Saturday, February 23, 2008

No. This is NOT Israel.

The above pic is an advert that is apparently in the latest print edition of The Nation. As propaganda, it certainly could play well to "progressives" of a feminist persuasion - probably the same ones who find Hillary to be such a wonderful choice to run the US Empire.

Dorit Beinisch is currently president of the Israel Supreme Court, and is I suppose relatively humane as Israeli officials go - although her advocacy for collective punishment against those trapped in that open-air prison called Gaza, as well as her statement in a ruling against conscientious objectors don't exactly impress me.

Tzipi Livni, Israel's Foreign Minister, has quite the colorful background - including a dad who was a terrorist back in the 1940s; Juan Cole notes she never repudiated her dad's actions. So it goes. In her eyes, some terrorists are more equal than others. She's an avowed "centrist" who rose to prominence as a right-winger back in the 1970s.

Dalia Itzik is Speaker of the Knesset, and I suppose deserves to be recognized for finally recognizing that Arabs are discriminated against in Israel. Fancy that. Beyond that she just comes across as the usual warmonger and corrupt politico that one would expect.

I suppose that's the cream of the crop.

Of course, Eli has already done a splendid job in offering an alternative picture of what Israel really is. I'll only add a few of my own, realizing that whatever is being offered is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

This is Israel:
"[Between 16:45 and 17:00], [o]ne bulldozer, serial number 949623, began to work near the house of a physician who is a friend of ours ... Rachel sat down in the pathway of the bulldozer ... [It] continued driving forward headed straight for Rachel. When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the pile of rubble being pushed by the bulldozer. She got so high onto it that she was at eye-level with the cab of the bulldozer ... Despite this, he continued forward, which pulled her legs into the pile of rubble, and pulled her down out of view of the driver ... We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted, one activist with the megaphone. But [he] continued forward, until Rachel was underneath the central section of the bulldozer ... Despite the obviousness of her position, the bulldozer began to reverse, without lifting its blade, and drug [sic] the blade over her body again. He continued to reverse until he was on the boarder [sic] strip, about 100 meters away, and left her crushed body in the sand. Three activists ran to her and began administering first-responder medical treatment ... She said, "My back is broken!" but nothing else ..."
This is Israel:
So, Israel has committed another massacre, this time pounding 33 farmers into the dust and wounding twenty more as they engaged in provocative fruit-picking activity. The new ways of looking at it? First of all, let's not forget that Hezbollah is firing some unguided missiles into Israel. The BBC doesn't. It's front page explains: "An Israeli air raid near the Lebanese-Syrian border kills at least 28, as Hezbollah fires 40 rockets into Israel." Meanwhile, lots of news outlets have a brand new angle: "Israel Severs Lebanon Road Link to Syria" says ABC News. Ditto says the Houston Chronicle. So, how come we never heard or saw the headline: "Hamas severs bus" with the reminder "as Israel continues to brutally occupy Palestine"? Israel expands Lebanon bombing, remarks CBS rather vaguely. The New York Times prefers to be very slightly more specific: Israel expands strikes north of Beirut. Threat to attack Tel Aviv says The Australian, appearing to miss the point entirely.

The fact that this killing was part of an attempt to destroy the aid routes and transport infrastructure is of course indicative that the war continues to be a war against the population - but to notice this would be, well, tasteless.
This is Israel:
But Hadawi will never return home to Jerusalem. Like his wife before him, he leads his life in painful reminiscence and will carry the grief with him to a grave dug in a foreign land.

The 99-year-old Toronto resident's dilemma is inextricably linked to the thorniest of all issues at the heart of the Middle East conflict: Palestinians' right of return.

Israel denies it. Palestinians insist on it. The failure to reach a compromise has meant a continuing loss of opportunity for a resolution of the conflict.

The beginning of Hadawi's story, like those of other Palestinians, is buried under decades of displacement and yearnings for restitution.

He was born in West Jerusalem in what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine. Growing up in his grandfather's house in the Jewish quarter of the city, he worked for the British government during its mandate of Palestine and at age 44 moved to a house he built for his own family in the Christian quarter.

Little did Hadawi know that the days following his move would usher in a period of homelessness for his family and coincide with the beginning of an era of regional wars and political unrest in the Middle East.

It was 1948, the year of the partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel.

Sitting in his room at the Gibson Retirement Residence in Toronto's northeast end, Hadawi recalls the harsh circumstances of his departure.

"I spent all my life building a house and I lived in it for six or seven days. The house was taken away from us. We were thrown out ... I never wanted to leave ... I left everything ... I was left with nothing."

Hadawi says the pain of parting with his homeland, and the memory of losing his wife shortly after, remains undiminished after all these years.

"I try not to think about the past, because the past hurts a great deal. You don't want to hate people; you don't want to curse people ....

"I had nothing against the Jews all my life ... but what was done (in Palestine) was unforgettable."

Hadawi's account of his family's exodus from the land of his ancestors is representative of stories of many Palestinians now living in the diaspora. What was seen by immigrating Jews at the time as the realization of a dream of nationhood was viewed by displaced Arabs as a catastrophe of deliberate depopulation.
This is Israel:
The wall was the starkest expression of the international boycott of Hamas imposed by the United States, Israel, and the European Union after Hamas won a majority of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections of January 2006 and formed a government the following March. Hamas has been in sole control of the Gaza Strip after it executed a coup d'état against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in June 2007. Since then, Israel has tightened the siege of Gaza which had been in effect since June 2006.
Despite the siege, Israel continued to provide electricity and water to the Gaza Strip, allowing people to live on the edge of survival, hoping that the economic pressure would bring down the Hamas government. Half the population now depends on charity handouts from the UN refugee relief organization and other humanitarian NGOs. Four days before the wall came crashing down, Israel sharply cut back fuel and water supplies, imposing a harsh collective punishment on the entire population of 1.5 million.
Meanwhile, at Rafah Egyptian security forces initially tried to stop the Palestinians from streaming across the border. But as the numbers swelled to tens of thousands, the government had no choice but to acquiesce.
This is Israel:

Shanbo Heinemann, a pro-Palestinian activist from San Francisco, California, sits on the ground after being shot in the head with a rubber bullet fired by Israeli troops during a violent protest against Israel's security fence in the West Bank village of Bilin, February 22, 2008.
REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
[Notice the word "violent" describing the protest. A lie, of course. The Bilin weekly protest against the Apartheid Wall has been going on for years. The only violence which occurs is always from the Israeli side.* He is identified as "pro-Palestinian" when in fact he is a "peace activist", an international monitor, not a protestor.]
This is Israel:
I offer no justification beyond that I KNOW Israel to be the land promised to us by G_d, and that I KNOW her to have awakened and embarked upon a march to glory.

To deny Israel her place is to deny the sun-rise, or the tides or the exquisite forces of gravity. We might idly ruminate on matters of the world, but to so do marks nothing more than the passage of time.

Israel's destiny is concrete, and here people might justly celebrate at such a time.

Nerdified Link
In his victory speech, Olmert called on Mahmoud Abbas to make peace. But this is an empty gesture. No Palestinian could possibly accept the terms Olmert has in mind. So, if the Palestinians don't show that they are "partners," Olmert wants to "establish Israel's permanent borders unilaterally," meaning that he wants to annex something between 15 percent and 50 percent of the West Bank.

Nerdified Link
In his inaugural speech, Olmert continued to insist that Israel has inalienable historical rights for all the land west of the Jordan River...


The wall is planned to enclose Greater Jerusalem and most of the main settlement blocks in the West Bank. It will extend deep into the West Bank as far as Maale Adumim, a settlement of 32,000 inhabitants halfway down to Jericho, and in the west to the large city of Ariel, twenty kilometers inside the West Bank. This will not only divide Palestinian Jerusalem residents from their families and businesses outside the city but will, in effect, cut the West Bank into at least two enclaves. Olmert also wants to retain freedom of action in the remaining West Bank against terrorists and maintain a "military presence" in the Jordan Valley. Israel will therefore establish a security zone along the river that will further cut into the West Bank, taking up a considerable amount of territory.


By contrast, Palestinians were at first encouraged to emigrate and later prevented from buying apartments in the new Israeli suburbs. The municipal government still badly neglects the remaining purely Palestinian neighborhoods. Many are sadly run down. Behind the Mount of Olives and in the Valley of Hinom, below the Old City walls, the Palestinian quarters look more like Cairo slums. Mountains of garbage lie in the street, there are potholes everywhere, no sidewalks, no proper streetlights, and no parks, as there are on the Jewish side. An open sewer runs though muddy streets.

Nerdified Link
You get the picture.

The elections are just the sideshow

Chris Floyd sez:
Today of course, in our glittering 21st century of ubiquitous, 24-hour, multi-platform media access, we can watch geeks for free: all we have to do is turn to the latest reports on the presidential campaign. There we can see the revolting but fascinating spectacle of freakish characters willing to do just about anything – gnaw off a chicken head, lie like a dog, pander like a door pimp, crawl on their bellies to tongue a corporate boot, turn themselves inside out and shake their innards at the camera – to grab our attention and please the carnival's owners. We are also subjected to endless exegesis of every aspect of the geeks' performance: "Wasn't it wonderful how Obama nipped that chicken neck so expertly? Did Hillary do enough to win back the crowd when she slurped down the heart and the liver the same time? Should she have tried to get the gizzard in too? And what about McCain's trouble getting that right wing down his throat? Let's see what our expert analysts have to say. Over to you, Bill Kristol and James Carville…."

But while the feathers fly and the fan dancers trot across the electoral stage, the deadly, democracy-killing business of empire-building grinds on behind the gaudy scenes. And not a single one of the top troika are taking a stand against it; indeed, all of them have made their commitment to American military dominance of the planet – and their proud refusal to take any option "off the table" in world affairs – crystal clear. What we are seeing now – and what we will see when the race narrows down to just a pair of geeks chomping at the chicken – is simply a debate over the best way to keep the empire in fighting trim while gussying up some of the ham-handed excesses of the past few years.
The real story of course is the continued expansion and consolidation of the trappings of empire in the form of, among other things, permanent bases - the latest of which is in Kuwait. As Floyd continues:
A few days ago came the news – ignored or buried by almost every venue of that non-stop multi-platform media echo chamber – that the United States has made a very significant, and very permanent, addition its empire of bases: one that American officials freely admit will allow them to project "full spectrum" military dominance over 27 sovereign nations. And of course, what is most noteworthy about the development, reported in full in the Pentagon's own Stars and Stripes newspaper, is that this astonishing declaration of imperial aggression and hubris is regarded as something completely normal – indeed laudatory.

Stars and Stripes – an often excellent paper, reporting genuine news that the geek-gawking non-entities in the corporate media ignore – lays it all out, plain and simple:
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — U.S. Army Central is establishing a permanent platform for “full spectrum operations” in 27 countries around southwest Asia and the Middle East, its commander says.

Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace said the Army has diverse capabilities here now but plans to reach a complete level of operational effectiveness by July. The restructuring, which offers more flexibility for offensive, defensive and stability operations, is a major piece of transformation worldwide, said Lovelace.

“It’s the first Army command to do this,” said Lovelace, who also heads the Coalition Forces Land Component. “Now, we’re not only operational but the Army has committed other assets…They regionally focus on this area. That was not always the case,” said Lovelace, who took command in mid-December. “These commands now have a permanent responsibility to this theater. They’ll have a permanent presence here. The personnel will change; the commands will remain."
Yes, the personnel will change – even in the White House. But the commands will remain. And this permanent, force-projecting base is of course just the icing on the imperial cake in the region; the U.S. military already has its boots in the ground all over the area, as the newspaper notes:
Col. Michael A. Carroll, USARCENT’s chief of staff, said the command has a footprint in 22 of the area’s 27 countries, where it conducts theater security engagements, peacekeeping and exercises with other militaries. [Not to mention a couple of good ole shootin' wars.]

…Lovelace said the war on terror and a need to be more operationally focused compelled the Army to alter its approach. “You don’t have the element of time on your side anymore, like we did in the Cold War. We’ve got to be ready tonight," he said. "That’s why now you have that broader commitment."
Strange how the "element of time" has narrowed so drastically; I remember being told back in those Cold War days that we were always, forever just six minutes away from nuclear annihilation: that's how long it would take a Soviet first strike to reach the heartland of the Homeland. But of course, as we all know, the few thousand actual Islamic terrorists out there – most of them in the pay of our allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, when they're not actually drawing checks from the CIA and the Pentagon – pose a far greater threat to the existence of the nation than the vast, globe-spanning nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union ever did. Thus the need for planting new gargantuan, permanent military bases in the world's most volatile regions is more urgent and important than ever.

And that's why the new "full spectrum" Army base in Kuwait is just one of the force-projecting fortresses going up all over the world. As William Arkin reports in the Washington Post (not in the actual paper, mind you, but on the Post's blog):
The Air Force and Navy, meanwhile, have set up additional permanent bases in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. By permanent I mean large and continuing American headquarters and presences, most of which are maintained through a combination of coalition activities, long-standing bilateral agreements and official secrecy. Tens of billions have been plowed into the American infrastructure. Admiral William J. Fallon, the overall commander of the region, was just in Oman this week after a trip to Iraq to secure continuing American military bases in that country.
This new base-building, Arkin says, astutely, has a two-fold purpose. First, it is part of the necessary infrastructure for continuing the war in Iraq on a permanent basis. Second, it is creating "facts on the ground" – like Ariel Sharon's illegal settlements all over Palestinian land – that any future president will find hard to undo…assuming that anyone who was not already committed heart-and-soul to imperial expansion would ever be allowed to get near the White House in the first place. As Arkin puts it:
When a war with Iran loomed and World War III seemed to be gaining traction in the Bush administration, this entire base structure was seen as the "build-up" for the next war. The build-up of course began decades ago, but since 9/11, the focus has been almost exclusively "supporting" U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is there, but to interpret the planting of the American flags and the moving of chess pieces as being focused on Tehran is to miss what is really going on.

Regardless of who is elected, in the coming year U.S. combat forces in Iraq will undoubtedly continue to contract to a fewer number of combat brigades and special operations forces focused on counter-terrorism and the mission of continuing to train and mentor the Iraqi Army and police forces. Much of the "war" that is already being fought is being supported from Kuwait and other locations, and the ongoing shifts seem to point to an intent to increasingly pull additional functions and people out of harm's way.

Of course they will not be out of harm's way at all, because a permanent American military presence in the region brings with it its own dangers and provocations. But most important what it brings for the next president is a fait accompli: a pause that facilitates a drawdown that begins to look a lot like a continuation of the same military and strategic policy, even at a time when there is broad questioning as to whether this is the most effective way to fight "terrorism."
Arkin is of course being over-polite in his conclusion: it has long been clear that the Bush Administration's policies – repeatedly ratified by the bipartisan foreign policy establishment – have nothing to do with fighting "terrorism," effectively or otherwise. It is a demonstrable fact – attested to by the Administration's own intelligence services – that these policies are actually exacerbating, empowering and emboldening terrorism all over the world. It is also obvious – albeit far less openly acknowledged – that these policies are themselves a form of terrorism: state terrorism, on a massive scale, which has already killed at least a million people in Iraq alone.

But Arkin is right on the money in noting that these developments – which have drawn not a peep of protest or the slightest questioning from the great "progressives" seeking the Democratic nomination (much less the bilious bagman cruising to the GOP nod) – are indeed "a continuation of the same military and strategic policy" that is driving the imperial war-state on to more "full spectrum operations" all over the world, for decades to come. And much as I might wish it to be otherwise, I have seen nothing to make me believe that any of the chicken-chompers bound for the White House will make any actual, substantial changes in this policy, much less begin the task of rolling back the empire.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A feedlot-full of bovine fecal matter

Just one quote, but might as well read the whole article (h/t to RickB at Ten Percent):
"Torture is against our laws and our values. And, given our mission, CIA could have no interest in a process destined to produce bad intelligence."

-- CIA director Mike Hayden
CIA directors just say the darnedest things. Now, where would anyone ever get the idea that the CIA would have any interest in torture, one might ask? Well, well, well ... it might just have something to do with, oh, say, MKULTRA. That's of course not to mention those really neato videotapes of waterboarding from the current decade that the CIA just coincidently destroyed.

I un-PC of me: the correct flavor of the month term is "enhanced interrogation techniques." Sounds all nice, technical, and value-neutral that way. Of course, then again, I'd just as soon stick to the more blunt terminology by referring to such techniques as what they are - torture, much as I would just as soon refer to "extraordinary rendition" as kidnapping (for the purpose of torture).

Follow-up to " The Iraq War Debacle Was Truly a Debacle For Some"

One implication of Michael Schwartz' article, Iraq: The broken pieces don't fit together, was that the quagmire in Iraq wasn't an accident, but rather was part of the design. In the process of discussing that article, I made reference to Naomi Klein's book, The Shock Doctrine. Well, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, there is an excerpt from her chapter on Iraq. I consider the book a must-read for any of a number of reasons - not the least of which is that Klein helps make some sense of what otherwise would be sheer nonsense when it comes to analyzing the consequences of the Iraq War.

Speaking of anniversaries: The peace sign turns 50

Here's the story:
Half a century ago, a British textile designer came up with an idea for protest signs for a march on a nuclear weapons facility: they would be the size and shape of an extra-large pizza bearing nothing more than a upside-down V with line through the middle, rendered white on black and mounted on wood laths.

These "lollypops," as the designer called them, would be lightweight and look great on TV, he said. Seen often enough, they would trumpet the message of nuclear disarmament without the need for cumbersome words.

Adopted with stunning speed by dozens of counterculture movements in the 1960s, its message expanded and now most people see it as a generic symbol of peace, adaptable to almost any pacifist cause.

"The peace symbol still radiates emotion, even if that emotion is detached from the original intent," says Isabel Pedersen, a professor of professional communication at Ryerson University.

Next month, the peace symbol returns to its roots. On Easter Monday, March 24, Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament hopes to have protesters carrying peace signs encircle the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, west of London -- the site of Britain's first mass nuclear disarmament march on Easter Monday in 1958, where the peace sign was unveiled.

"The peace symbol continues to exert almost hypnotic appeal," writes Ken Kolsbun in Peace: The Biography of a Symbol, which will be released by National Geographic's publishing arm in April.

"It has become the rallying cry for almost any group working for social change."

h/t Earthside.

The more things change,

the more they seem to remain the same. Case in point, waterboarding:

I've read of this before, so I wasn't entirely surprised to read a new article discussing the use of water torture (or what we would now call waterboarding) by the US against Philippine individuals at the turn of the 20th century. The picture is from a recent New Yorker article by Paul Kramer, The water cure: Debating torture and counterinsurgency - a century ago.

h/t Madman in the Marketplace at Marisacat's blog.

Of course, that just makes Chris Bell's latest cartoon on Fidel Castro's retirement all the more appropriate:
h/t to Chris Floyd.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Buy the ticket, take the ride

One of my favorite writers died three years ago: Hunter S. Thompson. After a lifetime spent about as close to "The Edge" as was humanly possible, he crossed over to the other side - leaving a considerable legacy as a journalist and storyteller. Like a lot of creative people, there was an apparent madness that possessed him. With that madness, there was a method. And of course there is no doubt that when that cat was on, he was right on.

HST's writing was a merging of the profane and the profound, the trivial and the prophetic. His fans all have their favorite HST quotations memorized by heart. I too have mine:

"...The Edge...There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others -- the living -- are those who pushed their control as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later.

"But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it's In..."

--- Hunter S. Thompson (1967) , from "Hell's Angels"

"People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity, and Craziness. But I have spent enough time in jackrabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, fuck, sleep, hop around a bush now and then... No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenalin rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front tires."

-- Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
As I noted in February, 2005:
Deep down, that cat was a street-level existentialist who knew all too well the fragility and absurdity of life. No wonder many of us drift over as close to the edge as possible. As I think about it, we're all damaged goods - some of us more damaged than others. More often than not, existence is filled with long stretches of tedium that maybe - maybe if one is lucky gets broken with some success or excitement. If only the buzz of success would linger a while longer. But like all good buzzes, eventually the sensation wears off, and it's back to the usual mind-numbing tedium and the sensation of being kicked when we're down.
As poet and rapper Gylan Kain (one of the founding members of The Last Poets) put it in a tune called "Look Out for the Blue Guerrilla":
You know life ain’t nothin’ but a river
Just moving through an empty hand
I said life ain’t nothin’ but a river
Moving through an empty hand
You can hold on if you wanna
But Lord when the truth hits the fan
HST knew all about the truth hitting the fan, offering up visions of what was about to go down. Take this quote, written just after September 11, 2001:
The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now--with somebody--and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.
We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once.
This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed--for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won't hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.
In July 2003 (see the column "Welcome to the Big Darkness" reprinted in Hey Rube), he wrote, "Big Darkness, soon come. Take my word for it." Big Darkness is here my friends. In the years since his Sept. 12, 2001 column, what he said has come to pass. The US is in the midst of fighting Bu$hCo's Never-ending Holy War on two fronts (Afghanistan and Iraq), with a third front always one manufactured crisis away (Iran). The Constitution has become in Junior Caligula's words, "just another Goddamn piece of paper" to be shredded along with whatever other documents the White House chooses to keep secret. Bu$hCo spies on us, and barely a peep from Congress ensues. The draconian Patriot Act has become a permanent fixture, with minimal protest from our presumably elected Congress critters. Hell, those very Congress critters are outdoing themselves each year, with among other things, "Homegrown Terrorism" laws that will affect everyone but the real terrorists who occupy luxury office space along Wall Street, as well as those terrorizing the planet from inside the White House bunker. Habeas Corpus is now a mere historical artifact. Maybe having seen the worst of the Abu Ghraib pictures was enough to put the fear of God into those cats - that they too could meet the same fate if they rock the boat too much. Let's just say the accommodations aren't quite up to the Club Med standards that are more to their liking; and besides, any talk of impeachment would open up all manner of nasty skeletons in the old Congressional closet. Ho Ho! We can't have that, now can we!

Said it once and I'll say it again: Big Darkness has come. Whether it is a passing storm, or a more prolonged winter in America only time will tell. I'm betting on the latter, and in the meantime I'm taking Gylan Kain's advice to "look out for the Blue Guerrilla!"

In the meantime, there are still folks keeping Gonzo alive, including, of course, HST's widow, Anita, who also has a blog, Owl Farm.



That's Junior Caligula's current approval rating, according to the American Research Group. That's a huge drop from 34% when they conducted their last survey in January. I'm sure it'll bump up into the low to mid 20s next month. Still, let that sink in a bit. Only 19% of Americans as of February 2008 approve of the job the current president is doing. These are the hard-core Kool-Aid addicts, folks, who would probably approve of Junior's performance even if he were to go on national TV and publicly drink the blood of infants.

As David Swanson duly notes, when Richard Nixon was impeached, his approval numbers were also in the proverbial crapper (somewhere around 25%), and those numbers did not improve for him during the impeachment ordeal - he had the good sense to resign instead. Now we'd think that sort of news would get a seemingly hesitant group of Congresscritters to get off their collective asses and start impeachment proceedings, given that there is by now a wealth of information strongly suggesting that the crooks in the White House did plenty of things that are impeachable. But nooooooooooo! There's nary a peep. Why is that?

To answer my own question, let's say it has something to do with a nearly unanimous lack of concern among our so-called representatives. In other words, they don't give a flying fuck what the American people might want. They don't have to give a flying fuck, nor would doing so even be in their interest as their own complicity would come under scrutiny as well.

When authoritarians masquerade as progressives

you get statements like the following:
As I've mentioned before, in a genuine national emergency like this I don't have a problem with the president assuming extraordinary powers for a short period.
Well, he does mention one teensy-weensy problem shortly thereafter:
The problem, of course, is that it didn't go on for only a short while.
Ya think? Once a regime has assumed that kind of power, it's hard for that regime to give it up. "Emergencies" have this funny tendency to either stretch into what might as well be eternity, or the population may be subject to an on-going series of "emergencies." Either way, the regime in question will just keep on assuming whatever "extraordinary powers" for what is promised to be only a "short time." The so-called "respectable" progressives will of course rue that such situations "necessitate" such extraordinary executive power, but, their hands are tied. After all, who wants to appear soft on "terrorism" (or whatever the flavor of the month "threat" happens to be at the time)? One might lose valuable advertising on one's blog or face a primary challenge for daring to point out - even meekly - that such powers are unneeded or that the "emergencies" are at best overblown if not altogether nonexistent.

Nah, it's best to look ahead, toe the line, be cheerful and obedient, and have faith that the dictators of the regime are sincere when they avow their benevolence.

h/t IOZ

Say hello to

My Word is My Weapon, Kristin Bricker's new blog. Her work has occasionally appeared in Narco News, Left Turn, and Z Magazine.

A follow-up on NAFTA and corn

A few months ago, I pointed to some items of interest regarding the negative effects of NAFTA on local Mexican farmers. Migra Matters recently had an interesting updated take on what's going on as NAFTA continues to decimate not only the family farmer but also encourages the destruction of biodiversity. The usual propaganda in the US press trumpets how "wonderful" NAFTA is, claiming it's a "win-win" for farmers and ranchers. However,
Mexican farmers cannot see NAFTA as a win. Not by a long shot. They recognize it as a disaster.
[T]he changes [brought by NAFTA] are deeply unpopular in Mexico, where farmers fear unrestricted imports will depress prices and stir competition in producing white corn, which has been grown since the Aztec times.

Most of Mexico's three million corn producers and half a million bean producers make a living on small farms that are a far cry from the sweeping, industrialized operations that characterize U.S. agriculture.

Corn tariffs have gradually been phased out since the trade deal was implemented, and imports of U.S. yellow corn to Mexico, mostly used in animal feed, have skyrocketed. They now account for close to 35 percent of Mexican consumption.
Some background:
*At the start of the year Mexico lifted 14 years of protection for corn, beans, milk and sugar under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that took effect in 1994. The regional trade pact groups Mexico, the United States and Canada.

* Mexican lawmakers demanded [on 1/4/08 that] President Felipe Calderon consider renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and meet with farmers, who fear a flood of cheap U.S. imports.

* "This is a national security issue," said Samuel Aguilar, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, in a speech before the Congress. "The agricultural chapter of NAFTA could generate a social conflict." /snip

Mexico may lose as many as 350,000 farm jobs this year because of competition from the U.S.

* Some Mexican farmers say competing against highly subsidized U.S. goods could put thousands out of work on top of about 2 million Mexican farm jobs lost over the last decade.
NAFTA is a recipe for complete disaster in Mexico:
Timothy Wise, a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, calls unblunted liberalization in those sensitive goods a "recipe for disaster" for those who depend on Mexico's vulnerable farm sector.

"Just as the U.S. became the largest supplier of animal feed, it has the capacity to become a dominant supplier of dry beans and white corn, undermining markets in Mexico and creating a dependence on external sources for the two very clear main staple foods," he said.
Of course, this economic disaster will lead directly to the displacement of small, Mexican farmers, and act as an incentive to those farmers' forced migration to the US. In short: NAFTA's destroying Mexican subsistence farmers and forcing them through economic pressure to leave failing, subsistence farms and enter the US. I've discussed this before here and here.
Not only are the family farmers increasingly consigned to the status of the permanently displaced, but NAFTA is setting the stage for an ecological catastrophe:
NAFTA will have a gigantic, negative biodiversity impact. There are two primary kinds of corn grown in the US, white and yellow. Yellow is mostly animal food. And in the US, unlike Mexico, corn is a genetically modified crop. "In the US, by 2006 89% of the planted area of soybeans, 83 percent of cotton, and 61 percent maize was genetically modified varieties." source. Even before the end of NAFTA, genetically modified corn presented a problem in Mexico:
Rural and urban activists throughout the Americas are calling on grain exporters, the biotech industry, and the US and Canadian governments to stop dumping untested and unlabeled genetically engineered corn on Mexico and other nations, where irreplaceable corn varieties are being damaged by "genetic pollution." In Mexico researchers have detected widespread contamination of traditional varieties of corn, caused by surreptitious imports of genetically engineered corn into Mexico by grain export giants such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill

And now, there is even greater reason to be concerned:
Those who want to introduce bioengineered corn in Mexico appear to be gaining an upper hand.

A law to allow experimental planting of GMO strains in northern Mexico was passed two years ago but was never signed. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said this week the law could go into effect in a matter of weeks.

"We don’t want to be behind. We have to start testing now," said Catalino Flores, a geneticist working with Salazar’s organization in San Salvador El Seco.

Corn yields in the United States can be more than three times those in Mexico, according to Mexican growers.

"There will be drought resistant corn in 5 to 10 years. If you don’t plant something like that when everyone else is, you’ll be down the drain," Flores said.

About half of U.S. yellow corn sent to Mexico comes from genetically modified seeds. Mexico’s agriculture minister reckons GMO seeds smuggled in from the United States are already being planted in northern Mexican states.
So what's the big deal? It's fairly simple: GMO corn threatens non-GMO corn species, undermining bio-diversity.
[S]some farmers worry that introducing GMO seeds could contaminate hundreds of wild blue, red and multicolored corn varieties planted for centuries in Mexico.

"The farmers who want to plant transgenic corn are irresponsible, they don’t care if the are putting the genetic heritage of Mexico at risk," said Victor Suarez head of a small farmers’ group that wants keep trade protections for corn and beans.

The ancient Maya, who lived in southern Mexico over 1,000 years ago, believed the gods made men from maize. The plant was adopted over 500 years ago by Spanish conquerors and spread to the rest of the world.

So to make a long story short, not only will NAFTA destroy Mexican subsistence farming and contribute to migration from Mexico to the US for former subsistence farmers, it also will endanger the bio diversity of corn in Mexico (if not the entire hemisphere).
Think about what a loss of biodiversity means. You end up with far fewer strains of the plants you're harvesting, which means that in the event of some disease that wipes out one or more of those limited strains of plant, a lot of folks are going to starve, to put it bluntly. I'm sure the wonks from these corporations will try to assure the rest of us that they've got all sorts of lovely chemicals that will prevent that from ever happening, but I wouldn't bet on it. Heck, as the petroleum-fueled "green revolution" draws to a close in the post-peak-oil era, the availability of said chemicals will be questionable (as will the viability of the massive corporate farming enterprises) over the long haul. Expect famine, probably sooner rather than later.

Rather than being a win-win, NAFTA over the long haul is more like a lose-lose, outside of a small handful of corporate executives betting the future of humanity on their expected short-term profit margins.

What to do? I've been saying that we need to kill NAFTA before it kills Mexican corn. I'll keep saying it again, and again - as often as necessary.

Gitmo in pop culture

Looks like there is a new Harold and Kumar movie coming out, and the Nazis who run Guantánamo Bay are not amused.

Guantánamo, Evil and Zany in Pop Culture
This spring, the stoner screwball movie of 2004, “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” will get a sequel. This time, because of some unfortunate confusion on an airplane between a “bong” and a “bomb,” our slacker antiheroes are shipped off to the moviemakers’ idea of the worst prison imaginable.


Harold and Kumar’s escape is only the latest cultural road trip through the detention center on Cuba’s southeast corner. And in most of them, Guantánamo is an eerie outpost, with scorpions, five-foot iguanas and banana rats — rodents the size of small dogs.

The image of a forbidding prison camp is not entirely false. But it is not the picture Bush administration officials would prefer to emphasize. They portray Guantánamo Bay as a clean and modern detention camp, where humane treatment of terror suspects is the rule.


But it is a matter of emphasis, said Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, who runs the camp for the Pentagon. In an interview, Admiral Buzby said that countering what he called preconceptions about Guantánamo was “probably the biggest challenge that I face.”

The focus on Guantánamo as a creative subject can lead to distortions, Admiral Buzby said. “It’s as if someone turned up the gain on our life to make it sound really bad.”

Some writers say it may be too late for anyone to change perceptions. “That one word — Guantánamo — has come to symbolize so much,” said Michelle Shephard, a reporter for The Toronto Star, whose book “Guantánamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr,” is scheduled to be published next month. Mr. Khadr was first detained when he was 15.
Ioz's take: It Was Only a Paper Moon takes on the line about the US government portraying Gitmo as "clean and modern" in a manner reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson's character Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction in which he interrupts the b.s. by saying, "Oh, well allow me to retort!":
You know, Dachau was a clean and modern detention camp once upon a time. It is neither the cleanliness nor the modernity that defines the place, but the detention. There are perfectly sterile, orderly, well-run, brightly lit abbatoirs; none of those adjectives alters the fact that throats are slit and blood drained into bins on the floor.

Since there seems to be confusion on the point, I'll elaborate. In many aspects of our empire, we seem to believe that qualitative improvements will obviate categorical wrongs. Thus the prevalence of the idea that the "success" of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan has some bearing on their rightness or wrongness, or the idea that the "humaneness" with which we treat our prisoners somehow negates the fact that we have imprisoned them beyond hope of release or appeal. I suppose that I would prefer sanitary solitary confinement to solitary confinement in my own filth, but after years I suspect that becomes a distinction without a difference. The concentration camp at Guantanamo may have been laid out by the architects of Candyland. That has no bearing whatsoever on the perversion that it represents.
First things first - I loved Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. My first impulse when first reading that they had a sequel, and that it lampooned Gitmo was, "Damn! I gotta see this!" Look, despots and despotic practices have probably been the subject of satire for as long as there have been civilizations. Heck, at least in my lifetime, there have been some great satirical films and novels capturing various facets of wars and warmongers - Catch-22, MASH (the film), Slaughterhouse Five, Dr. Strangelove all come to mind immediately. References to televised lampooning of UK's fictional dictator in the film V for Vendetta would also be grist for the mill. I'd be remiss if I didn't make mention of the parody of regional despot Pontius Pilate in The Life of Brian, or of course Monty Python's "The Spanish Inquisition" sketch from the TV series; while we're at it let's not forget Mel Brooks' Inquisition scene from A History of the World Part 1.

Although I doubt a Harold and Kumar flick will be placed in the same class with, say Chaplin's The Great Dictator, it certainly catches the vibe. When black comedy works, it does so precisely because its writers and performers are blatantly doing what so many fail or refuse to do: call things by their true names. Tyrants and perpetrators of cruelty who become the targets of such comedy, of course, recoil at the veritable curtain being raised to show them and their actions for what they are, in the process stripping them of their ability to terrorize the masses into submission.

Satirizing the War on Terra makes perfect sense, dark times call for black comedy; there is an absurdity to the sheer cruelty committed in its name that deserves to be mocked and ridiculed as much as is humanly possible. To not see the gulags created by the US as perverted would take leaps of the imagination that would create the equivalent of vertigo. At the end of the day, there is no denying that no matter the protestations of "cleanliness" and "modernity", a place like Gitmo exists at least in part for the purpose of warehousing human beings - the vast majority of whom just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - until they can be disposed of (either by being released somewhere after the physical and psychological damage has taken its irrevocable toll, buried or burned after dying in confinement, or simply slaughtered). Like IOZ, I will accept that perhaps a sanitary cell in which one is held in solitary confinement is preferable to a cell that is filthy, although at some point the distinction becomes meaningless to those confined. It also exists it should be noted to serve notice to the populace that any real or perceived infraction of the government's dictates will potentially lead one to become among the "disappeared." Whatever you do, don't try to sneak a bong onto an airplane - the TSA goons will think you mean to sneak a bomb on board. "Be good. Mind your manners. Look straight ahead. Don't ask too many questions. Be afraid." Thankfully, somewhere a satirist lurks and in the process of flipping the bird to the fearmongers encourages others to do likewise. Now, whether Harold and Kumar are up to the task will remain to be seen.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

One way to give the finger to the government

A federal judge ordered Wikileaks shut down. However, its content can still be accessed through its IP address, which you should bookmark, or of course one of the mirror sites - in Belgium, Germany, or the Christmas Islands.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Speaking of Anniversaries: Here's One From the Clinton Regime Files

Ten Years Ago, People Power Stopped Clinton in Iraq, by Bill Simpich:
Ten years ago, this week, Bill Clinton was doing his best to get the US embroiled in war with Iraq.


Once again, the President invoked an all-too-familiar mantra: Saddam Hussein had to be stopped before he got his hands on weapons of mass destruction.

Unbelievably, on February 18, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Defense Secretary William Cohen, and national security advisor Sandy Berger visited Ohio State University for an internationally televised "town hall" meeting to warm up the country for a carpet bombing of Iraq.

CNN and the Clinton Administration joined hands to try to ensure peace and quiet. A university press release mandated that no cameras, banners or placards would be permitted in the arena. Purses and bags were searched and metal detectors were the order of the day. Outside, an armored personnel carrier was parked in an alley across the street.

Only a relative handful of carefully screened individuals were issued red or gray tickets and were allowed to ask questions at the "town hall". Even they were questioned as to what their question was and how they were going to ask it. CNN agreed that no one could bring notes to the microphone. The ushers included soldiers in uniform. Other uniformed soldiers were stationed in seats throughout the arena to cow anyone from challenging the presenters.

Jon Strange, a public school teacher, joined a handful of activists at Ohio State University in forming the Columbus Coalition for Democratic Foreign Policy to confront the "Three Musketeers".


When she [Madeline Albright] took to the microphone, people started shouting at her the moment that she threatened to use military force. They pretty much stopped her cold. Defense Secretary Cohen got similar treatment. Burger was forced to admit, "We have a divided house." Then a "NO WAR" banner was unfurled. Then the initial question was posed from the microphone:
Q: "I am an assistant professor in the Ohio State University. My question is to Secretary of Defense, Mr. Cohen. The American Administration has the might and the means to attack the Iraqi state, but does it have the moral right to attack the Iraqi nation?"
Much sputtering ensued. (The evening's transcript--including the shouting--can be enjoyed at CNN gave the fish eye to the questioners at the three microphones and pulled in the reins. Rick Theis' Plan B was spoiled, as CNN repeatedly refused to turn on his microphone. When he voiced his dismay, he was physically dragged away by security.

As the questioners continued to be carefully vetted, the shouting got louder and more frequent. Carrying people out of their seats only increased the volume. Finally, CNN sought to buy peace by offering to let Jon Strange ask a question if his group would stop shouting. (By the way, they never did.) But the exchange was priceless.
Q: "Yes, I have a question for Secretary Albright. Why bomb Iraq, when other countries have committed similar violations? Turkey, for example..."


"--Can I finish? For example, Turkey has bombed Kurdish citizens. Saudi Arabia has tortured political and religious dissidents. Why does the US apply different standards of justice to these countries?"


ALBRIGHT: "Let me say that when there are problems such as you have described, we point them out and make very clear our opposition to them. But there is no one that has done to his people or to his neighbors what Saddam Hussein has done or what he is thinking about doing."


Q: "What about Indonesia? You turned my microphone off."

ALBRIGHT: "I think that the record will show that Saddam Hussein has produced weapons of mass destruction, which he's clearly not collecting for his own personal pleasure, but in order to use. And therefore, he is qualitatively and quantitatively different from every brutal dictator that has appeared recently, and we are very concerned about him specifically and what his plans might be. Do you have a follow-up?"

Q: "Thank you. My microphone is off. There we are. What do you have to say about dictators of countries like Indonesia, who we sell weapons to yet they are slaughtering people in East Timor?"


"What do you have to say about Israel, who is slaughtering Palestinians, who impose martial law? What do you have to say about that? Those are our allies. Why do we sell weapons to these countries? Why do we support them? Why do we bomb Iraq when it commits similar problems?"

When Albright hemmed and hawed, Strange unleashed a zinger:
Q: "You're not answering my question, Madame Albright."

When Albright responded in her closing remarks, "We need your support," the protesters shouted back, "You can't have it!"

The next day, pictures of Rick Theis in his green sweater were broadcast around the world, while the Clinton Administration was covered with ridicule. When he was asked why he didn't support US military involvement in Iraq, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said "Not even Ohio supports it." Clinton's war efforts had come to naught, for the moment. (On the other hand, lest we forget, there was "low-level" US aerial bombing of portions of Iraq throughout the entire Clinton Administration). But it was a clear victory. As Jon Strange later put it: "Three dead in Ohio."

There was a moment, nine months later in November, when Clinton came within eight minutes of setting off an all-out carpet bomb attack in a desperate attempt to avoid impeachment before Sandy Berger got him to revoke his order in a last-minute act of sanity. A month later, Clinton finally fired a far more modest flurry of missiles on the last day of the House impeachment proceedings. Although Clinton brazenly dubbed it "Desert Fox", it was better known as the sequel to "Wag the Dog".

It's important to remember that people do have the power, when they decide to really roll up their sleeves and use it. On March 19, the fifth anniversary of the Iraq occupation, thousands of people will engage in nonviolent civil disobedience in Washington DC, led by Iraq veterans and military families in the wake of their Winter Soldier war crimes tribunal.

Hundreds of similar actions will take place around the country on that fateful Wednesday. In San Francisco, Direct Action to Stop the War has been reborn, and plans to return to the San Francisco financial district to shout a message loud and clear. This time around, the plan is for large numbers to expose and confront Iraq war profiteers such as the Carlyle Group in their own front yard, after standing in solidarity on March 15 with the West County Toxics Coalition and communities of color against Chevron's Richmond refinery--it pollutes the surrounding population while it processes Iraqi oil.

The United States has created a shambles. 650,000 to 1 million Iraqis dead or wounded, 4,000,000 displaced. Nearly 4,000 U.S. service people killed and over 40,000 wounded and neglected by our government. Meanwhile, U.S. corporations reap huge profits as they put the squeeze on the Iraqi government to acquiesce to their plans to control Iraq's oil. U.S. citizens face a bill of 2.8 trillion dollars, and a military budget that has got to be redirected to fund human needs. We don't have to be silent. We can shout--All At the Same Time.

No more blood of Iraqi men, women, and children. If we can take action together, like the students at Ohio State showed us ten years ago in the face of great odds, maybe we can find a path that leads away from this devastating winter in America--and towards the promise that the vernal equinox provides.
I've emphasized a few passages that I found particularly salient. Some of what should be immediately salient is that the Clintonistas were an especially authoritarian lot, much in the same vein as the Bushistas of this decade. The efforts to micromanage a so-called "town hall" meeting so that no inconvenient questions could be asked is just one exemplar. Once more I also think it's important to realize that the Clintonistas were genuine warmongers, as the article reminds the reader, and much like the current regime willing to use military force under the most cynical of circumstances - human costs be damned. Finally, we can be reminded that activists can and do manage to effect change. Sometimes the effects are fairly immediate, sometimes a bit more slowly-emerging.

It's funny that I was discussing in one of my classes this morning the concept of collective efficacy. You can think of collective efficacy as the group equivalent of self-efficacy. Whereas the motto of self-efficacy is "yes I can," the motto of collective efficacy is "yes we can." If you look at various social movements, past and present, what sustains the group efforts (and of course the individual efforts within these groups) even in the face of adversity is this sense that whatever they are doing can make a difference. ¡Si, se puede! You get the picture.

There are of course numerous means to show a withdrawal of support for any regime. Taking it to the streets in protest, general strikes, even simply refusing to show up to vote in sufficient numbers to create a critical mass can send the message that we're done with all the bullshit.

Food for thought.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Iraq War Debacle Was Truly a Debacle For Some

Yes, once one factors in not only the humongous number of war dead, maimed, and displaced, it nothing short of disaster. And yet, some folks (KBR, Halliburton, Blackwater, etc.) have managed to do quite well for themselves. From a recent argument called Iraq's broken pieces don't fit together:
The orgy of failure and corruption in 2007 was an unmitigated disaster for Iraqi society, as well as an embarrassment for the American occupation. From the point of view of long-term American goals in Iraq, however, this storm cloud, like so many others, had a silver lining. The Iraqi government's incapacity to perform at almost any level became but further justification for the claims first made by Bremer at the very beginning of the occupation: that the country's reconstruction would be best handled by private enterprise.

Moreover, the mass flight of Iraqi professionals, managers and technicians has meant that expertise for reconstruction has simply been unavailable inside the country. This has, in turn, validated a second set of claims made by Bremer: that reconstruction could only be managed by large outside contractors.

This neo-liberal reality was brought into focus in late 2007, as the last of the money allocated by the U.S. Congress for Iraqi reconstruction was being spent. A "petroleum exodus" (first identified by the Wall Street Journal) had long ago meant that most of the engineers needed for maintaining the decrepit oil business were already foreigners, mostly "imported from Texas and Oklahoma".

The foreign presence had, in fact, become so pervasive that the main headquarters for the maintenance and development of the Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq (the source of more than two-thirds of the country's oil at present) runs on both Iraqi and Houston time. The American firms in charge of the field's maintenance and development, KBR and PIJV, have been utilizing a large number of subcontractors, most of them American or British, very few of them Iraqi.

These American-funded projects, though, have been merely "stopgaps". When the money runs out, vast new moneys will be needed just to sustain Rumaila's production at its present level.

According to Harpers Magazine senior editor Luke Mitchell, who visited the field in the summer of 2007, Iraqi engineers and technicians are "smart enough and ambitious enough" to sustain and "upgrade" the system once the American contracts expire, but such a project would take upwards of two decades because of the compromised condition of the government and the lack of skilled local engineers and technicians. The likely outcome, when the American money departs, therefore is either an inadequate effort in which work proceeds "only in fits and starts"; or, more likely, new contracts in which the foreign companies would "continue their work", paid for by the Iraqi government.

With regard to the petroleum industry, therefore, what the refugee crisis guaranteed was long-term Iraqi dependence on outsiders. In every other key infrastructural area, a similar dependence was developing: electrical power, the water system, medicine, and food were, de facto, being "integrated" into the global system, leaving oil-rich Iraq dependent on outside investment and largesse for the foreseeable future. Now, that's a 20-year plan for you, one that at least 4.5 million Iraqis, out of their homes and, in many cases, out of the country as well, will be in no position to participate in.

Most horror stories come to an end, but the most horrible part of this horror story is its never-ending quality. Those refugees who have left Iraq now face a miserable limbo life, as Syria and other receiving countries exhaust their meager resources and seek to expel many of them. Those seeking shelter within Iraq face the depletion of already minimal support systems in degrading host communities whose residents may themselves be threatened with displacement.

From the vast out-migration and internal migrations of its desperate citizens comes damage to society as a whole that is almost impossible to estimate. The displacement of people carries with it the destruction of human capital. The destruction of human capital deprives Iraq of its most precious resource for repairing the damage of war and occupation, condemning it to further infrastructural decline. This tide of infrastructural decline is the surest guarantee of another wave of displacement, of future floods of refugees.

As long as the United States keeps trying to pacify Iraq, it will create wave after wave of misery.
Not exactly happy, uplifting news. That last excerpt gives you the gist, but the whole thing is worth reading to get a good understanding of the extent of human suffering created in Iraq as a result of the US invasion and occupation. The narrative we usually receive from center-left (as narrowly defined in the US) is of a war that was poorly executed. Get some competent folks in the White House, and Iraq will be put back together again.

The far less feel-good narrative is that those who pushed for and executed the war knew exactly what they were doing, and are quite comfortable with the massive human displacement that has resulted. In other contexts, it gets referred to as "shock therapy," and indeed Naomi Klein refers to Iraq as just one more test case for Friedmanesque neoliberalism in her recent book, The Shock Doctrine (here's a video that gives you some idea of what to expect from the book - not a substitute for reading the book of course!!). Heck, RickB of Ten Percent makes something of a reference to Klein's book in his post The Surge Doctrine - which is what turned me on to the article I just excerpted (a tip o' the hat to you RickB!). The complete drain of qualified scholars and technicians has guaranteed that Iraq - or whatever it eventually becomes - will be stuck with US and UK firms running the country (for a hefty fee, of course), while the rest of the government is little more than a hollowed-out shell. For some corporate executives, it's quite a racket they're running. The masses of now-disposable humanity, kept largely out of sight and out of mind is by design. Those few Iraqis who manage to make any semblance of a living there will accept ridiculously low wages without complaint for fear of losing even that pittance. As long as the chaos remains contained outside of The Green Zone, everything is just hunky-dory.

In another context, Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas referred to the mass-displacement caused by NAFTA as genocidal. That would seem quite an apt summary of what's going on in Iraq.

The Culture of Corruption Continues Unabated

This is classic (comments in brackets are from Lambert at Corrente):

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) has sponsored an unusual [not for long!] provision at the urging of the nation’s banks granting them immunity against an active patent lawsuit, potentially saving them billions of dollars.

Adopted with little fanfare [I’ll bet!] , the amendment would prevent a small Texas company called DataTreasury from collecting damages from banks for infringing on its patented method for digitally scanning, sending and archiving checks. The patents were upheld last summer by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office after they were challenged.

The provision, passed without dissent by the Senate Judiciary Committee [Nice work, Senator Leahy!] in July and inserted into legislation scheduled for a vote by the full Senate this month, is a rare [but not for long!] attempt by Congress to intervene in ongoing litigation, congressional experts say.

Although the amendment would not invalidate DataTreasury’s patents, it would spare the banks from paying for infringing them should courts decide that’s warranted. If DataTreasury collected a royalty of just a couple pennies per check, the cost would run into billions of dollars.

h/t to Libby at The Newshoggers. Pretty sneaky, huh. Give the telecoms an inch, and the rest of the corporate world will take a mile. Now that the cat is out of the bag, will it keep this particular scam from happening? What are the odds that we'll see more of these provisions? Will McCain, Clinton, and Obama manage to be conveniently absent when this one makes its way to the Senate floor for a vote?

Anti-Intellectualism on Steroids

Via Avedon, here's a clip from Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?
But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.


The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”
Next, from Susan Jacoby's latest column:
The classic work on this subject by Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter, "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," was published in early 1963, between the anti-communist crusades of the McCarthy era and the social convulsions of the late 1960s. Hofstadter saw American anti-intellectualism as a basically cyclical phenomenon that often manifested itself as the dark side of the country's democratic impulses in religion and education. But today's brand of anti-intellectualism is less a cycle than a flood. If Hofstadter (who died of leukemia in 1970 at age 54) had lived long enough to write a modern-day sequel, he would have found that our era of 24/7 infotainment has outstripped his most apocalyptic predictions about the future of American culture.

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels.

Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report last year by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did. And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book -- fiction or nonfiction -- over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004. This time period, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing and video games.

Does all this matter? Technophiles pooh-pooh jeremiads about the end of print culture as the navel-gazing of (what else?) elitists. In his book "Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter," the science writer Steven Johnson assures us that we have nothing to worry about. Sure, parents may see their "vibrant and active children gazing silently, mouths agape, at the screen." But these zombie-like characteristics "are not signs of mental atrophy. They're signs of focus." Balderdash. The real question is what toddlers are screening out, not what they are focusing on, while they sit mesmerized by videos they have seen dozens of times.

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at encouraging babies as young as 6 months to watch videos, there is no evidence that focusing on a screen is anything but bad for infants and toddlers. In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time -- as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web -- seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events.


No wonder negative political ads work. "With text, it is even easy to keep track of differing levels of authority behind different pieces of information," the cultural critic Caleb Crain noted recently in the New Yorker. "A comparison of two video reports, on the other hand, is cumbersome. Forced to choose between conflicting stories on television, the viewer falls back on hunches, or on what he believed before he started watching."

As video consumers become progressively more impatient with the process of acquiring information through written language, all politicians find themselves under great pressure to deliver their messages as quickly as possible -- and quickness today is much quicker than it used to be. Harvard University's Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate -- featuring the candidate's own voice -- dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds. By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.

The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to the second important anti-intellectual force in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

People accustomed to hearing their president explain complicated policy choices by snapping "I'm the decider" may find it almost impossible to imagine the pains that Franklin D. Roosevelt took, in the grim months after Pearl Harbor, to explain why U.S. armed forces were suffering one defeat after another in the Pacific. In February 1942, Roosevelt urged Americans to spread out a map during his radio "fireside chat" so that they might better understand the geography of battle. In stores throughout the country, maps sold out; about 80 percent of American adults tuned in to hear the president. FDR had told his speechwriters that he was certain that if Americans understood the immensity of the distances over which supplies had to travel to the armed forces, "they can take any kind of bad news right on the chin."
This is a portrait not only of a different presidency and president but also of a different country and citizenry [...] nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made. More than a third consider it "not at all important" to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it "very important."
That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know [...] it's the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism -- a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse. Not knowing a foreign language or the location of an important country is a manifestation of ignorance; denying that such knowledge matters is pure anti-rationalism. The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.
To quickly summarize: video didn't only kill the radio star, but it seems to have killed the reader. We are less knowledgeable than even a generation ago, and we wallow in our own ignorance like it's a source of pride. It does seem a sea change from even a quarter of a century ago. My own recent epiphany occurred just a few weeks ago. My son, who's now in the sixth grade, was assigned to write an essay and give a presentation on drugs. So, he quizzed me a bit, read up on whatever he could get his hands on given the time he had available, and completed the assignment. A bit later, when the essay was turned back, my wife asked me if I wanted to read it. What struck me was that his sixth-grade essay was written as well if not better than what one might from many contemporary college students. Heck, I ended up telling him that he would have earned a pretty damned good grade had he turned it in to me. The moment I read what my son had written I was starkly reminded not only of what a kid could achieve, but on how poorly we've prepared our current generation of young adults. The cultural Zeitgeist simply doesn't invite these individuals, who are in all likelihood quite capable, to do better.

I come from a family background in which just a couple generations ago, folks worked small family farms, factories, and oil fields. Many did not complete high school. Didn't matter though, as these same folks were well-read, and showed a level of critical thinking that would easily rival or surpass today's college graduates. Seeking knowledge was not something for the privileged few but merely a basis for survival. There was nothing "elite" or "elitist" about it - rather it was simply being merely human. One of the habits I picked up from my parents and extended family was that of the autodidact - the willingness to become self-taught as needed on a variety of topics. In other words, being well-rounded and well-read just seemed like something that anyone could do, rather than being some special power reserved strictly for those in the Ivory Towers and gated communities.

I'm not one of those traditionalists who pines for a Dead White Males curriculum, or whatever the cultural conservatives seem to be grooving on. Rather, I'd like to kick it old school in another way: focus on critical thinking, reflective thinking. Kids need to be trained in formal and informal reasoning skills from an early age. They need to be exposed to multiple languages - in part because of the inevitable need to communicate with those whose native languages are not one's own, but also because in doing so one can speed the process of building a vocabulary in one's own language. Heck, if I got nothing else out of high school Spanish classes, it was a realization that since Spanish is a Romance language I was getting exposed indirectly to some Latin prefixes and suffixes, which came in handy as I began at local junior college and later when I transferred to a university and needed to quickly infer the meaning of words I'd never experienced before. Most importantly, the process of learning as a lifelong endeavor needs to be modeled - parents need to not only keep some books on the shelves in their homes, but actually read those books. They need to turn off the damned TV and computers more often, and read to those kids who are not yet quite ready to read. That also means passing along a mindset - that rather than telling our kids "don't know too much" we should in words and deeds tell them, "you can never know enough." Knowledge is no sin; the lack of knowledge, on the other hand, can be quite harmful to one's well-being.

A quick footnote: It should go without saying that our public funding of libraries needs to be increased. The current state of libraries in this country is a shambles in comparison with my childhood. That would be a much better investment than bombing the infrastructures of other countries.

Some dark humor for your Sunday

Ted Rall's latest cartoon on "Justice" Scalia's thoughts on torture:

On a related note

I figured that the previous post should invite a friendly reminder with regard to whom our government would likely target as "terrorists":

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice (Los Angeles County) has come up with a new way to expand the domestic “war on terror.” Her Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (HR1955), which passed the House by the lopsided vote of 404-6, would set up a commission to “examine and report upon the facts and causes” of so-called violent radicalism and extremist ideology, then make legislative recommendations on combatting it.

According to commentary in the Baltimore Sun, Rep. Harman and her colleagues from both sides of the aisle believe the country faces a native brand of terrorism, and needs a commission with sweeping investigative power to combat it.

A clue as to where Harman’s commission might be aiming is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law that labels those who “engage in sit-ins, civil disobedience, trespass, or any other crime in the name of animal rights” as terrorists. Other groups in the crosshairs could be anti-abortion protesters, anti-tax agitators, immigration activists, environmentalists, peace demonstrators, Second Amendment rights supporters … the list goes on and on. According to author Naomi Wolf, the National Counterterrorism Center holds the names of roughly 775,000 “terror suspects” with the number increasing by 20,000 per month.

What could the government be contemplating that leads it to make contingency plans to detain without recourse millions of its own citizens?

My emphasis added. That nugget came from a column discussing the concentration camps the US has been building for a while. Perhaps you have a better idea of who's likely to end up populating those camps. Why the government would wish to do so is a matter worthy of understanding. The way I understand power, it's safe to say that those who hold positions of power are dependent upon those they lead or rule. As long as the perception that those leaders are legitimate remains intact, things are just fine and dandy. The usual means of persuasion, such as propaganda, are sufficient to maintain the social order. It's when there is a crisis of legitimacy that governments resort more and more to forceful tactics in order to maintain power. By the time their legitimacy has devolved to that point however, it's only a matter of time until the regime topples. What kind of crisis? Hard to say, but one possible hint comes to mind: the last quarter century that has witnessed an increased merger between corporation and state, which has led to a handful of executives looting the treasury, is beginning to squeeze those of us in the lower and middle strata of the socioeconomic ladder harder than ever before; the potential for a lot of formerly middle-class individuals and families to openly revolt has probably crossed the minds of at least a few of the members of the ruling class, hence the contingency plans. A few concentration camps, the occasional death squad, a few high-tech torture gadgets may not prevent the inevitable collapse of the regime, but would nonetheless buy those in the ruling class most guilty of looting to find sanctuary in armed compounds in any of a number of exotic locations once it becomes clear that they need to get out of Dodge.