Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rumsfeld in Brasília and Buenos Aires

Donald Rumsfeld courts Brazil and Argentina, praising their contributions to regional "security" and "stability" and lobbying them to contain Venezuela.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) shake hands with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before their meeting at Planato Palace in Brasilia, March 23, 2005. Rumsfeld is in Brazil for brief 24-hour official visit to discuss regional security and a law allowing Brazil's government to shoot down drug trafficking aircraft. (Jamil Bittar/Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (R) and his Argentine counterpart Jose Pampuro review an honor guard at the Ministry Defense building in Buenos Aires, March 22, 2005. Rumsfeld and Pampuro discussed the possibility of restarting combined military exercises, the radar network installation plan in the country's main airports and Argentina's role in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. (Enrique Marcarian/Reuters)
Indeed, after the US-backed coup that overthrew the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, Brasília and Buenos Aires sent in troops to "keep the peace in Haiti," i.e., to keep the "Haitian Intifada" in check.

U.N. Brazilian peacekeepers checks civilians as they surround a stronghold of ex-soldiers on the road in Terre Rouge, Haiti, Monday, March 21, 2005. (Ariana Cubillos/AP)

UN soldier from Argentina searches two men at a checkpoint in Gonaives. Two soldiers serving with UN forces in Haiti, one from Sri Lanka and one from Nepal, have been killed during separate security operations. (Thony Belizaire/AFP)

Mourners attend the funeral of three men, including two allegedly shot to death by police during a Feb. 28 protest to mark the first anniversary of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in right poster, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday March. 18, 2005. The poster at center shows jailed former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. (Rood Cherry/AP)

Supporters of the ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide march through the streets calling for his return and to mark the 18th anniversary of the ratification of Haiti's 1987 constitution in Bel-Air a slum in Port-au-Prince in Haiti,Tuesday, March,29, 2005.(Ariana Cubillos/AP)

Supporters of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide yell 'Aristide or death' during a remonstration of several thousand of his supporters on March 29, 2005, the 18th anniversary of the country's constitution, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where the called for Aristide's return. (Daniel Morel/Reuters)
Leftists in Brazil and Argentina naturally greeted Rumsfeld with protests:

Effigies of US President George W. Bush (news - web sites), right, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva are seen during an anti-war protest in downtown Sao Paulo for the second anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion on Iraq (news - web sites), Brazil, Saturday, March 19, 2005. The banner on the left reeds 'Brazilian troops out of Haiti.' (Alexandre Meneghini/AP)

Left-wing militants and members of human rights organizations burn a US flag in protest at the arrival in Argentina of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld arrived to hold talks with his Argentine counterpart on the situation in troubled Haiti and Washington's concerns over shoulder fired missiles in Central America. (Pablo Cuarterolo/APF)
The record of MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, in light of human rights and international law is a disaster, unequivocally condemned in a new report co-authored by the Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights and Centro de Justiça Global, a Brazilian human rights organization:
In the eight months since the U.N. peacekeeping troops disembarked in Haiti, . . . they have failed to uphold either the letter or the spirit of their mandate, as prescribed in Security Council Resolution 1542. Despite one of the strongest human rights mandates in the history of U.N. peacekeeping operations, MINUSTAH has not effectively investigated or reported human rights abuses; nor has it protected human rights advocates. Charged to train and reform the Haitian National Police, MINUSTAH instead has provided unquestioning support to police operations that have resulted in warrantless arrests and detentions, unintended civilian casualties and deliberate extrajudicial killings. (Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights and Centro de Justiça Global, "Keeping the Peace in Haiti? An Assessment of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti Using Compliance with Its Prescribed Mandate as a Barometer for Success," March 2005, p. 48)
What prompted Brasília to take the leading role in MINUSTAH? Brasília is motivated by its ambition to bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, the bid that it believes is supported by Washington:
Brasília says recent US and French support for Japan's permanent membership on the Security Council was a promising sign for its own bid. "It means they are backing the 'group of four'," says a foreign ministry spokesman, referring to Japan, Germany, Brazil and India, who back each other's candidacies.

Brazil also believes backing Japan indicates the US and France support proposal "A" for adding six new permanent members and three non-permanent members to the Security Council. (Raymond Colitt, "Brazil Steps Up Drive for Seat on Security Council," Financial Times 29 Mar. 2005)
At the same time, walking a "diplomatic tightrope," Lula has drawn a line: "Brazil’s President Lula Defends Venezuela’s Right to Sovereignty" ( 30 Mar. 2005). And so has Néstor Kirchner.

What is more important, in response to Washington's attempt to attack Venezuela through Colombia (using such means as the abduction of Rodrigo Granda), Brazil, as well as Spain, played the role of mediators: Humberto Márquez, "Politically Disparate Leaders Find Common Cause" (Inter Press Service 29 Mar. 2005); and Humberto Márquez, "New Four-Country Alliance Emerges at Summit" (Inter Press Service 29 Mar. 2005). Granted, multilateral regionalism is more beneficial to Brazilian and Spanish capitalists than Colombian and Venezuelan masses in the short term -- "While they helped bring about a diplomatic solution to the conflict, the left-wing governments in Brazil and Spain negotiated arms sales to both Colombia and Venezuela" (Márquez, "New Four-Country Alliance . . . ," 29 Mar. 2005) -- but that may be the price they must pay to keep Washington from sabotaging the political and economic integration of Latin America.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Commemorating Land Day

March 30 is Land Day, a day to commemorate the first general strike that Palestinian citizens in Israel organized in 1976, to protest Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land. Trying to crush the strike, the Israeli security forces shot six unarmed Palestinians to death and injured many others.

Land Day is commemorated by Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora. As Israel's strategy has been to divide Palestinians, reducing Palestinians inside the Green Line to the status of a "minority," the political significance of united mobilization on Land Day cannot be underestimated.

Young Israeli Bedouins participate in a demonstration to mark the Land Day near the Bedouin village of Abu Talul in southern Israel, Wednesday March 30, 2005. Land Day commemorates the unrest that erupted in March 1976 when Israeli Arabs protested the Israeli government's confiscation of thousands of acres of Arab-owned land and in which six Arab citizens were killed by Israeli police. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Palestinians wave Palestinian flags during a protest against Israel's controversial barrier near the West Bank village of Beit Hanina, March 30, 2005. Thousands of protestors marched in the Jewish state to mark 'Land Day,' while thousands of Palestinians held demonstrations, some marred by stone-throwing clashes with Israeli soldiers, in the West Bank. (Mahfouz Abu Turk/Reuters)

Palestinian women shout at Israeli security forces during a protest against Israel's controversial barrier, near the West Bank village of Bilin March 30, 2005. Thousands of protestors marched in the Jewish state to mark 'Land Day,' while thousands of Palestinians held demonstrations, some marred by stone-throwing clashes with Israeli soldiers, in the West Bank. (Oleg Popov/Reuters)

Palestinian and Israeli protesters run after Israeli forces threw stun grenades during a protest against Israel's controversial barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin, March 30, 2005. Thousands of protestors marched in the Jewish state to mark 'Land Day,' while thousands of Palestinians held demonstrations, some marred by stone-throwing clashes with Israeli soldiers, in the West Bank. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

A Palestinian man holds an olive tree plant after Israeli forces threw stun grenades during a protest against Israel's controversial barrier, near the West Bank village of Bilin March 30, 2005. Thousands of protestors marched in the Jewish state to mark 'Land Day,' while thousands of Palestinians held demonstrations, some marred by stone-throwing clashes with Israeli soldiers, in the West Bank. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Israeli forces arrest a peace activist during a protest against Israel's controversial barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin March 30, 2005. Thousands of protestors marched in the Jewish state to mark 'Land Day' while thousands of Palestinians held demonstrations, some marred by stone-throwing clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

An injured Palestinian demonstrator is carried after he was hit with a rubber bullet fired by Israeli soldiers during a protest at the construction site of a section of Israel's separation barrier in the ourskirts of the West Bank village of Bil'in near Ramallah, Wednesday March 30, 2005. The march marked Land Day, which commemorates the unrest that erupted in March 1976 when Israeli Arabs protested the Israeli government's confiscation of thousands of acres of Arab-owned land and in which six Arab citizens were killed by Israeli police. Three demonstrators were slightly injured during the clashes Wednesday. (Oded Balilty/AP)

A Palestinian boy walks in front a burning tire during an anti-Israel protest at the Buraij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, March 30, 2005. (Suhaib Salem /Reuters)
The Daily Star ran a wonderful interview with Reverend Canon Dr. Shehadeh Shehadeh, then chairman of the National Committee for the Protection of Lands in Israel (now the priest at St. John's Episcopal Church in Haifa and the vice chairman of Al-Jebha, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality), who led the 1976 strike. Patient and diligent organizing described by Dr. Shehadeh is an important reminder of what it takes to organize a mass action:
According to Shehadeh, the movement began when Rakah - the New Communist List, invited some 25 people (including the pastor) to a meeting in Haifa 29 years ago to discuss strategies for opposing the government's expropriation plans.

The group then held a larger meeting, to which the heads of Arab local councils were invited, and followed this by hosting an open, public meeting in a Nazareth film theater. Shehadeh's narration slows down as he recalls his profound amazement at the turn-out there.

"The meeting was enormous," he says, adding that members of the public not only filled the hall and corridors of the theater, but massed in the streets outside. It was at that meeting that the committee was officially formed, and Shehadeh appointed its chairman.

Palestinian public support for the committee proved to be its most precious resource. Letters the committee wrote to members of Knesset went largely unanswered, while an impromptu meeting with Israel's ruling Labor Party merely resulted in the party affirming that it would not reconsider its plans to expropriate private Palestinian land.

But Shehadeh and his fellow committee members reacted to governmental intransigence by intensifying their grass-roots campaign -- visiting the villages that were to be affected by the expropriation, informing residents of the plans and their likely consequences, and even photographing parcels of land destined for confiscation, whose coordinates would then be sent to villages to prompt local councils to discuss the plans. "I used to go to public meetings three or four times a week to tell people that we intended to organize a strike if the government doesn't listen to us," recalls the pastor.

True to their word, after weeks of rigorous campaigning, a strike was finally declared for March 30, 1976. Having failed to gain permission to hold a demonstration outside the Knesset, the committee instructed its supporters to register their protest by staying at home and striking peacefully.

Early on the morning of the strike, Shehadeh received a phone call alerting him that the government had ordered military and police forces to enter striking Arab villages.

Residents reacted with stone throwing and spontaneous demonstrations. By the end of the day, what had started out as a peaceful statewide protest had ended with the deaths of six unarmed Palestinians, felled by the live fire of Israeli security forces, in the Arab villages of Sakhnin, Arabeh, Kufr Kanna and Taibeh. Hundreds of other Palestinian citizens of Israel were maimed or injured.

Shehadeh believes the state's resort to violent confrontation with peaceful strikers that day was a tragic example of the long-term strategy that Israel continues to use to control Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.

"Israeli policy has always been to treat the Palestinians with an iron fist," he says. "I know that, and I heard that several times, even from police people. They would say: 'Only through power can you be treated. You don't even know what democracy is.' So that's how we are treated," he explains.

Despite the violence, Shehadeh estimates that between 70 and 80 percent of the Palestinian public in Israel participated in the 1976 strike and quotes his late friend Saliba Khamis: "On Land Day, the genie came out of the bottle." (Sharif Hamadeh, "Priest Recalls Violent Origins of Land Day: Shehadeh Remembers Leading First Protest against Israeli Grab of Palestinian Properties," The Daily Star 31 Mar. 2005)

Argentina and Brazil: Regaining Sovereignty

Good news for Argentina. Judge Thomas Griesa sided with Argentina, lifting "a freeze on $7 billion in bonds" challenged by NML Capital Ltd. (Erin McClam/Associated Press, "Judge Sides with Argentina in Debt Case," BusinessWeek 29 Mar. 2005). It's not all over yet, as the judge "stayed his own order until the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals can review it" (McClam, 29 Mar. 2005). Argentina’s government, however, "said it was pleased with the ruling," so it must have a good reason to believe that it will gain "a quick and favorable verdict from the Appeals Court" (Reuters, "Argentine Bonds Unfrozen But Held for Appeal," Financial Times 30 Mar. 2005).

Larry Elliott said earlier that "[t]hree things worked in Argentina's favour" in bargaining with creditors: "Firstly, [Nestor] Kirchner's hand was strengthened by the good performance of the economy. Secondly, the IMF was heavily exposed and knew that any deal was better than no deal. Finally, Wall Street had moved out of Argentina before the crisis, and it was the European banks which were left holding the baby. The US treasury was therefore under no real pressure to take a tough line with Argentina, and was apprehensive that Kirchner might forge a powerful populist front with president Lula of Brazil" (Larry Elliott, "Who Needs the Hand of God?" The Guardian 7 Mar. 2005). Judge Griesa's ruling in favor of Argentina, too, is probably due to the same three reasons that Elliott explains above.

Meanwhile, Brazil declared that it would "not renew a $41.75 billion loan accord with the International Monetary Fund when it expires this month, braving global financial markets on its own for the first time since 1998" (Andrew Hay, "Brazil to End IMF Support for First Time since '98," Reuters 28 Mar. 2005). More symbolic than anything else, since Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, assuming office in January 2003, "raised budget surplus goals above those stipulated by the IMF accord and renewed the deal for an extra 15 months in November 2003" (emphasis added, Hay, 28 Mar 2005) and, even without the IMF, "[t]he [Brazilian] government would maintain its current primary budget surplus target of 4.25 per cent of gross domestic product" and "continue to pursue the structural reform agenda it announced late last year," according to Finance Miniser Antonio Palocci (Raymond Colitt, "Brazil Ends $40bn IMF Loan Accord," Financial Times 29 Mar. 2005)? Nevertheless, the decision creates a political opening for the left, as the government can no longer say that the IMF made it do it when it confronts oppositions to its own neoliberal policy.

The rest of the world now has three precedents of defaults -- Russia, Brazil, and Argentina -- followed by economic recovery. According to Prensa Latina:
Mexico praised Brazil and Argentina for effectively negotiating their debt with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and drawing a line against abusive economic policies.

La Jornada daily said that despite differences both countries turned into a powerful weapon by pleading defaults of 28 and 3.1 billion US dollars respectively.

The daily claims they have set a key precedent for Latin America to successfully stay sovereign by taking their social needs into their own hands despite huge debts with the IMF. ("Brazil and Argentina Praised for IMF Dealings," 30 Mar. 2005)
With sovereignty -- i.e. national governments taking "social needs into their own hands" -- comes political responsibility. Enemigos (published in October 2004) -- Argentine journalist Ernesto Tenembaum's interview with former director of the IMF's Western Hemisphere Department Claudio Loser -- has been a bestseller in Argentina.
In the next economic turmoil, whom will Argentines and Brazilians see as their primary enemy?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

58 Bullets for Every Iraqi Adult and Child

"I heard that the US military had purchased 1,500,000,000 bullets for use in the coming year. That is 58 bullets for every Iraqi adult and child." -- Eliot Weinberger, "What I Heard about Iraq," London Review of Books 27.3 (3 Feb. 2005)

Cf. "The Army estimates that it will need 1.5 billion rounds of small ammunition this year for M-16s and other rifles, triple the amount produced in 2001. . . . Alliant [Techsystems Inc., which runs the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, the primary U.S. military supplier] aims to boost production to 1.5 billion rounds a year, but it is not expected to reach that target for another year. In the meantime, the Army has turned to alternate suppliers. In June, it bought about 130 million rounds from Britain's stockpile. In December, it awarded contracts to Israeli Military Industries Ltd., based in Ramat Hasharon, and Winchester Ammunition, a unit of Conn.-based Olin Corp., to produce 70 million rounds each of 5.56mm and 7.62mm ammunition. . . . The Army estimates that it consumes about 5.5 million rounds of ammunition in Iraq and Afghanistan each month. About 72 million rounds have been used in Iraq. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the military began requiring that soldiers conduct live-fire training twice a year, instead of once, consuming about a 100 million rounds a month. The other services, Navy and Air Force, use about 200 million to 250 million rounds a year" (Renae Merle, "Running Low on Ammo: Military Turns to Overseas Suppliers to Cover Shortages," Washington Post 22 Jul. 2004: E1).

Whither Iraqi Resistance?

Agence France Presse reports that Sheikh Nasser al-Saedi, Moktada al-Sadr's ally, called for a demonstration against the occupation of Iraq: "Last Friday I called for a million-strong demonstration to demand a timetable for the end of the occupation and I repeat this demand again and I call on all political forces to take part in this demonstration" (Nasser al-Saedi, qtd. in "Radical Iraqi Cleric's Follower Calls for Million-strong Anti-US Demo," 25 Mar. 2005). As the (predominantly Shiite) United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish coalition have been unable to agree on power sharing and form a government two months after the elections (Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Mariam Karouny, "Iraq Parliament in Uproar Over Stalemate," Reuters, 29, Mar. 2005), there is a chance that Shiites, led by Sadr, and Sunnis who are opposed to the occupation can unite and assert themselves politically in the streets, as they did last April.

For Iraqis to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end, armed guerrilla struggle alone does not suffice. Guerrilla resistance, fragmented as it is with its fair share of ruthless reactionaries (of the sort who brutally murdered some civilian hostages) among them, can still inflict great damage upon the occupier, sabotaging its plan to install a pro-Washington regime that cuts lucrative deals with Western oil companies while remaking Iraq in its neoliberal image. And Iraqi guerrillas have at least demolished the notion that "U.S. forces will remain capable of swiftly defeating attacks against U.S. allies and friends," conducting major combat operations "in any two theaters of operation in overlapping timeframes" ("Quadrennial Defense Review Report," 30 Sep. 2001, p. 21). Without armed insurgency that has pinned down the main forces of the US Army in Iraq, Washington, drunk with victory, might have moved on to a war on Syria, Iran, or Venezuela by now. But, without a political organization that can unite popular forces across ethnic and sectarian divides, it is unlikely that guerrilla resistance alone can force US troops' departure from Iraq.

What Iraqis opposed to the occupation need is something like massive mobilizations in the streets and workers' strikes and factory occupations that brought down the Shah in Iran.
Between October 1977 and September 1978, anti-Shah protests grew from weekly to daily events. The protests culminated in a demonstration of some 2 million people in Tehran on September 7, 1978. It was among the largest demonstrations in history. In response, the Shah imposed martial law and his troops massacred more than 2,000 demonstrators.

While the street demonstrations were a massive show of force, it was the subsequent strikes that broke the back of the Shah’s regime. When martial law threatened to end the protests, Iran’s 30,000 oil workers struck. They brought the country to a standstill. This gave the revolution new momentum, sparking a mass strike wave.

Workers struck and took over factories, offices, hospitals and universities nationwide. They set up democratic workers’ committees (called shoras), and either bypassed or simply chased out owners and managers. Slum dwellers set up neighborhood committees around local mosques. As the Shah’s army and the police began to disintegrate, these committees took over the patrolling of the neighborhoods. (Saman Sepehri, "The Iranian Revolution," International Socialist Review 9, August-September 2000)
How long will it take before Iraqis become able to organize similar mass actions? In February this year, an open letter "Leave Our Country Now" by Hassan Juma'a Awad (The Guardian 18 Feb. 2005), general secretary of Iraq's Southern Oil Company Union and president of the Basra Oil Workers' Union, was published. The letter is powerful and eloquent, but it is not clear whether it is possible for Hassan Juma'a Awad and other Iraqi trade unionists who share his view to stage workers' direct actions against the occupation and coordinate them with street mobilizations nationwide in the near future, despite the collaborationist leadership of the Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions and the Iraqi Communist Party. Also, workers still employed and drawing regular paychecks in Iraq, where the official unemployment rate is 48%, must be a relatively privileged minority among masses of the unemployed. Whether that fact makes them more cautious (wishing to protect their privilege) or daring (acting in solidarity with the unemployed) also remains to be seen. Whither Iraqi resistance? As the occupation enters its third year, there are more questions than answers.

Maradona Loves Chávez!

Diego Maradona, who has lived in Cuba since 2000, says he loves Hugo Chávez and would be "delighted" to teach soccer in Venezuela!
Soccer legend Diego Maradona declared himself a fan of leftist President Hugo Chavez when he arrived in Venezuela on Monday to inaugurate a South American youth championship.

"Long live Chavez, long live the Revolution," Argentina's former World Cup winning captain told a news conference in the western oil city of Maracaibo.

"I'm a revolutionary," he said, displaying a tattoo on his arm of legendary Argentine guerrilla Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

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

Maradona, also an admirer of Cuban President Fidel Castro, said he planned to meet Chavez on Tuesday when the Venezuelan leader hosts a meeting in the south east of the country with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the presidents of Brazil and Colombia, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Alvaro Uribe.

Asked if he would accept a soccer coaching job in Venezuela if it was offered, Maradona said he would be "delighted." (Reuters, "Maradona in Venezuela, Says He's a Chavez Fan," 29 Mar. 2005)

Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona shows a tattoo of Latin-American rebel Che Guevara during a press conference in Maracaibo, March 28, 2005 (Christian Veron/Reuters).

Bonds That Bind: Argentina, Venezuela, and the US Current Account Deficit

Argentina successfully forced more than three quarters of its creditors to accept 35 cents on the dollar. As Quilombo reminds us, however, "Argentina is not completely out of the woods" yet ("Argentina Gets Out of Debt-lock," 26 Mar. 2005). Indeed, a hedge fund is striking back against Argentina as well as the hope that Argentina's tough bargaining with the creditor class kindled in the minds of the debtors of the world: "[L]ast week, Thomas Griesa of New York's southern district court ordered a freeze on $7bn of the old bonds that were tendered in the restructuring. The preliminary decision came after NML Capital, a Cayman Islands-based hedge fund, argued that the bonds belonged to the Argentine government and were therefore a legitimate target for 'attachment'" (Adam Thomson, "US Judge to Review Argentine Bond Case," 27 Mar. 2005). The ruling is to come today. Ominously, NML Capital is a fund "linked to Elliot Associates, a group that forced Peru to pay up on about $50m in defaulted debt in a landmark case during the 1990s" (Thomson, 27 Mar. 2005).

Other creditors' lawsuits have so far gone nowhere, but NML Capital's may prove different: "Experts believe a refusal by judge Griesa to lift the freeze could signal an intention to award the old bonds to NML rather than allowing them to be cancelled as planned," setting a favorable precedent for other hold-outs who rejected Argentina's debt restructuring offer (Thomson, 27 Mar. 2005).

The lawsuit has caused jitters in the market, and Argentine stocks have fallen for four days (Associated Press, "Stocks Down in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina," 28 Mar. 2005).

On March 24, 2005, Reuters reported that the International Monetary Fund said "it was not asking Argentina to reopen its $102.6 billion debt swap, which closed last month, to deal with the nearly 24 percent of bondholders who rejected the offer" ("IMF Says Not Asking Argentina to Reopen Debt Swap," 24 Mar. 2005). But the story is already changing: "The International Monetary Fund said on Monday it was studying Argentina's just-completed debt swap, leaving open the possibility it could ask Buenos Aires to re-negotiate with creditors who rejected the offer," if the IMF determines that Argentina is not negotiating with private creditors "in good faith" according to the IMF's "lending into arrears" rule (Reuters, "IMF Studying Outcome of Argentine Debt Swap," 28 Mar. 2005). At the very least, Judge Griesa's ruling today will affect Argentina's bargaining position vis-a-vis the IMF.

Bad news on the litigation front came at the same time as emerging market bonds and stocks, having flourished in the credit bubble (Richard Lapper, "More Faith in Emerging Economies," Financial Times [USA Edition], 14 Mar. 2005, p. 13), "dropped, extending a two-week slide, as rising interest rates in the U.S. pulled money away from high-risk securities" (Charles Penty, "Emerging Market Bonds, Stocks Decline on U.S. Rate Concerns," 28 Mar. 2005). In short, Washington's belated attempt to address the US current account deficit through higher interest rates alone, without giving up on the Iraq War and tax cuts for the rich that have pushed up its fiscal deficit or doing anything to resuscitate its atrophied export base, may be now beginning to take a toll on the global economy (cf. Nouriel Roubini and Brad Setser, "The US as a Net Debtor: The Sustainability of the US External Imbalances," November 2004, p. 24).

In the meantime, Venezuela, in a gesture of solidarity, "said it will buy $500 million of 7-year bonds that Argentina plans to sell within two weeks, the first bond sale for Argentina since its 2001 default," helping "Argentina pay back maturing bonds it issued after the default to compensate depositors for the seizure of their bank deposits, known as Boden bonds" (Peter Wilson, "Venezuela Says Argentina to Sell 7-Year Bonds [Update3]," 21 Mar. 2005). Is it any wonder Hugo Chávez's "petro populism" is more popular among Latin Americans than the moribund Washington Consensus?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Army Recruiters on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Signs of desperation for recruitment abound in the US military. The Army Reserve has not met its monthly recruitment quota since last October. Having already begun to accept more recruits without high school diplomas last year, the Army raised "the maximum enlistment age from 34 to 39" for the National Guard and the Army Reserve this year (Associated Press, "Army Eases Age Limit For Guard, Reserve," Washington Post 23 Mar. 2005). The Army missed its active-duty recruitment target in February and will do so again in March and April, and the Marine Corps also failed in its "'contracting mission' for January and February" (Ann Scott Tyson, "Army Still Behind in Recruiting: War, Lower Unemployment Cutting into Pool of Enlistees," Washington Post 24 Mar. 2005, p. A17). And the Army is ordering more involuntary call-ups of the Individual Ready Reserve, increasing the number of IRR soldiers who get mobilization orders to 6,100 (Reuters, "Army Orders Further Involuntary Troop Call-Up," 23 Mar. 2005).

It's therefore no wonder that Army recruiters are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Damien Cave of the New York Times reports that the Army's 7,500 military recruiters, saddled with "a quota of two new recruits a month" and pressured by the Army brass, are suffering from job-related stresses, leading to "stomach problems," "searing back pain," "marital troubles," "bouts of depression," and even contemplation of "suicide" ("For Recruiters, a Hard Toll from a Hard Sell," New York Times 27 Mar. 2005). Pressures to meet the recruitment quota, in the midst of a brutal counter-insurgency war that threatens to continue indefinitely, have led to the doubling of allegations of "improprieties," i.e. "signing up unqualified people to meet quotas or giving bonuses or other enlistment benefits to recruits not eligible for them": from 490 in 2000 to 1,023 in 2004 (Cave, "For Recruiters. . . ," 27 Mar. 2005).

The job of recruitment has become so difficult that "[a]t least 37 members of the Army Recruiting Command . . . have gone AWOL since October 2002" (Cave, "For Recruiters. . . ," 27 Mar. 2005). Many recruiters have requested other assignments, and one has even applied for conscientious objector status:
Many of the recruiters said they have asked for other assignments. One of them is Sgt. Latrail Hayes. Now 27, Sergeant Hayes enlisted in the Army 10 years ago, out of high school in Virginia Beach, continuing a family tradition of military service. He volunteered to be a recruiter in 2000, after 52 jumps as a paratrooper, and at first his easy charm, appeals to patriotism and offers of Army benefits enticed dozens of recruits.

But Sergeant Hayes said he started rethinking his assignment as the war went on. Mothers required months, not weeks, of persuasion. And stories he heard from some of his recruits who had gone to Iraq and Afghanistan made him reluctant to pursue prospects by emphasizing the Army's benefits. When his cousin, whom he had recruited, returned from Iraq with psychological trauma, he filed for conscientious objector status in June, to get a new assignment.

Sgt. Latrail Hayes, a recruiter who sought conscientious objector status (Marty Katz/New York Times).
The application was rejected in November. Now, instead of serving 20 years in the Army, he intends to leave in December, when his tour ends. "There's a deep human connection when you try to persuade someone to do something you've done," he said. "So when it turns into something else -- maybe even the opposite -- it's difficult." (Cave, "For Recruiters. . . ," 27 Mar. 2005)
On the same page in the same issue of the New York Times, another recruiter, Sgt. Julius L. Baskerville, talks about confronting the battlefield death of his friend Glynn Heighter's younger brother Raheen Heighter, whom he had recruited for the Army. Two other young men who went to the same high school as Raheen's, and who were also recruited from Sgt. Baskerville's station, have died in combat.
These days, he [Baskerville] said, he cannot do his job without thinking of soldiers like Private Heighter.

"It's hard to describe," he said. "You're a recruiter on Long Island and there are three casualties, and all three are from the same school.

"What are the chances?" (Damien Cave, "A Salesman, a Mentor and Sometimes a Grieving Friend," New York Times 27 Mar. 2005)
In the New York Times Magazine, on the same day, are a series of haunting photographs of the wounded:
In the Cargo Hold of a C-17 Aircraft, Soldiers Treated at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad Air Base, North of Baghdad, Await Evacuation to a Military Hospital in Landstuhl Germany
In the cargo hold of a C-17 aircraft, soldiers treated at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, await evacuation to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. This photograph was taken on Nov. 13, 2004, during a mortar attack on the base. The red lights indicate ''contingency situations" (Lynsey Addario/Corbis).

Marine Cpl. Matt Piano Awaits Medical Evacuation from Balad Air Base, Iraq
Marine Cpl. Matt Piano awaits medical evacuation from Balad Air Base, Iraq (Lynsey Addario/Corbis).
Johnny Dwyer's article that accompanies the photographs ("The Wounded," New York Times 27 Mar. 2005) says that "[a]s of March 18, 11,344 American soldiers had been injured in the war in Iraq" and that "[a]mputation rates among soldiers, according to recent Congressional estimates, have doubled to 6 percent from the historic norm," the other side of the rise in the survival rate (now 87 percent -- up from about 75 percent in Vietnam) of wounded soldiers (Dwyer, 27 Mar. 2005).

The reality of war, captured by Addario's photographs and Dwyer's article above, has already sunk deep into working-class America, so deep that no patriotic exhortation, financial incentive, or "Good News" propaganda can dislodge it. As long as the Iraq War lasts, military recruitment will continue to deteriorate. Every day, it is becoming clearer that Washington cannot fight a long and savage counter-insurgency war without conscription. The day when Washington acknowledges that will be the moment of truth for the anti-war movement as well as the US working class.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

FOX Blocker and TV-B-Gone

Here is an ideal product for liberals aggrieved with the swagger of the premier right-wing message machine:
FOX Blocker
The idea of Sam Kimery, the inventor of the filtering device (who is a former precinct captain of the Republican Party turned independent, according to the Associated Press ["Fox News 'Blocker' For Sale -- A 'NY Times' Filter Next?" Editor & Publisher 25 Mar. 2005]), is not so much to have viewers block Fox News from their cable lineup as to have buyers of FOX Blocker encourage Fox advertisers to spend "their money somewhere else":
Priced at JUST $8.95, the FOXBlocker is a wonderful way of telling the advertisers at FOX News that you are no longer interested in being exposed to right wing propaganda.

With every order placed, will send an e-mail in your name to the TOP 10 advertisers at FOX News letting them know that yet another subscriber has opted out of FOX News. With a little luck and a lot of volume, we can shut the FOX up!
Fox Blocker was to make an appearance in an episode of Boston Legal, but the final script for it became "thoroughly scrubbed on orders from top ABC network executives, and all mention of Fox News and O’Reilly has been sent down the Memory Hole" (Rory O'Connor, "Free Speech Impediment," AlterNet, 10 Mar. 2005).

While I doubt that a corporate campaign pressuring advertisers will actually make a big dent into Fox's revenues, Kimery's concept is certainly an intriguing instance of for-profit culture jamming.

Fox, however, is outranked by CNN in all important respects: "CNN regularly claims a cume [the cumulative total number of viewers who watch a channel for at least six minutes during a given day] about 20 percent higher than Fox's. . . . A study by the ad agency Carat USA . . . found that 37 percent of viewers calling themselves 'very conservative' watch CNN in the course of a week, while only 32 percent tune to Fox. . . . [W]hile Fox is growing faster, CNN is still earning about $200 million more per year than Fox" (Steve Rendall, "The Ratings Mirage: Why Fox Has Higher Ratings -- When CNN Has More Viewers," Extra! April 2004). And the cable channel's viewership doesn't come close to even the least popular broadcast network's: "The O'Reilly Factor is the best-rated show on Fox, with about 2 million viewers a night. . . . CBS Evening News, the least-watched broadcast network evening news show, routinely gets four or five times as big an audience" (Rendall, April 2004).

Besides, the White House's "Good News" propaganda, employed by Republicans and Democrats alike, is planted not just in Fox but all major media, including wire agencies like Reuters and the Associated Press, as David Barstow and Robin Stein recently documented ("Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News," New York Times, 13 Mar. 2005). For many viewers, excepting true conservative believers, subtler propaganda (especially misleading through its omissions rather than commissions) from less bombastic channels than Fox is likely to be the the main blinkers that limit their political vision.

In any event, there is a problem that liberals cannot solve by purchasing FOX Blocker: liberals are bigger TV junkies than conservatives. Surprising as it may be to liberals (who think they are smarter than conservatives) and conservatives (who think liberals are more of cultural snobs than them), "Democrats watch more television than Republicans," and "[d]uring the week, Republicans switch off the tube earlier than Democrats do" (Katharine Q. Seelye, "How to Sell a Candidate to a Porsche-Driving, Leno-Loving Nascar Fan," New York Times, 6 Dec. 2004).

What liberals really need may be not FOX Blocker but TV-B-Gone, a universal remote control that turns off any television:

Agence France Presse vs. Google News: Economics of Online Publishing and Search Engine Indexing

Juan Cole writes that the corporate media in the United States "refuse to report news that is only carried by AFP [Agence France Presse]" ("Major Battle North of Samarra Leaves Dozens Dead Or Does It?" Informed Comment 24 Mar. 2005). Therefore, the American public are deprived of an opportunity to compare conflicting reports like these:
Iraqi gendarmes of the Interior Ministry, supported by American troops, discovered a guerrilla training camp on the shores of Lake Tharthar in central Iraq. In the subsequent engagement, they claim to have killed 85 guerrillas. Al-Zaman says that 12 Iraqi policemen were killed in the encounter, in return. This area, the district of Hilwah, lies between Samarra, Tikrit and Ramadi, and the lake area -- populated by fishermen -- has been used by guerrillas as a base and to transport weapons. It is a marshy area difficult of access for outsiders.

Agence France Presse, on the other hand, managed to get some independent journalists up to the lake, north of Samarra, and they found 40 guerrillas still there. The guerrillas denied that 85 of their fellows had been killed by the Iraqi army, but admitted that 11 had been killed by US aerial bombardment. (American news organizations such as CNN refuse to report news that is only carried by AFP, because they consider it to have inadequate journalistic quality-control. But reports like this one are not being done by US wire services in Iraq, and if we don't take AFP seriously, we essentially may as well just believe whatever Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib and the Pentagon claim. (Cole, 24 Mar. 2005)
To compound the problem, AFP recently sued Google News "for US$ 17.5 million, for using photos, headlines and leads," so Google News removed AFP from it (Ernst Poulsen, "Google News Stops Using AFP," Poynter Online, 22 Mar. 2005). I very much doubt that AFP lost any profits due to Google News's indexing, as Google News users (now numbering 5.9 million) wouldn't have and wouldn't now pay for AFP products -- they only took a look at them because they were free. Besides, existing and potential AFP customers -- newspapers and magazines -- would pay for AFP products even if they were still available on the Net for free. At the very least, the news agency ought to have considered Google News indexing to be the company's public service that wouldn't affect its bottom line.

It must be said that Yahoo! Inc., unlike Google, pays for "some news sources, including AFP and The Associated Press, for rights" (Anick Jesdanun/Associated Press, "French news agency's lawsuit tests fair use in the Internet Age," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 26 Mar. 2005), so perhaps Google ought to do the same. But Google News, unlike Yahoo News, does not reproduce entire stories and full-size photographs. Google News merely delivers traffic to websites indexed by it. Given that fact, AFP's lawsuit may be a case that ends up reminding AFP of an old saying "don't cut off your nose to spite your face":
It seems ironic that while many sites are fighting to have their feeds included in the Google new engine so that they might increase their traffic, AFP, which makes money by convincing news site of the value of paying for its syndicated content, is fighting to have their content excluded. Now, if the point was simply to have the AFP site excluded from the listings, that would be one thing. However, AFP is going to court to keep their customer's Web sites from being listed in Google news. One wonders how their customers feel about this, after all, a victory could result in less traffic to customers' Web sites. (Jennifer Laycock, "Lawsuit Against Google May Prove Costly for AFP," Search Engine Guide 23 Mar. 005 )
Why should leftists (bloggers, listserv subscribers, Common Dreams News Center, Global Policy Forum, Information Clearing House, etc.) care about one business suing another, i.e. a dispute between capitalists? According to Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "a ruling against Google also could harm the free exchange of ideas on blogs, which often cite and link to news stories" (Jesdanun, 26 Mar. 2005).

The Internet has been one of the few commons that capitalists have so far failed to privatize totally: "Of the nation's 1,456 daily newspapers, only one national paper, The Wall Street Journal, which is published by Dow Jones & Company, and about 40 small dailies charge readers to use their Web sites. Other papers charge for either online access to portions of their content or offer online subscribers additional features" (Katharine Q. Seelye, "Publishers Face the Risky Economics of Charging Online," New York Times 14 Mar. 2005, Sec. C, p. 1). They would of course like to change that and charge all visitors for anything they look at, but publishers that begin to do so experience a sharp decline in traffic, decreasing online advertising, which, while "it accounts for only 2 percent or 3 percent" of their total revenues, is their "fastest-growing source of revenue" (Seelye, 14 Mar. 2005). Even the Wall Street Journal won't be able to charge for online content if it were not for the fact that many of its subscribers can treat it as "a business expense" (Seelye, 14 Mar. 2005). Online readers are "Never Willing to Spend" for news, or so says Rob Runett, director of electronic media communications at the Newspaper Association of America (qtd. in Seelye, 14 Mar. 2005). What's marketable in online publishing seems to be only sex, sports, and stock-market information. That's not likely to change in the short term, even if AFP wins the lawsuit, diminishing the cyber-commons as well as traffic to its customers' websites.

"Soldier with Spraycan" and "Withus Oragainstus"

British artist Banksy -- uninvited -- exhibited his art in the finest American museums (the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Natural History) in New York. Why guerrilla installation? The way Banksy sees it, these galleries are "just trophy cabinets for a handful of millionaires. The public never has any real say in what art they see. It's good to screw with the selection process sometimes" ("Outakes from The New York Times Article," The Wooster Collective, 24 Mar. 2005). Hyperbole? Hardly. Museums, conferring cultural capital on works of art they appraise, collect, and exhibit, are an influential player in the art market. The rich who collect art for investment, in turn, use charitable donations to museums for estate planning:
Often it was more lucrative to donate an artwork than to sell it. For example, a collector might have bought a painting in 1950 for $1,000 that would be appraised at $20,000 in 1960. If he or she sold the painting through a dealer or at auction it might only net $10,000-$15,000 after commission and fees. Then a capital gains tax would be assessed on top of that. Whereas, the collector could donate the work to a museum and receive a tax deduction for the full $20,000. The collector could even choose to retain a “life interest,”pledging the work and taking the tax deduction in 1960, but actually keeping the painting until some later date (often until death), when it would be surrendered to the Museum.28 MoMA encouraged collectors with the incentive of tax breaks and included tax information with the instructions for making gifts and bequests that appeared in museum publications. (Christine Bianco, "Selling American Art: Celebrity and Success in the Postwar New York Art Market," 2000)
By now, the estate tax is estimated to motivate charitable donations in life and at death of $10 billion to all non-profits (Jon M. Bakija and William G. Gale, 'Effects of Estate Tax Reform on Charitable Giving," Brookings Institution, 17 Jun. 2003), but the basic mechanism that Bianco explains above remains the same.

The rich also appear to feel entitled to exempt themselves from sales taxes on art transaction: "'A lot of pillars of the Manhattan establishment are involved in this,' said a senior prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney's office who requested anonymity. 'They all operated on the assumption that you just don't have to pay sales tax on expensive art'" Timothy L. O'Brien, "Corporate Art Lovers Who Hate That Big Tax Bill," New York Times 9 May 2004).

In addition to sending up the citadels of cultural capital that mediate art and commerce, Banksy's art has an anti-war message. Here are his most inspired pieces:
Soldier with Spraycan
Plaque: 'Soldier with Spraycan'

Withus Oragainstus
Plaque: 'Withus Oragainstus'
You say they aren't exactly profound? Neither are most works of conceptual art that museums have actually bought and regularly exhibit.

Arbiters of artistic excellence, political relevance, and economic value of art that manage the museums eventually removed Banksy's works, but his exploits as a performance artist nevertheless made the front page of the New York Times and many other newspapers.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Matrix of the Bush Dynasty

Terri Schiavo's body is like a human body in the movie The Matrix, except that it's conservative politicians, not machines, that are feeding upon it. On the front page of the New York Times (in the national edition), we learn of the rise of Jeb Bush's fortune among conservatives, which may eventually help continue the Bush dynasty in the White House:
Gov. Jeb Bush's last-minute intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, even after the president had ended his own effort to keep her alive, may have so far failed in a legal sense, but it has cemented the religious and social conservative credentials of a man whose political pedigree is huge and whose political future remains a subject of intense speculation.

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

He has assumed a very high profile in this polarizing case just as Republicans are contemplating the void that will be left when President Bush begins his walk off the stage in two years or so. At a time when many of the most frequently mentioned possibilities to lead the party are moderates like John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the governor now certainly has a place, if he wants it, as a prime contender in what is shaping up as a fight to represent a conservative wing that has proved increasingly dominant.

"He has strongly identified himself with the Christian conservative movement," said Matthew Corrigan, a political science professor at the University of North Florida. "If the Republican Party is looking for someone with good ties with the Christian conservative movement, he is the one who is going to have them." (Adam Nagourney, "In a Polarizing Case, Jeb Bush Cements His Political Stature," New York Times 25 Mar. 2005)
Nagourney goes on to say that the elderly -- many of whom live in Florida -- may be particularly repelled by legislative adventurism on the Schiavo case. He may be right about the elderly's feelings now, but the issue probably won't be the litmus issue for any voter except the well organized religious Right, so, on balance, Schiavo's body is useful for the right wing of the Republican Party, which can mobilize the party's base without inviting significant backlashes or incurring any big financial costs.

The Matrix of the Bush Dynasty, meanwhile, hides the painful reality from the American public.

Let's take the Red Pill prescribed by Dr. Quentin Young, National Coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program: "The U.S. is the only industrialized country to lack health care coverage for all citizens. Over 18,000 Americans perish every year because they lack health insurance. A lack of health insurance increases the chances a 55-year-old will die before they turn 64 by 40 percent. If the president wanted to save lives he would call for an emergency session to make Congress vote to extend Medicare to every American" (Institute for Public Accuracy, "Terri Schiavo Case: 'Err on the Side of Life,'" 22 Mar. 2005).

"No Troops, No Wars" in CounterPunch and The Free Press

My essay "No Troops, No Wars," which I originally posted here (22 Mar. 2005), has been published in CounterPunch (25 Mar. 2005) and The Free Press (24 Mar. 2005).

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Iraq Reconstruction: "The Biggest Corruption Scandal in History"

Search Google News with the keywords "Global Corruption Report," and you'll realize what Americans are missing: Transparency International's "Global Corruption Report 2005," which says that "[i]f urgent steps are not taken, Iraq will . . . become the biggest corruption scandal in history" (emphasis added, p. 87). No corporate media outlet in the United States has said a single word about the report.
Global Corruption Report 2005
Voice of America (Joe De Capua, "Transparency International Says Construction Most Vulnerable to Corruption," 16 Mar. 2005) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Mark Baker, "World: Transparency Report Focuses on Corruption in Construction," 16 Mar. 2005) -- US-government-funded propaganda channels that target foreign audiences -- did mention "Global Corruption Report 2005," but the latter managed to say nothing about its findings on Iraq, and the former merely included an innocuous sentence: "Transparency International calls on the international community to ensure there's transparency in the rebuilding of Iraq."

The only American media that covered what "Global Corruption Report 2005" says about Iraq are small independents on the left: Tai Moses, "Take the Money and Run" (AlterNet 18 Mar. 2005); and Chris Shumway, "Privatization, Corruption Mar Iraq’s Recovery, New Report Finds" (NewStandard, 22 Mar. 2005). Moses's piece is only a brief notice on the AlterNet newslog, so the only in-depth analysis of it is Shumway's.

As the "Global Corruption Report 2005" notes, "[a] UN body to audit the Fund [the Development Fund for Iraq, into which Iraq's oil revenues have been channeled and which has been managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Programme Review Board], the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB)," has already "found gross irregularities by CPA officials in their management of the DFI, and condemned the United States for 'lack of transparency' and providing the opportunity for 'fraudulent acts'" (p. 85). But you ain't seen nothing yet. Transparency International's prognosis is bleak: "It is likely that we have not yet seen the full scale of corruption in Iraq for the simple reason that much of the anticipated expenditure on building contracts and procurement has yet to begin" (emphasis added, p. 87). (Shumway says that "only $5 billion" have been disbursed for rebuilding Iraq, "according to February figures provided by the State Department," employing "only 41,450 Iraqis, out of a workforce of 7 million," in infrastructure reconstruction, while Iraqi workers suffer from the official unemployment rate of 48% [emphasis added, 22 Mar. 2005]). Worst of all, "[t]here is a danger that rapid privatisation is soon to be enforced by the IMF and the Paris Club of official creditors as a condition for reducing and rescheduling some US $120 billion foreign debt accrued under Saddam," which is likely to result in "widespread corruption," judged by experiences of privatization in the former Soviet Union and other indebted countries (emphasis added, p. 84).

Last but not the least, Shumway's article supplements the "Global Corruption Report 2005" with reminders of important recent exposures.
The TI assessment does not specifically refer to the testimony of a former CPA advisor who told Congress in February that large amounts of US cash were regularly handed to Iraqi ministries and American contractors. On one occasion, officials handed $2 million in shrink-wrapped $100 bills to a representative from Custer Battles, a US mercenary firm, without properly accounting for the cash award, according to testimony and photographic evidence provided to lawmakers by former CPA employee Frank Willis. (Shumway, 22 Mar. 2005)
If you would like to plumb the depth of the problem, read the transcript of "Senate Democratic Policy Committee Hearing: 'An Oversight Hearing on Waste, Fraud and Abuse in U.S. Government Contracting in Iraq'" (14 Feb. 2005).

Postscript: if you appreciate Shumway's work, make donations to the NewStandard.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Mike Ferner: Defend Refusers as Abolitionists Defended Fugitive Slaves

How may anti-war activists support soldiers who refuse to fight Washington's criminal war? At rallies in Columbus (March 19, 2005) and Cleveland (March 20, 2005), Mike Ferner -- a former Navy Hospital Corpsman and a member of Veterans for Peace, who spent three months in Iraq before and after the U.S. invasion -- dared us to emulate abolitionists who confronted federal marshals and protected fugitive slaves:
I'm suggesting we look to the heroic history of Ohioans who in their day fought the legalized evil of slavery.

Just south of here, residents of Urbana confronted federal marshals who had come to capture and return a runaway slave under the Fugitive Slave Act. At the point of a gun the people of Urbana drove the marshals out of town and preserved that former slave's freedom. They knew that morality called upon them to do more than just obey the law.

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

When the next soldier decides he or she cannot go to Iraq, we must already know which local church will provide sanctuary and not stop there. We need to surround that church with thousands of disciplined, nonviolent citizens for as long as it takes, daring federal marshals to return that soldier to slavery. ("Serving, Refusing, Impeaching: On the Second Anniversary of the US Invasion of Iraq," CounterPunch, 21 Mar. 2005)
Mike Ferner at the March 19, 2005 Rally to End the Iraq War in Columbus, Ohio
Mike Ferner Speaks at the March 19, 2005 Rally to End the Iraq War in Columbus, Ohio (Photo by Mike Gruber)

"Land for Peace"

Mahmoud Abbas, the candidate supported by the power elites of Israel and the United States, was duly elected in January this year, with the "mandate" given by 28% of eligible Palestinian voters. Abbas and Ariel Sharon agreed to a cease-fire in February. Then what?

"Israel has publicly confirmed plans to build 3,500 new housing units in the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Maale Adumim," says Greg Myre ("West Bank Expansion Confirmed by Israel," New York Times/International Herald Tribune 23 Mar. 2005).

That's the latest clarification of what the "land for peace" formula actually means: Palestinians surrender their land in return for a semblance of peace that Israel allows them.

Why would any Palestinian settle for that? A Palestinian parable of an Israeli prison experience explains how "Palestinian-Israeli bargaining" works:
It was [Samir] Mashharawi ["a rising leader of 39, a politician-slash-security-man," who, like "many Palestinian men of his age," "cut his teeth in the first intifada" and "learned Hebrew in Israeli prisons"] who, one evening in Gaza City, gave me the most elegant description I have heard of Palestinian-Israeli bargaining. Palestinian officials were then negotiating, unsuccessfully, not for their own state but for the Israelis to pull their troops back to their positions before the uprising. Mashharawi recalled how, during one of his terms in prison, he and other inmates demanded chairs and tables. So the Israelis took their mattresses. The Palestinians demanded the mattresses back. "We forgot that we asked for the chairs and tables," he continued. "After a month, they returned the mattresses. And we felt very happy because we achieved something." I said this reminded me of the Jewish story in which a rabbi advises a man to bring a goat into his home; when, at the rabbi's instructions, he eventually takes the goat out, the man's wife no longer finds her house too small. Mashharawi nodded. "Israeli diplomacy," he said, "is based on this idea." (James Bennet, "The Interregnum," New York Times Magazine, March 13, 2005)
Without justice, however, this peace, too, will be short-lived.

Republished in Alternative Press Review

My blog entry "Gary Webb: Blacklisted by the White Corporate Media" (December 15, 2004) is now republished in the Alternative Press Review 9.1 (Spring 2005). Alas, long quotations blockquoted (i.e., indented and set off from the left margin) in this blog are laid out like ordinary paragraphs in the Alternative Press Review, so it is hard to see where quotations begin and end in print.

This issue of the Alternative Press Review is, however, full of useful materials, so the aforementioned problem should not discourage you from getting a copy. I particularly recommend a long essay titled "The Failure of Empire" authored by the Monthly Review editors (reprinted from the January 2005 issue of the Monthly Review).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

No Troops, No Wars

Since the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, 1,524 US soldiers have died (as of March 22, 2005), and 11,220 US soldiers have been wounded in action (as of February 26, 2005).1 Iraqi casualties are even larger. A study published in The Lancet last November estimated at least "100000 excess deaths" in Iraq since March 20, 2003.2

Who is killing Iraqis? The White House would have us believe, through the "Good News" propaganda planted in the media by the Pentagon and the State Department,3 that the US military is only protecting Iraqis and reconstructing Iraq. Nothing is further from the truth. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health's statistics, "operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis -- most of them civilians -- as attacks by insurgents."4 The Lancet study confirms the ministry's findings: "Violent deaths were widespread . . . and were mainly attributed to coalition forces. Most individuals reportedly killed by coalition forces were women and children."5

The Iraqi elections in January, through which Washington hoped to divide and conquer Shiites and Sunnis and to gain a fresh start to present itself as the selfless protector of an elected Iraqi government, have not changed the reality of unequal power between the occupier and the occupied. Many refused to participate in the undemocratic "demonstration elections" organized by the occupier, and the Shiites who did vote for the United Iraqi Alliance, in the hope that the UIA would fulfill its electoral promise of "[a] timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq,"6 were disappointed. George W. Bush reiterated his rejection of a timetable for US exit: "Our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself."7 The Shiite notables and clerics who head the UIA, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, could not defy Bush's intransigence without risking Washington's wrath, which had already reduced Falluja to utter ruins, making an example of it to demonstrate the costs of resistance to Iraqis.

Essentially, the linchpin of the White House's program remains the same as before the Iraqi elections: to win over a select few Iraqis who would cut lucrative deals with Western oil companies and remake Iraq in Washington’s neoliberal image8; and, taking a page from the failed "Vietnamization," to build up Iraqi security forces to protect the aforementioned deals. That is a vain hope. Only "[f]ewer than 30 percent of the 136,000 Iraqi security forces" are capable of counter-insurgency, and Iraqi Army units have "absentee rates of up to 40 percent at any given time," according to General Richard Myers and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.9 Buried deep in Bush's supplemental budget request is a direr diagnosis: "All but one of these 90 battalions, however, are lightly equipped and armed, and have very limited mobility and sustainment capabilities."10

Meanwhile, the "coalition of the willing" has shrunken further. Italy, joining 14 other countries that have already pulled out from Iraq and two that have set down their exit plans, announced that it will withdraw its troops from Iraq by September.11

Washington is unable to cajole or coerce Iraqis or others to fight for its self-serving goals. Therefore, it has and will be US soldiers who bear the burden of fighting the deadly war and US workers who shoulder the costs of financing it. The costs of the Iraqi War are $157.8 billion and counting -- the money that could have been spent, for instance, to insure 94.5 million children for one year or provide four-year scholarships at public universities for 7.7 million students.12 On March 16, 2005, the House approved $81.4 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which threatens to bring emergency war spending since March 2003 to a whopping $300 billion. That's a sum that the United States can ill afford, when its economy is made more fragile than ever by the widening budget and trade deficits as well as the housing bubble that masks mounting personal debts (made worse by the bankruptcy "reform" that transforms courts into collection agencies), liable to trigger a run on the dollar any time.13

How do we resist the ruinous war in a way that makes the difference? Washington can't fight any war without troops. Support the soldiers who refuse to serve and working-class youths who say no to military recruitment. Here are examples of working-class refusal. Reservists of the 343rd Quartermaster Company defied orders to go on a "suicide mission" delivering fuel without armor last October.14 Then, eight soldiers filed a federal lawsuit on December 6, 2004 challenging the "stop-loss" policy, i.e. the backdoor draft.15 The Army National Guard fell "30 percent below recruiting goals" at the end of last year,16 and recruitment is "just 75 percent of the target for the first quarter of fiscal 2005'"17 Black volunteers for the Army have fallen 41 % (from 22.7% to 13.9%) since 200018 -- a severe blow to the Army that depends upon Black men and women to supply nearly a quarter of its active-duty troops. Seattle Central Community College students threw out military recruiters from campus.19 Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, the American Friends Service Committee, and others began a campaign to question the use of the National Guard in Iraq -- the campaign that already succeeded in having 50 town meetings in Vermont pass resolutions to study its impact and urge Bush to bring the troops home.20 Among the largest anti-war rallies on March 19, 2005, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, was one organized by veterans and military families in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Ft. Bragg.

Keep in mind that the anti-war movement today has many strengths that the movement against the Vietnam War did not enjoy. According to MFSO, their "membership currently includes over 2,000 military families, with new families joining daily." That is a historically unprecedented success. IVAW was established in August 2004,21 whereas Vietnam Veterans Against the War was not founded until 1967. In other words, Iraq veterans, even though they were all volunteers rather than draftees, managed to organize an anti-war veterans' group faster than Vietnam Veterans, because they had the benefit of a strong foundation built by VfP, VVAW, and other activist veterans' organizations. We also possess another priceless legacy of the movement against the Vietnam War: the power elite's fear of political costs of the draft. The power elite are afraid of backlashes against the draft inside and outside the military,22 so they have hesitated to reinstate it, but they have no recent experience of using a volunteer military in a brutal counter-insurgency war, and it is not clear if they really can for long. The stop-loss policy and other administrative changes -- signs that true volunteers alone do not suffice for a deadly and protracted colonial war -- turned many volunteers into reluctant volunteers, which should fuel the growth of MFSO, IVAW, and like organizations and decrease military recruitment further.

Last not the least, the Iraq War cannot be separated from Washington's larger goal of maintaining its spheres of influence from Asia to Africa, Europe to Latin America to the Middle East, to make the world safe for domination of multinational corporations. To take the most obvious example, the invasion of Iraq and pressures on Syria and Iran are both motivated by the same goal of supporting the Israeli power elite, who are in turn expected to use the strongest military in the Middle East at their disposal as deterrence to Arab aspirations.23 By the same token, Israeli refusers, now numbering 1,396,24 and American refusers (among whom are Camilo Mejia, Jeremy Hinzman, Brandon Hughey, Abdul R. Henderson, and Kevin Benderman)25 can grow stronger and more numerous in solidarity with each other. No troops, no wars -- in Iraq and Israel/Palestine. The struggle to end the Iraq War, one link in Washington's imperial chain of power projection, is tied up with struggles to break other links of the chain. The more we understand where the Iraq War fits in Washington's empire, the better chance we have of making allies to attack its base from many different directions.


1. Iraq Coalition Casualty Count,
2. Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, and Gilbert Burnham, "Mortality before and after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey," The Lancet 364.9448 (November 20, 2004).
3. David Barstow and Robin Stein, "Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged Television News," New York Times 13 Mar. 2005.
4. Nancy A. Youssef, "More Iraqis Killed by U.S. than by Terror," Detroit Free Press 25 Sep. 2004.
5. Roberts, et al.
6. Juan Cole, "Platform of the United Iraqi Alliance," Informed Comment 31 Dec. 2004.
7. "Transcript: Bush News Conference," Washington Post 16 Mar. 2005.
8. Antonia Juhasz, "Of Oil And Elections," AlterNet 27 Jan. 2005; and Laurence Frost, "Oil Companies Hopeful on Iraqi Politics," Associated Press 14 Mar. 2005.
9. Eric Schmitt, "Iraq Security Forces Only 30% Trained," New York Times/International Herald Tribune 4 Feb. 2005.
10. Qtd. in Fred Kaplan, "Supplemental Insecurity," Slate 15 Feb. 2005.
11. Yoshie Furuhashi, "Italy: Troop Withdrawal and Electoral Fortune," Critical Montages 16 Mar. 2005.
12. Cost of War,
13. Yoshie Furuhashi, "Deficits, the Dollar, and IEDs," Critical Montages 30 Jan. 2005; and Yoshie Furuhashi, "Wolfowitz at the World Bank: An Empire without a Global Economic Policy?" Critical Montages 17 Mar. 2005.
14. Yoshie Furuhashi, "Losing the Hearts and Minds," Critical Montages 4 Jan. 2005.
15. Center for Constitutional Rights, "Eight Soldiers Sue U.S. over 'Stop Loss' Policy," December 2004; and Center for Constitutional Rights, "Judge Rules on 'Stop Loss' Policy that Soldiers Cannot be Held in Active Duty Without Notification," December 2004
16. Eric Schmitt, "Guard Reports Serious Drop in Enlistment," New York Times 17 Dec. 2004.
17. Ann Scott Tyson, "Two Years Later, Iraq War Drains Military: Heavy Demands Offset Combat Experience," Washington Post 19 Mar. 2005.
18. Tom Philpott, "Military Update: Black Army Recruits Down 41 Percent since 2000," The Daily Press 6 Mar. 2005; Yoshie Furuhashi, "Black Army Recruits Down 41% since 2000," Critical Montages 8 Mar. 2005.
19. Yoshie Furuhashi, "Seattle Central Community College: A Crucible of Organic Intellectuals?" Critical Montages 22 Jan. 2005.
20. Vermont Network on Iraq War Resolutions,; and Pam Belluck, "Vermonters Vote on Study of National Guard's Role," New York Times 2 Mar. 2005.
21. Derrick O'Keefe, "Amadee Braxton" [an interview], Seven Oaks Magazine, 16 Feb. 2005.
22. Joel Geier, "Vietnam: The Soldier's Revolt," International Socialist Review 9 (August-September 2000).
23. Yoshie Furuhashi, "Why the Anti-War Movement Must Confront Bipartisan Support for the Twin Occupations," Critical Montages 10 Mar. 2005.
24. Refuser Solidarity Network,
25. Monica Davey, "Un-Volunteering: Troops Improvise to Find Way Out," New York Times 18 Mar. 2005; Citizen Soldier,; and "U.S. War Heroes of the Iraq War: War Resisters from within the Military," Tom's Place. See, also, Kathy Dobie, "AWOL in America: When Desertion Is the Only Option," Harper's Magazine 310.1858 (1 Mar. 2005).

Monday, March 21, 2005

Covering Protests: the Iraq War and the Terri Schiavo Case

On March 19, 2005, according to United for Peace and Justice, 765 actions to End the Iraq War and Bring the Troops Home took place nationwide. But on March 20, the front page of the New York Times was silent on the nationwide protests. Instead, it (in the national edition) included the lead paragraphs of an article "Protesters at Hospice in Florida Push Showdown over Schiavo" by Abby Goodnough. In the same issue (in the late edition), there were two more articles on the Terri Schiavo case: Robin Toner and Carl Hulse, "Congress Ready to Approve Bill in Schiavo Case" (Section 1, p. 1); and Benedict Carey, "For Parents, the Unthinkability of Letting Go" (Section 4: Week in Review, p. 5). Robert D. McFadden's article "Hundreds of Rallies Held across U.S. to Protest Iraq War" (so titled in LexisNexis), however, was buried in page 35. Worse yet, the title given to the same article online is "Two Years after Iraq Invasion, Protesters Hold Small Rallies."

Why the prominence of the Schiavo case? Is it because the public supports conservative protesters, who prayed outside the hospice, with three of them arrested "when they tried to force their way past officers guarding the driveway of Woodside Hospice to take bread and water to Ms. Schiavo as a symbolic gesture" (Goodnough, March 20, 2005)? Not at all.
The public, by 63 percent-28 percent, supports the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, and by a 25-point margin opposes a law mandating federal review of her case. Congress passed such legislation and President Bush signed it early today.

That legislative action is distinctly unpopular: Not only do 60 percent oppose it, more -- 70 percent -- call it inappropriate for Congress to get involved in this way. And by a lopsided 67 percent-19 percent, most think the elected officials trying to keep Schiavo alive are doing so more for political advantage than out of concern for her or for the principles involved. (Gary Langer, "Poll: No Role for Government in Schiavo Case: Federal Intervention in Schiavo Case Prompts Broad Public Disapproval," ABC News, March 21, 2005)
In contrast, the demands of anti-war demonstrators give voice to the view quietly held by a majority of Americans:
"Do you favor keeping a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq until there is a stable government there OR bringing most of our troops home in the next year?"

Wait for Stable Govt.
Bring Home In Next Year

2/8-13/05 39 59 1
11/9-14/04 50 47 2
10/14-17/04 47 50 3
9/9-13/04 38 54 7
8/10-15/04 40 54 5
6/8-15/04 39 56 6
4/8-15/04 42 51 8
2/9-16/04 45 51 4
10/03 46 47 7

Source: The Harris Poll. Feb. 8-13, 2005. N=1,012 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3.
As far as the corporate media are concerned, there are protests, and there are protests. However marginal and at odds with the public opinion they may be, protesters for a right-wing cause, helped by right-wing lawmakers, land on the front page of the self-identified "paper of record." Protesters for a left-wing cause, however popular and important it may be, are confined to the back of the symbolic bus.