Friday, December 31, 2004

Diego Garcia: The Right to Return

Many of the reports on the tsunami that killed more than 120,000 people briefly mention Diego Garcia, an island of the Chagos archipelago. Diego Garcia "suffered no damage" due to its favorable undersea topography (Leo Shane III, "Diego Garcia Navy Base Reports No Damage from Quake, Tsunamis," Stars and Stripes, December 28, 2004). It is also one of the few places in the Indian Ocean region that received a warning from American officials at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

None of the reports on the tsunami, however, reminds us that Diego Garcia is one of the locations where the CIA has been hiding its secret detainees, torturing them through such "stress and duress" measures as sleep deprivation and painful shackling, and "rendering" the uncooperative among them to foreign intelligence services (e.g., in Jordan, Morocco, and Syria) to which Washington outsources its harshest tortures:
The off-limits patch of ground at Bagram is one of a number of secret detention centers overseas where U.S. due process does not apply, according to several U.S. and European national security officials, where the CIA undertakes or manages the interrogation of suspected terrorists. Another is Diego Garcia, a somewhat horseshoe-shaped island in the Indian Ocean that the United States leases from Britain.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In contrast to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where military lawyers, news reporters and the Red Cross received occasional access to monitor prisoner conditions and treatment, the CIA's overseas interrogation facilities are off-limits to outsiders, and often even to other government agencies. In addition to Bagram and Diego Garcia, the CIA has other secret detention centers overseas, and often uses the facilities of foreign intelligence services. (Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, "U.S. Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations: 'Stress and Duress' Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities," Washington Post, December 26, 2002, p. A1)
The circumstances under which Washington obtained leases to Diego Garcia -- eventually turning it into a satellite spy station, a staging ground for air strikes against Iraq, and a secret detention facility -- are little known in the United States. John Pilger calls the expulsion of the Chagos islanders from Diego Garcia to make way for the US military a "crime [that] tells us how a whole system works behind its democratic facade":
During the 1960s, in high secrecy, the Labour government of Harold Wilson conspired with two American administrations to "sweep" and "sanitise" the islands: the words used in American documents. Files found in the National Archives in Washington and the Public Record Office in London provide an astonishing narrative of official lying all too familiar to those who have chronicled the lies over Iraq.

To get rid of the population, the Foreign Office invented the fiction that the islanders were merely transient contract workers who could be "returned" to Mauritius, 1,000 miles away. In fact, many islanders traced their ancestry back five generations, as their cemeteries bore witness. The aim, wrote a Foreign Office official in January 1966, "is to convert all the existing residents ... into short-term, temporary residents."

What the files also reveal is an imperious attitude of brutality. In August 1966, Sir Paul Gore-Booth, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, wrote: "We must surely be very tough about this. The object of the exercise was to get some rocks that will remain ours. There will be no indigenous population except seagulls." At the end of this is a handwritten note by DH Greenhill, later Baron Greenhill: "Along with the Birds go some Tarzans or Men Fridays ..." Under the heading, "Maintaining the fiction", another official urges his colleagues to reclassify the islanders as "a floating population" and to "make up the rules as we go along".

There is not a word of concern for their victims. Only one official appeared to worry about being caught, writing that it was "fairly unsatisfactory" that "we propose to certify the people, more or less fraudulently, as belonging somewhere else". The documents leave no doubt that the cover-up was approved by the prime minister and at least three cabinet ministers. ("Paradiese Cleansed," The Guardian, October 2, 2004)

Charlézia Alexis
Charlézia Alexis and thousands of other exiles may never be able to return to the land Britain stole from them. (Photo courtesy of L'Express newspaper, Mauritius)

In 2000, the High Court ruled the eviction illegal, but the same court denied the islanders compensation in 2003. Worst of all, last June, the British government invoked a "orders in council, a remnant of the once all-powerful royal prerogative" (Ewen MacAskill, "Return of Diego Garcia Islanders Blocked," The Guardian, June 17, 2004) to ban the islanders "forever from returning home" (Pilger, October 2, 2004).

It says much about the relation of imperialism and social democracy that it is the Labour Party that is responsible for both expelling the Chagos islanders in the 1960s and early 1970s and blocking the islanders' right to return today.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

O Lucky Man!

Why is Lenin of Lenin's Tomb a lucky man? Because chez EroticaLee (an "original sexual artwork" blog by a Canadian artist Lili G) he is sandwiched between Lusty Lady and Life of a Demure College Student.

"The People Are with Palestine"

Dan "Mobius" Sieradski of Jewschool makes a parody of the pro-settler bumper sticker that reads "The People Are with Gush Katif" (Gush Katif is a settlement bloc in the Gaza strip slated for "disengagement"), which is itself a copy of the older right-wing Israeli slogan "The People Are with the Golan": "The People Are with Palestine".
The People Are with Palestine
"The People-Are-with-Palestine" bumper stickers and T-shirts are available at Jewschool Sto'.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

"$350 for One Jew, $700 for a Couple"

Counterintuitive as it may seem to some, a large majority of Zionists in the world are not Jewish, and most of the Zionists do not live in Israel. They are fundamentalist evangelical Christians of the apocalyptic persuasion -- Christian Zionists -- in the United States, who, as Mark Ames puts it, "hope to bundle every hairy Jewish ass up, air-freight them to the West Bank and East Jerusalem (once those areas have been cleansed of Muslims), and use the Jews as bait to bring upon the Rapture, as kindling in the Apocalypse, the final battle that will bring Jesus back to Earth. None of this can happen until every last Jew is penned into the occupied territories -- and the Jews won't get there unless the far-right runs Israel and America" ("Save a Jew, Save Yourself!" New York Press 17.41, October 12, 2004).

Save a Jew, Save Yourself

Apparently unable to simply put their faith in Providence, Christian Zionists are doing all they can to hasten the Rapture. How? By putting Jews on sale on TV.

One such "Jews-for-Sale" infomercial dumbfounded a Harvard blogger:
[T]onight I am really confused. Sitting here in a hotel in rural Georgia, I came across an infomercial for the "International Fellowship of Christians and Jews" (in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel). For at least a half an hour, the program urged Christian viewers to donate money to help Russian Jews emigrate to Israel: "$350 for one Jew, $700 for a couple" was the frequent refrain. ( ("Late Night TV's Strange Bedfellows," RF Modulator, July 12, 2004)
According to Ruth Conniff, prizes are offered for Christians who pledge to buy Jews for Israel: "As in a fund drive for public television, the evangelists were giving out prizes to viewers who called up to pledge. In this case, the premium was a genuine shofar" ("Public Piety," The Progressive, March 2003). The wackiness of the show beggars description, even in the able hands of the veteran journalist: "An enthusiastic evangelical Christian dressed as King David in a gold crown played a harp and sang Hebrew songs in front of the Western Wall. A Jews for Jesus couple in Florida sat in a living room crammed with Stars of David, loaves of challah, and various Jewish tchotchkes, reading Christian Bible verses" (Conniff, March 2003). Notwithstanding the wackiness of its infomercials, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews claims to have "contributed over $100 million in recent years toward Jewish immigration, resettlement and social welfare projects in Israel" (International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, "A History of Helping"), and it counts Joe Lieberman among its pitchmen:
The image is jarring: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, presidential candidate, appears on an infomercial asking Evangelical Christians to donate money to "rescue a Jew." "'On Wings of Eagles' is a modern-day fulfillment of Biblical prophesy," the voiceover in the infomercial says, over images of huddled Russian Jews at the airport, smiling as they presumably wait to leave Russia for Israel.

The half-hour appeal aired on the afternoon of Jan. 2 on Paxson Broadcasting (PAX) stations across the nation (locally on WHPX, channel 26), according to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), the Chicago-based nonprofit that paid for the spot. Alongside Lieberman, testimonials come from stars of the Christian Right, including convicted Watergate felon Charles Colson, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, and Moral Majority head Jerry Falwell.

Critics of the Christian Right say the IFCJ's appeal to "prophesy" in their infomercial is a thinly veiled reference to Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ and the moment when nonbelievers -- Jews included -- will be cast into the lake of fire. Jewish critics of the IFCJ say the group demeans the dignity of Jews.

Yet from 1994 to 1999, Lieberman, who on Monday announced his bid for the presidency, served as co-chair of one of IFCJ's projects, the Washington-based Center for Jewish and Christian Values.

Lieberman's long association with the IFCJ is, if not a secret, a little-known detail of his biography. No examination of it was made during Lieberman's bid for the vice presidency in 2000. The secular, mainstream press has taken no notice. (Edward Ericson, Jr., "What About Those End Times, Mr. President? Sen. Joe Lieberman Announces his Candidacy, But Not His Association with Lunatic Fringe of Biblical Prophecy," Hartford Advocate, January 16, 2003)
To the disappointment of Christian Zionists, American Jewry (like overlapping categories of Blacks, Arabs, Muslims, Queers, and the poor) once again resoundingly -- three to one -- rejected George W. Bush. To their delight, Bush got re-selected anyway. Besides, End-Time Christians, who are eager to "save" Jews for Israel, have many friends on both sides of the aisle, if not among ordinary Jewish Americans.


Here are a couple of little known facts. Many of the best-educated Russian Jews that Zionists (the majority of whom are End-Time Christians rather than Jews) "saved" for Israel have sought to use it as a stepping stone to "America, Canada or other Western countries" or even gone back to Russia itself because of "high unemployment and a stagnant economy" as well as "the fear of terrorism" in the Holy Land. A more ironic paradox is that only one third of the Russians "saved" for Israel are Jewish and some of the non-Jewish Russians who made "Aliyah" to Israel turned out to be anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, and even Holocaust deniers who hate both Jews and Arabs!
One million Russians have arrived in Israel since 1990, making them the country's largest group of immigrants, but poor employment prospects and the fear of terrorism has led to many deciding to return home.

Sitting in her Tel Aviv flat, Irena flicked through photographs of dancers wearing brightly coloured costumes. "I made all these," she said.

"But nobody here cares about your professional skills. Israelis just see Russians as people who have come over to clean their houses, look after old people or sweep the streets."

These days Irena mends clothes for a living but she was once chief designer at the Palace of Culture in Sochi, Russia's most famous Black Sea resort.

The town was badly affected by the rouble crash in 1998 so Irena went to Israel with 16 members of her family.

Now, 12 of them, including her husband, have already returned home.

Sochi is enjoying a revival with 6 million tourists each summer, and Irena's husband has already opened his second restaurant there.


By contrast Israel faces high unemployment and a stagnant economy.

Irena is also nervous about suicide bomb attacks, and worries about her son in the army. When he finishes his military service she plans to go back to Russia.

"I do not know why the government encouraged us to emigrate in the first place," she said.

"They promised us a beautiful future, but life here is pretty tough, and they should have warned us about that."

Vita Martinova, a journalist for the Russian language weekly Novosti Nedeli, said: "Russians want to be more prosperous. They want more money, better cars and good jobs.

"Now they are finding that Russia offers better opportunities for them."

A study released this year says that at least 50,000 Russians returned from Israel from 2001 to 2003.

According to Eliezer Feldman, a sociologist in Tel Aviv, there are three distinct categories of new Israeli citizens returning to Russia and the former Soviet Union.

In the first group there are people like Irena who had great expectations but were disappointed.

If they were lucky enough to find work, their larger earnings in Israel were wiped out by the higher costs of living there.

So they return to the relative security of a low-rent apartment in a provincial town in Russia or one of the ex-Soviet republics.

Global potential

The second group said Feldman is made up of people who saw Israel as a stepping-stone to a third country.

Refused access to America, Canada or other Western countries and unable to adjust to life in Israel, these people often end up back home.

Sasha Danilov, who has been successful in Israel, belongs to the third group of people leaving the country.

He arrived aged 18 from St Petersburg with nothing but a guitar and one small suitcase. At first he worked nights in the airport as a porter and studied during the day.

Seven years later he had his own hi-tech consultancy firm. Now though he has closed his Tel Aviv office because he and his girlfriend are off to Novosibirsk.

Sasha sees Siberia as his exit strategy from Israel's economic crisis. "There is huge potential there and I am hoping to sell Israeli technology to new markets. I want to act as a bridge between the two countries."

Positive discrimination

Sasha is just one of a new breed of Russian speaking Israelis with Western know-how and a globalised outlook who are in high demand across the former Soviet Union.

Anton Nosik is another. He said he simply outgrew the Israeli market and went back to Moscow in 1997 to open several internet news sites.

"In Russia there are more than 14 million internet users compared to just 2.2 million in Israel.

"Israel is a beautiful country but it feels parochial. And if you have not gone to the right school or university it is hard to get promoted beyond a certain level," he said.

Yuri Shtern, one of the 12 Russian members of the Knesset, recognises the problem and said Russians are under represented in Israel's public sector.

He wants to bring in a positive discrimination law to put more Russians in the top jobs.

"I am deeply unhappy with this trend because I think we are losing some of our best and brightest people," he said.

People from the former Soviet Union are still coming to Israel but they tend to be far less educated than the Russians who are leaving.

Moreover only one third of the latest wave of immigrants is Jewish according to religious law. Under the Law of Return anyone with a Jewish grandparent may seek Israeli citizenship.


Some worry that aggressive recruitment drives by the Jewish Agency, responsible for bringing immigrants to Israel, is persuading the wrong kinds of people to emigrate.

Zalman Gilichensky, a teacher from Jerusalem, claimed that people with very distant Jewish roots and even anti-Semites are being encouraged to move to Israel.

He said he has evidence of more than 500 outbreaks of anti-Semitism over the past year and he has set up a website to monitor them.

The incidents include swastika graffiti on the walls of synagogues, and verbal and physical abuse.

"The only way to stop these attacks is to change our immigration policy," Mr Gilichensky said. "It does not bother me that some non Jews come here.

"But I cannot see why we are importing people who hate our guts. Would-be immigrants should have to prove they know something of our history and respect our customs.

"But the government has done its best to sweep all this anti-Semitism under the carpet because these attacks are so damaging to the image of Israel."

Nevertheless the Israeli Attorney General launched a criminal investigation into a neo-Nazi website which called itself the White Israeli Union, after pictures appeared of a man in an Israeli army uniform with his arm raised in a "Heil Hitler" salute.

But since then, other Russian language websites with similar content have appeared, with tasteless jokes about Jewish people and Holocaust denials. (emphasis added, Lucy Ash, "Israel Faces Russian Brain Drain," Crossing Continents, BBC Radio 4, November 25, 2004)
According to Chris McGreal of the Guardian, the White Israeli Union has a long list of enemies, which "include Jews, Arabs, foreign workers and, tellingly, immigrants from Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union," and "encourages readers to join an Israeli army combat unit to kill Arabs" (emphasis added, "Israel Checks Out Website Run by Russian Racists," June 25, 2003).

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Politics of Aid: "The Hand That Gives, Rules"

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the west coast of northern Sumatra (on the interface of the India and Burma plates) set off a terrifying tsunami, killing tens of thousands. A majority of the dead are from poor fishing villages, and more than a third of them are children (Seth Mydans, "A Third of the Dead Are Said to Be Children," New York Times, December 28, 2004).

Photograph by Gautam Singh/Associated Press: "A mother at a hospital in Nagappattinam in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu sat on Monday with the dead, among them her own children. Nearly 3,000 people died in the state" (Mydans, December 28, 2004).

Without clean drinking water, "epidemics of cholera and other waterborne diseases could take as many lives as the initial waves" (Mydans, December 28, 2004).

"Nearly half the reported deaths" are in Sri Lanka (Mydans, December 28, 2004). According to Dr. Tad Murty, an oceanographer affiliated with the University of Manitoba, their lives could have been saved if there had been an alert system:
"There's no reason for a single individual [except those who are the closest to the epicenter] to get killed in a tsunami," Dr. Murty said. "The waves are totally predictable. We have travel-time charts covering all of the Indian Ocean. From where this earthquake happened to hit, the travel time for waves to hit the tip of India was four hours. That's enough time for a warning." (Andrew C. Revkin, "With No Alert System, Indian Ocean Nations Were Vulnerable," New York Times, December 27, 2004)
Watch an animation of the tsunami below, "a vivid demonstration of how long it takes for a tsunami to travel -- and why early warning systems can be so valuable" (Jamais Cascio, "Tsunami Animation and Information," WorldChanging, December 27, 2004):
2004 Sumatra Earthquake
Source: Kenji Satake, the Active Fault Research Center, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu, which received the first notice of the earthquake at "2:59 p.m. on Saturday Honolulu time," managed to send a warning to only places like Diego Garcia (with a United States Navy base), because "the Pacific warning center's contact list includes the Navy" (Michele Kayal and Mattew L. Wald, "At Warning Center, Alert for the Quake, None for a Tsunami," New York Times, December 28, 2004).

Amidst outpourings of griefs and sympathies worldwide, the Financial Times, the paper of record for the British ruling class, cooly analyzes the political implications of disaster relief in war-torn Sri Lanka and the Aceh province of Indonesia:
Government efforts to provide aid to the tsunami-devastated areas of Sri Lanka and Indonesia’s Aceh province could carry significant political implications for these regions, which have seen some of Asia’s fiercest insurgencies, analysts say.

Any political impact in Thailand, which has been racked by a Muslim insurgency in the south, will be tempered by the fact that the disaster area is on the south-west coast, far from the Malay-speaking areas in the south-east.

A key issue, analysts say, will be how the Indonesian and Sri Lankan governments organise the distribution of aid.

“Disaster relief could provide a window of opportunity for the warring parties to put their differences aside and cooperate. This could improve the chances for political solutions,” says Ooi Kee Beng, a visiting research fellow at Singapore’s Institute of South-East Asian Studies (ISEAS).

One hopeful sign is that Indonesia has lifted a ban on allowing international aid agencies into Aceh, where there has been a long-running separatist rebellion against the central government. The government on Tuesday estimated that 25,000 people may have died in Aceh.

“The question is whether any political goodwill will last once this crisis blows over. I’m sceptical since many of the problems are deep-seated,” says Chin Kin Wah, a professor at ISEAS.

The civil war between the Colombo government and the Tamil Tigers, for example, has lasted for more than 20 years, while the origins of the Aceh revolt stretch back several centuries to when Dutch colonialists ruled Indonesia.

“How humanitarian aid is distributed could actually make problems worse since the central governments might be tempted to favour certain groups at the expense of others. There is also the issue of whether aid relief might be distorted by corruption,” says Mr Chin.

Mr Ooi says aid agencies should be the ones coordinating the aid. “Governments could play politics by trying to centralise aid distribution in their hands, which is why it is important that international aid agencies be given a prominent role,” he says.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Coordinating relief efforts will be politically sensitive since much of the destruction occured in the island’s north-east controlled by the Tamil Tigers, an area where an estimated 8,000 people may have died and another 500,000 are homeless.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Aid missions to the area could be threatened by unexploded landmines planted during the civil war which have now been dislodged by the tidal waves. (John Burton and Ray Marcelo, "Tsunami Offers Chances for Political Reconciliation," December 28 2004)
Such political implications are not unique to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Michael Maren acerbically noted that humanitarian aid organizations often end up "catering a war": "[F]ood can only flow with the consent of the men with the guns. Each side directs the flow of foreign aid to solidify popular support in its geographic stronghold, and each side cuts off the supply to cities and towns friendly to the enemy. This has helped create the stalemate. The humanitarians are in effect catering a war" ("Using Food as a Weapon," New York Times, December 2, 1999).

Aid is used as a weapon even when there is no natural disaster:
[A]id distribution is just another big, private business that relies on government contracts. Private voluntary organizations (PVOs) such as CRS [Catholic Relief Services , for which Michael Maren worked] are paid by the U.S. government to give away surplus food produced by subsidized U.S. farmers. The more food CRS gave away, the more money they received from the government to administer the handouts. Since the securing of grant money is the primary goal, PVOs rarely meet a development project they don't like.

Of all the aid programs, those involving food delivery are especially prized by PVOs because they generate income, are easy to administer, and are warmly received by the public. Yet most food aid has little to do with need and everything to do with getting rid of surplus food. Kenya was not a country facing starvation when I worked there. Many of the projects I started were in the rich agricultural land of the central and western parts of the country. In fact, around the world, only about 10 percent of food aid is targeted at emergency situations. PVOs publicize situations such as the one in Somalia in order to raise money from the public, but most of their work is done in areas where there is plenty to eat, because there are simply not enough starving people to absorb all of our surplus food. Also, it's easier to distribute large quantities of food in more developed areas.

Harmless as this might at first sound, sending food to areas where there is already food creates serious problems. It decreases demand for locally produced commodities, subsidizes the production of cash crops, and fosters dependence among those who receive the aid. Since PVOs can only operate with the approval of the host government, they typically end up supporting the government leaders' political goals, rewarding the government's friends, punishing its enemies, and providing fodder for a vast system of political patronage. (Michael Maren, "The Food-Aid Racket," Harper's Magazine, August, 1993)
That's the political dynamic incisively dramatized in Guelwaar (1992) by Ousmane Sembene, one of the greatest filmmakers in the world.

Another great Black filmmaker Raoul Peck has Patrice Lumumba quote a Bantu proverb in his film Lumumba (2000): "The hand that gives, rules."

The proverb still rings true.

Monday, December 27, 2004

A 30% Rise in Campaign Costs to Achieve the Same Turnout Rates

Money buys happiness, and it also buys tens of millions of votes, but it can't buy every vote.

A "record $3.9 billion" ("04 Elections Expected to Cost Nearly $4 Billion: Presidential Race to Top $1.2 Billion," October 21, 2004) spent on presidential and congressional races, which made the 2004 elections the costliest in the history of the United States, failed to buy the votes of 79 million Americans:

Source: "What Just Happened? As It Ends, Recalling a Year in Numbers," New York Times, December 26, 2004, Section 4, p. 10
Only 30.9% of the eligible electorate -- in other words, merely 28.5% of the voting-age population of 217.8 million (US Census Bureau, "Presidential Election: 2004," October 26, 2004) -- voted for George W. Bush. That's hardly a mandate.

As you can see from the New York Times chart above, non-voters were the largest bloc.

60.5% of the eligible electorate, which was 55.8% of the voting-age population, voted this year; 59.5% of the eligible electorate, which was 54.7% of the voting-age population, did so in 2000 ("Voting and Registration in the Election of 2000," February 2002). In short, it took a whopping 30% rise in campaign costs (October 21, 2004) to achieve practically the same turnout rates as 2000.

One might conclude that Americans in 2004 are 30% more alienated from electoral politics than in 2000. What caused the 30% increase in alienation? Bipartisan consensus on the burning issues of the day: continuing the occupation of Iraq and refusing to provide universal health care and jobs that pay living wages for all who want to work.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Aviator's Accursed Share

Even though The Aviator was directed by Martin Scorsese, the second coming of Citizen Kane it isn't, despite allusions to it.

The Aviator doesn't tell us much about Howard Hughes, nor what Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner saw in the man. The climax of the film is Pan Am-backed Owen Brewster's Senate hearing investigating Hughes' wartime contracts, to get Hughes to merge TWA's international operations with Pan Am's -- the battle between the anticommunist Maine Republican defending monopoly and the anticommunist Texas Republican championing competition. Before the film gets there, it has Hughes criticize Hepburn's FDR-loving rich liberal family (who say to Hughes, "We don't care about money here," to which he retorts, "That's because you have it") and invents a tabloid photographer who is set on publishing compromising photographs that show Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together until Hughes asks him, "You ever go to a Communist Party meeting?" That sums up the film's range of explicit politics.

The Aviator does remind us of the difficulty of making airline businesses profitable, mainly because we know that both TWA and Pan Am are no more.

Besides, if any mental illness is to serve as a metaphor for the spirit of capitalism, it has to be one that afflicted Hughes: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Alan Alda, a liberal actor who plays Brewster, puts it best: "What does his life have to say about the way we live now? . . . He was most concerned with speed and technology, and in a way those very things made him famous and kept him from having a meaningful relationship with anybody. His life is the model for our lives. He can't get out of that mantra, 'the way of the future.' He couldn't escape it. And we can't either" (qtd. in Roger Moore, "Alda Relishes Tour of Duty in 'The Aviator,'" Orlando Sentinel, December 25, 2004).

At the same time, the legendary Hughes fascinates us because his excess, originating in and yet ultimately unhinged from instrumental reason necessary for capital accumulation, transgressed the realm of utility and compelled him to dwell in the state of uselessness, "the accursed share." It's a shame that the director chose not to push the audience into it.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Class Struggle at Christmas

Leonard Peikoff of the Ayn Rand Institute merrily declares: "It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration" ("Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial," December 24, 2003). Why? Because "Christmas as we celebrate it today is a 19th-century American invention," says Peikoff (December 24, 2003).

True, Christmas as a time of gift-giving among family and friends is indeed a 19th-century invention, but Peikoff gives us ideology rather than history when he says: "The freedom and prosperity of post Civil War America created the happiest nation in history. The result was the desire to celebrate, to revel in the goods and pleasures of life on earth. Christmas (which was not a federal holiday until 1870) became the leading American outlet for this feeling" (December 24, 2003).

What motivated bourgeois families to invent a new domestic ritual of Christmas was class struggle:
In the real world of New York, misrule came to a head at Christmastime. . . . [T]his season had traditionally been a time of carnival behavior, especially among those whom the knickerbockers considered "plebeians." Bands of roving youths, lubricated by alcohol, went about town making merry, making noise, and sometimes making trouble. Ritual usage sanctioned their practice of stopping at the houses of the well-to-do and demanding gifts of food and especially drink -- a form of trick-or-treat commonly known as "wassailing." After 1800, this Christmas misrule took on a nastier tone, as young and alienated working-class New Yorkers began to use wassailing as a form of rambling riot, sometimes invading people's homes and vandalizing their property. One particularly serious episode took place during the 1827 Christmas season; one newspaper reported it to have been the work of a mob that was not only "stimulated by drink" but also "enkindled by resentment." The newspaper warned its readers not "to wink at such excesses, merely because they occur at a season of festivity. A license of this description will soon turn festivals of joy, into regular periods of fear to the inhabitants, and will end in scenes of riot, intemperance, and bloodshed." . . .

Washington Irving and John Pintard were both nostalgic for the days when wassailing had been a more innocent practice, and both were concerned about the way Christmas had lately become a season of menace. Each, in his own way, engaged in an effort to reclaim the season. Irving wrote stories of idyllic English holiday celebrations (he did much of his research at the New-York Historical Society), and Pintard went about devising new seasonal rituals that were restricted to family and friends. His introduction of St. Nicholas at the Historical Society after 1804 was part of that effort.

And "The Night before Christmas," published in 1823, became its apotheosis. What these enduring verses accomplished was to address all the problems of elite New Yorkers at Christmastime. Using the raw material already devised out of Dutch tradition by John Pintard and Washington Irving, the poem transformed stern and dignified St. Nicholas into a jolly old elf, Santa Claus, a magical figure who brought only gifts, no punishments or threats. Just as important, the poem provided a simple and effective ceremony that enabled its readers to restrict the holiday to their own family, and to place at its heart the presentation of gifts to their children -- in a profoundly gratifying, ritual alternative to the rowdy street scene that was taking place outside. "The Night before Christmas" moved the Christmas gift exchange off the streets and into the house -- a secure domestic space in which there really was "nothing to dread." And don't forget that in real life, prosperous people did have something to dread -- after all, those wassailing plebeians might not be satisfied to remain outside.

"The Night before Christmas" contains a sly allusion to that possibility: for Santa Claus himself is a personage who breaks into people's houses in the middle of the night at Christmastime. But of course this particular housebreaker comes not to take but to give -- to wish goodwill without having received anything in return. "The Night before Christmas" raises the ever present threat -- the "dread" -- but only in order to defuse it, to offer jolly assurance that the well-being of the household will not be disturbed but only enhanced by this nocturnal holiday visitor. (Stephen Nissenbaum, "There Arose Such a Clatter: Who Really Wrote 'The Night before Christmas'? [And Why Does It Matter?]," Common-place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life 1.2, January 2001)
Ironically, the first professional police in New York City was established in 1828 in response to a violent Christmas riot.

Toasting the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton

James Farmelant proposes a toast to Isaac Newton (1642–1727): "Today, as the world pauses on the birthday of one of history's greatest men, whose teachings continue to benefit the entire human race, let us join in toasting the memory of Sir Isaac Newton, and of all the giants on whose shoulders he stood" ("Have a Happy and Merry December 25," LBO-talk, December 25, 2004).
Newton interleaved his personal copy of the first edition of the Principia (London, 1687), so that he could note corrections and additions on blank sheets facing the original pages. -- Cambridge University Library, Portsmouth Collection, Adv.b.39.1

Martha Stewart's Christmas Message: Prison Reform Now!

Martha Stewart, whose trial brought the problem of 18 USC 1001 to our attention, calls for prison reform in her Christmas message:
So many of the [1,200] women here in Alderson will never have the joy and wellbeing that you and I experience. Many of them have been here for years -- devoid of care, devoid of love, devoid of family.

I beseech you all to think about these women -- to encourage the American people to ask for reforms, both in sentencing guidelines, in length of incarceration for nonviolent first-time offenders, and for those involved in drug-taking. They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life "out there" where each person will ultimately find herself, many with no skills and no preparation for living.
Stewart's opinion is shared by many. A poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. shows that public attitudes toward criminal justice have changed dramatically: "In 1994, . . . 48% favored addressing the causes of crime and 42% preferred the punitive approach. . . . The public now favors dealing with the roots of crime over strict sentencing by a two to one margin, 65% to 32%" (emphasis added, Changing Public Attitudes toward the Criminal Justice System, February 2002). What is most heartening is that rehabilitation and reentry programs have surprisingly broad-based support:
Americans strongly favor rehabilitation and reentry programs over incapacitation as the best method of ensuring public safety. Nearly two-thirds of all Americans (66%) agree that the best way to reduce crime is to rehabilitate prisoners by requiring education and job training so they have the tools to turn away from a life of crime, while just one in three (28%) believe that keeping criminals off the streets through long prison sentences would be the more effective alternative.

This idea has broad-based support, with solid majorities of whites (63% / 31%), fundamentalist Protestants (55% / 36%), and Republicans (55% / 38%) supporting rehabilitation over incapacitation as the best way to reduce crime. Interestingly, the 23% of Americans who report that they or a close family member have been the victim of a violent crime endorse rehabilitation even more strongly than the general public, by a decisive 73% to 21% margin. (emphasis added, February 2002)
Perhaps, Stewart's call for prison reform won the hearts and minds of many incarcerated women and their families, and she found herself in their prayers:
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., among the biggest U.S. targets of "short selling" last month, rallied amid optimism that the company can rebound from its namesake's jail term and return to profitability.

Shares of the media and housewares company rose 43 percent during the past six weeks in New York Stock Exchange composite trading and reached $30.05, a four-year high, on Dec. 15.

Thirty-one percent of the New York-based company's shares available for trading were sold short, or borrowed and sold to profit from lower prices, as of Nov. 9. The figure was in the top 5 percent for U.S.-listed companies. (Laure Edwards, "Martha Stewart Living's Shares Gain, Thwarting 'Short Sellers,'", December 21, 2004)
Let's make sure that no prisoner will be sold short and that all prisoners -- especially incarcerated women, more than 70 percent of whom are nonviolent offenders and almost all of whom are classified as "low risk" (Vincent Schiraldi and Judith Greene, "Cutting Prison Costs is Tempting in Times of Fiscal Crisis," San Diego Union-Tribune, February 27, 2002) -- will be able to rebound more strongly than Stewart's company did.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Nassir Shamma, "L'Abri d'Al-Amiriyya"

Listen to "L'Abri d'Al-Amiriyya" (the penultimate in the play list for Inner Ear Detour with David, WFMU 91.1 FM/90.1 FM, January 29, 2004) by Nassir Shamma, a Cairo-based Iraqi oud player. Shamma's "lute goes to war, death and damnation," taking the audience to "the very edges of barbarity," as David Blake says ("Protoplasmic Instrumentals," Al-Ahram Weekly 493, August 3-9, 2000).

"L'Abri d'Al-Amiriyya" conjures, through sound images, the bomb shelter devastated by two American bombs on February 13, 1991, incinerating more than 400 Iraqi women and children.

Shamma says, "I don't remember exactly how I felt but I found myself going to the site of the massacre the next day. I took my oud along and started to play, . . . in the middle of the burnt out backpacks, toys and clothes" (Sherif Iskander Nakhla, "In Progress: Legends of the Oud," Al-Ahram Weekly 654, September 4-10, 2003).

What do you hear in "L'Abri d'Al-Amiriyya"? A lyrical melody, slow and sweet, shelters you first. The tempo becomes faster, tense foreboding notes stealing into the shelter. Then, piercing air raid sirens suddenly bring chaos. The chaos is followed by laments, dark, long, and inconsolable. And yet, the piece ends on a note of hope, as if to vindicate life, not death, against all odds.

According to Elliott Colla, Shamma first publicly performed the piece "in the ruins of al-'Amiriyya on the one-year anniversary of the massacre" ("Le lute de Bagdad. By Naseer Shamma. [Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1995-99]," Middle East Report 215, Summer 2000).

How does Shamma feel about the invasion of Iraq that began on March 20, 2003?
"We have to stand together as Iraqis in the face of this brutal aggression by the allied forces," said Nassir Shamma, the Cairo-based Iraqi musician.

Iraqis have forgotten the political, ideological and religious differences that divide them but are determined to stand as a united front in the face of the American and British attacks. The systematic destruction of Iraq is unacceptable. "The US tried to starve Iraq for the past 12 years. They now pretend that they want to save and feed the Iraqi people. What Iraqis are in most need of at the moment is moral support," Shamma stressed.

"I phone my relatives and friends in Iraq whenever I hear that allied missiles have targeted a city or a suburb of Baghdad. I phone the people I know in that particular suburb or town.

"I plead with the readers to pray for the people of Iraq. To pray in their own language and according to their own religion for peace, for an end to oppression in the world," Shamma told the Weekly.

"People the world over must acknowledge that smaller nations can stand up for their legitimate rights, for national self- determination and in defence of their countries and the wealth of their land. We do not want the law of the jungle, the survival of the fittest," Shamma added.

"Iraqis have faith in their country and in its potential. But the heavy fighting has resulted in the loss of life. Since the outbreak of the war, I have lost a brother-in-law. My sister has been widowed because of this cruel war. My sister's husband, Nabil Imran, was 44 years old. He was killed on the fourth day of the war. I know of children of friends of mine who have been killed in the bombardment. A classmate of mine has been killed," Shamma said.

"What really galls me is that I cannot do anything. I cannot help my people back home. I can only watch the suffering on television. I feel I am choking sitting here incapable of fighting with my brethren back home." Shamma fought in the 1991 Gulf War. He knows what war is about. "It pains me to watch the aggression against Iraq today. It is difficult for me to describe the pain. I feel violated. I feel that my whole identity is under attack when I watch my flesh and blood, kith and kin, being butchered by the barbarous air raids and missile attacks," Shamma said.

"Sometimes I feel that I must go to Iraq and join forces with my compatriots at war to defend my country." Shamma, a proud father of a newborn, said that he is restrained by his familial responsibilities, but even so, he does not know if he can hold back for much longer. (Gamal Nkrumah, "Gazing at Hell without Blinking," Al-Ahram Weekly 632, April 3-9, 2003)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

"Horizon Air Collectable Fine China, My Christmas Bonus"

Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer spots a Christmas bonus on eBay:
You are bidding on my Christmas Bonus!

I am an Aircraft Mechanic, and the company I work for, Horizon Airlines, has blessed me this year with a wonderful Collectable coffee mug. It is made of Fine China. I know this to be true, because when I turn it over, it says china, in fine letters. It is adorned with printed images celebrating our sacrifices to the Company, thanking us for our hard work at the Company, and even takes credit for our skill and knowledge.

It comes with 1 piece of chocolate candy wrapped in golden foil. The cup originally came with 5 pieces of chocolate candy wrapped in golden foil, but my kids ate 4 pieces before I could stop them. I know this diminishes the overall value of this excellent Christmas gift. However, the included unopened chocolate covered graham cracker cookie certainly overshadows the loss of the 4 golden foil wrapped chocolate candies. The Crowning Glory of this Testament to the Spirit of Giving is the tea bag. Yes folks, Horizon Air pulled out all the stops when they ensured we had something to actually drink from the cup of Fine China.

One single teabag. The movie Christmas Vacation was based around the fact that Ed Griswold only received a "Jelly of the Month" club membership from his boss. I got a teabag.

You see, when a Company like Horizon Air makes a little less than a BILLION dollars a year in revenue, we understand that a ham, turkey, or even a 7-11 gift certificate could potentially wipe out a Director or VP Holiday bonus, resulting in Christmas Tree Chaos. Therefore we do without. Year after year we are snubbed with $5 Blockbuster gift cards, to unsellable, poorly written, meaningless books about the Airline itself. The Mechanics at Horizon Air have had no raises in years, but thankfully the raises and bonuses never end for our upper management. The Spirit of Giving lives on at Horizon Air, except for those that make the airline great.

In the mean time, my kids want a Playstation 2 from Santa. I thought they could make up a clever sign, stand near a Freeway on ramp, and hold out the fine china cup to be filled with the Spirit of Christmas by total strangers. But there was someone already there, so I decided to sell this priceless Fine China cup to the highest bidder.

Before I forget, there is also a generic card thanking us for something (I was so overwhelmed with the Joy of Giving I couldn't read it) signed by the very upper management personnel that got their bonuses and raises yet made no sacrifice at all. You will also get hours of enjoyment through out the years hand washing this Fine China, because it is not dishwasher safe. You may also display this unusual piece of art for viewing each and every night, due to the fact that direct sunlight will damage and fade the intricate cut and paste designs embossed on this Fine China, it should not see the light of day. I will ship this wonderful piece of Fine China in UV protected packing material to ensure no sunlight damage occurs.

Let the bidding begin
Unfortunately, if you click on the link above, you'll get the following notice from eBay:
Invalid Item
This listing () has been removed by eBay. Make sure that you've entered the item number correctly.

Please consider this listing and transaction as cancelled. If anybody contacts you to complete the sale, please ignore the request. Completing the sale outside of eBay may be unsafe and will not be covered by eBay purchase protection programs.
Before eBay removed the item probably in corporate solidarity with Horizon Air, the good mechanic made the business and technology section of the Seattle Times:
Turning a token of corporate gratitude into a symbol of disgruntlement, a Horizon Air worker is auctioning on eBay a mug the company gave him last week.

Painted with the words "Thanks for all your hard work in 2004," the mug and its contents were not thanks enough for the mechanic trying to sell it anonymously at a starting bid of $100.

"The mechanics at Horizon Air have had no raises in years, but thankfully the raises and bonuses never end for our upper management," the seller writes sarcastically in a diatribe accompanying a photo of the mug on eBay.

Alaska Air Group, which runs the regional airline as well as Alaska Airlines, recently granted its top executives restricted stock units that vest in November 2007 and would be worth about $1.5 million based on yesterday's closing share price of $32.30. Jeff Pinneo, who runs Horizon, received restricted stock units worth $157,301 by that measure.

In an effort to cut costs by more than $300 million, Alaska Air Group has announced the layoff of hundreds of workers. Mechanics at Horizon, among the lowest-paid in the industry, have been in contract talks with the airline for nearly two years, including mediation since August.

"[M]y kids want a PlayStation 2 from Santa," the mechanic writes on eBay. "I thought they could make up a clever sign, stand near a Freeway on ramp, and hold out the fine china cup to be filled with the Spirit of Christmas by total strangers. But there was someone already there, so I decided to sell this priceless Fine China cup to the highest bidder."

The mechanic is certain that the mug, which he tagged online as "Horizon Air Collectable Fine China, My Christmas Bonus," is indeed fine china, he writes, "because when I turn it over, it says china, in fine letters."

"It's hilarious," Eric Weeks, president of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 14 in Seattle, said of the posting. "It summarizes in a very succinct way the feeling of the value that the technicians' company places on them."

A spokeswoman for Horizon said the mugs, given to all of the airline's roughly 3,800 employees, were intended as thank-you gifts, not Christmas bonuses.

As for the auction, the spokeswoman, Jen McSkimming, said, "We're aware of it, but we haven't really paid much attention to it."

One of the two people bidding for the mug yesterday afternoon was someone calling himself "mrjeffpinneo."

McSkimming said the bidder is not the Jeff Pinneo who runs Horizon Air. (emphasis added, Melissa Allison, "Horizon Air Worker Vents on eBay," Seattle Times, December 23, 2004)
Alaska Airlines' pilots, who have been forced to negotiate with the company for 18 months and whose contract expired on December 15, 2004, must be feeling the same way as the anonymous mechanic, as the company is determined to cut costs by reducing their wages and benefits and raising productivity at the same time (Steve Wilhelm, "Crucial Flight Plan: Alaska Air Execs Must Cut $170M," Puget Sound Business Journal, December 12, 2004).

What about customers and other workers?
Alaska also is initiating a series of other cost-cutting moves, as management tries to ratchet the company down from its current 8 cents an available seat mile to the 7.25 cents goal.

Among those moves is trimming amenities, such as meals for passengers.

As a strategy, the company has been analyzing and ranking the factors that attract customers, as it experiments with shedding some amenities that seem less important. As a trial, the company has been charging $5 for meals on Mexico flights, a change that may spread to more of the routes.

"While customers like meals, they won't pay us extra for them, and they wouldn't decide to fly on us because we offer a meal," Ayer said. "We can't afford to offer things that don't get a return."

The company also is experimenting with finding new ways to move passengers more quickly through airports. Alaska was the first company to develop check-in kiosks at airports and to allow check-in via the Internet, and the company is now considering new options such as getting rid of ticket counters entirely. (Wilhelm, December 12, 2004)

The anonymous Horizon Air mechanic's Christmas bonus is back on eBay, and you can now see photographs of it: e.g.,
Horizon Air Collectable Fine China, My Christmas Bonus
The current bid is US $354.00, as of December 24, 2004, 5:50 PM.

Why Progressives Must NOT Embrace the Ukrainian "Pro-Democracy" Movement

Stephen Zunes charges "[s]ome elements of the American left" of committing "a grievous error, both morally and strategically, in their failure to enthusiastically support the momentous pro-democracy movement in the Ukraine" ("Why Progressives Must Embrace the Ukrainian Pro-Democracy Movement," Foreign Policy in Focus, December 2004). I don't know what "elements" Zunes has in his mind. Contrary to his charge, too many liberals and leftists, especially in Ohio, embraced Washington's subversion in Ukraine -- or at least its symbolic color orange -- too quickly and unthinkingly.

Were Zunes' argument merely that US leftists must consistently support free and fair elections everywhere, from the United States to Ukraine, it would be a respectable one, though there are many countries -- such as Iraq -- where conditions for free and fair elections do not exist due to foreign occupations, insurgencies, and counter-insurgencies. Zunes goes much further than that, though. He asks us to believe that "although [Viktor] Yushchenko may not be particularly progressive politically or capable of completely cleaning up the system, his election is currently the best hope for establishing a more open and accountable government" (December 2004). Zunes is not unaware of the problem of Washington and its "civil society" fronts' financial, logistical, and diplomatic promotion of Yushchenko; nor is he uninformed of Yushchenko's alliance with Nazis, anti-Semites, and ultra-nationalists:
Both of the most prominent opposition leaders, former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko and multi-millionaire and former deputy prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have maintained political relations for several years with organizations that have expressed and defended fascist and anti-Semitic viewpoints.

Alongside anti-communists, neo-liberals and Christian Democratic parties, Yushchenko’s parliamentary group “Our Ukraine” includes an organisation calling itself the “Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists” (KUN).

The KUN was founded in 1992 as the political exile organization of the “Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists—Stepan Bandera fraction.” The followers of Bandera espouse a fascist ideology and a militantly anti-communist, anti-Russian and anti-Polish policy. Bandera’s movement fought in the Second World War—initially on the side of Nazi Germany against the Soviets—and demanded “independence” for the Ukraine in those regions invaded by the German army.

Following the conquest of Ukraine, the Nazis no longer needed the assistance of “Slavic sub-humans.” They rejected independence for Ukraine and began to persecute Ukrainian nationalists. The Bandera faction was forced to oppose the German army, but during and after the war it focused its activities against the Soviet army.

This is the tradition which the KUN represents. Until the end of the 1990s, it maintained a paramilitary organization named Tryzub, which carried out its activities in the name of the “Stepan Bandera Sports Patriotic Association.”

Up until July of this year, Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine” included a second fascist group, the “All-Ukrainian Party of Liberty” (Svoboda), led by Oleh Tyahnybok. It was originally called the “Ukrainian National Socialist Party” (SNPU), and used a combination of a trident and swastika as its party symbol.

At the start of 2004, in preparation for the presidential election campaign, the party changed its name and symbol. Nevertheless, in July, Tyahnybok publicly praised nationalist Ukrainian partisans in the Second World War who had “cleansed the country of Russians and Jews.”

“There is a need,” he explained, “for Ukraine to be finally returned to Ukrainians” and liberated from the “Muscovite Jewish mafia that runs Ukraine today.” Media outlets close to the government took up this statement to attack the opposition. As a result, Yushchenko banned Tyahnybok and his group from “Our Ukraine.”

The forces aligned with Yulia Tymoshenko also include extreme right-wing organizations, e.g., the “Ukrainian Conservative Republican Party” (UCRP), which was founded in 1992 by the former dissident Stepan Khmara. The group is fanatically anti-communist and calls for the “overthrow of the Russian Empire.”

In the course of public protests against Russia, the UCRP collaborated with the “Ukrainian National Assembly—Self-Defence” (UNA UNSO), led by Andrei Shkil, which likewise belongs to the bloc headed by Tymoshenko.

The Ukrainian National Assembly was created in 1990, and its paramilitary arm (UNA UNSO) in 1991, following the attempted putsch in Moscow. It is reputed to have more than 1,000 fighters, who are alleged to have been active in the first Chechnya war on the side of the Chechens, in the Yugoslavia war on the side of the Croats, and also in Georgia.

The English-language section of its web site includes such items as a statement of solidarity with the Chilean ex-dictator General Augusto Pinochet, a report on a congress of the UNA UNSO, at which the organisation signed an agreement for “friendship and cooperation” with representatives of the German neo-Fascist NPD, and a long essay on the ideology and politics of UNA UNSO.

The essay states that Andrei Shkil, the editor-in-chief of the magazine Nationalist, sports the emblem of the Ukrainian division of the Nazi SS Galicia. In the Nationalist, Shkil not only praises the racist ideologists Count Gobineau and Walter Darré, but also the book Mein Kampf and its author (Hitler’s name is not mentioned) for “re-examining these ideas (of Gobineau and Darré) at the highest level.”

It is therefore not surprising that Shkil has used his position as parliamentary delegate to call for the transfer of the bodies of Stepan Bandera and Simon Petlyura. The latter’s troops fought against the Bolsheviks in 1918-19 and killed some 30,000 Jews in pogroms.

In March 2001, Shkil and his organization generated headlines when they fought street battles with the police in the course of protests against President Kuchma. As a result, Shkil was condemned 18 months later to a term of imprisonment. Following the sentencing of Shkil, Yushchenko and other politicians of the opposition condemned the court decision as a political judgment. Speaking in parliament, Tymoshenko called fifteen members of Shkil’s organisation sentenced to prison terms of 2-5 years “the best representatives of the nation.” (Justus Leicht, "Ukraine: Ultra-right Groups Active in Ukrainian Opposition,", December 7, 2004)
But Zunes whitewashes Washington's financial support by saying that it has "flowed primarily through reputable nongovernmental organizations" (December 2004) and downplays fascist members of Yushchenko's coalition on the grounds that fascists are a small minority, "liberal democrats" are the majority, and "democratic socialists" and "Greens" are included in the coalition (December 2004).

Since when have organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the National Republican Institute for International Affairs (NRI) -- which have a record of subverting foreign governments including democratically elected ones such as Venezuela's -- become "reputable" in the eyes of leftists anywhere, though? And if "Greens" and "democratic socialists" in Ukraine really have stooped to an alliance with fascists for electoral expediency (though Zunes fails to identify in his article even one Ukrainian Green or democratic socialist within Yushchenko's coalition), that is evidence that they are incapable of upholding the key Green and democratic socialist values.

As for "liberal democrats" who have predictably joined hands with the far right (probably emulating the US model of politics, especially the GOP side of it!) to support Yushchenko, they are basically economic neoliberals, who do not give a damn about political liberty or economic democracy, and miners and other workers in Ukraine know that:
In his two years as prime minister, Mr Yanukovych is credited with sending state funds to get Donetsk's coal mines working again, and raising wages and pensions, in particular for those who worked underground.

During Mr Yushchenko's premiership, by contrast, power stations often did not pay for the coal they had received, and miners went unpaid for months at a time.

He is blamed for closing mines left, right and centre, though it was also the Yanukovych government's policy to close the worst mines and concentrate subsidies where they would bring the best results.

At Friday's meeting in the main square, speaker after speaker expressed resentment at being treated by the demonstrators in Kiev as if their votes did not count.

At least two accused the orange-clad protesters of leading the country towards civil war.

Donetsk, however, does not give the impression of preparing to fight a war. Ukraine's industrial working class is angry, but not yet aggressive. (Stephen Mulvey/BBC, "Ukraine's Loyal Industrial Heart," December 3, 2004)
Last but not the least, Zunes refuses to consider the fact that foreign governments and NGOs' spending of tens of millions of dollars to support a candidate in Ukraine is neither moral nor legal. In Ukraine (as in most nations, including the United States), election laws prohibit "foreigners, persons without citizenship, foreign corporate bodies" from making campaign contributions (Janis Ikstens, Daniel Smilov, and Marcin Walecki, "Party and Campaign Funding in Eastern Europe: A Study of 18 Member Countries of the ACEEEO," Paper presented at the ACEEEO [Association of Central and Eastern European Election Officials] annual conference "Transparent Election Campaign Financing in the 21st Century" at Brijuni, Croatia, October 13-17, 2001). Even if such donations were legal in Ukraine, leftists should not legitimate the idea that it is OK for richer nations' governments to shape poorer nations' politics through their unlimited spending, especially since poorer nations' governments cannot do the same to richer nations and cross-border interference is practically a one-way street.

But that's precisely what Zunes advocates:
American progressives need to be emphasizing that this is how regime change ought to take place: not by foreign conquest but by the subjugated peoples themselves; not by bombs and bullets but by the far-greater power of nonviolence. We should be pleased that the Bush administration is actually embracing, albeit for suspect reasons, an authentic, grassroots democratic movement against an authoritarian regime. Instead of questioning U.S. support for Ukrainian democrats, progressives must seize this opportunity to emphasize the need for the United States to champion nonviolent democratic movements everywhere and to end U.S. backing for autocratic regimes and occupation armies that suppress such movements. (December 2004)
On the contrary, we shouldn't embrace Washington's regime change, period, be it done through war or money, whether the object of Washington's support uses violent or non-violent methods. That's a matter of principle, which applies to all cases, not just Ukraine.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

How to Defend Social Security

Is there any economist reading this blog? If so, the Center for Economic and Policy Research "encourage[s] you to weigh in with an Op/Ed defending Social Security and pointing out the health of the program to help change the terms of this debate" -- particularly emphasizing the fact that Social Security is "NOT facing a crisis" -- and offers "some sample op/eds" and "assistance in getting op/eds placed in media outlets" (Patrick McElwee, "Social Security Op/Ed Offer," Progressive Economists Network, December 21, 2004). If you are interested, email Patrick McElwee, the CEPR's domestic policy analyst.

Even if you aren't an economist, you can still digest the CEPR's fact sheet -- "Basic Facts on Social Security and Proposed Benefit Cuts/Privatization" (November 16, 2004) -- and write letters to editors. You can also download it in PDF, make copies, and hand them out to the public.

Why do you need to get off your ass? Because many Americans are woefully confused about Social Security, thanks to the power elite's propaganda: "A majority (53 percent) supports allowing people to invest Social Security contributions in the stock market, while 44 percent oppose it," even though "62 percent of those surveyed said they would not put their own contributions into stocks, compared to 37 percent who said they would" (William Branigin, "Majority Favors Stocks Choice for Social Security: But Many Reluctant to Invest Their Own Funds in Stock Market," Washington Post, December 21, 2004). Support for Social Security privatization is down 11% since the peak of 64% in 2000, and a plurality of 47 percent opposes privatization (46% would still support it!) if asked "whether they still would support a stock-market option if the government had to borrow as much as $2 trillion to set it up" (Branigin, December 21, 2004). But we are still in a danger zone.

If you wish to prevent the White House and Congress from forcing your parents -- and yourself -- to retire into poverty, flyering and letter-writing are the least you can do.

Global Warming: The Inuit Take on Washington

Who will save humanity from global warming? It may very well be impoverished indigenous peoples "from the Arctic fringes to the atolls of the tropics to the flanks of the Himalayas," whose very survival is "imperiled by rising temperatures and seas through no fault of their own" and who therefore regard polluters who cause climate change as violators of human rights (Andrew C. Revkin, "To Eskimos, Warming is a Rights Issue," New York Times/International Herald Tribune, December 16, 2004). The vanguard are the 155,000-strong Inuit, who will "seek a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [an arm of the Organization of American States] that the United States, by contributing substantially to global warming, is threatening their existence" (Revkin, December 16, 2004).
The Inuit's weapon of choice in this David-vs.-Goliath battle is very modern: science. They are well armed indeed. The latest ammunition in their arsenal is a report by the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (a joint project of the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee to "evaluate and synthesize knowledge on climate variability, climate change, and increased ultraviolet radiation and their consequences"): Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (2004).

The Inter-American Commission has no enforcement powers, but a ruling that Washington violated the Inuit's human rights could "create the foundation for an eventual lawsuit, either against the United States in an international court or against American companies in a U.S. court" (Revkin, December 16, 2004). The lawyers of EarthJustice and the Center for International Environmental Law say that the Inter-American Commission has "a record of treating environmental degradation as a human rights matter" (Revkin, December 16, 2004) -- very promising. Better yet, polluters already see the writing on the wall: "Christopher Horner, a lawyer for the Cooler Heads Coalition, an industry-financed group opposed to cutting the emissions, said the chances of success of such lawsuits had risen. From his standpoint, he said, 'The planets are aligned very poorly'" (Revkin, December 16, 2004).

Tuvalu, "a nation of atolls about 5 meters, or 15 feet, above sea level," threatened to "sue the United States in 2002 in the International Court of Justice, but held off for a variety of reasons" (Revkin, December 16, 2004). If the Inuit win a lawsuit or two, though, Tuvalu and others may be emboldened to join the good fight.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Investing in America: the Japanese Ruling Class as Suckers

When it comes to investing in America, the Japanese ruling class often proved to be very poor businessmen.

The best example is real estate. Japan became the world's largest net capital exporter in the mid-1980s, and Japanese investors went on a real estate buying binge till 1990, striking the fear of "Japan, Inc." in many an American mind. And yet, "Japanese investors in overseas real estate lost vast sums on their investment splurge, and viable long-term investment was the exception rather than the rule" (Roger Farrell, "Organisation, Motivations and Case Studies of Japanese Direct Investment in Real Estate 1985–94," Pacific Economic Paper No. 282, August 1998, p. 47). The reason? "Most Japanese real estate FDI involved the delegation of management functions and passive ownership," and "[l]ow yields on real estate were accepted because of false expectations of capital gain, fuelled by easy access to real estate financing" (Farrell, p. 46).

The latest example of poor investment is missile defense. Japan -- which began its joint research on a missile defense system with the United States in 1998 and "decided last year to buy a missile defense system" from it -- "signed an agreement [with the United States] on Friday [December 17] cementing cooperation on the development of a ballistic missile defense system" (Reuters, "Japan, U.S. Sign Missile Defense Pact," December 17, 2004).

Apparently, the Japanese power elite were undeterred by the news of yet another failed missile defense test just two days before: "The Missile Defense Agency's Integrated Flight Test (IFT)-13C was aborted 'after the interceptor missile experienced an anomaly shortly before it was to be launched.' The target, perhaps representing a North Korean ICBM hurtling toward a U.S. city, performed flawlessly" (Jeffrey Lewis, "Performance Anxiety: Missile Defense Booster Fails to Rise to the Occasion," Defense Tech, December 15, 2004). The interceptor failed to launch even though the launching had already been delayed several times due to "bad weather or problems with equipment at the Pacific test range on Kwajalein Atoll" (David Stout and John H. Cushman, Jr., "Defense Missile for U.S. System Fails to Launch," New York Times, December 16, 2004).

It must be also noted that "[t]he last test of the interceptor, on Dec. 12, 2002, was also a failure, as the interceptor failed to separate from its booster rocket, missed its target by hundreds of miles and burned up in the atmosphere. . . . In 2003, a test of another part of the system, based on Navy ships, also failed" (Stout and Cushman, Jr., December 16, 2004).

Each missile defense test costs more than $100 million. Altogether, the Missile Defense Agency of the Defense Department has already spent "more than $80 billion since 1985" (Stout and Cushman, Jr., December 16, 2004) on the trophy weapons system that has proven to be an expensive dud. The American power elite evidently take the Japanese ruling class for suckers that they are, having observed them rapidly buy up and quickly sell off -- at huge losses -- the Rockefeller Center, the Pebble Beach golf resorts, and other trophy properties.

Japan is also "by far the world's largest holder of American Treasuries, with 12% of the total stock" ("The Dollar: Which Way Next?" The Economist, August 28, 2003 ). Ominously, Asian central banks "have been weaning themselves off dollar assets for the better part of the year," with the exception of -- you guessed it -- Japan ("The Makings Of A Meltdown: Why the Danger of a Stampede Away from the Dollar Remains," BusinessWeek, December 13, 2004 ). The Japanese ruling class may soon be left holding the falling-dollar bag. Serves them right? No doubt. Except that that they will pass the buck to Japanese workers, whose suppressed consumption (as well as others') has allowed Washington to run an empire on deficits.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Smart Guerrillas vs. Cheap Imperialists

Militarily, Iraqi guerrillas have been extraordinarily successful: Reuters says that Washington, unable to defend its military convoys, has been reduced to airlifting supplies:
The deadly attacks against U.S. forces on Iraqi highways have prompted the Air Force to airlift cargo to American troops on the most dangerous routes.

The U.S. military runs about 250 convoys daily involving up to 3,000 vehicles to supply and equip its troops in Iraq, but guerrillas have repeatedly attacked and ambushed them, often using roadside bombs to target unarmored fuel trucks and other vehicles.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper said on Tuesday the Air Force has now begun flying C-130s to help the Army take its troops off the most dangerous roads.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"What we can do with the C-130s is give the ground forces the opportunity to reduce the traffic on the most dangerous routes," he told defense reporters at a breakfast meeting. "What we're trying to do is give them all the relief we can."

Jumper said Air Force cargo flights could already carry the goods now transported on about 400 trucks per day, and plans were under way to increase that capacity significantly.

Twenty car bombs have exploded along the key road from the airport to Baghdad's Green Zone since early November. This has forced tight restrictions on the U.S. military who increasingly have to travel by helicopter from the airport.

Earlier this month, the U.S. military imposed minor sanctions on 18 soldiers who refused to go out on a transport convoy they thought was too dangerous.

But it stopped short of court-martialing the soldiers, who raised concerns about the safety and the condition of their vehicles and whether the convoy was adequately protected. (Andrea Shalal-Esa/Reuters, "Iraqi Ground Attacks Prompt U.S. to Airlift Supplies," December 14, 2004)
This is a guerrilla insurgency that will go into military textbooks and be studied by all, whether they want to overthrow a government or prevent guerrillas from overthrowing one.

Much of the damage on the US military has been inflicted by improvised explosive devices:
"Half of all deaths and injuries are from Improvised Explosive Devices, and I'm absolutely furious that I don't see the sort of commitment to solve this problem," [U.S. Rep. Gene] Taylor said.

Of nearly 29,000 military vehicles in Iraq, only about 16,500 are armored, and many of those have inadequate, homemade armor, said Taylor, a leading member of the House Armed Services Committee. (Patrick Peterson, "Military: Lack of Armor Builds as a Point of Contention: Those in Iraq Are Improvising to Shield Themselves from Attack," The Sun Herald, December 10, 2004)
Why the dearth of armored vehicles, body armors, radio jammers, and other gear that can better protect US soldiers? The Pentagon, which spares no expense on big-ticket items produced by big military contractors, has been too cheap to budget for them, because it cares more about corporate profits than soldiers' lives.

Exhibit 1:
You'd think it'd be a top priority for the Army, outfitting troops with new body armor, helmets, and communications gear. But the Pentagon can't seem to find the cash in its $420 billion budget to pay for the equipment.

Instead, the Army is relying on a supplemental spending bill -- one that's meant to fund the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq -- to cover the costs.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is another case of Rumsfeld refusing to make a choice between the military's current needs and its future, of trying to have it both ways. He needs to get gear to the troops in Iraq. But he doesn't want to sacrifice any of the military's big ticket items in order to do it. So he pulls a little trick on Congress. First, Rumsfeld sends lawmakers his main Pentagon budget, which has lots of line items for projects like the hulking, $117 billion Future Combat Systems. And then, crying poverty, Rumsfeld asks for body armor money -- which there's no chance in hell that Congress will deny.

It's a very, very slick Washington maneuver -- one you'd be tempted to call a form of blackmail. Because G.I.s in the field are now counting on that supplemental to keep them safe, Defense News says.
The supplemental will fund much of the work being done by the Army’s two-year-old Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI), whose goal is to equip all deploying units -- and, by 2007, all active and reserve units -- with 76 items, including the Advanced Combat Helmet, body armor, desert boots and moisture-wicking T-shirts. Yakovac said the program could cost $5 billion.

“We’re hoping on supplementals to do that,” he added.

Roughly 150,000 soldiers will receive the RFI kits by the end of this year, with another 250,000 troops equipped in 2005, said Brig. Gen. James Moran, the Army’s soldier program executive officer.
("Rummy's Slick Supplemental Move," Defense Tech, October 26, 2004)
And Exhibit 2:
So the Pentagon leadership has finally recognized that they need to armor up their trucks. But they've settled on a damn peculiar way of paying for the work. They're dipping into soldiers' paychecks to do it.

Let me explain. For this fiscal year, 2005, Rummy & Co. asked for $25.7 million to secure its fleet of trucks. And Congress granted the request, when it passed the Pentagon's budget in July.

But by November 19th, the Pentagon brass realized they had screwed up, Defense Department documents show. There was no way $25.7 million could pay for armoring the M915 trucks, Medium Tactical Vehicles, and other vehicles hauling supplies through Iraq; to do the job right, more like $580 million would be needed. The chiefs had under budgeted, more than twenty-fold.

The problem was, the Defense Department's budget for the year was already passed. And it was too early, yet, for a second, "supplemental" funding bill. So, instead, the Pentagon's eyeshades decided to "reprogram" money, from one military project into another.

Now, the accountants could have taken money from hulking, multi-billion dollar items, like the F-22 fighter or the creaky missile defense program. But no. Instead, the cash – along with about a billion dollars in other funds -- was taken from the Army's payroll. From the accounts to pay soldiers in the field.

With that money gone, there's now only enough cash left in the register to keep paying soldiers until May or so. If a "supplemental" budget bill -- rumored to be $75 billion or more -- isn't passed by then, there will be no paychecks for G.I.s.

Congress will never let that happen, of course. No politician in his right mind is going to keep soldiers from getting paid. So, in the end, G.I.s will get the money they've been promised.

But, still, wouldn't it have been better to get this armor money together in the first place? The war has been going on since last March. Planning for it started in 2002. And only on November 19th did the Pentagon realize it needed more money to armor up its trucks? ("G.I.s' Paychecks Fund Truck Armor," Defense Tech, December 10, 2004)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Nearly 900 American Children Lost Parents in the Iraq War

Lisa Hoffman and Annette Rainville of the Scripps Howard News Service report that nearly 900 American children lost parents in the Iraq War:
According to the Scripps research, more than 40 percent of the 1,256 war dead through November were married, and 429 had children. At least half of those youngsters were 10 years old or younger. Among the parents who died were six women soldiers who had borne a total of 10 children among them -- another historic first for females in the U.S. military.

Surrounded by family members, Corey Shanaberger holds her daughter Grace, 3, during her husband's funeral. Sgt. First Class Wentz "Baron" Shanaberger was killed in Iraq in an ambush, leaving behind his wife and five children. (SHNS photo by Brendan Fitterer / St. Petersburg Times)

Perhaps most heartbreaking are the more than 40 troops who died without ever seeing their children. At least 34 wives were pregnant -- four with twins -- when their husbands died, and another 15 had babies while their spouses were deployed. While some of the latter were able to return home on paternity leave, most died before they could.

Leslie Hufstedler's husband Doyle died in April, one month before his daughter Gracy was born. Here Leslie and 5-month-old Gracy share a moment at Leslie's parents home in Charlotte, N.C. (SHNS photo by Layne Bailey / Charlotte Observer)

("Children of the Fallen: Nearly 900 Children Have Lost a Parent in Iraq," December 15, 2004)
We have yet to learn how many Iraqi children lost parents in the war and how many Iraqi fathers died without ever seeing their children.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Who Can Afford to "Buy Blue"?

Democrats just came up with a new cyber-gimmick --
Buy Blue wants you to stop buying "products and services from companies which heavily donate to conservatives" and recommends the "blue-contributors'" wares instead (so does Alan Abramowitz, a professor of political science at Emory University, who asks you to "shop your politics" at Ruy Teixeira's The Emerging Democratic Majority blog).

Take a look at's "Blue Christmas" campaign list of "red" and "blue" companies, and you'll see that BuyBlue Democrats play right into the hands of Republicans, who have been trading on an idea that the Democratic Party is the party of the coastal "liberal elite" and misrepresenting themselves as the party of mythical "Middle America." Most stores frequented by lower-income workers (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, JC Penney, Sears, Target, and so on) are on the Republican side, and many of the shops on the Democratic side (Bed Bath & Beyond, Sharper Image, J.Crew, Calvin Klein, Starbucks, etc.) are the pricier sort that appeal to brand-conscious clienteles who can shop for images and styles rather than only the biggest bargains.

The most damning comparison is at the top of the "Blue Christmas" campaign's "Clothing" section: Dollar General in the "red" column and Nordstrom in the "blue" one.

Really, who can afford to "buy blue"?

Besides, consumer boycotts of goods that are not organized in solidarity with workers who make or sell them, with such concrete goals as organizing unions, winning first contracts, and striking for better wages and conditions, seldom work. The only contrast that makes working-class sense in the "Blue Christmas" campaign, in terms of relative conditions of workers, is militantly anti-union Wal-Mart vs. partly unionized Costco: "According to Wal-Mart, its 1.2 million U.S. employees earn an average of $9.99 an hour, less than two thirds of Costco's average. Only 42 percent of Wal-Mart's workers have health care coverage through the company, compared with more than 83 percent at Costco" (Nina Shapiro, "Company for the People," Seattle Weekly, December 15-21, 2004). The difference is clear, but many workers still end up having to shop at Wal-Mart, due to geography as well as prices: "Costco charges a membership fee to shop there ($45 a year); Wal-Mart doesn't. Costco, fittingly clustered largely along the blue-state coasts, caters to an affluent urbanite crowd. Wal-Mart, a red-state company in every way, canvases small towns and rural areas across the heartland of America, attracting shoppers who are often literally desperate for low prices. Even Sam's Club, which like Costco, charges an annual membership fee ($35), sticks close to Wal-Mart's geographic base" (Shapiro, December 15-21, 2004). Liza Featherstone tells us that even union men and women patronize Wal-Mart:
Most people agree that any serious approach to forcing Wal-Mart to the bargaining table must eventually threaten the company's profits. Labor organizers used to think they could do this by asking the public not to shop at Wal-Mart, but now most concede that's impossible, given the retailer's low prices. Their own members shop at Wal-Mart, making at least 30 percent of union credit-card purchases at the retail giant. Even activists thinking seriously about how to oppose the retailer keep finding themselves in its parking lots. "I love that damn store," says [Wade] Rathke [founder and chief organizer of ACORN and Service Employees International Union Local 100, in New Orleans], who recalls being a loyal customer when he lived in Arkansas and needed the discounts. "They had me. I wasn't making 2 cents to put together." Now he lives in New Orleans, and admits, "Damned if I don't go down to Sam's for a new tire! They do have something that works. You can't just convince people they're evil." Indeed, many rural and working-class women view Wal-Mart as an ally, an oasis of low prices in an unfriendly world. In her chart-topping paean to country pride, "Redneck Woman," Gretchen Wilson sums it up irresistibly: "Victoria's Secret, well their stuff's real nice/But I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price/And still look sexy, just as sexy as those models on TV/No, I don't need no designer tag to make my man want me." (emphasis added, "Will Labor Take the Wal-Mart Challenge?" The Nation, June 28, 2004)
Wal-Mart workers need to be organized, and only in the context of solidarity with Wal-Mart workers fighting to organizing their union can boycotting Wal-Mart make a difference.

As for the matter of campaign contributions, many contributors are bipartisan. In October, preliminary Center for Responsive Politics results revealed that "50,000 contributions who" had "given to President Bush or the Republicans" had "given $10,697,198 in large contributions to Kerry" and that "[e]ven among these 700 [Republicans who contributed money to Nader/Camejo] the Democrats received more money than Nader/Camejo -- $111,700 to $146,000" (Kevin Zeese and Virginia Rodino, "Kerry Receives 100 Times More in Contributions from GOP Donors than Nader," October 14, 2004).

More importantly, the 2004 elections were the most expensive elections in the history of the United States. The Center for Responsive politics estimated that "a record $3.9 billion" was spent on presidential and congressional races, "a 30 percent increase over the $3 billion spent on federal elections four years ago" ("04 Elections Expected to Cost Nearly $4 Billion: Presidential Race to Top $1.2 Billion," October 21, 2004). John Kerry, who received $322,574,967, made out almost as well as George W. Bush, who raked in $366,554,535 (, "2004 Presidential Election"). Rather than shopping politics or buying blue, leftists ought to be making a stink about the brazenly plutocratic politics of One Dollar One Vote.