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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The good news for 2009, a seasonal wish list by John Pilger

The current New Statesman offers a menu of good news to celebrate in 2009. John Pilger adds his own wish list.

January: Tony Blair is arrested at Heathrow Airport as he returns from yet another foreign speaking engagement (receipts since leaving office: £12m). He is flown to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes for his part in the illegal, unprovoked attack on a defenceless country, Iraq, justified by proven lies, and for the subsequent physical, social and cultural destruction of that country, causing the death of up to a million people. According to the Nuremberg Tribunal, this is the "paramount war crime". The prosecution tells Blair's defence team it will not accept a plea of "sincerely believing". Cherie Blair, a close collaborator who has compared her husband with Winston Churchill, is cautioned.

February: Following the inauguration of Barack Obama as president of the United States, his predecessor, George W Bush, is arrested leaving the Church of the Holy Crusader in his home town of Crawford, Texas. He is flown to The Hague in War Criminal One. (See above for prosecution details.) Laura Bush, after a plea bargain, agrees to give evidence against the former president, "for God's sake".

March: Former vice-president Dick Cheney shoots himself in the foot hunting squirrels following a prayer breakfast in Hope, Florida.

April: Aung San Suu Kyi is released from house arrest and assumes her rightful place as the democratic head of the government of Burma.

May: All American and British troops leave Iraq, including the "300-400" British troops who are to stay behind to "train Iraqis" and do the kind of special forces dirty work almost never reported by embedded journalists.

June: All Nato troops leave Afghanistan.

July: The British government calls a halt to selling arms and military equipment to ten out of 14 conflict-hit countries in Africa. The chairman of the arms company BAE Systems is arrested by the Serious Fraud Office.

August: The British Department for International Development ends its support for privatisation as a condition of aid to the poorest countries.

September: Sir Bob Geldof and Bono visit Tony Blair in prison, suggesting a worldwide Crime Aid gig to raise money for their hero's defence.

October: The Booker prizewinner Anne Enright apologises to Gerry and Kate McCann, parents of the missing child Madeleine McCann, for speculating in the London Review of Books about the possible involvement of the McCanns in the disappearance of their daughter.

November: Gordon Brown is kidnapped, hooded and forced to listen repeatedly to his 2007 speech to bankers at a Mansion House banquet: "What you as the City of London have achieved for financial services, we as a government now aspire to achieve for the whole economy."

December: Tony Blair is sentenced to life imprisonment and beatified by the Pope.

If you think none of this will happen, you are probably right.

But beware 2010...

18 Dec 2008

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rudd, Wong on target for disaster by Simon Butler

In the lead up to the November 2007 Federal elections, ALP leader Kevin Rudd assured voters that his party took climate change seriously and would follow a very different path from that of the anti-environmental Howard government.

We now know he was lying. After 12 months of delay, inaction and ceaseless rhetoric, the Rudd government finally announced its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets on December 15. The targets are not simply disappointing. They are disastrous and appalling. The 5% reductions by 2020 announced by climate change minister Penny Wong fall woefully short of the cuts urged by the world’s leading climate scientists. It also confirms that Australia continues to play the dishonorable role, inherited from the Howard government, of an international climate pariah.

The continuity between the climate change policies of the Howard and Rudd governments was approvingly emphasised by an editorial in the Murdoch-owned Australian on December 9. Anticipating the small emissions cuts to be proposed, the editorial gloated: “As The Australian has repeatedly said, the Rudd Government’s position is largely consistent with what has been proposed by the Opposition. It is little different, rhetoric aside, from what John Howard would have done, had he retained office.”

The same article fatuously attacked a Sydney Morning Herald editorial of the previous day for having “been more at home in Green Left Weekly than a mainstream paper”. If only that was true. While the SMH did criticise the Rudd government for its “compromise, back pedalling and political expediency”, it fell short of demanding the Rudd government adopt emissions targets that accord with the actual climate science — as GLW does. Ignoring climate emergency The centrepiece of the Rudd government’s climate policy is the carbon trading emissions scheme.

This scheme, under which some of Australia’s biggest polluters are provided with free and/or tax-deductible carbon credits, is highly unlikely to achieve even the tiny reductions targets set by Rudd and Wong. A very similar scheme adopted some years ago by the European Union has not resulted in any greenhouse gas reductions at all. However, financial speculators made fortunes in the newly created “carbon market” through buying and selling the “right to pollute”. However, even if carbon trading resulted in the government’s 5% target being reached, the cuts would still be entirely inadequate to attain the government’s preferred long-term goal of stabilising atmospheric concentration of carbon at 450 parts per million. A recent paper published by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society has calculated that in order to stabilise carbon in the atmosphere at 450ppm, the world’s emissions are required to peak no later than 2015.

Subsequently, reductions would need to proceed at a minimum of 6%-8% annually. The 5% by 2020 target has no hope of success. Worst of all, 450ppm is itself an alarmingly dangerous target that would almost certainly lead to runaway climate change. British economist Nicholas Stern warned in a 2006 report commissioned for the Blair government that 450ppm has a 78% change of exceeding a 2° average increase from pre-industrial temperatures. Furthermore, the Stern report’s conclusions are now widely acknowledged to be based on outdated research and very probably understate the dangers.

As little as 2° warming will still push the planet far past crucial climate tipping points where the planet will begin to warm itself — leading to catastrophic and unpredictable consequences. Some of these tipping points include: • the melting of the Arctic ice caps, reducing the amount of sunlight reflected by the ice back into space, thereby increasing warming and locking in further melting;

• the warming of the oceans, resulting in increased ocean acidification, the dramatic loss of marine life and coral reefs and a further reduction in the amount of atmospheric carbon absorbed by the oceans, thereby locking in further warming;

• the melting of the Arctic permafrost that holds beneath the frozen ground up to double the amount of carbon currently present in the atmosphere. If the permafrost melts, the huge amounts of methane gas released will push global warming to uncontainable levels. These problems are no longer something that we will face sometime in the future. Climate scientists have observed, and reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals, that polar ice cap melt, ocean warming and methane release from the Arctic permafrost is already underway. These climate tipping-points are being approached now, even though the world’s temperature increase currently sits at only 0.8° above pre-industrial levels.

It is for this reason that climate scientist James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has argued we face a “planetary emergency” and called for reducing atmospheric carbon at 300-325ppm as rapidly as possible. Government strategy Despite the irrefutable evidence pointing to a climate emergency, the Rudd government intends justify its business as usual course by positioning itself as though it is taking a responsible path — the middle ground between contending sides in the climate debate. A “Climate Alert” paper circulated by Australian campaigners David Spratt and Damian Lawson on December 12 pointed out that “Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong will defend their disastrous targets by saying they are being criticised by ’both sides’ of the debate and therefore they have got it right”.

They drew attention to Rudd’s justification of the government’s climate policy to the December 11 7.30 Report as a typical example: “And I’m sure when this [government carbon policy] is delivered, early next week, we’ll get attacked from the left, from the right, we’ll get attacked by various radical green groups saying that we haven’t gone far enough because we haven’t closed down the coal industry by next Thursday … We’ll be attacked from the far right and by various business groups, I suppose, and certainly the Liberal Party, for doing anything at all. “And we’ll be attacked by extreme green groups for not taking the most radical course of action … We intend to steer a balanced course.”

But in response to this Spratt and Lawson argued: “Climate targets must be set according to the scientific imperatives, and putting them through a political filter can only imperil the planet. The government does not understand that you can’t negotiate with the laws of physics and chemistry and biology that determine our climate system.”

The other argument the government will rely on heavily is that they cannot move any faster to reduce emissions without a binding international agreement having first been reached. The astounding cynicism of this claim has become apparent in the wake of the international climate change conference in held in the Polish city of Poznan over December 1-12. There, the Australian government helped to sabotage any hope of such an international agreement!

The Australian delegation to Poznan chaired a so-called “negotiating bloc” of some of the largest polluting nations, including the US, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Canada. The bloc was dedicated to scuttling agreement on a proposed 25%-40% emissions reduction by 2020. Unfortunately, they were successful. The wrecking operation run at the conference by Australia and other wealthy countries has been condemned by representatives of Third World nations and environmental groups.

On December 13, reported the assessment of Kim Carstensen from the World Wildlife Fund Global Climate Initiative, who summed up the Poznan conference as a major missed opportunity to stop climate change: “A passive EU, in effect, joined the US as the second lame duck in the Poznan pond, while Canada, Japan, Russia, Australia and Saudi Arabia openly undermined progress”.

“These countries need to get serious about greening their economies and they need to provide know-how, funding and technology to developing countries. Otherwise, any prospects for a new global climate treaty will remain dim”, Carstensen said. From here, the only response possible is for the grassroots environment movement to reorganise and campaign for real climate change policies based on science — rather than corporate profits.

A strategy based on lobbying the government, or appealing to their conscience, can have no hope of success. The Rudd government has now clearly declared its hand. Only sustained, mass pressure in the form of a broad climate justice movement can win the battle for a rational climate policy. Scores of environmental groups have sprung up across the country over the past few years. Localised actions and campaigning by these groups needs to be complemented by stronger national networks and coordination. The Climate Action Summit planned from January 31 to February 3 in Canberra may provide an opportunity for the movement to reconstitute and organise itself to take on a government determined to sacrifice a safe climate to please big business.

The climate change movement also has a very special role and responsibility to tell the truth about the threat climate change poses to people and planet — the truth that the mainstream politicians and media consistently work to conceal.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #777 3 December 2008.

"Rudd’s White Paper shows we’re still not serious about climate change" Socialist Alliance

The Rudd Government’s emissions reduction target of 5 -15 % by 2020 and its decisions to accept a target of 450 ppm CO2e (parts per million, carbon dioxide equivalent) and to give free permits to the worst industrial polluters, are appalling and disgraceful. It must be roundly condemned by the 80% of Australians who realise that immediate and emergency action is essential if we are to save our environment for future generations.

Global warming poses the gravest threat to human existence since remote prehistory. Unless science, industry and political forces work together successfully to combat climate change within the next few years, warming processes already occurring are likely to become impossible to stop.
If climate change is not stopped, most plant and animal species will become extinct and advanced civilisation will perish.

If it were to be adopted globally, Australia's 5-15% reductions and 450ppm targets would ensure that the planet passed tipping points for large sea-level rises, temperatures rises of more than 2 degrees and ocean acidification that will destroy the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu. It would also be an economic and humanitarian disaster for hundreds of millions of people without proper food, water or shelter.

If high per-capita emission nations like Australia commit to very modest reduction targets by 2020, the developing world will reasonably argue that their emissions can continue to increase. Australia's position is likely to undermine all the small gains that have been made internationally. At the recent climate talks in Poznan, 49 of the least developed countries advocated a target of 350 ppm, knowing that their countries will be devastated by any higher target.

A target of 450ppm is not even a firm +2°C target, as statistically there is a 78% chance of exceeding 2°. The Socialist Alliance says that GHG emissions must peak by no later than 2015, then fall by at least 5% annually, to achieve a target of 300-325 ppm CO2 and have any chance of stopping the most severe impact of climate change.

The laws of science aren't interested in political compromises and steering "a balanced course". Climate targets must be set according to the scientific imperatives, and putting them through political filters can only imperil the planet.

Socialist Alliance also opposes the government’s reliance on carbon trading as a key tool for reducing carbon emissions. Market mechanisms—which subject emission reduction measures to the short-term pressures of the marketplace—are unsuited in principle to the complex, unquantifiable requirements of preserving the environment.

In the absence of leadership by government, the task of forcing the changes needed to preserve nature and humanity falls to citizens organising, protesting and mobilising independently of the conventional political process. Lobbying politicians with the facts of climate change is necessary, and may at times score successes. But reliable impacts can only be made by demonstrating that large numbers of people are alarmed by climate change, and that they expect governments to act decisively.

Socialist Alliance will continue to campaign for the Government to set stronger and realistic targets next year.

Media contact David White (National Environment Coordinator) 0403 871 082
Email Web

Related links:

BlueScope must open its books by Socialist Alliance

Socialist Alliance has condemned the axing of contract positions at BlueScope Steel at Port Kembla that will see hundreds of workers out of work by Christmas.

Chris Williams, Illawarra convener of Socialist Alliance, said: “BlueScope is crying poor and blaming the global economic crisis. But these ’cost cutting’ plans were likely to be already in place, the economic crisis is just a convenient excuse to ram them through. What a disgrace to treat workers this way in the lead up to Christmas.

“Let BlueScope Steel open its books so employees and the community can see for themselves. If the company really is in trouble the government should put it in public hands and guarantee the jobs of workers involved”, he said.

“This is another case of working people paying for a crisis they didn’t create. BlueScope Steel has just reported a whopping $430 million profit for the last quarter, and yet they are insisting on putting workers out of work. It’s unacceptable. The government should demand the books be opened before any more workers are forced to join the dole queues.

“This financial crisis has seen governments bail-out the banks and multi-national corporations; now it’s time the government stepped up and supported those who actually deserve it — the workers who are the victims of the crisis”, Williams said.

“Every time there’s a recession, workers and the local economy gets hit. It happened in 1982-83, 1991 and now it’s happening again. The Socialist Alliance calls on the steel industry unions to do everything in their power to stop this latest attack on jobs, livelihoods and the Illawarra community.”

[For more information contact Chris Williams 0425 329 963 or visit].

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #777 3 December 2008.



I was a clerk there: I've seen the greed

How wealth and power eat hope and need

Now they're eating each other but they're still screaming'

No interference' - I start dreaming'Self regulation?'

OK, I say'I'm a stockbroker - let's do it my way'

And that's the beginning of this little ditty:

Attila the Stockbroker cleans up the City!

Each gets a red nose so everybody knows

Just who they are and where all our money goes

No more speculate, no more accumulate -This is a lifestyle we're going to eradicate

Dealers on the floor meet squads of the poor saying'

Here's the twist, Oliver - we want moreWork for us or we take the whole kitty'

Attila the Stockbroker cleans up the City!

'Hello Mr. Hedge Fund, have a cup of tea.

Financial Services Authority? Me.

You're a parasite on the population

Convicted of criminal speculation

Time to atone for a life so greedy -Twenty years working for the poor and needy.

Want to appeal? Try the Central Committee

Attila the Stockbroker cleans up the City!

Morning Mr Banker, you're in for a shock.

We're taking much more than just Northern Rock!

All the banks nationalised - Stock Exchange too.

Utilities, railways, grabbed from the few.

Mr Billionaire? You just lost your money.

(Hey there, Chelsea fan, isn't that funny!)

The future's brown. The future's shitty.

So Attila the Stockbroker cleans up the City!

Capitalism is a John Cleese parrot.

Let's give it stick and not a single carrot!

Bollocks to the dealer, the broker, the lender -Social justice back on the agenda

Radical stylin' going on here

Smoked Mammon sarnies and really good beer

For the poor no fear, for the rich no pity

When Attila the Stockbroker cleans up the City!

Attila the Stockbroker Brit Singer & Poet

The War in Common by William Rivers Pitt,

Bush ducks one of two shoes in Baghdad on Sunday. Both missed. (Photo: AP)

I met a chef from Texas who was like an oak tree with tattoos, and made a mean barbecue sauce. He'd been in the 101st Airborne and was about to be deployed to Iraq, but destroyed his knee in a training exercise and wound up getting discharged. He knew the war was nonsense and thought the Bush guys all deserved to rot in jail, but he still wanted to go to Iraq, and wept whenever a soldier he knew died over there because he should have been there and maybe could have saved that person if his knee hadn't buckled.

I met a woman in Texas who sat down in a fire-ant-infested mud puddle because her son died in Iraq. Everything was "Mission Accomplished" and high approval ratings, but she didn't get it and wanted an explanation from the man who'd sent her son to die for a banner on a ship and a bump in the polls. So, she sat in a mud puddle outside his house and waited for an explanation, and by doing so, began the final and inexorable turning of popular opinion against the war. The mothers of dead soldiers all had a face after this one mother sat in that mud and waited for an explanation that never came.

I met a journalist, a fourth-generation American of Lebanese descent, whose horror and disgust at the mainstream media's insipid cheerleading coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 compelled him to travel to Iraq and do some reporting on his own. Through his unfiltered and most decidedly unembedded perspective, we learned of the Iraqi hospitals overflowing with feces and urine, of villages targeted by Coalition forces for reprisal attacks, about bodies rotting in the streets of devastated towns, about dogs feasting on those corpses as they bloated in the sun, about gas lines lasting two days and about what America's war really looked and smelled like when the media's self-serving airbrush treatment was not applied.

I met a tank driver who had served along the Berlin line during the cold war, who marched next to me at antiwar demonstrations carrying an upside-down American flag. Whenever some outraged patriot challenged him, this man would reel off his service number, his billet, his AO and his record, and then dare his challenger to say something about his love of country. "The flag like this means 'Distress, Send Help,'" he would always say. "This country needs help."

I met a kid from upstate New York who was slinging burgers with this perplexed look on his face because he didn't know what to do with himself, so he was slinging burgers until he figured out what to do. For as long as he could remember, he had wanted to be a soldier and had bent his whole life towards that end. He ran the farthest, worked the hardest and even joined a competitive shooting league so his aim would be the best. He got himself into one of the best military schools in the country, and then Bush and Iraq and everything else happened and he knew it was wrong, and knew he could not devote his life and honor to all that, so he quit the military academy and abandoned his dream of military service, and was flipping burgers until he could figure out what else he could do.

I met a woman who was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, who worked next to Doug Feith and his merry men down in the Office of Special Plans. She saw them gin up all the false and misleading reasons for an invasion of Iraq we eventually saw on TV and read in the papers, and she decided to go public about what she'd seen. Very few mainstream media outlets wanted to talk with this Air Force lieutenant colonel about what she knew and what she'd seen because it made a mess of the accepted storylines coming out of the White House, the Pentagon and the Office of Special Plans.

I met an Air Force pilot who was protesting the war because he was pretty sure he'd committed serious war crimes on several occasions by following the orders he'd been given to drop bombs on places in Iraq we were not supposed to drop bombs. If he could have turned himself in for his crimes, he probably would have, because he had a haunted face and he knew that "I was just following orders" only goes so far. Nobody would arrest him, because he was a hero of course, so he was protesting the war with that haunted look on his face.

I met a corporal who fired artillery during the opening credits for "Shock and Awe." He'd been in uniform well before the invasion, and recalled his commanding officer's instructions for the green recruits who didn't know better. "You're not liberating anyone with this war," the CO said to the confused consternation of the new troops. "We're going in to get Iraq's oil, and you're going in to protect the guys around you, and that's the deal." The corporal nodded along with all the other old salts who knew better, and they went in, and the greenies learned a lot of new things in a hurry.

I met a woman in New York City who had lost beloved family in a pillar of fire and smoke and jet fuel when the Towers went down. She was part of a group whose members had all lost someone on that day, and they went from city to city demanding that Bush and America not use the deaths of their loved ones as a rallying cry for some stupid, useless, brutal, illegal bloodbath of an Iraq invasion. She knew all about how everything changed after 9/11, and she was right, and that's why she spoke out.

I've met a lot of other people like this. I met a staff sergeant whose Iraq tour got bumped back three weeks because someone in his unit failed a drug test, but after three weeks he still had to go. I met a Green Beret who wants to meet me again in 30 years so he can tell me all the stuff I don't know, but need to. I even met a guy with two prosthetic legs who would go from bar to bar and get people to buy him drinks because he said he was a wounded Iraq veteran. He wasn't; he was a spoiled brat from California who passed out drunk on some train tracks and got run over and lost his legs, and that was terrible for him, but he got no mercy from the real Iraq veteran who figured out this kid was lying, and that kid will never come back to my bar again, ever.

I want to meet the guy who threw his shoes at Bush on Sunday. I think he and all these others

I've met would have a lot to talk about. They all have so much in common.

It won't happen, of course. But I do want to meet the man who threw his shoes. I would like to shake his hand, too.

Wednesday 17 December 2008 t r u t h o u t Columnist

"How Does One Build Socialism Here?" Postcard from Venezuela By SAUL LANDAU

“The construction of socialism in Venezuela is ratified, and now we will take charge of deepening it.”
-President Hugo Chavez, after learning the results of the November 23 elections.
Hugo Chavez’s PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) won 17 of 23 governorships, approximately 60-40%. But his party lost in states with large populations and much oil as well in the mayor’s race for the crowded capital of Caracas.

Consumer-dominated societies fill spiritual voids with loud sounds and pictures: “BUY BUY BUY!”

Consumerism doesn’t seem compatible with historical awareness. Young Venezuelans I met seem oblivious to their recent history. Indeed, the majority of them were barely conscious or not yet born when successive gangs of kleptocrats – calling themselves political party leaders -- stole the nation’s oil revenue. In 1989, under the second round of super thief President Carlos Andres Perez (a supposed socialist), repressive forces killed as many as 2,000 demonstrators on the streets of Caracas during an uprising (the “Caracazo”) in response to Andres Perez’s decision that poor Caraqueños, not his wealthy amigos, should shoulder the burden of the IMF’s austerity plan for Venezuela.

Rich Venezuelans and US officials shook their heads in sympathy. Poor Carlos Andres had to take desperate measures to maintain necessary order! It was unthinkable to place the burden of doing with less on those who had most.

From the early 1960s through the mid 1990s, corruption and looting characterized both Christian and Social Democratic governments. Voters, disgusted with the larcenous behavior of one regime, would elect a successive group of politicians to steal the oil wealth.

In 1998, Chavez won the presidency. He swore to end “elite” rule and redirect the country’s oil wealth to education health and welfare – to the poor.

In ten years, hundreds of thousands have received medical care, some education and primary forms of welfare. He and his allies continue to win seats in free elections, and Chavez has announced he will hold a referendum in February to ask the people to allow him to hold presidential power until 2021.

Anti-Chavez sentiment, which inspired a failed military coup in 2002, has grown smarter. Newly elected opposition governor Capriles Radonsky participated in that coup, but now he has pledged to work with Chavez’s government to confront national problems. Didn’t McCain say that to Obama?

The good opposition cop finds its antithesis on the radio. On 747 AM, the talk show host sounds like a Spanish-speaking Rush Limbaugh. “I hate Chavez,” he screamed on December 1. Sound effects followed: gun shots reverberated as if to enhance the drama of his soliloquy on the evils of Chavismo, including 30 thousand Cuban doctors who offer primary care to Venezuela’s poor.
A taxi driver in Margarita, a forty minute flight from Caracas, also despised Chavez. Assuming I was a US tourist, and thus logically against Chavez, he sneered at “Senor Presidente.”
“Imagine, he angered the mighty United States and invited the Soviet Union or whatever they call themselves these days to bring in their warplanes and ships.” Another cab driver worried about crime and expressed cynicism about the possibility Chavez could realize his socialist goals.
“Corruption in this country,” said another cabbie from Margarita, “goes deep. The cop in the street to cabinet Ministers to the President’s family (referring to rumors of close Chavez relatives getting business favors in the state of Barinas).”

I look out the window at Margarita, a tropical island, once a perfect picture postcard, with brooding mountains, flapping palm trees, warm ocean water and tropical birds. Then came the developers who must have hired an evil teenager with acne of the soul to design the architecture. The rows of high-rise condo blocks should make Frank Lloyd Wright turn in his grave. Billboards carry gaudy ads for Digitel. Posters of busty young women in skimpy bras and dental floss bottoms urge: “buy.” Those who “need” a second or third home – including foreigners – purchase condos.

“How does one go about building socialism here?” I ask my friend who lives in Caracas.
We see the obstacles dramatically on the downtown streets of Venezuela’s teeming capital (4-5 million estimated), with wall-to-wall traffic twelve hours a day, spewing pollution and noise. For $2, a Venezuelan can fill his gas tank. How does one ban cars and shopping in downtown Caracas and expect to get reelected?

From a jammed McDonald’s in Chacaito we see masses of humanity, resembling Asian cities, pushing and shoving en route to shopping. Behind downtown, situated in a long valley, lie the barrios, etched into the surrounding hills. In these slums live Venezuela’s poor majority, Chavez supporters. They received little from the oil-rich governments of the past. Chavez has put back some of the wealth in the form of medical, educational and basic welfare programs. Cuban doctors have built modular clinics and members of literacy brigades have offered basic education in the poorest areas – free of charge. In addition, the Chavez government has offered healthy meals to the most down-trodden.

Unlike his mentor in the socialist island to the north, Chavez won power through the ballot box, not guerrilla war. Fidel Castro exported his enemies, with, ironically, US cooperation. Why not? In 1960, the powerful in Washington and the wealthy exiles biding their time in Miami, believed they could dispatch Castro and the revolution without even sending in US troops. In April 1961, the new President, John F. Kennedy, discovered their mistake when the CIA’s exile force fell to Cuba’s fledgling army at the Bay of Pigs.

As W prepares his exit, Castro remains vital in his new career as a writer (La Paz en Colombia, published in November). However, Chavez cannot export his enemies. Venezuela’s elite and the US government learned that lesson after 50 frustrating years of trying to overthrow the Cuban revolution from Miami.

An organized opposition makes political noise especially through elections – charges and counter charges, TV, radio and billboard ads. Imagine if Cuba’s revolutionaries would have had to transform the island’s economic and social structure with the presence of one million vocal opponents! Fidel had to deal with an angry Washington, but not with the daily stings and bites of his own wealthy classes who would pay for newspaper, TV and radio assaults and mount an international gossip network to demonize him.

Hugo Chavez’s socialist vision has emerged amidst a collapsing environment and world economy, in a country whose outward culture reeks of the worst of consumerism: maddening sounds of car horns, traffic jams, playing to the pounding of reggaetón reverberating over car and public speakers. Caracas reeks with dangerous anarchy – vast areas of poverty amidst the unshared wealth of a small minority. Consumption has become the spiritual value of capitalism: obsession with the superficial (Venezuela supposedly leads the world in number of boob jobs per capita).
Venezuela is still very much capitalist, not socialist. Chavez has learned in 10 years as President that change does not come easily through legislatures and courts when wealthy opposition politicians also use the media to help provide a formidable obstacle course to a just distribution of wealth.

Chavez lacks a large disciplined cadre to carry out his policies, a seasoned political party of people dedicated to doing nothing in life but work to change the course of their nation’s history.
“Oil in the hands of corrupt governments has corrupted this place,” says Jesus Marrero, who in 1973 underwent brutal torture supervised by Commissar Basilio. “He was obviously a big shot in Venezuelan intelligence circles (DISIP).” Marrero belonged to the Insurrectional Revolutionary Movement (MIR). “This man [Basilio] radiating cold cynicism” supervised sessions for months in which his men applied electric shocks to Marrero’s ears, testicles and penis.

“I escaped from prison in 1975,” he said, “and rejoined my comrades in the mountains. In October 1976, we saw the newspaper report on the bombing of a Cuban airliner in mid air killing everyone on board. The newspaper photo was none other than Basilio, identified as Luis Posada Carriles.”

Marrero wants to testify against Posada “as soon as Obama realizes this man is a real terrorist, unlike the Cuban Five (referring to five Cuban intelligence agents who provided material to the FBI on Cuban exile terrorism in Miami and got arrested and sentenced to long prison terms in federal penitentiaries).”

Marrero says Venezuela faces an awesome challenge. But “Chavez has illuminated the healthy road and we must overcome the garbage that clutters our minds and on our streets and work for justice and equality in a green world.” I nod. He has maintained revolutionary zeal through decades of exile in Mexico.

In 1998, he returned to work toward the same vision that enticed him to become a revolutionary forty years earlier. He helps bring solar energy to remote rural areas, to use the sun’s heat to make potable water and other necessities. If Chavez wins the referendum to continue until 2021, thousands more could join Marrero in his attempt to bring clean energy to the needy.

Saul Landau received the Bernardo O’Higgins award from the Republic of Chile for his work on human rights. His latest book is A Bush and Botox World (AK/CounterPunch Press).

Protesters condemn 5% carbon emission targets by Rachel Evans

On 15th December Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a criminally paltry 5% carbon emission target to the National Press Club. Three female protestors in the audience yelled “shame” and were wrestled away by security.

Further protests took place that day, with a “step-in” protest inside Rudd’s Queensland electoral office and 50 people protesting outside Penny Wong’s office in Adelaide. On December 16, more than 150 people protested in three separate actions in Sydney. The actions took place outside the offices of Environment Minister Peter Garrett, Federal MP for Sydney Tanya Plibersek and the Commonwealth Government building in the Sydney CBD.

Garrett’s office was targeted by a “Last Dance of the Barrier Reef” where protesters, dressed to symbolise the Great Barrier Reef, withered and died as a paper-maiche “Peter Garrett” fed the hunger of the mining industry. A letter was read out to “Peter” that announced that “5% targets are 100% pathetic”. The letter also stated: “Last year, you and the Rudd Government were elected in the world’s first climate election on a platform of a 20% by 2020 emissions reduction target. This is a broken promise, and we will not forget.”

The statement pointed out that prominent Australian scientist Tim Flannery had labelled UN climate negotiations “our last chance as a species” and called stalling negotiations a “suicidal tactic”. Two representatives handed over the letter to Garrett’s staff members, who were non-committal on where the real Garrett was hiding. Tanya Plibersek’s offices were targeted by the Balmain-Rozelle Climate Action Group with 30 people appearing dressed in flippers and snorkels.

The NSW Greens organized an action outside Commonwealth Government Office with 80 people. The action was part of a “Step it up” campaign against the Rudd government’s inadequate targets. A statement on the NSW Greens website argued: “The targets means the Australian Government is willing to sacrifice the Great Barrier Reef to appease the big polluting companies that are fuelling global climate change.”

An organiser of the protest outside Peter Garrett’s office, Maria White, told the crowd: “Mr Garrett, Mr Rudd and all those in the Australian government you are on notice; half measures on climate change are not good enough. We will continue to visit Garrett and others over the next 12 months in the lead up to the UN climate summit in Copenhagen next December. Emissions must start to rapidly decline from 2010 – before the next Federal election."

[Climate action groups from across Australia will plan for further action at Australia’s Climate Action Summit in Canberra in February 2009. For more information visit].

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Message for Foreign Leaders, Each Shoe Was Worth a Thousand Words By PATRICK COCKBURN

The sight of the Iraqi reporter Muntazer al-Zaidi hurling his shoes at President Bush at a press conference in Baghdad will gladden the heart of any journalist forced to attend these tedious, useless, and almost invariably obsequious, events. "This is a farewell kiss," shouted Mr Zaidi. "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

Official press conferences of any kind seldom produce real news, but the worst are usually those given by foreign leaders on trips abroad in which they and their local ally suggest that they are in control of events and all is going according to plan.

One of the many infuriating, though also ludicrous, events in Iraq since the invasion of 2003 has been American and British leaders, arriving in secret at the enormous US base at Baghdad airport and travelling, accompanied by numerous armed guards, by helicopter to the heavily-fortified Green Zone. After a few hours there they would give upbeat press conferences, sitting alongside the Iraqi leader of the day, claiming significant improvements in security and chiding the assembled journalists for ignoring such clear signs of success.

Periodically reality would break in, such as the time a mortar bomb exploded nearby the press conference hall at the very moment when UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon was lauding security improvements, compelling him to cower down behind a display of artificial flowers.
Visiting US politicians during the presidential election sought determinedly to manicure what American television viewers would see. Diplomats at the US embassy complained that staffers of Republican candidate Senator John McCain had asked them not to wear helmets and body armour when standing next to him in case these protective measures might appear to contradict his claim that the US military was close to military victory.

For similar reasons staffers of the Vice President Dick Cheney demanded that the siren giving a seven or eight second warning of incoming rockets or mortar rounds to people in the Green Zone be turned off during his visits.

I used to comfort myself with the thought that these official visits did little harm even if they did no good. Iraqis were all too aware of the grim reality of their lives to be taken in by official posturing. After five years of war, American voters have seen too many claims of success in Iraq deflated by news of fresh slaughter to be deceived into thinking that the war was being won.

In retrospect I think I was over-optimistic: the foreign leaders who visited the Green Zone or other US or British military camps came away with the dangerous idea that they knew something about Iraq. They would depart not realizing that the most important political fact was that the majority of Iraqis detested the US-led occupation whatever they thought of Saddam Hussein. Even the foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari, widely seen as pro-American called the occupation "the mother of all mistakes". This explains the popular enthusiasm for Mr Zaidi on display in Baghdad yesterday.

The history of the Iraqi occupation is now beginning to feel like ancient history but it is relevant because the US and Britain are committing elsewhere so many of the same mistakes as they did in Iraq. Just at the moment when Mr Bush was dodging footwear in Baghdad, accompanied by the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, Gordan Brown was appearing with the Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari in Islamabad.

Mr Zardari is seen as a weak leader, uncertain of what he should do and with limited authority over the military. But, as in Iraq in the past, his constant appearance besides visiting foreign dignitaries convinces Pakistanis that he is a US puppet. The constant finger-wagging against Pakistan by Mr Brown, the US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others may do something to encourage the Pakistani government to act against organizations like Lashkar-e-Toiba and its civilian arm Jamaat-ud-Dawa. But it also encourages a sense in Pakistan that it is being besieged, encircled by India to the east and a pro-Indian Afghan government to the west.

The US drone attacks on Pakistani territory increase this fear of military encirclement.
One does not have to spend long in Pakistan to discover that many Pakistanis, perhaps a majority, dislike the US more than they do India. It is all very well for Mr Brown to call for "action not words" against terrorists in Pakistan but this is a truly impossible task even if President Zardari were a leader of real authority. The US and the Iraqi government, with vast resources at their disposal, have failed to eliminate al-Qa'ida in the heart of Baghdad where there are regular suicide bomb attacks and assassinations.

I visited the Jamaat-ud-Dawa headquarters in Lahore just before it was closed last week and its members exuded confidence that nobody was going to put them permanently out of business. State authority in Pakistan is eroding by the day. In Peshawar, the city at the mouth of the Khyber pass through which flow 75 per cent of supplies to western forces in Afghanistan, several hundred well-armed gunmen have calmly taken over depots filled with US military vehicles and burned them to the ground.

At this point somebody is bound to suggest that Pakistan is a failed state without realising that they are entering dangerous ground. Foreign Policy magazine in Washington does an annual survey of supposedly failed states in which Pakistan is ranked number nine in 2008. But a failed state does not necessarily a mean a weak country or a society unable to defend itself. It is precisely in such allegedly failed states as Lebanon, Somalia and Iraq that the US has suffered its greatest foreign policy disasters over the past quarter century.

One small lesson of the debacle in Iraq might be to cut back on these official visits such as those by Mr Bush and Mr Brown last Sunday. In Islamabad Mr Brown's demand for a crack down on terrorism makes any action taken by the host government look as if it is cravenly acquiescing to a foreign power. In Baghdad Mr Bush could see for the first time in five years, in the shape of pair of shoes hurtling towards him, what so many Iraqis really think of him.
from CounterPunch 17 December 2008

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 new book 'Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq' is published by Scribner.

As Usual, New York Times Ignores Iraqi Opinion, Anecdotes trump polls on withdrawal by Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail

The New York Times failed spectacularly in its coverage of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, helping lead the country into war and only much later (5/26/04) publishing a half-hearted mea culpa. As the near-apology acknowledged, the paper's failure resulted in large part from its lack of skepticism regarding its sources, most notably exiled Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi.

Despite the mea culpa, though, the Times continues to mislead on Iraq, particularly on the issue of whether or not Iraqis want the U.S. military to exit their country. Once again, that journalistic failure seems to be rooted in the same fundamental problem of overconfidence in the paper's sources and ignoring the obvious contradictory evidence.

An article by Times reporter Stephen Farrell headlined, "Should U.S. Forces Withdraw From Iraq? The Iraqis Have a Few Opinions" (9/9/08) serves as a recent example. The piece, which also kicked off a special series on "the debate among ordinary Iraqis over the presence of American troops" that ran in the Times' online blog section, purported to bring readers insight into Iraqi opinion on withdrawal. "As Iraqi and American diplomats negotiate a deal for American troops to stay in Iraq, or not, Iraqis are also debating the issue," Farrell wrote-as though there is a great deal of debate among Iraqis about whether they prefer that their country continue to be occupied.

The Times reporter split Iraqis into "three categories" of opinion, with only one actually supporting the withdrawal of occupation forces. Besides a group that "simply [wants] the Americans to leave, period," Farrell described one pro-occupation group of Iraqis that "worries that the brief period of improving security which Iraq has witnessed this year will be vulnerable if the Americans abruptly withdrew." Those in this group, according to Farrell, "say the United States has a moral obligation to remain, and that continued presence of the occupiers is preferable to a return to rule by gangs and militias."

Farrell described the other pro-occupation group as sharing "a common worry, that without a referee, Iraq's dominant powers-Kurds in the far north and Shias in the center and south-will brutally dominate other groups."

Farrell gave no indication of the relative sizes of each group, but the Iraqi quotes featured below the piece seemed to suggest that the pro-withdrawal group was quite small: Only two of the ten people who expressed a personal opinion about the troops spoke in favor of immediate withdrawal.

Survey says Notably, Farrell opted not to include polling data in his article. Perhaps that's because had he done so, it would have undermined the thesis of his piece.

A poll from March 2008 conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB) for the British Channel 4 (2/24-3/5/08) found 70 percent of Iraqis wanting occupation forces to leave. Within this group, 65 percent wanted them to leave "immediately or as soon as possible"-meaning fully 46 percent of Iraqis would fall under Farrell's "leave immediately" group. Another 19 percent wanted them out within a year or less, while 12 percent wanted to wait until "whenever the security situation allows it." (Interestingly, in Baghdad-where Times journalists are based-the number of those who wanted troops out immediately was only 42 percent, while 20 percent wanted to wait until the security situation improves; still, a majority wanted troops out within a year.)

Another March 2008 poll conducted by D3/KA for ABC News and other media outlets (2/12-20/08) similarly found that 73 percent of Iraqis either "somewhat" or "strongly" opposed the ongoing foreign troop presence in their country, with 38 percent in favor of immediate withdrawal. Only 7 percent of Iraqis-primarily Kurds-"strongly" supported the presence of occupation forces.

The D3/KA survey, which did not offer a timetable for withdrawal as a choice, found 35 percent of Iraqis wanting troops to stay until security is restored and another 24 percent wanting them to stay until the government is either "stronger" or can "operate independently." But with respect to the "improving security" that Farrell pointed to as a reason many Iraqis want troops to stay-a result, according to media conventional wisdom, of the successful troop "surge" (Extra!, 9-10/08)-61 percent of Iraqis said the U.S. troop presence was making security worse, compared to only 27 percent who said better. The same survey found that 70 percent of Iraqis believe the U.S. and other "coalition" forces had done "quite a bad job" or "a very bad job" in carrying out their responsibilities in Iraq.

To illustrate the U.S.'s "dilemma," Farrell made references to two previous occupations of Iraq: the failed British occupation during the 1920s and the Empire of the Caliphate under the Ummayad provincial governor al-Hajjaj in 694 AD. The examples presented Iraqis as irrepressibly "fractious" and "troublesome" going back to ancient times; as Farrell concluded loftily, "Names and governments change, but there is nothing new under the Mesopotamian sun."

According to such logic, chaos, violence and majority Iraqi opposition to the occupation would seem to have less to do with the occupation itself-which has left an estimated one million dead and nearly 5 million displaced (9/18/07; UNHCR, 8/08)-and more to do with an inherent incapacity to accept the "civilization" or "democracy" that a brutal occupation brings.

Unchanging trends Bylines and dates change, but there is nothing new under the Manhattan sun. A look back at New York Times coverage of Iraqi opinion over the years shows a long trend of ignoring polling data despite their ready availability and their remarkable consistency.
A Gallup poll from April 2004 (USA Today, 4/28/04) revealed that "a solid majority [of Iraqis] support an immediate military pullout." Fifty-seven percent said the coalition should "leave immediately." The same poll found that 75 percent of the residents of Baghdad favored an immediate withdrawal. At the same time, a poll from the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies (4/28/04), which was partly funded by the State Department and had coordinated its work with the Coalition Provisional Authority, found that more than half of all Iraqis wanted an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces, an increase of 17 percent over the previous October.

In writing about Iraqi opinion, though, the Times' Ian Fisher (5/23/04) ignored this data, asserting, "There are still far more people . . . who are skeptical of, and maybe even hate, the Americans but see them as the only way to save themselves." As evidence, Fisher cited not scientific surveys-as those would have contradicted his claim-but rather a tally conducted by Sadim Samir, a 23-year-old political science student at the University of Baghdad, who "canvassed five neighborhoods" of Baghdad for a "class paper."

Two years later, Times journalist Michael Gordon, who co-wrote some of the Times' most misleading WMD reports with Judith Miller and still periodically files stories from Iraq, criticized Democrats calling for a withdrawal from Iraq because, Gordon argued (CNN, 11/15/06),
there are a significant number of players in Baghdad today who don't mind if the Americans withdraw. These are the militia leaders. They would be happy if the United States withdrew, because, then, they can go and carry out their ethnic cleansing campaign against the Sunnis.
But a poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (9/1-3/06) found that then, as today, 7 in 10 Iraqis favored troop withdrawal within a year-not just a small band of "militia leaders" bent on ethnic cleansing.

More recently, 18 Iraqis were interviewed for the Times article "In Iraq, Mixed Feelings About Obama and His Troop Proposal," by Sabrina Tavernise and Richard Oppel (7/17/08). Again, the Times preferred to rely on the opinions of less than two dozen Iraqis rather than refer to available polling data that would have undercut the theme of the story: that Iraqis faced "a deep internal quandary" about Obama's support for withdrawal.

The first Iraqi quoted was a general who, when asked about Barack Obama's plans to draw down troops in Iraq, shook his head and said: "Very difficult. . . . Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: For now, we don't have that ability." When the piece mentioned one Iraqi who favored immediate withdrawal, his quote ("I want them [U.S. soldiers] to go to hell") was framed in rhetoric couching the situation as "complex." The piece concluded by quoting an Iraqi government official who, having traveled to Germany and seen the U.S. bases there, said: "I have no problem to have a camp here. . . . I find it in Germany and that's a strong country. Why not in Iraq?"

Writing history by anecdote One of the New York Times' chief perpetrators of skewing Iraqi opinion is John Burns. The paper sent Burns to Baghdad during the lead-up to the invasion of 2003, and he served as bureau chief there until the summer of 2007; his perspective on the occupation no doubt heavily influenced the Times' reporting from Iraq.

Burns, the son of a NATO general, has publicly voiced his remarkably uncritical view of U.S. foreign policy, telling Rolling Stone magazine (7/04):

The United States has been overwhelmingly a force of good in the world. This is very unfashionable talk, but I think this ought to be remembered here. I grew up in a world where the survival of democracy depended on the military and economic power of the United States. If that power became less credible here, I think the world would be a lot less safe. The stakes are extraordinarily high. I think this is a tipping point in the fate of the American empire.

Many journalists with the Times used to regularly report from the streets of Iraq in the early days of the war, before the security deteriorated to the point where most decided against venturing out; Burns, however, was not generally one of them. Those of us reporting from Iraq rarely saw Burns, the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, leave the heavily guarded New York Times compound unless he was going on an embed or taking an armored convoy over to the Green Zone to report on the military press conferences that we referred to as the "five o'clock follies."

When journalists report this way in Baghdad, they put themselves in a position of total reliance upon the Iraqis they hire to send out into the streets with questions; they then have to sift through the answers those Iraqi reporters bring back to find anecdotes to fit their stories. In this way, history is written by anecdote, and this is exactly what the Times does by quoting individual Iraqis or referring to "Iraqi opinion" without citing available polls.

Despite his limited perspective on Iraqi opinion, Burns has repeatedly presented that perspective to the public without caveats, both in the Times and in other outlets-most frequently the Charlie Rose show on PBS-and it's a perspective that runs counter to the survey data.

"In my experience, the great majority of Iraqis are . . . very loathe to see those American troops leave now," Burns told Rose on June 14, 2006, shortly before the State Department's own polls showed nearly half of Iraqis wanting immediate withdrawal and seven in ten wanting troops out within a year (Washington Post, 9/27/06). Burns told Rose a year later (PBS, 7/17/07):

I think, quite simply that the United States armed forces here-and I find this to be very widely agreed amongst Iraqis that I know, of all ethnic and sectarian backgrounds-the United States armed forces are a very important inhibitor against violence. I know it's argued by some people that they provoke the violence. I simply don't believe that to be in the main true.

Meanwhile, Iraqis were telling pollsters the opposite: 69 percent believed U.S. troop presence was making the security situation worse (D3, 2/25-3/5/07), and they believed security would get better rather than worse in the immediate weeks following a coalition troop withdrawal by two to one (ORB, 2/10-22/07).

As Baghdad bureau chief, Burns' influence reached beyond Times reporting. When the National Journal (12/9/05), for example, wanted to give readers the "assessment" of the Iraqi people, they cited Burns: "I think you would get overwhelming assent from Iraqis that should American troops be precipitously withdrawn from the war, civil war and escalation of the sectarian conflict already under way would become virtually inevitable."

Mismeasures and misjudgments Burns' piece on the fifth anniversary of the war (3/16/08) gave some insight into the paper's attitude toward both polls and the situation in Iraq. The lead photo of the piece showed U.S. bombs exploding over Baghdad during the initial invasion, with the title "The Air Show." The caption read: "The war began with a mesmerizing display of American might. But the United States made a basic misjudgment about the Iraqis' readiness to share power."

Burns downplayed the number of Iraqi civilians killed by the war-"tens of thousands"-in another instance of the Times' refusal to accept surveys when they have to do with Iraq. Burns' number, the number preferred by the Times, comes from Iraq Body Count, which only counts violent civilian deaths actually recorded in cross-checked media outlets, and supplemented when possible by morgue, hospital, NGO and government data. Estimates based on scientific polling methods, which are widely accepted by the Times and other outlets when reporting on, say, Darfur, placed Iraqi deaths due to violence at over 600,000 in 2006 (Lancet, 10/11/06) and at over a million by mid-2007 (ORB, 9/07). Those numbers do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but even if one only counted women, children and the elderly as "civilians," more than 100,000 had died violently in Iraq as of two years before Burns' article was written (Lancet, 10/11/06).

Burns also blamed journalists for failing "to uncover other facets of Iraq's culture and history that would have a determining impact on the American project to build a Western-style democracy, or at least the basics of a civil society"-facets such as "how deep was the poison of fear and distrust" and the "harsh reality that Iraqis . . . had little zest for democracy." Again, Burns chose to fault "traumatized Iraqis" for the chaos and bloodshed in Iraq, rather than the illegal, brutal invasion and occupation of their country.

And despite his moment of self-critique, Burns continued to do precisely what he faulted journalists for doing in the past-failing to uncover Iraqis' perspectives. He laid out very explicitly his view of polls: Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein's years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

In other words, because they don't reflect his "own experience," Burns simply dismissed the validity of all polls (and most reporting!) on Iraqi opinion, and declared his own conversations with a minuscule slice of the Iraqi public a more reliable measure of the opinions of the entire country.

A problematic practice "It's a tradition for journalists to see themselves as the researcher to go out and get the story, so that's their default position," said Dr. Steven Kull, director of World Public Opinion (WPO), when asked why he thought some media outlets tend to ignore polling data. Some journalists are not well-trained to interpret polls, so they might be uncomfortable with them. And they might see them as a source of competition to the traditional approach of interviewing people and getting their anecdotes. But a few anecdotes here and there don't really give you the picture.

Kull also directs the Program on International Policy Attitudes that plays a central role in the BBC World Service poll of global opinion and the polls of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; he gives briefings on world opinion on various issues to Congress, the State Department, NATO, the United Nations and the European Commission.

"The problem is that when these [anecdotes] are at odds with polling data, these are incorrect stories," Kull added. "The universe of people who may be willing to talk to a reporter may not be indicative of the attitudes of the general population."

Certainly the Iraqis John Burns "know[s] best" are not representative of the population as a whole; those Iraqis, he told Charlie Rose in 2006 (PBS, 10/20/06), were "almost all on their way to the passport office" to get out of the country-an option he acknowledged was "only available to the middle class, primarily to those who are being paid in dollars."

Kull explained that when reporters interview some Sunnis in Baghdad who express fears of a U.S. withdrawal, then a reporter can reason, ‘They are a minority, and the Shia are ascendant, and this makes sense that the Sunni feel as they do.' But the polling data suggest the Sunnis are eager for a U.S. withdrawal. I think it's problematic when there is an anecdote reported and there is polling data available to the contrary.

Kull admits that polling in places like Iraq has its challenges, and is imperfect, but hastened to add that when it comes to capturing overall national opinion on topics, there is no substitute for scientific polling: "It is far superior than the method of a reporter going out on the street and talking to people. There's no question."

Published on Tuesday, December 16, 2008 by Extra! Magazine

Dahr Jamail is an independent journalist who has been covering the Middle East and Iraq for five years. He has reported from Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq.

On Honour Killings in Pakistan by Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

If cheating in bed was always settled by the bullet, many of us would be dead. Gerald Martin’s new biography of Gabriel García Márquez reveals that Chronicle of a Death Foretold was based on the murder of the novelist’s friend Cayetano Gentile in Sucre in 1951. He had seduced, deflowered and abandoned Margarita Chica Salas. On her wedding day Margarita’s husband was told that she was no longer a virgin. The bride was sent back to her family home. Her brothers then found Gentile and chopped his body into pieces. Márquez blamed the socio-moral dictatorship of the Catholic Church.

But of course it is usually women who are killed for breaking codes of sexual conduct. There have been several recent cases in Britain. Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old of Kurdish origin, was murdered in Surrey at the behest of her father because she’d left an arranged marriage and her father didn’t approve of her new boyfriend. Iraq has lately seen a spate of such murders. Last month acid was thrown at three women in Basra who were talking to a male friend. Yet Iraq once had the highest proportion of women integrated into every level of society of any Arab country.

And then there is Pakistan. In 2005 Pervez Musharraf pushed through legislation making honour killing a capital offence yet official statistics admit to 1261 honour killings in 2006 and half that number again the following year. The actual figures are probably much higher, since many deaths go unreported. ‘Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic or religious group, and the owner of the property has the right to decide its fate,’ Tahira Shahid Khan of Shirkat Gah, a group that campaigns for equal rights for women, reported in 1999. Domestic violence too, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, is ‘considered normal . . . A sample survey showed 82 per cent of women in rural Punjab feared violence resulting from their husbands’ displeasure over minor matters; in the most developed urban areas 52 per cent admitted being beaten by their husbands.’

Consider the following. A man dreams his wife has betrayed him. He wakes up and sees her lying next to him. In a fury he kills her. This really happened in Pakistan and the killer escaped punishment. If dreams are to be treated as justification for an honour killing, what woman is safe? Since the police and the judicial system regard murder in the family as a private affair, most cases don’t get to court even if they’re reported. Society, it’s said, needs to protect its foundations. So mostly we rely on the information collected by the Human Rights Commission and on courageous lawyers like Hina Jilani and Asma Jehangir, two sisters both of whom have received numerous death threats.

In 1999, Hina Jilani was in her office with Samia Sarwar, a mother of two from Peshawar seeking a divorce from her husband, when Sarwar’s mother burst into the room with two armed men in tow and had her daughter shot dead. In 1989 Samia Sarwar had married a first cousin. For six years he beat her and kicked her. But after he threw her downstairs when she was pregnant with their second child, she went back to her parents’ house. The minute she told them she wanted a divorce they threatened to kill her. Yet they were educated and wealthy people.

One widely reported murder this year was that of Tasleem Solangi, the 17-year-old daughter of a livestock trader in the Khairpur District of Sindh. She wanted to go to university and become a doctor like her uncle, but instead agreed to marry a cousin in order to settle a protracted family dispute over property. Her mother, Zakara Bibi, tried to stop her, but Tasleem was determined. Her father-in-law, Zamir Solangi, came to collect her and swore on the Koran that no harm would befall her. A month after the marriage, Zakara had a message from her daughter: ‘Please forgive me, mother. I was wrong and you were right. I fear they will kill me.’ On 7 March, they did. She was eight months pregnant. The Koran-swearer accused her of infidelity and said the baby was not his son’s. She went into labour, her child was born and instantly thrown to the dogs. She pleaded for mercy, but the dogs were set on her as well and the terrified girl was then shot dead. On this occasion at least there was an inquiry. Her husband was charged with Tasleem’s murder and is currently awaiting trial.

Another case much discussed this year is that of five women in Baluchistan who were buried alive in Baba Kot village, about 250 miles east of Quetta, the Baluch capital. Three of the women were young and wanted to marry men they’d chosen for themselves; two older women were helping them. Three male relatives have been arrested. According to the local police chief, the brother of two of the girls has admitted that he shot three of the women and helped bury them, though they weren’t even dead. The trial date is awaited.

Traditionalists have always considered love to be something that brings shame on families: patriarchs should be the ones to decide who is to be married to whom, often for reasons to do with property. If you fall in love, the 18th-century Urdu poet Mir Hassan explained (more than once), you will be burned by its fire and perish. That is what happened in the Punjabi city of Wah in late October. Now Wah has half a million inhabitants and Pakistan’s largest ordnance factories, but it was once an idyllic village almost floating on water. The streams and lakes that surrounded it attracted the Mughal emperor Jehangir, who stopped there on his way home from Kashmir, and is said to have exclaimed ‘Wah!’ or ‘Wow!’, thus giving the village its name. Before that it had been called Jalalsar after one of my forebears, Sardar Jalal Khan, a leader of the Khattar tribe around 800 years ago. His successors wanted to please the emperor and agreed to the name change. I can’t imagine that the decision was taken without a fierce struggle (one faction is said to have been deeply hostile to the arriviste Mughals), but those speaking sweetnesses to power won the day.

Jehangir built a beautiful, domed rest-house in Wah, surrounded on all sides by flowing water. In 1639, his son Shah Jehan supervised the landscaping of beautiful water gardens and pavilions. More than half a century ago, I used to play hide and seek here with my cousins. The pavilions were ruins by then, which made them even more magical on a moonlit night. A cousin swore that the ghosts of the Mughals could be seen in the mist on a winter night, but nobody believed her. The caretaker was extremely sharp-tongued, although when talking to my uncles and aunts, he masked his intelligence in language of exaggerated humility. We were never deceived and threatened to expose him if he gave us a hard time.

Other ghosts lurk there now. A mile and a half from the old village, my youngest maternal uncle, Sardar Ghairat Hyat Khan, built himself a house and moved out of the decaying manor house we’d all shared. My Kashmiri great-grandmother, Ayesha, moved with him. Before she became completely blind she was the best cook in the world and my visits were always rewarding. Shortly before I left Pakistan for Britain I went to say goodbye to her. She said: ‘I feel a moustache. Is it really you?’ ‘No,’ I replied trying to make my voice deeper, ‘I am a stranger here, but I was told your bakarkhanis tasted like heaven.’ Bakarkhanis are a crumbly, Kashmiri version of the croissant. I’ve not been to his house for a long time but I’m told it’s in a state of disrepair and crumbling like the bakarkhanis.

In the last week of October, my uncle’s granddaughter, Zainab, barely 18 years old, was shot dead by her brothers, Inam and Hamza Ahmed. Zainab apparently had a lover and despite repeated warnings refused to stop seeing him. She was on the phone to him in her grandfather’s house when her brothers pumped seven bullets into her body. I don’t know whether her mother, Ghairat’s oldest daughter Roohi, whom I last saw when she was about ten, was part of the plot. Whether or not she was involved, I find it deeply shocking that my uncle allowed the young woman’s body to be buried that same day without at least insisting that a First Information Report be lodged at the local police station, let alone demanding an autopsy. Zainab deserved at least that. I am told that Ghairat is old and frail, that he was angry and wanted to ring the police, but was talked out of it by his daughter and other members of his immediate family, who collectively recoiled at having to accept the consequences of what they had witnessed. Perhaps his faith in a just and merciful Allah was not as strong as he used to claim. Whatever the reason, it’s unacceptable. The body should be exhumed, the murderers arrested and put on trial, as the law requires.

Tariq Ali’s latest book is The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.
London Review of Books 18 December 2008
Other articles by this contributor:

Pakistan at Sixty · The Trouble with Pakistan

Bitter Chill of Winter · Kashmir

In Princes’ Pockets · Saudi Oil

Mullahs and Heretics · A Secular History of Islam

The General in his Labyrinth · Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US

Daughter of the West · the Bhuttos

'Brown's al-Qaida blame game' by Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

Gordon Brown is targeting Pakistan. His claim that 75% of UK terror plots originate there is now part of a common western stance that refuses to accept any responsibility for encouraging the growth of recruits to ­jihadi organisations. Just as the events of Bloody Sunday helped IRA recruitment, the New Labour-supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan play an important part in encouraging young Muslims to sacrifice their lives. The London bombings, which Brown mentioned in Pakistan, were the direct result of Labour's foreign policy.

There is near unanimity on this within the British intelligence community. Had Britain not participated in occupying two ­countries, there would have been no ­attacks and no training trips to Pakistan or elsewhere.

The US intelligence agencies are close to agreeing that the war in Afghanistan has become a disaster. Some of Obama's advisers are recommending an exit strategy. Washington's hawks (backed by Brown) argue that, while bad, the military situation is still salvageable. This may be technically accurate, but it would require the carpet-bombing of southern Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, the destruction of scores of villages and small towns, the killing of untold numbers of Pashtuns and the dispatch to the region of at least 200,000 more troops with all their equipment, air and logistical support.

The political consequences of such a course are so dire that even Dick Cheney, the closest thing to Dr Strangelove that Washington has produced, has been uncharacteristically cautious when it comes to suggesting a military solution to the conflict.

Al-Qaida, as the CIA recently made clear, is on the decline. It has never come close to repeating anything resembling the strikes of 9/11. Its principal leader Osama bin Laden may well be dead (he did not make his trademark video intervention in this year's US presidential election) and his deputy has fallen back on threats and bravado. Now Gordon Brown appears to have discovered the existence of the long-established Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (Soldiers of Medina).

This is one of the more virulent jihadi groups created by the ISI, Pakistan's security service, in the mid-90s. Its aim (as I pointed out in 2000) was to repeat the mujahideen's successful war against the Russians in Afghanistan by opening a new front in Indian-held Kashmir. It could not exist without the patronage of the army. It had a membership of 50,000 militants, foot-soldiers trained in camps in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, bankrolled by the Saudis and the Pakistani government. Teenagers are recruited from poor families, while state payouts for martyrs help fund the organisation.

After 9/11 Pervez Musharraf sidelined them and funding was drastically reduced, but they were not disbanded. Were they involved in the assault on Mumbai? Possibly, but they could not have acted on their own. They needed help inside India, a fact the Indian elite and its western apologists shy away from.

Why should it be such a surprise if some of the perpetrators are Indian Muslims? There has been much anger within the poorest sections of the Muslim community against the systematic discrimination and acts of violence carried out against them, of which the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat was only the most blatant.

Add to this the continuing sore of Kashmir, which has for decades been treated as a colony by Indian troops with random arrests, torture and rape an everyday occurrence. Conditions have been much worse than in Tibet, but have aroused little sympathy in the west. Being tough on terror but not on the causes of terror is, as we have seen since 9/11, a road to nowhere., Sunday 14 December 2008 16.19 GMT

To George Bush, his critics are just lone difficult schoolboys. It's impossible for the President to acknowledge his failure in Iraq by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

If only he could have done it a week earlier, Muntazer al-Zaidi's display of hurling shoes at George Bush would have been unbeatable in the vote for Overseas Sports Personality of the Year. It was especially brilliant given that one of the ways international security has tightened at potential targets is to check for explosives hidden in people's shoes. Now in Baghdad the security forces will grabbing people and saying, "Can I look inside your bag of semtex, to check you're not using it to conceal a pair of sandals."

Film of the incident is the most popular clip in the world, and confirms Bush's presidency as ending in humiliation, as if he's some foul old relative that's round for Christmas, and all of America is muttering, "How much bloody longer is he staying? Another five weeks? Can't we drive out to Alaska and leave him with a pack of seals?
Surely THAT can't be unconstitutional."
To reinforce his image, his response to the thrown shoes was to suggest that Mr al-Zaidi was "just trying to draw attention to himself." Yes that's it. He might say it was a protest about the war and occupation, but really he's an exhibitionist who was turned down for Iraq's Got Talent so he threw the shoes as a desperate attempt to get on the telly.

But in a sense what else can Bush say or think? He believed he'd be welcomed as a liberator, but after five years is despised to the point where a man throwing shoes at him has become an instant national hero. He can't acknowledge this failure, so Bush responds as if he's been confronted by a lone difficult schoolboy.

If he saw a suicide bomber drive into a convoy and blow up half the barracks he'd say, "Honestly, it's your own time your wasting you know." Maybe that's why the occupation's been more awkward than he thought, the whole place has Attention Deficit Disorder, or they've been eating too many Cheesy Wotsits.

The attention-seeking al-Zaidi has been charged with a "barbaric and ignominious act". Which could be considered ironic, given that his complaint is that Bush has caused a million deaths, ethnic cleansing and swiped the bulk of the country's resources. Whereas al-Zaidi threw shoes and called Bush a "dog". It's like if Josef Fritzl's daughter said, "You've been a pig to me Dad," and he replied "Oh how barbaric. I know we've had our differences but there's no need for language like THAT."

But in one sense Bush can be forgiven for his surprise at being disliked in Baghdad, which is that like all politicians to visit the place, he only sees the absurdly protected bit in one surreal corner. Then from behind billions of dollars' worth of security they pronounce everything's going nicely. They're like someone going to a holiday complex in Tangiers and saying, "Well I've been to Africa and I can tell you all this stuff about some of them starving is complete nonsense."

They're so protected from genuine opinion that when they accidentally encounter the wrath that so many feel for them, they have to write it off as a piece of nonsense. Hated rulers throughout history have behaved like this, from Louis XVI to Ceausescu in Romania, believing that the people screaming at them are a handful of unrepresentative idiots. When Mussolini was being strung up, he probably thought, "Let them get this out of their system and I'll be back to normal by half past three".

Many of the same journalists now accept the line that the occupation is working because things are "getting better". But that's because the killing and ethnic cleansing unleashed by the occupation is mostly complete. You might as well say, "There's excellent news from the hospital. Grandad's not had that pain in his stomach for over a week now. They do also say that's because he's dead, but it proves he's getting better."

So Muntazer al-Zaidi has been arrested, and could face several years in jail, despite the fact that he's supported by vast numbers of demonstrating Sunnis and Shias, in a country that has been "given back to the Iraqis". The man should be hailed Man of the Year. And if politicians really want to reconnect politics with the people, his example should be copied. If some tedious orchestrated press conference with Jack Straw or George Osborne was likely to end with them diving under the podium to shelter from a volley of Dr Martins, a few more people might bother to watch.

First published in The Independent on 17th December 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Foreign Intervention Won The Venezuelan Elections by Eva Golinger

Eva Golinger

Years of work penetrating communities and financing "democracy" programs and projects with an anti-socialist vision in the communities of Petare, Sucre Municipality of Miranda State, and Catia, Libertador Municipality in Caracas, and in other zones where the vast majority of the population of Caracas and Miranda is located, allowed the opposition to retake control of these areas.
The strategic political consultation, with its separatist vision and in favor of the infiltration of paramilitaries in Zulia and Tachira, allowed these areas that are of such importance to the security of the Venezuelan state to be controlled by an opposition that is subordinate to the agenda of Washington and the objectives of Plan Colombia that plague the region.

It's not just the 4.7 million dollars invested in the opposition's campaign for the regional elections in 2008 by the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and their affiliated agencies, but also the 50 million dollars, along with expert political consultation, donated by the US and used since 2000 to construct a solid base of the Venezuelan opposition, who, beginning in 2004, began to set their sights on infiltrating communities supportive of Chavez as well as students. Still, we can't rule out or ignore the responsibility of certain politicians who used the revolution and the good faith of President Chavez to come to power and then abused it with their corrupt practices that hurt the people they represented. But the media campaign that blames the Pro-Chavez movement for crime and corruption in the in the country – mainly in the large capital city of Caracas – had a major impact, and the local and national government didn't respond effectively.

The short memory of those Venezuelans who forgot how the mayor-elect, Antonio Ledezma, governed as mayor of the Federal District in 1993 when he prohibited any protest or rally in the city. Or how Ledezma was one of those responsible for the deterioration of public services in the city, along with its infrastructure. As a result, the Chavista elected officials of 2000 and 2004 inherited a capital city in total ruin – the historic center almost destroyed, streets full of potholes and buildings stained after being forgotten and abandoned for years. Could the same mayor who destroyed the city 15 years ago be the one to save it now? Only time will tell, but the odds are slim and the unfortunate short-term memory of some Caraqueños will make them to pay for their impulsive decision.

The most strategic and populated states of the country, Carabobo, Miranda, Tachira, Zulia, and the metropolitan mayor of Caracas, have been handed like a prize to the same political players who, in the last seven years, have carried out attacks against Venezuelan democracy, including a coup d'état (all of these new elected officials were top leaders in the coup d'état of April 2002), the economic sabotage that almost destroyed the country and its petroleum industry in 2002-2003, and the numerous protests and attempts to destabilize since then that have tested the patience of Venezuelan society.

Why then did these important regions fall back in the hands of coup-plotters? The answer is simple and complex at the same time. There is a lack of understanding within the revolution about the importance and about the impact of subversion and the interference of foreign agencies in the country. We aren't just talking about the financing of opposition political parties – something that should be strictly prohibited by law – but a complex web of different actors, entities, front groups, and agencies that have managed to infiltrate the ranks of the pro-Chavez movement, and have been able to snag and remove political parties like PPT (Homeland for All) and Podemos (We can), which previously sided fully with the revolution.

This web – which I call the Empire's Spider Web – also penetrates communities and barrios and promotes alternative projects and programs to those proposed by President Chavez that may be more attractive in the short term, providing instant satisfaction to these needy sectors. These foreign agencies, like the aforementioned USAID and the NED, and others such as Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (Germany), FAES (Spain), FOCAL (Canada), Friedrich Ebert Foundation (Germany), among others, have been working in Venezuela for years, advising and financing parties such as Primero Justicia (Justice First), Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Era), and Podemos to help them create political platforms and strategies that reflect the needs and wants of the Venezuelan people, but maintain a hidden agenda that promotes a neo-liberal, anti-socialist vision.

Remember that we are in a battle of ideas and in this war without a battlefield all weapons within reach are employed to neutralize the enemy. The work of these agencies has also been extremely effective with the NGOs and within right-wing student groups, such as Súmate, Cedice, Hagamos Democracia, Sinergia, "White Hands" student movement, and others. With this help, these groups have taken over sectors of society that have been neglected by the revolution, if not forgotten entirely. The ability and effectiveness of foreign interference, like an imperial fist, cannot be underestimated.

The strategy of "promoting democracy" in countries like Venezuela is more dangerous than a military invasion. Why? Its detection is difficult and the cover-up is almost perfect – it is hidden behind NGOs and programs with noble-sounding names and missions that claim to help communities and improve the country, but in reality they aim to destabilize and implement an agenda against the sovereign interests of the nation. Its web is immense and it is seen in Venezuelan society through the mainstream media, the touching speeches of spokesmen such as Yon Goicoechea, who try to trick Venezuelans with poetic and comforting phrases, and the complaints of human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Inter American Press Society, and the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS).

This is the most dangerous foreign interference that the Bolivarian Revolution faces. Its deadly web extends across the country after the results of November 23. The people and national government need to act now to neutralize this growing threat to their future. The fact that the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV, Spanish acronym) won 17 governors races with nearly six million votes is an important step for the strengthening of the revolution. It also shows the revolutionary commitment of the majority of Venezuelans. Despite this, the strategic victory of the opposition forces can't be denied or discounted, and its recovery of these regional governments should be a wake up call for the revolutionary citizens and the Venezuelan government.

They will use these spaces to introduce and promote their individualist, anti-socialist vision, shrouded in the message of "democracy and liberty." And they will open up their regions even more to the imperial web. The border area is in serious risk. The Venezuelan "half moon" could further strengthen with Zulia and Tachira in the hands of the most reactionary right-wing political players in the country. Its time for strong actions to combat the interference of foreign agencies in the country. If they aren't neutralized now, they will embed their followers so deeply in the country that they will be here for good.

Eva Golinger is a lawyer, researcher and writer, and author of The Chavez Code, Bush vs. Chavez: Washington's War against Venezuela, and The Empire's Web: Encyclopedia of Interventionism and Subversion (in Spanish), which was published in Venezuela in November 2008.

Contact her at December 3rd 2008,

Translated by Erik Sperling