Archive for May, 2005

Power, Propaganda and the Promised Land

Monday, May 30th, 2005

by Gary Fields
Language, as George Orwell remarked, is a proxy for power. According to the celebrated author of “1984,” those in power use language to disseminate truth selectively through a process of representation and concealment. When applied to the region of Israel/Palestine, Orwell’s insights reveal how this interplay of representation and concealment permeates the exercise of power, and why, absent changes in the discourse of the powerful side, there is little reason to expect any progress in the situation.

This month, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reiterated Israel’s intention to build 3,500 additional units of housing for Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank while demanding at the same time that the Palestinian leadership do more to dismantle what the Israeli leader refers to as the “terror infrastructure.” A critical examination of these words testifies to the asymmetry of power between the two sides, while providing insights on why the conflict stands little chance of abating.

The term, “infrastructure of terror” is an emotionally charged metaphor commonly employed by the powerful side in the conflict to condemn what it insists is the single obstruction to peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. This term, however, is far from a neutral representation of why hostilities between the two groups persist. Its use bears witness to issues in the conflict rendered invisible by the stronger of the two belligerents.

When invoked by the powerful side, this potent slogan empties the conflict of all references to the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory. In the process, this metaphor creates a language about the situation purged of issues deriving from the occupation such as housing settlements, water rights, freedom of movement and sovereignty. It shrouds these issues beneath the same veil of silence hiding the occupation itself. The consequence is a conflated sense of who has power and who is subjected to domination, and a discourse distorted by the concealment of issues most fundamental to the conflict.

Chávez leads the way

Monday, May 30th, 2005

…Something amazing has been taking place in Latin America in recent years that deserves wider attention than the continent has been accustomed to attract. The chrysalis of the Venezuelan revolution led by Chávez, often attacked and derided as the incoherent vision of an authoritarian leader, has finally emerged as a resplendent butterfly whose image and example will radiate for decades to come.

Most of the reports about this revolution over the past six years, at home and abroad, have been uniquely hostile, heavily influenced by politicians and journalists associated with the opposition. It is as if news of the French or the Russian revolutions had been supplied solely by the courtiers of the king and the tsar. These criticisms have been echoed by senior US figures, from the president downwards, creating a negative framework within which the revolution has inevitably been viewed. At best, Chávez is seen as outdated and populist. At worst, he is considered a military dictator in the making.

Yet the wheel of history rolls on, and the atmosphere in Venezuela has changed dramatically since last year when Chávez won yet another overwhelming victory at the polls. The once triumphalist opposition has retired bruised to its tent, wounded perhaps mortally by the outcome of the referendum on Chávez’s presidency that it called for and then resoundingly lost. The viciously hostile media has calmed down, and those who don’t like Chávez have abandoned their hopes of his immediate overthrow. No one is any doubt that he will win next year’s presidential election.

Poverty Wristbands Manufactured ‘Unethically’

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Wristbands purchased by British charities as part of the Make Poverty History campaign have been manufactured in conditions that breach international ethical standards, it emerged yesterday.

Chinese companies responsible for wristbands worn by thousand of charity supporters, celebrities and politicians, including Tony Blair, have been accused of indulging in forced labor and of paying less than the official minimum wage. An audit also discovered breaches of health and safety regulations.

Officials from three major charities, Cafod, Oxfam and Christian Aid, say they have been negotiating with suppliers in an attempt to improve working conditions.

ha ha ha

Mbeki lambasts Brown for ‘imperial nostalgia’

Monday, May 30th, 2005

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa rebuked Gordon Brown yesterday, accusing the “presumed successor to Tony Blair” of promoting nostalgia for British imperialism and joining in a “discourse” that “demonises” blacks.

Mr Brown is leading the Government’s efforts to help Africa during Britain’s presidency of the G8 group of rich countries. But any credit this might have earned seems, in Mr Mbeki’s mind, to have been dashed by remarks the Chancellor made during his tour of Africa in January.

While in Tanzania, Mr Brown said the “days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial history are over”. Earlier, he had declared: “We should be proud … of the Empire.”

Mr Mbeki discovered the comments on the internet and then wrote a furious, 2,102-word missive for the latest issue of ANC Today, the newsletter of the ruling African National Congress. Mr Mbeki said that Africa was being “demonised” by an “age-old white stereotype that we as Africans are sexually depraved”.

The president then accused Mr Brown, “the presumed successor to Tony Blair”, of peddling imperial nostalgia.

This refusal to apologise for imperialism was, said Mr Mbeki, portraying “our country and continent as destined to experience perpetual catastrophe and unnatural disasters, given that we have now been deprived of benevolent and morally upright white rule”.

“The ‘freedom’ we have gained is therefore but mere licence for us to behave as to the manner born, destined to build a society consumed by corruption, sexual depravity, autocracy and criminal violence,” wrote Mr Mbeki.

The president routinely uses his weekly letter in ANC Today to vent his fury at any critics, real or imagined. Those singled out have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Charlene Smith, a rape victim who publicly pointed out that rape was a serious problem in South Africa.

Look at that last paragraph. This is how you know Mbeki hit the nail right on the head.

‘Doonesbury’ Again Lists War Dead

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

NEW YORK “Doonesbury” creator Garry Trudeau again listed American war dead in his Sunday comic this Memorial Day weekend.

The strip is titled “Operation Iraqi Freedom — In Memoriam — Since 4/28/04– Part 1.” Included are the names of hundreds of soldiers. So many, in fact, that the listing will continue next week in “Doonesbury.”

The names fill six panels. The first two panels carry a soldier playing taps and a line of soldiers saluting.

Ted Koppel will read the names, an dshow photos, of 900 American dead on a 45-minute telecast of “Nightline” on Memorial Day.

Last Memorial Day weekend, Trudeau also listed the names of American war dead in his Sunday comic. He told E&P back then that “there is power in seeing actual names instead of numbers. Honor rolls always help deepen our understanding of what has been lost.”

“Doonesbury” appears in 1,400 newspapers via Universal Press Syndicate.

The “Nightline” reading has not yet drawn the protests it gained last year, when Sinclair Broadcast Group ordered its eight ABC affiliate stations not to carry the “Nightline” broadcast, which fell on the Friday before Memorial Day. Sinclair said at the time in a statement that “the action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.”

Imagine.n It’s controversial to read the names of the American dead.

Let them eat bombs

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

by Terry Jones
A report to the UN human rights commission in Geneva has concluded that Iraqi children were actually better off under Saddam Hussein than they are now.

This, of course, comes as a bitter blow for all those of us who, like George Bush and Tony Blair, honestly believe that children thrive best when we drop bombs on them from a great height, destroy their cities and blow up hospitals, schools and power stations.

It now appears that, far from improving the quality of life for Iraqi youngsters, the US-led military assault on Iraq has inexplicably doubled the number of children under five suffering from malnutrition. Under Saddam, about 4% of children under five were going hungry, whereas by the end of last year almost 8% were suffering.

These results are even more disheartening for those of us in the Department of Making Things Better for Children in the Middle East By Military Force, since the previous attempts by Britain and America to improve the lot of Iraqi children also proved disappointing. For example, the policy of applying the most draconian sanctions in living memory totally failed to improve conditions. After they were imposed in 1990, the number of children under five who died increased by a factor of six. By 1995 something like half a million Iraqi children were dead as a result of our efforts to help them.

A year later, Madeleine Albright, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, tried to put a brave face on it. When a TV interviewer remarked that more children had died in Iraq through sanctions than were killed in Hiroshima, Mrs Albright famously replied: “We think the price is worth it.”

But clearly George Bush didn’t. So he hit on the idea of bombing them instead. And not just bombing, but capturing and torturing their fathers, humiliating their mothers, shooting at them from road blocks – but none of it seems to do any good. Iraqi children simply refuse to be better nourished, healthier and less inclined to die. It is truly baffling.

And this is why we at the department are appealing to you – the general public – for ideas. If you can think of any other military techniques that we have so far failed to apply to the children of Iraq, please let us know as a matter of urgency. We assure you that, under our present leadership, there is no limit to the amount of money we are prepared to invest in a military solution to the problems of Iraqi children.

In the UK there may now be 3.6 million children living below the poverty line, and 12.9 million in the US, with no prospect of either government finding any cash to change that. But surely this is a price worth paying, if it means that George Bush and Tony Blair can make any amount of money available for bombs, shells and bullets to improve the lives of Iraqi kids. You know it makes sense.

·Terry Jones is a film director, actor and Python. He is the author of Terry Jones’s War on the War on Terror

‘I felt isolated and uncared for. I needed a friendly face’

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

Alone in the labour ward, just half an hour after giving birth, Karen Luckhurst wondered what had happened to her. The midwife had gone off duty and she would not see another health professional again.
‘I had my baby, and he was fine, but I felt very faint and dizzy,’ she recalled. ‘The heat in my room was intolerable – it was June – and I couldn’t sleep because all around me the other women giving birth were screaming.

‘The pain was strong because I’d had stitches, but there was no one I could ask for painkillers, or even to help me put Mateen back in his cot, because I thought I would fall over if I walked across the room.’

Abandoned, Luckhurst ended up discharging herself from Hillingdon Hospital in Middlesex six hours after giving birth. ‘I felt isolated and uncared for. It was my third child, so I didn’t want to be fussed over, but all I needed was a friendly face and a bit of help.’

As she walked out, there was no one to whom she could even say goodbye. ‘It was such a deflating experience,’ Luckhurst, who works in the media, said. ‘Childbirth is an intense and incredibly personal experience, but to me it felt like I was walking off a conveyor belt.’

Barbaric male-dominant childbirth practices in the ‘civilized world’ speak profoundly to the loss of female power and female solidarity, and to how far off the track we are. Human culture rose in the first place for the purpose of nurturance and protection of the young. Obviously, nobody is safe at the hands of ones who would create and sustain such an anti-human system.

The Death Spiral of the Volunteer Army

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likes to talk about transforming America’s military. But the main transformation he may leave behind is a catastrophic falloff in recruitment for the country’s vital ground fighting forces: the Army and the Marine Corps. The recruitment chain that has given the United States highly qualified, highly skilled and highly motivated ground forces for the three decades since the government abandoned the draft has started to break down.

This is astonishing, even allowing for the administration’s failure to prepare Americans honestly for how long and difficult the occupation of Iraq would be. There are over 60 million American men and women between 18 and 35, the age group sought by Army recruiters. Getting the 80,000 or so new volunteers the Army needs to enlist each year ought not to be such a daunting challenge. There are obvious attractions to joining the world’s most powerful, prestigious and best-equipped ground fighting forces, and in so doing qualifying for valuable benefits like college tuition aid.

But Army recruitment is now regularly falling short of the necessary targets. Recruiters are having even more trouble persuading people to sign up for Army National Guard and Reserve units. The Marine Corps has been missing its much smaller monthly quotas as well. Unless there is a sharp change later this year, both forces will soon start feeling the pinch as too few trainees are processed to meet both forces’ operational needs.

Why this is happening is no mystery. Two years of hearing about too few troops on the ground, inadequate armor, extended tours of duty and accelerated rotations back into combat have taken their toll, discouraging potential enlistees and their parents. The citizen-soldiers of the Guard and Reserves have suddenly become full-time warriors. Nor has it helped that when abuse scandals have erupted, the Pentagon has seemed quicker to punish lower-ranking soldiers than top commanders and policy makers. This negative cycle now threatens to feed on itself. Fewer recruits will mean more stress on those now in uniform and more grim reports reaching hometowns across America.

The results can now be seen at every Army and Marine recruiting office. (The Air Force and Navy, which have not been subjected to the same stresses and dangers as the ground forces, are meeting their recruiting quotas.) Missed quotas have translated into intense pressure to lower standards and recruit people who should not be in uniform. Earlier this month the Army required all of its recruiters to go through a one-day review of basic recruiting ethics.

Things might have been different if Mr. Rumsfeld had heeded the judgment of Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, in the months before the United States invaded Iraq and planned for a substantially larger occupation force. A larger force might have kept the insurgency smaller and more manageable. It would have been better able to defend itself without resorting to the kind of indiscriminate firepower that kills civilians, destroys homes and inflames Iraqi opinion. Individual combat brigades would not have been under such constant operational stress. But Mr. Rumsfeld rejected General Shinseki’s sound advice. The Pentagon now says it gives field commanders as many troops as they ask for. But those commanders are aware of Mr. Rumsfeld’s doctrinaire commitment to holding down troop numbers and of the diminished career prospects that could result from challenging him.

The Pentagon now hopes that next month’s high school graduations will help it catch up to its recruiting goals. Besides crossing its fingers, the military should open more combat roles to women, end its senseless discrimination against gays and reach out to immigrants with promises of citizenship after completion of service. There should be no thought of reinstating the draft, which would be militarily foolish and politically explosive. But expanding the potential recruiting pool can be only a partial answer. Young people and their parents are reacting rationally to a regrettable and unnecessary transformation in how the United States government treats its ground troops. That is what needs to be changed.

This is the New York Times/Democratic Party version of opposing Bush. How the government ‘treats its ground troops’? How about the fact that they send them to die useless deaths in an illegal and immoral war for the benefit of a few robber barons? We have to be nicer as we drive the knife into their backs? Is that it? The Democratic Party is dead. Rust in peace.

Rice Interrupted by Enactment of Abu Ghraib Abuse

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO – Demonstrators interrupted a speech by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday by recreating an image of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in which a hooded prisoner stood with his arms outstretched attached to electric wires.

Amid tight security at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall, three women and one man pulled on black hoods and cloaks and stood on their seats, acting out the scene caught in one of the photographs of abuse that undermined U.S. prestige abroad.

Rice initially continued her speech on American foreign policy under President Bush but paused when the protesters shouted “Stop the torture. Stop the killing. U.S. out of Iraq,” as police led them out of the auditorium.

Tony Juniper: Aviation is fastest-growing source of C02 emissions

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

To fly or not to fly? Many of us facing a long journey, or even a short one, would not even consider the question. Cheaper flights to ever-more destinations prove irresistible to the travelling public, while business travel is seen as inevitable in a global market place.

But increased demand for flights threatens the future of our planet. Aviation is the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide emissions, the biggest cause of climate change. And because the pollution is released at a high altitude, it has a greater impact.

Extreme climate events have already become more frequent. In 2003, the heatwave in Europe resulted in 26,000 premature deaths and cost $13.5bn (£7.5bn). Around the world, climate change already kills 160,000 people every year.

At home, the risk of droughts, floods, and freak storms is expected to increase. Sea levels are rising, with forecasters predicting an increase of 88cm by 2100. If carbon dioxide emissions do not peak and then decline within the next 10 to 15 years, scientists say, the result may be an abrupt change in climate, with devastating consequences.

Technology can play a part in tackling the problem. Aircraft are becoming more fuel efficient, reducing emission levels. But this is happening at a rate of just 1 per cent a year, while flights are increasing by 5 per cent.

Individuals can make a difference. By choosing to spend holidays in the UK rather than abroad, or by using the train. But the scale of the problem is such that tackling climate change cannot be left to personal choice. Government action is required.

This is ridiculous. I don’t know about anybody else, but 10 air force jets roar over my house for every civilian one. And what about the oil consumption of tanks and humvees and such? The military is the world’s fastest growing source of CO2 emissions.