Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

You are what you eat

Yesterday I posted an item about the increase in the Black infant mortality rate in Mississippi and another about US food aid. Well, it turns out that there’s a closer link than might appear.

As there was some discussion of the IMR issue on the Marxmail list, I posted ‘Delta blues’ there. There were a couple of responses. One of them linked to the Qando site, which made an interesting point. According to the author, the reason the US IMR appears so much higher than other industrialised countries is that the US is the only one that actually implements the approved WHO definition of a live birth. Understanding definitions and collection methods at a detailed level is crucial to interpreting statistics, a point I always make myself. I was not aware of the differences the Qando author mentions, although they sound plausible. However, as it only cites newspaper articles and US government sources, I can’t really be sure either that it’s true that the US does, in fact apply the WHO definition, and if so, uniformly, nor that any other countries, much less every other country, does not. So I reserve judgment. If Qando were serious, I would expect links to sources in the countries mentioned, or at least UN statistical metadata sources, to back them up.

In any case, while the estimates from US sources may not be strictly comparable with those from other sources, they are strictly comparable with each other. And the principal points of the article were that IMR for Black babies is much much higher than for white babies, both nationally and in Mississippi, and that they are rising.

Another response pointed out that it wasn’t the fault of the US health system that the Black IMR was so high when these grossly obese mothers refused to attend clinics in far off localities without adequate transportation or to access other prenatal care for no reason at all.

Yesterday’s NY Times Magazine had a really fascinating article that goes some way towards explaining why those poor Mississippi women have become so overweight. I’d like to thank Lou Proyect for the link to the article from marxmail.

Michael Pollan, Knight professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, writes,

As a rule, processed foods are more “energy dense” than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening. These particular calories also happen to be the least healthful ones in the marketplace, which is why we call the foods that contain them “junk.”…the rules of the food game in America are organized in such a way that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly — and get fat.

This perverse state of affairs is not, as you might think, the inevitable result of the free market. Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?

For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system — indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades — indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning — U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

…A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.

A public-health researcher from Mars might legitimately wonder why a nation faced with what its surgeon general has called “an epidemic” of obesity would at the same time be in the business of subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup. But such is the perversity of the farm bill: the nation’s agricultural policies operate at cross-purposes with its public-health objectives. And the subsidies are only part of the problem. The farm bill helps determine what sort of food your children will have for lunch in school tomorrow. The school-lunch program began at a time when the public-health problem of America’s children was undernourishment, so feeding surplus agricultural commodities to kids seemed like a win-win strategy. Today the problem is overnutrition, but a school lunch lady trying to prepare healthful fresh food is apt to get dinged by U.S.D.A. inspectors for failing to serve enough calories; if she dishes up a lunch that includes chicken nuggets and Tater Tots, however, the inspector smiles and the reimbursements flow. The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.

To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact — on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities — or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico. [my emphasis]

So it’s not just the starving of the developing world that Uncle Sam’s policies are out for, ordinary poor Americans, and n ot so poor Americans, and American schoolchldren, and Mexican farmers, and many others are in their sights, as well.

But that’s not all. It’s not just a question of making sure many Americans can’t afford to eat healthful food, a proportion of it is actually poisonous, as Elizabeth Williamson reports in today’s Washington Post.

The Food and Drug Administration has known for years about contamination problems at a Georgia peanut butter plant and on California spinach farms that led to disease outbreaks that killed three people, sickened hundreds…

Overwhelmed by huge growth in the number of food processors and imports, however, the agency took only limited steps to address the problems and relied on producers to police themselves, according to agency documents.

Congressional critics and consumer advocates said both episodes show that the agency is incapable of adequately protecting the safety of the food supply

"This administration does not like regulation, this administration does not like spending money, and it has a hostility toward government. The poisonous result is that a program like the FDA is going to suffer at every turn of the road," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.)…

In the peanut butter case, an agency report shows that FDA inspectors checked into complaints about salmonella contamination in a ConAgra Foods factory in Georgia in 2005. But when company managers refused to provide documents the inspectors requested, the inspectors left and did not follow up.

In a letter sent to California growers in late 2005, [director of the FDA's food-safety arm Robert E.] Brackett wrote, "FDA is aware of…approximately 409 reported cases of illness and two deaths."

"We know that there are still problems out in those fields," Brackett said…

According to Caroline Smith DeWaal, who heads the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-advocacy group, "When budgets are tight . . . the food program at FDA gets hit the hardest."

Monday, 23 April 2007

Capitalism, gun crime and ideology

Here are some extracts from lenin’s superlative analysis of the criminal justice system and the response to the Virginia Tech massacre: Capitalism, gun crime and ideology.

The Virginia Tech massacre continues to attract commentary…You cannot extricate the lone nut from the total prior circumstances, and those extend well beyond the availability of potentially damaging anti-depressants or even the availability of guns...the system - including not only the courts and police, but also the process of lawmaking - is designed to fail at reducing crime…

They have created a heavily privatised penal system, knowing that this gives an incentive to providers to ensure that they do not have any effect in reducing recidivism, since high crime equals high profits. …that system is integrated into a capitalist society in which the very definition of crime results from an ideology appropriate to claims of 'property rights'…large amounts of harmful activity, which involve intent (inasmuch as the agents of it, usually corporations, cannot reasonably be unaware of the harmful effects their conduct has), is not criminalised…

The reality of incarceration of mostly young, mostly working class, mostly male, and disproportionately black, people in America is a result of a process of decision-making mediated by ideology, that runs the whole gamut of the system. It runs from the decision as to what constitutes a crime, inflected as it is by class power and the lobbies and basic assumptions that append to it…to the enforcement of cops, often racist ones, but less famously often hostile to the working class and poor; to the decisions of magistrates and parole boards, whose decisions reflect the same basic biases…

…every time a new substance like that comes into the market, there is a similar struggle for control before it becomes routinised: this accounts for some of the acute increases in violent crime, while the routinised control by violent gangs and the necessity of paying for the stuff through robbery and so on accounts for a part of the ongoing high rates of crime...

…Aside from being exploited and oppressed, their lack of control over the means of production, never mind the means of state rule, means that they are denied adequate healthcare, and often killed by the companies they pay to cure them; are often killed by their work, if they can find employment; are often killed by the food that they eat, especially if it happens to be low-cost food. They are criminalised, often for harmless behaviour, imprisoned, often for nonviolent offenses and petty crimes. Others are incorporated into illicit economies that operate through coercion….

Read the whole thing!

Sunday, 22 April 2007

What's the catch?

As executives, lobbyists, bureaucrats, and NGO workers scarfed ‘heaping platters of jumbo shrimp, lamb chops and crab-stuffed mushrooms… at the food aid conference organized by the Department of Agriculture and the Agency for International Development’ in Kansas City last Tuesday, according to Celia W. Dugger in today’s NY Times, an estimated 850 million people around the world were starving. Actually, the Millennium Development Goals site reckons that it was 823.1 million in 2002, the latest date that they have data for, so we can be reasonably sure that it’s much more than that five years down the track. Over a quarter of them were in that well known powerhouse of capitalist development, the posterchild of Thomas L Friedman and the Eustonites, India. And the MDG data exclude many countries where we know there are undernourished people, including Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and of course the ‘Land of the Free’ itself. In some, but definitely not all, cases, this is likely because the data aren’t available.

Charles Worledge, who works for the Long Island-based Sealift Inc., a major shipper of American food to the hungry, offered an insight essential to understanding the politics of food aid.

“I thought this was a charity,” he explained during the party, for which another shipping company played host. “It’s not. It’s a business.”

This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s paid any attention to aid in general and food aid in particular. It virtually goes without saying that most of the money going into food aid is specifically earmarked for purposes other than feeding hungry people.

A Government Accountability Office report released on the eve of this conference described in stark detail a system rife with inefficiencies: the amount of food shipped over the past five years has fallen by half as shipping and other logistical costs have soared. Only a little more than a third of federal food aid spending actually buys food. [my emphasis]

And in line with Worledge’s insight, we needn’t look far for the motivation.

Early in the 1950s, the government was the farmer’s buyer of last resort when commodity prices fell, and as a result it sat on mountains of grain. Public Law 480 and the Food for Peace program, adopted in 1954, provided a way to dispose of the surplus grain, which was costly to store, and at the same time feed the world’s hungry people. The law mandated that food for the program be grown domestically.

It was the storage costs that motivated this generosity, and, as a distant second, the desire to appear generous.

Over the years,…the requirement that it be grown in the United States never changed. In recent years, the United States has bought more than half the food for its aid programs from just four agribusinesses and their subsidiaries: Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Bunge and Cal Western Packaging, according to the Agriculture Department.

Unsurprisingly,

some in Congress, as well as lobbyists for interest groups that benefit from food aid, warn that untying aid from requirements that the food be grown in America and mostly shipped on American-flagged vessels would shatter the political coalition that has sustained the program for decades and made the United States the world’s largest food aid donor.

“Are we committed to eradicating hunger because it’s feasible, not terribly expensive and our moral obligation as the richest society in human history?” asked Christopher B. Barrett, a Cornell University economist and the co-author of “Food Aid After Fifty Years.” “Or are we just trying to placate a few agribusiness, shipping and NGO constituencies with a handout?”

But ‘Some researchers and advocates say it is time to rethink the American approach to fighting world hunger’.

It would be rude for researchers and advocates to point out that the US government, in part through its World Bank and IMF proxies, that has actually caused its fair share of world hunger in the first place. In any case, specifically, it was at the last food aid conference in Kansas City two years ago,

that the Bush administration pushed for a fundamental change in food aid that would have diminished profits to domestic agribusiness and shipping companies. It proposed allowing a quarter of the Food for Peace budget to be used to buy food in poor countries near hunger crises, rather than buying only American-grown food that had to be shipped across oceans… such a policy would speed delivery, improve efficiency and save many lives.

Now what kind of thing is that for George W Bush to be advocating. Surely his job as leader of the free world is to administer the US government in the interests of all US capital, not just his oil and armaments buddies. Why shouldn’t Archer Daniels Midland and Sealift Inc get a piece of the action?

‘Congress in each of the past two years killed the proposal, which was opposed by agribusiness and shipping interests who stood to lose business’. Opponents of the proposal ‘warn that cash sent to poor countries can be misused or stolen, and that a mismanaged program to buy food in poor countries could drive up food prices’. But that can’t be why the Bush administration is ‘pushing’ for this – just to drive up third world food prices? It’s got to be because he wants to keep the corn for ethnol.

Large attachments

Delta blues

As a lot of people know, the UN has instituted a program of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which set standards for achieving certain targets across a range of development indicators that they have identified by the year 2015. One of these indicators is the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), the proportion of ‘infants dying before reaching the age of one year per 1,000 live births in a given year.’

According to Indicators for Monitoring the Millennium Development Goals: Definitions Rationale Concepts and Sources (UN, 2003), the rationale for collecting IMR is that

Infant mortality rates measure child survival. They also reflect the social, economic and environmental conditions in which children (and others in society) live, including their health care. Since data on the incidence and prevalence of diseases (morbidity data) frequently are unavailable, mortality rates are often used to identify vulnerable populations.

According to the MDG website, in 2004 IMR ranged from 165 per 1000 live births per year in Afghanistan, the same as in 2000, doubtless thanks to the US invasion and concomitant full liberation of Afghan women, and Sierra Leone, down to 2 per 1000 per year in Iceland. It may be of interest that the UK, Australia, and New Zealand have pretty good records on this indicator, with 5/1000. Cuba, with 6/1000, scores a little better than the US with 7/1000. (Note that the MDG figures differ rather significantly from the 2007 estimates in the CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia.)

But that 7/1000 ratio is just the tip of the iceberg. Erik Eckholm, writes in this morning’s NY Times, ‘The national average in 2003 was 5.7 for whites and 14.0 for blacks.’ That 14/1000 figure puts Blacks in the US in the same league as those in Mauritius. Curiously, the Eckholm article claims that the most recent national figure from the US are for 2003, while the MDG table claims 2004 data. In any case, more recent data are available at a state and county level. Specifically, ‘In Mississippi, infant deaths among blacks rose to 17 per thousand births in 2005 from 14.2 per thousand in 2004’. An IMR of 17/1000 puts Mississippi Blacks in with Albania and Vietnam. A Venezuelan or Syrian mother has a better chance of seeing her baby survive to see its first birthday. And that was two years ago, with an apparently very steep increase in progress.

And that’s the state average. ‘In the past 10 years, the infant mortality rate for blacks in most of the Delta has averaged about 14 per thousand in some counties and more than 20 per thousand in others.’ Tonga has an IMR of 20/1000, it’s a higher rate than claimed for Colombia or Lybia.

“I don’t think the rise is a fluke, and it’s a disturbing trend, not only in Mississippi but throughout the Southeast,” said Dr. Christina Glick, a neonatologist in Jackson, Miss., and past president of the National Perinatal Association.

That’s how the most powerful, prosperous, democratic, and free country in history treats Southern Black women and children, among the most vulnerable members of American society.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Fun and games

Liberated women having a good time: ‘US Defence personnel Alicia Raper, Aviation Ordnance Petty Officer 3rd Class, and Brenda Cantu, Aviation Ordnance Airwoman, attach a Maverick Missile to a United States Navy P-3 aircraft during Exercise Talisman Sabre (2005).’

Operation Talisman Sabre

The Australian Defence Force [ADF] and the United States military are gearing up to engage in 6 weeks of intensive training and war games, or what is known as Operation Talisman Sabre. The operation, which will involve nearly 14 000 US troops and over 12 000 Australian personnel, will run from the end of May to July 2nd, and will be the largest military exercise ever held in Australia. Talisman Sabre will take place at various Australian military locations, including the Australian-US "training facilities": Shoalwater Bay [QLD], Bradshaw and Delamere Range [NT] and the Coral Sea.

The activities that will be carried out by Australian and US troops are aggressive and offensive military strategies, including bombing, parachute drops and onshore landings, combining land, sea and air forces practising with high-tech military equipment. Furthermore, these will be carried out on areas of high environmental significance, i.e. world heritage areas, such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and natural heritage listed sites, which include indigenous sites and Ramsar wetlands. These areas are habitat to many migratory birds and threatened species such as dugongs and humpback whales. Environmental impacts identified by the Department of defence include effects on air quality, fire potential, noise pollution, waste disposal and spills and erosion from amphibian craft landings and weapon target zones.

Operation Talisman Sabre will involve US nuclear powered vessels [all US ‘attack class’ submarines are nuclear powered] and may also be carrying nuclear weapons, as well as depleted uranium munitions. The US has a ‘NCND’ policy regarding nuclear weapons – that is to ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny’, meaning that Australians will not know if these lethal substances will be a part of the upcoming war games.

Not only does the existence of US bases in Australia carry with it various hazardous environmental issues, various social ills are also a part of the parcel. In the Philippines and Japan, US bases have become the centre of major social problems. Specifically, they are linked to significant rises in levels of prostitution, drugs, alcoholism, rape, sexually transmitted diseases and abuse of women and children. The Australian experience so far is similar.

Apart from the already mentioned disastrous consequences of Operation Talisman Sabre it is imperative to note that this training is far more than general military training. Rather, its specific aim is to conduct collective training and exercise inter-operability between Australian and US forces. Indeed, Operation Talisman Sabre represents the gradual fusion of the Australian military into an extended arm of the US government.

The military exercise Talisman Sabre and the establishment of 3 new US ‘training bases’ are further steps to the accelerating militarisation of Australia. The support of the Howard government in the expansion and upgrading of the US’ military capabilities is ludicrous and must be opposed, as does the overall support that Howard continues to show for Bush’s ‘war on terror’.

[Info courtesy of Paddy Gibson]

A coalition of anti war and environment groups are helping organise people in Sydney to get up to Shaolwater Bay to participate in the "Peace Convergence" against upcoming Talisman Sabre war games from June 21-25.

For further information contact or Paddy on 0415 800 586.

GHQ-backed mullahs

(Daily Times photo)
With temperatures soaring into the low 40s, thousands took to the streets throughout Pakistan yesterday to protest religious extremism. In recent weeks, students from madrassas associated with the Lal Masjid have kidnapped Islamabad prostitutes and threatened to smash video shops and throw acid at immodestly dressed women.

In Lahore, the Daily Timesr eported,

Asma Jehangir, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the military was using mullahs to exploit people in the name of Islam. “We, the people of Pakistan, are not oblivious to this mullah-military alliance,” she said. “There can be no democracy in Pakistan unless GHQ-backed mullahs stop issuing decrees to exploit people in the name of Islam.”

In Islamabad,

“Concerned citizens have been watching with anger and frustration the terrorism being inflicted on them by an extremist fringe within the society,” said one speaker as the protestors gathered at Parade Square.

She was appalled at the state’s “inability or reluctance” to deal with violations of the law committed by Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Fareedia students. “Their attempt to challenge the writ of the state by establishing what in effect is an alternate governing system in the area under their control poses a threat to all law-abiding citizens,” she said.

And, as Dawn reports,

“How dare the mullahs threaten to throw acid on women who don’t cover their faces? How does the government allow anyone to set up a parallel court? Why our rulers feel helpless in acting against these people who kidnap a woman and label her as prostitute?” asked Dr Farzana Bari, a human rights activist.

Hundreds of Christian women from Qayyumabad, filmmakers, social workers and university students rallied against religious extremism outside Quaid-e-Azam’s mazaar in Karachi. “It would be difficult to find a single woman who has not at some point in time faced religious extremism,” said Karachi’s Naib Nazim Nasreen Jalil, who also took part in the protest. Gang-rape survivor Kainat Soomro was also at the rally.

In Peshawar, hundreds of women’s rights campaigners – including some 60 burqa-clad women from the tribal areas – staged a rally near the press club, denouncing threats of suicide bombings by Lal Masjid clerics and baton-wielding madrassa students.

“No religion in the world allows their faithful to use sticks in places of worship,” Tribal Women Welfare Association Chairwoman Dr Begum Jan said.

Stark

Remember Stark?

No more crumbs

Just the other day, in the context of the employers’ insatiable grasping for more and more ‘labour market reforms’, eroding employees’ basic rights further and further in the name of ‘flexibility’ and ‘certainty’, I was reminded of the ‘certainty’ that the cockies (pastoralists, ranchers) had demanded in the wake of the historic 1992 Australian High Court decision on Native Title. Even though the High Court determined that there was such a thing as native title, just about anything would ‘extinguish’ it and the native title holders were entitled to no compensation for the extinguishment of their title.

Annabel Stafford reports in today’s Melbourne Age,

"It is clear from recent judgements that, in some parts of Australia, groups of Aboriginal people will find it difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate that their relationship with their traditional country meets the standard required for a determination that native title exists," Native Title Tribunal president Graeme Neate told a petroleum and exploration industry conference in Adelaide this week.

Moreover, in some areas where Aborigines had maintained a strong connection with the land, "few if any native title rights and interests" had survived the effects of white settlement, Mr Neate said. This was because almost any land dealing — such as the granting of freehold land, even if it is never used — extinguishes native title rights.

"In other words, as a matter of law, native title has been extinguished even though on the facts native title could (exist)," Mr Neate told the conference.

Because of this, the only hope many indigenous Australians have of seeing their land rights recognised is a private company or government agreeing to give them some rights or privileges in relation to their land.

As if Indigenous people hadn’t had quite enough of relying on the generosity very colonists who had stolen their land in the first place. As if that munificence had ever extended beyond the odd crumb! ‘…agreeing to give them some rights or privileges in relation to their land’…just about says it all.

The shape of things to come...

In yesterday’s Ha’aretz, Simone Kurkos provides a glimpse of what the future holds in the viable Palestinian state…

The company doesn't have a name, and I doubt it is even registered. I get 100 shekels per day for nine hours of work. There are 30 employees here. There's hardly any protection against the sun or rain, and the factory has no flooring. In the winter we stand in the mud. There is no toilet, and we are not allowed to leave, because this iron door opens only at 4 P.M. Can you imagine how dirty it gets, with 30 men? Two years ago, I finally found the courage to complain. You know what happened? I was sacked on the spot and sent home without pay. Two weeks later the phone rang. It was my boss. He said he would give me a last chance, but I had to shut up."

And that's what J. did. He doesn't complain about the lack of protective clothes, and he was silent when the boy Namer accidentally shot himself in the abdomen with the electric stapler and was sent home without pay.

But he admits he's furious. "The worst thing is, the manager doesn't really care. It's not that he treats us like animals. He just doesn't see us."

Abdelatif Abu Raye, a young man with bright blue eyes, tells me that several months ago, his hand was sliced in two on a cutting machine in the carton factory. After the accident, his employer sent him home and stopped paying his salary. The accident left him partially paralyzed. The Tul Karm hospital could not perform the operation to save his use of his hand, and he cannot reach an Israeli hospital that would help him.

"My employer didn't pay me any indemnification, and because of my injury I can't find work elsewhere. My magnetic card (the permit to work in Israel) was revoked. I talked to a lawyer who started court procedures in Israel, but I cannot even meet him because I'm not allowed to cross the checkpoint," says Abu Raye.

Another worker, Mohammed Abu Harma, was asked five years ago to build a fence around the Rational Systems factory in Nitzanei Hashalom, recalls his son, Majed.

"They used plastic barrels with chemical waste to support the fence. One of these barrels exploded, and my father was injured in the head. He died four days later, leaving my mother with eight children to fend for themselves. We never received any pension or indemnification."

Majed, then 22, had to stop studying to provide for the family. "We have been in court with my father's employer for the last several years, but the judges haven't come to any conclusions yet," he says.

Others tell stories of amputated fingers, injuries and breathing problems deriving from factory work. To hear the men's stories, work accidents due to occupational, safety and health hazards seem to be common practice here.

Need I say more?

[Thanks to Moshe Machover for the link.]

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

The sole address

It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned this embarrassing little matter, but it’s come up again, so I just thought I’d rub it in.

When people talk about Israel and Zionism, it’s as inevitable as night follows day that the issue of the Holocaust will arise. It’s almost as if everyone has forgotten that the Zionist movement goes back to the 1880s, long before anyone had thought of the Final Solution. But there is some truth to the assertion that the fact of the Holocaust, or Holocaust guilt, anyway, smoothed Israel’s path to independence and recognition. According to Ilan Pappé’s Ethnic cleansing of Palestine, throughout the period of the Plan Dalet ethnic cleansing operation, there were Red Cross reports and the expulsions got frequent coverage in the press. And nobody said squat. Obviously, we can’t know for sure what would have transpired if everyone wasn’t feeling so bad about the six million.

Anyway, it’s as if Israel was at one and the same time compensation for the Holocaust and some kind of guarantee against another. Of course we know it’s not the latter, because one speaker after another got up at the Herzliya conference not long ago and explained how Ahmedinejad was on the verge of committing another Holocaust, wiping out precisely the Jews in Israel itself.

Anyway, as everybody knows, the Final Solution didn’t turn out quite as final as the Nazis had intended and a significant proportion of the survivors immigrated to the safe haven of Israel. Well, according to a 12 April report in Ynet, more than six decades down the track,

A third of Holocaust survivors living in Israel are poor, the Holocaust Survivors' Welfare Fund reported this week. According to the fund, some 80,000 of the 260,000 survivors in the country live under the poverty line.

In addition to their grim financial situation, the survivors are also more prone to suffer from unique physical and medical problems related to the malnutrition and severe hardships they had experienced during the war years. Dental, hearing and eyesight problems are more common among survivors as well.

Many of the survivors suffer from mental distress and loneliness, and lack proper social and family support networks. Some 50,000 to 60,000 survivors are in need of some level of nursing, as 73 percent of this population is over the age of 76, and about a fifth is over 86.

Then just yesterday, Ynet reported that Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog has finally had the grace to admit, while commemorating the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, ‘I felt deeply ashamed, the situation we're faced with in terms of the conditions Holocaust survivors are living in is completely absurd’.

Herzog was addressing the data presented to him at an emergency meeting summoned earlier that morning with representatives from the National Insurance Institute, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Jewish Agency and officials from the prime minister's office to discuss the difficult situation faced by thousands of Holocaust survivors forced to make ends meet with minimal government stipends.

It’s a relief to know that they’re treating the matter urgently, actually meeting on it on the morning of a public holiday.

"I ask myself - how did we get to a situation where they are not entitled to anything?" said Herzog, himself descendant from a family of survivors.

Herzog demanded that the Ministry of Finance immediately transfer control of survivor's affairs to the welfare system. Over the course of the following month Herzog intends to pursue legislation that would allow for a complete reform of the State's treatment of survivor needs.

"Now that I'm involved and exposed to this material I'm naturally affected by it and I really lose sleep over it," said Herzog. "You cannot place all the blame on the government, because there is a very long history here, a process that evolved over years. There were too many organizations that thought that the responsibility of caring for the survivors should fall on a different organization."

Herzog said he fails to understand how so many survivors are deemed ineligible for reparations or government support and are forced to live on a pitiful $300 monthly stipend.

Herzog has sworn to rectify the shameful situation.

Not that anybody asked, but I reckon this is way beyond shameful. It’s a tragedy and it’s a scandal and it thoroughly undermines the cynical claims that Israel has always made to exist for the benefit of Jews. To leave these traumatised people who have suffered more than anyone can reasonably be expected to bear to live in poverty for sixty years and more for the sake of stupid bureaucratic fuckups!

"I don't want to make empty promises, but I intend to present a program that will deal with every necessary aspect of this problem. We need to move towards legislation that will merge all the bodies handling the needs of survivors so that the sole address with be the welfare ministry," he said.

Yes, by all means, a program must be presented, legislation needs to be moved towards, and with luck by the time it’s all sorted out, maybe one or two of them will still be alive to benefit from the Jewish State’s munificence.

Dream of GENI

With all the talk of regulation and self regulation of the blogosphere, it turns out that the hardware and software infrastructure it all depends on is beginning to show its age. Apparently, the technology is now forty years old and was originally developed, obviously, with completely different levels of speed and storage capacity in mind. Yesterday’s Melbourne Age reported,

According to ‘Dipankar Raychaudhuri, a Rutgers University professor overseeing three clean-slate projects. "It's sort of a miracle that it continues to work well today."’

The idea may seem unthinkable, even absurd, but many believe a "clean slate" approach is the only way to truly address security, mobility and other challenges that have cropped up since UCLA professor Leonard Kleinrock helped supervise the first exchange of meaningless test data between two machines on September 2, 1969.

It was actually a lot more recent than that when ordinary personal computers had no hard disk, 64 KILObytes of RAM, and Z80 processors ran at speeds of up to 8kHz! Probably some people reading this won’t even remember the 5¼ inch floppy, much less the 8 inch kind!

Anyway, when they first developed the internet

The internet's early architects built the system on the principle of trust. Researchers largely knew one another, so they kept the shared network open and flexible £ qualities that proved key to its rapid growth.

But spammers and hackers arrived as the network expanded and could roam freely because the internet doesn't have built-in mechanisms for knowing with certainty who sent what.

So now there are moves afoot to build a whole new internet.

One challenge in any reconstruction, though, will be balancing the interests of various constituencies. The first time around, researchers were able to toil away in their labs quietly. Industry is playing a bigger role this time, and law enforcement is bound to make its needs for wiretapping known.

There's no evidence they are meddling yet, but once any research looks promising, "a number of people (will) want to be in the drawing room," said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor affiliated with Oxford and Harvard universities. "They'll be wearing coats and ties and spilling out of the venue."

They reckon it will take another ten to fifteen years to develop the new architecture and there are clearly different models competing for the huge amounts of money it’s going to require.

The National Science Foundation wants to build an experimental research network known as the Global Environment for Network Innovations, or GENI, and is funding several projects at universities and elsewhere through Future Internet Network Design, or FIND.

Rutgers, Stanford, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are among the universities pursuing individual projects. Other government agencies, including the Defense Department, have also been exploring the concept.

The European Union has also backed research on such initiatives, through a program known as Future Internet Research and Experimentation, or FIRE.

Anyway, when it all comes online, I think it’s reasonable to anticipate that the socialistic ideas of the founding parents of the internet will be a thing of the past. We will get strictly what we pay for and privacy and security, to the extent that they still exist today, will be a fond memory. So if we want to continue to enjoy the kind of free communication that the internet has made possible in the last couple of decades, there’s only one solution…

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Then and now

Doonesbury says...

Dickens World

In a development begging for parody, perhaps even self parodying, the BBC reports that next month ‘a modern, aluminium-clad hangar on the Chatham Maritime estate in Kent’, will host the opening of the brainchild of deceased theme park designer, Gerry O'Sullivan-Beare. Dickens World!

Solvent aromas fill the nostrils as…Workmen are hard at it, creating the rickety backstreets and miasmatic waterways of urban, Victorian England. The overall effect is rather like Disney painted brown and plunged into twilight… its creators promise a flavour of "dark, smoky, moody London, full of smells and mist".

Its recreation of the world of Dickens is decked out in hand-painted, brick-effect plaster fascia and promises to smell just as his world would.

The debate around the project has focused on the ‘scepticism among those not ready for a theme-park tribute to one of the most popular novelists in the English language.’

Managing director Kevin Christie has a glint in his eye that only momentarily dims at suggestions that this experience is not 100% authentic Dickens.

"We think of the books as mostly about poverty and misery, but we tend to forget this was the great age of the Victorian supremacy - there were big things going on," he says.

Former Dickens Fellowship joint secretary Thelma Grove has worked as a consultant on the theme park. She is adamant it is the right path to take for an author who is as relevant today as he was 150 years ago.

"A lot of the social concerns are still a problem for us today, with these young people going around shooting each other," she says.

Just like they did in Dickens’s day. But is it authentic?

Dickens World is faithful to the London of the period in the same way that Disney's Cinderella Castle is faithful to gothic chateau architecture. Ish.


So for those who really want a taste of the world of the emerging working class of early to mid Nineteenth Century England evoked in Dickens’s and Engels’s work, you’ll just have to visit the slums of Karachi or Rio or Jakarta.

Apologies to Ellis, who seems to have found this story first.

Red states

A poll conducted between 2 and 5 April reveals that 66% of American adults ‘feel that the money and wealth in this country should be more evenly distributed among a larger percentage of the people’! What surprised me most about this result was that it’s not a fluke or a new development. In the seven polls where Gallup has asked this question since 1984, the proportion agreeing with the statement has only dropped below 60% once, in September 2000. Thirty-seven percent actually said they believed there were too many rich people, the highest percentage since they started asking the question in 1990.

But wait, there’s more! Forty-nine percent said ‘our government should…redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich’ [my emphasis], more than the 47% who disagreed and much more than the 35% answering the same question in a different poll in March 1939, in the wake of the Depression. Note that nearly half of American adults are not just saying the rich should be taxed heavily, but also that the taxes should explicitly be for the purposes of redistribution, not, for example, to slaughter Iraqis. The proportion agreeing was lowest (35%) among those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more, and highest (64%) among those with incomes under $20,000.

Only 21% believed ‘upper income people’ were paying their fair share of tax, and 66% didn't, a proportion that has declined slightly over the last two years and is well below the peak of 77% in 1993 and 1994. Seventy-one percent thought corporations were paying too little, rising to 73% among those with incomes under $75,000. And they say there’s no such thing as class!

Saturday, 14 April 2007

Purity of arms

This morning the BBC reported that ‘The Israeli army says it has suspended a commander after the unit he led was accused of using Palestinians as human shields in a West Bank raid.’

Of course it’s not the first time we’ve heard of this practice since Chief Justice Aharon Barak, a professor of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lecturer in law at the Yale Law School, ’the "world's greatest living jurist", the man who decided last December that Israeli extrajudical executions complied with international law, handed down his landmark decision of 6 October 2005 banning the practice. The BBC reported another incident of Israeli soldiers using Palestinian children to protect themselves just a month or so ago on 8 March.

It’s hard to imagine why Barak would want to tie the hands of the brave Israeli soldiers, protecting the chosen people from the barbarian hordes. After all, what’s a few ‘drugged cockroaches inside a bottle’ (Israeli politician Rafael Eitan, 12 April 1983) more or less? When, in the immortal words of Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, delivered at the graveside of the sainted Dr Baruch Goldstein, ‘One million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail’, why should anyone hesitate to risk a terrorist child to protect human Jewish lives?

Monday, 9 April 2007

Support Finkelstein

Update: The letter has now been sent to de Paul, but there’s still an online petition circulating if anyone is interested, 3736 signatures, so far.

=======

You probably already know that DePaul University is currently considering tenure for Dr Norman Finkelstein, author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (2nd ed. 2003), The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering (2003), and Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (2005).

The issue, reported in the Chronicle of higher education, as well as Jews sans frontiers and Otto's Random Thoughts, is that the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Charles S. Suchar, in a 22 March memo, rejected the recommendation of a ¾ majority of Finkelstein’s own Political Science Department and the unanimous recommendation of the College Personnel Committee. The grounds Suchar adduced were couched in terms of vague principles like ‘personalism’.

Finkelstein writes, ‘DePaul is in a growth mode, and they see me as an albatross because they’re getting all this negative publicity because of me. And they want to get rid of me.’

It would appear that this is a response to a vindictive campaign by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who circulated a dossier of some fifty pages to the DePaul Law Faculty, the Political Science Department, and, as Dershowitz told the Chronicle, everybody who would read it’. It was Dershowitz, it will be recalled, who attempted to have Finkelstein’s Beyond chutzpah suppressed, going as far as to threaten the University of California Press with a libel suit. One of the matters Finkelstein takes up in Beyond chutzpah is Dershowitz’s plagiarism, in his The case for Israel (2004), of the well known fraud, Joan Peters’s From time immemorial (1984).

Now I’m not Finkelstein’s biggest fan. For example, in an interview on 3 April, he told Jamie Stein-Weiner on The heathlander,

The refugee question is a red herring. It serves the same purpose now as the Palestinian Covenant did in the 1970s-1980s; to divert attention from Israel’s refusal to fully withdraw. Israel knows that the international community will be sympathetic to its stand regarding the refugees but not sympathetic on borders/settlements, so it’s trying to divert attention from the latter, and towards the former.

But he has done good work in debunking a lot of the widely circulating Zionist myths, of which Dershowitz is one of the principal purveyors. And it is assuredly because his research does not support the approved version of Palestinian history, and not because of the quality or quantity of his scholarship, or his teaching ability, that his tenure is even in question.

Academics, Filmmakers, Artists, Intellectuals, and Doctors for Intellectual Freedom In Support of Dr. Norman Finkelstein have established a website and drafted a letter to the DePaul authorities. The site provides the text of the letter, as well as the memos from the Political Science Department, the Personnel Committee, and Suchar. If you are concerned about the erosion of academic freedom and hegemony of the Zionist discourse, I encourage you to visit the site and add your signature to the statement.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

'No knowledge of this incident'

"The IDF has no knowledge of this incident, nor has any complaint about such a matter been received by the Liaison and Coordination Administration." That’s what the IDF Spokesman's Office said, according to an article by Gideon Levy in today’s Ha’aretz.

The parents, Sana and Daoud Fakih, had already lost two children to illness, seven years apart. Having known such sorrow, they never left their precious Khaled alone for a moment.

That's how it was exactly three weeks ago, as well, on Thursday night. Daoud went to bed early, at 7 P.M., in anticipation of getting up later to relieve Sana. Slightly after midnight, she woke him. Khaled was having another attack of shortness of breath and convulsions.

…After about fifteen minutes, they reached the Atara checkpoint north of Ramallah…At this hour there were no other cars waiting.

The driver stopped at the stop sign in front of the checkpoint, as required. After about a minute, a soldier emerged and approached them. In the back seat, Khaled's condition was worsening. His breath was getting shorter and his shaking was getting stronger.More long, fateful minutes that felt like an eternity passed. It was almost 1:00 A.M. Finally, the soldier came back. "Open the car," he instructed. The soldier checked the car, going through package after package, the one with the diapers and the one with the medicines and the milk, and so on. Daoud shouted: "I don't have time. Don't make my baby die here. He's dying." Sana's crying kept getting louder, the baby gasped harder for breath.

Sana grabbed the soldier by the arm. "Look at the baby," she pleaded. The startled soldier turned his weapon toward her…Daoud told him the baby was dying…But then the most terrible thing of all happened: Khaled suddenly stopped shaking. His tiny hands dropped to his sides and his breathing became slow and heavy. "Our baby is dead!," wailed Sana

Just another night at the checkpoint. Just one less dirty Arab. About a month ago, ‘Muwafiz Rimawi, 34,… was seriously injured in an accident at his home and delayed at the Atara checkpoint for about half an hour, until he eventually died from the bleeding in his brain.’

Right to exist? Give me a break.

'A dangerous place'

Four years ago tomorrow, on 8 April 2003, a 70 tonne Abrams tank under the command of Sergeant Shawn Gibson fired its 120mm cannon from its position on al-Jumhuriya Bridge into Room 1503 in the Palestine Hotel in Firdos Square, Baghdad, killing Taras Protsyuk of Reuters and Jose Cuoso of the Telecinco network in Spain. Earlier that morning, US jet fighters attacked Al Jazeera’s Baghdad offices, killing journalist Tareq Ayyoub.

On 23 March 2005, Democracy Now! broadcast exerpts from the Spanish documentary, ‘Hotel Palestine: Killing the Witness’, produced by Telecinco. Spanish Journalist Jon Sistiaga said,

My opinion is that there was a deliberate intent to fire on the journalists' hotel…First, they get rid of the offices of Al-Jazeera TV, half an hour later, they shoot the offices of Abu Dhabi TV, and half an hour after that, the same tank, why not, shoots at the hotel where other international journalists are staying… And what they did not want under any circumstances was almost 300 journalists, non-American, and not under their control, that is, that would not exercise patriotic self-censorship, ready to cover whatever might happen.

Another Spanish journalist said,

So, they had to know perfectly well where we were, and there was no mistake. There could be no mistake.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed on 2 May that

We knew about the hotel. We knew that it was a hotel where journalists were located, and others, and it is for that reason it was not attacked during any phase of the aerial campaign.

When Spanish Prime Minister Aznar visited the US, a Spanish reporter asked US President Bush, whether he thought Couso’s killing was a mistake and whether he would apologise to Couso’s family for his death, he replied, ‘I think war is a dangerous place.’

And so it is. War is an exceedingly dangerous place, especially if you’re an unembedeed journalist. Since the US invaded Iraq in 2003, at least 196 journalists have been killed, according to the International Federation of Journalists, 23 of them this year alone.

“Four years on still no credible reports have been produced to explain these attacks and no one has been held to account for the killings,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “The United States must answer questions that are still asked over these deaths and many others at the hands of their troops in Iraq. With the number of media casualties growing daily, impunity becomes intolerable, particularly when it concerns the actions of those who speak in the name of democracy and human rights.”

In December 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1738, a measure championed by the IFJ and its member unions that protects journalists in conflict zones and says killing them can be considered a war crime.

The IFJ has also demanded action over the deaths of British ITN reporter Terry Lloyd and his colleagues Fred Nérac and Hussein Osman, whose bodies are still missing, in a fire fight between US and Iraqi troops near Basra, in March 2003 as the invasion of Iraq gathered pace and has raised questions over the shooting by US soldiers of Reuters cameramen Mazen Dana.

One the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondents, Patrick Cockburn, recently pointed out

The difficulty of reporting Iraq is that it is impossibly dangerous to know what is happening in most of the country outside central Baghdad. Bush and Blair hint that large parts of Iraq are at peace; untrue, but difficult to disprove without getting killed in the attempt.

In the April/May 2007 issue of American Journalism Review, Sherry Ricchiardi observes

The relentless violence in Iraq has seriously compromised coverage of arguably the most important story in the world today. Certain facets of the conflict remain exasperatingly elusive or, at best, thinly reported. The media's vital role as eyewitness has been severely limited; the intimate narrative of victims, survivors and their persecutors is sorely lacking in places like Anbar Province...

And the roster of correspondents seems far too small for the daunting task. Escalating threats to foreigners and astronomical security costs have led media companies to scale back their staffs.

…Correspondents are hamstrung when it comes to independently verifying information from military press briefings or rhetoric from the Pentagon. Without risking their lives, they can't go into the festering city of Fallujah or certain Baghdad neighborhoods to conduct their own investigations. Embedding is an alternative, but it offers a limited view under scrutiny of the military.

…Many operate on the 15-minute rule: They never stay longer in any one place for fear that someone with a cell phone will alert killers that a soft target is in play.

"You cannot move; you cannot go anywhere on your own," says Detroit Free Press photojournalist David Gilkey, who returned from his eighth trip to Iraq in January…"Every time you get out of the vehicle, you are almost paralyzed, with your eyes darting around looking for where the shot might come from. Every time you are riding around it's all you can do to keep from plugging your ears, waiting for the blast to happen," says Gilkey, who survived an IED explosion on his last trip.

All but a handful of media organizations have been driven out by the high cost and risks. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the AP, and the broadcast and cable news networks are among the stalwarts. Even for those willing to bleed dollars for top-line security, newsgathering remains a struggle.

No one knows for certain how many journalists are in Iraq at any given time. The best guess from those on the ground is 50 to 60 on a consistent basis.

New York Times correspondent Dexter Filkins…recalls that in the early days, several hundred journalists packed into an auditorium in the Green Zone to attend press conferences. When he left in September, about a half dozen were showing up…Compared with Iraq, "Afghanistan was a tea party," says the correspondent,…"The people there are working incredibly hard and are working heroically, taking increasing risks to stitch [the story] together and get as much as they can. But there's still an awful lot we don't know."

A few days ago, on 26 March, the BBC revealed that, speaking of the results of the joint Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health/Al Mustansiriya University School of Medicine study published in the impeccable peer reviewed British medical journal The Lancet on 11 October,

a memo by the MoD's [Ministry of Defence] Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, on 13 October, states: "The study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to "best practice" in this area, given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq."

But, ‘Shortly after the publication of the survey in October last year Tony Blair's official spokesperson said the Lancet's figure was not anywhere near accurate.’ The day the report was released, President Bush told a press conference,

I don't consider it a credible report. Neither does General Casey and neither do Iraqi officials…the methodology was pretty well discredited…I stand by the figure [of 30,000]. A lot of innocent people have lost their life -- 600,000, or whatever they guessed at, is just -- it's not credible.

Obviously, there’s no quibbling with ironclad irrefutable presidential reasoning like that. And sure enough, just five days later, Iraq Body Count, the source of President Bush’s figure of 30,000 deaths, issued a lengthy press release entitled, Reality checks: some responses to the latest Lancet estimates, explaining why their counts of Iraqi civilian deaths were superior to the Johns Hopkins study estimate.

In an 18 March press release, however, IBC admits

Iraq Body Count (IBC) compiles data from news reports to provide a baseline number of confirmed fatalities, but it should be noted that many deaths will likely go unreported or unrecorded by officials and media. [my emphasis]

But just two days later, in a letter to the World Socialist Website, drawn to my attention by lenin, they are back to the strident criticism of the Johns Hopkins study.

The study’s central estimate of over 600,000 violent deaths seems exceptionally high. Even its lower bound 95 percent confidence interval of 426,000 violent deaths is shockingly high. It is very unlikely that incidents of this scale would be so consistently discounted by the various media in Iraq.

Not only do they reject the study’s central estimate,

the data presented do not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths. IBC’s work is confined to violent civilian deaths.

As the press release asserted,

Further, IBC statistics refer solely to violent incidents which caused civilian deaths. They do not include violent incidents which produced no casualties or caused only injuries, nor incidents targeting and killing only military or paramilitary personnel.

This insistence on counting only civilian deaths has always annoyed me. As Bill Van Auken of the WSWS editorial board wrote in his reply,

Politically, the deaths—both those of combatants and civilians, not to mention the thousands of young Iraqi conscript soldiers blown to pieces in the initial campaign of “shock and awe” bombardment—all represent the human catastrophe inflicted upon Iraq by the US war.

If there were no occupation, there would be no insurgency. Deaths of combatants are just as tragic and avoidable consequences of the invasion as civilian deaths. The authors of the Johns Hopkins study were quite explicit that

Separation of combatant from non-combatant deaths during interviews was not attempted, since such information would probably be concealed by household informants, and to ask about this could put interviewers at risk.

So how can the IBC be so sure that it is counting only civilian deaths?

The project relies on the professional rigour of the approved reporting agencies. It is assumed that any agency that has attained a respected international status operates its own rigorous checks before publishing items (including, where possible, eye-witness and confidential sources). By requiring that two independent agencies publish a report before we are willing to add it to the count, we are premising our own count on the self-correcting nature of the increasingly inter-connected international media network.

On the day the Lancet report was released, anticipating controversy, I discussed the IBC methodology. It will come as no surprise that I consider it a trifle naïve and gullible to rely on the ‘professional rigour’ of the mainstream media. But it’s not just their standards that are of concern. Now we know that there are only about 60 journalists in that whole country and they are quite justifiably frightened to venture out. When they do, many will not stay in one place for more than fifteen minutes. What would really be surprising under the circumstances would be for them to manage to capture even ten percent of the deaths in a country that size, with 150,000 bloodthirsty US soldiers armed to the teeth rampaging around, their ‘Salvador option’ death squads on the loose, various insurgent groups staging scores of attacks a day, not always as accurately targetted as they might be, and a range of ethnic militia feuding and settling vendettas.

And as for reliably distinguishing civilians from combatants, it hardly seems likely, even in the few cases that reporters witness first hand. Reports from the occupation authorities and the military are likely to claim anyone they kill as a ‘terrorist’. By definition. After all, they are the liberators.

Another factor that needs to be explicit, as Eli Stephens wrote yesterday on Left I on the news

…what you don't see is a phrase like this: "Eight more people died in Iraqi hospitals as a result of wounds inflicted in yesterday's car bombing/last week's IED explosion/last month's market bombing." I don't know about you readers, but I can say honestly I have never seen such a statement in the news, which means that Iraq Body Count, which tallies news reports, can't possibly include such deaths.

As Gilbert Burnham, lead author of the study wrote to WSWS,

Almost everything we know about mortality, disease prevalence, causes of deaths in probably 80 percent of the world’s population is derived from surveys—usually cluster surveys such as the one we carried out in Iraq. How many people died in Darfur? In Kosovo? In Congo? What is the death rate in Uganda, or Cambodia, or Angola? The answer almost without exception comes from cluster surveys.

When there is such vigorous denial of a standard demographic and epidemiological tool as the cluster survey, one needs to look for other reasons why the results are not acceptable.

It’s really a shame that IBC have become so shrill and defensive, as van Aucken wrote,

No doubt, the tallying of media-reported deaths in Iraq served a useful purpose under conditions in which the attitude of the American occupiers was summed up in the remark by Gen. Tommy Franks: “We don’t do body counts.”

Now, however, under conditions in which the governments responsible for this war and the mass media which helped them promote it are utilizing IBC’s figure of 60,000 deaths as a means of covering up the real magnitude of the disaster in Iraq, it seems self-evident that the principal responsibility confronting IBC would be to denounce and expose this misuse of its data, which, as the organization itself acknowledges, leave “most civilian casualties ...unreported.”

Saturday, 7 April 2007

EU slams Gandhi

Mark Elf, over at Jews sans Frontières, drew my attention to Arthur Neslen’s post on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is free’ site. Entitled ‘When an anti-semite is not an anti-semite’, the article discusses the EU Monitoring Commission’s ‘Working definition’ of anti-Semitism, which has come up on this blog before.

His main point is that under the EU definition, such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein would be tarred with the antisemite brush, while Lee Barnes of the Nazi British National Party might very well not. According to Neslen, it turns out that the framer of the EU definition was one Kenneth S. Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on antisemitism. What prompted Neslen’s article is that Britain’s National Union of Students has adopted it as official policy. It’s frightening that other bodies are now jumping on the bandwagon. Neslent claims ‘the British government has pledged to re-examine its own definition of anti-semitism’ and ‘the US state department's special envoy for combating anti-semitism’ has endorsed the EU Working definition. In fact, according to the State Department site that he links to is quite explicit that ‘The recitation of the EUMC "working definition" of anti-Semitism should not be construed as an acceptance of that definition, or the statements and examples thereunder, as United States policy’. Still, it’s a worry that they’ve given it pride of place there and I’m not aware of any other definition on the State site.

Anyway, I was impelled to post this as a comment there.

Canadian philosopher Michael Neumann argues, somewhat tongue in cheek, that when the definition of antisemitism is perverted to incorporate principled opposition to Zionism and to Israeli policies in this way, it transforms antisemitism from a racist atrocity into a virtue. And that really is one of the dangers of a widespread acceptance of a definition along the lines of the ‘Working definition’.

The approach I want to take here is to analyse the relevant passage of the ‘Working definition’ and see where it leads.

To begin with, I think it’s important that we know exactly what the EUMC definition actually says in this regard:

Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

· Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor).

· Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

· Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

· Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

· Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

1. The right to self determination

It is all very well to demand the right of self determination for Jews in Palestine, but it is not exclusive of other internationally recognised human rights. To use the right of self determination to establish an ethnically exclusive state that deprives the indigenous population of their rights, including, significantly, the right to self determination itself, is an exercise in the crudest cynicism. This is in fact one of the reasons that the existence of a State of Israel as a specifically Jewish state is a racist endeavour.

2. Double standards

Contrary to the opinion of people who don't accept the conventional rules of argument, in a discussion of Israeli policies, Saudi and Jordanian policies aren't actually relevant. The fact is, most critics of Israel are also critical of other countries. And uncritical supporters of Israel demand quite unreasonably that every time anyone criticises Israel, they firsts criticise Egypt, or Pakistan, or Canada, whether it’s relevant or not. It is also relevant to point out that whatever crimes the Jordanian government may commit against its own citizens and its neighbours, it never claims to be doing it on my behalf, as Israel does. In making this claim, Israel gives me special rights to criticise its policies and its existence and indeed, in my view, imposes a special obligation on me to do so.

3. Symbols

It probably really is antisemitic to accuse Israel of ‘christ killing’ and the like, although those who are serious about the right to freedom of expression would want such forms of atrocious speech protected.

4. Nazi comparisons

This is another red herring. Nobody claims that the state of Israel is rounding up Palestinians and literally transporting them to death camps. But former Israeli Justice Minister, Yosef Lapid, himself a Holocaust survivor and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, was recently reported comparing the behaviour of Hebron settlers with the antisemites who tormented him in his childhood in Yugoslavia. On 1 December 2004, however, Akiva Eldar reported in Ha’aretz that Machsom Watch had filmed 28 year old West Bank music student Wissam Tayam being forced to play his violin for the entertainment of the soldiers at the Beit Iba checkpoint near Nablus. Trivial examples, perhaps, but the point is that if Israelis are so sensitive about comparisons with the Nazis, it would behove them to eschew behaviour that invites such comparisons.

5. Collective responsibility

Ultimately, the EU ‘Working Definition’ undermines itself. If it is anti-Semitic to deny that a Jewish state has a right to exist, or to compare Israeli policies to Nazi policies, the inescapable implication is that it is anti-Semitic because to do so impugns all Jews, and not just Israelis or the Jewish state itself. If it reflects upon Jews in general to criticise Israel in these ways, then that must mean that those defining anti-Semitism believe that all Jews actually are responsible for the State of Israel and its policies. So Stern and whoever else framed the ‘Working definition’ are themselves ‘holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel’. In this way, by defining antiZionism as anti-Semitic, the EU and those who seek to apply the ‘Working Definition’ betray that, under their own definition, they are anti-Semitic themselves.