Global politics

American politics&Global politics&News media08 Dec 2004 01:35 pm

A former Wall Street Journal associate editor writes:

Who’s behind the oil-for-food scandal?, Murdoch, Conrad Black and the Neocons

“It may be there is no scandal at all. Just another trick of the neo-conservatives to blow away anyone who gets in the way of their plans for a global empire.”

American politics&British politics&Corporate&Global politics&Middle East05 Dec 2004 04:14 pm

Last April, human rights journalists and protesters Ewa Jasiewicz and Pennie Quinton forced their way into the Iraq Procurement 2004 conference.

The official conference website announced it would “bring to life the enormous trade and investment potential of Iraq making it the event for any forward thinking business looking to secure contracts, establish trade partnerships and explore the numerous investment opportunities available within the region”.

Jasiewicz and Quinton took disruptive action because they claim the government-approved pillage and privatisation of post-war Iraq by Western big business is illegal. They are not alone in believing such activity is theft.

This protest successfully led to the evacuation and suspension of the conference. Jasiewicz and Quinton were arrested for aggravated trespass.

But recently, the Crown Prosecution Service made the surprising decision to drop charges against them. This decision was seen as politically-motivated. So Jasiewicz and Quinton are opting to take the government and the organisers of the conference to court anyway. Under Section 23 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, they are entitled to do so.

As if any more proof were needed that “war is a racket” (as Major General Smedley Butler puts it), take a look at this:

Bet On Iraq

I’ve read this page several times and my jaw drops further each time. See what you think.

The site’s tagline is “Because liberty breeds prosperity.” It sets out the case that Americans should buy the Iraqi dinar now, while it is devalued by the destruction of the country, in order to profit later when it is rebuilt to the pattern of American democracy.

The people who set up the site call themselves “freedom loving Americans that believe a liberated, resource rich Iraq can become a force in the world economy”. Read the site and you’ll see just what kind of “freedom” they love.

It says “After years of trade sanctions, and rampant counterfeiting, the Iraqi Dinar has plummeted from its pre-Gulf War value of over USD$3, to mere fractions of one US cent.” No moral position is taken on this. Americans are not asked to reflect on the devastation their country’s actions have wreaked on Iraq, just to keep in mind the possibility of profiting from it.

Or, in their words, ” We simply trust that the seed of freedom, implanted more than a year ago with the fall of Saddam’s regime, has germinated in the hearts of the majority of the Iraqi people. We see this as a wondrous thing, with tremendous possibilities.”

Possibilities for whom? Americans, of course.

The “freedom” the site talks about is the freedom of Western corporations and Western currency speculators to colonise Iraq’s economy. It makes no allowances for the “freedom” of Iraqis to decide how they want their post-Saddam country to work. According to this site, economic prosperity for Iraq equals market capture by Western corporations, offering only a Western-style lifestyle, in a Western-style capitalist democracy. Iraqis apparently have access to no “possibilities” beyond these.

Here is their chilling guide to future markers of prosperity:

“You see people drinking locally bottled, genuine Pepsi Cola; not the ersatz they’d been consuming for years. They are buying their cars from Baghdad Mitsubishi.

Their highly educated engineers, no longer waiting tables or driving cabs, are engineering. The world’s 2nd largest oil reserve is producing more efficiently. Higher quality crops are being harvested, in larger numbers.”

According to this, prosperity will come as a result of Iraq’s own Muslim culture being subdued and Western consumerist culture being imported. Its oil production will presumably be subjected to the sort of “effiency” measures which allow America first rights of access, and price each barrel in dollars, not (Saddam’s preferred) euros. And Iraq’s pre-sanction level of prosperity is edited out of history. The site admits UN sanctions destroyed the economy, hence the devalued dinar, but somehow still fails to join the dots. Saddam’s dictatorship is apparently responsible for all Iraq’s problems, even the problems the international community created.

And where did the “engineers… waiting tables or driving cabs” story come from? Iraq had a thriving professional class before the war, and hopefully some of them will survive it. Are the people behind the Bet On Iraq site assuming nobody in America really knows what Iraqi life was like before US-led wars?

Well, yes they are.

But even if you buy into this myopic, xenophobic “there is no way but our way” belief system, there’s another problem. Aren’t Iraqis fighting to the death to rid their country of the pirates who seek to plunder their resources and crush their society into a mirror image of the West? Isn’t that what the “insurgents” are doing right now?

No, don’t be silly. They’re just trying to clear room for the Fallujah branch of Starbucks. See:

” This is no pipe dream. This is a genuine possibility, with remarkable ramifications. Organizations like Operation Iraqi Children working with the US military, are helping to shape a new generation of freedom loving Iraqis. It won’t be long before these kids take their place in society. They will recall their childhood as the time when powerful Americans released them from the grip of a bloodthirsty madman, and gave them the tools and support to build a peaceful, prosperous society to call their own. Evidence suggests they will run with it.”

May I draw your attention to the use of the phrase “to call their own”? Orwellian doublespeak doesn’t come much purer than that.

In case you were in any doubt, the site also shows a cute picture of an Iraqi girl in a headscarf smiling while holding an American flag aloft. That proves the Iraqi people really don’t mind America and Britain bombing and looting their homeland. Phew, what a relief!

You can order your Iraqi dinars directly through the Bet On Iraq site. Good luck with the whole sleeping at night thing.

British politics&Global politics23 Nov 2004 02:01 pm

British civil liberties took another blow today, with Labour’s draconian new ‘security’ measures making up the bulk of the official Queen’s Speech. One positive note was sounded with the announcement of the long-awaited corporate manslaughter bill. But there was not much else to celebrate.

Blunkett’s proposed measures have already been announced, to a cross-party outcry. The crime of “acts preparatory to terrorism” will be invented, which could even include acts as innocuous as internet use. As this article in The Register surmises, “So they won’t need to prove that you’re doing something illegal, they only need to suspect that you might be for them to bar you from using the mechanism you might be using to do it. Tough luck on you if you weren’t doing it, but using that mechanism for something else entirely. If you don’t stop anyway, you’re going to jail.”

The crime of drugs possession will now extend to presence in the bloodstream.

Blunkett believes there is a “strong case” to remove the right to trial by jury for some “terror” suspects. Remember, the definition of “terrorist” can include those under pre-emptive arrests made with no evidence.

A Big Brother-style population database will be compiled, requiring all UK nationals to carry ID cards at all times, despite widespread protest that this will attack the liberty of innocent people but have no effect on criminal activity, least of all terrorism. It has been described as “the moral equivalent of bar-coding the population”.

But even if you’re not British, this still affects you. An increase in worldwide population surveillance has occurred since the 2001 American terrorist atrocity. This article (scroll halfway down to ‘Categories of Surveillance’ heading) points out that most citizens have no idea to what extent they are being watched. Most think they are freer than they are. “Countries such as the USA, Britain, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, South Africa, Portugal, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Austria, Croatia, and Greenland, were all expected to fit the mass surveillance category. That (Y) level involves comprehensive surveillance of all transactions, communications and movements, with some balance of human rights maintained by the existence of legal or constitutional protections. Mass surveillance means that everything is actually watched or is likely to be watched at the whim of one or more of the covert agencies of government.”

John Prescott’s response to concerned Britons was typically circular and pointless, ignoring the argument that his government are playing on the idea of fear both to win votes and to clamp down on civil liberties. “If we went to the public and said ‘This is modern terrorism, these are the global problems we have got, but we are not going to do anything – but don’t worry, you will feel free’, would they feel free if they are facing these threats?” Incredibly, he then descended to these patronising depths: “Robin Hood may have threatened the Sheriff of Nottingham, but he didn’t actually pose the global threat we face today with suicide bombers and massive weapons of destruction.” Yes, he really did say that.

One Liberal Democrats MP made the following remarks about the Queen’s Speech in the Guardian today: “The election campaign has started, so the government has put the frighteners on to make sure we feel too anxious about the state of the world to vote for anyone else. The politics of fear, not the politics of hope. I suspect that the British public will see through it. … Take ID cards. Is David Blunkett mad when he claims ID cards will stop terrorism? Will having ID cards really deter a suicide bomber? Surely it would be better to spend £3bn on more police than on bits of plastic.”

Even the Daily Mail, probably the most reactionary, conservative, pro-interventionist popular newspaper in the country, reached a broad consensus on this. In today’s poll of its website users, it asks “Do you think Labour’s pledge on far-reaching security measures will win votes?” At the time of writing, 20% have chosen the option “Yes, people want to feel more secure from terror attacks”. 80% have voted “No, it’s scare-mongering and exploiting the threat”.

As ever, the Queen’s delivery of the speech written for her by “her” Government betrayed no personal feelings either way.

“My Government recognises that we live in a time of global uncertainty with an increased threat from international terrorism and organised crime,” she said. “My Government will legislate to introduce an identity cards scheme, and will publish proposals to support the continuing fight against terrorism in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.”

The phrase “and elsewhere” was noted.

More suggestions that Blair wishes to rewrite the entire British legal framework to suit his own ends followed: “My Government will continue to modernise the constitution and institutions of our country to ensure they are equipped to meet the challenges of the future.”

“My Government will continue to work with partners around the world to prevent terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons…”

There has, as yet, been no offer by the British government to decommission its own stocks of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

“My Government will work to strengthen commitment on both sides of the Atlantic to the transatlantic relationship and to the continued effectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and will work with the international community to strengthen the United Nations.”

Oh dear. Looks like Blair’s going to join in Bush’s Iran adventure. Unless we remove him first.

Full text of Queen’s Speech: BBC website.

UPDATE: And here’s what a cross-section of BBC website readers thought of it…

American politics&British politics&Europe&Global politics18 Nov 2004 08:59 pm

In this comment to the post below, Major Dad comments on my “faulty thinking” in suggesting that rich countries must be taking a poor country’s share when they grow richer. Major Dad, here’s my reply to you.

The mythical pie
OK, I’m going to drop my British diplomacy and be blunt about this for once: if you honestly believe that the world can cope with endlessly increasing consumerism and economic growth, you’re living in a dream world. It’s not possible.

Your remark about making a “bigger, better pie” for all reminded me of GW Bush’s famous “Make the pie higher!” quote. The reason why this very idea is nonsensical is a matter of basic mathematics and physical science, as well as economics.

(1) You cannot eternally increase wealth in real terms without taking from one area to give to another, thus leaving a deficit in one and a surplus in another.

(2) This is because the earth has a finite level of resources. For example, we cannot manufacture new oil. We can try to find alternatives, but we can’t just keep on truckin’ and expect nature to take care of our selfish overuse, because a refill is not going to appear within the next few thousand years. We can’t create new mature forests to replace the ones lost to logging, with serious consequences for our air quality over the next few centuries. We can’t conjure up new land to build giant shopping malls for everyone. We can’t ship in new ice from Neptune to replace our defrosting polar caps. And so on.

Technology is often cited as the answer to all our problems, by people who have no understanding of what technology actually is. When relied on as emergency measures, technological innovations usually result in an increased strain on the earth, not reduced. They keep the economic cogs turning – and our leaders love that – but don’t alleviate the problem they were designed to fix. This is true of supposed solutions like hydrogen-fueled cars, which still require fossil fuels to burn the hydrogen. It’s true of GM food production, which is designed to enrich large corporations like Monsanto, at the expense of small farmers and poor countries. Incredibly, Basmati rice was recently patented by a corporation, forcing Indian farmers to pay intellectual property fees to farm the very indigenous crops they have lived on for generations. The corporations claim they are solving world starvation problems, but this is deliberately disingenuous. The profit motive has no conscience. Encouraging companies like Monsanto to privatise plants only exacerbates the problems and ignores the true causes of poverty.

I’m sure nobody wants to read a lengthy analysis of neoclassical vs ‘true cost’ economics here, but a very accessible introduction to the unsustainable contradictions of traditional economics thinking can be found here. There are some videos discussing the impact of the global economy on other countries here. A simply-written guide to the problem of consumerism can be found here.

These sources are just a drop in the ocean (if you’ll excuse the eco-pun). There’s a virtually inexhaustible quantity of scientific and economics information out there if this piques anyone’s interest.

One major problem with the eternal economic growth paradigm is that our unit of measuring ‘progress’, the GDP, is highly inaccurate. Effectively, every time a transaction is made, the GDP increases. But it takes no account of the social, environmental or human costs of such transactions, only the fact that money is changing hands. This means that every time we declare war on another country, the GDP goes up. Every time we cut down a forest to make way for redevelopment, the GDP goes up. As one Adbusters ad memorably noted: every time someone is diagnosed with cancer, the GDP goes up.

Americans already overconsume to an unsustainable level which threatens planetary survival. As widely reported last year by environmental groups all over the world, if every person consumed the way Americans do, we’d need three more planets. Individual Americans can calculate what impact their own lifestyle has on the planet here. Japan is similarly over-consumptive and the member countries of the EU aren’t far behind.

The Kyoto protocol, which comes into law in February next year, sets limits on carbon dioxide emissions to attempt to reverse or halt the impact developed countries are having on the earth. Unfortunately, President Bush removed the US from the signatory list shortly after taking power. Bush says he won’t accept any possible impact on the US economy and is prepared to stoke the fires of international anger over the richest society on earth still brazenly taking a disproportionate share of the world’s resources. Even though the other major CO2-emitting countries, including Russia, have signed the Kyoto agreement, and even though the heavily compromised agreement still allows rich countries to exploit poor ones by buying parts of their quotas (effectively preventing them from ever achieving increased industrial development), Bush says he’ll never sign the treaty. The US sets itself apart once again on this and, in doing so, its government has even stopped pretending their much-vaunted moral values include a belief in universal human equality.

I’m afraid your comment about corporations is meaningless. If we lived under a system other than capitalism – and to imagine one is not necessarily to advocate one, it just means an intellectual acceptance that other possibilities exist – then the “little people”, as you call them, would not be living in a system where daily work in corporations was required to maintain a position in society. One perpetuates the other. Step outside the realm of direct experience and notice what the constituent parts of capitalist democracy actually are. You don’t need to oppose the system, but at least acknowledge what it signifies and what aspects of our lives are driven by it. Paid work exists because we live the way we do. It is illogical to talk about aspects of the capitalist consumer economy as invariable human experiences, given that they exist only in this form of society. Remember also that, under capitalism, employers must necessarily pay the worker less than their contribution is worth, because of the profit motive. Who stands to benefit most from this arrangement must be obvious.

As for your claim “Just because the American farmer can produce more food than we could possibly consume ourselves…doesn’t mean that people in Africa can grow less”: this couldn’t be further from the truth.

I must respectfully request that you look into the workings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, and in particular the AGOA (Africa Growth and Opportunity Act), signed into law by George W Bush in October 2001. Rather than quote chunks of legislation, I’ll leave any who are interested to make their own enquiries. It professes to be a law encouraging African trade but is in fact an arm-twisting law designed to protect and privilege US trade to the detriment of the poor African countries who can least afford the unfair treatment. It ensures that, by using its preferential economic position and exercising unfair practices like dumping surplus goods at less than they cost to produce, the US will always be able to undercut African producers and thus leave African trade, and African economies, at an unfair disadvantage. Please do research the full implications of this Act independently.

And this is only one such one-sided trade arrangement. And you’d be hard pressed to find one which is any fairer. It is the imposition of bullying, coercive rules like this, by our governments, which has increased the level of poverty in Africa over the last twenty years. It is the existence of subsidised US/EU surpluses, discount-selling and punitive trade rules which stops developing countries even from maintaining self-sufficiency, let alone building their economies to our model.

When rich countries get more, it means by necessity that they’re taking from the weakest. Which is like the proverbial candy from a baby, because we’re already robbing those weak countries through punitive loan terms (hello again IMF) and holding them to ransom with ‘free trade’ agreements – which are effectively one-way freedoms designed to benefit the US and EU at poor countries’ disadvantage. The word ‘free’ used in this context is as much Orwellian doublespeak as it is when used in official discussions of US/UK motives in the invasion of Iraq.

Who’s the daddy?
Then you say: “We in the West have taken the steps we needed to take to build our “lavish” standard of living…but not at the expense of any other nations. This isn’t the colonial era anymore…”

Now this is either naive or a deliberate avoidance of the truth. Let’s be under no illusions: the old colonial era allowed the rich countries to barge their way ahead using violent force. Now we’re comfortably placed at the top of the heap, we need only use blackmail and coercion to stay in charge. Although we’ll gladly use violence if we meet too much resistance, or when a particular country’s resources or strategic position proves too tempting (e.g. Iraq). And that’s not much of a deviation from the old colonial ways, is it? Having pillaged their assets and plundered their wealth for several centuries, we now keep the poor multitudes down with mob tactics. It’s as simple and brutal as that.

The American Dream of perpetual over-consumption and endless increase in wealth is a nightmare for a large proportion of the world’s people.

And unless you’re Native American or the descendant of African American slaves, chances are your ancestors were probably colonial settlers on stolen land too, and your comfortable lifestyle comes from that historic theft of resources. This is the way the world works.

You’re at liberty to express approval of the present system if self-interest is your priority. But please understand the real implications of our world order. There’d be enough pie for everyone if we didn’t take extra helpings.

Global politics17 Nov 2004 09:37 pm

Geokker made the following comment in the post below.

“You say “we are all pawns in our governments’ callous, acquisitive war games and we will be the ones who have to pay for their greed.”

I think it may be dangerous to distance ‘us’ from our government too far (my belief that democracy is a fantasy notwithstanding). Their greed is our greed. We in the West – particularly the invading countries should remember that our militaries were designed to protect us and our interests.” [see original comment for full text]

This is a very good point. We Westerners enjoy a outlandishly high standard of living compared to much of the world. And whenever we have excess, someone else must have a deficit. There’s only so much to go round.

But it overlooks one important point: our leaders, by and large, are wealthy members of a small elite. Not ordinary people.

If the leader of a country is rich, well-connected and has (for example) a family who have personally made millions of dollars from corporate interests, whose interest are they likely to be serving when they pass laws and make decisions?

The working class people who keep their country running, the people they have no contact with and no interest in?

Or the rich people they grew up around, offer jobs to and play golf with?

Our leaders act in the interests of the wealthy, the powerful and the owners of big business. Because that’s who they are too. We know this is the way it is. All the major political parties support this arrangement, implicitly or explicitly. And within the current political system, it’s pretty hard for any candidates who oppose that paradigm to get anywhere. That’s democratic capitalism for you.

Sadly, only truly revolutionary or optimistic people can think of ways of fighting this world order. It seems impossible to dismantle, a system which should perhaps be left to destroy itself from the inside, via its own contradictions, rather than be changed by the least influential of its participants. The rest of us resort to writing scathing articles or tutting when one of these hypocritical politicians appears on screen to talk about ending poverty. And noting that they neglect to mention how we could easily feed the world and provide clean water for all if we cut our ‘defence’ spending and abandoned the misconceived neo-classical economics theories which insist constant growth is both possible and desirable.

Is there anyone reading this who honestly believes their national leader makes their policy decisions based on the interests of ordinary folk?

American politics&British politics&Global politics&Middle East12 Nov 2004 05:31 pm

Blair and Bush gave their press conference a short while ago. They talked alarmingly about bringing “a peaceful two-state solution” to the Middle East by any means necessary (“We will do whatever it takes” – Bush), their War On TerrorTM and the forcible imposition of democracy on other states.

One journalist asked if Iraqis or Palestinians decided to elect a leader who was not friendly to the US/Europe (aka “the Free World”), would Bush and Blair intervene to prevent this? Bush claimed he didn’t understand what was being asked. Blair insisted every single person in the world wants democracy. Neither answered the actual question.

I hope the world realises that the majority of British people do not support Tony Blair’s thugs ‘n’ jackboots foreign policy.

Brits, if you want to see this man relegated to the after dinner speech circuit instead of sending your sons and thousands of Iraqis to their deaths, you know what to do.

American politics&Audience participation&British politics&Europe&Global politics&Human rights&Middle East&Race&Religion&Self07 Nov 2004 02:00 pm

Those of you who have trawled through the comments on this blog may be familiar with Katy, the Texan Republican who disagrees with me on every conceivable point. Well, Katy’s written an extensive refutation of my Goodnight America post in her own blog here.

Being up for a squabble, and clinically unable to leave her opinions on Jesus, racism and Bush unchallenged, I confess I responded in similar detail. That response is below.

I warn you: they’re quite long posts. And I still can’t work out how to modify my template for the cutaway technique, even by following the idiot-proof instructions. (I’m blaming the template itself for having tricksy style sheets, naturellement.) So it’s just a big slab of text. Whole paragraphs of the stuff.

But if you enjoy watching war-loving Christian Republicans and bleeding heart British socialists crossing swords, maybe you’ll think reading it is time well spent. It’s your call.

In an earlier post, Jon kindly remarked on my “patience” in responding to another commenter’s dissent. Ha. Jon, I wonder if it’s not so much patience as a natural extension of my British politeness. We apologise when other people push us in the street. (Seriously. We do!)

Besides, while it might be tempting for all sides to take the “Is your head full of marshmallows, dipshit?” angle, that would just shut closed minds even tighter. In all honesty, I’m often shocked at views like Katy’s, but it’s best to hear them. We each surround ourselves with like-minded people, so it’s easy to float along in an ideological bubble. At least this way nobody fools themselves that the world is anything other than a big argumentative soup. Er, so to speak.

American politics&Audience participation&British politics&Europe&Global politics&Human rights&Middle East&Pop culture&Race&Religion&Self&The art of blog07 Nov 2004 01:16 pm

My original post: Goodnight America
Katy’s detailed rebuttal: The Reckoning
This post is my response.

Hello Katy,

You’ve clearly spent time on this and I’m honoured you felt the opinions of an “ill-tempered brat” warrant such detailed attention. I’ll do my best to reply in similar depth.

Before we start, I cant help noticing you refer to me as ‘him’, ‘he’, ‘lad’, ‘fellow’ etc. Mine’s an anonymous blog and my profile contains no reference to my gender. It’s interesting that you made an assumption without checking either way. Then again, this scant regard for research sets the tone for the rest of your post. (It’s a serious comment as well as a cheap shot.) Let’s move onto the main business.

Firstly, I agree with your assertion that evangelical Christians are not guaranteed to vote Republican. Obviously not. But most strict evangelical Christians do, and this is the platform the Republican party uses in its election campaigns. Please bear in mind I was differentiating evangelicals from all other branches of Christianity. That’s an important point, and you’d be misinterpreting my words if you assumed I was referring to every type of Christian. Indeed, plenty of Christian Americans (and other nationalities) have no problem with homosexuality, gay marriage and so on. Evangelicals don’t normally approve, but that is only one branch of Christianity. And my point was specific to this branch.

Naturally, every Christian believes they have the ‘right’ interpretation of the Bible. I was educated at Christian schools and am consequently very familiar with the Bible. We could debate Biblical ‘meaning’ for ever and still never agree, as the book contains innumerable contradictions and allegories. Don’t forget it was written in ancient Greek and Hebrew, so unless we speak either of these languages fluently, we can’t ever be 100% sure that the translations we use encapsulate all the subtleties of the original text. I’m well aware of that particular Leviticus quote but, as I say, you can ‘prove’ anything you like with the Bible. If you’d really like to get into a detailed scriptural debate then I’d oblige, but we aren’t likely to change each other’s minds even if we try. Besides, I’ll happily respect your interpretation if you respect other people’s. I’m sure we fundamentally disagree on more or less everything, but I wouldn’t call an alternative view “stupid” the way you do.

Back to Jesus. I wouldn’t call Jesus a ‘liberal’ in the modern American sense, no. I did, however, say he was one of the most tolerant left wing (in the British sense) figures in history. And I stick by this. This theory stands even if someone is not personally a Christian. History describes Jesus as a pacifist socialist (as we define that), regardless of whether you believe he’s the son of God or not. According to the New Testament, Jesus openly consorted with people whom his society despised as immoral. Isn’t that a pretty strong message to Christian bigots? How can any Christians condemn others for doing things they consider sinful when Jesus is quoted saying “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”? How can they defend rabid warmongering if Jesus said “Turn the other cheek” and “Love thy enemy”? I could go on indefinitely but, like I said, we’d probably still never reach an agreement. Perhaps you could check non-Evangelical sources like this Christian pacifist site for an alternative viewpoint to your own.

You rightly point out that not all evangelicals are Republicans, but then fall into the same trap of generalising about liberals. Not all liberals believe in abortion. Not all liberals believe in same sex marriage. Like all other belief systems, there’s an element of disagreement among the people you call ‘liberal’, just as the Christian churches are forever arguing amongst themselves about points of doctrine. That’s human nature. I’d love governments to “leave God and politics apart”, as you say. That would fix the problem I wrote about in the first place.

Hip hop and racism
I’m a big fan of hip hop, so I’m glad you brought that up. Although I’m not sure why you did, as it doesn’t seem to relate to anything I said. Are you citing rappers as the opposite of evangelical Christians? Why? Where’s the link? I note you’ve already posted an opinion on what you consider black racism in an earlier post on your blog, so perhaps it’s an obsession of yours. OK, let’s discuss it with reference to rap.

We’ll disregard for a moment any rap lyrics written by white, Hispanic, Asian and European artists, even if they are equally violent. You’re talking about African American rappers, so I’ll refer to this area alone.

You’ve conveniently managed to ignore the 98% of lyrics which are not in the ‘gangsta’ genre and which don’t advocate violence against anyone. You’ve ignored all examples of poetry, incisive social commentary, lyrics which speak of peace, against violence and in support of racial harmony. You’ve ignored the party anthems and the love songs. You’ve ignored joyful pop grooves and mournful emotional explorations. You’ve even misinterpreted some of the lyrics you actually quote which, when read or heard carefully and in context, you’d realise are spoken in character or as a narrative commentary on social events. But I guess that’s because hip hop is nothing to do with your world, and ignorance breeds fear and mistrust.

Brand Nubian were a militant Nation of Islam crew who loved the controversy their extreme lyrics generated. So what? You’re overestimating the power of music, and underestimating the intellect of the young people who listen to it. I don’t agree with racial separatism or racial supremacy in any form, but I don’t take personal offence at the views of Louis Farrakhan or those who agree with him either. I don’t take offence at your opinions, extreme though they are. Differences of opinion are healthy, so long as everyone has the right to reply.

At this point, I’m tempted to reel off a whole page of racist or religion-intolerant lyrics by white artists, but then I’d be sinking to the same simplistic, blinkered level. So let’s just concentrate on African American rappers.

Such selective accusations of racism are often made when hip hop is discussed by white people who are terrified of black people. Why are they so threatened and appalled by the artistic products of young black working class men, while ignoring any dumb chat from white artists? Perhaps because of repressed guilt about the fact that America’s fortunes (and, yes, Europe’s empires) were built on the back of slave labour? Perhaps because they don’t actually know any black people? Who knows. Ordinary Britain is more racially integrated than America, though our elite institutions are just as white-dominated, so it’s difficult to judge from this side of the Atlantic. All I’d say is that the time I’ve spent in America has included a whole stack of gasp-out-loud moments when I witnessed the way some black people were treated by some whites, and how black society is all but invisible in the white areas of even the most equally-proportioned states. I can only assume this cultural divide is responsible for the half-truths and misunderstandings shown by part of the nation towards hip hop, arguably America’s dominant and most innovative popular art form.

Anyway, this racism charge is deceptive. There are several issues you are missing here:

A – On average, African Americans are at a greatly disadvantaged social position in America compared with white Americans. Like most of the developed world, America’s institutions are inherently racist. There are more African American kids in poverty even than Native American kids. The average black American earns 61% less than the average white American. You don’t need me to explain all this, you must know that black people get a much worse deal in your country than white people do, no matter how talented they are. I could write a whole book on this subject, but it’s pretty basic and obvious, so I won’t insult your intelligence by spelling it out.

B – This power structure puts an entirely different perspective on it. Racism by someone in a position of power is clearly oppression. On the other hand, if someone who’s at the bottom of the heap expresses prejudice against white people, that’s not going to set the heads of rich white people rolling down Main Street USA. Black prejudice is every bit as stupid as white racism, and each perpetuates the other. Racism on any level is a divisive, unconstructive attitude and will never build any social bridges. But are you really telling me you can’t understand why some poor black people are angry with white society? If white people had been enslaved, forcibly segregated then supposedly ‘liberated’ a few decades ago, then told they are equal and should quit whining, while still hitting their heads on an invisible glass ceiling that stops them ascending to the top of almost any social or business group – apart from sport and music, two officially sanctioned entertainment roles – wouldn’t white artists start writing a whole lot of angry lyrics about black people? My guess is: yes. This doesn’t make prejudice OK. But such lyrics make up a tiny minority of this music, and are frequently spoken in character form, to make a point via hyperbole, to use extreme imagery to highlight the violence of the criminal justice system, to explore the dangerous conditions of poverty, to satirise the contradictions of modern American life, to construct metaphors for the greed of big business, and a million other things.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever studied literature or poetry to any great extent, but you’ll agree that a poem which contains the words “I killed my mother today” (for example) does not immediately provoke the reader to say “My God! This poet is telling people they should kill their mothers! Why isn’t something DONE about this?” Not if it’s a white poet anyway. Does anyone think the author of a crime novel is ‘promoting’ murder? Does anyone accuse Arnold Schwarzenegger of ‘promoting’ violence, given the excessive bodycounts in his films? No. Artistic licence and deeper levels of meaning are expected from artists. Look for them in rap and you may be surprised.

C – A lot of rappers are young men. A lot of young male African American rappers start life poor, fiercely intelligent and livid at a society which treats them as second best and fights against them attaining power at every turn. A lot of them respond angrily in words. The bottom line is that a lot of kids of all colours and creeds shoot their mouths off, before they grow up and take a more measured approach. That’s youthful passion for you. Yes, some successful rap artists are violent in real life. Most are not – though they or their security team may carry guns because they feel vulnerable, but that’s probably true of most rich celebrities in your country. Unless they actually take a gun and enact those violent lyrics, I’d suggest they’re protected by your comprehensive freedom of speech legislation and their songs should be taken as fiction and a damning indictment of racial tensions in modern America. Which is what they are.

Needless to say, you also miss the point that some black people are also Christians. Sometimes they’re evangelical Christians. So some could theoretically be bloodthirsty neocon bigots too, just like some white people are. Isn’t it a small world?

America and society
I didn’t state that Christians are more interested in money than non-Christians. If anything, I’d say a truly devout Christian should be less interested in material wealth and more in spiritual wealth than the non-religious. My point referred to the hypocritical corporate-biased Christians who are running the country.

As for my two fake commandments, I suggest you read them again. I was pointing out that these DID NOT appear in the Bible, contrary to the behaviour of some of those same professed Christians. It was a wry joke. Never mind.

The ever-escalating American national debt has less to do with foreign aid than pouring endless money into defence spending and tax cuts for the rich. And the main reason so many Africans are starving is because rich countries like ours screw them over via organisations like the WTO and the IMF, and their own corrupt governments collude with ours. If you’d like to research this point further, I can recommend plenty of comprehensive sources. Try George Monbiot’s The Age of Consent, Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival or former World Bank Vice President Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalisation and its Discontents for some initial background on these structures.

And for the last time: the war in Iraq is nothing to do with terrorism. Iraq had no involvement with acts of terrorism against our countries. 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian, as is boogeyman-in-chief Osama bin Laden. Not Iraqi. Why didn’t America attack Saudi Arabia instead? Because Saudi Arabia provides 25% of your gasoline supply and the Saudi royal family have business and personal connections with Bush’s family and friends, amongst other reasons. Again, I could refer you to any number of authoritative sources on the real state of post-invasion Iraq but perhaps these are two of the most eloquent and touching:

Home stretch
Finally, your numbered points:

1 – Unilateral in the sense that the UN, an organisation to which America belongs, did not permit military action in this case. America decided to do it anyway, followed by lapdog Britain. Kerry isn’t the point here. I am referring to international politics, not local.

2 – 100,000 civilian Iraqis and at least 1,000 soldiers have died violently since 2003. The main cause of death in Iraq is now violence, and plenty of Iraqis are blowing themselves up in a deranged attempt to rid the country of what they see as an illegal occupation. Need I say more?

3 – Yes, I’m aware of Britain’s shameful imperial past. If you’re not aware of America’s current imperial ambitions, you should make it your business to find out.

4 – What happened to conscientious objection and standing up against the school bully?

5 – I find it staggering that you’re clearly so unaware of America’s foreign policy, but this may be down to the education system which you referred to in a previous post.

6 – Yes, I call a place deliberately outside US borders where foreigners are detained in violation of international law without trial or charges, due to their Arab ethnicity, a concentration camp. It’s not a metaphor, it’s a direct label. Amnesty International is equally appalled (“cruel, inhuman [and] degrading treatment in violation of international law”, as they put it), and so is the International Red Cross. The treatment of these prisoners should be a stain on America’s conscience. Again, if you’d care to research it properly – i.e. through a balanced variety of independent sources, not just the White House homepage – you’ll learn that a huge number of Arab prisoners in Guantanamo were captured by the Afghan Northern Alliance with a price on each head. These prisoners are not guilty of any act of terrorism. In fact, many of them are men who had been forcibly conscripted to the Afghan army by force and who were captured during US violence in Afghanistan. How’s that for irony?

7 – I do indeed blame the lazy, biased media. But those who do not scratch the surface to find the truth beneath are equally culpable.

Britain never had free gun ownership, so I’m not sure where your odd crime statistic point comes from. Handguns were banned entirely a while ago, but the general ownership of guns has never existed here. In the words of the late Bill Hicks: “In the USA, where guns are not just legal, they’re a way of life, there were 23,000 deaths from handguns. In England, where guns are illegal, there were 14 deaths from handguns. Now let’s go through those numbers again because they’re a little baffling at first glance. England, where no one has guns: 14 deaths. United States… 23,000 deaths from handguns. But there’s no connection… And you’d be a fool and a communist to make one. There’s no connection to having a gun and shooting someone with it and not having a gun and not shooting someone.”

Lastly, I reiterate that Osama’s not worried. Bush isn’t even looking for him. He admitted that a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks for reading and enjoy a peaceful Sabbath.

American politics&Europe&Global politics05 Nov 2004 07:06 pm

John F. Kennedy to the Soviet leader Kruschev after the Bay of Pigs disaster:

“What your Government believes is its own business; what it does in the world is the world’s business.”

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