Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman on the Economy

What do you get when you put two of the most well known and most widely cited economists in the world, both Nobel laureates, on stage together? A healthy dose of economic reality. Jojn Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman for a conversation on the economy.

Azmi Bishara on Syria

The subtitled last few minutes of a Jazeera Arabic interview with the great Palestinian thinker, in which Azmi expresses his disgust with those who fail to recognise the incredible revolutionary spirit of the Syrian people.  “The Syrian people are the ones who turned out to be strong!” he exclaims. “An admirable, heroic, great people! In the face of planes and tanks and artillery. I salute the people of al-Qusair! … This is what we ought to be impressed by!”

Tales in a Kabul Restaurant

by Kathy Kelly

Afghan children
Twelve children killed in the Kunar province, April 2013 (Photo credit: Namatullah Karyab for The New York Times)

May 21, 2013 – Kabul–Since 2009, Voices for Creative Nonviolence has maintained a grim record we call the “The Afghan Atrocities Update” which gives the dates, locations, numbers and names of Afghan civilians killed by NATO forces.  Even with details culled from news reports, these data can’t help but merge into one large statistic, something about terrible pain that’s worth caring about but that is happening very far away.

It’s one thing to chronicle sparse details about these U.S. led NATO attacks. It’s quite another to sit across from Afghan men as they try, having broken down in tears, to regain sufficient composure to finish telling us their stories.  Last night, at a restaurant in Kabul, I and two friends from the Afghan Peace Volunteers met with five Pashtun men from Afghanistan’s northern and eastern provinces. The men had agreed to tell us about their experiences living in areas affected by regular drone attacks, aerial bombings and night raids.  Each of them noted that they also fear Taliban threats and attacks. “What can we do,” they asked, “when both sides are targeting us?”

Continue reading “Tales in a Kabul Restaurant”

Everybody has to buy bread

The following piece appears on the London Review of Books Blog.

For most of the world’s media, Pakistan’s general election was about terrorism. Candidates were identified according to their attitude towards the Taliban, and labelled as ‘secular’ or ‘conservative’. Little was said about party platforms. Circumstances appeared to justify the focus. There was a savage campaign of intimidation by domestic extremists in the run-up to the vote. More than a hundred people died, most of them members of the outgoing ruling coalition parties. The Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said they were targeted because of their uncompromising attitude towards the Taliban and avowedly secular views. There is some truth to this; but their enthusiastic embrace of the ‘global war on terror’ was a more immediate cause.

Despite the violence, turnout was nearly 60 per cent, the highest in Pakistan’s history. Youth participation was unprecedented. Critics of the ‘war on terror’ roundly defeated its supporters. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has taken a consistent antiwar position, crushed the ANP in the north-west. The PTI did particularly well in Swat, Dir and the Federally Adminstered Tribal Areas, where most of Pakistan’s counterinsurgency operations and US drone attacks are carried out. Also leery of the war, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) evicted the PPP from Punjab, Pakistan’s richest, most populous and developed province.

Terrorism may be foremost in the minds of Western observers; Pakistanis are more worried about the economy, education and corruption. Opinion polls showed that people’s biggest concerns are inflation and unemployment, as well as power outages and high energy costs, which have stunted economic growth and caused much misery: 20-hour blackouts are not unknown. Not all Pakistanis are exposed to terrorist violence; everyone has to buy bread.

You can read the rest here

Kenneth Waltz (1924-2013)

The great scholar Kenneth Waltz has recently passed away. Waltz is famous for writing Man, The State, and War,  a classic of International Relations, which is number one in Stephen Walt’s top ten IR books list and made the List Muse top 100 nonfiction books list. More recently he wrote an article on Why Iran Should Get The Bomb, and spoke on Israel and the US. In the following hour-long interview, Waltz describes his life and work in detail.

The Jenin Jenin Amendment: Israel from Ethnocracy to Fascism

Last Monday, on the 6th of May, Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided to approve the “Jenin Jenin Amendment” in a paramilitary hearing. The amendment [Hebrew] is an addition to the Israeli Defamation Law [Hebrew], stating that army personnel and the state can sue individuals, who expose army violence, for libel, without proving damages. The amendment comes as a reaction to Israel’s Supreme Court rejecting soldiers’ class action suit of defamation against actor/director Mohammad Bakri, for his documentary Jenin Jenin (watch it in full here), in which Palestinian testimonies describe their experiences of the 2002 massacre perpetrated by Israel’s army in the besieged refugee camp.

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Immediate Responses to Israel’s Attack

qassioun burningIsrael’s attack on Assad’s military bases on Mount Qassioun above Damascus have provoked mixed feelings amongst Syrians. On the one hand, Syrians have been well aware for over two years that Assad’s army is designed not to confront Zionism but to slaughter the Syrian people. For a year and a half Mount Qassioun has been the launching pad for for artillery and missile attacks on civilian areas of Damascus and its suburbs. On the other hand, hatred and mistrust of Israel rightly runs very deep indeed among the people, far deeper than among the regime which, despite all its rhetoric, has not once (since 1973) responded to Israeli violations of Syrian sovereignty. Syrians know that Israel’s attack is an attempt to exploit the revolutionary situation for Israel’s own ends, that it is part of Israel’s confrontation with Iran – something Syrians want no part of, however much they may hate Iran’s criminal support of the genocidal Assad regime – and that it offers grist to Assad’s propaganda mill.

Here are some immediate responses to Israel’s attack. The Syrian National Coalition released this statement, including this line: “The Coalition holds the Assad regime fully responsible for weakening the Syrian Army by exhausting its forces in a losing battle against the Syrian people.” Many Arabic language Youtube videos show various Free Army and Salafist militias condemning both Israel and Assad’s regime.

I wrote this on Facebook:

Assad responds to the Israeli attack by escalating his sectarian massacres on the coast and his bombardment of Syrian cities, including the Palestinian refugee camp at Yarmouk. Infantile so-called ‘anti-imperialists’ everywhere cheer on Assad’s ‘heroic resistance’.

By ‘sectarian massacres on the coast’ I was referring specifically to the ongoing slaughter of Sunnis in al-Bayda and other areas of Banyas, causing thousands to flee the area.

Continue reading “Immediate Responses to Israel’s Attack”

Thomas Pierret on the Syrian Revolution

a scene from the sectarian massacre in al-Bayda, May 2013
a scene from the sectarian massacre in al-Bayda, May 2013

I hate to link to the Angry Arab for various reasons. This is the man who, on the one hand, was only able to mention Juliano Mer Khamis, the martyred Palestinian founder of Balata refugee camp’s Freedom Theatre, in the context of slandering his mother’s ethnicity (yes, she was an Israeli Jew, but one who chose to marry a Palestinian – and Juliano was a man who could have used his mother’s identity to live between the bars and beaches of Tel Aviv, but chose to live and work in occupied Nablus instead). On the other hand he slanders serious scholars like Mearsheimer and Walt, men who have done such important work on exposing the machinations of the Israel Lobby in the US, by accusing them of anti-semitism. (I wonder why he, an American-based academic, has had so much less trouble with people like Campus Watch than real intellectuals like Edward Said and Norman Finkelstein, who made much less dramatic anti-Israel statements). His coverage of the Syrian Revolution has been appalling. He has relied on informants such as ‘an American friend’ to inform his readership that the revolutionary suburbs of Damascus are ‘like Kandahar’ (usually he is overquick to accuse Western commentators of Islamophobia). He has consistently exaggerated the barbarism and sectarianism of elements of the Syrian resistance while consistently underestimating or ignoring the sectarianism and barbarism of the Syrian regime. The questions he poses in this interview with Syria expert Thomas Pierret expose his sectarian bias, but Pierret’s responses are so clear and well-informed that the post deserves reposting here.

“1) You and I have disagreed on Syria, do you think that Syria experts have been wrong in the last years especially with the regular and constant predictions of the imminent fall of the regime?

The generalisation is problematic. Such predictions were rather made by journalists, who have the good excuse of not being Syria experts, and Western officials, who often did so for a bad reason, i.e. in order to justify their inaction: if Asad is about to fall, then there is no need to do anything to stop him.
 
“Experts” did not collectively agree upon the imminent fall of the regime. In early April 2011, I published an op-ed in the French newspaper Le Monde. The last sentence said this: “Nothing guarantees the success of the Syrian revolution, and if it happens at all, it will certainly be long, and painful” . I was not the only one to think that way. I clearly remember a conversation I had at the same time with Steven Heydemann, who was even more pessimistic than I was: he predicted that the regime would use its full military might against the opposition, and that none would act to stop it.
 
I must admit that later developments made me over-optimistic at times, but overall, I do not think I have seriously under-estimated the solidity of the regime.
 

Why Support the Syrian Revolution

Those infantile apologists for fascism who imagine against the facts that Syria’s popular revolution is a foreign conspiracy won’t like this piece by Michael Neumann, a frequent contributor to Counterpunch and the son of Franz Neumann, the analyst of modern fascism. It is however, one of the most morally compelling pieces on Syria that I have read. Originally published at Insufficient Respect.
Many reasons are given for supporting either the Syrian revolution or the units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).  But while there is sympathy for the Syrian people, hardly ever do those reasons speak to or from Syrian needs.  Instead the appeal is to the quite narrow interests of others, always in negative terms:  not supporting the FSA will encourage Islamic extremism, invite a regional conflagration, squander opportunities to ‘have a say in Syria’s future'(!), counter-productively encourage uncontrolled arms proliferation, leave a legacy of anti-Western sentiment in Sreutersyria.  Syrians are essentially seen either as a menace, or as weaklings likely incapable of countering some menace in their midst.
Of course the idea here is that solid reasons can only rest on hard-headed realism, not sloppy sentiment.  But there may be at least two other reasons rooted in a less myopic assessment of the situation.  They invoke principles and large historical opportunities – which does not distinguish them from the sort of ‘higher’ motives that in fact drive a good deal of political activity.  They do have implications for the whole world, but they originate not only in the interests but also in the achievements of the Syrian people and their revolution  One reason is ‘negative’, the other, positive.
The negative reason has to do with what Syrians suffer.
It’s taken me a while to realize that most people probably don’t really know the full extent of Assad’s cruelties, or how they compare to the cruelty we know has been inflicted in so many times and places.  It’s not the sort of material that makes the front pages.  An appendix to this post gives some details.  For several reasons,  none solely sufficient but in combination decisive, the horrors of Syria have unique significance.
First there is the sheer barbarism.  Many régimes which have inflicted tortures perhaps as ghastly as Assad’s – Chile’s Pinochet and the Iran under the Shah come to mind – do not quite match his barbarism for one simple reason:  Assad’s tortures are not confined to adults, much less to those who have ever posed any threat, but also to children not into their teens.  The torture of injured people in their hospital beds, and of medical staff, is also very unusual.  Sometimes victims are tortured in order to reveal information, or at least to admit to something, whether or not they did it.  Often they are simply tortured to death, simply to have them die in agony.
Second there is the scale of it.  Those tortured run into the tens, perhaps the hundreds of thousands.  Multiple deaths under torture are reported almost daily.  Perhaps as many suffered in Cambodia, or Rwanda, or the Congo; no figures are available.