November 04, 2006
Other People's Guff
As an alternative to actually posting something, here's links to some interesting stuff from what I've been reading the last month or so. Mostly political, I'm afraid.
The Chinese Face of Neoliberalism by Peter Kwong in Counterpunch
In 2006 Shanghai held a "millionaire fair," featuring displays of luxury sedans, yachts, a piece of jewelry priced at $25 million, and a diamond-studded dog leash valued at $61,000.The similarities to the Russian transition to a "free market" are instructive.
To be sure, the wealth that can afford such luxuries was not created by enterprising efforts of individuals with unique abilities or skills. According to a report by the China Rights Forum, only 5 per cent of China's 20,000 richest people have made it on merit. More than 90 per cent are related to senior government or Communist Party officials. The richest among them are the relatives of the very top officials who had used their position to pass the laws that have transformed state-owned industries into stock holding companies, and then appointed family members as managers. In this way the children of top party officials --China's new "princelings" --took over China's most strategic and profitable industries: banking, transportation, power generation, natural resources, media, and weapons. Once in management positions, they get loans from government-controlled banks, acquire foreign partners, and list their companies on Hong Kong or New York stock exchanges to raise more capital. Each step of the way the princelings enrich themselves not only as major shareholders of the companies, but also from the kickbacks they get by awarding contracts to foreign firms. To call this "socialism with Chinese characteristics" is a joke. Even capitalism is not the appropriate term. A Chinese sociologist has defined it as "high-tech feudalism with Chinese characteristics."
Also from Counterpunch, Alan Dershowitz's Sinister Scheme, a British perspective on Professor Dershowitz's arguments for legal torture, by Tim Wilkinson.
His message is that the "old" model of freedom under law is unworkable. The "relatively new phenomenon of mass-casualty suicide terrorism", we are told, demands a new approach.The Spy Who Loved Us, Thomas Bass' piece from the New Yorker on Pham Xuan An, Vietnamese double agent and journalist during the war.
But this does not ring true to British ears. Our response to three decades of IRA mass-casualty attacks was a phlegmatic disdain for the killers, combined, crucially if belatedly, with a willingness to address genuine injustice through negotiation. Blair would no doubt have claimed that we faced an irrational death cult driven by a twisted form of Catholicism and motivated only by an unreasoned hatred of our freedoms. But we are well aware that terrorism is a tool intended ultimately to influence public opinion and policy. We know just as well that the strategy aims to instil a degree of fear disproportionate to the actual increase in risk of harm. Even the well-confirmed risk imposed by IRA bombs was dwarfed by the ambient risk we face daily from unscary sources like accidents, disease and Ordinary Decent Criminals. Terrorists achieve this leveraging of low-level risk by their graphic and arresting means of death-dealing. It is our duty to retain a sense of perspective and overcome the temptation to panicky and ultimately counterproductive over-dramatisation. That means resisting the hysterical rhetoric bandied about by politicians irrevocably committed to the increasingly surreal Neo-Con view of the world.
Describing to Ngoc Hai the similarities between journalists and spies, An said, “Their food is information, documents. Just like birds, one has to keep feeding them so they’ll sing.”Next we have Nixed Signals; Seth Ackerman of FAIR reports how the US media habitually ignores evidence that Hamas is willing to negotiate, preferring the message that the organisation is stubbornly sworn to Israel's destruction. This makes a nice companion piece to Nir Rosen's recent article on Hezbollah and Virginia Tilley's piece arguing Western distortions of the public statements of the Iranian president. Not having heard of Ms Tilley before, I did a search of the web and found this interesting review by Yoav Peled at the New Left Review of her book The One State Solution
“From the Army, intelligence, secret police, I had all kinds of sources,” An says. “The commanders of the military branches, officers of the Special Forces, the Navy, the Air Force—they all helped me.” In exchange for this steady stream of information, An gave his South Vietnamese informants the same thing he gave his Communist employers. “We discussed these documents, as the South Vietnamese tried to figure out what they meant. They had a problem. How were they going to deal with the Americans?” An then turned around and advised the Americans on how to deal with the Vietnamese. It was a high-level confidence game, with death hovering over him should he be discovered photographing the strategic plans and intelligence reports slipped to him by his South Vietnamese and American sources.
And political in its way is this essay from 1978 by Michael Moorcock, "The Starship Stromtroopers", about right wing ideology in science fiction and fantasy.
Through the fifties Campbell used his whole magazine as propaganda for the ideas he promoted in his editorials. His writers, by and large, were enthusiastic. Those who were not fell away from him, disturbed by his increasingly messianic disposition (Alfred Bester gives a good account of this). Over the years Campbell promoted the mystical, quasi-scientific Scientology (first proposed by one of his regular writers L. Ron Hubbard and aired for the first time in Astounding as 'Dianetics: The New Science of the Mind'), a perpetual motion machine known as the 'Dean Drive', a series of plans to ensure that the highways weren't 'abused', and dozens of other half-baked notions, all in the context of cold-war thinking. He also, when faced with the Watts riots of the mid-sixties, seriously proposed and went on to proposing that there were 'natural' slaves who were unhappy if freed. I sat on a panel with him in 1965, as he pointed out that the worker bee when unable to work dies of misery, that the moujiks when freed went to their masters and begged to be enslaved again, that the ideals of the anti-slavers who fought in the Civil War were merely expressions of self-interest and that the blacks were 'against' emancipation, which was fundamentally why they were indulging in 'leaderless' riots in the suburbs of Los Angeles! I was speechless (actually I said four words in all -- 'science-fiction' -- 'psychology' -- Jesus Christ!'- before I collapsed), leaving John Brunner to perform a cool demolition of Campbell's arguments, which left the editor calling on God in support of his views -- an experience rather more intense for me than watching Doctor Strangelove at the cinema.This post from Arthur Silber caught my eye (*cough* a month ago). In a detailed jeremiad against the appalling U.S. Military Commissions Act, Mr Silber quotes from Milton Maher's They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-1945.
One day, when we had become very friendly, I said to him, "Tell me now--how was the world lost?"Also on history, here's an interesting post from len on the Berlin Wall.
"That," he said, "is easy to tell, much easier than you may suppose. The world was lost one day in 1935, here in Germany. It was I who lost it, and I will tell you how.
"I was employed in a defense plant (a war plant, of course, but they were always called defense plants). That was the year of the National Defense Law, the law of 'total conscription.' Under the law I was required to take the oath of fidelity. I said I would not; I opposed it in conscience. I was given twenty-four hours to 'think it over.' In those twenty-four hours I lost the world."
"For the sake of argument," he said, "I will agree that I saved many lives later on. Yes."
"Which you could not have done if you had refused to take the oath in 1935."
"And you still think that you should not have taken the oath."
"I don't understand," I said.
"... If I had refused to take the oath of fidelity, I would have saved all three millions."
"You are joking," I said.
"You don't mean to tell me that your refusal would have overthrown the regime in 1935?"
"Or that others would have followed your example?"
"I don't understand."
"You are an American," he said again, smiling. "I will explain. There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost."
One item of historical renown is the Soviet blockade of Berlin in 1948-9, and the magnificent, heroic flights of fuel and food by C-54s into Tempelhof airport to break the blockade...And returning to finish with Counterpunch, who, back in September, ran a number of articles attacking 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Revisionist historians have long debunked this tale: Carolyn Eisenberg, one of the better historians of the Cold War, has through careful and forensic research through the diplomatic archives shown that in fact the blockade was in reality a part of the process by which American leaders (often to the immense discomfort and chagrin of Western European politicians) pursued the division of Germany. That pursuit brought with it blockade, counterblockade, heightened military tensions and the threat of nuclear war.
Alexander Cockburn: The 9/11 Conspiracy Nuts
It’s awful. My in-box overflows each day with fresh “proofs” of how the WTC buildings were actually demolished, often accompanied by harsh insults identifying me as a “gate-keeper” preventing the truth from getting out. I meet people who start quietly, asking me “what I think about 9/11”. What they are actually trying to find out is whether I’m part of the coven. I imagine it was like being a Stoic in the second century A.D. going for a stroll in the Forum and meeting some fellow asking, with seeming casualness, whether it’s possible to feed 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.Joshua Frank: Proving Nothing
While some BYU physicist rattles his brain over the intricacies of WTC #7's collapse, our government is dropping toxic gas on poor peasants in Colombia in attempts to eradicate coca production. While David Ray Griffin pens his next best seller, forests in Alaska and Appalachia are being obliterated in the name of corporate profit. While so many truth seekers attempt to convince us (how they can seek the truth when they already think they have all the answers is beyond me) that the Jews who worked in the WTC were told ahead of time not to come to work on 9/11, Lebanon is being invaded and destroyed by Israel.JoAnn Wypijewski: How Far We Have Fallen
Some of the black T-shirts told me they believed that if only Americans did the research there would be a mass uprising in this country and all the other things I was talking about would suddenly be on the table. But about a third of Americans already believes 9/11 was an inside job. I asked if they really thought "Do the Research" was a galvanizing slogan, to which I was corrected that the more popular slogan was "Ask Questions, Demand Answers".Alexander Cockburn: Flying Saucers and the Decline of the Left (follow up)
Richard Aldrich's book on British intelligence, The Hidden Hand (2002), describes how a report for the Pentagon on declassification recommended that "interesting declassified material" such as information about the JFK assassination "could be released and even posted on the Internet, as a 'diversion,'" and used to "reduce the unrestrained public appetite for 'secrets' by providing good faith distraction material". Aldrich adds, "If investigative journalists and contemporary historians were absorbed with the vexatious, but rather tired, debates over the grassy knoll, they would not be busy probing into areas where they were unwelcome."Hani Shukrallah: The American Mind
Having gone to considerable detail to absolve my companions at the Italian Club of any suspicion of being blighted by, God forbid, an Arab mind, I might now reveal that they were the source of the most persuasive 9/11 conspiracy theory I had yet to come across. It was all about steel structures and impossible cell-phone calls and an unlikely hole in the Pentagon and a disappeared fourth, or was it fifth, plane. I was referred to Web sites and to American scholars who have organized to question the whole edifice of reasoning and evidence presented by the official investigation.Dang, throwing that together took longer than an actual post.