Archive for December, 2009



An Open GOAL?

Chavez’s revolution has turned into a cold shower | Irish Examiner

Chavez’s revolution has turned into a cold shower

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I READ with increasing despair the recent ravings from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Despite having the spoils of an €80 billion oil boom over the past 10 years his so-called revolution has rendered his unfortunate people poorer than ever.

His latest rants have included attacking his fellow-citizens for singing in the shower, and getting fat, and he is now planning to enlist the help of Cuban technologists to “zap” clouds in order to increase his country’s annual rainfall.

Not only are the poor of the developing world abandoned to their struggles with extreme poverty, they are also cursed to endure the indignities of being governed by inhumane and inept leaders.

John O’Shea
GOAL
PO Box 19
Dun Laoghaire
Co Dublin

It’s one thing to play fast and loose with the facts when you’re writing to the newspaper in your capacity as random asshole punter, but it’s another thing entirely when you’re doing so as the spokesman of an aid organisation. So why is Kevin Myers’s hero saying such untrue stuff about Venezuela? In its The Chávez Administration at 10 Years: The Economy and Social Indicators, the Center for Economic and Policy Research has the following to say about how Venezuela has fared with Chávez as president. It says, in its Executive Summary:

  • During the current economic expansion, the poverty rate has been cut by more than half, from 54 percent of households in the first half of 2003 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty has fallen even more, by 72 percent. These poverty rates measure only cash income, and do not take into account increased access to health care or education.
  • Over the entire decade, the percentage of households in poverty has been reduced by 39 percent, and extreme poverty by more than half.
  • Inequality, as measured by the Gini index, has also fallen substantially. The index has fallen to 41 in 2008, from 48.1 in 2003 and 47 in 1999. This represents a large reduction in inequality.
  • Real (inflation-adjusted) social spending per person more than tripled from 1998-2006.
  • From 1998-2006, infant mortality has fallen by more than one-third. The number of primary care physicians in the public sector increased 12-fold from 1999-2007, providing health care to millions of Venezuelans who previously did not have access.
  • There have been substantial gains in education, especially higher education, where gross enrollment rates more than doubled from 1999-2000 to 2007-2008.
  • The labor market also improved substantially over the last decade, with unemployment dropping from 11.3 percent to 7.8 percent. During the current expansion it has fallen by more than half. Other labor market indicators also show substantial gains.
  • Over the past decade, the number of social security beneficiaries has more than doubled.
  • Over the decade, the government’s total public debt has fallen from 30.7 to 14.3 percent of GDP. The foreign public debt has fallen even more, from 25.6 to 9.8 percent of GDP.
  • Inflation is about where it was 10 years ago, ending the year at 31.4 percent. However it has been falling over the last half year (as measured by three-month averages) and is likely to continue declining this year in the face of strong deflationary pressures worldwide.

Does John O’Shea have high standards or what?

The answer is probably what. Regarding the other stuff, Chávez said you shouldn’t spend too much time in the shower because you need to conserve water. And since singing in the shower means you spend longer, you shouldn’t sing. Something like that anyway. This is the sort of thing that we in Ireland might call a joke. I have no idea what he said about getting fat, but no doubt obesity is a growing problem in a country with rising consumption. The ‘cloud zapping’ is otherwise known as ‘cloud-seeding‘, as this article explains. And apparently they’ve also tried it in China, Australia and the United States. Oh, and Israel too. Does it work? How the hell should I know. But has O’Shea ever denounced its use in the US? Probably not. So what’s the beef with Chávez? How the hell should I know.

What I do know is that the facts that GOAL receives millions of Euro each year from USAID, its biggest state donor with the exception of Ireland, accounting for about one-seventh of total grant income in 2007 and that the work of USAID and its OTI in Venezuela has led to a deepening of the counterrevolutionary subversion in the country, and that the CIA uses the name of USAID to distribute funds and contracts to third parties (it’s in Spanish, sorry) in Venezuela in order to strengthen opposition against Chávez, may have absolutely nothing to do with it at all.

I also know that in the only Latin American country in which GOAL operates, Honduras, there was a coup in which the democratically elected leader was ousted, and one human rights monitor described the

militarized state with a defined and systematic practice against those who oppose the coup and anyone who takes a position other than that human rights means singing songs, while at the same time torturing and detaining people and raping women

And! USAID does stuff in Honduras too, as Narco News reported in August, when the coup was underway:

Millions of dollars in USAID funding still flowing to Honduras | | the narcosphere

So where could this USAID “elections assistance/good governance” money actually be going in that case?

Well, the USAID’s Office of Inspector General provides one hint in an audit report released this past June.

The Consortium for Electoral and Political Processes (CEPPS) was awarded a $1.8 million cooperative agreement [by USAID] that is in effect from September 30, 2008 to January 30, 2010. The purpose of the agreement is to provide technical assistance to (1) the Tribunal Superior Electoral (TSE) to effectively and transparently carry out its new decentralized vote management responsibilities and to mitigate allegations of fraud; and (2) and civil society organizations to provide oversight through campaign finance monitoring, domestic election observation, and parallel vote tabulation. …

Worth noting is the fact that TSE is the Honduran government entity charged with overseeing the nation’s elections (Honduras’ FEC of sorts) — and it is now under the control of Roberto Micheletti and company’s illegal coup regime. In addition, TSE was one of the government agencies in Honduras that played a key role in setting up the bogus legal justifications that led to the kidnapping and exiling of the democratically elected president of Honduras — Manuel Zelaya.

But try as I might, as I peruse the GOAL newsroom, I can’t find any reference to the Honduras coup. Reader, if you find some way of filtering out Google results that filter out the other John O’Shea, perhaps you can come up with something suitably redeeming.

Micturating Dissent

This last while I’ve been finding it hard to write here. Of course, there never was a sustained moment when I was able to eke out a time or find a space to write free from the interruptions of paid work and the duties of home. I’m not complaining, mind, mainly because I don’t have the time.

This morning I had the shuffle function working on the iPod, and up popped Piss Factory as I was running up one Connolly Station platform to make my way across to another so that I could get a train across to Pearse, preparing myself for another day of interruptions, messages, and manipulation of symbols. This morning that song hit my thoughts like acid, the shifting rhythms of a percussive piano and the jazzy guitar drift, with Patti Smith’s 16-year-old girl, her pungent voice, her freely associated stream of images mocking, railing against the factory disciplinary rhythm and the minds and bodies it has shaped.

The job is ‘inspecting pipe’, but the place makes piss, not pipes. To call it a piss factory isn’t simply a matter of saying that what gets made there is useless: it’s only through the production of pipes, and their inspection, that plumbing and sewage systems can function, and it is through these systems that piss, and the act of pissing, acquires its particular meaning in modern society. Without plumbing and sewage, we would have an entirely different conception of piss. Therefore it is not just that the factory produces piss, in that it enables people to go to the toilet in a defined way, but that it also produces the meaning of piss.

Pissing on something, of course, has been an expression of contempt since forever. The factory also produces piss in that sense too: its rhythms and its discipline produce the gush of mocking resentment from the 16-year-old. The track has no percussive instruments other than the tinkling piano, whose rhythm ebbs and flows like someone taking a piss. And then there is the idea of piss denoting youthful ebullience, as manifest by the boasts, in ‘full of piss and vinegar’. Also, there is piss in the sense of ideas without consequence or bearing, as in ‘full of wind and piss’. We can add to that the idea of piss as waste: as in pissing it -whatever ‘it’ is: youth, money, talent, time- all away. All these things are produced in the Piss Factory.

There are a few lines in the song that resound hellishly in light of the current mood. You may hear similar things at work, or on the radio. The idea that one should be grateful for a job, in the place of occupying the ranks of the army of the unemployed, is pushed incessantly by state broadcasters, business shills.

Forty hours thirty-six dollars a week
But it’s a paycheck, Jack.

Is what you hear here the narrator coming to terms with her ‘job in a piss factory inspecting pipe’, or is she really sending up, or maybe lamenting, a kind of masculine stoicism on display by others, in the face of humiliating compulsion, of subordination to the factory process? This sort of response is also, we can presume, a product of the Piss Factory.

What this reminds me of is Blake’s Chimney Sweeper, which I’ve written about before:

There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved: so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”

In which the child, engaged in the cleaning of chimneys -another system designed to dispose of another kind of waste- is conditioned to produce the response adequate to keeping the system working as intended, in the process disciplining other children who might be inclined to other ideas: ‘if all do their duty they need not fear harm’.

In contrast, however, to Blake’s Chimney Sweeper, Patti Smith’s sixteen-year-old is considerably wiser to her predicament:

You could faint in the heat
But these bitches are just too lame to understand
Too goddamned grateful to get this job
To know they’re getting screwed up the ass
All these women they got no teeth or gum or cranium

She can see the psychobiological ravages of the labour process in a way Blake’s first Chimney Sweeper cannot. I would note in passing here that the mix of slang ‘ass’ and medical terminology ‘cranium’ in dealing with industrial production also echoes Blake’s own poetic vocabulary. And yet for all her insight, even though she sees how she has been shaped, to the point of herself identifying with a machine:

But me well I wasn’t sayin’ too much neither
I was moral school girl hard-working asshole
I figured I was speedo motorcycle
I had to earn my dough, had to earn my dough

She is still there, in the factory, doing her job. Listening to her talk about her experiences, and aware of Patti Smith’s own trajectory, and temporarily oblivious to the fact that ‘I got’ is not necessarily past tense, you might be inclined to conclude that the account is retrospective, and that the girl has conjured an escape from the Piss Factory. Yet even though she’s talking about having to ‘earn her dough’ in the past tense, as the song ends she’s still in the factory, hiding away her ‘desire’, dreaming of heading off to the city to become a big star. And given the frantic intensity of her exertions, going above and beyond what is required of her, pushing her productivity to absurd limits, subverting the manufacturing process at least to the extent that it disturbs her fellow workers, you might start to wonder if even this desire is itself a product of the Piss Factory. That is, even the idea of the escape route to individual freedom and affirmation may be just one more factory product.

This question goes to the heart of Blake’s own political concerns. Saree Makdisi’s superb ‘William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s‘ describes Blake’s differences with bourgeois radicals such as Tom Paine, in whose company he is often placed, in the following terms:

The difference between the bourgeois discourse celebrating the manufacturing process and that of the conservatives of the old order is that the former imagines the opening up and development of a realm beyond production in which it ought to be possible to be free from the rule of necessity, whereas the latter does not. For bourgeois discourse, the realm of freedom is of course that of politics, and also that of culture-that realm in which an independent consumer can choose a unique mode of self-fashioning and hence self-identity-both defined by the logic of consumer choice (choice of products, choice of representatives). This depends upon the possibility of being able to open up just such a realm, in which autonomous organisms can make choices, in which, in fact, there can be not only an autonomous organism in the first place, but the possibility for making choices based on sensory input and the rational choices enabled by the regulation of the five senses.

But if, as Blake’s work insists, the organism making these choices is seen as a product of the system which also produces the objects of consumption from which it chooses, what we are left with is no longer autonomy and freedom, but a closed circuit of production and consumption, producer and consumer, organism and organ, all generated by the same continuous process as parts subservient to the requirements of a larger whole composed by them. In other words, if the principle of homogeneous equivalence is extended from the products of this process -that is, commodities- to its producers, the exteriority fantasized by middle-class writers-and the fantasy of the realm of cultural and political freedom -is threatened with annihilation. If the logic of the reified object is extended to the logic of the reified subject, it becomes difficult to imagine a realm within this process which might avoid or evade the laws of the commodity and hence the rules of necessity; in other words, it becomes difficult or impossible to imagine genuine freedom within such a social system.

So the 16-year-old girl in the Piss Factory, who imagines genuine freedom through a unique mode of self-fashioning, may conceive of herself as an autonomous organism, but at the same time her organism is being fashioned by the system in which she is compelled to produce. The far-off destination of New York, with the affirmation that may come from being a big star, is one more element of what flows from the factory, since it comes into view via the laws of commodity and the rules of necessity. When confronted with countless reports about how young people nowadays are only interested in becoming celebrities, as opposed to pursuing real careers, the right response, following Blake and Patti Smith, ought to be: what is it about the conditions in which they live that maintains this interest? And how much are marketed dreams of celebrity, and of escape through adulation, really part of a broader disciplinary process?

Things appear to have gotten worse since the early 1970s. Mark Fisher, in a New Statesman article on Reality TV, serves to highlight the gap between the search for escape in the shadow of rock’n’roll, and celebrity aspiration in a post rock’n’roll era:

New Statesman – The age of consent

The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den are themselves
synergies of a sort, between business and the dominant new mode of
entertainment this decade, reality television. Reality TV is flat with
the anti-cultural imperatives of business: cheap to make, it does
ideological work even when it is not giving guru status to dull
business people. It fits in with capitalism’s anti-mythic myth: the
idea that we have liberated ourselves from the dangerous illusions
allegedly propagated by art and politics.

In an age falsely
presented as post-political, abstractions are eliminated, and the
personal, the biographical and the emotional come to the fore. “Tell us
how you feel” becomes the ubiquitous demand, as calculating business
and a hugely amplified sentimental interiority become the only two
faces of “reality”, the cynicism of the one using the alleged
authenticity of the other as its alibi.

…….

The
X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, Cowell’s other vehicle, could be
dismissed as irrelevant fluff, but the sad truth is that, with the end
of Top of the Pops and the rise of multichannel TV and niche
narrowcasting, they are now the closest thing we have to a public space
in entertainment. Yet it is a space where it feels as if punk never
happened, and indeed, neither did rock’n’roll. It is the return of Tin
Pan Alley, with eager young hopefuls dutifully performing songs written
before they were born and being required to show deference to banal
corporate megastars on the make. It is a world that is, oddly, both
entropic and changeless, where the audience is never challenged, and
people are always given what the marketing machine anticipates they
want.

We have simultaneous veneration of the boss and the manufactured illusion of escape to keep us where we are.

But we can still learn from the Piss Factory. At the same time as one might be inclined to cavil about how her desire may be shaped and maintained by the conditions in which she works, one is obliged to ask what else does the girl have but desire? It is only this desire that maintains the possibility of escape, that allows her to keep her bearings, to refuse to lose, to refuse to back down. It’s her desire, which, in its refusal of the boss who says ‘you do it my way or I push your face in’, ultimately keeps her alive.

Patti Smith’s own thoughts about Blake, in this regard, are instructive:

I was reading William Blake as a child. Songs of Innocence was next to Winnie the Pooh and Black Beauty. And I learned things — about chimney sweeps and the terrible child labor of his time. I could see he cared about children. The second way I came to Blake was as a painter: I studied his work and palette. More recently, I’ve studied Blake the man. And what I learned was that this was a man who had visions as a child, who was ridiculed and even beaten for having these visions. But he maintained those visions his whole life. Wherever they came from, whether he animated them from within or they were from God, William Blake held on to his vision. He never got a break in his life. His work never sold. He lived in poverty. When he spoke out, he nearly lost his life. He could have been hanged for insurrection.

What I learned from William Blake is, don’t give up. And don’t expect anything. Like when you were asking me, did I deserve a record deal? Don’t expect it. I have a great life. I’ve seen dark times too and have had, in certain times of my life, nothing. No material things, not much prospects — except my own imagination. But if you perceive that you have a gift, you already have life. Everything else is, as they say, gravy.

“My Blakean Year” is not any specific year. It’s more of a time. It could be a week, a decade. Also, there’s the line in there: “Throw off your stupid cloak, embrace all that you fear.” That’s the one thing in our country — I know we have a horrible deficit, all of these horrible things happening. But the worst thing the Bush administration has done is instill huge amounts of fear in our people. That is deplorable. We have to replace that fear with awareness and a determination to make things better.

To which I would modestly suggest that our awareness of our world, and how it is shaped by the way we are compelled to do what we do, is still dominated by the idea that what matters is that a person is, as Blake described it,

‘Passive & Polite & a Virtuous Ass: & obedient to the Noblemens Opinions in Art & Science’.

and that this stupid cloak needs to be thrown off, and pissed upon.

Fraud

Regrettably I don’t have that much time to be writing stuff these days. But I must make time to say a few words on the RTE Prime Time Investigates programme on social welfare fraud last night.

The first thing is the context in which it was broadcast: a couple of nights before the formal announcement of cuts in social welfare payments. This context was explicitly incorporated in the report – the reporter confronted one person who had been charged with fraud with the claim that if it wasn’t for fraud of an estimated figure of €2bn, there would be no need to cut the social welfare budget.

The second thing is the focus on immigrants. Roughly half of the people doorstepped were immigrants. The programme managed to give the impression that when it comes to welfare fraud, the proportion of immigrants engaged far exceeds that of the general proportion. But the people doorstepped by the programme were people who had already been investigated for welfare fraud. I suggest that it is easier to catch immigrants on account of the fact that they are already subjected to specific targeting measures not applied to the general population. In the closing sequence of the programme, brief shots were shown of all the people identified by the programme as fraudsters -this on the back of readily available information: to call this ‘investigation’ is hyperbole- while the reporter summed up the general importance of cracking down on welfare fraud. The denoted message here was obvious: these people featured are broadly representative of the people engaged in welfare fraud. Of the ten or so shots, four were black Africans, and another two or three were Eastern Eurpoeans. The connoted message was just as obvious: here are the people responsible for your child benefit getting cut. One detail which might strike the casual viewer as minor, but a vital component to the complete message delivered by the programme, was the moral stance adopted by the reporter on behalf of ‘the Irish taxpayer’ as he approached immigrants who had already been found out by the authorities. ‘The Irish taxpayer’ is a fairly common figure of political media discourse, and its use does not always entail an opposition between Irish taxpayers and people who are not Irish taxpayers, but in this context, it certainly does. So the denoted message here was that the immigrants in question were defrauding a taxpayer who was specifically Irish.

Unfortunately I do not have access to the programme today, but I would like to remark on other apparently minor detail. There was a graphic employed at one stage, with pins stuck in border areas, showing how welfare claims had gone up 98, 99, 100%. This is hardly remarkable in areas where lots of young men were previously employed in construction, but the implication was that there was widespread fraud being conducted by cross-border ‘welfare-tourists’. No doubt such people exist to some extent, but there was no investigation of the real extent, only conjecture. Ed Walsh, a well-known advocate of eviscerating the public sector and cutting ‘the extraordinary gulf’ between Irish welfare benefits and that in other countries (see here, comprehensive critique here)- in this context cited the case of Drogheda, where welfare claims had doubled. You need to be standing a long way off to see Drogheda as a border town. If someone can correct me on my account of this, I shall delete this paragraph. You could also read Michael Taft’s post on the details of the ‘border town’ phenomenon.

All in all the programme consisted of mobilising popular prejudice against immigrants, with a strong dose of tried and tested barbarian-at-the-gates border phantasmagoria, in the service of a state that preserves the interests of the rich as it slashes the wages and welfare payments of people on low incomes, driving them into deeper precariousness. I suggested on Twitter last night, the chief error for the doorsteppees -none of whom appeared to live in conditions of conspicuous opulence- was in not having sponsored a flagship RTE programme.

They Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Honduran Election

Office > Press Releases > Press Releases: 2009 > Press Releases: November 2009
Honduran Election

Ian Kelly
Department Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 29, 2009

We commend the Honduran people for peacefully exercising their democratic right to select their leaders in an electoral process that began over a year ago, well before the June 28 coup d’etat. Turnout appears to have exceeded that of the last presidential election. This shows that given the opportunity to express themselves, the Honduran people have viewed the election as an important part of the solution to the political crisis in their country.

We look forward to continuing to work with all Hondurans and encourage others in the Americas to follow the lead of the Honduran people in helping advance national reconciliation and the implementation of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Significant work remains to be done to restore democratic and constitutional order in Honduras, but today the Honduran people took a necessary and important step forward.

Meanwhile in Honduras:

The Real News Network – Honduras: Elections as coup laundering

BERTA OLIVA, HUMAN RIGHTS MONITOR, COFADEH (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The facts clearly show numerous human rights violations that range from the illegal detentions by paramilitary and military groups to the people we find murdered and tortured. What we have is a series of documents, testimonies, and information that gives rise to our clarity and conviction that we face a militarized state with a defined and systematic practice against those who oppose the coup and anyone who takes a position other than that human rights means singing songs, while at the same time torturing and detaining people and raping women. They have a clear objective, which is to silence and intimidate. For example, we’re concerned by the letter that was sent by the armed forces to all the mayors in the country on October 22, looking to identify members of the resistance.

FREESTON: Since the army sent that letter, resistance members across the country have faced increasing persecution.

OLIVA: In the last weeks we have seen a rise in the death threats received by leaders nationwide, specifically teachers. In other words, the teachers are a primary target for the regime these days.

FREESTON: One of the latest teachers to be assassinated was Gradis Espinal, a vocal resistance leader from the community of Nacaome.

OLIVA: The evidence so far shows that he was kidnapped by death squad members and that members of the army and police were very close by. We can’t be afraid, given the facts, to conclude who is behind the repression.

FREESTON: On Friday, women’s rights leader Merlin Aguigure was detained for having paint in her vehicle. And fellow women’s rights activists gathered outside the jail to demand her release.

PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We are in a very unequal struggle right now. The coup has come to destroy a process of constructing mechanisms for defending the human rights of women.

FREESTON: These can be added to the dozens of assassinations, tortures, and rapes, over 4,000 illegal detentions, and regular attacks against anti-coup media that have characterized the run-up to the elections. The two central sources for information critical of the regime, Channel 36 and Radio Globo, have been shut down this week. Foreign minister for the coup government Carlos Lopez Contreras admitted to shutting down Channel 36 earlier this week, saying, “If you heard what the channel is saying daily, you would see that in any country in the world, with or without elections, this channel would have been suspended.” Meanwhile, the army has temporarily deputized thousands of reserves—an action only permitted in times of war, according to the Constitution. And the national chief of police claims to be scanning text messages for anti-coup rhetoric.

OLIVA: They’re trying to create a culture of fear, where a terrified population gives rise to the culture of silence that they seek so they can act with total impunity.

….

RAFAEL ALEGRÍA, COUP RESISTANCE LEADER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This is the first time in this country’s history that so many candidates, including many with real chances of being elected, [have been] renouncing, and renouncing due to their conscience. I believe it’s a patriotic move, given the historic moment that we are living in—a coup d’état, insecurity, and illegitimacy in the country, the legally elected president holed up in the Brazilian Embassy for 61 days, himself denied the right to vote.

FREESTON: Only the governments of Taiwan and the United States have sent international observers, and a delegation funded by the US State Department arrived at the electoral tribunal at the same time that leaders of all six independent human rights monitors in Honduras were delivering their requests that the elections be suspended.

DR. JUAN ALMENDARES, COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It will not have the legitimacy of the people. Neither will it be recognized by the entire international community. How could you recognize a government that has violated our human rights, that has tortured? What democracy are we talking about?

FREESTON: In a letter to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, US President Barack Obama confirmed that the US would join Panama, Costa Rica, and Taiwan as the only countries to guarantee the recognition of the winner of the election.

ALMENDARES: We are calling on President Obama to support democracy and not become a follower of Bush.


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