Monday, August 29, 2005

London Review of Books Sept 1st 2005

The latest London Review of Books (Vol 27, 17; Sept 1st 2005) contains much of interest. Neal Ascherson reviews Patrick Cockburn's account of his book on the polio that afflicted him in the Ireland of the 1950s. Saree Makdisi has a critical account of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Sheila Fitzpatrick writes about Moshe Lewin's career via review of his The Soviet Century. R.W.Johnson makes some piquant points about the career in intelligence of Guy Liddell as revealed by his Diaries from 1939-1942, including a reference to 'heart-to-heart' chats with Harry Pollitt and Oswald Mosley in 1940. Andy Beckett reviews Simon Reynolds' Rip it Up and Start Again: Post-Punk 1978-84.

Andy Beckett is very impressed by Reynolds and starts with a recapitulation of the brief and incandescent phase of Pil as the leading edge of avantegardism before settling for conventionality and buffoonery for John Lyddon. This is taken as an archetypal story of post-punk, which Reynolds sees as being "way more interesting" than punk. Beckett does have some criticisms of Reynolds, including a revisionist social and political contextualization:
'He also pays less attention than he might to the idea that post-punk was outflanked by bigger social and political trends. At the end of the 1970s, when most of the post-punk bands started, it was possible for pop musicians (and a lot of other people) to believe that Britain was in terminal crisis, and that the times called for appropriately bleak, iconoclastic music. By 1982 or 1983, with a conspicuous minority of Britons doing well out of Thatcherism – sailing round the country for his book Coasting, Jonathan Raban noted the number of new yachts – the apocalyptic sound and rhetoric of post-punk seemed out of date.'
There is a point to be made about the success of Thatcher is winning the 1983 election, but Beckett forgets the miners strike of 1984-85 and the continuedivisionsns and contradictions in society. But he also gos on to make a point about the 'pragmatic musicians' making 'more profitable careers in the pop mainstream during the mid-1980s'. Human League, Paul Morley and Frankie Goes to Hollywood and most interestingly Scritti Politi get attention, including Green Gartside's recent sleeve notes on his earlier music. The whole thing reinforces the sense of the interest and importance of this book and reminds me that I failed to mention the brilliant polemical and unfair review by Ben Watson in Radical Philosophy 132 and to which I must return.

Saree Makdisi's piece on the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, 'Closed off, Walled in' is very good. The author makes the point that the withdrawal is designed to serve Israel's interests, that - despite some relief - Gaza will still be isolated and still subject to Israeli power. The situation of the Gazans remains horrible and precarious - in contrast to the Israeli settlers. The aim is to shore up Israel's overall position, protect its settlement of the West Bank and the dArabizationon of Jerusalem. Genuine peace remains a distant prospect. Makdisi comes across as a very interesting academic and his books about romanticism and imperialism suddenly seem very interesting.

Sheila Fitzpatrick's review of The Soviet Century (Terkinesque) provides a useful account of Lewin's career (perhaps based on the interview in the old Visions of History collection from Radical History Review) : born in Poland in 1921, active as a left-wing Zionist (supporting a bi-national state), fleeing from the Germans into the USSR in 1941, eventually training as aOfficercr after developing an identification with Vasili Terkin, eponymous hero of the Alexander Tvardovsky poem. In the 1950s Lewin was in Israel (I'll have to go back to the book, if I can find it, for what happened to him at the end of the war), still an idealistic Zionist, but of sympathy with the actually existing Israel and becoming a Marxist academic. In France in the mid-60s he produced Russian Peasants and Soviet Power and Lenin's Last Struggle, before shifting to Birmingham and then Pennsylvania. His reputation as a pro-peasant anti-Stalinist historian was made in this period - such a long time ago now. Lenin's Last Struggle still remains important for its defence of Lenin and distanciation of him from Stalin, while his work on thpeasantryry fitted in with the interest in the politics of Bukharin as an attractive and possible alternative to Stalinism, along with the Bukharin biography by Stephen Cohen. Lewin's take on Bukharin was made explicit in Political Undercurrents in Soviet Economic Debate and in the next decade The Making of the Soviet System and The Gorbachev Phenomenon added to a reputation as an unconventional Marxist rooted in sympathy with the Soviet masses. Russia-USSR-Russia and The Soviet Century continue a larger than life attitude to writing Russian history.

Sheila Fitzpatrick is no Marxist and makes criticisms of Lewin - she finds Robert Service on Lenin and Stalin much more persuasive than Lewin. He is still a Leninist and an opponent of thbureaucracycy and Stalinism and of the 'Stalinization' and 'toitalitarianisation' of the whole history of the Soviet Union. 'Bureaucratic absolutism' seems to be the term he likes to describe the post-revolutionary period. Fitzpatrick also notes that Bukharin and Gorbachev have fallen out of Lewin's favour. All-in-all sounds very interesting. I saw Lewin speak once, back in the days of Gorbachev and remember most forcefully the way he talked about the 'killing rage' of the peoplagainstst the system. Lewin also did a talk at Marxism 2005 which I now regret missing, but the CD should be available from Bookmarks.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Robert Fisk: How Easily We Have Come to Take the Bombs and Deaths in Iraq

Fisk remains the pre-eminent western journalist in the Middle-East. Together with Patrick Cockburn it makes The Independent vital reading for events in Iraq. Sadly Fisk's articxles are so good that the Independent treats them as premier material to be paid for. It just ain't right.

Taking things for granted. Or, as a very dear friend of mine used to say to me, 'There you go.' I am sitting in Baghdad airport, waiting for my little Flying Carpet Airlines 20-seater prop aircraft to take me home to Beirut but the local Iraqi station manager, Mr Ghazwan, has not turned up like he used to. Without him, I can't enter departures or check in.
Back in January, he was here, telling me he wouldn't forget to take me through security, talking to an Iraqi officer who looked remarkably like him, telling the officer to look after me. Ghazwan spoke careful, grammatical English and would laugh at himself when he made mistakes. So I call Ghazwan's mobile and an old man answers. I want to speak to Ghazwan, I say. 'Why?' Because I need to know when he'll be at the airport. There is a kind of groan from the other end of the line. 'He was killed.'
I sit there on my plastic airport seat, unable to speak. What? What do you mean? 'He was killed by the enemy,' the old man says and I hear the receiver taken from him.
A young woman now, with good English. 'Who are you?' A passenger. English. I start apologising. No one told me Ghazwan was dead. Even the Beirut travel agents still list his name as a Baghdad contact.
The young woman " it is his wife, or rather his young widow " mutters something about him being killed on the way to the airport and I ask when this happened. 'On the 14th of March,' she says. I had last seen him exactly five weeks before his death.
And the story comes out. His brother was a security guard at the airport " presumably the officer who looked like him whom I had met in February " and the two men were leaving home together to go to work in the same car when gunmen shot the brother dead and killed Ghazwan in the same burst of fire. I apologise again. I say how sorry I am. There is an acknowledgement from the young woman and the mobile is switched off.
Taking things for granted. I am back in Beirut, watching the new Pope visit his native Germany. He meets Cologne's Jewish community. He talks of the wickedness of the Jewish Holocaust. He should. He speaks warmly of Israel. Why not?
Then he meets the Muslim community and I see them on the screen, heads slightly bowed, eyes glancing furtively towards the cameras. To them he lectures on the evils of terrorism. It all seems logical even though I can never quite shake off the knowledge that the Pope was a wartime German anti-aircraft gunner. Anti-abortion, anti-gay and, once, anti-aircraft.
But then I sit up. In his first address, there is no word about Israel's occupation of the West Bank, its expanding settlements on other people's land, against all international law. And the Muslims, well, they do have to be reminded of their sins, of their duty to extirpate 'terrorism', to preach moderation at all times, to stop the scourge of suicide bombers.
And suddenly I am shocked at this profound lack of judgement on the Pope's part. Yet meekly aware that I had myself gone along with it. It was the Pope's job, wasn't it, to apologise to the Jews of Europe. And it was his job, wasn't it, to warn the Muslims of Europe.
Thus do we fall in line. Yes, he should apologise for the Holocaust " to the end of time. But might not His Holiness, the former anti-aircraft gunner, have also apologised to the Muslims for the bloody and catastrophic invasion of Iraq " no, no, of course there's no parallel in evil, scale, etc " but he might have at least shown the courage of his predecessor who stood up against George Bush and his ferocious war.
Taking things for granted. In Baghdad and then in Beirut, I read of the latest 'anti-terror' laws of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara. Of course, of course. After suicide bombers on the London Underground, what else do we expect? Our precious capital and its people must be protected.
Having been three or four trains in front of the King's Cross tube that exploded on 7 July, I take these things seriously myself. And were I back on the London Tube today, I'd probably be trying to avoid young men with backpacks " as well as armed members of the Metropolitan Police.
And after all the panjandrums in the press about our wonderful security forces, I'd also be taking a close look at these fine and patriotic folk. These are the men (and women?) who lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. These are the chaps who couldn't get a single advance trace of even one of the four suicide bombings on 7 July (nor the un-lethal ones a few days later). These are the lads who gunned down a helpless civilian as he sat on a Tube train.
But hold on a moment, I say to myself again. The 7 July bombings would be a comparatively quiet day in Baghdad. Was I not at the site of the an-Nahda bus station bombings after 43 civilians " as innocent, their lives just as precious as those of Londoners " were torn to pieces last week.
At the al-Kindi hospital, relatives had a problem identifying the dead. Heads were placed next to the wrong torsos, feet next to the wrong legs. A problem there. But there came not a groan from England. We were still locked into our 7 July trauma. No detectives are snooping around the an-Nahda bomb site looking for clues. They're already four suicide bombs later. An-Nahda is history.
And it dawns on me, sitting on my balcony over the Mediterranean at the end of this week, that we take far too much for granted. We like to have little disconnects in our lives. Maybe this is the fault of daily journalism where we encapsulate the world every 24 hours, then sleep on it and start a new history the next day in which we fail totally to realise that the narrative did not begin before last night's deadline but weeks, months, years ago.
For it is a fact, is it not, that if 'we' had not invaded Iraq in 2003, those 43 Iraqis would not have been pulverised by those three bombs last week. And it is surely a fact that, had we not invaded Iraq, the 7 July bombs would not have gone off (and I am ignoring Lord Blair's piffle about 'evil ideologies'). In which case the Pope would not last week have been lecturing German Muslims on the evils of 'terrorism'.
And of course, had we not invaded Iraq, Mr Ghazwan would be alive and his brother would be alive and his grieving widow would have been his young and happy wife and his broken father would have been a proud dad. But, as that friend of mine used to say, 'there you go'.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Robert Fisk: Secrets of the morgue: Baghdad's body count

An extraordinary piece by Robert Fisk in The Independent (registration and payment required), August 17, 2005,

The Baghdad morgue is a fearful place of heat and stench and mourning, the cries of relatives echoing down the narrow, foetid laneway behind the pale-yellow brick medical centre where the authorities keep their computerised records. So many corpses are being brought to the mortuary that human remains are stacked on top of each other. Unidentified bodies must be buried within days for lack of space " but the municipality is so overwhelmed by the number of killings that it can no longer provide the vehicles and personnel to take the remains to cemeteries.

July was the bloodiest month in Baghdad's modern history " in all, 1,100 bodies were brought to the city's mortuary; executed for the most part, eviscerated, stabbed, bludgeoned, tortured to death. The figure is secret.

We are not supposed to know that the Iraqi capital's death toll last month was only 700 short of the total American fatalities in Iraq since April of 2003. Of the dead, 963 were men " many with their hands bound, their eyes taped and bullets in their heads " and 137 women. The statistics are as shameful as they are horrifying. For these are the men and women we supposedly came to 'liberate' " and about whose fate we do not care.

The figures for this month cannot,of course, yet be calculated. But last Sunday, the mortuary received the bodies of 36 men and women, all killed by violence. By 8 o'clock on Monday morning, nine more human remains had been received. By midday, the figure had reached 25.

'I consider this a quiet day,' one of the mortuary officials said to me quietly as we stood close to the dead. So in just 36 hours " from dawn on Sunday to midday on Monday, 62 Baghdad civilians had been killed. No Western official, no Iraqi government minister, no civil servant, no press release from the authorities, no newspaper, mentioned this terrible statistic. The dead of Iraq " as they have from the beginning of our illegal invasion " were simply written out of the script. They officially do not exist.

Thus there has been no disclosure of the fact that in July of 2003 " three months after the invasion " 700 corpses were brought to the mortuary in Baghdad. In July of 2004, this had risen to around 800. The mortuary records the violent death toll for June of this year as 879 " 764 of them male victims, 115 female. Of the men, 480 had been killed by firearms, along with 25 of the women. By comparison, equivalent figures for July 1997, 1998 and 1999 were all below 200.

Between 10 and 20 per cent of all bodies are never identified " the medical authorities have had to bury 500 of them since January of this year, unidentified and unclaimed. In many cases, the remains have been shattered by explosions " possibly by suicide bombers " or by deliberate disfigurement by their killers.

Mortuary officials have been appalled at the sadism visited on the victims. 'We have many who have obviously been tortured " mostly men,' one said. 'They have terrible burn marks on hands and feet and other parts of their bodies. Many have their hands fastened behind their backs with handcuffs and their eyes have been bound with Sellotape. Then they have been shot in the head " in the back of the head, the face, the eyes. These are executions.

'While Saddam's regime visited death by official execution upon its opponents, the scale of anarchy now existing in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and other cities is unprecedented. 'The July figures are the largest ever recorded in the history of the Baghdad Medical Institute,' a senior member of the management told The Independent.

It is clear that death squads are roaming the streets of a city which is supposed to be under the control of the US military and the American- supported, elected government of Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Never in recent history has such anarchy been let loose on the civilians of this city " yet the Western and Iraqi authorities show no interest in disclosing the details. The writing of the new constitution " or the failure to complete it " now occupies the time of Western diplomats and journalists. The dead, it seems, do not count.

But they should. Most are between 15 and 44 " the youth of Iraq " and, if extrapolated across the country, Baghdad's 1,100 dead of last month must bring Iraq's minimum monthly casualty toll in July alone to 3,000 " perhaps 4,000. Over a year, this must reach a minimum of 36,000, a figure which puts the supposedly controversial statistic of 100,000 dead since the invasion into a much more realistic perspective.

There is no way of distinguishing the reasons for these thousands of violent deaths. Some men and women were shot at US checkpoints, others murdered, no doubt, by insurgents or thieves. A few listed as killed by 'blunt instruments' might have been the dead of traffic accidents. Some of the women were probably the victims of 'honour' killings " because male relatives suspected them of having illicit relations with the wrong man. Still others may have been murdered as 'collaborators'. Doctors have been told that bodies brought to the mortuary by US forces should not receive post-mortems (on the odd grounds that the Americans will already have performed these functions).

So many civilians are dying that the morgue has had to rely on volunteers from the holy city of Najaf to transport unidentified Shia Muslim dead to the central city's large graveyard for burial, their plots donated by religious institutions. 'In some of the bodies, we find American bullets,' a mortuary attendant told me. 'But these could be American bullets fired by Iraqis. We don't know who's killing who " it's not our job to find out, but civilians are killing each other2.

'We had a body here the other day and the relatives said he had been murdered because he had been a Baathist in the old regime. Then they said that his brother had been killed three or four weeks back because he was a member of the religious Shia Dawa party which was the enemy of Saddam. But this is the real story " the killing of the people. I don't want to die under a new constitution. I want security.'

One of the problems in cataloguing the daily death toll is that the official radio often declines to report on explosions. On Monday, the thump of a bomb in the Karada district was never officially explained. Only yesterday was it discovered that a suicide bomber had walked into a popular cafe, the Emir, and blown himself in half, killing two policemen. Another explosion, officially said to be caused by a mortar, turned out to be a mine set off beneath a pile of watermelons as a US patrol was passing. A civilian died in the attack.

Again, there was no official account of these deaths. They were not recorded by the government nor by the occupying armies nor, of course, by the Western press. Like the bodies in the Baghdad city mortuary, they did not exist.

Chomsky: Act Now to Prevent Another Hiroshima

Published on Saturday, August 6, 2005 by the lndependent
We Must Act Now to Prevent Another Hiroshima - or Worse

The explosions in London are a reminder of how the cycle of attack
and response could escalate by Noam Chomsky

This month's anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
prompts only the most somber reflection and most fervent hope that
the horror may never be repeated.

In the subsequent 60 years, those bombings have haunted the world's
imagination but not so much as to curb the development and spread of
infinitely more lethal weapons of mass destruction.

A related concern, discussed in technical literature well before 11
September 2001, is that nuclear weapons may sooner or later fall
into the hands of terrorist groups.

The recent explosions and casualties in London are yet another
reminder of how the cycle of attack and response could escalate,
unpredictably, even to a point horrifically worse than Hiroshima or

The world's reigning power accords itself the right to wage war at
will, under a doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" that covers
any contingency it chooses. The means of destruction are to be

US military expenditures approximate those of the rest of the world
combined, while arms sales by 38 North American companies (one in
Canada) account for more than 60 per cent of the world total (which
has risen 25 per cent since 2002).

There have been efforts to strengthen the thin thread on which
survival hangs. The most important is the nuclear Nonproliferation
Treaty (NPT), which came into force in 1970. The regular five-year
review conference of the NPT took place at the United Nations in May.
The NPT has been facing collapse, primarily because of the failure
of the nuclear states to live up to their obligation under Article
VI to pursue "good faith" efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. The
United States has led the way in refusal to abide by the Article VI
obligations. Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic
Energy Agency, emphasizes that "reluctance by one party to fulfill
its obligations breeds reluctance in others".

President Jimmy Carter blasted the United States as "the major
culprit in this erosion of the NPT. While claiming to be protecting
the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya, Iran and North
Korea, American leaders not only have abandoned existing treaty
restraints but also have asserted plans to test and develop new
weapons, including Anti-Ballistic missiles, the earth- penetrating 'bunker buster' and perhaps some new 'small' bombs. They also have abandoned past pledges and now threaten first use of
nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states".

The thread has almost snapped in the years since Hiroshima,
repeatedly. The best known case was the Cuban missile crisis of
October 1962, "the most dangerous moment in human history", as
Arthur Schlesinger, historian and former adviser to President John F
Kennedy, observed in October 2002 at a retrospective conference in

The world "came within a hair's breadth of nuclear disaster",
recalls Robert McNamara, Kennedy's defense secretary, who also
attended the retrospective. In the May-June issue of the magazine
Foreign Policy, he accompanies this reminder with a renewed warning
of "apocalypse soon".

McNamara regards "current US nuclear weapons policy as immoral,
illegal, militarily unnecessary and dreadfully dangerous",
creating "unacceptable risks to other nations and to our own", both
the risk of "accidental or inadvertent nuclear launch", which
is "unacceptably high", and of nuclear attack by terrorists.
McNamara endorses the judgment of William Perry, President Bill
Clinton's defense secretary, that "there is a greater than 50 per
cent probability of a nuclear strike on US targets within a decade".
Similar judgments are commonly expressed by prominent strategic
analysts. In his book Nuclear Terrorism, the Harvard international
relations specialist Graham Allison reports the "consensus in the
national security community" (of which he has been a part) that
a "dirty bomb" attack is "inevitable", and an attack with a nuclear
weapon highly likely, if fissionable materials - the essential
ingredient - are not retrieved and secured.

Allison reviews the partial success of efforts to do so since the
early 1990s, under the initiatives of Senator Sam Nunn and Senator
Richard Lugar, and the setback to these programs from the first days
of the Bush administration, paralyzed by what Senator Joseph Biden
called "ideological idiocy".

The Washington leadership has put aside non-proliferation programs
and devoted its energies and resources to driving the country to war
by extraordinary deceit, then trying to manage the catastrophe it
created in Iraq.

The threat and use of violence is stimulating nuclear proliferation
along with jihadi terrorism.

A high-level review of the "war on terror" two years after the
invasion "focused on how to deal with the rise of a new generation
of terrorists, schooled in Iraq over the past couple of years",
Susan B Glasser reported in The Washington Post.
"Top government officials are increasingly turning their attention
to anticipate what one called 'the bleed out' of hundreds or
thousands of Iraq-trained jihadists back to their home countries
throughout the Middle East and Western Europe. 'It's a new piece of
a new equation,' a former senior Bush administration official
said. 'If you don't know who they are in Iraq, how are you going to
locate them in Istanbul or London?'"

Peter Bergen, a US terrorism specialist, says in The Boston Globe
that "the President is right that Iraq is a main front in the war on
terrorism, but this is a front we created".

Shortly after the London bombing, Chatham House, Britain's premier
foreign affairs institution, released a study drawing the obvious
conclusion - denied with outrage by the Government - that "the UK is
at particular risk because it is the closest ally of the United
States, has deployed armed forces in the military campaigns to
topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and in Iraq ... [and is] a
pillion passenger" of American policy, sitting behind the driver of
the motorcycle.

The probability of apocalypse soon cannot be realistically
estimated, but it is surely too high for any sane person to
contemplate with equanimity. While speculation is pointless,
reaction to the threat of another Hiroshima is definitely not.
On the contrary, it is urgent, particularly in the United States,
because of Washington's primary role in accelerating the race to
destruction by extending its historically unique military dominance,
and in the UK, which goes along with it as its closest ally.

The author is a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology and the author, most recently, of Hegemony
or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance
© Copyright 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

Mike Davis Avian Flu: Monster at the Door

Yet another excellent piece by Mike Davis, here taken from Tomgram and subject of a new book.

Has Time Run Out? The Coming Avian Flu Pandemic
Deadly avian flu is on the wing.

The first bar-headed geese have already arrived at their wintering grounds near the Cauvery River in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Over the next ten weeks, 100,000 more geese, gulls, and cormorants will leave their summer home at Lake Qinghai in western China, headed for India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and, eventually, Australia.

An unknown number of these beautiful migrating birds will carry H5N1, the avian flu subtype that has killed 61 people in Southeast Asia and which the World Health Organization (WHO) fears is on the verge of mutating into a pandemic form like that which killed 50 to 100 million people in the fall of 1918. As the birds arrive in the wetlands of South Asia, they will excrete the virus into the water where it risks spreading to migrating waterfowl from Europe as well as to domestic poultry. In the worst-case scenario, this will bring avian flu to the doorstep of the dense slums of Dhaka, Kolkata, Karachi, and Mumbai.

The avian flu outbreak at Lake Qinghai was first identified by Chinese wildlife officials at the end of April. Initially it was confined to a small islet in the huge salt lake, where geese suddenly began to act spasmodically, then to collapse and die. By mid-May it had spread through the lake's entire avian population, killing thousands of birds. An ornithologist called it "the biggest and most extensively mortal avian influenza event ever seen in wild birds."

Chinese scientists, meanwhile, were horrified by the virulence of the new strain: when mice were infected they died even quicker than when injected with "genotype Z," the fearsome H5N1 variant currently killing farmers and their children in Vietnam.

Yi Guan, leader of a famed team of avian flu researchers who have been fighting the pandemic menace since 1997, complained to the British Guardian in July about the lackadaisical response of Chinese authorities to the unprecedented biological conflagration at Lake Qinghai.
"They have taken almost no action to control this outbreak. They should have asked for international support. These birds will go to India and Bangladesh and there they will meet birds that come from Europe." Yi Guan called for the creation of an international task force to monitor the wild bird pandemic, as well as the relaxation of rules that prevent the free movement of foreign scientists to outbreak zones in China.

In a paper published in the British science magazine Nature, Yi Guan and his associates also revealed that the Lake Qinghai strain was related to officially unreported recent outbreaks of H5N1 among birds in southern China. This would not be the first time that Chinese authorities have been charged with covering up an outbreak. They also lied about the nature and extent of the 2003 SARS epidemic, which originated in Guangdong but quickly spread to 25 other countries. As in the case of SARS' whistleblowers, the Chinese bureaucracy is now trying to gag avian-flu scientists, shutting down one of Yi Guan's laboratories at Shantou University and arming the conservative Agriculture Ministry with new powers over research.

Meanwhile, as anxious Indian scientists monitor bird sanctuaries throughout the subcontinent, H5N1 has spread to the outskirts of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet; to western Mongolia; and, most disturbingly, to chickens and wildfowl near the Siberian capital of Novosibirsk.
Despite frantic efforts to cull local poultry, Russian Health Ministry experts have expressed pessimism that the outbreak can be contained on the Asian side of the Urals. Siberian wildfowl migrate every fall to the Black Sea and southern Europe; another flyway leads from Siberia to Alaska and Canada.

In anticipation of this next, and perhaps inevitable, stage in the world journey of avian flu, poultry populations are being tracked in Moscow; Alaskan scientists are studying birds migrating across the Bering Straits, and even the Swiss are looking over their shoulders at the tufted ducks and pochards arriving from Eurasia.

H5N1's human epicenter is also expanding: in mid-July Indonesian authorities confirmed that a father and his two young daughters had died of avian flu in a wealthy suburb of Jakarta. Disturbingly, the family had no known contact with poultry and near panic ensued in the neighborhood as the press speculated about possible human-to-human transmission.
At the same time, five new outbreaks among poultry were reported in Thailand, dealing a terrible blow to the nation's extensive and highly-publicized campaign to eradicate the disease. Meanwhile, as Vietnamese officials renewed their appeal for more international aid, H5N1 was claiming new victims in the country that remains of chief concern to the WHO.

The bottom line is that avian influenza is endemic and probably ineradicable among poultry in Southeast Asia, and now seems to be spreading at pandemic velocity amongst migratory birds, with the potential to reach most of the earth in the next year.

Each new outpost of H5N1 -- whether among ducks in Siberia, pigs in Indonesia, or humans in Vietnam -- is a further opportunity for the rapidly evolving virus to acquire the gene or even simply the protein mutation that it needs to become a mass-killer of humans.

This exponential multiplication of hot spots and silent reservoirs (as among infected but asymptomatic ducks) is why the chorus of warnings from scientists, public-health officials, and finally, governments has become so plangently insistent in recent months.

The new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt told the Associated Press in early August that an influenza pandemic was now an "absolute certainty," echoing repeated warnings from the World Health Organization that it was "inevitable." Likewise Science magazine observed that expert opinion held the odds of a global outbreak as "100 percent."
In the same grim spirit, the British press revealed that officials were scouring the country for suitable sites for mass mortuaries, based on official fears that avian flu could kill as many as 700,000 Britons. The Blair government is already conducting emergency simulations of a pandemic outbreak ("Operation Arctic Sea") and is reported to have readied "Cobra" -- a cabinet-level working group that coordinates government responses to national emergencies like the recent London bombings from a secret war room in Whitehall -- to deal with an avian flu crisis.

Little of this Churchillian resolve is apparent in Washington. Although a sense of extreme urgency is evident in the National Institutes of Health where the czar for pandemic planning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warns of "the mother of all emerging infections," the White House has seemed even less perturbed by migrating plagues than by wanton carnage in Iraq.

As the President was packing for his long holiday in Texas, the Trust for America's Health was warning that domestic preparations for a pandemic lagged far behind the energetic measures being undertaken in Britain and Canada, and that the administration had failed "to establish a cohesive, rapid and transparent U.S. pandemic strategy."

That increasingly independent operator, Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), had already criticized the administration in an extraordinary (and under-reported) speech at Harvard at the beginning of June. Referring to Washington's failure to stockpile an adequate supply of the crucial anti-viral oseltamivir (or Tamiflu), Frist sarcastically noted that "to acquire more anti-viral agent, we would need to get in line behind Britain and France and Canada and others who have tens of millions of doses on order."

The New York Times on its July 17 editorial page, a May 26 special issue of Nature and the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs have also hammered away at Washington's failure to stockpile enough scarce antivirals -- current inventories cover less than 1% of the U.S. population -- and to modernize vaccine production. Even a few prominent Senate Democrats have stirred into action, although none as boldly as Frist at Harvard.

The Department of Health and Human Services, in response, has sought to calm critics with recent hikes in spending on vaccine research and antiviral stockpiles. There has also been much official and media ballyhoo about the announcement of a series of successful tests in early August of an experimental avian flu vaccine.

But there is no guarantee that the vaccine prototype, based on a "reverse-genetically-engineered" strain of H5N1, will actually be effective against a pandemic strain with different genes and proteins. Moreover, trial success was based upon the administration of two doses plus a booster. Since the government has only ordered 2 million doses of the vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, this may provide protection for only 450,000 people. As one researcher told Science magazine, "it's a vaccine for the happy few."

At the least, gearing up for larger-scale production will take many months and production itself is limited by the antiquated technology of vaccine manufacture which depends upon a vulnerable and limited supply of fertile chicken eggs. It would also likely mean the curtailment of the production of the annual winter flu vaccine that is so often a lifesaver for many senior citizens.

Likewise, Washington's new orders for antivirals, as Senator Frist predicted, will have to wait in line behind the other customers of Roche's single Tamiflu plant in Switzerland.
In short, it is good news that the vaccine tests were successful, but that does little to change the judgment of the New York Times that "there is not enough vaccine or antiviral medicine available to protect more than a handful of people, and no industrial capacity to produce a lot more of these medicines quickly."

Moreover, the majority of the world, including all the poor countries of South Asia and Africa where, history tells us, pandemics are likely to hit especially hard, will have no access to expensive antivirals or scarce vaccines. It is even doubtful whether the WHO will have the minimal pharmaceuticals to respond to an initial outbreak.

Recent theoretical studies by mathematical epidemiologists in Atlanta and London have raised hopes that a pandemic might be stopped in its tracks if 1 to 3 million doses of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) were available to douse an outbreak in a failsafe radius around the early cases.
After years of effort, however, the WHO has only managed to inventory about 123,000 courses of Tamiflu. Although Roche has promised to donate more, the desperate rush of rich countries to accumulate Tamiflu will be certain to undercut the World Health Organization's stockpile.
As for a universally available "world vaccine," it remains a pipe-dream without new, billion-dollar commitments from the rich countries, above all the United States, and even then, we are probably too late.

"People just don't get it," Dr. Michael Osterholm, the outspoken director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota recently complained. "If we were to begin a Manhattan Project-type response tonight to expand vaccine and drug production, we wouldn't have a measurable impact on the availability of these critical products to sufficiently address a worldwide pandemic for at least several years."

"Several years" is a luxury that Washington has already squandered. The best guess, as the geese head west and south, is that we have almost run out of time. As Shigeru Omi, the Western Pacific director of WHO, told a UN meeting in Kuala Lumpur in early July: "We're at the tipping point."

Mike Davis is the author of the just published Monster at our Door, The Global Threat of Avian Flu (The New Press) and the forthcoming Planet of Slums (Verso).
Copyright 2005 Mike Davis

Monday, August 15, 2005

Wallerstein: US has lost Iraq War

Immanuel Wallerstein
Commentary No. 167, August 15, 2005
"The U.S. Has Lost the Iraq War"

It's over. For the U.S. to win the Iraq war requires three things: defeating the Iraqi resistance; establishing a stable government in Iraq that is friendly to the U.S.; maintaining the support of the American people while the first two are being done. None of these three seem any longer possible. First, the U.S. military itself no longer believes it can defeat the resistance. Secondly, the likelihood that the Iraqi politicians can agree on a constitution is almost nil, and therefore the likelihood of a minimally stable central government is almost nil. Thirdly, the U.S. public is turning against the war because it sees no "light at the end of the tunnel."

As a result, the Bush regime is in an impossible position. It would like to withdraw in a dignified manner, asserting some semblance of victory. But, if it tries to do this, it will face ferocious anger and deception on the part of the war party at home. And if it does not, it will face ferocious anger on the part of the withdrawal party. It will end up satisfying neither, lose face precipitously, and be remembered in ignominy.

Let us see what is happening. This month, Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commanding general in Iraq, suggested that it may be possible to reduce U.S. troops in Iraq next year by 30,000, given improvements in the ability of the Iraqi government's armed forces to handle the situation. Almost immediately, this position came under attack from the war party, and the Pentagon amended this statement to suggest that maybe this wouldn't happen, since maybe the Iraqi forces were not yet ready to handle the situation, which is surely so. At the same time, stories appeared in the leading newspapers suggesting that the level of military sophistication of the insurgent forces has been growing steadily and remarkably. And the increased rate of killings of U.S. soldiers certainly bears this out.

In the debate on the Iraqi constitution, there are two major problems. One is the degree to which the constitution will institutionalize Islamic law. It is conceivable that, given enough time and trust, there could be a compromise on this issue that would more or less satisfy most sides. But the second issue is more intractable. The Kurds, who still really want an independent state, will not settle for less than a federal structure that will guarantee their autonomy, the maintenance of their militia, and control of Kirkuk as their capital and its oil resources as their booty. The Shiites are currently divided between those who feel like the Kurds and want a federal structure, and those who prefer a strong central government provided they can control it and its resources, and provided that it will have an Islamic flavor. And the Sunnis are desperate to maintain a united state, one in which they will minimally get their fair share, and certainly don't want a state governed by Shia interpretations of Islam.

The U.S. has been trying to encourage some compromise, but it is hard to see what this might be. So, one of two possibilities are before us right now. The Iraqis paper over the differences in some way that will not last long. Or there is a more immediate breakdown in negotiations. Neither of these meets the needs of the U.S. Of course, there is one solution that might end the deadlock. The Iraqi politicians could join the resisters in a nationalist anti-American thrust, and thereby unite at least the non-Kurd part of the population. This development is not to be ruled out, and of course is a nightmare from the U.S. point of view.

But, for the Bush regime, the worst picture of all is on the home front. Approval rating of Bush for the conduct of the Iraqi war has gone down to 36 percent. The figures have been going steadily down for some time and should continue to do so. For poor George Bush is now faced with the vigil of Cindy Sheehan. She is a 48-year-old mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq a year ago. Incensed by Bush's statement that the U.S. soldiers died in a "noble cause," she decided to go to Crawford, Texas, and ask to see the president so that he could explain to her for what "noble cause" her son died.

Of course, George W. Bush hasn't had the courage to see her. He sent out emissaries. She said this wasn't enough, that she wanted to see Bush personally. She has now said that she will maintain a vigil outside Bush's home until either he sees her or she is arrested. At first, the press ignored her. But now, other mothers of soldiers in Iraq have come to join her. She is getting moral support from more and more people who had previously supported the war. And the national press now has turned her into a major celebrity, some comparing her to Rosa Parks, the Black lady whose refusal to move to the back of the bus in Atlanta a half-century ago was the spark that transformed the struggle for Black rights into a mainstream cause.

Bush won't see her because he knows there is nothing that he can say to her. Seeing her is a losing proposition. But so is not seeing her. The pressure to withdraw from Iraq is now becoming mainstream. It is not because the U.S. public shares the view that the U.S. is an imperialist power in Iraq. It is because there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Or rather there is a light, the light an acerbic Canadian cartoonist for the Calgary Sun drew recently. He shows a U.S. soldier in a dark tunnel approaching someone to whose body is attached an array of explosives. The light comes from the match he is holding to the wick that will cause them to explode. In the month following the attacks in London and the high level of U.S. deaths in Iraq, this is the light that the U.S. public is beginning to see. They want out. Bush is caught in an insoluble dilemma. The war is lost.