Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Class and Religion: Co-evolution

December 21, 2004
7,000 Years of Religious Ritual Is Traced in Mexico

Archaeologists have traced the development of religion in one location over a 7,000-year period, reporting that as an early society changed from foraging to settlement to the formation of an archaic state, religion also evolved to match the changing social structure.

This archaeological record, because of its length and completeness, sheds an unusually clear light on the origins of religion, a universal human behavior but one whose evolutionary and social roots are still not well understood.

The new findings are the fruit of 15 years of excavations in the Oaxaca Valley of southern Mexico that have brought to light a remarkably complete series of structures used for religious purposes. Dr. Joyce Marcus and Dr. Kent V. Flannery, two archaeologists at the University of Michigan, describe their results in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Oaxaca Valley was home to people who around 7000 B.C. were hunters and gatherers with no fixed abode. By 1500 B.C., the Oaxacans had developed strains of maize that enabled them to settle in villages that were occupied throughout the year. The earliest village societies were probably egalitarian like the foragers who preceded them. But by 1150 B.C. the first signs of social hierarchy appear, with an elite who lived in big houses, wore jade-studded clothes and deformed their skulls, as a sign of nobility, by binding their children's heads. The Oaxacans flourished and in 500 B.C. founded a populous and warlike society at Monte Albán known as the Zapotec state.

The religious practices of each of these four stages of society can be inferred from the structures that the archaeologists have excavated and dated. At the hunter-gatherer stage, ceremonies took place on a plain dance floor, its sides marked by stones. To judge by the behavior of modern hunter-gatherers, ritual dancing took place at times of year when many foraging groups came together for initiations and courtship.

The pre-Zapotec dance floor has been dated to 6650 B.C. But the foragers' ritual practices were not confined to dancing. A cave of the same period in a nearby valley has yielded the remains of individuals who appear to have been beheaded, cooked and eaten. Their remains were then buried with baskets of harvested wild plants, indicating that the human sacrifice that was such a notorious feature of later Mesoamerican cultures had ancient roots, possibly associated with harvest seasons.

When the Oaxacans settled in permanent villages, their rituals became more formal. The Michigan archaeologists have excavated four men's houses, all oriented in the same direction, one that may have been determined by the sun's path at the spring equinox. This suggests the Oaxacans had formalized the ad hoc rituals of their forebears and now held their ceremonies at fixed times determined by the position of the sun or stars. In contemporary societies, similar men's houses are used by groups of families who claim descent from a common ancestor. They are open only to a select group of men who have passed acceptability tests and been initiated into secret rituals.

By the third stage of society, marked by the emergence of elites, these men's houses had metamorphosed into temples. The temples were oriented in the same direction as the men's houses, but were now subject to a baroque system of two interlocking calendars, one of 260 days and one of 365 days, which came into synchrony once every 52 years. The Michigan archaeologists have shown that one Oaxacan temple was destroyed and rebuilt twice at periods close to or exactly 52 years apart.

By the time of the Zapotec state, the fourth stage of society, the temples had grown more complex, with special rooms for the new caste of religious officers, the priests.

The religion of the Oaxacan people became both more elaborate and more exclusionary as society evolved, the archaeologists conclude. The hunter-gatherers' ritual dances would have been open to all, the men's houses were open only to initiated members of the public, and by the state stage, religion had come under the control of a special priestly caste.

Why did religion evolve with society in this way? Anthropologists have advanced many different ideas about the role of religion, but a leading proposal is that it plays a cohesive role. Rituals were especially important in hunter-gatherer societies, which were egalitarian and had no chiefs or hierarchy to coordinate activities.

Religion may have continued to serve as the principal source of cohesion in the first settled societies until they developed systems of political authority. Early village societies "needed to integrate larger numbers of people than had been motivated to live together before, but these societies didn't yet have leaders with real political power," Dr. Marcus said.

But when elites and kings emerged, they did not dispense with the religious systems that were the previous source of social authority. Instead they employed religion as another mechanism of social control and as a means of maintaining their privileged position. "Ritual becomes part of the justification for being politically elite," Dr. Marcus said.

The Michigan archaeologists believe that the ideas of a former colleague, the anthropologist Roy A. Rappaport, may explain several of their findings. Dr. Rappaport, who died in 1997, felt that religion, because of its universality, must have played some salient role in human evolution. A critical threat for all social animals is the free rider - an errant member who seizes the advantages of sociality without contributing to its costs.

When humans evolved language, a process that was probably completed some 50,000 years ago, they developed a crucial new element of human sociality, but one that was easily subverted by free riders who used language to deceive.

Dr. Rappaport proposed that religion evolved with language as a means of certifying certain messages as true, and also of imposing some kind of order among those who bought into the idea. An essential feature of these sanctified messages is that they should be unfalsifiable, like "Henry is by grace of God king," "Pharaoh is the living Horus" or "The chief has great mana."

Sanctity, Dr. Rappaport wrote, "made it possible for early authorities to begin to command the men and control the resources that eventually provided them or their successors with actual power."

Dr. Marcus said she agreed with Dr. Rappaport that "sanctity can be a substitute or equivalent of political power in societies that still lack political control" and that the concept of the sacred may have evolved with language, "making religious ritual a candidate to be something selected for in human evolution."

Dr. Richard Sosis, an anthropologist at the University of Connecticut, said the Michigan archaeologists' study delineated the process of religion adapting to different environments as Oaxacan society changed. Among foragers, ritual serves to cement solidarity, he said, and the "powerful moralistic gods that we associate with contemporary religions" are a later development, introduced at the stage when priests have acquired control of a religion and "are effectively controlling the masses through ritual activities that instill the fear of supernatural punishment."

Precision of Base Attack Worries Military Experts

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page A01

In April 2003, as the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was ending, the Pentagon projected in a formal planning effort that the U.S. military occupation of the country would end this month.

Instead, December 2004 brought one of the deadliest single incidents of the war for U.S. forces. More than 80 casualties were suffered yesterday by U.S. troops, civilian contractors and Iraqi soldiers when a U.S. base near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul was blasted at lunchtime.

Defense officials said 15 of those killed in the attack on a mess tent at the city's airport were American soldiers -- more U.S. troops than have been lost in nearly any other major incident in the fighting, even during the spring 2003 invasion. Before yesterday, the worst incidents were the deaths of 17 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division in the November 2003 collision of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, also in Mosul, and, two weeks before that, the loss of 15 soldiers when a CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter crashed west of Baghdad. All three occurred after President Bush's May 2003 declaration that major combat operations in Iraq had ended.

The major difference between the latest attack and the earlier incidents is that it was an attack on a U.S. base, rather than on troops in transit in vulnerable aircraft. That difference appears to reflect both the persistence of the insurgency and its growing sophistication, as experts noted that it seemed to be based on precise intelligence. Most disturbingly, some officers who have served in Iraq worried that the Mosul attack could mark the beginning of a period of even more intense violence preceding the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

"On the strategic level, we were expecting an horrendous month leading up to the Iraqi elections, and that has begun," retired Army Col. Michael E. Hess said.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

U.S. takes border war on the road

Click title to link - PolPop

Boats being sunk near Ecuador

By Bruce Finley
Denver Post Staff Writer

Manta, Ecuador - U.S. counterterrorism officials have set up a high-seas gantlet deploying Coast Guard cutters off Latin America and arresting foreign nationals trying to leave their own countries.

Coast Guard crews have blocked at least 37 Ecuadoran boats and detained more than 4,575 suspected illegal migrants over the past four years, records show. Then, over the past two years, they've sunk a dozen emptied migrant boats they deemed "unseaworthy" - setting them ablaze and firing on them with their .50-caliber guns.


By Patrick Cockburn

"Millions will get no chance to vote, and the war will go on"

Independent (UK) December 19, 2004

BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi election on 30 January, for which campaigning began last week, will be one of the most secretive in history. Iraqi television shows only the feet of election officials rather than their faces, because they are terrified of their identity being revealed. It will be a poll governed by fear.

Those fears were amply borne out yesterday when insurgents launched attacks on election offices in northern Iraq. Two people were killed and eight wounded when mortars landed on an election office in Dujail, one of many around the country registering and educating potential voters. Two Iraqis were killed in execution-style shootings and four American contractors were wounded by a roadside bomb in other incidents.

When Iyad Allawi, the interim Prime Minister, announced his slate of candidates for the 275-member National Assembly in Baghdad last week, it was to a small audience of American security guards. The venue had been changed at the last minute to baffle potential assassins, and foreign journalists deemed it too dangerous to attend.

Shopkeepers distributed registration forms, tucked into the bags of monthly rations on which most Iraqis depend for survival. In Sunni districts in Baghdad some shopkeepers, fearing execution by the resistance, had begged their customers not to reveal where they got the forms.

There is now little doubt that the elections will go ahead. The Sunni political powers, fearing mass abstention by their constituents, would like a delay. But they could provide no convincing argument that the security situation will be any better in six months. Hoshyar Zebari, the powerful foreign minister, argued that "a delay in holding the election would be taken as a sign of weakness," and the interim government is doing what it can to manipulate public opinion.

Announcements that former members of the Saddam regime will go on trial this week, starting with the notorious "Chemical Ali," Ali Hassan al-Majid, are seen as electioneering more than anything else. The same applies to news yesterday that judges had begun interrogating him and another top suspect.

It is doubtful if the election, at least at first, will mark a real change in the balance of power between the three main communities in Iraq: the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds. Nor is it likely to see a shift in authority from the U.S. to Iraqis. The outcome could simply be a photocopy of the present government.

Few votes will be cast in the Sunni cities, towns and villages strung along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers north of Baghdad. Even if voters did want to go to the polls, it would be extremely dangerous to do so in places where anybody seen co-operating with the U.S. is a target.

American and British officials persistently underestimate the extent to which all of Iraq is unstable. President George Bush and Tony Blair genuinely appear to believe that there are only limited trouble spots in Iraq and the rest of the country is at peace. Since the beginning of the insurgency, Washington and London have portrayed it as confined to the so-called "Sunni triangle" west and north of Baghdad. The phrase is designed to minimize the extent of the uprising, but in reality there is guerrilla warfare in all the Sunni towns and cities as well as Baghdad.

As U.S. generals were issuing triumphant claims of victory in Fallujah, with a population of 300,000, last month they lost control of Mosul, 250 miles to the north, with a population of 1.2 million. The unexpected insurgent uprising on
10 November, which led to the disintegration of the 8,000-strong police force, was clearly planned to take advantage of the U.S. assault on Fallujah on 8 November.

In the most militant cities there is no sign of insurgent activity diminishing: Every day there are attacks on U.S. and interim government forces in Baiji, Baquba, Ramadi, Samarra and Tal Afar. Fallujah itself is far from subdued. Ayham al-Samarrai, the minister of electricity, told the *Independent* on Sunday that it would be difficult to hold fair elections in provinces with a total population of eight million -- a third of the Iraqi population.

Most serious of all is the situation in Baghdad. U.S. military briefings give the impression that Fallujah has been the heart of the uprising since the invasion. In reality the deadliest location for a U.S. soldier in Iraq is Baghdad, where 240 U.S. troops have been killed since March last year, more than twice as many as in Fallujah. It is the capital that may witness the most violence as the election gets

Whatever the outcome of the poll, the five million Sunni in Iraq are numerous enough to continue the uprising. The feeling that their community is being disenfranchised may increase support for the resistance. Because all Iraq is being treated as a single constituency, the Sunni may have few representatives. Had each of the 18 provinces in Iraq been allocated a set number of deputies to the National Assembly, then the Sunni provinces would be represented, despite a low turnout.

Voters will go to the polls in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Shia districts of Baghdad, and in southern Iraq. Ever since the U.S. invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein in April last year, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has demanded an election in which the Shia could show that they make up between 15 and 16 million of the 25 million Iraqi population.

But power in Iraq today grows out of the barrel of a gun. When Dr. Hussain al-Shahristani, the highly respected and influential nuclear scientist tortured and imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, announced the Shia electoral list earlier this month, it was in the Convention Centre in the Green Zone in Baghdad, protected by U.S. soldiers.

Ayatollah Sistani, the most influential Shia religious leader, is behind the Shia list, but it is not quite clear how far behind. The list may not elect 120 to 130 members of the National Assembly, as it expects.

The Shia leaders, though they have agreed an electoral pact, are deeply divided. At the head of the list is Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a party long based in Iran. Perhaps the most popular politician in Iraq is Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the head of one of factions of the Dawa party. But the list also includes Ahmed Chalabi, once the choice of the Pentagon to be the new leader of Iraq.

Mr. Allawi, the surprise choice as interim Prime Minister, could go on holding the job, for the same reason he got it in the first place: the main players can live with him. The most important of these is the U.S. "There is simply no one else on whom the National Assembly could reach consensus," a senior official from a leading Shia party was quoted as saying. "Kurds would rather deal with Allawi than an Islamist Shia. So would Sunnis. We also realize that an Islamist Shia prime minister is a red line for the Americans."

But Mr. Allawi has shown that he looks first of all to Washington for instructions. He supported the assault on Fallujah, despite the bloodshed. Militarily he is dependent on the U.S. army. This might not damage him in the eyes of many Iraqi voters if he had satisfied their desire for security or improved the supply of electricity and fuel. Unfortunately for him the shortages are getting worse.

The police and the National Guard lack legitimacy. Often they are not prepared to fight the resistance. During the uprising in Mosul last month, the insurgents captured 10 police stations, some of them simply by phoning ahead and telling the police to get out.

The problems for the U.S. and the interim government will be largely unchanged after the election. The Sunni will not stop their uprising while the occupation continues. The government will still depend on American guns to defend it. The differences between the three main Iraqi communities are increasing, and the war will go on.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Hotel Rwanda: Revisited

We had a review of this film a little while back but here is another one - PolPop

By Louis Proyect

As drama, "Hotel Rwanda" is very good. Politically and historically, it has some serious flaws.

It is based on the true story of a Hutu named Paul Rusesabagina (played brilliantly by Don Cheadle), who sheltered Tutsis in the swank hotel he managed in Rwanda's capital. In an extraordinary act of courage reminiscent of Oskar Schindler, he repeatedly buys off or cajoles Hutu soldiers who have come to the hotel bearing death lists to spare the Tutsis who have taken refuge there. Unlike Stephen Spielberg's treatment of Schindler, Irish director and screenplay author Terry George does not romanticize Rusesabagina. The hotel manager appears driven by feelings of neighborliness and decency rather than a desire to be a hero. In the early scenes of the film, when his Hutu beer wholesaler is revealed with a cache of machetes obviously intended to be used in the coming massacre, Rusesabagina remains silent. He only decides to take action when a next door Tutsi neighbor is beaten mercilessly and then dragged off by a uniformed Hutu death squad.

Ultimately, however, the message of the film is similar to that of "Welcome to Sarajevo" which blamed Western indifference for an alleged genocide against the Bosnian Muslims. Since the Tutsis were black, the indifference took on racist aspects. In a key scene, Nick Nolte playing a UN soldier tells Cheadle that the Tutsis are doomed because they are the wrong color.

Terry George was clearly influenced by New Yorker reporter Philip Gourevitch, who included Paul Rusesabagina's story in his 1999 "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda". In an interview with Gourevitch in connection to a PBS documentary on Rwanda, we discover that he views the slaughter of Tutsis as having the same logic as the Holocaust:

"What distinguishes Rwanda is a clear, programmatic effort to eliminate everybody in the Tutsi minority group because they were Tutsis. The logic was to kill everybody. Not to allow anybody to get away. Not to allow anybody to continue. And the logic, as Rwandans call it, the genocidal logic, was very much akin to that of an ideology very similar to that of the Nazism vis-à-vis the Jews in Europe, which is all of them must be gotten rid of to purify in a sense the people."

To Gourevitch's credit, he also acknowledges the role of European colonialism in fostering enmity against the Tutsi in the interview. His comments are echoed in a scene from the film in the hotel's bar, where a Rwandan journalist blames the Belgians for the unfolding bloodlust. Gourevitch states:

"Rwanda's population essentially consists of two groups, the Hutu majority (roughly 85%), the Tutsi minority (roughly 15%). There's a tiny minority of Pygmies as well. Until the late 19th century, which is to say, until European colonization, Tutsis (the minority) represented the aristocratic upper classes; Hutus were the peasant masses. The Europeans brought with them an idea of race science, by which they took this traditional structure and made it even more extreme and more polarized into an almost apartheid-like system. And ethnic identity cards were issued, and Tutsis were privileged for all things, and Hutus were really made into a very oppressed mass."

What Gourevitch omits (at least in this interview), however, is the economic crisis that raised this ethnic division to a qualitatively more lethal degree. It is modern *neocolonialism* rather than 19th century colonialism that is to blame for this.

More recently, Gourevitch has turned his attention to North Korea, which he regards as being under the grip of a "[James] Bond villain." He also covers the Iraq beat for the increasingly neoconservative New Yorker magazine, about which he states, "The President cannot afford to lose Iraq."

Another high-profile commentator on the Rwandan genocide is Samantha Powers, who is an associate of Michael Ignatieff at Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Basically, Ignatieff and Powers position themselves as Wilsonian liberals urging the USA to intervene anywhere in the world where human rights are threatened. Between these Wilsonians and the neoconservatives in Bush's administration, the differences are less about the right of imperialism to make war but the rationale for such wars. With the Harvard liberals, you get a bit more angst thrown in with the war whoops.

In a 2001 Atlantic Monthly article titled "Bystanders to Genocide," Powers puts forward an analysis that dovetails with Gourevitch's and Terry George's:

"The story of U.S. policy during the genocide in Rwanda is not a story of willful complicity with evil. U.S. officials did not sit around and conspire to allow genocide to happen. But whatever their convictions about "never again," many of them did sit around, and they most certainly did allow genocide to happen. In examining how and why the United States failed Rwanda, we see that without strong leadership the system will incline toward risk-averse policy choices. We also see that with the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to Rwanda taken off the table early on­and with crises elsewhere in the world unfolding­the slaughter never received the top-level attention it deserved. Domestic political forces that might have pressed for action were absent. And most U.S. officials opposed to American
involvement in Rwanda were firmly convinced that they were doing all they could­and, most important, all they should­in light of competing American interests and a highly circumscribed understanding of what was "possible" for the United States to do."

For an alternative to these sorts of "the West should have done more" arguments, we can turn to Mahmood Mamdani, the Columbia professor and author of "When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda." He also wrote an article in the March-April 1996 New Left Review titled "Understanding the Rwandan Massacre" that is unfortunately not online. Fortunately, there is a good presentation of Mamdani's ideas in the December 1996 Socialist Review, the theoretical magazine of the British SWP by Charlie Kimber. Drawing from Mamdani's work and other critical-minded journalists and scholars, Kimber writes:

"From 1973 to about 1990, Rwanda was relatively peaceful. This had little to do with Habyarimana himself and much to do with the generally stable price of coffee and tin. The economic blizzard of the later 1980s caused havoc. The striped blazer brigade on the London commodity exchange traded Rwanda's coffee and tin. As they settled the claims of supply and demand, matched the purchasing power of the multinationals against the weakness of African countries, they were sealing the fate of peasants 6,000 miles away."

He has an extensive quote from Gerard Prunier's "The Rwanda Crisis" which is worth requoting in its entirety:

"The political stability of the regime followed almost exactly the curve of coffee and tin prices. For the elite of the regime there were three sources of enrichment: coffee and tea exports, briefly tin exports and creaming off foreign aid. Since a fair share of the first two had to be allocated to running the government, by 1988 the shrinking sources of revenue left only the third as a viable alternative. There was an increase in competition for access to this very specialised resource. The various gentlemen's agreements which had existed between the competing political clans started to melt down as the resources shrank and internal power struggles intensified."

"Internal battles meant not only further pressure on the Tutsi elite, but also more clashes between regional leaders who were Hutu. These battles were projected onto the much bigger screen of the tensions created over a century by colonialism and its aftermath. The countdown to murder had begun.

"In 1989 the government budget was cut by 40 percent. The peasantry faced huge increases in water fees, health charges, school fees, etc. Land became scarce as farmers tried to increase their holdings to make up for the fall in raw material prices. The peasantry (both Hutu and Tutsi) were on the verge of open rebellion by 1990. The state absorbed more and more of the land which parents hoped to pass on to their children. State tea plantations opened up new sources of foreign exchange but restricted family holdings. The IMF's structural adjustment programme for Rwanda was imposed in 1990. As usual it meant the removal of food subsidies, privatisation and devaluation ­ and job losses.

"The World Bank and the IMF took no account of the likely effects of their shock therapy on a country that was ripe for civil war and had a history of massacres.

"A second devaluation followed in June 1992. Just as the war began, these [economic changes] saw urban living standards cut and a dramatic decline in the standards of health care and education. Inflation accelerated... By 1993, there was acute hunger in much of southern Rwanda."


What films like "Welcome to Sarajevo" and "Hotel Rwanda" miss is the fact that West *was* involved in places like Yugoslavia and Rwanda all along. The IMF and the World Bank did not neglect such places at all. They were intimately involved along the line with turning such countries into pressure cookers. If a country like Rwanda had simply been *left alone* to begin with, it is doubtful that conditions would have reached the bloody state that they did.

This is something that ideologues like Samantha Powers cannot acknowledge. Despite the fact that there is an element of human rights imperialism in "Hotel Rwanda," this should not detract from the personal story of Paul Rusesabagina. Terry George has made a very good film and Don Cheadle's performance is top-notch. "Hotel Rwanda" is appearing in theaters all around the USA right now and is well worth seeing, as opposed to the meretricious "Welcome to Sarajevo".

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Vegetarianism: More than an ideology?


Unsustainable grazing and ranching sacrifice drylands, forests and wild species. For example, semi-deciduous forests in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay are cut down to make way for soybeans, which are fed to cows as high-protein soycake. Humans are essentially vegetarian as a species and insatiate meat-eating bring its familiar toll of heart disease, stroke and cancer. The enthusiasm for meat also produces its paradox: hunger. A people living on cereals and legumes for protein need to grow far less grain than a people eating creatures that have been fed by cereals. For years Western journalists described in mournful tones the scrawny and costly pieces of
meat available in Moscow's shops, associating the lack of meat with backwardness and the failure of Communism. But after 1950, meat consumption in the Soviet Union tripled. By 1964 grain for livestock feed outstripped grain for bread, and by the time the Soviet Union collapsed, livestock were eating three times as much grain as humans. All this required greater and greater imports of grain until precious foreign exchange made the Soviet Union the world's second-largest grain importer, while a dietary "pattern" based on excellent bread was vanishing.

Governments--prodded by the World Bank--have plunged into schemes for intensive grain-based meat production, which favors large, rich producers and penalizes small subsistence farmers. In Mexico the share of cropland growing feed and fodder for animals went from 5 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 1980. Sorghum, used for animal feed, is now Mexico's second-largest crop by area. At the same time, the area of land producing the staples--corn, rice, wheat and beans--for poor folk there have fallen relentlessly. Mexico is now a new corn importer, from rich countries such as Canada and the United States, wiping out millions of subsistence farmers, who have to migrate to the cities or to El Norte. Mexico feeds 30 percent of its grain to livestock--pork and chicken for urban eaters--while 22 percent of the population suffers from malnutrition.

Multiply this baneful pattern across the world. Meanwhile, the classic pastoralists, who have historically provided most of the meat in Africa with grazing systems closely adapted to varying environments, are being marginalized. Grain-based livestock production inexorably leads to larger and larger units and economies of scale.

(From the "Beat the Devil" column in the April 22, 1996 Nation magazine)

Democrats eye softer image on abortion

This from the Boston Globe. Click title. Time to redouble efforts to transform the popular front into a united front me thinks before these bourgeois leaders deliver the US working class tied hand and foot to Bush's vile regime - PolPop

By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff | December 19, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Leading Democrats, stung by election losses, are signaling they want the party to embrace antiabortion voters and candidates, softening the image of the party from one fiercely defensive of abortion rights to one that acknowledges the moral and religious qualms some Americans have about the issue. . .

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Evildoers, here we come

From The Information Clearing House. Click title to link - PolPop

"Far more than the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the defeat of the mullahcracy and the triumph of freedom in Tehran would be a truly historic event."
- Michael Ledeen, neo-conservative and member of the American Enterprise Institute, June 2003

Comment by Pepe Escobar

12/6/04 "Asia Times" -- Iran is very much in the US spotlight at present over concerns that it is developing nuclear weapons, with much talk of "regime change". Over the next four years of the second George W Bush term, any of a number of countries could come into the crosshairs - Syria, Saudi Arabia and "axis of evil" original North Korea.

In Bed with Terrorists

Click title to link

Hell-bent on regime change in Iran, some neoconservative hawks are lobbying the Bush administration to support an organization designated as a terrorist group by the State Department. . .

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Ukraine Reality Show

Moscow Times, Thursday, December 16, 2004. Page 11.

By Boris Kagarlitsky

The state-run television channels were in hysterics reminiscent of the Cold War. Bewildered viewers discovered that next door in Ukraine, a coup was under way, allegedly planned by foreign secret service agents. The goal of these enemies, state television reported, was to bring a pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, to power instead of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych. At the same time, liberals in Russia dreamed of repeating Kiev's Orange Revolution at home.

Average Russians are taking a far more cynical view of events. They don't really buy the propaganda but are watching their neighbors to the south closely. The Ukrainian elections have become a kind of reality show for many Muscovites, complete with a cast of millions and unprecedented prizes.

The theories that a pro-American opposition is battling with a pro-Moscow political elite do not hold water. Yushchenko is without a doubt pro-American. But the same can be said for all the current leaders in Ukraine. After all, it was current Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his prime minister, Yanukovych, who sent troops to Iraq. They created an absurd crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations over a dam near the tiny island of Tuzla in straits between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. In contrast, right at the height of the confrontation in Kiev, the Verkhovnaya Rada resolved to withdraw Ukraine's troops from Iraq. Communists and
socialists were joined in their support of the measure by a significant number of Yushchenko supporters.

The attempts to divide Ukrainian society along language lines have also failed. Kiev, where Russian reigns supreme, is the backbone of the opposition's strength. Protests were held in Kharkiv, the center of Russian culture in Ukraine. The events in favor of the current authorities held in Donetsk and other industrial cities resembled the Soviet rallies where attendance was mandatory. Most of the speakers were labor union functionaries and civil servants, while the workers did their best to get home as quickly as possible. The ruling oligarchy still has the ability to
control the industrial regions of eastern Ukraine using Soviet methods, but it cannot mobilize mass public support.

It is difficult to call Russia's leadership anti-American or anti-Western. None other than President Vladimir Putin himself publicly announced his support of George W. Bush during the recent U.S. presidential elections. And while the Moscow television channels were condemning American involvement in Ukraine, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists about possible plans to arm local forces in Iraq under U.S. control, as well as to send military specialists to Iraq.

The Cold War was a confrontation of two economic and political systems. But now Russia and the West share the same system, capitalism. The real axis of confrontation in world politics is no longer the standoff between NATO and the long-defunct Eastern Bloc, but the standoff between the dollar and the euro blocs. The Kremlin can't seem to make up its mind which side to take in this rivalry, dodging back and forth between Brussels and Washington and dooming itself to a whole string of unilateral concessions to both competing sides.

If the whole point was to undermine Russia's position in Ukraine, it is hard to imagine a more successful move than the Kremlin collaboration with Yanukovych. The Kremlin not only shocked everyone with its crude tactics and open meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state; most importantly, it also managed to do so effectively and to its own detriment.

The stakes in the political battle in Ukraine are indeed high for the Kremlin. But they do not have anything in common with national interests or the long-gone conflict between the communist East and the bourgeois West. Privatization in Ukraine is being rolled back. Oligarch clans, both Russian and Ukrainian, are locked into a battle for assets. Everyone understands that political influence is the main collateral needed to conclude privatization deals and the best guarantee they will not be overturned later.

Whoever does win in the end, Putin will remain one of the main victims of the Ukraine crisis. Even if Yanukovych wins, his main concern will be improving relations with the West. Putin will lose the last remnants of his political authority. He will have demonstrated his weakness once again to Russia, to his people and to the siloviki. And in Russia, this is a very dangerous thing indeed.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute for Globalization Studies.

Balance in the Service of Falsehood

By David Edwards and David Cromwell
The Guardian U.K.
Wednesday 15 December 2004

The media's failure to challenge official deception over Iraq was the product of a journalism with built-in bias. The British and U.S. governments stand accused of lying their way to war on Iraq, both at home and abroad. But while a series of what were widely regarded as nobbled inquiries have at least gone through the motions of holding them to account, there has been no attempt to hold the media to account for its role in making war possible. To his credit, George Monbiot argued on these pages earlier this year that "the falsehoods reproduced by the media before the invasion of Iraq were massive and consequential: it is hard to see how Britain could have gone to war if the press had done its job." But an examination of this failure, and its roots in a mass media with a long history of protecting and promoting the powerful, is conspicuous by its absence.

And yet it is only by exploring these issues that we can answer the question of how it is possible that a free press could fail to challenge even the most transparent govern ment deceptions in the run-up to the attack. The crucial arguments of the vindicated former chief Unscom weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, for example, were largely ignored. In his 2002 book, Ritter - who was at the heart of the inspections process for seven years - argued that the Iraqi regime had cooperated with his team in dismantling "90-95%" of its WMD by December 1998, leaving the country "fundamentally disarmed". Subsequent rearmament would have been impossible, Ritter insisted, and any retained chemical or biological material would long since have become "harmless sludge". But evidence of the success of the 1991-98 inspections - which fundamentally undermined government claims that war was required to enforce disarmament - was given the scantest coverage, even in the liberal press.

Of 12,447 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq in 2003 on the Guardian Unlimited website, Ritter was mentioned in only 17, mostly in passing. Denis Halliday, who set up the U.N.'s oil-for-food program in Iraq, and who blamed the U.S. and British governments for the huge death toll of Iraqi civilians under sanctions, was mentioned in two articles. His successor, Hans von Sponeck, who also resigned in protest at sanctions, received five mentions. The Independent mentioned Ritter only eight times in 5,648 articles on Iraq in 2003. Ritter's disarmament claim received fewer than a dozen brief mentions in the Guardian the year before.

The failure of the liberal media, including the Guardian and Independent, is vital to this debate because, while they are consistently more open than their conservative counterparts, they set the boundaries of permissible dissent. In the case of Iraq, those boundaries helped create a disaster. Thus, while whistleblowers were effectively ignored, one prominent in-house Guardian commentator declared in January 2003 that it was "a given" that Saddam was hiding
WMD. Despite the fact that while in 1999 and 2000 the Guardian and the Independent both reported that Unscom inspections had been infiltrated by the CIA, this almost never featured in the saturation 2002-2003 coverage of resumed inspections and Iraqi attitudes to them. In January 1999, a Guardian article described how U.S. officials "acknowledged that American spies participated in the work of United Nations weapons inspectors". In March 2002, the same reporter wrote that "Iraq has stoked war fever" by "rejecting a return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq and calling them 'western spies' for extra measure".

We would argue that the media's failure on Iraq was not really a failure at all, but rather a classic product of "balanced" professional journalism. The modern conception of objective reporting is little more than a century old. There was little concern that newspapers were partisan so long as the public was free to choose from a wide range of opinions. Newspapers dependent on advertisers for 75% of their revenues, such as the Guardian and Independent, would have been regarded as independent by few radicals and progressives in, say, the 1940s. Balance was instead provided by a thriving working class-based press. Early last century, however, the industrialization of the press, and the associated high cost of newspaper production, meant that wealthy private industrialists backed by advertisers achieved dominance in the mass media. Unable to compete on price and outreach, the previously flourishing radical press was brushed to the margins.

And just as corporations achieved this unprecedented stranglehold, the notion of professional journalism appeared. The U.S. media analyst Robert McChesney argues: "Savvy publishers understood that they needed to have their journalism appear neutral and unbiased, notions entirely foreign to the journalism of the era of the Founding Fathers." By promoting schools of journalism, media owners could claim that trained editors and reporters were granted autonomy to make decisions based on professional judgment, rather than on the needs of proprietors and advertisers. As a result, owners could present their media monopoly as a service to the community. In Britain, similar developments resulted in "a progressive transfer of [media] power from the working class to wealthy businessmen", in the words of media historians James Curran and Jean Seaton, while dependence on advertising "encouraged the absorption or elimination of the early radical press".

Built in to the new concept of neutral, professional journalism were two major biases. First, the actions and opinions of official sources were understood to form the basis of legitimate news. As a result, news came to be dominated by mainstream political and business sources representing establishment interests. As the ITV News political editor, Nick Robinson, commented in relation to the Iraq war controversy: "It was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking... That is all someone in my sort of job can do." Second, carrot-and-stick pressures from advertisers, business interests and political parties had the effect of steering journalists in the corporate media away from some issues and towards others. It is inherently implausible that newspapers or broadcasters which are dependent on corporate advertisers for revenue will focus too hard on the destructive impact of these same businesses, whether on public health, the developing world or the environment. The result is that what is regarded as neutral journalism today consistently promotes the views and interests of the powerful.

Many journalists reject the idea that a corporate free press is a contradiction in terms. Yet if even the government's most obviously fraudulent pre-war propaganda claims were not seriously challenged, the implications are hardly academic for the next likely targets of U.S. and British military force, be they in Iran, Syria or North Korea.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

We Will Reclaim Our Armed Forces!

Click title for full article from Bring Them Home Now web site - PolPop

Speech by Stan Goff at the December 11 Public Meeting and Speak Out in New York City

I want to thank the organizers for this very important defibrillation of the anti-war and anti-empire work that was put on hold by the recent elections. I want to thank my fellow speakers and presenters, and I want to thank everyone who is here for your tireless and stubborn refusal to confuse setbacks with defeats.

I tend to think of resistance politics these days as if they were a Charles Dickens novel. There is always a happy ending in the last chapter, but every chapter leading up to that ending… is sad.


A monetary coup d'etat

By Henry C K Liu

The nature of money has been a controversial issue since the founding of the United States. . .


Click the title to link to this two-parter in the Asian Times - PolPop

PART 1: Ruthless empire builders

By Henry C K Liu

A major event of high culture unfolded in a series of elegant receptions during the third week of November in New York, a city of seriously moneyed art collectors, scathing critics and a discriminating public. Three years in design and construction, the Museum of Modern Art reopened on its 75th anniversary with a new US$850 million building on the same site as the old museum in midtown Manhattan. Loved by all who have been fortunate enough to have their lives enriched by it, this cultural flower in one of the world's greatest cities, affectionately referred to as The Modern, has been cultivated in the supercharged greenhouse of modernist milieu, aiming to define fundamental issues of meaning and truth through the vehicle of esthetic preference at the forefront of modern civilization. . .

People of the World!

Communiqué Number 6

The media platoon of the Islamic Jihad Army. On the 27th of Shawal 1425h.
10 December 2004

These words come to you from those who up to the day of the invasion were struggling to survive under the sanctions imposed by the criminal regimes of the U.S. and Britain.

We are simple people who chose principles over fear.

We have suffered crimes and sanctions, which we consider the true weapons of mass destruction.

Years and years of agony and despair, while the condemned UN traded with our oil revenues in the name of world stability and peace.

Over two million innocents died waiting for a light at the end of a tunnel that only ended with the occupation of our country and the theft of our resources.

After the crimes of the administrations of the U.S and Britain in Iraq, we have chosen our future. The future of every resistance struggle ever in the history of man.

It is our duty, as well as our right, to fight back the occupying forces, which their nations will be held morally and economically responsible; for what their elected governments have destroyed and stolen from our land.

We have not crossed the oceans and seas to occupy Britain or the U.S. nor are we responsible for 9/11. These are only a few of the lies that these criminals present to cover their true plans for the control of the energy resources of the world, in face of a growing China and a strong unified Europe . It is Ironic that the Iraqi's are to bear the full face of this large and growing conflict on behalf of the rest of this sleeping world.

We thank all those, including those of Britain and the U.S., who took to the streets in protest against this war and against Globalism. We also thank France, Germany and other states for their position, which least to say are considered wise and balanced, till now.

Today, we call on you again.

We do not require arms or fighters, for we have plenty.

We ask you to form a world wide front against war and sanctions. A front that is governed by the wise and knowing. A front that will bring reform and order. New institutions that would replace the now corrupt.

Stop using the U.S. dollar, use the Euro or a basket of currencies. Reduce or halt your consumption of British and U.S. products. Put an end to Zionism before it ends the world. Educate those in doubt of the true nature of this conflict and do not believe their media for their casualties are far higher than they admit.

We only wish we had more cameras to show the world their true defeat.

The enemy is on the run. They are in fear of a resistance movement they can not see nor predict.

We, now choose when, where, and how to strike. And as our ancestors drew the first sparks of civilization, we will redefine the word "conquest."

Today we write a new chapter in the arts of urban warfare.

Know that by helping the Iraqi people you are helping yourselves, for tomorrow may bring the same destruction to you.

In helping the Iraqi people does not mean dealing for the Americans for a few contracts here and there. You must continue to isolate their strategy.

This conflict is no longer considered a localized war. Nor can the world remain hostage to the never-ending and regenerated fear that the American people suffer from in general.

We will pin them here in Iraq to drain their resources, manpower, and their will to fight. We will make them spend as much as they steal, if not more.

We will disrupt, then halt the flow of our stolen oil, thus, rendering their plans useless.

And the earlier a movement is born, the earlier their fall will be.

And to the American soldiers we say, you can also choose to fight tyranny with us. Lay down your weapons, and seek refuge in our mosques, churches and homes. We will protect you. And we will get you out of Iraq , as we have done with a few others before you.

Go back to your homes, families, and loved ones. This is not your war. Nor are you fighting for a true cause in Iraq.

And to George W. Bush, we say, "You have asked us to `Bring it on', and so have we. Like never expected. Have you another challenge?"

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

New Year Glum As Prices Soar

The St. Petersburg Times

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

By Irina Titova

With New Year just a couple of weeks away, many Russian are looking to the future not with joyful anticipation of holidays or optimism, but with dread of financial instability and rising prices.

"I don't feel excited about the New Year holidays because, as usual, on Jan. 1 prices will shoot up," said Tatyana Rybkina, 42, a teacher.

St. Petersburg residents already have an impending taste of the doom approaching them; long lines have formed at metro stations ever since it was announced that the cost of one ride on public transportation services in St. Petersburg price will rise from 8 rubles (28 cents) to 10 rubles (36 cents) on Jan. 1.

As they did in Soviet times, people not only tried to buy as many tokens as they could to save money, but they also hoarded them because they feared that there might not be any left because others are also hoarding them.

The metro first limited sales to 10 tokens at a time, but this has now been reduced to two tokens, meaning people have to line up every second ride. On Tuesday, a new type a plastic card will be issued in place of tokens.

"It's very hard for me as a pensioner to have prices going up for transportation when from next year we pensioners will no longer be able to ride for free," said Tamara Sokolova, 60, who boosts her pension by working as a librarian. "My income is 3,000 rubles ($107), and now I'll have to pay about 500 rubles a month on public transportation all together."

She doesn't "experience any joy expecting New Year, because nowadays New Year automatically means prices go up," she added.

"It's a modern gift for this holiday from our government - they increase the prices of everything - food, fuel, services, etc," she said.

In Soviet times prices would go down before the New Year holidays, she added.

Food prices have been skyrocketing in recent months, she said.

In early fall, Sokolova could buy 10 eggs for 23 rubles, while the same number costs 32 rubles.

The price of meat in markets has doubled since spring; a kilo of beef or pork cost 100 rubles in May, today it's 200 rubles and more, Sokolova said.

Consumer price inflation is 11.9 percent this year, RIA Novosti reported.

According to the Federal Statistics Service, egg prices rose 12.9 percent in November and 24.3 percent for the year to date.

The service said milk prices rose 6.6 percent and meat prices 1.7 percent in November. Experts say the rising food and transportation prices are related to rising fuel prices.

Valery Nesterov, an oil and gas analyst at Moscow's office of brokerage Troika Dialog, said the prices for oil in Russia doubled between October 2003 and October 2004.

Thus, if at the end of 2003 a liter of A-92 gasoline in St. Petersburg cost 8 or 9 rubles, this month it costs almost 16 rubles. The rise has been so great that it stimulated President Vladimir Putin last week to ask Vagit Alekperov, head of leading oil company LUKoil, to lower prices for oil products on the domestic market.

Putin expressed his hope that if LUKoil did so, other big oil companies would follow suit, which would improve the situation that "one cannot describe as normal."

On Friday, State Duma deputies also expressed their deep concern about fuel prices, saying they were holding back economic development.

Alekperov said LUKoil will lower its domestic wholesale but that it is no less important that oil retailers do the same. Troika Dialog's Nesterov said that although Putin's approach to Alekperov was unusual, it was still a positive moment.

"Such action creates an image that the government is working and cares about the economic situation in the country," Nesterov said in a telephone interview. "However, it's better not to rule by giving such kind of directions, but to do so by a providing well-balanced economy and preventing the influence of monopolies."

Dmitry Belousov, an expert with the Center for Microeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Factors, named several other factors that he linked to rising prices.

Rising grain prices led to higher meat prices because of the fodder feed to livestock. The stabilization of ruble in relation to the dollar led imported goods getting more expensive, there had been fears about banks, and the dollar had depreciated. At the same time prices for communal services had gone up.

The effects of these had hit some sectors of the population harder than others, he said.

"Today prices for the poor grow quicker than for the wealthy," Belousov said. "The prices for household equipment, which are products that mainly interest the well-off are stable. Prices for products such as bread and communal services, which are of bigger demand among the poor, are rising."

Sokolova said that her librarian's wage, which is paid by the state, is supposed to be raised in line with rising costs, but the raises never catch up with runaway prices.

"I feel that I'm catastrophically short of money," she said. "Today I have to think hard about buying meat. Usually, we buy it only by for a festive dinner."

Ordinary Russians not only have to count their kopeks when it comes to buying food, they say they barely have enough money to buy clothes.

"I can't afford to buy good clothes," Sokolova said. "That's why I can't buy good quality winter shoes for 2,500 rubles and I buy lower quality ones for 1,000 rubles. Such shoes wear out very quickly, I mend them, and wear them again."

Nadezhda Chekhovich, 50, a historian who works at one of the city's scientific institutes, said her monthly salary is 1,700 rubles.

"I buy only secondhand clothes," Chekhovich said.

The prices for books and concerts, products that are important to her, have doubled in recent times, she said.

However, not all are down about life, even if it is becoming more expensive.

Pensioner Alexander Vasserman, 60, said he is not depressed about the economic situation despite his low income.

"I'm sure there are always at least two ways out of a difficult situation," he said. "Sometimes there are even more ways out. It means we'll find a way out that will enable us to live no worse."

"For instance, instead of complaining about the metro getting more expensive, I will ride a bicycle because it's healthy and free," he said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Fallujah still being bombed

Today's suicide bomb but also reports of further fighting in Fallujah - PolPop

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide bomber blew up his car early Tuesday at the same entrance to the Green Zone where a blast Monday killed 13 Iraqis. The latest blast killed 7 people and injured 13, according to a hospital official.

On Monday, an al-Qaida-linked suicide bomber blew up his vehicle near cars waiting to enter the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraq’s interim government.

Also, the military reported two more U.S. Marines were killed in action in Iraq’s volatile western Anbar province, taking the number of Marines killed in the region in the past three days to 10. . .

Monday, December 13, 2004

Killings Sting Proud Battalion

Click title. This from the Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD — The men from Task Force 1-41 fought the battle for Sadr City last summer, chasing Al Mahdi militiamen through the slums in 120-degree heat. A year earlier, the unit had helped lead the charge into Baghdad.

The 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment has a distinguished combat history, from the D-Day landing to the Iraq desert campaign of the Persian Gulf War. Its motto: "Straight and Stalwart." . . .

Mountain Rescue

Let's have a bit of poetry to lighten the load. Click title to link - PolPop

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Germany's New Reality

From the Washington Post

Layoffs by Automaker Confirm Labor's Diminishing Power

By Peter S. Goodman and Petra Krischok

Friday, December 10, 2004; Page E01

BOCHUM, Germany, Dec. 9 -- During much of Germany's postwar economic boom, as prosperity mounted and car sales multiplied, workers at the Opel
automobile factory here became accustomed to getting their way: six weeks of vacation, a 35-hour week and some of the highest factory wages on earth. Whatever was left of that era ended on Thursday.

Undercut by vastly cheaper labor in neighboring Poland and by increasing global competition, the union at Adam Opel AG acceded to a plan by General Motors Corp. to cut 12,000 jobs throughout Europe -- 10,000 of them in Germany and an estimated 4,000 at the Bochum plant alone. The job reductions will be voluntary, and GM, which owns the Opel, Saab and Vauxhall brands, is offering buyouts, early retirement and retraining worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the most senior workers.

Though geared to help GM rebound from its global slide in the auto market -- the company has not been profitable in Europe since 1999 and expects to save $665 million a year through the jobs cuts -- the deal underscores the extent to which globalization has torn at the social consensus governing Germany and much of Western Europe.

Rigid labor rules are blamed for European unemployment rates stuck around 9 percent, compared with less than 6 percent in the United States. Economic growth has also lagged, and labor-market reform is cited by many economists as an important step toward changing that.

When Opel workers went on strike for five days in October, it was clear how times were changing. They went back to work with nothing more than the promise of talks and the lingering threat that many of the Bochum plant's 9,600 jobs would be shifted to Poland, where labor costs about $4.70 an hour, compared with $29 an hour here.

"It's not negotiations, what's happening now," said Peter Jaszczyk, who worked at the Opel plant for 40 years and formerly headed the worker's council. "Management is just dictating conditions. The union doesn't have the power anymore."

Around the world, labor is grappling with the impact of capital flowing to lower-cost countries. Textile workers in Mexico are losing ground to China; software engineers in the Silicon Valley succumb to skilled counterparts in India. The changes in Western Europe have been particularly wrenching because labor has occupied such a powerful perch for much of modern times -- one that has, until recently, cushioned against the restructuring and layoffs that have occurred elsewhere.

Now, labor in Europe's wealthiest countries is reeling as capital flows eastward. Investment is pouring in to new members of the European Union such as Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, where workers earn roughly one-sixth what they do in Germany and France, and farther away to still cheaper Romania, Turkey and China. Unions once accustomed to wage increases and sweetened bonuses submit to slashed pay and benefits in a desperate bid to keep jobs.

In Germany -- still struggling to integrate its wealthier western half with the formerly communist east -- the export of jobs is exacerbating an unemployment crisis. More than 4 million people are out of work, and unemployment is 10 percent.

A recent survey conducted by the economist Horst Wildemann found that 6 in 10 German companies were preparing to establish a manufacturing base outside the country in the next four years. That could cost as many as 400,000 jobs a year. A similar study by the Boston Consulting Group found that transfers of work abroad could eliminate one-fourth of Germany's industrial workforce by 2015, wiping out 2 million jobs.

Germans have long taken pride in their social harmony and benevolent welfare state, which has virtually guaranteed decent living standards and generous health and vacation benefits. Now, the country is bitterly debating proposals to roll back benefits, particularly those for workers and the elderly. Meanwhile, a society once accustomed to upward mobility revises its expectations downward. In a poll conducted by TNS Infratest in October, nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they would be willing to give up some of their salaries to make their jobs more secure.

"Germany is now confronted with a process of fundamental change," said Ulrich Beck, a sociologist at the University of Munich. "We will have to redefine the notion of work and our entire social system. The notion that we can return to full employment is a great illusion. It will be a conversion from a society of having more to a society of having less."

Siemens AG, the archetypal German electronics giant, now employs more people outside of Germany than within. It recently persuaded its German workforce to accept longer hours for the same pay by threatening to transfer jobs to Hungary. German manufacturer Robert Bosch GmbH used similar threats of shifting work to the Czech Republic to extract longer hours from workers in France, where unemployment is near 10 percent.

The transfer of work to the lower-cost east is particularly intense in the auto industry. In 1990, only about one-fourth of the cars produced by German brands were manufactured outside the country. By 2003, the share was close to half. The German wheel producer Continental AG employed about one-third of its workforce outside Germany in 1980. Last year, it was 60 percent. The company will soon churn out 16 million wheels a year at its factory in Temesvar, Romania, where wages are about one-tenth what they are in Germany.

"We have to adapt our labor costs at least to those in Western Europe," said auto expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer. "If we maintain our current standard, then everything will melt away."

The experience in Germany's Ruhr Valley suggests that the disparity with the east is so vast that minor adjustments will have little effect.

Bochum was dominated by coal until the 1950s, when lower costs in the United States shut down the mines. The Opel plant, opened in 1962, created jobs for 4,000 people. They built about 50 no-frills sedans for lower-middle-class families in an eight-hour shift.

By 1970, sales were exploding, with sports cars and higher-end sedans added to the mix. The factory was churning out 1,000 cars per shift with 20,000 workers on the floor. It was the largest employer in the region.

The factory was a key source of parts for other plants in Germany, giving workers here in Bochum outsized power. When they were rebuffed in demands for increased Christmas bonuses, a three-day strike secured the extra pay. In 1973, another three-day walkout yielded a lump-sum bonus. Longer strikes in the 1980s delivered the 35-hour workweek.

Germany's largest union, IG Metall, negotiates with an association of employers for a contract covering basic wages for metal and textile workers throughout the country. But worker councils at individual factories are free to negotiate for wages above those contract minimums, which the Bochum workforce regularly did successfully.

"The Opel workers were always the aristocrats of the German labor force," Jaszczyk said. "Usually, we would get wages 20 percent higher than the IG Metall contract. It was normal for us to get salary increases of 8 to 9 percent a year. But it didn't come for free: Opel and GM were making good profits."

At vacation time, workers set off with their families in late-model Opel sedans they helped produce, driving to the beaches of Italy with an extra half-month's salary for their trips.

The first tensions came in the mid-1980s as management began installing robots on the shop floor. No one was laid off, but workers who retired were not replaced. By 1985, the workforce was about 14,000.

In 1991, Opel opened a factory in Eisenach, in the former East Germany, where wages were one-third less than those at Bochum, diminishing the company's dependence on its traditional workforce. About the same time, it set up an engine factory in western Hungary.

The sentinel moment came in 1997 when Opel opened a factory in Gliwice, in western Poland. "People weren't worried at first," Jaszczyk said. "They figured the Polish workers would produce lower quality, older models for sale in the Polish and Russian markets."

By last summer, the workforce at the Gliwice plant had doubled to 1,200 and the German press was filled with rumors of layoffs. In October, GM confirmed the dark talk. At a news conference at the company's European headquarters in Zurich, it said it would transfer the production of 120,000 minivans a year from Bochum to Poland.

"People are angry," said Benjamin Dreher, an assembly line worker. "They feel like they're getting sold out."

At city hall, Mayor Ottilie Scholz frets about the prospect of lost jobs while calling on bureaucrats in Berlin and Brussels to intervene -- how exactly, she isn't sure.

"There's nothing we can do as a city," she said. "This is part of a worldwide phenomenon." The head of the workers council, Dietmar Hahn, sounds resigned to a future in which the workforce is far smaller, if the factory is even open.

"The situation is very difficult," he said. "We've been shown proposals by management that we don't like. There's so much fear. I don't think long-term anymore."

Spoils of War: The Antiquities Trade and the Looting of Iraq

This from the Centre for Research on Globalisation. Click title to link - PolPOP

by Gregory Elich

It has been called the worst cultural disaster to happen since the Second World War, and one archaeologist has likened it to a "lobotomy of an entire culture." (1) To the dismay of archaeologists throughout the world, the toppling of the Iraqi government by U.S. troops unleashed a wave of looting and destruction of Iraq’s national patrimony. Despite pleas for action from outraged scholars, the culturally blinkered Bush Administration remained indifferent, belatedly acting only when media coverage mushroomed into a public relations fiasco that threatened to upend the manufactured image of benign liberation. Although the scale of loss from the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad was less serious than initially indicated, it was nevertheless a crippling blow, while elsewhere in Iraq the situation ran alarmingly out of control. . .

The world's first multinational

Click title to link to full story

NS Essay 1- Corporate greed, the ruination of traditional ways of life, share-price bubbles, western imperialism: all these modern complaints were made against the British East India Company in the 18th century. Nick Robins draws the lessons.

In The Discovery of India, the final and perhaps most profound part of his "prison trilogy", written in 1944 from Ahmednagar Fort, Jawaharlal Nehru described the effect of the East India Company on the country he would shortly rule. "The corruption, venality, nepotism, violence and greed of money of these early generations of British rule in India," he wrote, "is something which passes comprehension." It was, he added, "significant that one of the Hindustani words which has become part of the English language is 'loot'". . .

Falluja Fighting Goes On And On An On

December 07, 2004 Associated Press & Aljazeera 12.6.04

FALLUJAH, Iraq - The mangled cables and trash that litter the power station's control room do not bother Adil Raffah. But the bespectacled chief engineer begins to shake when he sees the desk he has worked behind for 25 years, now smashed.

"Only animals could do this, no Iraqi, never," he whispers, picking up a hammer left on the floor. "It must have been the Americans."

To the Marines combing Fallujah, the appearance of these two men is a positive sign: Perhaps they can play a small role in getting the shattered city up and running again. Kasim is said to know the power grid in this part of Anbar province, which includes Fallujah, better than anyone.

But the two Iraqis may not be so willing to play the part.

"I'm doing my job for my country and my family, not for the Americans," Kasim says. What hurts most, he adds, is that he still cannot go back into the city. "I don't know what happened to my home," he says.

Marines are still edgy - facing sporadic pockets of resistance and being highly suspicious of the few Fallujans who stayed behind.

Although the city has fallen, Marines daily fight scattered groups of rebels.

Once known as the "city of the mosques," Fallujah is now a landscape of pancaked multistory buildings, ruined homes and broken minarets that testify to the overwhelming firepower the U.S. military employed to retake the city.

Across town, in the eastern Askari neighborhood, some 70 young men huddled in the yard of the Red Crescent, sister organization to Geneva's Red Cross. The office was set up in late November to assist those civilians who stayed behind during the fighting.

"Of course I am angry, my house is destroyed, my city is in ruins, everything is gone," says Saad Mohammed Mansur, 23, one of the many young Sunni Arabs here who claim they are students, left behind by their families to guard homes and property. They deny having anything to do with the Mujahedeen.

Marines search the youths and test them for gunpowder residue on fingers. Those who test positive are arrested; the rest can either stay at the Red Crescent, be escorted back to their homes or out of the city, says Capt. Derek Wastila.

"Gunpowder residue is by no means an immediate recognition of guilt, but if they test positive, they get taken to a higher level of detention," says Wastila, of San Diego.

The next day, the Red Crescent says the U.S. military has ordered it to suspend operations temporarily. Its modest staff heads out, and American troops move in, arresting eight more of the young men inside.

The occupation has decided that personal vehicles will not be allowed into the city because of the threat of car bombs.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Haiti: Colin Powell's Crime In Progress

From the Black Commentator. Click title to link to full story - PolPop

History will record that the first Black U.S. Secretary of State personally engineered the theft of the national sovereignty of Haiti, the world’s first Black republic and the second nation in the western hemisphere to free itself from European rule. Such is Colin Powell’s horrific legacy – an historic shame and blight on the collective honor of Black America. . .

Workers of the world are uniting

This from the FT

By Brendan Barber,
General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (UK)

The world trade union movement is poised to follow the lead of transnational companies, by extending its reachand throwing off the shackles of national boundaries. Unions are about to go global.

It will come as news to some employers - and a shock to some of the anti-globalisers - but trade unions are in favour of globalisation. Most of the world's trade union movements are meeting this week in Japan to discuss an epoch-making strategy called "Globalising Solidarity". By the end of this week, we may well have
ended 50 years of division in world trade unionism, abandoned a creativity-stifling global bureaucracy and refocused our core business on campaigning and recruitment.

In recent years, trade unions have sometimes looked, and felt, outdated and sluggish, unable to respond as business "delocalises" and the free movement of capital and jobs makes it possible for companies to race for the bottom in terms of wages, employment conditions and questions of health and safety. Some have called this the "Wal-Mart-isation" of the workplace.

Unions have made academic statements and sent symbolic deputations to address global institutions such as the World Bank, the International Labour Organisation and the World Trade Organisation. Bureaucrat has spoken unto bureaucrat while transnational corporations have spread around the globe, revolutionising world trade.

Some of this is overstated. Despite comparatively little progress in the US, Wal-Mart has been dragged to negotiating tables from Canada to China by UNI, the
global union federation for private service sector unions.

Global union campaigns to encourage ethical sourcing for goods have been linked to this year's Athens Olympics, with the purpose of spreading decent labour standards right along the global supply chain. The campaign will be resurrected for the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006, the soccer World Cups in Germany and South Africa, and the Olympics in China. The Trades Union Congress is already discussing the issue with the 2012 London Olympics bid.

The global trade union movement has learnt from the tactics of non- governmental organisations and is working more closely with them on corporate social
responsibility. We increasingly recognise the power of consumers, shareholders and pension funds.

This week's world congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) could take the bold next step. The ICFTU is the largest trade union confederation in the world, with 250 affiliates in 152 countries representing 148m trade union members. It was created in 1949 at the start of the cold war but has been split since then. The breakaway communist- backed confederation formed at the time is fading. This week's congress may decide to merge the two remaining global organisations - the ICFTU itself and the World Confederation of Labour, originally a Christian body.

Such a merger would create a single free trade union movement around the world, from Australia to Zimbabwe, united by a common vision of social globalisation that
works for people rather than the other way around.

But, as so many companies have found out, mergers are not enough. The new global union federation would need to refocus on its core function. Its unique selling proposition would be the ability to mobilise a total of 174m members and attract more. In this way, global businesses, world institutions and governments would
take the organisation seriously and would have to negotiate and reach agreements.

Old committee structures, conferences and paperwork must go. In their place must come the ability to target key companies, sectors and campaigns. Guy Ryder, the
ICFTU's popular and thoughtful general secretary, has had his work cut out securing agreement from often- embattled unions to give up the security of their
bureaucracy. But he has the support of the TUC, the DGB in Germany, the AFL-CIO in the US, Cosatu in South Africa and many more.

Each of these bodies, with their proud traditions, knows it cannot continue to champion the interests of its members if it does not operate internationally.

Trade unions in every developed country face the challenge of delocalisation. We must not re-erect the barriers of protectionism but we must protect the
livelihoods of workers at both ends of the delocalisation equation.

British unions have done a lot in the financial services sector to ensure retraining at home and better wages in places such as India. We could do a lot more
if our international organisations were focused on helping unions address the organising and bargaining challenges that delocalisation presents. But how much more could we achieve if employers faced the same union when they arrived in Mumbai as they did when they deserted Macclesfield or Milwaukee?

That is a huge challenge for a trade union movement that has admirable internationalist credentials yet sticks rigidly to 20th -century borders. This week trade unionism will try to show it up to that challenge.

CIA, Contras and Crack

An archive of articles on the link between the CIA, the Contras (Nicaragua) and crack cocaine from the Consortium of Independent Journalism Inc. Click title to link - PolPop

US Army plagued by desertion and plunging morale

This story from the Times On Line. Click title to link to full story - PolPop

From Elaine Monaghan in Washington

WHILE insurgents draw on deep wells of fury to expand their ranks in Iraq, the US military is fighting desertion, recruitment shortfalls and legal challenges from its own troops.

The irritation among the rank and file became all too clear this week when a soldier stood up in a televised session with Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, to ask why the world’s richest army was having to hunt for scrap metal to protect its vehicles

Hero Reviewed

A review of Hero by Louis Proyect of Marxmail

Zhang Yimou is one of China's most talented film directors. He has also run afoul of the authorities over the years for making films that pushed the envelope of what was politically acceptable. In 1990, "Ju Dou" was banned because it represented a woman committing adultery against an oppressive husband. The 1999 "Not One Less" depicts a teenaged schoolteacher locked in struggle with government bureaucrats over funding for her rural school. Perhaps the censors approved this film because of its happy ending, when the bureaucrats are won over by the plucky youth.

Nowadays Zhang is making films that are a retreat from the earlier films. Dispensing entirely with themes that challenge the status quo, "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers" seem very much influenced by Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." My comments here are directed toward "Hero," which I saw recently in DVD.

During the 1980s and 90s Hong Kong studios churned out film after film starring Jet Li or Jackie Chan as itinerant swordsman standing up to evil. These films were marketed to a mass audience and made no pretenses to high art. They also relied on combat scenes that relied strictly on the acrobatic and martial arts skills of the stars. Unfortunately, first Ang Lee and now Zhang Yimou decided to use the sort of computer-assisted special effects that were found in the Matrix films where characters defy the laws of gravity routinely.

In "Hero," the star Jet Li floats through the air at the drop of a hat. This allows Zhang Yimou to choreograph some spectacular mid-air sword fights that remind one of a Chagall painting. Since they are so obviously disconnected from physical reality, they tend to convey as much danger as a Chagall painting.

Zhang seems much more interested in visual effects than anything in this elaborate costume drama. Armored soldiers march in formation as if on stage. At the end of the film, they demand the execution of Jet Li in unison. The effect is positively operatic. Zhang does have a demonstrated affinity for opera. In 1997 he directed the Puccini opera "Turandot" in Florence, Italy with Zubin Mehta serving as conductor. In 1998, he and Mehta once again collaborated on a re-staging of the opera in Beijing. "Turandot," of course, is an opera that revolves around vast numbers of Chinese imperial attendants and soldiers marching in and off stage to great effect.

The story itself revolves around the plot of Jet Li and his associates to assassinate the King of Qin, who has decided to subjugate the five other kingdoms in ancient China in order to create a unified state and a unified language. The assassins all come from a kingdom that has suffered from his assaults. Ultimately, "Hero" becomes a Rashomon-type tale in which the King of Qin and his enemies present contrasting accounts of both their involvement and his culpability. I don't think I am giving away anything when I say that the King is ultimately vindicated as a national unifier in the mold of Stalin or Mao. One must conclude that Chinese film-makers operate under tremendous constraints.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Islam in Jail: Europe's Neglect Breeds Angry Radicals

NY Times, December 8, 2004


NANTERRE DETENTION CENTER, France - Abdullah, tall and muscular, with a shaved head and closely cropped goatee, sat on a metal bunk in the cramped cell here and described how he got religion.

"When I was in La Santé, I read books about the Prophet," he said, referring to a notorious Parisian detention center, the third of five jails where he has spent time during the past two years for dealing drugs and stealing cars.

When he arrived at the fourth, Fleury-Merogis, Europe's largest, another inmate gave him a DVD about the life of Muhammad and later, while enduring a three-week stint in solitary confinement, he vowed to devote himself to Islam.

"People here find God," he said.

In less than a decade, there has been a radical shift in France's prison population, a shift that officials and experts say poses a monumental challenge.

Despite making up only 10 percent of the population, Muslims account for most of the country's inmates and a growing percentage of the prison populations in many other European countries, an indication of their place at the bottom of the Continent's hierarchy.

With radical strains of Islam percolating through Europe, authorities are unsure how to address the spiritual needs of the prisoners while guarding against the potentially toxic mix of extremist ideology and a criminal past. One result is often neglect, which officials say can be a still greater force for radicalization.

Prison populations have been expanding across Europe in recent years, partly because of stricter anticrime regimens influenced by the sort of zero tolerance on quality-of-life crimes that was epitomized by the former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

France's prison population has risen by 20 percent in the past three years, largely because of aggressive pursuit of lower-level crimes.

The proportion of Muslims in prison has been growing even faster, reflecting the relative youth of Europe's largely Muslim immigrants.

While there are no official data on issues of race and ethnicity in much of Europe - it is in fact illegal to keep such data in many places - experts on prison populations agree on the new disproportion of Muslims here and elsewhere.

Two months ago Pierre Raffin, the director of La Santé detention center, warned officials looking into the role of religion in France that extremist proselytizing in prisons was growing.

Other countries are facing the same problem. Spain's chief counterterrorism magistrate, Baltazar Garzón, said recently that the men accused of plotting to blow up the country's main counterterrorism court were recruited from among fellow inmates by an Islamic militant serving time for credit card fraud.

Most famously, Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a Miami-bound airliner in
December 2001 using a bomb in his shoe, converted to Islam while in a British jail.

Those who are detained or convicted for terrorist-related crimes are not always separated from the larger prison population and are often ready to act as spiritual guides at a time when mainstream Muslim chaplains are in severely short supply.

Abdullah (prison rules prevented him from giving his last name) said that while he was at Fleury-Merogis, militants were active in the prison yard, preaching that Christians and Jews are enemy infidels. In May, the militants defied prison rules by organizing a prayer meeting during an exercise break. Several prisoners were disciplined as a result.

"Islam is becoming in Europe, especially France, the religion of the repressed, what Marxism was in Europe at one time," said Farhad Khosrokhavar, an Iranian-French scholar who has written a book on Islam in prisons. He says the growing Muslim prison population is evidence of an Islamic underclass that is developing across Europe and, at its margins, is increasingly sympathetic to the coalescing ideologies of political Islam.

Colin Powell: Failed Opportunist

Click title to link to full story - PolPop

By Robert Parry

Colin Powell’s admirers – especially in the mainstream press – have struggled for almost two years to explain how and why their hero joined in the exaggerations and deceptions that led the nation into the disastrous war in Iraq. Was he himself deceived by faulty intelligence or was he just acting as the loyal soldier to his commander-in-chief?

But there is another, less flattering explanation that fits with the evidence of Powell’s life story: that the outgoing secretary of state has always been an opportunist who consistently put his career and personal status ahead of America’s best interests.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Hotel Rwanda

Found this review of a film which I suppose will not be released over here until the new year - PolPop

By Joe D

I was fortunate enough to attend a preview screening of the movie, Hotel Rwanda, last night in Los Angeles. Due for release on December 22nd, it tells the true story of a Rwandan - and Hutu - hotel manager in Kigali who saved the lives of 1200 Tutsis during the height of the genocide in 1994. The movie was directed by Terry George, whose previous credits include In The Name Of The Father, which he co-wrote with Jim Sheridan, and Some Mother's Son, which he wrote and directed. Hotel Rwanda stars Don Cheadle as the hotel manager, Nick Nolte as a Canadian UN Colonel, Joaquin Phoenix as an American cameraman, as well as many other lesser-known actors.

This is one of the most powerful and heartrending movies I have ever seen. The chaos and terror sucks you up scene after scene, helped along by Oscar winning performances from Cheadle and Nolte. The racism of the West is excellently portrayed when Belgian paratroopers arrive to escort the white hotel guests to safety, abandoning the Tutsi refugees despite them pleading with them to stay and protect them from marauding, machete-wielding Hutu gangs (I'm not giving it away, btw. This is a scene from the movie's preview).

Cheadle's character, the situation he finds himself in and his response to the carnage taking place around him, echoes that of Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List. I'd always considered Don Cheadle to be a good, solid actor, but with this performance he takes the craft, in my view, to new heights. Everything he does is done subtly, charting the character's journey from social climbing hotel manager to a man walking a fine line between life and death for the lives of others.

Nolte, too, excels in his portrayal of a brave and honorable Canadian U.N. Colonel whose hands are tied by a lack of manpower and rules of engagement that preclude him from taking a firm stand when the massacre begins. The uselessness of the U.N. in such situations - we've seen it all over Africa, the Middle East, Yugoslavia, East Timor - is forcefully revealed, though it won't come as a shock to the subscribers of this list.

The hand wringing that took place in the corridors of power in the West, by Clinton and his acolytes, by the French and Belgian governments, as the genocide took place, left me outraged and disgusted. This hand wringing is excellently and subtly depicted throughout the movie and is, of course, testament to filmmaker and actors' success in sucking me into the story and making me suspend disbelief.

Finally, just as we see genocide unfolding again in the Sudan and new tensions arise in Rwanda, Hotel Rwanda is a graphic and terrible reminder of Africa's tortured history at the hands of European colonialism. Policies of divide and rule, the arbitrary drawing of maps to portion out natural resources and land, lie at the root cause of the mess we see in Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent today.

Every member of the ruling class should be taken by the scruff of the neck and dragged along to see this movie.

Then, afterwards, drowned.

U.S. Warns Of Plans To "Liberate" Cuba"

This from Democracy Now - PolPop

The State Department's top official in Latin America has announced that President Bush is committed to the "liberation of Cuba" during the next four years. Roger Noriega said last week Washington already has a blueprint of plans for a post-Castro Cuba to prevent Castro's supporters from retaining control of the country after his death. Noriega said Washington wants to "ensure that vestiges of the regime don't hold on." He added "The transition essentially is under way today." Ricardo Alarcon, the speaker of Cuba's Parliament, warned the U.S. would fail in any such efforts. Alarcon said, "If they try it, they have to attack Cuba, then use military occupation and then attempt a regime change. They can attempt it, they can try, but they will be handed a defeat they will never forget." In other news from Cuba, the government released journalist Jorge Olivera from jail Monday. He is the seventh dissident freed in the past week.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


From the New Left Review

The Trajectory of the US Economy

The shape of the US economy as it emerges from recession, in election year. With the giant manufacturing sector still crippled by over-capacity, can the take-off be sustained by bubble-driven finance, retail and construction booms?


In early 2002 Alan Greenspan declared that the American recession which had begun a year earlier was at an end. By the fall the Fed was obliged to backtrack, admitting that the economy was still in difficulties and deflation a threat. In June 2003 Greenspan was still conceding that ‘the economy has yet to exhibit sustainable growth’. Since then Wall Street economists have been proclaiming, with ever fewer qualifications, that after various interruptions attributable to ‘external shocks’—9/11, corporate scandals and the attack on Iraq—the economy is finally accelerating. Pointing to the reality of faster growth of gdp in the second half of 2003, and a significant increase in profits, they assure us that a new boom has arrived. The question that therefore imposes itself, with a Presidential election less than a year away, is the real condition of the us economy. [1] What triggered the slowdown that took place? What is driving the current economic acceleration, and is it sustainable? Has the economy finally broken beyond the long downturn, which has brought ever worse global performance decade by decade since 1973? What is the outlook going forward?

The price of People Power

Some pretty revealing stuff about Ukraine. Click title to link to full story - PolPop

The Ukraine street protests have followed a pattern of western orchestration set in the 80s. I know - I was a cold war bagman

Mark Almond
Tuesday December 7, 2004
The Guardian

People Power is on track to score another triumph for western values in Ukraine. Over the last 15 years, the old Soviet bloc has witnessed recurrent fairy tale political upheavals. These modern morality tales always begin with a happy ending. But what happens to the people once People Power has won?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Save us from the politicians who have God on their side

This from the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings. Wouldn't normally blogg anything by such a right wing figure but this lament about the grip that religion has over our leaders is worth a read. Click the title to link to full story - PolPop

These American hijackers have made the world a more dangerous place

Max Hastings
Monday December 6, 2004
The Guardian

A week in the United States, such as I have just spent, is enough to make anybody feel a trifle fed up with God, or rather with the relentless invocation of the deity by American politicians, led by their president. No public occasion would be complete without the blessing of the Almighty being besought for whatever endeavour tops the agenda, most prominently the war in Iraq. The appeal to faith, seldom mere ritual, is usually founded upon conviction.

Third Time as Farce: Respect Heads for Political Oblivion

This from What Next magazine. A solid enough analysis I think. Click title for full story - PolPop

Martin Sullivan

FOLLOWING THE degeneration of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party into a tiny Stalinoid sect, and with the Socialist Alliance having succeeded only in demonstrating its own political irrelevance, we now see yet another attempt to build a left alternative to Labour – Respect, the Unity Coalition, headed by the Socialist Workers Party and former Labour MP George Galloway.

Respect has set itself the aim of attracting the forces that were mobilised around the big demonstrations against the Iraq war last year, in order to mount an electoral challenge to the Labour Party in elections to the European Parliament and the Greater London Authority. Indeed, in a press release in February announcing its failure to agree a joint slate of candidates with the Green Party, Respect proudly declared that the new organisation was "seen as the political wing of the anti-war movement". The problems with this approach are surely obvious.

Palestinian prisoners start hunger strike

This from the Defence For Children International - Palestine Section. Click title for full story - PolPop

Female prisoners in Telmond start hunger strike protest

On 30 November 2004, a DCI/PS lawyer visited the women's section of Telmond prison where he was able to talk to one Palestinian detainee, Samah Abdallah. Samah informed him that on Sunday 28 November, the female Palestinian prisoners in Telmond went out to the exercise yard as normal. However, before the end of their allotted time outdoors, the prison administration ordered the Palestinian women and girls to return to their cells. The representative of the Palestinian female detainees, Amna Mouna, complained to the guards that it was too soon for the women to go back inside. As she did so, she was severely beaten by a group of prison guards after which she was taken to the punishment cells, which are cold bare rooms with no bedding, no heating and no natural light.

To protest against the manner in which the prison administration deals with female Palestinian prisoners and in particular against the beating of their spokeswoman and her subsequent isolation, the remaining Palestinian female detainees began screaming and shouting. The guards responded by bringing in other troops, armed with batons, water hoses and tear gas, who began to beat the women and spray them with water and gas.

Bring Them Home Now

Have a look at The Bring Them Home Now Campaign's web site. It organises amongst US military members, their families and veterans for an end to the war on Iraq - PolPop

Commando Correspondents

From the Fairfield County Weekly. Click title to link to full story - PolPop

Armed with computers, cell phones and digital cameras, today's soldiers are the real embedded journalists.

by Brita Brundage

The e-mail came from 27-year-old soldier Ryan McNutt, who returned from Iraq last April. In plainspoken language, it voiced his support for the troops in the 343rd Quartermaster Company. In mid-October, 18 reserve soldiers in that company refused orders to transport fuel down dangerous Iraqi roads from the Tallil Air Base to Taji, north of Baghdad, because their trucks were not properly armored, the fuel was contaminated and they had no armed escorts. Four members of the unit considered “ring leaders” will probably be court-martialed, involving prison terms, while others will likely receive reprimands. The company commander was relieved of her command. Contacting their families via e-mail, the North Carolina reservists involved were able to generate instant media attention to the lack of proper equipment and unsafe conditions in Iraq, illustrating a growing unease and resistance among the part-time soldiers sent to fight the war.

McNutt spent a year on the same air base, working with the 110th Maintenance Unit. He knew what kind of sorry shape those Humvees were in because he was one of the guys improvising ways to armor them. As far as he was concerned, the 343rd Quartermaster should never have been sent on one of Iraq’s most dangerous stretches unprotected in the first place.