The water crisis

20 January, 2009

I drink my water from the tap. No Perrier or Evian for me; as the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for drinking-water quality explain, bottled water is stored for longer periods and at higher temperatures than tap water, allowing some microorganisms to grow to higher levels.

Then again, I have a choice. It’s true that a murky stream flows through our quarter, or a polluted river through our town, but I’ve never had the need to get my water from there. I am lucky.

Other people need to make do with the water they have. Or, as the Bolivians of Cochabamba found in 2000, with the water they don’t have. The Bechtel corporation had stepped in a year earlier to become the beneficiary of the drive to privatise water. Two months after the transfer, Bechtel increased water prices by fifty percent. Bolivians were faced with a choice: die of thirst or rise against the new owners.

On the Indian subcontinent, the Coca Cola corporation extracts water from the soil that had been used for generations by farmers in the surrounding area. People buy the corporation’s products, paying the sticker price. The farmers pay through decreased harvests and increasingly frequently with suicide.

In a world where the profit motive regulates the allocation of water, the individual is left powerless. Granted, you can buy a water saving shower head or a dual flush toilet. Through that, you contribute by being less wasteful. But people that crave for water have no such luxury. They need clean water now.

Laws serve to protect the interests of the powerful. For the lower and middle classes to push through the required social change that ensures the market has no place in the allocation of water, direct action is required. Governments need to be presented with a simple equation: it is more expensive to ignore the interests of the people than to ignore those of the corporations.

If we want to redress the disastrous deregulation that has been taking place worldwide in the allocation of water, we can rely on neither the government nor the individual. Instead, we need to put our heads together and initiate orchestrated action against those that lobby for that deregulation and those that implement it. Against the corporations and against government.

Over one billion people have no access to clean drinking water. These are people that could very well stand on our doorstep tomorrow morning, breaking down the door to get access to the water they have as much of a right to as we do. Let us all engage in direct action to force the hand of the establishment and see to it that water allocation is done on the basis of needs rather than profits.


What is an army?

19 January, 2009

An army is a vector of the pursuit of corporate interests through the use of force. Corporate interests are served by an army in the following ways (I am confident this is not an exhaustive list, but from the top of my head these are what I can come up with):

1) investments in the reinforcement and maintenance of the armed forces flow directly into corporate coffers;
2) lower and middle class people get to direct their anger and frustration at foreign subjects, rather than at the establishment at home running the corporations;
3) resources in the target country (referred to as “the enemy”) are put at the disposal of corporations;
4) support contracts, reconstruction contracts and all other proceedings resulting from the aftermath of a war flow directly into corporate coffers;
5) the policies of the newly friendly regime (previously referred to as “the enemy”) are largely dictated by corporate interests, thus allowing for 3), among others.

Typically, an army is employed when other forms of coercion have failed (financial coercion, for example through the IMF or WB; political coercion, for example through the imposition of embargos; subversive coercion, such as the meddling in elections or the overthrowing of governments).


Magicians and Bunnies in the Newsroom

16 January, 2009

by Matangmanok (aka Sufjan Simone)

Magicians are in a trade. They satisfy an audience’s craving for the fantastic, the impossible, the breathtaking. They know the best contraptions to use, the best colours of smoke to release, the slightest gesture to reveal and conceal at the precise moment. They suck you in a narrative of sorts, preparing and priming you for that special moment, and then a quick flourish and VOILA!

They know the tricks of the trade, so to speak.

Mainstream corporate media is in a trade. They are run with the intent to sell texts and images and, unlike the distant origins of journalism that strives to reveal the uncompromising truth, mainstream media aims to keep the status quo and not rock the boat of complacency. There are exceptions, of course, but in more recent times there have been fewer and fewer brave media people willing to risk their jobs and even their own lives by going against approved storylines and perspectives.

Those who put out “news” have many ways of revealing and concealing things. Some tricks are easy to spot as outright lies and fabrications. Some “news reports” are mere repetitions or muffled Amens to greater powers – political, corporate, religious, military, etc. – and, by mere repetition, are assumed to be facts by the less critical reader or “consumer” of news, details not meant to be questioned.

These types of media people view their readers as uncritical and feed them the same information from the same sources but spiced up or slightly changed to add some variety. Their positions remain the same.

It would be quite easy to pinpoint outright lies in a news article. Some tricks are more subtle and so we shall reveal just one of them for now.

In the aftermath of the historic “Throwing of the Shoes at Outgoing President Bush” – which to some people may seem a mundane and totally irrelevant event in world affairs – there has been an unprecedented flurry of activities from protest rallies in various parts of the world to show support for the reporter, proliferation of internet-based games depicting alternate scenarios, and numerous articles full of accurate or fictional information.

When will we see the end to this current media frenzy? As of this writing, a week after the event, the reporter who was catapulted to fame has not been shown in public. A judge who has seen him says he has been badly injured.

In a 19 December 2008 Associated Press article entitled “Iraqi judge says shoe-throwing reporter was beaten” credited to Jim Heintz and Patrick Quinn in Baghdad and Matthew Lee in Washington we find a very interesting narrative. Most of it is written in an objective voice, detailing the show of support for the reporter from Iraqis and the world over. Shoe throwing, it seems, has become a powerful statement against occupying powers.

Here is a link to the full article.

What I would like to focus on is the last part of the article that goes:

-o-

In London, about 50 protesters shook their shoes at the U.S. Embassy in a show of support for al-Zeidi.

In the West Bank village of Bilin, Palestinians hurled shoes rather than the usual rocks at Israeli soldiers in the weekly Friday protest against the Israeli separation barrier, which slices through their fields.

And the head of a large West Bank family offered one of its eligible females as a bride for al-Zeidi. Ahmad Salim Judeh, 75, said his 500-member clan had raised $30,000 for al-Zeidi’s legal defense.

Many supporters of al-Zeidi hold Bush personally responsible for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

On Friday, a Baghdad police official said seven disembodied heads and two complete corpses were found in a deserted building in Sadr City. The victims appeared to have been killed about two years ago, the officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

-o-

There is a very strange last paragraph there, as if inserted not by the original author but by someone else. How does it link to the bulk of the story? Where does it come from? An uncritical reader would pass that off as just another bit of information. Another might say it was merely bad writing and editing.

What is the aim of that last paragraph?

Since it has no direct relation to the original narrative, we must seek a different one for it. In that paragraph the key words are “anonymity,” “disembodied,” “deserted,” “not authorized to speak to reporters” and lastly “two years ago.”

Remember our magician? Like him (or her) the authors of this news article have come up with a quick sleight of hand, a flourish of smoke, a wink of an eye. We are given an unrelated bit of information – whether real news or a fabrication, we are not allowed to question because of the phrase “not authorized to speak to reporters.” The source will never be revealed. It might have been the easter bunny.

Note the namelessness that goes with “disembodied” and “deserted.” It fits nicely with the unauthorized source. These are mere corpses or missing body parts that were randomly discovered, it seems, and news of this must urgently be added to a news item that has no connection to it whatsoever. And the most damning detail here is that the killing probably took place “two years ago” – not on the day of the shoe-throwing incident or even close to it.

After breaking this paragraph down to its crucial parts, we can come to this revelation. It was added as a kind of smokescreen, something to deflect the mention of numerous and unwavering support for the reporter shown by people both in Iraq and other parts of the world. Imagine a magician forcing the audience to look at the cute bunny in his one hand as he slips something out of the other.

Aside from that, there is something even more interesting. Wouldn’t it be a horrifying thing to learn about these disembodied heads and corpses? But with the placing of this information at the very end of an article, and with such brevity, it is deemed unimportant to stand on its own and be given some investigative reporting.

It is given mention as if it were an acceptable daily occurrence, something that says “sinister” in a matter of fact way. As if to say “This awful deed is part of their daily lives” but not in those words. It is implied by way of presentation. Why? By whom? For what aim?

A subtle trick indeed, nearly unnoticeable. I have doubts the original writer knew his piece of journalism would end up like this: disembodied.

–o–

Note: This article was written in December 2008 and initially appeared on Helium.com


The remarkable case of manipulation of the reader by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist

15 January, 2009

Interesting how news articles can be revealing and obfuscating at the same time. Take, for example,  The Gaza Boomerang by Nicholas Kristof in a column he wrote for The New York TImes on 7 January.

The initial revelation, if one can call it that, is that – somewhat like the US managed to pull off with their support of the Mujahiddeen in Aghanistan at the end of the seventies, when it wanted to pull the Soviets into their own Vietnam – Israel helped nurture Hamas. This was done to frustrate Arafat’s Fatah movement, which was heading in a direction that the Israelis considered dangerous: they were ready to accept the existence of the state of Israel and to abide by the UN resolutions calling for a return to the 1967 borders.

At the time, Hamas was adamantly against such a position, which suited the Israelis well, intent as they were on grabbing every single piece of land remaining under Palestinian control. Hamas’ position has changed by now, which is highly inconvenient for the Israelis as they can no longer claim to be fighting for their survival.

Kristof’s article, revealing so far in its acknowledgment of the origins of Hamas, then suddenly takes a U-turn by completely omitting the origins of the current massacre being imposed by the Israelis on the Palestinians. Kristof claims Israel was profoundly provoked into its current killing spree by Hamas’ rocket shelling. It is worth looking at the actual timeline to assess Kristof’s depiction of the turn of events:

2008 Jun: With Egyptian mediation, Hamas and Israel agree to a six- month ceasefire in Gaza with militants saying they will stop firing rockets while Israel says it will stop offensive operations.
2008 Nov: Israel breaks ceasefire by sending ground troops into Gaza. Rocket fire resumes sparking exchanges.
2008 Dec 19: Attempts to renew ceasefire fail amid mutual recriminations.
2008 Dec 27: Israel launches operation Cast Lead attacking buildings and facilities connected to Hamas.

The Intelligence and Terrorism Centre, Isreal, published the following statistics:

  • May: 149 rockets
  • June: 84 rockets before ceasefire, 3 after (not by Hamas, according to Israel)
  • July: 8 (not by Hamas, according to Israel)
  • August: 3 (not by Hamas, according to Israel)
  • September: 3 (not by Hamas, according to Israel)
  • October: 1 (not by Hamas, according to Israel)

On November 4, Israel launches an attack in Gaza against Hamas, killing six, breaking the ceasefire.

  • November: 68 rockets
  • December: 52 rockets (before the Isreali pounding of Gaza)

Kristof, in other words, fails to mention both Hamas’ strict abidance to the June ceasefire during the months of July, August, September and October, as well as the Israeli failure to keep to that same ceasefire on 4 November. Absent that context, the 120 rockets fired by Hamas in November and December are indeed a profound provocation. Given the events, it was Israel that provoked Hamas into resuming its rocket fire.

As always, it is the civilian population that suffers the most. Hamas benefits from all the casualties that the Israelis are causing amongst Palestinian civilians (see Petiskas’ post earlier). This radicalisation of the Palestinian people translates into even more violence by Hamas and Israel.

Sanity is elsewhere.


Craig Murray’s new book

12 January, 2009

A short post to announce the new book by Craig Murray. Due to legal issues, no publisher was willing to carry the book. Instead, Mr. Murray chose to distribute the book in electronic format. This way, interested readers around the world can see for themselves.

Gladly, he managed to print hard copies of the book as well, which you can order here. I hope to find the time soon to write about his book, which I enjoyed immensely: the story of a man that chose to behave ethically.

The Catholic Orangemen of Togo and Other Conflicts I Have Known


Capitalism does not exist

30 September, 2008

Unlearn your lessons, expose your assumptions and repeat after me:

Capitalism does not exist.

Mainstream journalists found a long forgotten voice when they stated the obvious in yesterday’s papers – free market for the poor, socialism for the rich. This is not suddenly true because of the recent bailouts, but has been true since forever:

Capitalism does not exist.

Forget about laissez faire, ignore the claims of level playing field, recognise that contracts are instruments of oppression and accept, once and for all, that

Capitalism does not exist.

What is capitalism supposed to be? Wikipedia says it refers to an economic and social system in which the means of production are predominantly privately owned and operated, and in which investments, distribution, income, production and pricing of goods and services are determined through the operation of a market economy.

Except – it doesn’t work that way, does it? The market currency, money, is the same as the power currency. Success in the market translates into influence in politics. And what else is politics but deciding the rules of our society? Market players influence politicians to change the rules of the market in their favour. This bears no relation to the theory of a free market economy.

Capitalism does not exist.

And if capitalism does not exist, if the people proclaiming its superiority engage in the very practices they denounce, is it not about time to set the record straight and shape our societies the way we, the people, want?

Shall we?


Bailout: corporations yea, citizens nay. Nationalisation: US yea, others nay.

25 September, 2008

The Bush administration has been bailing out financial institutions with dazzling amounts of money. In return for those funds, the US government now owns controlling stakes in Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac and AIG. It has, moreover, done considerable favours to JP Morgan by helping bail out Bear Stearns bank without, though, demanding stakes, since JP Morgan intended to acquire the bank instead.

The amount of money involved in government support of these and other financial institutions has already run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. It is likely that another 700 billion dollar bailout package will follow when US congress votes for a proposal by the Bush administration to that end.

The moral hazard that such support entails is well known: welfare to support the unemployed has been successfully curtailed using the argument that such policies only stimulate people to remain unemployed. Whether or not those people and their families get into financial trouble, default on their payments, can afford to pay the rent or food for their children is considered secondary or indeed immaterial when considered against the severity of moral hazard.

Over the past decennia, welfare programmes have been cut with the argument that they cost too much to society. We could not afford paying for a national health plan, for guaranteed decent education for all, for unemployment support and the list goes on. The benefits of such programmes were deemed dispensable when compared to the upfront cost savings that their curtailment or cancellation brought about. The prospect of a generally healthy, educated and financially secure population has been confronted with the prospect of the top one percent of the US population enjoying extreme increases in wealth and lost the confrontation.

These are legitimate choices that societies make all over the world. The US happens to have made the choices it made. This year has seen the breakdown of much of the financial system in the US. Economists all over the world had been warning for years against the leverage of sub-prime investment vehicles on the entire financial system, but experts within that system invariably found more reasons to invest further into those instruments.

That is to say, the current financial crisis is unlike a natural disaster – it did not come unexpectedly, nor was avoiding it beyond our influence. Rather, it is the result of wilful ignorance on the side of what we call the financial experts. Their negligence precipitated the world into the financial crisis we are now experiencing. The lack of oversight and regulation in the financial markets worsened the impact of this crisis by the allowing the financial institutions that are now on the verge of bankruptcy to grow to a size that now threatens our economy. This lack of oversight and regulation, incidentally, was actively lobbied for by those same financial institutions.

The nationalisation drive that the US administration has been engaging in this past month pales many other initiatives abroad. When Hugo Chavez announced he would nationalise Venezuela’s petrochemical and telecommunication markets, he was talking about government intervention in the tens of billions of dollars. Similarly, Bolivia’s nationalisation of its natural gas fields did not exceed an estimated market value of 70 billion dollars. The difference – and the astute reader will have noticed this – is that while Venezuela and Bolivia acted in response to popular demand, the US bails out corporations with tax payers’ (current and future) money all the while refusing to support people faced with foreclosure.

Why does the US treat corporations better than its citizens? The administration could not find the money to pay for the health insurance of 4 million children, yet pressurises congress into approving a blank check for the Treasury to dispose of at least 700 billion to pass on to financial institutions. Also, how come the US can engage in nationalisation yet criticise other countries that do the same?


Government – Does it protect our rights or take them away?

8 September, 2008

Government as we know it has no interest in guaranteeing our rights. The reason for this lies in the structures we have chosen to base our societies on. More poignantly, in the legacy structures that we find our societies based on. Two of those structures are democracy and capitalism.

Democracy is a system that requires active participation by all citizens. Capitalism is a system that knows no citizens; instead, it recognises capital, its concentration and the entities that propagate such concentration. Typically, no individual is able to amass enough capital to represent significant clout in capitalism.

Democracy in a capitalist society is no longer about citizens. Instead, decision making revolves around the interests championed by capital. Citizens being humans, they are considered mere resources and as such need to be allocated and minimised. In that context, rights are expensive.

Rights are never granted; we need to make it impossible for governments to ignore us. Economically speaking, it should be more expensive to ignore us than to agree we ought to have those rights. Considering that the benefits for capital are gigantic in the current setting (think of the windfall that banks and other financial institutions are experiencing with the current bailout by the US Administration of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), the costs of ignoring the interests of citizens should be even greater.

The role of government in a capitalist society is to promote the concentration of capital. Should we wish to protect our rights as citizens, our only real choice is to take a stand against such concentration. To do that takes effort, guts and, especially, is hard to do within the system; the playing field is hardly level and the rules are skewed against citizens.

Extra-parliamentary action is the only way to achieve this.


Reasons people steal

16 December, 2007

Amusing how people associate stealing with petty crime. What about the pension funds that are being robbed of billions of dollars? The federal budget that is being financed with money our children will need to cough up? The resources that are being taken from the powerless half a world away? Are these not examples of theft?

The reason for these shameless crimes, dear reader, is one: because we allow them to do so.

You see, it is not “Enron” or “GM” that raid their pension funds – there are individuals that do this. The same goes for the people that draft or adjudicate the federal budget and those that strategise an invasion or hold the guns to implement one. Stealing happens because you and I do not stop these individuals from perpetrating their crimes.

We are made to believe that we are powerless. Often, we are not even informed of the most heinous acts of thievery performed more often than not in our name. Realise, however, that you are not helpless in the face of what seems an overpowering bunch of thugs.

In reality, there is more of us than there is of this elite we speak of: one president, hundreds of officials, send hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers to die as canon fodder for their umpteenth kleptocratic raid of a faraway country. Don’t re-elect him or anybody looking to pursue the same policy. The corporations ravaging the savings of you and me finance the politicians that then help them get absolved, or worse, install puppets of those same corporations in positions of public power. Get rid of those politicians, as soon as you can.

This is not unrealistic. It can be done – one step at a time.

Starting now.


do the mass media engage in government propaganda? – 3

4 December, 2007

cholera is on the rise in iraq. according to the british newspaper the guardian,

Cholera is preventable by treating drinking water with chlorine and improving hygiene, but it is estimated that around 70 per cent of Iraqis do not have access to clean water. Many have been too poor or too afraid to go out to buy bottled water, relying instead on tap water, often from polluted sources. Companies responsible for collecting waste and sewage have been reluctant to enter Baghdad’s most violent areas.

worth repeating: companies responsible for collecting waste and sewage have been reluctant to enter baghdad’s most violent areas. violent areas? iraqis fighting amongst each others according to the us peace keepers or peace bringers, depending on the mass media myth of the day.

except, there is a precedent:

Basra attacks down 90% since British troops left

The British army says violence in Basra has fallen by 90% since it withdrew from the southern Iraqi city earlier this year.

wrote the irish independent last month: occupying forces leave the area and violence goes down. how surprising.

in other words, more likely than not, the us occupation is causing ninety percent of the violence. good reason to get out? too bad, says the us, because the independent (why does no mass media outlet point out in this context that iraq’s total dependance on the us is a grave qualifier?) government of iraq is about to request its occupiers to stay:

Iraq’s government is prepared to offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for an American guarantee of long-term security including defense against internal coups

according to the associated press. between asking its occupiers to leave and reduce violence by 90 per cent (and allowing companies to resume collecting waste and sewage, amongst others) and more of the same, the independent (not; see earlier) government of iraq chooses the latter, awarding the us for its occupation with preferential treatment for its investments. go figure: no wonder us invasions are so frequent.

so: between fact and fiction, why do the mass media not connect the dots?

us could avoid cholera crisis by leaving iraq: prefers to stay in return for preferential treatment of its investments

now that would be a refreshingly truthful way of reporting.


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