Sunday, 29 August 2010

Pipe Dreams in Afghanistan

"The most unpleasant truth in the long run is a far safer traveling companion than the most agreeable falsehood." Emerson
More and more evidence, if more were needed, that the construction of the TAPI pipeline is the central objective of the Afghanistan War exists for those who are prepared to put two and two together to make four instead of five as most windbag columnists in the mainstream media are willing to do.

The Economic Times of India reported on , TAPI to bring significant economic benefit to the region: US.
US has welcomed the proposal of tran-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAPI), running through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India - saying that this would bring significant economic and political benefit to the region.

If realized, the "TAPI pipeline could bring significant economic and political benefits to the region," a senior Administration official told PTI.

The official was responding to questions on news reports that leaders of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan would meet in New York next month to discuss TAPI project, to which the countries of the region have agreed to.

Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, said in Kabul this week that he would meet his Turkmenistan counterpart Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session to discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline.

The official, however, said US is not aware of the details of the agreement.

"We understand that there are many issues that need to be addressed before the project can be implemented," the official said.

First proposed in 1995, it was originally called TAP or Trans-Afghan Pipeline but with Pakistan and India now involved it was renamed TAPI.

The gas pipeline would stretch 1,043 miles from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad gas field to the northwestern Indian town of Fazilka.

The USD 3.3 billion pipeline's annual throughput of 33 billion cubic metres will be delivered to consumers in Pakistan and India after transiting Afghanistan.

The project is expected to generate revenue to Afghanistan.

Despite the fact that security in Afghanistan has been a key deterrent for the project to take off, US has been supportive of the project, as this would bring much needed revenue to Afghanistan.

Simultaneously, the US has been opposed to the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, as such a project, it believes, would help Iran economically.
Not one peep has been heard in the British press as to the real reason why British troops are dying in Helmland nor what has been at stake. Yet in most economic newspapers or energy industry information outlets it has been reported for a long time.

Yet here in the Economic Times reporting it as clearly as day as established fact whilst this is not considered worthy of news. There is little hope if no politician nor leading journalist is prepared to discuss what is really at stake in Afghanistan.

The absurdity of this revolves around why, if at all, the government in Britain, all politicians in Parliament and mainstream media commentators simply never admit the centrality of the TAPI. Why is sending troops out to die for a pipeline not considered good for people to know ?

It is simply common knowledge in India that one of the key objectives of the Afghanistan War is concerned with the TAPI pipeline, not just as a means of controlling Turkmenistan's gas and diversification of pipeline routes but also as a way of isolating and containing Iran's interests.

Naturally, the claim of the US spokesman that the US does not know the details of the agreement is mendacious as they have known since the 2008 Asian Bank agreement to fund the TAPI pipeline that it will be built when the area is finally secured.

That is, if southern Afghanistan is secured. Yet that the TAPI is central to the reason why Afghanistan is still being fought can no longer be in doubt. Then again it has been known for a long time

Yet that is only clear with virtually no Al Qaida left in Afghanistan and the illogicality of the official versions of truth put out by the British government that Afghanistan is about helping Afghanistan's women, despite Karzai's regime supporting the right of men to rape their wives.

After all as the Turkmenistan.ru reported, the TAPI gas pipeline has been designed by British company Penspen, so obviously British companies are benefiting from the business of war of "enlightened self interest" and "liberal intervention".

The usual retort that the pipeline was first mooted back in the 1990s with the Taliban in power is often held up as a weak argument that the USA did not invade Afghanistan only to build a pipeline, which misses the point completely.

the USA did not invade Afghanistan only to secure a pipeline but the prospect of a pipeline was a central part of consolidating its geopolitical ambition in Central Asia as well as securing the country against what was believed to be the threat of Al Qaida post 9/11 2001.

The problem is that whenever the TAPI pipeline is mentioned it is supposed that it is an attempt to demean the possible idealism of those wanting the Afghan people to have a better life, even if that somehow coincides with Western energy interests.

The assumption is that only paranoid "Marxoid" left wingers who just hate the USA more than they do the Taliban could conceivably hold to such a view when, in fact, it has nothing to do with being some sneering Leninist bitter at the defeat of the Soviet Union there by 1989.

That is not to say that such types do not exist: Seumas Milne, one time editor of The Guardian who refers to the Taliban as a "resistance" movement, as if these psychopathic thugs were somehow heroic, is the epitomy of such a person who gets a thrill from the West "losing".

The reality remains though that the TAPI is the one persistent geopolitical objective that the NATO forces are there to procure, having invested billions of dollars and men in the occupation it would be humiliating to pull out without having achieved anything.

The fact remains though that the war in Afghanistan is not winnable for a number of reasons, most obviously the sheer demand for drugs such as opium negating any such attempt to suppress the opium crop: the higher prices and demand will always make it lucrative.

This is precisely why the TAPI is seen as all the more crucial in bringing investment into what has been termed a "failed state" but which will never be able to replace the money made by poor opium farmers as it would only put money and power in the hands of the powerful.

As the New Europe Journal reported on August 22 2010 ( TAPI pipeline across Afghanistan gains momentum ),
.....the ever-warring Afghanistan is a link in the chain of this transnational project. To it, TAPI could mean five billion cubic meters of gas for internal needs and $300 million of transit profits. That, in turn, could create certain employment and source-of-income opportunities for Afghanistan’s eleven million unemployed.

There are two important “buts” in the TAPI project, though: the unstable situation in Afghanistan and the complex Pakistan-India relationship. These “buts”, however, are counterbalanced by just as weighty arguments.

The richness of Afghanistan resources is a known fact today. These riches can completely cross out the country’s “drug specialization” and provide huge profits to investors from totally peaceful businesses.

Speaking at the Kabul International Conference on Afghanistan, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the country’s explored natural resources alone were estimated at $3 trillion.

In his bilateral meeting in Kabul with the OSCE Chair-in-Office, State Secretary and Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Kanat Saudabayev, Karzai noted Kazakhstan’s experience in exploration and transport of resources, especially in the oil and gas sector, was very important for his country.

The second “but” is the Pakistan-India relationship. But here, too, experts believe, a compromise can be found, driven by a future energy hunger.

Also, Afghanistan’s important partner, the United States, is supporting TAPI, and the Asian Bank of Development is willing to fund the project. It is no coincidence that straight after his visit to Astana earlier this summer, US Special Envoy for Eurasian Energy Richard Morningstar flew to Ashgabat.

In a meeting with the Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the White House’s envoy said that the US was ready to provide extensive support to Turkmenistan’s planned major energy projects.

The high US official also had a number of meetings at the Ministry of Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources of Turkmenistan, the State Agency for Managing and Use of Hydrocarbon Resources, and at the state concern Turkmengas.

No sooner had Morningstar left for home, the technical group of this grandiose project held its regular meeting in the Turkmen capital.

The Turkmenistan newspaper reported in this connection that the meeting “discussed a number of specific technical aspects of implementation of the earlier agreements, to step up the joint activities.”

The article emphasized once again that all the four countries would benefit from the project: Turkmenistan – as the supplier of gas, Pakistan and India – for their economies’ energy needs, and Afghanistan – as a consumer and transit state.

The Turkmen paper referred to the TAPI project none other than “a new grandiose energy bridge of global importance.”
There can be no more denial of the importance of the TAPI pipeline. But only greater discussion as to the continuation of a war based on contradictory objectives, where the War on Drugs ensures that the idea that the TAPI project will cancel out drug cultivation is a delusion.

Videogame Nasties are Less Nasty than the Reality.

The apparently humorous columnist Marina Hyde of The Guardian has criticised Dr Liam Fox for suggesting that video games in which players can select to play the Taliban in combat mode is dangerous and unpatriotic.

Yet the subtitle of the article If Liam Fox can rant over a videogame it's no wonder we're losing the war, tends to imply that Afghanistan just could be a war that might be won but for the comic stupidity of those responsible for directing it.
"Dr Fox appears to have surpassed even his own exacting standards of idiocy this week, by calling for a forthcoming video game set in Afghanistan to be banned.

Though the latest Medal of Honor is essentially a first-person shooter following US troops as they seek to crush the Taliban, players can take the role of the enemy in its multiplayer mode. "It's shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban," Fox fumed showily. "I am disgusted and angry. It's hard to believe any citizen of our country would wish to buy such a thoroughly un-British game."

The response from the game's manufacturer is pityingly understated. "Most of us have been doing this since we were seven," it runs. "Someone plays the cop, someone must be the robber. In Medal of Honor multiplayer, someone must be the Taliban."

It's vaguely troubling, isn't it, that the press officer for a games company has an infinitely more rational take on the Afghan war than the secretary of state for defence. In fact, the whole business forces a call to the MoD.

Condemnation of Dr Liam Fox is easy. For he is merely playing part in a role play game himself. It's obvious that Afghanistan is being fought for grand geopolitical interests that are considered too complex for the British oligarchy to explain to the plebs. The TAPI pipeline.

To admit British troops are dying for that is never on the news, not an aim considered worthy of dying for, even if this banal reality is the only factor that explains why British troops are out there. For the "war on terror" or some heroic greater cause.

Hence a bit of fake outrage about "patriotism" is entirely in order and entirely predictable in relation to a video game as Fox has to put the mantra forward that this is a real war in in the patriotic interest of defending the country against" evil enemies" Not about a pipeline.

Fox is thus not "idiotic". He is just maintaining the propaganda line in the long war to preserve the Western resource conflict that allows Marina Hyde to be able to enjoy her high standard of living in a consumer society. The hypocrisy runs deep. Few of us are not implicated.

Yet as usual the easy line from smug "liberal" journalists is that it is only the Establishment that is stupid and not the Fourth Estate which comes across as just as idiotic in failing to grasp what is really at stake in politicians devoting time to the trivial.

The problem with most media commentator is that they are largely superflous, adding nothing to helping people understand the way the world actually works, adding more media to media and spinning off words into the void.

Politicians are not "stupid" and often know what they are doing. Liam Fox's comments on video games seem trivial but what seems trivial often has a serious subtext to it that it should be the job of real journalists to interpret.

Liam Fox's comment on video games reveal the fact that there is virtually no examination of the underlying reality of what on earth the War in Afghanistan is really about in the media, which tends to just lead to the received opinion that this war is "stupid".

A war which is continually assessed according to whether it advances "liberal" or "humanitarian" agendas as if that was a given fact because it is the explicit aim given by politicians and "think tank" experts is itself stupid whilst the war is not.

A war for geopolitical hegemony in Central Asia and for the construction of the pipeline to integrate Afghanistan into these designs to give NATO the upper hand in controlling the competition for natural resources, that is the flow of gas from Turkmenistan, is "rational".

Rational in the sense that it is an objective that is considered attainable and desirable as part of a military and economic plan that is amenable to examination on the basis of the ambitions and interests of the contending players beyond the spin and "narrative" as officially stated.

Of course, rationalisations for war can be quite irrational when broken down by a searching and forensic analysis. What is really irrational is the spectacle of a civilisation intent on pursuing illusory ends according to objectives that simply cannot be met.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

University Degrees-The Myth of the Necessary Benefits of University Education.

It's that tedious time of the year again when A-Level results come out and the annual ritual of damning them for being easier or praising students for being more hard working will appear in the media again.

Pictures of banal students jumping for joy with pseudo-ecstatic expressions on their vacuous faces will be splashed on the front pages as they grab those grades which will, it is thought, put them in good stead for the future, as if by emphasising it, it will necessarily become true.

Unfortunately, this con trick is waring thin. But willing self delusion is the order of the day in most aspects of contemporary life in 2010. From ramping up grades or massive levels of debt and spending money on the consumer goods that alone define people's identity and well being.

The fact is that A Levels have become easier in the last two decades, that pupils do work harder and, above all, that ultimately neither trends really matter that much because the nature of British society no longer needs intelligent and sceptical individuals anyway.

It needs those with the ability to channel intelligence towards pre-set agendas, to be a "mental proletarian" in a bland suit who fits his knowledge to the advertising creeds, mission statements and the imperative to manipulate others to buy new goods and new experiences.

For Britain's forte in PR, advertising, selling "heritage", travel and tourism means that arts degrees are themselves hardly worth much in themselves any more. Our civilisation no longer values those willing to ask questions about the way we live.

This is the essence of Bullshit Britain.

J G Ballard had it right when he wrote, "Professional qualifications are worth nothing—an arts degree is like a diploma in origami." In the bland jargon of neoliberal drones, a degree is a "signal" in the labour market that a person has "transferable skills" in analysing data.

Yet without showing the correct consciousness in using higher order skills to rigid and one dimensional lower order ends ( marketing trash nobody really needs and "selling yourself" like a whore in the marketplace ) a person cannot get very far.

Degrees are merely a sop to the middle class opinion that our civilisation is based on liberal values when it is highly dubious that this is the reality or that many liberals who are not blinded by concupiscence can actually believe this without willing self delusion.

Not least when the myth of the advantages of higher education are set against a totalising consumer society where everything and everybody is dehumanised into a pure commodity and set of generic attributes.

The cult of the CV started off that, another import from the USA which reduces a person to a smooth and blandly functional mechanism where sceptical intelligence is feared, and where job applicants are required to answer doltish questions such as "If you could be a fruit what would you choose to be ?".

The "Knowledge Economy" is largely a myth. It consists of people transferring bits of information, exchanging it, and being able to manipulate money supplies, promote think tank thinking for a future of resource wars to prop up consumerism, and getting consumers to consume.

Most students lack any sense of being able to ask searching questions about their own society and the meaninglessness of their lives, as they brag about how pissed and stoned they were last night or else in fetishising the latest lame pop group to grind out banal music and paltry lyrics.

A-Levels have been relentlessly dumbed down and the public life cretinised: to exercise a free and sceptical intelligence that university education once gave is to make yourself a social pariah.

The art of conversation must too be dumbed down to the level of "exchanging" platitudes and attitudes.That is, where conversation still exists as people "connect" through Facebook and as the quality of experience of lived life dwindles and diminishes

Those sickened at British society only need to have the strength of mind to sit out the last declining years of our civilisation by trying to make sense of it, record it and analyse the reasons why.

This needs no degree but just a real degree of personal integrity to sit it out and see it for what it is. Those jumping for joy and tizzy schoolgirls can celebrate whilst they can in light of the fact that even with degrees, they face a more hostile, meaningless and difficult life ahead.

The cruelty and idiocy lies in creating false expectations and turning A Level and university placement in to such a hullaballoo, as if any of it really mattered to anyone but them and their parents obsessed with status

There was none of this fuss in the 1970s and 1980s when A Levels were still a real qualification. In 2010 the only thing that can be said is that the penalty of not having this qualification or a degree sometimes outweighs the effort of getting them.

In itself, however, the attainment of qualifications is meaningless and the need to find meaning in the meaningless accounts for the hysteria as it is intended in a society driven by hype to drown out deeper considerations of why such attainment is considered actually useful.

The more empty the achievement, the more the mind numbing upbeat boosterism, as with so many other aspects of a fake economy driven by nothing but the hallucinogenic qualities of a society dominated by credit fuelled booms and transient candy floss consumer fads.

Transparent Justice in Shopping Malls.

News has appeared that dispensing justice has become a tediously slow process and that legal professionals are advocating the revival of summary justice and exemplary punishments in such places as shopping malls.

As Sarah Bakewell puts it in The Guardian, The Justice Roadshow,
....the Magistrates' Association suggests is to take courts out of their hallowed premises, and reinvent them as ad hoc, mobile affairs. Magistrates could hear cases in rented commercial offices, or in empty shops in shopping centres – perhaps even behind a glass shopfront, so that everyone can see what is going on. Judicial proceedings would, literally, be more transparent.
The idea of setting up Magistrates Courts in Westfield is a very sinister development, as if justice could be dispensed in a "fast-track" manner no less than a pair of Vision Express spectacles. It only serves to back up J G Ballard's dystopian notion that 'consumerism could become fascism'.
......if someone has been picked up for shoplifting in a Westfield mall, what could be more convenient than to try them in that same mall, on the same day? Security guards and other witnesses can go along to give evidence at once, instead of waiting to be summoned.

"Summary justice," as the deputy chairman of the association, John Howson, rather alarmingly phrases it, "should be about dealing with people where they actually are."
The word "summary" sounds shocking here, and so does the idea of the glass window. Young offenders are already demonised by the media; are they now to be physically paraded in front of Saturday shoppers?

Will some relish the chance to show off? And how long will it be before summary punishments become public too? Will those found guilty be dragged straight from the court to the pillory?
For a start, Magistrates imposing fast track justice could be used by Westfield security guards to dole out fines and penalties for such offences as loitering without intent and taking photographs or being "anti-social": that is, not buying products and thus not having the fundamental rights consumers have.

For example, though the new government has repealed section 44 of the anti-terrorist act that make it an offence to take photos, Westfield Guards might not be aware of that or might be able to claim that Westfield Policy forbids anybody to take photos inside or outside the huge shopping complex.
Bringing Magistrates Courts in to shopping temples and meting out exemplary and summary justice in glass windows is a slide into something new and rather chilling. Consumers fixated on brands and logos will want their enemies branded quickly too. These enemies must be brought to the places where there is No Darkness.

Thus Justice shall become a Spectacle in the mall. Perhaps miscreants can be put into gunk tanks and children pay 50p to put green slime over offenders against shopping malls with them forced to hold placards reading,

"I was here not to Have Fun but to Spoil your Day. Make your Day. Gunk me Now" .

Teenage shoplifters could be stood on pedestals with placards with advertising banners instilling the correct consciousness and blending moral injunctions with the relevant aesthetic considerations that bolster the consumer faith upon which British life alone depends with barely an exception:

"Look at my trampy trainers. Don't be a sinner be a winner-Work hard, play hard but never steal from Sports Direct."

Not a single week goes by when Britain does not go down the road to a new form of soft totalitarianism-lite, the main impulse is the need for the consumer economy to be perpetually driven to its limits by transgression, violence and sex, to sell fundamentally new experiences and products.

Could justice and the law be commodified and privatised just like almost everything else has been ? The possibilities are limitless. Consumers could be given prizes for shopping a shoplifter. Consumers could be mystery plain clothes shop detectives defending their favourite shopping malls.
Loyalty points could be given to voluntary enforcers who snoop around the mall trying to find those loitering with no intent to buy and ask searching questions about what they are doing there, frisking them or becoming the "eyes and ears" of the mall. The loudspeaker system would broadcast victories over enemies of the mall to martial music.

Those who form gangs to drive away gangs or asocial individuals who come without families and take photographs could receive free promotional sports gear for shopping those who do not "share our values" and confiscating their cameras. League tables of results to show which group had defended Westfield most successfully.

These result could be flashed up on the advert video screens placed throughout Westfield. Successful chases and arrests played on action replay. Whilst security for consumers is a major selling point for Westfield, the danger of diminishing marginal expectations can be overcome by ramping up the threat to the centre by deviant elements.
Have a Nice Day.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Shaping Up for Things To Come

‘… could consumerism turn into fascism? The underlying psychologies aren’t all that far removed from one another. If you go into a huge shopping mall and you’re looking down the parade, it’s the same theatrical aspect: these disciplined ranks of merchandise, all glittering like fascist uniforms. When you enter a mall, you are taking part in a ceremony of affirmation, which you endorse just by your presence.’
J G Ballard The Guardian, 14 June 2008.

Though this picture of shop workers limbering up in perfect unison along the aisles of a store in the Beijing Shopping Centre is something that does not happen at the moment, this appalling sight in today's free "newspaper" Metro had me thinking that something like this could come to Britain in the near future.

The novelist J G Ballard mused increasingly on the theme of whether consumerism could lead to a sterile world of perfection not least in his last novel Kingdom Come. This a theme I've become obsessed with not least because Ballard's writing was unknown to me when I first started to ponder this when Blair came to power in 1997.

Since 1997 and Blair's carefully choreographed entry into Downing Street, which was slightly hysterical and had something totalitarian about it and the re-presentation of the British PM Blair as a saviour who could act as a megaphone for "the people's aspirations" through soundbites, real political choice and debate has been continually constricted.

With the lies that lead to the Iraq War, the curtailment of civil liberties in anti-terrorism legislation, the acceleration of social trends that are eroding civil society and reducing politics largely to the aesthetics and images that buttress the power of a new moneyed oligarchy with little time for Britain as anything other than a "market", questions need to be asked.

Consumerism, a society of the mass spectacle, the depth psychology of the advertising industry in tapping inner most insecurities and needs and the elevation of image and brand symbolism over the substance of words could lead to a combination of greater consumer freedom and greater authoritarianism.

There is no reason why China, instead of being a nation that somehow will learn to adapt towards Western liberalism in politics will not instead combine "liberalism" in economics with an ever more effective security state that will crush freedom even better precisely because people prefer consumer security and a fantasy world of perfection than freedom.

In that sense, China could be a new model to decaying Western states such as Britain. Blair had authoritarian tendencies and lauded Singapore in 1997 as a great beacon of modernity. One commentator called this trend "happy face fascism", something that has surreal possibilities that few thinkers have looked at-apart from Ballard.

Monday, 9 August 2010

On Tony Judt

Tony Judt died on August 6th 2010. One of the most impressive of contemporary historians, he had a piece in the Guardian published posthumously in which he wrote,
In Politics and the English Language, Orwell castigated contemporaries for using language to mystify rather than inform. His critique was directed at bad faith: people wrote poorly because they were trying to say something unclear or else deliberately prevaricating. Our problem is different. Shoddy prose today bespeaks intellectual insecurity: we speak and write badly because we don't feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously ("It's only my opinion …"). Rather than suffering from the onset of "newspeak", we risk the rise of "nospeak".

Judt was accurate here to criticise the cult of the soundbite and the retreat of "public thinkers" in to the rhetoric of "think tanks" in which language and intellect are perverted to churning out texts to fit in with the prescriptions of the orthodox line at the expense of independent thought expressed in clear language.

In Ill Fares the Land: A Treatise on Our Present Discontents, Judt lambasted "think tanks" and the reduction of our existence to crass utilitarian cost benefit analysis: indeed the very word "think tank" is rather Orwellian but simply accepted as a normal feature of what passes for public debate.

Increasingly people have retreated into letting the phrases do the thinking for them and few have shown enough independence of mind to challenge the way that words like "enemy combatant", "war on terror", "extraordinary rendition" conceal a hideous reality.

In The Guardian we see continual efforts at mendacious propaganda by those like Denis MacShane who elevate lying into an art form by the use of the language they use. The task of all sceptics who want to hold power to account is to interrogate the language forensically.

Judt challenged many of the complacent assumptions rationalised into mindless buzzwords used to extol a mindless upbeat boosterism, a fetish for the benefits of "growth" as if this was automatically a great good without drawbacks.

Judt was correct to look to the words. This came out superbly when he demolished the assumptions behind the bellicose liberal interventionists who were fervent in their blind faith in the merits of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars in his seminal essay The Silence of the Lambs ( 2006 ),

"For what distinguishes the worldview of Bush’s liberal supporters from that of his neo-conservative allies is that they don’t look on the ‘War on Terror’, or the war in Iraq, or the war in Lebanon and eventually Iran, as mere serial exercises in the re-establishment of American martial dominance.

They see them as skirmishes in a new global confrontation: a Good Fight, reassuringly comparable to their grandparents’ war against Fascism and their Cold War liberal parents’ stance against international Communism.

Once again, they assert, things are clear. The world is ideologically divided; and – as before – we must take our stand on the issue of the age. Long nostalgic for the comforting verities of a simpler time, today’s liberal intellectuals have at last discovered a sense of purpose: they are at war with ‘Islamo-fascism’."

"In order for today’s ‘fight’ (note the recycled Leninist lexicon of conflicts, clashes, struggles and wars) to make political sense, it too must have a single universal enemy whose ideas we can study, theorise and combat; and the new confrontation must be reducible, like its 20th-century predecessor, to a familiar juxtaposition that eliminates exotic complexity and confusion: Democracy v. Totalitarianism, Freedom v. Fascism, Them v. Us."

Such brilliant political writing made Judt one of the few worthy winners of the Orwell Prize in 2009. The rest were more Orwellian instead of having Orwell's moral clarity. Those like Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens et al all tried the "decent left" act and failed pathetically and miserably.

It is a pity that The Guardian and Observer could not have published more of Judt whilst he was alive. It is annoying that people seemed to be unanimous in praising his Postwar and his eminence as a historian whilst condemning his Ill Fares the Land as "a book that should never have been written".

When the propagandist Denis MacShane writes that, not least because he castigated Adam Michnik-MacShane's Solidarity hero- for his support for the Iraq War in 2003, it is clear that functionaries of an increasingly authoritarian Britain have much to fear in those who speak truth to power.

We stand in need of intellectuals like Judt to write polemics like Ill Fares the Land to open up political debate in Britain and, ineed, the rest of Europe and the USA, to speak truth to power as well as castigate the way Orwell has been traduced to be some kind of posthumous guru and oracle for a "decent left".

With Afghanistan and Iraq it was necessary and still remains the case that those like Hitchens projected their fantasies of global liberation on to a superpower, the USA, which was on the side of liberty and so made it irrelevant to look in detail at what was really at stake in Iraq.

Judt hit the nail on the head when trying to explain the support so many supposed "public intellectuals" for Iraq, not least why former dissidents had lost their critical faculties in supporting Iraq blindly, thinking it was in the vein of some kind of Spanish Civil War moment or lazily seeing it as a rerun of World War Two.

As Judt put it , in discussing the reason why those like Michnik and Havel cravenly supported Iraq,

"In the European case this trend is an unfortunate by-product of the intellectual revolution of the 1980s, especially in the former Communist East, when ‘human rights’ displaced conventional political allegiances as the basis for collective action.

The gains wrought by this transformation in the rhetoric of oppositional politics were considerable. But a price was paid all the same. A commitment to the abstract universalism of ‘rights’ – and uncompromising ethical stands taken against malign regimes in their name – can lead all too readily to the habit of casting every political choice in binary moral terms.

In this light Bush’s War against Terror, Evil and Islamo-fascism appears seductive and even familiar: self-deluding foreigners readily mistake the US president’s myopic rigidity for their own moral rectitude"

In Postwar Judt also commented that intellectuals like Michnik and Glucksmann supported Washington's Iraq policy because they,

" argued by extension from their own earlier writings on Communism that a policy of 'liberal interventionism' in defence of human rights everywhere was justified on general principles and that America was now, as before, in the vanguard of the struggle against political evil and moral relativism everywhere. Having thus convinced themselves that the American President was conducting his foreign policy for their reasons they were genuinely surprised to find themselves isolated and ignored by their traditional audiences".

(Postwar page 786 )

This has the ring of truth as one only needs to look at the drivel Michnik wrote in his feeble article We the Traitors in October 2003 which offered a shallow rationalisation for the Iraq War,

I remember my nation's experience with totalitarian dictatorship. This is why I was able to draw the right conclusions from Sept. 11, 2001. Just as the murder of Giacomo Matteotti [leader of Italy's United Socialist Party] revealed the nature of Italian fascism and Mussolini's regime; just as the great Moscow trials showed the world the essence of the Stalinist system; just as 'Kristallnacht' exposed the hidden truth of Hitler's Nazism, watching the collapsing World Trade Center towers made me realize that the world was facing a new totalitarian challenge. Violence, fanaticism, and lies were challenging democratic values.

This is not the place to analyze the ideology that, while disfiguring the religion of Islam, creates a crusade against the democratic world. Saddam Hussein takes part in this just as Hitler and Stalin did before him. He asserts that in the holy war with the 'godless West' all methods are permitted. Waiting for this sort of regime to obtain weapons of mass destruction would be plain recklessness.

In fact, Michnik shows himself not as a "dissident" nor even as a critical thinker but as a crude propagandist. Why on earth was the invasion of Iraq not the place to analyse the ideology in which Al Qaida was conflated with Saddam Hussein, not least as Baathist Iraq was a secular dictatorship ?

Moreover, Michnik was parroting the WMD claim as an article of blind faith and there was no connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, the reason Bin Laden hated the USA was precisely because he was prohibited from leading a crusade against Saddam in the First Gulf War.

The fitting of the facts to the prescriptions of the propaganda creed was an abnegation of the responsibility that Michnik took upon himself to speak truth to power, as opposed to shilling for it in the worst an most uncritical manner as a messianic crusade, a form of delusional wish thinking.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Britain's Sinister Neoliberal Domain.

The descent of Britain into an atomised and deracinated society dominated by a neoliberal ideology that is accepted and preached as Gospel by both the fake Conservatives and New Labour seems to reach ever more surreal proportions. As Peter Wilby comments in the New Statesman,
On the same day as David Cameron made his "big society" speech in Liverpool, the Times reported that an American company, Rent A Friend, is launching here. For an hourly fee, it will arrange for somebody to go to the cinema with you, act as best man at your wedding, or simply converse in a coffee shop. This should remind us that capitalists, far more than public authorities, have robbed us of the capacity to do things for ourselves.

We look to manufacturers of instant meals and high street takeaways to provide food we once cooked for ourselves. Once, if we needed exercise, we joined a few (unrented) friends to play football or went for a brisk walk. Now we buy membership of a gym club. To sympathise with the bereaved, we once wrote a letter. Now we buy commercially produced cards with standardised sentiments.
Neil Clark has backed Wilby on his opposition to this horrid ideology and the baleful effects in creating a fundamentally diseased and eerily denatured society. All in the spurious cause of promoting "choice" and individual "self-determination", as if people can be reduced to consumer items.

Just as the "personalities" and "parties" are now just branches of PR and advertising. The fake Conservatives are no different from New Labour in holding to a vulgar and reductionist utilitarian neoliberal ideology in which sovereign consumers have rights that non-consumers or lesser consumers do not.

Forget the idea of citizenship. In 2010 the concept of the morally educated citizen is seen as outdated and people are now mere consumers and some consumers are more equal than others. It is considered the only way to motivate people by brand status and differentiation. This is pathetic. Wilby looks at how education itself could be privatised,
Cameron's speech refers to the "big society" ensuring we "don't always turn to officials, local authorities or central government". He doesn't want to stop us turning to business. On the contrary, Cameron wants to connect "private capital to investment in social projects". That, I suspect, is what the "big society" is really all about.

Parents may decide to start a school, but they will soon find it's best to bring in private money and hire private management if it is to get off the ground and survive as a ­going concern.


Several private companies, most earning millions from outsourced public projects, are already offering their services. Some openly admit that they aim to create branded chains of schools which they will largely control even if they do not legally own them.

Remember what happened to those classic 19th-century self-help institutions, the building societies. Thanks to Tory legislation in the 1980s, their owners - the customers - were bribed to "demutualise" and sell out to commercial banks. For "big society", read big bonanza for big business.

It never seems to cross what passes for their minds that such a degraded worldview is both vulgar and unbecoming of honourable that treats people like commodities, as though 'human resources', a term first coined by the Nazis. Where people are assessed only according to their use value, then depersonalisation and dehumanisation will follow.

It's All in the Pipeline for Afghanistan.

The more events unfold in Afghanistan. the more the original mantra of a "humanitarian war" is stripped away to reveal a dogged determination to "stay the course" in Afghanistan despite the futility of this crusade and mounting casualty levels amongst British soldiers. The reason for this has to lie in Afghanistan being valuable and useful to the West.

Reports coming out from Afghanistan that reveal the level of carnage, such as the Wikileaks, seem to confirm that this is a war being fought to the bitter end because there is something more at stake that fighting Al Qaida, most of whose operatives are now in Pakistan, and that the "war on terror" is a mendacious lie.

It was an interesting revelation from PM Cameron recently that the deadline for Iraq is now 2015 which is, of course, the same time Obama has lined up as regards it's timing-2012-which in both cases precedes their presumed and desired re-election. Either one of them is not telling the truth about Afghanistan or both are not.

For the point is that Afghanistan will persist until the West gets the TAPI pipeline, negotiated by the Asian Development Bank in 2008 and which is now a major objective of the war. To leave without it's construction would mean none of the US, UK's, or indeed, NATO's aims had been met.

To pull out before the construction succeeds would mean a loss of blood and treasure that could not be justified on cost and benefit analysis or the supposed delusion that this was a war of enlightened self interest. Now it's just a war for straightforward geopolitical hegemony in Central Asia.

The TAPI Pipeline will be built through Kandahar and thus the Helmand area must be secured if this pipeline taking LNG from the Turkmenistani Dauletabad gas fields is to go ahead as scheduled to Karachi whence it can be shipped to Western nations. Not least, those such as Britain which experienced Peak Oil production in the North Sea by 1999.

Moreover, the TAPI Pipeline further NATO's strategical aims by cancelling out the threat from a rival pipeline that would bypass Afghanistan -the IPI- and upgrade both Iran and China leaving NATO with a failed state without any use value to Western nations.

More details can be found in the Canadian petro-economist expert John Foster's analysis Pipeline Through a Troubled Land ( he worked many years for BP ) or Arial Cohen's forthright justification for the Afghanistan War produced for The Heritage Foundation. The centrality of the construction of the TAPI pipeline accounts for the investment of capital in war zones by NGO's.

As James Denselow has written in the Observer,

The chaos of a war zone combined with the financial attraction of an invasion led by the world's remaining superpower has proved a potent mix for a multitude of NGOs to flock to the country.

Aid agencies have been accused of chasing contracts – which has resulted in a geographic imbalance of aid with resources focused on those areas suffering from actual conflict while ignoring areas with the security to benefit from sustainable development.

This has meant that aid has often failed to adjust to Afghan needs, for example 10-15% of all Afghan land is arable to farming yet despite 80% of Afghans relying upon agriculture only 5% of international aid goes to that sector

The reason NGOs have become part of the US military-humanitarian complex lies in an ideology of "enlightened self interest", whereby the USA and it's allies get access to pipeline transit routes in return for investments in areas torn apart by war and where reconstruction is in accordance with key geopolitical ambitions.

The reason the NGOs have not invested in areas where Taliban insurgents are not so prevalent is because there is no need to waste money on people who can already be counted on, it is supposed, and belies the notion that this war is a humanitarian one. It is only in so far as the lives of Afghans are considered a cheap investment if the West gets the TAPI pipeline.

Hence the "humanitarian" effort of NGOs has been geared towards "pacifying" areas like Helmand through which the TAPI will run. Only the Western media has retained a conspiracy of silence on that, though most people from India I speak to in London know that this is the purpose as if it's obvious.

Increasingly, it becomes obvious that the pipeline that journalists dare not speak of accounts for the what's really at stake in Afghanistan. It explains why NATO, now explicitly devoted to "energy security" and why investment is going into the war zones-it is considered a better investment.

Self regarding notions of enlightened self interest are nothing more that ideological rationalisations that can be at least partially believed in, not least by PR savvy politicians like Blair and Cameron and those too craven to challenge the consensus. It is about time people in Britain were explicitly told the truth about the TAPI and why people are dying in Afghanistan.

That is what is so depressing about Afghanistan. The military-humanitarian complex is a reality that can be figured out by putting the pieces together and going on the Internet to see just who is funding these NGOs. As Denselow puts it,

We should be clear that the third sector is simply one of a multitude of international actors whose work is being compromised by greater militarisation. Academics (human terrain teams), journalists (embeds) and diplomats (Hilary Clinton has demanded 7,000 fully armed security operatives to protect the US embassy in Iraq) are all experiencing a similar trend.

In place of Dwight D Eisenhower's concerns over a military-industrial complex we may be heading toward a military-industrial-academic-media-diplomatic-NGO complex whose eventual hegemony could prove unchangeable.

The IAM that Dr Karen Woo worked with when she was murdered by the Taliban was typical in this respect of the way that "non-political" NGOs are, in fact, political. For the IAM worked with was linked closely to groups like SenterNovem which worked closely with the Icelandic government and the Dutch government.

As usual some research on the Internet brings it up. IAM does not mention who its "corporate sponsors" are. So much for "Transparency". Yet finding out who funds them and that their role in Afghanistan goes beyond medical care into helping to install renewable energy. It works with governments and that means, of course, politicians.

As the 2009 IAM report reveals,

RESAP expanded its work last year to include Faryab province where it works closely with IAM’s Community Development Project.. However, in Badakhshan Province, RESAP is working with a private company that will take over RESAP’s work in Faizabad.

RESAP has also begun to scale down and move its Kabul workshop in preparation for transferring its work and responsibility to Afghan businesses. RESAP is grateful for the support of SenterNovem, Operation Agri, the Icelandic Government, ACDI/VOCA, Tearfund Switzerland and Afghan Bureau for Reconstruction during 2009.

The claim that IAM is "non-profit" and "non-political" cannot be sustained as it does work to further Western political goals in Afghanistan. There is a thin line between humanitarian aid, something which should be wholly divorced from governments and politics, and backing the war effort and Western hegemony.

But for those willing to pore through texts there is some information on page 25 on the supporters and where the funds come from,

Our thanks go out to our Member Agencies and numerous personal donors
as well as the following external donors:

ACDI/VOCA
Afghan Bureau of Reconstruction
Cargill International
Commune of Bernex
Commune of Meinier
Commune of Grand Saxony
Commune of Veyrier
Embassy of Japan
Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Handicap International
Icelandic Government
Irish Government
Islamic Relief
Kiwanis
NORAD – Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation
SenterNovem
SIDA – Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Standard Chartered Bank (Kabul)
Tear Fund Switzerland

SenterNovum on its website contains the following information that backs Denselow's point up that a military-humanitarian complex is emerging,

NL Agency came about through a merger of EVD, The Netherlands Patent Office (Octrooicentrum Nederland) and SenterNovem...NL Agency also works on behalf of international organisations such as the European Union, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and foreign governments.

Cargill International is a Minnesota based corporation with a history of human rights abuses , unethical business practices and in buying cotton in neighbouring Uzbekistan from workers without rights i.e slave labour and children.

To further reiterate the point that IAM ( International Assistance Mission ) was bound up with politics and the projection of US power, one of its main donors listed is ADCI/VOCA. According to its website,

ACDI/VOCA receives funding from USAID, USDA, the World Bank, UNDP, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other development funders, and is partnering with a growing number of private sector corporations such as Mars, Inc., H.J. Heinz Company and Nestlé.

This is the very Asian Development Bank that in 2008 brokered with US approval the TAPI pipeline which will carry gas from the Dauletabad gasfields in Turkmenistan and which is a major geostrategic ambition of the US in its drive to control the oil and gas of Central Asia.

This is not to say that those working for NGOs do not have humanitarian intentions nor that they might well sincerely believe that the spin offs from NATO's hegemony over Afghanistan are worth the war and occupation. Yet such obvious links to US power will comprimise its claim to be "non-political".

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

Appeal to the Guardian "What do you Want us to Talk About ? "

I wrote, most likely in vain,

How about a real look at the centrality of the TAPI pipeline in the continued conflict in Iraq and a serious assessment of the threat to civilisation caused by being overdependent upon diminishing fossil fuels such as oil and gas and the New Great Game.' ?

The omission of this makes much of the tittle tattle about 'what "we" should, could or might do' in Afghanistan mere propaganda. Unless what is really at stake in Afghanistan is understood, the war will not be or why Western governments, not least Britain's, is so obsessed with "staying the course".

With regards Iraq the journalist David Strahan in his The Last Oil Shock has documented how geostrategic desperation and oil dependency drove the USA and UK to invading Iraq in 2003. More work that explicitly sets out how most conflicts today are about pipelines and resources is vital for civilisation.

Yet in the Guardian and most mainstream media it is generally neglected. Perhaps as Freud said, people can only bear so much uncertainty to make reality bearable. But it might be better if we faced facts immediately and saw that our high octane lifestyles are contributing directly to terrorism and war.