Archive for January, 2009

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