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Friday, December 30, 2011

John Pilger:In the land of facades, mark the first signs of an Indian spring


When the early morning fog rises and drifting skeins from wood fires carry the sweet smell of India, the joggers arrive in Lodi Gardens. Past the tomb of Mohammed Shah, the 15th century Munghal ruler, across a landscape manicured in the 1930s by Lady Willingdon, wife of the governor-general, recently acquired trainers stride out from ample figures in smart saris and white cotton dhotis. In Delhi, the middle classes do as they do everywhere, though here there is no middle. By mid-morning, children descend like starlings. They wear pressed blazers, like those of an English prep school. There are games and art and botany classes. When shepherded out through Lady Willingdon's elegant stone gateway, they pass a reed-thin boy, prostrate beside the traffic and his pile of peanuts, coins clenched in his hand.
When I was first sent to report India, I seldom raised my eyes to the gothic edifices and facades of the British Raj. All life was at dust and pavement level and, once the shock had eased, I learned to admire the sheer imagination and wit of people who survived the cities, let alone the countryside -- the dabbawallahs (literally "person with a box"), cleaners, runners, street barbers, poets, assorted Fagans and children with their piles of peanuts. In Calcutta, as it was still known during the 1971 war with Pakistan, civil defence units in soup-plate helmets and lungis toured the streets announcing an air-raid warning practice during which, they said, "everybody must stay indoors and remain in the face-down position until the siren has ceased to operate". Waves of mocking laughter greeted them, together with the cry: "But we have no doors to stay inside!"
When the imperial capital was transferred to Delhi early last century, New Delhi was built as a modernist showpiece, with avenues and roundabouts and a mall sweeping up to the viceroy's house, now the president's residence in the world's most populous democracy. If the experience of colonialism was humiliating, this proud new metropolis would surely be enabling. On 15 August, 1947, it was the setting for Pandit Nehru's declaration of independence "at the midnight hour". It was also a façade behind which the majority hoped and waited, and still wait.
This notion of façade is almost haunting. You sense it in genteel Lodi Gardens and among the anglicised elites and their enduring ambiguity. In the 1990s, it became a wall erected by the beneficiaries of Shining India, which began as a slogan invented by an American advertising firm to promote the rise of the Hindu nationalist BJP-led government. Shorn of Nehru's idealism and paternalism, it marked the end of the Congress Party's pretence of class and caste reconciliation: in other words, social justice. Monsanto and Pizza Hut, Microsoft and Murdoch were invited to enter what had been forbidden territory to corporate predators. India would serve a new deity called "economic growth" and be hailed as a "global leader, apparently heading "in what the smart money believes is the right direction" (Newsweek).
India's ascent to "new world power" is both true and what Edward Bernays, the founder of public relations, called "false reality". Despite a growth rate of 6.9 per cent and prosperity for some, more Indians than ever are living in poverty than anywhere on earth, including a third of all malnourished children. Save the Children says that every year two million infants under the age of five die.
The facades are literal and surreal. Ram Suhavan and his family live 60 feet above a railway track. Their home is the inside of a hoarding which advertises, on one side, "exotic, exclusive" homes for the new "elite" and on the other, a gleaming car. This is in Pune, in Maharashtra state, which has "booming" Bombay and the nation's highest suicide rate among indebted farmers.
Most Indians live in rural villages, dependent on the land and its rhythms of subsistence. The rise of monopoly control of seed by multinationals, forcing farmers to plant cash crops such as GM cotton, has led to a quarter of a million suicides, a conservative estimate. The environmentalist Vandana Shiva describes this as "re-colonisation". Using the 1894 Land Acquisition Act, central and state governments have forcibly dispossessed farmers and tribal peoples in order to hand their land to speculators and mining companies. To make way for a Formula One racetrack and gated "elite" estates, land was appropriated for $6 a square metre and sold to developers for $13,450 a square metre. Across India, the communities have fought back. In Orissa State, the wholesale destruction of betel farms has spawned a resistance now in its fifth year.
What is always exciting about India is this refusal to comply with political mythology and gross injustice. In The Idea of India, wrote Sunil Kjilnani, "The future of western political theory will be decided outside the west." For the majorities of India and the west, liberal democracy was now diminished to "the assertion of an equal right to consume [media] images".

In Kashmir, a forgotten India barely reported abroad, a peaceful resistance as inspiring as Tahrir Square has arisen in the most militarised region on earth. As the victims of Partition, Muslim Kashmiris have known none of Nehru's noble legacies. Thousands of dissidents have "disappeared" and torture is not uncommon. "The voice that the government of India has tried so hard to silence," wrote Arundhati Roy, "has now massed into a deafening roar. Hundreds of thousands of unarmed people have come out to reclaim their cities, their streets and mohallas. They have simply overwhelmed the heavily armed security forces by their sheer numbers, and with a remarkable display of raw courage." An Indian Spring may be next.
29 December 2011

Mark Steel on the the death of Christopher Hitchens

"Just because you're an atheist doesn't make you rational "

Having followed the latest debate about religion, I'd say the conclusion is obvious that the only thing as disturbing as the religious is the modern atheist. I'd noticed this before, after I was slightly critical of Richard Dawkins and received piles of fuming replies, that made me think that what his followers would like is to scientifically create an eternity in laboratory conditions so that they could burn me there for all of it.

It's not the rationality that's alarming, it's the smugness. Instead of trying to understand religion, if the modern atheist met a peasant in a village in Namibia, he'd shriek: "Of course, GOD didn't create light, it's a mixture of waves and particles you idiot, it's OBVIOUS."

The connection between the religious and the modern atheist was illustrated after the death of Christopher Hitchens, when it was reported that "tributes were led by Tony Blair". I know you can't dictate who leads your tributes, and it's probable that when Blair's press office suggested that he made one to someone who'd passed on, he said: "Oh, which dictator I used to go on holiday with has died NOW?"

But the commendation was partly Hitchens's fault. Because the difference between the modern atheist and the Enlightenment thinkers who fought the church in the 18th century is that back then they didn't make opposition to religion itself their driving ideology. They opposed the lack of democracy justified by the idea that a king was God's envoy on earth, and they wished for a rational understanding of the solar system, rather than one based on an order ordained by God that matched the view that everyone in society was born into a fixed status.

But once you make it your primary aim to refute the existence of God, you can miss what's really fundamental. For example, the ex-canon of St Paul's, presumably a believer unless he managed to fudge the issue in the interview, was on the radio this week expressing why he resigned in support of the protesters outside his old cathedral. He spoke with inspiring compassion, but was interrupted by an atheist who declared the Christian project is doomed because we're scientifically programmed to look after ourselves at the expense of anyone else. So the only humane rational scientific thought to have was "GO Christian, GO, Big up for the Jesus posse."

Similarly, Hitchens appears to have become obsessed with defying religion, so made himself one of the most enthusiastic supporters for a war he saw as being against the craziness of Islam. But the war wasn't about God or Allah, it was about more earthly matters, which the people conducting that war understood. And, as that war became predictably disastrous, they were grateful for whatever support they could find. And so a man dedicated to disproving GOD was praised in his death by the soppiest, sickliest, most, irrational, hypocritical Christian of them all.

So the only thing I know for certain is that I would become a Christian, if I could just get round the fact that there is no GOD.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mark Steel: Let's ask florists for a credit rating

"Governments should be made to recite their policies in front of a panel on TV every Saturday."

The Daily Mail, still trying to attract my attention. All right. Questions to Which the Answer is No...Here's my question about economics – why should it send countries into panic when the bankers make pronouncements about countries' credit ratings, as they did yesterday? You could choose any layer of society at random and most people would trust them more than bankers, so it would make more sense if the BBC News started, "Private sector growth must be the priority for Europe, said the scouts today, although canoeists and wrestlers disagreed, and there was strong opposition from people with fetishes that involve celery. Robert Peston, what does this mean for the Government's inflation target?"

And banks aren't neutral observers, they're banks – the people who caused the mess. It's like someone who's wet themselves in a public building insisting they choose which mop the librarian fetches to clear up the puddle.

But the future of Europe has been entrusted to finance companies and institutions such as the IMF, and governments agree that the most crucial part of any strategy is to keep the financial markets happy. Otherwise, the government becomes helpless, as if they're stood by a cashpoint machine that tells them: "You have insufficient funds. Please contact the IMF for instructions."

So we might as well ask the IMF and banks to make all our decisions to start with, and not bother with the hassle of holding elections. We should at least make this process entertaining, and make governments recite their suggested policies in front of a panel from the financial markets, every Saturday night on ITV. Then someone from Goldman Sachs can say, "David and George you were MARVELLOUS, cutting pensions is delightful and, as you were shutting libraries, I could FEEL you growing. Next week, I'd like to see you try a little cut in the top rate of tax, just to show you can do it. I know you can do it with just a bit more practise. I'm giving you NINE."

Maybe the problem is, by some sort of coincidence, that all the people who run the financial institutions we have to keep content are rich. So it might be more democratic if the directors of these companies were chosen at random by lottery numbers. Seeing as they make all the decisions, it seems fair they should be run by a cross-section of the society affected by those decisions.

This would be much more representative of public feeling, as we were told on the news, say, "The head of Deloitte & Touche today gave his sternest warning yet on executive pay after studying the figures, saying 'HOW MUCH DID YOU SWIPE, YOU THIEVING GREEDY PARASITE, HOW MUCH, HOW BLOODY MUCH? YOU COULD BUY EVERYONE IN EUROPE A CURRY FOR THAT, YOU BURGLAR.' We're going over live to the Bank of England where the governor, Joyce the florist from Sheffield, is about to give her reaction to this statement in a press conference."



Listen to the People, Not the Polluters by Amy Goodman


DURBAN, South Africa—High above the pavement, overlooking Durban’s famous South Beach and the pounding surf of the Indian Ocean, and just blocks from the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where up to 20,000 people gathered, seven activists fought against the wind to unfurl a banner that read “Listen to the People, Not the Polluters.” It was no simple task. Despite the morning sun and blue sky, the wind was ferocious, and the group hanging the banner wasn’t exactly welcome. They were with Greenpeace, hanging off the roof of the Protea Hotel Edward.

Inside, executives gathered at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), an organization that touts itself as “a CEO-led organization of forward-thinking companies that galvanizes the global business community to create a sustainable future for business, society and the environment.” Down at street level, as the police gathered and scores held signs and banners and sang in solidarity with the climbers, Kumi Naidoo lambasted the WBCSD, labeling it one of Greenpeace’s “Dirty Dozen.”
Naidoo is no stranger to action on the streets of Durban. While he is now the executive director of Greenpeace International, one of the largest and most visible global environmental organizations, in 1980, at the age of 15, he was one of millions of South Africans fighting against the racist apartheid regime. He was thrown out of high school and eventually had to go underground. He emerged in England, living in exile, and went on to become a Rhodes scholar. Naidoo has long struggled for human rights, against poverty and for action to combat climate change.
A colleague and I scrambled up to the roof to film as the seven banner-hanging activists were arrested. South African climber Michael Baillie, one of them, told me: “Our goal here today was to highlight how governments are being unduly influenced by a handful of corporations who are trying to adversely influence the climate negotiations that are happening here in Durban. They are holding the climate hostage.”
Later, at the U.N. conference inside the Alfred Luthuli International Conference Center, named after an early president-general of the African National Congress and the first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Naidoo told me about that morning’s action: “We are not opposed to the idea of dialogue with corporations, but clearly corporations are not actually moving as fast as we need them to move and, in fact, are actually holding us back. Therefore, we think that calling them out, naming and shaming them, is critically necessary so that people know why these climate talks here are not actually going as fast as we need them to go.”
The Dirty Dozen in Durban include Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries and BASF, along with industry trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the WBCSD and the American Petroleum Institute. Greenpeace highlighted these corporations and corporate umbrella groups for their presence in Durban, and for their actions throughout the global-climate-change negotiating process, in undermining meaningful progress. The full report, titled “Who’s holding us back? How carbon-intensive industry is preventing effective climate legislation,” details how these corporations not only derail national legislation on climate change across the globe, but are also gaining privileged access to the global negotiations like these crucial United Nations talks in Durban.
Former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed a rally before the summit, describing climate change as a “huge enemy. … We are saying this is the last chance, please for goodness’ sake take the right decision, this is the only world we have, the only home we have, if it is destroyed, we all sink.” Former Irish President Mary Robinson added, “People are suffering because of the impact of climate change, those who are suffering most are not responsible, so the rich world has to take its responsibility, we have to have a continuation of Kyoto, a track that leads to a fair, ambitious and binding agreement, and we have to do it here in Durban.”
There is a growing consensus here in Durban that the United States is the main impediment to progress at these crucial talks. A consortium of 16 of the major environmental groups in the U.S. wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who directly oversees the U.S. climate negotiations. They pointed out that, while President Barack Obama originally campaigned on a promise to lead in global climate negotiations, “three years later, America risks being viewed not as a global leader on climate change, but as a major obstacle to progress.”
The fossil-fuel industry exerts enormous influence over the U.S. government, and over the U.S. public, with tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and PR campaigns to shape public opinion. Kumi Naidoo, who has been jailed many times for his activism, compared the struggle against apartheid to the fight against climate change: “If people around the world can actually unite—trade unions, social movements, religious leaders, environmental groups and so on, which we saw in the march on Saturday—I pray and hope that we will have a similar kind of miracle to get these climate negotiations to deliver a fair, ambitious and legally binding outcome.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Published on Wednesday, December 7, 2011 by TruthDig.com 

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel”prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Arundhati Roy: "The People Who Created the Crisis Will Not Be the Ones That Come Up With a Solution"

Arundhati Roy

The prize-winning author of The God of Small Things talks about why she is drawn to the Occupy movement and the need to reclaim language and meaning.

Sitting in a car parked at a gas station on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, my colleague Michelle holds an audio recorder to my cellphone. At the other end of the line is Arundhati Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things, who is some 2,000 miles away, driving to Boston.

"This is uniquely American," I remark to Roy about interviewing her while both in cars but thousands of miles apart. Having driven some 7,000 miles and visited 23 cities (and counting) in reporting on the Occupy movement, it's become apparent that the US is essentially an oil-based economy in which we shuttle goods we no longer make around a continental land mass, creating poverty-level dead-end jobs in the service sector.

This is the secret behind the Occupy Wall Street movement that Roy visited before the police crackdowns started. Sure, ending pervasive corporate control of the political system is on the lips of almost every occupier we meet. But this is nothing new. What's different is most Americans now live in poverty, on the edge, or fear a descent into the abyss. It's why a majority (at least of those who have an opinion) still support Occupy Wall Street even after weeks of disinformation and repression.

In this exclusive interview for the Guardian, Roy offers her thoughts on Occupy Wall Street, the role of the imagination, reclaiming language, and what is next for a movement that has reshaped America's political discourse and seized the world's attention.

AG: Why did you want to visit Occupy Wall Street and what are your impressions of it?

AR: How could I not want to visit? Given what I've been doing for so many years, it seems to me, intellectually and theoretically, quite predictable this was going to happen here at some point. But still I cannot deny myself the surprise and delight that it has happened. And I wanted to, obviously, see for myself the extent and size and texture and nature of it. So the first time I went there, because all those tents were up, it seemed more like a squat than a protest to me, but it began to reveal itself in a while. Some people were holding the ground and it was the hub for other people to organise, to think through things. As I said when I spoke at the People's University, it seems to me to be introducing a new political language into the United States, a language that would be considered blasphemous only a while ago.

AG: Do you think that the Occupy movement should be defined by occupying one particular space or by occupying spaces?

AR: I don't think the whole protest is only about occupying physical territory, but about reigniting a new political imagination. I don't think the state will allow people to occupy a particular space unless it feels that allowing that will end up in a kind of complacency, and the effectiveness and urgency of the protest will be lost. The fact that in New York and other places where people are being beaten and evicted suggests nervousness and confusion in the ruling establishment. I think the movement will, or at least should, become a protean movement of ideas, as well as action, where the element of surprise remains with the protesters. We need to preserve the element of an intellectual ambush and a physical manifestation that takes the government and the police by surprise. It has to keep re-imagining itself, because holding territory may not be something the movement will be allowed to do in a state as powerful and violent as the United States.

AG: At the same, occupying public spaces did capture the public imagination. Why do you think that is?

AR: I think you had a whole subcutaneous discontent that these movements suddenly began to epitomise. The Occupy movement found places where people who were feeling that anger could come and share it – and that is, as we all know, extremely important in any political movement. The Occupy sites became a way you could gauge the levels of anger and discontent.

AG: You mentioned that they are under attack. Dozens of occupations have been shut down, evicted, at least temporarily, in the last week. What do you see as the next phase for this movement?

AR: I don't know whether I'm qualified to answer that, because I'm not somebody who spends a lot of time here in the United States, but I suspect that it will keep reassembling in different ways and the anger created by the repression will, in fact, expand the movement. But eventually, the greater danger to the movement is that it may dovetail into the presidential election campaign that's coming up. I've seen that happen before in the antiwar movement here, and I see it happening all the time in India. Eventually, all the energy goes into trying to campaign for the "better guy", in this case Barack Obama, who's actually expanding wars all over the world. Election campaigns seem to siphon away political anger and even basic political intelligence into this great vaudeville, after which we all end up in exactly the same place.

AG: Your essays, such as "The Greater Common Good" and "Walking with the Comrades", concern corporations, the military and state violently occupying other people's lands in India. How do those occupations and resistances relate to the Occupy Wall Street movement?

AR: I hope that that the people in the Occupy movement are politically aware enough to know that their being excluded from the obscene amassing of wealth of US corporations is part of the same system of the exclusion and war that is being waged by these corporations in places like India, Africa and the Middle East. Ever since the Great Depression, we know that one of the key ways in which the US economy has stimulated growth is by manufacturing weapons and exporting war to other countries. So, whether this movement is a movement for justice for the excluded in the United States, or whether it is a movement against an international system of global finance that is manufacturing levels of hunger and poverty on an unimaginable scale, remains to be seen.

AG: You've written about the need for a different imagination than that of capitalism. Can you talk about that?



AR: We often confuse or loosely use the ideas of crony capitalism or neoliberalism to actually avoid using the word "capitalism", but once you've actually seen, let's say, what's happening in India and the United States – that this model of US economics packaged in a carton that says "democracy" is being forced on countries all over the world, militarily if necessary, has in the United States itself resulted in 400 of the richest people owning wealth equivalent [to that] of half of the population. Thousands are losing their jobs and homes, while corporations are being bailed out with billions of dollars.

In India, 100 of the richest people own assets worth 25% of the gross domestic product. There's something terribly wrong. No individual and no corporation should be allowed to amass that kind of unlimited wealth, including bestselling writers like myself, who are showered with royalties. Money need not be our only reward. Corporations that are turning over these huge profits can own everything: the media, the universities, the mines, the weapons industry, insurance hospitals, drug companies, non-governmental organisations. They can buy judges, journalists, politicians, publishing houses, television stations, bookshops and even activists. This kind of monopoly, this cross-ownership of businesses, has to stop.

The whole privatisation of health and education, of natural resources and essential infrastructure – all of this is so twisted and so antithetical to anything that would place the interests of human beings or the environment at the center of what ought to be a government concern – should stop. The amassing of unfettered wealth of individuals and corporations should stop. The inheritance of rich people's wealth by their children should stop. The expropriators should have their wealth expropriated and redistributed.

AG: What would the different imagination look like?

AR: The home minister of India has said that he wants 70% of the Indian population in the cities, which means moving something like 500 million people off their land. That cannot be done without India turning into a military state. But in the forests of central India and in many, many rural areas, a huge battle is being waged. Millions of people are being driven off their lands by mining companies, by dams, by infrastructure companies, and a huge battle is being waged. These are not people who have been co-opted into consumer culture, into the western notions of civilisation and progress. They are fighting for their lands and their livelihoods, refusing to be looted so that someone somewhere far away may "progress" at their cost.

India has millions of internally displaced people. And now, they are putting their bodies on the line and fighting back. They are being killed and imprisoned in their thousands. Theirs is a battle of the imagination, a battle for the redefinition of the meaning of civilisation, of the meaning of happiness, of the meaning of fulfilment. And this battle demands that the world see that, at some stage, as the water tables are dropping and the minerals that remain in the mountains are being taken out, we are going to confront a crisis from which we cannot return. The people who created the crisis in the first place will not be the ones that come up with a solution.

That is why we must pay close attention to those with another imagination: an imagination outside of capitalism, as well as communism. We will soon have to admit that those people, like the millions of indigenous people fighting to prevent the takeover of their lands and the destruction of their environment – the people who still know the secrets of sustainable living – are not relics of the past, but the guides to our future.

AG: In the United States, as I'm sure you're aware, political discourse is obsessed with the middle class, but the Occupy movement has made the poor and homeless visible for the first time in decades in the public discourse. Could you comment on that?

AR: It's so much a reversal of what you see in India. In India, the poverty is so vast that the state cannot control it. It can beat people, but it can't prevent the poor from flooding the roads, the cities, the parks and railway station platforms. Whereas, here, the poor have been invisibilised, because obviously this model of success that has been held out to the world must not show the poor, it must not show the condition of black people. It can only the successful ones, basketball players, musicians, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell. But I think the time will come when the movement will have to somehow formulate something more than just anger.

AG: As a writer, what do you make of the term "occupation", which has now somehow been reclaimed as a positive term when it's always been one of the most heinous terms in political language?

AR: As a writer, I've often said that, among the other things that we need to reclaim, other than the obscene wealth of billionaires, is language. Language has been deployed to mean the exact opposite of what it really means when they talk about democracy or freedom. So I think that turning the word "occupation" on its head would be a good thing, though I would say that it needs a little more work. We ought to say, "Occupy Wall Street, not Iraq," "Occupy Wall Street, not Afghanistan," "Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine." The two need to be put together. Otherwise people might not read the signs.

AG: As a novelist, you write a lot in terms of motivations and how characters interpret reality. Around the country, many occupiers we've talked to seem unable to reconcile their desires about Obama with what Obama really represents. When I talk to them about Obama's record, they say, "Oh, his hands are tied; the Republicans are to blame, it's not his fault." Why do you think people react like this, even at the occupations?

AR: Even in India, we have the same problem. We have a right wing that is so vicious and so openly wicked, which is the Baratiya Janata party (BJP), and then we have the Congress party, which does almost worse things, but does it by night. And people feel that the only choices they have are to vote for this or for that. And my point is that, whoever you vote for, it doesn't have to consume all the oxygen in the political debate. It's just an artificial theatre, which in a way is designed to subsume the anger and to make you feel that this is all that you're supposed to think about and talk about, when, in fact, you're trapped between two kinds of washing powder that are owned by the same company.

Democracy no longer means what it was meant to. It has been taken back into the workshop. Each of its institutions has been hollowed out, and it has been returned to us as a vehicle for the free market, of the corporations. For the corporations, by the corporations. Even if we do vote, we should just spend less time and intellectual energy on our choices and keep our eye on the ball.

AG: So it's also a failure of the imagination?

AR: It's walking into a pretty elaborate trap. But it happens everywhere, and it will continue to happen. Even I know that if I go back to India, and tomorrow the BJP comes to power, personally I'll be in a lot more trouble than with the Congress [party] in power. But systemically, in terms of what is being done, there's no difference, because they collaborate completely, all the time. So I'm not going to waste even three minutes of my time, if I have to speak, asking people to vote for this one or for that one.

AG: One question that a lot of people have asked me: when is your next novel coming out?

AR: I have no answer to that question … I really don't know. Novels are such mysterious and amorphous and tender things. And here we are with our crash helmets on, with concertina wire all around us.

AG: So this inspires you, as a novelist, the movement?

AR: Well, it comforts me, let's just say. I feel in so many ways rewarded for having done what I did, along with hundreds of other people, even the times when it seemed futile.

• Michelle Fawcett contributed to this article. She and Arun Gupta are covering the Occupy movement nationwide for Salon, Alternet and other outlets. Their work is available at occupyusatoday.com
Wednesday 30 November 2011

by: Arun Gupta, The Guardian UK | Op-Ed


Robert Fisk:"The real fight for democracy in Egypt has yet to begin."

"A Cairo newspaper editor on why the elections will not prevent protesters from returning to Tahrir Square."

When it comes to economics, you don't mess with Wael Gamal. Before becoming a managing editor of Shrouq – Sunrise, to you and me – he was economics editor of the Egyptian daily, and he casts a cold eye on soldiers who don't understand money. "Not a single one of the 20 generals on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces understands the economy," he says, with a certain laugh infecting his voice, "and at their press conference the other day, all their numbers and conclusions were wrong. They wanted to scare the people off the streets by saying that Egypt will go bankrupt. The ministers were all trying to correct the statistics afterwards."

Gamal had just voted for the secular "Revolution" list, and it was the first time he had entered a polling booth in his 40 years. "I never voted in elections before because they were all fraudulent. Before the revolution, our editor-in-chief was about to be jailed because of a report we carried on the rigged 2010 elections. I was chased by the police twice in 2003 because I was involved in the movement against the American war in Iraq."

These are happier times, then. No police agents hover outside Shrouq's front door. Not right now, anyway.

"The choice of [the new Prime Minister, Kamal] Ganzouri was very nasty," Gamal says. "He intends to keep a third of the members of the old government and two of them – Hassan Younis, the Electricity Minister, and Faisal Naga, the Planning Minister – were Mubarak ministers. I think the people will return to Tahrir Square after the first voting results are announced.

"But what has happened is huge progress. Sure, people saw violations at the voting, but compared to what happened before, it was a great improvement. I am optimistic."

This isn't a widespread sentiment in Egypt right now. And if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the largest number of seats in the election, which they assuredly will, Gamal believes it will be under enormous pressure: from workers, from trade unions, from the US. Strikes, he says, will start again after the elections. "The Brotherhood [says it] will not change the tax policies, so they are against the poor. This will not balance the budget. I think they will fail. The economy is going to be crucial. Egypt makes lots of money through tourism. Will the Brotherhood support tourism?"

Already, new trade unions have been created, but a new workers' rights law has been refused by the army leadership. The labour ministry has told new unions they have to merge into the old syndicates. As for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Gamal says he is ill, that he has no intention of becoming President although this might not apply to all members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the SCAF, which Egyptians call the Maglis el-Askleri (Military Council). The name of General Sami Amman floats around these days, although Gamal says, with a sense of relief, that "if there had been an ambitious, efficient member of the SCAF, we would have been in trouble."

Gamal sees a divided Muslim Brotherhood, the movement having already spawned two rival parties, its youth cut off from older members, its leadership already out of agreement with the army. "They are saying that parliament should be able to form a government" – which the military does not want – "but the Brotherhood make compromises with their principals."

He added: "This exaggeration of the power of the Brotherhood is an obsession. There are internal differences and they lost the youth from the first day [of the revolution]. As for the Salafists, they are not accepted by Egyptians, even in the countryside. They will maybe get 10 per cent of the votes."

Oddly, Gamal suspects that the Arab revolutions may have been inspired by the overthrow of dictatorships in Latin America, "where opponents of the regimes occupied squares and fought with the police; we had the same kind of developments in social and economic life". But when I ask about the army's latest warning of "foreign hands" provoking violence in Tahrir Square this month, Gamal snorts with cynicism.

"This is hypocritical. They moan about foreign money going to NGOs. But they let the US donate $150m to promote the 'transition to democracy'. The army gets $1.3bn from America. Then that's a different matter. But the future will depend on the next confrontation. The SCAF is very, very weak. Every time 100,000 people go to Tahrir, the government falls. They are on the defensive. The problem is that people in Tahrir don't have the power to put more pressure on, to confront the real web of interests behind the SCAF and to confront the old regime in the work places. There will be a real fight for democracy and social change."

The old optimism is coming back to Gamal. "In just nine months, the strength of the army is collapsing. Who would have imagined that people would be shouting 'Down with the Military Council'? This is good for political progress in Egypt." The army, as "protectors" of a new constitution, intend to keep their privileges out of parliament's hands, Muslim Brothers or not, which is what the Tahrir demonstrators will be complaining about again in tomorrow's rally.

The Independent Thursday 01 December 2011

Mark Steel: Unions just want the mums to pay

"Michael Gove believes the strikers want 'mothers to give up a day's work or pay for childcare'."                            

Sometimes when there's a strike, it's tricky to work out the real issues causing the conflict. So the Government is lucky to have Michael Gove, who's decoded what the unions are really after. The strikers, he said, are "itching for a fight", and "want mothers to give up a day's work or pay for expensive childcare".

Presumably, he's heard secret tapes of union leaders making speeches that go: "Brothers and sisters, we the working men and women of this country must stand united against the people ruining our livelihoods – mothers, the parasites. How much longer will they push buggies and dance to Davina McCall fitness programmes with no regard for the impact on our members?" Then they get the crowd to chant: "Two, four, six, eight, Make it expensive to procreate."

Seventeen unions have held a ballot for the strike, and, in each case, they voted at least two to one to support it. Midwives voted for it, so for years they must have been telling women to push a bit more while thinking: "Hee hee, in a few years we'll make you pay a fortune to look after this little bastard. That'll teach you to let your waters break while I'm watching Cash in the Attic."

Eighty-two per cent of head teachers voted for the strike, the anarchists. Because they spend every day bawling at kids in their office: "WHAT is the meaning of THIS? You do NOT walk down MY corridor without KICKING random people. I'm ITCHING for a fight now. PUNCH someone AT ONCE."

A poll suggests that 61 per cent of the country supports the strike, so Britain must be on the edge of a bizarre revolution, itching for a fight with authority, in order to transform society by making mothers pay for expensive childcare.

The Government also argues that the strike to defend pensions is unjustified, because people who don't work in the public sector have even worse ones. This might be a reasonable argument, if we assume that the money saved by the Government in pension payments will be shared out among everyone else with an even worse pension. The plan must be to take it round in a box for the homeless, and then look after their children for free.

The argument that people should put up with being battered because other people are battered more makes as much sense as the Syrian government saying: "How dare these people complain about being shot at? People caught by the Gestapo for escaping Colditz were shot even more. These protesters are simply trying to make mothers pay for expensive childcare."

But at least Michael Gove is imaginatively surreal. Maybe next week he'll do even better and say the strike was simply an attempt to murder polar bears by getting hypnotists hired by the General and Municipal Boilermakers' Union to bankrupt us by making us want to buy them the most expensive fish.


Mark Steel: Don't let's forget the rich are different

"You almost have to admire the front when people can't stop swiping billions."

The High Pay Commission has just published a report about the trend in salaries paid to the highest 0.1 per cent of earners, and it seems that someone must have made a terrible mistake. Because, in this time of unprecedented debt and sacrifice, with the Government making daily statements such as "in order to keep old age pensions viable, we are insisting from now on that the elderly contribute towards their upkeep, by going on the game for just two days a week. Under this scheme, they will keep 90 per cent of whatever they make from turning tricks, which is far more generous than the pimping rate on the open market, and this will ensure properly funded pensions for the next generation."
Somehow during this austerity, the richest 0.1 per cent "continues to enjoy huge annual increases in pay awards". For example, the salaries of directors of the top 100 companies have increased by 49 per cent. This must now be so difficult to justify, the directors will explain that "what you must remember is the richest 0.1 per cent are a different species to the rest of you, and if our bonuses don't increase by at least 28 per cent, our gills close up and we suffocate".
Dr Heather McGregor of executive search firm Taylor Bennett tried a different route, explaining yesterday that if you want executive pay restrained, "You can go and live in Cuba." We should give this is a go. Then the Cuban embassy will be puzzled to find 47 million applications for a visa, and on the forms under "Reason for wish to live in Cuba" will be "I was asked if the chief executive of Barclays deserved his salary of £4,365,636, so I said he should at least give back the 6 and I was told I had to move there".
The other argument is that the executive pay rates are set by shareholders, so we can't do anything about it. In other words, you can't stop people swiping billions because they voted themselves the right to swipe billions. You might as well say you can't do anything about arsonists because the arsonists set the temperature they like buildings to be at, and if they decide they prefer materials to be molten and smoky, the Government has no power to restrain them.

You almost have to admire the front. For example, yesterday's London Evening Standard told of a banker who broke the record for the amount spent in one night at a Spearmint Rhino lapdancing club, celebrating a bonus by coughing up £37,000 for his evening's entertainment. These are people who must see one of those Oxfam adverts saying, "Two pounds a week could save this child's eyesight" and think, "That's disgusting. If just 18,500 of the people who donate to that charity gave the money to me instead, I could have a free night out at Spearmint Rhino". Because they are a different species.

'Mark Steel's in Town' has just been published by Fourth Estate
Wednesday 23 November 2011 The Independent

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Tariq Ali:"Why did NATO attack Pakistan?"


The Nato assault on a Pakistani checkpoint close to the Afghan border which killed 24 soldiers on Saturday must have been deliberate. Nato commanders have long been supplied with maps marking these checkpoints by the Pakistani military. They knew that the target was a military outpost. The explanation that they were fired on first rings false and has been ferociously denied by Islamabad. Previous such attacks were pronounced ‘accidental’ and apologies were given and accepted. This time it seems more serious. It has come too soon after other ‘breaches of sovereignty’, in the words of the local press, but Pakistani sovereignty is a fiction. The military high command and the country’s political leaders willingly surrendered their sovereignty many decades ago. That it is now being violated openly and brutally is the real cause for concern.
In retaliation, Pakistan has halted Nato convoys to Afghanistan (49 per cent of which go through the country) and asked the US to vacate the Shamsi base that they built to launch drones against targets in both Afghanistan and Pakistan with the permission of the country’s rulers. Islamabad was allowed a legal fig-leaf: in official documents the base was officially leased by the UAE – whose ‘sovereignty’ is even more flexible than Pakistan’s.
Motives for the attack remain a mystery but its impact is not. It will create further divisions within the military, further weaken the venal Zardari regime, strengthen religious militants and make the US even more hated than it already is in Pakistan. So why do it? Was it intended as a provocation? Is Obama seriously thinking of unleashing a civil war in an already battered country? Some commentators in Islamabad are arguing this but it’s unlikely that Nato troops will occupy Pakistan. Such an irrational turn would be difficult to justify in terms of any imperial interests. Perhaps it was simply a tit-for-tat to punish the Pakistani military for dispatching the Haqqani network to bomb the US embassy and Nato HQ in Kabul’s ‘Green Zone’ a few months back.
The Nato attack comes on the heels of another crisis. One of Zardari and his late wife’s trusted bagmen in Washington, Husain Haqqani, whose links to the US intelligence agencies since the 1970s made him a useful intermediary and whom Zardari appointed as Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, has been forced to resign. Haqqani, often referred to as the US ambassador to Pakistan, appears to have been caught red-handed: he allegedly asked Mansoor Ijaz, a multi-millionaire close to the US defence establishment, to carry a message to Admiral Mike Mullen pleading for help against the Pakistani military and offering in return to disband the Haqqani network and the ISI and carry out all US instructions.
Mullen denied that he had received any message. A military underling contradicted him. Mullen changed his story and said a message had been received and ignored. When the ISI discovered this ‘act of treachery’, Haqqani, instead of saying that he was acting under orders from Zardari, denied the entire story. Unfortunately for him, the ISI boss, General Pasha, had met up with Ijaz and been given the Blackberry with the messages and instructions. Haqqani had no option but to resign. Demands for his trial and hanging (the two often go together when the military is involved) are proliferating. Zardari is standing by his man. The military wants his head. And now Nato has entered the fray. This story is not yet over.


John Pilger:"Once again, war is prime time and journalism's role is taboo."



On 22 May 2007, the Guardian's front page announced: "Iran's secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq." The writer, Simon Tisdall, claimed that Iran had secret plans to defeat American troops in Iraq, which included "forging ties with al-Qaida elements". The coming "showdown" was an Iranian plot to influence a vote in the US Congress. Based entirely on briefings by anonymous US officials, Tisdall's "exclusive" rippled with lurid tales of Iran's "murder cells" and "daily acts of war against US and British forces". His 1,200 words included just 20 for Iran's flat denial.
It was a load of rubbish: in effect a Pentagon press release presented as journalism and reminiscent of the notorious fiction that justified the bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003. Among Tisdall's sources were "senior advisers" to General David Petraeus, the US military commander who in 2006 described his strategy of waging a "war of perceptions... conducted continuously through the news media".
The media war against Iran began in 1979 when the west's placeman Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, a tyrant, was overthrown in a popular Islamic revolution. The "loss" of Iran, which under the shah was regarded as the "fourth pillar" of western control of the Middle East, has never been forgiven in Washington and London.
Last month, the Guardian's front page carried another "exclusive": "MoD prepares to take part in US strikes against Iran". Again, anonymous officials were quoted. This time the theme was the "threat" posed by the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon. The latest "evidence" was warmed-over documents obtained from a laptop in 2004 by US intelligence and passed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Numerous authorities have cast doubt on these suspected forgeries, including a former IAEA chief weapons inspector. A US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks describes the new head of the IAEA, Yukiuya Amano, as "solidly in the US court" and "ready for prime time".

 The Guardian's 3 November "exclusive" and the speed with which its propaganda spread across the media were also prime time. This is known as "information dominance" by the media trainers at the Ministry of Defence's psyops (psychological warfare) establishment at Chicksands, Bedforshire, who share premises with the instructors of the interrogation methods that have led to a public enquiry into British military torture in Iraq. Disinformation and the barbarity of colonial warfare have historically had much in common.

 Having beckoned a criminal assault on Iran, the Guardian opined that this "would of course be madness". Similar arse-covering was deployed when Tony Blair, once a "mystical" hero in polite liberal circles, plotted with George W. Bush and caused a bloodbath in Iraq. With Libya recently dealt with ("It worked," said the Guardian), Iran is next, it seems.

 The role of respectable journalism in western state crimes -- from Iraq to Iran, Afghanistan to Libya - remains taboo. It is currently deflected by the media theatre of the Leveson enquiry into phone hacking, which Daily Telegraph's Benedict Brogan describes as "a useful stress test". Blame Rupert Murdoch and the tabloids for everything and business can continue as usual. As disturbing as the stories are from Lord Leveson's witness stand, they do not compare with the suffering of the countless victims of journalism's warmongering.

The lawyer Phil Shiner, who has forced a public inquiry into British military's criminal behaviour in Iraq, says that embedded journalism provides the cover for the killing of "the hundreds of civilians killed by British forces when they had custody of them, [often subjecting them] to the most extraordinary, brutal things, involving sexual acts... embedded journalism is never ever going to get close to hearing their story". It is hardly surprising that the Ministry of Defence, in a 2000-page document leaked to WikiLeaks, describes investigative journalists -journalists who do their job - as a "threat" greater than terrorism.

In the week the Guardian published its "exclusive" about Ministry of Defence planning for an attack on Iran, General Sir David Richards, Britain's military chief, went on a secret visit to Israel, which is a genuine nuclear weapons outlaw and exempt from media opprobrium. Richards is a highly political general who, like Petraeus, has worked the media to considerable advantage. No journalist in Britain revealed that he went to Israel to discuss an attack on Iran.

Honourable exceptions aside - such as the tenacious work of the Guardian's Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor - our increasingly militarised society is reflected in much of our media culture. Two of Blair's most important functionaries in his mendacious, blood-drenched adventure in Iraq, Alistair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, enjoy a cosy relationship with the liberal media, their opinions sought on worthy subjects while the blood in Iraq never dries. For their vicarious admirers, as Harold Pinter put it, the appalling consequences of their actions "never happened".

On 24 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the feminist scholars Cynthia Cockburn and Ann Oakley, attacked what they called "certain widespread masculine traits and behaviours". They demanded that the "culture of masculinity should be addressed as a policy issue". Testosterone was the problem. They made no mention of a system of rampant state violence that has rehabilitated empire, creating 740,000 widows in Iraq and threatening whole societies, from Iran to China. Is this not a "culture", too? Their limited though not untypical indignation says much about how media-friendly identity and issues politics distract from the systemic exploitation and war that remain the primary source of violence against both women and men.