Sunday, June 29, 2008

Junto a Ti

Junto a Ti

On the eve of 1 December 2007, World AIDS Day, singer Joel Guilian, aka Joe, first released a video for the HSH-Cuba (Hombres que Tienen Sexo con Hombres, Men Who Have Sex with Men) Project of the National Center for Prevention of STIs and HIV/AIDS and the Ministry of Public Health in Cuba.

Joe, "Junto a Ti"

Having directed and written scripts for favorite TV shows of young Cubans for 16 years, Joel "Joe" Guilian decided to start a career as a singer.  His first success in Cuba came last year with "Libertad desde Mi Tierra," on which he worked with Omara Portuondo, the diva of the Buena Vista Social Club, and Ricardo Leyva, the director of the Sur Caribe orchestra.

Joe feat Omara Portuondo, "Libertad desde Mi Tierra"

Joe also directs music videos, including ones for his own songs.

In the middle of the year, after HSH-Cuba spoke with several artists whose prejudices held them back from becoming its campaign image for sexual diversity, Joe accepted its proposal because he, being gay, especially felt the importance of the topic.  First he presented the song "Junto a Ti," which he composed with two of his straight friends: Jessee Suárez y Germán Nogueria.  "Junto a Ti" is a song inspired by his relationship of over eleven years, six years of which were spent in a long-distance one, as his partner moved to Miami.  The song was accepted, and from then on he worked on the script of a music video for it, which he would also direct.  Upon the approval of the script, he began to look for individuals who could play his gay characters in the real streets of Havana's gay quarters.  Most heterosexuals in his video are members of the Yoldance Company, who had participated as dancers in the earlier video for "Libertad desde Mi Tierra."

The concept of the video is that a group of friends decide to have a good time and get together on the beach.  To show many of the popular gay hangouts in Cuba, they wove together several stories within the video.  These gay hangouts are internationally well known: Calle 23, Cine Yara, El Malecón Boulevard, Habana Libre Hotel, Old Havana, El Prado, the Havana Bay Tunnel, La Monumental (gateway to the beaches in the east of Havana), and East Havana Beaches with its white sands, coconut palms, blue sky, and crystal-clear water.  The characters are of all races and sexual orientations, enjoying one another's company wholesomely and respectfully.  Health educators who do social work for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, also make appearances.

With this video, a group of young Cubans wish to appeal to the world, especially Hispanics: "Respecting, Understanding, and Accepting Sexual Diversity Helps Prevent AIDS." 

They expect Cuban Television to echo this noble cause when it is handed copies for public broadcast.

The video has also been distributed to many international television networks, Web sites, and night clubs around the world.

Joe, "Junto a Ti" (shot on Mi Cayito Beach)

The original article in Spanish was published in Pressenta on 8 June 2008.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

America's Jazz Diplomacy Revisited

When America finds itself on the defensive on the PR front, it puts its talented -- and preferably Black -- tenth forward. During the Cold War, it sent its best jazz musicians -- Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and other geniuses -- on international tours, whose photographs are now on display in the exhibition titled "Jam Session: America's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World" at the Meridian International Center.

"Louis Armstrong in Cairo in 1961," Louis Armstrong House Museum

Reviewing the exhibition, Fred Kaplan reports that "Curtis Sandberg, the curator at Meridian International, said that during the three years it took to prepare the show his staff would frequently gaze at the photos and say, 'Why aren't we doing something like this now?'"1

But cultural power rises and falls with economic power, and American culture no longer enjoys the same edge -- the ability to combine innovation and mass appeal, drawing upon cultures of Blacks and immigrants, and market its products worldwide -- it did at the height of the Cold War.

Today jazz in America is for connoisseurs, not for masses. The largest film industry in the world is Bollywood, whose films, salacious and yet demure ("[f]ilmmakers in India are banned from glorifying drinking, drug abuse and smoking, or including scenes 'degrading or denigrating women in any manner'"), are "popular in regions where Hollywood has had only limited success, like the Middle East."2 Jackson Pollock's Abstract Expressionism could be plausibly promoted as "free enterprise painting" (in the worlds of then MOMA President Nelson Rockefeller) superior to Soviet socialist realism, but Jeff Koons and his ilk can only serve as a test of what the market bears. As for literature, even English professors would get stumped if they were asked to come up with the ten most influential American writers alive today in whom the rest of the world ought to take interest.

The only field of culture in which America truly eclipses all others may be the art of self fashioning. That's what Barack Obama is good at,3 and that's what he sells. So far, it's sold very well in America. Will the rest of the world buy it, though?

1 Fred Kaplan, "When Ambassadors Had Rhythm," New York Times, 29 June 2008. The historical facts in Kaplan's article are based on Penny M. Von Eschen's excellent research: Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (Cornell UP, 1997); and Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Harvard UP, 2004). See, also, Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (New Press, 2001).

2 Thomas Fuller, "It's Bollywood!/'They Can't Compete with Us in Emotions': Indian Movies Speak to a Global Audience," International Herald Tribune, 20 October 2000.

3 Matt Taibbi on the art of being Obama:
Here's the thing about Obama, the reason they call him a "natural" and a "rare talent." When Hillary Clinton spouts a cliché, it's four words long, she's reading it off a teleprompter, and it hits the ear like the fat part of a wooden oar. Even when Hillary announced she was running for president, she sounded like she was ordering coffee. Obama on the other hand can close his eyes and the clichés just pour out of his mouth in huge polysyllabic paragraphs, like Rachmaninoff improvisations. In this sense he's exactly like Bill Clinton, who had the same gift. He is exactly what is meant by the term bullshit artist. ("Obama Is the Best BS Artist Since Bill Clinton," AlterNet, 14 February 2008)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Christopher Street, Gay Liberation Day

On 27-28 June 1969, the Stonewall Riots began, and one year later, gay men and lesbians organized the Christopher Street Liberation Day committee to put on "this first march -- march, militant march, not parade," says Jerry Hoose, a Gay Liberation Front founding member. Chelsea Dreher and Laura Collins, the plaintiffs of Samuels and Gallagher v. NY, add: "The gay pride parade was not a parade when we were involved in it. It was a political statement and a political movement. A march."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Iraq: We All Work for the Casino in the Green Zone

Iraq: We All Work for the Casino in the Green Zone
An Interview with Martin Eisenstadt

As you know, there's a talk of developing the Green Zone. The Marriott Hotel chain is here, and I too am involved in hospitality. I'm representing interests that are building a hotel. . . . Five stars, a casino, gambling, and it's going to be here in the Green Zone.

The sponsors are a Dubai-based company which has a lot of experience with hotels and casinos in the Middle East. And there's also a Las Vegas partner.

There's a lot of disposable wealth now in this region, as you must know -- a lot of foreign investors, foreign contractors, the troops are paid in dollars.

I'd call it a cultural center. We're excited to build hotels, to build golf courses, to bring Madonna, and to bring Elton John.

Money does talk. Democracy is the first step, but it needs to be followed by capitalism and entertainment, because that's what brings people together, and it's worked many times before. I noticed that now in the Green Zone there's even a Wendy's. Wendy's is a very famous American hamburger restaurant. . . . Do what tastes right! Yeah, Wendy's, it's an exciting process. I see the Green Zone transforming before my eyes.

And it's to the benefit of the Iraqi people, because that disposable income trickles down, as we say in America trickles down, when the people with the big money are spending that at roulettes they are also leaving tips to waiters. We have 6,000 rooms, we need many young girls to clean them. We're going to have a golf course, which needs gardeners, people with the gardening background.

The massage. We're gonna be able to bring people from all around the world, so your masseuse might actually be from the former Soviet Union or from Thailand. A boxer might come from America, mixed martial artists might come from Brazil. That's what I'm trying to convey. And there's been some lobbying, because there's a vote this week in the parliament. Democracy is vibrant, it's alive, and the Iraqis feel . . . right, the feeling is here, the feeling of democracy.

There's an issue of legalized gambling. I know in Kurdistan there is a casino that is very successful, and that's what we are trying to bring to Iraq. And I'm telling you, Iraq is already transforming, but soon it's gonna be like Berlin, it's gonna be like Okinawa, it's gonna be like Seoul, it's gonna be like Las Vegas, but within the Iraqi context, sensitive to the sensibilities of local people, of course. There'll be a mosque, a room for prayers, five times a day, there will be a call for prayers. We're gonna have a special section for Shesh Besh. Backgammon. Not just roulettes, blackjack, and poker, but a special section for Shesh Besh. So, we are going to incorporate local norms. And we are going to have off-track betting for the camel races in Dubai and countries nearby.

But yes, the pizzazz, the Vegas pizzazz, the American, can-do, let's-have-fun, we're-all-one attitude, yes, unapologetically, we're going to bring that here, but mixed with local sensibilities.

When you have a jack and a six, and you hit, everybody is in it together. That rush transcends your language, your culture, your religion. That I think is what's gonna really bring people together.

Whether you are Shia, Sunni, or Kurd, you're gonna be seen wearing the same casino uniform, with the same nameplates. which says we're all one, we all work for the casino, there are no differences between us. Our employment is going to be one third, one third, one third, so that all the peoples of Iraq are represented.

I haven't spoken as much about this in America, but I think here it's ok, it's gonna happen soon. I'm probably soon gonna be an advisor for the McCain campaign, because my candidate, Rudi Giuliani, dropped out. And I can assure you that John McCain supports this effort. John McCain will likely be the next American president. And I think the people here in Baghdad should understand that a future American president supports this endeavor.

John McCain as the head of the Indian Affairs Committee in the Senate knows hands-on, full well, the importance of development, how a casino, haw a sauna, how a golf course can transform a people, can transform a region and bring peace to groups that otherwise fight. We also had a racial conflict, between Indians, the white people, the Caucasians from Europe, and the Black people from Africa. And somehow casinos have managed to fix that divide. Only twenty years ago the Indians were drunk, and homeless, and committing crimes. Today, they're prosperous and wealthy, driving a Mercedes, with their kids with Game Boys and PlayStations, satellite dishes on their homes. And so too the Black people with sports have managed to advance themselves in this kind of entertainment sector. It's brought harmony between all the peoples. And we intend to bring the same thing here to Baghdad.

Iraq has changed. I think it's because of casinos. You find that today there's a wide consensus, across the board the American people are committed to helping Iraq see this problem through to its end. We're not gonna cut and run, we're partners, we're in this together for at least a hundred years. And I'll see you at the blackjack table. And what happens in the Green Zone stays in the Green Zone.

This is a partial transcript (omitting the interviewer's questions) of a program that is said to have been broadcast on Al-Iraqia in February 2008, featuring Martin Eisenstadt speaking at the "Baghdad Business 2 Business EXPO." H/T to Juan Cole, Raed Jarrar, and Rick B. The video is (most likely) a satire.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lebanon: Five Reasons That Demand Women's Participation in Government

Lebanon: Five Reasons That Demand Women's Participation in Government
by Marie Nassif-Debs

In his book entitled Silence of the Poor, French writer Henri Guillemin said that those who were the foundation of the victory of the Revolution of 1789, the urban and rural poor, including women, were excluded from politics by an electoral law giving the right to elect and be elected only to citizens who could read and write. . . . Since that distant century, despite hundreds of wars and revolutions that have changed the face of the planet, the poor and women are still the weak link in all the changes and compromises, even though they are the ones who made them possible.

Based on this historical fact, let's review the current political situation in Lebanon, following the compromise made, on 21 May 2008, between the majority (known as the "14 March Bloc") and the opposition (called the "8 March Bloc"). What draws our attention is, first and foremost, the entente that settled for, despite all the blood and destruction, the only electoral law that could keep them all in power while preserving their (social and sectarian) role at the top of the hierarchy: the law of 1960 which, beginning with highly confessionalized cazas (small districts), alone is capable of guaranteeing the economic position and the share of the cake due to each "emir of a taifa" (political representative of a religious denomination) and the role of various foreign "tutors" near and far. All this in order to keep the Lebanese political system, designed by France and redesigned sometimes by the United States and sometimes by Syria, the place that Lebanon has been assigned on the regional chessboard.

In this situation, where the struggle for power has been brought to its conclusion, since each of the parties based on the alliance of the bourgeoisie and political feudalism had borne arms to improve its portion at the "town hall," the portion of the poor has, once again, fallen off the agenda and, with it, also that of representation of women who, though constituting 53% of the entire Lebanese people, have not been able, so far, to rise to the positions of political decision-making power, except to replace family members, dead husbands in most cases. . . .

When we raised the issue of "women's quota," for some time thereafter, certain representatives of the bourgeoisie complained of dishonor, saying it would degrade the role of women to demand a quota to allow women to be present among them! They have forgotten that most, if not all, of them only rose to their positions of leadership through the quotas granted to the political representatives of Lebanese religious denominations. . . . They attached the adjective "humiliating" to a legitimate demand to better represent women of their country, though we find them being very much worshipful of what they call "Western democracy," willfully ignoring that this democracy is putting female quotas in practice and that Angela Merkel, to mention only one example, has risen to her high office because she was elected first of all because of such a quota. . . .

What is a "female quota"? And how is it formulated by the associations and political parties that have proposed it?

The electoral program of the "National Assembly for the Elimination of All Discriminations against Women in Lebanon," published three years ago (2005), stipulates that Lebanese women be given a 30% share of deputies, i.e., 38 seats. These 38 seats will be, according to the network of 60 associations and many eminent women in the country, filled by the adoption of the most democratic of all known electoral systems, starting with proportional representation and set outside any sectarian confines. That is to say, it will start with a unique experiment, different from all those experienced since the independence of Lebanon. Demanding the abolition of confessionalism and proportional representation, the women of Lebanon aspire to represent not a part of the people but Lebanon as a whole. By doing so, they wish to express their opposition to the electoral laws that were tailored to the measure of sectarian divisions and that could not but engender civil wars.

This program is based, by the way, on very good reasons, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Here, we'll cite only five.

The first reason, one of principle, is based on the Constitution, which proclaims, in its seventh article, full equality among citizens. This reason of principle has been strengthened in 1996 by the signing of the "International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women," which provides, inter alia, the right to quotas as a means to institute complete equality between men and women.

The second reason lies in the great role played by women, especially young women, in the movement for independence in the early forties, and also in the organizations of the Lebanese resistance against the Israeli occupation. In all these battles, Lebanese women have demonstrated leadership qualities.

The third reason is visible in the place currently occupied by women in economy and production. This place, which has been horizontally expanded, has also become more impressive in the senior echelons of economic and even financial power. . . .

The fourth reason is found in the role played by women in the judiciary and the media where limits and differences have been completely abolished.

The fifth and final reason, as was already mentioned, lies in the numbers. While some leaders boast of the percentage of the denomination that they represent in the total population of Lebanon, in any faith, women are the only "part" who enjoy an absolute majority.

Yes to a quota for women, on a provisional basis. Yes to a new electoral law based on proportional representation in Lebanon as a whole considered as a single constituency. Yes to the abolition of sectarianism in politics. These are the foundations of civil peace and political reform.

Marie Nassif-Debs is a spokesperson of the Lebanese Communist Party. Her article was first published in An-Nidaa on 27 June 2008 and made available in French at the Al-Oufok Web site on the same day. English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Free Press

Not only are the US media largely free from any fundamental criticism of the Iraq War (their criticism, such as it is, by and large focuses only on the White House's tactics rather than its goal or even strategy), but they are becoming virtually free from any coverage of Iraq whatsoever. It gives a new meaning to the term "free press."
According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been "massively scaled back this year." Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The "CBS Evening News" has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC's "World News" and 74 minutes on "NBC Nightly News." (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Journalists at all three American television networks with evening newscasts expressed worries that their news organizations would withdraw from the Iraqi capital after the November presidential election. They spoke only on the condition of anonymity in order to avoid offending their employers. (Brian Stelter, "Reporters Say Networks Put Wars on Back Burner," New York Times, 23 June 2008)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Zimbabwe: MDC to Push for a "Transitional Government" That Stabilizes Economy with IMF Help

It's possible that a majority of Zimbabweans would prefer an IMF plan for economic stabilization to the inflation rate of "355,000 percent" (according to Bloomberg News yesterday). But is it worth dying for?
  • "Senior MDC figures say they will begin pushing in coming days for international backing for the creation of a transitional government -- possibly headed by an AU leader -- to sit for a limited period while organising fresh elections, stabilising the economy and alleviating food shortages" (James Blitz, Tom Burgis, and William Wallis, "International Pressure to Replace Mugabe Grows," Financial Times, 24 June 2008).

  • "Some MDC figures say the party is pushing for a transitional government, headed by an independent figure, possibly from abroad, to prepare for fresh elections and attempt to stabilise the economy with the help of the International Monetary Fund" (Tom Burgis, Tony Hawkins, and agencies, "UN Rules Fair Election Impossible in Zimbabwe," Financial Times, 24 June 2008).


"No pretendemos ser modelo en la construcción del socialismo, aunque sí en la defensa del derecho a construirlo." -- Fidel Castro Ruz, "Prólogo para los amigos bolivianos," Junio 4 de 2008

"We do not pretend to be a model for the construction of socialism, but we do hope to set an example in the defence of the right to construct it." -- Fidel Castro Ruz, "A Prologue for Our Bolivian Friends," 4 June 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Between Oil and Ethanol

On one hand, Barack Obama is worse than John McCain on ethanol and thus is likely to deal a bigger blow to the world's poorest than his Republican opponent.
  • Mr. McCain advocates eliminating the multibillion-dollar annual government subsidies that domestic ethanol has long enjoyed. As a free trade advocate, he also opposes the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff that the United States slaps on imports of ethanol made from sugar cane, which packs more of an energy punch than corn-based ethanol and is cheaper to produce.

    "We made a series of mistakes by not adopting a sustainable energy policy, one of which is the subsidies for corn ethanol, which I warned in Iowa were going to destroy the market" and contribute to inflation, Mr. McCain said this month in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de São Paulo. "Besides, it is wrong," he added, to tax Brazilian-made sugar cane ethanol, "which is much more efficient than corn ethanol."

    Mr. Obama, in contrast, favors the subsidies, some of which end up in the hands of the same oil companies he says should be subjected to a windfall profits tax. In the name of helping the United States build "energy independence," he also supports the tariff, which some economists say may well be illegal under the World Trade Organization’s rules but which his advisers say is not. (Larry Rohter, "Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol," New York Times, 23 June 2008)

  • Although biofuels still account for only 1½ percent of the global liquid fuels supply, they accounted for almost half the increase in the consumption of major food crops in 2006-07, mostly because of corn-based ethanol produced in the United States.

    Demand for Major Food Crops
    (International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook, April 2008, p. 60)
On the other hand, almost all neo-conservatives have signed up for McCain, whereas so-called realists -- such as Iraq Study Group co-chair Lee Hamilton and Zbigniew Brzezinski -- are backing Obama.

Workers of the world are between a rock and a hard place, between those who take food from the poor to fuel their cars and those who think that bombing Iran is a great idea for energy security, and to make matters worse, they have to depend on American voters to navigate between them.

355,000 Percent Inflation in Zimbabwe

It is said that, in Zimbabwe, economy is in its tenth year of recession, and inflation is running at "355,000 percent" (Jason McLure and Antony Sguazzin, "Zimbabwe's MDC Quits Runoff; Pressure on Africa Grows," Bloomberg, 23 June 2008).

Under normal circumstances, a government presiding over such an economy, whatever its ideological orientation (good, bad, or ugly), would have been overthrown a long time ago, with no assistance whatsoever from any leftist or rightist abroad. The only question is why that hasn't happened yet.

Drawing upon Antonio Gramsci, Álvaro García Linera, Vice President of Bolivia, explains that in the course of history there may come a time of "catastrophic equilibrium," a terrible stalemate "in the configuration of the class struggle, when neither of the major contending class blocs has the ability to establish its hegemony over the other, a situation that can endure (as García Linera says) for months or even years" (Richard Fidler, Introduction to García Linera's "Catastrophic Equilibrium and Point of Bifurcation" [Empate catastrófico y punto de bifurcación], MRZine, 22 June 2008). That may very well have been the case in Zimbabwe, too. An added problem in the country is that both the parties leading the contending class blocs -- the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front and the Movement for Democratic Change -- have deteriorated over the course of the stalemate.

The way it's going, the end game may be a civil war or East Timorization (the MDC calls for international peace-keepers, who will stay on to watch over a transitional government). Either is even worse than the type of "elite transition" that appeared likely in the wake of the first round of the presidential elections.

The Fires Within: Sri Lanka at War

Watch Ron Haviv's "The Fires Within: Sri Lanka at War," a documentary that is as compassionate as it is objective.

Cf. Nermeen Shaikh, "Photographing Conflict to 'Give a Voice': Ron Haviv Discusses Recent Sri Lanka Project," Asia Society, 12 June 2008.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Transnational Torutre

As production has become more transnational than before, so has torture, it seems. Not only has the United States government used "extraordinary renditions" to offshore torture,1 but it has also had foreign governments' "security officials" interrogate detainees at Guantanamo: "Behind closed doors, the United States has allowed security officials from countries such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Libya, Jordan, China, and Tunisia to interrogate prisoners at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo"(Center for Constitutional Rights, "Foreign Interrogators in Guantanamo Bay," 2008).

What should leftists do with transnationalization of torture? We ought to protest against subcontractors, too, but, as in anti-sweatshop activism, we cannot forget the end of the production chain where much of the surplus value of transnational torture gets appropriated.

1 Usually, when a foreign government commits torture and other human rights violations, depending on the government's ideological orientation and relation to the empire, different groups protest: if it's a US ally or client state, mainly leftists show up; and if it's an enemy of the United States, rightists tend to be louder than leftists, even in cases where leftists, too, take action. Extraordinary renditions have created cases that don't fall into a familiar pattern. Take the case of Maher Arar for example: here's a government with which the United States government is at odds and against which it is taking various actions (accusing it of being a state sponsor of terrorist organizations, backing the faction for the "Cedar Revolution," pushing for an international tribunal on the assassination of Rafik Hariri, letting Israel bomb what it says is a nuclear facility, etc.), and yet the US and Canadian governments render a citizen of Canada to it, outsourcing torture. There are several other known cases of "extraordinary renditions" to not only Syria but also Sudan and Zimbabwe, the states that are also on Washington's bad list (though most detainees appear to be rendered to US client states or US-occupied territories, such as Egypt and Afghanistan: Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, "Disappearing Act: Rendition by the Numbers," Mother Jones, 3 March 2008).

Norman G. Finkelstein Talks about Israeli Military "Rehearsal" for Strike against Iran

Afshin Rattansi interviews Norman G. Finkelstein about the Israeli military "rehearsal" for a bombing attack against Iran.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Israel's Two-Track Strategy against Iran

The Israeli power elite are pursuing a two-track strategy against Iran: make their own military threats against Iran, while their supporters push for a naval blockade against the country. The two go hand in hand with each other, as the former adds to pressures for the latter.

The latest example of the Israeli military threat is reported in today's New York Times:
Israel carried out a major military exercise earlier this month that American officials say appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters participated in the maneuvers, which were carried out over the eastern Mediterranean and over Greece during the first week of June, American officials said.

The exercise also included Israeli helicopters that could be used to rescue downed pilots. The helicopters and refueling tankers flew more than 900 miles, which is about the same distance between Israel and Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, American officials said.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

But the scope of the Israeli exercise virtually guaranteed that it would be noticed by American and other foreign intelligence agencies. A senior Pentagon official who has been briefed on the exercise, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political delicacy of the matter, said the exercise appeared to serve multiple purposes.

One Israeli goal, the Pentagon official said, was to practice flight tactics, aerial refueling and all other details of a possible strike against Iran’s nuclear installations and its long-range conventional missiles.

A second, the official said, was to send a clear message to the United States and other countries that Israel was prepared to act militarily if diplomatic efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium continued to falter.

"They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know," the Pentagon official said. "There’s a lot of signaling going on at different levels." (Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, "U.S. Says Exercise by Israel Seemed Directed at Iran," 20 June 2008)
The threat like this has real power given the fact that Israel has gotten away with bombing the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981 and what it says was a nuclear facility in Syria in 2007.1

At the same time, the push for a naval blockade by a "coalition of the willing" is fast gaining influence in both the United States and Europe: Laura Rozen, "Tracing an Iran Oil Blockade Meme," MojoBlog, 30 May 2008; Emily Blout, "Is a New Congressional Resolution Declaring War with Iran?" National Iranian American Council, 12 June 2008; Knut Mellenthin, "Naval Blockade against Iran?" MRZine, 16 June 2008; and Carah Ong, "H.Con.Res. 362: Pushing for a Naval Blockade against Iran?" MRZine, 19 June 2008. Click here to sign the Just Foreign Policy-sponsored letter to oppose H. Con. Res. 362.

1 Citing retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, however, Robert Naiman argues that an Israeli bombing is unlikely to set back Iran's nuclear program very much: "'The signal I received is that Israel does NOT have the capability to effectively attack Iran's nuclear facilities,' Col. Gardiner says" ("Is Israel Really Preparing to Attack Iran? Col. Gardiner Says No," Huffington Post, 20 June 2008). Naiman is most likely correct that the Israeli war drums are just for the purpose of drumming up support for a US-led military blockade and other coercive measures. Before Israel bombed Syria, for instance, it didn't make a peep about its intention -- it just went ahead and did it. So, all this saber rattling might even be evidence (such as it is) that Israel, too, doesn't see any viable military option. Then again, though, putting a stop to Iran's nuclear program is not the main goal of the Israeli power elite, nor is it that of the empire.

Update 1

From the FWIW department: "Russia's Foreign Minister Strongly Warns against Use of Force on Iran," Associated Press, 20 June 2008.

Update 2

More from the FWIW department: Lin Noueihed and Firouz Sedarat, "U.N Atom Watchdog Chief Says to Quit If Iran Attacked," Reuters, 20 June 2008.

Update 3

Barack Obama says that Israel is justified in militarily threatening Iran: Caren Bohan, "Obama: Israel Justified in Providing for Security" Reuters, 20 June 2008. Now that the Democratic primaries are over, what little rhetorical difference that existed between Obama and the other candidates on Iran in particular and the Middle East in general has already melted down, though it's only June and we have months to go before election day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mia Farrow Asks Blackwater for Help in Darfur

Competition for the Academy Award for Worst Hollywood Liberalism may be stiff, but, in my humble opinion, Mia Farrow ought to be the winner: "Mia Farrow, the actress and activist, has asked Blackwater, the US private security company active in Iraq, for help in Darfur after becoming frustrated by the stalled deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force" (Harvey Morris, "Activists Turn to Blackwater over Darfur," Financial Times, 19 June 2008).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Marxism in Latin America

Teodor Shanin observed in Late Marx and the Russian Road: "It has been the integration of Marxism with the indigenous political traditions which has underlain all known cases of internally generated and politically effective revolutionary transformation of society by socialists" (p. 255). Latin American Marxism is a very good example of such integration, mixing with Christianity, indigenous people's struggle, the legacy of Bolívar, Martí, and Sandino, argues John Riddell ("From Marx to Morales: Indigenous Socialism and the Latin Americanization of Marxism," MRZine, 17 June 2006). I cannot agree more, and Marxists elsewhere, especially in the Middle East, ought to do the same.

Now here comes a big test of Latin American Marxism. As is reported in the Financial Times, the Hugo Chávez government made Alí Rodríguez Araque "Venezuela's ninth finance minister in as many years" (emphasis added, Benedict Mander, "Chávez's Newest Finance Minister Faces Gloomy Outlook," 18 June 2008). The difficult task ahead of him and the rest of the nation is to figure out what to do with "an economy beset by an inflation rate running at over 30 per cent, the region's highest, while growth slowed to 4.8 per cent in the first quarter from 8.8 per cent last year" (Mander, 18 June 2008). Can Marxists help them do that, beating back inflation while advancing socialism from the bottom up at the same time? In theory, this is precisely the sort of task to which historical materialism can make more contributions than other ingredients of Latin American democracy and republicanism, some of which Riddell discusses.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Naval Blockade against Iran?

Naval Blockade against Iran?
by Knut Mellenthin

The USA and the EU planning to escalate confrontation with Iran.  A military blockade discussed.

In the conflict over Iran's civilian nuclear program, the United States and Europe are intensifying confrontation.  At the top of the measures that are now being discussed is an international naval blockade by a "coalition of the willing."  As in the Adriatic blockade against Yugoslavia in the first half of the 1990s, the coasts of Iran can be sealed off by a collective action by the NATO warships.  This would involve the "not-so-willing" such as Germany early in a joint military operation against Iran, unlike in the Iraq War.  A later exit from the military escalation would hardly be possible.  Such a blockade has been favored by the Israeli government and the neo-conservative US media like the Wall Street Journal.

Also under discussion is an agreement to no longer supply the Iranian oil and gas industry with necessary technology and spare parts.  The aim is to cause serious bottlenecks in production.

In principle, the US and the EU agreed to enforce their own coercive measures beyond the UN Security Council sanctions during President George W. Bush's visit to Europe.  A declaration adopted last Tuesday says: "We are ready to supplement those (U.N. Security Council) sanctions with additional measures.  We will continue to work together . . . to take steps to ensure Iranian banks cannot abuse the international banking system to support proliferation and terrorism."

The term "terrorism" refers to Hamas, Hezbollah, and all Iraqi organizations and movements that do not conform to Washington.  In agreeing to this declaration, the EU states for the first time accepted the US government's foreign policy which had long been linking Tehran's nuclear program and its foreign policy.  It is now also official that what is at stake is not just the nuclear program, but the total subjection of Iran to a US-EU diktat.

Against this background, the artificially magnified importance of Javier Solana's weekend visit to Iran was only a propaganda stunt.  The EU's foreign policy officer presented Tehran with an "incentive package" to which the "Iran Six" -- China, Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and the US -- had agreed in mid-May.  It demands that Iran stop all work on uranium enrichment.  It offers nothing in return -- except the supposed readiness to continue to discuss some issues.  The Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham made a statement: "If the package includes suspension it is not debatable at all.  Iran's position is clear: any precondition is unacceptable."

The original article in German appeared in junge Welt on 16 June 2008, under the title "Solanas »Anreizpaket« für Teheran" [Solana's "Incentive Package" for Tehran].  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Region in Chaos: An Interview with Dr. Mohssen Massarrat

A Region in Chaos:
An Interview with Dr. Mohssen Massarrat

by Deutsche Militärzeitung

Mohssen Massarrat, born in Tehran in 1942, is Professor of Political Economy and International Relations at Universität Osnabrück.

Deutsche Militärzeitung: Professor Massarrat, William Fallon, US Commander responsible for the Middle East, unexpectedly resigned after just one year. A cause for his resignation is obviously the US policy toward Iran. Admiral Fallon criticized the US government by saying, "This constant drumbeat of conflict is one that strikes me as not helpful, not useful for the people," and stressed in contrast the importance of diplomacy. What does the resignation of such a high-ranking military officer mean?

Dr. Mohssen Massarrat: Honestly, it's a very bad sign. Because, without actual bellicose intentions on the part of the United States, Fallon's resignation doesn't make sense.

Do you think a war against Iran is a realistic possibility?

After the publication of the consensus of all 16 US spy agencies in November last year which deprived the US government of any pretext for war, many -- including myself -- breathed a sigh of relief. Israel, however, immediately cast doubt on that report. US President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney lay low for several months, obviously counting on people's forgetfulness, and now the drums of war are loud again. As long as they determine the fate of the United States, a war against Iran cannot be ruled out. The same also goes for a John McCain presidency. A reasonable degree of foresight is necessary if we are to prevent -- if it is still possible at all -- the war. To the old US neo-conservative plans for regime change in Iran by means of war, more recently a domestic political reason has been added: i.e., Barack Obama.

Just imagine: Israel takes the planned summer launch of the first Iranian space satellite for a pretext and bombs, with the slogan of "Enough Is Enough," Iran's nuclear plants, rocket silos, and launching pads, at first on its own. The Iranian government reacts with counterstrikes. Then Bush and Cheney feel compelled to enter the war to protect its ally. Neo-conservatives would see their dream come true, and at the same time they would achieve the goal of preventing the victory of Barack Obama, who is seen to be against the war, in favor of McCain.

At the heart of the conflict are the controversial Iranian nuclear program and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hostile remarks against Israel. In your opinion, do these two factors justify verbal and military escalation against Iran?

Hardly. Rather, they seem to be used as pretexts for a new war in the Middle East. For example, the United States has accepted Pakistan's nuclear weapons, which already exist, although they represent a real danger to the region unlike the Iranian nuclear program. The real reason for the escalation against Iran is rather the desire of US neo-conservatives for a regime change in Tehran in order to remove a "troublemaker" from the region.

You mentioned Pakistan's nuclear weapons, which are at present still in the hands of US ally Pervez Musharraf. The country is plagued by domestic unrests. Is there a risk of the Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of less predictable rulers?

One can never rule out such a possibility, since it is well known that there exist radical Islamic forces within the military apparatus of Pakistan.

In your view, does Iran present a threat to the Middle East and also to the so-called "Western world"?

Iran is now the only remaining regional power that doesn't dance to the tune of the United States. The country opposes the hegemonic pretension of the United States, which wants to exercise complete control over mineral resources and all oil and gas transit routes. Together with other oil states, Iran would also be in a position to jeopardize the dollar as the currency of transaction. A danger to the US hegemonic interests, however, cannot be equated with a danger to the West! For example, having another hard currency like the euro besides the dollar would actually help stabilize the global economy -- even the weakened US economy. Because the US national economy remains afloat thanks to the dollar, the key currency, supported by the contributions of other national economies, it goes deeper into debt without a care in the world. Therefore it would be in the interests of the international community if the US national economy flourished through its own performance instead of endless debt and dollar devaluation.

What, in your opinion, are we to make of Iran's nuclear program?

Staaten mit AtombombenIran is a regional middle power and, in view of Israel's nuclear first-strike capacity, faces a very serious security dilemma. This problem has nothing to do with the present regime in Tehran. Any other Iranian government would also have to deal with this problem. For Iran, in principle there are only two possibilities: to develop its own nuclear retaliatory capacity; or to make the region a nuclear weapons-free zone. Of course, the latter would also have to encompass Israel's nuclear weapons. The Iranian government appears to have chosen the first option and be taking the same path that Israel has pursued, with impunity from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for almost forty years. Paradoxically, however, Iran today does not avow its security dilemma but proclaims purely civilian reasons for its nuclear program.

Why is that paradoxical?

I believe that the Islamic Republic intends to ultimately acquire the skills to manufacture atomic bombs without, however, violating the NPT in the process. Camouflaging military intentions with peaceful use of atomic energy is in principle possible. The problem is, though, that it's impossible to convince anyone of the necessity for atomic energy in Iran. Iran has considerable fossil fuel resources and also has the possibility of meeting its growing energy need by implementing renewable energy technologies. It would therefore be difficult to dispel the suspicion that Iran is pursuing other goals with its nuclear program. The general public would be probably more sympathetic to Iran, and the debate could possibly rise to a completely different level, if Tehran were to make its case based on its security dilemma.

Would a military action against Tehran be similar to the previous attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq?

A detailed plan for air strikes against Iran exists in Washington. It's a matter of preventing Iran from striking back. In the Pentagon circles, it is understood that already 2,000 targets to be destroyed in Iran have been selected.

Military targets?

Not just military targets. The attacks are to destroy Iran not only as a regional military power but also as a functioning state. That encompasses the destruction of airports, roads, power plants, and sewage plants. So-called "collateral damage," the murder of civilians, is thus factored into such a plan, approved and accepted.

That sounds very similar to the US strategy in Iraq. Will the Iranian military break down just as rapidly as the Iraqi military did?

I believe that the Iranian military would most probably be able to cause great difficulties for aggressors and subvert the Pentagon's plans. Then again, it is also very much possible that, after the first air strikes, the Iranian army would be obliged to devote itself to taking care of civilians. One imagines that the power plants, water reservoirs, and sewage plants of Tehran would be destroyed at the beginning of the air strikes. The army would then be hamstrung from crucial defense. That's precisely the reason why the possible attacks are aimed at civilian infrastructure.

After the invasion of the US armed forces into Baghdad, many Iraqis hailed America as their "liberator" from the regime of Saddam Hussein. Would there be such scenes in Tehran?

That is inconceivable. An overwhelming majority of Iranians will support their government in the event of a military attack. Even critics of the government will do so if their country is attacked.

What makes you think so?

Let me give you an example: when Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, the world thought that the Iranian army was demoralized because of the Islamic Revolution that had taken place two years before. Large sections of the army still consisted of hardened monarchists from the Shah's time and were actually opponents of the Islamic Republic. But the army stood united and succeeded in repelling the Iraqi attack, which was supported by the United States with substantial money and weapons. It would be probably no different with a coming Israeli-American attack.

What role does the Federal Republic of Germany play in the Iran conflict?

Here, Germany unfortunately plays the role of a seemingly disinterested spectator. In reality, the German government supports, goes along with, and sometimes even schemes for the policy of the Bush administration, which is implementing ever sharper sanctions against Iran. It is very naive of Berlin. Actually, thinking people like German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier long ago realized that, for the United States, the Iranian nuclear program was a pretext for war just like the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

What impacts would a war against Iran have on the region?

The region would fall into a long period of destabilization. The central state would cease to exist in Iran, and the country would be "Afghanized" and "Iraqified."

From which do you think the United States would profit more: a stable or unstable region?

Let's stick to the example of Iraq: its destabilization has benefited the US military-industrial complex and the oil and construction industries, which began to receive lucrative contracts as soon as the US invasion started. Many US neo-conservatives, such as Dick Cheney and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are closely involved in these sectors. Washington's criminal, irresponsible policy, however, is diametrically opposed to the long-term interests of the US population as well as the entire West. The costs of war directly weigh on not only a majority of the American people but, through dollar devaluation, also China, Japan, and the European Union that have dollar surpluses.

It should be obvious that this asymmetric arrangement in favor of US conglomerates, which are closely tied to Washington, cannot last long. But they think that, by destabilizing and decomposing the multi-ethnic state of Iran, they can secure the interests of the US military-industrial complex by the tried and true means of recycling petrodollars into weapons exports to Iran for years and decades to come.

What role does Israel play in this conflict?

Israel is strategically seen as the most reliable bridgehead of the United States in this region. This is based on mutual dependence. For Israel, the United States is a vital ally, without whose constant military and financial assistance the country cannot survive. For the United States, Israel is more than a strategic bridgehead in the Middle East necessary for its hegemonic pretension that I have already mentioned. With a change of government, other US allies in the region can become enemies of the United States (as Iran for example did after the fall of the Shah's regime), but in Israel all conceivable governments will always be allied with the United States.

About 3,290 soldiers of the German Federal Armed Forces are currently stationed in Afghanistan. Would an Iran war affect their safety?

Absolutely! I bet that the entire region would plunge into chaos. All countries allied with the United States, which have likewise stationed their troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, would then be confronted with a completely new situation, and there would be more losses of human lives -- including German lives!

In the West's media war against Iran, the human rights condition in Iran is constantly brought up for discussion, among other things with the newly coined term of "Islamofascism," the term eagerly embraced by the German media as well. What are we to think of that?

That, in my judgment, is a shocking development as well as a symptom of the moral decline in the media. This term, which was evidently fabricated by US-Israeli think tanks, has -- as you correctly observe -- enjoyed wide currency in the German media. Even Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung have unfortunately promulgated this absurd catchword. This term is used to suggest that Islamic states are potentially fascist states.

What objectives is such a suggestion meant to achieve?

It serves to appeal to anti-fascist "reflexes" in the Western democracies. Because against fascism all means are permitted, including military ones. The spearhead of this alleged new fascism is supposed to be Tehran. Many of those who propagate the term "Islamofascism" and try to make it acceptable advocate more or less openly for a "Final Solution of the Iran Question." The term "Final Solution," of course, is not mentioned explicitly, but it is still unmistakably there. It is ironic that such insinuations are also made by none other than Israel, though they do nothing less than minimize Nazism by comparing it with Iran. Thus the victims of the Holocaust are insulted in order to justify new crimes against Islamic countries. Especially in Iran, Jews have never come to harm because of their faith. For centuries Jews lived in peace in the Islamic societies of the East, but one cannot say the same for Europe.

In the future must we expect to see wars started with an ostensibly "anti-fascist" rhetoric?

I would like to remind all that such a rhetoric was already used before the NATO attack on Yugoslavia in 1999. Above all, former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and former Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping employed such parallels. That, too, is an indication of the rapid moral decline in politics and the media. Thus it is quite possible that's the model for the future.

However, we should not be too pessimistic either -- it is never too late to change anything! How may we go about it?

By exerting ourselves, as much as possible, for truth and integrity in politics.

How credible is the human rights position of the United States, given Washington's close ties with feudal, anti-democratic Islamic monarchies, for instance, Saudi Arabia?

I think this contradiction speak for itself. Surely one can criticize the development of democracy in Iran. Also regarding the human rights situation in Iran, one mustn't be silent. Compared with Saudi Arabia, though, Iran is a really democratic country. Also one should not ignore the development of the last two decades, in which reformists made great achievements. I see little reason for the dark picture of Iran painted in the West today.

How would you define the German interests in this region?

It's, above all, an energy question here. The interests of Germany and Europe lie in the security of energy supply, which will probably consist mainly of fossil fuels for the next forty to fifty years. Why shouldn't there be a similar relation to what exists today between Europe and Russia -- on the basis of free trade and cooperation? For there to be such a relation, however, the European states -- above all Germany -- would have to develop self-confidence to extricate themselves from the hegemonic interests of the United States and to pursue their own independent policy, oriented toward fair trade and cooperation with the states in the Middle East.

Germany enjoyed a great reputation in the Islamic world in previous years. But, of course, the Federal Republic has lost much of its reputation, especially through its participation in the occupation of Afghanistan. Do you see any chance at all to repair this relationship?

Let me take a concrete example: when former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder clearly refused German participation in the war against Iraq, and former French President Jacques Chirac did the same, overnight both became the most credible Europeans in the entire Islamic world! A few weeks later, Chirac visited Algeria -- a country that still has problems with its former French colonial masters, actually -- and he was received and celebrated by almost a million jubilant people because of his stand against the Iraq War. See, it's never too late.

Do you see a possibility of a peaceful resolution to the Iran conflict?

Yes. There is a quite realistic solution, though difficult to put into practice: a process to establish common security and cooperation in the Middle East, a kind of CSCE (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe) for the Middle East. It is difficult, because all those who, like the United States and Israel, are now pursuing their objectives with their "divide and conquer" policy, by dividing and weakening their adversaries -- for example dividing Hamas and the PLO in Palestine and fomenting mutual resentment among Sunnis and Shi'is -- will lose ultimately and therefore try to prevent it.

It is realistic, because all states of the region, including the population of Israel, would, in the medium and long terms, benefit from dialogue and gradual convergence on the concept of "common security" and economic cooperation. In all likelihood, in 1943, it was unimaginable that France and Germany would be so reconciled in ten years that wars between the states of the European Union would be ruled out and that in thirty years the European Union would develop into a flourishing economy in the interest of the EU populations.

Professor Massarrat, thank you for your discussion.

The original Deutsche Militärzeitung interview in German was republished in Zeit-Fragen on 2 June 2008 (see, also, Vicente Romano's Spanish translation at TLAXCALA). English translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Monday, June 09, 2008


It may be better in Iran than the West, depending on what you are looking for.
Just as many Iranians leave and find themselves in new and unfamiliar lands so different than the ones they had imagined before their departure, our western perceptions of Iran are fatally limited, lacking texture and color. We are all guilty of believing the myths about the other, and for the young Iranian stepping into their new lives and can be an extreme letdown.

Iran bursts with so much possibility that one can become exhausted with anticipation. There is a unique brand of chaos best witnessed in Tehran at night. Pulsating traffic jams, make it impossible to move, but provide young people the opportunity to flirt between car windows, trading SMS messages and suggestive glances. You may be offered to buy beer from a guy on a motorbike; a small thing to us, but Islam's take on alcohol makes drinking more thrilling than it ever was in high school. Strangers spark conversations with each other, covering all conceivable topics. Contrary to popular belief, no subject is off limits. Ultimately, it's never boring, with the potential for every sort of imaginable encounter looming around all corners. It is a place that, although officially very repressed emotionally, sexually and creatively, feels alive and vital in the most meaningful way: in terms of human energy.

When they go abroad, especially to the US, many young Iranians are simply bored by the pace of social interaction. Sure, they can drink when and where they want, but so what? Baywatch made an incredible impression on the Islamic Republic and realizing that it's not really like that here can be difficult to swallow.

The courting of the opposite sex, for example, takes on a much greater sense of urgency when a mutual attraction is uncovered. The where, when and how become imperative, and as one of my cousins memorably told me, "Haji, it's like a jungle here. You must be ready and act fast. Get her or someone else will."

When I returned to San Francisco recently I was invited to join the birthday party of another recent Iranian arrival. His girlfriend had called me last minute and told me to meet the group at 7:30 the next evening at Asia SF, a famous restaurant and club that does an all Asian, all transsexual song and dance routine every night. Interesting choice, I thought.

The group consisted of eight people, five of whom had come from Iran to study at UC Berkeley. We drank and laughed, and I loved watching their unsure interaction with the performers. Is it ok to be turned on by these people? was the look on most of their faces. They were a bit shell shocked, I think, by this completely sanctioned sin fest, but not unwilling to participate.

Somehow, though, it seemed boring compared to a night out in Iran, where everything exists as it does here, but in a much rawer, un-institutionalized form. There is no system of public dialogue for hedonism or alternative sexual expression although it exists of course; another example of repression, but also another possibility for true experience.

Just a couple of weeks earlier late one evening in Tehran, I was driving the streets with a good friend Saeed. I find Iran to be most alive when the sun goes down. We were headed north on Valiasr Street, named after the Hidden Imam, an avenue that runs from Tehran deep south to the posh neighborhoods at the foothills of the Alboorz Mountains. At the large intersection still known as "The Peacock Throne" young prostitutes stood around waiting for customers and hopping into the cars of johns, speeding off to locations unknown. A real problem here, but no one seems to be doing much about it.

I started to assume that every girl was working and would sometimes ask, "Is she one, too?" Locals seemed to have developed a radar for them. Saeed laughed at my naiveté. Sometimes, though, when he would point one out I'd tell him, "Maybe. But that one's a guy." Tranny spotting is not yet their forte. (Jason Rezaian, "Iran's Brain Drain More of a Flow, Really," The Warwick Review 1.3, September 2007)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Israel Threatens Iran, and Oil Prices Skyrocket

We have to come up with a way of making clear to the US power elite: no, we can't afford Israel any more. Otherwise, we'll all go bankrupt. Look:
Since the decades of neoliberal capitalism have led to public and private underinvestment in key industries and infrastructure, including oil, the margin of error is narrow, and we can't let the power elite of Israel make any stupid move.

If the Americans were smarter, they would be demanding that, instead of backing Israel no matter what, the USG withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan (which the Iranians, the Syrians, the Turks, the Pakistanis, the Indians, the Russians, and other interested parties in the region can collaboratively manage on behalf of the world) and invest the money saved ($165 billion from now through June 2009) into oil field development to cover the estimated investment shortfall ($95 billion, according to Platts). Technology to raise oil production exists -- what's lacking is the political will to transfer it, as well as money, into the right hands (i.e., the hands of those who own most existing and potential oil reserves, the national oil companies of the global South).

Meanwhile, "the unemployment rate [in the United States] in May had its highest monthly increase in 22 years" (Bhattarai, 7 June 2008). Will the Fed stick to its promise not to cut rates again any time soon and to defend the dollar? Cut the rates to revive economy,1 and the Fed will stoke inflation and risk imperiling the dollar's status as the world's reserve currency2 (of which US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson recently had to reassure the Gulf Arab ruling class3); raise the rates to attack inflation and restore confidence in the dollar, and the Fed will risk plunging economy into a depression.

1 More fundamentally, cutting the rates, i.e., treating the credit crisis as if it were a crisis of liquidity, doesn't touch the heart of the financial darkness: banks' inability to trust each other (cf. Joseph Halevi, "Los bancos centrales ya no tienen margen de maniobra. . . ," Sin Permiso, 30 December 2007). Hence the crisis continues: "Banking Group Won't Change Way Libor Measure Is Set" (Bloomberg News, 30 May 2008); Michael Mackenzie and Gillian Tett, "Libor Remarks Fail to Put Unease to Rest" (Financial Times, 2 June 2008); Tony Jackson, "Lack of Trust Lurks at the Heart of Banking Trouble" (Financial Times, 2 June 2008); Sean Farrell, "The Next Banking Crisis?" (Independent, 3 June 2008); "Why Interest Rates Are Higher than You Think" (Money Week, 5 June 2006).

2 Dollar DeclineThe European Central Bank has been more hawkish on inflation than the Federal Reserve. There is no coherent international policy on inflation and economic growth, even among the power elites of the US-led multinational empire, which makes it difficult for the Fed to perform its balancing act. Moreover, a great part of the recent oil price rises has been due to the dollar's weakness. Those oil producers, like the Gulf states, whose currencies are pegged to the dollar (but most of whose imports come from Europe), are thus forced to adopt a pro-cyclical policy against their interests. Bretton Woods II has ceased to make sense even on capitalist terms (to say nothing of the social costs to the South of accumulating dollar reserves and financing the US economy at the expense of domestic investment).

3 See how crucial petrodollar recycling has become to plug the US current account deficit:
As a result of the recent rise in oil prices, oil exporters have become important counterparts to the United States in the ownership of foreign savings. Their current account surplus represented in 2005 some 40 percent of the U.S. current account deficit, nearly doubling in one year (Chart 2).

Chart 2
Current Account Positions
(in billions of US$)

Current Account Positions
1Ratio of current account of oil exporters to current account of the United States (in percent, right axis).

Oil exporters are close to becoming more important than Asia in the holding of net savings outside the United States (Chart 3). While Asia's current account surplus is projected to have risen to US$341 billion in 2005 (equivalent to 47 percent of the United States' current account deficit), that of oil exporters is projected to have reached US$296 billion (equivalent to 41 percent of the United States' current account deficit). Relative positions are expected to reverse in 2006. According to IMF projections, oil exporters' current account surplus would amount to 46 percent of the U.S. deficit in 2006, while the figure for Asia would drop to 41 percent.

Chart 3
Foreign Savings
(Current account surplus, US$ billion)

Foreign Savings

(Saleh M. Nsouli, Director, Offices in Europe, International Monetary Fund, "Petrodollar Recycling and Global Imbalances," Presentation at the CESifo's International Spring Conference, Berlin, 23-24 March 2006)

Lost in Translation

Iran desperately needs to train a corps of capable Persian-English translators. Otherwise, the heartbreakingly beautiful country can get wiped off the map:
The inflammatory "wiped off the map" quote was first disseminated not by Iran's enemies, but by Iran itself. The Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran's official propaganda arm, used this phrasing in the English version of some of their news releases covering the World Without Zionism conference. (Arash Norouzi, "'Wiped off the Map' -- The Rumor of the Century," The Mossadegh Project)
Sometimes, however, errors in translation are more than entertaining. Take the headline of this dispatch from the Islamic Republic News Agency: "Ayat. Jannati: Enemies Disparate over Iran's N-program" (6 June 2008). The ayatollah, of course, said the enemies are "desperate" (ناامیدیی) (as is correctly rendered in the text of the dispatch itself) -- not "disparate" (which means "markedly distinct") -- in a propaganda attempt to raise the morale of Iranians. But, in this case, the error in the headline comes closer to reality than the most faithful translation of Ayatollah Jannati's own words: though enemies of Iran are far from desperate, they do have disparate interests and different positions, so the Iranians need to drive a wedge among them and divide and conquer them.


The Americans who laugh at Iran and other foreign nations for their occasional production of sometimes hilarious, sometimes dangerous errors in English ought to pause and reflect: but for a great quantity of spelling-bee prodigies that India exports to the United States, you, too, may find yourself in the same predicament. Confusing "desperate" and "disparate" is a common error among native speakers of English in the USA, perhaps especially under this education president who once asked: "Is our children learning?"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Federico García Lorca

Federico García Lorca was born on 5 June 1898. In his honor, listen to Estrella Morente sing "Los Cuatro Muleros."

Lorca cherished the profound influence of Arab, Persian, and Islamic cultures on the culture of Spain, and he highlighted it in his poetry and lectures:
  • "Just as in the siguiriya [the prototypical song form of the cante jondo. . .] and in its daughter genres are to be found the most ancient oriental elements, so in many poems of cante jondo there is an affinity to the oldest oriental verse. When our songs reach the extremes of pain and love they come very close in expression to the magnificent verses of Arab and Persian poets. The truth is that the lines and features of far Arabia still remain in the air of Cordoba and Granada." -- Federico García Lorca, "Historical and Artistic Importance of the Primitive Andalusian Song Called Cante Jondo"

  • "In all Arabian music, in the dances, songs, elegies of Arabia, the coming of the Duende is greeted by fervent outcries of Allah! Allah! God! God!, so close to the Olé! Olé! of our bull ring that who is to say they are not actually the same, and in all the songs of southern Spain the appearance of the Duende is followed by heartfelt exclamations of God alive! -- profound, human, tender, the cry of communication with God through the medium of the five senses and the grace of the Duende. . . ." -- Federico García Lorca, "The Duende: Theory and Divertissement"
According to Yair Huri, Lorca, in turn, has had a far-reaching influence on Arab poets, especially those of the 1950s and 1960s: "'In Your Name this Death is Holy': Federico García Lorca in the Works of Modern Arab Poets" (Ciberletras 13, July 2005). He has found his way into the hearts of Iranians, too, through the translations of such writers as Ahmad Shamlou.

Ironically, the European Union chose to issue tough new rules to expel undocumented immigrants (many of whom are from Europe's former colonies in North Africa and West Asia) on the birthday of the poet who lamented the "Reconquista" of 1492 -- "An admirable brand of civilization, of poetry, of architecture, and delicacy unique in the world -- all were lost, to be replaced by a poor, craven town, a 'wasteland' now dominated by the worst bourgeoisie in Spain," said Lorca -- which compelled Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity and expelled those who refused to submit to forced conversion: "Les Etats membres de l'UE s'accordent sur les conditions d'expulsions des sans-papiers" (Le Monde, 5 June 2008).

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama and McCain at AIPAC

Two candidates, two AIPAC speeches:
Barack Obama (4 June 2008); and
John McCain (2 June 2008).

Obama mentioned in his AIPAC speech:
Iran 29 times
Palestinians 11 times
Iraq 10 times
Syria 5 times
Hamas 4 times
Lebanon 3 times
Hizbollah 1 time
McCain mentioned in his AIPAC speech:
Iran 31 times
Iraq 13 times
Hezbollah 8 times
Lebanon 5 times
Palestinians 4 times
Hamas 4 times
Syria 1 time
Both candidates' speeches are about Iran, as it is AIPAC's number one issue.

Both Obama and McCain are united on maintaining Israel's "qualitative" (i.e. nuclear) military advantage:
Obama: "That [an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security] starts with ensuring Israel’s qualitative military advantage."
McCain: "I am committed to making certain Israel maintains its qualitative military edge."
Both are certain that Iran presents a threat to the entire "region," not just to Israel:
Obama: "The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region."
McCain: "It [Iran] remains the world's chief sponsor of terrorism and threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East, from Basra to Beirut."
Both are pushing for tougher economic sanctions, practically echoing AIPAC's talking points:
Obama would "pursue other unilateral sanctions that target Iranian banks and assets" and ask Europe, Japan, and the Gulf states to take measures ranging "from cutting off loan guarantees and expanding financial sanctions, to banning the export of refined petroleum to Iran, to boycotting firms associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard." McCain favors imposing "financial sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran," preventing "business dealings with Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps," and "applying sanctions to restrict Iran's ability to import refined petroleum products."
Where Obama and McCain differ:
McCain insists that "It [Iran] has trained, financed, and equipped extremists in Iraq who have killed American soldiers fighting to bring freedom to that country," a theme missing from Obama's speech.

McCain backed the Kyl-Lieberman amendment "calling for the designation of the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization responsible for killing American troops in Iraq," for which Obama didn't vote.

McCain says that he can't "unconditionally" meet with the Iranian leadership because that "would harm Iranian moderates and dissidents, as the radicals and hardliners strengthen their position and suddenly acquire the appearance of respectability." Obama doesn't mention the moderates and dissidents of Iran or how their position may be affected by US diplomacy.

Obama sponsored a bill that "would encourage states and the private sector to divest from companies that do business in Iran," the bill that McCain has refused to sign onto,1 as Obama points out. McCain says, "We should privatize the sanctions against Iran by launching a worldwide divestment campaign," on the model of the divestment campaign against Apartheid South Africa.
I guess there isn't much Iran's power elite (who are said to be "carefully rooting for Obama" like just about all foreigners from Cuba and Venezuela to Europe on the lesser evil principle) can do in response, beyond what they have already been doing, except maybe speeding up building refineries2 and cutting gasoline subsidies further.

1 Some in McCain's camp are rumored to have certain business connections with Iran: Christopher Beam, "McCain's Divestment Dance," Trailhead (a Slate blog), 2 June 2008.

2 Reuters, "Iran Building 7 Refineries to Hike Capacity -- Agency," 31 May 2008.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The West Proliferates Nuclear Technology in the Middle East

It looks like the West is intent on proliferating nuclear technology in the Middle East, bringing it to Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and even Yemen (the poorest country in the Middle East!), all run by the regimes far more vulnerable to social unrest than Iran's.
The news of the French nuclear deal with Algeria, for instance, just about coincided with that of concern about the growth of violent protests in the country that has yet to fully recover from the civil war in the 1990s, which is said to have killed more than 150,000: William Maclean, "Algeria Riots Pose Risk of Wider Unrest," Reuters, 1 Jun 2008.

In the meantime, the West's pressures on Iran escalate: the International Atomic Energy Agency has changed its tune, probably bowing to Washington (Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, "A Giant Backward Step on Iran," Asia Times, 30 May 2008); and threats of missile strikes, by the United States or Israel or both, are made again and again. The latest comes from former Foreign Minister of Germany Joschka Fischer: Joschka Fischer, "As Things Look, Israel May Well Attack Iran Soon," Daily Star, 30 May 2008.

One of the few bright spots for Iran on the nuclear front is Moscow's continuing insistence that Iran is not making a nuclear bomb. Vladimir Putin just said so again in no uncertain terms:
I don't think the Iranians are looking to make a nuclear bomb. We have no reason to believe this. The Iranian people are very proud and independent. They are trying to implement their legal right to develop peaceful nuclear technologies.

I should say that formally Iran hasn't violated any rules. It even has the right to carry out enrichment. It only takes a quick glance at the relevant documents to confirm this. ("What Putin Said to Le Monde -- in Full," Russia Today 1 June 2008; in French, Marie Jégo, Rémy Ourdan, and Piotr Smolar"La version intégrale de l'interview de Vladimir Poutine," Le Monde, 31 May 2008)

What Putin Said to Le Monde -- in Full

Nevertheless, Moscow is not about to bend its position that Iran should settle for receiving handouts from the club of the nuclear haves:
And if they [Iran and other nations seeking to develop nuclear energy] create their own closed cycle to solve the problem, there will always be the suspicion that they could produce military grade uranium. It is difficult to control. That's why we propose carrying out the enrichment on the territory of those countries which are beyond suspicion because they already possess nuclear weapons. ("What Putin Said to Le Monde -- in Full," 1 June 2008)
Moreover, in light of Putin's firm statement that "We will use any means possible to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons" ("What Putin Said to Le Monde -- in Full," 1 June 2008), even Moscow's long-standing position begins to sound less reassuring than before.