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Monday, December 31, 2007

Unprecedented mass reaction to assassination of Benazir Bhutto By Farooq Tariq

Pakistan has never seen so many people protesting in streets all over the country as been the case during the last two days. They were all united across Pakistan to condemn the brutal murder of Benazir Bhutto. The news was heard with a great shock and there was immediate mass anger that erupted in all parts of Pakistan. December 28 was the first day of a general strike called by many groups, ranging from political parties to various professional groups.

Most of election posters, banners, flags and billboards of the Pakistan Muslim League (PMLQ) were the first victim of the mass anger. The PMLQ is a creation of General Musharaf, created after 1999; a major split of Pakistan Muslim League. The rest is headed by Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister. PMLQ has been sharing power with Musharaf after 2002 and is comprised of the most corrupt feudals, capitalists, former army generals and black marketeers.

The PMLQ had spent billions of these advertising material and all that was gone within a few hours of mass reaction. The work to remove all these anti-people election materials was done with utmost sophistication. None of the Pakistan Peoples Party's election material or that of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz was removed.

Then it was the banks mainly in Sind. They were attacked and the buildings were burned in many cities of Sind. Most of ATM machines were destroyed. In some places, people were lucky to bring some money home. Banks had made unprecedented profits during the last few years. There is no free banking anymore, as was the case earlier from sixties.

Hundreds of private buses were burned in all parts of the country. The fares have gone too high during Musharaf's eight years of rule. There were no more public buses. Most of PMLQ government ministers had their own bus companies and were making huge gains out of mass poverty.

There were also incidents of burning of trains in Sind. According to the Daily Jang, 28 railway stations, 13 railway engines and seven trains have been burnt resulting over three billion rupees loss. The rail fares were increased many fold by the Musharaf regime in a bid to reduce the railway losses. It has been partly privatised as well. The whole rail system has collapsed since the night of December 27. Thousands of passengers are on the railway stations waiting for restoration. There is no sign of restoration for some days. Pakistan International Airlines PIA and two private airlines, Air Blue and Shaheen Air, have cancelled all their domestic flights on the name of “rescheduling”. The staff did not turn up.

Thousands of private cars have been damaged all over Pakistan by the angry mobs, mainly youth. They were showing their anger on the car companies' (mainly Toyota, Suzuki and Honda) unprecedented profits during the last few years. Many leasing companies have robbed the growing middle classes by offering cars with abnormal prices. While the massive majority of population have no more subsidised public transport.

The houses and offices of PMLQ politicians, local government mayors and administration are the other victims of the mass reaction. They have either been burnt or damaged.

Over 100 people have so far died in the incidents related to mass protest, either by police or in the crossfire of different groups during the last 40 hours.

Thousands and thousands have raised slogans against the Musharaf regime and US imperialism after the death of Benazir Bhutto. The anger was accumulated during the last eight years and was manifested after this unthinkable incident. This was a response of the masses to the strict implementation of the neoliberal agenda which has resulted in unprecedented price hikes, unemployment and poverty. The anger that was to be shown in boycotting or participating in the elections has come out early after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

There is a great anti-Musharaf consciousness all over. It is been shown in different ways in different parts of the country in different degrees. The so-called capitalist economical growth under Musharaf has left millions in absolute poverty. There was no Pakistan shining as was propagated by the dictatorship all the times.
Year of mass awakening

2007 has been a year of mass awakening. It started with the advocates [lawyers] movement after the removal of the chief justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan. The chief justice Iftikhar Choudry said a big “No” to resigning under pressure by the generals. He was removed only to be reinstated on July 20 after a massive movement of 80,000 lawyers. They were joined by political activists from almost all political parties but not by the masses. The masses only welcomed the chief justice from the side roads and did not participate in the movement in real terms.

Musharaf got himself elected as president for the second five-year term in a “democratic manner” by a parliament elected for one five-year term. He was still wearing military uniform when elected as a “civilian” president. His theme was “elect me president for the second term and I will take off uniform after taking oath as civilian president”.

The November 2007 imposition of martial law on the name of emergency was used to remove the rather independent top judges of Pakistan. It put restrictions on the media and over 10,000 people were arrested. Musharaf got himself duly “elected president” and took off uniform after removing the top judges. His hand-picked judges gave him all the necessary backing.

He was helped in this process by Benazir Bhutto, who was -- in Tariq Ali's words -- into a “forced arranged marriage” by US and British imperialism. In this unholy alliance, every one was cheating everyone with utmost honestly.

The general elections were announced for January 8, 2008, and the emergency lifted after the large-scale repression and the removal of an independent judiciary. The regime was happy that everything was going according to “plan”. The Pakistan Peoples Party of Benazir Bhutto, the Muslim League Nawaz and Quid Azam (PMLQ), the three major parties, had agreed to participate in these fraudulent elections. The religious fundamentalist political alliance MMA had split on the question of participation. One major part of MMA had decided to contest the elections.

A campaign for a boycott of the election had started when the religious fundamentalists struck and killed Benazir Bhutto on December 27 evening. The “plan” was shattered into pieces. It was big blow to agreed terms and conditions of various participating parties in the elections. It was not a bump on the road but the total destruction of the road of conciliations and compromises.

The murder of Benazir Bhutto is a double-edge sword. While it is a big blow to the plans of British and US imperialism, it will also be no celebration for the religious fundamentalist forces. The initial anger has gone against the military regime and its crony politicians. It can go against the both. No party will be able to celebrate the shocking killing.

But the Musharaf regime has understood this clearly and now is trying consciously to put the direction of the movement against the religious fundamentalists. Last night, December 28, in a two-hour press conference, a military brigadier representing the government named Baitullah Mehsud, an Al Qaeda associate in the tribal areas of Pakistan, as the one who carried out the attack.

Foolishly he tried his best to prove that Benazir Bhutto was not killed by a bullet but by her head hitting the lever of the sunroof of the bulletproof car as she ducked after the bomb blast. What difference does it make, if it is proved that Bhutto was killed not by the bullet but by another way? Not much.

The brigadier's explanation did not satisfy the angry journalists, who asked him again and again about the connections of the secret intelligence agencies of Pakistan with Abdullah Mahsood. The question, Why had Mahsood released quietly more than 200 Pakistan army men on the day of the imposition of emergency, who were kidnapped by his group a week earlier, went unanswered. The military's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has a long relationship with the religious fundamentalists groups dating back to the eighties when the imperialists and the fundamentalists were close friends.
Volatile situation

It is a very volatile, unstable, unpredictable, explosive, dangerous, impulsive, fickle and capricious political situation. It never happened before in many years that mass reaction has erupted to this degree.

The general strike was a total success. All roads were empty. No traffic at all. All shops were closed. All industrial and other institutions were completely shut down.

After an initial inhibition to curb the strike, the regime has now issued strict orders to kill anyone on the spot who is “looting”. It has called the regular army in 16 districts of Sind and paramilitary forces elsewhere in Pakistan.

The regime has so far not postponed the scheduled elections but it will be very difficult to hold elections in this situation. The Muslim League Nawaz and several other political parties have already announced they will boycott the fraudulent elections.

The Labour Party Pakistan is demanding the immediate resignation of the Musharaf dictatorship and the formation of an interim government comprising of civil society organisations, trade unions and peasant organisations. This interim government would hold free and fair general elections under an independent election commission.

The LPP is demanding an immediate restoration of the top judges and investigations of Benazir's and others' murder in this and previous bomb blasts. As part of the All Parties Democratic Movement, LPP is supporting a three-day general strike and linking it to the overthrow of the military dictatorship. It is asking all parties to reject the general elections fraud on January 8 and not to participate in these elections.

[Farooq Tariq is general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan. Email labourpartypk@yahoo.com, visit http://www.laborpakistan.org or http://www.jeddojuhd.com.]

From Links

There Hasn't Been a Day in My Life When I Haven't Learned Something By FIDEL CASTRO


Comrades of the National Assembly:

You have no easy task on your hands. On January 1st, 1959, surrounded by the accumulated and deepening grievances that our society inherited from its neo-colonial past under U.S. domination, many of us dreamed of creating a fully independent nation where justice prevailed. In the arduous and uneven struggle, there came the moment when we were left completely alone.

Nearly 50 years since the triumph of the Revolution, we can justifiably feel proud of ourselves, as we have held our ground, for almost half a century, in the struggle against the most powerful empire ever to exist in history. In the Proclamation I signed on July 31, 2006, none of you saw any signs of nepotism or an attempt to usurp parliamentary powers. That year, at once difficult and promising for the Revolution, the unity of the people, the Party and State were essential to continue moving forward and to face the declared threat of a military action by the United States.

This past December 24, during his visit to the various districts of the municipality which honored me with the nomination of candidate to parliament, Raúl noted that all of the numerous candidates proposed by the people of a district famous for its combativeness, but with a low educational level, had completed their higher education. This, as he said on Cuban television, made a profound impression in him.

Party, State and Government cadres and grassroots organizations face new problems in their work with an intelligent, watchful and educated people who detest bureaucratic hurdles and inconsiderate justifications. Deep down, every citizen wages an individual battle against humanity's innate tendency to stick to its survival instincts, a natural law which governs all life.

We are all born marked by that instinct, which science defines as primary. Coming face to face with this instinct is rewarding because it leads us to a dialectical process and to a constant and altruistic struggle, bringing us closer to Martí and making us true communists.

What the international press has emphasized most in its reports on Cuba in recent days is the statement I made on the 17th of this month, in a letter to the director of Cuban television's Round Table program, where I said that I am not clinging to power. I could add that for some time I did, due to my youth and lack of awareness, when, without any guidance, I started to leave my political ignorance behind and became a utopian socialist. It was a stage in my life when I believed I knew what had to be done and wanted to be in a position to do it! What made me change? Life did, delving more deeply into Martí's ideas and those of the classics of socialism. The more deeply I became involved in the struggle, the stronger was my identification with those aims and, well before the revolutionary victory I was already convinced that it was my duty to fight for these aims or to die in combat.

We also face great risks that threaten the human species as a whole. This has become more and more evident to me since I predicted, for the first time in Rio de Janeiro, --over 15 years ago, in June 1992-- that a species was threatened with extinction as a result of the destruction of its natural habitat. Today, the number of people who understand the real danger of this grows every day.

A recent book by Joseph Stiglitz, former Vice-President of the World Bank and President Clinton's chief economic advisor until 2002, Nobel Prize laureate and bestselling author in the United States, offers up-to-date and irrefutable facts on the subject. He criticizes the United States, a country which did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, for being the largest producer of carbon dioxide in the world, with annual emissions of 6 billion tons of this gas which disturbs the atmosphere without which life is impossible. In addition to this, the United States is the largest producer of other greenhouse gases.

Few people are aware of these facts. The same economic system which forced this unsustainable wastefulness on us impedes the distribution of Stiglitz' book. Only a few thousand copies of an excellent edition have been published, enough to guarantee a margin of profit. This responds to a market demand, which the publishing house cannot ignore if it is to survive.

Today, we know that life on Earth has been protected by the ozone layer, located in the atmosphere's outer ring, at an altitude between 15 to 50 kilometers, in the region known as the stratosphere, which acts as the planet's shield against the type of solar radiation which can prove harmful. There are greenhouse gases whose warming potential is higher than that of carbon dioxide and which widen the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica, which loses as much as 70 percent of its volume every spring. The effects of this phenomenon, which is gradually taking place, are humanity's responsibility.

To have a clear sense of this phenomenon, suffice it to say that the world produces an average of 4.37 metric tons of carbon dioxide per capita. In the case of the United States, the average is 20.14, nearly 5 times as much. In Africa, it is 1.17, while in Asia and Oceania it is 2.87.

The ozone layer, in brief, protects us from ultraviolet and heat radiation which affects the immune system, sight, skin and life of human beings. Under extreme conditions, the destruction of that layer by human beings would affect all forms of life on the planet.

Other problems, foreign to our nation and many others under similar conditions, also threaten us. A victorious counterrevolution would spell a disaster for us, worse than Indonesia's tragedy. Sukarno, overthrown in 1967, was a nationalist leader who, loyal to Indonesia, headed the guerrillas who fought the Japanese.

General Suharto, who overthrew him, had been trained by Japanese occupation forces. At the conclusion of World War II, Holland, a U.S. ally, re-established control over that distant, extensive and populated territory. Suharto maneuvered. He hoisted the banners of U.S. imperialism. He committed an atrocious act of genocide. Today we know that, under instructions from the CIA, he not only killed hundreds of thousands but also imprisoned a million communists and deprived them and their relatives of all properties or rights; his family amassed a fortune of 40 billion dollars -which, at today's exchange rate, would be equivalent to hundreds of billions- by handing over the country's natural resources, the sweat of Indonesians, to foreign investors. The West paid up. Texan-born Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy's successor, was then the President of the United States.

The news on the events in Pakistan we received today also attest to the dangers that threaten our species: internal conflict in a country that possesses nuclear weapons. This is a consequence of the adventurous policies of and the wars aimed at securing the world's natural resources unleashed by the United States.

Pakistan, involved in a conflict it did not unleash, faced the threat of being taken back to the Stone Age.

The extraordinary circumstances faced by Pakistan had an immediate effect on oil prices and stock exchange shares. No country or region in the world can disassociate itself from the consequences. We must be prepared for anything.

There hasn't been a day in my life in which I haven't learned something.

Martí taught us that "all of the world's glory fits in a kernel of corn". Many times have I said and repeated this phrase, which carries in eleven words a veritable school of ethics.

Cuba's Five Heroes, imprisoned by the empire, are to be held up as examples for the new generations.

Fortunately, exemplary conducts will continue to flourish with the consciousness of our peoples as long as our species exists.

I am certain that many young Cubans, in their struggle against the Giant in the Seven-League Boots, would do as they did. Money can buy everything save the soul of a people who has never gone down on its knees.

I read the brief and concise report which Raúl wrote and sent me. We must not waste a minute as we continue to move forward. I will raise my hand, next to you, to show my support.

(Signed) Fidel Castro Ruz December 27, 2007

Address to the Cuban National Assembly, 12/28/2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Military Despotism and Anarchy Created the Conditions for Bhutto's Assassination-Indignation and Fear Stalk Pakistan By TARIQ ALI

Tariq Ali
Even those of us sharply critical of Benazir Bhutto's behaviour and policies - both while she was in office and more recently - are stunned and angered by her death. Indignation and fear stalk the country once again.

An odd coexistence of military despotism and anarchy created the conditions leading to her assassination in Rawalpindi yesterday. In the past, military rule was designed to preserve order - and did so for a few years. No longer. Today it creates disorder and promotes lawlessness. How else can one explain the sacking of the chief justice and eight other judges of the country's supreme court for attempting to hold the government's intelligence agencies and the police accountable to courts of law? Their replacements lack the backbone to do anything, let alone conduct a proper inquest into the misdeeds of the agencies to uncover the truth behind the carefully organised killing of a major political leader.

How can Pakistan today be anything but a conflagration of despair? It is assumed that the killers were jihadi fanatics. This may well be true, but were they acting on their own?

Benazir, according to those close to her, had been tempted to boycott the fake elections, but she lacked the political courage to defy Washington. She had plenty of physical courage, and refused to be cowed by threats from local opponents. She had been addressing an election rally in Liaquat Bagh. This is a popular space named after the country's first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, who was killed by an assassin in 1953. The killer, Said Akbar, was immediately shot dead on the orders of a police officer involved in the plot. Not far from here, there once stood a colonial structure where nationalists were imprisoned. This was Rawalpindi jail. It was here that Benazir's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in April 1979. The military tyrant responsible for his judicial murder made sure the site of the tragedy was destroyed as well.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's death poisoned relations between his Pakistan People's party and the army. Party activists, particularly in the province of Sind, were brutally tortured, humiliated and, sometimes, disappeared or killed.

Pakistan's turbulent history, a result of continuous military rule and unpopular global alliances, confronts the ruling elite now with serious choices. They appear to have no positive aims. The overwhelming majority of the country disapproves of the government's foreign policy. They are angered by its lack of a serious domestic policy except for further enriching a callous and greedy elite that includes a swollen, parasitic military. Now they watch helplessly as politicians are shot dead in front of them.

It is impossible for even a rigged election to take place now. It will have to be postponed, and the military high command is no doubt contemplating another dose of army rule if the situation gets worse, which could easily happen.

What has happened is a multilayered tragedy. It's a tragedy for a country on a road to more disasters. Torrents and foaming cataracts lie ahead. And it is a personal tragedy. The house of Bhutto has lost another member. Father, two sons and now a daughter have all died unnatural deaths.

I first met Benazir at her father's house in Karachi when she was a fun-loving teenager, and later at Oxford. She was not a natural politician and had always wanted to be a diplomat, but history and personal tragedy pushed in the other direction. Her father's death transformed her. She had become a new person, determined to take on the military dictator of that time. She had moved to a tiny flat in London, where we would endlessly discuss the future of the country. She would agree that land reforms, mass education programmes, a health service and an independent foreign policy were positive constructive aims and crucial if the country was to be saved from the vultures in and out of uniform. Her constituency was the poor, and she was proud of the fact.

She changed again after becoming prime minister. In the early days, we would argue and in response to my numerous complaints - all she would say was that the world had changed. She couldn't be on the "wrong side" of history. And so, like many others, she made her peace with Washington. It was this that finally led to the deal with Musharraf and her return home after more than a decade in exile. On a number of occasions she told me that she did not fear death. It was one of the dangers of playing politics in Pakistan.

It is difficult to imagine any good coming out of this tragedy, but there is one possibility. Pakistan desperately needs a political party that can speak for the social needs of a bulk of the people. The People's party founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was built by the activists of the only popular mass movement the country has known: students, peasants and workers who fought for three months in 1968-69 to topple the country's first military dictator. They saw it as their party, and that feeling persists in some parts of the country to this day, despite everything.

Benazir's horrific death should give her colleagues pause for reflection. To be dependent on a person or a family may be necessary at certain times, but it is a structural weakness, not a strength for a political organisation. The People's party needs to be refounded as a modern and democratic organisation, open to honest debate and discussion, defending social and human rights, uniting the many disparate groups and individuals in Pakistan desperate for any halfway decent alternative, and coming forward with concrete proposals to stabilise occupied and war-torn Afghanistan. This can and should be done. The Bhutto family should not be asked for any more sacrifices.

Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. He can be reached at: tariq.ali3@btinternet.com

from CounterPunch

They Don’t Blame Al-Qa’ida. They Blame Musharraf. They Don’t Blame Al-Qa’ida.-They Blame Musharraf by Robert Fisk

Weird, isn’t it, how swiftly the narrative is laid down for us. Benazir Bhutto, the courageous leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, is assassinated in Rawalpindi - attached to the very capital of Islamabad wherein ex-General Pervez Musharraf lives - and we are told by George Bush that her murderers were “extremists” and “terrorists”. Well, you can’t dispute that.

But the implication of the Bush comment was that Islamists were behind the assassination. It was the Taliban madmen again, the al-Qa’ida spider who struck at this lone and brave woman who had dared to call for democracy in her country.

Of course, given the childish coverage of this appalling tragedy - and however corrupt Ms Bhutto may have been, let us be under no illusions that this brave lady is indeed a true martyr - it’s not surprising that the “good-versus-evil” donkey can be trotted out to explain the carnage in Rawalpindi.

Who would have imagined, watching the BBC or CNN on Thursday, that her two brothers, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, hijacked a Pakistani airliner in 1981 and flew it to Kabul where Murtaza demanded the release of political prisoners in Pakistan. Here, a military officer on the plane was murdered. There were Americans aboard the flight - which is probably why the prisoners were indeed released.

Only a few days ago - in one of the most remarkable (but typically unrecognised) scoops of the year - Tariq Ali published a brilliant dissection of Pakistan (and Bhutto) corruption in the London Review of Books, focusing on Benazir and headlined: “Daughter of the West”. In fact, the article was on my desk to photocopy as its subject was being murdered in Rawalpindi.

Towards the end of this report, Tariq Ali dwelt at length on the subsequent murder of Murtaza Bhutto by police close to his home at a time when Benazir was prime minister - and at a time when Benazir was enraged at Murtaza for demanding a return to PPP values and for condemning Benazir’s appointment of her own husband as minister for industry, a highly lucrative post.

In a passage which may yet be applied to the aftermath of Benazir’s murder, the report continues: “The fatal bullet had been fired at close range. The trap had been carefully laid, but, as is the way in Pakistan, the crudeness of the operation - false entries in police log-books, lost evidence, witnesses arrested and intimidated - a policeman killed who they feared might talk - made it obvious that the decision to execute the prime minister’s brother had been taken at a very high level.”

When Murtaza’s 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, rang her aunt Benazir to ask why witnesses were being arrested - rather than her father’s killers - she says Benazir told her: “Look, you’re very young. You don’t understand things.” Or so Tariq Ali’s exposé would have us believe. Over all this, however, looms the shocking power of Pakistan’s ISI, the Inter Services Intelligence.

This vast institution - corrupt, venal and brutal - works for Musharraf.

But it also worked - and still works - for the Taliban. It also works for the Americans. In fact, it works for everybody. But it is the key which Musharraf can use to open talks with America’s enemies when he feels threatened or wants to put pressure on Afghanistan or wants to appease the ” extremists” and “terrorists” who so oppress George Bush. And let us remember, by the way, that Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded by his Islamist captors in Karachi, actually made his fatal appointment with his future murderers from an ISI commander’s office. Ahmed Rashid’s book Taliban provides riveting proof of the ISI’s web of corruption and violence. Read it, and all of the above makes more sense.

But back to the official narrative. George Bush announced on Thursday he was “looking forward” to talking to his old friend Musharraf. Of course, they would talk about Benazir. They certainly would not talk about the fact that Musharraf continues to protect his old acquaintance - a certain Mr Khan - who supplied all Pakistan’s nuclear secrets to Libya and Iran. No, let’s not bring that bit of the “axis of evil” into this.

So, of course, we were asked to concentrate once more on all those ” extremists” and “terrorists”, not on the logic of questioning which many Pakistanis were feeling their way through in the aftermath of Benazir’s assassination.

It doesn’t, after all, take much to comprehend that the hated elections looming over Musharraf would probably be postponed indefinitely if his principal political opponent happened to be liquidated before polling day.

So let’s run through this logic in the way that Inspector Ian Blair might have done in his policeman’s notebook before he became the top cop in London.

Question: Who forced Benazir Bhutto to stay in London and tried to prevent her return to Pakistan? Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who ordered the arrest of thousands of Benazir’s supporters this month? Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who placed Benazir under temporary house arrest this month? Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who declared martial law this month? Answer General Musharraf.

Question: who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Er. Yes. Well quite.

You see the problem? Yesterday, our television warriors informed us the PPP members shouting that Musharraf was a “murderer” were complaining he had not provided sufficient security for Benazir. Wrong. They were shouting this because they believe he killed her.

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent.
Published on Saturday, December 29, 2007 by The Independent/UK

Friday, December 28, 2007

Will Bhutto's Death Boost Her Party's Chances? A Tragedy Foretold By DILIP HIRO


With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, her family will go down in history as one where everyone, except the mother, Nusrat, died a violent death.

Her father, Zulfikar Ali, former prime minister of Pakistan, was hanged in 1979 during the rule of his successor, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, who had overthrown his civilian government two years earlier. Then Benazir's younger brother, Shah Nawaz, died of poisoning in mysterious circumstances in 1985 in the south of France. And in 1996, her elder brother, Murtaza, was gunned down in a street by unknown assailants.

Given the atrocious suicide bombings of Benazir Bhutto's tumultuous homecoming procession in the port city of Karachi in October, with her open-top bus as the main target, which claimed 140 lives, further attempts on her life were not unexpected.

Since she was determined to campaign widely and openly for the upcoming parliamentary poll on January 8, she exposed herself to a violent attack. Only a tight ring of professionally trained bodyguards that protect the likes of US presidents could have safeguarded her while allowing her the luxury of mixing with ordinary folks gathered in unruly crowds.

Bhutto's security adviser, Rahman Malik, was quick to blame the government of President Pervez Musharraf. "We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment including [electronic] jammers, but they paid no heed to our requests," he said.

But more than electronic jammers are needed to protect VIPs in this age of suicide bombers and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

On returning to Pakistan after an eight-year exile, Bhutto bravely announced that the workers and officials of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) would protect her. In any case, having official bodyguards would have cramped her style, inhibited her movements and personal conversations - a political price she was probably not prepared to pay.

Although no group has claimed responsibility for killing her, it does not require much political savvy to guess. It is the Islamist extremists operating from the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan. As ultra-orthodox Muslims, they loathe governance by a woman. For them, Benazir Bhutto was not only a woman politician but was also "a slave of America".

The way she was shoe-horned into Pakistani politics by the Bush administration left little doubt about her pro-American proclivities in a country, where anti-Americanism is running deep.

While Bhutto's assassination is a shock to the ongoing general election campaign, it is unlikely that the poll will be postponed. That would not be beneficial to her Pakistan People's Party.

History shows that a sensational political murder usually brings out a sympathy vote for the party that lost its leader. Such was the case with Indira Gandhi and her Congress Party in India. After her assassination in October 1984, her son, Rajiv Gandhi, an erstwhile junior MP, led the Congress party to a victory at the polls. (Seven years later he too was assassinated by a woman suicide bomber during an election campaign.)

History is likely to repeat itself, with the PPP doing better than it would have done with Benazir Bhutto at the helm.

Dilip Hiro writes for the The Guardian.

from CounterPunch

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rebuilding Violent Tyranny in Iraq-From One Saddam to Fifty By CHARLES TRIPP


Now that the first phase of the Iraqi civil war seems to have ended, it is time to consider the political processes it may have left in its bloody wake. It is crucial for Iraqis and others to get a sense of the stability and durability of present arrangements. Are they a mechanism for reconciling the ferocious enmities of the past five years in Iraq, or likely to lead to a more violent second phase of the civil war?

There have been two main patterns during these years of violence and massive population displacement.

One is the localization of politics, grounded in the insecurities, fears and ambitions of ruthless local leaders across Iraq. This thrives on community feeling, which is sometimes tribal, sometimes ethnic and sectarian; it also springs from rivalry and jostling for power within a provincial arena.

The other pattern is the emergence of a politics at national level under US auspices, which has much in common with the politics of a protectorate. Both are dangerous for the future, but both may contribute to the emergence of a distinctive, likely troubled, Iraqi politics.

As an Iraqi put it, "the United States got rid of one Saddam only to replace him with 50". For many people, negotiating their way around and through the little Saddams with their militias, detention centres, local courts and taxes has become a fact of life. Some accept this as the price of increased security for their community, neighbourhood or even street. Others who refused to conform, but knew the price in blood for dissent, have fled--abroad if they could or to a part of Iraq where they may be less visible

"National institutions" have little or no authority to temper the effects of this on the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Some, such as the police, are often enmeshed in local power and the extortion and repression with which they are associated. Even when officers are not implicated (as with the police chief of Basra, Major-General Khallaf) they can do nothing but lament the fact that in the past three months some 40 women have been killed in Basra for wearing make-up, not veiling or otherwise failing to observe the narrow rulings of the repressive local militias.

When national politicians do try to take on this entrenched and violent local power, the chances are that they will lose. This was shown in a recent account of Abu Abed's "Knights of Ameriya". He felt that the followers of the vice-president, Tariq al-Hashemi, were trying to muscle in on the area of West Baghdad that was his fiefdom. His local militia was able to flex its muscles so effectively because it had been drawn into the US plan for the pacification of Baghdad. His "knights", and other militias, incongruously called "concerned citizens" by the US authorities, had received US money, weapons and protection in the name of the fight against "al-Qaida in Iraq". (See Ghaith Abd al-Ahad, "Meet Abu Abed: the US's new ally against al-Qaida", The Guardian, November 10, 2007.)

The politics of the local, however fractious, uncertain and grim for many Iraqis, have been much encouraged by the US authorities. This may be due in part to the example of Kurdistan, where the US has been intimately involved since 1991. It is now held up as the only stable and prosperous region of Iraq, but peace there was preceded by years of violence as the two major parties battled each other for supremacy. Cajoled by the US into settling their differences in 2000, political leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani soon realized there was a greater game and did what they could to speed the downfall of the Baghdad regime in 2003. However, as their subsequent stance has shown, despite Talabani's assumption of the presidency of Iraq, their politics have remained resolutely and defiantly local, symbolized by the refusal even to fly the Iraqi flag over official buildings.

This turning to local figures of authority and power is also the outcome of a belief that political order, like the insurgency, must be rooted in local communities if it is to spread. Using the language deployed over a hundred years before by the French colonial general, Joseph Galliéni, in his campaigns in Tonkin and Madagascar, the US high command enthusiastically adopted his strategy of les taches d'huile (oil spots--create many of them and they will seep outwards and eventually join together) as a way to combat both the insurgency and the efforts by "al-Qaida in Iraq" to create no-go areas.

But the use of local strongmen, however repellent their methods, is also due to the illiteracy of US and allied forces in "reading" Iraqi society. This left them relying on an assortment of exiles who inserted themselves into new US-sponsored forms of power and who have been consistently unable make a truly national government happen. In its absence, the US and its partners, having dismantled the last public vestiges of the old centralized Iraqi state, had no choice but to work with those who could command force on the ground, provide intelligence in specific localities and willingly accept the sponsorship and patronage of the real power in Baghdad, as they had always accepted it from the predecessors of the US in the republican or royal palace.

The politicians of the national government, desperate to replace the US as chief patrons of Iraq's politics, but divided among themselves and uncertain of their power beyond the Green Zone, have embodied sectarian and communal politics. They believe these can be a way of connecting with many Iraqis and can provide an escape from a domineering US presence. To resist US demands in the name of an Iraqi sovereignty to which the US pays only lip service has proved fruitless and humiliating. However, communal politics, with all its complexities, networks and layers, has proved impenetrable to the US and to the secular Iraqis whom the US has favored.

Communalism and sectarianism became a bulwark against an overbearing patron, but as the events of 2006-7 showed they can carry terrible risks. They do not lessen the dependency of these recently promoted elites upon the power of the US in Iraq. This applies to the Kurdish leaders, who need it to protect them from Turkish intervention, as well as to the insecure leaders who came to office as a result of the victory of the United Iraqi Alliance in the elections of 2005.

These elections produced the formal institutions of representative life--parliament, elected offices of state, constitution--but, as most Iraqis are well aware, real power lies elsewhere. Unresponsive to the concerns of many, used to passing laws that confirm the privileges of those who have succeeded in manipulating the system, the Iraqi parliament is losing whatever authority it had. For many, cynicism has replaced the enthusiasm generated by the elections. In its place is a recognition that it is helping to entrench an order of privilege, a new class-based dispensation which is a driving force behind the politics of communities across the country . (See "Shi'ite Politics in Iraq--the role of the Supreme Council", Middle East Report n° 70, International Crisis Group, 15 November 2007.)

This too is part of a strategy designed to reinforce the hold of favored leaders over the economy, providing them with the means to service their client followings, and to encourage the spots to join up, driven by the common economic interests of the powerful. Competition for these resources is more troublesome than this picture of progressive pacification might suggest. But it could be argued that the oil law currently before the parliament is, at least in its distributive clauses, an attempt to address this, since it seeks a formula for the distribution of Iraq's oil revenues to make it acceptable to all those in a position to profit, whatever their regional or communal base.

The intention in the long run is not to let "a thousand flowers bloom" but to bring the many forms of local power into the orbit of those with major resources at the centre. This could recreate a national politics in Iraq. It might not reproduce the old centralized state, but it would establish a clear hierarchy, from the provinces to the "club of patrons" who will determine the future from Baghdad. Much about this model resembles the imperial protectorates that shaped the politics of the Middle East for much of the first half of the 20th century.

Al-Maliki heads an insecure, dependent government, resentful of foreign protection but unable to survive without it; this government protests feebly at repeated infringements of Iraqi sovereignty and is subjected to the patronizing imposition of benchmarks by the US Congress as part of a domestic political game within the US. Meanwhile the protecting power, as well as sponsoring local militias and asking few questions if they seem to be keeping the supposed threat from al-Qaida in Iraq at bay, is also forging a close relationship with the Iraqi armed forces.

This is reminiscent of the close and often sinister relationship between Latin American military institutions and the US military, and is set against a backdrop of insecure and corrupt political elites, sham representative institutions, restive provinces and the potentially violent politics of a class-divided society. Some may use anti-Americanism to overcome these differences, particularly if this can be focused on the continued presence of US military bases. This has the potential to set up a dangerous schizophrenia within the Iraqi armed forces. In a recent report on the rebuilding of the ministry of the interior Andrew Rathmell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described it as "a heavily-muscled and well-armed individual with extremely poor physical coordination who suffers from multiple personality disorder" .

Any officer wanting to get ahead must play by US rules, at the same time negotiating with local political elites eager to exploit the force which the army will represent in domestic politics. Yet he is almost certain to come to resent all of these external demands, laying the groundwork for a politics of the military and of military assertion which may be nationalist, contemptuous of civilian politics and ruthless in its methods. Iraq, like many other states, has been here before.
These potentially troubling trends may be a basis for the emergence of Iraqi politics, rather than the collapse and disintegration of the state. However, given the passions, the interests at stake and the vulnerability of Iraqi politics to regional influence and intervention, there is fragility. It comes from the realization that all parties have no intention of renouncing violence as a means of realizing their aims. And the local leaderships may not have as strong a hold over their constituencies as they would want others to believe. A second phase of the civil war is easily imaginable therefore, especially if critical regional events, such as a US-Iran confrontation, are replicated through clients and protégés in Iraq.

Charles Tripp is professor of Middle East politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and author, among other works, of A History of Iraq, Cambridge, new edition 2007, and Islam and the Moral Economy: the challenge of capitalism, Cambridge, 2006.

This article first appeared in the new January edition of excellent monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, whose English language edition can be found at mondediplo.com The full text appears by agreement with Le Monde Diplomatique and CounterPunch will feature one or two articles from LMD every month.

ACTU: we're not feeling neglected-TV interview, 'Insiders' with Barrie Cassidy, ABC TV

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence

Remember Work Choices and the campaign that was generated to oppose it? Remember? Here ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence delivers that body's post election preferences in regard to Work Choices and the ALP government's 'lite' version of same.

But heres' a suggestion: if you are sour on Work Choices and want it torn up completely, don't go holding your breath if you are waiting on Lawrence and co to to facilitate the tearing up.

Watch the interview on the ABC website.

Dave Riley from LeftClick

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Well, the trade unions dominated the debate during the election campaign, and they spent a lot of money in tandem with Labor on the WorkChoices issue. Joining us now is the Secretary of the ACTU, Jeff Lawrence.

(to Jeff Lawrence) Good morning, welcome.

JEFF LAWRENCE, SECRETARY, ACTU: Morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You spent $30 million or so on advertising, that must have been a significant boost to Labor, what's the dividend from all of that?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Well I'm not sure about that figure, Barrie, but there was a significant trade union spend, that's true. And the election was really important, because we think it meant the rejection of WorkChoices, I think that's absolutely clear, and what we want to see now is fair industrial legislation put in place, and I'm confident that will happen.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Was part of the dividend simply survival, because that in itself would have been an issue if the Coalition had won?

JEFF LAWRENCE: I don't think that the trade union movement would not have survived, the trade union movement would have survived, but we do have an opportunity now, we've got an opportunity to build a fair society in Australia and we've got an opportunity to work with the Government, and for that matter, to communicate with employers.

So there is a real opportunity to change our country for the better.

BARRIE CASSIDY: I want to ask you about that communication a little later on, but what do you want from the Government on WorkChoices? If Kevin Rudd does no more than what he says he will do, is that okay by you?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Well we have a policy, and it does have some differences to Labor. We will continue to argue of course for our policy, but Labor has made its decision fairly clear, and I do believe that they have a mandate for that policy, and I'm sure they will proceed with it.

The legislation of course will contain all sorts of issues, and deal with all sorts of issues in detail. So there will be a process of discussion with the Government over the next six months or so.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So you except their mandate, but what's the greatest irritant to you? What area would you like to see changed?

JEFF LAWRENCE: It isn't so much areas to be changed, I think there is a need to talk about the implementation of various issues, there are all sorts of matters that surround the key areas of policy where discussions are necessary.

The central issue for us, though, is the future of collective bargaining. The question of collective bargaining and how it operates in Australia and its relationship with freedom of association, those two really key international rights, they're the things that we'll be talking about most during next year.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And you're satisfied you can do that within the framework that the Government has spelt out?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Absolutely, yes. One of the really central commitments that Labor has made is the whole system of good faith bargaining, the way in which Fair Work Australia will work in the implementation of that system, to help it actually operate. So collective bargaining, freedom of association, are central parts of Labor's policy, and will be central parts in the new system.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Do you have any problem with the two-stage process that Julia Gillard has outlined? That's something that she didn't outline until after the election, and of course the second stage doesn't come into effect until 2010.

JEFF LAWRENCE: Well the two-stage process was announced in August, when Labor announced its implementation plan. So we've known that was going to occur for some time, we knew that there would be a transition Bill. Clearly, we want to make sure that both parts of that legislative package are in place as soon as possible; that's a priority, and that's what we'll be working towards.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now, the restrictions on union rights to enter workplaces will stay, restrictions on strikes will stay, are you comfortable with that?

JEFF LAWRENCE: We would like to see some discussion about some aspects of those policy areas, as I say, there are lots of details to work through there, but we believe we can work with the Government, we believe we can talk to employers to get a practical method of implementation in place.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You say your confident you can work with the Government, but there is no formal relationship or formal dialogue put in place as yet. In fact, Kevin Rudd was asked about it in the Press Club, and he said he hadn't given it any thought at all. Do you need some sort of formal working relationship with the Government, or are you just going to wing it?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Well, no, we're not going to wing it. There will be, and there should be, I'm confident, a formal relationship. The Australian Labor Advisory Council - ALAC - is actually part of the Labor Party's rules and constitution, so there will be a process of consultation. But there will also be consultation with employers, so we just need to work on that, there are lots of issues that will be dealt with in the next six months.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But you're not feeling a bit neglected, Julia Gillard has already spoken to the Australian Industry Group, and there is a consultation group in place to allow for dialogue between the Government and business?

JEFF LAWRENCE: No, we're not feeling neglected. We'll be there, we'll be there expressing very strongly and very firmly our views and our values, and we'll be expressing that to the Government, but as well as that, we'll be in a public sense arguing for our position.

And so our campaign, the Your Rights At Work campaign, will continue, we've made that very clear, and what that will be about is us talking about the role of unions but also the role of unions in society, why it is important that there are strong unions, why it's important that the trade union movement grows. One of the reasons is we just don't want to see a repeat of WorkChoices.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Brendan Nelson and Julie Bishop have indicated that they are willing to talk with the unions, now I don't think John Howard had a meeting with Greg Combet, or with the secretary of the ACTU, in 11 and a half years, I don't think Joe Hockey did. Is this new?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Let me say Barrie, we are prepared to talk to anybody, at any time, to advance the interests of Australian workers. So I'm not sure what happened in the past. There is a consultative mechanism, and certainly since I was elected as secretary, there was one meeting, which Joe Hockey was at which I attended.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yes, but this might be a one-on-one arrangement. Are you curious to why they might be doing this?

JEFF LAWRENCE: I'm not too keen on one-on-one arrangements, Barrie, I think there needs to be broad discussion with all parts of society, and clear the role of the Senate and Parliament in terms of getting legislation through is important, so we want to engage in that.

BARRIE CASSIDY: I think it's fair to say Kevin Rudd is no trade unionist. Do you expect the likes of Greg Combet and Bill Shorten to look after the interests of the unions within the caucus?

JEFF LAWRENCE: I don't expect anybody to look after the interest of unions, unions will look after their own interests, and we'll be standing up for the things that we think are important.

I do think that it is a very good thing that we have, in the Federal Parliament now, people who have been in the trade union movement quite recently, because lots of changes have happened with the trade union movement, lots of changes have happened with the economy, and it is a good thing that there are people who have gone into the trade union movement, into Parliament, like Greg, Bill Shorten and others, who've got very recent experience of the sort of challenges that unions have confronted.

BARRIE CASSIDY: What's their brief? What are their riding instructions?

JEFF LAWRENCE: They haven't got any riding instructions, they will carry out their role in the Government, in accordance with the position of the Government. What we'll be doing is talking to the Government, and those people who are responsible, and of course Julia is the responsible minister, and she's the main person that we'll be talking to, and the main person we've talked to.

BARRIE CASSIDY: What do you do now, about your image? The Coalition, they may not have won the election, but they knew enough about community attitudes to make unions and their connection with the Labor Party a huge issue.

JEFF LAWRENCE: Well, that issue and that campaign have been rejected by the Austrailan people. There has been the most vicious anti-union campaign that I have ever seen, all of those TV ads in red and yellow and black that we saw every night, and in fact, in electorates, marginal electorates. That campaign has been rejected.

So the role of trade unions has actually been recognised by the Australian people. Australian people know that unions have stood up to the interests of all Australian working families.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But we can't be certain why people voted the way that they did, do you think that perhaps you need to modernise to broaden your image? The image that we saw during the election campaign with people like Kevin Reynolds and Joe McDonald, the thuggery was there, for everybody to see. Are you worried about that, and do you think you need to tackle that issue?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Barrie, those sorts of diversionary campaigns focused on a couple of individuals, not at all representative of the broad Australian trade union movement, just did not work.

The union movement will be continuing to articulate what we stand for, and what we stand for is the protection of Australian working families. That's been shown in the election campaign, what we're about is getting rid of WorkChoices, we've done that now.

We will be continuing to talk about our role in the public sense. We will talk about why it's important that there are strong unions, why it's important that unions grow. So we'll continue to put out that public message, as we have, the trade union movement covers a very broad spectrum of industry in society, and it is representative of these industries.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But do you still need to be alert to people like Joe McDonald, into the future?
JEFF LAWRENCE: Look, individuals don't matter here, what we're about is making sure that Australian working families are protected.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So is there a place for say, Dean Mighell, do you have some sympathy for him and do you think perhaps that he should return to the ALP one day?

JEFF LAWRENCE: The question of Labor Party membership is matter for the Labor Party, and it's a matter for Dean. The ACTU will stand up for officials and for unionsts who have their rights infringed, and we will continue to stand up and argue for all workers and all unions who have been attacked.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And just finally, how do you feel, then, about the prospect of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard? You've now seen them develop an industrial relations policy, and they'll now be running the country for at least three years, are you comfortable with that, or do you think that they might now draw a bit of distance between the Government and the unions?

JEFF LAWRENCE: No, I think that Kevin Rudd has run a fabulous campaign, I think Julia has been and will be a really able Deputy Prime Minister, we're really looking forward to working with this Government. I think there is now a tremendous opportunity for the trade union movement, but more so, there's a tremendous opportunity for Australia, if there's more communication between unions and employers, we can address some of the skill deficiencies and some of the other areas where we've lagged behind over the last 11 years.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So do you plan to talk to the employers about that? About boosting the dialogue between unions and employers?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Absolutely, and that will start before Christmas. So what we're about is just trying to make sure that we sit down with everybody in society, and of course employers are an absolutely key part of society to make sure that we get the legislation through, and that we have an industrial system which is one which provides for the sort of rights that exist all around the world, and they're the sort of rights, particularly collective bargaining and freedom of association, that have been suppressed and denied during the Howard years.

BARRIE CASSIDY: It won't be easy, because you went at each other fairly aggressively during the campaign, with your advertisements on both sides?

JEFF LAWRENCE: Look, people are professionals, people have got their own points of view, what needs to happen is that we sit down in a room, we put those points of view, and we come up with a position that is for the benefit of all parties.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.

JEFF LAWRENCE: Thanks, Barrie.

Australia's spoiler role in Bali by Kamala Emanuel

They say that despair is one of the main obstacles to be overcome for those who take more than a casual interest in the global warming crisis facing humanity. Consider the recent UN Climate Change Conference at Bali which heroically set no targets (not even "aspirational" ones) but instead agreed to talk some more over the next two years.

Even now, before these further talks begin, carbon dioxide emissions are rising faster than the most pessimistic "business as usual" model considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Bali decision would be somewhat akin to an army general, on hearing the news that the invading troops are just over the hill, resolving firmly to sit down with tea and biscuits while consulting a diary to determine the most appropriate time for a meeting to nut out the details of a battle plan.

Of course, there was a lot of talk about targets at the conference itself – particularly the 25 to 40 percent reduction advocated by the IPCC. Even Kevin Rudd flirted with that target for 24 hours or so – before reassuring us that he would put on hold any measures to save the world until after he'd received an economic report about whether the inflation rate would be affected.

Ultimately, even with the change of government, Australia must be considered to have played a spoiler role at Bali – hindering, not helping, the efforts needed to achieve the global changes necessary.

Also, uncomfortable as it may be, we have to pose the question: is the 25 to 40 percent reduction by 2020 advocated by the IPCC really enough to save the world? The honest answer is "no".

The temperature rise to date has already resulted in a loss of four fifths of summer Arctic sea ice compared to 40 years ago. The rest could be gone by 2013. If this happens, it would greatly increase the chances of losing the Greenland and then the West Antarctic ice sheets according to NASA's leading climate scientist James Hansen. This would mean an approximate 25 metre rise in sea level.

So the temperature rise so far – a mere 0.8 degrees Celsuis – is already dangerous. The 2020 target of 25 to 40 percent cuts is based on a temperature target of 2 to 2.4 degrees. Such a target is not safe. The take-home message is that we need to cut emissions as deeply and as quickly as possible – and that means at least 60 percent reductions by 2020.

If Bali demonstrates clearly how much resistance there is to adopting even inadequate targets, what hope do we really have? It is this realisation that can lead to despair.

Fortunately, there is cause for hope. Even as we skate perilously close to the edge, it is always worth remembering that political reality can change and things that seem impossible today become feasible tomorrow.

What are some of the elements of the plan that would be needed to stave off a climate catastrophe?

Firstly, and substantially, we need an emergency plan to phase out fossil fuels altogether. Far from approving new coal mines and coal export terminals as the NSW government is doing, we should be building new renewable energy power stations and working on a government-sponsored energy efficiency drive.

We should be putting solar panels on rooftops around the country – a much better way to spend the $31 billion earmarked during the federal election campaign for tax cuts.

Cars should be driven off the roads – not by administrative decree but by the provision of a superior alternative. We should be planning a massive expansion of public transport – especially electric powered light and heavy rail services – that is reliable, frequent and free. Where private cars are still required, we should move towards electric vehicles.

In agriculture, we need a big push towards organics in order to avoid fossil fuel-based fertilisers and pesticides. And we need a push towards urban agriculture to minimise the transportation of food.

While a significant community campaign would be needed in the current climate to realise any one of these measures against government and corporate resistance, none of them is so far-fetched as to be impossible. And there is a compelling reason to give it a go: because humanity (and much else besides) is worth saving.

Kamala Emanuel is the national climate change campaign coordinator for the Socialist Alliance and co-edited the Alliance's climate change charter, It Happens to be an Emergency. She writes for Green Left Weekly and is an organiser of the April 2008 Climate Change - Social Change conference. Emanuel is also a medical practitioner.

How One Diplomat Fought Against Rendition-Conscience and Empire By PATRICK COCKBURN

As a child the only interesting fact that I knew about my grandfather Henry Cockburn was that he had read his own obituary in The Times. This happened because he was a diplomat in the British legation during the siege of Peking in 1900 during which the Chinese Boxer rebels were wrongly reported to have stormed the legation quarter and slaughtered its defenders.

When I was a little older my father Claud Cockburn told me that after the siege Henry had gone on to become British Consul General in Seoul in Korea. He was the senior British diplomat in the country as Japan took control. 'Quite suddenly,' my father related, 'he announced he was weary of the whole business and retired, saying that at forty-nine it was high time to start leading an entirely new sort of life.'

It seemed a whimsical reason for an Edwardian diplomat to resign, especially as he had little money and no other career to look forward to. In fact, I discovered a century later. that that there was a very precise reason for Henry Cockburn's retirement which followed a prolonged and furious row within the Foreign Office over an issue which reverberates more than ever in British foreign policy today.

My father had written in his autobiography 'In Time of Trouble' that Henry 'thought the whole British agreement with the Japanese on the Korean issue disastrous.' I was curious about this sentence. One day I was in the National Archives at Kew looking some old MI-5 files about Claud, when it crossed my mind that it might be interesting to look at the Foreign Office papers marked 'Corea' for the relevant period to see if they contained any clue as to what happened.

As soon as I started reading the ancient files I saw a word which has become familiar since President Bush launched his war on terror after the destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001. I had previously thought that 'rendition', meaning the handing over of prisoners by one country to another in the knowledge that they are going to be tortured, was a modern use of the term. Over the last five years 'rendition' has acquired an infamous meaning since it was revealed that the CIA had been covertly flying political prisoners to countries like Egypt, Afghanistan and Syria to which the ghastly business of torture had been farmed out by the US.

But in the aging Foreign Office files I was surprised to find the very same word used in exactly the same sense as we use it today. It turned out that my grandfather's differences with the Foreign Office were not about British policy in general, but over the specific issue of the rendition of a Korean journalist called Yang Ki-tak, a vocal and effective critic of the Japanese occupation. After being tortured in a Japanese-run prison he had taken refuge on British-owned property. The Japanese wanted to re-arrest him but, under the terms of a treaty with Britain, Japanese police could not enter premises owned by a British subject without the authority of the British consul. This my grandfather refused to give.

One of the first papers I found in Kew is the transcript of a telegram entitled 'Rendition of Corean' dated 20 August, 1908 from Henry Cockburn to Sir Claude MacDonald, the British ambassador in Tokyo, warning that 'if it became known that we had handed over a prisoner to the Japanese & that he had subsequently been subjected to conditions similar to those which obtained in the case of Yang, the worst impression would be created.'

My grandfather by this time had a very clear idea what happened to political prisoners held in jail in Seoul. In a long telegram to Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, in London he describes how a British visitor to Yang while he was still in jail 'had been startled by the prisoner's appearance and by the cowering timid air with which he looked nervously at prison officials before he answered.' At first Yang said listlessly that he had nothing to complain off, but then suddenly added in a low, agitated voice, 'I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can get no air.' He explained he was held with twenty men in a room measuring 14 feet by 12 feet. Henry had no doubt that his mistreatment also included physical torture.

The reaction of the Foreign Office mandarins was a little more robust than its attitude a century later when the CIA was landing planes in Britain with hooded and drugged prisoners on board on their way to secret prisons in eastern Europe and the Middle East. The Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, who copiously annotated Cockburn's dispatches in red ink, asked for assurances that Yang would not be further mistreated if he was handed over, though he also made clear that fostering good relations with Japan was his priority. In Tokyo Sir Claude MacDonald, a soldier turned diplomat who had been the military commander during the siege of Peking, sounds bemused by the fuss being made by my grandfather in Seoul over the rendition of a single Korean journalist. He downplayed Henry's account of the grim conditions in Japanese prisons in Korea saying he had seen worse in prisons in Egypt after Britain had taken control. 'I am seriously of the opinion,' he wrote 'that Yang should be given up immediately and unconditionally.'

By then other Foreign Office mandarins were becoming increasingly irritated by what they saw as Henry Cockburn's unnecessary quarrel with the Japanese over a single dissenting Korean journalist that was beginning to endanger relations with a potent new ally. Japan had shown its strength by defeating China in 1894 and Russia in 1904. Henry was later to complain that he felt let down by his superiors on several occasions when they ordered him to comply with Japanese demands that he had previously rejected.

In trying to save Yang Henry did not have a very strong hand, but he played his cards with skill. He was the senior British diplomat in Korea, but he was outranked by MacDonald in Tokyo and had to obey what Grey and senior officials in London told him to do. At the same time the British had their own imperial prestige to consider and could not allow the Japanese to have everything their own way, once the issue had been raised, over Yang.

The Japanese for their part were anxious to avoid an open rupture with Britain over the fate of a single torture victim and were prepared, under British pressure, to promise to treat him more humanely. They were also mystified because they wholly disbelieved that a British diplomat could have had any disinterested objection to Yang's mistreatment. Henry caustically noted that the Japanese officials with whom he was dealing were convinced that 'if I persisted in dwelling on so trivial a side issue, it must be because I was inspired by an unfriendly wish to interpose obstacles in the Japanese path.'

My grandfather seems to have expected that he would ultimately be forced to surrender Yang to the Japanese. But by then he had kicked up such a row that the Japanese agreed to various conditions such as keeping Yang in hospital and allowing him a fair trial so that they were ultimately forced to release him. It was four years before they caught up with him again when he was once more imprisoned after a trial in which his co-defendants described how they had been hung by their thumbs from the ceiling, savagely beaten and burned with cigarettes until they confessed.

My grand father's career as a diplomat was ended by his defense of Yang. A week after handing over the journalist to the Japanese on August 19, 1908 he announced he was going on leave and returned to Britain via the trans-Siberian railway. He never went back to Korea and resigned from the Foreign Office six months later. He died several years before the Second World War when tens of thousands of captured British soldiers and civilians discovered that the Japanese treatment of prisoners could be just as horrific as he had described.


Reading through the voluminous Foreign Office files on the Yang case I felt proud of my grandfather's behavior. He was one of those self-confident high Tories who, like Lord Gilmour who died a few months ago, prove to be the staunchest opponents of oppression because they do what they themselves, and not their government or their employer, think to be right.

He never had any doubts about the virtues of imperialism as a system quite separate from the motives, which he often derided as pathetic or sordid, of those who ran it. In my father's view Henry saw the British Empire as if it was like a strange symphony. The failings of the individuals involved in running it were 'as irrelevant as would be the fact that the composer took dope and conductor lived off the immoral earnings of women.'

My grandfather spent almost thirty years in the Far East, almost all of them in China, though he had originally intended to live in India. Born in 1859, he was the son of Francis Jeffrey Cockburn, a British judge in India mainly notable for having blown off his right hand as a boy when experimenting with a gunpowder flask. His family kept the mangled hand preserved in a jar of spirits on the mantelpiece and would show it to interested guests. The lad's uncles, being practical Scotchmen, sent the maimed lad a profusion of small desks so he could learn to write with his left hand.

Henry expressed an early desire to enter the Indian Civil Service and, since he was highly intelligent, seemed likely to pass the entrance examination with ease. Unfortunately for him, however, shortly before taking it, he confided to his father that under the influence of German philosophy he had become an atheist. This was unwise because his father viewed religion as part of the essential cement of the British Empire and hurried to London to pull all available strings at the Indian Office to make sure that they never gave his son a job.

Henry did not hold it against his father for acting thus on an issue of principle, but nonetheless sold his books and all but one suit and disappeared from home. When next heard of he had entered the Eastern Consular Service from which he knew he could later pass into the diplomatic service without taking a further examination. He learned Chinese and became British vice consul in Chunking, an isolated city on the upper Yangtse, in 1880 at the start of the quarter of a century he lived in China. His final post was as 'Chinese Secretary' in the Peking legation where he was trapped during the famous siege.

On moving to Seoul in 1906 he expressed no particular objection to the Japanese take over of Korea which he saw as 'a pawn in a game of chess that has been the centre of interest solely by reason of its position relative to the pieces of the great powers.' Not that the Foreign Office had any doubts that the Koreans regarded the Japanese with anything other than visceral hatred. The forced abdication of the Korean Emperor led to an uprising in 1907 which Japanese troops bloodily repressed.

Henry's early dispatches are coolly written accounts of the Korean rebellion and Japan's efforts to suppress it. In their military operations against the guerrillas, he wrote, there had 'certainly been no indiscriminate laying waste the country and many of the houses and villages of which the destruction is laid to the account of Japanese troops were in fact burned by the insurgents as a punishment for harbouring the troops.'

One Britons in Korea who took a much more critical view of Japanese repression was a journalist called Ernest Bethell who owned a newspaper, The Korea Daily News, which had a Korean edition called Dai Han Mai Il Shinpo. It printed graphic stories about atrocities which were all the more deeply resented by the Japanese authorities, because they could not legally close down Bethell's newspapers because of Britain's extra-territorial rights in Korea.

Unable to act themselves, the Japanese persuaded the British to act for them and on 12 October 2007 Bethell was summoned to appear before a specially appointed Consular Court charged with action likely to cause a breach of the peace. 'The trial,' wrote Fred McKenzie, a pro-Korean observer, 'took place in the Consular building, Mr Cockburn, the very able British Consul-General acting as judge.' He convicted the editor and ordered him to enter into recognizances of sterling 300 for his good behavior for six months. This effectively gagged the newspaper
.
The trial turned out to be only the first round of a triangular battle between Bethell, the Japanese authorities and Henry. In March 2008 a Korean nationalist shot and killed in San Francisco an American adviser to the Japanese administration called D.W.Stevens. The assassination was covered by Bethell's Korean paper which printed a eulogy to the assassins under the headline: 'Particulars of the attack upon the the scoundrel Stevens.'

The Japanese supreme authority in Korea, Prince Ito, in charge of turning the country into a Japanese protectorate, asked Sir Claude MacDonald in Tokyo for the British to deal with Bethell and his newspaper, claiming he held them partly responsible for the assassination of Stevens. MacDonald agreed with him. On May 7 Henry wrote a memo sympathetic to the Japanese case and castigated Bethell, saying that 'an analogous case [to that of Stevens] would be the assassination of a prominent Anglo-Indian official on his arrival in England by a native of Bengal.'

As regards my grandfather's actions what happened next falls into two distinct halves. In the first he did everything he could to close down Bethell and his newspaper on the grounds that they threatened public order and disturbed Britain's alliance with Japan. In the second half he tried to prevent the Japanese imprisoning and torturing Yang Ki-tak, the heroic nationalist editor of the Korean edition of Bethell's paper. The previously calm tone of his diplomatic dispatches is replaced by outrage at the brutal methods and contempt for legality of the Japanese occupation.

Bethell was summoned before a British consular court in Seoul for a second time accused of causing tumult in a country which was 'under the de facto protectorate of Japan.' He was sentenced to three weeks imprisonment, bound over for six months and deported on a British naval vessel to Shanghai where there was a British prison.

Henry soon found out that this was not the end of the affair. The chief defence witness at Bethell's trial was his editor Yang. So long as he remained in his British owned newspaper office he was safe, but on July 13 he was tricked by the Japanese police into leaving the office and arrested. Henry protested at the arrest of the chief witness at the trial he had organized, but was blandly assured that Yang had been detained for embezzlement. He was bitterly scornful at the Japanese excuse for the arrest since the funds Yang was accused of embezzling were in a fund 'instituted for the purpose of freeing Corea from the Protectorate of Japan.' He thought it unlikely that Japanese were truly interested in safeguarding subscribers.

In jail in Seoul Yang's health rapidly collapsed. He was kept in a crowded cell which was too small to lie down and too low to stand up. He was evidently tortured. When a British visitor called Mr Marnham saw him three weeks after his arrest he described him as 'looking like a skeleton' and in a state of nervous collapse because of his visible terror of his Japanese guards. When Henry protested to a senior Japanese official about these inhumane conditions he was told that Yang was being treated just the same as other untried prisoners.

The Japanese also disbelieved his claim of humanitarian concern for the prisoner. 'It is,' he wrote, 'this callousness and this failure to recognize that to the English mind such slow torture of unconvicted prisoners is abhorrent, that has constituted one of the great obstacles in dealing with this case.' He protested vigorously to London and Tokyo and with some effect since Prince Ito, a powerful and sophisticated statesman, ordered that Yang be moved to hospital.

The case now took a peculiar twist. The Japanese prison governor misunderstood his instructions. Instead of being sent to hospital Yang was released onto the street and he promptly fled back to his newspaper. He was still in a very bad state. A British consular official confirmed that he still looked like a skeleton and the consul had been 'struck by the frightened look on his face, as of a hunted creature, and by his nervousness in answering even a simple question.'

My grandfather struggled not to return Yang to Japanese custody despite increasingly peremptory instructions from London and Tokyo. He was refusing to speak to the Japanese official in charge of the case whom he said had lied to him. He did extract promises from the Japanese that Yang would be hospitalized, tried in open court and be represented by a Korean lawyer. On August 20 he received a telegram from Sir Edward Grey in London ordering him to hand over Yang to the Japanese. In reply he sent 'an account of the rendition of the prisoner with a description of his appearance [bearing marks of his mistreatment].

In the short term Henry's protests were surprisingly effective. The case had become so well publicized that Yang was released on September 25, though he was imprisoned and tortured again in later years. Bethell returned to Korea in 1909 but almost immediately died of natural causes. In 1960 he was retrospectively declared 'a Hero of the Korean Revolution.'

My grandfather left Korea even before Yang was released, privately claiming that the Foreign Office had not given him sufficient support. In resigning the following July he does not mention this but says 'it is with some sense of humiliation that one admits oneself to have broken down at an earlier age than usual.' Probably he was being circumspect about his motives because he was applying for a full pension and he lived for another 27 years. His protests against rendition read as fresh today as when they were written, as does his half-spoken suspicion that the torture chamber might be an essential foundation of foreign occupation and not one of its excesses.

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. His forthcoming book 'Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq' is published by Scribner in April. Next spring CounterPunch Books / AK Press will republish the memoirs of Claud Cockburn, I Claud, long regarded as among the classic memoirs of the twentieth century.

from CounterPunch

A Fierce Independent Against Despotisms of Every Sort-Thinking of Edward Said by Tariq Ali


I think of Edward Said often, especially, but not only, when I read of the sordid deals in which the PLO is engaged with Israel and its US backers. I miss Edward's impetuosity and righteous indignation. He would have had no truck with the shrivelled little Bantustans that the PLO wants to accept and would have morally destroyed the apologists for such a scheme or those intellectual fellow-travellers who think that defending the idea of a secular Palestine means remaining silent on the US-EU embargo on Hamas and who, exhausted by years of struggle and the receipt of handsome cheques from some corrupt NGO, are yearning for an accommodation with the enemy on almost any terms.

Already in his last writings Edward Said had supported the idea of a single state in Israel-Palestine and a break with the corruption and bankruptcy of the PLO. He may not have agreed with every dot and comma in Mearsheimer and Walt's magisterial work, 'The Israel Lobby', but he would have loudly applauded its publication for breaking a sacred taboo. His voice is greatly missed in these bad times.

That Said was an implacable opponent of the Zionist project and US imperial policies is not in doubt, but he was not a mindless opponent of all things American. He loved New York. It was his home and he knew it and it was no small matter. He would often talk about the city with great passion and humour.

Edward's colleagues at Columbia used to refer to his large office as the 'West Bank' and he appreciated the humour. Visiting Britain or France he was both enthusiastic on some levels (French intellectual history, for instance) and detached. He was an inquisitive tourist, a bon vivant fitting well Edward Gibbon's description of such a person who possesses a 'virtue which borders on a vice; the flexible temper which can assimilate itself to every tone of society from the court to the cottage; the happy flow of spirits which can amuse and be amused in every company and situation.'

Edward engaged with contemporary ideas happily but unlike some of his fans he did not try and compensate for the hollowness of a hole by constructing a hollow dome over it to both frame and enlarge the original. At the same time he was not one of those who feel that the 20th century had erred in attaching too much importance to intellect and reason, conviction and character.

Horrible mistakes had been made by 'our side', crimes had been committed by Western civilization in the Congo and the judeocide of the Second World War which had made Western public opinion, belatedly regretting the genocide, now indifferent to Palestinian suffering. Sometimes in melancholic mood and feeling more insecure than usual he would need to be reassured that what he was doing was worthwhile. Posterity's tributes would have pleased him greatly.

The best way to honour his memory is to preserve a fierce independence against despotisms of every variety regardless of whether they clothe themselves in the uniform of democracy or bludgeon people into submission with a field-marshal's baton.

Tariq Ali's new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. He can be reached at: tariq.ali3@btinternet.com

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Politics and Profits: How the Oil Cartel Gets Its Way By RALPH NADER

While many impoverished American families are shivering in the winter cold for lack of money to pay the oil baron their exorbitant price for home heating oil, ex-oil man, George W. Bush sleeps in a warm White House and relishes his defeat of the Congressional attempt to get rid of $15 billion in unconscionable tax breaks given those same profit-glutted oil companies like ExxonMobil when crude oil was half the price it is today.

This is the same George W. Bush who, calling himself a "compassionate conservative" in October 2000 made this promise to the American people: "First and foremost, we've got to make sure we fully fund the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is a way to help low-income folks, particularly here in the East, pay for their high, high fuel bills."

So what did this serial promise-breaker propose this year? Mr. Bush wanted to cut the fuel aid program by $379 million! This entire assistance program is funded at about half of the $5 billion that state governors and lawmakers believe is essential to meet the needs of the six million people eligible to apply for such help this year.

Everyone in Washington knows that the big, coddled, subsidized oil industry has many politicians over a barrel. When it comes to oily Bush and Cheney though, the global melting industry has these two indentured servants marinated in oil.

Look at what ending regulation of natural gas prices has produced: prices up 50 percent since last year. Home heating oil prices are up 30 percent. Bush's own Energy Department estimates the rise of heating oil costs will impose an average increase of $375 for customers this winter. No way that supply and demand explains this gouge.

If a home dweller is too poor to order more than 100 gallons at a time, they get smacked with an extra surcharge of 60 to 70 cents per gallon for delivery.

Some states set aside some money. New York State will spend $25 million. Joe Kennedy and Citgo sell discounted heating oil, but that Venezuelan program is undergoing a reduction.

Efforts in Congress to impose a windfall-profits tax on the King Kong, record-profit-setting oil companies got nowhere.

Two years ago, efforts by Senator Charles Grassley (Rep. Iowa), then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, begging the major oil giants to slice off a tiny portion of their profits for charitable contributions toward energy assistance for the poor did not receive even the courtesy of a response.

I've asked members of Congress, including the Black Caucus and the Hispanic Caucus in the House of Representatives to take up this cause vigorously and prominently on behalf of their constituents back home. Have you heard any high-visibility demand from these veteran lawmakers? I haven't.

Even Senator Grassley seems to have despaired.

Please note that ExxonMobil alone made $36 billion in profits last year. That's one company profiting over seven times the amount of dollars needed for energy assistance. Greed, arrogance, callousness and far too much unaccountable power exists in Big Oil and in its White House.

Enforcing the antitrust laws and prohibiting organized speculators at the Mercantile Exchange from determining the price of an essential product like petroleum will bring prices down. But there is no action in the White House. No demand from the Congress.

Veteran free lance reporter, Lance Tapley has been reporting for The Portland Phoenix newspaper on the price bilking of recipients of energy assistance programs. For thirty years, he writes, the oil dealers have been charging the Maine state housing authority, which administers the LIHEAP program, higher prices than they set for their payment-plan customers, despite the large bulk purchasing by this housing authority.

Tapley severely criticizes the failure of Governor John Baldacci for not standing up for poor Maine people at the same time he promotes large subsidies for business and sells off state-owned assets at bargain-basement prices to corporations.

Mr. Tapley writes: "The heating oil crisis could be a big test in 2008 for Baldacci and the State House Democrats. The picture will not be pretty if elderly poor people freeze in their trailers while rich Republicans and professional-class Democrats snuggle up in their McMansions or old Colonialsbut, with our Democrats, who needs Republicans?" (Contact Lance Tapley at ltapley@adelphia.net)

Some day, the tens of millions of poor people in America, most of them working poor, will be heard from. Until now, they have been exhausted, powerless, despairing, fearful and grasping for whatever crumbs fall off the table. History teaches us that such a subdued human condition does not continue indefinitely.

Call the White House switchboard (202-456-1414) and your member of Congress (Senate Information: 202-224-3121; House Information: 202-225-3121). Tell them not all these low-income Americans have been sent to oil rich Iraq. Many are here mourning their losses of and injuries to loved ones while they shiver in the cold.

Tell them to make those big oil CEOs making as much as $50,000 an hour to ante up.

Ralph Nader is the author of The Seventeen Traditions

The Shock Doctrine in Action in New Orleans by Naomi Klein

Readers of The Shock Doctrine know that one of the most shameless examples of disaster capitalism has been the attempt to exploit the disastrous flooding of New Orleans to close down that city’s public housing projects, some of the only affordable units in the city. Most of the buildings sustained minimal flood damage, but they happen to occupy valuable land that make for perfect condo developments and hotels.

The final showdown over New Orleans public housing is playing out in dramatic fashion right now. The conflict is a classic example of the “triple shock” formula at the core of the doctrine.

First came the shock of the original disaster: the flood and the traumatic evacuation.
Next came the “economic shock therapy”: using the window of opportunity opened up by the first shock to push through a rapid-fire attack on the city’s public services and spaces, most notably it’s homes, schools and hospitals.
Now we see that as residents of New Orleans try to resist these attacks, they are being met with a third shock: the shock of the police baton and the Taser gun, used on the bodies of protestors outside New Orleans City Hall yesterday.
Democracy Now! has been covering this fight all week, with amazing reports from filmmakers Jacquie Soohen and Rick Rowley (Rick was arrested in the crackdown). Watch residents react to the bulldozing of their homes here.

And footage from yesterday’s police crackdown and Tasering of protestors inside and outside city hall here.

That last segment contains a terrific interview with Kali Akuno, executive director of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. Akuno puts the demolitions in the big picture, telling Amy Goodman:

This is just one particular piece of this whole program. Public hospitals are also being shut down and set to be demolished and destroyed in New Orleans. And they’ve systematically dismantled the public education system and beginning demolition on many of the schools in New Orleans–that’s on the agenda right now–and trying to totally turn that system over to a charter and a voucher system, to privatize and just really go forward with a major experiment, which was initially laid out by the Heritage Foundation and other neoconservative think tanks shortly after the storm. So this is just really the fulfillment of this program.

Akuno is referring to the Heritage Foundation’s infamous post-Katrina meeting with the Republican Study Group in which participants laid out their plans to turn New Orleans into a Petri dish for every policy they can’t ram through without a disaster. Read the minutes on my website.

For more context, here are couple of related excerpts from The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism:

The news racing around the shelter [in Baton Rouge] that day was that Richard Baker, a prominent Republican Congressman from this city, had told a group of lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans’ wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: “I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.” All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a “smaller, safer city”–which in practice meant plans to level the public housing projects and replace them with condos. Hearing all the talk of “fresh starts” and “clean sheets,” you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the highway.

Over at the shelter, Jamar Perry, a young resident of New Orleans, could think of nothing else. “I really don’t see it as cleaning up the city. What I see is that a lot of people got killed uptown. People who shouldn’t have died.” He was speaking quietly, but an older man in line in front of us in the food line overheard and whipped around. “What is wrong with these people in Baton Rouge? This isn’t an opportunity. It’s a goddamned tragedy. Are they blind?”

A mother with two kids chimed in. “No, they’re not blind, they’re evil. They see just fine.”



At first I thought the Green Zone phenomenon was unique to the war in Iraq. Now, after years spent in other disaster zones, I realize that the Green Zone emerges everywhere that the disaster capitalism complex descends, with the same stark partitions between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned.

It happened in New Orleans. After the flood, an already divided city turned into a battleground between gated green zones and raging red zones–the result not of water damage but of the “free-market solutions” embraced by the president. The Bush administration refused to allow emergency funds to pay public sector salaries, and the City of New Orleans, which lost its tax base, had to fire three thousand workers in the months after Katrina. Among them were sixteen of the city’s planning staff–with shades of “de Baathification,” laid off at the precise moment when New Orleans was in desperate need of planners. Instead, millions of public dollars went to outside consultants, many of whom were powerful real estate developers. And of course thousands of teachers were also fired, paving the way for the conversion of dozens of public schools into charter schools, just as Friedman had called for.

Almost two years after the storm, Charity Hospital was still closed. The court system was barely functioning, and the privatized electricity company, Entergy, had failed to get the whole city back online. After threatening to raise rates dramatically, the company managed to extract a controversial $200 million bailout from the federal government. The public transit system was gutted and lost almost half its workers. The vast majority of publicly owned housing projects stood boarded up and empty, with five thousand units slotted for demolition by the federal housing authority. Much as the tourism lobby in Asia had longed to be rid of the beachfront fishing villages, New Orleans’ powerful tourism lobby had been eyeing the housing projects, several of them on prime land close to the French Quarter, the city’s tourism magnet.

Endesha Juakali helped set up a protest camp outside one of the boarded-up projects, St. Bernard Public Housing, explaining that “they’ve had an agenda for St. Bernard a long time, but as long as people lived here, they couldn’t do it. So they used the disaster as a way of cleansing the neighbourhood when the neighbourhood is weakest. … This is a great location for bigger houses and condos. The only problem is you got all these poor black people sitting on it!”

Amid the schools, the homes, the hospitals, the transit system and the lack of clean water in many parts of town, New Orleans’ public sphere was not being rebuilt, it was being erased, with the storm used as the excuse. At an earlier stage of capitalist “creative destruction,” large swaths of the United States lost their manufacturing bases and degenerated into rust belts of shuttered factories and neglected neighbourhoods. Post-Katrina New Orleans may be providing the first Western-world image of a new kind of wasted urban landscape: the mould belt, destroyed by the deadly combination of weathered public infrastructure and extreme weather.

Since the publication of The Shock Doctrine, my research team has been putting dozens of original source documents online for readers to explore subjects in greater depth. The resource page on New Orleans has some real gems.

Naomi Klein is the author of many books, including her most recent, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which will be published in September.Visit Naomi’s website at www.naomiklein.org, or to learn more about her new book, visit www.shockdoctrine.com .

Published on Friday, December 21, 2007 by Huffington Post