat the ambassador held at his house the other night with visiting US journalists.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

He's Wearing a (gasp) Sweater!

A writer for the BBC (which seems to have something of an obsession with Evo Morales' wardrobe and world travels) has editorialized that "The era of the conservative middle-aged man in a grey suit, representing the white-skinned landed elite across Latin America appears to be coming to an end."

One can only hope. Needless to say, turning this hope into reality has much to do with our foiling of whatever imperial adventures the world power is concocting.

Stupidity Outdoes Itself

It is almost uncanny the degree to which four-and-a-half decades worth of U.S. administrations has engaged in the same collossally repugnant attempts to isolate Cuba, efforts ranging from the extremely damaging in terms of human consequences (the embargo/blockade), to the extremely petty.

In a renewed attempt at the extremely petty (which, not surprisingly, backfired), Washington initially blocked Cuba's athletes from participating in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, for the imagined fear of propping up Castro.

And, as is the typical outcome of pathetic U.S. attempts to isolate Castro, Cuba has made the U.S. look the geopolitical fool by announcing that it will donate all proceeds from the Classic to Hurricane Katrina victims.

I'll update later with the announcement of my personal campaign to block the U.S. team from the World Cup because I don't wany tax money filtering down to the Bush Administration's coffers.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Morales as Pacifier?

An excerpt from a recent COHA release:
Evo Morales has inspired the country to believe in politics once again, but there is no guarantee that he too will not disappoint it and break its heart. Since the colonial era, the indigenous were fed first class promises, which eventually led to steerage class realities. Such betrayals traditionally have registered few political repercussions. Morales, however, faces a startling new element in the equation as a result of recent experiences, namely the realization by highland Bolivians that they have the power to unseat governments. Therefore, Evo sits on a very troubled throne, and the indigenous will soon discover whether they have a principled leader or some sweet-talking political hustler. In a very real sense, Morales is untested and the next four months will reveal whether he has the right stuff.
["Bolivia’s Morales to be Inaugurated on Sunday," COHA Memorandum to the Press, January 20, 2006]

The "the realization by highland Bolivians that they have the power to unseat governments" is a profoundly hopeful phenomenon that moves the country towards a much more meaningful form of democracy than exists in most of the world's variations of the parliamentary system (such as the U.S.). It isn't Evo's (or Lula's, etc) right to determine how much compromise with the forces of neoliberalism is necessary - only the citizens themselves can decide that. The situation in Bolivia almost amounts to a form of unofficial instant recall, the mechanism so sorely lacking in almost all standard democracies. Recall that many global elites were content with Morales' election because they felt it would bring stability to the country. As leftists, we can only hope it won't bring too much.

Can Humanitarian Aid Be a Crime?

A federal judge in Tucson is now deciding whether to dismiss charges against two humanitarian workers who are being accused of "taking three dying migrants to the hospital." If you needed any more evidence of the dehumanization of Latinos in U.S. society, the mere idea that taking dying people to the hospital could constitute a crime (one, evidently, punishable by "up to 15 years in prison") should be enough to convince anyone to the left of Pat Buchanan that we are living in a deeply sick and racist society.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Price of Doing Business with Morales

Al-Jazeera has reported that "The president of Brazil's Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, has said that the state-run oil company is willing to reduce its profits in order to guarantee its operations and investments in

A further excerpt:

Gabrielli said Morales seemed inclined to take a business-friendly approach to negotiations with Petrobras, which is one of Bolivia's largest foreign investors.

"We need them, and they need us," Gabrielli said, noting that 50% of the natural gas used in Brazil comes from Bolivia.

Morales previously had threatened to privatise foreign oil companies operating in Bolivia.

It should go without saying that the same social movements that carried Morales to his election victory may be less than thrilled by this change in rhetoric.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Hawaii's Government Overthrown by Businessmen and Sugar Planters

The New York Times noted that yesterday marked the 113th year since "Hawaii's monarchy was overthrown as a group of businessmen and sugar planters forced Queen Liliuokalani to abdicate." On the centennial in 1993 the Senate passed a resolution of apology, the text of which is actually interesting to read.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

UN as Police and Criminals

Today's Democracy Now! featured an interview with journalist Reed Lindsay in Haiti.

Lindsay reports that:
...the latest happening here is yesterday there was a sit-in, or so they called it. It was a demonstration organized by the Group of 184 in front of the United Nations to protest what they feel is a lack of U.N. action in the face of recent kidnappings and to call for stronger action in Cite Soleil, to lift Cite Soleil, or as Reginald Boulos, the President of the Chamber of Commerce said, to “cleanse” Cite Soleil of criminals there.

For those who don't recall, the Group of 184 was an instrumental part of the civil society opposition to Aristide's presidency. An article by Michel Chossudovsky in Global Research ["The Destabilization of Haiti," 29 February 2004] provides further background:
The Group of 184 (G-184), is headed by Andre (Andy) Apaid, a US citizen of Haitian parents, born in the US. (Haiti Progres, http://www.haiti-progres.com/eng11-12.html ) Andy Apaid owns Alpha Industries, one of Haiti's largest cheap labor export assembly lines established during the Duvalier era. His sweatshop factories produce textile products and assemble electronic products for a number of US firms including Sperry/Unisys, IBM, Remington and Honeywell. Apaid is the largest industrial employer in Haiti with a workforce of some 4000 workers. Wages paid in Andy Apaid's factories are as low as 68 cents a day. (Miami Times, 26 Feb 2004). The current minimum wage is of the order of $1.50 a day:

"The U.S.-based National Labor Committee, which first revealed the Kathie Lee Gifford sweat shop scandal, reported several years ago that Apaid's factories in Haiti's free trade zone often pay below the minimum wage and that his employees are forced to work 78-hour weeks." (Daily News, New York, 24 Feb 2004)

Apaid was a firm supporter of the 1991 military coup. Both the Convergence démocratique and the G-184 have links to the FLRN (former FRAPH death squadrons) headed by Guy Philippe. The FLRN is also known to receive funding from the Haitian business community.

In other words, there is no watertight division between the civilian opposition, which claims to be non-violent and the FLRN paramilitary. The FLRN is collaborating with the so-called "Democratic Platform."

Lindsay told Amy Goodman:
I was in Cite Soleil the other day, and the hospital there, the public hospital -- it’s the only public hospital in Cite Soleil; it’s an enormous neighborhood -- has received a record number of bullet wound victims the last month and a half, about nearly 100 since the beginning of December, and they keep coming in every day. And you go into the hospital, the wing of the hospital where the bullet wound victims are, and every single one [inaudible], they say they’ve been shot by the United Nations, and [no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: Reed, are you there?

REED LINDSAY: -- It’s difficult to prove whether it’s the U.N. that’s shooting them. But on the other hand, with the amount of shooting that is going on every day, I think that some of these people, you have to believe what they're saying.

In other words, a group involved in the overthrow of the legitimate government and the installation of a regime of gross human rights abuses and a murderous U.N. occupation then calls upon the UN to be more zealous in cracking down on a crime wave perpetrated, in part at least, by... the UN.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Zaps won't attend Morales inauguration

Subcomandante Marcos has announced that the EZLN will not be accepting the invitation of Bolivian president-to-be Evo Morales to attend his January 22 inauguration.

Marcos, clearly defining his group's stance of not involving itself with governments while simultaneously expressing support for the struggles of the Bolivian people (and perhaps at least tacit support of Morales), said "We don’t have relations with governments, whether they are good or bad...We have relations with the people. And we have a lot of respect for the Bolivian people.”

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bachelet wins in Chile and the Catholic Church attacks Chavez's Venezuela

Reuters [Fiona Ortiz, "Chileans elect their first woman president," Jan 15, 2006] calls Michelle Bachelet's election Sunday "a victory that underscores the left's growing hold on Latin America."

Bachelet, 54, a medical doctor who was imprisoned and tortured during the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship before living in exile in the former East Germany and Australia, will be the fourth consecutive president from the center-left alliance that has run Chile since 1990.

Political scientist Patricio Navia said women were crucial to Bachelet's victory since it was the first time in Chile that a majority of both sexes had voted for a leftist candidate. In the past Chilean women always voted more conservatively than men.

The second paragraph is intriguing as it's quite the reverse of the U.S. The article also said "Bachelet is expected to be a pragmatic leftist, following in the footsteps of popular outgoing President Ricardo Lagos." Here we are to understand that "pragmatic leftist" means properly centrist and respectable among refined people.

Meanwhile, in Venezuela the BBC reports [Greg Morsbach, "Venezuela head angry at cardinal," BBC News, 16 January 2006] that:
Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, the most senior Catholic clergymen in Venezuela, told thousands of worshippers at a pilgrimage in honour of the Virgin Mary that the country had "lost its democratic course and presents the semblance of a dictatorship".

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Support the Iraqi Resistance?

I wrote this in reply to a fellow activist and am posting a slightly edited version here.

In my opinion, supporting the Iraqi resistance is decidedly problematic. The secret British military poll referred to also mentions that: "Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;"

That might well rise to a majority if Kurdish areas were removed from the data but the point is it's not at all clear that the insurgency (or resistance if you prefer) is firmly supported by Iraqis, especially when we keep in mind that the poll above asked a much narrower question that would presumably get more support because it removes the issue of sectarian attacks.

There's nothing that makes our anti-imperial credentials stronger by supporting unpleasant characters. As you note, the resistance is diverse. If one could identify some group that was relatively sane and decent group (for instance, Islamic, supportive of democracy and some minimal rights for women) that enjoyed widespread support, I might consider saying I supported it. There may well be groups that have politics similar to those I mention above; certainly there are no doubt many such individuals in the resistance. Using a slogan like "support the resistance" obscures the complexity and includes the groups we're all aware of that are both fundamentalist and in some cases, viciously sectarian.

It becomes that much more problematic when the phrase of dubious ethics is also very unpopular. Taking unpopular stances is very worthwhile but only when the stance is right in the first place. It's clear that it's not feasible to materially support the resistance anyway. It can only be verbal support, which means supporters of this line of thinking are concerned with persuading people to the correct (as they see it) politics. This would have some value if indeed I agreed with the politics but of course I don't.

One could make a plausible case that it would be a courageous and worthy thing for an American (or anyone else) who finds him/herself in Iraq to take up arms against the occupation forces - to join the resistance in some form. That's a far easier case to make than saying one should support the resistance, which implies that one doesn't just support the act of resistance but the general tenor of the resistance groups' programs.

Imagine if the US was about to invade Iraq and polls showed a majority of Iraqis backing the defense of their country. [To make the case stronger let's assume - as was indeed that case by the time of the 2003 invasion, though not in the 1980s when the U.S. supported him - that Saddam is not killing huge numbers of Kurds or some other minority, a special {and very rare in the real world} case which could in some cases justify supporting intervention.] Would our slogan be "victory to Saddam's army" or "support the Iraqi army"? Clearly not - because the program of the forces actively defending Iraq would be maintaining Saddam in power and continuing his crimes. Rather we would say "support Iraqi self defense" or "support Iraqi self-determination." This is true despite the fact that in this hypothetical scenario, we (along with the Iraqi people) would technically be supporting (passively) Saddam's Iraqi military against the US - but all the while despising them as the vilest scum. We wouldn't say we support the Iraqi military, even though we would support their victory (in the narrow, restricted sense of expelling an unpopular invasion), because it conveys a very distorted meaning that naturally implies some degree of support above and beyond a defense of their country. It is because the programs of the largest organized resistance groups are reactionary that it is impossible to support them per se.

Friday, January 13, 2006

the human consequences of borders

Some 24 Haitians suffocated to death in a truck during an "illegal" border crossing into the Dominican Republic, something normally only heard of in regards to the U.S.-Mexico border. And like the U.S., the Associated Press reports that the Domincian Republic will be increasing the militarization along its border, adding to the already 1000-strong Domincan force that patrols the 243 mile stretch. In a further indication of how Haitians are viewed by their neighbor, after the killing of a Domincan woman, "the Dominican government deported at least 2,000 Haitians." Talk about a wide net to cast.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Socialist Soulmates

CNN's website carried a report ["Morales, Chavez solidify ties," Reuters, January 3, 2006] last week that the "socialist soulmates," (to use Reuters' term) Chavez and Morales, seek to establish an "axis of good" in the words of the ever quotable Chavez.

"You know who is the axis of evil? Washington, they are the axis of evil, and their allies in the world who threaten, invade, who kill and assassinate, we are forming an axis of good," Chavez said.

Meanwhile Morales has been sparking controversy in his world tour because of his... wardrobe. A few choice excerpts from Annie Murphy's piece ["UNICEF Kid or Sans Culottes?: Evo Morales' Sweater," January 11, 2006]:

The controversy started in Spain; the sweater had given no offense to Chávez or Castro, but left various members of Spanish press and society appalled after Morales met with King Juan Carlos in, gasp, a red and blue wool pullover. (It probably doesn't help that Morales appears to be sticking his tongue out in some photos.)

Antonio Burgos of the newspaper "ABC" implied that even a Spanish doorman has better dress protocol and asked, "Is there no one who might lend Mr. Morales a dark suit in a pinch?" Like many indigenous Bolivian men Morales doesn't wear suits on formal occasions and instead favors sweaters and leather jackets.

But it's not even a sweater. It's a chompa, a hand knit indigenous pullover of alpaca wool considered appropriate and even refined in Bolivia, which is of course where Morales is from.

It's likely he isn't trying to insult kings and presidents, nor is he sending messages about poverty and revolution. Morales isn't President Bush or President Zapatero; when he puts on a pullover it isn't a PR move meant to reveal disregard or resolve, or even a regular guy. He's long been the latter. He's wearing his clothes. If only Morales's politics were scrutinized as closely as his wardrobe.

One can forgive the Western press for failing to understand this, given how unusual it is to see a politician deviating from the norm and not behaving as the product of a closely managed PR campaign.

However, Murphy does inject a note of caution, commenting that:

Even a superficial reading of Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) politics shows that Morales is hardly another Che. MAS is frequently moderate. For example, the party wants to renegotiate contracts with transnational petroleum companies rather than the confiscation and nationalization pursued by radical social movements such as the Regional Workers Central (COR) or the neighborhood collective (FEJUVE) of El Alto, the indigenous city above La Paz. When protest by those movements resulted in the resignation of Carlos Mesa last June, Morales wasn't even present. Radical social movements worry that Morales may ultimately fail them.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Daphne Eviatar, writing for The Nation in December (see my Dec. 24th post, Evo's Cage). Eviatar writes:
Thus every candidate in this election had to promise to "nationalize" the natural gas industry -- a word that suggests expropriation of private company property and sets off alarm bells with foreign investors, but which actually means a range of different things in this ideologically charged political culture.

A refusal to continue the coca eradication campaign would require the United States, under U.S. law, to vote against any Bolivian application for loans or grants from the World Bank, IMF or Inter-American Development Bank -- all critical to Bolivia's ability to finance its debt and fuel its economy. In effect, any attempt by the newly elected president to do exactly what Bolivians just elected him to do would marshal the forces of the international financial community against the Bolivian government and doom the country's already-precarious financial stability.

In Bolivia the United States is not only a symbol of foreign capital but of the bitter "war on drugs" that strong-armed Bolivia into accepting a U.S.-financed coca eradication campaign that even the World Bank has admitted bears responsibility for Bolivia's continued poverty.

Also of interest is Heinz Dieterich's ["Evo Morales, Communitarian Socialism, and the Regional Power Block," MRZine, 07/01/06]. This is Morales speaking of the socio-economic model of the MAS: "It is an economic model based on solidarity, reciprocity, community, and consensus. Because, for us, democracy is a consensus. In the community there is consensus, in the trade union there are majorities and minorities."

Another excerpt:
Alvaro Garcia Linera, ex-guerilla, prisoner, and Evo's vice-president, expresses it with clarity: "We are not against the free market. We are partisans of a socialist model with a Bolivian capitalism, where the earnings of the hydrocarbons would be transferred to other sectors, like the rural, where our people still work with the Egyptian plow that the Spaniards brought."

US Seeks to Keep Israel, Arabs on Peace Track

Now I know I'm not exactly unearthing stunning revelations here, but this AP article ["Discreetly, U.S. plans for future," The Associated Press, 1/7/2006] carried in USA Today (the largest circulation paper in the U.S.) contained a sentence so baldly regurgitating the propaganda line it takes one's breath away.

The article is on U.S. moves post-Sharon and discusses how the US will try to keep Israel on the course set by Sharon (illustrating clearly, if anyone doubted it, just how much the US approved of him).

The sentence in question reads as follows:
Mideast history is instructive, with predictions often off the mark. But there are constants: U.S. efforts to maintain order and keep Israel and the Arabs on a peace track.

Those are the reporter's words - not a quotation from a source.

Haitian Elections, Commander's Suicide, Batay Ouvriye Response

Brian Concannon pointed out in a recent commentary [Brian Concannon Jr., "Haiti'’s Flawed Electoral Process Bodes Ill for Future Stability,"” (Silver City, NM: International Relations Center, January 3, 2006)] that the impending delay of the Haitian elections yet again come a year and a half after the constitutional deadline. Concannon explains what is unmentioned in mainstream commentary:

The government will claim that it is trying to hand over power as soon as it can, and that a lack of resources combined with logistical and security problems kept generating delays. But in October 1994, when Haiti's elected government was restored after a three-year dictatorship, it had less financial support but managed to organize full legislative and local elections in eight months, and the regularly scheduled presidential elections six months after that.

Meanwhile one of the most popular candidates and one of the few that provides much hope for a better government, Fr. Jean-Juste, languishes in prison.

Concannon also attacks the prevalence of "political terror as a campaign strategy" and the truly outrageous extent of UN (and OAS) complicity.

Over and over again over the last six months, Haitian police, and even troops from MINUSTAH, the UN mission in Haiti, have gone into neighborhoods known as strongholds of government opponents, killing, maiming, and arresting people and destroying houses. In October, MINUSTAH's top human rights official called the human rights situation in Haiti "catastrophic,"” citing summary executions, torture, and illegal arrests. Keeping the poor neighborhoods under siege and imprisoning activists keeps government opponents from organizing and campaigning. It also keeps voters indoors, now and on Election Day.

On August 20, police accompanied by civilians called the "“Little Machete Army" attacked a crowd at a soccer game in the neighborhood of Grande Ravine, killing at least ten people... One MINUSTAH patrol did arrest a member of the victims' association, illegally (without a warrant), while he was working with another MINUSTAH unit to bring victims to the hospital. After another outcry the police released the leader.

The "“official" watchdogs for this election seem oblivious to the organizational chaos and widespread persecution. Last July, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza provided a glowing report, claiming the elections were "moving ahead," and predicted that a one-month extension of registration would solve the problems. Registration was eventually extended over two months, during which time the police arrested Fr. Jean-Juste and the death squads massacred the Grande Ravine soccer fans. When the latest dates were announced, Mr. Insulza conceded in retrospect that "the electoral process was slow to get off the ground," but trumpeted that now "considerable progress has been made, which allows us to be cautiously optimistic about having organized, orderly, and credible elections early in the new year."

MINUSTAH reacted to the fourth postponement of the elections with an equally glowing report—it even predicted the new president would be inaugurated a week earlier than the electoral decree did. MINUSTAH's press release did not even mention the "catastrophic" human rights situation that its own human rights department denounced in October, or the political prisoners that Mr. Joinet discussed just three days before. MINUSTAH Chief Juan Gabriel Valdes did warn of "dark interests in Haitian society"” that could disrupt the elections, but found no fault with the government's lack of preparation or persecution of opponents.

Of course, it hardly needs to be said that in the actions of the UN and OAS we can see the hand of the US (and France and Canada).

Meanwhile, Democracy Now [Headlines for January 12, 2006] reports today that the circumstances surrounding death of the former commander of the UN forces in Haiti are suspicious. He was found dead in his hotel room last Saturday from a gunshot to the head. The UN is saying Lt. Gen. Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar's death was a suicide. However, "Brazilian Ambassador Paulo Cordeiro de Andrade Pinto told the Associated Press investigators want to probe other possibilities before confirming Lt. Bacellar’s death as a suicide. Pinto declined to say what those possibilities were." Even if it was a suicide, one might speculate that it was connected to his dissatisfaction with the cruelty of his masters. Democracy Now reports that "He had recently clashed with his UN superiors and Haitian business leaders over his opposition to crack down the poor neighborhood of Cite Soleil."

Lastly, Batay Ouvriye has published a response to the article I excerpted on Monday [“On Sprague's Alleged Smoking Gun,” January 10, 2006].

A few excerpts,
For us, of Batay Ouvriye, who have never, ever, compromised our line of complete working class independence by entering into cross-class coalitions such as the 184 group, the claim is revealing because actually: every single major Haitian union federation, regardless of their internal divisions, EXCEPT US, participated in this reactionary alliance’s notorious Dec. 26, 2002 statement in favor of “collective measures to redress the national boat” which initiated the movement to overthrow Aristide’s regime.

firmly armed with our line of working class independence, we are prepared to accept any amount, even if it were a million dollars (!) coming from wherever it may come. (The million dollar figure was “erroneously” given to Fenton by the NED, it seems, instead of the $100,000 “targeted beneficiary” sum).This stand has been unanimously approved at every level of our organization.

That the Lavalas current, alongside the bourgeois “opposition”, repeatedly called for Haiti’s occupation, that it favored the concentration of capital and the application of neo-liberal policies such as the free trade zones, that it repressed workers’ mobilizations… are all extremely important points we need to scrutinize in the interest of the workers. And our general stand on this debate guides us, as a line, in permanently exposing all the ruling classes’ various forms and disguises, in complete working class independence.

We should note that, throughout this dialogue, we haven’t received the slightest response on these reiterated points. Which proves, for us, the fact that these attacks aren’t in view of any real progressive critique and/or advancement but, rather, alternate current “bashing”. So we’re prepared to battle, just as we’ve been doing since many years, against the ruling classes.

In fact, several Haitian progressives are beginning to sincerely question the deep-lying interests of American progressives in defending such frankly exposed “Lavalas family” politics. Certainly, being mistaken by the mainstream media is understandable. But to remain entrenched in such fallacy is beyond us, leading to the question of whether the problem might not rather be related to class nature and composition.

We demonstrated quite clearly (http://tinyurl.com/djjlb) that we hadn’t received any funds from the Solidarity Center before Aristide’s departure in February 2004 and that only several months later did this organization offer $3,500 to the Free Trade Zone striking SOCOWA workers in response to a public appeal. The debate then came to concern whether a genuine workers’ movement could accept any funds from the American government or the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center. We again responded to this with our “Clarification” document (http://tinyurl.com/89zpn), establishing clearly what we exactly understand to be relations of solidarity and working class independence (“On Solidarity” - http://tinyurl.com/8fgcx) and addressing numerous other points as well. At present, since the Dec. 22nd debate in San Francisco, we are solicited to open the books and state precisely what our solidarity funding is, has been and may be. Once again, we’ve fully complied, in the interest of unity and solidarity, and with respect for the struggles of the workers and popular masses in Haiti and internationally.

The response also mentions in passing [Lucy Komisar, “Haiti Telecom Kickbacks Tarnish Aristide,” Special to CorpWatch, December 29th, 2005] an article reporting that,

Two U.S. lawsuits charge that former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his associates accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from politically connected U.S. telecom companies.

The Pendulum of the Political Spectrum

Looking at the last 100 years, there's a distinct pattern of alternation between liberal and conservative presidents. A conservative (one who favors short term greed) gains power, drives the country south, and is replaced after sufficient voter dissatisfaction with a liberal (who favors long term greed), who then improves things modestly until all is forgotten and the right-wing returns. Overlaid on that pattern is the degree to which vibrant social movements are extant and force the government to enact reforms.

Recent indications are that we may be at the beginning of a swing back to the liberal side. See for instance [Susan Page, "Most consider lobbying scandal a big deal, poll shows," USA TODAY, 1/9/2006].

A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday points to a risky year for congressional incumbents. Views of whether most members of Congress and the respondents' own representatives deserve re-election have sunk to levels not seen since 1994, when Democrats lost control of both houses.

...some incumbents gained friendlier districts when congressional lines were redrawn after the 2000 Census.

"I wouldn't foresee the tidal wave of '94 repeating itself — the system's incumbents are entrenched enough to avoid that," says Dennis Thompson, founder of Harvard's Center for Ethics and the Professions.

By 50% to 40%, those surveyed say the policies proposed by Republican leaders in Congress would move the country in the wrong direction. That's by far the worst showing since Republicans took control more than a decade ago.

Attitudes toward Democrats are better, but not much. Respondents were divided, 44% to 43%, when asked if the policies proposed by Democratic leaders would move in the right direction.

For the first time since 1994, a plurality of Americans say most members of Congress don't deserve re-election. Forty-two percent say most members do deserve re-election — the same as in the first survey taken in 1994.

The stability of the U.S. system arises partially from the remarkable difficulty of unseating incumbant congressmembers, a feature enhanced by the cynical use of redistricting. There is much lamenting of the Democratic Party's lack of any compelling goals or vision. But this is hardly surprising - it's been true for the last 40 years. Its main function is to enact reforms to preserve the stability of the system, something that hasn't been necessary since LBJ's Civil Rights legislation and FDR's New Deal. When Democrats have won, they have done so on the basis of nonsense intended to distract people (Kennedy's image, Jimmy Carter's honesty and human rights, Bill Clinton's image and health care plan [scrapped as unrealistic once he achieved power] and, in the second election, v-chips in televisions and computers in schools and so forth).

Also notable is the generally approving attitude of most adults towards Congress, only broken during spikes of discontent like now. Liberal capitalism has achieved remarkable ideological hegemony that prevents people from supposing anything better is possible.

Colombia Sees More Violence, Poverty, Impunity, & Foreign Investment; Coke Boycott Grows

A few of the most salient updates from the latest dispatch of [Colombia this Week, ABColombia Group, Jan 9, 2006]:

A new report by the Anti Personnel Mines Observatory of the Presidency of the Republic states that 866 people were injured by mines in Colombia during 2005, of which 230 died. The report also suggested that 50 children were affected during the year and that between three and four people fall victims to the mines every day in the country. Antioquia remained the region with the highest number of victims, El Colombiano reports.

The University of Michigan stops purchases of Coca Cola following concerns about the company’s labour practices in Colombia. Activists accused the company of hiring right-wing death squads to intimidate union workers, which the firm denies. The University of Michigan is the second institution after New York University to implement the ban. Although university contracts represent a small portion of the company’s profits, the damage to its marketing image could be considerable, Reuters reports.

Colombian authorities are concerned about the oil spills following the FARC attack in the department of Putumayo. It is estimated that 10,500 gallons of oil reached the Guamez River and there are fears that the oil slick could end up in the Putumayo River which forms the border with Ecuador. This would further strain relationships with the neighbouring country, which claims the glyphosate fumigations against coca crops in southern Colombia are affecting its ecosystem, El Tiempo reports.

Gold mining investments are returning to Colombia, after several companies withdrew from the country in the 1990s because of kidnappings. A rising gold price and attractive tax regimes introduced by President Uribe are responsible for the come-back. According to ECLAC, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, direct foreign investment in Colombia grew 34.7% in 2004 to $2.4 billion. The mining sector contribution to GDP grew 7% between 2003 and 2004 while the country’s economy only grew 3.5%, The Globe and Mail reports.

The UN Human Rights Office in Colombia criticises the decree that regulates the Justice and Peace Law, recently approved by the government, arguing that it does not guarantee the rights of the victims to truth, justice and reparation and does not provide a legal framework for the dismantling of illegal armed groups, The Miami Herald reports.

Members of the paramilitary group Autodefensas de los Llanos kill three peasants in Vista Hermosa, in Meta department, despite the presence of the army in the area. Three more peasants have recently been disappeared in Vista Hermosa, following the FARC attack in the area, and President Uribe’s statements that measures against the rebels would be strengthened, the Colombian organisation Justicia y Paz reports.

According to official statistics, inflation in 2005 was higher for lower social strata than for the middle and upper classes. The reasons behind this are higher prices for food, housing, health and public transport, categories that mostly affect the poor. Half of the Colombian population- 22 million people- live in poverty, El Tiempo reports.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

U.S. Invasion of Iraq Not the Fault of Israel

Stephen Zunes recently published an excellent article [Stephen Zunes, "The U.S. Invasion of Iraq: Not the Fault of Israel and Its Supporters," (Silver City, NM & Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, January 4, 2006)] exploring the nature of the U.S. government's relationship to Israel.

An excerpt:
Throughout Europe in past centuries, the ruling class of a given country would, in return for granting limited religious and cultural autonomy, set up certain individuals in the Jewish community to become the visible agents of the oppressive social order, such as tax collectors and money lenders. When the population would threaten to rise up against the ruling class, the rulers could then blame the Jews, sending the wrath of an exploited people against convenient scapegoats, resulting in the pogroms and other notorious waves of repression which have taken place throughout the Jewish Diaspora over the centuries.

The idea behind Zionism was to break this cycle through the creation of a Jewish nation-state, where Jews would no longer be dependent on the ruling class of a given country. The tragic irony is that this cycle has been perpetuated through Israel being used by Western powers to maintain their interests in the Middle East . Great Britain and France , in their unsuccessful military campaign to bring “regime change” to Egypt in 1956, enlisted Israel in their fight. Subsequent to 1967, in ways described above, the United States has used Israel to advance its strategic interests in the region and beyond.

Achcar's Most Recent on Iraq

Gilbert Achcar has been one of the best commentators on Iraq since the occupation began. This is an interview done shortly before the December elections [Gilbert Achcar interviewed by Bill Weinberg, "IRAQ: THE CASE FOR IMMEDIATE WITHDRAWAL," World War 4 Report, January 07, 2006] and is worth checking out for an update on the situation in our latest imperial venture. A few key excerpts I found interesting:

If we consider the fact that the main constituency for what is called the insurgency in Iraq is the Arab Sunni areas of the country, and since we know quite well that Arab Sunnis in Iraq are a minority of the population and the Arab Shi'ites are three times their number, and the Kurds are more or less equivalent to the Arab Sunnis in number, but much more powerful in organized military force, I think that, except for a tiny minority of lunatics, the wide majority of the Arab Sunnis will understand that it will be in their interest to negotiate and reach a deal on some compromise. Otherwise, the option of civil war would be disastrous for the Arab Sunnis because they would be caught between the might and military force of the Kurds on the one hand and the overwhelming majority of Shi'ites on the other side, and that would be a very, very precarious and dangerous situation.

BW: And yet that does not seem to be having a restraining effect on them now.

GA: Precisely. It has no restraining effect on them now. The very presence of the occupation troops prevents this -- any direct clash between the three major components of the Iraqi population. And on the other hand, the very presence of the occupation troops gives a real legitimacy to at least the anti-occupation actions waged by the various armed groups in Iraq.

There's no important group as such which could be described non-Islamic, non-fundamentalist, non-Ba'athist, nationalist. What I would call the nationalist component of the resistance to the occupation, would be these local, spontaneous actions by people completely fed up with the occupation and the way the U.S. troops behave with the people, and the way they search houses and all that. So this leads to people taking arms and attacking U.S. troops without adhering to any ideology like Islamic fundamentalism or Ba'athism. So these would be, you know, nationalist patriots or whatever the label you want to use...

BW: But without any real organizational capacity...

GA: There's no major network representing that element -- unfortunately, I would say, because that would be something better than the two other components: Ba'athists on the one hand, the Islamic fundamentalists on the other. The tragedy is that the organized networks, with the real means, are of the two other kinds.

My prognosis for next year is that it will be very tough for Washington. The Shi'ite alliance is renewing its demand of a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops -- a central demand which was put aside after they had to cut a deal with the Kurdish alliance in order to form a government. And that compromise was opposed vehemently by the partisans of al-Sadr, who are now part of the alliance, and even in the government. They petitioned in the national assembly, and collected a very significant number of signatures of MP's -- over 120 -- demanding the government place a timetable for the withdrawal of occupation troops... And I think the Sadrists can be expected to be still more active than what they have been until now, on this issue... You remember on April 9 of this year, there was a huge demonstration in Baghdad against the occupation, where they burned puppets representing George Bush, Tony Blair...and Saddam Hussein.

But at the same time, they [the al-Sadrcan consider that it's in their interest not to split their constituency and try to find some kind of agreement. Because actually they have more in common than what separates them. Both are Islamic fundamentalist, both are Shi'ite organizations. One is more radical than the other in its attitude toward the occupation, but the Supreme Council views the U.S. presence in a tactical way, believing, as Iran does also, that they are making use of the U.S. -- they made use of the U.S., to topple Saddam Hussein, their arch-enemy, and they are now taking advantage of the presence of U.S. troops to build up their forces, to build an Iraqi state under their control, until they reach time when they will ask the occupation to leave the country...

Washington will be very strongly backing Allawi; the Kurds don't need backing in the election because their constituency will vote for them anyhow. But Washington wishes that Allawi this time -- contrary to his defeat in January, when he only had 14% of the vote -- will be able to lead a more significant faction in the Parliament, powerful enough to be able to exert some kind of veto power, with the Kurds. So we'll see what the December election brings -- one never knows in Iraq. But it's very likely that we are heading towards even tougher times for Washington in Iraq than what we've seen until now. And with the kind of administration we've got in Washington, the worst is possible; facing adversity, they might react in a very violent, vicious manner...

Washington went into this war at a huge cost for the United States -- whether in human lives or economically, the cost has been huge, absolutely huge. To withdraw from Iraq and lose everything would be a terrible defeat of strategic proportions, for the United States. So, this administration could very well be tempted, faced with adversity, to react very wildly...

BW: Meaning what?

GA: I mean, everything is possible. Military action against Iran. Turning their weapons also against the Shi'ites, if the Shi'ites radicalize against the occupation. And therefore you could have a much greater bloodbath in Iraq than what we have seen until now, which is already something.

And this is where the U.S. anti-war movement comes into the picture. I can refer you to the example of Vietnam. When Washington was faced with great difficulty in coping with Vietnamese resistance to the occupation, there was a temptation at some point to use nuclear arms. And a study was commissioned from the CIA about what it would entail. And the main argument that was published recently in the archives, was that the use of nuclear arms would not be accepted by the U.S. population.

So the anti-war movement in the United States, the anti-war feeling that was building up at that time, were instrumental in preventing the worst in Vietnam -- the use of nuclear arms, or those threats by Nixon to inundate North Vietnam at one point.

So, if we want to avoid seeing this administration trying to remain in control of Iraq by resorting to disastrous type of measures, it is definitely crucial that there is a strong, powerful anti-war movement in this country. And already it is very much encouraging to see the level of the polls, the radical shift in public opinion in the United States, but the shift in the polls is not enough. You need to translate that into a powerful, grassroots, autonomous movement, and maintain the pressure very strongly.

And of course Achcar turned out to be right in predicting a poor showing for the U.S's great white hope, Allawi.

Monday, January 09, 2006

someone has to take care of U.S. social problems...

As I had previously posted, Washington has not responded kindly to Venezuelan initiatives to provide low-cost heating oil and gasoline to lower-class communities in the United States. Fortunately, Hugo Chávez doesn't care, and neither do I.

The Associated Press has an article detailing similar programs in the Northeast (why they are to this date focusing on this region of the country remains, I must confess, a bit of a mystery). In the planning stages or already in the works is assistance in Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York City, and four Native American tribes (a chief of one of the tribes called it "probably one of the greatest decisions for our tribe in years.").

Details of U.S. support for Aristide opposition

Both before and after the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d'État in Haiti, Washington infiltrated "democracy promotion" programs (also known as "democracy enhancement") into almost every sector of Haitian civil society: political parties, media, human rights groups, student groups, vote monitoring organizations, business associations, and labor organizations.

Recently declassified National Endowment for Democracy (NED) documents reveal that a "leftist" workers' organization, Batay Ouvriye (BO), which promoted and called for the overthrow of the constitutionally elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was the targeted beneficiary of a US $99,965 NED grant routed through the AFL-CIO's American Center for International Solidarity (ACILS). Listed in NED's "Summary of Projects Approved in FY 2005" for Haiti, the grant states, "ACILS will work with the May 1st Union Federation- Batay Ouvriye [ESPM-BO] to train workers to organize and educate fellow workers."

[Jeb Sprague, "Coup payoff in Haiti: BO's "smoking gun," the $100,000 NED grant," THIS WEEK IN HAITI, Haiti Progres, January 4 - 10, 2006 Vol. 23, No. 43]

Read the full article here, backup link here.

On a personal note, if I'm not mistaken, I actually met with the representative of Batay Ouvriye mentioned in the article while I was in the Dominican Republic earlier this year. He was a talkative fellow.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

casting aside neoliberal chains

The New York Times recently reported that one-time International Monetary Fund (IMF) poster-nation and current neoliberal nightmare Argentina will soon complete payment of its debt to the IMF, and, upon doing so, will "simply walk away from further negotiations with the group." According to the article, President Kirchner is able to pay off the debts due both to booming exports and the fact that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has purchased $1 billion in Argentine bonds, with perhaps $2 billion more still to be acquired.

Kirchner has also been fostering closer ties with Venezuela as part of what Chávez is calling "a Caracas-Buenos Aires axis." In a further move to strengthen regional cohesion, Chávez has "announced plans to build a gas pipeline to Argentina and to make fuel available on highly favorable terms, an important guarantee with an energy shortage said to be looming."

Such moves towards intra-Latin American cooperation are indeed necessary given the powerful intervention-happy master living to the north, and one can only hope that for the first time, the region is on the path to meaningful independence.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Haitian Prisons

In Paul Farmer's piece on his visit with Fr. Jean-Juste [PAUL FARMER, "Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste- Languishing and Sick in a Haitian Jail," INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE & DEMOCRACY IN HAITI] he mentions that:

a U.S. court this year said that Haiti's prisons were ''reminiscent of a slave ship.'' A commission from the Organization of American States recently visited Haiti's National Penitentiary and reported that, of its 1,054 inmates, only nine had been convicted of any crime. And prisoners in Haiti receive almost nothing in the way of effective medical care.

Corporate Media Promote Doubt & Apathy

Though focused on Britain, the group Media Lens regularly puts out interesting work deserving a look by Americans. This interview [Interview with David Edwards and David Cromwell, editors of Medialens, UKWatch Interview, December 16, 2005, last updated December 29, 2005] is worth reading in full. Here's an excerpt:

Phil Lesley, author of a handbook on public relations and communications, advises corporations:

"“People generally do not favour action on a non-alarming situation when arguments seem to be balanced on both sides and there is a clear doubt. The weight of impressions on the public must be balanced so people will have doubts and lack motivation to take action. Accordingly, means are needed to get balancing information into the stream from sources that the public will find credible. There is no need for a clear-cut '‘victory'. ... Nurturing public doubts by demonstrating that this is not a clear-cut situation in support of the opponents usually is all that is necessary."

This is the main function of 'professional' news reporting. The main function of the '‘liberal'’ arm of professional journalism is indicated by Australian media analyst Alex Carey:

"There is evidence from a major wartime study that, for the best results, one side only of an issue or argument should be presented to poorly educated people. Two-sided presentations, however, are more effective in influencing better educated people and those initially opposed to the desired view."” (Alex Carey, p.159)

Chavez on eBay

Humorous post of the day - Hugo Chavez action figures were selling for US $80.00 on eBay last November.

From the eBay sale page:
when pressing its back says: Hoy llegue aqui para hacer todo lo humanamente posible, para ser lo util al pueblo venezolano en su sueno, en su esperanza , y en su empeno de ser libres y iguales. ( con musica llanera de fondo)

Challenges to Progressive Movement Building

A roundtable of some prominent progressive Boston activists and intellectuals held a few months ago [Pam Chamberlain, "PRA Roundtable on Movement Building," PRAccess - Fall/Winter 2005, Political Research Associates] addressed "challenges to progressive movement building" and reached a few points I think are worth emphasizing:

Marlene Fried, a reproductive justice activist and Hampshire College professor, recently returned from India, where she saw far less fragmentation among movements than here. The activists speculated that the United States ends up with a splintered collection of movements because organizers are issuebased, and not sufficiently engaged in cross-issue or multi-issue work.

Another big problem identified by the group was the professionalization of advocacy, shifting the focus away from grassroots organizing. "You need people-to-people [connections]," said Penn Loh, the environmental justice advocate.

Many folks noted other missing elements of successful progressive movement building —an inspiring movement ideology/culture, a critical mass of people, and the ability to seize the political moment. When movements are robust it doesn't matter if there isn't a lot of money. But money is critical when movements are fallow.

Privatizing Apartheid in Israel

An important article [Leila Khaled Mouammar, "Privatizing Apartheid in Israel," ZNet, December 08, 2005] notes that:

Prior to the dismantlement of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the privatization of state assets and services was quietly undertaken in order to ensure that the loss of political power would not also mean the loss of an economic status quo beneficial to the White minority.

In the past few years, the Israeli government has also been steadily transferring key state assets and services into private hands. Most recently and significantly, state-held lands are being transferred over to quasi-private or private control.

and concludes,

Apartheid regimes never last forever and this one will fall too. But this regime has already laid the groundwork to safeguard its assets. Most state wealth will soon be in private hands that will have made a pretty penny off of apartheid, occupation, murder and dispossession. Unfortunately, white collar criminals tend to get away with their crimes.

The article also contains one of the most open expressions of the real meaning of the Gaza withdrawal I've seen and from the General himself:

In a conference at Ort Braude College in Karmiel in the Galilee, the day after the land swap agreement was reached between the JNF and the ILA [16 June 2005], Prime Minister Sharon outlined the relationship between the disengagement of Gaza and development plans for the Negev and the Galilee stating : "I am not prepared to accept the claim that leaving Gaza is the trampling of Zionism. It is in fact strengthening Zionism in areas that are much more important, and that's what must be done in the Galilee."

Unpopular U.S. set to Involve Military in Paraguay

A recent Council on Hemispheric Affairs report [COHA Memorandum to the Press, "2005: Another Terrible Year for U.S. – Latin American Relations," January 2, 2006] contains two interesting tidbits:

on average, poll readings show that the Bush administration has over 80% of all Latin Americans giving him an unfavorable reading.

2. James C. Cason, whom the COHA report describes as "bizarre," has been moved from his post as head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana to Paraguay. The report comments, "His appointment is a clear sign that the odds are mounting that a U.S. military facility will be built in Paraguay, although the Pentagon has repeatedly denied this."

US Foreign Intervention, 1798 to Present

I've seen lists like this before but this seems a particularly good reference because the source is well established. ["US Military and Clandestine Operations in Foreign Countries - 1798-Present," Global Policy Forum, December 2005]

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Poor Countries Staff U.N. Peacekeeping Forces

This article [Haider Rizvi, "CHALLENGES 2005-2006: UN Blue Helmets Earn Applause - And Censure," Inter Press Service] illustrates a sort of global version of the traditional way in which the wealthy and privileged escape military service and largely dictate policy while sending the poor into harm's way at their direction.

Currently, U.N. peacekeeping troops are deployed in 17 countries around the world, with more than 80,000 personnel, including troops, police and civilian staff.

The number of operations has grown rapidly. During the first five years of the 1990s, there were more U.N. peacekeeping operations then in the previous 45 years.

"About 80 percent of the peacekeeping troops come from the poor countries because rich countries are unwilling to contribute any of their own," says Jim Paul, director of the Global Policy Forum, an independent group that closely observers U.N.-related developments.

Since its failure in Somalia in 1990, the U.N. has turned to more aggressive peacekeeping operations, which has contributed to an increase in troop casualties. The death toll for the U.N. peacekeepers increased from 64 in 2003 to 91 in 2004.

Harland declined to comment on why rich nations are reluctant to contribute their troops.

However, another diplomat, who asked that his name not be used, ventured that, "It's a dangerous business, so they just pay their bills. But we are pushing hard on them."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

discounted Venezuelan oil arrives to U.S. territory

Puerto Rico, unlike Chicago, has begun receiving discounted shipments of Venezuelan oil. No word on when the cruel hand of Washington will come crashing down.

Beyond Chávez?

No new information here but I think this piece puts the task facing the revolution in Venezuela well. [Joe Grim Feinberg, "The Bolivarian Revolution: Beyond the Opposition, Beyond Chávez?," January 02, 2006]