30 Apr 2010

The New World Order is Here

Mere conspiracy theories?...

Surviving the New World Order

Bar for the utterly silly stuff on guns and the UN it is allegedly credible yet, towards the end, its axiology and normative prescriptions are found wanting...

There may be trouble ahead But while there's moonlight and music And love and romance...

Spain's unemployment rate has hit 20% for the first time in nearly 13 years, official figures have shown.

There were 4,612,700 people unemployed in the country at the end of March, the national statistics agency INE said. Spain's jobless rate has risen sharply during the economic downturn and is the highest in the eurozone.

Meanwhile, official European Union (EU) figures showed that the eurozone unemployment rate remained unchanged at 10% in March.

This equates to 15.8m people. Among the wider EU, the jobless rate was 9.6%, with 23.1m people unemployed.

Germany was the only country where the jobless rate fell, from 7.4% to 7.3%.

The EU's statistics agency Eurostat calculates its unemployment figures on a slightly different basis to the INE. The agency also said it expects eurozone inflation to be 1.5% in April, up from from 1.4% in March.

Shrinking economy

Earlier this week, credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Spanish government debt over fears for the country's economic outlook.

Spain's unemployment figure was released by mistake earlier this week, but was not confirmed at the time as official by the INE. The Spanish economy shrank by 0.1% in the final three months of 2009. For the whole year, it shrank by 3.6%

so, let's face the music and dance

29 Apr 2010

The biggest oil spill ever?

The US Coast Guard is investigating reports that oil has started washing ashore on the Gulf Coast from a leaking offshore well.

Up to 5,000 barrels of oil a day are thought to be spilling into the water after last week's explosion on a BP-operated rig, which then sank.

The slick is 45 miles (72km) by 105 miles (169km) - almost the size of Jamaica!

A third leak has been discovered, and a fire-fighting expert said the disaster may become the biggest oil spill ever.

read the rest of the BBC's report on this latest calamity by clicking on the title...

The Sources of Arab Shame: Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia

Today I stumbled across an article published by the BBC about four Palestinians, who had lost their lives in a smuggling tunnel, under Egypt's border with the Gaza strip - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8650468.stm.

"Some reports said the tunnel collapsed after an explosion on the Egyptian side, but this has not been confirmed. Another report quoted a Hamas official as saying the tunnel had been filled with gas. Egypt has not commented."

I soon found out that their Egyptian brethren had in fact been aiding and abetting the Israeli blockade by trying to shut down the only remaining lifeline for the impoverished Gaza strip, a Gulag for the 21st century, snuffed out to augment "Greater Israel's" lebensraum (vital space) - http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8405020.stm. Just before Israel's indiscriminate attack started, it had begun constructing a huge underground metal wall along its border.

"When it is finished the wall will be 10-11km (6-7 miles) long and will extend 18 metres below the surface. The Egyptians are being helped by American army engineers, who the BBC understands have designed the wall."

"The plan has been shrouded in secrecy, with no comment or confirmation from the Egyptian government. The wall will take 18 months to complete."

So much for Arab solidarity... Disgusted by this abject piece of real politik, I eventually found Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar's article, which can be accessed by clicking on the title.

Though it was written just two weeks into the killing of Palestinians by the Zionist army of occupation, when less than half the dirty work had been accomplished, I could not help myself placing it on top of the pile.

Notwithstanding Iraq's notable absence from this list, which may be attributable to the fact that it is under direct American occupation, it seems he was oh so right in quoting Arthur Miller: "Betrayal is the only truth that sticks"!

28 Apr 2010

Russia publishes Katyn massacre archives

Russia has published previously secret documents on the 1940 Katyn massacre, in which some 22,000 Polish officers were killed by Soviet forces.

The state archive said the "Packet No. 1" documents had until now only been available to specialist researchers.

The Soviet Union denied its role in the massacre for decades. Relations between Russia and Poland have warmed since the Polish president and others were killed in a plane crash on their way to a Katyn commemoration.

The documents that the state archive published were declassified in the 1990s though only specialist researchers had access to them, reports said.

They were published online on the orders of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Poland has repeatedly demanded that Russia open all its files on Katyn. Earlier this month, the Russian and Polish prime ministers marked the massacre together for the first time.

Days later, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and more than 90 others were killed when their plane crashed as it was trying to land in western Russia ahead of a separate event to mark the killings.

The April 1940 killings were carried out by the NKVD Soviet secret police on the orders of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

They shot members of the Polish elite - officers, politicians and artists - in the back of the head and dumped their bodies in mass graves.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/04/28 08:36:40 GMT

Al Jazeera English - GENERAL - Lebanon's women warriors

Al Jazeera English - GENERAL - Lebanon's women warriors

27 Apr 2010

Can a car be guilty of murder?

a feature documentary by Rodrigo Gutiérrez Hermelo & Karen Robert

A dull green Ford Falcon drives slowly down a residential street in Buenos Aires. Its tinted windows hide the driver and the other shadowy figures inside. It doesn’t seem to be heading anywhere, just surveying its surroundings like a predator on the hunt. As its pace slows, passersby glance at it furtively and duck into doorways or head around the next corner. No-one knows when the Falcon’s doors will open, when the men in dark glasses and leather jackets will shove someone inside and suck them out of their lives forever. No-one wants to think about where the car takes its victims.

This is the Falcon, a nightmare on wheels for those who lived through Argentina’s military dictatorship of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Falcons driven by Argentina’s security forces carried thirty thousand victims into the country’s network of clandestine prisons, where they were tortured and murdered in secret. Thousands more – an entire generation of activists and intellectuals – were detained and terrorized.

The Falcon nightmare had started out as a dream – the same dream first conjured up by Henry Ford in Michigan at the beginning of the century. It was the promise of mass car ownership. Of middle-class comfort and solid working-class jobs. Of rising wages and shared prosperity. That Fordist vision had enchanted Argentines of all walks of life in the early 1960s, when Ford Motors had started building Falcons locally for the country’s growing middle class.

It all went horribly wrong as Ford allied itself with the dark forces that came to power in Argentina’s military coup of 1976. Soldiers patrolled the assembly lines of a factory turned military camp. And Ford managers took advantage of that boundless power to do away with the shop-floor unionists who challenged their authority. One by one, they identified those men to the soldiers, who pulled them off the line and tortured them on the grounds of the factory. The workers were spirited away to secret prisons in the Ford cars and trucks they had helped to build.

Ford now faces a historic lawsuit for its complicity with Argentina’s dictatorship. The charge: that Ford management exercised ‘corporate terror’ within its Falcon plant, which housed one of Argentina’s notorious secret detention centres. That the company used calculated violence – abduction, torture, and murder – to crush union activism.

The accusations recall other dark scenes from Ford’s past, right back to the armies of paid thugs that kept the unions out of Henry Ford’s first factories in Michigan. Ford has been accused of using slave labour in its German factories during the Nazi regime and of bankrolling death squads in Brazil in the 1960s, but no other criminal charge has ever made it into the courts.

FALCON follows a group of survivors from Ford who has doggedly brought this landmark case forward. A dozen frightened and anonymous men taking on the corporation that invented modern industrial capitalism.

FALCON offers viewers a cautionary and universal tale of unrestrained corporate power. Corporations today wield greater influence over our world than ever before – greater even than many of the national governments that try to court their favour.

And though Ford is on hard times today, it remains symbolically the most important corporation of the twentieth century.

The Ford case exposes just how far a corporation can go when its power is unchecked. It raises urgent moral and political questions for viewers anywhere in our globalized world: What are the limits of corporate power? Who can enforce them?

Argentina’s generals went on trial for human rights crimes more than two decades ago. It’s taken that long for a multinational corporation to face the same charges.

Sore Losers Cause Chaos in Parliament as Ukraine ratifies Fleet Deal

Chaos erupted in the Ukrainian parliament during a debate over the extension of the lease on the Russian Black Sea fleet.

The chamber's speaker had to be shielded by umbrellas after he was pelted with eggs by brawling politicians. But the debate continued and, despite the chaotic scenes, the debate continued and the deal was backed by 236 out of the chamber's 450 members, thus ratifying the lease extension.

Kiev has prolonged the lease on the Sevastopol base by 25 years in return for cheaper supplies of Russian gas as well as wide ranging co-operation on aircraft manufacturing, shipbuilding and nuclear power.

25 Apr 2010

Go Home, Yankees!

Tens of thousands of people have attended a rally in Japan's southern island of Okinawa demanding that a US military base be moved off the island.

Fault Lines - Cyberwar

Goldman Sachs executives 'boasted of crash profits'

Goldman in crash profit boasts

Goldman Sachs executives boasted about the money the bank was making while the US housing market was collapsing in 2007, released company e-mails show.

The e-mails detail how the investment house profited from the mortgage crisis by betting that the market would fall.

US senator Carl Levin said banks like Goldman were "self-interested promoters of risky schemes that helped trigger the financial crisis".

The bank says that it lost money in the market crash. It says it lost $1.2bn (£780m) in the residential mortgage market during 2007-08.

Separately, the bank is also defending itself against a government lawsuit which accuses it of misleading investors.

'Like Frankenstein'

The e-mails were released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation into the origins of the financial crisis ahead of a hearing on Tuesday.

In one of them, Goldman Sachs executive Donald Mullen wrote to his colleague: "Sounds like we will make serious money."

In another e-mail, a Goldman trader stated that the investments he had sold were "like Frankenstein turning against his own inventor".

"I'm trading a product which a month ago was worth $100 and today is only worth $93. That doesn't seem like a lot but when you take into account.... (the investments) are worth billions, well it adds up to a lot of money", wrote Fabrice Tourre.

At the time the bank bought and sold housing investments betting the market would go down - a process known as short selling.

"Of course we didn't dodge the mortgage mess, we lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts," Goldman Chief Executive Lloyd Blanfein wrote in an email in 2007 also released by the Senate subcommittee.


The e-mails were among some 20 millions documents provided to the Senate subcommittee chaired by Mr Levin.

He said they showed that Goldman "made a lot of money by betting against the mortgage market".

Other critics say that the bets added fuel to the financial crisis.

But Goldman Sachs spokesman Lucas van Praag said Senator Levin's subcommittee had "cherry-picked just four e-mails from almost 20 million pages of documents and emails provided to it by Goldman Sacks".

"It is concerning that the subcommittee seems to have reached its conclusion even before holding a hearing," the spokesman added.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/04/24 23:06:30 GMT

The Foreign Office apologises for Pope 'condom' memo

The Foreign Office has apologised for a "foolish" document which suggested the Pope's visit to the UK could be marked by the launch of "Benedict" condoms.

Called "The ideal visit would see...", it said the Pope could be invited to open an abortion clinic and bless a gay marriage during September's visit.

The Foreign Office stressed the paper, which resulted from a "brainstorm" on the visit, did not reflect its views.


Some will suspect prejudice against faith groups. Perhaps most damaging of all, it could leave an impression that the Pope might be regarded as a figure of fun less than five months before his visit to Britain.

Apart from the pressure on the papal visit from public feeling about sex abuse, and the threat of demonstrations against the Pope, the government needs the Vatican's help in a global diplomatic effort to curb climate change and fight poverty.

How serious and far-reaching the effect of the document is depends partly on how the Church itself responds.

The paper was attached as one of three "background documents" to a memo dated 5 March 2010 inviting officials in Whitehall and Downing Street to attend a meeting to discuss themes for the papal visit.

It suggested Benedict XVI could show his hard line on the sensitive issue of child abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests by "sacking dodgy bishops" and launching a helpline for abused children.

The document went on to propose the Pope could apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.

It listed "positive" public figures who could be made part of the Pope's visit, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and 2009 Britain's Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle, and those considered "negative", such as Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.

The civil servant responsible for sending round the memo said in a cover note: "Please protect; these should not be shared externally. The 'ideal visit' paper in particular was the product of a brainstorm which took into account even the most far-fetched of ideas."


A source told the BBC News website the individual since moved to other duties had called the group together for "some blue-skies creative thinking about how to make the visit a success", but their discussions had become "a joke that has gone too far".


Earlier this year the Pope announced 2010 would see the first papal visit to the UK since John Paul II's visit in 1982.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit will take place from 16 to 19 September, during which time he is expected to visit Birmingham, as part of the planned beatification of Cardinal John Newman, and Scotland.

The visit will come in the autumn of what is proving to be a difficult year for the Pope with a wave of allegations that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal properly with priests accused of paedophilia.

The Pope himself has been accused of being part of a culture of secrecy and of not taking strong enough steps against paedophiles when he had that responsibility as a cardinal in Rome.


Story from BBC NEWS:

24 Apr 2010

Goldman Sachs accused of fraud by US regulator SEC

Goldman's Blankfein in fraud case

Goldman Sachs' chief executive, Lloyd Blankfein, is being sued by shareholders.

He and other company officials have been named in two new lawsuits filed on Thursday.

The cases are related to fraud allegations brought last week by the US federal government.

These latest complaints were filed in the New York State Supreme Court. Two shareholders accuse them of breaching their fiduciary duties.

They say the executives did this by allowing Goldman's to enter into a series of transactions, known as Abacus, involving investments tied to subprime mortgages. Abacus was the subject of a civil fraud lawsuit filed against Goldman on 16 April by the US financial watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission.

GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP INC. Last updated: 23 Apr 2010, 20:59 UK *Chart shows local time price change % 157.40 -1.65 -1.04

More data on this share price That concerns Goldman's marketing of sub-prime mortgage investments just as the US housing market faltered.

The SEC said Goldman failed to disclose "vital information" that one of its clients, Paulson & Co, helped choose which securities were packaged into the mortgage portfolio.

These securities were sold to investors in 2007.

But Goldman did not disclose that Paulson, one of the world's largest hedge funds, had bet that the value of the securities would fall.

Goldman has called those allegations unfounded.

There was no immediate comment on the latest development from Goldman Sachs.

Story from BBC NEWS:

X-37B military spyplane launches from Cape Canaveral

A drone-like spyplane, developed for the US military, has been launched into orbit from Florida.

The X-37B, which has been likened to a scaled-down space shuttle, blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1952 EDT (2352 GMT) on Thursday.

For all (military) intents and purposes, this spacecraft appears to be but the next step to the militarisation of space.
The X-37B started life in 1999 as a US space agency programme, but Nasa handed the project over to the Pentagon in September 2004. As such, the Air Force is in a position to talk openly about the craft's design, but its purpose remains classified.
Dr Joan Johnson-Freese, chair of national security and decision making at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, said the military would be waiting to see if this project yielded new capabilities: "It might be at this point in time that [the US Air Force is] going to roll the dice and see if something good happens.


Dr Johnson-Freese said that one way in which the spaceplane could potentially be used was as a "manoeuvrable satellite".
She said that conventional satellites were vulnerable to missile systems because they followed predictable paths in orbit and were relatively easy to spot. The X-37B could evade attempts to shoot it down with anti-satellite (A-sat) weapons.
And if enemy forces know when spy satellites are due to fly over their territory, they can limit sensitive activities to times when there are no passes by reconnaissance spacecraft. The X-37B could spring a surprise by virtue of its manoeuvrability.
The programme is now led by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO).
Edwards Air Force Base, also in California, has been designated as the vehicle's back-up landing facility. The Soviet Union carried out an autonomous re-entry and landing with its Buran space shuttle in 1988.

23 Apr 2010

The ecological Cost of human Inequality: Why only a better Society can save the Planet

by Bob Hughes

One of the most promising developments in these otherwise challenged and war-ridden times, is the new wealth of data on the material effects of human wealth-inequalities.1 Inequality is no longer “just” a moral issue; it entails specific, physical harm. This changes the whole political game. But one massive dimension of inequality has not, so far, entered the public debate: inequality not only destroys people’s social milieu and their health; it is also wrecking the planet. Here are some indicative findings:

• The impact of the rich is notorious. For example, an Oxford University study in 2006 found that 61 per cent of all travel emissions came from individuals in the top 20 per cent (those earning £40,000 a year or more), while only 1 per cent of emissions came from those in the bottom 20 per cent (with incomes up to £10,000). The impact of rich is predictably greater (see below) in more unequal countries.

• A strong link has been shown in the USA between inequality and environmental degradation. James K. Boyce at the University of Massachusetts found in 1999 that more-unequal states (like Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi) had several times more, and worse, pollution, and weaker environmental laws, than more-equal states (like Minnesota, Maine and Wisconsin).

• Human impact grows whenever inequality grows, globally and within nations. For example, the IPCC’s 2007 figures show that atmospheric CO2 equivalents had increased more than twice as fast during 1995-2004 (when world-wide inequality soared) as during 1970-1994. Conversely, ecological impact seems to decrease when human inequality decreases – as it did in Cuba, especially during the “special period” after 1989, when the whole nation pitched into a (hugely successful) effort to feed itself and maintain quality of life without imported oil. A similar effect was seen in Britain during World War II.

• The same pattern can now be seen in archaeological records thanks to new, molecular techniques. Recent work by Martin Jones at the University of Cambridge, and others, finds that the first evidence of environmental degradation due to human activity is not (as previously thought) associated with agriculture as such, but with the subsequent emergence (about 5,000 years ago) of intensely unequal, aristocratic societies – whose remains also yield evidence of the human health problems we now associate with inequality: skeletal and dental stress, reduced stature and lifespan. A similar pattern of land-degradation and human immiseration runs through European history, paralleling the growth of inequality as the money-economy penetrated society from the 11th century onwards. How does this damage happen? In two ways:

1. Emulative consumption: the crippling cost of putting a price on respect

“Emulative consumption” was described over a hundred years ago by the US economist Thorstein Veblen in his Theory of the Leisure Class. In an unequal world, says Veblen, life becomes above all a battle for respect and to avoid “invidious comparisons”. In How the Rich are Destroying the Earth2, the environmental editor of Le Monde, Hervé Kempf, shows how it has led, today, to very small numbers of extremely rich people transforming consumption, with climate-changing effect, all the way down the social pecking-order: from the billionaire who needs apartments in London, Paris and New York and a yacht with a helipad just to keep face with his peers; to the working-class family who must spend more than they can afford on a car that makes them look wealthier than they are, lest they be seen as “losers”; to their children.

2. Positional consumption: private wealth becomes public “illth”

Whereas emulative consumption is driven by frail human psychology, “positional consumption” is driven by brute necessity. Moreover it is a cause, rather than a consequence, of inequality, hence of particular importance to policymakers. It was defined by British economist Fred Hirsch in Social Limits to Growth (1977) but has been rather neglected since his early death in 1978, and the rise in Britain of Thatcherite orthodoxy.

“Positional goods” are ones that cease to be luxuries, and become necessities, if others have them too. Hirsch likens the process to standing at a football match to get a better view; if everybody does it, nobody is any better off, although all expend more energy. Private automobiles, country cottages and “unspoiled Greek islands” are classic positional goods, whose pursuit blights entire countries with astonishing speed. Margaret Thatcher’s “great car economy”, her privatisations of housing, state industry, and to a large extent social security, education and healthcare, and simultaneous devastation of secure and satisfying employment (so that “good jobs”, too, became targets of energy-intensive, positional competition) quickly made positionality the dominant mode of life in Britain: a game all must play at whatever cost, or be left behind.

The full structure and consequences of inequality are too vast and ramified to go into here but I hope this has given a sense of how it works, and of what we might do, to set a better course. In short, we need to redirect our highly-evolved, human talent for indignation against its proper and original target: inequality.

As a result, Veblen consumption would shrink dramatically – except that moral pressure alone is never enough. We must also target positionality wherever it is found, and turn as many of today’s positional goods into public ones, whose value remains undiminished however many people use them: plentiful public transport, healthcare, parks and squares, gardens, libraries, galleries and cafes, recreation and sporting facilities. And good jobs, that nobody is ashamed to do. Nothing that is essential for a dignified life should be left to the positional economy – which means no more private schools or private healthcare. What is good for one must be good for all.

More radically, we must tackle the rampant injustice that separates the “poor world” from the rich with ever tighter borders and controls. “Equality in one hemisphere” would be a deadly delusion – cementing in place the very global inequality that has made the whole phenomenon of climate-changing overconsumption possible.

1.See for example Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better (Penguin 2009). ↩

2.Originally published as Comment les Riches Détruisent la Planete; Seuil, 2007 ↩

22 Apr 2010

Obama pushes case for bank reform bill

President Obama is to make a speech to the financial leaders in New York to push the case for more government regulation of the big banks.

A White House spokesperson said the President would argue that, without new rules, there could be a repetition of the banking crisis.

BBC North America Editor, Mark Mardell, says this will be part-lecture, part-appeal to the Wall Street and 100% political strategy.

He will tell financiers that it is in their interests to have new rules, not to fight them and that they should lean on politicians in Washington and urge them to pass the new legislation.

Despite a lot of intense wooing not a single Republican in the Senate plans to vote for the new laws at the moment. But they all understand what the President is up to. If they vote against his plan, when it comes to the Senate and House elections in the Autumn, they will be painted as the party that backed their wealthy friends on Wall Street, and put at risk the people on Main Street.

The proposed rules would include a new body to safeguard consumers' rights - a consumer protection agency at the US central bank, the Federal Reserve - which would have powers to regulate all lending.

The bill also includes the formation of a nine-member Financial Stability Oversight Council, which would have powers to break up large companies if they were deemed to pose a threat to the stability of the financial system.

It also suggests limiting banks' involvement in proprietary trading - where they trade their own money rather on behalf of investors - and their investments in hedge funds...

21 Apr 2010

Rejoice: Argentina's ex-dictator, Gen Bignone, jailed for 25 years!

Argentina's former military ruler Reynaldo Bignone has been sentenced to 25 years for human rights abuses committed almost three decades ago.

Gen Bignone, 82, ordered abductions and torture while second in command of the country's largest torture centre between 1978 and 1979.

Relatives of victims held up photos of their loved ones and cheered at the end of the trial in Buenos Aires.

Six officials from the same era were also handed jail terms.

Gen Bignone, who served as de facto president between 1982-83, was found guilty of involvement in 56 cases of murder, torture and kidnappings.

His charges were for crimes committed before becoming leader, when he was in charge of the notorious Campo de Mayo military base.


More from BBC World Service

Campo de Mayo, outside Buenos Aires, is said to have been the largest in operation during the country's seven-year Dirty War, which ended in 1983.

"Justice was slow in coming but it has finally arrived," said Estela de Carlotto, head of the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

Human rights groups say some 30,000 people died or "disappeared" during the period, which saw the military target left-wing opponents.

The trial comes after amnesty laws, which had shielded perpetrators from charges, were overturned in 2005 by the country's Supreme Court.

20 Apr 2010

Iranian cleric blames quakes on promiscuous women

Promiscuous women are responsible for earthquakes, a senior Iranian cleric has said... which seems about right err... "scientifically" speaking!

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi told worshippers in Tehran last Friday that they had to stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves.

"Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," he said.

The XXIst century Great Scientist Hoja may have a point as only pros seem to have that ability...

And the "howling" keeps getting louder around the electronic herd...

The "wolves" at UK's Financial Services Authority (FSA) are now starting their formal investigation into Goldman Sachs, in relation to the recent fraud allegations...

The move follows claims made by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US that the "wealth-creators" (Schumpeter) at Goldman actually defrauded investors during the sub-prime housing crisis.

19 Apr 2010

The Council on Foreign Relations

“Some of the biggest men in the U.S., in the field of commerce and manufacturing, are afraid of somebody, are afraid of something. They know that there is a power somewhere so organized, so subtle, so watchful, so interlocked, so complete, so pervasive, that they had better not speak above their breath when they speak in condemnation of it.” (Woodrow Wilson 1913).

UK water use 'worsening global crisis'

The amount of water used to produce food and goods imported to developed countries is worsening water shortages in the developing world, a report says.

The report, focusing on the UK, says two-thirds of the water used to make UK imports is used outside its borders.

The Engineering the Future alliance of professional engineering bodies says this is unsustainable, given population growth and climate change.

It says countries such as the UK must help poorer nations curb water use.

18 Apr 2010

Philip Levine’s “MY FATHERS, THE BALTIC”

Low and gray, the sky

sinks into the sea.

Along the strand stones,

busted shells, bottle tops,

dimpled beer cans.

Something began here

centuries ago,

maybe a voyage,

a nameless disaster.

Young men set out

for those continents

beyond myth

while the women

waited and the sons

grew into other men.

Looking for a sign,

maybe an amulet

against storms, I kneel

on the damp sand

to find my own face

in a small black pool,

wide- eyed, alarmed.

My grandfather crossed

this sea in ’04

and never returned,

so I’ve come alone

to thank creation

as he would never

for carrying him home

to work, age, defeat,

those blood brothers

faithful to the end.

Yusel Prisckulnick,

I bless your laughter

thrown in the wind’s face,

your gall, your rages,

your abiding love

for money and all

it never bought,

for your cracked voice

that wakens in dreams

where you rest at last,

for all the sea taught

you and you taught me:

that the waves go out

and nothing comes back.

17 Apr 2010

Goldman Sachs accused of fraud by US regulator SEC

Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse, has been accused of defrauding investors by America's financial regulator.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleges that Goldman failed to disclose conflicts of interest.

The claims concern Goldman's marketing of sub-prime mortgage investments just as the US housing market faltered.

Goldman rejected the SEC's allegations, saying that it would "vigorously" defend its reputation.

News that the SEC was pressing civil fraud charges against Goldman and one of its London-based vice presidents, Fabrice Tourre, sent shares in the investment bank tumbling 12%.

The Eternal Life of America’s Megabanks

WASHINGTON, DC – The world economy faces a major problem: the largest banks in the United States remain “too big to fail,” meaning that if one or more of them were in serious trouble, they would be saved by government action – because the consequences of inaction are just too scary.

This problem is widely acknowledged, not just by officials but by bankers themselves. In fact, there is near unanimity that fixing it is a top policy priority. Even Jamie Dimon, the powerful head of the very large JP Morgan Chase, emphasizes that “too big to fail” must end.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s proposed approach to ending “too big to fail” – now taken up by the US Congress – will not work.

The current center of legislative attention is Senator Christopher Dodd’s financial reform bill, which has passed out of the Senate Banking Committee and will presumably soon be debated on the Senate floor. Dodd’s bill would create a “resolution authority,” meaning a government agency with the legal power to take over and close down failing financial institutions.

The bill’s proponents argue that this approach builds on the success of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which has a long track record of closing down small- and medium-sized banks in the US with minimal disruption and no losses for depositors. In this context, “resolution” means that a bank’s managers are fired, shareholders are wiped out, and unsecured creditors can suffer losses. Essentially, this is a form of bankruptcy, but with more administrative discretion (and presumably more protection for depositors) than would be possible in a court-supervised process.

Applying this process to large banks and to financial institutions that are not formally banks – and that do not have insured retail deposits – sounds fine on paper. But in practice there is an insurmountable difficulty with this approach.

Think about the critical moment of decision – when a megabank, like JP Morgan Chase (with a balance sheet of roughly $2 trillion), may be on the brink of failure. You are a senior decision maker – perhaps the Secretary of the Treasury or a key adviser to the US president – for this is the level at which the plug must be pulled.

You have Senator Dodd’s Resolution Authority and you enter the decisive meeting determined not to save the troubled bank – or, at worst, to save it with a substantial “haircut” (i.e., losses) for unsecured creditors. Then someone reminds you that JP Morgan Chase is a complex global financial institution.

The Dodd Authority allows the US government only to determine the terms of an official takeover within the US. In dozens of other countries where JP Morgan operates subsidiaries, branches, or other kinds of business, there would be “plain vanilla” bankruptcy – while some governments would jump in with various ad hoc arrangements.

The consequences of this combination of uncoordinated responses would be widespread, scary, and bordering on chaos. This is exactly what happened when Lehman Brothers failed in September 2008, and what happened when AIG was taken over by the US government (actually in a resolution-type structure, with losses implied for creditors) two days later.

The existence of a US resolution authority does not help contain the damage or limit the panic arising from a big global bank in trouble. The failure of such a bank could be managed in a more orderly fashion by using a cross-border resolution authority. But there is no such mechanism in place, and there is no chance that one will be created in the near future. Responsible policymakers in other G-20 countries are very clear on this point: no one will agree ex ante to a specific way of handling the failure of any global bank.

At the moment when JP Morgan Chase – or any of America’s six largest banks – fails, the choice will be just like that of September 2008: do you rescue the bank in question or do you let it fail, and face likely chaos in markets and a potential re-run of the Great Depression?

What will the president decide? He or she may have promised, even in public, that creditors would face losses, but on the edge of the precipice, which way will you, the beleaguered adviser, urge the president to go? Will you really argue that the president should leap over the edge, thereby plunging millions of people – their jobs, their homes, and their families – into a financial abyss? Or will you pull back and find some ingenious way to save the bank and protect its creditors using public money or the Federal Reserve or some other emergency power?

You will, in all likelihood, step back. When the chips are down, it is far less scary to save a megabank than to let it go.

And of course the credit markets know this, so they lend more cheaply to JP Morgan Chase and other megabanks than to smaller banks that really can fail. This enables the bigger banks to get bigger. And the bigger they are, the safer creditors become – you see where this goes.

Senator Dodd’s bill, as currently drafted, will not end “too big to fail.” As you can infer from the title of my new book, 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (co-authored with James Kwak), the global consequences will be dire.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.

14 Apr 2010

Obama and Israel: The nuclear (in)difference

By Marwan Bishara, in Imperium, on April the 13th, 2010

There are a number of reasons why Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, decided not to attend the nuclear summit hosted by Barack Obama, the US president.

They include deteriorating relations with the US over expanding illegal Jewish settlements on occupied lands, a frozen 'peace process', and just bad chemistry between the rightist Israeli leader and the liberal US president.

But more importantly there is no good reason for the Israeli leader to attend.

As one of the few countries that developed nuclear weapons and refuse to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Israel has nothing to gain and much to lose.

Considering its serious breaches, Israel has little to contribute to US efforts on the nuclear front, except to make the concessions it is least willing to.

Rather, Israel has been aggressively making threats against Iran which it accuses of developing nuclear weapons.

Read the rest of Mirwan Bashara's article by clicking on the title...

13 Apr 2010

New World Order? The Aftermath of the Financial Crisis

The financial crash of 2008 rocked the foundations of the global economy. Banks went bust, many countries almost followed suit. But just how big was the crisis? And what will its longterm effects be? Andrew Gamble takes a look at the worldwide implications of the credit crunch.

Read more by clicking on the title»


by John Spritzler [newdemocracyworld.org]
August, 2002

Before you read Spritzler's seminal article it is worth considering, same as I had to, that the world may not be that small, after all...

Yesterday, I posted a harrowing article about the village of Iqrith, in Palestine, that has been wiped out by the Zionists eager to create facts on the ground i.e. on internationally disputed land, that is!

None of my 69 "friends" on Zuckerberg's Egg-on-Your-Face Book, irrelevant gossip network commented despite the fact that many of them are fellow researchers, some even anthropologists, at one of the alleged top universities in Romania, while others are Palestinians or have Palestinian friends.

It was sad to see how none of these community members, albeit virtual, had anything to say while at the same time Radovan Karadzic is being tried in the Hague http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8617152.stm for the pursuit of exactly the same goals that led to the al-Nakba i.e. the creation of the Israeli state in 1948 and, since 1967, to the creation of "Greater Israel": namely, ethnic purity!...

Also, in case of any attempts at the "long jump to conclusions" via some off-key cry of "Holocaust denier", it should be noted, for the record, that no such inference has ever been made here while on the question regarding the comparison with other genocides, I fully agree with Yehuda Bauer's conclusions, drawn in The rethinking of the Holocaust (New Haven, CT [etc.]: Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 44-50, re-published in http://www.annefrank.org/content.asp?PID=577&LID=1.

All that, however, ought to remain consigned to humanity's shameful past, and should not be used nowadays by people pursuing other utopian agendas, such as Zionist or al-Qaida's cultist practitioners who seem capable of imposing them on the rest of the world: free-thinkers and religious people alike.

Consequently, I fully concord with two of the world's most brilliant minds, Albert Einstein and Amos Oz on this question:

"I would much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state." (Albert Einstein, in Ideas and Opinions, [Crown Publishers, New York, 1954], p. 190)

"A state cannot be Jewish, just as a chair or a bus cannot be Jewish...The state is no more than a tool, a tool that is efficient or a tool that is defective, a tool that is suitable or a tool that is undesirable. And this tool must belong to all its citizens -- Jews, Moslems, Christians...The concept of a 'Jewish State' is nothing other than a snare." (Amos Oz, Israel's preeminent writer of fiction, in "A Laden Wagon and an Empty Wagon? Reflections on the Culture of Israel," Free Judaism, October 1997, p. 5 [Hebrew], cited by Yoram Hazony in The Jewish State, pg. 338)

Iqrith: a village wiped off the map

by Noah Tucker / April 12th 2010

It was not easy to find our way to the former village of Iqrith. It is not marked on the maps and no road signs point to it. The rough concrete path that leads from the main road up the steep hill to the remains of the village church was built by volunteers, not by the authorities, and it has to be rebuilt again after each time that it is destroyed by Jewish extremists.

The first thing one notices about the church is the stone stairway that juts out from half-way up the wall and rises seven steps into the air. It has no beginning and no end.

The church, which is the only building that remains in Iqrith, has been partially rebuilt and renovated. It was hit by one of the bombs which obliterated the rest of the village in a raid by the Israeli air force in late 1951.

Descending from the church towards the graveyard, the hillside is a mass of weeds and rubble - the stones of demolished Palestinian homes.

This is a tranquil place, and quiet except for the soft echoes of the muezzin calling from the mosques across the nearby border with Lebanon.

"When I was last here," said my guide Zuhaira Sabbagh, "the Israeli military was bombarding Lebanon and we could hear the explosions."

Suddenly there was a loud crack from the other side of the church. And then another and another. Going to find the source of the noise, we met a young man called Walla' Sbeit, who was using a large stone to break a log for the campfire.

Although Iqrith has been wiped from the page of the map, Sbeit and his friends are keeping the village alive. Tonight, as on many other nights, they will sleep in a makeshift cabin beside the church.

Another of the young people explained the fate of Iqrith. In 1948, the villagers, aware that they could be massacred as had been the case with many of the Palestinians under the new zionist occupation, accepted a deal which was proposed by the Israeli authorities.

They agreed to leave the village for two weeks, after which they were promised they would be allowed to return. But during that fortnight, the Israelis declared that the village was a military zone. Its inhabitants were not allowed to return - at least, in this life.

The villagers used legal means to fight their case and the Israeli supreme court declared that there was no legal reason why they should not be permitted to go back to their homes. However, the military government did not allow them to go back. And on Christmas Eve 1951 it added an emphatic "fact on the ground" in respect of Iqrith.

The entire village, with the exception of the graveyard and part of the church, was destroyed from the air. For whatever reason, the zionists declined to use dynamite or bulldozers and instead sent the air force to bomb the empty village.

Six decades later, the descendants of the people who used to live here are still fighting on.

"I was born and raised in Haifa city. I had everything provided for me, my father worked hard to provide food. But this place, of all places around the world, is the one place where I feel at home," Sbeit explained.

"First of all I was raised on the stories of my grandparents who lived here, who were raised and born here, in the houses that used to exist, who ran between the streets and would tell me about their story, what happened to them and their parents. In '48, the tragedy of when they were kicked out and banished from their homes.

"They would tell me about the story of their wedding, happy moments and sad moments. And I used to come here every time since I was a kid. They took me and brought me to the fields to get some herbs, they would teach me how to pick them up and be part of the land, learn how to take from the land and give back to the land," says Sbeit.

"They taught me how to love this land and respect it, and to maintain it because it's mine. It's nobody else's.

"For me, I'm the most legitimate person who has the right to claim this land. Because I know the trees in here, I know the meaning of the houses in this place.

"Every year we have a summer camp, called the 'return camp,' so we come here for five or six days in a row and we have tents all around the church. People sleep in the church to get to know the land, to keep the connection with the land."

Walla' Sbeit

Earlier that morning, which was Easter Friday, many of the descendants of the villagers who were expelled in 1948 had returned to the graveyard, in keeping with religious tradition.

This had been a Christian village, and Sbeit told me they held a mass.

"Someday I'll come back here and get buried. When I die, I'll be dead here."

The former inhabitants of Iqrith and even their children and grandchildren are allowed the right of return on the condition that they are no longer alive. The Israeli authorities have not forbidden their burial in the cemetery of the former village.

The people from Iqrith have a way of saying that one of their number has died. They say that he, or she, has "returned to the village."

Why is Iqrith not on the map? In 1948, the year of the birth of the state of Israel, 80 per cent of the Palestinian population was ethnically cleansed from that territory.

Iqrith is only one example and its inhabitants were among the lucky ones - they were not massacred, unlike many in the 400 Arab towns and villages that were destroyed by the Israelis.

The majority of the Arab population in 1948 was banished - to the West Bank, to Gaza, to refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. But some of them managed to remain in what became Israel and today they fight alongside their brothers and sisters, refusing to allow their history and identity to be erased.

Today, Israel continues its process of ethnic cleansing and colonisation, demolishing Palestinian homes and replacing them with zionist settlements.

But the fire burned bright beside the lonely church on Good Friday night, as the grandchildren of Iqrith bedded down to continue the struggle.

This article was first published in the Morning Star.

Noah Tucker is co-editor of 21st Century Socialism

12 Apr 2010

Video shows 'US attack' on Iraqis

One of the internet's biggest sources of classified government information has released [a] video of what it says is a US helicopter firing at civilians in Iraq.

WikiLeaks, a website that publishes anonymously sourced documents [http://wikileaks.org/] released what it called previously unseen footage on Monday.

It said the footage filmed from a helicopter cockpit shows a missile strike and shooting on a crowded square in a Baghdad neighbourhood in July 2007.

The website said 12 civilians were killed in the attack, including two journalists, Namir Nour El Deen and Saeed Chmagh, who worked for the Reuters news agency.

The two men appear to survive the first strike and attempt to get away, but the helicopter returns a second and third time.

Arrest Pope Ratzinger!

ATHEIST campaigner Richard Dawkins is planning a legal ambush to have the Pope arrested during his state visit to Britain “for crimes against humanity”.

The Times reports today that Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Ratzinger over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.

The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.

The Pope was embroiled in new controversy this weekend over a letter he signed arguing that the “good of the universal church” should be considered against the defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offences against two boys. It was dated 1985, when he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with sex abuse cases.

Ratzinger will be in Britain between September 16 and 19, visiting London, Glasgow and Coventry, where he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, the gay 19th-century theologian.

Or maybe not. With hostility mounting by the day against the UK visit, the Vatican might well decide to pack him off to somewhere so far untouched by the Catholic Church’s kiddy-fiddling propensities – like Uranus.

Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.

They have commissioned the barrister Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens, a solicitor, to present a justification for legal action.

The lawyers believe they can ask the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate criminal proceedings against the Pope, launch their own civil action against him or refer his case to the International Criminal Court.
Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, said:

This is a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence.

Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, added:

This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalised concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment.

Last year pro-Palestinian activists persuaded a British judge to issue an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, the Israeli politician, for offences allegedly committed during the 2008-09 conflict in Gaza. The warrant was withdrawn after Livni cancelled her planned trip to the UK.

Said Stephens:

There is every possibility of legal action against the Pope occurring. Geoffrey and I have both come to the view that the Vatican is not actually a state in international law. It is not recognised by the UN, it does not have borders that are policed and its relations are not of a full diplomatic nature.

Dawkins’ and Hitchen’s plan comes a day after journalist Johann Hari called for the Pope’s arrest on the BBC’s Dateline London show this week. He said:

The paper trail goes to Ratzinger … The language of mistakes and repentance is wrong. This is a matter of criminal law. We’re talking about an international criminal conspiracy to cover up the rape of children that enabled that rape to go on for a very long period. It’s not enough to say sorry. If you’re sorry, hand yourself over to the police and let them investigate it.

Hari also pointed out that sovereign immunity applies for heads of state. The Vatican was made a state in 1929 by Fascist Italian ruler Benito Mussolini.

I don’t think we should particularly respect Mussolini’s political decisions.

Pope billboard acquires two pandas

Meanwhile, people in Malta, who will have the “pleasure” of hosting Ratzi later this month, are scratching their heads over the addition of two pandas to a billboard advertising the Pope visit. The organising committee was alerted in Friday morning and it plans to erase the images.

Could it be because the black circles around the eyes give the Pontiff a pandalike look?

No, no, no! One commentator has a far better explanation for the grafitti:

The cartoon character “Pedobear” is a renamed version of the 2chan ASCII art character ‘kuma’. In his American incarnation, he is an anthropomorphic bear child predator that is often used within the community to mock contributors showing a sexual interest in under-age girls. Pedobear is one of the most popular memes on non-English imageboards, and is gaining recognition across Europe. Although the meme is apparently unknown in Poland, it has been used as a symbol of pedophilia by Maltese graffiti vandals.

9 Apr 2010

Israel PM cancels nuclear talks

Israel's prime minister has cancelled plans to attend next week's Washington summit on nuclear security hosted by Barack Obama, the US president.

Binyamin Netanyahu made the decision after learning that Egypt and Turkey planned to raise the issue of Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal at the conference, a senior Israeli government official was quoted as saying late on Thursday.

8 Apr 2010

Israeli gagging order on ex-soldier case condemned

Campaigning organisations have called for the lifting of an Israeli media ban on the case of a former soldier.

Anat Kam, 23, is said to be under investigation for various security offences, including leaking classified military information.

Ms Kam is alleged to have obtained documents concerning apparently extra-judicial killings of Palestinian militants.

She has reportedly been under house arrest since December.

In Israel - as a result of the court-ordered gag - it has become known only as "the security case".

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Israeli public are being denied their basic right to information on trials and events taking place in their midst.

"Whatever the rationale for the order...it seems its only purpose is to violate Israelis' right to information, hinder freedom of the press and stymie public debate on the case" ACRI's Chief Legal Counsel, Dan Yakir, said.

"Defence of national security is a legitimate objective but censorship must not be used to prevent the Israeli defence forces from being held responsible if they broke the law," the Paris-based media freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders said.

Trial expected

Anat Kam has worked for the Israeli news website Walla.

Reports that have already been published outside Israel say that while she was a soldier doing her national service she is alleged to have obtained classified military documents and leaked them to an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

Speculation has focused around an investigative report in Haaretz in November 2008. This claimed that Israeli forces in the West Bank had breached new rules on the targeting of suspected Palestinian militants, which required that efforts should be made first to arrest rather than kill them. Specifically at issue was the killing of two leaders of Islamic Jihad, which an Israeli defence forces spokesman had said happened only after the men fired at security personnel.

Some of the reports circulating outside Israel say that Anat Kam is expected to go on trial later this month.

Haaretz and an Israeli television channel are planning to challenge the gag on Israeli media coverage of Anat Kam's case in court.

Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court judge who now heads Israel's Press Council, said it seemed ridiculous to persist with a gag order when the case was being openly discussed in global media outlets.

Legal restrictions have been imposed on journalists reporting this story from Israel, so this article has been compiled from London.

2 Apr 2010

Going traitor: Avatar versus imperialism

In case you succeed in keeping with this remarkable article for more than the two phrases - or, to be precise, 420 characters, which is the standard attention span allowed by the "cheating", allegedly (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8596715.stm), Mark Zuckerberg's social networking site, Egg-on-your-Face Book - then, I warmly recommend this remarkable article, written by Noah Tucker and published in the 21st Century Socialism.

No Basescu Day

On the 2nd of April, the Violet movement launches:
No Băsescu Day!
Say NO to populism and demagogy!

Soul of the party

by Slavoj Žižek

St Paul had it right – using religion to rock the foundations of authority.

Why is theology emerging again as a point of reference for radical politics? It is emerging not in order to supply a divine "big other", guaranteeing the final success of our endeavours, but, on the contrary, as a token of our radical freedom, with no big other to rely on. Fyodor Dostoevsky was aware of how God gives us freedom and responsibility -- he is not a benevolent master steering us to safety, but one who reminds us that we are wholly unto ourselves.

The God that we get here is rather like the God from the old Bolshevik joke about a communist propagandist who, after his death, finds himself in hell, where he quickly convinces the guards to let him leave and go to heaven. When the devil notices his absence, he pays a visit to God, demanding that He return to hell what belongs to Satan. However, as soon as he addresses God as "my Lord", God interrupts him: "First, I am not 'Lord', but a comrade. Second, are you crazy, talking to fictions? I don't exist! And third, be short -- otherwise, I'll miss my party cell meeting!"

This is the kind of God an authentic left needs: a God who wholly "became man" -- a comrade among us, crucified together with two social outcasts -- and who not only "doesn't exist" but also himself knows this, accepting his erasure, entirely passing over into the love that binds members of the Holy Ghost (the party, the emancipatory collective). Catholicism is often designated as a compromise between "pure" Christianity and paganism -- but what, then, is Christianity at the level of its notion? Protestantism? One should take a further step here: the only Christianity at the level of its notion, which draws all the consequences from its basic event -- the death of God -- is atheism. The Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durutti said: "The only church that illuminates is a burning church." He was right, though not in the anti-clerical sense his remark was intended to have. Religion only arrives at its truth through its self-cancellation.

In "The Intellectual Beast Is Dangerous", Brecht asserts: "A beast is something strong, terrible, devastating; the word emits a barbarous sound." Surprisingly, he writes: "The key question, in fact, is this: how can we become beasts, beasts in such a sense that the fascists will fear for their domination?" It is thus clear that, for Brecht, this question designates a positive task, not the usual lament on how Germans, such a highly cultured people, could have turned into the Nazi beasts. "We have to understand that goodness must also be able to injure -- to injure savagery."

It is only against this background that we can formulate the gap that separates oriental wisdom from Christian emancipatory logic. The oriental logic accepts the primordial void or chaos as the ultimate reality and, paradoxically, for this very reason, prefers organic social order with each element in its proper place. At the very core of Christianity, there is a vastly different project: that of a destructive negativity, which does not end in a chaotic void but reverts (and organises itself) into a new order, imposing it on to reality.

For this reason, Christianity is anti-wisdom: wisdom tells us that our efforts are in vain, that everything ends in chaos, while Christianity madly insists on the impossible. Love, especially a Christian one, is definitely not wise. This is why Paul said: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise" ("Sapientiam sapientum perdam," as his saying is usually known in Latin). We should take the term "wisdom" literally here: it is wisdom (in the sense of "realistic" acceptance of the way things are) that Paul is challenging, not knowledge as such.

With regard to social order, this means that the authentic Christian tradition rejects the wisdom that the hierarchic order is our fate, that all attempts to mess with it and create another egalitarian order have to end up in destructive horror. Agape as political love means that unconditional, egalitarian love for one's neighbour can serve as the foundation for a new order.

The form of appearance of this love is what we might also call the idea of communism: the urge to realise an egalitarian social order of solidarity. Love is the force of this universal link that, in an emancipatory collective, connects people directly, in their singularity, bypassing their particular positions in a social hierarchy. Indeed, Dostoevsky was right when he wrote: "The socialist who is a Christian is more to be dreaded than a socialist who is an atheist" -- yes, dreaded by his or her enemies.

It was St Paul who provided a surprisingly relevant definition of the emancipatory struggle: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against leaders, against authorities, against the world rulers [kosmokratoras] of this darkness, against the spiritual wickedness in the heavens" (Ephesians 6:12). Or, translated into today's language: "Our struggle is not against concrete, corrupted individuals, but against those in power in general, against their authority, against the global order and the ideological mystification that sustains it."

One should resolutely reject the liberal-victimist ideology that reduces politics to avoiding the worst, to renouncing all positive projects and pursuing the least bad option. As Arthur Feldmann, a Viennese-Jewish writer, bitterly noted, the price we usually pay for survival is our life.

Slavoj Žižek is a philosopher and critic. His latest book is "First As Tragedy, Then As Farce" (Verso, £7.99)

1 Apr 2010

Conceiving God: the Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion

By David Lewis-Williams

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens confront the faithful head-on, but there may be another way to dispel religious beliefs. [...]

Do click on the title in case you feel like taking a break from this all-encroaching spiritual fasting... at this time of the year, in particular!