dinsdag, april 26, 2005

Hitchens war-bothering bruschetta-muncher?

Christopher Hitchens is, unsurprisingly, for Tony Blair, and he has taken the occasion of his latest blimpish excrescence of a column for dull, dull, dull online magazine Slate to outline for his American readers why.

He starts off recounting his own pas de deux with the Labour Party (which, inexcusably, he or some national chauvinist copy-editor has spelt without a 'u'):

'I joined the British Labor Party as soon as I was old enough to be eligible, which was sometime in 1965. I was not long after that expelled from its ranks, along with the majority of the Labor students' organization, because of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam. (I should have resigned, but I waited to be expelled instead.) Since then I have re-enlisted a few times, canvassed in a desultory way, off-and-on paid my dues, and hosted the odd Labor figure in Washington. It wouldn't have been thinkable for me to vote for any other party at election time, though in the 1979 election the Callaghan regime had become so corrupt and incompetent and reactionary that I didn't vote at all.'

Now, strangely, nowhere in this windy little self-fluffing autobiography, does he mention his own membership in the International Socialists, the precursor to today's Socialist Workers' Party of the UK, a membership that stretched across the not-unimportant year of 1968 and extended for some time afterward. Not only that, but by his own account in the pages of the London Review of Books (6 January 1994), he was for a time the 'features editor' of the Socialist Worker, no less. Although, in fairness, perhaps he just felt this was a dandelion seed of a piece of trivia far too unimportant to add in so short a column. After all, I had a subscription to Doctor Who Magazine when I was twelve, but I don't shout about it from the rooftops in every blog posting. But, then again, he does later on manage to find to time to attack George Galloway, of Respect, for being a bit of a Stalinist, and furthermore his backers in the aforementioned SWP, for being 'pseudo-Bolsheviks'. One would think in the interests of journalistic disclosure that he would at this point, well, let us at least know that he had been one of these very 'pseudo-Bolsheviks' himself for a number of years.

One of the odder pieces of analysis coming out of the UK pro-war 'left' of late has been the idea that it is only the 'dinnerpartyocracy', the middle-class 'bruschetta munchers', really, who care about the war, with New Labour even setting up an 'Operation Beardy Leftie' for the election to reach out to those disenchanted Granta readers and Fairport Convention fans who feel let down by Labour over the war, while the more salt of the earth types are supposed to be concerned about real issues like healthcare and education.

And yet here we have in the greasy-quiffed, 500-grand-a-year-salaried, most middling of middle class person of Christopher Hitchens a man who could attend dinner parties for England were the activity an Olympic sport and were he not in the process of becoming an American citizen, and what is he faffing about? The bloody war.

Of course, if this analysis were even remotely near the mark, then the 'real' provincial, lunch-pail toting, overalls-wearing, chiminey-sweep-twirling Dick Van Dyke 'workers' of David Aaronovitch and company's imagination, would still be saying 'dump Blair', not because of the war, but because of PFI, train disasters, growth in social inequality, league tables, cuts to welfare, tuition fees, the continued decimation of industry, and the rest of Blair's neo-liberal betrayals. In fact, the people who care most about the war seem to be the very bruschetta-munching BUT pro-war middle classes that natter on about how 'real people' don't care about the war. The reality is that the 'workers' are incandescently angry about both the war and PFI and the rest besides.

But, curiously, or perhaps not, Hitchens isn't particularly worried about PFI or tuition fees. He doesn't give a rat's bottom about attacks on pensions, deregulation, privatisation, homelessness, underemployment, precarity, the offloading of taxation from the wealthy and corporations to the workers and middle classes, the deprivations of inner-cities, the robber barons that control the trains and the buses, that the UK under New Labour is the standard bearer of structural adjustment in Europe, or any other of that 'meat and potatoes' socialism stuff that Aaronovitch says is what the electricians and miners and train drivers care about.

On the contrary, Hitch has somehow convinced himself that Blair's Britain is 'a sort of post-Keynesian full-employment and welfarist society.'

I knew the man was a drunkard, but I didn't realise his Johnny Walker Black Label was just a gateway drug to full-blown crack addiction. 'Post-Keynesian full employment'? 'Welfarist society'? The man has lost his bearings like a troop of visually impaired cub scouts gone orienteering without a map, compass or Akela.

'[Blair's] government makes at least the right noises about Kyoto, the U.N., Palestine, and the International Criminal Court.'

'Right noises'? Right noises? About the UN? What, like ignoring the initial legal opinion of his attorney general that without a second UN resolution, there were six areas of concern in which the impending war could be considered illegal?

And yet, and yet, while he criminally backed Clinton's bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, back then, he didn't let his support for the war diminish his opposition to Clinton's monetarist domestic economic policies. Indeed, while much of the rest of the left kept mum while Clinton gutted welfare, built prisons, expanded the federal death penalty, and cut funding to clinics thus objectively undermining abortion rights, Hitchens was near alone in writing about Clinton's triangulations. If he had the clarity of mind to distinguish his support for Clinton's war from support for Clinton, couldn't Hitchens support Blair's war but oppose, um, say, tuition fees?

He then goes on to elide that in 'the most interesting local campaign of this election' in Bethnal Green, where George Galloway is standing for Respect against the pro-war Blairite and all-around listless daisy of an MP, Oona King, Respect is somehow of a piece with the BNP and 'Muslim thugs' who pelted Ms. King with eggs at one campaign event. No, sorry, there's no elision in sight: he outright proclaims that Respect is in cahoots with neo-Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists:

'Thus, the most reactionary forces ['Muslim thugs', ' the local Nazi party', and 'Stalinist George Galloway… a personal friend of Saddam Hussein's and a loud advocate of Ba'ath Party rule'] in British society are fused in their admiration of the one-party state and the one-god movement.'

I'm not a fan of the indefatigable Galloway. I think Respect is a deeply problematic organisation born out of the SWP's unilateral euthanasia of the Socialist Alliance. I am uncomfortable with Respect's retreat on issues such as asylum, abortion, gay rights, republicanism and the principle of elected representatives taking a workers' wage upon election. I also think it is a tactical mistake for Respect to focus all of its energy on one constituency.

Nevertheless, people in Bethnal Green should vote Respect because a force to the left of New Labour must be built and Respect, however creakily constructed, offers the best prospect for that. Elsewhere, the SSP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the single issue campaigns of people such as Reg Keys - the father of a soldier slain in Iraq, who is running directly against Blair in his Sedgefield constituency, or former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who is running against Jack Straw, and the rainbow of other left and left 'regroupment' projects deserve voters' support, as do anti-war left-wing Labour MPs. On rare, rare occasions, where there truly is no other option, the Lib Dems might be a sensible tactical decision, although I have yet to be shown a constituency where this is the case.

But, as ever, I believe the solution lies not in elections, but in our own organisation, in extra-parliamentary activity, in direct and mass action, in rank-and-file organising in the unions, in socialism above all - something that Christopher Hitchens used to believe himself.

woensdag, april 20, 2005


I have an Oasis T-shirt, but I haven't quite been able to bring myself to wear it since Be Here Now. I don't think the profoundly banal 'Lyla' is about to change this state of affairs.

I also have a Sinn Fein T-shirt. I haven't been able to wear it for a while either.

maandag, april 18, 2005


For the last bloody time, THERE IS NO SUCH WORD AS 'ORIENTATED'.

It's 'oriented'. 'Orientated' is a false back-formation from the noun form, 'orientation'.

So please, orient yourselves accordingly.

Oh, oh, oh - and 'alot' is actually TWO WORDS: 'a' and 'lot'.

I could also go on about how 'alright' is in fact two words too: 'all' and 'right' - but I think I've long since lost that battle.

Perfidious French

The Guardian this morning reports that Labour may not go ahead with a referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty if the project goes down to defeat at the hands of the French. This not an entirely unsurprising development, and neither are the aspersions cast against the French electorate:

'Fifteen polls in France, once seen as the motor of integration, have shown a majority likely to reject the constitution, partly in protest at the leadership of the president, Jacques Chirac, and partly in opposition to the pro-market sentiments supposedly enshrined in the constitution.'

In the view of Patrick Wintour, the author of the article and the paper's chief political correspondent, the French populace could not possibly have come to their own conclusions about the ECT, and must only be voting No in order to give Jacque Chirac a black eye, or, at best, because they ignorantly believe the ECT to be enshrining pro-market principles.

There is nothing supposed about it, Pat: the ECT is as laced with pro-market principles as a dime-bag of oregano is laced with a marjoram-like Italian herb. And as the French - unlike Mr. Wintour - have actually familiarised themselves with the document, they are increasingly aware of this fact.

zondag, april 17, 2005

CBC Radio 3 joins the choir invisible

The following is an article I wrote about the demise of CBC Radio 3 that a Canadian magazine seems now to have taken a pass on. Rather than it going to waste, I thought I'd post it here.


'What sort of twisted jerk cuts funding for the CBC Radio 3 online magazine? I try not to wish ill will upon people, but someone in
Canada deserves to be tortured with that tool that carpenters use to shave wood off the bottom of doors' - 4 March posting, Slatch.com blog

So posted Jon Buonaccorsi on his Rhode Island-based indie music and pop-culture blog, Slatch.com. He's not the only one apoplectic about the CBC's little indie escàndalo. A small but dedicated corner of the blogosphere is incandescent that CBC has killed off their beloved online alternative culture weekly, CBC Radio 3, this month. Elsewhere, a blog by the team organising C'est Trop Court, an independent film festival in Nice, France, took time out to mark Radio 3's passing. There were even people in Canada who noticed its demise: Fat Citizen, an Ottawa blogger, has launched an online letter-writing campaign to save his beloved alternative, er, well what was it exactly? A radio station? A website? A magazine?

CBC Radio 3's concept was an authentically world-class combination of all three. It was 'multimedia', to use a wretched word long since thoroughly bleached of all meaning, but developed in a way that genuinely lived up to the hype of media convergence. CBC Radio 3 offering a non-commercial outlet for independent and unsigned music, non-traditional photography, young poets and authors of creative non-fiction and the bleeding-edge of creative web design, all with a very high CanCon quotient and was aimed at winning over new audiences to the values of public service broadcasting.

Over its short life span, Radio 3 won the Art Directors' Guild of New York award, the Prix Italia for radio and three Webby Awards - the holy grail of US new media recognition. Its innovative non-scrolling, non-vertical, page-turnable magazine-like design, offering a very eye-friendly readability genuinely unlike anything else on the internet, has even been included in textbooks about the media and is used as an example in university curricula around the world.

Not that, unless you were a member of the blogging, podcasting, indie-music-listening, poetry-slam-attending, zine-publishing cognoscenti, you would have even heard of the thing, as the CBC spent a heaping total of $100,000 on marketing its amazing little product, according to the former head of CBC Radio 3, Robert Ouimet, who has few kind words for the 'committee men' who have shuttered the site while spending considerably more ubiquitising George Strombolopoulos' The Hour, that very specimen of pop cultural product that upper managements tend to think 'The Kids' will be into.

'CBC Radio 3 did not achieve a wide audience as defined by CBC,' admits Ouimet. But the corporation hardly gave the little guy a chance, he points out: 'The publicity department actually refused to even send out press releases about Radio 3's awards.'

'CBC Radio‘s audience is predominantly over 55 and CBC Radio 2’s audience is even older. These projects were never meant for them. The premise behind CBC Radio 3 was that it was meant to speak to and engage an audience that CBC Radio traditionally has never been able to appeal to - 18 to 35 roughly. These are people that do not listen to CBC Radio 1 or Radio 2. No matter what CBC does, they fail at reaching this audience through the radio.'

Ouimet is concerned that by dropping efforts like Radio 3, the CBC is returning to the easy embrace of the CBC's traditional audience - middle-aged wheat-gleaners from Fort Armpit, Saskatchewan - and abandoning the next generation, who are far too savvy to buy into The Hour-style faux-hip swindles: 'You have to go to where the audience is. They’re online, they’re downloading music or grabbing podcasts, they are not getting up in the morning and saying to themselves, gee, tonight after midnight there’s some good music programming on CBC Radio 2 – as long as I can stay awake to listen to it between midnight and 4am, or maybe on Saturday night.'

Originally launched online in 2000 intending to attract younger audiences to the CBC, Radio 3 has been redeveloped a number of times, but was most successful with the launch of the Radio 3 online magazine in 2003. The magazine was the hub of the project, which also included a trio of new music portals, Newmusiccanada.com, Rootsmusiccanada.com and Justconcerts.com, as well an independent music programme, CBC Radio 3 Redux, which broadcast in the early, early morning on the weekend on CBC Radio 2. Radio 3 also brought under its umbrella Brave New Waves, the venerable CBC 2 late-night radio programmed dedicated to underground music that has saved the life of many an awkward, Jean-Genet-reading teenaged Smiths fan over the years.

Newmusiccanada.com in particular was popular amongst independent Canadian musicians. New bands from across the country submitted their music to the site, ultimately creating the largest database of Canadian music in the world, according to Ouimet, allowing young musicians the opportunity to have a potentially global audience listen to their wears. A number went on to sign record deals after being discovered on the site.

'These are award-winning young voices,' says Ouimet of all the musicians, writers, photographers and web designers that have been involved with Radio 3, 'bringing stories to life that do not get play elsewhere.'

Yet the CBC has announced that while musicians will still be able to upload their music, the three portals are to be combined into a single destination, with a single URL, and the magazine - which received the most traffic of all the sites in the small Radio 3 pantheon, is to be dropped altogether, and even the revered Brave New Waves has an uncertain future.

'Brave New Waves has not been cancelled,' says Steve Pratt, the unit's current director. 'It has, however, had a very long run on CBC Radio, and we are looking at alternative strategies to bring this kind of programming to our listeners – including different programmes'

'We've been CBC's best-kept secret and we think it's time we let more people know about all the great things we're doing,' reads the upbeat online missive announcing the Radio 3 magazine curtain call. The letter declares that to the extent that Radio 3 will continue to exist, it will change its focus to exclusively radio programming.

Pratt says he is disappointed that they don’t have the resources to maintain the production of the web magazine and to redesign the site at the same time. But ' there is a great deal of misinformation being spread, both in print and on the web,' Pratt warns. 'This is not the demise of CBC Radio 3. This is a reinvention of CBC Radio 3 to allow our programming to reach a much bigger audience.'

He says that the new product will see increased functionality around the music experience and will add a level of interactivity that didn't exist before, allowing the audience to communicate with Radio 3 and with each other.

The CBC has also partnered with an American satellite radio company, Sirius, to apply for a satellite music service in Canada. A decision concerning the matter by the CRTC will be made later this year. 'When Radio 3 was first created, it was a proposal for a national radio network,' elaborates Pratt. 'At the time, the proposal was rejected because of the cost. It was only then that the web strategy was created. With satellite radio, we have an opportunity to fulfill that original vision.'

CBC had originally planned to offer an entire Radio 3 channel, with 24/7 independent music on the satellite service, but they later rejected Radio 3 as the brand for that station and have decided on a music channel broader in appeal for one of the two channels they hope to offer via Sirius, not something just geared toward young Canadians. The other channel will be essentially a wholesale rebroadcast of CBC Radio 1.

So to the extent that there will be any expansion of Radio 3-style independent music on the radio, it will be as part of a broader, more populist CBC offering. Furthermore, the two CBC English-language channels on Sirius, will sit amidst hundreds of music channels on the almost entirely US channel line-up of Sirius and rival American satellite broadcaster, XM, which has also submitted a licence application to the CRTC.

Furthermore, XM is a paid service, not free over the air. Satellite radios cost around US$125, and require subscription fees starting at US$9.95 payable only by credit card.

'[Radio 3]'s work is outstanding,' CBC Radio vice-president Jane Chalmers told the Globe and Mail when the closure was announced. 'But if you walk down the street in Vancouver or Toronto, unfortunately, most people don't know what it is.'

So in order to raise its profile, the CBC has decided to repackage Radio 3 as, well, 'We're not sure exactly what it will be,' (Ms. Chalmers again).

Exactly how this will expand the CBC audience, Ouimet is unclear. 'If the thinking is that Radio 3 is too “unknown" now, imagine how obscure it will be when it is some part of a music channel, not called Radio 3, and competing with over 100 US made channels on a pay audience service. Huh?'

'At the most basic level, CBC Radio 3 was in trouble when there was a change in VP [to Chalmers] and program director in charge of radio [Jennifer McGuire],' says Ouimet.

'This ‘new’ plan was not one drafted by or involving the staff. It came as a complete surprise to them,' he adds. 'A year ago, when I was still the head of CBC Radio 3, we had developed a plan for Radio 3 that was signed-off by senior management that did not involve cancelling the Radio 3 website. In fact, it leveraged the critical acclaim and reputation for world-class work into other areas of CBC.'

The closure has resulted in the laying off of 18 young producers in Vancouver, and the contributors and musicians have been left adrift. A regular contributor, Billeh Nickerson, who edits Event magazine and is a contributing editor of Geist, is nettled by the actions of the CBC upper-management kulaks: 'I've used the site to find cover artists for the journal I edit and to find performers for events I produce. Radio 3 fostered a community of passionate artists and readers/listeners. Where will we all go to find each other now?'

He also doesn't hold out much hope for the new course: 'My concern is that they may be reverting back to their old ways and that a bunch of old suits may now be deciding what younger, more technological savvy folks want and need.'

In an era of hundreds of television channels, thousands of satellite and internet radio stations and millions of websites, the limited pool of advertising dollars is segmented amongst them all, increasingly limiting the ability of commercial producers to develop quality content. Public service broadcasting, which has no need for advertising as it is tax-payer funded, thus becomes ever more important, no matter which age audience is targeted.

The CBC's public-radio relatives, Australia's ABC and the ne plus ultra of public broadcasting, the BBC, are committed to exactly the sort of experimentation we had seen with CBC's Radio 3.

Originally launched in the seventies by the Labor government of Gough Whitlam with a progressive media mandate, ABC's Triple J station has long had a commitment to alternative music and features high levels of Australian content, radio documentaries, serials and long album cuts that often go unplayed on commercial stations, and is currently experimenting with digital radio.

The BBC has had its 'youth' station, Radio One, for decades, which, while offering fairly standard mainstream music during the day, if commercial-free, is renowned for its mix of music documentaries and alternative music and culture programming in the evening, and, of course, was home to the legendary DJ, John Peel, until his death last year.

In the last two years, BBC Radio has committed considerable funds into its expansion into digital audio broadcasting (DAB) and internet radio. Its 'alternative' music station, 6 Music, is widely admired by musicians, but the broadcaster has also developed digital channels for other audiences that are also often not usually commercially catered to. 1xtra is aimed at a British black audience perennially underserved by UK radio and has been as integral as urban pirate radio to the development of a definitively British hip hop scene in the last two years. Asian audiences of various demographics are targeted by the BBC's new Asian Network and young families have rediscovered spoken-word radio with Radio 7, with its children's story-telling and all-ages family comedy and drama programming. Despite recent attacks on public broadcasting in the UK by the private sector and private internet content publishers in particular, the BBC is committed to the project, and receiving zealous support from musicians, parents, and community groups happy to see a reinvigoration of that ancient medium, radio, with new, targeted content and incorporating new technologies.

While other public broadcasters such as the BBC have coherent, carefully planned strategies to take radio into the digital future, the ever-provincial CBC lurches from one scheme to another, feels Ouimet.

'[ABC and the BBC] are committed to serving a younger audience by investing and tweaking,' says Ouimet. 'In Canada, CBC has for a very long time had proponents of such services, but they’ve never been able to gain any substantial support. CBC’s under-45 demographic draw has been in steady decline since the 70’s, with no sign of doing anything but continue to fall.'

'I don’t think they get it. The vast majority of young Canadians don’t have any interest in the CBC as an institution (aside from Hockey Night in Canada on TV, which of course this year was cancelled), so this isn’t going to generate any significant push back. It makes me very, very sad to see the initiative just shelved.'

Oh well, at least the wheat gleaners of Fort Armpit still have their Rex Murphy.

zaterdag, april 09, 2005

Like McNuggets, McRevolutions may also leave an unwanted aftertaste

In high-school history classes, I was regularly ordered by exams and tests to 'compare and contrast', say, the French and American Revolutions, or Fauvism and Futurism, or the alcoholism, racism and occult beliefs of William Lyon Mackenzie King and the alcoholism, racism and druidic beliefs of Winston Churchill - no, wait, that last one was never on any exams; bit of projected memory there.

In any case, I thought at the time that to both compare and contrast was a bit redundant, but let's do it again anyway, just for shits and giggles, but this time between the Washington Post's editorial position towards recent events in Venezuela and Bolivia and its editorial position towards the same in Kyrgystan, shall we?

On 29 March, the Post published a largely congratulatory leader column, taking as its purpose to offer advice on how the new revolutionary administration should proceed in a neighbourhood - which includes China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan - that isn't 'likely to welcome the creation of a genuine democracy in Central Asia'.

On the whole, there is little to complain about the advice, other than its as-ever moderate prescriptions and dependably banal suggestions of how to not piss off the Kremlin while working with the OSCE. The paper certainly welcomes the apparent transformation of the former Soviet republic from autocracy into a (bourgeois) democracy and sees it to be, rightly, kin of the revolutions in the Ukraine, Georgia and Yugoslavia of the last few years.

While we should of course welcome the toppling of another demagogue, no one will be surprised to learn of the guiding hand in the rebellion provided by the Americans. But more of that in a minute. In Latin America, however, the growing movement that pushes toward not merely genuine democracy but equality certainly is a rebellion of a purer sort and has found neither inspiration nor finance from the Gringos; Indeed, it is their opponents, as ever, that are being funded. The National Endowment for Democracy and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have been bankrolling right-wing anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela, and, of course, backed the coup against Chavez in 2002.

At Venezuelafoia.info, you can read hundreds of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan-American attorney based in New York, detailing the 'intricate financing scheme the U.S. government has been carrying out in Venezuela since 2001':

'[including] financing well over twenty million dollars to opposition sectors. The funding of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a quasi-governmental entity in the U.S. financed entirely by Congress and established by congressional legislation in 1983, has provided more than three million dollars since late 2001 to opposition groups, many of which were key participants in the April 2002 coup. And in June 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), set up an Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, allegedly for the purposing of helping Venezuela to resolve its political crisis. The OTI in Caracas has counted on more than fifteen million dollars in funding from Congress since June 2002 and has recently requested five million more for 2005, despite the fact that it was only supposed to be a two-year endeavor. All evidence obtained to date shows that the OTI has primarily funded opposition groups and projects in Venezuela, particularly those that were focused on the August 15, 2004 recall referendum against President Chávez.'

Chavez is no socialist, his land reform strategy for example - a product of the Ley de Tierras ('Land Law'), which was passed in 2001 and taxes unused landholdings, expropriates unused private lands (with compensation), and offers inheritable, unsellable land grants to small farmers and farm collectives - may have provoked the ire of the US and even absent landholders in the UK, but has, if we are honest, more in common with the land reform of Lincoln, than that of Lenin, as Latin American specialist Seth DeLong has pointed out in the pages of Counterpunch.

However, quite objectively, there is no better government on the Earth today than that of Hugo Chavez Frias.

He has to a large extent rejected the neo-liberal consensus that even his erstwhile fellow elected leftists in Latin America - Lula da Silva of Brazil, Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, Richard Lagos of Chile and the recently elected Dr. Tabaré Vázquez of Uruguay - the first left-of-centre president the country has ever had, whose Broad Front brought an end to 170 years of political power shifting back and forth between the rural elite in the Blanco Party and the urban elite in the Colorado Party - remain to varying degrees committed to. He has introduced literacy programmes - the Mission Robinson and Mission Sucre, aimed at increasing literacy delivering basic education - and expanded education and health care with the Barrio Adentro, an initiative to provide free health care to poor and underserved areas. The Union Nacional de los Trabajadores (UNT, National Workers' Union) was established in the wake of Chavez' presidency, finally offering workers a genuinely free trade union central and not the company union that is the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV). Chavez has encouraged the new union's growth, sending UNT delegates to International Labour Organisation meetings instead of the historically recognized but corrupt CTV.

I am not a man who believes in Great Men, but Chavez is, nonetheless, a great man.

And the workers, Indians, coca growers, farmers and poor of Bolivia are in the middle of an ongoing revolt, already, as in Argentina, forcing the resignation of President Sánchez de Lozada in October of 2003, and now, perhaps, we hope, completing the revolt, striking and blocking roads. Lozada's replacement, Carlos Mesa, is not long for government.

The left may yet have its chance in Mexico after so many years, with Andres Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s left-leaning PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution), leading in opinion polls for the upcoming presidential election. Attempts by Vincente Fox to bar the massively popular mayor of Mexico City from running have only increased Obrador's popularity. Now, the PRD, like every other social democratic party in the world, has offered the workers its share of betrayals and crumbs of social service expansion, but to have even a social democratic government installed on the very border of the United States is enough to cause Washington to have kittens.

However contradictory and frustrated the advance of the left in Latin America may be, the palaces of the continent have yet been shaken.

And thus the Washington Post, itself sufficiently shaken, has taken the occasion of the latest Bolivian revolt to issue an editorial warning that Latin American democracy is under threat from the nine-times electorally supported 'demagogue' in Caracas and the 'mob' in La Paz:

'Another Latin American democracy is on the verge of crumbling under pressure from leftist populism. The trouble comes this time in Bolivia, where a democratic president and Congress face a paralyzing mix of strikes and road blockades by a radical movement opposed to foreign investment and free-market capitalism.'

So, where the crowd in Kyrgystan (and formerly, in the Ukraine, Georgia and Yugoslavia) are cheered on as the people, the democratic vanguard, in Bolivia, they are a 'radical movement', opposed to capitalism. (Alack, but that they were!)

The Post continues with still more property-owning dread:

'The insurgents, who claim to represent the country's indigenous population, drove one democratically elected president from office 18 months ago; now they are working on his successor, Carlos Mesa, who has searched valiantly but unsuccessfully for compromise. The populists ride a leftist wave of momentum in Latin America and have the rhetorical, and possibly material, support of the region's self-styled "Bolivarian" revolutionary, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The democrats could use some outside help, from their neighbors [sic] and the United States.'

So, parsing the Post's Potomac panic, we find that the Indians aren't really Indians, though the US-financed crowds in Kiev, Tblisi, Belgrade and now Bishkek are the Real Thing; and Carlos Mesa is 'valiant' while Kyrgystan's Askar Akayev is a demagogue deserving of his fate. Further, the Post, one of America's two newspapers of record, has called for the US government and Bolivia's neighbours to intervene in defence of Bolivia's 'democrats.

'Mr. Mesa, polls show, has the support of two-thirds of his compatriots, while the party leading the protests, the Movement Toward Socialism, has never received more than 21 percent of the vote in an election.'

Not that Latin American comprador-sponsored polls can be entirely trusted, but, even accepting the figure, the MAS is but one organisation within a broad collection of groups engaged in the rebellion.

But then the Post shifts from rhetorical sleight of hand to outright terminological inexactitude:

'Nor is it the case that Bolivia's experiment with free-market policies in the 1990s failed to help the poor. Per capita incomes rose by 20 percent in the second half of the decade. Thanks to private foreign investment, significantly more Bolivians gained access to water, sewage systems and electricity.'

The editorialist is on crack here. It is the very failure of the Washington Consensus to lift Latin America out of poverty and its, frankly, planned resultant greater impoverishment that has given birth to this left bouleversement on the continent. And I really have to tip my hat at the daring presentment of so unadorned a porkie pie as the statement that privatisation and foreign investment has expanded access to water. It was the 1999 privatisation of water - via a contract with - oh, I think we know these fellas - the Bechtel Corporation, which turned over control of the Cochabamba regions water to Aguas del Tunari, a private monopoly dominated by Bechtel - and near doubling of the cost of water access that was the catalyst in Bolivia for the latest round of rebellions, now running off and on for five years.

'All of this is good news for Mr. Chavez, who along with Cuba's Fidel Castro, dreams of a new bloc of Latin "socialist" (i.e., undemocratic) regimes that will join with like-minded states such as Iran, Libya and China to oppose the United States. Bolivia's neighbors [sic], including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, ought to be alarmed by this trend; but though their own leftist governments have expressed support for Mr. Mesa they have refrained from more concerted action - such as demanding that Mr. Chavez cease his meddling.'

Well, I don't think I need to offer an appraisal of the Cold War fantasy that Chavez, the Bolivian rebels and any other Latin lefties the Post is indisposed towards are planning some grand anti-American united front with the thoroughly anti-democratic regimes of Iran, Libya and China, falling as it does at the first hurdle of realistic assessment. No, the element that, again, exquisitely illustrates the Post's hypocrisy, is the bald-faced demand that Chavez stop his (nowhere proven in the article) 'meddling' in Bolivia. In one editorial, the Post supports the rebels and even calls for further US involvement - via the OSCE (sorry - you're saying that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe is not an American organisation? Don't make me larf) - in such activities, and in another, not days apart, describes the same activities - again, unproven - of a genuine democrat, Chavez, as 'meddling'.

If Chavez has in fact done anything to materially support the anti-privatisation democrats of Bolivia, it will have been out of solidarity with those fighting for social justice and not, as the US cynically is doing in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, to tighten the noose on its historical imperial rival, Russia. But, again, where is the proof that Chavez is doing anything of the sort?

Not that I would have a drip of a sliver of a gleaning of a hint of a morsel of a crumb of a smidge of a grain of an iota of a mite of a modicum of a speck of a molecule of a tittle of a problem with it if he were.

But, of course, the double standards of the Washington Post are to be expected. This is all as deeply unsurprising as the plot of any movie Robin Williams has been in in the last decade.

What intrigues is the discourse of intervention.

John Laughland - a character so shady that if I were to describe him as being as shady as the shadiest shadow in a dark bit hiding under a large rock beneath a music store hosting an Eminem album signing session (he supports Putin, amongst other things), I would be letting him off lightly - writing in the Guardian and looking at the recent omnibus of democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe, describes the events in Kyrgystan as signifying that 'the post-Soviet space now resembles Central America in the 1970s and 1980s, when a series of US-backed coups consolidated that country's control over the western hemisphere.'

This is patently ridiculous. As I wrote at Christmas on the occasion of the Ukraine revolution, the rebellions in Georgia, the Ukraine and Yugoslavia - and now Kyrgystan - are the genuine expression of peoples fighting the crush of the boot, however much funding individual groups have received from the local US consulate. Posed another way, if we agree that the regimes in these countries are repressive - and it's far from clear that Laughland would, then we must recognise that their populations, like all repressed peoples, will resist the repression at some point. That groups involved in the organising of resistance have taken the king's shilling, or in this case, are operating on the Yankee dime, diminishes not the repression of the given regime.

A coup, by definition, does not involve mass demonstrations, the mass action of hundreds of thousands of people storming government buildings and vacillations of the military over which side to support as the rank and file fraternise with protesters. Coups are organised by very small groups of people - often linked to the military leadership. This is not what has happened in Eastern Europe.

Nonetheless, in his article on Kyrgystan, he uncovers the work of American actors that will seem not unfamiliar to those who have followed the chain of cookie-cutter uprisings across the European periphery these last few years:

'The US ambassador in Bishkek, Stephen Young, has spent recent months strenuously denying government claims that the US was interfering in Kyrgyzstan's internal affairs. But with anti-Akayev demonstrators telling western journalists that they want Kyrgyzstan to become "the 51st state", this official line is wearing a little thin.

'Even Young admits that Kyrgyzstan is the largest recipient of US aid in central Asia: the US has spent $746m there since 1992, in a country with fewer than 5 million inhabitants, and $31m was pumped in in 2004 alone under the terms of the Freedom Support Act. As a result, the place is crawling with what the ambassador rightly calls "American-sponsored NGOs".

'The case of Freedom House is particularly arresting. Chaired by the former CIA director James Woolsey, Freedom House was a major sponsor of the orange revolution in Ukraine. It set up a printing press in Bishkek in November 2003, which prints 60 opposition journals. Although it is described as an "independent" press, the body that officially owns it is chaired by the bellicose Republican senator John McCain, while the former national security adviser Anthony Lake sits on the board. The US also supports opposition radio and TV.

'Many of the recipients of this aid are open about their political aims: the head of the US-funded Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, Edil Baisalov, told the New York Times that the overthrow of Akayev would have been "absolutely impossible" without American help. In Kyrgyzstan as in Ukraine, a key element in regime change was played by the elements in the local secret services, whose loyalty is easily bought.'

The US (and, in some circumstances, interestingly - and this demands further investigation - Germany), its consulates and many of the aforementioned pseudo-NGOs active in Venezuela have plainly been active in financing the Eastern European opposition groups and, more pro-actively, in press relations, marketing and branding training, and cadre development. It's no mystery as to why. The US does not have any interest in the promotion of democracy, it wants grateful client states on Russia's periphery. It is as happy with Stalinoid dictators who boil people alive - as in Uzbekistan - as it is with bourgeois democrats such as the Ukraine's Yushenko - it doesn't matter which form of government, so long as it suits its needs.

The democratic movements in these countries all pre-existed the States' financing of them. What is interesting is that the US has clearly decided that the moderate bourgeois democratic revolution is a model that they are willing to exploit against their old rival. They have attempted to use the same template in Venezuela, but have been grossly unsuccessful as the majority of the people are with the government in this case, robustly so. The model was also applied in Haiti, against a popular and left-wing leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but the US, with the abettance of Canada (and later some of the very supposed left-of-centre leaders mentioned earlier, such as Lula) very quickly slipped back into its old modus operandi tried and tested in the Western Hemisphere dating back to Chile 1973 or Guatemala 1953 or further, and just went ahead with an old-fashioned bloody coup.

Nonetheless, at least in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the US has decided to exploit the strategy of popular 'revolution'. They would not be able to if the land were not fertile for the planting of such geopolitical seeds in the first place. They have used this tool because the tool was there to be picked up.

But the Yanks are playing with fire (Seeds, tools, fire? Mixed metaphor, you blusteringly ejaculate? But wait, hold on to your fork, there's more where that came from).

When I was a kid, I thought it grossly unfair that my Dad was allowed to have the Nine McNuggets box while my brother and I could only ever have the Six McNuggets box, so when I was old enough, I went to McDonalds and bought for myself not merely the Nine McNuggets box, but the Twenty McNuggets box, which not even my Dad was ever allowed. The box of twenty McNuggets is always a mistake. Not only do you feel bloated from all the deep-fried reconstituted chicken parts (did you know that one of the McNugget 'shapes' is a near-perfect representation of the province of Alberta? Fact.), but after so many of them, your mouth feels coated with this greasy, oleaginous, faux-chickeny pastey goop. No matter how much root beer you guzzle, the coating just will not wash down. While after eating twenty McNuggets there is initially a deeply happy sensation derived from all the fat, there also follows this entirely unintended suety aftertaste that just won't go away.

The Americans' McRevolutions are in this way very similar to McNuggets. There is a great likelihood that there will be an entirely unintended revolutionary aftertaste that just won't go away.

Because revolutions have a tendency to be terribly inspirational.

The Yugoslav democratic revolutionaries, Optor, were inspired by Seattle and the anti-globalisation movement to a great degree. Georgia's Kmara was inspired by Otpor, the Ukraine's Pora by Kmara and Kyrgystan's democrats in their turn have been similarly inspired. The Yanks think they have it all under control, but revolution is not a tool like a hammer or a Black and Decker 360-Degree Tripod Auto Laser Level, it's much more like The One Ring Of Power in the Lord of the Rings, really, but in a good way - a tool that consumes those who think they wield it. The US may think they are orchestrating some grand string of rebellions in an arc that stretches from Central Asia through Eastern Europe to Latin America, but there will be and already are forces opposed to the American Empire and the Washington Consensus who are just as inspired by Otpor, Pora, and Kmara as Kyrgystan is, but who are more inclined to burn down the American consulate than to ask it for tactical advice and money to buy orange scarves.

vrijdag, april 08, 2005

Obligatory Adscam posting

'It's Canada's Watergate!' screams the typically hyperbolic Canadian media, but I have to say I'm not getting terribly worked up about the Adscam doo-lang doo-lang. It is indeed turning out to be quite a wretched bit of business, but surely of a completely predictable piece with the endless bunting of criminality in which Canada's Natural Party of Government has been involved for years.

Chretien was able to walk away from the whole Auberge Grand-Mère malefaction a few years ago, thanks to a forgiving media establishment deeply intertwined with the Liberal Party, while at the same time, BC's left-wing premier Glen Clark was forced out, a victim of the rrrrrabidly conservative BC press for the gross scandal of not-paying-for-but-in-the-end-actually-paying-for a deck built in his backyard. Surely it has been plain for an age how bent the Liberals are.

All rather tediously obvious.

So I'm not going to write a thing about it.

Present simple; present continuous

Right, well that was all a bit non-sweet. So here we are back to the old design, more or less, until I can get something a little less non-sweet happening.

Also, furthermore, moreover and as well, let me apologise for the non-bloggage the last week. I've joined that globally itinerant army of student-loan refugees who can't get work anywhere else and started teaching English in the evenings (yes, on top of the insipid, interminably tiresome tech-journo day-job) in the hope that I can save up some moolah and go freelance by the summer and start writing what I actually want to write.

Pastry in the atmosphere the plan maybe, but it turns out teaching English is quite fun (apart from trying to get the mute cabbage [possible redunancy there: Are there non-mute cabbages? Who cares. It sounded good when I thought the image up] in the corner to say anything at all). Anyway - it's thoroughly scuppered my already erratic blogging behaviour, but I should have a decent schedule worked out soon enough so that I can fit blogging in again, but not tonight. So this is all you're getting.

While you wait, here's a link to Moneybrother, one of the, hmm, eleven bands I found amongst the package of 222 tracks I downloaded from the South by Southwest music festival website that are better than mediocre. The track, 'They're building walls around us', has superfluous string arrangements, brass, the puzzlingly nonsensical lyrics in English only Swedish bands and Noel Gallagher can write and BELLS! That's right, you heard me: bells. Fans of the Redskins should like it, as the wall-of-sound soul on offer is not dissimilar from that of the noted SWP-member-fronted eighties band, minus the samples of Tony Cliff speaking, natch.

Blogger is totally fucked right now. It's nigh on impossible to post anything, and Picasa seems to be down too, hence the screwy header right now. Grrr.

zaterdag, april 02, 2005

Apologies to Edward Young and Jan Tschichold

So I've been faffing about with my Blogger template, trying to spruce the old listless flump up a bit, and I'm mostly happy with the changes, but I can't for the life of me figure out why there's still that yellow (or 'eggshell', as I suppose it's known down the paint shop, or even '#ffffcc', if we're being spoddy about it) bit at the top. But I've gone and published the new template without saving a copy of the old one anywhere, haven't I? So there's no going back. But if there's some HTML or Blogger template whizz kid out there who can tell me what I've done wrong, I'll, oh, I don't know, come up with something 'as befits a king's rembrance'-ish with which to thank you.

Update: Okay, so the thing looks fine in Internet Explorer, it's just my trusty old Firefox that FUBARs it up. What the...?

vrijdag, april 01, 2005


...and are we still worrying about the fucking seal hunt? They're NOT endangered, people! All they are is CUTE, which is no reason to campaign against their killing. If cuteness were our rationale for campaigns, would we be campaigning against the death penalty? No. You've all seen that Aileen Wuornos movie. She was rough.

Hellooo, McFly? There's a war on! Priorities!