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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Turnip Day 

Go read Thomas Frank ripping apart Joe Klein's new book ... too good to excerpt.

I've always liked Thomas Frank. In the nineties I used to often buy political journals at random. Sometimes they would turn out to be rightwing which is how I became fascinated with the neoconservative movement, but sometimes they would turn out to be great things like Thomas Frank's The Baffler, alas, apparently no longer around. The Baffler was a wonderful creation; full of pieces you'd never read anywhere else, laments for Nelson Algren's Chicago at a time in which its bobo-ization was becoming complete and other antidotes to the pro-market hysteria of the mid-nineties.

Anyway, Thomas Frank's fortune has changed. He's no longer the editor of an obscure journal, because What's the Matter with Kansas? was released at a lucky moment, a moment of Democratic self-doubt and navel-gazing about the blue state/red state divide. Frank has become a bigtime second- or third-tier pundit, but make no mistake he's one of us -- it's just that because of a historical accident he hasn't been quite relegated to the shabby little hard leftist table of the media universe.

Bogeyman Rove Rides Again 

Via Cursor, I saw this post by Philo in which he says that he has "a sinking feeling" the Republicans will win in November because of the evil genius of their nihilistic strategy in which words are never connected to reality -- now that Karl Rove is focused solely on politics again, etc.

In my opinion Philo's sinking feeling might well be accurate but, you know, I'm sorry but this whole Karl Rove as Mephistopheles routine is getting a little bit stale. It reminds me of the recent little commented upon report that the US military has been, surprise, surprise, purposely overplaying Zarqawi's significance in Iraq: at this point, if Karl Rove didn't exist the Democrats would have to invent him. If the Democrats fail to take the House and Senate this year they have precisely one group of politicians to blame and it isn't the Republicans.

Karl Rove just is not responsible for, say, Hillary Clinton's position regarding America's most unpopular foreign war since Vietnam. It is incomprehensible to me that a single Democrat, much less a leading contender for the Democratic ticket in 2008, would not be for immediate withdrawal. It is incomprehensible to me that being pro-impeachment is still considered a fringe position and that, without being laughed out of town, Republicans can still plant stories in the press claiming talk of impeachment and censure play in their favor. Such claims are a bad joke -- they remind me of Rove's statements to the effect that the Democratic opponent that he wanted to see in the last election was Howard Dean.

You have a president with a popularity similar to Nixon's deep in Watergate. You've had the Vice President's top guy step down in scandal. Loads of Republican financial scandals, the absolutely insane response to Katrina, etc., etc., fucking etc. -- it's silly at this point to even spell it all out. Simply put what I notice isn't a "sinking feeling", I feel a change in the winds -- the Bush era is over; he has been revealed to the general population to be what the left has always known him to be. It's going to take real work for the Democrats to screw this up, but, you know, nothing is impossible.

"I don't know what a poppy is." 

The May issue of Harper's includes excerpts from transcripts of Guantanamo Bay "combatant-status review tribunals" which read like satire. Couldn't find them online, but Simbaud took the trouble of transcribing one of them:
Good Morning.
Thank God.

We don't know much about you. We have a few questions so we can figure out your story. Can you tell us why you went from Kazakhstan to Afghanistan with your family?
In Kazakhstan there are no jobs. It's hard to make money. We heard that any immigrants to Afghanistan are provided with food.

Did they provide?
Yes, they provided.

You say that in Kabul the only thing you did was grow vegetables. Did you do anything else?
I looked after the house. Nothing else.

What does the United States government mean when it says you have "family ties" to terrorists?
They are just blaming me. It's false.

We're trying to figure out why you're here. The United States wouldn't detain someone for more than two years for simply growing vegetables. Can you help us understand?
[No response]

Do you want to tell us why you think you're here?
I'm here because I went to Afghanistan for a better life. They captured me at my house. That's the reason I'm here.

Who captured you in Kabul? Was it Americans?
Afghans captured me. When I was in prison, I heard Massoud's people captured me.

Did you ever have the opportunity to receive any type of training while in Afghanistan?
For what reason?

To do something other than grow vegetables, maybe help the government.
I can't do anything except grow vegetables.

What kind of vegetables did you grow?
Green peppers, tomatoes, green beans, and some potatoes.

Did you also grow poppies?
I don't know what a poppy is.

Flowers.
Like a kind of drug?

Yes, opium.
No. What am I going to do growing this?

It's pretty popular in Afghanistan, and it's a pretty good cash crop from what I understand.
[No response]

I don't have any more questions, but I'll give you one more chance to say anything you might want to say to help us understand why many of these things don't seem to make sense.
[No response]

The documents were obtained once again via the Freedom of Information Act; this time by the AP rather than the ACLU...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Technical Difficulties 

Looks like the image host I use for this blog's various background textures and bitmaps is totally down, which explains why the blog isn't rendering correctly...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Doing It For Tommy 

Once in a while I mention my prediction/belief that one day fascination with the names of blogs will usurp American culture's fascination with the names of rock bands ... Well, through some circuitous route I recently found myself at this hard left Canadian blog that's title actually made me laugh out loud -- which, you know, seems to support the prediction.

Anyway, Hockey, donuts, beer and socialism looks like a pretty good read and has already taught me (a) there was just a Tommy Douglas miniseries on the CBC (... bet you can't get that on NetFlix) and (b) Tommy Douglas was Kiefer Sutherland's grandfather.

Now when do we get our Eugene V. Debs miniseries?

Globalizing the War on Terror 

So, the US military ruled a year ago that two Chinese Guantanamo prisoners, Abu Bakker Qassim and A'del Abdu Al-Hakim, are not "enemy combatants", but the US refuses to release them.

The problem is the US can't find a country that's willing to take the two men, and it can't give them back to China because they are members of the Uighur ethnic group which is lobbying for an independent state, East Turkestan, and given that the two men were picked up in Pakistan the US rightly believes that Qassim and Al-Hakim would be persecuted by China as political dissidents. The US, of course, can't just make them American citizens and dump them in Times Square with twenty bucks and a letter of apology because that would involve admitting that the two guys were, you know, totally innocent.

Now China is lobbying for the pair's extradition on the grounds that, you guessed it, China wants to help out with the war on terror:

"We hope the American side would repatriate the terrorists of the Chinese citizens," said Qin Qang, a foreign ministry spokesman, on Thursday.

"Terrorism is the enemy of humankind. East Turkestan is a part of the international terrorist force and casts a serious threat to international societies including China and the US."

which highlights the beauty of the "war on terrorism" construct as a propaganda tool and highlights one of the great ironies of the Bush administration's characterization of its imperial adventures as a global war on terror. Such a characterization grants license and rhetorical cover to all manner of repressive regimes throughout the world to pursue their own terroristic policies. From Russia and Chechnya to Turkey and the Kurds to Israel and Palestine, the familiar dynamic in which a powerful state is in conflict with a weaker opponent over issues of regional autonomy or control of natural resources, in the post-911 world, consistently gets re-cast such that the state is nobly fighting a war against terrorists.

President Bolten 

I found this amusing ... David Gergen talking to Anderson Cooper about the surprising development that Bush seems to have abdicated his authority to hire and fire cabinet level officials: (transcript here)

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I find the story that has emerged from the White House today absolutely extraordinary, even bizarre. [... snip ... ]

Well, at -- at first, I thought they may have meant -- had one misstatement, in effect, that -- that -- that Scott McClellan maybe went a little far.

But, if you read the full story, it sounds like, no, they're really giving Josh Bolten a -- a hand in saying -- now, they're not saying he can name Rumsfeld's successor or to make that decision. But "The Times" is reporting and others reporting that he is going to -- the inner circle of the president, which includes Scott -- Josh -- Josh Bolten and the vice president, are going to be able to decide what happens to Don Rumsfeld.

I just -- I -- I think that they will find -- come to their senses and not allow this to happen. But the very idea that they're bringing in a chief of staff who's going to be given this kind of authority is, to me, astonishing.

I mean, let me -- let me put it another way, another piece of this, into place, Anderson, if I might. Ordinarily, the role of the chief of staff within the White House itself is to come to the president with recommendations for people who might serve in the White House.

The press secretary serves the president, not the chief of staff. The communications director serves the president, not the chief of staff. You serve at the pleasure of the president. And to give your chief of staff even the appointive hiring and firing capacity, and to say, it's up to you, Josh, you just figure out who's best, and I will go with it, to me, is an abdication of authority.

I just don't think the president wants to do that, and I just can't believe he will do it. So, I'm astonished by what they're saying.

[ ... snip ... ]

COOPER: Tough decisions for...

GERGEN: Tough...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: ... Josh Bolton to make.

GERGEN: Tough -- and tough decisions for Josh Bolton. But, last -- well, I don't know. Maybe President Bolton will have some fresh ideas.

(LAUGHTER)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bush Refuses to Rule Out Nuclear Attack Upon Iran 

It's official. From an article posted by Reuters today:

President Bush refused on Tuesday to rule out nuclear strikes against Iran if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic Republic's atomic ambitions.

Iran, which says its nuclear programme is purely peaceful, told world powers it would pursue atomic technology, whatever they decide at a meeting in Moscow later in the day.

Bush said in Washington he would discuss Iran's nuclear activities with China's President Hu Jintao this week and avoided ruling out nuclear retaliation if diplomatic efforts fail.

Asked if options included planning for a nuclear strike, Bush replied: "All options are on the table. We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so."

Bush and his close advisors want to do this, and they will if we don't stop them. They want to incinerate Iranians to legitimize the use of nuclear weapons as one of the primary means of maintaining US dominance for the rest of this century.

It is insane, as even a conventional attack will initiate the most horrible conflict that many of us have ever experienced. With the exposure of the absurdity of resisting the state sanctioned violence of Bush through domestic political means, it will also drastically increase the probability that some will decide that personal violence is the only alternative. The shadow lengthens and grows darker day by day, as we are literally approaching the point of no return.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

UPDATE: United for Peace and Justice Awakes, MoveOn.org Creates Cover for Democrats 

On Thursday, I observed how United for Peace and Justice was sponsoring a major antiwar rally without mentioning Iran. On Friday, I received an e-mail message from UFPJ, as did many others. It explained UFPJ's position on the proposed war against Iran, as set forth on the UFPJ website:

United for Peace and Justice opposes any military action against Iran, as well as covert action and sanctions. We reject the doctrine of "preventive war." All diplomatic solutions must be pursued.
Send a clear message to the Bush Administration: Don't Attack Iran! As a first and immediate step, we urge you to add your signature and comments to AfterDowningStreet's petition to President Bush and Vice-President Cheney opposing an attack on Iran.

Many UFPJ member groups, including AfterDowningStreet, Gold Star Families for Peace, CodePINK: Women for Peace, Progressive Democrats of America, Democracy Rising, and others, are all promoting this petition. UFPJ encourages you to circulate this message and help expand the growing list of signers.

Efforts to resolve any dispute with Iran should include promoting negotiations –- including Israel –- on a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East. We call for the global elimination of nuclear weapons. The United States should stop blocking negotiations on abolition and demonstrate leadership by taking steps to fulfill its own nuclear disarmament obligation. We call for the development and promotion of sustainable energy alternatives. We need to stop going to war for oil. And we need to address climate change. But nuclear power is not the answer: Every nuclear power plant is a potential bomb factory and a source of radioactive waste that will remain deadly forever.<>P>Additional Iran resources and action items will be available shortly on the UFPJ website. And, be sure to join us in New York on April 29 in the national March for Peace, Justice and Democracy.

And, UFPJ confronts some of the underlying assumptions that are used to justify a "preemptive attack":

An attack on Iran would be an act of aggression, barred by the UN Charter and prosecuted at Nuremberg. If executed, U.S. military action would apply the Bush doctrine of “preventive” war in an unprecedented way that would set the template for years or decades of regional and global violence, unrestrained by law. U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Iran would be an atrocious act violating the existing near taboo that has held since the U.S. devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That would in turn make it far more likely that the weapons will be used elsewhere as well -- including against cities in the U.S.

While Washington accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear power program, in violation of its obligations as a non-nuclear nation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the U.S. is itself in blatant violation of its own NPT obligation to eliminate its vast and sophisticated nuclear arsenal. There is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The U.S., however, retains a nuclear arsenal of more than 10,000 weapons, some 2,000 on hair-trigger alert. With nearly 500 tactical nuclear weapons deployed in 6 NATO countries, the U.S. is the only country with nuclear weapons deployed on foreign soil. And the U.S. is modernizing its existing nuclear weapons and publicly making plans to develop and produce new ones.

Meanwhile, as Norman Solomon observes, MoveOn.org remains unwilling to oppose anything other than a nuclear attack. Here's the weak response that Solomon received when he inquired about it:

A response came on April 13 from Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn. Here is his three-paragraph reply in its entirety:

“As you know, our focus is on bringing people together around points of consensus. We build our advocacy agenda through dialogue with our members. Since we haven’t done any work around Iran thus far, we saw the prospect of a nuclear attack as a good way to begin that conversation -- something everyone can agree was nuts.

“As I mention in the [‘Don’t Nuke Iran’] email, a conventional attack poses many of the same risks as a nuclear one. But just as our Iraq campaign started with a position that attracted a broad membership -- ‘Ask Tough Questions,’ in August 2002 -- and then escalated, so we’re trying here to engage folks beyond the ‘peace’ community in a national discussion about the consequences of war.

“We wouldn’t have had the membership to be able to run ads calling for an Iraq exit today if we’d confined our Iraq campaign to the true believers from the very beginning.”

In other words, MoveOn.org had to wait until thousands more Iraqis were killed, thousands more detained and tortured, while corporados associated with the Bush Administration looted the country for billions before it could take a stand in support of ending the occupation, and should pursue a similarly ponderous discussion about Iran without urgency. But such an analysis naively takes a disingenous reply at face value. Solomon asserts, probably accurately, that the overwhelming majority of MoveOn.org members oppose military action against Iran.

So, what we really have here is the effort of the self-described MoveOn.org Political Action Team to stall, to avoid taking a principled stand, as a means of relieving pressure on congressional Democrats, until it can no longer be avoided, as they previously did to evade an open declaration against the occupation. It was a rather strange coincidence, they apparently came out against the occupation as congressional Democrats began to openly consider a phased withdrawal from Iraq. Indeed, I can't even confidently say when it happened, the announcement gently brushed the public consciousness, most assuredly lacking the Zen-like prospect of transformation associated with a butterfly moving its wings.

Yet again, instead of providing leadership, the "action team" is actually an impediment, a barrier that MoveOn.org members must overcome to have their true opinion expressed. There is an old saying, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce." In this instance, we can more accurately say, "History repeats itself, ever more ludicrously." People with even longer memories about the mendacity of MoveOn.org recall how it created a safe harbor for congressional Democrats before the Iraq war, by stating that the war was wrong, unless authorized by a UN resolution.

By doing so, MoveOn.org accomplished two critical objectives: (1) allowing congressional Democrats to support the war in the unlikely event that Bush obtained a UN resolution; and, more importantly, (2) allowing congressional Democrats to engage in the hypocritical display of supporting the occupation as a purportedly grim necessity while parading their pre-war credentials of opposition. As already noted, MoveOn.org members eventually rebelled against such transparently cynical politics, but it took a long time for them to overcome the political manipulation of the "action team", if they did so at all, given the yellow light of cautious approval from congressional Democrats for a change in policy.

Hence, with Iran, we hear the same nonsense, MoveOn.org needs to educate and consult. A national discusssion is needed. Nonsense, because MoveOn.org is clearly an organization run from the top down, purveying the illusion of mass participation. Liberals love to bash ANSWER as some kind of Maoist/Stalinist/Trotskyite vanguardist organization (an organization with which I have had no personal experience, being philosophically more of an anti-globalization, direct action type), but isn't it odd that they have no problem with MoveOn.org, an organization that actually operates consistent with such an approach? Meanwhile, let's hope that we don't live through the entirety of an incomprehensibly violent war in the Middle East, provoked by conventional airstrikes upon Iran, before MoveOn.org completes the charade of a "national discussion".

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

What's Missing Here? 

A couple of days ago, I received this e-mail announcement from United for Peace and Justice. Upon close textual analysis, I realized that there was something missing. See if you can figure it out:

Saturday, April 29
March for Peace, Justice and Democracy


Assemble: 22nd Street and Broadway,
10:30AM onward
March: At noon down Broadway to Foley Square
Grassroots action festival: 1:00-6:00PM,
Foley Square
See below and www.april29.org for more details.

If you've ever doubted that protest marches can make a difference, just look at the stunning example of the massive immigrant rights demonstrations over this past week. Millions of people have taken to the streets across the country with a simple, powerful message: Don't deny the promise of opportunity to those who only seek a better life. And not only did this grassroots outpouring transform the political debate -- but it's also stalled, at least for the moment, the most draconian anti-immigrant measures in Congress.

On April 29, large numbers will again take to the streets, to demand a dramatic change in direction. Too much is too wrong in this country. We will call for an immediate end to the Iraq war and for all the troops to come home now. We will demand an end to illegal spying, government corruption, and the subversion of our democracy. We will stand up for the rights of immigrants and women, and for all our civil liberties. We will call for this country's resources to be used to rebuild the Gulf Coast and other devastated communities rather than for never-ending oil wars and massive corporate subsidies.

We have reached an agreement with the New York Police Department for the April 29 march route and festival location. We will assemble beginning at 10:30AM at 22nd Street and Broadway. Starting at noon, we will march down Broadway through the heart of Manhattan, to Foley Square, site of the Federal Building and Federal Courthouse. Maps, plus information about gathering spots for contingents, will soon be posted at www.april29.org.

Bring signs and banners, bring musical instruments, and above all, bring friends and associates -- let's make this event massive, vibrant, colorful, and inspiring! (Please note: The NYPD prohibits the use of wooden, metal, or fiberglass sticks or poles -- only cardboard tubes may be used to hold up signs and banners.)

The march will culminate in an action-oriented grassroots festival in Foley Square from 1:00-6:00PM, designed to connect those who attend the protest with a wide array of organizations and campaigns, including the nine national groups who initiated the April 29 protest. At the festival, you'll find leaflets, how-to guides, activist toolkits, and other resources; learn more about the disastrous Iraq War and how you can plug into the many efforts underway to bring the troops home; and have an opportunity to talk to knowledgeable organizers involved in everything from counter-recruitment work to faith-based organizing to immigrant rights and civil liberties. You'll also be able to picnic on the grass, spend time with friends, listen to music, and watch performances. There will be a large tabling area for groups wishing to distribute literature or sell merchandise at the festival. Click here to reserve table space.

Spread the word! We have an opportunity to turn what promises to be an important event into an historic mobilization. But we need your help to make sure everyone knows about April 29th. Visit the April 29 website to download leaflets for photocopying and distributing -- or, if you're in the New York City area, come by the United for Peace and Justice office and pick some up. Our office is at 261 West 36th Street, 7th floor, and is open Monday through Friday, 9:30am to 7:30pm and on the weekends (call the office for exact times -- 212-868-5545). We also have stickers, buttons, and posters to promote the April 29 march.

Raise your hands, how many of you got the right answer? OK, what is it? Yes, scott-o, you are correct, the missing piece of the puzzle, the giant elephant in the room that goes unmentioned is . . .

IRAN

Stanley Heller apparently received the same e-mail, because he has an incisive article on the subject over at COUNTERPUNCH:

In what country will a huge peace coalition hold an anti-war rally have nothing to say about Iran, Israel and Palestine or Afghanistan? Is the answer Israel? Turkey? Micronesia? Sadly it's the USA. On April 29 United for Peace and Justice is holding a big demonstration in New York City called "March for Peace, Justice and Democracy". The only "peace" demand mentioned is bringing troops home from Iraq.

The silence about Iran is staggering. On April 9 the Washington Post reported on US military planning for an attack. In includes this sentence, "Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices". Contemplating? We're not talking about mediation here, but dropping "tactical" Hiroshima-size atomic bombs. And UFPJ has nothing to say.

Of course, as always, the bottom line issue is that the demand for justice for the Palestinians must be abandoned, as Heller reveals in his description of what sadly transpired in Connecticut as a protest was being planned for the third anniversary of the launching of the war in Iraq:

We started making plans for this year's March 18 rally last November, and we held two ultra-democratc votes about the demonstration's demands. Anyone who showed up at the meetings could vote. In November we proposed the slogan "End Israeli Occupation and Apartheid". We also had slogans for immigrant rights, opposition to persecution of Muslims and rejection of war with Iran.

At our final meeting in January (with 125 in attendance) a number of people demanded a single issue rally, totally on Iraq, saying by going for the lowest common denominator we'd get labor, the Democrats and anti-war Jews. The majority wouldn't go for it. We weren't going to abandon the immigrants and Muslims and we'd be fools not to mention Iran, but we figured the real sticking point was Palestine. So we offered a compromise. Instead of the slogan "End Israeli Occupation and Apartheid" we offered the vague "Justice for the Palestinian People".

People voted for the compromise by a large majority. Still the very notion that the Palestinians were the victims was too much for some and others were afraid of offending the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party oriented labor leaders. So the Israel-apologists, the Peace Council and some labor leaders went off and did their own thing. They held a rally on March 19, a day after ours and formed a group with the acronym COW, Connecticut Opposes War.

On March 18 we marched 20 blocks from a largely Latino neighborhood and held and rally on the New Haven Green that according to the AP attracted 1,000. We think it was larger. Perhaps 10% were Muslim and Palestinians. We had pro-immigrant speakers in English and Spanish and a section of the Green with Spanish translators. It was a great demo, but we had expected double that number to attend and we blame it largely on the split.

So how well did the splitters do on the 19th in Hartford? Politically the rally sucked. It was two blocks from Senator Lieberman's office and none of the speakers denounced Lieberman. Neither Democrat Ned Lamont who was challenging Lieberman for anti-war reasons nor Ralph Ferrucci who was running as a Green were invited to speak. The only chant was this embarrasing bleat,"We are Americans, This is Our Country". Imagine after three years of the war they still think we have to defend our patriotism? All the speeches denounced one person and one person only, George Bush. As if the Democrats hadn't pushed for the war enthusiastically and as if they weren't still supporting it. Iran was mentioned in one sentence. And, of course, they didn't say a word about Israel's constant pressure for war against Iraq and Iran or the fact that Gaza is now without flour.

But the bottom line is numbers. Did they draw out the "silent majority"? No. Their rally was about the same size as ours (and included many of our people). It was hardly the breakthough that COW was predicting. There were a dozen Democratic state legislators. As for labor, state AFL-CIO President John Olsen spoke and there was a sizeable presence by SEIU-1199, maybe 50 or so union officials and members. That was about it.. Organized Jewish presence was invisible. No one saw a single sign from a Jewish organization and only one person objected to the tons of pro-Palestinian rights literature we gave out. On the other hand whatever was gained from the "middle" was lost from the fact the Muslims were conspicuous by their absence.

The COW strategy is a model for what shouldn't be attempted on April 29th . .

A movement that seeks to change the world without offending the establishment is as alluring as a revolution without dancing. No wonder the occupation of Iraq proceeds without hindrance, as we accelerate out of control towards another war, possibly nuclear, with Iran.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

National Day of Action for Immigrants' Rights (Sacramento): "We Want to Stay Together" 

Yesterday, I participated in the march and rally in support of immigrants' rights in Sacramento. Approximately 8,000 to 10,000 people marched to the State Capitol, and through the downtown, in one of the largest protests seen here since Governor Pete Wilson vetoed a gay rights bill, Assembly Bill 101, back in the mid-1990s.

I went over to Southside Park, a gathering place near the interchange for Interstates 5 and 80, about a mile from the Capitol, around 10:00 a.m. For me, it is an evocative location. After struggling through the recession of the mid-1970s, my mother and stepfather were finally able to purchase a home in this lower middle income neighborhood, and lived there until they retired and moved to Nevada. It was, and remains, multiethnic. Before World War II, it was a predominately Japanese American neighborhood. Internment uprooted many of these families and dispersed them.

Upon arrival, I encountered a crowd of about 500 people, predominately, but not exclusively, Latino, and the mood was festive as the organizers attempted to speak to the crowd. The sound system was poor, and I was not able to discern what many of the speakers said, so my attention waundered, and I observed people, many of them families with their children, trickling into the park down walkways in groups of 3, 4 or 6.

They were not activists, but, rather, day laborers, farmworkers, warehouse workers, construction workers, and vendors, along with students, social workers and teachers. And, while they were happy to be together in solidarity, they were angry at the intention of House Republicans to criminalize them and deport them. One common sign read, NO SOY CRIMINAL, and I couldn't help but be amazed at the absurdity of it.

They had built much of this country in the last 50 years, performing some of the most dangerous, physically demanding work, with corporations profitting immensely from their labor, and some had even fought for it, leaving friends behind in the killing fields of Korea, Vietnam and, now, Iraq, but the House Republicans want to arrest them, detain them, perhaps indefintely, in new facilities built by Halliburton, naturally, until they can be expelled.

A country that makes war on Arabs and Muslims is now facing the prospect of initiating a conflict with a substantial portion of its working class. And, so, they were, to quote the title of an Gloria Estefan song, an apparent emerging anthem of the movement, "Coming Out of the Dark". One of the most charming moments was when 4 high school students arrived in the park with a large, simple, crude, spraypainted card board sign, cut into sections. One student was white, one was Latino, one was Asian and the other was black, and each stood, held out a piece, and fit the sign together, until it read, WE ARE THE SAME. It was powerful and spontaneous, all the more so because of its black on brown card board simplicity.

Looking back, I can imagine the four of them together at one of their families' houses earlier that morning, with one of them saying, "we need a sign, a poster, something, we look pitiful . . . ", and then another responded, "let go in the garage . . ", and there they went, breaking down a box, grabbing a can of spray paint, and getting down to business. Maybe, they were from the housing project on the other side of the freeway, maybe they were from Oak Park, maybe they were from Sacramento, McClatchy, Johnson or Burbank high schools. Regardless, they reminded me of that spirit of cross cultural openness and friendship that I have always associated with the best of Sacramento.

Later, the march to the Capitol began. The early morning rain had passed, and the sun was breaking through some of the cloud cover as we walked down sidewalks through streets full of trees with the fresh leaves of spring. Behind me, a young boy, about 6 or 7 years old was walking with his mother. Two or three times, I heard him say, with an affectionate combination of warmth, impatience and firmness, as if he wanted to go out and play, "We want to stay together." I was perplexed, and couldn't put it together with the energy of the march, the crowd, the signs, the police directing traffic, and then, he said it again, and I finally understood.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

"It's a Tough Decision. But We Made It in Japan." 

UPDATE: Confirmation from the Washington Post:

Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices. The Natanz facility consists of more than two dozen buildings, including two huge underground halls built with six-foot walls and supposedly protected by two concrete roofs with sand and rocks in between, according to Edward N. Luttwak, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The targeteers honestly keep coming back and saying it will require nuclear penetrator munitions to take out those tunnels," said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst. "Could we do it with conventional munitions? Possibly. But it's going to be very difficult to do.

Scott Horton over at the antiwar.com blog provides some additional troubling analysis:

As Jim Lobe wrote for the IPS last week, though Bush/Cheney and the neoconservatives have been having their troubles, the likelyhood that they'll bomb Iran anyway hasn't changed because,

"Unlike the Iraq invasion, which was promoted almost exclusively by the three coalition constituents, Iran's nuclear program is seen as a threat to vital U.S. interests by a broader range of forces, including some realists and even liberal internationalists in the Democratic Party."

Are we really going to let these people turn our country in the Fourth Reich? Are we really that frightened of the scary men on TV that we are going to let this happen?



ORIGINAL POST:

Part 1: “Every Other Option, in the View of the Nuclear Weaponeers, Would Leave a Gap"

Jorge Hirsch, a University of California, San Diego physics professor, has been sounding the alarm for over a year about the prospect that the United States will use nuclear weapons against Iran, with this article being a representative example of his work. His articles on the subject display an obssesive attention to detail that one associates with a serious academic.

Now, Seymour Hersh has published an article in the New Yorker, stating that Bush has accelerated planning for a war against Iran:

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.

More specifically:

Some operations, apparently aimed in part at intimidating Iran, are already under way. American Naval tactical aircraft, operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea, have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions—rapid ascending maneuvers known as “over the shoulder” bombing—since last summer, the former official said, within range of Iranian coastal radars.

Yes, you read that right. Some operations, apparently aimed in part at intimidating Iran, are already under way. American Naval tactical aircraft, operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea, have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions . . The first use of nuclear weapons, with potentially catastrophic consequences is being considered as a centerpiece of a massive bombing campaign against Iran:

One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.

Debate within the administration over this prospect is intense:

The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it “a juggernaut that has to be stopped.” He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. “There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,” the adviser told me. “This goes to high levels.” The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. “The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks,” the adviser said. “And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen.”

The adviser added, however, that the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons in such situations has gained support from the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel whose members are selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “They’re telling the Pentagon that we can build the B61 with more blast and less radiation,” he said.

Jorge Hirsch has already exhaustively described the potentially catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons against Iran:

It is arguably possible that the nuclear hitmen's most optimistic expectations will be realized: the U.S. will succeed in crossing the nuclear threshold by using a few low-yield nuclear bombs against Iranian installations, without resulting in significant escalation, and achieve its goals of destroying Iran's military capabilities and establishing the value of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. It is also certainly possible, and in my view much more likely, that the results will be disastrous, as follows:

(1) A very large number of people will die.

For most of the world, the use of nuclear weapons is a major qualitative step, even if the yield and destruction of the nuclear weapons used is the same or less than that of conventional weapons. As a consequence, this action is likely to bring about an "irrational" reaction from Iran. No U.S. threat will deter Iran from retaliating any way it can – by firing all its missiles and launching a massive invasion of Iraq with millions of poorly armed but determined Basij militia. The U.S. will "have to" respond with large-scale bombing, including with nuclear bombs, causing potentially hundreds of thousands of Iranian casualties. This is likely to cause an immediate, large upheaval in the Middle East, with unforeseeable consequences. These events are not likely to be forgotten by the 1 billion-large worldwide Muslim community.

(2) America will be a pariah state.

The administration hopes that the use of nuclear bombs in this conflict will be viewed as "unavoidable" to save lives, ours and theirs. The world will not buy that interpretation. A cursory search on the Internet today makes it clear that it is already widely believed that the upcoming nuking of Iran is an event planned by the Bush administration (e.g., the Philip Giraldi story). Disclosures that will surely come after the fact will make this premeditation even more evident (like the Downing Street memos in the case of Iraq). The planned use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state in the name of nuclear nonproliferation, based on false accusations and concocted scenarios, will not be condoned by the world.

In the case of Iraq, the realization that the invasion had been planned in advance and Americans had been lied to has led to public disenchantment with the Bush administration, yet it has not led to universal condemnation. Attacking Iran will be different, because the use of nukes will affect every man, woman, and child in the world. The world will regard the Bush administration as criminal. Because Americans elected Bush for a second term and did nothing to impede his actions, all Americans will share responsibility in the eyes of the world. Each of us could have done more to prevent this from happening.

This is likely to result in a worldwide shunning of everything American. A tidal wave of boycott America fervor is likely to result, and no matter how powerful America is today, the rest of the world acting together can bring America to its knees and spell the end of all dreams of a "New American Century."

(3) Anti-Semitism will surge worldwide.

Israel will be regarded as having played a key role in these events, whether or not it participates in the military action. Israeli politicians have made it abundantly clear that Iran's nuclear ambitions represent an "existential threat" to Israel, so Israel will be regarded as instigator, given the strength of the Israeli lobby in America. Jewish organizations around the world have been supportive of the Israeli stance and will be regarded as complicit.

As a consequence, a resurgence of worldwide anti-Semitism will occur, even in America. The old charges that Jews have a divided allegiance to their home country and to Israel will resurface, and Jewish communities in every country will face hostility and aggression.

Just like Bush's invasion of Iraq erased the world's feelings of sympathy to America after the 9/11 attacks, so will the nuking of Iran erase any remaining feelings of sympathy for the state of Israel.

(4) Nuclear terrorism against America will become more likely.

The incentive for terrorist groups to use a nuclear weapon against America will be enormous after America uses nuclear weapons, even if only "small" ones, against Iran. No matter how much "counterproliferation" America undertakes, eventually a terrorist group will obtain or manufacture a nuclear bomb. And no matter how large a "deterrent" the American nuclear arsenal is, a single nuclear bombing in an American city will have devastating consequences.

Those who argue that nuclear terrorism will happen regardless of whether the U.S. nukes Iran or not should consider the fact that there has never been a chemical terrorist attack against America, despite the fact that chemical weapons have existed for a long time and shouldn't be too hard for terrorist groups to obtain. Could it be related to the fact that America does not use chemical weapons against others?

(5) Nuclear proliferation and global nuclear war may ensue.

The main reason why nuking Iran will affect every human being is that it will spell the end of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and lead to widespread nuclear proliferation. It will not matter how many eloquent speeches Bush gives afterwards explaining why it was "necessary." It will not matter if the next American president is a pacifist who vows never to do it again. It will not matter if think tanks and scientists and politicians and arms-control organizations and NGOs deplore it as a unique aberration of the Bush administration. The fact is, the entire American system will be seen as having conspired to let this happen.

After America has used a nuclear weapon against a non-nuclear country, all the speeches and studies and documents and excuses and promises will not change the facts. All countries will strive to acquire nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. America will prevent some from doing so by military force, but many others will succeed. With no remaining nuclear taboo, and many more countries with nuclear weapons (with a total power of 1 million Hiroshima bombs, hence the potential to destroy humanity many times over), does anybody doubt the outcome?

Hirsch has also eloquently explained "the military's moral dilemma":

Men and women in the military forces, including civilian employees, may be facing a difficult moral choice at this very moment and in the coming weeks, akin to the moral choices faced by Colin Powell and Dan Ellsberg. The paths these two men followed were radically different.

Colin Powell was an American hero, widely respected and admired at the time he was appointed secretary of state in 2001. In February 2003, he chose to follow orders despite his own serious misgivings, and delivered the pivotal UN address that paved the way for the U.S. invasion of Iraq the following month. Today, most Americans believe the Iraq invasion was wrong, and Colin Powell is disgraced, his future destroyed, and his great past achievements forgotten.

Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, played a significant role in ending the Vietnam War by leaking the Pentagon Papers. He knew that he would face prosecution for breaking the law, but was convinced it was the correct moral choice. His courageous and principled action earned him respect and gratitude.

The Navy has just reminded its members and civilian employees what the consequences are of violating provisions concerning the release of information about the nuclear capabilities of U.S. forces. Why right now, for the first time in 12 years? Because it is well aware of moral choices that its members may face, and it hopes to deter certain actions. But courageous men and women are not easily deterred.

To disobey orders and laws and to leak information are difficult actions that entail risks. Still, many principled individuals have done it in the past and will continue to do it in the future. Conscientious objection to the threat and use of nuclear weapons is a moral choice.

Once the American public becomes fully aware that military action against Iran will include the planned use of nuclear weapons, public support for military action will quickly disappear. Anything could get the ball rolling. A great catastrophe will have been averted.

Even U.S. military law recognizes that there is no requirement to obey orders that are unlawful. The use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country can be argued to be in violation of international law, the principle of just war, the principle of proportionality, common standards of morality and customs that make up the law of armed conflict. Even if the nuclear weapons used are small, because they are likely to cause escalation of the conflict they violate the principle of proportionality and will cause unnecessary suffering.

The Nuremberg Tribunal, which the United States helped to create, established that "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

To follow orders or to disobey orders, to keep information secret or to leak it, are choices for each individual to make – extremely difficult choices that have consequences. But not choosing is not an option.

We can only pray that people in positions of power within the Defense Department, those people who are already expressing vehement objections to the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, intensify their efforts if they fail to internally persuade the Bush Administration to change course. We must honestly acknowlege that it is unlikely to do so, given the Iraqi experience. Such actions of resistance will necessarily include the measures described by Hirsch, and, perhaps, even more confrontational ones.

Part 2: "The Late Capitalist Triage of Humanity, Then, Has Already Taken Place"

Despite the excellent work of Hersh and Hirsch, an essential question remains unanswered: why is the Bush Administration so adamant about preserving the use of nuclear weapons as an option against Iran? Is it just because officials believe that their use is required to effectively destroy the Iranian nuclear program, as Hersh's sources insist?

Personally, I think not. The explanation may be much more sinister, much more profound. Mike Davis, in a recent book entitled Planet of Slums, contemplates the prospect of an assymetical conflict, global in nature, between the poor that inhabit the rapidly growing slums around the world, and the American empire that has played such a significant (though not exclusive) role in their creation. In an epilogue, Davis reveals Pentagon planning for a global, dystopian urban future:

"Rapid urbanization in developing countries," writes Captain Troy Thomas . . . "results in a battlespace environment that is decreasingly knowable since it is increasingly unplanned." Thomas contrasts modern, hierarchical warfare urban cores, whose centralized infrastructures are easily crippled by either air strikes (Belgrade) or terrorist attacks (Manhattan), with the sprawling slum peripheries of the Third World, organized by "informal decentralized subsystems," where no blueprints exist and "points of leverage in the system are not readily discernable." Using the "sea of urban squalor" that surrounds Karachi as a prime example, Thomas portrays the challenge of "assymetric combat" within "non-nodal, non-hierarchical" urban terrains against "clan based urban militias" propelled by "desperation and anger." He also cites the slum peripheries of Kabul, Lagos, Dunshanbe (Tajikistan) and Kinshasa are other potential nightmare battlefields, to which other military planners add Port-au-Prince. Thomas, like other MOUT [Military Operations on Urban Terrain] planners, prescribes high tech gear plus realistic training, preferably in "our own blighted cities," where "massive housing projects have become untenable and industrial plants unusable. Yet they would be nearly ideal for combat-in-cities training."

But who will our troops be fighting? Another researcher, cited by Davis, vaguely, and rather alarmingly, proposed "anti-state actors", such as criminals cynical opportuntists, lunatics, revolutionaries, labor leaders, ethnic nationals and real estate speculators, before finally selecting the "dispossessed" and "criminal syndicates". In other words, just about anyone outside the affluent, global North who is not part of the middle and upper middle class, and one must concede that even they could find themselves drawn into such a conflict if economically associated with an entity that the US military considers a "criminal syndicate" (remember Noriega and Panama?).

Davis concludes on this note:

In summary, the Pentagon's best minds have dared to venture where most United Nations, World Bank or Department of State types fear to go: down the road that logically follows from the abdication of urban reform. As in the past, this is a "street without joy," and, indeed, the unemployed teenage fighters of the "Mahdi Army" in Baghdad's Sadr City--one of the world's largest slums--taunt American occupiers with the promise that the main boulevard is "Vietnam Street." But the war planners don't blanch. With cold blooded lucidity, they now assert that the "feral, failed cities" of the Third World--especially their urban outskirts--will be the distinctive battlefield of the twenty-first century. Pentagon doctrine is being reshaped accordingly to support a low-intensity world of unlimited duration against criminalized segments of the urban poor. This is the true "clash of civilizations".

Is it possible, however, that the more extreme Pentagon planners, appointed to high ranking positions within the Bush Administration, have ventured much farther into even more frightening territory? Is it possible that they persuaded themselves that only the use of genocidal force will prevail in such a conflict?

As Davis and the authors of a growing anti-globalization literature have emphasized, the population of the world is swelling with people who survive in what is euphemistically described as "the informal economy", barely surviving from day to day. They sell their labor to perform horrifically dangerous tasks, they work as street vendors, selling just about everything imaginable, and they even scrounge through garbage to salvage anything that can be recycled.

This is no proletariat in the classic Marxist sense, there are few industrial jobs awaiting them. In fact, they live in a world in which the so-called "above ground economy" generates no employment for them, and, they, in turn, constitute what has been described as "people without debts", meaning that they cannot participate in a neoliberal order that relies upon regular employment and consumption through the extension of credit. Put bluntly, they cannot work and they cannot consume, at least not in a way that is considered beneficial to a global capitalist system. They are, as described by Davis, "a surplus humanity".

If confronted with a choice between recruiting and training people to fight open ended urban conflicts, or, utilizing low yield nuclear weapons as a form of intimidation, which would Pentagon planners consider the superior alternative? Before responding, remember that General Shinseki publicly stated, contrary to the claims of the Bush Administration, that several hundred thousand soldiers would be required to pacify Iraq, a country of approximately 27 million people. Also, consider that Davis cites a 2002 UN-HABITAT Urban Studies Database that lists 23 Third World megacities with a population in excess of 8 million. As of 2005, there are 30 megaslums with populations that range between 500,000 and 4,000,000. Slum growth continues to outpace urban growth, and Asia alone, by 2025, may have ten or more cities over over 20 million. By 2015, it has been estimated that Africa will have 332 million slumdwellers.

Hence, just one or two of these cities could easily swallow 500,000 American (or, to be more precise, "Coalition of the Willing") troops, no matter how well trained and armed. Accordingly, there may be a real urgency towards exploiting the conflict with Iran as a means of legitimizing the use of nuclear weapons. Recall this aside from Hersh's New Yorker article: The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles.

So, let's just say it out loud: is it possible that some within the Bush Administration and the Pentagon want to use nuclear weapons in Iran to facilitate their subsequent use as part of a twenty first century initiative of calculated, planned genocide? It is a conclusion that is hard to avoid, even if the consequences, as described by Hirsch, are calamitous.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Chavez Fans 

Looks like I have another piece of artwork in The Nation... According to their website it's in the April 24th issue:

The image is an allusion to a famous Elvis Presley compilation album. I pitched it to The Nation as a comment on the cult of personality surrounding Chavez and the fact that his critics rarely mention the extent of his popularity within Venezuela.

Something Gonzales Can't Get Into 

Salon's Farhad Manjoo sees hints of a another spying program in comments made by the attorney general in an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee:

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a simple question during a House hearing yesterday. Can the president wiretap purely domestic phone calls -- phone calls between two people in the United States -- without court approval? Easy answer: No. But here was Gonzales' answer: "I'm not going to rule it out."

Why not? The president and other officials have repeatedly insisted that their warrantless wiretapping program only applies to people who are making calls from the United States to points outside. So why not just assure us, plainly, that people making calls in the country have nothing to worry about?

Because, well -- what if that's not the case? What if the government is currently monitoring domestic phone calls? Could that be so? Am I being paranoid?

Maybe I am. But so too then is Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen, who saw in Gonzales' testimony the ghostly wisps of perhaps something far more serious going on in the government. "In yesterday's testimony, Gonzales reiterated earlier hints that there may be another facet to the NSA program that has not been revealed publicly, or even another program that has prompted dissension within the government," Eggen wrote. At one point, discussing whether some people inside the administration have challenged the spying plan, Gonzales said that those disagreements "did not relate to the program the president disclosed. They related to something else, and I can't get into that."

Something else?

UK Jury Rules James Miller's Death "Murder" 

A coroner's inquest has ruled that the killing of the film maker working on the project that became the HBO documentary Death in Gaza was intentional: (from Haaretz)

James Miller, 34, was shot in the neck by a soldier in the town of Rafah, along the Gaza-Egypt border, in May 2003 while filming a documentary about the impact of violence on children in the region.

The coroner, Andrew Reid, had instructed the 10-member inquest jury at King's Cross Coroner's Court that a verdict of unlawful killing was the only one they could reach. Reid had told the jury that Miller had either been murdered or was the victim of manslaughter, but that the law drew no distinction.

"Based on the evidence laid before us, we the jury unanimously agree it was unlawful shooting, with the intention to kill Mr. James Miller. We can come to no other conclusion than that Mr. Miller was indeed murdered," the jury said.

Miller's widow, Sophy, wept as the verdict was read.

The Israeli Embassy in London said it regretted Miller's death, but after a thorough and extensive investigation there was no basis for criminal proceedings, a spokeswoman said.

I Hope This is a Fake Story... 

A guy got pulled off an airplane by British anti-terrorism detectives because he was singing along to the Clash in the cab on the way to the airport. Via Doctor Strangelove.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Kerry Plan 

Dear Senator Kerry,

It's nice to see high profile Democrats call for ending the US occupation of Iraq. However, I must have missed your mea culpa in which you explain why you no longer advocate sending in more troops. Perhaps, if you had written something like your recent New York Times editorial while you were, you know, running for president we would be in a different situation right now.

Sincerely,

Joe Wezorek

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Odds and Ends 

Midweek roundup of some commentary from other bloggers, in relation to subjects emphasized here at American Leftist.

Libertarians and V for Vendetta

Justin Raimondo, like most libertarians, it seems, gets it when it comes to V for Vendetta, a film that confronts the legitimacy of state violence, and contemplates the extent to which it will inevitably generate violence to resist it, as I discussed here last week. Raimondo makes the excellent point that patronizing cultural creations of such compelling aesthetic and political character is an essential aspect of the struggle to overcome neo-conservatism, and, indeed, the US global empire:

Go see V for Vendetta, and remember this: by supporting a work of art that embodies your political and philosophical values, you are helping to fight the cultural rot that the War Party feeds on. There is a scene in the movie when Natalie Portman is going about her job at the BTN [British Television Network] and passes a security guard watching some ridiculous "reality" show. She asks, "How can you watch that trash?" The contempt in her voice is clearly that of the authors of this script, who are acutely aware of the political consequences of entertainment as cultural "soma."

Alternately, a key moment as the anti-regime revolution gathers force is the rebellion of a BTN celebrity, who turns his show into a satire of the high chancellor (waspishly and brilliantly played by John Hurt). The catalytic revolutionary moment occurs when the public stops believing the lies of the regime – a moment V for Vendetta brings closer to realization in our own world. The value of the media as a political weapon is clearly understood by the makers of this movie, and they utilize it to make their effort a resounding success.

One aspect of my review justifies repetition: Critics have ignored the emotional impact of secondary characters, such as Gordon, a BTN talk show host, and Valerie, an actress who lived in London with her lesbian partner, who try, unsuccessfully, to live private, fulfilling lives, outside of the public constraints of the regime.

Valerie's recollection of her rejection by her family, her youthful independence, the joyful discovery of her partner, Patricia, and the subsequent destruction of their life together, is one of the most affecting film sequences in recent memory. Over at the Internet Movie Database, one person said that she cried throughout its entirety, and it is certainly an understandable response. As with the best of Hong Kong cinema, personal sentimentality is contrasted with public brutality, creating an intense 'alienation effect' that shatters the emotional defenses of an audience familiar with Hollywood convention. The experiences of Gordon, Valerie and Patricia, as portrayed by Stephen Fry, Natasha Wightman and Cosima Shaw, give a good film the emotional depth of greatness.


The New York Times Is Terrified By Venezuelan Foreign Aid

After the Times published a bizarre article yesterday about Hugo Chavez, and his financing of social welfare and economic projects throughout Africa and the Americas, Dave Lindorff nailed it:

What do you call a nation that provides medical aid to desperately poor people in Mexico, heating assistance to low-income families in the U.S., crucial project financing to some of the poorest countries in Africa, and aid to impoverished Caribbean island nations?

If you're the New York Times, you call it "provocative," and you call the leader of that country "the next Fidel Castro."

Of course, the real problem, as intimated by Lindorff, is Chavez's rejection of neoliberalism, with its pernicious structural adjustment plans, administered through the IMF and the World Bank, that require countries to dismantle or privatize their public services and assets:

Would that the U.S. would engage in more of this kind of "influence peddling," and less of the kind that involves arms sales, military bases and the training of secret police in the fine art of torture.

Imagine a Latin America where the U.S. and Venezuela vied in seeing who could provide more doctors for the peasants of Guatemala and Brazil, or who could provide lower-interest loans for water projects in Bolivia or Ecuador. Imagine, for that matter, a Philadelphia where poor people didn't have to depend upon handouts of cheap oil from Venezuela to keep their apartments warm through the winter because of federal cuts in heating oil assistance programs.

Certainly, a good idea, if a little utopian, but when the US, with strong bipartisan support, remains doggedly committed to globally imposing its economic system to the detriment of billions, arms sales, construction of permanent military bases (currently ongoing in Iraq) and the training of police forces and militias (again, as has been done in Iraq), becomes a rational, even necessary means of implementing the policy. In such a context, anyone, like Chavez, who retains control of his country's resources, like oil, and uses those resources to socially benefit people so that they do not have to follow the dictates of the US, can only be perceived by the Times as a menace.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Bush's Mouth 

So CNN is reporting a rumor that new Chief of Staff Josh Bolten is going to fire McClellan and that Dan Bartlett is a possible replacement.

I always thought McClellan was much much worse at the press secretary racket than Ari who had a genius for propaganda. Ari understood that no matter what the question was all he had to do was speak for three or four minutes and based on the tacit laws of conversation the question and answer exchange was then over regardless of what he said, and further he had a gift for speaking articulately for extended durations without actually saying anything. McClellan never had the ability to produce the eloquent but contentless speech and would thus repeat his talking point over and over again.

The Dan Bartlett speculation feels dead on, but I also wonder if Karen Hughes is being considered. McClellan never looked comfortable lying -- he would fidget around and stammer -- unlike, say, Ari who was a natural liar. Another natural liar, as I have noted before, is Karen Hughes.

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