“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Friday, November 21, 2003

Bollettino

There�s a story in the WSJ on Kazakhstan. It provides an ironic commentary on the supposed Bush agenda of Democracy in the Middle East.

The WSJ is bullish on Kazakhstan. �For the U.S. -- and investors such as ChevronTexaco Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and AES Corp. -- Kazakhstan offers stability in a Central Asian region worried by the kind of Islamist fundamentalism that spawned Afghanistan's Taliban and local terrorist groups.� The figures look good:. �The economy has grown 10% a year since 2000, and a Norway-style national fund to save oil income has built up reserves of $3 billion, about 10% of GNP. A rickety banking sector has been tidied up into what the IMF calls "an independent and transparent financial system." Inflation is a steady 6%; reserves have grown to make Kazakhstan a net creditor to the world, with the highest per capita private bank deposits in the former Soviet Union.�

But there is the little problem of the man who runs Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev. As Hugh Pope, the writer of the article, notes further down from the optimistic grafs:

�Kazakhstan is still the kind of place where militiamen can force a planeload of passengers on a regular internal flight to stand outside for five hours in the snow with no explanation. A number of journalists who have stepped out of line with criticism of the regime have been beaten, jailed and, in one case, sent the headless body of a dog. Yet there are few problems with Islamist fundamentalists in Kazakhstan, which is half-Muslim and half-Christian. Mr. Nazarbayev attributes the lack of religious strife to the nomad Kazakhs' relatively late adoption of Islam.
Meanwhile, scandals have clouded the country's economic success. Mr. Nazarbayev said he "paid no attention" to a recent U.S. indictment of his former American adviser on oil deals, investment banker James H. Giffen, who allegedly directed a bribery scheme. U.S. prosecutors also are looking into $78 million paid by oil majors into Swiss bank accounts, including one in the president's name. "American companies should be grateful [to Giffen] because he brought them to Kazakhstan," Mr. Nazarbayev said.�

Dariga, Nazarbayev�s daughter, has founded a political party. Daddy has pledged to leave office in 2010, and Dariga looks set to take over. The usual thing. We loved Nazarbayev�s comment about the issue: �We prefer that [the succession] will happen as in the Bush family."
Funny � Wolfowitz doesn�t seem to be on the case, here. We expect any moment now he�s going to challenge the country to develop a robust civil society and kick the nepotists out.

EuroAsia net has an article about the latest doings of the Nazarbayevs by a journalist who, for some reason (probably having to do with an aversion to headless dogs) prefers to remain pseudonymous.


LI was pleased to hear from a man we quoted this week � Jay Bergman, over at Central Connecticut. We wrote about his article on how Trotsky was misled by his penchant for a particular historical analogy. Dr. Bergman wrote us to say that he was glad we liked it.


Thursday, November 20, 2003

Bollettino

In the NYT today, there is a story with the news that � gosh! � a democratic Iraq will probably reflect the fact that the Shi�ites hold a 60% majority in the country. I guess D.C.�s best and brightest got out the encyclopedia. While such coming to grips with reality, while belated, is welcome, the inevitable response of the ideologues in the Pentagon is to weave this into their favorite bed-time story: the one in which Chalabi, friend of Douglas Feith and staunch advocate of making Iraq into a little Chili, is elected, or somewhat elected, prime minister, or something like prime minister, in Iraq. The persistence of this fantasy is one of the wonders of the world, at the moment. In the Daily Telegraph, there is an article by David Frum, who is going to be covering Bush�s visit (one wonders why they didn�t just chose Laura Bush) who regales his readers with a comic litany about the influence of Blair on Bush. Frum has a double purpose: to claim that Blair is no poodle, and to exonerate Bush by blaming the Brits for every bit of the current bungle in Iraq. It is funny to see the two imperatives struggle with each other. But of course, Chalabi figures in this cartoon epic as, once again, Iraq�s Churchill (not DeGaulle � no French, please):

�The second reason for the misperception of Britain's place in the alliance is that the bad consequences of the policies advocated by the Blair Government have convinced many British leaders that the less said about them, the better. There was only ever one possible provisional government for Iraq: the Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmed Chalabi. Important sections of the US government - the State Department, the CIA - disliked Dr Chalabi for petty bureaucratic reasons of their own. The yearning of the British Government for an Iraqi Mubarak or Musharraf - a Western-oriented strongman backed by military power - lent extra force to the anti-INC faction. But because there was no plausible alternative to the INC, British advice helped bring the coalition to a point where six months after the fall of the dictator, Iraqis perceive themselves to be ruled without their consent by an English-speaking proconsul.�

There you go. Ahmed, with his black shirted militia, was about to be crowned by adoring Baghdadi crowds (who were all set to pull him, with maximum ardor and enthusiasm, out of Uday�s mansion, which he�d taken over in Baghdad), when the Brits, those wily anti-democratic foxes, persuaded Bush to avert this divinely appointed consummation.

This kind of fantasizing is what should be hit, and hit again, by the opposition. People on the right are always asking where the signs are condemning Saddam Hussein. Uh, well guys, if you want to make some signs and join the demonstrators, go right ahead. But LI wonders why the protestors aren�t taking up the occupation challenge � why they aren�t demonstrating for Democracy, now in Iraq. That means � don�t use this time as an excuse to impose insupportable economic policies on Iraq. Nor to impose exiles who, as we can pretty much guess by this time, have no constituencies in the country.

LI�s guess is that there must be a plan circulating around in the swamps of the Pentagon outlining how they could run Chalabi the way we ran the Christian Democrats in Italy in 49. To counter the threat of the Commies, secret money flowed into the campaign of 49, and a lot of deals were brokered, including, notoriously, deals with the mafia. Italy has suffered from that post-war effort ever since.


LI recommends the Sunday Times (London) article on Baghdad by Simon Jenkins. Jenkins makes the common sense point that opposing the war doesn�t mean supporting an immediate pull out of the troops. It does mean getting serious about monitoring the American occupation there. Here are a few grafs:

�Baghdad's greatest scenic asset must be Saddam's Republican Palace, now headquarters of the Coalition boss, Paul Bremer. Its sprawling site some three miles round lies in the heart of town, like Beijing's Forbidden City or the Bourbons' Louvre. Villas sit amid lawns, canals and eucalyptus groves. In the palace itself the great ballroom is now offices and the astonishing throne room with its "Scud murals" has become a chapel. The whole enclave should have been donated to the people of Baghdad when Saddam fell. Instead the Americans are laying down concrete car parks, chopping down trees and building a perimeter "Baghdad Wall". It is sad.�

And this is the end of his report, about the prisons in Iraq:

�Inside the prison is supposedly the son of a college lecturer, Omar Hamodi. He was last seen in June at a Baghdad wedding where guests fired into the air in traditional salute. A passing, jumpy American patrol seized the first three boys it could catch. One was Omar, despite another boy admitting to the soldiers that he alone had fired the shots.

Omar's parents later heard that he was in a prison far to the south in the port of Um Qasr. He was then transferred as prisoner No 116417 to Abu Ghraib, where he has been for three months.

� Omar's parents are educated Iraqis and no supporters of Saddam Hussein. They are simply appalled that an occupier proclaiming "freedom and democracy" should treat an innocent boy in this way. �

Abu Ghraib is becoming Iraq's Guantanamo Bay. I only hope that someone hunkered down in the Republican Palace might read this, and return prisoner No 116417 to his mother.�

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Bollettino

I'm extremely dissatisfied, at the moment, with the anti-war movement. It seems as though the movement is frozen in time, and that, if they just protest loud enough, the troops won't go in...

This is, well, ignoble. There's real pressure that can be put on Bush at the moment. While the Bush administration says it is for democracy, it is for a democracy without elections. Very convenient. This is a simple point, that can be put on a placard. Iraq--Elections now. How simple is that? As for the troop pullout, that's a great idea, but nobody thinks it is a great idea to do it while the guerrillas present a threat -- not of terrorism, but a threat of retaking power on behalf of an evidently bankrupt system. The problem isn't, as the odious Hitchens insists, that the left is "for" the Ba'athists. The problem is that BushnBlair are clueless in the face of this threat. How clueless/ How about bombing cities you already occupy. I mean, if Saddam the H. is going to go to meet his maker, at least he is getting a good laugh beforehand. This is counter-insurgency as parody. Solution (I have to write this way because I'm going to mop a floor. Work, you know. So I'm telegraphing, rather than Henry Jamesing) the Iraqis who are not part of the resistance have to have something to fight for. How about: their own country? As in, let's not continue to pump the air out of Iraqi civil society in order to please the rightwing deologues in D.C., who mean, by free, free enterprise.

But are these the major features of the protests in London? No.

I get all red in the face thinking about this. In my life, I have seen nothing so worthy of being opposed as what Bush has done, is doing, and plans to do. From bad pre-conceptions to faulty follow through -- the guy's a mess. And I have seen nothing so depressing (okay, I have, but I wanted that sentential balance, you know) as the inability of the organised opposition to present reasonable and pursuasive reasons to oppose the bastards. Slogans should follow, not lead, policy.

Now that the U.S. has officially adopted reality -- that Iraqis have to defend Iraq -- the next step is to get them to adopt even more reality -- that Iraqis have to run the politics and the political economy of Iraq. Swallow it, guys. Swallow it without Chalabi, even. The narcissistic relief one gets from insulting Bush is what one of those commies called infantile leftism. Or is it left infantilism?

These people should really learn something from past mobilizations. The mobilization against the war was led by the dullest group of law student types imaginable. They did the organizing, and made it a success, while some Yippees freeloaded and made themselves celebrities. It is long past time for the dullards to come to the fore.

Talking about which -- I have been exchanging emails on the literary life with my friend T.S. in New York, and he just wrote me an email that discretion forbids me from pasting whole. However, here's the last couple of sentences, re the topic of Academic discombobulation in the face of Bush. Enjoy.

Academia! Fuck it! Of course it does criticism of Dauphin le Shrub so badly, because it doesn't do anything well but crunch numbers. Dissent and non-conformity (beginning at the absolute zero that is one's contempt) is simply not done; dissatisfaction is about all it can muster when its knickers really get twisted. As my old mentor Nelson Algren once wrote (I don't recall where, or even if he wrote it, once or multiple times, or at all) "a certain ruthlessness and alienation from society is as essential to writing as it is to armed robbery."
t

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Bollettino

Historical analogies cannot take the place of historical analysis � Leon Trotsky

Jay Bergman, in an fascinating article on Trotsky published two decades ago in the Journal of the History of Ideas, noted Trotsky�s borrowing of terms and phrases from the French revolution, and the way the neurotic recapitulation of this reference misshaped and ultimately falsified his analysis of Stalin. It is Bergman�s thesis that one of the intellectual causes of Trotsky�s failure on the level of practical politics was his habit of casting the contemporary history in terms of the French Revolution. Marx had already mocked the French revolutionists habit of clothing their every act in the language of Republican Rome, as if they could exchange their button up trousers for togas. Bergman has some fun in showing how the scare-word �Thermidor� was thrown around in the early years of the Russian Revolution. The Mensheviks, in exile, poked at Lenin�s NEP as a pernicious backsliding to capitalist norms. For them, here�s the proof that Bolshevism was descending into its Thermidor. When Trotsky was still close to the center of power, he dismissed the analogy out of hand. However, once he was clawed out of the center of power, the old black magic of analogy appealed to his mind like that last pipeful to a pothead. Suddenly, the the Thermidor analogy seemed golden. This was a product of the fateful historical experience of the counter-revolution, i.e. Trotsky's being kicked out on his can, in the Soviet Union. One should always ask, when an historical analogy is offered, who benefits -- for usually it aggrandizes the image of its maker in some way. In any case, as out of Thermidor grew the context in which Napoleon emerged, so too, in Russia, out of the counter-revolutionary bureaucratic forces within the Bolshevik party grew the context in which the Soviet Bonaparte, Stalin, emerged.

There are serious problems with treating Stalin as a species of Bonaparte. Stalin himself thought he was a species of Ivan the Terrible. What is most interesting about the analogy, perhaps, is that both Bonaparte and Stalin came from peripheral cultural zones � Corsica and Georgia � to dominate the hegemonic center. So did Hitler, for that matter. But such insights into historical states of affairs afforded by analogies have to shuck off the analogic form in order to become serious. In other words, suggestion has to cede to hypothesis, and hypotheses are brutal.

Bergman is damningly succinct about Trotsky�s problem.

�� Trotsky, desperately seeking for something from the past that would make sense of the present and promise vindication in the future, failed to recognize (except on rare occasions) that historical analogies, especially inappropriate ones, can often obscure more than they clarify, particularly when the object of one�s analysis � in Trotsky�s case, Stalinism � proves to be far more rooted in a nation�s history and culture than any transnational comparison or analogy might suggest. Indeed, the categories Trotsky borrowed from the French Revolution � Jacobinism, Thermidor and Bonapartism � were too much the product of one historical epoch and national history to be useful in explaining, or even in helping to explain, the evolution of another. �

LI has been irritated, and often expressed our irritation, by the use of analogy by the defenders of our irrational policy in Iraq. There is another analogy that is floating around that also irritates us � Dean to McGovern. In both cases, analogy doesn�t really operate to illuminate, but to disguise � and to disguise for unavowed purposes. In the case of Iraq, the struggle that the Bush administration has publicly set itself is to create a free Iraq, but the struggle it is really engaged in is to create a free enterprise Iraq. In the case of Dean, the analogy to McGovern has operated as a codeword, among D.C. establishment Dems who fear the party edging out from under their control. These are the consultants, commentators, and networked political operatives whose collective record has been one of almost unalloyed failure since 2000. These are liberals who are quite comfortable giving with giving up the principles of liberalism � in fact, they feel quite daring and contemporary as they do so.

That said, there is a place for analogy in understanding and proceeding with any social action. What that place is is a topic for a future LI.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Bollettino

LI has often enough expressed contempt for the most prominent of the press�s hawks, C. Hitchens. But for another hawk, Nik Cohen, who was, if anything, more vituperative than Hitchens, we have a certain undiminished admiration. Cohen�s fierce hatred of Saddam Hussein was not corrupted by any cozying up to the rightwing powers that be, whether operating under Blair or Bush,

Cohen has penned an astonishingly good article in today�s Guardian about a man we have mentioned before: Nadhmi Auchi. Cohen takes a hard look at the sleeze magnetism of the man � both Tory and Labor went out of their way to protect the guy. He bought a lot of politicians, a lot of ex politicians, and established himself like a tick under the skin of the body politic:

Perhaps you would, but I forgot to add a final fact about Mr Auchi: he is the thirteenth-richest man in Britain, and he has been able to collect British politicians the way other people collect stamps. After wrecking the economy, Norman Lamont retired from government to a seat on the board of the financial arm of General Mediterranean Holding, which runs Auchi's many businesses. Lord Steel, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and the current presiding officer of the Scottish Parliament, is also on the board. Lady Falkender, Harold Wilson's former secretary, has worked for Auchi, as has Gerald Malone, a former Tory Minister you've probably forgotten about. Keith Vaz, the former New Labour Foreign Office Minister once accepted a directorship from Auchi.

Auchi's political friendships extended far beyond the boardroom. There were indirect links to MI6, and he made a donation to a political party. (We don't know which one.) Many of the threads in his web of influence were on show when a touching scene was enacted on the evening of 23 April 1999. Lord Sainsbury joined 600 guests in the Grand Ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel. The Science Minister announced that he was deputising for the Prime Minister. To show the goodwill that politicians from all parties felt towards Auchi, he presented him with a print of the Houses of Parliament signed by Tony Blair, William Hague, Charles Kennedy and 132 other Ministers and backbenchers. "

Ah, sweet.
Here�s what we�ve been saying about the guy:
Apr 21, 09:04:48 AM | roger gathman | edit ]
Bollettino

Bagmen

Coups are expensive. As Jonathan Kwitney pointed out years ago, private enterprise and public governments often find pleasing compromises that allow them to go dutch on overturning third world governments and installing those pleasing puppets that age so badly in their baroque, disco palaces. It is a win win proposition - in the old days, you got staunch anti-communists, elected again and again by a wonderfully cooperative electorate, and you got sweet deals being cut that divvied up, in the most rational way, the natural resources to which the third world country was, by some mistake of providence, heir to.


One wonders how the INC in Iraq is being financed. We are suspicious that an exile Iraqi billionaire currently being held in an extradition trial in London, Nadhmi Auchi, might have some answers. The Observer has a wrap around bio of Auchi that reveals some interesting things. The man's main company is hq-ed in Luxemburg, natch: GenMed. We are being killed, in this century, by bland corporate acronyms. Auchi was connected, in some mysterious way, with the former meat machine tyrant of a Middle Eastern country -- guess which one. But Auchi claims, of course, that said Meat Machine turned against him and killed his brothers. However, Auchi, who turned up in Britain in the eighties, did not let family tragedy get in the way of peculative interests. He cut deals for Elf, and for other Euro petro companies, to get oil from Iraq -- and for himself he collected your average multi million dollar kickback. GenMed's main business, supposedly, is hospitality. In fact, Auchi's company just opened a swinging hot spot in Amman, Jordan. Auchi himself keeps to London. In his office hangs a painting of the House of Commons signed by such well wishers as Tony Blair. Blair's cabinet has a soft spot for the exiled Iraqi -- in fact, one sub minister was caught advising him on extradition matters vis a vis the French charge against him still on the docket there.

The Observer article doesn't touch on his connections with one Henry J. Leir. If you touch on that connection, you can get sued for libel, as Le Soir in Belgium found out. There is an article of mysterious provenance floating on the web none the less, in which it is claimed that Auchi was connected as an arms dealer with Leir. Leir, apparently, is golden: a major player in channeling enriched uranium to Israel -- again, for you libel lawyers out there, this is all wink wink. Leir endowed a chair at Tufts university in -- oh, spirit of the age -- peace, and seems to be an establishment figure in America -- but in Europe he has a different reputation. Denis Robert und Ernest Backes, two journalists, have written a book, Revelations, about the Leir/Auchi connection.�

We were interested in Cohen�s last graf:

�There is a rumour that MI6 liked to have him around because he understood the Iraqi regime. I can't substantiate it, and it may be nonsense. All I can do is point to a strange coincidence. Britain handed Auchi to France in the spring when the overthrow of Saddam's regime became inevitable and knowledge of that regime was no longer a unique selling point. The flight of Saddam should provide a happy ending of sorts, were it not for a small problem. When the Coalition handed out contracts to set-up mobile phone networks in liberated Iraq, one went to a firm called Orascom. And who's backing Orascom?�

So, we went looking for info about Orascom. Here�s a graf from a Time Magazine article, of Nov. 9:

�Now another deal is coming under scrutiny. A senior Pentagon official told Time that the U.S. is reviewing its decision to grant the mobile license for Baghdad and central Iraq to a consortium led by Egyptian telecom giant Orascom because of its ties to Nadhmi Auchi, an Iraqi-born billionaire who built his fortune partly through arms deals with the Iraqi regime in the 1980s. Industry sources say Auchi provided Orascom with a $20 million loan to help pay down its $500 million debt. The sources say the loan gave Auchi, who faced French prosecutors earlier this year for his role in a corruption and embezzlement scandal, a controlling stake in Orascom. A senior U.S. official says Orascom's ties to Auchi are being investigated. As a result, no mobile licenses have yet been issued. �

For more on Auchi, go to a French site �l�investigateur. It is an incomparable source for scuttlebutt.