Tuesday, December 30, 2008
By Robert Fisk
December 29, 2008 "The Independent" -- -We've got so used to the carnage of the Middle East that we don't care any more – providing we don't offend the Israelis. It's not clear how many of the Gaza dead are civilians, but the response of the Bush administration, not to mention the pusillanimous reaction of Gordon Brown, reaffirm for Arabs what they have known for decades: however they struggle against their antagonists, the West will take Israel's side. As usual, the bloodbath was the fault of the Arabs – who, as we all know, only understand force.
Ever since 1948, we've been hearing this balderdash from the Israelis – just as Arab nationalists and then Arab Islamists have been peddling their own lies: that the Zionist "death wagon" will be overthrown, that all Jerusalem will be "liberated". And always Mr Bush Snr or Mr Clinton or Mr Bush Jnr or Mr Blair or Mr Brown have called upon both sides to exercise "restraint" – as if the Palestinians and the Israelis both have F-18s and Merkava tanks and field artillery. Hamas's home-made rockets have killed just 20 Israelis in eight years, but a day-long blitz by Israeli aircraft that kills almost 300 Palestinians is just par for the course.
The blood-splattering has its own routine. Yes, Hamas provoked Israel's anger, just as Israel provoked Hamas's anger, which was provoked by Israel, which was provoked by Hamas, which ... See what I mean? Hamas fires rockets at Israel, Israel bombs Hamas, Hamas fires more rockets and Israel bombs again and ... Got it? And we demand security for Israel – rightly – but overlook this massive and utterly disproportionate slaughter by Israel. It was Madeleine Albright who once said that Israel was "under siege" – as if Palestinian tanks were in the streets of Tel Aviv.
By last night, the exchange rate stood at 296 Palestinians dead for one dead Israeli. Back in 2006, it was 10 Lebanese dead for one Israeli dead. This weekend was the most inflationary exchange rate in a single day since – the 1973 Middle East War? The 1967 Six Day War? The 1956 Suez War? The 1948 Independence/Nakba War? It's obscene, a gruesome game – which Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, unconsciously admitted when he spoke this weekend to Fox TV. "Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game," Barak said.
Exactly. Only the "rules" of the game don't change. This is a further slippage on the Arab-Israeli exchanges, a percentage slide more awesome than Wall Street's crashing shares, though of not much interest in the US which – let us remember – made the F-18s and the Hellfire missiles which the Bush administration pleads with Israel to use sparingly.
Quite a lot of the dead this weekend appear to have been Hamas members, but what is it supposed to solve? Is Hamas going to say: "Wow, this blitz is awesome – we'd better recognise the state of Israel, fall in line with the Palestinian Authority, lay down our weapons and pray we are taken prisoner and locked up indefinitely and support a new American 'peace process' in the Middle East!" Is that what the Israelis and the Americans and Gordon Brown think Hamas is going to do?
Yes, let's remember Hamas's cynicism, the cynicism of all armed Islamist groups. Their need for Muslim martyrs is as crucial to them as Israel's need to create them. The lesson Israel thinks it is teaching – come to heel or we will crush you – is not the lesson Hamas is learning. Hamas needs violence to emphasise the oppression of the Palestinians – and relies on Israel to provide it. A few rockets into Israel and Israel obliges.
Not a whimper from Tony Blair, the peace envoy to the Middle East who's never been to Gaza in his current incarnation. Not a bloody word.
We hear the usual Israeli line. General Yaakov Amidror, the former head of the Israeli army's "research and assessment division" announced that "no country in the world would allow its citizens to be made the target of rocket attacks without taking vigorous steps to defend them". Quite so. But when the IRA were firing mortars over the border into Northern Ireland, when their guerrillas were crossing from the Republic to attack police stations and Protestants, did Britain unleash the RAF on the Irish Republic? Did the RAF bomb churches and tankers and police stations and zap 300 civilians to teach the Irish a lesson? No, it did not. Because the world would have seen it as criminal behaviour. We didn't want to lower ourselves to the IRA's level.
Yes, Israel deserves security. But these bloodbaths will not bring it. Not since 1948 have air raids protected Israel. Israel has bombed Lebanon thousands of times since 1975 and not one has eliminated "terrorism". So what was the reaction last night? The Israelis threaten ground attacks. Hamas waits for another battle. Our Western politicians crouch in their funk holes. And somewhere to the east – in a cave? a basement? on a mountainside? – a well-known man in a turban smiles.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
December 15, 2008
When Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi heaved his two shoes at the head of President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad, he did something that the White House press corps should have done years ago.
Al-Zaidi listened to Bush blather that the half-decade of war he had initiated with the illegal invasion of Iraq had been "necessary for US security, Iraqi stability (sic) and world peace" and something just snapped. The television correspondent, who had been kidnapped and held for a while last year by Shiite militants, pulled off a shoe and threw it at Bush-a serious insult in Iraqi culture-and shouted "This is a farewell kiss, you dog!" When the first shoe missed its target, he grabbed a second shoe and heaved it too, causing the president to duck a second time as al-Zaidi shouted, "This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq!"
I'll admit, listening to Bush lie his way through eight years of press conferences, while pre-selected reporters played along and pretended to get his attention so they could ask questions which had been submitted and vetted in advance, I have felt like throwing my shoes at the television set.
Al-Zaidi, who paid for his courageous act of protest by being brutally beaten by security guards, is a hero of the profession. He stopped taking the president's BS and called him what he is: a murderer and a criminal, with the blood of perhaps upwards of a million Iraqis on his hands. Al-Zaidi used what was supposed to be a staged photo-op for the president as an opportunity to speak up for those whose lives have been ruined by this president-the ones our suck-up journalists routinely ignore.
I'm not suggesting that journalists should routinely leave presidential press conferences in their stocking feet. We have different ways of expressing our sentiments to people we feel have insulted our intelligence than throwing shoes at them, but it would be nice to see a journalist or two flip the president the bird when he lies so blatantly to them. Or they could all get up and just walk out, leaving him standing alone at the presidential lectern.
It's time for the press corps to stop treating presidents like royalty. If he accomplished anything at all in eight years in office, President Bush has demonstrated that, to the contrary, the president is a very ordinary-and in his case a rather less than ordinary-man. The office of president deserves no more respect than that of the mayor of Detroit, or of Wasilla.
My suggestion is that the press corps use the remaining five weeks of the Bush administration to develop a new relationship with the presidency-one in which they drop all the phony propriety and tradition and start acting like boisterous newshounds of old, barking questions, laughing cruelly at inane answers, demanding follow-ups when they are given the run-around, and, where necessary, walking out, or perhaps tossing the occasional shoe.
The journalism profession was a full-blown disaster and an utter disgrace during the Bush administration, and with all the crises facing the country and the world, in part because of that failure on their part, we cannot afford to have them continue that failure into the Obama administration.
With the Bush administration reduced to a running joke at this point, it gives the journalism profession a chance to redeem itself by using these few remaining weeks to establish a new tradition for presidential press conferences and photo-ops-one that can continue on into the new presidency.
Meanwhile, I'm suggesting that my alma mater, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, hire al=Zaidi to teach a class in press conference journalism techniques. They should make it a multi-year appointment, because if he left after just one year, his would be difficult shoes to fill.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
By George Monbiot.
Published in the Guardian 25th November 2008
George Bush is behaving like a furious defaulter whose home is about to be repossessed. Smashing the porcelain, ripping the doors off their hinges, he is determined that there will be nothing worth owning by the time the bastards kick him out. His midnight regulations, opening America’s wilderness to logging and mining, trashing pollution controls, tearing up conservation laws, will do almost as much damage in the last 60 days of his presidency as he achieved in the foregoing 3000(1).
His backers – among them the nastiest pollutocrats in America – are calling in their favours. But this last binge of vandalism is also the Bush presidency reduced to its essentials. Destruction is not an accidental product of its ideology. Destruction is the ideology. Neoconservatism is power expressed by showing that you can reduce any part of the world to rubble.
If it is now too late to prevent runaway climate change, the Bush team must carry much of the blame. His wilful trashing of the Middle Climate – the interlude of benign temperatures which allowed human civilisation to flourish – makes the mass murder he engineered in Iraq only the second of his crimes against humanity. Bush has waged his war on science with the same obtuse determination with which he has waged his war on terror.
Is it too late? To say so is to make it true. To suggest that there is nothing that can now be done is to ensure that nothing is done. But even a resolute optimist like me finds hope ever harder to summon. A new summary of the science published since last year’s Intergovernmental Panel report suggests that - almost a century ahead of schedule - the critical climate processes might have begun(2).
Just a year ago the Intergovernmental Panel warned that the Arctic’s “late-summer sea ice is projected to disappear almost completely towards the end of the 21st century … in some models.”(3) But, as the new report by the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) shows, climate scientists are now predicting the end of late-summer sea ice within three to seven years. The trajectory of current melting plummets through the graphs like a meteorite falling to earth.
Forget the sodding polar bears: this is about all of us. As the ice disappears, the region becomes darker, which means that it absorbs more heat. A recent paper published in Geophysical Research Letters shows that the extra warming caused by disappearing sea ice penetrates 1500km inland, covering almost the entire region of continuous permafrost(4). Arctic permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the entire global atmosphere(5). It remains safe for as long as the ground stays frozen. But the melting has begun. Methane gushers are now gassing out of some places with such force that they keep the water open in Arctic lakes, through the winter(6).
The effects of melting permafrost are not incorporated into any global climate models. Runaway warming in the Arctic alone could flip the entire planet into a new climatic state. The Middle Climate could collapse faster and sooner than the grimmest forecasts proposed.
Barack Obama’s speech to the US climate summit last week was an astonishing development(7). It shows that, in this respect at least, there really is a prospect of profound political change in America. But while he described a workable plan for dealing with the problem perceived by the Earth Summit of 1992, the measures he proposes are now hopelessly out of date. The science has moved on. The events the Earth Summit and the Kyoto process were supposed to have prevented are already beginning. Thanks to the wrecking tactics of Bush the elder, Clinton (and Gore) and Bush the younger, steady, sensible programmes of the kind that Obama proposes are now irrelevant. As the PIRC report suggests, the years of sabotage and procrastination have left us with only one remaining shot: a crash programme of total energy replacement.
A paper by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research shows that if we are to give ourselves a roughly even chance(8,9) of preventing more than two degrees of warming, global emissions from energy must peak by 2015 and decline by between six and eight per cent per year from 2020 to 2040, leading to a complete decarbonisation of the global economy soon after 2050(10). Even this programme would work only if some optimistic assumptions about the response of the biosphere hold true. Delivering a high chance of preventing two degrees of warming would mean cutting global emissions by over 8% a year.
Is this possible? Is this acceptable? The Tyndall paper points out that annual emission reductions greater than one per cent have “been associated only with economic recession or upheaval.” When the Soviet Union collapsed, they fell by some 5% a year. But you can answer these questions only by considering the alternatives. The trajectory both Barack Obama and Gordon Brown have proposed - an 80% cut by 2050 - means reducing emissions by an average of 2% a year. This programme, the figures in the Tyndall paper suggest, is likely to commit the world to at least four or five degrees of warming(11), which means the likely collapse of human civilisation across much of the planet. Is this acceptable?
The costs of a total energy replacement and conservation plan would be astronomical, the speed improbable. But the governments of the rich nations have already deployed a scheme like this for another purpose. A survey by the broadcasting network CNBC suggests that the US federal government has now spent $4.2 trillion in response to the financial crisis, more than the total spending on World War Two when adjusted for inflation(12). Do we want to be remembered as the generation that saved the banks and let the biosphere collapse?
This approach is challenged by the American thinker Sharon Astyk. In an interesting new essay, she points out that replacing the world’s energy infrastructure involves “an enormous front-load of fossil fuels”, which are required to manufacture wind turbines, electric cars, new grid connections, insulation and all the rest(13). This could push us past the climate tipping point. Instead, she proposes, we must ask people “to make short term, radical sacrifices”, cutting our energy consumption by 50%, with little technological assistance, in five years. There are two problems: the first is that all previous attempts show that relying on voluntary abstinence does not work. The second is that a 10% annual cut in energy consumption while the infrastructure remains mostly unchanged means a 10% annual cut in total consumption: a deeper depression than the modern world has ever experienced. No political system - even an absolute monarchy - could survive an economic collapse on this scale.
She is right about the risks of a technological green new deal, but these are risks we have to take. Astyk’s proposals travel far into the realm of wishful thinking. Even the technological solution I favour inhabits the distant margins of possibility.
Can we do it? Search me. Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late. But there is another question I can answer more easily. Can we afford not to try? No we can’t.
1. Suzanne Goldenberg, 20th November 2008. President for 60 more days, Bush tearing apart protection for America’s wilderness. The Guardian.
2. Public Interest Research Centre, 25th November 2008. Climate Safety. www.pirc.info
3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group I. Technical Summary, p73. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-ts.pdf
4. David M. Lawrence et al., 2008. Accelerated Arctic land warming and permafrost degradation
during rapid sea ice loss. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 35, 11506.
5. Edward A. G. Schuur et al, September 2008. Vulnerability of permafrost carbon to climate change: implications for the global carbon cycle. Bioscience, Vol. 58, No. 8, pp.
6. United Nations Environment Project, 4 June 2007. Melting Ice - a Hot Topic? Press
8. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, 2008. Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. Published online. doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0138
Anderson and Bows state that “The framing of climate change policy is typically
informed by the 2 degrees C threshold; however, even stabilizing at 450 ppmv CO2e [parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent] offers only a 46 per cent chance of not exceeding 2 degrees C.” This estimate is given in the following paper:
9. Malte Meinshausen, 2006. What Does a 2°C Target Mean for Greenhouse Gas Concentrations? A Brief Analysis Based on Multi-Gas Emission Pathways and Several Climate Sensitivity Uncertainty Estimates. In Hans Joachim Schellnhuber (Ed in Chief). Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.
10. This is for stabilisation at 450 ppmv CO2e - well above the level that James Hansen and other climate scientists are now calling for.
11. Anderson and Bows note that stabilising atmospheric concentrations even at 650 ppmv CO2e requires that global emissions peak by 2020, followed by global cuts of 3-4% a year. This means that OECD nations will have to cut emissions by even more than this to prevent concentrations from rising above 650. Meinshausen estimates that stabilisation at 650ppmv CO2e gives a 40% chance of exceeding 4 degrees C.
12. CNBC.com, 17th November 2008. Financial Crisis Tab Already In The Trillions.
13. Sharon Astyk, 11th November 2008. A New Deal or a War Footing? Thinking Through Our Response to Climate Change. http://sharonastyk.com/2008/11/11/a-new-deal-or-a-war-footing-thinking-through-our-response-to-climate-change/
Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The Godfathers and pioneers of electronic music will perform their one and only New Zealand concert since their triumphant headline appearance at 2003’s Big Day Out.
Kraftwerk is one of the most influential bands in music history . . .
"This Is The Greatest Show London Has Ever Seen!" The Times (UK)
“Their back catalogue is raided and it becomes blindingly obvious that some of the really major players of the last 30 years - Bowie, U2, Orbital, New Order, Chemical Brothers - have ridden shotgun on this great band's work. See Kraftwerk live - you're in the presence of greatness!!” - New York Times
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Auckland Town Hall, Auckland Central
Monday, November 24, 2008
'Terrorists' were in Soviet sights; now they are in the Americans'.
By Robert Fisk
November 22, 2008 "The Independent" -- -I sit on the rooftop of the old Central Hotel – pharaonic-decorated elevator, unspeakable apple juice, sublime green tea, and armed Tajik guards at the front door – and look out across the smoky red of the Kabul evening. The Bala Hissar fort glows in the dusk, massive portals, the great keep to which the British army should have moved its men in 1841. Instead, they felt the king should live there and humbly built a cantonment on the undefended plain, thus leading to a "signal catastrophe".
Like automated birds, the kites swoop over the rooftops. Yes, the kite-runners of Kabul, minus Hollywood. At night, the thump of American Sikorsky helicopters and the whisper of high-altitude F-18s invade my room. The United States of America is settling George Bush's scores with the "terrorists" trying to overthrow Hamid Karzai's corrupt government.
Now rewind almost 29 years, and I am on the balcony of the Intercontinental Hotel on the other side of this great, cold, fuggy city. Impeccable staff, frozen Polish beer in the bar, secret policemen in the front lobby, Russian troops parked in the forecourt. The Bala Hissar fort glimmers through the smoke. The kites – green seems a favourite colour – move beyond the trees. At night, the thump of Hind choppers and the whisper of high-altitude MiGs invade my room. The Soviet Union is settling Leonid Brezhnev's scores with the "terrorists" trying to overthrow Barbrak Karmal's corrupt government.
Thirty miles north, all those years ago, a Soviet general told us of the imminent victory over the "terrorists" in the mountains, imperialist "remnants" – the phrase Kabul communist radio always used – who were being supported by America and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Fast forward to 2001 – just seven years ago – and an American general told us of the imminent victory over the "terrorists" in the mountains, the all but conquered Taliban who were being supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The Russian was pontificating at the big Soviet airbase at Bagram. The American general was pontificating at the big US airbase at Bagram.
This is not déjà-vu. This is déjà double-vu. And it gets worse.
Almost 29 years ago, the Afghan "mujahedin" began a campaign to end the mixed schooling of boys and girls in the remote mountain passes, legislation pushed through by successive communist governments. Schools were burned down. Outside Jalalabad, I found a headmaster and his headmistress wife burned to death. Today, the Afghan Taliban are campaigning to end the mixed schooling of boys and girls – indeed the very education of young women – across the great deserts of Kandahar and Helmand. Schools have been burned down. Teachers have been executed.
As the Soviets began to suffer more and more casualties, their officers boasted of the increasing prowess of the Afghan National Army, the ANA. Infiltrated though they were by the "mujahedin", Moscow gave them newer tanks and helped to train new battalions to take on the guerrillas outside the capital.
Fast forward to now. As the Americans and British suffer ever greater casualties, their officers boast of the increasing prowess of the ANA. Infiltrated though they are by the Taliban, America and other Nato states are providing them with newer equipment and training new battalions to take on the guerrillas outside the capital. Back in January of 1980, I could take a bus from Kabul to Kandahar. Seven years later, the broken highway was haunted by "mujahedin" fighters and bandits and the only safe way to travel to Kandahar was by air.
In the immediate aftermath of America's arrival here in 2001, I could take a bus from Kabul to Kandahar. Now, seven years later, the highway – rebuilt on the express instructions of George W but already cracked and swamped with sand – is haunted by Taliban fighters and bandits and the only safe way to travel to Kandahar is by air.
Throughout the 1980s, the Soviets and the ANA held the towns but lost most of the country. Today, America and its allies and the ANA hold most of the towns but have lost the southern half of the country. The Soviets secretly sent another 9,000 troops to join their 115,000-strong occupation force to fight the "mujahedin". Today, the Americans are publicly sending another 7,000 troops to join their 55,000-strong occupation force to fight the Taliban.
In 1980, I would sneak down to Chicken Street to buy old books in the dust-filled shops, cheap and illegal Pakistani reprints of the memoirs of British Empire officers while my driver watched anxiously lest I be mistaken for a Russian. Last week, I sneaked down to the Shar Book shop, which is filled with the very same illicit volumes, while my driver watched anxiously lest I be mistaken for an American (or, indeed, a Brit). I find Stephen Tanner's Afghanistan: A Military History From Alexander The Great To The Fall Of The Taliban and drive back to my hotel through the streets of wood-smoked Kabul to read it in my ill-lit room.
In 1840, Tanner writes, Britain's supply line from the Pakistani city of Karachi up through the Khyber Pass and Jalalabad to Kabul was being threatened by Afghan fighters, "British officers on the crucial supply line through Peshawar... insulted and attacked". I fumble through my bag for a clipping from a recent copy of Le Monde. It marks Nato's main supply route from the Pakistani city of Karachi up through the Khyber Pass and Jalalabad to Kabul, and illustrates the location of each Taliban attack on the convoys bringing fuel and food to America's allies in Afghanistan.
Then I prowl through one of the Pakistani retread books I have found and discover General Roberts of Kandahar telling the British in 1880 that "we have nothing to fear from Afghanistan, and the best thing to do is to leave it as much as possible to itself... I feel sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us".
Memo to the Americans, the Brits, the Canadians and the rest of Humpty Dumpty's men. Read Roberts. Read history.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
By George Monbiot.
Published in the Guardian 18th November 2008
Poor old Lord Keynes. The world’s press has spent the past week blackening his name. Not intentionally: most of the dunderheads reporting the G20 summit which took place over the weekend really do believe that he proposed and founded the International Monetary Fund. It’s one of those stories that passes unchecked from one journalist to another.
The truth is more interesting. At the Bretton Woods conference in 1944, John Maynard Keynes put forward a much better idea. After it was thrown out, Geoffrey Crowther - then the editor of the Economist magazine - warned that “Lord Keynes was right … the world will bitterly regret the fact that his arguments were rejected.”(1) But the world does not regret it, for almost everyone - the Economist included - has forgotten what he proposed.
One of the reasons for financial crises is the imbalance of trade between nations. Countries accumulate debt partly as a result of sustaining a trade deficit. They can easily become trapped in a vicious spiral: the bigger their debt, the harder it is to generate a trade surplus. International debt wrecks people’s development, trashes the environment and threatens the global system with periodic crises.
As Keynes recognised, there is not much that the debtor nations can do. Only the countries which maintain a trade surplus have real agency, so it is they who must be obliged to change their policies. His solution was an ingenious system for persuading the creditor nations to spend their surplus money back into the economies of the debtor nations.
He proposed a global bank, which he called the International Clearing Union. The bank would issue its own currency - the bancor - which was exchangeable with national currencies at fixed rates of exchange. The bancor would become the unit of account between nations, which means it would be used to measure a country’s trade deficit or trade surplus(2,3,4).
Every country would have an overdraft facility in its bancor account at the International Clearing Union, equivalent to half the average value of its trade over the past five years. To make the system work, the members of the Union would need a powerful incentive to clear their bancor accounts by the end of the year: to end up with neither a trade deficit nor a trade surplus. But what would the incentive be?
Keynes proposed that any country racking up a large trade deficit (equating to more than half of its bancor overdraft allowance) would be charged interest on its account. It would also be obliged to reduce the value of its currency and to prevent the export of capital. But – and this was the key to his system – he insisted that the nations with a trade surplus would be subject to similar pressures. Any country with a bancor credit balance which was more than half the size of its overdraft facility would be charged interest, at 10%*. It would also be obliged to increase the value of its currency and to permit the export of capital. If by the end of the year its credit balance exceeded the total value of its permitted overdraft, the surplus would be confiscated. The nations with a surplus would have a powerful incentive to get rid of it. In doing so, they would automatically clear other nations’ deficits.
When Keynes began to explain his idea, in papers published in 1942 and 1943, it detonated in the minds of all who read it. The British economist Lionel Robbins reported that “it would be difficult to exaggerate the electrifying effect on thought throughout the whole relevant apparatus of government … nothing so imaginative and so ambitious had ever been discussed”(5). Economists all over the world saw that Keynes had cracked it. As the Allies prepared for the Bretton Woods conference, Britain adopted Keynes’s solution as its official negotiating position.
But there was one country - at the time the world’s biggest creditor - in which his proposal was less welcome. The head of the US delegation at Bretton Woods, Harry Dexter White, responded to Lord Keynes’s idea thus: “We have been perfectly adamant on that point. We have taken the position of absolutely no”(6). Instead he proposed an International Stabilisation Fund, which would place the entire burden of maintaining the balance of trade on the deficit nations. It would place no limits on the surplus that successful exporters could accumulate. He also suggested an International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which would provide capital for economic reconstruction after the war. White, backed by the financial clout of the US Treasury, prevailed. The International Stabilisation Fund became the International Monetary Fund. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development remains the principal lending arm of the World Bank.
The consequences, especially for the poorest indebted countries, have been catastrophic. Acting on behalf of the rich world, imposing conditions which no free country would tolerate, the IMF has bled them dry. As Joseph Stiglitz has shown, the Fund compounds existing economic crises and creates crises where none existed before. It has destabilised exchange rates, exacerbated balance of payments problems, forced countries into debt and recession, wrecked public services and destroyed the jobs and incomes of tens of millions of people(7).
The countries the Fund instructs must place the control of inflation ahead of other economic objectives; immediately remove their barriers to trade and the flow of capital; liberalise their banking systems; reduce government spending on everything except debt repayments; and privatise the assets which can be sold to foreign investors. These happen to be the policies which best suit predatory financial speculators(8). They have exacerbated almost every crisis the IMF has attempted to solve.
You might imagine that the United States, which since 1944 has turned from the world’s biggest creditor to the world’s biggest debtor, would have cause to regret the blinkered position it took at Bretton Woods. But Harry Dexter White ensured that the US could never lose. He awarded it special veto powers over any major decision made by the IMF or the World Bank, which means that it will never be subject to the Fund’s unwelcome demands. The IMF insists that the foreign exchange reserves maintained by other nations are held in the form of dollars. This is one of the reasons why the US economy doesn’t collapse, no matter how much debt it accumulates(9,10).
On Saturday the leaders of the G20 nations admitted that “the Bretton Woods Institutions must be comprehensively reformed.”(11) But the only concrete suggestions they made were that the IMF should be given more money and that poorer nations “should have greater voice and representation.” We’ve already seen what this means: a tiny increase in their voting power which does nothing to challenge the rich countries’ control of the Fund, let alone the US veto(12).
Is this the best they can do? No. As the global financial crisis deepens, the rich nations will be forced to recognise that their problems cannot be solved by tinkering with a system that is constitutionally destined to fail. But to understand why the world economy keeps running into trouble, they first need to understand what was lost in 1944.
*Erratum: Professor Tony Thirlwall, an expert on this subject, writes to tell me that “The proposed interest rate on credit and debit balances was 1% if the balance was more than 25% of quota and a further 1% if the balance went above 50% of quota.”
1. Geoffrey Crowther, quoted by Michael Rowbotham, 2000. Goodbye America! Globalisation, Debt and the Dollar Empire. Jon Carpenter, Charlbury, Oxon.
2. My sources are:
Michael Rowbotham, 2000, ibid;
3. Robert Skidelsky, 2000. John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain 1937-1946. Macmillan, London;
4. Armand van Dormael, 1978. Bretton Woods: Birth of a Monetary System. Macmillan, London.
5. Lord Robbins, quoted by Armand van Dormael, ibid.
6. Harry Dexter White, quoted by Armand van Dormael, ibid.
7. Joseph Stiglitz, 2002. Globalization and its Discontents. Allen Lane, London.
9. eg Romilly Greenhill and Ann Pettifor, April 2002. The United States as a HIPC (Highly Indebted Prosperous Country) – how the poor are financing the rich. Jubilee Research at the New Economics Foundation, London
10. Henry K Liu, April 11 2002. US Dollar hegemony has got to go. Asia Times.
11. The G20 Summit, 15th November 2008. Declaration of the Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy. The White House. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/11/20081115-1.html
12. See http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/09/05/still-the-rich-worlds-viceroy/
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
4:00AM Wednesday Nov 19, 2008 (NZ Herald)
By Brian Rudman
For those speculating on whether Act leader Rodney Hide will be adding tanning studio sessions to his return of election expenses, I can suggest a possible explanation.
He wants to hide the blushes when Winston Peters unearths the small print in Act's marriage contract with National.
Having mercilessly mocked the New Zealand First leader's quest for the "baubles of office" when he was on the outside looking enviously in, Mr Hide has been indecently quick to get his snout into the public trough now he's replaced Mr Peters in the Beehive.
As part of the coalition deal, National has agreed that: "To enable Act to make a substantive contribution to the Government's programme, it will have adequate access to funding, in a bulk form or for specific projects, to enable it to commission contract research or other consultancy assistance."
Talk about jobs for your consultant mates courtesy of the all-suffering taxpayer, and at a time when he's banging on about wasted expenditure in the public sector. But there's more.
Act has also scored a seat on the exclusive Cabinet committee on honours and appointments, the body that hands out whatever it is these days that passes for knighthoods and all the other lesser gongs. This committee also fills the boards of SOEs and many other government bodies with people of like mind. Not a bad haul for a party that got just 3.7 per cent of the party vote.
Obviously new Prime Minister John Key felt he had to toss these trinkets to Act to ensure its support in propping up his Government.
Of more concern is his indulging Mr Hide in his fruitcake views on global warming. As part of the deal, Mr Key has agreed to a climate change select committee.
Attached as first appendix to the coalition agreement is Act's terms of reference, top of which is a requirement that the scientific case be relitigated.
It reads: "The committee shall hear competing views on the scientific aspects of climate change from internationally respected sources and assess the quality and impartiality of official advice."
The small print of the coalition agreement says these "terms of reference" are "an initial basis for discussion", but the fact that Prime Minister Key is happy to give official credence to this nuttiness risks making New Zealand, and him, a laughing stock.
He must know there's more chance of finding an internationally respected flat-earther, or apostle of intelligent design, or even a Holocaust denier than there is of finding a peer-reviewed case against human-assisted global warming.
That Mr Hide has chosen a jury of politicians speaks volumes. With the science against him, it's the only sort of tribunal where the sceptics would have a chance.
In May 2005, Mr Key stood up in Parliament and said "even if one believes in global warming - and I'm somewhat suspicious of it ... " But by November 2006 he'd caught up with the modern world, declaring, "I firmly believe in climate change and always have."
By May last year, it was "the biggest environmental challenge of our time ... the scientific consensus is clear: human-induced climate change is real and it's threatening the planet."
Mr Key said the National Party "will ensure that New Zealand acts decisively to confront this challenge".
On September 7 this year, he launched National's environment policy by declaring global warming "the most serious environmental challenge of our time" and pledging that under National "New Zealand, as a responsible international citizen, and as a country that values our clean, green environment, must act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions".
While critical of Labour's methods of meeting Kyoto Protocol obligations to reduce New Zealand's emissions, National "is committed to honouring" our international commitments.
But now, a week after being elected on this policy, he's signing a document which has him taking seriously a call to put the whole issue on hold so Mr Hide can drag in so-called experts to relitigate the science.
Hide argues the earth has been warming almost continuously for 18,000 years and "the warming is not dangerous". To Act faithful in Christchurch in September he joked that "dragging New Zealand temperature-wise closer to Australia's would be a good thing".
He said, "A new New Zealand that was one or two degrees warmer would be a better place to live and better for agriculture".
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells a grimly different story, noting that 11 of the past 12 years to 2006 rank among the 12 warmest years since global recording began in 1850.
Global average sea level has risen since 1961 at an average rate of 1.8mm/yr and since 1993 at 3.1mm/yr.
"There is very high confidence that the net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming." Increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are the "very likely" culprit.
The British Government Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, published in March, was blunt.
"The scientific evidence is now overwhelming; climate change is a serious global threat, and it demands an urgent global response. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms."
The review warned that "our actions now and over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes".
And these are the cautious, official pronouncements. Many scientists are much more apocalyptic. Alongside this overwhelming consensus, Mr Hide's flippant naysaying was easy to laugh off when he was a gang of one. But for Mr Key to now give these views credibility risks making New Zealand a laughing stock as well.
National campaigned on reviewing the way New Zealand meets our Kyoto treaty obligations to reduce our carbon footprint. That's fine. Act's global warming denial policy was not part of the deal. Mr Key should spell this out pronto.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Humans have overstepped the threshold of sustainability. In the mid-1980s, the capacity of the planet to sustain its human population had reached 100 per cent. The current population now has an ecological footprint equal to 1.25 planets.
If those people who live in the so-called Third World catch up with the lifestyle in the US or New Zealand, we need 4.5 planets.
We are facing one simple loss - our own disappearance from the planet, which itself will continue to live. We need to drastically reduce our ecological footprint.
Individual actions are of limited use. Making the changes requires regulatory and policy changes that strongly enforce footprint-reducing actions. In short, we need mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.
Environmental law differs from the rest of law with its peculiar space and time dimensions. How to regulate human behaviour in the Here and Now to avoid disaster in the There and Then?
The problem is to reconcile two extreme positions. On the one hand, people living today have a right to pursue their prosperity and well-being, but in doing so they collectively threaten the environment.
This tragedy is caused by short-sighted economic rationality which has shaped both the capitalist and socialist worlds.
Media attention on issues like climate change and food prices has increased. But the links between ecology and economy are still made only in terms of costs.
Typically, the environment is presented as an economic cost factor, not as a challenge to the economy itself. Financial markets seem to operate in complete independence from the state of the environment.
Governments compartmentalise the environment. There is a Ministry for the Environment but Treasury determines public policy. There are environmental policies but politicians are eager to point out they won't harm the economy. There are environmental laws, but isolated from commercial laws.
Partially protecting the environment in competition with economic objectives is ecological nonsense. Imagine a child protection law that says: "Do not beat your child too often and too much." Environmental law does just that: "Do not pollute the environment too often and too much."
The flawed thinking behind such environmentalism is the assumption that the environmental crisis can be solved within the current economic, political and legal system without challenging underlying values.
By and large, administrators and judges have applied the Resource Management Act in a manner that limits or mitigates ecological damage but doesn't prevent it.
The overall effect has been to mitigate the damage inflicted by industrial economies and western lifestyles. Their unsustainable nature has not been touched at all.
A number of battles have been won but the war is being lost. The global commons - climate, biodiversity, oceans - are in rapid decline, the ecological footprint is now much larger and, most alarmingly, the individual, per capita footprint keeps growing.
We get punished for harming property, but not for harming the environment. Specific laws may prohibit specific actions, such as felling a pohutukawa tree.
But legally, we are entitled to large-scale destruction of the global environment.
Do we need a defined principle of sustainability? Yes. Can such a rule be defined and written into law? Again yes.
Would it be socially acceptable? Probably not. Would it be politically viable? Clearly not, or shall we say, not yet.
The dynamics of the environmental crisis may well cause governments to take draconian measures. Just picture the challenges that countries like Australia or New Zealand are going to face with environmental refugees, water allocation or food supply. The question is how democracy and human rights might be protected when the battles over resources turn nasty.
Mutual coercion is the only way to prevent ecological and social disaster.
It is possible to fashion a rule that draws a line in the sand and sets a bottom-line limitation. This rule would apply throughout the system of law and governance and would not be confined to a single legislative act.
Ecological sustainability is paramount.
The transition to sustainability is a tough call. Yet, it is important not to be afraid.
If Martin Luther King had started his speech with "I have a nightmare" we would probably not remember it. A positive dream for civil rights and a sustainable future is a lot more inspirational. This means turning the financial crisis into an opportunity. The failure of free market ideology calls for a new deal between the state and the economy: a regulatory framework for a 'socio-ecological market system' was never more needed than now.
* Professor Klaus Bosselmann is on the University of Auckland law faculty and director of the NZ Centre for Environmental Law.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
In any case, Kabulov was, in the years of the Soviet occupation, a KGB agent in the same city and, in the 1990s, an adviser to a U.N. peacekeeping envoy during the Afghan civil war that followed. "They've already repeated all of our mistakes," he told Burns, speaking of the American/NATO effort in the country. "Now," he added, "they're making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright." His list of Soviet-style American mistakes included: underestimating "the resistance," an over-reliance on air power, a failure to understand the Afghan "irritative allergy" to foreign occupation, "and thinking that because they swept into Kabul easily, the occupation would be untroubled." Of present occupiers who have stopped by to catch his sorry tale, Kabulov concludes world-wearily, "They listen, but they do not hear."
The question is: Does this experience really have to be repeated to the bitter end -- in the case of the Soviets, a calamitous defeat and retreat from Afghanistan, followed by years of civil war in that wrecked country, and finally the rise of the Pakistani-backed Taliban? The answer is: perhaps. There is no question that the advisers President Obama will be listening to are already exploring more complex strategies in Afghanistan, including possible negotiations with "reconcilable elements" of the Taliban. But these all remain military-plus strategies at whose heart lies the kind of troop surge that candidate Obama called for so vehemently -- and, given the fate of the previous 2007 U.S./NATO "surge" in Afghanistan, this, too, has failure written all over it.
If you want a glimmer of hope when it comes to the spreading Afghan War -- American missile-armed drones have been attacking across the Pakistani border regularly in recent months -- consider that Barack Obama has made ex-CIA official Bruce Reidel a key advisor on the deteriorating Pakistani situation. And Reidel recently reviewed startlingly favorably Tariq Ali's must-read, hard-hitting new book on Pakistan (and so Afghanistan and so American policy), The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power for the Washington Post. ("My employers of the past three decades, the CIA and the Brookings Institution, get their share of blame," Reidel wrote. "So do both of the current presidential candidates…")
Ali believes that there could be a grand, brokered regional solution to the Afghan War, essentially a military-minus strategy. Let's hope Reidel and others are willing to listen to that, too; otherwise it will certainly be "Obama's war," and -- for anyone old enough to remember -- haven't we been through that before? Tom
Operation Enduring DisasterBreaking with Afghan Policy
By Tariq Ali
Afghanistan has been almost continuously at war for 30 years, longer than both World Wars and the American war in Vietnam combined. Each occupation of the country has mimicked its predecessor. A tiny interval between wars saw the imposition of a malignant social order, the Taliban, with the help of the Pakistani military and the late Benazir Bhutto, the prime minister who approved the Taliban takeover in Kabul.
Over the last two years, the U.S./NATO occupation of that country has run into serious military problems. Given a severe global economic crisis and the election of a new American president -- a man separated in style, intellect, and temperament from his predecessor -- the possibility of a serious discussion about an exit strategy from the Afghan disaster hovers on the horizon. The predicament the U.S. and its allies find themselves in is not an inescapable one, but a change in policy, if it is to matter, cannot be of the cosmetic variety.
Washington's hawks will argue that, while bad, the military situation is, in fact, still salvageable. This may be technically accurate, but it would require the carpet-bombing of southern Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, the destruction of scores of villages and small towns, the killing of untold numbers of Pashtuns and the dispatch to the region of at least 200,000 more troops with all their attendant equipment, air, and logistical support. The political consequences of such a course are so dire that even Dick Cheney, the closest thing to Dr. Strangelove that Washington has yet produced, has been uncharacteristically cautious when it comes to suggesting a military solution to the conflict.
It has, by now, become obvious to the Pentagon that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his family cannot deliver what is required and yet it is probably far too late to replace him with UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. On his part, fighting for his political (and probably physical) existence, Karzai continues to protect his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, accused of being involved in the country's staggering drug trade, but has belatedly sacked Hamidullah Qadri, his transport minister, for corruption.
Qadri was taking massive kickbacks from a company flying pilgrims to Mecca. Is nothing sacred?
A Deteriorating Situation
Of course, axing one minister is like whistling in the wind, given the levels of corruption reported in Karzai's government, which, in any case, controls little of the country. The Afghan president parries Washington's thrusts by blaming the U.S. military for killing too many civilians from the air. The bombing of the village of Azizabad in Herat province last August, which led to 91 civilian deaths (of which 60 were children), was only the most extreme of such recent acts. Karzai's men, hurriedly dispatched to distribute sweets and supplies to the survivors, were stoned by angry villagers.
Given the thousands of Afghans killed in recent years, small wonder that support for the neo-Taliban is increasing, even in non-Pashtun areas of the country. Many Afghans hostile to the old Taliban still support the resistance simply to make it clear that they are against the helicopters and missile-armed unmanned aerial drones that destroy homes, and to "Big Daddy" who wipes out villages, and to the flames that devour children.
Last February, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell presented a bleak survey of the situation on the ground to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence:
"Afghan leaders must deal with the endemic corruption and pervasive poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. Ultimately, defeating the insurgency will depend heavily on the government's ability to improve security, deliver services, and expand development for economic opportunity.
"Although the international forces and the Afghan National Army continue to score tactical victories over the Taliban, the security situation has deteriorated in some areas in the south and Taliban forces have expanded their operations into previously peaceful areas of the west and around Kabul. The Taliban insurgency has expanded in scope despite operational disruption caused by the ISAF [NATO forces] and Operation Enduring Freedom operations. The death or capture of three top Taliban leaders last year -- their first high level losses -- does not yet appear to have significantly disrupted insurgent operations."
Since then the situation has only deteriorated further, leading to calls for sending in yet more American and NATO troops -- and creating ever deeper divisions inside NATO itself. In recent months, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador to Kabul, wrote a French colleague (in a leaked memo) that the war was lost and more troops were not a solution, a view reiterated recently by Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the British Defense Chief, who came out in public against a one-for-one transfer of troops withdrawn from Iraq to Kabul. He put it this way:
"I think we would all take some persuading that there would have to be a much larger British contingent there… So we also have to get ourselves back into balance; it's crucial that we reduce the operational tempo for our armed forces, so it cannot be, even if the situation demanded it, just a one for one transfer from Iraq to Afghanistan, we have to reduce that tempo."
The Spanish government is considering an Afghan withdrawal and there is serious dissent within the German and Norwegian foreign policy elites. The Canadian foreign minister has already announced that his country will not extend its Afghan commitment beyond 2011. And even if the debates in the Pentagon have not been aired in public, it's becoming obvious that, in Washington, too, some see the war as unwinnable.
Enter former Iraq commander General David Petraeus, center stage as the new CentCom commander. Ever since the "success" of "the surge" he oversaw in Iraq (a process designed to create temporary stability in that ravaged land by buying off the opposition and, among other things, the selective use of death squads), Petraeus sounds, and behaves, more and more like Lazarus on returning from the dead -- and before his body could be closely inspected.
The situation in Iraq was so dire that even a modest reduction in casualties was seen as a massive leap forward. With increasing outbreaks of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, however, the talk of success sounds ever hollower. To launch a new "surge" in Afghanistan now by sending more troops there will simply not work, not even as a public relations triumph. Perhaps some of the 100 advisers that General Petraeus has just appointed will point this out to him in forceful terms.
Flight Path to Disaster
Obama would be foolish to imagine that Petraeus can work a miracle cure in Afghanistan. The cancer has spread too far and is affecting U.S. troops as well. If the American media chose to interview active-duty soldiers in Afghanistan (on promise of anonymity), they might get a more accurate picture of what is happening inside the U.S. Army there.
I learned a great deal from Jules, a 20-year old American soldier I met recently in Canada. He became so disenchanted with the war that he decided to go AWOL, proving -- at least to himself -- that the Afghan situation was not an inescapable predicament. Many of his fellow soldiers, he claims, felt similarly, hating a war that dehumanized both them and the Afghans. "We just couldn't bring ourselves to accept that bombing Afghans was no different from bombing the landscape" was the way he summed up the situation.
Morale inside the Army there is low, he told me. The aggression unleashed against Afghan civilians often hides a deep depression. He does not, however, encourage others to follow in his footsteps. As he sees it, each soldier must make that choice for himself, accepting with it the responsibility that going AWOL permanently entails. Jules was convinced, however, that the war could not be won and did not want to see any more of his friends die. That's why he was wearing an "Obama out of Afghanistan" t-shirt.
Before he revealed his identity, I mistook this young soldier -- a Filipino-American born in southern California -- for an Afghan. His features reminded me of the Hazara tribesmen he must have encountered in Kabul. Trained as a mortar gunner and paratrooper from Fort Benning, Georgia, he was later assigned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. Here is part of the account he offered me:
"I deployed to Southeastern Afghanistan in January 2007. We controlled everything from Jalalabad down to the northernmost areas of Kandahar province in Regional Command East. My unit had the job of pacifying the insurgency in Paktika, Paktia, and Khost provinces -- areas that had received no aid, but had been devastated during the initial invasion. Operation Anaconda [in 2002] was supposed to have wiped out the Taliban. That was the boast of the military leaders, but ridiculed by everyone else with a brain."
He spoke also of how impossible he found it to treat the Afghans as subhumans:
"I swear I could not for a second view these people as anything but human. The best way to fashion a young hard dick like myself -- dick being an acronym for 'dedicated infantry combat killer' -- is simple and the effect of racist indoctrination. Take an empty shell off the streets of L.A. or Brooklyn, or maybe from some Podunk town in Tennessee… and these days America isn't in short supply… I was one of those no-child-left-behind products…
"Anyway, you take this empty vessel and you scare the living shit out of him, break him down to nothing, cultivate a brotherhood and camaraderie with those he suffers with, and fill his head with racist nonsense like all Arabs, Iraqis, Afghans are Hajj. Hajj hates you. Hajj wants to hurt your family. Hajj children are the worst because they beg all the time. Just some of the most hurtful and ridiculous propaganda, but you'd be amazed at how effective it's been in fostering my generation of soldiers."
As this young man spoke to me, I felt he should be testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The effect of the war on those carrying out the orders is leaving scars just as deep as the imprints of previous imperial wars. Change we can believe in must include the end of this, which means, among other things, a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In my latest book, The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, I have written of the necessity of involving Afghanistan's neighbors in a political solution that ends the war, preserves the peace, and reconstructs the country. Iran, Russia, India, and China, as well as Pakistan, need to be engaged in the search for a political solution that would sustain a genuine national government for a decade after the withdrawal of the Americans, NATO, and their quisling regime. However, such a solution is not possible within the context of the plans proposed by both present Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President-elect Barack Obama, which focus on a new surge of American troops in Afghanistan.
The main task at hand should be to create a social infrastructure and thus preserve the peace, something that the West and its horde of attendant non-governmental organizations have failed to do. School buildings constructed, often for outrageous sums, by foreign companies that lack furniture, teachers, and kids are part of the surreal presence of the West, which cannot last.
Whether you are a policymaker in the next administration or an AWOL veteran of the Afghan War in Canada, Operation Enduring Freedom of 2001 has visibly become Operation Enduring Disaster. Less clear is whether an Obama administration can truly break from past policy or will just create a military-plus add-on to it. Only a total break from the catastrophe that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld created in Afghanistan will offer pathways to a viable future.
For this to happen, both external and domestic pressures will probably be needed. China is known to be completely opposed to a NATO presence on, or near, its borders, but while Beijing has proved willing to exert economic pressure to force policy changes in Washington -- as it did when the Bank of China "cut its exposure to agency debt last summer," leaving U.S. Treasury Secretary Paulson with little option but to functionally nationalize the mortgage giants -- it has yet to use its diplomatic muscle in the region.
But don't think that will last forever. Why wait until then? Another external pressure will certainly prove to be the already evident destabilizing effects of the Afghan war on neighboring Pakistan, a country in a precarious economic state, with a military facing growing internal tensions.
Domestic pressure in the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan remains weak, but could grow rapidly as the extent of the debacle becomes clearer and NATO allies refuse to supply the shock-troops for the future surge.
In the meantime, they're predicting a famine in Afghanistan this winter.
Tariq Ali, writer, journalist, filmmaker, contributes regularly to a range of publications including the Guardian, the Nation, and the London Review of Books.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Friday, November 14
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
By Ciaran Walsh
November 10, 2008 "RT" -- - November 9th is a bitter-sweet day for Germany and her people. On that day in 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated to mark Germany’s defeat and the end of World War I.
Exactly five years later, Hitler failed in a coup d'état in Munich and November 9th, 1989, also marks the fall of the Berlin Wall.
However the date of one of Germany darkest hours, which is marking its 70th anniversary, casts a dark shadow over the rest.
Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass, occurred on November 9th and 10th in 1938. The two nights of state-backed violence against Jews and their property is widely regarded as the prelude to the most shameful part of Germany’s past - the holocaust.
It is an event that former Berliner, Dr Fred Lyon, will never forget: “I was a 10 year old child and November 9th is vividly imprinted on my mind. My father awoke me and told me to get dressed as quickly as I could and come with him to our synagogue. W e ran all the way and we were met by the caretaker of the building who took us in the back door.
“The caretaker put a Torah in each of our arms and we carried them outside. As we walked out of the building we were met by this angry, scowling, terrible looking man in the brown uniform of the SA (Stormtroopers). He and some others tore the Torahs out of our arms and proceeded to throw them in the bonfire which was burning in front of the synagogue.
“I was frightened and concerned and so I looked around me and the bonfire and saw many other people - civilians not uniforms - that seemed to be celebrating as if this was a holiday. They were singing and laughing. I noticed the fire engine but the fire engines did nothing - they were just watching.”
As a child, Fred was confused and terrified. For many other Jews, the experience had even deadlier consequences.
As many as one hundred Jews were murdered in their homes and on the streets over the two days. The orgy of destruction was followed by the immediate deportation of 30,000 Jewish men to concentrations camps. Dr Lyon’s father, an Iron Cross of Valour decorated veteran of World War I, was among them.
The world was outraged. Foreign journalists who witnessed the events reported in the fullest detail to their newspapers, which gave the destruction wide coverage. Foreign diplomats alerted their foreign officers to the anti-Jewish excesses of that night.
However, the foundations for the violent persecution lay three years earlier. Sir Martin Gilbert, author of ‘Kristallnacht – Prelude to Destruction’, says: “Ever since the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 turned the 600,000 Jews of Germany into second class citizens, the Nazi leaders had been looking for a way to frighten them into a mass exodus.”
It was those attempts to stimulate an exodus that provided the catalyst to Kristallnacht. In October 1938, using a legal loophole, more than 12,000 Polish-born Jews, who were then living in Germany, were taken by train over the Polish border and dumped there. One of those deported sent a graphic description of their grim plight to her Paris-based brother, Hersh Grynspan.
Sir Martin describes what happened: “Incensed by what he read, Grynspan went to the German Embassy in Paris and shot a junior German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath, who died the following day. Even as vom Rath lay dying, the Nazi leaders ordered a savage reprisal, one they had long been preparing. All they needed was an excuse. This they now had.”
On the morning of November 9, when vom Rath’s death had become known, the German newspapers – all of them controlled by the Nazi Party - denounced the Jewish people as murderers, and demanded immediate and severe punishment. The state sponsored campaign of terror had begun.
As Gilbert says, there was no turning back. “Hitler was told on the evening of November 9 that attacks on Jews had begun in several cities. He told his propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels: ‘Demonstrations should be allowed to continue. The police should be withdrawn. For once the Jews should get the feel of popular anger.’”
Starting in the early hours of November 10th, while it was still dark, Nazi stormtroopers rampaged through the streets of every German town. That night, a thousand synagogues were destroyed and tens of thousands of Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked. In the morning, as the burning and looting continued, German schoolboys and Hitler Youth were taken from their classrooms to join the orgy of destruction.
Up until now, the anti-Jewish feeling had been growing. But after Kristallnacht the anger was so concentrated and directed that it led to what we now call the Holocaust.
Sir Martin Gilbert illustrates that these two nights of terror mark the moment when the systematic attempt to rid the world of Jews began: “Before Kristallnacht the Jews could hope that Nazism might moderate its racial policies; after Kristallnacht, that hope could no longer be sustained.”
Dr Lyon had felt the ‘popular anger’ before. Two years prior to Kristallnacht he received a flavour of what was to come when he was in the supposed sanctuary of the classroom: “In 1936 towards the end of term we were told we could no longer attend school because we were Jewish - my teacher, who was already wearing a swastika, called me up in front of the class. He demanded I drop my pants and underpants and evidently I was a little hesitant in doing so, for he ripped my pants down and pointed to me and said to the class: ‘This is what a Jewish male looks like, you can always distinguish a Jewish male just look at his circumcised penis.’ You can imagine my fear and humiliation; I just pulled up my pants, took my schoolbooks and walked out of the school never to return.”
Young and confused by his treatment and the violence he saw during Kristallnacht, it was only in the days following the attacks that Fred could fully comprehend what was happening. Hours after Kristallnacht, Fred found himself walking among the broken glass and smoke and debris: “I walked around Jewish stores and saw some of them completely ransacked and destroyed on the interior and other stores with intact windows with the word ‘Jude’ in white paint. Outside one store a Nazi was holding a sign saying that no Gentile person should enter a Jewish store and patronise it. It was then that I started to understand what was happening.”
The things Dr Lyon saw when he was a ten-year-old have not faded with time. "Those were things that I remember; it's like they've been imprinted in my mind and I see them every once in a while. I'll wake up at night with nightmares and my wife will say, 'is it the same old story?' And I'll say it is."
Monday, November 10, 2008
Here's to 'change', let us hope it is positive for all New Zealanders.
Sorry to see the back of Helen Clark,her timein power will be seen by history as a very good time for NZ, cheers.
And onwards we go...
Friday, November 07, 2008
The George W. Bush Story
By Tom Engelhardt
They may have been the most disastrous dreamers, the most reckless gamblers, and the most vigorous imperial hucksters and grifters in our history. Selling was their passion. And they were classic American salesmen -- if you're talking about underwater land in Florida, or the Brooklyn Bridge, or three-card monte, or bizarre visions of Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles armed with chemical and biological weaponry let loose over the U.S., or Saddam Hussein's mushroom clouds rising over American cities, or a full-scale reordering of the Middle East to our taste, or simply eternal global dominance.
When historians look back, it will be far clearer that the "commander-in-chief" of a "wartime" country and his top officials were focused, first and foremost, not on the shifting "central theaters" of the Global War on Terror, but on the theater that mattered most to them -- the "home front" where they spent inordinate amounts of time selling the American people a bill of goods. Of his timing in ramping up a campaign to invade Iraq in September 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card infamously explained: "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August."
From a White House where "victory strategies" meant purely for domestic consumption poured out, to the Pentagon where bevies of generals, admirals, and other high officers were constantly being mustered, not to lead armies but to lead public opinion, their selling focus was total. They were always releasing "new product."
And don't forget their own set of soaring inside-the-Beltway fantasies. After all, if a salesman is going to sell you some defective product, it always helps if he can sell himself on it first. And on this score, they were world champs.
Because events made it look so foolish, the phrase "shock and awe" that went with the initial attack on Iraq in March 2003 has now passed out of official language and (together with "mission accomplished") into the annals of irony. Back then, though, as bombs and missiles blew up parts of Baghdad -- to fabulous visual effect in that other "theater" of war, television -- the phrase was constantly on official lips and in media reports everywhere. It went hand-in-glove with another curious political phrase: regime change.
Given the supposed unique technological proficiency of the U.S. military and its array of "precision" weapons, the warriors of Bushworld convinced themselves that a new era in military affairs had truly dawned. An enemy "regime" could now be taken out -- quite literally and with surgical precision, in its bedrooms, conference rooms, and offices, thanks to those precision weapons delivered long-distance from ship or plane -- without taking out a country. Poof! You only had to say the word and an oppressive regime would be, as it was termed, "decapitated." Its people would then welcome with open arms relatively small numbers of American troops as liberators.
It all sounded so good, and high tech, and relatively simple, and casualty averse, and clean as a whistle. Even better, once there had been such a demonstration, a guaranteed "cakewalk" -- as, say, in Iraq -- who would ever dare stand up to American power again? Not only would one hated enemy dictator be dispatched to the dustbin of history, but evildoers everywhere, fearing the Bush equivalent of the wrath of Khan, would be shock-and-awed into submission or quickly dispatched in their own right.
In reality (ah, "reality" -- what a nasty word!), the shock-and-awe attacks used on Iraq got not a single leader of the Saddamist regime, not one of that pack of 52 cards (including of course the ace of spades, Saddam Hussein, found in his "spiderhole" so many months later). Iraqi civilians were the ones killed in that precise and shocking moment, while Iraqi society was set on the road to destruction, and the world was not awed.
Strangely enough, though, the phrase, once reversed, proved applicable to the Bush administration's seven-year post-9/11 history. They were, in a sense, the awe-and-shock administration. Initially, they were awed by the supposedly singular power of the American military to dominate and transform the planet; then, they were continually shocked and disbelieving when that same military, despite its massive destructive power, turned out to be incapable of doing so, or even of handling two ragtag insurgencies in two weakened countries, one of which, Afghanistan, was among the poorest and least technologically advanced on the planet.
The Theater of War
In remarkably short order, historically speaking, the administration's soaring imperial fantasies turned into planetary nightmares. After 9/11, of course, George W. and crew promised Americans the global equivalent -- and Republicans the domestic equivalent -- of a 36,000 stock market and we know just where the stock market is today: only about 27,000 points short of that irreality.
Once upon a time, they really did think that, via the U.S. Armed Forces, or, as George W. Bush once so breathlessly put it, "the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known," they could dominate the planet without significant help from allies or international institutions of any sort. Who else had a shot at it? In the post-Soviet world, who but a leadership backed by the full force of the U.S. military could possibly be a contender for the leading role in this epic movie? Who else could even turn out for a casting call? Impoverished Russia? China, still rebuilding its military and back then considered to have a host of potential problems? A bunch of terrorists? I mean… come on!
As they saw it, the situation was pretty basic. In fact, it gave the phrase "power politics" real meaning. After all, they had in their hands the reins attached to the sole superpower on this small orb. And wasn't everyone -- at least, everyone they cared to listen to, at least Charles Krauthammer and the editorial page of the Washington Post -- saying no less?
I mean, what else would you do, if you suddenly, almost miraculously (after an election improbably settled by the Supreme Court), found yourself in sole command of the globe's only "hyperpower," the only sheriff on planet Earth, the New Rome. To make matters more delicious, in terms of getting just what you wanted, those hands were on those reins right after "the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century," when Americans were shocked and awed and terrified enough that anything-goes seemed a reasonable response?
It might have gone to anyone's head in imperial Washington at that moment, but it went to their heads in such a striking way. After all, theirs was a plan -- labeled in 2002 the Bush Doctrine -- of global domination conceptually so un-American that, in my childhood, the only place you would have heard it was in the mouths of the most evil, snickering imperial Japanese, Nazi, or Soviet on-screen villains. And yet, in their moment of moments, it just rolled right out of their heads and off their tongues -- and they were proud of it.
Here's a question for 2009 you don't have to answer: What should the former "new Rome" be called now? That will, of course, be someone else's problem.
The Cast of Characters
And what a debacle the Bush Doctrine proved to be. What a legacy the legacy President and his pals are leaving behind. A wrecked economy, deflated global stock markets, collapsing banks and financial institutions, soaring unemployment, a smashed Republican Party, a bloated Pentagon overseeing a strained, overstretched military, enmired in an incoherent set of still-expanding wars gone sour, a network of secret prisons, as well as Guantanamo, that "jewel in the crown" of Bush's Bermuda Triangle of injustice, and all the grim practices that went with those offshore prisons, including widespread torture and abuse, kidnapping, assassination, and the disappearing of prisoners (once associated only with South America dictatorships and military juntas).
They headed a government that couldn't shoot straight or plan ahead or do anything halfway effectively, an administration that emphasized "defense" -- or "homeland security" as it came to be called in their years -- above all else; yet they were always readying themselves for the last battle, and so were caught utterly, embarrassingly unready for 19 terrorists with box cutters, a hurricane named Katrina, and an arcane set of Wall Street derivatives heading south.
As the supposed party of small government, they succeeded mainly in strangling civilian services, privatizing government operations into the hands of crony corporations, and bulking up state power in a massive way -- making an already vast intelligence apparatus yet larger and more labyrinthine, expanding spying and surveillance of every kind, raising secrecy to a first principle, establishing a new U.S. military command for North America, endorsing a massive Pentagon build-up, establishing a second Defense Department labeled the Department of Homeland Security with its own mini-homeland-security-industrial complex, evading checks and powers in the Constitution whenever possible, and claiming new powers for a "unitary executive" commander-in-chief presidency.
No summary can quite do justice to what the administration "accomplished" in these years. If there was, however, a single quote from the world of George W. Bush that caught the deepest nature of the president and his core followers, it was offered by an "unnamed administration official" -- often assumed to be Karl Rove -- to journalist Ron Suskind back in October 2004:
"He] said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors.... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"
"We create our own reality… We're history's actors."
It must for years have seemed that way and everything about the lives they lived only reinforced that impression. After all, the President himself, as so many wrote, lived in a literal bubble world. Those who met him were carefully vetted; audiences were screened so that no one who didn't fawn over him got near him; and when he traveled through foreign cities, they were cleared of life, turned into the equivalent of Potemkin villages, while he and his many armored cars and Blackhawk helicopters, his huge contingent of Secret Service agents and White House aides, his sniffer dogs and military sharpshooters, his chefs and who knows what else passed through.
Of course, the President had been in a close race with the reality principle (which, in his case, was the principle of failure) all his life -- and whenever reality nipped at his heels, his father's boys stepped in and whisked him off stage. He got by at his prep school, Andover, and then at Yale, a c-level legacy student and, appropriately enough when it came to sports, a cheerleader and, at Yale, a party animal as well as the president of the hardest drinking fraternity on campus. He was there in the first place only because of who he wasn't (or rather who his relations were).
Faced with the crises of the Vietnam era, he joined the Texas Air National Guard and more or less went missing in action. Faced with life, he became a drunk. Faced with business, he failed repeatedly and yet, thanks to his dad's friends, became a multi-millionaire in the process. He was supported, cosseted, encouraged, and finally -- to use an omnipresent word of our moment -- bailed out. The first MBA president was a business bust. A certain well-honed, homey congeniality got him to the governorship and then to the presidency of the United States without real accomplishments. If there ever was a case for not voting for the guy you'd most like to "have a beer with," this was it.
On that pile of rubble at Ground Zero on September 14, 2001, with a bullhorn in his hands and various rescuers shouting, "USA! USA!" he genuinely found his "calling" as the country's cheerleader-in-chief (as he had evidently found his religious calling earlier in life). He not only took the job seriously, he visibly loved it. He took a childlike pleasure in being in the "theater" of war. He was thrilled when some of the soldiers who captured Saddam Hussein in that "spiderhole" later presented him with the dictator's pistol. ("'He really liked showing it off,' says a... visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. 'He was really proud of it.'") He was similarly thrilled, on a trip to Baghdad in 2007, to meet the American pilot "whose plane's missiles killed Iraq's Al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi" and "returned to Washington in a buoyant mood."
While transforming himself into the national cheerleader-in-chief, he even kept "his own personal scorecard for the war" in a desk drawer in the Oval Office -- photos with brief biographies and personality sketches of leading al-Qaeda figures, whose faces could be satisfyingly crossed out when killed or captured. He clearly adored it when he got to dress up, whether in a flight suit landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in May 2003, or in front of hoo-aahing crowds of soldiers wearing a specially tailored military-style jacket with "George W. Bush, Commander In Chief" hand-stitched across the heart. As earlier in life, he was supported (Karl Rove), enabled (Condoleezza Rice), cosseted (various officials), and so became "the decider," a willing figurehead (as he had been, for instance, when he was an "owner" of the Texas Rangers), manipulated by his co-president Dick Cheney. In these surroundings, he was able to take war play to an imperial level. In the end, however, this act of his life, too, could lead nowhere but to failure.
As it happened, reality possessed its own set of shock-and-awe weaponry. Above all, reality was unimpressed with history's self-proclaimed "actors," working so hard on the global stage to create their own reality. When it came to who really owned what, it turned out that reality owned the works and that possession was indeed nine-tenths of one law that even George Bush's handlers and his fervent neocon followers couldn't suspend.
Exit Stage Right
The results were sadly predictable. The bubble world of George W. Bush was bound to be burst. Based on fantasies, false promises, lies, and bait-and-switch tactics, it was destined for foreclosure. At home and abroad, after all, it had been created using the equivalent of subprime mortgages and the result, unsurprisingly, was a dismally subprime administration.
Now, of course, the bill collector is at the door and the property -- the USA -- is worth a good deal less than on November 4, 2000. George W. Bush is a discredited president; his job approval ratings could hardly be lower; his bubble world gone bust.
Nonetheless, let's remember one other theme of his previous life. Whatever his failures, Bush always walked away from disastrous dealings enriched, while others were left holding the bag. Don't imagine for a second that the equivalent isn't about to repeat itself. He will leave a country functionally under the gun of foreclosure, a world far more aflame and dangerous than the one he faced on entering the Oval Office. But he won't suffer.
He will have his new house in Dallas (not to speak of the "ranch" in Crawford) and his more than $200 million presidential "library" and "freedom institute" at Southern Methodist University; and then there's always that 20% of America -- they know who they are -- who think his presidency was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Believe me, 20% of America is more than enough to pony up spectacular sums, once Bush takes to the talk circuit. As the president himself put it enthusiastically,"'I'll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers.' With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, 'I don't know what my dad gets -- it's more than 50-75' thousand dollars a speech, and 'Clinton's making a lot of money.'"
This is how a legacy-student-turned-president fails upward. Every disaster leaves him better off.
The same can't be said for the country or the world, saddled with his "legacy."
Still, his administration has been foreclosed. Perhaps there's ignominy in that. Now, the rest of us need to get out the brooms and start sweeping the stables.