Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tensions have subsided for now

There is a dangerous political leader on the Korean peninsula, who fantasizes that he can win a nuclear confrontation, recklessly endangering the lives of millions his own people. The conflict which he seems determined on provoking will have a cascade of devastating consequences, and draw in the regional powers in a horrendous conflict. All his actions have heightened tensions with his powerful neighbour, and he has rebuffed all moves towards a peaceful resolution of the latest standoff.

You think I am talking about Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader? No, the most dangerous man on the Korean peninsula is Lee Myung-bak, the South Korean president.

Have a read of this excellent article in Counterpunch by Peter Lee to find out why the South Korean president is a dangerous psychopath. Lee Myung-bak has the full backing of the Obama administration.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Following up on the Korean conflict

The excellent online magazine Counterpunch has two informative articles that follow up the latest increase in tensions on the Korean peninsula. It is very worthwhile to read both in order to respond to the drivel in the corporate-controlled media.

The first is by Gregory Elich and is entitled Menacing North Korea. Elich sets out how the South Korean government, with the connivance of the Obama administration, has deliberately escalated tensions with the North Koreans, a process that has initiated a cascading set of repercussions that could easily get out of control. Elich goes into the relevant political and historical background, highlighting the culpability of the Seoul regime in producing the latest crisis. For instance, Elich states that

"President Lee Myung-bak of the conservative Grand National Party took office in February 2008, vowing to reverse the Sunshine Policy of warming relations with North Korea. The government of Lee's predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun, had signed several agreements on economic cooperation with North Korea, including joint mining operations in the North. Lee killed every one these agreements, ensuring that they would never be implemented."

Elich interestingly points out that China has taken a reasonable position, offering to mediate in this latest crisis, measures that have been rebuffed by the United States. White House officials sneeringly dismissed China's moves towards dialogue as a useless series of "P. R. activities".

Go read the whole thing.

The second article is by regular Counterpunch contributor, Mike Whitney. Headlined The Korean War, Round Two, Whitney criticises the Obama administration's wilful escalation of tensions, warns of the disastrous consequences should the Pyongyang regime be backed into a corner. Whitney points out that holding joint US/South Korea military exercises right at the doorstep of North Korea is "no different than if China or Russia sent an armada to conduct operations 3 miles off Cape Cod." Go read the article here.

We need to be better informed of the actions of the big powers if we are to have any hope of resolving these conflicts peacefully.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tensions increased on the Korean penisula

Tensions have heightened dramatically on the Korean peninsula, with the artillery exchange between the two Koreas on the disputed Northern Limit Line. North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island, which is only ten miles from the North Korean coastline. While the US and South Korea immediately blamed Pyongyang for an unprovoked attack, let’s take a look at the background issues pertaining to this latest flareup.

The latest attack by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea on the Yeonpyeong island was provoked by the South Koreans and the US. The US military along with their client regime in Seoul staged massive military exercises simulating an invasion of the North, and this on Yeonpyeong island which is only ten miles from the North Korean border. It is the political conduct of Washington and its ally in Seoul that ceaselessly threaten and incite violence against the DPRK.

The DPRK has been subjected to a sustained and intensive US blockade, denying its people basic medical equipment, food, and access to all the commodities that we take for granted here in Australia.

The South Korean regime has taken a direct confrontational stance against Pyongyang, and this stance has lead to an escalation of tensions. US has backed the Seoul regime all the way, including cooperating in joint military exercises aimed at North Korea. The latest exercise, code named 'Hoguk' involved 70 000 South Korean troops and simulated an invasion of Pyongyang.

In March this year, North Korea was accused of sinking a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, and while Seoul initially dismissed reports of North Korean responsibility, quickly changed its tune and accused Pyongyang of sinking the ship. This incident was used by Seoul to cut all diplomatic and economic ties with the North, and take on a confrontational stand. While the official South Korean-American investigation into the Cheonan held Pyongyang responsible, several US scientists conducted their own investigations and found no involvement by the North Korean regime.

The 1953 armistice which concluded the Korean war agreed on a land border, but did not extend into the maritime area. The US unilaterally drew a line in the sea, which placed Yeonpyeong on the south side, a demarcation that Pyongyang never agreed to. Yeonpyeong has been a bone of contention between North and South Korea twice before, back in 1999, and again in 2002.

North Korea's leaders are routinely derided in the corporate-controlled media as lunatics, hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons, deliberately starving their own people and pursuing an aggressively confrontational foreign policy. However, an examination of the historical record shows that the leaders of the DPRK have adopted a pragmatic approach, entering into negotiations with international bodies, only to face the constant provocations and sanctions by the United States and its South Korean ally. Between May 1992 and January 1993, the DPRK did allow six on-site inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That did not stop the United States from charging that the DPRK was developing nuclear weapons, and advocating increasing the already tight economic sanctions in place against that country. The US and South Korean then staged joint military exercises involving 200 000 US and South Korean troops, with weapons that included nuclear arms.

In 1994, former US president Jimmy Carter travelled to Pyongyang and arranged a deal under which the DPRK agreed to abolish its nuclear generation program in return for oil supplies from Japan and the US. The tension on the Korean peninsula was reduced, and this diplomatic success was followed up by increasing contacts between the two Koreas. The North and South were moving towards some kind of rapprochement over the past year, at least before March this year. There were openings of diplomatic contact, business links and trade, and cultural exchanges between the two Koreas under the previous South Korean president. However, since the current South Korean president assumed office, Lee Myung-Bak has escalated tensions, broken off economic and diplomatic contacts, and has directly threatened North Korea with military attack. At least, Lee Myung-Bak's predecessor, Kim Dae-jung pursued a conciliatory approach, terming it "sunshine policy". This involved reducing tensions, entering into negotiations with Pyongyang, and even meeting with the leaders of the North Korean regime.

Nuclear weapons should be banned and the current nuclear powers encouraged to disarm their respective nuclear stockpiles. It is the politically selective way that the United States applies its opposition to nuclear weapons; why only target those regimes with which the US disagrees? Why does the US insist on maintaining and developing its own massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, while hypocritically demanding that other countries should comply with international law? It is the stench of this hypocrisy from the US that is intolerable. If the DPRK should be punished for pursuing nuclear technology, then why does the Obama administration insist on maintaining the largest, most well-stocked nuclear arsenal in the world?

The corporate-controlled media routinely asserts that the North Korean people are starving and that this situation is directly attributable to the economic mismanagement of the DPRK's leaders. Every country has its economic woes - the United States has been having deep economic troubles since 2008, and every European country is currently undertaking steps to avert the worst of the current economic crisis. In the United States, the Wall Street bankers and financial speculators who are responsible for creating this deep economic turmoil have so far avoided prosecution for their malpractices. In the DPRK, the country is under an economic blockade that tightly restricts the flow of goods and services. In the early 1990s the DPRK lost is main benefactor when the Soviet Union dissolved. So yes the country is going through its financial hardship, and that is no secret.

The current economic malaise in the DPRK is directly attributable to the crippling sanctions imposed on it by the US and its allies. Every time the US and South Korea hold joint military exercises, the DPRK gets nervous thus maintains a continual war-footing. This diverts crucial investment away from the provision of healthcare, education and housing into military expenditure. The US is calculating that the sanctions-afflicted economy will break under continuous pressure. Outspending the political opponents of the US is a dangerously reckless tactic, one that leads to increasing poverty in the US itself while escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula to the brink of all-out war. The shortages of the DPRK economy can then be blamed on the maladministration of its leaders, and not on the real culprits, the US military-industrial complex. The US administration callously denies the DPRK the basic necessities and financial aid needed to develop its economy, then turns around and hypocritically blames Pyongyang for economic mismanagement.

In April 2010, The World Health Organisation carried out a study of the DPRK's health care system, and found that while the system faces numerous challenges, the following points can be made:

There is no shortage of doctors and nurses; there is no "brain drain" of healthcare professionals as can be seen in the former Soviet republics, and there is an elaborate health infrastructure and a developed network of primary health care physicians. The author of the report states that Pyongyang has done “a good job in areas such as immunization coverage, effective implementation of maternal, newborn and child health interventions, in providing effective tuberculosis treatment and in successfully reducing malaria cases.”

You can read the story here:

WHO Chief Notes N. Korean Achievements in Public Health Care

And this was reported in the Voice of America news; not exactly a bastion of pro-DPRK propaganda.

Canberra has joined the chorus of warmongering rhetoric emanating from Washington and Seoul. Let us desist from outright aggression and provocation, and advocate a peaceful solution, such as the one suggested by Russia and China. That solution involves an immediate resumption of the six-party talks involving both Koreas, Russia, China, the US and Japan. A solution that includes regional as well as international players is the only way to bring about a just and lasting peace based on international law. The sanctions against the DPRK must be immediately abolished so that Pyongyang is not driven into a corner where its only option is the use of military force. The suffering of the Korean people on both sides of the armistice line can be alleviated by removing the crippling sanctions and working towards a mutually acceptable solution through dialogue.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This is what the new American-sponsored democratic Iraq looks like

Gareth Porter, a long-term investigative journalist and historian, has written yet another incisive article about the disturbing strategy of the US military to incite sectarian violence, thus keeping Iraqis divided among themselves and undermining Iraqi-Arab nationalism.

The US wants to create a subordinate Iraq, a country bereft of any political and educated leadership that can challenge its puppets in Baghdad. One of the ways the US does this is instigate horrifying sectarian hatred, like this example documented by Gareth Porter. The US military deliberately pitted Shias, Kurds and Sunnis against each other, to stoke the fires of sectarian hatred and poison relations between these communities. Like a noxious weed, the US and its proxies have spread their malignant hate to new fields.

General Petraeus was hailed (and still is regarded) as the man to bring stability to Iraq. We can see from this evidence that all he did was escalate the Iraq war to new levels of horrifying violence. He is a terrorist and war criminal who should be put on trial for his crimes against humanity.

As Porter documents, "the U.S. military command issued “FRAGO [fragmentary order] 242″, which provided that no investigation of detainee abuse by Iraqis was to be conducted unless directed by the headquarters of the command, according to references to the order in the Wikileaks documents.

The order came immediately after Gen. Petraeus took command of the new Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq (MNSTC-I). It was a clear signal that the U.S. command expected torture of prisoners to be a central feature of Iraqi military and police operations against Sunni insurgents."

So Petraeus is a mass murderer and torturer who will go down in history as a butcher, an execrable criminal-general whose name emits the same foul stench as his fellow war-criminals Franco, Pinochet and Rodolfo Graziani.

If anyone thought that the US can play the role of a peacekeeper in Iraq, or was motivated by a desire to bring peace to the Middle East, then this essay by Porter should give them pause for thought. And such crimes by the committed United States military and political authorities (along with their Iraqi auxiliaries) underscores the necessity for a strong antiwar movement in Australia.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The economic system we live with

The following two articles are from Links, a magazine from Australia dedicated to the revival of socialism, and seeks the active collaboration of socialist parties around the world. The Links e-magazine has many strengths, one of which is its continued coverage of political economy.

Yes, I can hear the groans from the readers already; oh no, not economics! Boring! But please, bear with me.

Links does have academic articles, but it is not aimed primarily at academics. It is aimed at promoting discussion and cooperation among socialist ground and individuals. Part of changing the capitalist society is understanding how the political economy works. Now it is fine to talk about interest rate rises, mortgages and superannuation. But these microeconomic issues are subordinate to the major issues of how the Australian, and global, economy works. Economics is often presented as this incredibly complex subject that only people with super-brains can fathom. While economics does contain its own complexities, I think that economists and economics writers need to do a better job at informing the public (you and me) about how corporate profit is draining money from socially-necessary projects, like health care and education.

To that end, I am linking to the following fantastic articles. One is called Turning the tide of oil in US and world politics. This essay examines the huge impact of the oil industry on our lives and how to provide an alternative to this insane, polluting profit-driven system.

The second is a longer piece called Currency wars and the privilege of empire. Recently in the corporate-controlled media, there have been emotional (sometimes xenophobic) attacks on China and the measures by that government to protect its economy. The impulsive denunciations of China from American politicians are motivated by the deep economic malaise in the United States itself. This article, a longish piece, analyses the historical origins of the rise of American capitalism and its current demise.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The disease metastasizes in Australia as well

The September 11 anniversary passed relatively peacefully and without incident in the United States, thankfully. I was quite apprehensive that the October 12 anniversary of the Bali bombings (among whose victims were Australians) would be marked by Islamophobic attacks and generalised hatred against migrants. Thankfully, that anniversary also passed without any major upsurge in xenophobic atrocities. The Bali bombings main victims and targets were Indonesians, but that point seems to have escaped the corporate media megaplex. But the main point I want to raise here is let's not become complacent and pretend the malaise has gone away. The hatred is still simmering beneath the surface.

So while I am on this topic of Islamophobic hatred, let's not forget that this disease is metastatizing in Australia, becoming a generalised xenophobia of migrants and refugees. The following is an excellent summary of the whole 'ground zero mosque' contrived uproar by Gary Leupp, a professor of history at Tufts University: chronology of a bizarre controversy.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a perceptive commentator on race relations, migration and politics in Britain. Her observations about the ongoing attacks on Arab and Muslim Americans applies equally to the Australian context.

It seems that we are just as two-faced as the United States.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The hateful underbelly of American life

Islamophobia is truly alive and well, exposed in all its grotesque horror in relation to the controversy over the proposed 'ground zero mosque', which actually is not a mosque, and is not actually at ground zero.

I was watching this controversy unfold from Sydney, and let me get this right: a plan to build Cordoba House, a Islamic complex which includes a child-care centre and an auditorium, is regarded as a threat why? Republican Right elements have launched a vicious racist campaign invoking the memory of the September 11 atrocities to stir up the ugliest anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments.

The Cordoba house is not going to be located at ground zero, but in a disused warehouse. So this vacant building has become 'ground zero' for Islamophobic hatred. We can expect the Republican Right windbags to whip up hateful sentiments. But what has President Obama done? He has done his customary flip-flop. After making some tame, weak comments to the effect that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as they see fit, he later 'clarified' his statements saying that he was not commenting on the wisdom of the decision to build the Cordoba house in its current location.

Well, as an atheist, I am opposed to religious ideology, but I will not join the racist, Islamophobic hate campaign. On the contrary, heightening anti-Muslim hate only makes society even more vicious, with various nationalities corralling themselves into tribal zones, ready to inflict damage on the perceived 'outsiders'. I think we are seeing the emergence of a 'green hate' campaign. While Islamophobia predates September 11, there is a new phenomenon rearing its ugly head. The simplisitic and hateful equation between Islam and violence - indeed that one equals the other - has gained new currency in the mainstream corporate-controlled media. This is something qualitatively new; a new level of acceptable hatred.

Well, I am going to link to this atheist cartoon, thanks to the Canadian Secularist.

It is easy to condemn the outsiders or foreigners for their purported intolerance, while actively encouraging the hatred taking root in our very midst.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Victor Stenger

Victor Stenger is a physicist and philosopher at the University of Colorado. I strongly recommend his articles and books because they are a brilliant exposition of the case for atheism and scepticism. One of the subjects that he takes on is the 'fine-tuning' argument.

The argument roughly goes like this; the complexity and orderliness of the universe cannot possibly be the result of pure chance, surely there was a designer, a god, who purposefully designed the universe and life as we know. Surely natural causes are not sufficient to produce the wondrous universe in which we live.

Normally I have linked to web pages, but today I want to link to an article in portable document format (PDF). Stenger does an admirable job of taking on the fine-tuning arguments, and will let the essay speak for itself. However, I want to make one point here. If the universe's constants are fine-tuned, why is the overwhelming majority of the universe a vast expanse of territory which is inhospitable (positively hostile) to the emergence of life? Humans have only been on this planet for a tiny minority of the Earth's 13.7 billion-year history. The Earth has been bombarded with asteroids, undergone mass extinctions, with the majority of species that have existed being wiped out in cataclysmic events. And all this time, the all-powerful loving god just sat there and did nothing? What kind of god is this that is omnipresent and omniscient, yet just allows massive catastrophes and calamities to befall their purported creation? Worse still, when life's very existence is threatened, this designer does nothing in their power to stop extinctions or do anything to avert a catastrophe.

Quite a cruel, sadistic god if you ask me.

You can read Stenger's essay here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

BP management is responsible for the oil disaster, not consumers

Did consumers cause the BP oil disaster?

Definitely not, according to Ian Angus, the editor of Climate and Capitalism and associate editor of Socialist Voice.

One of the myths of modern capitalist society is that big multinational corporations are simply responding to what consumers want. If the average consumer did not want their products, there would be no market, and hence the corporation would fail. This risible line of reasoning has popped up to shift the culpability of the BP oil spill onto the consumers, and exculpate the BP higher level management, who are responsible for this disaster and its terrible environmental and economic consequences.

Go read the whole article here; Did Consumers Cause the BP Oil Disaster?

Monday, September 20, 2010

First the urge, then the surge, and end with the dirge

The Canadian government, along with Australia, has fully supported the illegal war and occupation of Afghanistan since October 2001. They have closely aligned themselves with the objectives of US foreign policy in the region, which is to secure a sound base of operations in energy-rich Central Asia to secure access to the important oil and natural gas reserves in that part of the world. The US intends to project its military power, to the detriment of Russia, China and other regional competitors.

Today I am linking to an article by the Canadian socialist and antiwar group, Socialist Voice. They have been consistently critical of the war in Afghanistan and Canada's participation in it. The trajectory of the Afghanistan war has followed a similar course to US policy in Iraq; first the urge to surge, which means an escalation of terrifying violence, torture and human rights abuses. Then the actual surge, which consists of committing massive crimes against the civilian population, imprisoning people without charge or trial, rendering them in secret prisons, committing horrifying tortures, mass bombing of villages, and hoping that the militarily-sanctioned violence will intimidate the population into submission.

When the occupiers realise that their increasing levels of violence alienates ever-greater numbers of the indigenous population, creating new recruits for a nationalist/patriotic insurgency, then comes the funeral dirge; a rethinking of the policy choices, a focus on 'winning hearts and minds', a sobering reflection on why the foreign occupiers (yes the US, Canada and Australia are the foreigners in Afghanistan) are hated so much by the overwhelming majority of the population and why the puppet regime of Hamid Karzai in Kabul is increasingly beleaguered.

The article is called Afghanistan crisis deepens: US, Canada and NATO threaten to extend war.

After eight years of war in Afghanistan, Karzai is now making overtures to the insurgents, calling for a negotiated settlement of the conflict.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pope's visit to Britain

There is much critical commentary about the Pope's visit to the United Kingdom.

I agree with most of the comments made about the Vatican's appalling coverup of child sexual abuse, the reactionary and outdated views of the current Pope, Benedict XVI, and his uncritical quotation of outrageously provocative Islamophobic statements made by the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. While the Pope claimed he did not share the views of Manuel II Paleologus, the effect of his 2006 lecture was to heighten tensions between the Christian and Islamic communities.

I wish to post the link to the following essay by a Marxist group in Britain, because I wholeheartedly agree with its contents.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Let's Begin

This is my very first post in my first ever blog.

Over the coming weeks and months I hope to make regular contributions on politics, economics, books that I have read, and any other subject that interests me. Reading and writing is one way that I try to make sense of the world, and understand the way it operates. Being active in social causes, for refugees and against war and racism, is the practical way to combat the many injustices that are prevalent today.

I hope I can live up to the example of my hero, my late father, Vahak Savoulian (1934-2009) a scholar, gentleman, pan-Arab nationalist and socialist humanitarian.