Thursday, April 28, 2005
Venezuela Under Threat
Since the beginning of this year the barrage of accusations against the Venezuelan government by US officials has certainly increased in volume and intensity. The US has actively tried to stop the sale of weapons to Venezuela by Spain, Brazil and Russia (after the US itself refused to supply spare parts for Venezuela's ageing fleet of F16s), and has accused Venezuela of being a "negative force in the region" (Condoleeza Rice). The US administration and media have stepped up a belligerent campaign against Venezuela.
The democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez has been accused of everything from linking up with North Korea, supplying arms to the Colombian FARC guerrillas and funding the "subversive" MAS in Bolivia, to forming an axis of evil with Cuba's Castro, starting an arms race in Latin America, and harbouring Al-Qaeda terrorists. A recent article in the National Review (which appeared on April 11, the day of the third anniversary of the coup in Venezuela), carried the title "Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez constitute an axis of evil". In this extremely belligerent article, Otto Reich, until recently Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, openly advocated a policy of "confronting" the "emerging axis of subversion".
There is no substance to any of these accusations, for which not the slightest shred of proof is offered. They are just meant to create an impression the kind of impression that can be used to justify an act of aggression.
There is no doubt that all these newspaper articles and statements do not appear just by chance. One has the feeling that they are part of an orchestrated propaganda campaign aimed not only at isolating Venezuela, but also at preparing US public opinion for more direct forms of intervention against the Bolivarian Revolution. The self-same methods were used in the past to justify US interventions against the Cuban Revolution, the Arbenz government in Guatemala, the government of Salvador Allende in Chile, and more recently in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada and Haiti. The hired press pours out a stream of abuse and calumnies in order to soften up public opinion. Then the heavy squad moves in. In some circles, this is known as the "freedom of the press".
Otto Reich would know about this. In the 1980s he was at the head of the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean (OPD). This was nothing less than a propaganda outfit, which amongst other tasks coordinated the planting of editorial articles in newspapers openly backing the Contras and attacking those who criticised Washington's support for the murderous cut-throat gangs of thugs of the Contras in Nicaragua. The Iran-Contra investigation found that Reich, a Cuban exile, had carried out "prohibited, covert propaganda" on behalf of the Contras (the full declassified record of Otto Reich while involved in the OPD can be found at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB40/).
In all previous occasions in which this kind of language has been used, it has always been the preparation for military intervention. Such interventions do not necessarily take the form of an actual invasion. The fact that the US army is bogged down in an unwinnable war in Iraq makes this a problematical option at this stage. But the examples of Chile and Nicaragua indicate that there are other options: a dirty war of terrorism and subversion, the assassination of President Chavez, provocations leading to war with Colombia, which the Pentagon has already turned into an armed camp. These and many other weapons are at the disposal of Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice.
All the warnings are present. The only force that can defeat the planned aggression against the Venezuelan Revolution is the international Labour Movement...
It's worth remembering, while we're on the subject, that a certain pro-imperialist blog 'caught between nominal identification with the left and effective identification with a Rightist agenda' (as Mark Kaplan has described it) regurgitated a series of untruths and distortions penned by the Washington Post's (the paper which, in the 80's, slandered the Sandinistas at the bidding of the Reagan administration) Jackson Diehl*. Said blog then lifted its ratty little eyes to the 'imaginary tribunal' which seems to float above it and asked if it had done well. Expect more of the same.
* See here, for a demolition of Diehl's propaganda.
Monday, April 25, 2005
5000 visitors (not that I'm counting)
Anyway, this means that in the last 4 months this site has had the same number of visitors as some blogs get in a day. Ha! Those losers.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
York Election Hustings
In addition to the Tory (more about him in a bit), the Liberal Democrat and Green parliamentary candidates were in attendance. There was a spare seat and name card on the front table for the city's UKIP candidate, but he, like Bayley, didn't show - perhaps he was busy bashing Johnny-foreigner somewhere else in the constituency that night.
The crowd, as you might imagine, were, overwhelmingly, a progressive, liberal and left-wing bunch. Lots of young people, lots of Quakers, Methodists, socialists and trade unionists. The Imam from one of the local Mosques (who is active in the York Palestine Solidarity group and helped us distribute Respect leaflets last year) was also present. Most of the questions centred on the Iraq occupation, asylum and immigration, international poverty, Palestine and the environment. There was also an interesting discussion towards the end about teenage pregnancies, contraception and sex education during which the Tory and Lib Dem candidates both came across as particularly silly (The Lib Dem looked very solemn and announced that the 'morning after pill' was far too available, and the Tory put on his most hysterical voice, jabbed his finger and accused the Lib Dem of wanting to 'teach his 6 year old child about sex' - much to audience amusement) .
The Lib Dem was a fairly amiable chap, an OK speaker and he didn't do too badly during the debate - though his comments drew polite applause, rather than enthusiastic expressions of support from the audience. As you might expect, he adopted a faux left wing stance on Iraq and, asylum and international poverty - the usual Lib Dem posturing we've come to expect during this election campaign. You can imagine the kind of line he took - if you've heard one Lib Dem, you've heard them all. The Green candidate was easily the audience favourite and most of his comments met with vigorous clapping. He seemed to be the best informed of all the candidates and his responses to audience questions were often full of detail - facts and figures and so on. The trouble is, that he doesn't have a very impressive speaking manner and came across, perhaps, as rather shy and self-conscious in comparison to the more polished and confident delivery of the other two candidates. However, I'm certainly voting for him - and I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of those who attended the meeting wil vote for him too.
The Tory candidate was a very unusual creature. He started off his first address to the meeting, by announcing that he intended to make history - he wanted to be the first 'Conservative pacifist' elected to Parliament (you can imagine the loud snorts of incomprehension that followed this remark). He said that he's a Quaker and that he opposed the war in Iraq on moral and religious grounds. I think that the crowd, and his opponent candidates, must have been so backfooted by this remark - trying to work out how on earth you can be pacifist and a Tory - that no-one thought to ask him whether he ever loudly drew attention to his pacifism at meetings not packed full of anti-war activists. Does he ever call himself a pacifist in front of Conservative Party audiences, stuffed to the walls with blustering retired colonels and wing commanders? Somehow I doubt it. Anyway, after this disarming attempt to make a grab for some radical credentials, he soon settled back into the usual Tory mould. He defended Tory policy on immigration ('fantasy island' concentration camps), defended the continuing occupation of Iraq (via much unimpressive acrobatic contortions of logic - a pacifist against the war, but pro-occupation??!!) and generally made an absolute fool of himself. He was at his most idiotic when trying to explain what Tory policy was when it came to poverty at home and abroad. When pressed about what he would do about the very poor in Britain (by a wonderfully well informed bloke at the back of the room) he tried to fob the audience off by telling us that the Tories were going to be 'tough on crime' and would introduce an extra 5000 police officers. Now I imagine that arguing that the sensible response to increasing poverty is to lock more of the buggers up goes down rather well in a room full of blue-rinsed old Tory crones (perhaps he forgot where he was for a moment), but this ridiculous line of argument, of course, only drew loud hoots of derision from the room. After this idiocy, the initial politeness of the audience evaporated and it was open season on the 'pacifist'. Many of us there in the room were not pacifists, and so weren't too averse to the sight of Tory blood on the walls and ceiling. By the end of the meeting, I swear, the Tory looked like he was close to bursting into tears. This made me very, very happy. I know schadenfraude is usually considered to be an unpleasant human response to the suffering of others - but I think we can all agree that usual standards of human sympathy and consideration for another's feelings can legitimately be relaxed when it comes to Conservatives.
Anyway, all in all, the meeting was highly enjoyable. It would have been all the more enjoyable had Bayley turned up and been ripped to shreds. Still, you can't have everything.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Rail Against Privatisation
Most people can see that rail privatisation is crap (according to the RMT, 75% of the public want the railways taken back into public ownership) - indeed, it's blindingly obvious that privatisation's been utterly disastrous and driven more by ideology (on the part of politicians) and greed (on the part of private contractors) than by any kind of economic or practical sense. However, the the details of private sector incompetence and disregard for worker and passenger safety still havethe power to shock. Here's some info gleaned from an RMT leaflet:
- Rail investment is 3 times more expensive under privatisation than under British Rail.
- Rail operators receive more subsidy yet provide worse services than under BR.
- Around £800 million is taken out of the industry every year and returns to the private sector add up to over £6 billion since 1996.
- in 2004 8 rail workers were killed - every one of them on a site contolled by a private contractor.
- RMT has to fight constant attempts by private operators to do away with the safety role of train guards.
- South Eastern Trains - the one train-operating company backin public hands, needs £1 million a month less in subsidy than its fat cat predecessor - despite restoring staff levels slashed by Connex.
I had an interesting chat along the march with the agent for the Green Party candidate in York. He's a nice bloke and I'm now certainly going to vote Green in the election. He said that he's had many reports that the (very Blairite, pro-war) Labour Party candidate (York's MP) has been having a hard time around York - leaflets ripped up by disgruntled voters - that sort of thing. Good.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
Opinion seems to be divided over this bunch. I know some people who loathe them. They were on TV a few weeks ago, and one of my friends dismissed them, as 'derivative' and because he'd 'heard it all before'. This is simply sloppy thinking. Sure, they sound (and look) very much like an 80's New Wave band, but since when has 1.) retro and 2.) making good music been incompatible? And anyway, this guy is (rightly) a fan of The Strokes, and Franz Ferdinand so he can shut the hell up.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Poulantzas and Jessop - Could do Better
Unfortunately, I've realised that I don't understand what the fuck some of them are going on about. This is a problem, since the stuff on Poulantzas in particular was supposed to form the centrepiece (nay, the pivot, if you will) of my thesis. I cannot begin to describe the horror.
Now, Block and Miliband are nice and easy. They present simple(ish) theories and they write in plain, straight-forward English - I like it, I like it. The Capital Logic school have been giving me a bit of jip, but I can deal with that because I'm arguing that their position is based on an almost metaphysical ultra-subjectivism and voluntarism (fetishism this, fetishisation that, everything's fetishised don't you know, so all we have to do is 'refuse capital', or something) so I can simply point out that their style of writing - over-written gobbledegook- is entirely in keeping with the mystical obscurantism of the content [oooh, get me]. Jessop and Poulantzas, however, are driving me up the wall. I thought I understood them, I really did. It appears, however, that I don't. I'm starting to wonder if Poulantzas shot himself because he re-read State, Power, Socialism on a dreary, drizzley Friday afternoon, realised that he didn't know what on earth he was banging on about and simply lost the will to live.
I think this is called a 'PhD crisis'.
I'll be all right on Monday. My plan, at the moment, is to carry on regardless and just pretend that I fully understand what Jessop and Poulantzas mean should anyone ask. What's that? What does Jessop mean by 'strategic selectivity' in the final chapter of The Capitalist State? Oh that's easy, what he means, essentially, is that ... [mumbles something indistinct, thrusts hands in pockets, whistles nonchalantly, points to something behind questioner's back and while questioner turns to look, seizes opportunity to run away]. It's OK, students of Derrida and Foucault have made whole careers out of this kind of pretence, I'm sure of it. That, and talking out of their arse. Hur, hur.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Popes and Princes
One of my earliest memories (for some reason) is of watching a news report about the Pope going to visit his would be assassin in prison and forgiving him. I remember being very impressed by that - and I still am.
However, there was much not to like about the man's political and social views, of course. I don't need to go into it. I'll just link to Terry Eagleton's rather good article and nod my head sagely.
I have to say, however, that the most irritating thing about the whole Pope thing over the past few days was not John Paul himself, but the media coverage. I lost track of the number of times I heard some witless correspondent in Rome parroting the ludicrous assertion that the Pope 'brought down Communism'. The idea that the Pope single-handedly brought down the Iron Curtain, rather than the people of the Eastern Bloc, fits snugly into the 'Great Men' view of history that the liberal and conservative media assume to be true, but is, on closer inspection, transparently absurd. Jonathan Steele wrote a good piece about this the other day.
The other big news event of the moment is, of course, the marriage of some numskull Royal to some other numskull. Thankfully the whole thing hasn't been transformed into a media spectacle (unlike the Pope's funeral), and we seem to have been spared the worst of the kind of gushing, reactionary nonsense which characterises the media coverage of most similar kinds of (non) events. The irony is, of course, that this reactionary nonsense is in short supply for utterly reactionary reasons. The Royal wedding has to be low key because (gasp!) the Prince is marrying a divorcee who used to be his bunk-up mistress when he was married to some other moron. This, according to various Archbishops and 'constitutional experts' (pompous, ruddy-faced boors to a man), is rather unseemly behaviour for the hier to the Throne. Hilariously, Charles and whatsername seem to have incorporated this righteous tut-tutting and finger-wagging into the ceremony itself. According to the Guardian, the contrite couple have chosen the 'sternest possible prayer of penitence from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer to be read by themselves and their guests at the blessing of their marriage'. The prayer reads:
"We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these misdoings."
... and please don't mash us, bash us, or boil us in a pot.
The Archbishop of Canterbury (a man for whom I have a lot of admiration, usually) has chosen to read, at the service, from the most fire and brimstoney book of the Bible - the Book of Revelation - in order to add to the utter misery of the occasion. After the Archbishop has finished terrifying the congregation with tales of Satanic beasts, the fiery Pit and the agonised screaming of the damned, the happy couple will then flog themselves with birchwood for half an hour, before being chased off down the road by priests with hot pokers.
Cheek, Wristbands and Bono
Wonder if Bono' s going to wear one - bless his cotton socks.
Actually, I rather like Bono. I seem to be the only lefty who does. He might be a big-headed celebriddy poseur who wears sunglasses indoors (Why? Why do they do that?) , but he's a big-headed celebriddy poseur with his heart in the right place.
The world is full of preening, big-headed, tight-trouser-wearing celebs so why pick on one of the few who, at least, tries to do some good with his fame? There's a wealth of narcissistic, talentless twerps out there that you could and should mock mercilessly at every opportunity - Prince, Puff tossing Daddy, Timberlake, that little wanker with a plaster on his cheek who once sang with Timberlake but I can't remember his name thankfully, Mick Hucknell, Paul Weller, Liam Gallagher (to name just a few). So leave Bonio alone, or I'll do yer.
Thursday, April 07, 2005
Worth a look, in particular, is this Tory bill-board ad, pictured on the Toryscum site, which some good citizen has decided to doctor in a waggish fashion. I think the cool kids call it 'jamming' or a 'judo flip' or something. I don't know, I'm not down with the kids any more.