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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The U.S. Empire: What It Is and Why, Interview with Gore Vidal By Rosa Miriam Elizalde

Cubanow.- La Jornada has published part of an extensive interview that Gore Vidal granted to Rosa Miriam Elizalde of Juventud Rebelde, when the prolific and critical U.S. author visited Cuba. In this complement, Vidal is once more revealed as one of the most thoughtful experts not only of the history and politics of his country, but also of the consequences for which the USA is responsible on a global level.

In “Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams and Jefferson” you focus on the first imperialist war of modern history: U.S. intervention in Cuba. Was the island Washington’s coveted booty?

U.S. imperial history began long before. It was inevitable that the original English pilgrims, as well as the Dutch and the French who occupied the east coast of the U.S., would set their eyes upon the West where there was more wealth. It is curious that Thomas Jefferson, the only U.S. president to espouse democracy, was the first to jump the limits of the Constitution. One must recognize that our most important figures of independence detested democracy as much as tyranny. We never had a Hitler, but neither did we have the "chaos" of Pericles’ Athens.

Ironically, this third president, Thomas Jefferson - who gave us our identity along with the Declaration of Independence - also made a call to arms. He told us not only that all the men are created equal and independent, but that they also have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the search of happiness. Never had a government expressed itself this way. However, also thanks to Jefferson, this marvel did not go very far. He bought the twenty states and made the famous deal to acquire Louisiana from the French. Thanks to the vast quantities of territory that he thus illegally obtained, millions of people were added to the United States. This disposition launched us toward the West, after seizing what belonged to our neighbors. Inevitably, we went on to become an imperial nation. The first neighbor we attacked was Mexico in 1846, on the road to what we truly desired: California. The most aggressive of our expansionist presidents at this time was James Polk.

Up until then there had been rapid conquest of land, but only on the North American continent.

Our first deliberately imperial president – compared with him Jefferson was a very moderate man – was Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt. He aspired to more and more territory to add to the United States. This is when Cuba entered into our history. At that time - by a mysterious coincidence - a ship of the U.S. fleet, The Maine, blew up and sank in Cuba. The yellow press of William Randolph Hearst blamed the disaster on the Cubans and the Spanish Empire - which was our real target. Cuba was used to inspire anti-Spanish sentiment to justify war. Hearst claimed that it was he who had influenced it, but in reality it was Teddy Roosevelt who pulled the strings in those events: first, as vice president to William McKinley, and, when this last was murdered, as the president. He and various of his friends - among them Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who was very powerful, and our "great philosopher" in U.S. history, Henry Adams - seek to expand our “back yard”. Adams was inspired and said that he who controls the Chinese province of Shanxi (now Manchuria and a part of Korea) will control the world. They knew that this was the richest zone in minerals and energy, and that the Chinese empire was collapsing. All of Europe was trying to carry off a slice of China, and we decided to take our piece as well.

Cuba was, then, simply a jumping board for the Philippines?

Yes. It was when we made an alliance with the Philippine rebels, the revolutionaries who wanted to be separated from Spain to have their own republic. We promised we would help them, convincing them that they would form part of that "noble" movement in the United States that we called the Free Cuba Movement, that was the official motto of the Spanish-American war. Of course, that had as much to do with the desire for a free Cuba as with that unpleasant drink of rum and Coca-Cola that is known by the same name.

“And Mambru went to war……” (a children’s song in Spanish that refers to the Duke of Malborough who fought against the Spanish)

Thus we went to war. The first thing that Roosevelt did – McKinley was away from Washington – was to send our fleet to Manila "to help" the rebels. He deceived them. He caused them to believe that we were going to establish a Philippine government - something he was careful not to do. Spain was removed as an imperial government and the United States, under McKinley and Teddy, inaugurated a new phase of U.S. imperial expansion, continuing the great comedy of our history. The hypocrisy is always very amusing. McKinley writes: "I knelt and prayed to God. When we save the Philippines, what will we do with this people, with this poor people? What will we do for them?" And subsequently, he adds: "God spoke." Sounds very similar to what we hear today.

So God spoke to McKinley and even required him: "To help this people and to Christianize them." But upon recounting this revelation, his secretary of state timidly informed him: "Mr President, they are already Roman Catholics." And McKinley retorted: "That is what I mean." So we were on a religious mission to the Philippines, a rib in the richest part of Chinese geography, and that was the first great imperial adventure in the midst of which Cuba no longer found herself free: the United States had occupied the island as well as Puerto Rico. We usurped a great part of the Caribbean, and we held it as long as possible under special mandates and the like.

When did your anti-imperialist conscience awake?

Frankly, I believed that our expansionist efforts had finished in 1898. The period 1846 through 1898 was barely a parenthesis when we destroyed the Spanish empire and took the Caribbean and the Philippines, which was what we truly wanted.

We ended World War Two as victors, conquering Germany and Japan. We occupied both countries – each one a world unto itself and not simply a nation. We were the owners of the first global empire to which we owed another imperial Roosevelt - Franklin Delano - who knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted to destroy European colonialism wherever possible, and in compensation for its "efforts" the United States received a mandate "to take care of" the "freed" countries, as he enjoyed putting it. That put us formally in the business of empire.

In Guatemala I had a great friendship with Mario Monteforte Toledo, writer, vice president of the nation and president of his nation’s Parliament during the government of Juan José Arévalo. I lived in Antigua Guatemala and he came to my house to see me occasionally.

One day he told me: "We don’t have much time left, you know"

"What are you speaking about?" I responded.

"Your government has determined to intervene in Guatemala."

And I did not give him credit: "Look, we have just ousted and taken over Germany and Japan. What are we going to do with Guatemala? It makes no sense and is not worth our while."

He responded: "It is worth while for the United Fruit Company that does not want to pay the slightest tax for our bananas that it sells across the entire world, while we gain nothing. The UFC is the one that controls the relations between our two countries."

This was my first lesson in hemispherical politics. It knew about Yankee imperialism, but I believed my friend was exaggerating. While this conversation took place with Mario, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. – son of the Henry Cabot Lodge who had been one of the more partisan enthusiasts of the conquest of Philippines – called President Eisenhower to whisper to him the magic words: Arévalo and his group in Guatemala are "communists" and are going to take over land occupied by United Fruit.

The rest is known: they forced Arévalo out and then U.S. ambassador John Peurifoy intervened in 1954 to oust the chosen government of Jacobo Arbenz who had been elected by popular vote, imposing General Carlos Castillo Armas in his stead. From there on, the United States ensured that its warriors remained in the government and that a bloodbath would ensue for the people of Guatemalan. Mark Twain was very right when, after the U.S. intervention in Philippines, he commented: "The stars and stripes of the American flag should be replaced by the symbol of the Jolly Roger, the skull and cross bones. We bring death wherever we go."

In your novel “The Golden Age”, you say that Franklin D Roosevelt could have avoided the attack on Pearl Harbor that took the U.S. out of its peaceful isolationism and prompted its entrance into the Second World War. To what degree is this true?

Nations, like individuals, tend to follow prescribed paths. If a plan that one had in mind worked once, it’ll probably work again. Each time that a president is murdered, the first conclusion is that a “crazy, lone assassin” driven by pure evil did it. Never is a reason or motive offered. And they’ll never offer such because then we would find out about the dark and heavy shades of politics - and you never speak to the U.S. people of politics.

Roosevelt, probably with the best will in the world, saw that Hitler was dangerous not only for Europe, but on a long-term basis also for the United States. We were, after all, a commercial power. We traded. With Hitler controlling Europe, life would be very difficult for us. In 1940, eighty percent of Americans, myself among them, opposed our involvement in the war in Europe. But Roosevelt took the offensive. He was our great Machiavelli. He knew, better than any previous president, how the world functioned. He was fully conscious that the sinking of our ships had pushed us to the war against Germany in 1917, but that that would not be sufficient in 1941. It needed a trauma of great importance to turn Americans toward war. He therefore deliberately caused the Japanese to attack us at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It was a brilliant plan and it worked.

The Japanese had just signed an agreement with Germany and Italy: the Tripartite Alliance. If someone attacked one of the three, the other two would come to their defense. It was not an alliance that guaranteed support for plans of aggression, and Roosevelt was watching the Japanese, who had occupied Manchuria after many attempts in history to occupy China.

From 4,000 miles away, the U.S. president gave an ultimatum to the Japanese: they must leave China. "If they do not leave we will no longer sell them scrap metal and we will cut supplies of benzene", the fuel that Japan particularly needed for its airplanes and warships. Japan’s reaction was logical: to strike such a blow that the U.S. would focus on something other than China. They would attack and sink the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor. They believed it would take the United States over a year to build another flotilla. They would then be able to go south, to Java and to Sumatra, and take the Dutch petroleum fields, Singapore, Malaya and everything that appeared along the way. Japan had no idea of the speed with which we would be able rearm ourselves. But Roosevelt knew it. We were a great industrial power – something that we are no longer. The first signs of that power had been production line car manufacturing and the steel plants. We could do it all very fast. We produced thousands of B-17 bombers, the veritable flying fortresses that won World War Two for the United States.

You were fortunate to be an observer during this pre-war period.

I was growing up in Washington DC at the time of Roosevelt’s government, who was four times voted president – a definite sign. I remember the long summer recesses of that golden age. The heat was so great that the entire government left the city. We have not had so much peace and prosperity since the U.S. government went on vacation. In the 1940s unemployment was at an end. Franklin D Roosevelt was ambitious and imperial, but took the country out of economic depression. Everyone was happy for the first time in years, and the President took advantage of this to invest eight billion dollars in rearmament. He put us directly on a course to build the largest war machine on the planet – something that was to become our curse.


But what ironies U.S. history has. The man who should have won the presidency in 1945 was Henry Wallace, who was against the Cold War and who had been Roosevelt’s vice president. However, Roosevelt replaced him as vice-president with Harry Truman, a man who came from nowhere, a right-wing Missouri southerner who would finally take power when Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. So we ended up with a terrible president at the head of the government.

The terrorist attack that occurred in Oklahoma in 1995 is explained according to the laws of physics: there is no action without reaction. These are your words. It alluded to the hatred that the United States has sown in the world and in its own country. Was this a prophecy?

No. I would not connect this event with what occurred on September 11 - at least not directly. We know now that Timothy McVeigh was not alone, that there were more people involved. The Clinton administration – a very American government in the best sense of the word – issued draconian laws regarding terrorism simply to exorcise the ghost of Timothy McVeigh. When the attack occurred on September 11, all these laws were taken out of the draw and activated. This is the Patriot Law that has practically voided all our sacred liberties.

The level of acceptance of the U.S. president has descended to historic levels. Will Bush be the most hated leader in U.S. history?

When I said that I was not a prophet, that does not he mean that one does not occasionally guess what is going to happen. The neoconservatives – which replaced “fascists” as the word referring to them – wanted all the power so that the oil and gas authorities had a free hand to enrich their corporations even more and to manipulate the Constitution to such an extent that it made no sense. They wanted supreme power and they had it, with another circumstance to their favor: we elected an inoffensive president for them - a true fool, literally, a fool.

In your memoirs you say that J F Kennedy spoke of CIA plans to murder Fidel Castro and that his relationship with extremist Cuban groups became a nightmare for him and his brother Robert. Are these groups linked to the death of the two brothers?

Jack Kennedy lost his life over this. There is evidence that the New Orleans mafia killed JFK and that a man named Carlos Marcello was involved who also tried to kill Bobby Kennedy. Marcello was a casino boss in Havana - a friend of Meyer Lansky and Santos Trafficante - who handled the mafia in Tampa, Florida. In a FBI recording Trafficante says: "We have to get rid of Bobby." Marcello told private investigator Edward Becker in September of 1962, that a dog would continue to bite you cut off its tail (referring to Attorney General Robert Kennedy), while if you cut the dog’s head off (President John F Kennedy) he would no longer bother you. This was Jack’s death sentence. Robert Kennedy never investigated the death of his brother for fear of being seen to be involved in shady matters involving Batista Cubans and the mafia.

What influence do you believe Cuban-Americans in Miami have had in U.S. government decisions over the last forty years?

They came to have enormous influence in the country, but I believe that this is a lot less now. From the beginning, since the days of the Confederation, Florida has always been very corrupt. If to that you add a pile of angry Batista followers who had a lot of money or were making a lot of money, the situation could only get worse. They could be counted on to support anything that served to hate President Castro even more, and to hate what was being done in modern Cuba. Florida is a place that is perfectly situated to absorb any demagogue that seeks the support of people with a Batista mentality, or any that want to fight against communism. The people of the United States are not prepared to understand that they have for decades been receiving information distorted by their own government and the media that works with the government. Therefore, Florida is one of the first places where candidates go to seek votes. The influence of these extremist groups is smaller now, but the neoconservatives know that they can include them. Florida is a large and key state with an electoral college that at times decides the election. To this is added the complicated machinery of the 18th century that prevents us attaining a democracy.

Our important persons never liked democracy. I do not tire of repeating this, although nobody listens to me, because the priority is that we carry this kind of "democracy" to Iraq and to all those poor countries that yearn for it.

(La Jornada Semanal)
January 23, 2007

Raid on the Soldiers of Heaven, US Soldiers Kill 250 Men from "Apocalyptic Cult" By PATRICK COCKBURN

CounterPunch January 29, 2007


American and Iraqi troops killed about 250 armed men alleged to belong to an apocalyptic Islamic cult who were planning to attack the religious leadership of the Shia in the holy city of Najaf, according to Iraqi political, military and police sources.

The battle took place in the orchards around Najaf and a US helicopter was shot down during the fighting, killing two crewmen. Hundreds of fighters drawn from the Sunni and Shia communities who gathered amid the date palms were followers of Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni who claims to be the vanguard of the Messiah according to Iraqi politicians. His office in Najaf had been closed 10 days ago.

Details of what happened are sketchy. The US forces used tanks and F-16 fighter bombers. An Iraqi military source said the dead wore headbands declaring them to be "Soldiers of Heaven". The Najaf governor Asaad Abu Gilel said the authorities had discovered a conspiracy to kill some of the senior clergy.

Anarchic violence reached new heights across Iraq. Mortar bombs exploding in the courtyard of a girls' school in west Baghdad killed five children and wounded 21 in the latest atrocity in the escalating sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia.

"The shrapnel hit her in the eyes and there was blood all over her face ... she was dead," said Ban Ismet, a 15-year-old girl wounded in the legs, speaking in hospital of her friend Maha who was killed by the bomb.

The mortaring of the Kholoud Secondary School in the Adil district was the latest tit-for-tat attack between Shia and Sunni in this highly contested area. The school is Sunni and the killing of the children was most likely carried out by Shia militiamen who have been attacking Adil from the north. Sunni in Baghdad are increasingly being driven into the south-west quadrant of the city.

The school headmistress Faziya Swadi said that two mortar bombs exploded in the courtyard of the school, breaking the windows and spraying the pupils with broken glass as well as shrapnel. The stone steps and pathways were smeared with blood. Hours later weeping parents were placing bodies of their children in wooden coffins.

Wherever Sunni and Shia districts are close together in Baghdad there are frequent killings. Each community sees itself as being the victim of unprovoked aggression. Sectarian animosities are particularly high because the Shia rite of Ashura takes place tomorrow when they commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein at the Battle of Kerbala in AD680. Hundreds of thousands of Shia are making the three-day pilgrimage on foot from Baghdad to Kerbala.

Seven people were killed yesterday by three bombs, two left in markets and one on a bus, in Shia neighbourhoods.

Some 150 people, mostly Shia, have been killed by bomb attacks in Baghdad over the past week. But probably a majority of the 25 to 50 dead bodies, often bearing marks of torture, that are found by police every morning in the capital are Sunni. This is because the police and police commandos are Shia and often detain and kill Sunni at their checkpoints.

Mixed neighbourhoods are disappearing in the capital. The sectarian cleansing started in 2005 and gathered pace after the destruction of the Shia al-Askarai shrine in Samarra in February 2006. Bomb attacks on Sadr City on 23 November last year killed 215 and wounded 250 more. Shia retaliation led to another mass flight of Sunni. Since there are no Sunni safe havens in Iraq, either in Baghdad or outside, many members of the community are fleeing to Jordan and Syria.

In a sign of the unreliability of the security forces some 1,500 policemen have been sacked in the province of Diyala north-west of Baghdad. The new police chief Ghanim al-Qureishi said the men were fired because they fled instead of fighting when insurgents attacked the provincial capital Baquba in November.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.

Jordan Becomes a Doubtful Refuge by Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily

January 29, 2007 Inter Press Service

AMMAN, Jan 29 (IPS) - Hundreds of thousands have fled the violence in Iraq to seek refuge in Jordan, but refugees are now beginning to find its borders closing.

Jordan and Syria are the only two countries where fleeing Iraqis can hope to find shelter. Western countries have shut their doors to Iraqi nationals - even to refugees.

And now much the same is happening with Jordan too.

"I had major eye surgery in Jordan, but my doctor told me it failed and so I need to have it re-operated," Ahmad Khalaf of Saqlawiya, 62 km west of Baghdad told IPS. "I arrived at the Iraqi-Jordanian crossing point with my medical reports and a letter from the hospital in Jordan demanding my arrival in Amman on a certain date in order to remedy the damage of the previous operation."

Khalaf found what tens of thousands of Iraqis are now finding when they attempt to enter Jordan. "The Jordanian boarder authorities turned me back without telling me why, leaving me to face the unknown."

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that 100,000 Iraqis are fleeing the country every month. UNHCR estimates that approximately 700,000 Iraqis are currently living in Jordan and another 600,000 in Syria -- although many experts believe the real numbers are higher, given the numbers leaving every month.

The UNHCR estimates also that there are more than 1.5 million internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

Several Iraqis told IPS that Jordanian authorities had shut their doors tight since the day Saddam Hussein was executed. Many believe this was requested by the Iraqi government.

Border authorities in Jordan have been getting progressively tougher over recent months.

"When Prime Minister (Nouri) al-Maliki visited Jordan last year, Jordanian authorities became stricter, and half of those who intended to cross the border were refused entry," a grocery merchant who usually buys his merchandise from Jordan told IPS. "After (Iraqi Minister of Interior) Jawad Bolani visited Jordan near the end of 2006, they practically rejected 95 percent of Iraqis."

Earlier in 2006 Jordan shut its border to Iraqi men between the ages of 17 and 35, as well as to a growing number of Palestinian refugees who had been living in Iraq under the protection of former president Saddam Hussein. Most Palestinians living in Iraq have been evicted by Shia death squads. The massive influx of Iraqis into Jordan before border controls were tightened has severely strained the infrastructure of Jordan, which was already suffering economically. Schools and hospitals in particular have felt the weight of hundreds of thousands of new residents.

"Our small country cannot afford to take in more Iraqis," 30-year-old Jordanian Ahmad Trawne from Amman told IPS. "We sympathise with our Iraqi brothers, but they are now a burden on our poor country."

Jordanian citizens are complaining that rich Iraqi immigrants have brought inflation to Jordanian markets. The real estate business has flourished, but prices have increased to levels that make it difficult for most Jordanians to buy or even rent properties in central areas of capital Amman.

Areas like the Gardens, Shmaissani and western Amman saw an almost 200 percent increase in value in 2006. Prices of food and basic services have also risen considerably.

Nevertheless, many Iraqis still feel it is the duty of Jordanians to allow in refugees.

"This country was built by our money," a 60-year-old Iraqi teacher in Amman told IPS. "Saddam gave Jordan free oil and opened the Iraqi borders for them, and now they are not allowing us to live in their country. We are not asking them for any financial help because all Iraqis bring their own money with them. Many sold their properties in Iraq so that they could live in dignity."

Iraqis who fail to cross the border are forced to go back because there are no hotels near the border. They cannot travel inside Iraq after sunset for fear of U.S. patrols, so they have to stay overnight in parking lots of highway restaurants, where it can be very cold at night.

It is becoming increasingly difficult also to find room for the hundreds of thousands moving to another location within Iraq. The UNHCR issued a warning Jan. 9 that the scale of internal displacement of Iraqis was beyond the capacity of humanitarian agencies, including the UNHCR. It declared that a humanitarian crisis looms in Iraq beyond that anticipated by aid agencies at the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

The UNHCR added that the longer the displacement continues, the more difficult it would become as the internally displaced and their host communities in Iraq run out of resources.

(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent, recently in Amman. Dahr Jamail is our specialist writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering the Middle East for several years.)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cruelty and xenophobia shame and stir the 'lucky country' by John Pilger

Green Left Weekly 19 January 2007

The Australian writer Donald Horne meant the title of his celebrated book, The Lucky Country, as irony. “Australia is a lucky country run by second-rate people who share its luck”, he lamented in 1964, describing much of the Australian elite as unfailingly unoriginal, race-obsessed and in thrall to imperial power and its wars.

From Britain’s 19th century opium adventures to Washington’s current travesty in Iraq, Australians have been sent to fight faraway people with whom they have no quarrel and who offer no threat of invasion. Growing up here, I was assured this was a “sacred tradition”.

But then another Australia was “discovered”. The only war-dead Australians had never mourned were found right under their noses - those of a remarkable indigenous people who had owned and cared for this ancient land for thousands of years, then fought and died in its defence when the British invaded. In a land littered with cenotaphs, not one honoured them. For many whites, the awakening was rude; for others it was thrilling.

In the 1970s, thanks largely to the brief, brave and subverted Labor government of Gough Whitlam, the universities opened their studies to these heresies and their gates to a society Mark Twain once identified as “almost entirely populated by the lower orders”.

A secret history revealed that long before the rest of the Western world, Australian working people had fought for and won a minimum wage, an eight-hour working day, pensions, child benefits and the vote for women. And now there was an astonishing ethnic diversity; and it had happened as if by default; there simply were not enough Britons and “blue-eyed Balts” who wanted to come.

Australia is not often news, cricket and bushfires aside. That is a pity, because the regression of this social democracy into a state of fabricated fear and xenophobia is an object lesson for all societies claiming to be free.

In power for more than a decade, the Liberal prime minister, John Howard, comes from the outer reaches of Australia’s “neocons”. In 1988, he announced that a future government led by him would pursue a “One Australia Policy”, a forerunner to Pauline Hanson’s infamous One Nation party, whose targets were black Australians and immigrants.

Howard’s targets have been similar. One of his first acts as prime minister was to cut $400 million from the Aboriginal affairs budget. “Political correctness”, he said, “has gone too far”.

Today, black Australians have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, and their health is the worst in the world. An entirely preventable disease, trachoma - beaten in many poor countries - still blinds them because of appalling living conditions. The impoverishment of black communities, which I have seen change little over the years, was described in 2006 by Save the Children as “some of the worst we have seen in our work all around the world”.

Instead of a political respect in the form of a national lands rights law, a war of legal attrition has been waged against the Aborigines; and the epidemics and black suicides continue.

Howard rejoices in his promotion of “Australian values” - a very Australian sycophancy to the sugared “values” of foreign (US) power. The darling of a group of white supremacists who buzz around the Murdoch-dominated press and radio talk-back hosts, the prime minister has used acolytes to attack the “black armband view of history”, as if the mass killing and resistance of Indigenous Australians did not happen.

The fine historian, Henry Reynolds, author of The Other Side of the Frontier, has been thoroughly smeared, along with other revisionists. In 2005, Andrew Jaspan, a Briton newly appointed editor of the Melbourne Age, was subjected to a vicious neocon campaign that accused him of “reducing” the Age to “another (liberal) Guardian”.

Flag-waving and an unctuous hand-on-heart jingoism about which sceptical Australians once felt a healthy ambivalence are now standard features at sporting and other public events. These serve to prepare Australians for renewed militarism and war, as ordained by the Bush administration, and to cover attacks on Australia’s Muslim community.

Speak out and you may break a 2005 law of sedition meant to intimidate with the threat of imprisonment for up to seven years.

Once described in the media as George Bush’s “deputy sheriff”, Howard did not demur when Bush, on hearing this, promoted him to “sheriff for South-East Asia”. Like a mini-Blair, Howard has sent troops and federal police to the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and East Timor.

In newly independent East Timor, where Australian governments colluded with Indonesia’s 23-year bloody occupation, “regime change” was effectively executed last year with the resignation of the prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, who had the temerity to oppose Canberra’s one-sided exploitation of his country’s oil and gas resources.

However, it is one man, David Hicks, a spectacular loser in the new Australia, who now threatens Howard’s “lucky” facade. Hicks was found among the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 and sold as bounty to the Americans by CIA-backed warlords. He has spent more than five years in Guantanamo Bay, including eight months in a cell with no sunlight. He has been tortured, and never charged with any crime.

Howard and his attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, have refused even to request Hicks’s repatriation, as is his constitutional right, because there are no Australian laws under which Hicks can be charged. Their cruelty is breathtaking.

A tenacious campaign by his father, Terry, has ignited a kind of public shame that is growing. This has happened before in Australia, such as the march of a million people across Sydney Harbour Bridge demanding justice for black Australians, and the courageous direct action by young people who forced the closure of notorious outback detention camps for illegal refugees, with their isolation cells, capsicum spray and beatings.

Asylum seekers caught in their leaking boats by the ever-vigilant Australian Defence Force are now incarcerated behind electric fences on tiny Christmas Island 1800 kilometres from the “lucky country”.

Howard faces no real opposition from the compliant Labor Party. The trade unions, facing a rollback of Australia’s proud record of workers’ rights and up to 43% youth unemployment, have stirred, and filled the streets.

But perhaps something wider and deeper is coming from a nation whose most enduring and melancholy self-image is that of disobedient larrikins (rebels). During the recent Ashes cricket series, Ian Chappell, one of Australia’s most admired captains, walked out of the commentary box when Howard walked in. After seeing for himself conditions in a refugee prison, Chappell said, “These are human beings and you can’t just treat them like that ... in cricketing parlance it was like cheating. They were being cheated out of a fair go.”

[From http://www.johnpilger.com.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #695 24 January 2007.

PALESTINE, Genocide in Gaza by John Pilger

Green Left Weekly 25 January 2007

[John Pilger and his film Palestine Is Still The Issue]
A genocide is engulfing the people of Gaza while a silence engulfs its bystanders. “Some 1.4 million people, mostly children, are piled up in one of the most densely populated regions of the world, with no freedom of movement, no place to run and no space to hide”, wrote senior UN relief official Jan Egeland and Jan Eliasson, then Swedish foreign minister, in Le Figaro. They described people “living in a cage”, cut off by land, sea and air, with no reliable power and little water, and tortured by hunger and disease and incessant attacks by Israeli troops and planes.

Egeland and Eliasson wrote this four months ago as an attempt to break the silence in Europe, whose obedient alliance with the United States and Israel has sought to reverse the democratic result that brought Hamas to power in last year’s Palestinian elections. The horror in Gaza has since been compounded; a family of 18 has died beneath a 500-pound US/Israeli bomb; unarmed women have been mown down at point-blank range.

Dr David Halpin, one of the few Britons to break what he calls “this medieval siege”, reported the killing of 57 children by artillery, rockets and small arms and was shown evidence that civilians are Israel’s true targets, as in Lebanon last summer. A friend in Gaza, Dr Mona El-Farra, emailed: “I see the effects of the relentless sonic booms [a collective punishment by the Israeli air force] and artillery on my 13-year-old daughter. At night, she shivers with fear. Then both of us end up crouching on the floor. I try to make her feel safe, but when the bombs sound I flinch and scream …”

When I was last in Gaza, Dr Khalid Dahlan, a psychiatrist, showed me the results of a remarkable survey. “The statistic I personally find unbearable”, he said, “is that 99.4 per cent of the children we studied suffer trauma. Once you look at the rates of exposure to trauma you see why: 99.2 per cent of their homes were bombarded; 97.5 per cent were exposed to tear gas; 96.6 per cent witnessed shootings; 95.8 per cent witnessed bombardment and funerals; almost a quarter saw family members injured or killed.” Dr Dahlan invited me to sit in on one of his clinics. There were 30 children, all of them traumatised. He gave each pencils and paper and asked them to draw. They drew pictures of grotesque acts of terror and of women streaming tears.

The excuse for the latest Israeli terror was the capture last June of an Israeli soldier, a member of an illegal occupation, by the Palestinian resistance. This was news. The kidnapping a few days earlier by Israel of two Palestinians — two of thousands taken over the years — was not news. An historian and two foreign journalists have reported the truth about Gaza. All three are Israelis. They are frequently called traitors. The historian Ilan Pappe has documented that “the genocidal policy [in Gaza] is not formulated in a vacuum”, but part of Zionism’s deliberate, historic ethnic cleansing.

Gideon Levy and Amira Hass are reporters on the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. In November, Levy described how the people of Gaza were beginning to starve to death … “there are thousands of wounded, disabled and shell-shocked people unable to receive any treatment … the shadows of human beings roam the ruin … they only know the [Israeli army] will return and what this will mean for them: more imprisonment in their homes for weeks, more death and destruction in monstrous proportions.”

Hass, who has lived in Gaza, describes it as a prison that shames her people. She recalls how her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle-train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen on a summer’s day in 1944. “[She] saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking”, she wrote. “This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable ’looking from the side’.”

“Looking from the side” is what those of us do who are cowed into silence by the threat of being called anti-Semitic. Looking from the side is what too many Western Jews do, while those Jews who honour the humane traditions of Judaism and say, “Not in our name!” are abused as “self-despising”. Looking from the side is what almost the entire US Congress does, in thrall to or intimidated by a vicious Zionist “lobby”. Looking from the side is what “even-handed” journalists do as they excuse the lawlessness that is the source of Israeli atrocities and suppress the historic shifts in the Palestinian resistance, such as the implicit recognition of Israel by Hamas. The people of Gaza cry out for better.

[From .]

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #696 31 January 2007.

Change the system - not the climate! by Norm Dixon

Green Left Weekly 26 January 2007

Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth has helped dramatise the enormity of the global environmental crisis. The scale of the threat posed by industrially induced global warming, and the short time in which to take meaningful action to prevent catastrophic consequences, makes the question of how to combat global warming arguably the most urgent one facing humanity.

Globally, the 10 hottest years on record have been in the past 12 years. The atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases — primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels, as well as methane, nitrous oxides, water vapour and other gases — is rapidly rising. These gases trap heat and cause warming.

In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that unless CO2 levels are stabilised at around twice the pre-industrial level, the Earth’s average atmospheric temperature will rise by up to 5.8°C by 2100. To keep warming to below 2°C, at which it is hoped the worst effects could be avoided, the IPCC recommended that human-generated greenhouse gas emissions be slashed by at least 60-80% by 2050 at the latest.

If greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, sea-levels are forecast to rise between 20 centimetres and one metre by 2100, flooding some of the world’s most densely populated cities. Global warming will trigger severe storms and floods, worse droughts and expanding deserts, severe shortages of fresh water and increased epidemics of dangerous tropical diseases. The world’s impoverished majority will, and already are, bearing the brunt.

Radical British columnist George Monbiot convincingly argues that the more accurate target for emission cuts by the advanced industrialised countries should be an average of 90% by 2030. For the United States and Australia he urges a 94% cut.

The price of prolonged inaction could be catastrophic. If the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets collapse, sea levels could rise by up to 10 metres; more moderate melting could slow or shut down the circulation of ocean currents responsible for the relatively mild temperatures of Northern Europe.

More recent studies reveal that warming could cause the abrupt release of large quantities of methane — a greenhouse gas 21 times more powerful than CO2 — stored in the frozen but thawing tundra.

Fiddling while Rome burns

Yet as the scientific warnings have multiplied and become louder, governments’ response has been to opt for inadequate, voluntary, gradual measures that will cost big business as little as possible.

While scientists began warning of global warming in the 1980s, it was not until December 1997 that an international treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, was finally agreed. The US, which emits 25% of the total industrial greenhouse gases, and Australia refuse to ratify the protocol.

Under the protocol the rich industrialised countries, the major emitters, are required to cut their average emissions by only 5.2% below 1990 levels. They have until 2012 to achieve this. There are no reduction targets or timetables for beyond 2012.

Figures released in October 2006 show that since 1990 annual greenhouse gas emissions from the richest countries have risen and, adjusted for the paper reductions following the collapse of the Eastern European economies, were more than 11% greater in 2004. Of the 41 richest Kyoto ratifiers, 34 had increased emissions between 1990 and 2004. US emissions are up 21.1%, Australia’s by 25.1%. Emissions from transportation jumped 24%.

The World Meteorological Organisation reported last November that CO2 concentration increased to 379.1 parts per million (ppm) in 2005. To keep global warming to 2°C, CO2 concentration must be stabilised at around 450 ppm by 2050.

Gore focuses on individual actions, makes few serious demands on big business and endorses the largely voluntary market-based measures, such as emissions trading, that are contained in Kyoto. He, like most mainstream environmental groups and the major Green parties, place the onus of solving global warming onto individuals, while relying on the capitalist market, nudged along by so-called “green” taxes and legislative regulations.

Such views reflect a well-meaning but utopian belief that if enough of us decide to drastically reduce our demand on the world’s resources, big business and governments will respond to “market signals” and adapt to a slow-growth or no-growth economy.

It is a good thing to organise our lives to live more ecologically. But that alone will not be enough to halt the crisis. It certainly cannot be the main strategy as it will let the real culprits off the hook and divert precious activist energy away from challenging the underlying systemic dynamic driving ecological degradation.

What is required is the rapid, far-reaching reorganisation of industry, energy, transport and mass consumption patterns, and the massive transfer of clean technology to the Third World. This is simply not possible under capitalism.

As Marxist ecologist John Bellamy Foster explained in Monthly Review in 1995 (), behind most appeals for individual “ecological morality”, “there lies the presumption that we live in a society where the morality of the individual is the key to the morality of society. If people as individuals could simply change their moral stance with respect to nature and alter their behaviour in areas such as propagation, consumption, and the conduct of business, all would be well. What is all too often overlooked in such calls for moral transformation is the central institutional fact of our [capitalist] society: what might be called the global ‘treadmill of production’.”

Foster draws from the scientific socialist analysis of capitalism, first made by Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, to illustrate how, despite the assertions of many environment movement theorists, Marxism not only provides essential insights into the fundamental cause of the environment crisis, but also offers the best political guide to its solution.

Consumption and profits

Marx’s account of the essential operations of the capitalist system identifies its fundamentally anti-ecological trait. During the long period of pre-capitalist simple commodity production, peasants and artisans sold their surplus produce for money to buy goods to meet their other immediate needs. This circuit of commodities and money takes the form of Commodity-Money-Commodity (C-M-C), and usually ends with the consumption of the commodity.

However, under the capitalist mode of production — in which commodity production is now generalised — the circuit begins and ends with money. The capitalist buys or produces commodities in order to sell them for a profit, and then buys or produces more to sell more again. The formula is now M-C-M’, in which M’ represents the original outlay to buy or produce the commodities, plus the surplus value created by the workers’ labour during their production.

There is no end to the process because capitalists’ aim is to reinvest the surplus, or accumulate the capital, from the previous cycle. Competition between capitalists ensures that each one must continue to reinvest their “earnings”, increase their production of commodities and continue to expand. Production tends to expand exponentially until interrupted by crises (depressions and wars). It is this dynamic at the core of capitalism that places unsustainable pressure on the environment.

Because capitalism pursues accumulation and growth for its own sake, whatever the consequences, schemes based on the hope of a no-growth, slow-growth or sustainable-growth form of capitalism are pipe dreams, as are strategies based on a critical mass of individual consumers deciding to go “green”.

Since the days of Adam Smith, economists have conceded that capitalism is a system devoted to the pursuit of individual wealth, which only indirectly meets society’s broader needs. But, as is becoming increasingly clear, the first goal entirely overrides and corrupts the second.

For capitalists, profit is an end in itself. It does not matter whether the commodities they produce satisfy fundamental human needs or are devoted to pointless or ostentatious consumption, or are even destructive. A buck is a buck whether it comes from mung beans, Lamborghinis or cigarettes.

People are not “consumers” by nature. A multi-billion-dollar industry — advertising — constantly plays with our minds to convince us that happiness comes only through buying more and more. In 2003 alone, US big business spent more than US$54.5 billion on advertising to convince people to constantly consume more goods and services, compared to $76 billion spent on education.

Many argue that with the right mix of taxes, incentives and regulations everybody would win: big business will have cheaper, more efficient production and therefore be more profitable, and consumers will have more environment-friendly products and energy sources. They argue that in a rational society, such innovations would lower the overall environmental impact.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a rational society.

Capitalism approaches technology — in the production process and in the final product to be sold — in the same way as everything else: what will generate the most profits? Whether it is efficient, clean, safe or environmentally benign has little to do with it.

The technologies that could tackle global warming have long existed. Despite being massively underfunded, renewable energy sources are today competitive with coal and nuclear power (if the negative social and environmental costs are factored in). Public transport systems have been around since the late 1800s, yet huge private interests have ensured that the vastly more wasteful, inefficient and polluting private motor vehicle dominates the industrialised world.

US Marxist economist Paul Sweezy describes how the “automobile-industrialisation complex” — the major car companies, the oil industry, the steel, glass and rubber corporations, the highway builders, the trucking combines, and the real-estate and construction interests tied to suburban sprawl — have been the axis “around which [capital] accumulation in the 20th Century largely turned”. This remains at the heart of the major economies’ dependence on oil.

Fundamental to capitalism’s development has been its power to shift the cost of its ecological and social vandalism onto society as whole. It does this by using the biosphere as a giant toilet: it’s cheaper to pour toxic waste into the air or the nearest river, rather than pay for the real costs of production.

Society subsidises corporate profit-making by cleaning up some of the mess or suffering the environmental and/or health costs. In August, a Dutch company with revenues of $28 billion last year dumped 500 tonnes of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, because it did not want to pay the $250,000 disposal fee in the Netherlands. At least 10 people died from the fumes, 69 were hospitalised and more than 100,000 needed medical attention.

At the same time, the systematic polluting has been magnified by the development of synthetic chemicals associated with the growth of the petrochemical and agribusinesses. The result is much more toxic wastes, such as those from chlorine-related (organochlorine) production, the source of DDT, dioxin, PCBs and CFCs. The degree of toxicity associated with a given level of production has risen steadily since the middle of last century.

There is no natural feedback mechanism that triggers the market to rein in this sort of vandalism. Attempts to manage the damage by “regulating” capitalism with “green taxes” have had limited success, precisely because governments are run by corporate-funded political parties and politicians, with bureaucracies headed by establishment figures who see their role as defending the status quo.

Tax rates, charges or fines are set well below the level that would impact seriously on profits; more often than not it is cheaper for big business to go on polluting until the next scheduled refit than to immediately stop polluting. Taxes also tend to be set at rates that can be passed on to consumers rather than a level that forces a fundamental redirection of investment into non-polluting or renewable technology.

Taking control

A plethora of “blueprints” for an ecologically sustainable world fail, not because their proposals for a rapid conversion to renewable energy and the rational reorganisation of production and consumption are far-fetched, but because they do not accept that capitalism is incapable of bringing them into being.

A socialist society run by and for the “associated producers”, as Marx described working people, would allow the controlling levers of the “treadmill” to be seized, bringing it to a halt so we can all get off and begin to rationally plan the best way forward.

Just a fraction of what is spent on global direct military spending — more than US$1 trillion a year, of which the US accounts for almost 50% — could eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally, provide education for every child, access to water and sanitation, and reverse the spread of AIDS and malaria. It would also enable the massive transfer of new and clean technologies to the Third World to allow poor countries to skip the dirty industrial stage of development.

The end of capitalist domination would also end the plunder of the Third World, and genuine development could ensue. With the cancellation of Third World debt, the poor countries would retain vast sums to kick-start their clean development.

The wealth of the former capitalist class would also provide immense resources. According to a November 2006 United Nations report, the richest 2% of adults own more than half of all global wealth. The poorest 50% of the world’s population own barely 1%. Europe, the US and Japan account for most of the extremely wealthy.

Genuinely democratic socialist planning could collectively redirect society’s wealth into research and development of existing and new technologies to meet society’s needs, while operating well within the environment’s capacity to absorb the waste. We could rapidly bring forward the expansion of renewable energy, and speedily phase out coal and nuclear power stations.

With a huge boost to socially directed investment in research and development, reliable solar energy and wind power could soon become much cheaper than traditional sources. We could begin to harness the Sun’s energy, which every day delivers to the Earth 17,000 times as much energy as the entire population uses.

Capitalism’s dependence on the private car and truck would begin to be reversed with the rapid proliferation of mass, free public transport systems. In time, cities will no longer be designed around the private car, but around residential, community and work hubs linked by efficient public transport.

In a society that is organised to work together to produce enough to comfortably ensure people’s physical and mental well-being and social security, and in which technological advances benefit everybody without costing the environment, a new social definition of wealth will evolve. In the words of Marx and Engels, it will be defined by the degree to which it provides the means for “all members of society to develop, maintain and exert their capacities in all possible directions” so that “the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms”, is replaced “by an association [society] in which the free development of each is a condition of the free development of all”.

As society’s total disposable time expands, so too does the ability of its members to increasingly participate in running, planning and solving its problems. Lifelong theoretical and practical education, made possible by the expanding disposable time, Marx said, will “convert science from an instrument of class rule into a popular force”.

[Abridged from a presentation to the Democratic Socialist Perspective’s Socialist Summer School in Sydney, January 4-8.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #696 31 January 2007.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mark Seymour: 'We must protect our democracy' by Miriam Gravino

Green Left Weekly 18 January 2007

Mark Seymour (left), Martin Kingham and Dona Jackson launching the musical We Built this City, which commemorates the 8-hour-day victory.photo by Bindi Cole/Melbourne Workers Theatre
One-time Hunter & Collector, and now solo performer, MARK SEYMOUR has often taken part in political rallies, as well as performed on the stages of Australia’s premier rock venues. At times his music and ideological stance have seemed as one. Recently he spoke to Green Left Weekly’s MIRIAM GRAVINO.

As one of Australia’s most highly regarded songwriters, do you feel a responsibility to comment on political issues of the day?

I feel compelled to comment on Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war for the simple reason that the invasion wasn’t necessary, and if John Howard had made an honourable choice at the beginning of 2003, my country would not now be perceived as supporting an incompetent and unjust invasion which has led to the death and suffering of thousands of innocent people.

The sheer scale of the catastrophe is a telling reminder to us all that we cannot place unconditional trust in the judgement of our leaders, regardless of the fact that we live in a democratic country. The outcome of Howard’s decision in this case is utterly immoral, and he stands condemned for making it.

Has activism and consciousness-raising died a death in rock music?

We should not judge too quickly the apparent lack of political comment from songwriters today. In the past, artists were buoyed by the momentum generated by the Vietnam War. Its impact was felt for many years after we’d disengaged.

The draught and the loss of our own soldiers’ lives gave far greater weight to the argument that the Vietnam War was wrong than the debate surrounding Iraq. And we must accept that until our own begin to fall in battle it is much harder for young people to relate to the suffering and carnage taking place in a foreign country unless they feel the very real threat of getting caught up in it directly, as many of our boys did in the late ’60s because of national service.

Do your anti-war sentiments and your stance on social justice stem from your upbringing?

I missed out on the draft by one year. The Vietnam War was a generational issue. My parents had lived through World War II and although they were fiercely opposed to national service, they struggled to accept that the anti-war movement was not being manipulated by extremists.

In the end it was a generational conflict. At the time I was finishing high school and facing the decision as to whether I would register and refuse to go, or simply avoid the draft altogether. In either case I couldn’t have claimed to be a conscientious objector, as I believe that warfare is justified under certain circumstances. The consequences of my actions, had I been forced to take them, would have changed my life forever. Needless to say, I was very young as all military recruits are.

Why do you think the Australian government so slavishly endorses US policy? You are very specific about this on your website.

Australia’s endorsement of US foreign policy is entirely a question of interpretation. We happen to have a government which lacks a globally based foreign policy of its own. Foreign policy should be based on a cut and dried appraisal of our national geo-political interest. Diplomacy and military defence must share the load. Our decision to go into Iraq alongside the US made no sense in either case.

I have no problem with the US alliance as such, but in this case I don’t think it was relevant. I believe we went there because of the personal relationship between US President George Bush and Howard. I don’t believe the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq was a real test of what that alliance means.

Is there a connection between the government’s re-writing of industrial relations legislation and its championing of globalisation?

There is maybe a relationship between the IR legislation and globalisation. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is the survival of collective bargaining as a means by which employees can negotiate and guarantee fair working conditions and fair pay. There is nothing wrong with collective bargaining. It guarantees a safe and motivated workforce.

The IR laws are a calculated attempt to marginalise, once and for all, the trade union movement. Globalisation is the icing on the cake, so to speak. Work Choices is quite simply about reducing the cost of labour. It’s always about the workplace. Always, always!

You’ve spoken out and played at various rallies. Would it bother you if people absorbed your political message and neglected your music?

I’m happy to keep playing music. Politics is about being smart about your country and its leaders. By expressing my opinion occasionally I simply want others to think. They don’t have to agree. It’s really important to be seen to be thinking. We must protect our democracy. It’s a precious thing.

[Visit http://www.markseymour.com.au. Mark Seymour will play at Oceanus Restaurant, City Beach, WA on January 25.]

From: Cultural Dissent, Green Left Weekly issue #695 24 January 2007.

Southern Iraqi Tribes Joining Armed Resistance by Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily

January 21, 2007 Inter Press Service
BAGHDAD - Violence is spreading further across tribes in the south begin to engage occupation forces in new armed resistance.

Resistance in the southern parts of Iraq has been escalating over the last three months, leading to increased casualties among British and other occupation forces.

In the last seven months, at least 24 British soldiers have been killed in southern Iraq, with at least as many wounded, according to the independent website Iraq Coalition Casualties. So far at least 128 British soldiers have died in Iraq, along with 123 of other nationalities. Most of these have been stationed in southern Iraq.

Casualties earlier were far lower.

Attacks against occupation forces appear to stem from a growing nationalism.

"This is not about vengeance," a former Iraqi army officer from Kut, 200 km south of Baghdad told IPS in Baghdad. "People have lost hope in the US-led occupation's promises, and they are thinking of saving the country from Iranian influence which has been supported, or at least allowed by the Multinational Forces."

British and US military leaders tend not to say who has been targeting their forces in the south. They simply call the resistance fighters "terrorists," or they point to the Mahdi Army led by Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as the only source of disturbance in the south.

While members of the Mahdi Army certainly carry out attacks against occupation forces in southern Iraq, other homegrown resistance seems to have taken root, fed also by earlier memories.

"People here have always hated the US and British occupation of Iraq, and remembered their grandfathers who fought the British troops with the simplest weapons," Jassim al-Assadi, a school headmaster from Kut told IPS on a recent visit to Baghdad.

Al-Assadi was referring to the Shi'ite resistance that eventually played a key role in expelling British forces from Iraq during the 1920s and 1930s.

Armed resistance against the occupation in the south was slow to begin with because religious clerics instructed their followers to give the occupation time to fulfill promises made by the Bush and Blair administrations, al-Assadi said.

"But now they do not believe any cleric's promises any more. They have started fighting, and that is that."

A political analyst in Baghdad, who asked to be referred to as W. al-Tamimi, told IPS that he believes occupation forces have been working in tandem with death squads. "We have been observing American and British occupation forces supporting those death squads all over Iraq, but we were still hoping for reconciliation."

Al-Tamimi said the sheikh of his tribe, which is both Shi'ite and Sunni, was "under great pressure by the tribe's young men to let them join the resistance."

The force of the growing resistance in the south has become more and more evident. Late last August 1,200 British soldiers known as The Queen's Royal Hussars abruptly evacuated their three-year-old base after taking continuous mortar and missile fire from Shi'ite resistance fighters.

The British military announced the move as part of a long-planned handover of security to the Iraqi government, but it was clear that the move was abrupt. Iraqi authorities were not notified.

"British forces evacuated the military headquarters without coordination with the Iraqi forces," Dhaffar Jabbar, spokesman for the local governor said at the time.

Looters promptly moved into the empty base and removed an estimated half a million dollars worth of equipment the British left behind in their hasty retreat.

In another significant event last August, Sheikh Faissal al-Khayoon, chief of the major Shi'ite Arab tribe Beni Assad, was killed by death squads with suspected Iranian backing. The killers are believed by men from the tribe to have been working for the Iraqi Ministry of Interior in Basra.

Khayoon's tribe members reacted immediately. They took over the streets and government offices, and set fire to the Iranian consulate in Basra. The protests continued until clerics and Iraqi government officials promised them a full investigation.

"It was another lie that some of us believed," a senior Beni Assad leader told IPS on condition of anonymity. "The Sheikh was killed by Iranian collaborators and we made a promise to his soul that his precious life will be avenged."

Beni Tamim is another tribe with both Sunni and Shi'ite members. Members say their Sheikh, Hamid al-Suhail, was killed Jan. 1 this year by the Mahdi Army, which they believe has Iranian support. He died in the northern Baghdad Shi'ite-dominated Shula Quarter.

"He was 70 years old, and brutally killed by Mahdi death squads by pushing him from a high building," one of the sheikh's nephews told IPS in Baghdad. "Iran is behind all this and we, Beni Tamim are well prepared to face their yellow winds that are blowing Iraq apart."

Leaders of the two tribes, among many other tribal chiefs in the south, are working to achieve unity between Sunni and Shi'ite groups.

(Inter Press Service)

Living in a Dream World, What's Really Going on in Baghdad By PATRICK COCKBURN Baghdad.

January 25, 2007 from CounterPunch

[Bush and Gen. Petraeus]

Baghdad is paralysed by fear. Iraqi drivers are terrified of running into impromptu checkpoints where heavily armed men in civilian clothes may drag them out of their cars and kill them for being the wrong religion. Some districts exchange mortar fire every night. This is mayhem beyond the comprehension of George Bush and Tony Blair.

Black smoke was rising over the city centre yesterday as American and Iraqi army troops tried to fight their way into the insurgent district of Haifa Street only a mile north of the Green Zone, home to the government and the US and British embassies. Helicopters flew fast and low past tower blocks, hunting snipers, and armored vehicles maneuvered in the streets below.

Many Iraqis who watched the State of the Union address shrugged it off as an irrelevance. "An extra 16,000 US soldiers are not going to be enough to restore order to Baghdad," said Ismail, a Sunni who fled his house in the west of the city, fearing he would be arrested and tortured by the much-feared Shia police commandos.

It is extraordinary that, almost four years after US forces captured Baghdad, they control so little of it. The outlook for Mr Bush's strategy of driving out insurgents from strongholds and preventing them coming back does not look good.

On Monday, a helicopter belonging to the US security company Blackwater was shot down as it flew over the Sunni neighbourhood of al-Fadhil, close to the central markets of Baghdad. Some of the five American crew members may have survived the crash but they were later found with gunshot wounds to their heads, as if they had been executed on the ground.

Baghdad has broken up into hostile townships, Sunni and Shia, where strangers are treated with suspicion and shot if they cannot explain what they are doing. In the militant Sunni district of al-Amariyah in west Baghdad the Shia have been driven out and a resurgent Baath party has taken over. One slogan in red paint on a wall reads: "Saddam Hussein will live for ever, the symbol of the Arab nation." Another says: "Death to Muqtada [Muqtada al-Sadr, the nationalist Shia cleric] and his army of fools."

Restaurants in districts of Baghdad like the embassy quarter in al-Mansur, where I once used to have lunch, are now far too dangerous to visit. Any foreigner on the streets is likely to be kidnapped or killed. In any case, most of the restaurants closed long ago.

It is difficult for Iraqis to avoid joining one side or the other in the conflict. Many districts, such as al-Hurriya in west Baghdad, have seen the minority - in this case the Sunni - driven out.

A Sunni friend called Adnan, living in the neighbouring district of al-Adel, was visited by Sunni militiamen. They said: "You must help us to protect you from the Shia in Hurriya by going on patrol with us. Otherwise, we will give your house to somebody who will help us." He patrolled with the militiamen for several nights, clutching a Kalashnikov, and then fled the area.

The fear in Baghdad is so intense that rumors of even bloodier battles sweep through the city. Two weeks ago, many Sunni believed that the Shia Mehdi Army was going to launch a final "battle of Baghdad" aimed at killing or expelling the Sunni minority in the capital. The Sunni insurgents stored weapons and ammunition in order to make a last-ditch effort to defend their districts. In the event, they believe the ultimate battle was postponed at the last minute. Mr Bush insisted that the Iraqi government, with US military support, "must stop the sectarian violence in the capital". Quite how they are going to do this is not clear. American reinforcements might limit the ability of death squads to roam at will for a few months, but this will not provide a long-term solution.

Mr Bush's speech is likely to deepen sectarianism in Iraq by identifying the Shia militias with Iran. In fact, the most powerful Shia militia, the Mehdi Army, is traditionally anti-Iranian. It is the Badr Organisation, now co-operating with US forces, which was formed and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In the Arab world as a whole, Mr Bush seems to be trying to rally the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to support him in Iraq by exaggerating the Iranian threat.

Iraqis also wonder what will happen in the rest of Iraq while the US concentrates on trying to secure Baghdad. The degree of violence in the countryside is often underestimated because it is less reported than in the capital. In Baquba, the capital of Diyala province north-east of Baghdad, US and Iraqi army commanders were lauding their achievements at a press conference last weekend, claiming: "The situation in Baquba is reassuring and under control but there are some rumors circulated by bad people." Within hours, Sunni insurgents kidnapped the mayor and blew up his office.

The situation in the south of Iraq is no more reassuring. Five American soldiers were killed in the Shia holy city of Karbala last Saturday by gunmen wearing American and Iraqi uniforms, carrying American weapons and driving vehicles used by US or Iraqi government forces. A licence plate belonging to a car registered to Iraq's Minister of Trade was found on one of the vehicles used in the attack. It is a measure of the chaos in Iraq today that US officials do not know if their men were killed by Sunni or Shia guerrillas.

US commanders and the Mehdi Army seem to be edging away from all-out confrontation in Baghdad. Neither the US nor Iraqi government has the resources to eliminate the Shia militias. Even Kurdish units in the capital have a high number of desertions. The Mehdi Army, if under pressure in the capital, could probably take over much of southern Iraq.

Mr Bush's supposedly new strategy is less of a strategy than a collection of tactics unlikely to change dramatically the situation on the ground. But if his systematic demonizing of Iran is a precursor to air strikes or other military action against Iran, then Iraqis will once more pay a heavy price.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of 'The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq', a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.

World Ignores Signs of Civil War in Lebanon by Robert Fisk

Published on Saturday, January 27, 2007 by the Independent / UK-Common Dreams

This is how the 1975-90 conflict began in Lebanon. Outbreaks of sectarian hatred, appeals for restraint, promises of aid from Western and Arab nations and a total refusal to understand that this is how civil wars begin.

The Lebanese army lifted its overnight curfew on Beirut yesterday morning but the smouldering cars and trucks of a gun battle was matched only by the incendiary language of the country's bitterest antagonists. Beirut's morning newspapers carried graphic pictures of gunmen - Sunni Muslims loyal to the government and Shia supporters of Hizbollah - which proved beyond any doubt that organised, armed men are on the capital's streets. The Lebanese army - which constantly seeks the help of leaders on all sides - had great difficulty in suppressing the latest battles.

One widely-used picture showed a businessman firing a pistol at Shia during the fighting around the Lebanese Arab university, another a hooded man with a sniper's rifle on a rooftop.

All three dead men were Hizbollah supporters whose funerals in south Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley yesterday were accompanied by calls for revenge and - in one case - by a colour guard of militiamen and farewell shots over his grave. After 29-year old Adnan Shamas's widow and young children were brought to his funeral in Ouzai, there were cries of "blood for blood".

It was all very far from the self-congratulations of the western and Arab leaders in Paris yesterday, where European and American diplomats - after drumming up £4bn in aid for Lebanon (strings attached, of course) - seemed to believe they had just saved Fouad Siniora's government from the forces of Islamic "extremists".

Samir Geagea, the ex-civil war militia killer turned ardent government supporter - and host to the US ambassador this week - angrily turned on Hizbollah's leader, Sayad Hassan Nasrallah yesterday, chiding him over Hizbollah's war with Israel last summer, when Shia fighters fired thousands of rockets into Israel. "Don't think, Sayad Hassan, that Beirut is Haifa or Mount Carmel," he warned. "Let's sit together and we will discuss things together ... Otherwise the country is heading for the worst."

Talal Arslan, a pro-Syrian Druze leader, ferociously referred to government groups as an "organised crime syndicate" that wanted to turn Lebanon into another Iraq.

Which is exactly the language of 1975. It all seemed so far away in Paris where Siniora, talking to Lebanese residents and journalists, mystifyingly found himself fielding questions on Lebanon's agricultural industry and future tourism prospects. There is certainly plenty of history for any tourists in Lebanon but right now a new and terrible page appears to be opening while the rest of the world blithely looks on.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Venezuela We Reap What We Sow by Paul Cummins:

A wildly successful Venezuelan governmental program that makes free musical instruments and training available to all children should serve as a model for the U.S. as we struggle to keep guns out of kids’ hands.

[Gustavo Dudamel, who was one of the beneficiaries of Venezuela’s government-sponsored program that provides free musical training to youths, conducts his country’s Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra, in which he started as a violinist.]

Recently, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about an astounding music education program in Venezuela known as “El Sistema” (The System). El Sistema is a government-sponsored program that provides free instruments and lessons to any child who wants them. Since its founding in 1975, more than 250,000 youngsters have gone through the program. Currently, there are nearly 500,000 children receiving free training at more than 120 centers around the nation, and more than 200 youth orchestras are functioning.

It is quite an achievement. What makes it even more laudable and remarkable is that there are no barriers. Low-income and at-risk Venezuelan children and youths can participate as easily as those who come from well-to-do families. To be sure, there are community schools of the arts across the United States, but nothing quite like this. Certainly nothing sponsored by the government. We are too busy piling up debt and deficit by funding arms races and by invading other countries to pay attention to the arts.

But back to El Sistema. It was founded by Jose Antonio Abreu, a Venezuelan conductor, economics professor and member of Congress, who had a vision of not only encouraging the arts but also giving at-risk youths an alternative to crime, drugs and other antisocial activities. He envisioned making both a social and artistic investment. The amazing conductor Gustavo Dudamel is but one such graduate of El Sistema.

Cut to a second article in the L.A. Times, on Jan. 14, which describes a plan to “attack” the gangs of Los Angeles through more incarceration and sending more police strike forces to crime hot spots. All well and good and perhaps necessary, but in the long run the Venezuelan approach of providing better societal alternatives to crime is far superior to programs that attack already existing failures. An ounce of societal prevention is far better than pounds of attempts to cure its ills.

Time and time again we read of individuals whose lives—in poverty, in prison, in desperate straits—were redeemed, regenerated and resurrected by experiences in the arts. The Venezuelan example is but one. Poetry in the prisons, juvenile camp drama programs (see my last blog) and skid row writing programs are but a few. Yet, we continue to undervalue the power of the arts, and our government provides paltry support. Billions for arms, pennies for the arts. Sadly, we reap what we sow, and we don’t harvest what we don’t plant. More violins in the hands of inner-city youths would inevitably lead to fewer guns. How can we get this message across to our citizens and our legislators?

from TruthDig


Howard Zinn, The renowned activist and alternative US historian, visited Cuba to attend the 14th Havana International Book Fair, where Cubanow interviewed him.

By Catherine Murphy
Cubanow.- CM: What brings Howard Zinn to Cuba?

HZ: The fact that Cuba has just published its own edition of my book, which in the United States is called The People's History of the United States, though in Spanish it's been translated as La Otra Historia de Estados Unidos. They invited me to the International Book Fair to talk about my book and to participate in some other panels on the war in Iraq. I was here last spring and got to be friendly with a number of very interesting people. Cuban people are so warm. They make you feel at home and it feels good to be here. The atmosphere is a very family atmosphere. There is music and spirit… So, I was happy to come back. Cuba represents something very important in this world of wars and power plays and imperial expansion. I mean, here is this little island, which is not expanding anywhere, is not trying to take over the United States. It is, in fact, holding out in a very courageous way with meager resources against the most formidable military power in the world. This is an amazing David and Goliath story; an amazing story of heroism. So, you have to admire Cuba for being undaunted by this colossus of the North and holding fast to its ideals and to Socialism. And even though there are many problems, it's an interesting Socialism with many possibilities… Cuba is one of those places in the world where we can see hope for the future. With its very meager resources Cuba gives free health care and free education to everybody. Cuba supports culture, supports dance and music and theatre. The United States does not do that. The United States is rich enough to do this, but it doesn't. People who are in the arts in the United States, people who are dancers and poets and in theatre, they struggle to survive, and so, there is this model in Cuba for the future of health care, of education, of culture. We are in a world which is so full of violence and injustice that when we see a place that has the kind of future Cuba does, it's important to hold on to it, important to immerse yourself in it, which is what you do when you come here.

CM: Why do you think the US Government, the Bush administration in particular, does not want US citizens to visit Cuba?

HZ: I wish I could probe the minds of the people who run the United States government. I would ask somebody with really advanced knowledge in psychiatry to do that. We can only guess their motives. One of them undoubtedly is that they know that Americans and people from other countries that haven't come to Cuba are intrigued by the kind of things that Cuba has, which other countries don't have; intrigued by Cuba's progress in literacy, in medicine, in culture and so on. The United States would rather have people be ignorant to what Cuba is. If people don't come to Cuba, then the government can say whatever it wants about Cuba and can ignore its accomplishments and nobody would know the difference. But when people come to Cuba, of course, they go back to the United States and spread the word. So, the United States doesn't want that. Then, of course, the United States doesn't want an example set of a small country that fights its government successfully; that insists on surviving in spite of all the attempts to do away with it -whether by invasion, by subversion or by blockade. It's an irritant to the United States to see this model of survival of a small country. There's a psychological problem there: the frustration of this enormously powerful nation that cannot bend this little country to its will. The United States has had this problem several times in its history. It could not defeat the people of Vietnam -a tiny country in Asia with very few resources, and it just could not defeat it.

CM: Your book The People's History of the United States just sold a million copies. One of the things I found so important about the book is the need to keep the history of activism and resistance alive, which has been hidden from us. This is a particularly difficult time in the United States in terms of the dismantling of social programs. Where do you feel people in the US today get hope?

HZ: I think they get hope in several ways. First, by seeing that there are people all over the world who understand things that many Americans do not understand. When the Iraq war was first beginning about fifteen million people all over the world demonstrated against the war in a single day. That is enormously encouraging, and shows that there's a worldwide movement of resistance. How many people support the administration? You know, it's only fifty percent of the people. They look outside the United States and they see that it's eighty or eighty five percent. That's encouraging. The other thing that is encouraging is that people in the United States who might otherwise loose hope look at the history of social movements in the US and realize that these movements always look hopeless, insignificant and powerless at the beginning. Some of them would remember the recent history in the South -this is something I went through myself- where it seemed that Black people in the South were powerless. They had nothing on their side -certainly not the federal government. And yet, they rose, they organized, they agitated, they demonstrated, they went to jail. Things happened to them, but they persisted and changed the South forever. That's a remarkable story of how a powerless people can gain power and how you mustn't look at power in a superficial way or by asking who has the money or who has the guns? We have to ask, who has the commitment and the energy, and the spirit of sacrifice and is willing to take risks? Then you'll see the future.

CM: Your theatre piece Marx in Soho is playing here in Cuba. What significance do you think it has to Cuban people?

HZ: This play about Marx is significant to the Cuban people for two reasons; one of them, probably, is maybe not as necessary for the Cuban people as it is for the American people, and that is for Marx to once again bring alive his critique on Capitalism and say: Capitalism thinks it triumphed with the collapse of the Soviet Union… No, look what Capitalism has done to people. Look at its failures. Maybe the Cuban people know that. Maybe that's why they support the idea of Socialism. But I think that something very important to people in the United States and in Cuba is to give people a clear idea of what Marxism is and what Socialism is.
March , 2005

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

APEC: A Tool To Screw The Poor by Eva Cheng

While starving Australia’s public education and health services of funding, the Coalition government is planning to spend well over $200 million on the annual talk shop dressed up as a “leaders’ summit” of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) scheduled for Sydney this September.

Is the 21-nation body an institution addressing important social needs? A November 2006 study by the Australian National University, APEC and the search for relevance: 2007 and beyond, had this to say: “Few would argue that APEC is ’going strong’ as a regional economic forum and recent reviews have suggested that at best it faces an uncertain future and that at worst it could be in a state of terminal decline.”

The study’s authors continued: “The forum is argued to have lost its relevance and to have generally been unsuccessful in attaining any of its more ambitious goals such as regional trade liberalisation. APEC faces challenges from within and from without. The annual summit meeting seems to have become a forum for public performance, photo opportunities and ’announceables’… On a number of key economic issues, tensions have become increasingly obvious between the interests of the forum’s ’Western’ and ’East Asian’ members.”

In a report at the end of 2006, the conservative Lowy Institute for International Policy described APEC as “balanced on the brink of terminal irrelevance”.

So why does PM John Howard intend to pour so much of Australia’s public resources into an organisation of such dubious relevance?

Bush’s lead

The answer has a lot to do with APEC’s regressive political and economic agenda, and the prospect that it might still be able to be revitalised, especially since the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) “trade negotiations” have floundered yet again. The trade talks, under the current Doha Round, officially collapsed in July 2006 after a hesitant start in late 2001, two years after massive protests combined with Third World governments’ resistance to stymie the WTO’s plans at the 1999 Seattle meeting.

At the APEC leaders’ summit in Hanoi last November, US President George Bush presented his vision for the ailing outfit. He wants APEC to: help secure a breakthrough for the Doha Round talks; explore a “free trade area for Asia and the Pacific”; improve the “free trade agreements” already negotiated in the region; defeat “terrorism” and halt “weapons of mass destruction”; promote energy security and clean energy; fight corruption and foster “good governance” [read: foreign governments compliant to Washington’s dictates]; and express strong concern about North Korea’s October 9 nuclear test.

Clearly Bush hasn’t given up on APEC. But unlike Howard’s “generosity” with public money, Bush is offering just US$5 million a year, beginning this year, to revitalise APEC.

From its beginning in 1989, APEC was designed to assist the rich-country club to prise open more Third World countries’ markets for First World goods and services, as well as being an outlet for its excess capital. But such “liberalisation” by force not only often jeopardises Third World countries’ efforts to industrialise, it has also devastated their life-line agriculture, on which the bulk of their struggling populations depend. Most Third World nations’ vulnerable economies are largely a result of the plundering and looting by rich countries.

After World War II, outright colonisation gave way to more “rule-based” international trade agreements to continue the imperialist countries’ domination of the ex-colonies and their underdeveloped cousins. Trade is an essential sector to implement this agenda because it determines whether the profits from imperialist capital-funded production and exploitation can be realised, whether the production of goods is located in the First or Third Worlds. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) was created in the wake of World War II for this purpose.

The WTO superseded GATT in 1995, although the former’s mission lives on in the new organisation. In 1989, when the so-called Uruguay Round of trade “negotiation” (read arm twisting) was going nowhere due to Third World resistance, APEC was launched in Canberra to help push that process along, with the US and Australia being the main non-Asian members of the 12 founding countries.

APEC took on a more high-profile existence in 1993 when then-US president Bill Clinton hosted its first ever “heads of states summit” in Seattle complete with the novel costume parade of participating heads of state. Then, APEC was said to have “three pillars”: trade liberalisation, trade facilitation and economic and technical cooperation.

APEC’s Bogor Declaration at its 1994 summit in Indonesia was its high point: it “committed” its advanced capitalist members to “free trade” by 2010, and its underdeveloped members to the same by 2020.

Resistance from within

The Bogor goals were spearheaded by Washington to serve its imperial interest. But as early as 1995, a number of Asian members — led by Japan, a second-ranking imperialist power — started airing misgivings about the ambitious Bogor agenda. Pressure on select member countries from 1996 had hardly begun to deliver results before the economic crisis hit Asia in 1997-98.

The 1997 summit scaled down the short-term target to 15 sectors for “early voluntary sectoral liberalisation” (EVSL), and in 1998 this was reduced to nine sectors. The charge was led by Japan which refused to open up its forest and fish product markets to the West, and it opened the way for more APEC countries to air their reservations over the US’s trade agenda.

The 1999 APEC summit — which took place shortly before the WTO’s disastrous Seattle summit in December that year — sought to extract a commitment on the remaining six sectors. But no agreement was reached, and APEC was forced into a face-saving measure — to “transfer” its trade agenda to the WTO.

Nothing came of APEC-WTO’s free-trade agenda following Seattle. APEC limped along with its annual leaders’ summits, each year adding new items to its declaration (housing, energy security, terrorism and corruption) in a bid to camouflage its failure.

Russia, Peru and Vietnam joined APEC in 1997-98, bringing its membership to 21. A 10-year moratorium on membership will end this year, and Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador have applied to join.

Of the remaining 18 members Chile, Mexico, Canada and the US are from the Americas; China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea are from East Asia; Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Brunei are from Southeast Asia; and Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are from Oceania.

Washington’s dominance is clear: it has rejected Japan’s repeated proposal for an emergency fund — the Asian Monetary Fund — to supposedly help Asian countries out of financial crisis. First proposed in 1997 as the crisis erupted, Japan envisioned the fund to be yen-based and resourced to the tune of US$100 billion.

Both the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rejected the idea as it would weaken the IMF’s traditional role. The IMF has been a lever used by the imperialist powers since World War II to force Third World countries to adopt neoliberal measures. This has been achieved by offering bailout packages, which are conditioned on “structural adjustment programs” that favour the rich countries’ interests. It is now obviously not delivering enough benefits for Japan.

Washington is concerned that a yen-based fund will contribute to the creation of a “yen bloc”. Even though the EU harbours intentions to break the US dollar’s dominance in global transactions with a Euro-based alternative, it does not welcome competition from a yen bloc. IMF loans are based on US dollars.

Given the WTO’s difficulties in imposing its imperialist “free trade” agenda, Washington has embarked on bilateral “free trade agreements” with a growing number of countries as a subsidiary tool to control the weaker economies.

In addition, the US wants to launch a Free Trade Area for the Americas (FTAA) to further whip the countries in Latin, Central and North America (except Cuba) into submission. It is now seeking to do the same in Asia and the Pacific with the projected Free Trade Agreement of Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

Social movement activists have been at the forefront in resisting the FTAA. Activists in Asia and Australia are planning to tell Bush when he comes to Sydney this year that they oppose the big powers’ war on the poor, whether through FTAAP or a reactivated APEC.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #694 17 January 2007.