Thursday, June 30, 2005

Obama Yo Mama

The 2004 elections, among other things, ushered in the twilight of Black broker politics: "Having virtually shut down the activist wing of the Civil Rights/Black Power Movement in favor of electoral and broker politics at the dawn of the Seventies, Black leadership now finds itself blackballed from the $200 million-plus soft money Democratic campaign feast. Essentially, they have been sidelined from the only mass action game they chose to play" ("Black Anger, White Money: A Crisis for Black Leadership," The Black Commentator 109, 14 Oct. 2004).

Barack Obama Having dumped Black brokers who emerged from movement politics, the Democratic Party cultivated the great white hope of a Black politician, Barack Obama, whose message on race and class would never alarm even the most anxious white mind: "There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America" (Barack Obama, Keynote Speech at the Democratic National Convention, Boston, 27 Jul. 2004).

What does Obama have to say about George W. Bush's latest speech on the Iraq War?

Obama waxes hawkish: "I believe the president must take a realistic look at our current strategy and reshape it into an aggressive and workable plan that will ensure success in Iraq" (emphasis added, Barack Obama, qtd. in Dori Meinert/Copley News Service, "Dems, GOP Differ on Bush Speech," The Lincoln Courier, 29 Jun. 2005). In other words, No Exit. What's his plan, then?
"It is a challenge now to try to fix the mess that has been made by this administration," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said in an interview. "There aren't any easy answers. It would be irresponsible to just spout off without having thought through what all the alternatives -- and implications of those alternatives -- might be." (Charles Babington and Dan Balz, "Democrats Press Bush Harder on Iraq: Words Reflect Drop in Public Support for War," Washington Post, 22 Jun. 2005, p. A6)
Should he not have thought about "all the alternatives" to the continuing occupation of Iraq and their "implications" by now, especially since he had already thought about what to do about Iran (David Mendell, "Obama Would Consider Missile Strikes on Iran," Chicago Tribune, 25 Sept. 2004)?

Surely, the American people "want and deserve better answers about where we go from here in Iraq" (Barack Obama, qtd. in Mark Silva, "Bush: Iraq Is Worth Sacrifice: President Invokes Sept. 11 in Appeal for Support," Chicago Tribune, 29 Jun. 2005) than Bush's insistence that their sacrifice is worth it; but they also want and deserve better answers than what Obama delivers.

Uzbekistan: GUUAM, the Andijan Riots, and the Elephant in the Room

Uzbekistan joined GUAM in 1999, but, in 2002, it announced an intention to withdraw from GUUAM (Maria Tsvetkova, "Central Asia Comes Back to Russia,", 17 Jun. 2002).
Then, Islam Karimov took his fateful step this year: "On May 5, 2005, Uzbekistan finally gave an official notice of withdrawal from the organization to the Moldovan presidency" ("GUUAM," Wikipedia). The corporate media in the United States maintained studied silence on the fact that "the Andijan riots ensued just a week after Karimov's decision to quit GUUAM" (Sergei Blagov, "An Iron Fist, Without the Glove," 17 May 2004), refusing to connect the dots.

But now the plot thickens -- here comes talk of a meeting between George W. Bush and Mohammed Salih (Salai Madaminov). . . .
A test of the extent of Bush's commitment to this hands-on approach could come in the next two weeks when Mohammed Salih, chairman of the Democratic Erk Party of Uzbekistan, a leading opponent of the Central Asian government, visits Washington. The Bush administration has been torn over how forcefully to respond to the recent massacre of hundreds of protesters in the Uzbek city of Andijan, with the State Department pushing for a firm repudiation and the Pentagon resisting for fear of jeopardizing its base there.

Salih, who received a U.S. visa on Monday and will be in the United States from June 27 to June 30, hopes to meet with senior Bush administration officials and to describe the situation in Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov has banned genuine opposition parties and independent media and imprisoned thousands of government critics.

"We have calls out to everybody, and, right now, we don't have a yes or no from anybody," said Frank Howard, a media liaison for Erk. A high-level meeting, he added, "has not only symbolic importance, it has potential real importance."

Karimov's government has curtailed U.S. military flights at the Uzbek base in response to the Bush administration criticism, but Rice promised rights groups yesterday not to ease up on calls for an international investigation of the Andijan massacre.

"I told her that the State Department approach was absolutely right, but they're being completely undercut by the Pentagon, and the Uzbeks are playing them," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch. "She looked me in the eye and said, 'We will not let Karimov play us.'" (Peter Baker and Glenn Kessler, "Bush Meets Dissidents in Campaign for Rights," Washington Post, 15 Jun. 2005, A1)
That compels Karimov, finally, to resolve to talk openly about the elephant in the room:
"The events in Andizhan were organized by the scriptwriters and directors of the 'colored' revolutions," Uzbek President Islam Karimov said on Tuesday.

"It doesn't matter what we call these revolutions -- tulip or orange ones. I would call them simply operations. These operations are being conducted on CIS territory most flagrantly and without any punishment," Karimov said while meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow.

In Karimov's view, recent events "might have been speeded up by Uzbekistan's more independent policy and the rejection of some proposals." (Interfax, "Andizhan Plotted by Authors of Colored Revolutions -- Karimov," 28 Jun. 2005)
As Reuters hints, Karimov probably crossed the Rubicon:
Karimov had earlier blamed his radical opponents for stoking Andizhan revolt and denied suggestions that it was akin to peaceful revolutions, which had changed governments in ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia in the past two years.

But Karimov, who sees himself as a U.S. ally in the war against terror, had so far carefully avoided making any links between the West and Andizhan violence. (Oleg Shchedrov, "Uzbekistan Points Finger at West over May Violence," Reuters, 28 Jun. 2005)
Putin makes a big show of backing up Karimov:
Vowing all help to Tashkent to fight terrorism, President Vladimir Putin has said that armed Afghan militants were concentrating near the borders with Uzbekistan and infiltrating into the Central Asian countries.

During talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, at the Presidential residence at Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow, Putin said that Russian special services had information about the concentration of militants in Afghanistan before the Andizhan events, in Uzbekistan, on May 13.

"We confirm the information that militants infiltrated from bases in Afghanistan. They were concentrating on border territories. Our secret services confirm that it is true," Putin said emphatically. (Dadan Upadhyay, "Armed Militants from Afghanistan Infiltrating C. Asia," Indian Express, 30 Jun. 2005)
The question is whether Putin will stand by Karimov, when push comes to shove.

Sanjar G. Umarov, a pro-Washington oligarch who heads up "Sunshine Uzbekistan" (an opposition group of neoliberal business leaders), is visiting Moscow at the same time as Karimov:
By the invitation from Russian business and political circles Mr. S.G. Umarov the Chairman of coalition for National Unity “Sunshine Uzbekistan” will visit Moscow beginning June 27 to July 3.

Considering interests of Russia in different sectors including the Oil and Gas, cotton, mining, as well as in communication and transportation infrastructure of Central Asia, meetings are expected on the different level, anticipated topics will be participation of Russian organizations in peaceful resolution, from the political crises in which Uzbekistan has fallen following Andijan tragedy. (Sunshine Uzbekistan, Press Release, 25 Jun. 2005)
At a minimum, Moscow is hedging its bets.

Then, there is a question of the relation between Umarov and Gulnara Karimova -- Karimov's daughter and one of the most powerful Uzbek industrialists -- which remains murky. Is it an alliance, an antagonism, or a mixture of both (Gulnoza Saidazimova, "Uzbekistan: Sanjar Umarov -- An Oligarch Angling for The Presidency?" Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 2 June 2005; Dmitry Kamtsev, "Professor Aleksei Malashenko: Gulnara Karimova Is One of Preferable Candidates for Successor to the President of Uzbekistan,", 9 Jun. 2005; and Daniil Kislov/Ferghana.Ru, "The US Will Listen to the Uzbek Opposition Leader While Putin Is Meeting with Karimov," Journal of Turkish Weekly, 28 Jun. 2005)?

The Great Game in the Caspian Sea Region is stranger than a potboiler, but the intricate intrigue with many subplots will soon come to a boil, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Afghan War as a "Loss Leader"

The China National Offshore Oil Corporation's $18.5-billion bid has put Unocal back into headlines, a company whose pipeline politics, many suspected, may have been behind Washington's Afghan War.

Certainly, the official story of hunting down terrorists in Afghanistan made no sense. Why expect Osama bin Laden or any other high-ranking member of Al Qaeda to sit and wait until US troops arrive nearly a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Any intelligent leader of a clandestine organization would have left the country long before October 7, 2001, the beginning of the US invasion. Apparent irrationality of the Afghan War, in terms of effectively fighting terrorists, fueled the suspicion. However, if Washington had been after pipelines in Afghanistan, the last thing it should have done was to attack the country, destroying what little stability its weak state had maintained. So, the idea of a pipeline war doesn't make sense either.

If neither pipelines nor bin Laden was the point of the Afghan War, what was?

The invasion was, first and foremost, Washington's reassertion of power and prestige, necessary because the 9/11 attacks put big holes in them, showing that even the Pentagon itself -- the headquarters of the biggest military in the world -- was not invulnerable to attacks. Afghanistan was simply the most convenient target among all countries -- reportedly about sixty -- in which Al Qaeda was said to have its cells. It was poor, it was diplomatically isolated, it was politically fragmented, and its military force was weak. What better country to invade?

Besides, the main prize that the George W. Bush administration was after was not Afghanistan but Iraq. By now, we know that "barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq -- even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks" ("Plans for Iraq Attack Began on 9/11," CBS, 4 Sep. 2002). Therefore, it is best to regard the Afghan War as a "loss leader" in marketing terms, a grand opening sale to draw American suckers into Washington's supermarket of wars.

Moreover, warriors do not need to seize any resource such as fossil fuels to make war economically productive. War itself is a big industry, a very profitable enterprise for friends of a war-making government. Even NGOs, which are ostensibly non-profit and humanitarian, can get a piece of action, too, after the target country's government crumbles. Fat grants to pay for their directors' salaries and aid workers' wages make them addicted to disasters.

Destruction and construction are both big businesses -- sharp arrows, along with big tax cuts for the rich and bubble-inducing low interest rates, in the quiver of an empire in deflationary times. Remember the fear of deflation before the sharp rise in oil prices (cf. Kenneth Rogoff, "Escape from Global Deflation: A Commentary," Nihon Keizai Shimbun, July 17, 2003; and Matthew Davis, "Fighting Deflation in the U.S. and Japan," NBER, 29 Jun. 2005)?

The best war of all in the history of the United States, from the point of view of the power elite, must be the Gulf War, as allies like Japan and Saudi Arabia practically financed the whole venture and US casualties (not counting the victims of the Gulf War syndrome) were very low. Riyadh and Tokyo's refusal to loosen purse strings for the ongoing Iraq War, forcing US taxpayers to foot the bill, may have done as much damage to Washington's prospect of winning the war as guerrillas and terrorists in Iraq.

Considering all this, I'd say, block the Unocal deal. Beijing, one of the largest customers of US government bonds, might get motivated to dump the dollar, monkey-wrenching war finance.

Better Default than "Debt Relief"

G8 claims to write off the debt of $40 billion that highly indebted poor countries owe the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the African Development Bank, saving them the debt service of $1.5 billion a year. What's in fine print?
The debt deal enacts 100% cancellation to these creditors for 18 countries in the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. The other 20 countries that are part of the HIPC Initiative will be eligible for debt cancellation on much less favorable terms: only after reaching the “completion point” in the HIPC Initiative; to reach this point, these nations must adhere to economic policy conditions which have been detrimental to growth and poverty eradication.

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

For the 20 HIPC countries beyond the 18 that have now qualified for cancellation, it could take years before they become eligible for cancellation. After all, it took the 18 countries included in the G-8 proposal eight years to satisfactorily implement the harmful economic conditions mandated in the HIPC process and thereby reach “completion point”. In order to progress to these points, nations must draft and have the IMF/World Bank approve Poverty Reduction Strategy papers (PRSPs) and be in compliance with conditions on other World Bank and IMF loan agreements, including the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) of the IMF. PRSPs and PRGF loans contain hundreds of policy conditions that nations must enact in order to qualify for debt cancellation. Jubilee USA and social movements oppose the linking of debt cancellation to countries’ implementation of such economic policies.

These economic policies include privatization of government-run services and other entities, increased trade liberalization, and budgetary spending restrictions, as mandated by the IMF and World Bank. These policies have not been proven to increase per capita income growth or reduce poverty as found in research by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Jubilee USA and social movements clearly call for these conditions and polities to be abandoned. (emphasis added, Debayani Kar and Neil Watkins, "The G-8 Debt Deal: First Step On A Long Journey," 21 Jun. 2005)
That's essentially the same old blackmail as the bad old Structural Adjustment Programs.

The poor have already more than repaid their debt. Take Africa, for instance. "As the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s 2004 report reveals, 'the continent received some $540 billion in loans and paid back some $550 billion in principal and interest between 1970 and 2002. Yet Africa remained with a debt stock of $295 billion'" (Norm Dixon, "Africa Needs Justice Not Charity," Green Left Weekly, 29 Jun. 2005). Enough is enough. Compelling them to pay a penny more would be a crime.

As the G8 charade demonstrates, however, there is no such thing as "debt relief," doled out as charity, with no strings attached. Paltry gains hardly justify pains of structural adjustment to meet the creditors' conditions.

The best bet for global justice activists in highly indebted countries is to force their governments to default. Countries "with more than $1 billion in international bonds outstanding" can pull off an "orderly default," as Norman Strong ("the pen name of someone who spends his life surrounded by financiers and central bankers") explained in "How to Default: A Primer" (Left Business Observer 99, February 2002). The virtue of "orderly default" is that, unlike in the case of "debt relief" trumpeted by the G8 power elite, which come with stringent policy prescriptions and excruciatingly slow timetables, indebted governments can cut debts more on on their own terms and on their own schedules than creditors' (though the terms still have to be negotiated with "market makers"). By now, activists have real-world examples of economic recovery following default: e.g., Argentina (one only wishes that Argentina had not squandered its reserves to defend its exchange rate peg prior to the default). Why not follow them?

For "the poorest countries, who can't sell bonds, and rely largely on official lenders like governments and the World Bank" (Strong, February 2002), Strong recommends the work of such organizations as Jubilee USA, but the G8 package painfully illustrates how far the Drop the Debt campaign has fallen short. There is still no way out for the poorest except a debtors' cartel for collective default. The G8 "debt relief," which separates the poorest from the next poorest and obliges each to jump through numerous policy hoops individually, is precisely designed to prevent such collective action.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

War: the Finest "Terrorist Training Ground"

Among ever-changing and ever-proliferating rationales for the Afghan War that Washington promulgated, the least convincing of all is to destroy a terrorist training ground.

The finest training ground for all warriors -- soldiers, guerrillas, and terrorists -- is war itself. The real thing beats a simulacrum of it. Terrorists now get better training in Afghanistan than under the Taliban, as US and other troops provide live targets for practice.

Iraq is now the best terrorist training ground of all:
Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released . . . by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries." (Dana Priest, "Iraq New Terror Breeding Ground: War Created Haven, CIA Advisers Report," Washington Post, 14 Jan. 2005, p. A1)
The more wars Washington makes, the more terrorist training grounds it creates.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Juan Cole's Class Trouble

Juan Cole, whose blog Informed Comment has enlightened and entertained many (including this reader), gets the class question wrong on the American and Iranian presidential elections:
Newly elected Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad won in some part by using the same electoral tools as George W. Bush and Karl Rove.

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

2. False Consciousness

Ahmadinejad, a rightwinger, poses as a champion of the common people, and once dressed up as a street sweeper. He thus got a lot of working class people to vote for him, even though he will do the bidding of billionaire clerical hardliners who have done little for ordinary folks.

Likewise, George W. Bush affects a southern drawl (he is from Connecticut) and makes himself out to be a friend of the common man, with his "tax cuts" and program to "save" social security. In fact, everything Bush does primarily benefits the rich and actually hurts the interests of workers and farmers. Nevertheless, as with Ahmadinejad, he gets many in the working classes to vote for him. (Juan Cole, "Ahmadinejad Uses Bush's Tactics," Informed Comment, 26 Jun. 2005)
First of all, while Bush may pretend to be "a friend of the common man," his economic policy, even at the level of rhetoric, is the antithesis of Ahmadinejad's's platform. Bush wouldn't even dream of using the populist rhetoric of taking from the rich and giving to the poor that Ahmadinejad did, let alone putting populist economic policy in practice. The language of Ahmadinejad is precisely of the sort that Bush, as well as the Republican Party in general, abhors as stuff of class warfare from below.

Secondly, both the majority of the American and Iranian working classes knew where Bush and Ahmadinejad stood on class matters and voted accordingly. Take working-class voters in Ohio, the crucial battleground state, last year: "Ohioans whose annual income is less than $50,000 voted against Bush by a margin of 16% (Ohioans whose annual income is $50,000 or more voted for Bush by exactly the same margin), but they constituted only 48% of the Ohioans who voted" ("Ohioans with an Annual Income of Less Than $50,000," Critical Montages, 3 Nov. 2004). Nationwide, 55% of voters with the annual income of less than $50,000 (constituting 45% of those who cast their votes) voted for John F. Kerry and 44% of them voted for Bush; and 43% of voters with the annual income of $50,000 or more (making up 55% of those who cast their votes) voted for Kerry and 56% of them voted for Bush (, "Election Results: US President/National/Exit Poll"). While a minority of working-class voters indeed voted for Bush, it's clear that his base is the rich, the majority of working-class America being still opposed to the Republican Party. Not so with Ahmadinejad: "Ahmadinejad’s supporters, in contrast [to Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's as well as Bush's], come mostly from the working class, rural poor and unemployed who admire his humility and pledges to redistribute the country’s vast oil income" (Paul Hughes, "Iran Run-off: Voters Split along Class Lines," Indian Express, 24 Jun. 2005).

In short, in terms of both political platform and base of support, Ahmadinejad and Bush have nothing in common.

Whether or not Ahmadinejad will deliver on any of his campaign promises is another question, but liberal reformers who can't see the glaring difference between him and Bush can't hope to appeal to workers in either Iran or America.

The Iranian Working Class Rejects Neoliberalism and Imperialism

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received 61.69% of the roughly twenty-eight million votes cast in the Iranian presidential election run-off. The turnout was about 59.6%. That's a landslide victory by any standard. What does it mean politically?

Such adjectives as "reformist" and "conservative," "soft-line" and "hard-line," "moderate" and "fundamentalist," and so on -- all too frequently employed by the corporate media -- do not shed light on what happened at all. Take a good look at what Ahmadinejad said to the Iranian public, and you'll see that his election is, first and foremost, the result of the Iranian working class's rejection of both neoliberalism and concessions to imperialism, represented by former President Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and so-called "reformists" who see themselves as "the elite."
  • His [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's] views on the policies he would follow if elected president, as expressed by him during his election campaign, are given in the following sub-paragraphs:

    Domestic policy: "If elected, I would implement development projects on the basis of justice and the wishes of the people. Political, cultural and economic developments are not isolated from each other and at the very core of all of them is justice and public consensus. Among my priorities are removing the problems of the youth related to employment, housing and marriage. My idea of political development is different from its foreign interpretation. We must expand freedoms quantitatively and qualitatively, and determine ways in which freedoms could be used. The way we have been dealing with the youth on the streets does not solve anything."

    Foreign policy: "The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in principle based on the establishment of peace and justice worldwide. For this reason, the expansion of relations with all countries is on the agenda of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I mean balanced relationships, based on mutual respect and observance of each other's rights. There are very few countries that fall outside this scope. If they do, it is due to their blind approach to the Islamic republic. Of course, there are hierarchies in the diplomacy. In these echelons, we give priority to the establishment of relations with our immediate neighbors, then with countries that once fell within the zone of Iran's civilization, then with Muslim states and finally, with all countries that are not hostile towards the Islamic Republic of Iran. We desire an expansion of relations with regional states and the establishment of extensive public contacts. We believe that visa quotas should be lifted and people should visit anywhere they wish freely. People should have freedom in their pilgrimages and tours."

    Relations with the US: "I meet ambassadors from European, African and Asian countries once a week. Iran does not need imposed ties with the United States. When the world formed a united front to fight Iran, our oil could not sell on the international markets and our economy was paralyzed [due to the 1980-88 war imposed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq], the nation did not extend its hand [to outsiders] for help. Now that we have managed to build the infrastructure [for development] and the country has progressed, we do not need to accept any imposed relationship with America. The US severed its ties with the Islamic Republic to harm the Iranian nation and so do those who favor resumption of ties with the US."

    UN reforms: "Global equations undergo changes, this is their nature. Today, the Muslim world is the poorest of the global powers. The UN structure is one-sided, stacked against the world of Islam. The Muslim world should be allowed a chance in the UN Security Council, where certain groups now possesses the right to veto. We consider this privilege essentially wrong. It is not just for a few states to sit and veto global approvals. Should such a privilege continue to exist, the Muslim world with a population of nearly 1.5 billion should be extended the same privilege."

    Nuclear energy: "This subject has been given a tremendous amount of publicity. It is a critical subject. Nuclear energy is the scientific achievement of the Iranian nation. Our youth have crowned themselves with this achievement, via domestic technology and by reliance on their own knowledge. The energy belongs to the Iranian nation. Definitely, the progress of a nation cannot be obstructed. Scientific, medical and technical development of our nation is necessary. I believe there are certain individuals that create a false mood. They want to portray the situation as critical, while there is no crisis here. The technology is at the disposal of the Iranian nation. Certain powers do not want to believe this. They resist against accepting such a right, such an achievement of the Iranian nation. Their scientists and experts have admitted that the Iranian nation is entitled to this right. I believe the problem can be solved with prudence and wisdom, by utilizing opportunity and relying on the endless power of the Iranian nation, through our self-confidence. The ongoing artificial mood is political sleight of hand. The mood aims to influence the Islamic Republic's domestic developments.

    "One cannot impede scientific progress. You can see scientific progress everywhere in the world. One cannot obstruct this movement. This is not something that can be prevented with an order. No one can deprive the Iranian nation of this right. They are vainly trying to stir conditions worldwide. They want to fan tension, create crisis to meet their transitory objectives. That's a kind of psychological war. This is as if you want to deprive someone of industrial progress. This is something impossible. Industry is intertwined with the nature of an individual. Technical knowledge has now become an integral aspect of the Iranian psyche. You cannot say that the Iranian nation should not use math, should not have physicians, should not build large dams, or should not be able to build a refinery or a plane. This is an illogical claim; no one accepts it. Fortunately, the world has seen this. God willing, these few arrogant powers will accept it as well. We have relations with governments and nations. The basis of those engagements is guaranteeing and respecting each other's national identities. Iran's present status in the field of nuclear energy is indigenous and it has been gained without reliance upon foreigners."

    Threats to Iran: "The system of domination is founded on depriving nations of their true identity. It seeks to deprive nations of their culture, identity, self-confidence and in this way dominate them. Our dear country, Iran, throughout history has been subject to threats. These were due to its advantages and geopolitical conditions as well as the capacity of the great Iranian nation. The Iranian nation for a long period of time has been the architect of civilization and the standard bearer for science, technology, culture, literature, arts, math, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, and the like. It still holds these standards. It continues to hold the banner of independence and freedom. These threats, however, are not of recent origin. These threats have been with us for a long time. Our enemies can deal a blow to us any time they wish. They do not wait for permission to do this. They do not deal a blow with prior notice. They did not take action because they can't. Our nation is today a powerful nation. Fortunately, Iranians are politically active worldwide. For hundreds of years Iranians have been migrating to many parts of the world. They took Islamic culture to other parts of the world and established it there. Now too, Iranians have a wide-scale influence in the world. They have strong cultural, scientific, political and economic influence. The presence of an Iranian elite, outstanding figures in many parts of the world is a precious asset for the Iranian nation. Iranians defend and present their Islamic and Iranian identity to other people worldwide." (B Raman, "Bush's Imprint," Asia Times, 21 Jun. 2005)

  • [I]n his speeches as a candidate, Mr. Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Tehran, has attracted a following not with his talk of strict Islamic values but by presenting himself as a sort of Islamic Robin Hood, promising to strip away the power and privileges that have enriched a small segment of society and to distribute the nation's wealth to the poor.

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

    While Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former two-term president, promotes his many years of experience in Iran's government as his credential for election, Mr. Ahmadinejad essentially casts himself as the anti-Rafsanjani: a simple, religious man, the son of an ironworker, who refused to accept his pay as mayor and who, if elected president, will fight for the poor.

    He has promised to deliver pensions, health insurance and unemployment insurance to women. He has promised to shift state money away from more-developed cities to less-developed communities. He has promised zero-interest loans to farmers. He has promised to stabilize prices and give teachers a raise. (Michael Slackman, "Upstart in Iran Election Campaigns as Champion of Poor," New York Times, 23 Jun. 2005)

  • Iran will flush out corruption from the country's oil industry and favour domestic investors in the underdeveloped hydrocarbons sector, Iranian president-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed on Sunday.

    He has previously promised to cut the hands off the "mafias" he says run the oil business in OPEC's number two producer and has made a pledge to distribute Iran's oil wealth more fairly.

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

    "Fighting bureaucratic corruption in all sectors, including oil, is part of a definite policy for our government," he told reporters at a news conference.

    "In all fields, including oil, priority will be given to local investors," he added. (Reuters, "Ahmadinejad Vows to Favour Locals in Iran Oil Deals," 26 Jun. 2005)
As for questions of personal freedom, this is what Ahmadinejad has to say: "'People think a return to revolutionary values is only a matter of wearing the head scarf,' Reuters quoted him as saying. 'The country's true problem is employment and housing, not what to wear'" (Nazila Fathi, Blacksmith's Son Emphasized His Modest Roots," New York Times, 26 Jun. 2005).

Whether Iran's new president can deliver on his promises of populist economic and foreign policies, while practicing pragmatic tolerance on cultural questions, remains to be seen. But there is no question that not only his platform but also his working-class family background, his modest manners, and even his simple appearance stood in stark contrast to all other candidates', so working-class Iranian voters, fed up with "an official unemployment rate of 16 percent, and unofficial estimates of 30 percent" ("In Iran, It's Jobs, Not Bombs," Christian Science Monitor, 27 Jun. 2005), cast their lot with him. That's democracy Iranian style, whether Washington likes it or not.


Read Nema Milaninia's insightful commentary on why "[m]ost journalists and bloggers supported reformist Mostafa Moin's candidacy and envisioned significant support for him," completely blindsided by Ahmadinejad's victory ("A Tehran Bias: Why We Iranian Bloggers Were Wrong About the Election," Pacific News Service, 22 Jun. 2005). The short answer to the question is that "[t]he failure by bloggers, reporters and analysts to accurately predict the election results is largely due to our 'Tehran-centricism.' As the country's large metropolitan capital, Tehran is the focal point of most news coming out of Iran. The vast majority of journalists, including bloggers, focus on the ambitions and struggles facing Tehran's disgruntled youths, rather than Iran's disgruntled poor" (Milaninia, 22 Jun. 2005). Fred Feldman adds that the class bias of bloggers, reporters, and analysts may be more accurately called "North-Teheran-centrism," as the city's south side is mostly populated by the working class. The class bias of Iran's liberal reformers is akin to that of liberal reformers in formerly socialist countries.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Soldiers vs. Intellectual Property Rights

Despite Dick Cheney's insistence that the insurgency in Iraq is in its "last throes," American casualties are at their all-time high:
US Troops Killed by Homemade BombsLast month there were about 700 attacks against American forces using so-called improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.'s, the highest number since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the American military command in Iraq and a senior Pentagon military official.

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

I.E.D.'s of all types caused 33 American deaths in May, and there have been at least 35 fatalities so far in June, the highest toll over a two-month period, according to statistics assembled by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. . . . (David S. Cloud, "Iraqi Rebels Refine Bomb Skills, Pushing Toll of G.I.'s Higher," New York Times, 22 Jun. 2005)
Higher casualties are said to be due to Iraqi guerrillas' advancements in military technology: "the use of 'shaped' charges that concentrate the blast and give it a better chance of penetrating armored vehicles" and "the detonation of explosives by infrared lasers, an innovation aimed at bypassing electronic jammers used to block radio-wave detonators" (Cloud, 22 Jun. 2005).

In contrast, US troops have yet to see improvements in their vehicles. The Humvee is still "the Pentagon's vehicle of choice for American troops," the vehicle shunned by Donald Rumsfeld and other dignitaries visiting Iraq:
When Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Iraq last year to tour the Abu Ghraib prison camp, military officials did not rely on a government-issued Humvee [$140,000 for an armored vehicle] to transport him safely on the ground. Instead, they turned to Halliburton, the oil services contractor, which lent the Pentagon a rolling fortress of steel called the Rhino Runner [$250,000].

State Department officials traveling in Iraq use armored vehicles that are built with V-shaped hulls to better deflect bullets and bombs. Members of Congress favor another model, called the M1117 [$700,000], which can endure 12-pound explosives and .50-caliber armor-piercing rounds.

Unlike the Humvee, the Pentagon's vehicle of choice for American troops, the others were designed from scratch to withstand attacks in battlefields like Iraq with no safe zones. (Michael Moss, "Safer Vehicles for Soldiers: A Tale of Delays and Glitches," New York Times, 26 Jun. 2005)
What the Armor Can Withstand

While Iraqi guerrillas' innovations made even the best-armored Humvees unsafe, most US troops cannot even avail themselves of them: "[A]ccording to military records and interviews with officials, about half of the Army's 20,000 Humvees have improvised shielding that typically leaves the underside unprotected, while only one in six Humvees used by the Marines is armored at the highest level of protection" (Moss, 26 Jun. 2005).

Why? It turns out that US capitalists are at war with US troops:
The Defense Department continues to rely on just one small company in Ohio to armor Humvees. And the company, O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, has waged an aggressive campaign to hold onto its exclusive deal even as soaring rush orders from Iraq have been plagued by delays. The Marine Corps, for example, is still awaiting the 498 armored Humvees it sought last fall, officials told The Times.

In January, when military officials tried to speed production by buying the legal rights to the armor design so they could enlist other venders to help, O'Gara demurred, calling the move a threat to its "current and future competitive position," according to e-mail records obtained from the Army.

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

Robert F. Mecredy, president of the aerospace and defense group at Armor Holdings, the parent company of O'Gara, acknowledged that the company was protecting its commercial interests. (emphasis added, Moss, 26 Jun. 2005)
Soldiers' lives are evidently less important than intellectual property rights that confer monopoly profits on capitalists. The Iraq War is the best crash course in the ABC of capitalism.

Art at "Ground Zero"

The Drawing Center, noted for its formalism, recently came under attack, because the gallery, which is to be "part of the projected International Freedom Center at ground zero," has shown a few pieces of "political art critical of the current Bush administration" since 2001 (Holland Cotter, "Where Drawing Is What Counts," New York Times, 25 Jun. 2005). How political? Here is an artwork currently being exhibited at the Center which has drawn attention of politicians and the corporate media on the Right.Orthographic Projection of the Axis
Charbel Ackermann's "New Geometry" is . . . about confusions of perspective, but of the conceptual as well as optical kind. The piece takes the form of a mock-PowerPoint computer presentation, projected on the wall, and its subject is a drawing by someone else that already exists: namely, the Axis of Evil traced by President Bush, linking nations hostile to the United States.

Mr. Ackermann's piece, sly and funny, was, of course, among those cited by The Daily News as a problem. Just as the show as a whole pushes the notion of drawing as a medium to absurd lengths, testing its limits and possibilities, so does Mr. Ackermann push the image of the Axis of Evil to the max, extending, dividing it, passing it through a pseudo-scientific prism of Ptolemaic geometry, orthographic projection and statistical analysis, until it ends up in a crazy tangle. Depending on your perspective, that tangle represents either a political critique, or political reality, or art doing its ambiguous, needling thing, which is exactly what it's supposed to do, wherever it lands. (Cotter, 25 Jun. 2005)
According to another New York Times article on the same controversy, "Gov. George E. Pataki delivered an ultimatum to two important cultural players [the Drawing Center and the International Freedom Center] at ground zero yesterday, demanding 'an absolute guarantee' that they would not mount exhibitions that could offend 9/11 families and pilgrims to a proposed memorial nearby" (Patrick D. Healy, "Pataki Warns Cultural Groups for Museum at Ground Zero," 25 Jun. 2005). While there is no reason why Ackermann's deconstruction of "the Axis of Evil" should offend any 9/11 family, since none of the countries that the Bush administration bundled into an imaginary "Axis" had anything to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is impossible to guarantee that it won't, art being in the eye of the beholder.

Nay, it is nearly a virtual certainty that at least some of the "9/11 families and pilgrims" will be offended by art at "ground zero." Take a look at Fred R. Conrad's photograph of "about 200 relatives of 9/11 victims" and others protesting against "inappropriate programming" at "ground zero." Protesting a Planned Museum near the 9/11 MemorialWhat are artists and curators to do? One way would be to insist on total freedom for artists and curators, resisting pressures from politicians, victims' families, and the corporate media. After all, what better way to survive terror -- terrors wrought by the fundamentalist empire as well as its fundamentalist enemies -- than to celebrate artistic freedom that both would deny? Another way would be to refuse to participate in the highly politicized project of 9/11 commemoration at all. Absence of art can be as eloquent as presence of it. It will speak volumes about the nature of a society that cannot tolerate art except as an object of investment.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Get Out, You Damned"

According to Al Jazeera, a novel that Saddam Hussein is said to have "finished writing . . . a month before the U.S. occupation toppled his regime in April 2003" will be published in Jordan next week:
Get Our, You DamnedJordan's independent Al-Arab Al-Yawm newspaper said it had already received a copy of the Arabic-language book titled "Ekhroj minha ya mal'un", which can be translated into "Damned one, get out of here".

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

Al-Arab Al-Yawm said that English and French copies of the novel are to be published later as well.

"Get Out, You Damned” tackles the life of a man called Haskeel who moves from his hometown to a city, where he starts making conspiracies to oust the local chief. At the end of the novel the chief's daughter, succeeds in kicking Haskeel out of the city with the help of a knight. ("Saddam’s 'Get Out, You Damned' Novel Out Next Week," Al Jazeera, 23 Jun. 2005)
Sounds like a potboiler, but I'm struck by the fact that in Iraq even a tyrant, who could control the masses through fear, felt he needed to show them that he was cultured enough to write novels (Get Out, You Damned is Hussein's fourth novel).

Can you imagine the current POTUS reading a novel, let alone writing one? Lack of cultural pretensions, however, is an asset in American politics. Or at least a carefully cultivated appearance of the lack is. Recently, it was revealed that John F. Kerry's grade (a cumulative 76) at Yale had been worse than George W. Bush's (77) (Michael Kranish, "Yale Grades Portray Kerry as a Lackluster Student," Boston Globe, 7 Jun. 2005) -- much to the surprise of both Democrats and Republicans. How Bush managed to come off as much less intellectual than Kerry and why Kerry failed to leak his transcript early in his campaign are mysteries.

Of course, both men's grades say nothing about their intelligence. Rather, they say everything about their privilege: they both came from such wealthy and well-connected families that they felt they could settle for gentlemen's Cs and still aspire to the highest office in the nation, unlike a son of a poor family in Iraq who yearned for cultural capital as well as political and economic power.

Friday, June 24, 2005

A Zombie Revolt or Revolution?

The American working class, who live the lives of the political living dead, may be best symbolized by zombies. But don't underestimate zombies.

Land of the DeadIn the latest installment of George Romero's zombie series, Land of the Dead (2005), the rich live in a tower of luxury, separated from the poor who are still technically alive and supplied and protected by mercenaries who shoot zombies for sport. The living dead, slowly but surely, begin to communicate among their kind, develop political consciousness, and . . . pick up guns. They are armed and hungry, and they have nothing to lose! Led by a Black zombie Big Daddy, a former gas-station attendant (whose line of work probably died before his body did), they storm the enclave of the rich.

Is it a zombie revolt or revolution? We'll find out.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Big Brother Wants to Keep a Log on You

From The Red Geek (18 Jun. 2005), I learn that "[t]he U.S. Department of Justice is quietly shopping around the explosive idea of requiring Internet service providers to retain records of their customers' online activities" (Declan McCullagh, "Your ISP as Net Watchdog," CNET, 16 Jun. 2005).

As you expect, the pretext is "child pornography," an always convenient bogeyman: "The current proposal appears to originate with the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, which enforces federal child pornography laws. But once mandated by law, the logs likely would be mined during terrorism, copyright infringement and even routine criminal investigations" (McCullagh, 16 Jun. 2005). With such a law in the hands of the federal government, the POTUS who wants to pull a Watergate wouldn't need to have anyone break into any building!

Besides, the more data are retained, the more likely they will be stolen.
Collectively, nearly 50 million accounts have been exposed to the possibility of identity fraud since the beginning of the year, a significant increase from last year.

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

A boom in data collection has created a marketplace of valuable information stored on computers in thousands of places, many with weak security. (Jonathan Krim, "Ubiquitous Technology, Bad Practices Drive Up Data Theft," Washington Post, 22 Jun. 2005, p. D1)
If anything, the government ought to be prohibiting unnecessary data retention, since it is not possible to establish computer security that no hacker can breach.

Common sense, however, doesn't come easily to the current administration. In "the year of the data breach" (Krim, 22 Jun. 2005), it embarked upon creating a massive new database:
The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches.

The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.

The data will be managed by BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., one of many marketing firms that use computers to analyze large amounts of data to target potential customers based on their personal profiles and habits.

"The purpose of the system . . . is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service," according to the official notice of the program.

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

[Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen] Krenke said she did not know how much the contract with BeNow was worth, or whether it was bid competitively.

Officials at BeNow did not return several messages seeking comment. The company's Web site does not have a published privacy policy, nor does it list either a chief privacy officer or security officer on its executive team. (emphasis added, Jonathan Krim, "Pentagon Creating Student Database: Recruiting Tool For Military Raises Privacy Concerns," Washington Post, 23 Jun. 2005, p. A1)
The daftly-named BeNOW, Inc. is a private company that has only 50 employees and the income of just $9 million. Its history is short, too. In 2003, it had only ten clients, "four of which were added in 2002" (Eric Schmitt/Forrester Research, "Database Marketing Vender Profile: BeNOW," 18 Apr. 2003). Its specialty in 2003 was unsophisticated services for "the catalog and retail markets":
Our evaluation also reveals several concerns about BeNOW that prospective buyers should take into consideration, including its:
  • Analytical skills gap. Unlike most of its competitors, BeNOW has not built out a deep analytical organization. . . .

  • Limited resources. BeNOW's small employee base, along with the recent growth in its client roster, should give potential buyers pause. Before signing on, prospective buyers should interview account team candidates including ongoing service staff -- not just the database build specialists. Inquire about these employees' other commitments, and negotiate the mechanics of the relationship upfront.
(Schmitt/Forrester Research, 18 Apr. 2003)
Such gaps and limits, as well as the apparent lack of a chief privacy or security officer, may not deter catalog merchants from hiring BeNOW, but they sure suggest that BeNOW may not be a company to which the federal government should entrust sensitive personal data of the youth of America.

My bet is that BeNOW will follow in the footsteps of ChoicePoint, LexisNexis, CardSystems, and other databases hacked to notoriety.

GM Hourly Workers -- on the Road to Extinction?

What's the matter with General Motors and the United Auto Workers? Problems are many.

Poor Design and Poorer Fuel Economy

"'The U.A.W. is not convinced that G.M. can simply shrink its way out of its current problems,' Richard Shoemaker, the union's vice president in charge of relations with G.M., said in a statement. 'What's needed is an intense focus on rebuilding G.M.'s U.S. market share, and the way to get there is by offering the right product mix of vehicles with world-class design and quality'" (Danny Hakim, "G.M. Will Reduce Hourly Workers in U.S. by 25,000," New York Times, 8 Jun. 2005). Right he is, but has he done anything about that, like pushing the boss to make sleeker and Greener vehicles? Far from it -- he helped GM dig its own grave -- as well as its workers' -- deeper:
"The UAW submits now is not the time to impose onerous, excessive and discriminatory fuel economy standards on General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler that will lead to job loss, which will of course will have an adverse effect on the economy," said Richard Shoemaker, international vice president of the United Auto Workers.

The auto companies and the UAW oppose a congressional bill that would raise average fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2013. They believe it would result in the elimination of popular and profitable sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans, known collectively as light trucks.

The current standard is 27.5 miles a gallon for cars and 20.7 miles per gallon for light trucks. (Associated Press, "US: General Motors Protests Proposed Fuel Standards," 25 Feb. 2002)
GM's and the UAW's strategy has been to sell as many profitable but gas-guzzling light trucks as possible while practically giving away ugly unsalable cars solely to meet the CAFE standards -- barely. That's neither good business nor good unionism. What were they thinking? Did they hallucinate that cheap oil would last forever? Once higher gas prices began to make SUVs less attractive, the strategy was doomed. By now, it has got to the point that GM is obliged to offer employee discounts to all customers!
"General Motors Corp. has tossed aside a promise to back off sweeping national discounts by taking the unprecedented step of extending employee discounts on new cars and trucks to all consumers.

Combined with current rebates, consumers will be able to save more than $10,000 on some vehicles.

The deals -- available through July 5 -- are aimed at boosting the automaker's sagging sales, clearing many of the 1.2 million vehicles sitting on dealer lots, and above all, keeping GM's assembly plants operating. (Ed Garsten, "GM Gives Employee Deals to All," Detroit News, 2 Jun. 2005)
No wonder that, according to the Harbour Report, "for the first three months of 2005, Nissan made the most money per vehicle, earning an average of $1,603. General Motors was at the opposite end of the spectrum, losing $2,331 on each vehicle" (emphasis added, Jeremy W. Peters, "U.S. Car Makers Still Trailing Japanese," New York Times, 3 Jun. 2005).

Competition and the US South
[L]ike a motorist in a gawker slowdown ogling a wreck on I-75, it's difficult to turn away from the growing Motown pile-up of auto parts suppliers that is likely to get larger and bloodier before it gets smaller and cleaned up.

There are the bankruptcies of Tower Automotive and Meridian Automotive Systems; the ouster of Collins & Aikman Co. Chairman David Stockman and the confirmation Thursday of a cash crisis; the turmoil surrounding Delphi Corp.'s accounting probe and the search for a successor to Chairman J.T. Battenberg.

And the mess that is Visteon Corp. -- dismal credit ratings, tense negotiations with its former parent, a revolving door in the CFO's office and now a warning that it may not have enough cash to cover its expenses -- puts the former ward of Ford Motor Co. in a class all by itself.

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

If you want to know how the market share slides and financial pressures on Ford and General Motors Corp. ripple across an industry as rivals prosper, how the inability of the UAW to organize foreign automakers and their suppliers affects Detroit and how it all looks, this is it. (Daniel Howes, "Auto Suppliers Face Brutal Shakeout, Need for Restructuring," Detroit News, 13 May 2005)
Where does the UAW need to go to organize GM's international rivals? Mainly to the US South, where "the newest factories are concentrated" (Micheline Maynard, "Foreign Makers, Settled in South, Pace Car Industry," New York Times, 22 Jun. 2005) due to its anti-union labor laws:

Born Abroad, Made in the U.S.A.
Source: Micheline Maynard, "Foreign Makers, Settled in South, Pace Car Industry" (New York Times, 22 Jun. 2005)

Health Care

GM workers' health care costs aren't the only problem, but health care is one of the bigger problems for GM and the UAW:
GM provides health coverage to 1.1 million employees, retirees and dependents, more than any other company in the country. Its health-care cash tab last year was $5.2 billion and is expected to grow to $5.6 billion in 2005. GM estimates its future health-care obligations at $77 billion and growing.

. . . . .

Some auto insiders, as well as GM itself, say the $1,400-$1,500 per vehicle it spends on health care forces GM to cut corners on products, or pass up some new products altogether. (Katie Merx and Jeffrey McCracken, "Health Care May Not Be the Worst of GM Worries," Detroit Free Press, 30 Apr. 2005)
As long as GM's and its suppliers' health care costs are unsocialized, GM will remain at a disadvantage in competition with manufacturers whose workers are either strong enough to enjoy socialized health care or weak enough to accept poorer packages of benefits than uinonized US auto workers'.

Outsourcing to Suppliers

As long as the UAW accepts the multi-tier wage structure (lower wages for workers at supplier plants than GM plants as well as lower wages for new hires than existing workers), jobs will be outsourced from GM plants to supplier plants, even if the latter are unionized (cf. Jane Slaughter, "UAW Trades Pay Cut for Neutrality," Labor Notes, July 2003; Jane Slaughter, "UAW Will Trade Concessions for Health Care, Organizing Rights," Labor Notes, September 2003; Jane Slaughter, "Auto Union Embraces Two-Tier Wages," Labor Notes, October 2003; and Jane Slaughter, "Hidden Surprises in New Auto Contracts: Agreements Easily Ratified as ‘Unpublished Letters’ and Some Concessions Stay Hidden," Labor Notes, November 2003).

On the Brink of Extinction

All thinking union men and women know the aforementioned problems and more. The question is if they can come up with a strategy and tactics to solve them -- in time.
General Motors said . . . that it would cut about 25,000 jobs from its blue-collar work force in the United States by the end of 2008, in a broad move to reckon with its declining grip on the American car market.

The cuts, which represent about 22 percent of the hourly work force, would bring G.M.'s nationwide employment to 86,000 hourly workers, roughly the number it employed in the city of Flint, Mich., in the 1970's. The action will include an unspecified number of plant closings and is the most sweeping single job cut announced since 1992, though G.M. has already eliminated nearly 30,000 hourly and salaried workers over the last five years. The company hopes to continue to make the cuts largely through buyout and early retirement offers and to avoid layoffs.

Over all, G.M. will employ 125,000 Americans once the plan is put into effect, compared with more than 600,000 workers in 1979, when G.M.'s employment was at its peak. (emphasis added, Danny Hakim, "G.M. Will Reduce Hourly Workers in U.S. by 25,000," New York Times, 8 Jun. 2005)
With a few more rounds of cuts like this, there will be soon no more GM hourly workers left in the United States.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Walking Eagles

A joke about Hillary Rodham Clinton is making the rounds on the Net:
Senator Hillary Clinton was invited to address a major gathering of the American Indian Nation two weeks ago in upper New York State. She spoke for almost an hour on her future plan for increasing every Native American's standard of living, should she one day become the first female President. She referred to her career as a New York Senator, how she had signed "YES" for every Indian issue that came to her desk for approval. Although the Senator was vague on the details of her plan, she seemed most enthusiastic about her ideas for helping her "red sisters and brothers." At the conclusion of her speech, the Tribes presented the Senator with a plaque inscribed with her new Indian name: Walking Eagle. The proud Senator then departed in her motorcade, waving to the crowds.

A news reporter later queried the group of chiefs about how they came to select the new name given to the Senator. They explained that Walking Eagle is the name given to a bird so full of shit it can no longer fly.
According to Snopes, the joke was originally invented for John F. Kerry last June, and then the same joke began to make a butt of George W. Bush. The joke, being applicable to nearly all politicians in the United States, is likely to have a long shelf life. For now, it's Hillary Clinton's turn.

And why not? Look at opinion polls on "Election 2008" (!), and Clinton is all but anointed as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate. While I doubt that liberals and leftists will make the same stampede toward the Democratic Party in particular and electoral politics in general that they did in 2004, the opinion-making clique among liberals are already gearing up to "brand" Clinton as the "winner" whom we should all support:
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Clinton will be good for progressives or for the party as a whole. In the short term, though, she can certainly help the party -- if nothing else, she's at least beginning to develop a Democratic alternative that could constitute one path to political success. "Hillary may not be an iconic liberal, but she fights for the people liberals care about -- women, children, veterans, people without healthcare," [John] Podesta says. "Best of all, she's tough, and she knows how to win." (Greg Sargent, "Brand Hillary," The Nation, 6 Jun. 2005)
Alleged "electability" was the sole reason why legions of Democrats and other liberals and leftists felt compelled to choose the pro-war Kerry, casting out anti-war candidates inside and outside the Democratic Party against their own conscience, but, as we all know, the flip-flopper turned out to be a BIG FLOP. Are US liberals and leftists doomed to make the same mistake twice?

If that's the case, anti-war activists ought to do the damnedest to end the Iraq War and bring the troops home before 2007. Why? Look at what happened last year:



"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?"

Base: All Adults


Oct. 2003

Feb. 2004

April 2004

June 2004

Aug. 2004

Sept. 2004

Oct. 2004

Nov. 2004












Favor keeping a large number of U.S. troops in Iraq until there is a stable government there










Favor bringing most of our troops home in the next year










Not sure/Refused










NOTE: Percentages may not add up exactly to 100 percent due to rounding.

Source: "Iraq, 9/11, Al Qaeda and Weapons of Mass Destruction: What the Public Believes Now, According to Latest Harris Poll" (18 Feb. 2005)
In short, after climbing up to the high point of 56% on June 8-15, the voices that said "Bring Home in Next Year" decreased significantly, reaching the low point of 47% on November 9-14 and getting reduced to a minority for the first time since Harris began to poll on this question in October 2003. That's the power of elite bipartisan consensus for "staying the course" on the occupation of Iraq.

Thankfully, the tide has turned since the end of the last presidential election, and now 59% of Americans are opposed to the Iraq War. If we cannot end the war before 2007, however, Walking Eagles -- especially "National Security Democrats" like Clinton -- will surely try to bring down the anti-war movement again in 2008 with the sheer weight of their bullshit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The State of Insurgency in Iraq: A New Development?

How many combat soldiers does Washington have at its disposal now? "American commanders, their army bottom-heavy with support units, have at most 60,000 American and allied combat soldiers available, and only a fraction as many Iraqi soldiers rated combat-ready. Recent American intelligence estimates put the insurgents' strength from 12,000 to 20,000" (John F. Burns, "Choose: More Troops in Iraq Will (Help) (Hurt)," New York Times, 19 Jun. 2005).

Washington, facing powerful guerrillas over much of Iraq, commands fewer troops than Saddam Hussein, who didn't confront anything comparable, did: "The scope of the problem can be taken from the garrison in the Baghdad area. Maj. Gen. William G. Webster, commander of the Third Infantry Division, recently gave a rundown of the troops available . . . 27,000 American troops, 15,000 Iraqi policemen and 7,000 Iraqi soldiers. Saddam Hussein, he said, had a regular garrison for the same area of 80,000 troops and 50,000 police" (Burns, 19 Jun. 2005).

Also, recall that the corporate media used to say that insurgents numbered only about 5,000 (Google the Net for "insurgents 5,000," and you'll get 159,000 results). So, based solely upon ballpark figures peddled by the corporate media (which were and are likely to be underestimates), Washington managed to triple the number of guerrillas in Iraq in two years!

That's despite having killed or detained tens of thousands of guerrillas and suspected guerrillas. After the Abu Ghraib scandal last year, Washington is once again expanding its prisons in Iraq:
Detained in IraqThe influx of detainees ["3,500 new detainees in American-operated prisons in Iraq since January"] has swelled the population at major American-run prisons to 114 percent of their ideal capacity, [Maj. ] General [William H. ] Brandenburg said, in some cases forcing the addition of more tents and increasing the number of detainees in each to 25 people from 20. For a longer-range solution, the military is expanding three major prisons and planning to open a new one in northern Iraq.

The $50 million expansion will enable the United States to hold a total of about 14,000 detainees. As of this week, the military is holding 10,135 in three prisons, about 2,000 more than in January. In addition, 1,695 detainees are being held at the division or brigade level around the country.

American officials estimate that the hardcore insurgency is made up of 12,000 to 20,000 Iraqi and non-Iraqi fighters. At Abu Ghraib, where crowding contributed to the worst of the prisoner abuses that occurred in late 2003, there are 3,563 detainees; the renovations will make room for 4,200. At the largest center, Camp Bucca in the south, there are 6,451 people; its capacity will grow to about 7,200. Camp Cropper, at the Baghdad airport, now holds 121 so-called high-value detainees, including Saddam Hussein and his top aides; space there will accommodate 2,000. A 1980's Russian barracks in northern Iraq, Fort Suse, will be turned into a prison that can hold up to 2,000 detainees. (Eric Schmitt, "U.S. and Allies Capture More Foreign Fighters," New York Times, 19 Jun. 2005)
If nothing else, Washington is reconstructing Iraqi prisons all right.

That much shouldn't surprise anyone. What's new is this story reported by Sabrina Tavernise in the New York Times today:
Late Sunday night, American marines watching the skyline from their second-story perch in an abandoned house here saw a curious thing: in the distance, mortar and gunfire popped, but the volleys did not seem to be aimed at them.

In the dark, one spoke in hushed code words on a radio, and after a minute found the answer.

"Red on red," he said, using a military term for enemy-on-enemy fire.

Marines patrolling this desert region near the Syrian border have for months been seeing a strange new trend in the already complex Iraqi insurgency. Insurgents, they say, have been fighting each other in towns along the Euphrates from Husayba, on the border, to Qaim, farther west. The observations offer a new clue in the hidden world of the insurgency and suggest that there may have been, as American commanders suggest, a split between Islamic militants and local rebels.

A United Nations official who served in Iraq last year and who consulted widely with militant groups said in a telephone interview that there has been a split for some time.

"There is a rift," said the official, who requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks he had held. "I'm certain that the nationalist Iraqi part of the insurgency is very much fed up with the Jihadists grabbing the headlines and carrying out the sort of violence that they don't want against innocent civilians." (Sabrina Tavernise, "Marines See Signs Iraq Rebels Are Battling Foreign Fighters," New York Times, June 21, 2005)
If the above report is true (rather than wishful thinking, which another comment by the same UN official -- "The nationalist insurgent groups, 'are giving a lot of signals implying that there should be a settlement with the Americans'" [Tavernise, June 21, 2005] -- suggests) and nationalist guerrillas are indeed attempting to control fanatical ones, it is a very important development.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Surpassing the Gulag in Scale

Amnesty International, in its 2005 report, condemned Washington's violations of the Geneva Conventions: "The detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law" (emphasis added, "Foreword," Amnesty International Report 2005). The dramatic metaphor of "the gulag" used in Amnesty International's criticism stirred conservative opposition. Among its critics is David Bosco, a senior editor of Foreign Policy, who put the metaphor to an "equivalency test" and found it wanting ("Gulag v. Gitmo: Equivalency Test," New Republic, 3 Jun. 2005). Among other things, Bosco notes:
During a press conference on Tuesday, President Bush rejected the charge as "absurd." Amnesty has defended its use of the term. Below, a comparison of the two prison systems, with the aid of Anne Applebaum's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Gulag: A History.

Individuals Detained:

Gulag: Approximately 20 million passed through the Gulag. The population at any one time was generally around two million.

Guantánamo: 750 prisoners have passed through the camp. The current population is about 520. (Bosco, 3 Jun. 2005)
Bosco's "test" should be faulted for its literal-mindedness that fails to appreciate the fact that a hyperbole is not an assertion of "equivalency."

Nevertheless, the gulag statistics mentioned above is useful, for it reminds us of prison statistics of the United States:
  • "Overall, corrections authorities incarcerated 2,212,475 prisoners at the end of 2003. . . . As of December 31, 2003, one in every 140 U.S. residents was confined in a state or federal prison or a local jail" (emphasis added, US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "U.S. Prison Population Approaches 1.5 Million," 7. Nov. 2004).

  • "In 2003, 6.9 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at yearend 2003 -- 3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 32 adults" (emphasis added, US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Corrections Statistics").

  • "[A]ssuming that recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 of every 20 persons (5%) can be expected to serve time in prison during their lifetime" (emphasis added, US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Lifetime Likelihood of Going to State or Federal Prison").

  • "The reality is inescapable: America has become a nation of ex-cons. Thirteen million people have been convicted of a felony and spent some time locked up. That's almost 7 percent of U.S. adult residents. If all of these people were placed on an island together, that island would have a population larger than many countries, including Sweden, Bolivia, Senegal, Greece, or Somalia" (emphasis added, Tom Cochran, "Executive Director's Column" [dated 7 May 2004], U.S. Mayor Newspaper 71.9, 10 May 2004 -- see, also, Human Rights Watch, No Second Chance: People with Criminal Records Denied Access to Public Housing, 2004).
That's not counting foreigners whom Washington has detained in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere; rendered to other governments (that it regularly criticizes for human rights violations); summarily executed; or tortured to death.

In terms of scale of incarceration, the US Prison-Industrial Complex -- even without Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, et al. -- has already surpassed the gulag in the Soviet Union.

Death Watch

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, conservative as he may be, apparently loves the court more than conservatism, so he failed to retire during the first George W. Bush administration, despite his advanced age (now 80) and ill health.
Conservative groups held a briefing last week at the National Press Club and promised to spend more than $20 million promoting whomever President Bush nominates to replace Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, should the ailing chief justice retire at the end of the court's term in June, as many expect.

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

"The odds are certainly in favor of a resignation, but I also know how much he loves the court," Mr. [Ralph G.] Neas [the president of People for the American Way] said in an interview, before showing off his organization's waiting war room. "If the doctors give him a green light to work for another term, I think he'd do it in a minute." (Elizabeth Bumiller, "War Rooms (and Chests) Ready for a Supreme Court Vacancy," New York Times, 20 Jun. 2005)
I suspect that at the top of conservative prayers these days is swift progress of Justice Rehnquist's thyroid cancer, leading to his rapid decline or death.

V for Vendetta

Star Wars Episodes I ("The Phantom Menace"), II ("Attack of the Clones"), and III ("Revenge of the Sith") picture the transformation of a Republic into an Empire. The Trade Federation, chafing against the taxation of trade routes, blockades and then invades an autonomous province of the Republic. A Senator from the province under siege persuades its Queen to make a motion for a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor of the Republic. The Senator is then elected the new Chancellor. The province gets liberated from the Trade Federation, but a new trouble begins. A separatist movement arises, which the Republic's militia may not be able to contain. The Senate gives the Chancellor emergency powers, which he uses to send a new standing army into battle against the Separatists. It turns out that the Chancellor is the mastermind manipulating both the Trade Federation and the separatist movement -- both the Trade and Separatist Wars being ruses to instill fear into the Senate, so that it will gladly relinquish its own power and centralize all power into the Chancellor's hands. In the final move for hegemony, the Chancellor orders the standing army to liquidate the militia, while telling the Senate that the militia tried to overthrow it and take over the Republic. To the grateful Senate, the Chancellor announces the dissolution of the Republic -- it will now be reorganized into the Empire. "This is how liberty dies . . . to thunderous applause." Episode III ends on a bleak note, with surviving members of the militia in exile.

We all know that two finest warriors of the remaining militia, who also happen to be gay, live to play crucial roles in raising a new Rebel militia who fight against the Empire and defeat it in Episode VI ("The Return of the Jedi"), establishing a new Republic, but, like so much of postmodern culture, the future, capable of offering a new hope, is the past in Star Wars.

V for VendettaA more likely sequel to Episode III than the optimistic Episode IV ("A New Hope") is V for Vendetta, which will open on "Nov. 4, which happens to be the day before the 400th anniversary of Guy Fawkes Day" (Sarah Lyall, "From the Wachowski Brothers, an Ingénue Who Blows Up Parliament," New York Times, 19 Jun. 2005). V -- the first anarchist terrorist anti-hero in the history of cinema, who seeks to smash the racist and homophobic state -- is a more fitting sign of the times than a fair-haired boy from the galactic Midwest. VV for Vendetta ends in a general insurrection. Natalie Portman -- who plays Evey, V's protégé who learns the spirit of defiance from a lesbian murdered by the tyrannical state and eventually assumes V's identity after his death -- says of the ending: "It has a hopeful ending, because the revolution finally comes" (qtd. in Lyall, 19 Jun. 2005).

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Sexism and Science: The History of Female Orgasm" Published in Seven Oaks

My essay "The History of Female Orgasm" (3 Jun. 2005) has been published in Seven Oaks: "Sexism and Science: The History of Female Orgasm" (14 Jun. 2005).

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Can America Stand Tall Again?

If any rich man or woman tries to tell you that Canadians and Europeans have it worse than Americans, giving you horror stories of high taxes, high unemployment rates, lower per-capita incomes, and long waiting lists allegedly caused by their beloved national health care systems, ask him or her: "Why have Canadians and Europeans grown taller than Americans?"

Height is a good measure of nutritional status. "Nutritional status, or synonymously 'net nutrition,' refers to the summing up of nutrient input and demand on those nutrients. While work intensity is the most obvious demand, it is just one of many. Energy is required to resist infection. Pregnancy adds caloric and nutrient demands, as does breast-feeding. Calories expended in any of these fashions are available neither for basal metabolism, nor for growth. The difference between nutrition and nutritional status/net nutrition is important for anthropometrics, because it is the latter, not the former, for which auxological measurements are a proxy" (Timothy Cuff, "Historical Anthropometrics"). Not surprisingly, height is clearly correlated with class power: the ruling class stand taller than the classes they rule; and the more class power workers and their allies gain, making their nation more egalitarian, the taller their nation's average height will be (since the masses always vastly outnumber the ruling class).
America's young adults, who share much the same diet [as Canadian young adults'], have suddenly plateaued. And while Canadians continue to inch upward, overtaking our richer neighbours, both countries lag behing the now towering Dutch. What is behind such differences? . . .

An economic historian at Ohio State University, [Richard] Steckel has spent years scouring the boneyards and archives of the western hemisphere searching for clues about the height and health of past populations. . . .

. . . Northern Europeans in the 11th century were substantially taller -- almost three inches taller on average -- than their descendants on the eve of the industrial revolution around 1750. That might seem bizarre to anyone accustomed to thinking about human height as something that has increased steadily with the so-called march of civilization. But height varies with how healthy and how well off a given society is as a whole, says John Komlos, a prominent height historian at the University of Munich. "We've yet to recognize," says Komlos, "how sensitive the human body is to socio-economic and environmental circumstances."

In the late 1700s, for example, American-born colonialists made good use of their sparsely populated, protein-rich environment to become taller than their European contemporaries: average height was five foot eight for American men, judging from military and prison records. That was nearly two inches taller than the average British soldier. Just decades later, however, a strange stunting started to occur that researchers don't fully understand. American incomes rose from the early to mid-1800s, but that didn't equate to better living conditions. As Americans became richer -- as a group anyway -- they also shrank.

By the early 1900s, Americans were again among the world's tallest people. But now measurers are starting to detect another mysterious levelling off. At an average of five foot ten, American-born men from the 1970s are not much taller than their great-grandfathers. So much for the modern diet.

Canada, however, is still shooting upward. At just over five foot eleven, the average Canadian-born male from the 1970s stands nearly an inch taller than his American counterpart. And while it's nice to be taller than our well-fed neighbours, we still trail the Netherlands, whose citizens are now considered the tallest in the world. Starting in the 1840s, the Dutch began growing from generation to generation, to the point where just over six feet is average for men in their 20s and 30s.

For women the gap is even greater. At an average of five foot eight, Dutch women stand nearly four inches taller than their American-born counterparts. America might possess the mightiest economy and a supersized larder, but it has become clear such wealth doesn't necessarily translate into healthier or taller populations. In the space of about 140 years, the average Americans have gone from being three inches taller than the Dutch to three inches shorter.

According to Steckel, it's the relative equality within Dutch and other European societies that are helping them grow. "If you take a dollar from the richest and give it to the poor," Steckel says, "heights will increase." Nations with universal health coverage, protein-rich diets and relatively low income inequality -- like the Netherlands and Canada -- continue to get taller. That may not have always been the case. University of Guelph economist Kris Inwood believes Canadians went through the same pattern as Americans in the 19th century, getting shorter as incomes rose. But Canada began to reverse the so-called urban penalty around 1910. As big cities were cleaned up and milk programs took root in schools, Canadians grew.

That urban penalty made for some noticeable regional differences in the 1800s. "Ontario was taller than the Maritimes, and both were taller than Quebec," says Inwood. "Quebec wasn't the poorest, but it had the most inequality." It also had some of the oldest -- and dirtiest -- cities in Canada. According to Peter Ward at the University of British Columbia, Montreal in the 19th century was "one of the unhealthiest cities in the western world."

A low point in human stature, notes Komlos, was during a very cold period in the 17th century. It was also a century of political crisis, marked by the Thirty Years War between Catholics and Protestants, which ravaged much of Western Europe. "I think a lot of that political upheaval had to do with the bad climate," speculates Komlos. "It meant agricultural productivity was down, and it was more difficult for people to feed themselves." Frenchmen, for example, averaged five foot three during that period, while women were about three inches shorter. When that data is compared with Steckel's findings from late-Medieval Europe, a remarkable trend emerges. Komlos's growth-stunted French were much shorter than Europeans who lived before the so-called little ice age of the 17th century and before cities -- efficient incubators of disease -- began to appear. Northern Europeans, in fact, shrank from a peak average height of just over five foot eight in the 11th century to five foot five and change in the 17th. It took generations before they would grow again.

One intriguing new finding is that the elites of Europe, Asia and Africa now actually all stand about the same height, roughly five foot ten to six foot, according to Steckel. What's different are the paths through history those groups took to achieve that stature. (Christopher Watt, "A Short History of Height," Maclean's, 31 Mar. 2005)
Liberal and conservative pundits are fond of fretting about America's metaphorical "stature" in the world. Can America "stand tall"? Instead, they had better take the measure of American bodies and think about why Americans, once taller than Canadians and Europeans, have fallen relatively short.

A history of height can more than puncture the illusion that America is the greatest nation on earth. It also gives lie to the bourgeois notion of history as linear progress. Jared Diamond says:
One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5’ 9" for men, 5’ 5" for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5’ 3" for men, 5’ for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors.

Another example of paleopathology at work is the study of Indian skeletons from burial mounds in the Illinois and Ohio river valleys. At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A. D. 1150. Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced bya bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a theefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor. "Life expectancy at birth in the pre-agricultural community was bout twenty-six years," says Armelagos, "but in the post-agricultural community it was nineteen years. So these episodes of nutritional stress and infectious disease were seriously affecting their ability to survive." ("The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race," Discover Magazine, May 1987)
Why did human bodies and lives both grow shorter with the adoption of agriculture? With agriculture came classes, contagious diseases, and higher birth rates, the pox on humanity that has yet to be eradicated.

According to Christopher Ruff, "Average body mass in living humans is smaller than it was during most of the Pleistocene. . . . [L]iving higher-latitude populations are about as large as terminal Pleistocene samples, whereas living lower-latitude populations are smaller on average than they were 10,000 years ago" ("Variation in Human Body Size and Shape." Annual Review of Anthropology 31.1, 2002, p. 211, 216). No wonder that ancients at the dawn of civilization thought of those who came before them as giants and ambivalently commemorated in their myth the overthrow of giants by the gods of civilization, for giants stood tall and lived free. Isn't it ironic that both the agricultural and industrial revolutions, while creating and enriching ruling classes, stunted human growth, from whose combined impacts the majority of living human beings have yet to fully recover?