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Updated: 2015-09-17T08:34:27.800+02:00

 



More Enlightenmentmonging from Romana’s hubby

2007-08-17T05:23:07.839+02:00

An analogy [one you’ll probably not find on this year’s SATs]:The Enlightenment is to Richard Dawkins and his transatlantic conceited coterie of atheo-fundamentalist cocks [I do mean that in the sense of ‘being proud as a’ and not in the sense of ‘as rigid as a’ – although now that I think about it, that could just about work too], Hitchens, Harris, Amis and McEwan, as a plunger handle is to a racist frat-boy marine at Abu Ghraib: used the wrong way round and up the bums of Muslims. In other words, for a purpose entirely in opposition to that for which it was originally intended.[Furthering the phallic allusion here for just one tendentious and possibly thoroughly supererogatory second longer – It is remarkable is it not, that once upon a time, middle-aged left-wing men with diminishing little-general capacities just bought lavishly redundantly fast Italian roadsters and a mistress younger than their daughter, but these days, it’s always the luckless Enlightenment that seems to get the blood coursing through the old soixant-huitard schlong. I say, a shot of that Robespierre must work monstrously better than those diamond-shaped blue pills.]In the unwitting or witting service of imperialism and Islamophobia normally is the ill-fitting purpose for which he and others wield the Enlightenment. But he’s at it again, and this time that smug, expensively coiffed salt-and-pepper bouffant of an evolutionary biologist is using his Manichean ill-read caricature of the Enlightenment and reason for more – oh and I do hate this word, but there’s nothing else for it – classist motivations.In his new two-part series, Enemies of Reason, in perhaps what is a correction to an oversight from his last series, The Root of All Evil, he is attacking new-age flim-flammery, not merely established religion. He aims to show how silly, silly, silly people are who believe in dowsing, alternative medicine, spiritualism, mediums, crystal balls, tarot cards, astrology and the rest of the panorama of such ‘free-thinking’ applesauce.I say correction, as his last series had only aimed at converting everyone to atheism, while it is, sadly, more than entirely plausible, if irrational, to be both an atheist, or, more precisely, someone who puts down ‘secular’ or ‘no religion’ on census forms, and simultaneously believe that the planet Mercury has some passing influence on whether you’ll finally get that promotion to second-assistant fartcatcher to your department’s under-manager of company stationary monitoring, or that an ascending Venus means that you and everyone else born in the same month as you will find true, ineffably soul-nourishing love before week’s end. There is not a small number of people who don’t go to church these days, but an unhappily large percentage of them still believe in palm reading, Echinacea and homeopathy, hang tacky first-nations dreamcatchers off their porches, and would rather step out into a street full of traffic than walk under a ladder that mid-pavement was leant against a building. One might here repetitively reflect that it is not, as G.K. Chesterton apparently never did say, that when people leave the church they will believe in nothing, it is that they will believe in anything.I have little quarrel with Dawkins’ understandable impatience with people’s belief in this bricolage of infantillist nonsense per se. I have no time for any of this bullshit myself when I encounter it amongst people I know. On Free Tibet marches I used to attend years ago, whatever the injustice of the Maoist occupation, I always cringed when the crowd launched into chants of ‘Long live the Dalai Lama’. Rather, the concern I have is the class frame that this inheritor of the Earldom of Lincoln uses to scaffold his prosecution.It is quite striking how the accent of almost every single one of the objects of his scorn in the documentary, including even the rather bumbling astrologer for the Observer (I know! It passed me by too. I’d never even noticed that the Observer had an astrology column. Th[...]



The exploding package of EU Postal Privatisation

2007-02-27T21:31:55.668+01:00

Article I did on spec for a publication. They didn't want it in the end, but here you go (I warn you - it's a little dull).When I was a little boy, every month I would go to the local Canada Post office and get a special envelope with the new commemorative stamps that had recently been issued. My grandparents in England too would send me British commemorative stamps at Christmas, sometimes at other times, falsely saluting Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone or raising the ire of the anti-secularists for printing lickable, perforated squares of snowmen instead of magi or mangers. As I grew older, philately diminished considerably in my estimation. However, when I was in Madrid recently, I wandered down an alley just off the Plaza Mayor, where there is a minor gaggle of stamp shops. I wandered past and saw in a couple of windows not a few stamps and brittle old envelopes with stamps from the era of the Spanish Republic. Though 2006 is the 70th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, this was one of the only remembrances I could find in the city of the period. Stamp-collecting has more or less gone the way of the dodo (the extinction of which was, I should note, had been commemorated on one of the stamps I had had as a child) in this age of Playstations and Nickelodeon, and I thought what a shame it was. The socialist thirty-one-year old I am momentarily was a stamp-fanatic eleven-year-old and thought what beautiful little bits of history are held within and taught by these funny sticky squares. Technology and the proposed new EU postal services directive will soon put paid to stamps and stamp-collecting entirely. The EU FAQ on the directive on the Commission website mentions that after full liberalization it is unlikely that new service providers will retain the anachronism that is the stamp. One can’t mourn the passing of out-dated technologies, I suppose. But the directive will kill off more than the soppy philatelic memories of this nostalgic author. The full privatization of post across Europe will produce services that are deeply uneven and unequal. It will produce a grossly unfair two-tiered postal system, with one set of quality services for the large corporations and urban middle class, and another set of poorly provisioned services for rural areas, the urban poor, small businesses and the outermost territories of member states – if they even have access to such services at all. Though the Commission portrays postal privatization as one more aspect of the grand drive to bring Europeans together, it will in fact diminish the economic, social and territorial cohesion of the Union. The death of public postal services after more than three hundred years of their existence is indeed something to mourn. Or rather, as Wobbly Joe Hill reminded his fellow trade unionists as he was dying: not to mourn, but to organize – against. The EU internal market Commissioner, Irishman Charlie McGreevy, recently confirmed that all European postal services are to be opened to competition by 2009, in keeping with the last postal directive of 2002. Full, or near-full marketisation of post has already occurred in Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. With the new directive, the commissioner wants to fast-track liberalization in the remaining 22 member states. Postal services in the Union are covered by a 1997 directive that opened up the sector to competition for mail weighing more than 350 grams – essentially large packages – easily the most profitable sector of the postal market. Items under 350 grams were designated ‘reserved areas’. In 2002, the reserved area was amended down to 100 grams, and as of January, 2006, no mail delivery of items over 50 grams could be monopolized by a national provider. The Commission has this month confirmed that by no later than 2009 are all member states to eliminate this last reserved area. McGreevy is quick to counter opponents of the measure by saying that we are not to worry, universal service provi[...]



'Murder on an unimaginable scale'

2006-08-10T17:59:12.680+02:00

'The deputy commissioner at Scotland Yard, Paul Stephenson, went even further, saying that the plans amounted to "mass murder on an unimaginable scale."'

Murder on an unimaginable scale? Let's assume for a moment that there was in fact a dastardly terror plot here (I know, I know - that's Tooth Fairy, Father Christmas talk) and not another grand production from Number 10's Acme Distract-O-Matic , is the number of deaths really so unimaginable?

The average number of passengers on an aircraft leaving Stansted is 124; the average number of passengers on an aircraft leaving Gatwick is 129; the average number of passengers on an aircraft leaving Heathrow is around 150. The average of these three averages is 134 (.333333333...., etc., but there's no such thing as a third of a person - other than under rubble in Qana - ha! Ba-dum-cha!). 134 x 9 - the number of planes supposed to be explodeded - and we get 1206 (please excuse the ropey math here, but you get the point) .

As of an hour ago, the body count in (the) Lebanon was 1002. Okay, so it's a smidge under 1206, but it's still on a perfectly imaginable scale. In fact it's so imaginable it's actually real. Really real live dead people! Can you imagine that?!

You know, I imagine we'll get to a number pretty close to 1206 in a day or three, and I imagine it'll probably go above that too.

What an imagination I have.



Amsterdam

2006-02-12T20:15:41.470+01:00

Am in the middle of moving to Amsterdam for a new job that for once is actually interesting and pay a salary that is above the minimum wage. Will be sans internet for about a month while I look for an apartment, so still nothing to report, really, other than more apologies for my continued radio silence.

But just quickly and retroactively:

a) Yah boo sucks to the Tories for winning the Canadian election, but remember, kids, the left also advanced, despite Layton’s pathetic rightward frolics (strategically stupid as well – retreat back to the Anglophone left’s traditional anti-Quebec chauvinism and you wreck any chances of advancing in that province, which must be engaged if one is to ever win a federal election. Doug has more along these lines.);

b) Obviously I’m not in favour of burning down Danish embassies over some ropily executed cartoon blasphemy (although burning down American embassies over their various imperial exertions is an entirely different kettle of fisken, and, heck, while we’re at it, Haitians: fill your boots ransacking the local Canadian chancellery), but has any one actually had a look at these drawings? Whatever we may say about freedom of speech and blasphemy, the cartoons are manifestly racist, with caricatures of Muslims not radically distinct from the doodles of buck-toothed, thick-specs-wearing Japs or hook-nosed Shylocks of yore (Lenny, as always, has been note-perfect on this one);

c) My friend Justin of Different Day has decided to have a go at this whole podcasting lark, with ‘The Thousand Beer Show – Pop, politics and pintage’, (so titled for the renowned abundance of the substance in Belgium) and your correspondent was the first invited guest. You can have a listen to my wretched, stumbling pretensions at rock knowledge and an atrociously over-simplified account of the recent Canadian general election here;

and

d) Husky Rescue, Two Gallants [which I saw opening for the Decemberists long before the NME got their inky little paws on the duo], and The Kooks.




Ten items or less

2006-01-24T19:23:30.440+01:00

Sorry for the writer's block, comrades. Will be back in form soonish, hopefully. In the meantime, here's something I did today instead of doing other things I should have been doing. (Click on image for larger version)

(image)

Visit here for info on the NUJ's Low Pay Campaign.



White Stripes plot with Coca-Cola execs to murder Colombian trade unionists

2005-12-09T18:00:37.500+01:00

(Well, apart from the libellous hyperbole, that post-heading's essentially true)Now, it may be nigh on a decade since I held Oasis in any esteem whatever, but I'm afraid I have to tip my hat to Noel this week, who in an interview in the latest NME has quite aptly described Jack White, of the well-overrated White Stripes, as looking 'like Zorro on doughnuts' and criticised him for writing a song for a Coca-Cola commercial:'He's supposed to be the poster boy for the alternative way of thinking. Coca-Cola man, fucking hell! And all right, you wanna spread your message of peace and love, but do us all a favour. I'm not having that, that's wrong. Particularly Coca-Cola, it's like doing a gig for McDonalds.' Zorro on doughnutsAccording the (very smelly*) NME, Jack White did it for luuurve:'White Stripes singer Jack White has finally confirmed he's done a coke ad - and said he's done it to get a message of love out to the world…"I've been offered the opportunity to write a song in a way which interests me as a songwriter. I certainly wouldn't want a song that I'd already written to be used on a commercial. That seems strange. But to be asked to write something particular along one theme of love in a worldwide form that I'm not really used to appealed to me. I've written a song and I wrote it really quickly and it's an interesting commercial that's been made. I was inspired by the commercial."' Yes, that's right. Coca-cola, always teaching the world to sing, in per-fect har-mon-ieeee (The updated 'Teach the world to sing' ad for Coca-Cola Zero now includes a 'rap' bit and Hootie-and-the-Blowfish-style non-threateningly dressed minorities who look like they go to a good university). What a promoter of peace and love. And isn't what the world needs now, love, sweet love? What a paragon of compassionate capitalism. A very model of corporate responsibility. Except in Colombia, where union leaders and organisers are regularly assassinated at Coke bottling plants while the anti-union parent company turns a blind eye to collusion between paramilitaries and the plant managers. But still, you know, apart from that, they're a regular bunch of hippie peace-freaks, Coke.In fact, Colombia happens to be the most dangerous country in the world to be a trade unionist. In the last ten years, 1,535 trade unionists have been murdered for their activities - more than the rest of the world combined. For more info on Coke's crimes in Colombia and how you can kick Coke off your campus (if you're a student, natch), visit the homepage of the Campaign to Boycott Killer Coke, or the Colombia Action Network. The latter link also has a broad range of information on Colombia, as do the UK-based Colombia Solidarity Campaign and War on Want.So stop drinking that Coke. Tastes like gouch sweat anyway. And White Stripes fans - get your ever-lovin' motor-city asses in gear and contact Zorro, c/o manager Ian Montone, at 323 308 1818, and tell him How Wrong He Is.* Has anyone else noticed this, how much the NME smells? I'm serious here - maybe it's just the batch that gets sent to the Brussels Waterstone's - but the NME just reeks. I mean literally pongy, I'm not just talking about the uncritical UK-scene boosterism, shit writing and sticking Gwen Stefani on the cover.PS. Apparently Blur are heading back to the studio this month to record a new album sans the sexiest man alive, Graham Coxon. I guess this means his sacking is permanent. This is a crime almost on the level of writing songs for Coke commercials.[...]



The blanching panic of the eunuch poltroons in the Democratic Party, and other bagatelles

2005-12-06T22:17:54.783+01:00

Right. Am out of bed and have drained throat of a lemon-curd-jar's worth of phlegm. Enough with the chicken soup and dubbed-into-French re-runs of Beverly Hills 90210: There are hypocrisies of social democrats and liberals to expose! Still have a bit of a sticky cough, mind, but think that's more to do with half-choking on a be-pestoed tortellini (tortellino?) last night than any remnants of bird flu or tuberculosis. (Lower lip protruberating, head cocked, sympathetic brows a-tilt, The Reader says 'Awww. Didums.')Quick tour of the interweb before I stick the knife into the SPD once more:First off, if you haven’t read it yet: Sy Hersh's latest New Yorker piece, on where the war is headed next: 'Up In The Air' (republished here at Truthout). Absolutely vital.The veteran New Yorker journo predicts that under ever-increasing domestic pressure over the war (not least coming from within a Republican party on course to be decimated in next year's congressional elections), but unable to end it without embolding his enemies, Bush will deliver a sizeable and genuine return of troops some time next year while the war continues by other, more destructive means. The on-the-ground troops will be replaced with a massively expanded bombing campaign, such as has not been seen since Vietnam.Bush is to have his cake and eat it too. As the US public is unable to stomach many more deaths of their doughty, skookum tumtum boys and girls (although as ever remain fairly sanguine about a limitless number of Iraqi deaths), Junior will mount another 'Mission Accomplished' style pronouncement, declaring that the war is over (chintzy, garlanded ceremonies have already been scripted of the lowering of Old Glory and the raising of the Iraqi standard over military bases [Whatever did happen to that variation on the Israeli flag some clever State Department graphic design intern dreamt up as a new Iraqi drapeau last year, by the way?]), aiming to bequiet the more squishy sympathisers of the anti-war movement and the fretters in his own party, all the while in fact escalating the war by using almost exclusively air power to crush the resistance.The generals, however, are worried this might just make things worse, given that even the most crackerjack sagacious of smart bombs tend to kill many more civilians than trigger-happy, raised-on-X-Box-and-Eminem 17-year-old ground troops, and, like the worm that turned into three worms when you cut it up with your plastic-but-sharp Lion-O Thundercat sword as a cruel pre-pubescent, for every dead civilian at least three new insurgents seem to be created. (Did you catch the subtle 'my-1980's-adolescent-pop-cultural-experience-was-superior-to-your--overly-kinetic-1990's-version' disdain embedded there within the commentary? Sigh. What happy days they were when Lego came in six colours and Transformers came in metal.)Nota bene: Bush's 'Victory Through Air Power' plans look an awful lot like the humble 'we-can't-just-cut-and-run-so-let's-turn-it-over-to-the-bombardiers' suggestion of the otherwise very good Juan Cole, doesn't it? (The good professor responds that he 'argued that the US should only make this airstrike capability available for defensive operations.' Okay, but isn't the point of the disingenuous 'Pottery Barn' position that the States can't pull out its forces lest civil war break out? How does one defensively prevent civil war? It seems a pretty offensive, or at least pro-active process. Sy's got you here, Cole-y. [The other point that Cole misses, as he idealises the Afghan campaign's air power strategy he recommends returning to, is that the decisive stratagem in that theatre there was not the air power support of local forces, but the winning over of warlords and sections of the Taliban with wadges of cash. There's nobody on the ground to bribe in Mesopotamia. Oh, and dude, what's with the forgetting about, like, the minimum 3,000 - 4,000 [...]



Extenuation

2005-11-22T11:34:26.456+01:00

Am feeling as rough as an old badger, hence little in the way of posting. Do not expect any for a couple of days.

(image)

A young badger. Couldn't find a picture of an old one.




Peretz a 'Breakthrough' for the Israeli left?

2005-11-18T23:16:06.876+01:00

In the struggle for justice for Palestine, the left outside Israel so rarely pays attention to economic or political dynamics within Israel proper, outside of how such things might affect the occupied territories. Why concern oneself, too many ask, with the internal processes of the occupier-oppressor when helicopter gunships set elementary schools ablaze and extra-judicial targeted assassinations slaughter bystanders, while the settlements continue to expand on the West Bank and the serpentine Separation Wall meanders through Palestinian land, carving out yet more acreage for Eretz Israel?But this is a wilfully purblind ignorance, and a perspective as absurd as suggesting that because there is little difference between Democrats and Republicans, there is nothing of interest to the global left in American electoral contests. It is not enough to simply say that there is no genuine electoral left in the United States and dismissively leave it at that. One must ask why this is so. Equally, it is not enough to ask 'What has the Israeli left ever done for the Palestinians?' One must ask why they have done nothing.In the last week, there has been a political earthquake within the ranks of the Israeli Labor Party: A giant has been felled. How this development may or may not affect the occupation is reason enough to pay attention to internal Israeli phenomena.New Israeli Labor Party leader Tom Selleck.Whenever one visits an Israeli newspaper website such as Ha'aretz, one is struck by the number of ads for anti-poverty charities. This is no mere shilling for money for the settlements - or at least some of it isn't. While the world's attention has been rightly focussed on the war crimes committed in the occupied territories, Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister initiated a programme of structural adjustment within Israel every bit as vicious as those of his models, Thatcher and Reagan in the UK and US. The economic liberalisation, steady reduction in social service provision and diminishment of trade union rights continued under Barak and has rapidly expanded under Sharon, whose finance minister is, of course, Netanyahu. The cutbacks to social services have all gone to the country's massive defence budget and funding the settlements. This liberalisation has not gone without consequence. The number of poor families in the country increased by 20.3 per cent in 2004 alone, with one in three Israeli children now living in poverty. Poverty has flourished to such an extent that the gap between rich and poor in Israel is now actually greater than in any other developed country - hence all the charity ads.The occupation is not merely ruinous to Palestinians; It is also literally consuming Israeli society itself.[By the way, I don't think visiting a website counts as breaking the boycott - surely one has to be informed in order to offer solidarity to the Palestinians. That said, this whole boycott business is a bit of a fuzzy thing at the edges. Live herbs and helva have been pretty easy for me to avoid (In any case, I manage to kill basil plants with the ease and impunity that the IDF kills eleven-year-olds, so it's all probably for the best), but when I was in Amsterdam last weekend, I accidentally bought a falafel that turned out to be dripping with Palestinian blood. Scarfing down the yummy thing, my German friend, Jens, and my Palestinian friend, Osama, both said more or less at the same time, 'You realise that's an Israeli falafel?', and I responded, 'Mmo, muh-uh. Ifs noff. Ifs mutch.' To which Jens rebutted, 'No, Maoz Falafel's definitely not Dutch, it's Israeli.' To which I rejoindered, 'Oo fwure? Hmm. Oh weh, ifs wery masty.' The next day I looked Maoz up on the old interweb and it turns out it is a Dutch company, just owned by expat Israelis. So ner, thought I. That doesn't count. But then I read that the actual fa[...]



Sarko steals Le Pen's thunder - to some extent

2005-11-16T20:55:21.670+01:00

Great news! The Front National rally the other night was shit!

According to the BBC, 'only a few hundred die-hard supporters braved the cold to wave their flags and listen as [Jean-Marie Le Pen] blamed "mad and criminal" mass immigration for the unrest.'

Sadly, at the same time, his popularity has jumped by five per cent, according to a poll for Paris Match.



Things fall apart.

2005-11-14T18:12:32.183+01:00

It really is Bizarro World. John Simpson has written another very astute analysis.Writing on how the curfews have only created the illusion of containing the violence, with in any case the unrest continuing beyond the capital city, Simpson notes that the very measures being used to contain the violence is itself exacerbating the situation and creating yet more reasons for the young people to fight:'A woman of 24, heavily pregnant, came to the courtroom to find journalists who would be interested in watching a video she had made of the police coming to her flat to arrest her husband. 'In fact he had been on night-shift, and not out in the streets at all - but the video showed how aggressive the police were, and there are dozens of accounts going the rounds of the police shouting at the demonstrators that they are "sales arabes", dirty Arabs.'The mother of one prisoner told me that the policeman who arrested her son had shouted that the boy ought to be sent home. "What home does he have but France?" she asked, tearfully.'I quit my tech news job last month to go freelance. In order to help make the transition, I've been teaching English at a local community college for students learning to be fine-dining waiters and waitresses. They are all immigrants ranging in age from 19 to mid-forties from north and west Africa, apart from one pupil from Ecuador and another who is a rather louche middle-aged Cuban defector. Today, I used a simplified news report about the riots from the BBC World Service's Learning English site to spark off some conversation practice. Without offering up my own opinion, they all suddenly came alive, attentive as I've never seen them before - especially the younger ones - responding that the French youths 'ont raison' - they are right. The anti-immigrant racism, the police harassment, the unemployment - it's not much better here, they said. One older man from Morocco said that if he were younger and living in France, he too would be rioting.Separately, I also teach advanced English to a pair of white, middle-aged businesswomen - one a Fleming, the other a Walloon. I somehow think they would respond differently to the exercise.Indeed, according to Le Journal du Dimanche, sadly, some 53 per cent of the French people support the actions of Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister. Here in Belgium, the far-right Vlaams Belang (formerly the Vlaams Blok) has managed to climb to the top of the electoral heap in Flanders in particular by exploiting similar fears over immigrants.Most of my friends here in Belgium are actually from France. The other night I asked my friends Camille and Nico (who in some respects actually resembles the French interior minister, and so is regularly taunted as 'Nicolas Sarkozy' by his media-sponge of an eight-year-old little sister), both of whom are quite exemplary of the anti-neo-liberal mood of much of young France, what they thought of the émeutes. Both of them were quite clear that Sarkozy is a pompier pyromane, a 'pyromaniac fireman': he knew exactly what he was saying and what would happen when he described the rioting youth as 'racailles', and promising to 'karcherise' the suburbs. This is all part of his grand strategy for the 2007 Presidential Election, say my friends, making a play both for working class whites with a soft sort of racism and who are most concerned about 'l'insecurité', and in particular that fifth of the population that votes for the Front National. Nico believes that because Sarkozy is so admired by the far right for his zero-tolerance approach to crime and immigrants, that there need not be any far right participation in the upcoming presidential elections. If Sarkozy is the right's candidate, you already have your fascist to vote for, says he.I think he exaggerates somewhat. Sarkozy i[...]



Covering riots, Economist magazine reporter somehow accidentally transported to Bizarro World, not France

2005-11-13T19:19:00.446+01:00

Sensibly deciding to steer clear of the maniacal Islamofascism-obsessive explanation for the French riots of Steyn, Pipes and Hitchens, the Economist nevertheless once more hasn't missed an opportunity to argue for greater labour market deregulation and attack the free and democratic association of workers, otherwise known as trade unions. For the libertarian pointy-heads at the magazine, the rebellion is obviously the natural result of France's thirty-five hour working week, job protection laws, high minimum wage and bolshy unions.Er...Whatchutalkinboutwillis?Arnold finds the Economist's reasoning somewhat specious.I swear, if the Economist did an investigation into why my roommate always leaves a consumated roll of toilet paper in the toilet without changing it, they would conclude that it all boils down to the continued existence of a public monopoly on meat inspection in Wales. Got athlete's foot from the gym changing room? Its due to over-regulation of the Danish toy industry. Egg with no yolk? Well, if Catalonia didn't subsidise access to museums for students and seniors… An asteroid headed for Earth to destroy life as we know it? Plainly it's the fault of Corsican pay-roll taxes. Invasion of lizard-men from one of Saturn's moons? Public funding of New Zealand's national opera company. The Rapture and the subsequent thousand-year reign of Satan? Swiss air traffic control unions.The magazine - sorry - 'newspaper' - does recognise that in the suburbs there is a 'toxic mix of poor housing, bad schools, inadequate transport, social exclusion, [and] disaffection among Muslims who are discriminated against,' and the main problem is, 'above all, mass unemployment'. And this is indeed absolutely correct - the country's official youth unemployment rate is 23 per cent and in the suburbs climbs to 40 per cent, and 70 per cent of all new contracts are only temporary, according to Prime Minister de Villepin himself, with 80 per cent of new contracts for young people being temporary.However, for the Economist's journalists, this mass un- and underemployment is not a product of economic sabotage on the part of very profitable French capital, which is, like its German cousin, attempting to discipline both government and electorate into a still-further deregulated business environment. No, for them, the problem is that 'the French labour market is throttled by restrictions such as the 35-hour week, a high minimum wage, and tough hiring and firing rules,' or, 'what economists call an "insider-outsider" labour market: full-time permanent jobs are so protected by law that employers try not to create many, preferring instead temporary workers or interns whom they can shed more easily when times get tough.''This suits the insiders,' continues the article, ' particularly those on sheltered public-sector contracts. But this leaves a whole swathe of youngsters with the very sensation of insecurity that the social system is designed to prevent.'Thus in the Economist's Bizarro World (the upside-down backwards world from the pages of Superman where everything is the opposite of what it is on Earth, where up is down, ugliness is beautiful and alarm clocks dictate when to go to sleep), it's not the beatific corporations' fault for preferring short-term, part-time, ill-paying contracts and interns, but the avaricious full-time permanent employees and powerful unions, selfishly fearful that they too will be thrown on the scrap heap, who are to blame.There has been much vilification of the country's 35-hour-working-week law, when in fact, between 1995 and 2003, France actually increased its work hours, if only marginally, according to the OECD, despite the existence of the law. Furthermore, French workers are some of the most productive in the world,[...]



Hitchens' Kurdish Jeep Revisionism

2005-11-14T14:11:02.876+01:00

Correction: In the last piece, I mentioned that everyone, both critics and admirers of Hitchens, have accepted at face value Christopher's Kurdish Jeep Revisionism. This is not completely true, as Dennis Perrin, a friend of Hitch's and author of American Fan, has written in to say. Dennis has written about the mythical Jeep episode a number of times. From his blog, Red State Son:'He may have been in a Kurdish jeep, but the [story about his conversion therein] is a complete lie, and Hitchens knows this. I spent time with him in the period he mentions, and he never stopped criticizing Bush's "mad contest" with Saddam, much less opined that "co-existence" with Saddam was "no longer possible." I have a tape of him debating Ken Adelman on C-SPAN in 1993 where he's still critical of the Gulf War, and again no mention of wanting to overthrow Saddam. As late as 2002, when I asked him directly if he did indeed favor a US invasion, he waffled and said that W. would have to convince him on "about a zillion fronts" before he could sign on.'But that wouldn't make for good drama, nor would it bolster his public image as Stout Warrior. So he tells the above tale, and does so without shame. When I first heard him do this on Don Imus's radio show (Hitchens is no racist but he has no problem using one for exposure), I emailed him and reminded him of his history. He didn't deny it, said that perhaps his memory wasn't as sharp as he would like, but in the end it didn't matter. Who cares what he said in 1993 or 2002 -- this is what he's saying now and if I didn't like it, tough.' Also worth reading, if you haven't yet, Dennis' 2003 obituary for Hitchens, which appeared in the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages, which is far better than Alexander Cockburns' sometimes-bordering-on-homophobic attacks on Hitchens, and expresses very well the disappointment rather than the anger many of us feel who once were fans of Hitchens . As another of Hitchens' former friends and Buffy the Vampire Slayer analyst, Roz Kaveney, puts it,'There is that exchange in Buffy 6.6 where Dawn says "This is going to be one of those things where you are not angry, just very disappointed" and Giles says "Yes, except for the not being angry part."I was never a Buffy fan, but that about sums up my feelings towards the once great writer.Oh, and do go have a read of Roz's captivating remembrance of her days with Hitch at Oxford. He may these days prefer the company of those campaigning against the militant homosexualist agenda, but as a young buck he had a rather different prediliction.***Update: It seems it's just a right-old salmagundi of hypocrisy and double-standards for Hitchens these days, le pauvre.Jonathan at A Tiny Revolution apparently did a comedy double-take when watching that somewhat oldish Hitch documentary of his book, The Trial of Henry Kissenger, saying, 'Hold on a sec, lemme just rewind that bit...That's not...why, why, yes it is the International Action Center Christopher is chatting quite, quite friendlily with at an anti-Kissinger protest. But, but I thought he didn't like them very much...'[...]



Hitchens: Reactionary, sine macula

2005-11-14T13:51:53.576+01:00

One supposes that if Hitch was willing to prostitute himself to wealthy hard-right Republican anglophile weirdoes for a tour of London along with fellow-former-leftist-turned-right-wing-wackjob David Horowitz (in which guests would have accompanied Hitch & Horowitz around the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London [to see the bleeding crown jewels!] and other Olde Englande landmarks, had the event not been mysteriously cancelled), and is now regularly writing for Bill Kristol's neo-con and Christian right publication, the Weekly Standard, it really shouldn't surprise anyone that if anything remains of his leftist conscience, it certainly isn't needled by an appearance on conservative cougar Laura Ingraham's radio programme.Laura IngrahamHowever, for all his confidence in the anti-fascist, liberatory power of white phosphorus, cluster bombs, torture and anal rape with toilet plungers, one assumes that as a confirmed soixante-huitard, he could never descend so far as turning his back on anti-racism.Such an assumption would be wrong. While even Marc Cooper and David Aaronovitch (and also, actually, an oddly remarkably lucid John Simpson) are quite clear about the racial and economic 'root causes' of the French émeutes des banlieues, Hitch remains more akin to the Mark Steyn/Daniel Pipes 'this is what you get if you let the darkies in' perspective: Via Lenny and Sonic at Hitch Watch, we find that Johnny Walker Black Label's best customer told Harpee Ingraham two days ago, 'If you think that the Intifada in France is about housing, go and try covering the story wearing a yarmulke.'Although, frankly, it's not entirely dissimilar to what he said about the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina having had nothing to do with race during the 'Grapple in the Big Apple' with Galloway in NY, to the shocked gasps of even those audience members who'd turned out to support him.But wait - hold on to your fork, there's more. Sonic is also reporting that ultra-secularist Hitchens gave the Witherspoon Lecture this month at the Christian fundamentalist, pro-theocracy Family Research Council.Here is a piccy of him looking beardy and surrounded by virgins:And here is the image used to link to the Family Research Council's current campaign, which appears on the same page as Hitch's snapshot with the happy-clappy interns:I wonder if his rider for the gig was the same case of scotch and 200-pack of Rothmans he gets at Hay-on-Wye?And it doesn't stop there. I recently came across what's actually a fairly oldish article by Tawfiq Chawbourne, who managed to snag a quick and dirty thirty-second interview with the great man on the way out of some London to-do with Francis 'Marx would have approved of the invasion of Iraq' Wheen moderating and Ian McEwan in the audience.Hitch actually offers Tawfiq an endorsement of the Bush policy on Venezuela, which regular readers will remember as having been a policy that encourages rightist coups. Chris then seems to even go so far as to approve of a Bay of Pigs redux. Says Christopher, 'Chavez is a thug. He’ll be gone within two years, as will the Iranian regime. And Bush will be landing in Havana within two years. Then the last two uniformed leaders [in the Americas] will be gone.'However over-represented they are in the press, however few of them there may be, and however incoherent their arguments, pro-war leftists do in fact exist, but Hitchens is not one of them. An anti-Chavez, pro-invasion-of-Cuba, softly-racist, Sarkozy-sympathising, Weekly-Standard-publishing, Family-Research-Council-Witherspoon-lecture-giving, Laura-Ingraham-show-appearing individual cannot with any gleaning of truth left to the statement be called a leftist, regardless [...]



Profitting from the riots

2005-11-08T18:13:10.716+01:00

Most people when they see Paris and, as of last night, 300 other cities, burning on the news, they see a riot. The UMP, the France's conservative party and the party of Sarkozy, de Villepin and Chirac, however, see a marketing opportunity.If you type in the word 'émeute' (French for 'riot') into the Google.fr search engine, the first link that appears is entitled 'Violences en Banlieues' ('Violence in the suburbs') and is a sponsored link to http://www.u-m-p.org/. Underneath, the tag reads: 'Soutenez la politique de N. Sarkozy pour rétablir l'ordre républicain' ('Support the policies of N. Sarkozy to re-establish the republican order'). Refresh the page, and the tag changes to 'Soutenez la politique de N. Sarkozy pour faire respecter la loi' ('Support the policies of N. Sarkozy to ensure respect for the law').Reuters is reporting that Franck Louvrier, Sarkozy's spokesman, said the company hired by the UMP to run the website paid for the link as a way to respond to the 'thousands' of voters who were e-mailing messages of support.Right...take out an ad on Google that is to appear whenever anyone looks up the word 'émeute' to tell the people who have sent a message of support to send another message of support?***Meanwhile, elsewhere internautical, three French bloggers have been arrested for allegedly 'inciting violence' by using their blogs to encourage people to join the riots, justice minister Pascal Clement told a media conference yesterday. The bloggers, all aged 16 and from Aix-en-Provence in the south, 'called for riots and an attack on police stations'. Their blogs were hosted by a site owned by a youth radio station, Skyrock, which has since shut them down.I wonder if Reporters Sans Frontieres will rally to their defence. Hmm. No, they're not funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, so probably not.***Wikipedia already has a page up on the rebellion, and the full, unedited version of Naima Bouteldja's piece for the Guardian yesterday is now up on the Radical Activist Network website. If you can read French, Indymedia Paris is doing what the Indymedia network is best at - offering up-to-the-minute coverage of large-scale protests. (Understandably, the loading time takes ages)The Bethune Audomarois branch of Attac, the France-based altermondialiste network, has issued a communiqué expressing solidarity with the 'poor of the suburbs' (hat tip to Kersplebedeb, a Montréal anarchist who is maintaining a very useful blog, Sketchy Thoughts, translating key articles from the French press into English):Communiqué de attac Béthune "attac Béthune Audomarois" exprime clairement et publiquement sa solidarité avec les exclus des banlieues victimes du système de Messieurs Sarkozy et consorts. La logique Ultra-Libérale conduit toujours au mensonge,à la misère, à l'exclusion et à la violence. Nous en voyons aujourd'hui les résultats.UN AUTRE MONDE EST POSSIBLECommuniqué from ATTAC Béthune ATTAC Béthune Audomarois publicly and unambiguously declares its solidarity with the people in the poor suburbs, victims of the system of Mr Sarkozy and his friends. The logic of ultra-liberalism always leads to lies, suffering, marginalization and violence. Today we are seeing the results. ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE Lenny at the Tomb has a rather good analysis of the commentary on the French riots by Tech Central Station's resident Hitchens-fartcatcher, Michael J. Totten, an atrocious writer who exemplifies the rarely disguised racism that is at the very belly-button of liberal-hawkdom:Here, then, is the authentic white supremacist posing as a connoisseur of cosmopolitanism, cross-cultural understanding. The fixtures of Orientalist and outright [...]



'L'Intifada Française' - Between Ramallah '00 and Paris '68

2005-11-08T00:59:39.320+01:00

The press across Europe are saying the 'immigrant' youth (in quotations for the obvious reason that though they are young Frenchmen of the third or fourth generation, and many may not even speak the Arabic of their fathers or grandfathers, they are eternally immigrants) of the French banlieues, or suburbs, are 'trying their hand at revolution'. The talking heads on the news discussion programmes are calling Clichy-sous-Bois - the suburb in northeastern Paris where the unrest began after two young men died, accidentally electrocuting themselves when they hid from police in an electric substation - 'Ramallah-sous-Bois'. Der Spiegel refers to the youths as 'urban guerillas' and 'generation jihad', while Newsweek feverishly asks whether 'the riots [will] swell the ranks of jihadists in Europe' and calls the events the 'beginning of jihad in Europe'.This is all more than a bit over the top, and drips with the very undisguised racism that is the cause of the disturbances. As S.O.S. Racisme, the French anti-racist organisation notes and denounces in a press release yesterday, the press 'have presented the events as a civil war, describing the participants as savages, with some even calling the riots the "Intifada of the banlieues".' While the last eleven days and nights have seen France's worst domestic unrest since 1968, with some 4,700 vehicles set on fire - 1,400 last night alone in riots that have now spread to the suburbs of most of the country's large cities - as far north as Lille and to Nice in the southeast, as the always perspicacious Lenin, of the blog Lenin's Tomb, notes, situations such as these tend to go 'up like the rocket, [and] down like the stick'. These days of rage are unlikely to last, much as May 1968 itself lasted but a few days whatever its remembrance in the French popular imagination.Nonetheless, the commentators, even if they articulate themselves through the orientalist prism, alight on the heart of the matter: Europe, like anywhere else in this deregulated, unemployed, privatised, pulverised, atomised, lobotomised cosmos, where the slavering corybantic market fundamentalists would yet privatise the heavens and lay off Saint Peter and the Archangel Gabriel if they thought it would enable them to compete better with Estonia's flat tax, sits atop a powder keg of righteous anger, the predictable product of gross inequality and racism both within its borders and in its relations with the developing world.The French suburbs - les cités - are overcrowded ghettoes where the descendents of workers brought to France to alleviate the post-war labour shortage live in a violent, boring poverty not dissimilar to that experienced in other European immigrant quarters and American 'projects' and barrios. The oeuvre of the most popular comedian in France, Jamel Debbouze, whom non-French audiences will know from his appearances in Amélie and Spike Lee's She Hate Me, is entirely based around tales of poverty and police brutality in the banlieues. His recent hit spectacle includes a hilarious running gag on middle class teachers sent to teach in the ZEPs (zones d’éducation prioritaires) who fear their pupils, and, most presciently, being chased by les keufs. American journalist Doug Ireland, who lived in France for ten years, where he worked as a reporter for left-wing daily Libération, describes les cités on his blog in a posting entitled 'Rebellion of a lost generation':[T]hese high-rise human warehouses in the isolated suburbs are today run-down, dilapidated, sinister places, with broken elevators that remain unrepaired, heating systems left dysfunctional in winter, dirt and dog-shit in the hallways, broken[...]



Müntefering leaves in a huff, taking his ball home with him

2005-11-01T13:27:02.026+01:00

Intriguing little giblet out of Germany: top of the fold news this morning is that SPD party leader Franz 'Plague of Locusts' Müntefering, who had been expected to take the positions of vice-chancellor and labour minister in an SPD-CDU coalition government, has said he does not intend to run for re-election next month. The understandable hook for the press is how the resignation deals a fairly heavy blow to the coalition talks - now in their fourth round.Indeed, Tobias Schwarz at A Fistful of Euros is reporting that there have been a handful of reports in the German press about the CDU leadership's 'silently beginning preparations for yet another round of elections to be held on March 26, when there are also state and/or local elections to be held in Rheinland-Pfalz, Baden-Württemberg, and Sachsen-Anhalt'. And Deutsche Welle is (somewhat wishful-thinkingly, IMO) saying that the so-called Jamaica coalition - CDU, Greens and Free Democrats - is not completely off the table, reporting that FDU leader Guido Westerwelle said 'he was willing to restart discussions about a so-called Jamaica coalition of CDU/CSU, Greens and his party'.'"Angela Merkel has my number," he said in an interview on German public broadcaster ARD.'Müntefering's departure frustrates the coalition talks as he was 'viewed as 'key to holding together a potentially fractious coalition,' also according to Deutsche Welle. 'Viewed' by whom is not clear, given the sentence's shady passive construction, but DW probably means 'viewed by the bien-pensants of the SPD's right wing'. And herein is the interesting little nugget: The reason Müntefering left, taking his ball with him, was that former youth wing leader and the unofficial leader of the SPD's left wing, Andrea Nahles, 35, won a vote by the party's executive committee to become the next general secretary, handily beating Müntefering's preferred candidate. As the New York Times is reporting, 'Mr. Müntefering [and] Mr. Schröder, 61, represent an older generation of Social Democrats that is increasingly at odds with younger party members. Some of these up-and-comers are staunchly leftist and opposed Mr. Schröder's efforts to overhaul the German economy.' Nahles - a former protégé of Oscar Lafontaine - recently built a reputation for herself as an outspoken opponent of Schroeder's reforms, organising a movement within the SPD in favour of more socially oriented policies. This development was what ultimately forced the Chancellor to call early elections aiming to stave off an open revolt within the party. Rather than staunching the intra-party disquiet, however, the election has accelerated it.Andrea Nahles 'I can no longer be party chairman under these conditions,' Müntefering told reporters in response to his candidate's loss.Despite his electoral gambit earlier this year of describing foreign investors as akin to a plague of locusts, aiming to shore up the SPD's then (and continuing) rapidly atrophying support amongst its traditional voters, Müntefering remains as committed to the neo-liberal reforms of the outgoing government as ever. The party may be looking over its shoulder at the growing support for the Linkspartei and attempting to push the SPD leftwards, and the rank-and-file, never happy with Hartz IV and Agenda 2010 is distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of a grand coalition with the CDU, but Müntefering will have none of this.In any case, if there is another election, I can't see the conservatives gaining from the situation. Furthermore, the Linke have shown they are not merely a protest vote, but now the fourth party in the country - their support is not [...]



Carrying on regardless: European social democrats fumble the post-referendum crisis

2005-10-27T00:51:20.323+02:00

NB. You might want to print this one off if you, like me, prefer a more commodious reading apparatus, such as paper - as it was seven pages in Word when I wrote it.European social democrats haven't rediscovered their socialist roots at all with this new waffle about protecting 'Social Europe' - they've just rediscovered the language of solidarity and equality following their summer of defeats at the hands of the extra-parliamentary left. They want to woo back their base, but they remain as committed to neo-liberalism as ever.European social democrats aren't quite running scared yet, but a good number are looking over their shoulders as the various domestic examples of the anti-neo-liberal left - the 'Gauche du Non' - who had quite eclatant successes in the French and Dutch referenda on the European Constitution and have even begun to poach left-wing votes at the fringes, viz. Germany's new Linkspartei. For all the humbuggery about No votes being expressions of nationalistic provincialism and xenophobia, it was quickly conceded by soc-dem strategists after the votes that 'No' voters were not anti-European, so much as fearful of the transplantation of the European social model with an 'Anglo-Saxon', or neo-liberal, one, and so their parties had better 'shore up their base', and quick-like.Thus at the start of the month, the Party of European Socialists - the centre-left grouping within the European Parliament that gathers together the MEPs from member states' Labour, social democratic and socialist parties - launched 'A New Social Europe', its response to the post-referendum crisis - a half-day conference accompanied by the publication a discussion document, 'PES - Social Europe: First contributions to the debate'. The pamphlet aims to kick off a discussion 'between PES member parties on how to combine Europe's traditional levels of social protection…with international competitiveness'.In the pamphlet, the traditional brusqueness of the There Is No Alternative (but liberalisation and deregulation) discourse has disappeared, replaced with cozy platitudes about Social Europe. Liberalisation and deregulation are still there, and there remains no alternative, comrades, but now the discourse is peppered throughout with words such as 'solidarity' and 'equality' and 'Horlicks'. Okay, so there's no mention of Horlicks at all, but the booklet's tone remains all warm and fuzzy. However, just like the nourishing malted food drink, this only temporarily masks the bitter aftertaste that comes with the repeated mention of 'flexibility', 'reform' and 'competitiveness'.Franz Müntefering, the chairperson of Germany's SPD, may have caused the financial press to have kittens when in April he sought to woo left-wing voters abandoning the SPD by describing foreign investors as 'a plague of locusts', and he may have begun his short essay for the PES pamphlet, 'Modernising the Social Market Economy', with a load of waffle about the strong needing to protect the weak, but ultimately he's the same old Neue Mittel partisan he has been for years:'Preserving the social market economy…requires…courage to implement changes.''With the reforms of Agenda 2010 [the social restructuring that produced the massive protest movement that gave birth to the WASG and subsequently the Linkspartei], we…implement[ed] this strategy…with a sense of courage.''The SPD…have had the courage to act in spite of having to cope with the resistance of many.''If we go on implementing this policy and advance together and with courage…then this will benefit…the social market economy in Germany…[and] in Eur[...]



DEMOCRACY COMES TO CHINA! (Well, actually just for Mongolian Cow Yogurt Super Girl)

2005-10-13T01:23:03.970+02:00

Cranky aussie queen Paul Kidd, author of Buggery.org, recently published a brief, windy-haunted-cave of a despondent posting, writing, 'Every day I think of George Orwell. Every fucking day.'He certainly has reason to.Within the television and mobile industry itself, those louche, tranquilising emissions that involve audience participation popularly but counterfactually known as reality TV programmes, such as Big Brother, Pop Idols, et al, are called 'participation TV'. Indeed, there is an industry conference dedicated to the topic coming up in Amsterdam in November whose programme I've been editing.Television channels, particularly private broadcasters, love the formats as they are very cheap to produce but massively popular, and in an era where advertising dollars are increasingly spread between thousands of media channels and publications/productions, it makes much more sense to produce a Big Brother than an hour-long drama such as the Sopranos, when the former brings in just as many viewers, if not more, for a fraction of the production costs. The latter are increasingly being produced by subscription-based channels such as HBO or the Sci-Fi Channel (and, of course, public broadcasters, who do not depend, or do not depend as much, on advertising sponsorship). The rest of the multi-channel universe is being steadily Who-Wants-To-Be-A-Millionaire-ified.Mobile operators and telcos also think that the formats are better than ice cream. As in most western European countries, mobile penetration has reached almost complete market saturation (in other words, everyone, including your technophobic gran and your six-year-old sandbox-contaminating niece has one), the operators increasingly have to find other ways of parting you from your centimes, and participation TV is crackerjack adept at convincing all you rubes to spend silly amounts of money on voting for some Turkish, off-key, Xena-the-Warrior-Princess-obsessed vampiress to win the Eurovision Song Contest.Sadly for both the operators, the channels, the format producers and the mobile aggregators (the companies that arrange the 'in-between' technology and content bits between the operators, TV channels and viewers, tallying votes and so on), the novelty of participation TV is wearing off. New formats, new ways of 'building communities' and new technology permitting more advanced forms of participation and content control are to some extent mitigating this tendency, but the real money is in expansion of the concept to other, much larger markets.Participation TV took an unusually long time to take off in North America, but this was largely due to the fact that until such shows as American Idols came along, short message service text messaging was all but non-existent, as local calling in most jurisdictions is essentially free. Indeed, in reverse fashion, it was the advent of participation TV that drove up-take of SMS, rather than the prevalence of SMS that drove the expansion of participation TV, as was the case in Europe. However, the format is now well established there, and participation TV sector stakeholders are in any case more interested in Asia and the Middle East, which offer massive and almost entirely unjaded audiences.India currently has over 50 million mobile users, but it is China which is most attractive, which has a barely untapped market of 200 million mobile subscribers, and participation TV formats are mammoths of the TV schedule. In August, the final episode of Super Girl, a Chinese, Pop Idols-style 'talent' contest for girls, drew 400 million viewers. Around 8 million pai[...]



The NED and the supremacy of human rights discourse

2005-10-12T00:23:55.020+02:00

Last week, I published a rather long-winded piece, 'Imperialists in NGO drag', on the dodgy arriere-cuisine of Reporters Sans Frontieres, which receives some of its funding from the U.S. State Department quasi-NGO, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).Over at Politics of Dissent, a blog by an Arizona attorney, Ken Sanders, with an interest in home-brewing and wine-making and a similar predilection to your correspondent for long-form blogging, has written a decent piece, 'Imperialists in democratic clothing' [Honest, we don't know each other, and I only came across his piece from an e-mail blast from Z Magazine, and we certainly didn't co-ordinate our headlines. Omigod. I swear. This is worse than the senior prom, when Nicole Gusenbauer and I both wore the same mauve dress and she, like, totally deliberately spilled non-alcoholic punch on it just out of spite…] essentially extending the thesis - that hegemons are exploiting human rights groups' organisational forms to hide imperialist activity - but exploring in greater depth the activities of the NED in particular, noting that the group is: 'a darling of the neo-conservatives and shares membership with the Project for a New American Century.''[And i]n the 1980s, the NED funded militaristic and dictatorial candidates in Panama, as well as opposition candidates in such stable democracies as Costa Rica (the opposition candidate in Costa Rica also had the endorsement of that champion of democracy, Manuel Noriega).'In the 1990 elections in Haiti, the NED provided significant funding to former World Bank official Marc Bazin in a failed attempt to oust the leftist Jean-Bertrand Aristide.'In the 1990s, the NED supported Skender Gjinushi, speaker of the Albanian parliament and former member of the Stalinist Politburo in Albania. Gjinushi was a principle organiser of the unrest that led to the 1997 fall of the democratic government in Albania, not to mention the death of over 2,000 people.'In Slovakia, the NED funded several initiatives that ultimately resulted in the defeat of Slovakia's freely-elected government. The NED-backed "reformers" who took over in Slovakia were largely leading officials in the Communist regime of then-Czechoslovakia.'One must suppose, however, that at a minimum we can say that the discourse of human rights and democracy is so pervasive that imperialism has no choice but to disguise itself in such language.The supremacy of human rights discourse, whatever its exploitation by the U.S. State Department, is thus at least something to celebrate.***Update: Talos, of the solid English-language Greek blog Histologion, has written in, noting a rather glaring inaccuracy in Sanders' argument:Gjinushi is a rather minor political figure, head of the Social Democratic Party, which got something around 4% in the last elections, and speaker of the Parliament for a long time. I'm not sure whether he was "a member of the Stalinist politburo", but I doubt it - anyway what is described as the "democratic government", was headed by Berisha, who also started his political career as a member of the Communist Party - as indeed the vast majority of Albanian politicians of any stripe and above a certain age.Gjinushi was most certainly not a principle organiser of the unrest that led to the 1997 fall of the "democratic government" in Albania - a cleptocracy in fact, the likes of which would make Boris Yeltsin blush, whose fall was due to what was most certainly a popular armed insurection after a pyramid scheme in the country's deregulated banks cost most Albania[...]



Grand Coalition accelerates SPD's demise

2005-10-10T18:53:07.630+02:00

So the SPD has traded the Chancellorship for eight cabinet portfolios and a moderation to the CDU's plans for labour market reforms. Even accepting the new Linkspartei's (correct) rejection of joining a neo-liberal coalition with the SPD and Greens, Schroeder's hara-kiri, as I pointed out before, was unnecessary.

That the SPD would rather eat their own and join with the CDU when the left actually won the election, than contemplate entering into a coalition with a party whose programme is little different from that of the pre-Neue-Mittel SPD, shows how strategically and ideologically bankrupt the party is.

Well, it's their funeral. The Grand Coalition will further alienate SPD supporters, introduce reforms extending economic dislocation in the country and thus expand the audience for the Linkspartei's ideas. Far from saving the SPD, the Grand Coalition accelerates the party's demise.

By the way, the Linkspartei scored a handsome 19.23 per cent in the Dresden election, pushing the Free Democrats and Greens into a distant fourth and fifth place.



Imperialists in NGO drag - US State Department lickspittles Reporters Sans Frontieres produce blogger handbook? Humbug!

2005-10-10T18:54:44.010+02:00

Christopher Hitchens, many years before he developed his gasconade, cock-rocketish oeuvre of liberalism-for-frat-boys, wrote a smart little leaflet about how beatific old Mother Theresa was in reality a condom-banning, abstinence-preaching, dictator-ass-kissing harpee of a thing. Everyone quite loved the saintly little midget, so Hitch received not a few sackfuls of hate-mail from affronted Catholic Girl Guides and the like. Who but the hardest-hearted of cynics could find something for which to criticise the beloved Saint of Calcutta's good deeds amongst the poorest of the poor?Although they don't quite have the public relations machine of the late Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, Reporters Sans Frontieres, the France-based NGO that fights for press freedoms around the world, has as benign a reputation, and is widely thought of as an unimpeachably righteous do-gooder non-profit on the model of Amnesty International. And they have this last week published a pamphlet of their own that will only burnish such regard.RSF has put out a guidebook for bloggers, aiming in particular at those who live under regimes with a less than humanist attitude towards press freedoms. The Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents is, according to the Guardian's bloggers, 'a cross between a motivational business guide and the internet's answer to the Anarchist Cookbook', and, with the acute blogophobia of governments such as that of China, which only last Sunday announced a new crackdown on internet-based writers and activists, increasingly resulting in the suppression and imprisonment of bloggers, there is no better time than now to issue such a pamphlet.So it seems to be farting in church a little to point out that RSF is actively engaged in the advancement of US and French foreign policy interests to the detriment of reporters' rights; that it white-washed of the murder of journalists in Iraq by occupation forces; supports the right-wing Venezuelan opposition, the invasion of Iraq, and the overthrow of Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Bertrand Aristide; and receives funding from not merely the State Department but also hard-right Miami-based hard-right Cuban exile groups that support anti-Castro terrorism.Nonetheless, all of this is true. Reporters Sans Frontieres, founded by Frenchman Robert Menard, is nothing more than imperialists in NGO drag, on the model of the AFL-CIO's notoriously Latin-America-meddling American Center for International Labor Solidarity (which replaces its forerunner, the American Institute of Free Labor Development - the American House of Labor's participation in the overthrow of Chile's Salvador Allende*).Plainly, in Stalinist Cuba, press freedom does not exist in the way it does in, say, northern European countries, and is thus a legitimate target of criticism from an organisation that monitors violations of press freedom around the globe. However, in its criticisms of Cuba, RSF goes beyond legitimate criticisms of the attacks on journalistic liberties into active anti-regime propagandising barely distinguishable from the biased press releases of the State Department, or even the froth-mouthed hyperbole of the Miami Cuban-exile mafia.Every year, RSF publishes an annual ranking of countries based on their press freedom, the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Near the top of the most recent index, not unexpectedly, are such nations as Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Canada and New Zealand, while at the bottom are such oppobrious freedom-allergics as China, B[...]



B.U.I.

2005-09-22T14:25:53.310+02:00

There was a rather bad short post posted here until recently, if you're wondering where it went. I decided to remove it and hereby swear to never again blog while under the influence.



The 'dolchstosslegende' of the neo-liberal 'left'

2005-09-22T00:06:02.953+02:00

Across the Rhine, neo-liberal nabobs of the right and left, are twisting themselves into Rubik's Cubes of re-interpretation attempting to explain away Sunday's election result in Germany, like the relics of the eighties that they are.France's presumptive future Yankophile king, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his supporters seem to feel the result is of a piece with the recent European Consitution referendum, but not in the same way la vrai gauche does, according to the Guardian's France correspondent, the soggy moderate Jon Henley:'Patrick Devidjian, a loyal and influential Sarkozy supporter, told Libération that Ms Merkel's problem had been one of method rather than principle. "The tax reforms she proposed were totally deformed by someone (the 'professor from Heidelberg' Paul Kirchhof) who did not have the political and pedagogical qualities needed in a politician," he said. "For us, that is the real lesson - radical reforms have to be properly explained."'Just as with the referendum, it is not that voters made a rational decision, rejecting neo-liberalism, but it is merely that the subject has not been properly explained. The arrogant sense of superiority of Thatcher's children is perhaps neo-liberalism's most insufferable attribute. We are just too stupid to understand the benefits of markets, plainly.Meanwhile, across the floor, the Socialists haven't wasted time blaming the far left for their own defeat, just as they did in the wake of the 2002 presidential election where Socialist Lionel Jospin was locked out of the second round between Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen (Henley again):'The moderate French left, including most of the Socialist party's current hierarchy, were not slow to blame the rise of Oskar Lafontaine's Linkspartei - made up of ex-Communists from the east and former SPD members disappointed with the party's perceived liberal drift - for Mr Schröder's discomfiture."It bears direct and complete responsibility for the failure of the left," Pierre Moscovici, a former Socialist European affairs minister, said. "Its populist rhetoric prevented the SPD from scoring as it should have done."'Horseshit. First of all, the left won. There is theoretically no reason why Schroeder cannot continue to govern (as a minority government, following the Linkspartei's vote for him as Chancellor [who are they going to vote for, Merkel?]), with or without passive support from the Linke. Secondly, if it weren't for the hemorrhage of CDU votes to the Linkspartei, the CDU would have a clear majority. Thirdly, the Linkspartei's very existence forced the SPD to tack left, pretending that it was the defender of the social model, which, together with Merkel's flat tax fubar, resulted in the enormous surge in support for the SPD in the last fortnight.In the years following the First World War, a political fairy story developed in Germany that it was not the German army that lost the war, but in fact left-wing politicians - the so-called dolchstosslegende (stab-in-the-back-legend). It is as untrue today as it was then. The viability of such attacks on the real left from its social democratic Judases has long since passed. If social democrats insist on capitulation, they have no one to blame but themselves.[...]



Bertinotti encourages Linke to join SPD coalition?

2005-09-22T00:54:55.816+02:00

Just got a couple of press releases on our friends in Germany from Fausto Bertinotti's pan-European Party of the European Left. Thought y'all might like a gander.'The German elections give a new and big outburst [Ed. - 'Outburst'? Odd choice. Ah, Euronglish*] to the party of the European Left. The Linke successfully accomplishes an unprecedented undertaking in the history of the after war Germany: that of a mass consensus given to a party which places itself to the left of the biggest social democratic party on the continent.'The Linke adherence to the Party of the European Left underlines the possibility and historical necessity of the growing of radical and alternative left in all European countries.'He also notes that the first congress of the European Left Party will take place in Athens at the end of October and that Lafontaine, Bisky and Gisy will take part.Interestingly, Bertinotti critcises the SPD's consideration of a Grand Coalition with the CDU when the broad left won the election and seems to suggest that they consider a left coalition instead:'The German Social Democrats face a choice of great responsibility: the clamorous defeat of the most convinced supporter of the neo-liberalist policies, the CDU of Merkel, would make the choice of a wide coalition more a dangerous social adventure, rather than a choice of stability.'The great success of the Linke asks the SPD to have the courage to break with the moderate and anti-social policies. After all, in different shapes, this is the problem that reformists will be facing in the whole of Europe.'What exactly is he trying to say here? Could it be that Bertinotti is encouraging the Linkspartei to do what his own comrades in the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista have done vis-à-vis L'Unione? Or am I just reading too much into what is probably just a dig at the SPD?Nonetheless, a release from the Linke I received at the same time all but explicitly (and quite rightly) rules out the possibility:'The question of the future German government is open. There are three main variants: so-called street-light-coalitions of SPD, the Greens and FDP or CDU/CSU, FDP and the Greens as well as a grand coalition of SPD and CDU/CSU. The postponed voting in one Dresden constituency on 2 October with three seats can bring no principal change to the general picture. Be it that as it may, the Left Party.PDS will get a good chance to win a higher profile as the only consistent opposition force to the neo-liberal orientation of the German political class.''As Gregor Gysi stated at a press conference after the vote, the party will support neither the neo-liberal politics of Schröder, nor of Merkel.'The release, from Helmut Ettinger and Helmut Scholz of the party's international department, also offers a more fleshed-out geographic breakdown of the party's support:'Under difficult conditions, with a new partner, being fought by all the other parties and large parts of the media, it reached its main goal to enter parliament with its own group. The party could more than double its result of four per cent in 2002. The 8.7 per cent of the vote and 54 seats it received are an increase of 4.7 per cent and 52 seats.'The best news is that the co-operation with the WASG worked fully, bringing about a result of a new quality, going far beyond the sum of the two organisations’ expected individual scores. Highly important is the overcoming of the five p[...]