Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ahmadinejad, not the only demon in town: full text

Not the only demon in town

Ahmadinejad's critics are selective and self-serving. After all, the Bush administration's record is also objectionable.
Ian Williams

full text from Guardian comment is free
September 25, 2007 3:30 PM | Printable version

When you see one person and nation being demonised, you have to assume that it is for a purpose. It is time for some perspective: why should we take it for granted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the supreme evil being and a super-klutz at the same time?

The ungracious introduction to Ahmadinejad's talk by Lee Bollinger, the Columbia University president, read more like a plea to Fox News and the ADL to give him a break for not calling off the event. Think of all the people who took umbrage at President Bush's intellect and morals being belittled last year. Did Bollinger not realize that he was doing Hugo Chávez imitations?

As the born-again atheist author of Rum, and a not infrequent imbiber, I am no great fan of Ahmadinejad. But he was elected by a much clearer majority, with a much bigger turnout, than his equally religious, teetotalling colleague President Bush. And for those impressed by that sort of thing, the Iranian president volunteered for the front in the war against Saddam Hussein - in contrast to Bush, who dodged the draft, and most of the present White House team, who were then enthusiastic backers of Saddam.

Iran has not invaded any other country since the Islamic revolution. The Shah, who had his own nuclear programme, was a close friend and strategic ally not only of the US but of Israel, and apartheid South Africa. But we forgave him his part in maintaining apartheid, just as we forgave ourselves, and indeed Israel, for arming, financing and supporting a pernicious, evil and racist regime.

So, of what is Ahmadinejad guilty? He supports the death penalty? Anyone would think he was a Texas governor. Is the president of China ostracized for threatening to rain missiles on Taiwan, for not having elections, or for executing thousands of people a year? No, we give him the Olympics, and all the TV channels will be there.

The Iranian president does seem very obtuse about gays, denying that Iran had any. But homosexual acts still carry a 15-year prison sentence in many Caribbean islands that the more innocent cruise to so insouciantly. And only a few decades ago the US, UK and other European countries had similar penalties.

Ahmadinejad has been totally insensitive about the Holocaust, though at last in his speech, he certainly seemed to accept that it happened. But then he asked the very legitimate question of why the Palestinians should have to pay the price for European anti-semitism. It is a question that no one has, or can, answer satisfactorily without invoking divine sanctions.

Then there is the famous mistranslation of Israel being wiped off the map. It has been quoted so often now that it has attained, dare we say, myth-like proportions. But he did not say that. The original Farsi, as several more inquisitive researchers have demonstrated, did not have that apocalyptic flavouring. It meant that he would like Israel, as a state, to go away. Not genocide. Not massacring the population. Not even putting them on boats. At Columbia he seemed to be advocating a one state solution - which more and more Palestinians and even some Israelis are returning to in the face of Israel's continuing avoidance of a genuine, occupation-free two state solution.

Certainly Ahmadinejad has blood on his hands - mostly Iranian. But when Ariel Sharon came to town with the stench of sun-bloated cadavers from Sabra and Shatila lingering over him, many of the people demonstrating against Ahmadinejad had probably attended rubber chicken fundraisers with him.

And on both the death penalty and women: Saudi Arabia has the death penalty while Saudi women can neither drive nor vote. In fact Saudi men can't vote in any meaningful way either. Anti-semitism? Iran has 20,000 Jews who refuse to leave. Not many Jews can get into Saudi Arabia. But who says no to Saudi princes, oil or money, unless they support Palestinians?

And then we come to the nuclear issue. The IAEA Council, under ferocious American pressure, which included giving India a free pass on its overt nuclear weapons, in effect broke its own charter by saying that Iran could not refine its own uranium. And then it went to the security council to repeat the process. The Ayatollahs say the bomb is un-Islamic. I would love the National Evangelical Association to declare it to be un-Christian, or the chief rabbis of Israel to declare it un-Talmudic, but then the US and Israel are nuclear states.

Iran is a member of the non-proliferation treaty and allows inspections, and the IAEA thinks that its nuclear programme is under control. It is mystifying why the Iranians are courting disaster even if they are technically correct about their legal position. The nuclear issue only makes sense as brinkmanship, trying to get the US to talk. It is very dangerous and naïve, and perhaps underestimates the craziness of the people they are dealing with. Nixon used being mad as a tactic. Bush has made it a lifestyle option in international politics.

When we suddenly find Muhamed El-Baradei, the IAEA head, becoming an honorary acolyte of the axis of evil for Washington, it is déjà vu all over again. Some people want war with Iran, very, very badly. As much as they wanted it with Saddam Hussein.

Chavez is a thuggish populist, who was elected. Ahmadinehjad, a naïve, fundamentalist one, was also elected. I would not have voted for either of them. But I would not vote for war on them and their peoples either - not unless I wanted to consolidate their support and power.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ban Ki Moon, Nine Months in office, still ambiguous

Below is the Portuguese of my article in Folho, Sao Brazil this Sunday 23 September. Readers can choose which version to go to.

Ban Ki Moon, nine months in office, still ambiguous

The 62nd General Assembly opens, as always, with the Brazilian representative making the first speech in the General Debate, after Ban Ki Moon has made his own inaugural opening speech as Secretary General to the General Assembly.

Nine months gestation in office, and Ban is still something of an enigma. Personally affable and approachable, officially it is still difficult to pin him down on positions. While he professes the highest regard for lofty principles of international law and humanitarianism, he consummately avoids being pinned down on specifics. He still prides himself on the title the Korean press corps gave him -"the slippery eel."

One of the reasons for this is that his role as the world's conscience contradicts the other role that has accreted to the office, which is to be the global Arch-Envoy. A Secretary General has to epitomize the UN's global conscience, but to get immediate results he must sometimes shake the bloodstained hands of politicians who are breaking international law.

For example, it is now becoming apparent how much personal effort he has put into resolution of the Sudan and Darfur problems, but for many months, only the most sharp-eared observers in UN headquarters knew how much effort he was putting into this, with incessant calls to the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir.

However, that it came to public notice at all was at least in part because he had finally expanded his staff from the small hard-core Korean dominated team that he brought with him. In effect, they had bought the John-Bolton angled American agenda that saw the previous administration of Kofi Annan as corrupt and inefficient. They thought that they really had little to learn from the existing office-holders, many of whom were cleared out.

That lack of institutional and global experience often shows, and not just on the Middle East. South Korea, where Ban was foreign minister, sees the world from the bottom of a well, whose walls are China, Russia, Japan, North Korea and America. One can forgive them for not having studied the rest of the world as much as they should, and indeed for taking for granted an American version of what is happening.

By now, they may be learning that factions in Washington will always attack the United Nations, no matter who the Secretary General is. Many Non-Aligned representatives regarded Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan as being overly accommodating to the US to the point of being tools of Washington but that bought them no protection in Washington as soon as they disagreed with American policies.

Nor did their appointment of American nominees to high office protect the UN from attacks from Congress and the American media. So there was apprehension when Ban appointed an American diplomat, B. Lynn Pascoe as Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, which tended to confirm Non-Aligned suspicions that from now on there would be no difference between American and UN Secretariat positions.

Ironically, however, Pascoe has actually moderated the Korean impulses to follow Washington's positions on matters like the Middle East, which is an issue will almost inevitably lead to conflict between the US administration and any Secretary General who upholds UN positions.

Boutros Ghali and Annan worked hard to bring Israeli and American Jewish support behind the organization, but tempered that with an awareness that there were UN resolutions and principles that applied. Initially Ban's team were totally unbalanced in their approach, as charged by the retiring Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, whose leaked report showed how far UN practice was straying from its principles. De Soto complained about the "unprecedented access" Israel had to the Secretary General's office, which went as far as helping choose officials as well as determining positions on the Palestine conflict. For example when Ban went to Israel and the Occupied Territories, the pro-Israeli faction fought successfully to stop him going to Gaza where he would have seen the full horror of life for ordinary Palestinians.

There are some signs of change. After six months of statements that implicitly took a pro-Israeli position, the pressure of reality led this summer to him cautioning the Israelis about using tanks in built up areas. It was a small but significant step to a more measured position, but Arab ambassadors and indeed many Non-Aligned are watching him very critically.

In that context, his success in getting the attention of Khartoum, and harnessing the neighouring states, notably Libya, is notable. But his triumph in getting Bashir to accept a UN force can still backfire. In effect, the UN is now accepting responsibility and blame for what is essentially the failure of the great powers. Ironically, China's wish not to have boycotts and protests rain on its Olympics next year probably had more to do with Sudan's agreement than traditional diplomacy. Sadly, Al-Bashir shows every sign of learning from the Slobodan Milosevic school of statesmanship, taking the occasional one step backwards to defuse pressure and then moving two steps forward as soon as pressure is relaxed.

Reassuringly, insiders suggest that Ban Ki Moon is in a wait and see mode with the Sudanese, rather than naivety. With the reported air attacks this week, perhaps that is just as well. But in every sense, we are unlikely to see him raising the temperature of a debate. He is dampens fires, not fans them

Folha, São Paulo, domingo, 23 de setembro de 2007

Ban Ki-moon ainda busca rumo na ONU
Há nove meses no posto, secretário-geral é visto como escorregadio e ambíguo

Visão de mundo de Seul, proximidade com os EUA e paradoxos ligados ao cargo restringem ação e anuviam os êxitos do sul-coreano


A 62ª Assembléia Geral da ONU começa nesta semana, como sempre, com o presidente do Brasil fazendo o primeiro discurso no debate geral, depois de Ban Ki-moon ter proferido seu discurso inaugural na condição de secretário-geral.
Nove meses depois de chegar ao cargo, Ban ainda é, até certo ponto, um enigma. Pessoalmente afável e acessível, é porém avesso a posições firmes sobre questões oficiais. Ao mesmo tempo em que afirma a mais alta consideração pelos princípios elevados do direito internacional e do humanitarismo, o secretário-geral toma o máximo cuidado para evitar deixar clara sua posição em questões específicas. E ainda se orgulha do apelido que lhe foi dado pela imprensa sul-coreana: "enguia escorregadia".
Uma das razões é que seu papel de consciência do mundo contradiz o outro papel atribuído ao cargo, o de arquienviado global. Um secretário-geral deve encarnar a consciência da ONU, mas, para obter resultados imediatos, às vezes também tem de apertar mãos manchadas de sangue de políticos que violam leis internacionais.
Por exemplo, está ficando claro agora quanto esforço pessoal Ban investiu na solução dos problemas de Darfur, no Sudão. Por meses, porém, apenas os observadores mais atentos na sede da ONU sabiam o quanto ele estava se dedicando a isso, com telefonemas incessantes ao presidente sudanês, Omar al Bashir.
Mas o próprio fato de a questão ter vindo a público ocorreu, ao menos em parte, porque Ban finalmente ampliou sua equipe para além do pequeno time central, de predomínio sul-coreano, que ele trouxera consigo para o cargo. Esse núcleo central, na prática, havia aceitado a agenda americana traçada por John Bolton, que via a administração anterior, de Kofi Annan, como corrupta e ineficiente.
Seus integrantes pensavam que tinham pouco a aprender com seus predecessores, muitos dos quais foram afastados.

Ótica própria
Essa falta de experiência institucional e global é algo que se torna aparente com freqüência, e não só em relação ao Oriente Médio. A Coréia do Sul, onde Ban foi chanceler, vê o mundo do fundo de um poço cujas paredes são formadas pela China, Rússia, Japão, Coréia do Norte e EUA. Podemos perdoá-la por não ter estudado o resto do mundo tanto quanto deveria e até por aceitar incondicionalmente a versão americana do que acontece no mundo.
Agora, essa equipe já deve estar descobrindo que facções de Washington sempre vão atacar a ONU, não importa quem seja o secretário-geral. Muitos representantes não-alinhados viam Boutros Ghali e Kofi Annan como complacentes demais com os EUA, a ponto de serem instrumentos de Washington, mas isso não lhes garantiu proteção nenhuma em Washington quando discordavam da política americana.
E suas indicações de nomes americanos para altos cargos tampouco protegeram a ONU de ataques do Congresso e da mídia dos EUA. Assim, houve apreensão quando Ban escolheu um diplomata americano, B. Lynn Pascoe, para subsecretário-geral para Assuntos Políticos -uma indicação que tendeu a confirmar as desconfianças dos não-alinhados de que, de agora em diante, não haverá diferença entre as posições dos EUA e do secretariado da ONU.
Ironicamente, porém, Pascoe vem na realidade moderando os impulsos sul-coreanos de acompanhar as posições de Washington em questões como o Oriente Médio -esta, uma questão que vai quase inevitavelmente levar a um conflito entre o governo dos EUA e qualquer secretário-geral que defenda posições da ONU.
Boutros Ghali e Annan trabalharam duro para conseguir o apoio israelense e da comunidade judaica americana à organização, mas contrabalançaram esse esforço com a consciência de que existem resoluções e princípios da ONU que precisam ser respeitados. Num primeiro momento, a equipe de Ban adotou uma abordagem unilateral, como acusou o enviado ao Oriente Médio Álvaro de Soto, cujo relatório vazado deixou claro como a prática da ONU estava se afastando dos princípios da entidade.
De Soto queixou-se do "acesso sem precedentes" que Israel tinha ao gabinete do secretário-geral, a ponto de influenciar a escolha de funcionários e de determinar posições com relação ao conflito palestino. Por exemplo, quando Ban foi a Israel e aos territórios ocupados, a facção pró-israelense lutou com sucesso para impedi-lo de visitar a faixa de Gaza, onde ele teria testemunhado o horror da vida dos palestinos comuns.

Há alguns sinais de mudanças. Após seis meses de declarações que implicitamente assumiam uma posição pró-israelense, nos últimos meses a pressão da realidade levou Ban a advertir Israel contra o uso de tanques em áreas com muitas construções. Foi um passo pequeno, mas importante, rumo a uma posição mais equilibrada.
Porém os embaixadores árabes e de muitos países não-alinhados estão observando o secretário-geral com atenção crítica. Nesse contexto, seu êxito em chamar a atenção de Cartum e em conseguir a adesão dos países vizinhos, especialmente a Líbia, é notável. Mas seu triunfo em conseguir que Bashir aceite uma força da ONU ainda pode ser um tiro pela culatra.
Na prática, a ONU agora está aceitando a responsabilidade e a culpa por algo que, essencialmente, deve-se à inação das grandes potências.
Ironicamente, o desejo da China de não ter protestos e boicotes prejudicando sua Olimpíada, em 2008, provavelmente contribuiu mais que a diplomacia tradicional para o acordo conseguido no Sudão.
Lamentavelmente, Bashir dá sinais de estar aprendendo com a escola Slobodan Milosevic de governo, retrocedendo um passo de vez em quando para reduzir as pressões e então avançando dois passos, assim que a pressão é abrandada.
Um fato tranqüilizador é que fontes bem informadas sugerem que Ban está em modo de "esperar para ver" com o Sudão, e não age ingenuamente. Com os recentes ataques aéreos relatados, talvez seja melhor assim. Mas é pouco provável que o vejamos elevar a temperatura de uma discussão, em qualquer sentido. Ban Ki-moon ainda é alguém que apaga incêndios, não que os atiça.

O jornalista inglês IAN WILLIAMS cobre a ONU desde 1989 e é colunista da versão on-line do jornal "The Guardian". Autor de "UN for Begginers" (ONU para iniciantes), atualmente trabalha em um livro sobre a ojeriza de parte dos americanos ao organismo internacional

Why believe Greenspan now? Full text

Why believe Greenspan now?

Comment is Free in the Guardian

It would almost be reassuring if the war had a rational cause like oil. But Bush was listening to God, not to the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Ian Williams

September 22, 2007

Alan Greenspan has benefited considerably from the the US media's customary deference to any significant figure, such George Bush or General David Petraeus, "drest in little brief authority." At times, hagiography is the natural medium for mainstream pundits. And so it is for Saint, or rather Sir Alan, since his knighthood.

So I suppose it is not too surprising that so many jumped on his quote: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

But this does not prove the case. All it proves is that Greenspan thinks so.

In fact, Greenspan has eaten his own words so often while and since he headed the Federal Reserve that it almost accounts for his impenetrably masticated prose. The one issue that comes clearly through his gnomic utterances is his monstrous ego. Like the fly in the La Fontaine fable who thought he moved the coach by buzzing around the horse's nuzzle, Greenspan has always taken the credit for all economic booms while skipping over his part in the busts. The Fed really only has one sure instrument, and that is the brake, in the form of raising interest rates. The accelerator, dropping rates, is a now and then thing, depending on many more factors.

Just consider Greenspan's history. He started off as the head of the fan club for Ayn Rand, the writer who combined the megalomaniac sweep of Mein Kampf with the bodice-ripping proclivities of Barbara Cartland. Her best example, Atlas Shrugged, is a hymn of hate to FDR and the New Deal that put America back to work after the Depression and laid the foundations for the unprecedented growth and prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s.

In the process of his infatuation, he became a "gold-bug," a believer in the mystic economic properties of the yellow metal and hard currency, a fighter against inflation.
His PhD was awarded by NYU on the basis of a collection of previously published articles, which he asked them to withhold from public view.

He never renounced his beliefs, despite his part in setting the stage for putting the US dollar on devaluing slide unprecedented since the Confederate dollars hit the printing presses. He set the stage for the dotcom bubble, and typically threw in a hedging warning about "irrational exuberance" - but then did nothing about it.

As he said in 1995: "I spend a substantial amount of my time endeavoring to fend off questions, and worry terribly that I might end up being too clear." Not to worry, with his customary prophetic ambiguity, he told congress that the budget deficit is a bad thing, but the tax cuts for the rich that precipitated it and are going to make it worse, are good and irreversible. Go extrapolate.

He has called for the privatization of social security, so American workers can entrust their financial futures to those wonderful people who brought you the dot-coms, back-dated stock options and sub-prime mortgage bonds. He considered that stock options by the billion for CEOs had no inflationary effect while a couple of dimes on the minimum wage would. Instead he told the Senate that his preference for the minimum wage "would be to lower it and, in fact, eliminate it because I think that it does more damage than good."

In the context of such manifest failure as a prophet, it would be credulous to give too much credence to his revelation that invading Iraq was about oil, part of America's war for global resources. It is more likely part of his plan for ensuring adequate resources for his retirement by hyping the sales of his book.

While the "realist" right will nod approvingly at what they consider to be pragmatic reality, too many on the left will seize on this as support for their "blood for oil" rhetoric. Both of them have to explain why there is less oil coming out of Iraq, at higher cost, than under the bad old days of Saddam. Of course his advice to Bush to invade for the oil would not be the first time that Greenspan had passed on disastrous advice, but sadly it would almost be reassuring if we could ascribe such rational if amoral motives to the invasion. There were certainly all, of motives and lobbies pushing in that direction. Supporters of Israel, some of the more naïve liberal interventionists from Tony Blair to Christopher Hitchens, neocons trying to remake the world in the American image, all buzzed around the nose of the carthorse of this bandwagon. But not the oil companies.

But we look to Bush for the sheer irrationality of it all: God told him to do it. Saddam tried to kill his Dad. And, by deduction, we have the Deserter-in-Chief trying to emulate his father, a teenage war hero, by covering his own cowardly tracks in a cloud of sand and a flood of blood. If George Bush junior is prepared to start a disastrous war on instructions from his own personal Jesus as well, it does make him daft enough to listen to Greenspan even if the Fed chair killed his father politically by tightening the economy to the edge of depression, and then reversing course in time for Clinton to take the credit.

War opponents would be better ignoring as mendacious a maven as Greenspan rather than using him to boost their rhetorical case.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Speech to Taiwan Rally outside UN

Well here it is in glorious technicolour... my speech to the Taiwan rally outside the UN. For those with pressing deadlines determined to waste time.

Why Believe Greenspan Now?

Why believe Greenspan now?

It would almost be reassuring if the war had a rational cause like oil. But Bush was listening to God, not to the chairman of the Federal Reserve

Guardian Comment is Free today

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Iran, Nixon, Bush, and terminal idiocy

Tribune Column 21 September

Richard Nixon famously had the "Madman Strategy" to intimidate his enemies. But it was not really a strategy, it was more of a tactic. It is George W. Bush who has elevated lunacy or at least idiocy, to a strategy. And what is more, it appears the ailment is contagious, possibly even epidemic.

Of course it makes no sense to attack Iran… but all the signs are that that is what the White House coterie is up to. The rhetoric from all the usual suspects is uncannily similar to what we heard the run up to the Iraq invasion – along with the detachment from reality of the deluded proponents.

Just consider General Petraeus's evidence to Congress last week. He is a political general, appointed by Bush to tell the legislators what the White House wanted to hear. And he did. The legislators and the press, hypnotized by the uniform, took what he said as gospel; although some of the bolder souls did indeed point out that he has consistently seen silver linings in the clouds over Baghdad.

Petraeus's delivery elided Al-Qaeda, insurgents, Iran and the Shi'a militias as if they were a seamless whole, implying that Teheran is behind the deaths of Americans in Iraq, and by a few degrees of separation, sponsoring Osama Bin Laden.

Let us consider Iran. It is indeed governed by faith-based zealots who are enthusiastic practitioners of the death penalty. But unlike the US it has not invaded any of its neighbouring countries.

Indeed, Saddam Hussein, with American and British support invaded Iran and fought one of the longest and most bloody wars of aggression of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Ahmedinejad is, to put it kindly, not the brightest star in the diplomatic firmament, but on examination, a lot of what his detractors accuse him of saying is the subject of willful mistranslation, and he has consistently denied military nuclear ambitions.

The Non-Proliferation Treaty binds Iran. – unlike nuclear powers Indian and Pakistan, the former of which has been given the green light by the US in defiance of the treaty while the latter has military and security officers who have a proven record of favoring the Taliban. It is legitimate to ask why on earth an oil–rich country like Iran should embark on a perilous road to nuclear energy, but one could answer that the reasons may be similar to those which impelled a coal and oil rich country like Great Britain to be actively considering expansion of nuclear reactor capability.

But who do you trust on these issues? Nobel prize-winner Mohammed El Baradei of the IAEA, who was completely vindicated about Iraq's lack of a nuclear programme, or the recidivist liars and fabulists who hymned our way into the disastrous invasion?

As El Baradei said in Vienna this week, "There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons."

He thinks he has pulled off a deal, but it is hardly surprising that the murderous clots who brought us the Iraq debacle are again attacking him furiously. Of course, they might be right, and Iran may indeed have nuclear ambitions. But the burden of proof really has to meet an even higher standard than normal because of their own proven predilection for telling political expedient whoppers.

Of course, some of the biggest proponents of an attack on Iran come from Israel. Israel has invaded its neighbour Lebanon over and over again, using modern weaponry supplied by the United States. It has nuclear weapons. It recently flew a provocative sortie into Syria, possibly alienating Turkey in the process. It is occupying parts of Syria, the West Bank and Gaza. So do we really take their word for it that Iran needs dealing with?

Luckily, there are some signs of inoculation against this pervasive insanity. It appears that British officers are demurring at being moved to the Iranian border in order to act as a trip wire if the Revolutionary Guards come swarming over the Iraqi border in retaliation for whatever the Israelis or Americans have done. But they hardly need to.

The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq handed over control of large swathes of the country to Shi'a groups and militia who, if you believe Petraeus, take orders from their coreligionists in Teheran. Even taking his conspiracist scripts with a hint of skepticism, one can assume that the Shi'a in Iraq will not take kindly to an attack on Iran whether by the US, or by Israel with tacit US backing.

There is no way that Israel would attack Iran in the teeth of US displeasure, and of course any Iranian retaliation would then trigger American support. I suppose it would then mean that US troops would be out of Iraq, dead or alive, but with the parlous state of the world economy, all it needs is Gulf Oil to be out of the markets to cause the mother of all crashes.

But surely the Democrats in Congress would oppose an attack? Don't bet on it. Mesmerized by talk of terrorism and attacks on GI's, whipped in by AIPAC, the Israel Lobby, most of the presidential contenders are sleepwalking to disaster- assisted it might be added by inept diplomacy. It's no way to run a world.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

War Resistors and Larry Flynt

This is the text of the article I wrote for Hustler magazine a few months ago. In recursive fashion, I wrote about writing for Hustler for the Guardian afterwards. Now the blogosphere has decided to republish the original Hustler article, so I may as well. They are also using it as a stick to beat the Nation with. The Nation has many palpable faults, but I cannot say they turned this idea down. Rather Hustler came to me based on my book "Deserter" (see the Amazon button to the left). On the other hand, the Nation while keeping me listed on the editorial page as their UN Correspondent, has not accepted a piece from me on the book pages for some four years, and in the main magazine for over one. So there may be some point there, even if I am not sure what. Apparently I upset the editor by describing the Nation as a socialist magazine on the O'Reilly Factor, which I meant as a compliment but she and Bill O both took differently!

So here goes.

Hell No, They Won't Go!

Soldiers talk to Ian Williams on going AWOL, deserting and resisting Bush’s military.

Pablo Paredes, an ex-Navy petty officer who refused to board the Iraq-bound USS Bonhomme Richard in December 2003, estimates that up to 40,000 U.S. servicemen and -women have either gone AWOL (absent without leave) or deserted since 2000. The number of deserters from the Iraq War alone is estimated at around 10,000. The GI Rights Helpline—where The Bronx, New York, resident works—gets 40,000 calls a year—half from military personnel who’ve gone AWOL and want advice on their options. Paredes assumes that at least the same number do not call.

“Every time we pick up the phone, it’s a horror story,” Paredes relates. “They’ve all seen something incredibly traumatic; they’ve watched friends die, civilians die, women assaulted and raped. They’ve had enough. Some of them have been officially diagnosed with psych issues,” Paredes continues, “and the military tries to get them to suck it up and send them straight back to Iraq. Some have done three, four or even five tours of duty, and they are not going back to risk their lives a sixth time. They don’t want to lose their lives for an insane war.”
Court-martialed for refusing to ship out to the Gulf, Paredes was administratively discharged after receiving a relatively light sentence and serving no time in the brig.

The Pentagon is evasive about revealing numbers. By 2004 the Defense Department admitted to 8,500 deserters—not including Marines. On December 2, 2006, CNN reported that 9,500 servicemen and -women had deserted since the start of the Iraq War and that 2,500 to 3,000 had gone AWOL. While anyone absent without leave for more than 30 days is technically classified a deserter, Paredes has had callers who have been on the lam for six months without being officially listed.

The numbers involved are the highest since the Vietnam War, during which an estimated 1.5 million soldiers deserted and went AWOL. Back then, George W. Bush moved to Texas and used his family connections to dodge combat duty while less-well-connected Americans flocked by the thousands to Canada. Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau rolled out the red carpet for them, saying, “Canada should be a refuge from militarism.” Up to 100,000 went north, 30,000 settling there permanently.

One of them, Jeffry House, became a lawyer and now handles the cases of over 30 contemporary GIs who have applied for refugee status to avoid service in Iraq. He estimates that there are another 200 in Canada who have not yet applied formally.

Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía was the first combat veteran who refused to return to Iraq, staying Stateside to denounce the war. He gave himself up and received a year sentence, but is still fighting. “I’m appealing my conviction, so I’m still in the military, although I’m not in uniform or being bossed around by a military superior,” says Mejía, who seems haunted by the things he did and saw in Iraq.

“It’s a pretty messed- up thing, so you can’t really say I have no regrets. But after all, I’m in a better position. The experience has allowed me to grow, to speak out against the war, to educate others. I’ve had some contact with people from my squad in Iraq, and they have been very supportive. They know it was not a matter of cowardice, because we have been through so much together, and I did my job as a squad leader. I proved myself to them in combat; they know me very well.”

Mejía, the son of Sandinista revolutionaries, ruled out fleeing. “I weighed the idea of Canada, but I also had dual Nicaraguan and Costa Rican citizenship, so I could have gone back to either of those countries and had a comfortable middle-class life. It was not just to save my own skin. The best way to make my voice heard was to go public and take my place in court, and eventually it may go all the way to the Supreme Court, if the military refuses to recognize my rights as a conscientious objector.”

In this war, the stakes are higher for those crossing the border. These resisters are a new and tougher breed. Unlike most Vietnam-era servicemen, they volunteered for the military, and most expressed their willingness to go to equally dangerous combat zones in Afghanistan, but they all unite in condemning the war in Iraq as immoral, illegal and futile. And they should know: Many of them have been there.

By 1969, all an American GI had to do was cross the border and register as an immigrant, since Trudeau’s government guaranteed no one would be sent back. Since then, Canada has raised its immigration barriers. Would-be immigrants have to apply from their own countries and are required to show education, training and financial assets before emigrating to Canada—a process that can take two years.

Today arriving GIs must apply for political asylum on the grounds of persecution for refusing to take part in an illegal war. Three years ago, former Private First Class Jeremy Hinzman was the first American to apply for this status. His case is being laboriously fought by the Canadian government, which is now conservative and has so far persuaded the courts to ignore the question of whether or not the Iraq War is illegal. The lower level Immigration and Refugee Boards and courts have ruled against Hinzman, who, if successful, would reportedly be Canada’s first ever certified political refugee from the U.S.

Hinzman headed north with his wife and toddler at the beginning of 2004. Now working as a bike courier in Toronto, he has already survived several of Ontario’s ferocious winters. “The government didn’t roll out a red carpet for us,” Hinzman says, “but we like it up here, and there’s a lot of support for what we have done.”

The ex-soldier adds, “We’ve adapted pretty well. The fact that there is free healthcare is a big plus, but in general it’s not that different from home. Everyone has equal opportunities. We’re not rich, but we’re not poor—comfortable.”

Hinzman has no regrets. He joined the Army for the college funding, but was so horrified by the bloodthirsty values of basic training that he applied for conscientious objector status. Pending his appeal, he served in a noncombatant post with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. After returning home, Hinzman heard that his application had been denied and that he was being deployed to Iraq. So he flew the coop to the Great White North.

“It was an illegal war,” Hinzman insists. “We did the right thing by deciding to fight it. Canada refused to fight in the war. To me that said they thought the war was illegal and immoral. When we came here, we knew that the chances were we may not be able to go back to America.”

Hinzman attends meetings of the War Resisters Support Campaign in Canada, but the ex-GIs do not cling together obsessively like expatriates in a foreign country. “It’s not like we are the army north of the border,” Hinzman laughs. In addition to those who have asked for political asylum, other deserters who fled to Canada are trying to make up their minds. House says over 100 have contacted him, and he knows of more on Canada’s West Coast and in Quebec.

House describes Ottawa’s dilemma: “The Canadian government doesn’t want to send a signal to the U.S. Army: ‘Come here!’ Individual officials come up to us and whisper sympathy. But that’s not the official line, which is that the war is not obnoxious or illegal enough for you to stay here.”

In a recent poll, 74% of Canadians saw George W. Bush as a threat to world peace. About the same number said the Iraq War was not justified, so there’s lots of support for the GIs, restraining any attempts by Canada’s new right-tilting government to send them back. It helps, says House, that the war resisters “are very presentable, intelligent, thoughtful and articulate; they have been through things.”

House is confident of eventual success, even if the issue has to go all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. He cites the ironic precedent of a decade ago in which the Court ruled in favor of Mohamed Al-Maisri, a Yemeni deserter from Saddam Hussein’s army at the time of the first Gulf War. In other words, it’s not illegal to desert from an army that stages unprovoked attacks.

Hinzman’s case has now been followed by around three dozen more, and none of his counterparts feel any pressure to leave. Applicants for refugee status get work permits, access to the school system and—something mentioned enthusiastically by all I spoke to—Canada’s free healthcare.

Kyle Snyder headed to British Columbia when he returned from Iraq on leave. Snyder was already disaffected with the military due to family problems, but adds, “I saw a lot of things that were changing my mind about this war. I made a conscious choice that I couldn’t live with myself if I stayed in Iraq. I felt it was evil, the things that were happening. We were not doing anything positive for the Iraqi people.”

Then, after 18 months in Canada, Snyder heard that another resister, Darrell Anderson, had negotiated a deal that would have him quickly discharged if he went south and gave himself up. Snyder retained Anderson’s attorney, Jim Fennerty, who’d worked out the same offer with Major Brian Patterson at Fort Knox in Kentucky. “I gave up my job in Canada, gave up my healthcare and my refugee status,” Snyder states. “In fact, I gave up the life I had started over the last 18 months on a chance of a discharge that they would just let me out.”

However, when Snyder reported to Fort Knox, instead of the less-than-honorable discharge he was promised, Snyder says, “The whole attitude changed. It was ‘We are going to fuck you, we will send you back to your unit, and you will probably be redeployed back to Iraq.’”
Soldiers from Fort Knox dropped him off at the Greyhound station for a trip to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Snyder recalls thinking, “I’m, like, fuck this. I’m not getting on that bus.”

Instead, when I eventually spoke to him, he was in New Orleans. “I’m going to help Iraq Veterans Against the War reconstruct, like we should have done when Katrina hit,” he declared. “It’s still a disaster area here; I don’t see why there aren’t troops here. It takes me running away from the military to do a job the military should have been doing in the first place.”

And after only a few weeks, he missed Canada. “We were loved up there. I miss it. I do.”

Suppose they gave a war, and nobody came….

Manhattan-based Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans, and His Past and Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776. The U.N. correspondent for The Nation magazine and many other publications around the world, Williams covered both Gulf wars. He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, Scarborough Country, Hardball, Lou Dobbs Tonight and Your World w/ Neil Cavuto. “I’m the liberal lion they throw to the Christian Right,” Williams quips.

China, Taiwan, Penguins and Munich - full text

Bullying and diplomacy - full text

By giving in to China's aggression towards Taiwan, the US risks repeating Margaret Thatcher's mistakes over the Falklands - with far more at stake than sheep and penguins.
Ian Williams

September 17, 2007 8:30 PM

Last week I got a personal taste of Beijing's diplomacy. Their mission to the United Nations called me up and warned at the beginning and end of a 20 minute impromptu telephone debate that if I appeared on a panel with Taiwan's "so-called" President Chen Shui-bian they would "take it very seriously."

Around the world, most governments seem to quail in the face of such implied threats. In contrast, seeing no sign of Chinese gunboats in the East River, and reckoning that the worst that could happen was my missing the 2008 Olympics, the bluster reinforced my determination.

On Friday I appeared not only with President Chen on a video link but with John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, in person, and on Saturday on a platform with the Taiwanese sea-goddess Matsu, flown over on her own seat to New York.

I was thinking that if Bolton and I could agree on any issue, Matsu may have been working hard on the miracle front. She will have to work even harder to get Beijing in a reasonable mode.

China's diplomat told me that Chen was a trouble-maker, and took even more umbrage when I pointed out that in fact it was the mainland that was pointing almost a thousand missiles at Taiwan, and not the other way round. "We will consider that you support Taiwanese independence," she accused ominously. Actually, I pointed out that I was neutral on that question, which was up to the Taiwanese to decide, but that I did strongly support their right to decide, just as I had vociferously supported the right to self determination of the Timorese, the Sahrawis of the Western Sahara, Palestinians and Kosovans.

"That is in violation of international law," she snapped. Well, no, I pointed out. Self-determination for former colonial territories was a basic principle of the United Nations, and indeed Mao told Edgar Snow, as reported in Red Star Over China, that Formosa - as Taiwan was then known - would be able to choose its own destiny when Japan was defeated.

The PRC is more used to an attitude of "whatever you say, comrade," than being argued with, and it all just seemed to make her angrier. However, as often, the discussion made me think. Possibly the worst way to dissuade people who are determined to secede is to try to bully them. I pointed out that if forty years ago Spain had made nice with the Gibraltarians, then by now the people on the Rock would be petitioning to join Spain and buy all those giveaway fincas along the coast.

If the British had given Ireland dominion status before the first world war, Mrs Windsor would likely be making annual visits to open the Irish parliament. In contrast , much later in the century, London had conceded bilingualism, and Welsh radio and TV and in the end almost had to force the Welsh to accept devolution.

The negative examples, from Timor to Kosovo are quite clear. Battering people into loyalty is a highly ineffective strategy.

So why should anyone worry about a small faraway island of which we know little? Well of course, there is the little matter that Taiwan is a democracy, whose people want to choose their own fate, but experience teaches us that defending democracy usually only works politically in conjunction with less altruistic motives.

Well, there is one serious matter of self-interest for much of the globe. Of course it is a bit much to expect a joined-up foreign policy from the Bush administration but even so I was shocked to discover that Washington, kowtowing to Beijing, has almost no official contacts with Taiwan - even though the US is committed to defending the island against Chinese attacks. They restricted President Chen to a 15 minute stopover in Alaska on his last trip back from central America. They do not allow him to visit Washington.

That is seriously worrying. US should keep its word to Taiwan. But the signals it is currently sending to China, of acquiescence to its policies towards the island, are reminiscent of those Margaret Thatcher sent to Galtieri of Argentina over the Falklands. But any conflict resulting would be far, far bigger than a side show in semi-arctic islands full of sheep and penguins.

Monday, September 17, 2007

My response to Beijing Bluster

Taiwan and the PRC in the Guardian

My response to Beijing Bluster

Bush the Shiftless

I have not had a chance to check this out, but it has the ring of authenticity.

This was forwarded to me as a direct quote from the just published REAGAN DIARIES.
The entry is dated May 17, 1986.

'A moment I've been dreading. George brought his ne're-do-well son around
this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one
who lives in Florida . The one who hangs around here all the time looking
shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a
real job. Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if
they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like
easy work.'
It elevates my opinion of Reagan, confirms my opinion of George W (see Deserter for more!) and actually heightens my disdain for the Likudnik NeoCon New Republic.

17 August PS
Thought it may be too good to be true. Comment below sets it right.

Water, Fish and WC Fields

Google threw up this reference to an old column of mine recently. I complained ( well sort of, really I thanked her) to Marion Nestle the author, who has promptly sent me a copy. YOU can buy What to Eat here. Just click on the link.
I reviewed her previous book on Food Politics in the Nation.

So here is the review, and following that the column quoted. Still reading the book but it is a sane and informative guide to food... with none of the paranoid toxins and similar perils that quacks write about so much nowadays!
From The Times

September 1, 2007

The green kitchen: Bottled water

Richard Ehrlich

Bottled water has had a lot of bad press lately – not least from my esteemed neighbour on this page – and about time too. Our foolish addiction to the stuff has a significant environmental impact. The bottles, whether glass or plastic, have to be manufactured – using non-renewable fossil fuels. More energy is used (along with other resources) to bottle, package, store and ship it.

And all this for a product that is no safer or tastier than the water that flows out of our taps. A writer named Ian Williams, quoted in the excellent What to Eat by Professor Marion Nestle (North Point Press), describes bottled water as “ostentatiously useless”.

If you are addicted to bottled water, I beg you to conduct the following experiment. Take two bottles, one empty and one containing your store-bought water. Fill the empty bottle with tap water, then refrigerate both overnight. Overnight chilling brings them to identical temperatures and allows any odour of chlorine (a harmless and essential anti-microbial) to dissipate.

In the morning, get someone to pour the waters into two glasses without telling you which is which. If your blind tasting reveals no appreciable difference, quit your expensive, environmentally destructive habit on the spot.

What to do with the bottles you already have? Refill them with tap water and keep them in the fridge. If you mistakenly believe you need all-day hydration, carry one with you when you go out. If you have a garden, cut off the bases and sink the bottles neck-down into holes next to your plants: water poured in there reaches the roots more efficiently than water on the ground. If you make stock for freezing, pour it into the bottle (but don’t fill all the way) through a funnel.

Whatever you do, please quit that habit. It’s doing you no good. And it’s cruel to the planet.

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

Investor Relations Magazine, Ian Williams, Speculator, September 2004

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” declaims hoarsely.

WC Fields would have approved as he claimed never to touch the stuff anyway, his excuse being that fish fornicate in it.

But the ancient mariner s modern day shipmates are likely to have holds full of one of the most ostentatiously useless consumer products of all: bottled water branded dihydrogen oxide.

Years ago, an entrepreneur tried to sell tins of fresh Scottish air to jaded Londoners. They were supposed to open it, sniff the fresh breeze that emanated and, if they followed the instructions, run twice around the block.

They would feel better for it, the label said. Indeed. The enterprise eventually evaporated into thin air.

By contrast, bottled water is more of a commercial success, and increasing numbers of people are buying it in larger and larger quantities, even though benefits are equally illusory.

All sorts of greenish individuals stock up on bottles of water rather than going to their kitchen sink and drinking the much cheaper generic alternative.

Do they ever stop to think of the damage they cause to the environment?

For example, in New York supermarkets, apart from Perrier, you can get water from Scotland , Fiji and even Greenland , which is alleged to be melted glacier water.

Think about it. Why should water that has been lying around since the last Ice Age, or maybe even the one before, collecting dioxins, lead, radioactive fallout, polar bear poop and, for all anyone knows, the occasional dead Inuit or Viking, set any acceptable standard for purity?

Then, to completely insult our intelligence, the water is bottled - often in glass, no less, thus demanding huge energy expenditures to fuse the ingredients and smelt the bottle tops, or in plastic, demanding high hydrocarbon usage.

Manufacturing either type of container emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases.

During bottling, the water is often ozonated, introducing free radicals to kill the bacteria that would otherwise thrive on a long journey.

The bottles are then placed in shrink-wrapped non-biodegradable plastic units and stacked on disposable wooden palettes, deforesting whole regions, before being hauled by diesel-fueled trucks, which emit carbon particles and carbon dioxide, and loaded onto ships that burn the dirtiest of bunker fuels.

Finally, they arrive at your local store where you pay a $1 a bottle (or more) while cursing your city for charging the same amount for 500 gallons of some of the purest municipal water in the world.

Of course, not all bottled water travels such an environmentally deleterious voyage. No, sir.

In New York, many of the firms selling bottled water to offices and homes take it straight from the city supply and put it in bottles.

It is quite fitting, really, a bit like selling the Brooklyn Bridge on the installment plan.

Some bottles are then recycled, which means they are cleaned using water heated by burning fossil fuels, or melted at huge energy costs to make new glass.

Alternatively, they’re cast aside to clutter the beaches and landfills of the world.

And then there are those ubiquitous plastic bottles that every health-conscious jogger - indeed every pedestrian - in Manhattan clutches talismanically in the summer heat.

Never mind the way the discards clog the drains, ditches and beaches.

Have they ever thought of the complex organic compounds that leach from the plastic into that -pure spring water- they just bought at the neighborhood deli?

Unless of course they are drinking the allegedly naturally carbonated water that has been divested of bacteria with the introduction of carbon dioxide.

They drink it, and then every burp helps melt a snowman somewhere in the world. Don’t they feel the slightest twinge of guilt?

Green joggers should savor every last drop of that glacier melt bottled water.

If they keep consuming a product that adds so much in greenhouse gases, soon there will be no icecaps left to bottle.

And the sea levels will rise, forcing them to stock up on bottled water because although diluted with all that fresh water from the melted poles, the sea will be everywhere, and still too saline to drink.

Think before you drink!

A trip to the kitchen to fill up on pure, cheap, low energy water will save the planet - and your bank balance.

Until of course, the IMF forces New York to privatize its water supply and you have to pay market prices for the stuff.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rudy Finest Hour? Full text from Guardian

Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 paranoia Guardian

The former New York mayor's arrogance and authoritarianism are so strong that he makes Napoleon look modest.
Ian Williams

September 11, 2007 7:30 PM

If the present incumbent is anything to go by, Rudy Giuliani is indeed White House material. He has just that required peevish paranoia that ends up being very ineffectual. September 11 and stopping freelance windscreen washers in Manhattan are Giuliani's major claims to the presidency.

To be balanced, once he set the cops on the case, they did stop the bridge and tunnel shakedown from the bucket and rag-wielding brigade.

Unlike Mike Bloomberg, Giuliani was never seen on the subway, or without his security detail. Touchingly suburban, in Manhattan he blamed pedestrians for traffic jams and gridlock. In the run-up to the (hopelessly over-hyped) million youth march in Harlem, which he tried unsuccessfully to ban, he had barriers as strong as tank traps built around Gracie Mansion - even on the path next to the East River.

Well before 9/11 gave George Bush the excuses to assume power to save the state, Rudi was declaiming, "Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do." Big Brother put it shorter on the side of the Minitrue building, but he could not have been clearer.

The problem with his peeves and prejudices are that they do not add up to a coherent joined-up foreign policy. Speaking to West Bank Settlers' groups where others on the platform called for the expulsion of the Palestinians, may seem superficially similar to throwing Yasser Arafat out of a UN celebratory banquet to which he had been invited. While it may get Giuliani brownie points with a vociferous minority, it does not enhance his reputation for statesmanship.

But then denouncing anti-Catholicism in the form of an artwork in the Brooklyn Museum, and then accepting a knighthood from the Queen of England, whose heirs, by law, can neither be nor marry a Roman Catholic, betokens an expediently snobbish inconsistency.

Above all, it is his claimed laurels as the hero of 9/11 that bear very close scrutiny. If he stays close to form, he will be storing fissile material in the basement of the White House to power his bunker, and telling the Nuclear Regulatory Authority that their writ does not run there.

Living downtown on the morning of 9/11, I was reporting from my fire escape on the collapse of the towers, the cloud of toxic fallout that blanketed downtown and in the background, I had the radio on when I heard a reporter say that Mayor Giuliani was in mid-town, looking for an emergency headquarters. I shouted: "Hey, I know where the stupid b*******'s emergency headquarters are!"

In the teeth of warnings that building "The Bunker" on the 23rd floor of a complex that had already been a terrorist target in 1993 might not be a good idea, Giuliani had put this controversial $16m-headquarters in the World Trade Centre. Of course it was not totally stupid. The city taxpayers' $1.4m-a-year lease went to a major campaign contributor.

The 6,000-gallon diesel tank that was supposed to keep the lights of his office burning for the weeks of the chaos his paranoia had generally anticipated instead kept the building burning for several days. Rudy put it there in defiance of New York City fire regulations insisting that the complex came under the authority of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and so his own city's rules did not apply.

Falling debris from the North Tower set fire to number seven, which even the opinionated mayor had not tried to occupyon the morning. Fuelled by the diesel, the resulting fire blacked out all downtown Manhattan when the building fell on the Con Edison electricity substation in the basement, and resulting floods from fire brigade hoses knocked out downtown's telephones when the water reached the neighboring Verizon telephone exchange.

I confess a personal interest in this. Along with Wall Street, our apartment was without electricity for a week, and telephones for even longer.

Voters should also remember that, unabashed by his own incompetence, Giuliani then floated the idea of canceling the election after 9/11 and reappointing himself as an emergency measure. Even George Bush is unlikely to go that far. I wouldn't bet on Dick Cheney not trying to invent a perpetual presidency but that's different.

So just in case any of you get dewy-eyed about Rudi's alleged softness on gay and abortion issues, remember this guy makes Napoleon look modest. His insouciant inconsistency is unlikely to invoke a veto against any such authoritarian measures if his backers tell him not to. It's all about freedom - to do what he tells you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Taiwan Debate

Me and John Bolton! In agreement, sort of.


Barred from setting foot in the United States, Taiwan’s president will discuss his
efforts to avoid international isolation, mounting economic ties with mainland China
and military tensions across the Taiwan Straits.

A panel discussion and video conference with President Chen, co-sponsored by the Overseas Press Club and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office:

William J. Holstein former Overseas Press Club president and international
Moderator business journalist

John Bolton former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, now senior
research fellow, American Enterprise Institute,
Washington, D.C.

Bruce Dunning long-time CBS News correspondent in Asia

Therese Shaheen chair, American Institute in Taiwan, 2002-2004

Ian Williams correspondent, the Guardian online

DATE: Friday, September 14, 2007

TIME: 8:30am Breakfast Buffet, Metropolitan Room, 28th floor
9:30am Conversation with President Chen, Riverview Room, 28th floor

PLACE: UN Millennium Plaza Hotel, 44th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues

RSVP: Abby Lee, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office or 212-317-7355

Just because people are following him, does not mean Rudy is not paranoid

Why 9-11 really shows that Rudy is suitable Presidential Material - like Bush!

Osama at large: full text

This is still up on the Guardian site, where the faithbased legions have been frothing. Go check the comments...

Osama bin Laden is still alive, unharmed and making videos. If the White House wasn't so incompetent, you might think it was no coincidence.
Ian Williams

September 10, 2007 9:00 AM Guardian Unlimited

The US senate, in all solemnity, sat last week and voted to double the reward for the apprehension of Osama bin Laden to $50m. So $25m was not enough to motivate the military and security forces of the world's superpower to catch the slippery Saudi? Or is it possible that there is another reason why Osama, for all the rewards being offered, has still not been caught?

Reading Cif commenters can often lead one to the conclusion that not a sparrow falls unless it has been shot by Islamic militants, poisoned by the CIA, or had its sense of direction befuddled by the Trilateral Commission. In my experience most such "plots" are just an attempt by bystanders to rationalize unbelievable and culpable stupidity on the part of governments.

On September 11, 2001, I lived down by the World Trade Centre, watched it happen, and lived in the poisonous fug of the noxious funeral pile for the rest of the year.

The Murdoch tabloids at the time carried front page pics of the beturbanned Osama Bin Laden which all the downtown shops prominently displayed:"Wanted, Alive or Dead," they proclaimed. Understandable. And then they disappeared as the war drums began to beat against Iraq, too be replaced with the omnipresent triptych of Osama, Saddam and the burning WTC.

Of course neither the tabloids nor the cable news media went out of their way to point out that Osama bin Laden was a former protégé of the CIA and its Pakistani surrogates, which is why one of my earliest hopes for a silver lining, that Americans might realize that foreign policy was not something that exclusively happened to foreigners, soon evaporated.

But reading the transcript of the latest OBL tape - which apart from its invocation to Islamic conversion could indeed read like a Guardian editorial on geopolitics - does raise the question of what he is still doing at large, with access to video cameras, hair dye and barbers?

Is it significant that OBL did not discourse on issues such as gay marriage, evolution, abortion and faith-based organizations, where his black heart beats in close harmony with those of the conservative right?

Conspiracy theorists should be asking the question: "Objectively, who benefits from allowing this malevolent, self-confessed mass murderer to remain at large?"

Well, think about an administration that has used the terrorist bogeyman to justify outright war on two countries and threatens another. One that has declared economic and diplomatic war on others; that has used the terrorist threat to build up its arms budget to unprecedented heights; that has extended the prerogatives of the president beyond all constitutional measure - and invented a whole set of them for the vice-president.

Would all this have been possible if Osama bin Laden had been brought to justice and revealed to be just a ramblingly discursive, albeit murderous, faith-based fanatic?

It's a tough call, and on the face of it, it's more plausible than the average conspiracist plot to think that OBL is out on license to allow the Bush administration to frighten voters when they go to bed.

But on the realist side, the spectacular incompetence and mendacity of this White House is demonstrable. They did indeed get the wrong man and go after Saddam Hussein who had nothing to do with 9/11 - while letting the man in the turban escape.

On the dilemma front it's the equivalent of choosing between the proffered conversion to Islam or the callow conservative brand of fundamentalist evangelism espoused by the White House.

But I rather discount the chances of anyone collecting the senate's munificent reward until after the coming debacle in Iran, which we will, of course, have to bomb in case the Ayatollahs there are sheltering the man who regards Iranian Shi'as to be heretical abominations.

Friday, September 07, 2007

No bother about Big Brother: full text

No bother about Big Brother

George Orwell would have been delighted to know he was being spied upon by the state. It's a badge of honour - just ask any stroppy teenage Maoist.
Ian Williams
Guardian Comment is Free

September 6, 2007 2:30 PM | Printable version

The recent revelation from opened UK government files that George Orwell was kept under surveillance by British security services has led to lots of playful banter about Big Brother. But the tidings should have been underwhelming.

From the establishment point of view it would have been gross dereliction of duty not to keep an eye on a self-professed revolutionary. It is difficult to believe it would have surprised Orwell too much, and more likely he would have been proud that as a mere hack he had excited that much attention with his writings and doings.

When I was a teenage Maoist, and unemployed for a long time, the local police Special Branch officer in Liverpool sidled up to me at a meeting and commiserated. " I hear you're having difficulty finding a job", he grinned, and maliciously recited a list of applications I'd recently made. I was not ecstatic, but I could not resent it too much. Indeed it was almost a badge of merit that the forces of the bourgeois state thought a naive and stroppy youth worthy of scrutiny, so I felt no resentment. After all, if your intention is to overthrow a state that you consider repressive, then how could you cry foul if they took relatively moderate counter-measures?

It is not as if they hauled me off for thoughtcrime to room 101 and beat the bejasus out of me with rubber truncheons. Indeed, in my maturity I had an enjoyable interview with the north-west director of the Economic League, which maintained a blacklist of troublemakers for subscribing companies, and was happy to help him publicise his employers' shabby treatment of him, which had led to his defection with the lists.

However, while in the novel 1984 Big Brother's representative O'Brien showed signs of omniscience about what his victims thought as well what they did, the amusing part of the Orwell file is that the local plods did not have a clue what their target was up to, which is one reason they commented on his "Bohemian" attire.

In fact, if they had gone for a chat with him, he would probably have told them, in great detail what he was doing, but one can see that superiors would be worried about the exposure of their officers to seductively seditious ideas. Indeed, back in the 1980s a Special Branch officer seconded to the diplomatic protection group unconsciously revealed the dangers. Charged with protecting the PLO envoy to Britain, he had to go to lots of meetings with him. He told me "You know, I never realised, the Palestinians have really had some shitty treatment, haven't they?"

As it happens, the plods were overruled during the war by the more sophisticated MI5 who realised that the war had changed things in general and Orwell too. At least one can be sure that the case officer involved was not a crypto-communist of the kind that happily overlooked actual communist spies Philby, Burgess and MacLean, since the Communist party hated Orwell with a passion that has scarcely died down 60 years later.

That was shown with the eagerness to attack Orwell for the list he compiled of people he suspected were Communists or sympathizers who should not be employed by the agency that the Labour government had set up to promulgate democratic socialism abroad. "Snitch" was one of the kindest epithets heaped on him, appropriately enough by another public-school wannabe prole, Alexander Cockburn. Orwell's accusers were generally urbane and forgiving about those who hauled off thought-criminals to the basement of the Lubyanka never to emerge again but unforgiving about Orwell's proxy personnel management.

Orwell, as often, has the last word about such Vishinskish language when he defined of the totalitarian mindset: "To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like."

W Ogilvie, the Home Office official who questioned the dull constabulary judgment, was clearly much more in that school of thought than the Gulag nostalgics who continue to bite at the ankles of Orwell's reputation.

Sadly the authorities concerned will learn no lessons from all of this. The FBI in the US and the reformed Special Branch in the UK continue to attract the prejudiced and the ignorant - and the results of recent persecutions in the US suggest that their evidence should also be almost totally discounted. The insubstantial types of evidence against Orwell may have been enough to put him in the dock in the contemporary United States if the plods had not started chasing Muslims instead of Reds.

And almost tragically, for most people today, "Big Brother" no longer evokes images of totalitarian control, but of a successful mind-deadening TV show of the kind that Orwell's Big Brother designed to keep the masses' minds off the real world.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Orwell and Big Brother

Big Bother About Big Brother - Why Orwell would not have been surprised that he was being spied upon in today's Guardian Comment is Free

And remember the Cambridge Companion to Orwell is now out! see the thumbnail in the left column.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Obama, Clinton, Castro, full text

A new start on Cuba
I'm pleased to note it was picked up and republished widely elsewhere. I'd be even more pleased if they all sent a cheque, but still!

Telling the truth about Washington's policy towards Cuba can be dangerous - but it may pay off for Barack Obama next year.
Ian Williams

August 31, 2007 7:30 PM | Printable version

The news that Fidel Castro is betting on the Clinton-Obama dream ticket should be taken with a large Mohito. It makes you wonder which TV station denied to ordinary Cubans that he is relying on for his news.

Even so, Barack Obama is doing well by doing good with his pledge to reform the administration's counterproductive Cuba policy. It may annoy the hysterical anti-Castro faction in Miami, but lots of sane Americans, including many Cuban immigrants, will support someone who breaks with the inane and inept foreign policy that has got the US nowhere in Cuba and led it up the Tigris elsewhere.

Anyone who has compared the complexions of the diehard anti-Castro types in Miami to those of their former compatriots in Havana will get an inkling of an unspoken truth. There is no way the overwhelming white Cuban supporters of the Cuban American National Foundation would vote for a black candidate, short of him personally delivering the bearded head of Castro on a platter. And even then they would prefer to tip him and send back to the plantation.

Indeed, one of the secrets of the Castro's success is that Afro-Cubans are very well aware that the exiled would-be rulers in Miami are not exactly equal opportunities types. Their ancestors had maintained slavery until 1886 - and many aspects of segregation right up to the revolution. They would not be welcomed as liberators.

From Kennedy onwards, one would hardly accuse Democratic administrations of being soft on Castro - but the Southern strategy of not so subtly coded racism worked to get the former Confederacy voting for the transmuted party of Abraham Lincoln. It is highly likely that like many Anglo whites, the more conservative and anti-Castro Cubans support the Republicans for the same racial reasons more than any perceived Democratic softness towards Castro.

But for Hillary Clinton, this is not necessarily about votes. It was her husband, after all, who declared his support for Robert Torricelli's bill cutting trade with Cuba even further after a fundraiser organized by Cuban wannabee Caudillo Jorge Mas Canosa put $275,000 dollars in his campaign treasury back when he was running against George Bush senior in 1992. Mas Canosa knew what he was doing. Bush, who had hitherto pragmatically opposed it, promptly followed Clinton in supporting the amendment.

It would be unfair to accuse Clinton of strictly mercenary motives - although one has detected more than a hint of such in the past. She is a believer. Her hard line on Cuba should be no surprise, since her foreign policy is identical in most respects to the neocons, as her comments on Iraq, Israel and much of the rest of the globe will testify.

Even so, one can only hope that she is getting some big cheques and endorsements for her support. The embargo and the travel restrictions make no sense in diplomatic or humanitarian terms. If we are concerned about democracy and human rights there is a serious double standard being observed. Castro does not have a free press, does not allow free unions, and locks up some dissidents. Neither does China. Who was the last Congressperson to call for an embargo of China over executions and enforced abortions?

The embargo punishes ordinary people in Cuba, depriving them of contact with their families in the US, and of the financial and medical support they offered. Quite apart from damage to ordinary Cubans, who are after all are non-voting foreigners till they land in Florida and so do not count, the laws rob American citizens of their freedom to travel and their rights to contact with their family members.

In short, the restrictions are morally unjustified and are tactically inane -since they tend to prove the point of what Castro is saying about Uncle Sam's vindictive hostility.

And as Bill Clinton himself pointed out when he walked into an ambush with progressive TV host Amy Goodman, they give Castro an excuse for economic policies that contrive to produce food shortages on one of the most fertile islands in the Caribbean.

Obama has been attacked for his callow youth. But the role of the little boy exposing the lack of substance to the imperial wardrobe becomes him. He should keep it up. There is a lot more exposure needed.