Monday, May 31, 2004

"The Feminism of Fools" Published in Seven Oaks

My May 23, 2004 blog entry "The Feminism of Fools" got published in Seven Oaks, an online magazine of politics, culture, and resistance based in Vancouver, Canada: "The Feminism of Fools," May 31, 2004.

Fadhil al-Azzawi, "In My Spare Time"

Iraqi poet Fadhil al-Azzawi's poem "In My Spare Time" (trans. Khaled Mattawa):
During my long, boring hours of spare time
I sit to play with the earth's sphere.
I establish countries without police or parties
and I scrap others that no longer attract consumers.
I run roaring rivers through barren deserts
and I create continents and oceans
that I save for the future just in case.

I draw a new colored map of the nations:
I roll Germany to the Pacific Ocean teeming with whales
and I let the poor refugees
sail pirates' ships to her coasts
in the fog
dreaming of the promised garden in Bavaria.
I switch England with Afghanistan
so that its youth can smoke hashish for free
provided courtesy of Her Majesty's government.
I smuggle Kuwait from its fenced and mined borders
to Comoro, the islands
of the moon in its eclipse,
keeping the oil fields in tact, of course.
At the same time I transport Baghdad
in the midst of loud drumming
to the islands of Tahiti.
I let Saudi Arabia crouch in its eternal desert
to preserve the purity of her thoroughbred camels.
This is before I surrender America
back to the Indians
just to give history
the justice it has long lacked.

I know that changing the world is not easy
but it remains necessary nonetheless.
Here are a few more poems by al-Azzawi: "Inside a Black Hole"; "When the Sky Still Had No Name"; "A Statue in a Square"; "Feast in Candlelight"; and "Events" (trans. Fadhil al-Azzawi and Khaled Mattawa, Banipal 7, Spring 2000, republished in Masthead 7, February 2003). If you like these poems, check out Miracle Maker: The Selected Poems of Fadhil Al-Azzawi.

From Virtual Borders to Internal Checkpoints?

"The Department of Homeland Security is on the verge of awarding the biggest contract in its young history for an elaborate system that could cost as much as $15 billion and employ a network of databases to track visitors to the United States long before they arrive," tying together "about 20 federal databases with information on the more than 300 million foreign visitors each year" and instituting "networks of computer databases and biometric sensors for identification at sites abroad where people seek visas to the United States" (Eric Lichtblau and John Markoff, "U.S. Nearing Deal on Way to Track Foreign Visitors," New York Times, March 24, 2004). The program, known as US-Visit, will also have visitors arriving at "300 border-crossing checkpoints by land, sea and air" face what the DHS claims will be "real-time identification" (Lichtblau and Markoff, March 24, 2004). Moreover, "American officials will, at least in theory, be able to track them inside the United States and determine if they leave the country on time" (Lichtblau and Markoff, March 24, 2004).

Three finalists bidding for the US-Visit contract are Accenture, Computer Sciences, and Lockheed Martin. As some lawmakers raised concerns about "the fact that Accenture is incorporated in Bermuda" (Lichtblau and Markoff, March 24, 2004), Accenture is unlikely to receive the contract. "Federal information technology services analyst Erik Olbeter in Schwab SoundView's Washington Research Group believes that Lockheed is the likely winner, with a 60% probability of snapping up the US-Visit contract. Accenture has a 30% chance of winning, Computer Services a 10% chance, he estimates" (Ronna Abramson, "Playing for the Real Money in Homeland Defense,", May 26, 2004). Olbeter's bet is well placed. The Transportation Security Administration has already hired Lockheed Martin to build CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II), which will mine "commercial data warehouses containing names, telephone numbers, former addresses, financial details and other information about virtually every adult American," screen "everyone who makes a reservation to fly," and give color-coded data to airlines to make decisions on "whether a passenger should be allowed to board or be subjected to additional questioning" (Robert O'Harrow Jr., "Air Security Network Advances: Lockheed to Develop Surveillance System to Check Travelers' Backgrounds," Washington Post, March 1, 2003, p. E01). The CAPPS II contract is said to be "initially worth $12.8 million" (O'Harrow Jr., March 1, 2003, p. E01).

Add Matrix (Multistate Anti-TeRrorism Information EXchange) -- a computer program developed by Hank Asher that combines "government data with 20 billion commercial records about people" and data-mines them with great speed (Robert O'Harrow Jr., "Anti-Terror Database Got Show at White House," Washington Post, May 21, 2004, p. A12) -- and NIMD (The Novel Intelligence from Massive Data) to US-Visit and CAPPS II. Then, look at the General Accounting Office's report to "the Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Financial Management, the Budget, and International Security, Committee on Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate": "[o]ur survey of 128 federal departments and agencies on their use of data mining shows that 52 agencies are using or are planning to use data mining. These departments and agencies reported 199 data mining efforts, of which 68 are planned and 131 are operational" ("Data Mining: Federal Efforts Cover a Wide Range of Uses," May 2004). What we have, in effect, is the Total/Terrorist Information Awareness program -- whose funding Congress ostensibly terminated last September (except "the program hereby authorized for processing, analysis, and collaboration tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence . . . for which funds are expressly provided in the National Foreign Intelligence Program for counterterrorism foreign intelligence purposes") -- reloaded under different names.

Taking a short step from establishing virtual borders at border-crossing checkpoints to making use of everything from ATMs, point-of-sale systems, to routine police patrols as invisible internal checkpoints will be a dream Total Information Awareness project for the surveillance state. As Dan Gillmor argues, however, "In practice, it'll undoubtedly crumble under the weight of administrative woes and the vast number of 'false positives' (tagging innocent people as suspects) that will make identifying actual bad guys almost impossible" ("Building Surveillance State in the Name of Security,", May 26, 2004), vastly increasing the number of people who will suffer from misfortunes similar to (or worse than) those of Brandon Mayfield and Rene Ramon Sanchez in the meantime.

In any case, the main function of the Panopticon is to discipline the populace under indefinite surveillance and to turn them into a collection of docile bodies obedient to authorities, rather than to generate information useful for prevention of crime in general or terrorism in particular.

The creator of Matrix, by the way, is a former drug smuggler -- the fact that Florida Governor Jeb Bush dismisses as if it were insignificant:
Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday he didn't know that the company he recommended to Vice President Dick Cheney for a national anti-terrorism computer network was run by a former drug smuggler.

But the governor said it wouldn't have mattered because the firm, Seisint Inc., is a Florida-based company that developed a "great" database for combating crime.

The Matrix system combines billions of records on potential suspects that law enforcers can easily search. In January 2003, the governor, the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Seisint executives demonstrated Matrix for the vice president. A few months later, the federal government granted Seisint a $12-million contract.

Seisint was founded by Hank Asher, who resigned from the company in August after the FDLE questioned his background during negotiations on a $1.6 million state contract related to Matrix.

Asher was identified as a pilot in several drug-smuggling cases prosecuted in the 1980s. He was never charged with a crime but became an informant for state and federal agencies.

Bush said he didn't know of the Boca Raton millionaire's drug involvement when he and then-FDLE Commissioner Tim Moore pitched Seisint to federal officials. Asked if he would have done so if he had known, Bush nodded.

"Yeah, because the company itself has a great piece of technology that has been used in the public sector and the private sector," he said. "It's a Florida-based company and during that time -- particularly after Sept. 11 -- it was important for policy makers to be aware of the kind of technology that would assist us in the fight against terror. So I would have done it."

Moore retired from the FDLE last July. Asher was the only nonlaw enforcement official at Moore's retirement party, the St. Petersburg Times has reported. His appearance prompted a series of letters from FDLE agents to Bush complaining about Moore and Asher's relationship. . . . (Bill Cotterell and Nancy Cook Lauer, "Bush Defends Pick of Computer Firm: Former Leader's Background Raises Questions," Tallahassee Democrat, May 22, 2004)
Notwithstanding Jeb Bush's denial, Asher's background as drug-smuggler and police informer highlights the potential of corruption.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Detained for Expressing "Displeasure or Ill Will"

"A confidential report in February by the International Committee of the Red Cross said that 'military intelligence officers told the I.C.R.C. that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake'" (Douglas Jehl and Kate Zernike, "Scant Evidence Cited in Long Detention of Iraqis," New York Times, May 30, 2004). Now, the New York Times obtained an unpublished Army report (completed on November 5, 2003) by Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, which confirms the Red Cross's findings: "General Ryder, the Army's provost marshal, reported that some Iraqis had been held for several months for nothing more than expressing 'displeasure or ill will' toward the American occupying forces" (emphasis added, Jehl and Zernike, May 30, 2004). The article by Douglas Jehl and Kate Zernike included a particularly telling remark attributed to "an American general at the headquarters in Baghdad":
In one incident described in detail by the senior Army officer [who gave interviews after the Red Cross's February report], an aggressive round-up in September brought 57 Iraqis into custody. But a review by military intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib determined that only two of them had intelligence value and that the rest should be freed.

A U.S. general at the headquarters in Baghdad overruled that decision, and dictated that all 57 Iraqis be kept in custody. The senior Army officer quoted the general as saying something like, "I don't care if they are innocent; if we release them, they'll go out and tell their friends that we're after them." (emphasis added, Douglas Jehl and Kate Zernike,"Report Warned Hundreds Held in Abu Ghraib on No Evidence: Top U.S. Brass in Baghdad Vetoed Release," San Francisco Chronicle, May 30, 2004).
What is a little odd is that, while the National Edition (in print) of the New York Times and the online edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, both of which published Jehl and Zernike's article, included the general's remark quoted above, the online edition of the New York Times somehow omitted it.

Stealing Images of the "Good Fight"

Geoffrey M. White, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i and senior fellow at the East-West Center, writes that "the 'new' American patriotism being produced in the post-9-11 era frequently invokes earlier forms of patriotism, especially in images of World War II, the 'good war'" ("Pearl Harbor and September 11: War Memory and American Patriotism in the 9-11 Era," Japan Focus). As White notes, "Pearl Harbor quickly became a reference point for American interpretations of September 11" ("Pearl Harbor and September 11: War Memory and American Patriotism in the 9-11 Era"). Beyond explicit references to Pearl Harbor, the verbal and visual rhetoric of American political discourse became full of allusions to World War II: "the term 'infamy' or 'day of infamy' also appeared in many accounts, redeploying the phrase first used by Franklin Roosevelt in his declaration of war speech the day after Pearl Harbor (when his reference was actually 'date that will live in infamy')" ("Pearl Harbor and September 11: War Memory and American Patriotism in the 9-11 Era"), says White, using as illustration the Time magazine's special issue on the September 11th attacks:
To take another example, "A photograph of firemen raising an American flag on a tilting pole in the middle of debris from the collapsed towers quickly became a signature image for the World Trade Center attacks," echoing "the most circulated image from the Pacific War: that of U.S. Marines raising the American flag on Iwo Jima" ("Pearl Harbor and September 11: War Memory and American Patriotism in the 9-11 Era"):
It is not the right-wing politicians and corporate media alone that have tried to mobilize Americans by exploiting the images of the "good fight." Some liberals and leftists, too, have resorted to a misleading analogy to seduce activists for the agenda of electing John Kerry. What they seek to appropriate, however, is not the images of Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima but the rhetoric of the Popular Front. Take, for instance, a liberal blogger Billmon's Whisky Bar. Near the top right corner of the front page of the Whisky Bar, you can see a reproduction of a poster from the Spanish Civil War, below which Billmon's caption reads: "Stop Bush" -- "Support The Popular Front." See the poster in question below (courtesy of The Visual Front: Posters of the Spanish Civil War from UCSD's Southworth Collection curated by Alexander Vergara):
The poster itself says, "Votad al Frente Popular -- Amnistía," with an image of a male prisoner behind bars, toward whom a woman with a crying daughter looks while casting her vote. The poster was for the 1936 electoral campaign of the Popular Front -- a coalition of socialists, Communists, republicans, and Catalan nationalists in Spain -- which promised, among other reforms, amnesty for nearly 30,000 political prisoners. No promise of such a sweeping reform is forthcoming from John Kerry: "Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, voted for the Patriot Act in 2001 and still supports major parts of it" (Ann McFeatters and Karen MacPherson, "Revisiting the USA Patriot Act," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 27, 2004). Having zigged to court civil libertarians displeased with his vote for the Patriot Act and "promised to eliminate 'sneak and peek' searches and 'fishing expeditions into people's library and business records'" (McFeatters and MacPherson, April 27, 2004), Kerry has zagged back again, trying to portray himself as the candidate "who brings the most muscular view of the Patriot Act to the race":
After Bush used his weekend radio address recently to urge a continuation of the Patriot Act, Kerry issued a written statement listing ideas for "improving" and "fixing" the law by strengthening provisions on money laundering, cracking down on terrorists' assets, improving information-sharing policies and enhancing other sections that specifically target terrorists.

A Kerry spokesman insisted later that the candidate's message has not changed, arguing that it is the challenger, not the president, who brings the most muscular view of the Patriot Act to the race.

"The president is misleading America into thinking that the current law is doing all it needs to do," said Phil Singer, a Kerry spokesman. "The fact is that it's failed to address many of the problems that were exposed by 9/11, including the intelligence sharing problems that continue to plague the FBI, CIA and other security agencies."

Some who agreed with Kerry's early tough stands against the law's potential intrusions on civil liberties now say they are not quite sure where the senator stands.

"I'm concerned where Kerry will ultimately come down," said Laura Murphy, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union. . . . (Peter Wallsten, "Politics of Patriot Act Turn Right for Bush ," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2004)
Neither Kerry's initial support for the Patriot Act nor his subsequent changing positions on it suggest that the Kerry administration will roll back, much less abolish, "a worldwide constellation of detention centers" (Dana Priest and Joe Stephens, "Secret World of U.S. Interrogation: Long History of Tactics in Overseas Prisons Is Coming to Light," Washington Post, May 11, 2004, p. A01) that Washington has created.

Moreover, "In a given year, about 150,000 people pass through the detention system, according to INS estimates, and about 21,000 people remain in detention camp limbo," writes Tram Nguyen, and "The present detention crisis has its roots in an expansion of enforcement policies toward immigrants that began long before September 2001":
A pair of laws in 1996 buttressed the framework that equated immigration law with criminal law. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) re-established guilt by association for anyone supporting even lawful political or humanitarian activities of any foreign group designated by the Secretary of State as terrorist. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) established mandatory detention for noncitizens with criminal convictions, expanding the list of offenses that made legal residents deportable to more than 50 categories of crimes. Selling marijuana, gambling, prostitution, and drunk driving are some of the crimes that count for deportation.

Together, these laws provided the underpinnings for the use of secret evidence, mandatory and indefinite detention, and toughening of criminal provisions that radically increased the number of noncitizens subject to detention and would have far-reaching implications for immigrant communities. ("Detained or Disappeared?" ColorLines 5.2, Summer 2002)
It is the bipartisan consensus responsible for the birth and growth of the prison empire, as well as the bipartisan consensus for liberal imperialism in general, that the stolen images of the "good fight" -- the Popular Front on the left, Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima on the right -- are meant to conceal.

Memorial Politics

The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. is now open. The construction of the monument was surrounded by many controversies. For instance:
One of the two American companies selected . . . to build a World War II memorial on the Mall is owned by a German construction company that used concentration camp labor during World War II.

The two companies, Tompkins Builders of Washington and Grunley-Walsh Construction of Maryland, were awarded a $56 million contract for the first phase of the memorial. Tompkins is owned by J. A. Jones Inc., of Charlotte, N.C., which is wholly owned by Philipp Holzmann AG.

Holzmann, a German construction giant, was one of hundreds of German companies that used workers in concentration camps and is among dozens of companies that have agreed to contribute to a $4.5 billion fund to compensate Nazi-era slave and forced laborers. (Elaine Sciolino, "Memorial Builder Has Parent Link to Nazi Era," New York Times, June 13, 2001)
Read the media coverage of the controversies at the website of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall.

The World War II Memorial, whose original design by Friedrich St. Florian reminded many of the work of Nazi architect Albert Speer, "drives a wedge between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, breaking the connection between the nation's two most prominent symbols of democracy" and "will restrict, if not prohibit, major future public gatherings. Room will not exist for the 250,000 people who marched on Washington and heard Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream' speech in 1963. . ." (The National Coalition to Save Our Mall, "The World War II Memorial Defaces a National Treasure"). If nothing else, it is a fitting monument to the American elite's will to power -- especially of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations -- foreclosing Americans' right to claim the historic space for social movements for democracy.

The National Coalition to Save Our Mall see the World War II Memorial as "a lost opportunity": "Full and open public discussion of how we as a society wished to commemorate WW II in our nation’s capital —- a discussion never permitted to happen for the WW II Memorial —- would no doubt have opened a debate about history, memory, American values, the power of the democratic ideal, and the role of America in modern world history" ("The National World War II Memorial," April 6, 2004). The Coalition's attempt to save "the grand open space that was the Mall area between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial," constructing a more symbolically fitting memorial to World War II veterans in a more physically appropriate location, ended in failure, but the Coalition certainly left historical documents of its own that attest to the spirit of concerned citizens fighting a good fight against the power elite who always seek to memorialize their class ideals and to pass them off as "American values." Future generations will see the World War II Memorial in light of such historical documents that will give them a glimpse of citizen-soldiers for democracy excluded from the monument itself.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Toward an Unsilent Majority?

Daily Kos, a liberal blog created by Salvadoran-American Markos Moulitsas Zúniga who counts Cesar Chavez and Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero among his heroes, complains of New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney's coverage of the John Kerry campaign: "Nagourney's Anti-Kerry Crusade," May 28, 2004. Kos and his loyal readers have gone so far as to post Nagourney's email address and office phone number on his blog. That Daily Kos is ranting against Nagourney, who has given voice to exactly the sort of dismay and discontent with Kerry that rank-and-file anti-war Democrats are feeling, just about sums up the problem of "Anybody But Bush" Democrats who not only give a blank check to Kerry but try to shut up those who don't. Has Daily Kos actually generated flak to pressure Nagourney? Hard to say, but Nagourney's New York Times article today does focus on the topic of liberal Democrats' self-censorship:
Senator John Kerry found himself on familiar ground when he talked about Iraq in a speech on Wednesday: out of step with much of his own party. Once again, Republicans and even some Democrats said, Mr. Kerry appeared on the verge of squabbling with the antiwar base of his party.

But that has not happened, even in a week in which Mr. Kerry rejected calls from the antiwar Democrats to set a deadline for the withdrawal of United States troops from Iraq. . . .

This turn of events is the latest and what some Democrats describe as the most compelling evidence that the fractious left wing of the Democratic Party is muting itself in this election. . . .

"Kerry has less of a problem on the left in the Democratic Party than any Democratic candidate in my memory, which goes back to Kennedy," said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, referring to John F. Kennedy. "The proof of that is I am less busy this presidential campaign than other ones. I'm not being sent out to calm down the left." . . .

The muted criticism of Mr. Kerry on the war, which he voted for, is the most striking example of an unusual display of pragmatism by the Democratic left. Democrats said they were also holding back criticism or delaying demands until after Election Day on issues ranging from gay marriage to trade policy to Mr. Kerry's relatively modest health care proposal and support for a balanced budget amendment. . . .

Mr. Nader said he could not understand why unions, antiwar groups and other traditional Democratic constituencies were signing on with Mr. Kerry without insisting they get something in return. And he criticized Mr. Kerry for not making real concessions to the antiwar crowd.

"He's listening to Shrum," said Mr. Nader, referring to Mr. Kerry's senior political adviser, Bob Shrum. "He's listening to all the cautious advisers. They are saying don't cater to these antiwar people, they have nowhere to go. They are going to vote for you. You know the old game." ("Why the Democrats' Left Wing Is Muted," May 29, 2004)
Though unions and a number of liberal organizations may continue to censor themselves and mute their criticisms of Kerry, allowing him to define the conservative political agenda against their own best interests, even the most cautious of all anti-war coalitions in the United States is beginning to make noises, in response to the majority of Democrats who are now saying that Washington "should withdraw its military forces from Iraq . . . even if that means civil order is not restored there" (emphasis added):
Recent polls have shown rising support among Democrats for withdrawal. And Win Without War plans a nationwide series of demonstrations in late June to push for a firm date.

"We are going to be making that case as vigorously as we can to the American people," said Tom Andrews, Win Without War's national director and a former Democratic House member from Maine.

While the liberal coalition veers away from Kerry, Bush over the last several weeks has crowded the Massachusetts senator by executing what many analysts see as a major midcourse correction on Iraq. . . .

"Kerry's position is being eroded," said one top Democratic foreign policy analyst who asked not to be named. "Kerry is in a position where the best he will be able to say is that Bush is finally doing what I said to do all along."

Compounding Kerry's problem, doubts are growing among Democrats to the open-ended commitment in Iraq that he echoes Bush in supporting. In an ABC/Washington Post survey released Monday, 53% of Democrats said the U.S. "should withdraw its military forces from Iraq . . . even if that means civil order is not restored there."

Voices influential in Democratic circles are also promoting withdrawal. In recent articles, James B. Steinberg, the deputy national security advisor under President Clinton, and Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, have said the U.S. should set a "date certain" for the withdrawal of all American troops.

Such a step, they argue, is critical to winning Iraqi backing for maintaining the occupation long enough to build a reliable security force for the country's new government.

The withdrawal idea is certain to receive more attention now that Win Without War, whose members include the influential liberal Internet advocacy group,, has endorsed it after extensive deliberations.

Andrews, Win Without War's director, said that although the resolution the group will announce today will call for setting a deadline for withdrawal, it will not endorse a specific date.

"To us, the mere presence of an unwelcome occupation force is . . . fueling the insurgencies, and it means our soldiers have become vulnerable targets unable to restore order," he said.

Kerry has said the U.S. could begin withdrawing troops once stability is established in Iraq. Aides say he believes a more specific withdrawal option would be both a policy and political mistake: an invitation to chaos in Iraq and a backlash from swing voters in the U.S. . . .

"What Kerry's doing is stepping out of the line of fire and making the issue George Bush's policy on Iraq," Andrews said. "But clearly the degree to which [he] can be clear, specific and concrete about what . . . steps he can take to get us out of this colossal mess is to the good." (Ronald Brownstein, "Kerry Feels Squeeze on Iraq Policy: While Bush Moves Ever Closer to His Challenger's Ideas, More Democrats Are Calling for a Pullout," Los Angeles Times, May 27, 2004)
Win Without War is calling for a date of withdrawal only in the interest of "winning Iraqi backing for maintaining the occupation long enough to build a reliable security force for the country's new government" (Brownstein, May 27, 2004), to be sure, but its campaign, in addition to actions of International ANSWER, United for Peace and Justice (whose national coordinator Leslie Cagan says, "It's outrageous that the so-called opposition party has provided so little opposition. We're concerned that despite slight emphases, the Kerry agenda is basically the same as Bush: a foreign policy based on what's best for big American corporations" [Matthew Wells, "Poles Apart," The Guardian, May 6, 2004]), and other anti-war coalitions and organizations nationwide, may serve to hasten an end to the self-defeating self-censorship of activists to the left of Kerry.

Then, if Kerry fails to respond to clamors for withdrawal, the question is whether activists can draw the logical conclusion from their own experience of the nature of the Democratic Party machine.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Prayers and Parking Meters: Muslim Cabbies in New York City

Daniel J. Wakin says that "by one estimate, half of the [New York] city's 40,000 taxi drivers" are Muslims ("When No Mosque Is Near," New York Times, May 28, 2004). Evidently, so are nearly half the taxi drivers in Toronto, "home to Canada's biggest Muslim community": "Gail Beck-Souter, general manager of Beck, Toronto's biggest taxi company, . . . said 40 per cent of her 1,600 drivers are Muslim" (Jan Wong, "Cabbies' Life Suits Muslims," Globe and Mail, October 7, 2002). Safeeldien Osman, a Muslim cab driver in Toronto, says, "For us, taxi is the best business. Because we have the freedom to go to the mosque five times a day and nobody bothers us" (Wong, Globe and Mail, October 7, 2002). Apparently, that is not the case in New York, the city where a man's desperate search for a good parking spot can be a plot of life or at least a novel:
The drivers congregate in South Asian restaurants that provide prayer space in basements or back rooms. They have an imprint of the city's mosques in their brains, at the ready wherever a fare may take them as prayer time closes in. Using a small carpet kept in the trunk, they pray in the back seat, or even on the side of the road. . . .

Keeping the faith, however, is not always easy for these men. . . . The biggest obstacles are parking, timing and cleanliness. Muslims are required to wash before praying, and the place itself must be clean. The ritual generally lasts 10 to 45 minutes, depending on the circumstances.

Some drivers say the threat of bias attacks after Sept. 11 has made them too fearful to prostrate themselves in the streets, but not Mr. [Amar] Abdemula. "I pray any place, because protection is from God," he said.

Mr. Abdemula spoke at La Guardia Airport. He was one of a steady stream of South Asian, Arab and African men who made their way to a nook beneath an overpass near the Delta Airlines terminal that has become an informal prayer space.

A large cheap rug lay over a bed of ornamental mulch. The men first washed in a restroom at the arrivals terminal. They then unrolled tiny carpets over the rug, took off their shoes and faced east toward Mecca to pray as planes roared overhead and traffic whooshed by. A tuft of pine trees hid them from the road. In front of their bending bodies was a chain link fence and then a sea of yellow cabs waiting their turn to approach the taxi stand. The cabbies prayed quickly so they could reach their taxis before it was their time to move ahead in line. . . .

Sometimes it boils down to a choice between prayers or fares. Mr. Abdemula said if he is near a mosque where parking is difficult, he will put on his off-duty sign and forsake business well before the hour of midday prayer.

Ibrahim Khan, 24, who arrived in the United States from Pakistan three years ago, lucked into a parking place one Friday near New York's main mosque, the Islamic Cultural Center of New York at 96th Street and Third Avenue. A woman heading for La Guardia had hailed him at 65th Street and First Avenue, but he turned her down. "I said I can't go because it was my prayer time," he said. "She said, 'O.K., I'm sorry.' I said it's O.K." The loss of the $35 was a big chunk out of the $150 to $200 Mr. Khan said he earns in a day. . . .

Many cabdrivers go to the 96th Street mosque for midday prayers on Friday, Islam's holy day, when it is important to pray in a group. Until recently, several cabdrivers and mosque officials said, the police would turn a blind eye to double-parked taxis. But that has changed, and the tickets are flowing, they said. The mosque provides forms stating that drivers were present for prayer services, for use in traffic court. Police officials say that there have been more complaints from neighbors because of an increase in attendance on Fridays but that they have not been giving out any more tickets.

Along with city's smaller neighborhood mosques, restaurants are a major prayer destination. Several are on or near Lexington Avenue in the 20's, a patch of South Asian businesses with a long yellow oasis - a taxi stand.

The Shipa Kasturi Pavilion on Lexington and 26th Street is a bare, fluorescent-lit Bangladeshi restaurant with dirty linoleum and garish pictures of horses and a city skyline on the wall.

Drivers go to the counter, get a key, unlock a side door and descend a narrow wooden staircase. A larger freezer, sacks of onions and rice, boxes of potatoes and gas meters crowd the already claustrophobic space. A clean, green-carpeted empty room is reached through a door, where the drivers pray.

One, Mohammad Manzur Alam, said he had appealed to the owner's sense of duty as a Muslim and talked him into providing the room, soap and a basin to wash in. Drivers chipped in for the renovation of the room and the carpet. But the street runs two ways: many restaurants benefit by providing the space because it ensures customers.

On this day in May, Mr. Alam had gathered a few of his fellow Bangladeshi drivers through cellphone calls. It is better to pray together, he said. After ablutions and prostrations, they ate upstairs in the restaurant, for a full cultural experience of faith, food and language.

"We can do two necessary things together: lunch and prayer," Mr. Alam said.

Mr. Alam said he was also campaigning for a shed at Kennedy International Airport, where he said drivers pray in the middle of a lot, but had yet to receive support from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Commission officials said they knew of no such request and referred the matter to the Port Authority because it was the agency's jurisdiction. The Port Authority said it had not received a formal request but would consider the idea.

Other restaurants in Manhattan with prayer space include Sheezan, on Church Street in TriBeCa, and the Dhaka Restaurant on 31st Street between Madison and Fifth Avenues. When a visitor asked about prayers at Dhaka, the counterman led the way to a closet and produced a carpet for worshipers to use in the back of the restaurant. He said many drivers come in the evening after their shift. At Niamat Kada, on Lexington Avenue and 28th Street, there was only space for two or three worshipers in the basement.

The South Asian restaurant "becomes sort of like a community center, like so many things in New York does," said Tony Carnes, a sociologist of religion and co-editor of the just-released "Asian American Religions: The Making and Remaking of Borders and Boundaries" (New York University Press), which includes an article on the drivers written by Professor Bender and a student [Fenggang Yang].

"What's unique about it is creating ritual purity in a place that may be an impure place," Mr. Carnes said, referring to a restaurant's association with heavy traffic, trash and restrooms. "They see it as a place of order and of invitation and of relaxation." (Wakin, May 28, 2004)
Muslim cabbies struggle to navigate New York City in order to practice rituals of the world before "the time of abstract labour (money, the universal equivalent), the time of the clock" (Peter Osborne, The Politics of Time: Modernity and Avant-Garde, London: Verso, 1995, p. 34) by turning to modern technologies: "Like sunrise and sunset, the timetable changes constantly and depends on location. Muslims usually carry schedules or consult a Web site" (Wong, October 7, 2002). In the process, they become tactical users -- "unrecognized producers, poets of their own acts, silent discoverers of their own paths in the jungle of functionalist rationality" (Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life) -- of the city whose social geography is ordered by the logic of accumulation that exploits their labor.

Saadi Youssef, "America, America"

Two lines from "America, America," a poem written by Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef in Damascus on August 20, 1995, prophesied George W. Bush's plan of bringing "maximum security" to Iraq: "Take your blueprints for model penitentiaries / and give us village homes" (trans. Khaled Mattawa, Banipal 7, Spring 2000, republished in Masthead 7, February 2003).

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Bringing "Maximum Security" to Iraq

One of the most astonishing remarks that George W. Bush made in his Army War College speech laying out a five-step plan to re-engineer the occupation is his declaration that "America will fund the construction of a modern maximum security prison. When that prison is completed detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then with the approval of the Iraqi government we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning" ("Transcript of Bush Speech on US Strategy in Iraq," Financial Times, May 25 2004). Then again, it is quite fitting that an empire built by a prison state -- "a nation that incarcerates 2.2 million people -- one-quarter of all the world's prisoners" (Alan Elsner, "If US Plays Global Prison Ratings Game, It Ought to Play by Its Own Rules," Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 2004) -- will be a prison empire: "The Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where a unit of U.S. soldiers abused prisoners, is just the largest and suddenly most notorious in a worldwide constellation of detention centers -- many of them secret and all off-limits to public scrutiny -- that the U.S. military and CIA have operated in the name of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks" (Dana Priest and Joe Stephens, "Secret World of U.S. Interrogation: Long History of Tactics in Overseas Prisons Is Coming to Light," Washington Post, May 11, 2004, p. A01).

The Iraqis are unimpressed by Bush's pledge to "demolish the Abu Ghraib prison" ("Iraqis Dismiss Bush's Abu Ghraib Plan," Aljazeera, May 25th, 2004), but no matter -- the President is not in the habit of letting such small details stand in his way. As Washington globalizes its prison-industrial complex, privatizing as many prisons as it can, what corporation might it employ to manage "a modern maximum security prison" in Iraq? A likely candidate, I think, is Wackenhut -- renamed the GEO Group in December 2003 -- given its transnational operation ("So far, outside of the US, it has won contracts in Australia, the UK, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and the Netherlands Antilles" [Stephen Nathan, "The Prison Industry Goes Global," Fall 2000]) and participation in detention at Guantanamo:
It was not press released and it is not listed on the company’s website. But a small classified advertisement in the employment section of Gazette, 26 September 2003, “the authorised publication for members of the military services stationed at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay” states: “WCC [Wackenhut Corrections Corporation] has been awarded a contract by the Department of Homeland Security Bureau of Immigration and Custom Enforcement for the security operation of the Migrant Operations Center at Guantanamo Bay. Wackenhut Corrections is now hiring approx. 20 positions, including: custody officers; supervisory custody officer; recreational activities coordinator and administrative clerk. Full and part time positions available.” According to WCC’s in-house publication All Points Bulletin, Third Quarter 2003, the company will be providing custodial services for some 100 detainees. (The Public Services International Research Unit [PSIRU], University of Greenwich, London, "Cuba: Wackenhut at Guantanamo Bay," Prison Privatisation Report International 58, October 2003)
Wackenhut's corporate history, too, is appropriate for a building block in the prison empire:
Named after its founder, former FBI agent George Wackenhut, the firm is a subsidiary of Wackenhut's private security service, which made it big more than forty years ago by scooping up contracts to guard America's nuclear waste dumps and testing installations. Wackenhut also did some freelance spooking. By the late sixties the corporation had dossiers on three million American "potential subversives." This was the largest collection of private surveillance files in American history and was later handed over to the FBI. By the 1970s and 1980s the company had expanded into strikebreaking and guarding US embassies. George Wackenhut still runs the business from his castle-like mansion in Florida and from the deck of his yacht, Top Secret. (Christian Parenti, "The Prison Industrial Complex: Crisis and Control," CorpWatch, September 1, 1999)
See, also, Greg Palast's article on "the privatization of spookery" -- "Fear for Sale," In These Times, May 12, 2004; and the SEIU's website about many problems of the Wackenhut Corporation, "the second largest private security company in the US" -- Eye on Wackenhut.

Now, two action alerts: "Support Suspended Wackenhut Workers" (concerning "two Wackenhut security officers leading an effort to form a union with SEIU at the offices of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC" who got "suspended indefinitely from their jobs"); and "Prevent a Security Meltdown: Urge Review of Wackenhut Contracts at US Nuclear Facilities" (urging "government oversight agencies to conduct an immediate and comprehensive review of all of Wackenhut’s security contracts at nuclear power plants and weapons facilities," given the revelation of its security lapses).

Martha Stewart and 18 USC 1001

Very few leftists have paid attention to the Martha Stewart affair. One of the exceptions is Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer, who has objected to her prosecution and conviction on the grounds that her unpopularity is in large part due to resentment against her invasion of "the traditionally male turf of big business," compounded by her business of ironically making commodities out of "homemaking" and thereby stripping it of the mythical aura of domesticity untouched by capitalism, and that "[t]he only obvious victim of Martha's alleged crime is the public's perception of the fairness of the stock market," so the only effect of her conviction is to "preserve the illusion that everyone is equal, and that the rich and well connected have no special advantage over the masses" ("Free Martha!" The Nation, February 9, 2004). Henwood has been so moved by the Martha Stewart affair that he has even begun to sell a "Give Martha's Cell to Cheney" T-shirt and other Free Martha merchandise -- the T-shirt is designed and modeled by Nomi Prins (whose appearance is as sultry as her mind is sharp), the author of Other People's Money: The Corporate Mugging of America, on the LBO homepage. Despite Henwood's valiant efforts, the Martha Stewart case remains beneath the radar of leftists across the political spectrum. After all, Stewart is hardly the only successful businesswoman nowadays, and it is not just sporadic investigations of insider trading but nearly all institutions (from elections to the United Nations) of capitalist democracy that are in the same business of marketing the illusion of equality and fairness.

Perhaps, a more compelling reason for leftists to take a second look at the Martha Stewart affair is 18 USC 1001:
[D]efense lawyers for white-collar criminal cases say the focus on Ms. Stewart's celebrity misses the point. The real lesson of the case, they say, is that it once again proves the potency of a little-known federal law that has become a crucial weapon for prosecutors.

The law, which lawyers usually call 1001, for the section of the federal code that contains it, prohibits lying to any federal agent, even by a person who is not under oath and even by a person who has committed no other crime. Ms. Stewart's case illustrates the breadth of the law, legal experts say.

Ms. Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice and making false statements to F.B.I. agents and investigators from the Securities and Exchange Commission who were investigating her for insider trading. . . .

But Ms. Stewart was never charged with criminal insider trading, suggesting that if she had simply told investigators the truth she would not have faced criminal charges. . . .

That disturbs civil libertarians, who say that 1001 charges typically criminalize behavior that most people would not recognize as illegal.

"This 1001 law is really a remarkable trap," said Harvey Silverglate, a criminal defense lawyer in Boston.

People lie all the time to colleagues, friends and family, Mr. Silverglate said, and unless they are legal experts they probably do not know that lying to any federal investigator is illegal even if they are not under oath.

And F.B.I. agents and other investigators usually do not tape-record their conversations, so people can be convicted of making false statements based only on an investigator's notes, which may not exactly reflect what was said.

"Any casual conversation between a citizen and a person of the executive branch is fraught with the possibility that you can be convicted of lying," Mr. Silverglate said. If the government wants to make sure it is being told the truth, he added, it should put people under oath. "That's why we have perjury laws -- because we tell people this time you're under a special formal obligation to tell the truth," he said. "And by the way, you'll notice it doesn't run in both directions, so a federal agent can lie to you, can trick you, in order to get information." (Alex Berenson, "There's a Reason Your Mother Told You Not to Lie," New York Times, March 7, 2004, Section 4, p. 14)
The only source on the left available for discussion of civil liberties implications of 18 USC 1001 concerning the Martha Stewart affair has been a liberal blog TalkLeft developed by Denver-based criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt:
18 USC 1001 deserves more attention of leftists, however, given what Congress intended the section to criminalize:
Title 18, Section 1001 of the U.S. Code, amended by Congress in 1996, imposes criminal liability for making false statements in "any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the government."

The law is intended to criminalize false statements on applications for government benefits like food stamps and loans. (Alexei Oreskovic, "9th Circuit Clears Man Who Faked Poverty to Win a PD," The Recorder, March 29, 2004)
From social welfare to immigration to criminal justice, 18 USC 1001 is likely to present a far more danger to the poor than to the rich, especially during the endless "war on terrorism."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Two, Three, or Many Oil Wars

Mike Davis appears to believe that "the curve of global oil production is indeed near the point of descent" and that Washington has a foreign policy to match it, "a US master plan for the control of oil in an age of diminishing supply and soaring prices," dictated by narrow interests of corrupt oil men:
The rising value of an increasingly scarce resource is a form of monopoly rent, and a future permanent crude-oil regime of $50 per barrel (or higher) would transfer at least $1 trillion per decade from consumers to oil producers. In plain English, this would be the greatest robbery by a rentier elite in world history. Someday, Enron may seem like the equivalent of a liquor store hold-up by comparison.

The oilmen in the White House, of course, have the best view of the lush terrain on the far side of Hubbert's peak. No wonder, then, that a map of the 'war against terrorism' corresponds with such uncanny accuracy to the geography of oil fields and proposed pipelines. From Kazakhstan to Ecuador, American combat boots are sticky with oil. ("The View from Hubbert's Peak," May 26, 2004)
Contrary to Davis's view, it is probably the case that the glaring lack of coherent foreign policy-making has made Washington fight two major oil wars at the same time, against the interests of Washington's governing elite themselves if not against those of oil men:
The oil saga this year has its roots in the Venezuelan oil strike that took place in the winter of 2002-2003 and removed 200 million barrels of crude oil and gasoline from the world market.

In response to the strike, the United States made two strategic mistakes. First, it refused to compensate for the drop in supply by releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Understandable, given a war on the horizon.) Second, it accepted assurances from Saudi Arabia that the kingdom would increase production to make up for the Venezuelan shortfall.

Missing from the picture? Geography. Venezuelan oil can get to the United States in six days; Saudi oil can take up to two months to make it to American refineries. To complicate matters, Saudi Arabia was slow to increase output, waiting until late January and early February of 2003 to raise production, 45 days after the Venezuelan disruption began. (Edward L. Morse and Nawaf Obaid, New York Times, May 25, 2004)
Matthew Robinson of Reuters writes that "According to secondary sources, the world's No. 5 oil exporter [Venezuela] is only pumping about 2.5 million to 2.6 million barrels per day (bpd) compared to 3.1 million bpd before the December 2002-January 2003 strike and its official OPEC ceiling of 2.7 million bpd ("Venezuela's OPEC Role Limited by Output, Politics," May 26, 2004). The decline of Venezuela's oil output is in part the result of the Venezuelan oligarchy's own war against the populist politics of Hugo Chávez Frías, but the Venezuelan oligarchy have certainly been materially supported and diplomatically encouraged by Washington at each step -- the April 2002 coup, the December 2002-January 2003 strike, and the ongoing attempt to recall Chávez -- of their dogged campaign to destroy the first Venezuelan government to protect and promote the interests of the Venezuelan masses. Their latest failed attempt to overthrow the Chávez government is reminiscent of CIA shenanigans at the height of the Cold War -- notice the gusano connection:
Venezuelan authorities captured this morning a group of 55 Colombian paramilitaries who were receiving training at a farm nearby Caracas in preparation for attacks on Venezuelan military bases and for a coup d'etat against the government of Hugo Chávez. . . .

The paramilitaries 55 initially captured are part of a larger group of up to 130 men, some of which managed to escape. By Sunday afternoon, authorities managed to capture several others for a total of 71 individuals detained, including two minors. Authorities continue to pursue the irregulars through the mountains around southeastern part of the valley of Caracas.

According to Venezuela’s Defense Minister Jorge Garcia Carneiro, the group's final goal was to overthrow the government. Garcia said that there are Venezuelan retired military officers involved in the plot. The Venezuelan military officers allegedly involved are part of the group of rebels who regularly met at Francia Square in the affluent eastern Caracas neighborhood of Altamira, to give anti-government speeches and make calls to overthrow it. . . .

About 100 of the irregulars are members of the Colombian military reserve, according the authorities' analysis of Colombian documents found in the farm, and according to testimony by some of the men captured. . . .

Cubans involved

According to authorities, the property where the paramilitaries were captured belongs to anti-government political leader Robert Alonso. Mr. Alonso, of Cuban origin, is a legal resident of the United States, and creator of the civilian resistance plan called "Guarimba", aimed at toppling the Chavez government and which was first implemented at the end of February in Caracas during the Presidential Summit of the Group of the 15.

Mr. Robert Alonso is one of the leaders of an opposition coalition know as Bloque Democrático (Democratic Block) and he is also tied to the larger Coordinadora Democratica opposition coalition. . . .

Bloodshed predicted by opposition

Venezuelan former President Carlos Andres Perez, who opposes the Chavez government, announced last week through Colombian radio network Caracol that the political opposition to Chavez "is willing to oust him, not through peaceful means but by force". Perez, who lives in exile in the United States, said that he did not believe that Chavez's ouster would spill into a civil war, but that "there will be blood spilled" to oust him. The Colombian radio network Caracol is also owned by media magnate and Chavez opponent Gustavo Cisneros. ("Venezuela Captures Paramilitary Group Seeking to Overthrow Chavez," May 9, 2004)
Now, I'm sure that all these anti-Chávez campaigns on the military, economic, and political fronts "make sense" if Washington's concern is Venezuela and Venezuela alone: after all, what's good for the poor in Venezuela isn't good for the rich either in Venezuela or the United States. It doesn't make any economic sense at all for Washington, though, to fight two major oil wars in Iraq and Venezuela at the same time, when it can't even manage a two-front counterinsurgency war against Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq alone.

In his April 16, 1967 "Message to the Tricontinental," Ernesto Che Guevara wrote: "How close we could look into a bright future should two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world with their share of deaths and their immense tragedies, their everyday heroism and their repeated blows against imperialism, impelled to disperse its forces under the sudden attack and the increasing hatred of all peoples of the world!" Add Nigeria's labor unrest, the growing Chinese economy's oil demands, and terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia to Iraq and Venezuela, and Washington has in fact many oil wars on its hands. We may be closer to the hour of the furnaces than we know, not because Washington has any master plan, pace Davis, but in fact because its contradictory policy-making without a master plan (except the single-minded determination to always attack any gains made by the poor in any nation) has inadvertently helped to initiate more oil wars than it can handle.


Oil companies have sought to become more efficient and free up capital by holding lower stocks. This has given the industry less of a cushion against sudden supply disruptions.

A wave of mergers following 1998-1999's price crash also reduced the number of companies holding inventory. A series of supply disruptions last year -- the war in Iraq, Venezuela's general strike, and ethnic unrest in Nigeria -- cut into stocks.

OPEC, which controls around half the world's exports, has worked hard to stop stocks building, especially in the United States, during periods of seasonally weak demand. Ministers have announced plans to cut production before prices start to weaken, giving refiners no chance to replenish stocks with lower-priced crude or products.

The resulting lack of stock cover leaves refiners more vulnerable to supply disruptions and increases the likelihood of price spikes. This in turn has attracted heavy buying interest from big-money speculative hedge funds.

"OPEC strategy has shaped oil markets into a bullish machine in a tense international environment," said consultants PFC Energy. "This has caught the attention of speculators and hedge funds, who have magnified the current pressures in oil markets."

OPEC policy has helped create the conditions for a sustained price backwardation, pricing physical oil at a premium to future supplies. So refiners are discouraged from holding storage and buy at the last minute.


Political tensions in the Middle East and violence in Iraq have undermined traders' confidence in security of supply from the region, which pumps a third of the world's oil. Iraqi exports, not long back to pre-war volumes, have been hit by sabotage attacks. Traders fear there may be more disruptions in the run-up to the June 30 handover of power.

Traders fear Islamic militants could target oil infrastructure in OPEC's biggest producer Saudi Arabia. Shootings at a Saudi petrochemical plant fostered fears of a larger attack on the kingdom's tightly-protected oil facilities.

The post-September 11 chill in relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States has raised concerns that Riyadh may no longer be willing to act as a guarantor of cheap oil as it did during the 1990s.

"While the Kingdom remains the ultimate guarantor of oil supplies in case of emergency, it has given up its role of price moderator inside OPEC," PFC Energy said.

Venezuelan oil production is still suffering the fall-out of the strike 18 months ago that cut capacity. A possible August referendum on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez' rule could again destabilise exports from a big U.S. supplier. Civil unrest in OPEC member Nigeria is another flashpoint.


Supply security concerns have spurred many countries to increase strategic inventories, withdrawing supply from an already tight market.

The United States continues to fill its strategic petroleum reserve despite high prices. Other countries including India, South Korea, Taiwan and China are building reserves or plan to start soon.


China's economic expansion has given a dramatic boost to world oil demand, sucking in crude and refined products from all around the world. Unless China's economy overheats, traders expect its fuel demand to keep growing for the next two or three years, encouraging speculative hedge funds to bet that high oil prices are here to stay.

Chinese oil demand looks set to rise about 20 percent in the first half of this year, says the International Energy Agency, on top of 11 pct growth last year.

At the same time, sharper growth in the U.S. economy, which devours a quarter or all world oil, is driving competition between Asia and the U.S. for supplies.

The rate of demand growth has caught forecasters such as the International Energy Agency by surprise. Consumption forecasts have proved far too low, encouraging OPEC to keep supplies even tighter than needed to prevent stocks building.

Higher demand means that a shortage of refining capacity that has plagued the United States for the last four years has now spread to Asia, again leaving the global oil supply system more exposed to disruption.


Environmental regulations are pushing up the price of making fuel, forcing companies to build expensive new facilities and making it harder to ship supplies between regions.

In the United States, individual states demand an array of different gasoline blends. This makes it harder to transport supplies between states and to import supplies from abroad.

Environmental regulations have made it more expensive to build new refineries, and much harder to get the necessary permits.

The United States accounts for about 45 percent of world gasoline consumption. Demand is up because of the growing numbers of low-mileage-per-gallon sports utility vehicles on America's highways.

U.S. gasoline demand drives a growing requirement for high-quality light, low-sulphur crude. China is competing for those grades of oil to meet demand for transportation fuels, lifting the price premium for low sulphur crude. Most of OPEC's crude is heavy and high-sulphur.


Big oil reservoirs are becoming harder to find and more expensive to develop. Many of the oil provinces outside OPEC are mature, which means that finds are now smaller, need more costly technology to develop and fall faster from peak production.

Oil companies have also been cautious on spending since the '97-'98 price crash slashed their share prices and triggered a spate of mergers. They have focused on large-scale projects, which will give them good margins.

Many new ventures are in remote areas, which demand expensive equipment and are more susceptible to delays.

Non-OPEC supply growth outside Russia before the price crash averaged more than one million bpd. Since then it has been negligible.

Forecasts of non-OPEC supply growth, especially when the rebound in Russian production is stripped out, have consistently been overstated.

The increased cost of finding and developing non-OPEC oil has fuelled speculators convictions that oil markets are a good long-term bet. Royal Dutch/Shell's reserves troubles have reinforced the view that oil is becoming harder to find.

In OPEC, which holds around two-thirds of the world's oil reserves, many of the bigger nations either do not allow foreign investment in oil, or have unattractive investment and legal terms.

This has slowed down production capacity growth in OPEC nations, meaning that most are already producing flat out. Only Saudi Arabia holds substantial spare capacity, giving it even more leverage over prices. (Reuters, "Why Oil Prices Are So Strong," May 17, 2004)

Hooked on Empire's Logic

Colorado Democrats voted down resolutions to Bring the Troops Home Now:
Delegates at the party's state convention expressed their hope for peace, but rejected calls for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

The majority of Colorado Democrats at the party's state convention over the weekend rejected a resolution to bring American soldiers home from Iraq now.

It was an important message in an election year, when patriotism matters and when some Democratic candidates will be trying to woo independents and Republican voters in November.

But the outcome surprised some ideologues who expected the party faithful to make a statement that the war is doing more harm than good and that prisoner abuse has disgraced the United States before the whole world.

The rejected resolution urged: "Immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and support for a United Nations International Peace mission to Iraq to bring about peace, security and stability in the sovereign nation of Iraq."

Delegates also rebuffed an even shorter peace resolution that said, in full: "Bring the troops home now." . . .

State Democratic Chairman Chris Gates said that by rejecting the proposal, the majority of Democrats showed they are "measured and prudent." Most party leaders believe the United States entered the war under false claims by the Bush administration that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda terrorists. But they also recognize that the United States can't simply pull the troops out, said Gates. ("Democrats Dodge Anti-war Bullets," Denver Post, May 25, 2004)
I take Gates' words at face value. The Democratic Party leaders must truly believe that Washington "can't simply pull the troops out" and that their position, such as it is, is indeed "measured and prudent." The irony is that there is nothing "measured and prudent" about "staying the course" as both the Democratic and Republican Parties say and continuing the military occupation of Iraq, overstretching the US military, raising the odds of terrorist attacks on Americans at home and abroad, and increasing the possibility of oil supply disruptions that will deliver crude shocks to the vulnerable global economy.

The ideology of empire turns the world upside down. What is extremely imprudent appears "measured and prudent" in the eye of those who are hooked on empire's logic. Those who recommend a truly measured course of action -- like the rank and file Democrats at the party's state convention in Colorado and Ralph Nader who says that the United States should "declare a set date for corporate and military withdrawal -- let's say the end of the year" and calls for "replacing U.S. forces with a peace-keeping force from the United Nations" (Maria Recio, "Nader Calls for U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq," May 24, 2004) -- are made out to be insane.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Enable Them

From "Harper's Index for April 2004":
Number of articles in major U.S. newspapers that have called any White House statement on Iraq a lie: 0

My God Is Your God

John Kearney, a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, makes a small but significant point in his New York Times op-ed piece:
Last August the Washington Post Web site posed this question to readers: "Do you think that Muslims, Christians and Jews all pray to the same God?" One Muslim respondent wrote yes, each of the three major monotheistic faiths "pray to the God of Abraham."

Christian respondents, however, were equivocal or hostile to the notion. "Jews pray to Yahweh," one Virginia woman wrote. "As a Christian, I pray to the same God." But she insisted that "Muslims pray to Allah. Allah is not the God of Abraham." This woman might be surprised that Christian Arabs use "Allah" for God, as do Arabic-speaking Jews. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus, God is "Allaha," just a syllable away from Allah.

Still, who can blame her? Earlier that month, NPR reported Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza City intoning, "there is no God but Allah." Last week, The Los Angeles Times mentioned mourners for a slain Baghdad professor reciting, "there is no God but Allah" at the university campus. In September, The New York Times reported an assassinated Palestinian uttering, "there is no God but Allah" before he died.

"There is no god but God" is the first of Islam's five pillars. It is Muhammad's refutation of polytheism. Yet to today's non-Muslims, the locution "there is no God but Allah" reads as an affront, a declaration that inflammatory Allah trumps the Biblical God. This journalistic rendition distorts the meaning of the Muslim confession of faith. ("My God Is Your God," January 28, 2004)
Through little things like the convention of refusing to translate "Allah" as "God," the English-speaking media make Muslims appear alien to their audience. I wonder whether the non-Anglo media in Europe also use different words for the same God to exoticize Muslims.

Salah Edine Sallat: Art against Torture

"Iraqi artist Salah Edine Sallat puts the final touches to a wall painting based on the US Statue of Liberty and a widely published photograph of an abused detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad's Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City" (AFP/Ramzi Haidar):

A Giant Sucking Sound of the Presidential Election Year

The problem of presidential election years for activists on the left is not only that they tend to suck many activists' time and energy into the self-defeating project of electing the perceived lesser evil who turns against them but also that Democratic Party political machines suck big money out of small pockets of ordinary Americans with liberal bleeding hearts.

Some American leftists, like G. William Domhoff, wanted Ralph Nader and the Green Party to run an "insurgent campaign" in the Democratic presidential caucuses and primaries, forming a faction of the "Green Democrats" in the Democratic Party and emulating "Jesse Jackson's access to the Clinton-Gore presidency" ("Greens or Green [Egalitarian] Democrats?: A Commentary on the Nader 2000 Campaign," In These Times, March 29, 2002).

Not cost-effective. It costs a left-wing candidate more to run in the Democratic presidential caucuses and primaries than to run as a Green candidate in the general election. Howard Dean spent over $40 million, did not win a single primary, and got forced out on February 18, 2004 -- five months before the Democratic Party National Convention on July 26-29 and more than ten months before the election day in November. Generous individuals who gave money to Dean spent $40 million -- and gentle souls who gave to Dennis Kuninich spent $5 million -- without earning a single vote for their candidate in the general election. In contrast, "Ralph Nader spent only $8.5 million on his national presidential campaign" in 2000 (Yvonne Abraham, "Clean Elections Offers a Big Lift to Green Party," The Boston Globe, March 3, 2002) and got 2,882,955 votes in the general election ("U.S. Presidential Elections: Leftist Votes") -- about $2.9 per vote in the general election, which is far less than $100 per vote for Dean, $80 per vote for Kucinich, and $7 per vote for Al Sharpton in the Democratic caucuses and primaries (Cf. Norman Soloman reports that, in 1996, Nader "opted to cap his campaign expenditures at $5,000" ["News That Still Goes Unreported: 'Dollars Per Vote'"] and received "685,128 votes nationwide," spending only "seven-tenths of a penny per vote" ["Bumpy Media Road For A Wellstone Presidential Drive"] -- our Consumer Advocate sure knows how to get his money's worth).

Take a look at how money gets lost in the Democratic caucuses and primaries:
Add Up the Dollars, Er, Votes

THAT old promise of a chicken in every pot looks like a bargain compared with the sums politicians are spending this year to win votes. Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri spent $18 million in his presidential campaign, which ended after he won fewer than 14,000 votes in Iowa. That works out to about $1,300 per vote, which would be enough to buy every voter a chicken, a pot and a full-featured stove.

To be fair, you could include the votes that Mr. Gephardt has been picking up in primaries since he left the race. Counting them, his per-vote cost stands at about $600. So he can point to at least one bigger spender in the past: Steve Forbes, whose quest for the Republican nomination in 2000 cost $86 million, or about $650 per vote. But Mr. Gephardt is still comfortably ahead of another plutocrat: Michael R. Bloomberg paid about $100 per vote while spending more than $73 million to win the race for New York mayor.

Among this year's Democrats, the next highest roller was Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who spent $17 million, or a little more than $200 for every vote he won in the primaries until he withdrew. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, spent the most, $42 million, but took back enough of America to average about $100 per vote until his withdrawal. Gen. Wesley K. Clark spent $22 million, or just less than $60 per vote.

Among the active candidates, Representative Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio has spent $5 million, or about $80 per vote so far. Mr. Edwards's $22 million in spending works out to nearly $24 per vote, and Mr. Kerry's $31 million to $21 per vote. But the most cost-effective of all is the Rev. Al Sharpton. By spending a little more than $600,000, he's paying less than $7 per vote, which is just about the price of a chicken. (John Tierney, "The 2004 Campaign: Political Points," New York Times, February 29, 2004, Section 1, Page 18)
$18 million (Gephardt) + $17 million (Lieberman) + $42 million (Dean) + $5 million (Kucinich) + $22 million (Edwards) + $600,000 (Sharpton) = $104,600,000 = wasted dollars for the Democratic losers who do not get a single vote in the general election., too, is trying to make financial suckers out of their "on-line activists," with the goal of getting "500,000 people to donate $100 each":, one of the best-financed of the independent, liberal and controversial political groups spending millions to defeat President Bush, is shifting its fund-raising and campaign strategy. The group said yesterday it will stop taking large donations from rich backers and instead build a more conventional political action committee with smaller donations. . . .

The MoveOn PAC, like all PACs, is limited to contributions of $5,000 and less. But unlike the 527 groups, it is allowed to directly support candidates for office. was founded in 1998 to oppose the impeachment of President Clinton.

It has continued as a liberal grassroots campaign organization and has raised millions of dollars for its campaign against Bush. It has a massive network of supporters and claims 1.7 million "on-line activists" that have contributed to various MoveOn campaigns.

A lot of MoveOn's money went to the MoveOn Voter Fund, known as a 527 group for the IRS code it operates under. After the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law prohibited unregulated soft money donations to the political parties, 527 groups sprung up among Democratic interest groups as a way to combat Republicans' traditional fund-raising advantage.

The Voter Fund attracted donations from some of the most generous Democratic campaign financiers in the country, including international financier George Soros.

MoveOn contributors from this area include RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser, Costco co-founders Jeff Brotman and James Sinegal, investor James Roush, and software entrepreneur and environmental philanthropist Paul Brainerd.

The $50 million Pariser said MoveOn will raise would easily make it the best funded PAC ever.

In the 2000 campaign season, the largest PAC was Emily's List, a women's fund-raising organization, which reported raising $21 million. The NRA was second, with $17.8 million.

"Without a doubt, this is our most ambitious project yet," Pariser said in a teleconference with reporters. But he says MoveOn has never set a fund-raising goal it did not exceed. Pariser said the goal is to get 500,000 people to donate $100 each.

If MoveOn reaches its $50 million goal, Pariser said about $10 million will be spent on a get-out-the-vote drive, $20 million on presidential campaign TV ads and $20 million in direct contributions to Kerry and other candidates. (David Postman, " Says It Will Limit Size of Donations to $5,000," Seattle Times, April 23, 2004)
Do I hear a giant sucking sound?

And to think that, in the event John Kerry gets elected, will devote its political and financial capital to the all-important task of shielding President Kerry from any and all criticisms, even from well-deserved ones from his left. . . .

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Feminism of Fools, Cont'd

The province of Ontario approved the use of sharia in Ontario's Muslim community, allowing the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice to claim "the right to hold tribunals, darul qada, in which marriage, family and business disputes can be settled according to sharia" (Lynda Hurst, "Ontario Sharia Tribunals Assailed," Toronto Star, May 22, 2004). Predictably, right-wing blogs and publications such as Jihad Watch and FrontPage are having a field day, railing against Islam, tolerance, and multiculturalism, but Alia Hogben, president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, scoffs at men of the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice and their right-wing critics, both of whom opportunistically invoke multiculturalism to exploit it or revile it for their respective chauvinist purposes: "It's a false argument. . . Multiculturalism was never meant to take away the equality rights of a group, in this case Muslim women" (Hurst, May 22, 2004).

Multiculturalism is not without its own problems, but ranters on the right, as usual, miss the mark even when they happen to aim in the right direction:
While right-wing critics of "multiculturalism" vent their anger against imagined enemies for stealing "their" society and certain privileged white male leftists in the academy attack anti-racist feminists for allegedly derailing the class project, liberal-minded Canadians, including politicians, ethnic elites, and social scientists, proudly proclaim Canada as a "nation of immigrants" that offers hardworking newcomers an opportunity to improve themselves, contribute to Canada's rich cultural "mosaic," and eventually join the Canadian "family." None of these viewpoints capture the truly invidious features of Canadian nation-building or official multiculturalism. . . .

Though often portrayed as progressive thinking, an ideology of liberal pluralism erases the fact that Canadian immigration and refugee policy, like its citizenship laws and requirements, have been characterised by exclusionary and discriminatory practises with regard to people of colour and ethnic minorities, women, and gays and lesbians. (Franca Iacovetta and Tania Das Gupta, Atlantis: A Women's Studies Journal 24.2, Spring 2000)
In any event, the main legal source of the problem at hand -- the male-dominated Islamic Institute of Civil Justice claiming "the right to hold tribunals, darul qada, in which marriage, family and business disputes can be settled according to sharia" (Hurst, May 22, 2004) -- is not the Canadian Multiculturalism Act but the Arbitration Act of 1991:
The government has no intention of stopping it.

Muslims can't be excluded from Ontario's 1991 Arbitration Act, which allows religious groups to resolve family disputes, says the attorney-general's office. Hassidic Jews have been running their own Beit Din arbitrations based on Jewish law for years. Catholics, too, even Ismaili Muslims. Rulings are binding, but must be consistent with Canadian laws and the Charter of Rights.

"There are safeguards built into the act," says Brendan Crawley, the attorney-general's spokesperson, who has been fielding calls from the world's press on the unprecedented decision.

"Participation must be voluntary by both parties and there is recourse if a decision doesn't abide by Canadian law. They can appeal to the courts." (Hurst, May 22, 2004)
As Ontario has already allowed other religious communities such as Catholics, Hassidic Jews, and Ismaili Muslims to practice binding arbitration based on their religious laws and regulations about civil matters, it will be difficult for left-wing critics of sharia to stop its use in Ontario while distinguishing their position from right-wing critics' -- short of challenging the 1991 Arbitration Act itself, an uphill struggle.

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women, which opposes the use of sharia in Ontario for good reasons, is placed in the sort of difficult position that Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and other feminists of color have analyzed, having to fight a two-front war against conservative Muslim men who seek to define Islam according to their patriarchal terms and control Muslim women and right-wing Westerners who try to use Muslim women's struggles as ammunitions against all Muslims:
CCMW is cognizant that our stand regarding Sharia places us in a difficult position. We are a pro-faith organization of Muslim women, we do not want to provide further ammunition to those who are keen to malign Islam and yet we must be honest about the issues which affect us within the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Silence is not an option. We know that Muslim law is not monolithic, nor simple, nor applied consistently across the world and so we seriously question how it will be applied here in Canada and why is it needed here? The idealization of Muslim law based on a patriarchal family model does not work for women. We suggest that as with any law, it is problematic to apply some aspects and not consider the “totality” of the system, its context and its underpinning principles.

CCMW sees no compelling reason to live under any other form of law in Canada, as we want the same laws to apply to us as to other Canadian women. We like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which safeguard and protect our equality rights. Canadian law’s values are also the cornerstones of Islam and should be the basis of any Muslim law anywhere.

CCMW’s objective is to assist Canadian Muslim women to live under Canadian law which are congruent with Islamic ideals of social justice and equality. (The Canadian Council of Muslim Women, "Position Statement on the Proposed Implementation of Sections of Muslim Law [Sharia] in Canada," March 31, 2004)
In the case of Muslim women in Ontario, however, there is another front on which they must fight their battle:
In a May 7 letter to [an opponent of the use of sharia Homa] Arjomand [an Iranian woman who came to Canada as a refugee and is now a transitional counsellor in Toronto for immigrant women], John Gregory, general counsel to the attorney-general, acknowledged "the oppression that some Muslim women experience in Canada."

But that was not reason to deny the Islamic Institute the right to use the Arbitration Act.

"The family or community pressure that prevents (a woman) from going to court to dispute an arbitration seems likely to prevent her from going to court to assert her legal rights even without an arbitration." (Hurst, May 22, 2004)
As Spivak asked, "How should one examine the dissimulation of patriarchal strategy, which apparently grants the woman free choice as subject" ("Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988], p. 299)? It's a tough question indeed, for which activists do not have any ready answer. A promising possibility of coalition building does exist, however. Canadian Muslim feminist activists may join hands with Hassidic Jewish and other women who are discontent with how the 1991 Arbitration Act has been used by male religious authorities in their own communities.

Veterans as Voters and Political Leaders

Jason Zengerle writes:
Although the nation's 26.4 million veterans do constitute a sizable voting bloc -- making up about 12 percent of the adult population and accounting for an even greater share of the electorate in crucial states like New Hampshire and Washington -- most of that voting bloc is likely to belong to President Bush. "Veterans tend to be conservative, they tend to be Republicans," says Peter Feaver, a professor at Duke University who studies the political culture of the military. "Kerry will probably be able to make some inroads because of his own service and because of the anger some veterans have at the Bush administration. I expect that he will do better among veterans than Gore-Lieberman or Clinton-Gore. But I still don't think he will get more veteran votes than Bush." Indeed, in a national survey that Feaver and his colleague Christopher Gelpi conducted in April, veterans favored Bush over Kerry 57 to 36 percent. (In the same poll, Kerry and Bush were tied among nonveterans, with 46 percent each.) ("The Vet Wars," New York Times, May 23, 2004)
Bush's popularity among veterans would be puzzling if electoral politics were considered simply a matter of people voting their pocketbooks. Why would veterans want to vote for the man who cut their benefits, as well as tried to slash soldiers' pays in the midst of a major war, and would cut more if given a chance? According to Dave Lindorff:
  • With 130,000 soldiers still in the heat of battle in Iraq and more fighting and dying in Afghanistan, the Bush administration sought this year to cut $75 a month from the “imminent danger” pay added to soldiers’ paychecks when in battle zones. The administration sought to cut by $150 a month the family separation allowance offered to those same soldiers and others who serve overseas away from their families. Although they were termed “wasteful and unnecessary” by the White House, Congress blocked those cuts this year, largely because of Democratic votes.
  • This year’s White House budget for Veterans Affairs cut $3 billion from VA hospitals -- despite 9,000 casualties in Iraq and as aging Vietnam veterans demand more care. VA spending today averages $2,800 less per patient than nine years ago.
  • The administration also proposed levying a $250 annual charge on all Priority 8 veterans -- those with “non-service-related illnesses” -- who seek treatment at VA facilities, and seeks to close VA hospitals to Priority 8 veterans who earn more than $26,000 a year.
  • Until protests led to a policy change, the Bush administration also was charging injured GIs from Iraq $8 a day for food when they arrived for medical treatment at the Fort Stewart, Georgia, base where most injured are treated.
  • In mid-October, the Pentagon, at the request of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, announced plans to shutter 19 commissaries -- military-run stores that offer discounted food and merchandise that helps low-paid enlisted troops and their families get by -- along with the possibility of closing 19 more.
  • At the same time, the Pentagon also announced it was trying to determine whether to shutter 58 military-run schools for soldiers’ children at 14 military installations.
  • The White House is seeking to block a federal judge’s award of damages to a group of servicemen who sued the Iraqi government for torture during the 1991 Gulf War. The White House claims the money, to come from Iraqi assets confiscated by the United States, is needed for that country’s reconstruction.
  • The administration beat back a bipartisan attempt in Congress to add $1.3 billion for VA hospitals to Bush’s request of $87 billion for war and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • In perhaps its most dangerous policy, the White House is refusing to provide more than 40,000 active-duty troops in Iraq with Kevlar body armor, leaving it up to them and their families to buy this life-saving equipment. This last bit of penny-pinching prompted Pentagon critic and Vietnam veteran Col. David Hackworth to point to “the cost of the extraordinary security” during Bush’s recent trip to Asia, which he noted grimly “would cover a vest for every soldier” in Iraq. ("Dishonorable Discharge," In These Times, November 26, 2003 )
Besides, you would think that it is veterans -- especially combat veterans -- who, regardless of their opinions about the legality, morality, and necessity of the Iraq war, would be the most appalled by the manifest incompetence of the Bush team in purely military terms, evidenced by their inability to put down the Iraqi resistance while minimizing US casualties. Shouldn't they vote for John Kerry rather than Bush if they thought that what it would take to win the war would be to send more troops to Iraq while gaining more international support for the American venture? Shouldn't veterans want to support Ralph Nader rather than Bush if they wished to bring the troops home now? Whether to support or oppose the war, why would anyone who knows anything about war-fighting want to vote for Bush? The puzzle becomes solved, however, when we consider the gender and racial gaps:
  • "Mr. Kerry has the support of only 36 percent of white male voters, compared with 55 for the president, according to the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll, taken last month" (Nick Lyman, "Yes, Democrats Can Win (Some) White Male Voters," New York Times, May 23, 2004).

  • It's not surprising that the latest Bush campaign television ad has Laura Bush speaking on camera. A new Pew poll reveals a 12-point gender gap for Bush, enough to sink her husband in November. "Women are sick of Bush and all the macho strutting; it's gotten pretty old," says a Republican strategist. . . .

    Surveys taken in March showed women disapproving of Bush's job performance by 47 percent to 39 percent, while men approved 54 percent to 38 percent. The numbers in battleground states mirror the national scene. In Ohio, Bush's job approval among men in March was 53 to 45 percent while women disapproved 56 to 40 percent. In Wisconsin, one poll has Kerry leading Bush 50 to 42 percent with a wider margin of 54 versus 35 percent among women. In Oregon, a 1-point Kerry lead expands to 9 points when women are polled. (Eleanor Clift, "The Gender Gap," Newsweek, May 14, 2004)

  • This week, Cornell Belcher, a black pollster based in Washington, D.C., who works for several progressive organizations, shared some startling numbers with me. He has been doing monthly polling in six key battleground states -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, Michigan and Nevada. Even as white voters nationwide have been moving toward negative feelings about the war, black voters have taken those feelings and supersized them.

    Seventy-three percent of African Americans in those states disagree that the war in Iraq is worth the U.S. casualties there because the country is safer. Sixty-three percent agree that America should cut its losses and pull out of Iraq right now.

    And here's the real kicker. On the question of whether Bush intentionally misled the country, 77 percent agree at least somewhat.

    Belcher doesn't have similar numbers for whites to compare, but all of those numbers are significantly worse for Bush than those found in recent national polls of both whites and blacks.

    In the latest nationwide Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example, respondents were split 49-47 (a virtual tie, considering the margin of error) on the question of "considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits to the United States, do you think the war with Iraq was worth fighting, or not?"

    "Whites are beginning to move from being split on the war to opposing the war," Belcher said. "African Americans are soundly against the war and have been for some time." (Terry M. Neal, "Bush, Blacks and Iraq: War May Make It Tough for the President to Make Inroads With Minority Voters," Washington Post, May 20, 2004)
The estimated number of women veterans is 1.6 million (US Census Bureau, "Women's History Month (March), February 13, 2004) -- 6.1% of the total US veteran population. The veteran population are overwhelmingly white as well: 2.6 million veterans are Black, "1.1 million are Hispanic, 284,000 are Asian and 196,000 are American Indian or Alaska native" (US Census Bureau, "Veterans Day 2003: Nov. 11," October 28, 2003). Therefore, if veterans tend to be conservative and Republican, as Feaver is quoted as saying in the Jason Zengerle article, a large part of what looks like veterans' political disposition in an opinion poll is most likely a reflection of white males' political preference, rather than a measure of military experience on politics.

That said, Feaver and Gelpi have an intriguing article "Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick?: Veterans in the Political Elite and the American Use of Force" (July 1, 2002). Having examined "the impact of the presence of veterans in the U.S. political elite on the propensity to initiate and escalate Militarized Interstate Disputes (MIDs) between 1816 and 1992," Feaver and Gelpi conclude: "As the percentage of veterans serving in the executive branch and the legislature increases, the probability that the United States will initiate militarized disputes declines. Once a dispute has been initiated, however, the higher the proportion of veterans, the greater the level of force the United States will use in the dispute" (July 1, 2002). Garry Young, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University, writes of Feaver and Gelpi's article on his blog No Panaceas:
I have several technical quibbles with their methods (which I’ll spare you), but overall it is a well-crafted, provocative piece of work. But let me be clear about what the article is not saying. It makes no claims about the quality of decisions being made, e.g., whether or not civilian-laden governments made “better” foreign policy decisions than veteran-laden governments. It simply demonstrates that a relationship exists.

Of course, you cannot read this article divorced from the current administration’s actions towards Iraq. While it would be fallacious to claim that Gelpi and Feaver's general finding proves anything about this specific case, the Bush administration’s policies carry the imprimatur of civilian policy wonks like Wolfowitz and Cheney, more so than it does veterans, especially war veterans, like Powell. How would things be different -- for better or worse -- if the dominant voices in the administration had first-hand war experience? (March 03, 2003)
If Feaver and Gelpi's findings are correct, what may we expect from Kerry if he gets elected? That Kerry is less likely to initiate new wars but more likely to use a greater level of force in Iraq than Bush? That's hardly a consolation for peace and justice activists, though, since the demands of the counterinsurgency war in Iraq, which has overstretched the US military to a breaking point, will make it difficult for the next administration to start a new war anyhow even if the next president really wants to.