Monday, January 31, 2005

Voter Turnout in the Iraqi Elections Follows Washington's Script

The best commentary that sums up the essence of the Iraqi elections is Steve Bell's cartoon below:

Iraqis!  Come Out with Your Votes in the Air!
Steve Bell (2005)

Since the Iraqi elections are typical "demonstration elections," however, the corporate media are duty-bound to ignore such hardball questions as whether the elections were free, fair, and democratic and to hype "a large turnout (indicating voter support for the election itself and thus identifying the election with "democracy")" (Frank Brodhead, "Reframing the Iraq Election," ZNet, January 21, 2005).

Greg Mitchell looks skeptically at the press's reports on turnout estimates, which have already been brought down 15% in one day:
The widely-publicized estimates a few hours ago from Iraq election officials of 72% turnout has already been cut to about 57% from the same officials. Dexter Filkins of The New York Times reported at midday:

"The chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, Fareed Ayar, said as many as 8 million people turned out to vote, or between 55 percent and 60 percent of those registered to cast ballots. If 8 million turns out to be the final figure, that would represent 57 percent of voters."

The question remains: what percentage of the population chose to register? What percentage of adult citizens participated? Iraq has a population of at least 25 million, plus expatriates were allowed to vote overseas. (emphasis added, "Iraq, the Vote: The Press Sizes Up the Election," Editor & Publisher, January 30, 2005)
All good questions. I'd also ask where the Independent [sic] Election Commission of Iraq got the figure of 8 million voters.

The answer is that's exactly the same number the commission predicted before the elections:
A senior election official estimates that half of Iraq's 15 million eligible voters ["[t]here are 14 million eligible voters inside Iraq . . . plus 1.2 million abroad allowed to vote in 14 countries including the United States, Britain, Iran and Syria"] will take part in this month's national election and says that to encourage a high turnout, those living in insurgency-racked areas will be allowed to vote in safer communities.

Farid Ayar of Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission said he expected 7 to 8 million Iraqis to vote on Jan. 30 in a ballot seen as a major step toward fulfilling U.S. goals of building democracy here after decades of Saddam Hussein's tyranny. (emphasis added, Hamza Hendawi/Associated Press, "Half of Iraq Population Estimated to Vote," January 14, 2005)
What precision! A sign that elections in Iraq have been raised to the level of science, far superior to the 4-billion-dollar election industry in the United States that showed disturbing discrepancies between exit polls and vote tallies? Not! A safer hypothesis is that it's a sign of how scripted Iraqi elections were. If Washington needs about 8 million Iraqi voters to achieve a "respectable" turnout of half the eligible voters (Hendawi, January 14, 2005), the Independent [sic] Election Commission of Iraq has to give that number to Washington before and after the elections. After all, "demonstration elections" are theater -- for the American, rather than Iraqi, audience.


For connoisseurs of comparative propaganda: Peter Grose, "U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote" (New York Times, September 4, 1967, p. 2)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Deficits, the Dollar, and IEDs

The world's richest man, joining the world's second richest man, is now betting against the dollar:
Bill Gates, whose net worth of $46.6 billion makes him the world's richest person, is betting against the U.S. dollar.

"I'm short the dollar," Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., told Charlie Rose in an interview late yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "The ol' dollar, it's gonna go down."

Gates's concern that widening U.S. budget and trade deficits are undermining the dollar was echoed in Davos by policymakers including European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The dollar fell 21 percent against a basket of six major currencies from the start of 2002 to the end of last year. The trade deficit swelled to a record $609.3 billion last year and total U.S. government debt rose 8.7 percent to $7.62 trillion in the past 12 months.

"It is a bit scary," Gates said. "We're in uncharted territory when the world's reserve currency has so much outstanding debt."

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

Gates reflected the views of his friend Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor who has bet against the dollar since 2002. Buffett said last week that the U.S. trade gap will probably further weaken the currency.

"Unless we have a major change in trade policies, I don't see how the dollar avoids going down," Buffett said in an interview with CNBC on Jan. 19.

Gates in December joined the board of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the investment company that Buffett runs. Forbes magazine's list of billionaires ranks Gates, 49, No. 1. Buffett, 74, is second, with more than $30 billion. Almost all of it is in Berkshire stock. (emphasis added, James Hertling and Simon Clark, "Bill Gates, World's Richest Man, Bets Against Dollar (Update3),", January 29, 2005)
Will the dollar be one day the target of speculative attacks by hedge funds, as in the last days of the overvalued pound sterling?
In 1992, the ERM [Exchange Rate Mechanism, "a fixed-exchange-rate regime established by the then European Community designed to keep the member countries' exchange rates within specific bands in relation to one another"] was torn apart when a number of currencies could not keep within these limits without collapsing their economies. On Wednesday, September 16, a culmination of factors led Britain to pull out of the ERM and to let the pound float according to market forces. Black Wednesday became the day on which George Soros, hedge-fund titan, broke the Bank of England, pocketing US$1 billion of profit in one day and more than $2 billion eventually. The British pound was forced to leave the ERM after the Bank of England spent $40 billion in an unsuccessful effort to defend the currency's fixed value against speculative attack. (Henry C K Liu, "Banking Bunkum: Part 2: The European Experience," Asia Times, November 8, 2002)
Recently, the dollar rallied a bit after data "showed investments coming into the United States were more than enough to cover the country's huge trade deficit on a monthly basis," but they may mainly consist of hot money:
Net flows of capital into U.S. assets surged to $81 billion in November from a revised $48.3 billion in October and were far above market expectations of around $55 billion.

November's inflows more than adequately covered the trade deficit of around $60.3 billion for the month.

Following the U.S. data, some analysts have started cautiously entertaining thoughts that the dollar's rally in the past few sessions could be more than just a fluke.

"There's a chance the euro has seen its high for the cycle and Asian currencies have further to adjust," said Bob Sinche, head of global currency strategy at Bank of America in New York.

The U.S. flows data "continue to show that U.S. assets have appeal and that the scare stories about the twin (budget and trade) deficits aren't really valid," he added.

Michael Woolfolk, senior currency strategist at Bank of New York, reckoned however that much of November's asset inflow was speculative, given an increase in investments from Caribbean money center banks.

These banks are known to be financing channels for most hedge funds, which have become major players in the daily $1.3 trillion turnover of the global foreign exchange market. (Gertrude Chavez/Reuters, "Dollar Rises on Investment Flows Report," January 18, 2005)
Short-term fluctuations aside, the dollar has nowhere to go but down, and the only question is whether the fall will be gradual or sudden and precipitous:
Provided the dollar's fall is gradual, it should prove manageable for the world economy. But that doesn't mean there won't be some dislocations. The higher inflation and interest rates brought on by the weaker dollar will mean that U.S. consumers will have less money in their pockets to spend. And U.S. companies will find it harder to make acquisitions overseas. "Many of us will feel a little bit poorer," says Kenneth S. Rogoff, former International Monetary Fund chief economist and now a professor at Harvard University. But Japan and Europe could be hit harder unless they take action to boost domestic demand to offset the loss of their exports.

Of course all bets would be off if the dollar suddenly nose-dived, dragging U.S. stock and bond prices down with it. That would raise the risk of a global recession. (Rich Miller, "Why The Dollar Is Giving Way," BusinessWeek, December 6, 2004)
See, also, Brian Bremner, "The Makings of a Meltdown" (BusinessWeek, December 13, 2004).

The US power elite are hoping that it is possible to engineer gradual devaluation of the dollar and stimulate US export, shrinking the US trade deficit, but it turns out that "the US does not have adequate manufacturing capacity to eliminate the external deficit":
There is now a consensus in the financial markets that the US dollar is headed for a prolonged slump in order to reduce America's large current account deficit.

There are two ways the falling dollar can reduce the external deficit. It can encourage an upsurge of exports or import substitution. What pundits have not noticed is that the US does not have adequate manufacturing capacity to eliminate the external deficit.

The US economy produces about Dollars 1,500bn per annum of output in its manufacturing industry and has a capacity utilisation rate of nearly 79 per cent. The current account deficit is equal to 40 per cent of American manufacturing output. If the US were to reduce the external deficit by Dollars 150bn through an improvement in the merchandise trade account for goods, the manufacturing capacity utilisation rate would increase by 7 per cent to 86 per cent. If the US were to seek to eliminate the deficit entirely through a boom in exports or massive import substitution, the utilisation rate would exceed 100 per cent.

As the Federal Reserve regards a rate above 85 per cent as inflationary, there is little doubt that it would tighten monetary policy if changes in the trade account were to produce such a big swing in the utilisation rate. In this scenario, the US might ultimately reduce the deficit through a domestic recession, not an export boom.

The US has inadequate capacity to control the external deficit because its manufacturing capital stock has been declining in relative terms for several years. In 2003, this stock was equal to 7.3 per cent of total fixed assets, compared with 8.4 per cent in 1985. The share of US private employment in manufacturing has also shrunk from 22.4 per cent in early 1985 to 13 per cent recently. The recovery in capital spending after the 2001 recession was the most subdued in modern business cycle history. Between mid-2002 and 2003, capital spending increased by only 5 per cent compared with an average gain of 15 per cent during the first year of the five previous business expansions. . . . .

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

The decline of the dollar is only the first step in the process of adjusting America's balance of payments. There will also have to be a significant reallocation of resources from domestic consumption to tradeable goods manufacturing. The great question is whether the US will be able to reduce the deficit through a gradual manufacturing revival or, dramatically, through a domestic spending recession. (David Hale, "Don't Rely on the Dollar to Reduce the Deficit," Financial Times, USA Edition, January 26, 2005, p. 15)
A "significant reallocation of resources from domestic consumption"? Peter Schiff, CEO and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, puts it more plainly: "No matter what the outcome, Americans will have to consume a lot less" (emphasis added, qtd. in Dan Ackman, "Doom for The Dollar -- and Everything Else," Forbes, January 10, 2005).

The US power elite will demand that the US working class reduce consumption -- gradually or dramatically -- to haul the multinational ruling class out of the abyss of the US current-account deficit, at the same time as forcing the US working class to make greater and greater sacrifices as IED fodders, sinking further into the quagmire in Iraq. Can American workers fight back, recognizing who their true enemies are (rather than taking it all out on Iraqi prisoners or worrying about how to prevent gay men from having abortions)?

Economics of Spam

What drives the economy of spam? Andrew Leung estimated that "response rates to bulk commercial email is less than 0.005 per cent," but spammers can still make "lucrative living" by milking "50 in every million people [who] respond to unsolicited commercial email" because of very low costs of spamming (John Leyden, "The Economics of Spam," The Register, November 18, 2003). Who are the 50-in-a-million suckers? You guessed it -- men in love with "Big, Bigger, Biggest!" penises.
A security flaw at a website operated by the purveyors of penis-enlargement pills has provided the world with a depressing answer to the question: Who in their right mind would buy something from a spammer?

An order log left exposed at one of Amazing Internet Products' websites revealed that, over a four-week period, some 6,000 people responded to e-mail ads and placed orders for the company's Pinacle herbal supplement. Most customers ordered two bottles of the pills at a price of $50 per bottle.

Do the math and you begin to understand why spammers are willing to put up with the wrath of spam recipients, Internet service providers and federal regulators.

Since July 4, Amazing Internet Products would have grossed more than half a million dollars from, one of several sites operated by the company to hawk its penis pills.

Among the people who responded in July to Amazing's spam, which bore the subject line, "Make your penis HUGE," was the manager of a $6 billion mutual fund, who ordered two bottles of Pinacle to be shipped to his Park Avenue office in New York City. A restaurateur in Boulder, Colorado, requested four bottles. The president of a California firm that sells airplane parts and is active in the local Rotary Club gave out his American Express card number to pay for six bottles, or $300 worth, of Pinacle. The coach of an elementary school lacrosse club in Pennsylvania ordered four bottles of the pills.

Other customers included the head of a credit-repair firm, a chiropractor, a veterinarian, a landscaper and several people from the military. Numerous women also were evidently among Amazing Internet's customers.

All were evidently undaunted by the fact that Amazing's order site contained no phone number, mailing address or e-mail address for contacting the company. Nor were they seemingly concerned that their order data, including their credit card info, addresses and phone numbers, were transmitted to the site without the encryption used by most legitimate online stores.

"There was a picture on the top of the page that said, 'As Seen on TV,' and I guess that made me think it was legit," said a San Diego salesman who ordered two bottles of Pinacle in early July. The man, who asked not to be named, said he has yet to receive his pills, despite the site's promise to fill the order in five days. (Brian McWilliams, "Swollen Orders Show Spam's Allure," Wired, August 6, 2003)
So, when you get annoyed with spam, you know whom to blame!

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Live from Iraq

Iraqi Support for the Occupation: 2%

Sadr's Subtle Defiance of "Demonstration Elections"

The January 30, 2005 elections in Iraq are the textbook definition of "demonstration elections":
Elections have been used by the United States as an instrument of management in Third World client states since the turn of the century. The functions which they have served, however, have changed in accordance with the shifting demands placed upon the managers. The aim in holding such elections has always been to ensure "stability". In the first half of this century the threat to stability came almost exclusively from within the client states, which were subject to internal turmoil and thus threatened with a loss of "independence." In recent decades, serious challenges have arisen from within the United States itself. It is this shift in functional need that has led to the emergence of elections oriented to influencing the home (U.S.) population, which we designate "demonstration elections." (Edward S. Herman and Frank Brodhead, Demonstration Elections: US-staged Elections in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and El Salvador, South End Press, 1984, p. 1)
As Edward S. Herman ("The Afghan, El Salvador, and Iraq Elections: U.S. Managed Elections, with the Threat of Violence, Are Called 'Democratic,'" Z Magazine, December 2004) and Frank Brodhead ("Reframing the Iraq Election," ZNet, January 21, 2005) note in their respective commentaries on the Iraqi elections, cooperation of the corporate media in the United States is the key to successful "demonstration elections" -- cooperation that Washington can take for granted.

In concrete terms, what is the corporate media's role in "demonstration elections"?
The patriotic media's role is to include in its reporting certain information or visuals while excluding others. For example, off the media agenda are discussions of the right of government opponents to campaign (without being killed); the absence of large-scale financing of favored candidates by foreign governments or patrons; the presence of meaningful freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly; the ability of voters to cast their ballots freely and safely without intimidation by domestic or foreign military forces or "death squads"; the existence of a truly secret ballot; an honest counting of the ballots; and the assurance that the person who gets the most votes will win the election. On the agenda for a patriotic mass media are primarily election-day items: a large turnout (indicating voter support for the election itself and thus identifying the election with "democracy"); statements by political leaders and "ordinary people" that they are voting because they want freedom; and ineffective opposition to the election, perhaps even military attacks, by opponents of the government. (In an election that the United States opposes, such as the Nicaragua election in 1984, the media's priorities are reversed: on the agenda is the question of the pre-requisites of democracy; meaningless and thus off the agenda are the election-day events, the long lines of voters, etc.) (Brodhead, January 21, 2005)
The way the front page New York Times article by Dexter Filkins reports on the Moktada al-Sadr faction's subtle defiance of "demonstration elections" is an example of the corporate media doing its job: "Shiite Faction Ready to Shun Sunday's Election in Iraq" (January 29, 2005). Clerics allied with Sadr such as Nasir al-Saedy, as well as Sadr himself, "uttered not a single word about the vote" at Friday Prayers, according to Filkins (January 29, 2005).

You might think that's praiseworthy conduct, showing proper regard for the separation of church and state, in contrast to the action of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who issued "a fatwa saying all Shiia men and women have an obligation to vote in the upcoming election" (emphasis added, Jim Garamone/American Forces Press Service, "No Question on Jan. 30 Iraqi Elections, Official Says," January 4, 2005). The Sadr faction did not urge slum dwellers, among whom they are popular, to vote for the list that they favor, nor did they exhort them to boycott or sabotage the elections. Isn't clerical reticence appropriate?

Not so, in the opinion of the New York Times:
Sheik Saedy is an acolyte of Moktada al-Sadr, the rebel Shiite cleric, and his Friday sermon seemed to settle for good the question of Mr. Sadr's place in the country's new democratic order.

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

Until now, Iraq's mainstream Shiite leaders, who have been trying to coax Mr. Sadr and his vast following into the democratic process, had been hoping that he would finally tell his followers to give up their rebellion and turn to the ballot box.

His silence, and that of his supporters like Sheik Saedy, signals that he had decided to hedge his bets against the election. He wants the benefits of being part of the democratic process, while publicly denouncing it for the followers who do not subscribe to it. (Filkins, January 29, 2005)
The purpose of the Iraqi elections is to demonstrate that Iraqis are "willing to identify 'democracy' with the political process created by the United States" (Brodhead, January 21, 2005). Therefore, the corporate media, observing the protocol of "demonstration elections," industriously try to create an impression that the Sadr faction are against democracy itself, solely by virtue of their quiet refusal to browbeat their "vast following" (Filkins, January 29, 2005) into believing that the US-staged "demonstration elections" are free, fair, and democratic ones in which it is their religious duty to participate (you know that the corporate media would bathe the Sadr faction in a halo if only they embraced the "demonstration elections"). After all, the only "democratic process" mentionable in the New York Times is one designated by Washington as such. Besides, the Sadr faction's silent disobedience is likely to affect the all-important turnout: "it foreshadowed a less than overwhelming voter turnout in many parts of Iraq" (Filkins, January 29, 2005).

Needless to say, the idea that it is people's right to evaluate whether or not an election is free, fair, and democratic and that boycotting an unfree, unfair, and undemocratic election is a time-honored tactic of democrats everywhere is unspeakable in the corporate media.

Provoking Iran

After Seymour M. Hersh's revelation that "[t]he [George W. Bush] Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer" (Seymour M. Hersh, "The Coming Wars: What the Pentagon Can Now Do in Secret," The New Yorker, January 24, 2005), more frightening news. Two newspapers on the left and right ends of the political mainstream report that the US Air Force is flying its combat planes into Iran's airspace, "templating" Iran's air defense positions, and daring Teheran to shoot US planes down -- an act that simultaneously prepares for the next war, serves as a provocation, seeks to create a pretext for war (if the planes are shot down), and (if nothing else) escalates its ongoing psychological warfare against Teheran:
  • The U.S. Air Force is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Iran's ayatollahs, flying American combat aircraft into Iranian airspace in an attempt to lure Tehran into turning on air defense radars, thus allowing U.S. pilots to grid the system for use in future targeting data, administration officials said.

    "We have to know which targets to attack and how to attack them," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    The flights, which have been going on for weeks, are being launched from sites in Afghanistan and Iraq and are part of Bush administration attempts [to] collect badly needed intelligence on Iran's possible nuclear weapons development sites, these sources said, speaking on condition of strict anonymity.

    "These Iranian air defense positions are not just being observed, they're being 'templated,'" an administration official said, explaining that the flights are part of a U.S. effort to develop "an electronic order of battle for Iran" in case of actual conflict.

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

    A serving U.S. intelligence official added: "You need to know what proportion of your initial air strikes are going to have to be devoted to air defense suppression."

    A CentCom official told United Press International that in the event of a real military strikes, U.S. military forces would be using jamming, deception, and physical attack of Iran's sensors and its Command, Control and Intelligence (C3 systems).

    He also made clear that that this entails "advance, detailed knowledge of the enemy's electronic order of battle and careful preplanning."

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

    The air reconnaissance is taking place in conjunction with other intelligence collection efforts, U.S. government officials said.

    To collect badly needed intelligence on the ground about Iran's alleged nuclear program, the United States is depending heavily on Israeli-trained teams of Kurds in northern Iraq and on U.S.-trained teams of former Iranian exiles in the south to gather the intelligence needed for possible strikes against Iran's 13 or more suspected nuclear sites, according to serving and retired U.S. intelligence officials.

    Both groups are doing cross border incursions into Iran, some in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, these sources said.

    They claimed the Kurds operating from Kurdistan, in areas they control. The second group, working from the south, is the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, listed by the State Department as a terrorist group, operating from southern Iraq, these sources said.

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

    After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, U.S. forces seized and destroyed MEK munitions and weapons, and about 4,000 MEK operatives were "consolidated, detained, disarmed, and screened for any past terrorist acts, the report said.

    Shortly afterwards, the Bush administration began to use them in its covert operations against Iran, former senior U.S. intelligence officials said.

    "They've been active in the south for some time," said former CIA counterterrorism chief, Vince Cannistraro.

    The MEK are said to be currently launching raids from Camp Habib in Basra, but recently Pakistan President Pervez Musharaff granted permission for the MEK to operate from Pakistan's Baluchi area, U.S. officials said.

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

    A former senior Iranian diplomat told United Press International that the Kurds in the Baluchi areas of Pakistan can operate in freedom because the Baluchis "have no love for the mullahs of Iran."

    In fact, in the early 1980s, there were massacres of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the area by Baluchi militants who wish to be independent, he said.

    Both covert groups are tasked by the Bush administration with planting sensors or "sniffers" close to suspected Iran nuclear weapons development sites that will enable the Bush administration to monitor the progress on the program and develop targeting data, these sources said.

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

    "This looks to be turning into a pretty large-scale covert operation," a former long-time CIA operator in the region told UPI. In addition to the air strikes on allegedly Iranian nuclear weapons sites, the second aim of the operation is to secure the support in Iran of those "who view U.S. policy of hostility towards Iran's clerics with favor," he said.

    The United States is also attempting to erect a covert infrastructure in Iran able to support U.S. efforts, this source said. It consists of Israelis and other U.S. assets, using third country passports, who have created a network of front companies that they own and staff. "It's a covert infrastructure for material support," a U.S. administration official said.

    The network would be able to move money, weapons and personnel around inside Iran, he said. The covert infrastructure could also provide safe houses and the like, he said.

    Cannistraro, who knew of the program, said: "I doubt the quality of these kinds or programs," explaining the United States had set up a similar network just before the hostage-rescue attempt in 1980. "People forget that the Iranians quickly rolled up that entire network after the rescue attempt failed," Cannistraro said. (Richard Sale/UPI, "Cat and Mouse Game over Iran," Washington Times, January 26, 2005)

  • The US is increasing the pressure on Iran by sending military planes into its airspace to test the country's defences and spot potential targets, according to an intelligence source in Washington.

    The overflights have been reported in the Iranian press and the head of Iran's air force, Brigadier General Karim Qavami, declared recently that he had ordered his anti-aircraft batteries to shoot down any intruders, but there have been no reports of any Iranian missiles being launched.

    "The idea is to get the Iranians to turn on their radar, to get an assessment of their air defences," an intelligence source in Washington said. He said the flights were part of the Pentagon's contingency planning for a possible attack on sites linked to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme.

    "It make sense to get a look at their air defences, and it makes the mullahs nervous during the EU negotiations [over the suspension of Iranian uranium enrichment]," said John Pike, the head of, an independent military research group.

    The flights come after reports of American special forces incursions into Iran. However, former US intelligence officials have said they believe the incursions are being carried out by Iranian rebels drawn from the anti-Tehran rebel group, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, under US supervision. (Julian Borger, "US Jets 'Flying over Iran to Spot Potential Targets,'" The Guardian, January 29, 2005)
I hope that Teheran will keep its cool and forbear replying to the provocation. Washington lacks ground troops to conduct a full-fledged invasion, and as Cannistraro suspects, its attempt to create "a covert infrastructure in Iran able to support U.S. efforts" (Sale, January 26, 2005) will come to naught.

Washington can very well launch air strikes against Iran, though, and US activists must be prepared to come out into the streets.

The Original Homeland Security

Lakota Warriors 1898

Nez Perce Warriors

Friday, January 28, 2005

Hoping for a "Proper Election" for a "Proper Civil War"

Elections in Iraq will be held on January 30, 2005. That the elections are nothing but yet another faith-based initiative of the George W. Bush Administration should be obvious to all thinking persons.

The Bush Team's bad faith is a faith in the chance of having "a proper election in Iraq so we can have a proper civil war there" (Thomas L. Friedman, "Let Iraq Have the Right Kind of Civil War," New York Times/International Herald Tribune, January 7, 2005). Why does Washington need "a proper election" for "a proper civil war"? Because "[w]e don't want the kind of civil war that we have in Iraq now. That is a war of Sunni and Islamist militants against the United States and its Iraqi allies, many of whom do not seem comfortable fighting with, and seemingly for, the United States. America cannot win that war" (Friedman, January 7, 2005). If all goes well for Washington, it can present itself as the selfless protector of a democratically elected Iraqi government, heroically defending it from evil Ba'athist and Islamist rebels, or so the thinking goes.

The problem for Washington is that few Iraqis believe that the elections can be democratic. Khalid Jarrar, a young Iraqi man who lives in Baghdad, speaks for many:
Are you into theatre?

Cause you are all about to witness one of the biggest and most expensive ones in the history: The Elections in Iraq.

If you're asking me (and I am sure you are, since you took the effort of remembering my URL and actually came here, again!), I think that the elections are nothing but an American game to give some kind of legitimacy to their presence in Iraq, by creating a government that supposedly is a legal Iraqi government, that is authorized "legally" to ask them to stay in Iraq, and will justify then, the much harsher attacks against anyone that resists their presence, the excuse will then be that: The elected Iraqi government asked us to do so and so.

Well, the same thing is happening now, but since the Americans are getting more and more embarrassed everyday for the shameful results of their occupation, what's better than giving Iraqis the "democracy" and "freedom "to the point that they themselves can ask the Americans to stay?

Very funny ha? Haha? Well I don’t think so. (Tell Me a Secret, January 27, 2005)
In the face of all skeptics, however, Gilbert Achcar claims that "it has been clear until now that the most fruitful strategy in opposing the occupation is the one led by Sistani, and that attempts at derailing the elections and de-legitimizing them in advance can only play into the hands of the US occupation" ("On the Forthcoming Election in Iraq," ZNet, January 3, 2005). Achcar's claim is especially odd, given that one of the potential post-election outcomes, in his own opinion, is a civil war on both ethnic and sectarian lines:
One scenario, which has been greatly facilitated by the behavior of the occupying forces, is the one that many neocons came to favor after the collapse of their illusions about securing control of Iraq "democratically": a de facto, if not de jure, carving up of the country along sectarian lines (Israel's favored scenario from the beginning).

In order to retain control of the land, Washington could very well resort to the well-tried imperial recipe of divide and rule, taking the risk of setting Iraq on the devastating fire of a civil war -- both sectarian (Shia v. Sunni) and ethnic (Arab v. Kurd). (January 3, 2005 )
Achcar asserts that "[a] central item in the program of the coalition [that is likely to receive most votes, the "Unified Iraqi Coalition"] . . . is to negotiate with the occupation authorities a date for the withdrawal of their troops from the country" (January 3, 2005), but it is not in the interest of the Shiite clerics and notables leading the coalition to demand the withdrawal of foreign troops unless and until Washington has bestowed upon them well-armed and well-trained Iraqi soldiers who can protect them from actual and potential guerrillas. Besides, if they were to call for the withdrawal, they would have to fear for their lives, for that would make them enemies of Washington. Even before the elections, they have already retreated from the allegedly "central item":
Politicians from the two leading tickets in Sunday's Iraqi elections backed away Tuesday from earlier campaign promises to set a deadline for the withdrawal of American forces.

The decision not to set a deadline underscores concerns that Iraqi troops are nowhere near ready to police their violence-wracked country and removes one possible point of friction between the new government and the Bush administration.

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

Both interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who heads a secular slate, and his chief rival, the Shiite Muslim-based United Iraqi Alliance, are calling for a gradual transfer of responsibilities from U.S. troops to Iraqis. The switch coincides with a U.S. military report that some 120,000 American troops would remain in Iraq through 2006.

"I will not set final dates (for troop withdrawal) because dates now would be both reckless and dangerous," Allawi told journalists at the heavily protected Baghdad Convention Center.

The change is especially significant for the United Iraqi Alliance, favored by many to dominate the balloting. Until this week, its campaign materials listed its No. 2 promise as "setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq."

But the alliance rewrote its campaign materials this week, revising its platform. The second item now reads: "The Iraq we want is capable of protecting its borders and security without depending on foreign forces."

The alliance, led by a prominent Shiite cleric and tacitly endorsed by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's highest-ranking cleric, is expected to garner millions of votes.

With only five days remaining before Iraqi voters choose a national assembly, the decision by leading candidates to forsake any plan to press the United States troops to leave means the next government will face the same conundrum that plagues current leaders: Iraqi troops can't fight a sophisticated insurgency without the help of U.S. forces, but the United States' presence only fuels the insurgency.

Iraqi transitional laws authorize U.S. forces to remain in Iraq until full democratic elections at the end of this year. Though a clause states that an earlier withdrawal could occur at the request of the Iraqi government, that scenario is improbable, given the widespread instability of the country.

Sheik Homam Hamoodi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Iran-backed driving force of the United Iraqi Alliance, said the change came with the realization that Iraqi troops weren't ready to take charge -- and probably wouldn't be for years to come.

"The item on the first platform called for a set time for U.S. forces to leave Iraq, without taking into consideration the urgent circumstances," Hamoodi said. "The addition calls for an environment when Iraqis will be able to protect themselves and, when we reach that point, there will be no reason for U.S. forces to stay in Iraq."

Amer Hassan Fayadh, a political science professor at Baghdad University, said the changes probably came about as a result of American pressure on candidates and increasingly sophisticated insurgent attacks that revealed how unprepared Iraqi security forces are to respond.

"The promise of putting U.S. troops on a timetable is not out of sincerity, it's only for campaigning. These major lists know their existence is linked to the presence of the troops," Fayadh said. "Whenever the security situation gets worse, the issue of troops departing becomes less of a priority in their platforms." (Hannah Allam/Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, "Top Iraqi Candidates Won't Press for Withdrawal of U.S. Troops," January 25, 2005)
In short, nothing fundamental will change after the elections, just as nothing fundamental changed after the "handover" of "sovereignty" on June 30, 2004. Despite the Bush Team's faith, there won't be "a proper civil war" either -- just an old-fashioned anti-colonial struggle against Washington.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Balata Film Collective: "Elections under Occupation" and "Elections Furore"

The Balata Film Collective made two films about the Palestinian elections available online (for Windows Media Player): "Elections under Occupation" (January 6, 2005) and "Elections Furore" (January 11, 2005). The MPG versions will be "coming soon."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Mahmoud Abbas's "Mandate": 28%

Peter Lagerquist reports that only 28% of eligible Palestinian voters voted for Mahmoud Abbas:
According to data from the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, 775,146 ballots were cast on January 9, meaning that the real proportion of eligible voters who voted was 46 percent.

That lower turnout figure means that Mahmoud Abbas -- with 62 percent of the votes actually cast -- won over about 28 percent of eligible Palestinian voters. (emphasis added, "A Very Slippery 'Landslide' for Mahmoud Abbas," Middle East Report Online, January 20, 2005)
In other words, Abbas's "mandate" is in the same league as that of George W. Bush, who just began "his second term with the lowest approval rating of any returning president except Richard Nixon" (Steve Holland/Reuters, "Bush Sworn In for New Term," January 20, 2005 ).

Abbas does enjoy the unanimous support of the power elites of the Palestinian Authority, Israel, and the United States, who all have much to gain from "endless negotiations":
If for PA leaders a bad agreement is hazardous because it exposes them to charges of selling out, so is stagnation, which would indicate inaction and failure. Therefore the ideal situation is a "peace process" which is all process and no peace, all promise but no fulfillment, fueled by aid money from the European Union and the United States. This allows the leaders to buy time and exercise the luxury of authority without any specific responsibility.

For this reason, the PA and the Fatah movement that dominates it rallied around Abbas, ganged up to discourage and intimidate any competition, and mobilized all their forces to protect their monopoly. With great political skill they succeeded in winning broad international support for their candidate by demonstrating their preparedness to end the Intifada and rid Israel of its most serious problem: Palestinian resistance to its ongoing aggression and occupation. These leaders seem prepared now, as they were at Oslo in 1993, to say and do whatever it takes to secure their position at the top.

Hence the Intifada is a problem not only for Israel but also for the PA. If the ideal situation for the PA is an open-ended peace process, it also needs to be one conducted without the bothersome fact of Palestinian resistance throwing it "off track."

What the Israelis and the PA have in common is that they see no urgency for a final settlement. The Israelis want time to complete the colonization of the West Bank, especially the huge tracts recently grabbed through construction of the apartheid wall. Israel wants no discussion of such final status issues as Jerusalem or refugees as long as there exists any slight chance that such issues might not be settled their way.

So the convenient alternative for both parties is the status quo accompanied by endless negotiations. The big difference of course is that while Israel is deferring to consolidate its gains, the PA is deferring to satisfy its desire for power. The people are left to fend for themselves. (Hasan Abu Nimah & Ali Abunimah, "Mass Hypnosis in the Middle East," The Electronic Intifada, January 19, 2005)
Given the low level of mass support for him, I don't know if Abbas can really end the Intifada, but if he does, the Palestinian people may not be able to survive another round of land grab perpetrated through "a 'peace process' which is all process and no peace" (January 19, 2005).

How much land was taken away from Palestinians during the last "peace process"?
The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians did not lead to the dismantling of even one settlement. . . .

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

Overall, contrary to the expectations raised by the Oslo Process, the Israeli governments have implemented a policy leading to the dramatic growth of the settlements. Between September 1993, on the signing of the Declaration of Principles, and September 2001 (the time of the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada), the number of housing units in the settlements in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip rose from 20,400 to 31,400 -- an increase of approximately fifty-four percent in just seven years. The sharpest increase during this period was recorded in 2000, under the government headed by Ehud Barak, when the construction of almost 4,800 new housing units was commenced. At the end of 1993, the population of the West Bank settlements (excluding East Jerusalem) totaled 100,500. By the end of 2000, this figure increased to 191,600, representing a growth rate of some ninety percent. (B'Tselem, "Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank," May 2002, pp. 8, 16-17)
The total area under the control of the settlements eventually came to 41.9% of the West Bank ("Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank," May 2002, p. 116, Table 9). Therefore, it won't be surprising if Palestinians will have lost almost all of the West Bank by the end of the next "peace process."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

When Cops Are More Unionized Than Almost All Other Workers. . . .

What would send all the dead trade unionists spinning in their graves? The fact that cops are more unionized than almost all other groups of workers in the United States today.

Worse, from 1983 to 2002, workers in "protective service occupations" including police officers "had the highest union membership rate of any broad occupation group in every year" (emphasis added, Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Union Members in 2002," February 25, 2003). The unionization rate of "protective service workers" was 37.0% in 2002 (February 25, 2003).

In 2003, workers in "education, training, and library occupations (37.7 percent)" managed to -- barely -- top "protective service workers (36.1 percent)" in the rate of unionization (Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Union Members in 2003," January 21, 2004), but all other groups of workers were still out-organized by cops. For instance, "[n]atural resources, construction, and maintenance workers and production, transportation, and material moving occupations also had higher-than-average union membership rates at 19.2 percent and 18.7 percent, respectively. Among the major occupational groups, sales and office occupations had the lowest unionization rate -- 8.2 percent" (January 21, 2004). The least unionized group in 2003, with the union membership rate of a mere 3.5%, were "farming, fishing, and forestry occupations" (January 21, 2004).

Some may ask, "What's wrong with that? Aren't cops workers, too?" Yes, police officers do work for wages, but the main function of the police under capitalism was and still is to police people for the free market. David Montgomery writes in Citizen Worker: The Experience of Workers in the United States with Democracy and the Free Market during the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 1993): "The United States had opened the franchise to propertyless white males in the northern states between the 1790s and the 1840s, and to black males in the southern states in the 1860s (Montgomery, p. 3), but "the more that active participation in government was opened to the propertyless strata of society, the less capacity elected officials seemed to have to shape the basic contours of social life. Ray Gunn has written of the state of New York that by the 1840s 'the economy was effectively insulated from democratic control'" (footnotes omitted, Montgomery, p. 2). How did the ruling class manage to insulate the economy from democracy? In part by privatizing administration of poor relief and by employing "the coercive power of the police, armed forces, and the judiciary" against workers (Montgomery, p. 2).

The ruling class first made an increasing number of people poor and homeless and then criminalized being poor and homeless as well as being drunk in public -- i.e., they created the charges to which only the working class could be subjected:
[P]olice action against the disorderly and the destitute had long historic roots. During the eighteenth century city authorities had often rounded up people without legal settlement and expelled them before winter set in, in order to keep down the poor rolls. At the turn of the century vagrants were often brought before the magistrates for incarceration by the night watch or by city residents exercising their right to prosecute. . . . By the 1820s, however, the numbers of homeless poor in major cities had reached crisis proportions, and incarceration had replaced expulsion as the favored remedy. In 1822 New York's judges sentenced 450 boys and girls to prison for having no homes -- usually for six months. Philadelphia's magistrates sentenced 1,210 separate individuals in 1826. Priscilla Ferguson Clement has calculated that more "wandering poor" were imprisoned that year in proportion to Philadelphia's population than in any other year of the nineteenth century. Almost half those locked up in the 1820s had been women, and almost half were black. . . .

The notorious charge, "drunk and disorderly," scourge of the early twentieth-century worker, had made its debut by the 1830s. In addition to the alderman's power to sentence an intoxicated person to twenty-four hours in jail and a fine roughly equal to two days of a laborer's pay, disorderly drinker who could not post $100 to $200 bond to keep the peace could be sentenced to an indefinite incarceration. . . . Disorderly vagrants were confined an average of twenty-two days in 1854. Twenty-one percent of all arrests in Philadelphia in 1856 were on the drunk and disorderly charge, as 29 percent of all arrests in New York had been in 1848, when 4,241 persons had been so imprisoned in only three months.

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

Three-fourths of the people arrested by the police in the routine course of their work . . . were charged with some kind of disorderly conduct. . . . Incarceration of disorderly, homeless, and begging men and women was encouraged by developers of prestigious housing and shopping areas, who wished to insulate patrons from disturbance; by store owners, who also summoned city authorities to suppress the competition, cries, and horns of street venders; and by moral reformers seeking to remove prostitutes and transvestites from the streets (in a words, to cleanse "the market" of its medieval attributes). The guiding force behind the quest for more orderly urban life in New York, however, was the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (AICP). . . .

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

During the 1850s the AICP . . . appeared before courts to urge appropriate incarceration for destitute individuals. Its agents and those of affiliated charities hired out orphans and other pauper children . . . to private employers, sent them to the West, prevented parents from reclaiming institutionalized children, and during the Civil War enrolled boys in their care into the army and kept half the enlistment bounty. (footnotes omitted, Montgomery, pp. 63-4, 68, 77)
See how criminalization of the poor and privatization of poor relief went hand in hand in the nineteenth century?

Today, in addition to drunk and disorderly charges, the ruling class have the "war on drugs" as a weapon against the working class, and the police are given direct financial incentives to keep it going:
Consider again the numbers: in the last twenty years the Justice Department's budget grew by 900 percent; over 60 percent of all prisoners are in for non-violent drug crimes; an estimated one-in-three black men between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine are under some type of criminal justice control or sought on a warrant; nationwide some 6.5 million people are in prison, on parole or probation.

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

[T]he buildup really took off with the Federal Crime Bill of 1984. This created the assets forfeiture laws enabling police to keep as much as 90 percent of all the "drug tainted" property they could seize. Nationwide, the total amount of all seizures grew from about $100 million in 1981 to over $1 billion by fiscal year 1987. Thus did the feds entice local police into their plans for total war at home. The next congressional election brought another massive crime bill. Only eighteen lawmakers voted against the catch-all Anti-Drug-Abuse Act of 1986, which imposed twenty-nine new mandatory minimum sentences, among them the notoriously racist disparity in the penalties for crack and for powder cocaine. This bill also shifted official rhetoric from hunting "king pins" to rounding up "users."

The escalating repression hit people of color hardest, and black people hardest of all. In 1980, African Americans made up 12 percent of the nation's population and over 23 percent of all those arrested on drug charges. Ten years later, African Americans were still 12 percent of the total population, but made up more than 40 percent of all people busted for narcotics. Still more remarkable, over 60 percent of all narcotics convictions were (and are) for African Americans. Overall, drug arrests almost doubled in the late eighties: 1985 saw roughly eight hundred thousand people taken down on drug charges; by 1989 that number had shot up to almost 1.4 million. (Christian Parenti, "The 'New' Criminal Justice System: State Repression from 1968 to 2001," Monthly Review 53.3, July/August 2001)
It is in this context that higher rates of unionization of "protective service workers" than those of other groups of workers become a problem, for rates of unionization correspond to degrees of political power. Take the California Correctional Peace Officers Association for example. "CCPOA political activity exceeds that of other labor unions. It outspent CTA [California Teachers' Association] in the 1998 and 2000 election cycles with only a tenth of the membership. CCPOA contributions go to both Democrats and Republicans and reach all three branches of government -- Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The CCPOA spends on bread and butter issues as well as on tougher crime legislation" (emphasis added, "Political Power of the CCPOA"). Union men and women as they may be, their political action is at odds with working-class interests. Therefore, a labor movement in which "protective service workers" are better organized than almost all other workers has a big political problem on its hands.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Sunday, January 23, 2005

JCS Conplan 0300-97: "Special-mission Units in Extra-legal Missions to Combat Terrorism in the United States"

Remember George W. Bush's Freudian slip: "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we" ("President Signs Defense Bill: Remarks by the President at the Signing of H.R. 4613, the Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2005," August 5, 2004)? The slip succinctly summarizes the modus operandi of not just the Bush Administration but also the National Security State in charge of protecting the American ruling class from all, including citizens of the United States.

Notwithstanding the Posse Comitatus Act, the American ruling class have always had the power of the US military -- not just state militias but also federal troops -- at their disposal and frequently used it for domestic repression, crushing workers' strikes and uprisings: "Although the rate of [internal military] intervention has varied from year to year and the targets of interventions have shifted from industrial workers to urban rioters, the overall rates of intervention have remained near the average during the years [1886-95, 1921-35, and 1943-90]: about 18 interventions and 12,000 troops per year" (emphasis added, David Adams, "Internal Military Interventions in the United States," Journal of Peace Research 32.2, 1995).

Given the history of internal military interventions against rebellious American workers, JCS CONPLAN 0300-97 revealed by William M. Arkin is especially chilling:
JCS CONPLAN 0300-97, Counter-Terrorism Special Operations Support to Civil Agencies in the event of a domestic incident (entire title classified), 14 January 1997, Top Secret
Special Category (SPECAT) plan for the use of special mission units (Joint Special Operations Command) in extra-legal missions to combat terrorism in the United States based on Top Secret JSCP tasking, managed by the J3 SOD (Special Operations Detachment) of the Joint Staff and coordinated with SOCOM and NORTHCOM. Likely updated in 2002.
("National Security Contingency Plans of the U.S. Government: Supplement to Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World," January 2005, p. 20)
Note the word "extra-legal."

Then, read "A Summary of Information Revealed for the First Time" in Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World.
Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World
You will get a glimpse of what it means to "never stop thinking about new ways to harm" the American people as well as foreigners.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Seattle Central Community College: A Crucible of Organic Intellectuals?

Among countless counter-inaugural actions held nationwide on January 20, 2005, the feistiest one took place in Seattle. Look at the photograph of Seattle Central Community College students forcing Army recruiters off campus:
Seattle Central Counter-Recruitment
Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Due, right, a U.S. Army recruiter, is surrounded by protesters at Seattle Central Community College, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005, in Seattle. After about a 10-minute standoff during which protesters tore up U.S Army literature, the protesters were successful in getting Due and another recruiter to leave their table under escort by campus security officers. Several hundred students walked out of classes at several Seattle colleges and universities to protest the inauguration of President Bush. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Naturally, no national media carried the photograph except Yahoo! News.

What makes this action especially promising? The class and race of the students who organized it. According to Andrew Goldstein's profile of Seattle Central students, "everyone at Seattle Central lives off campus, and 80% hold full-time or part-time jobs" (emphasis added, "Seattle Central," Time, 2001) -- normally a condition that makes it difficult for students to organize themselves, for the simple reason that such students have less time to socialize together, to cultivate peer-to-peer networks, and to develop social and political bonds that unite them than rich students at prestigious institutions do. But Seattle Central students showed that they could organize despite their material disadvantage.

Let's take a closer look at the Seattle Central student and faculty demographic as well as the Seattle Central campus's social-geographic location:
[W]ith 52% from minority groups, Seattle Central is one of the most diverse colleges in the U.S. And the diversity goes beyond race: 26% of the students are age 35 or older, 25% are immigrants, and about 65% are the first in their family to go to college. It helps that Seattle Central is situated at the meeting point of Seattle's historically black Central district, the mostly Asian International district and the mostly white business district. But just as important are the nearly 200 scholarships the school gives each year -- thanks to alums who are far more loyal than most community-college grads. Seattle Central also boasts a faculty that's 28% minority, nearly three times the national average. (emphasis added, Goldstein, 2001)
Sounds like an ideal crucible for forging organic intellectuals of the multiracial American working class, breaking racial boundaries and bridging generation gaps!

Robert J.S. Ross compared the class backgrounds of student activists for Students for a Democratic Society in the sixties and United Students Against Sweatshops in the nineties:
For white civil rights and antiwar students, and the New Left of SDS and other groups, the earliest movement participants came disproportionately from upper middle class homes.9,10 Eventually however, by 1967, the movement and SDS membership spread among students of working class and lower white-collar families. Institutionally, the movement began at exclusive or elite private colleges, for example, Swarthmore and Harvard, but also at the cosmopolitan public institutions with long histories of radical colonies -- like Berkeley, Wisconsin and Michigan.

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

. . . One study of anti sweatshop activists finds that they are twice as likely to come from high income households as are the universe of college freshman; much less likely to come from lower income households; and roughly similar in the middle of the income distribution. (emphasis added, Elliot and Freeman 2000) There are interesting differences in the dynamics of class and region between the new movement and the old.

The old New Left witnessed a progression from larger and/or more selective elite institutions, outward to more broad-based institutions. From Michigan, Swarthmore, and Harvard early on, for example, chapters later developed at places like Indiana, St. Cloud State, and Roosevelt University in Chicago. This process took five years and was speeded up after SDS was discovered by the national press around the time of the (first) March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam, in April 1965. By the late Sixties community colleges had chapters of SDS or other New left groups.

The current pattern of outward diffusion has some, but highly compressed similarity to the Sixties.11 From 1999–2000 there was marked "outward" movement from more to less elite campuses. The first wave of sit-ins, in 1999, was at relatively "elite" or flagship state universities. In this regard, looking for initiating movement groups among young adults with higher income and/or educational family backgrounds is similar in both generations.

However, history is moving at warp speed. Despite the fact that the early and strongest presence of USAS was, as with SDS, at the most cosmopolitan institutions, outward motion is very rapid in comparison to SDS. During the next spring, 2000, sit-ins were much more representative of the national student body. (See Table 3) The speed with which chapter construction is moving to non-elite places -- and growing -- is faster than SDS before the War in Vietnam. It compares to the Southern students' civil rights movement, which spread the sit-ins and lunch counter boycotts around the south within weeks, and created SNCC within three months of the first sit-in. It also compares to the tremendous growth of SDS after the March on Washington of April 1965. (For material on SDS chapter growth, see Sale 1973)

Already, by the fall of 1999 campuses in Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia were involved and active. There were contacts at South Carolina, and a few community colleges. Acting in response to local demonstrations, or fear of them, or even a desire to do the right thing, 122 universities had joined the Fair Labor Association by June of 1999, 150 by Spring of 2000. Then when USAS initiated WRC [Workers' Rights Consortium], and campaigned against the FLA, membership increase slowed drastically. There are 178 college and university members of the Fair Labor Association (as of March 2003), a growth of only 28 in two years. In the meantime the WRC membership is now one hundred twelve, having grown by 25/year in the same period.

To summarize the demographic picture on the basis of nonsystematic data, it appears the structure of membership and the geography of institutional diffusion is similar to the Sixties, but democratization is more rapid. (emphasis added, "From Antisweatshop to Global Justice to Antiwar: How the New New Left Is the Same and Different from the Old New Left," Journal of World Systems Research 10.1, Winter 2004)
A quicker pace of democratization than in the sixties is in keeping with expansion of tertiary education since then, which has made the majority of college students decidedly working-class. Can a new phase of student activism -- after the 2004 elections dissolved much of the anti-war movement that began on September 11, 2001 and absorbed many activists into various components of the Democratic Party's electoral mobilization machine -- break the pattern of diffusion in student activism from elite to non-elite institutions, making Seattle Central students and others like them (rather than usual suspects at schools like Harvard, Berkeley, and Michigan) new national leaders who assert a working-class perspective in opposition to not only the Iraq War but also the power elite's attacks on workers at home?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

"Bush Dances While Mothers Mourn"

Today, George W. Bush is revelling in the most expensive inauguration in the history of the United States, with "a price tag of up to $50 million" (Paul Harri, "Bush 'the King' Blows $50m on Coronation," The Observer, January 9, 2005).

Who is footing the bill? Naturally, who's who of Corporate America, according to the Presidential Inaugural Committee's "Major Donor Information" -- especially the companies that "have big issues on the boil in Washington, ranging from whether a portion of Social Security retirement contributions are privatized to renewed efforts to pass an energy bill that may open new areas to oil exploration":
Many givers also saw their executives and employees contributing to the Bush re-election campaign, and say this spending is as normal as voting in a democracy. While laws govern what individuals can give to a campaign, there are no limits on inaugural gifts from individuals or corporations, other than those imposed by the Presidential Inaugural Committee itself.

"Political participation by companies and associations in the U.S. is a normal course of business," said Lauren Kerr, media advisor at Exxon Mobil Corp., when asked why the company had given $250,000 -- the top amount the committee accepts.

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

"It does give us an opportunity to interact with those that are in the government, those that are in the administration, those that are in the Congress, and those that are in the judiciary, and policymakers that are involved with the process in Washington," said Mike Moran, a spokesman for Ford Motor Co., another $250,000 donor.

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

Energy companies such as ExxonMobil are watching the energy bill that stalled in the previous Congress; Republicans say they will make it a priority again in the new session. Other energy companies who gave $250,000 to the inauguration include ChevronTexaco and Occidental Petroleum.

The financial services industry, a likely beneficiary of private social security accounts, is also represented. Goldman Sachs Group, J.P. Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley all gave $100,000.

Automakers like Ford are affected by a vast array of regulatory and policy issues in Washington, not least of all rising pension costs. The Bush administration last week proposed that companies with traditional pensions fund them better and pay higher premiums to insure them.

Ford employees also gave the Bush 2004 campaign $72,440, says the Centre for Responsive Politics, which tracks donations. The automaker will throw its own party on Thursday at the Philips Collection art gallery. Members of Congress, cabinet level members and some members of the judiciary have been invited. (Susan Cornwell/Reuters, "U.S. Firms Pay Bush Bash Bill," January 19, 2005)
When it comes to paying for security, though, Bush is passing the buck to D.C.:
D.C. officials said yesterday that the Bush administration is refusing to reimburse the District for most of the costs associated with next week's inauguration, breaking with precedent and forcing the city to divert $11.9 million from homeland security projects.

Federal officials have told the District that it should cover the expenses by using some of the $240 million in federal homeland security grants it has received in the past three years -- money awarded to the city because it is among the places at highest risk of a terrorist attack.

But that grant money is earmarked for other security needs, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said in a Dec. 27 letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Williams's office released the letter yesterday.

Williams estimated that the city's costs for the inauguration will total $17.3 million, most of it related to security. City officials said they can use an unspent $5.4 million from an annual federal fund that reimburses the District for costs incurred because of its status as the capital. But that leaves $11.9 million not covered, they said. (Spencer S. Hsu, "U.S. Tells D.C. to Pay Inaugural Expenses: Other Security Projects Would Lose $11.9 Million," Washington Post, January 11, 2005, A1)
What's wrong with the picture? Amy Edelen's sign sums it all up:

Amy Edelen sits on the steps of a monument in front of one of the many signs of protest during a daylong vigil denouncing President Bush and the war in Iraq Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005, in Louisville, Ky. (Ed Reinke/AP)

Anti-War Network (DAWN) demonstrators carry mock coffins draped with the US flag as they arrive in downtown Washington, DC for the inauguration of US President George W. Bush. (Oscar Mataquin/AFP)

Juan Carlo Reyes of Lake Tahoe, Calif. carries protest signs labeling President Bush and Vice President Cheney as "warmongers" during Inauguration Day protests in downtown Washington, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005. (Len Spoden/AP)

Revenge of Socialist Realism

Ken MacLeod, a superb Red science fiction writer, says in his blog: "Socialist Realist art now commands higher prices than that of the dissidents and the Western-imitative official art of perestroika. The market has taken an ironic revenge on its votaries" ("Enduring Art," The Early Days of a Better Nation, January 9, 2005). You don't believe it? Elena Borissova gives you a glimpse of appreciating market values of Socialist Realism: "Reviled for more than a generation as mere Stalinist propaganda, Socialist Realism is now firing interest among canny Western collectors. Over the last 12 months, Sotheby’s has marked up record prices for Russian paintings. One canvas by Michael Nesterov made £600,000 -- five times the reserve price" ("Art Revolution Fired by the Ghosts of Socialism," Camden New Journal, January 22, 2004). New valuations of Socialist Realist art have been made possible by new critical evaluations of it (for an overview, see Marek Bartelik, "Concerning Socialist Realism: Recent Publications on Russian Art," Art Journal, Winter 1999).

Is the boom in Socialist Realist art merely the latest fashion in the art market and criticism, an example of capitalism's voracious appetite for colonizing all things still outside the market and commodifying them as profitable novelties? In part, yes. That's not the only story, however. For instance, revaluation of Alexandr Deineka, whose art straddles the Constructivist and Socialist Realist schools, is certainly overdue:

Before Descending into the Mines
Alexandr Deineka, "Before Descending into the Mines" (1925)

Even more conventionally Socialist Realist artists, whose works (as well as Deineka's) are currently on display at the Smithsonian’s International Gallery, created a number of remarkable pieces, expressing myriad moods of everyday Soviet life -- from bottomless grief of "Black Lake," urban loneliness of "Waiting," sensuous serenity of "Floor Polisher," to wordless longing of "Morning" -- in a wide range of styles irreducible to the proletarian heroic mode.

Black Lake
Nikolai M. Romadin, "Black Lake," 22 5/8 x 32 3/8, Oil on Board (1946, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

Yuri I. Pimenov, "Waiting," 23 5/8 x 31 1/2, Oil on Canvas (1959, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

Floor Polisher
Petr P. Konchalovski, "Floor Polisher," 66 5/8 x 55 3/4, Oil on Canvas (1946, the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

Geli Mikhailovich Korzhev-Chuvelev, "Morning," 31 1/4 x 21 1/4, Oil on Canvas (1958, a Private American Collection)

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

What Will Become of the Disabled If Social Security Gets Privatized?

As Marta Russell, a disability rights activist, speaks from her own experience, many people do not often think about the possibility that they may become disabled and unable to work for wages until injuries or illnesses actually disable them, but "three in ten Americans have a chance of becoming disabled before retirement age" (emphasis added, Marta Russell, "Social Security Privatization and Disability," CounterPunch, January 19, 2005). That's a sobering statistic that should make us realize that the rights of the disabled are the concern of everyone, not just the currently disabled. And yet, the fate of the disabled is often left out of the debate on Social Security privatization.

Social Security privatization doesn't only threaten to push retired workers into poverty. It represents a great danger to more than 7.5 million disabled workers and their dependents who need Social Security Disability Insurance for survival.

Disability benefits are already meager -- the average benefit in December 2004 was just $894 per month -- but the President's Social Security commission wants to cut them as well as retirees' benefits to help pay for the costs of privatization (Russell, January 19, 2005). According to the American Association of Retired Persons, even with the current Social Security benefits, "[t]he poverty rate for families with a disabled worker is more than double that for families without a disabled worker: 18.5 percent compared with 9 percent" ("Social Security Disability Insurance: Some Facts"). See what the poverty rate of the disabled would be without Social Security benefits:
Families with a Disabled Worker: Percentage in Poverty with or without Social Security
Source: "Social Security Disability Insurance: Some Facts"
The proposed cuts in Social Security benefits range "from 19 percent to 47.5 percent after the year 2030" (Greg Anrig, Jr. and Bernard Wasow, "Twelve Reasons Why Privatizing Social Security Is a Bad Idea," December 14, 2004). In addition to cuts, eligibility rules may be made more restrictive to prevent the disabled from receiving or retaining disability benefits and thus cut the overall government expenditure on them. Worst of all, "Bush's Social Security commission also recommended that access to disability accounts prior to retirement age be barred," which "defeat[s] the purpose of SSDI entirely " (Russell, January 19, 2005).

Neither individual accounts nor private insurance plans can compensate for reductions in benefits that privatization would bring: "[a]ccording to the General Accounting Office, in 1996, only 26 percent of private-sector employees had long-term disability coverage under employer-sponsored insurance plans. Work-related coverage has been shrinking not expanding since then"; and "[i]n January 2001, after examining a number of privatization plans, the General Accounting Office concluded, 'the income from (workers' individual accounts) was not sufficient to compensate for the decline in the insurance benefits that disabled beneficiaries would receive'" (emphasis added, Russell, January 19, 2005).

And who will benefit from bloodletting? Britain privatized its old-age pensions in the late 1980s, and now the verdict is in: "Britain’s experiment with substituting private savings accounts for a portion of state benefits has been a failure. A shorthand explanation for what has gone wrong is that the costs and risks of running private investment accounts outweigh the value of the returns they are likely to earn. On average, fees and charges can reduce pension lump sums by up to 30 percent on retirement" (emphasis added, Norma Cohen, "A Bloody Mess," The American Prospect Online, January 11, 2005).

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"Visit Guantanamo Bay"

A found object, courtesy of Black Propaganda:
Visit Guantanamo Bay

Iran: "They're Doing It"

Seymour M. Hersh says that Washington's next target is Iran: "'We're not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here,' the former high-level intelligence official told me. 'They've already passed that wicket. It's not if we’re going to do anything against Iran. They're doing it" (emphasis added, Seymour M. Hersh, "The Coming Wars: What the Pentagon Can Now Do in Secret," The New Yorker, January 24, 2005).

Indeed, Washington began casing potential targets last summer, according to Hersh:
The Administration has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran at least since last summer. Much of the focus is on the accumulation of intelligence and targeting information on Iranian nuclear, chemical, and missile sites, both declared and suspected. The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids. "The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible," the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me. (Hersh, January 24, 2005)
Iranian officials, however, say that leaks to Hersh are part of psychological warfare:
Ali Agha-Mohammadi, head of the propaganda committee of the Supreme National Security Council, said a report in the New Yorker magazine that claimed the US had started to identify alleged hidden nuclear sites inside Iran as potential targets in its war against terror, was part of a campaign of "psychological warfare".

"The entry of American commandos for espionage is not that easy. It would be naive to believe it," he told Iran's state radio.

Another senior Iranian official who asked not to be named saw the article as a US reaction to the talks that had been taking place this month between Iran and the EU 3 -- Britain, Germany and France on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"Americans now leak such stories to adversely affect Iran-EU talks which are progressing now. This is to exert more pressure on Iran and to imply that they are pursuing their own methods. It is part of their carrot and stick policy," the official told the Financial Times. (Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Guy Dinmore, "Tehran Denies US Nuclear Spy Missions in Iran," Financial Times, January 18, 2005)
That's very plausible, but it may be the case that both the claims made by Hersh's sources and the Iranian officials are true: Washington is really casing the targets in Iran and using leaks about its "covert actions" for psychological warfare against it.

In any case, despite the quagmire in Iraq, neo-conservatives appear to be still driven by delusion:
The government consultant ["with close ties to the Pentagon"] told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership. "Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement," the consultant told me. "The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse" -- like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said. (Hersh, January 24, 2005)
Is their seeming delusion also part of psy-war?

What is undeniably true as well as most alarming, "[t]he President has signed a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other Special Forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as ten nations in the Middle East and South Asia" (emphasis added, Hersh, January 24, 2005). The decline of US economic power must have made the reigning US power elite go bonkers.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Resurrecting King

In 1995, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon reminded us of the Martin Luther King we don't see on TV (Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, "The Martin Luther King You Don't See on TV," Media Beat, January 4, 1995).
Martin Luther King, Jr., Riverside Church, 4 April 1967
Missing from the broadcast media is King in his final years, speaking out for the interests of the working class that the US foreign policy, then and now, contradicts:
[A]fter passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation's fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without "human rights" -- including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.

Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for "radical changes in the structure of our society" to redistribute wealth and power.

"True compassion," King declared, "is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

By 1967, King had also become the country's most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his "Beyond Vietnam" speech delivered at New York's Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 -- a year to the day before he was murdered -- King called the United States "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was "on the wrong side of a world revolution." King questioned "our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America," and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions "of the shirtless and barefoot people" in the Third World, instead of supporting them.

In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about "capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries."

You haven't heard the "Beyond Vietnam" speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 -- and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The Washington Post patronized that "King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people."

In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People's Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble "a multiracial army of the poor" that would descend on Washington -- engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be -- until Congress enacted a poor people's bill of rights. Reader's Digest warned of an "insurrection."

King's economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America's cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its "hostility to the poor" -- appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity," but providing "poverty funds with miserliness."

How familiar that sounds today, more than a quarter-century after King's efforts on behalf of the poor people's mobilization were cut short by an assassin's bullet. (Cohen and Solomon, January 4, 1995)
Even today, after the deaths of 1525 US and other coalition soldiers and more than 100,000 Iraqis, only a minority of of the media consider what King would have said about the war on Iraq. As of 12:39 PM today, if you search Google News by keywords "martin luther king," the search returns 9,990 results, but if you look for "martin luther king iraq," you'll get only 948 results, and a search for "martin luther king vietnam" will give you a paltry return of 369 articles.

It's still up to us to remember King as he really was. Let's listen to King's "Beyond Vietnam" speech again and commemorate his vision of a new world from exploitation and oppression of any kind by carrying on the work he bequeathed us.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Falluja on Film: "City of Ghosts"

Guardian Films and Channel 4 News produced a film on Falluja. You can watch the film and read its transcript at the websites of Channel 4 and Journeyman Pictures:
The film follows an Iraqi doctor Ali Fadhil, as he interviews Fallujans in refugee camps and inside Falluja itself. It opens with a tragicomic episode:
Fallujah has been closed as a city for two months. Nahida is one of the first Fallujans to go back since the the Americans occupied the city.

She wanted to show me what had been left behind.

"Look at it ! Furniture, clothes thrown everywhere! They smashed up the cupboards, and they wrote something bad on the dressing-table mirror." -- Nahida Kham

She doesn’t speak English so I explained to her what the words mean: "FUCK IRAQ AND EVERY IRAQI IN IT!"

"I knew it. I knew these words were insulting." -- Nahida Kham (emphasis added, January 11, 2005)
Once inside the city, Fadhil "could smell bodies beneath the rubble" (January 11, 2005). Rotting corpses have been "eaten by hungry dogs," the source of "a serious outbreak of rabies" (January 11, 2005). Falluja, once "the City of Mosques," is now "the City of Rubble," where "over 300,000 people have lost their homes" (January 11, 2005) and every Fallujan is required to obtain an ID card from the US military to enter his own city: "They took prints of all my fingers, two pictures of my face in profile, and then photographed my iris. I was now eligible to go into Falluja, just like any other Fallujan" (Ali Fadhil, "City of Ghosts," The Guardian, January 11, 2005).

We have heard that Double Features, a Universal-based production company, will produce a feature film about Falluja "from the perspective of US marines" ("Harrison Ford Signs for Iraq War Film," The Guardian, December 16, 2004), based on a "non-fiction" book No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah by Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration who believes that the Vietnam War was a just war that America could have and should have won: "[E]very nation has a breaking point. Three times we had the North Vietnamese on the ropes, and each time it was policy fickleness in Washington D.C. which persuaded them to continue" (Bing West, "Vietnam War Was Honorable," Providence Journal, July 14, 2004). While Bing West (as well as his son Owen West) is an intelligent ex-Marine from whom leftists can learn a thing or two about combat, it is predictable what a movie based on his view, starring Harrison Ford no less, will seek to have the audience believe: "Militarily, the battle of Fallujah was an unqualified success" (Bing West, "Fallujah, the Morning After," Slate, December 8, 2004). And politically? "Many of the residents were complicit in the reign of terror. Whether the city returns to its murderous ways depends on the resolve of the Iraqi security forces now moving into the city. Voter turnout in January will be an indictor of how the political winds are blowing" (West, December 8, 2004).

"Hollywood's first feature about the current Iraq war" ("Harrison Ford Signs for Iraq War Film," December 16, 2004) will not have room for what Fadhil Ali saw:
The US military destroyed Falluja, but simply spread the fighters out around the country. They also increased the chance of civil war in Iraq by using their new national guard of Shias to suppress Sunnis. Once, when a foreign journalist, an Irish guy, asked me whether I was Shia or Sunni -- the way the Irish do because they have that thing about the IRA -- I said I was Sushi. My father is Sunni and my mother is Shia. I never cared about these things. Now, after Falluja, it matters. (Fadhil, "City of Ghosts," January 11, 2005)