Friday, February 25, 2005

No Lie Too Brazen

Commenting this morning on the smear campaign against Russia and Syria, Justin Raimondo says it all:
This nonsensical fiction, which sounds like some third-rate hack's rejected screenplay, is more than just a bit vulgar – but in the Age of Bush, no lie is too brazen. The more vulgar, the better: it's the only way to capture the attention of a people who require the crudest and strongest possible stimulus. That's what it means to be decadent.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I apologize for redesigning the blog for the second time in a month, but I am trying to find the best template to accommodate a list of links and maybe even an ad banner (yeah, I like private enterprise), if I ever get around to figuring how to incorporate the HTML code properly.

This one looks just right, though.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

With malice for Tadic

Reporting on last week's visit by Serbian president Boris Tadic to Kosovo, AFP took care to note that “Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian-dominated government has barely acknowledged Tadic’s visit and there were no plans for him to meet any local officials.”

Reuters claimed that “Kosovo’s Albanian prime minister Ramush Haradinaj—whom Serbia has branded a war criminal—left the province before Tadic arrived.”

But the New York Times – or rather, its European avatar, the International Herald Tribune – published a hatchet job on February 15, berating Tadic for “giving [Kosovo’s] majority Albanians little overt sign of the kind of reconciliation that would be needed for a lasting solution” and “deliberately [having] no meetings with leaders of the majority Albanian community.”

The NYT/IHT reporter Nicholas Wood also quoted Albanian media, who described Tadic as a “criminal” and objected that he “did not ask for forgiveness for all the crimes that the Serbs have done in this country.” Furthermore, the article was rife with insinuations and outright lies about Kosovo (such as the “10,000 Albanians killed”), exemplifying the worst kind of official propaganda. Given the Reuters and AFP reports cited earlier, presenting Tadic’s visit as deliberately snubbing Albanians was not only dishonest, but untrue.

The Associated Press also chose to interpret the visit maliciously. “President’s Visit Fuels Tensions,” the headlines proclaimed, going on to say that “U.N. officials had hoped the visit by Boris Tadic would promote reconciliation… [but] Tadic’s declarations that Serbia would never accept an independent Kosovo angered ethnic Albanians.”

Also, the AP questioned Tadic's practice of handing out "giant" Serbian flags to enclaves he visited. Why should the Serbs not have a right to fly their own flag, in their own country? Albanians fly the flag of Albania proper, and UNMIK, AP or anyone else says not a word.

To repeat something I said a little while ago, this isn't double standards - it's no standards at all.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ephraim Kishon, RIP

I was reading the latest piece by Matt Taibbi in New York Press, courtesy of a link from LRC, and went back to the main page to see if there were other articles worth perusing; that's when I saw it: Ephraim Kishon, 80.

Kishon may not be known to many North Americans, but I remember his satire fondly; several of his short story collections were translated by a Croatian publisher. In fact, it was the quality of Kishon translations that hinted at the rapidly deteriorating situation in Yugoslavia. Camel through the eye of the needle was brilliant; the following collection (whose name escapes me now) came out on the eve of Croatia's secession, and reflected the imposition of new words and language rules. It was marginal and damn-near illegible, but that wasn't Kishon's fault.

He wrote about Israel in a fashion that someone living in Yugoslavia - beset by similar bureaucratic and socialist challenges - could understand; but he also wrote about people, and whether in Israel or Yugoslavia, or the U.S., human nature is still pretty constant. I can still quote bits and pieces of his stories, and I've used his linguistic gambit from Operation Babylon (or whatever the story was actually called) many times. Dvargichoke plokay gvishkir? is perfect when you have to feign ignorance of the local language.

Since coming to the States, I've tried - mostly unsuccessfully - to find his work in English. I guess I'll have no choice but to improve my German.

Kishon may have passed on, but his readers will keep on laughing for ever, just like his Job Kunstatter, a poor trucker driven mad by the parking police.

Dvella, Ephraim. Dvella.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Belgrade Paralyzed

Another excellent analysis from Srdja Trifkovic of Chronicles was posted on their website today. His visit to Serbia left him with an impression that the Belgrade authorities are "paralyzed." To which extent that paralysis comes from ineptitude, malice, a wrong reading of the situation or a combination of all three is up for discussion, but doesn't alter one whit the fact that Serbia is "the most threatened and the most poorly defended polity in today’s Europe."

Trifkovic identifies six key issues, each a killer in its own right:
  1. intended amputation of Kosovo;
  2. centralization of Bosnia and abolition of the Serbian autonomy there;
  3. ongoing separatism in Montenegro, contrary to the wishes of most of its people;
  4. ongoing threats and pressure from the Hague Inquisition;
  5. economic destruction caused by bad government policies;
  6. "white plague"- birthrates so low, the nation is slowly dying out.
The first five, at least, are government-related, and can be resolved in that arena. The last problem is more intractable, and can only be countered with a societal and cultural revival - but one can argue (and I do) that the climate for it would be right once the burden of tyranny is lifted from the people's shoulders. Of course, they themselves ought to do some of the bloody lifting... but I'm getting off-topic.

Trifkovic mentions a climate in which "Internecine squabbling prevails ... with different groups, political parties, and influential individuals acting as free agents, or—some Belgraders suspect—as foreign agents."

"Even where nefarious motives appear to be absent, ineptitude prevails," he continues, citing the recent trip of President Tadic to Libya, which lacked even the elementary preparatory work:
"The art of improvisation at which the Serbs excel saved the day in this particular case, and a number of potentially lucrative contracts were initiated in Tripoli; but that is clearly no way to run a country."

Trifkovic is not as harsh on Tadic as I've sometimes been, though my own take is somewhat confounded by the President's behavior; one minute he is making a coherent argument, the other he's saying something unbelievably stupid. For all I know, Tadic's intentions might be entirely honest and honorable, but he keeps screwing up. Trifkovic suggests his advisors could be to blame:
"[Tadic's] team of advisors does not inspire full confidence that his positions will be uniformly consistent in the future. It includes some highly capable analysts... but it also includes at least two active supporters of the postmodern 'pro-Western' paradigm whose values are flawed, who have been personally bankrolled by 'the international community' and whose loyalty to their country is at best suspect."

On the government front, PM Vojislav Kostunica (a personal friend of Trifkovic's) is routinely sabotaged by "former" Dossies of the G17-Plus, who control the government's economic policy (which clarifies issue 5 above):
"[Miroljub] Labus and his chief party colleague, finance minister Mladjan Dinkic, are consistently undermining cabinet unity by ostensibly agreeing to a certain position at ministerial meetings and then promptly proceeding to advocate a different, often completely contrary position, in public utterances and media interviews."

Curiously, he does not mention Vuk Draskovic, the charlatan in charge of the Foreign Ministry who seems to forget he's also a junior partner in Kostunica's coalition. Draskovic has been doing far more damage than Tadic lately, and unlike the president, hasn't done anything good to atone for it. That's a strange omission in an otherwise brilliant analysis.

Anyway, Trifkovic proposes a way out of the present conundrum would be for Kostunica to bring the Radicals into the government. IMHO, there's about a 30% chance that could work the way he says, with Kostunica successfully tempering the Radicals' rhetoric and getting credit for it. I think it's much more likely that Serbia's foreign detractors will jump on the opportunity to further demonize the "ultranationalists," not to mention the orgy of white-hot fury pouring out from the Jacobins and globalists within Serbia, and the demagogic effect it (most unfortunately) has on a lot of otherwise decent people.

And yet, as Trifkovic notes, what's the alternative? Continuing along the present course is obviously leading into disaster. What Trifkovic deliberately terms a "radical turn" could actually make things better. The Empire and the quislings certainly demonize the Radicals furiously, almost as if their coming to power is a real threat - not to Serbia, as they keep saying, but their own plans for it.

I don't think the Radicals would be a panacea, but I am also disinclined to see them as Nazis incarnate. The Empire, on the other hand, has done plenty to invite just such a comparison. And the quislings - who often boast of Jacobinism and compete in foulness - may have the right, but certainly have no standing, to make value judgments.

Trifkovic's analysis pretty much corroborates my own, which was based - in absence of access to government officials and diplomats - on interpreting media reports and a little bit of personal observation, when I was in Serbia around Christmas. Hell of a thing to be right about, though.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Quisling or Tragic Idealist?

I must admit, the first time I heard about Slavisa Petkovic, the token Serb in the "government of Kosovo," I felt revulsion that a Kosovo Serb could possibly agree to legitimize the Albanian thugocracy and ipso facto the occupation of the province by participating in a sham government run by Ramush Haradinaj, a terrorist if there ever was one.

But here's the thing: Petkovic's interview with the notorious Patrick Moore of RFE/RL revealed this man not as a quisling by intent, merely someone who still harbors unrealistic optimism. I'd call him naive - but then, I'm pretty jaded.

Anyway, Petkovic says he took the job in order to help the return of the Serb refugees, and thinks he can succeed. Either he doesn't understand that these people were ethnically cleansed and that Albanian leaders (I can't say for the people, though they are incredibly regimented) want it that way, or he understands but chooses to ignore it. I've often said that one never knows what's possible until it's been tried; still, one ought to have at least a marginal chance of success. Petkovic's work seems doomed from the start.

He also told Moore that "Kosovo’s problems are '99 per cent economic...and only 1 percent political'." I obviously don't have firsthand knowledge of this (were I to show up in Pristina, I'd have to pass as an American, and even then I'd live only so long as no Albanian saw my name on the ID), but it strikes me that extremist nationalism, terrorism, ethnic hatred and occupation are all political issues. Obviously, any sort of decent economic activity is entirely impossible in a system that doesn't recognize any law save that of the gun. Private property, the foundation of market economy, is almost unheard of. A lot of Kosovo's land is owned by Serbs (whether privately or by the Church), but in the situation where even the most basic property right - that to life of one's own - is nonexistent, how can anyone speak of economic issues?

Petkovic's take on ethnic relations illustrates his naivete:
'there is so little democracy in Kosovo that one cannot speak “even of the ‘d’ in democracy” existing. He said he had told the Albanian leaders that they needed to tell their own people “every day...that the Serbs must return to their [homes], because we have lived in Kosovo for centuries”. That means that the Albanians cannot claim to be the “hosts” and consider the Serbs to be merely guests. “We must live together”...

Actually, what Kosovo has is absolute democracy: mob rule by the majority, which believes it has the right to do anything by the simple virtue of being the majority. There's a reason the Imperial press constantly harps on the "90-percent Albanian majority" when reporting on Kosovo. Not only are there no real limits to government power (whether UNMIK's, NATO's or that of the "provisional government"), there are no real limits on individual behavior - i.e. if Albanians decide to massacre Serbs, they go ahead and do so with impunity (see March 2004). NATO has previously disarmed the Serbs completely, and any attempt to resist is deemed "provocation from Belgrade," so there is little if anything the Serbs can do just to stay alive. Worst yet, their reliance on NATO's protection is then taken as consent to the occupation!

Anyway, I think that over the past century or so - and definitely for the past six years - Albanians have demonstrated repeatedly that they don't want to live together with Serbs, that they regard Serbs as interlopers, and have no compunction about buying them out, forcing them out, or just plain massacring them when they get impatient. Petkovic's hope runs counter to history - except that it indicates the Serbs have always been more tolerant of the Albanians than the other way around.

What I've mentioned so far would tend to paint Petkovic as a feeble-minded idealist who is at most a useful idiot for the Albanians. However, I have to give him points for a couple of things. First, he is one of the few people who doesn't genuflect before the ICG:
"he did not understand why so much attention was paid to the ICG. “It is [just] one informal group that writes such reports... as is its right, but it has no right to sow chaos in Kosovo.”

Second, he is scornful of the leadership in Belgrade - though for reasons different from my own. Petkovic accuses Belgrade of treating everything as a partisan issue, and being interested only in manipulating the Kosovo Serbs, not working in their best interest.

The leadership in Belgrade isn't interested in the welfare of Kosovo Serbs, or Serbia and Serbs in general; only in getting and keeping power, with all the privileges of plunder therewith. It is only natural they would see everything as a partisan issue, because partisan politics is all they know. Worst of all, their partisanship by and large isn't rooted in ideological differences, but in clique membership. So no, these people are mentally incapable of actually helping anyone, save inadvertently.

But here's the irony: for all his idealism and naivete, so is Petkovic. He wants to make a difference for the better, but by acting on this impulse he is legitimizing and aiding the system built with the express purpose of defeating his efforts. His diagnosis of the problem is wrong, and his belief in coexistence misguided. He may be honestly committed to improving the lot of Serbs in Kosovo, but he will fail. Not by anything he does (though that's a foregone conclusion), but by just being there, giving aid and comfort to the occupation.

Many people throughout history have collaborated with occupiers and invaders, claiming they only wanted to help and do what's best for their people. They may have been tragic idealists, but history will remember them as quislings.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Damn Lies and the NYT

I enjoyed reading Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames when they still wrote for The eXile. They both write for the New York Press now, and either one is still a great read.

For example, here's Taibbi on the spectacle of the New York Times confessing the WMD story was bogus:
"The problem wasn't a small, isolated ethical error, like Judith Miller's Chalabi reporting. The error here was not a mistake of fact. The problem was that a central tenet of our system of news reporting dictates that lies of consensus will never be considered punishable mistakes. In other words, once everyone jumps in the water, a story acquires its own legitimacy.
And now we get papers like the Times wondering aloud why they didn't feel the ground under their feet. Answer: you jumped in the water. And you knew what you were doing."
That was from last week's issue. And here's Ames this week, reviewing a mild, rational critique of the NYT:
"...rather than seeing the Times for the nest of Vichy collabos that it is, [authors of the book] engage the beast with punishing salvoes [sic] of rational argument. [...] The problem with this thesis is that it assumes that the New York Times people are nice guys ... How do you present rational counter-arguments to powerful people who lie intentionally solely in order to remain powerful? You can't."

His proposed solution?
"In 1999, America bombed the main TV tower in Belgrade and killed several Serbian journalists, citing the Geneva Conventions articles that say that any organ propagandizing for genocide is itself a legitimate target in warfare and for prosecution of war crimes. Let the Geneva Conventions be the basis for a similar argument against the New York Times: It is guilty of war crimes in Iraq and Serbia... Don’t ask them to consider international law in their work—apply international law to them instead, based on their records, and apply it roughly. That is the only language these people understand."

Ames and Taibbi both suggest lying deliberately on behalf of power is in the Gray Lady's institutional psychology. After all the lies the paper (along with many others, who've done even worse!) peddled about the Balkans, I'm inclined to agree.

As for the "why" of it all, read Stephen Bender's story about Edward Bernays on LRC today.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Democratic Emperor

Just like with the Coronation Speech two weeks ago, the Emperor's Agenda 2005 (a.k.a. SOTU) speech occasioned some pretty piercing analysis.

Over at, Justin Raimondo takes the speech apart and declares it a rehash of the Second Inaugural, an announcement that we can look forward to more war, more death, more Empire.
"It isn't a dream but a nightmare that is coming to birth: one that is an affliction to us and a threat to the rest of the world." writes Raimondo, taking Bush II to task for quoting FDR.

He also caught Bush taking credit for Ukraine's electoral coup. Sure, Yushchenko may have been installed in power by a mob, (the very definition of democracy!) but the mob leaders were paid by the Empire (not that they wouldn't have done this for free, what with power and privilege at their fingertips.). Any resemblance to Serbia is purely coincidental, of course...

Meanwhile, on, Anthony Gregory analyzes the "democratic peace" theory that permeates Bush II's speech and policies, and finds it so much claptrap:

it looks as though the word "democracy" is simply being used, through circular reasoning, to describe only those countries that fit the democratic peace theory. ... Under the theory, a "democracy” essentially seems to mean the U.S. government and its allies. A “non-democracy” means any country the U.S. government happens to want to go to war with. [...]
Democracies implicitly and not so implicitly have a right, maybe even a duty, to go to war and convert as many countries to “democracy” as possible, at which point we can expect the newly converted to be at peace with other “democracies” – that is, the U.S. and its allies... what this assurance of peace really means is that once a country has been forcefully converted to “democracy” by the United States, the U.S. will no longer go to war with it.
In the end, “democracy” simply describes a government that does not deserve to be violently overthrown by the United States. And this can change at the whim of the United States.
What it boils down to is that the world is facing a belligerent Empire motivated by an aggressive ideology, stronger in terms of sheer military power than any individual nation (excepting the use of nuclear ordnance, which instantly nullifies any issue of scale), which has arrogated itself the right to attack anyone, anywhere, anytime it deems fit, on the flimsiest of excuses.

It is tempting to say this is all Bush II's fault, but Clinton attacked Serbia in 1999 using equally false excuses. Madeleine Albright's infamous "indispensable nation" comment was used in an argument supporting U.S. military adventures worldwide.

Why don't Americans understand how dangerous this is, how... well, evil?

Gregory suggests that "there’s nothing like being on the side of those who hold power to make one believe that that power is legitimate." In other words, there is nothing like being an Empire to make one really fond of imperialism. At least until the price becomes much more readily apparent. By then, it will be too late for too many. Might be even too late for America.

Thomas Jefferson once said, "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever...."

The alarm bells are certainly ringing.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Bosnia 's Skool Daze

I received this observation by email Monday, from a colleague who works in Bosnia with an Imperial agency that shall remain nameless:
"It reminds me of a college campus with so many people sitting around over pots of coffee and pizza crusts, complaining about the restrictive regulations, too much to read, lack of pristine dorm rooms, lack of committee funds, leather furniture in the president’s office, and a student council president who does little more for the college than the homecoming queen. The students sit around and yet don’t get off their asses to clean up the dorm room, kick out the apathetic council president and elect a worker bee. Ah, the similarities are endless - everyone waiting for the magic alum to pop in with a billion-dollar gift and golden job recommendations."
The comparison is incredibly apt when it comes to describing the apathy and shiftlessness of Bosnians (of all ethnicities). One should also note that the local government in Bosnia has great power over its own unfortunate citizens, as the Communist-era laws give it authority to control nearly every aspect of people's lives - and yet, when it comes to actually running Bosnia, they are as powerless as a student government.

Meanwhile, for all his/her authority, no college president is anywhere near as powerful as Paddy Ashdown, Baronet Norton-sub-Hamdon, by the grace of the Contact Group the autokrator of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Imperial Viceroy and Potentate Extraordinary.

It is he who does not allow the Bosnians to elect a worker bee, but insists on homecoming queens and Potemkin officials. Folks in the Serb Republic can elect whoever they want, Ashdown will sack him whenever he feels ornery. He's done it before; his predecessors have done it before; and there is nothing to stop him from doing it again. The one time people in the Muslim-Croat Federation actually elected someone decent, with a plan and an independent streak, he was forced into an alliance with chauvinist slime, sabotaged every step of the way, and finally shoved out of power when Ashdown himself supported the Old Guard in the 2002 election.

Bosnia has a host of problems, starting with its paradoxical existence, but a major one is surely that even if someone bothers to try and get out of the mire, the local kleptocrats and the Empire - currently in the persona of Viceroy Ashdown - are always there to grind them back down. Is it a wonder no one bothers, then?