27 January 2010

Now They Tell Us

In relation to the recent announcement that the US will station a battery of Patriot surface-to-air missiles on the Polish Baltic coast some 60 kilometres from its border with the Rusian exclave of Kaliningrad, Edward Lozansky over at Russia Blog raises a vital point:
"Obviously, Washington needed a symbolic gesture of sorts to gild the pill of scrapping its missile-defense-shield-in-Poland plan. However, if this gesture is strictly symbolic, a more unsuitable place and time for it would be hard to find. Because whereas previously Russia was told that it had nothing to worry about BMD-wise, as the sole purpose of the system was destruction of Iranian or North Korean missiles, the Patriots are certainly intended to repulse a potential missile attack by Russia."
Indeed, if the scrapped missile shield in Poland was really meant to protect it from Iran then why the need to after its cancellation station Patriots on the Baltic coast? Are they too to defend from Iran? It would be a claim so ludicrous not even the Americans are making it.

26 January 2010

RT Ad Campaign

An ingenious set of images. RT also reports they were denied permission to, as part of their ad campaign, display them at US airports. What can we say. Their loss.

21 January 2010

One Brave Quisling: Marja Update

The media savy Marine commanders in Helmand sure are making certain we do not forget about their upcoming operation in and around Marja. This time it has fallen to one Lt. Colonel Calvert Worth, a lowly battalion commander, to focus our attentions on that town.
"We're very, very close now to Marjah."

"If the Taliban or the narco-traffickers decide that they do not want to willfully accept a return of a legitimate governance of the region, they would have to make a decision -- they can choose to fight and resist, or they can join the legitimate government of Afghanistan."

"We are here to facilitate the reintegration of Zair as a representative of the government."
Again one Haji Zair has been mentioned basically as a person on whose behalf the push is going to take place. Zair said to be the governor of the place, appointed by the Hamid Karzai government, but so far unable to take residence there - which is to say he is the governor of nothing. Willing to be brought in as the governor of a Taleban stronghold on the tips of American bayonets - Zair is a braver, or stupider, man than most. Jobs do not come much more drenched with danger than this.
A hint as to where Zair finds his courage can possibly be found in the constant references to Marja as an opium producing region and a narcotics hub. I suppose that in the hands of the right person this could make this governorship a very lucrative post to hold indeed.

14 January 2010

More Killing Ahead

In the news these days; American generals sharing battle plans with the press. One Larry Nicholson, as we learn - a brigadier general in charge of Marines in Helmand, has been particularly busy. Piecing together all of the disjointed quotes, he has said something like:
"Well it's pretty obvious, there's only one place left: that's Marjah. I don't think its any great leap of logic to say where we're going next."

"We're bringing in 10,000 Marines. It's not a secret. There's only one place left in the entire area of operations where the enemy is at."

"There is a certain inevitability to this, Marjah is next."

"We're going to go in big, I'm not looking for a fair fight."

"We are going to put the enemy on the horns of a dilemma. He has to decide what to do. Really the enemy has three options in Marjah."

"One is to stay and fight and probably die. The second one is to make peace with his government and reintegrate. And the third one is to try to flee, in which case we'll probably have some people out there waiting on them as well."
If all of this sounds eerily reminiscent of the supposed inevitability that preceded the onslaught on Fallujah it is because it is. So is Marja the next Falluja? The number of occupiers allocating to its pounding sounds about right, not much more than 10,000 US forces took part in the Second Battle of Falluja. On the other hand Marja is apparently a much smaller town, not even a town but really a dense collection of small irrigated farms on the Helmand riverbank.

But the bigger difference is that where Falluja had been a symbol for months before the final onslaught and a symbol that shone far beyond Iraq at that, nobody would have ever took note of Marja had Nicholson and the rest of the brass not made sure it popped into the news.

What is the point of the generals alerting the press to this operation? We can't know, but we can speculate. My bet would be that now that they got the buck they need to show some bang. The brass got an escalation and now they feel they should show something for it. Chasing ghosts around the countryside and setting up small outposts in the mountains is not going to cut it. They need to pound something and pretend it is another Iwo Jima. Or at least another Falluja.

With this in mind it does not even matter if Marja is an enemy stronghold. It probably is, but so is every other town in southern Afghanistan. Besides, combined arms, massive assaults, the taking of a city, operations with Hollywood-style names, this is how generals get made. Nicholson is saying to the press come see me play with my new toys. Pay attention as I move unit indicators on the map. Come help me make lieutenant general.

It is doubtful the operation is going to have much of an effect on the enemy fighters. In Falluja itself, albeit the fighters who were left behind exacted a price of over 600 casualties on the attackers, most of the fighters had in fact moved out weeks earlier in anticipation of the onslaught. I would not put it past the occupiers that this is actually meant as a demonstration of the newfound willingness to carry out collective reprisals either. Especially in the view of Nicholson going on about putting the enemy "on the horns of a dilemma" and telling they can either "integrate" or be killed.

Is the occupation talking up this attack in advance to alert the Afghans to its newfound willingness to enact collective punishment on towns when they fail to pacify a province? It would be an alternative explanation. And whether true or not it is likely this is how any hammering of Marja is going to be understood locally.

In any case one would think that it is actually the occupiers who are really "on the horns of a dilemma" seeing how being in a conflict they can not win they can only choose between leaving now and - having spent more lives - leaving at a later date. But it is not really a dilemma for the military. As long as the war goes on the budgets grow, commanders safe in their bunkers get to move units over a map, self-absorbed higher officers get gratified by the media, the populace at home is being conditioned to stand in awe of military personnel at twice the normal intensity, the prestige of the officers rises, the political influence of the generals too. And when they lose the war in five years time or so and finally leave, well they can always blame the press and the people at home for stabbing them in the back just as they were coming within inches of winning.

11 January 2010

A Crying Shame!

I owe an update on the result of the presidential election in Croatia seeing I had written about it.

The outrageous Milan Bandić lost, what else. No doubt the forces of presidential respectability have breathed a sigh of relief and tomorrow newspaper columns of all respectable papers, except those most partisan against the victor's party, are going to hail this as a triumph of maturity, decency, intelligence and what not.

A crying shame! To think Croatia came within twenty points to being saddled with its very own version of Nikita Hruschev! A man who would have driven a hole through respectability of the presidential office and any other quality associated with it! A man who just days ago during the election debates snarled back at the moderator that he "neither knows nor cares" when asked who the presidents of the European Union and the European Commission are. Splendid attitude!

Instead a veritable nobody has been put at the helm. Ivo Josipović, distinguished for nothing, achieved nothing, infamous for nothing, upset no one. A drone who found himself in this position for no other reason than being a loyal party trooper and a threat to no one. If Bandić is Nikita Hruschev then Josipović is Konstantin Chernenko. Chernenko who? Precisely! His decisive advantage over Bandić consisted of the fact that he is polite, mild-mannered, accommodating and reasonably intelligent. He does not speak with his mouth full and keeps his elbows off the table, so he is not going to embarrass the institution of presidency. Yawn.

08 January 2010

Robin Hood as an Agent of Property Owners

Robin Hood, in the variant of the legend nowadays the most established is a lapsed noble from the period around the Third Crusade who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Of course during this period in England the poor would be the Anglo-Saxon serfs, and the rich would be the largely Norman nobility.

The relationship between a noble lord and his serfs has many aspects. A lord has judiciary powers over serfs who are bound to his land and are forced to work the castle land and pay a variety of small taxes. However the most important and the most fundamental aspect of the relationship - which in many places persevered long after the formal end of feudalism - is that the lord is deemed to be the owner of land and that therefore the serf in order to pay for the use of the parcel assigned to him must give a part of the produce grown on this parcel to the noble.

Noble's title to land however does not stack up in truth. A person can come in possession of land only by homesteading it or purchasing or inheriting it from someone who homesteaded it. Seeing how land is homesteaded by the virtue of being cultivated, this means the true owners of land in feudal circumstances are the serfs who work it. Nobles do not work the land, nor do they descend from people who had. They come in possession of titles to land by the virtue of inheriting them from their warlord predecessors who imposed themselves on the populace and enserfed it.

Keeping all of this in mind we can see that Robin Hood is not only someone who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, he is also someone who takes from the wrongful property owners to give back to the rightful property owners. He is a hit and run police force working on behalf of the true owners of land against the aristocratic robbers and squatters who enslave them and prey on their property and produce.

So instead of Robin Hood being a renegade working against order, he is in fact better understood as an agent of a natural order based on rightfully gained property who stands in defiance of the wrongful and phony established order because this order itself stands in defiance of a rights based order.

04 January 2010

Reminiscing About NATO

On March 23rd 2003 Slovenians were given a rare opportunity to set back the foreign policy of its political establishment. As American tanks were rumbling through Iraqi sands on their way to finally crush the country their government had been torturing for over a decade, a referendum was held in Slovenia on the question of whether the country should join the European Union and NATO.

The outcome of the vote regarding the EU was never in question. The populace imagined that joining the European Union was going to, or at least very well could, make them wealthy. It would have been useless to ask how exactly this was going to transpire and what about the EU made this a distinct possibility. Seeing the EU was composed of wealthy countries, it was an article of faith that associating with them could somehow make Slovenians wealthier too. There was no understanding behind it, but more of a belief of the sort that once drove primitive peoples to dance for rain. But it did mean that voting against the EU was for most people akin to voting against a better life. There is little wonder then that the vote on EU accession was 9 to 1 in favour.

The matter of membership in NATO was different. As it is merely a military alliance no economic benefit could be expected from it. On the contrary, politicians openly admitted that after membership military expenditures would have to be raised to satisfy the alliance. And for what? Surrounded as it is by friendly countries no one in Slovenia saw a threat that would make entering a military pact and spending more on military necessary. But there was an even bigger stumbling block. While the EU membership meant association with European countries, NATO meant that Slovenia would associate with the United States of America as well. By 2003 this proposition did not necessarily have the populace of this spiritually left-wing country bouncing with joy.

In the years before the referendum the support for NATO membership generally hovered around 40 to 50 percent, with between 25 and 30 percent opposed. This was in circumstances where government and opposition parties droned for the need to join NATO in unison, and no one with real access to the media challenged this notion. In the light of George Bush's warmongering in the Middle East and membership nearing closer, however, more thought was given to the notion so that at one point, less than a year before the referendum, the level of popular opposition and support both met at 40 percent.

In response political parties and embedded media went on an urgent offensive to sell NATO. All manner of constructs were employed. It was claimed that actually economic benefit will be derived from NATO membership seeing it would convince foreign investors uneasy about its Balkan neighbourhood that Slovenia is a respectable, stable country and spur investment from abroad. It was claimed that for Slovenia to be taken seriously abroad it would have to take on sharing responsibilities to secure peace, which is supposedly what NATO does. A perception was being built that NATO and EU membership were two sides of a coin and that it was all but unthinkable to be a part of one, but not the other. In a transparent bluff to try to shake the strong opposition among the young the Ministry of Defence even threatened that if NATO membership did not come to pass reforms to abolish conscription would be halted. Most tellingly of all, the entire time NATO was being disassociated from America as much as possible. It was pointed out over and over again that NATO was an alliance of 19 countries of which the USA was only one and that NATO was not participating in the hugely unpopular invasion of Iraq.

Ultimately it worked and the realistic danger of NATO being shot down at the referendum was averted. After the votes were counted 66 percent were in favor and 34 percent opposed at the turnout of 60 percent. At the same time the victory rang somewhat hollow. All the concentrated, year-long pro-NATO effort had to show for its trouble was 40% of the electorate voting in favour, 20% voting against and 40% staying at home not exactly overwhelming levels of support. This after millions were spent on various initiatives, round tables, promotions, visits of foreign dignitaries and add campaigns. After years of  anti-NATO position in the media being represented by a single outlet, Mladina, the political weekly of note in the country, and after even the country's Catholic bishops came out in favour of membership.

There was a clear disconnect between the unanimous party establishment and the divided public. The success of the parties rested on the fact that they had access to unlimited funds and that no one with access to the media was arguing against NATO. Meanwhile the government went to such lengths as to mail every single household a propaganda pamphlet paid for by the taxpayers. You do not have to be a libertarian to be appalled by an act whereby a person is forced to finance his own brainwashing. Other tricks they were not loathe to employ were debates televised by the state television where the pro-NATO positioned was argued by politicians clad in tuxedos and used to public speaking and neutrality was argued for by scruffy looking anti-globalists. One does not have to be Karl Rove to see the point of that can only be to equate the cpunter position with the fringe and frighten particularly the elderly against siding with such elements. One has to wonder what would be the outcome if there had been a real debate, instead of than one managed by the pro-NATO establishment.

The biggest supporters of NATO proved to be the elderly, opposition among those above 65 stood at a puny 15%. The young, on the contrary, tended to be opposed. The votes of 30 year olds were split 51-49 in favour of those opposed, for the 20 year olds it was already 60-40. If the vote had been taken among only those born after 1973 the result would have been a solid no.

Obviously 7 years later there are more people born after 1973 around and fewer of those born after. An ageing population or no, in a few years time the majority of the population will have been born after 1973, in 15 more years this will be true for the majority of the electorate. Furthermore, the fundamental reason that NATO membership was opposed was the unpopularity of the United States. It is hard to gauge something like sentiment, but it is hard to believe that years of uninterrupted US warfare since then have done any favours to its image. If Slovenia is anything to go by then the Empire can take political establishment of its NATO auxiliaries for granted, but it would be a miscalculation to presume this servility extends undiminished to the general public.