Syrian opposition’s foreign funders — no laughing matter

A message from the Syrian opposition: “We just want to thank our sponsors in the CIA, MI6, Mossad, al-Qaeda, Qatar and the House of Saud for their generous financial support and high tech communications equipment.”

Also check out Jess Hill’s report on Syria’s subversive comedians, and David Kenner on Kafr Anbel’s revolutionary art.

What would Keynes do?

by John Gray

“I can see us as water-spiders, gracefully skimming, as light and reasonable as air, the surface of the stream without any contact at all with the eddies and currents underneath.”

That was how John Maynard Keynes, speaking in 1938 in a talk later published as his brilliant memoir My Early Beliefs, recalled his younger self and his friends in the Bloomsbury Group as they had been in the years before World War I.

The influential Cambridge economist has figured prominently in the anxious debates that have gone on since the crash of 2007-2008. For most of those invoking his name, he was a kind of social engineer, who urged using the power of government to lift the economy out of the devastating depression of the 30s.

That is how Keynes’s disciples view him today. The fashionable cult of austerity, they warn, has forgotten Keynes’s most important insight – slashing government spending when credit is scarce only plunges the economy into deeper recession.

What is needed now, they believe, is what Keynes urged in the 30s – governments must be ready to borrow more, print more money and invest in public works in order to restart growth.

But would Keynes be today what is described as a Keynesian? Would this supremely subtle and sceptical mind still believe that policies he formulated long ago – which worked well in the decades after the World War II – can solve our problems now?

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Farewell Alexander Cockburn (1941-2012)

One of the greatest journalists, polemicists and prose stylists of our age, Alexander Cockburn, passed away yesterday. Cockburn’s courage as a journalist, his facility with words, and his political intuition were unparalleled. He was what Christopher Hitchens always pretended to be. His provocations were delivered with wit and wisdom and, unlike Hitchens, avoided soft targets. He preferred going after powerful interests and the shibboleths of both right and left. Where Hitchens built his reputation by accommodating power, Cockburn’s work was devoted to discommoding it. He was, as Ralph Nader noted, fearless. Pressing on with the Cockburn/Hitchens comparison, Corey Robin notes:

First, Cockburn was a much better observer of people and of politics: in part because he didn’t impose himself on the page the way Hitchens did, he could see particular details (especially of class and of place) that eluded Hitchens. At his best, he got out of the way of his own story and allowed his readers to see things they never would have seen without him.

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Intimations of Ghalib

translations by M. Shahid Alam


My absence was God:
His absence grows in me.
If I was not in play, how
Would that go for me?

I had nothing to lose
When she cut off my head.
It sat not on my torso: it lay
Dead upon my knee.

Dead all these years, Ghalib
Comes back to me. We
Talked of present misery:
He always, what might be.

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Misreporting Drone Statistics

On CNN’s website, Peter Bergen and Jennifer Rowland recently wrote an article including the following graph in which they claim that of the 153 people killed in Pakistan by US drones, none were civilians. These are highly dubious statistics, as I have pointed out elsewhere. And following is a report by IPS News’s Zoha Arshad which challenges these claims with comments from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Chris Wood and me.

Chris Woods of the Bureau for Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) believes that NAF has not only underestimated the number of strikes and civilian deaths, but adds that civilian death percentages need to be treated with extreme caution.

“It (NAF) relies only on a small number of media reports immediately following a strike. Sometimes we learn crucial facts days, weeks or even months after an initial attack,” he told IPS.

“In February of this year, for example, a major investigation by Associated Press, based on 80 eyewitness testimonies from civilians in Waziristan, found previously unknown evidence of civilian deaths in 20 percent of the sampled strikes. Unfortunately, NAF has not incorporated these important findings into its data,” said Woods.

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