'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, August 31, 2007

War With Iran Revisited 

UPDATE: Pat Buchanan joins the chorus of alarm over the prospect of an attack upon Iran:

Who or what can stop this drive to war?

Last spring, Nancy Pelosi herself, after a call from the Israeli lobby, pulled an amendment that would have forced Bush to come to Congress for specific authorization before attacking Iran. Before the August recess, the Senate voted 97 to zero for a resolution sponsored by Joe Lieberman to censure Iran for complicity in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

The resolution explicitly rejected authorization for immediate military action, but the gist of it declared that Iran is participating in acts of war against the United States, laying the foundation for a confrontation.

What is to prevent Bush from attacking Iran and widening the war, at a time and place of his choosing, and sooner than we think?

Nothing and no one.

But, as noted below, Pat is wrong. There is one group of people that can do it: the rank and file of the US military. Back in 1951, McArthur should not have defied the President. Today, everyone in the military, from private to five star general should. Otherwise, we are about to fall into the abyss.

INITIAL POST: Back in March of 2006, I explained why a war with Iran would be catastrophic. Journalist Seymour Hersh and Jorge Hirsch, a nuclear physicist, had just written extensively on the subject, prompting me to sound the alarm. I reposted it here again in February 2007, as propaganda efforts to justify a first strike against Iran intensified.

Now, libertarian Justin Raimondo and liberal Glenn Greenwald are both asserting, quite credibily in my view, that the neoconservatives have initiated a coordinated campaign to justify an attack upon Iran in the near future. Three days ago, the President delivered a speech before the American Legion in which he described the Iranian regime as such an implacable enemy that its removal through war is neccessary. Raimondo and Greenwald, along with many others, emphasize that there is no political opposition within the Congress sufficient to prevent the President from ordering an attack.

Hence, I am motivated to repost my comments, yet again, because the consequences of such an attack, as described in depth, are dire. We must speak candidly on this subject. We cannot soften our language for fear of a political backlash or social ostracism. A US attack upon Iran would constitute the type of violent militaristic conquest perpetrated by the Italians, the Germans and the Japanese in World War II. It would result in the deaths of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people, and may, as explained by Jorge Hirsch, involve the first use of nuclear weapons by the US, something that has not happened since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Such actions by the US would be more than just war crimes, they would constitute a crime against humanity, and just as the actions of the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese resulted in the destruction of their existing political systems, they should likewise place the continued existence of the US in its present form in question. The fascist political systems of Italy, Germany and Japan were eradicated because of their grotesque excesses during World War II, and, similarly, a good argument can be made that the present governing structure of the US should be abolished as well if it attacks Iran, especially after having perpetrated the atrocities that it has inflicted upon the people of Iraq.

As I said at the conclusion of my February 2006 post, there is only one way to stop this war from happening: a rebellion within the ranks of the US military. Nothing has changed since that time, and I urge anyone in the military who receives orders to facilitate an attack upon Iran to refuse to follow them. I also urge them to persuade others to do so as well. I understand that there are serious consequences associated with undertaking such resistance, and that I do not personally face them.

All I can say in response is, yes, you will face severe punishments, but you will, along with those who walk with you, potentially save the lives of many, many people, and that all of us will be permanently indebted to you. Of course, given human nature, many will condemn you, others will not acknowledge it, and still others will depreciate it, but it is something that you will carry within your heart until the day you die. At a decisive moment in history, you will have proven that the aggregate decisions of individuals, one by one, and frequently isolated from one another, can, indeed, change the course of history.

With that, my post from March 2006 follows. Of course, military preparations for the war are far advanced beyond those mentioned, and it has been reported by several sources, including Seymour Hersh, I believe, that the the US has already been involved in covert operations inside Iran.

"It's a Tough Decision, But We Made It in Japan"

Jorge Hirsch, a University of California, San Diego physics professor, has been sounding the alarm for over a year about the prospect that the United States will use nuclear weapons against Iran, with this article being a representative example of his work. His articles on the subject display an obssesive attention to detail that one associates with a serious academic.

Now, Seymour Hersh has published an article in the New Yorker, stating that Bush has accelerated planning for a war against Iran:

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.

More specifically:

Some operations, apparently aimed in part at intimidating Iran, are already under way. American Naval tactical aircraft, operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea, have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions—rapid ascending maneuvers known as “over the shoulder” bombing—since last summer, the former official said, within range of Iranian coastal radars.

Yes, you read that right. Some operations, apparently aimed in part at intimidating Iran, are already under way. American Naval tactical aircraft, operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea, have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions . . The first use of nuclear weapons, with potentially catastrophic consequences is being considered as a centerpiece of a massive bombing campaign against Iran:

One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran’s main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.

Debate within the administration over this prospect is intense:

The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. “Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap,” the former senior intelligence official said. “ ‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning. It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”

He went on, “Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout—we’re talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don’t have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out”—remove the nuclear option—“they’re shouted down.”

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said. “The White House said, ‘Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.’ ”

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it “a juggernaut that has to be stopped.” He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. “There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries,” the adviser told me. “This goes to high levels.” The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. “The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks,” the adviser said. “And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen.”

The adviser added, however, that the idea of using tactical nuclear weapons in such situations has gained support from the Defense Science Board, an advisory panel whose members are selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “They’re telling the Pentagon that we can build the B61 with more blast and less radiation,” he said.

Jorge Hirsch has already exhaustively described the potentially catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons against Iran:

It is arguably possible that the nuclear hitmen's most optimistic expectations will be realized: the U.S. will succeed in crossing the nuclear threshold by using a few low-yield nuclear bombs against Iranian installations, without resulting in significant escalation, and achieve its goals of destroying Iran's military capabilities and establishing the value of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. It is also certainly possible, and in my view much more likely, that the results will be disastrous, as follows:

(1) A very large number of people will die.

For most of the world, the use of nuclear weapons is a major qualitative step, even if the yield and destruction of the nuclear weapons used is the same or less than that of conventional weapons. As a consequence, this action is likely to bring about an "irrational" reaction from Iran. No U.S. threat will deter Iran from retaliating any way it can – by firing all its missiles and launching a massive invasion of Iraq with millions of poorly armed but determined Basij militia. The U.S. will "have to" respond with large-scale bombing, including with nuclear bombs, causing potentially hundreds of thousands of Iranian casualties. This is likely to cause an immediate, large upheaval in the Middle East, with unforeseeable consequences. These events are not likely to be forgotten by the 1 billion-large worldwide Muslim community.

(2) America will be a pariah state.

The administration hopes that the use of nuclear bombs in this conflict will be viewed as "unavoidable" to save lives, ours and theirs. The world will not buy that interpretation. A cursory search on the Internet today makes it clear that it is already widely believed that the upcoming nuking of Iran is an event planned by the Bush administration (e.g., the Philip Giraldi story). Disclosures that will surely come after the fact will make this premeditation even more evident (like the Downing Street memos in the case of Iraq). The planned use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state in the name of nuclear nonproliferation, based on false accusations and concocted scenarios, will not be condoned by the world.

In the case of Iraq, the realization that the invasion had been planned in advance and Americans had been lied to has led to public disenchantment with the Bush administration, yet it has not led to universal condemnation. Attacking Iran will be different, because the use of nukes will affect every man, woman, and child in the world. The world will regard the Bush administration as criminal. Because Americans elected Bush for a second term and did nothing to impede his actions, all Americans will share responsibility in the eyes of the world. Each of us could have done more to prevent this from happening.

This is likely to result in a worldwide shunning of everything American. A tidal wave of boycott America fervor is likely to result, and no matter how powerful America is today, the rest of the world acting together can bring America to its knees and spell the end of all dreams of a "New American Century."

(3) Anti-Semitism will surge worldwide.

Israel will be regarded as having played a key role in these events, whether or not it participates in the military action. Israeli politicians have made it abundantly clear that Iran's nuclear ambitions represent an "existential threat" to Israel, so Israel will be regarded as instigator, given the strength of the Israeli lobby in America. Jewish organizations around the world have been supportive of the Israeli stance and will be regarded as complicit.

As a consequence, a resurgence of worldwide anti-Semitism will occur, even in America. The old charges that Jews have a divided allegiance to their home country and to Israel will resurface, and Jewish communities in every country will face hostility and aggression.

Just like Bush's invasion of Iraq erased the world's feelings of sympathy to America after the 9/11 attacks, so will the nuking of Iran erase any remaining feelings of sympathy for the state of Israel.

(4) Nuclear terrorism against America will become more likely.

The incentive for terrorist groups to use a nuclear weapon against America will be enormous after America uses nuclear weapons, even if only "small" ones, against Iran. No matter how much "counterproliferation" America undertakes, eventually a terrorist group will obtain or manufacture a nuclear bomb. And no matter how large a "deterrent" the American nuclear arsenal is, a single nuclear bombing in an American city will have devastating consequences.

Those who argue that nuclear terrorism will happen regardless of whether the U.S. nukes Iran or not should consider the fact that there has never been a chemical terrorist attack against America, despite the fact that chemical weapons have existed for a long time and shouldn't be too hard for terrorist groups to obtain. Could it be related to the fact that America does not use chemical weapons against others?

(5) Nuclear proliferation and global nuclear war may ensue.

The main reason why nuking Iran will affect every human being is that it will spell the end of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and lead to widespread nuclear proliferation. It will not matter how many eloquent speeches Bush gives afterwards explaining why it was "necessary." It will not matter if the next American president is a pacifist who vows never to do it again. It will not matter if think tanks and scientists and politicians and arms-control organizations and NGOs deplore it as a unique aberration of the Bush administration. The fact is, the entire American system will be seen as having conspired to let this happen.

After America has used a nuclear weapon against a non-nuclear country, all the speeches and studies and documents and excuses and promises will not change the facts. All countries will strive to acquire nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. America will prevent some from doing so by military force, but many others will succeed. With no remaining nuclear taboo, and many more countries with nuclear weapons (with a total power of 1 million Hiroshima bombs, hence the potential to destroy humanity many times over), does anybody doubt the outcome?

Hirsch has also eloquently explained "the military's moral dilemma":

Men and women in the military forces, including civilian employees, may be facing a difficult moral choice at this very moment and in the coming weeks, akin to the moral choices faced by Colin Powell and Dan Ellsberg. The paths these two men followed were radically different.

Colin Powell was an American hero, widely respected and admired at the time he was appointed secretary of state in 2001. In February 2003, he chose to follow orders despite his own serious misgivings, and delivered the pivotal UN address that paved the way for the U.S. invasion of Iraq the following month. Today, most Americans believe the Iraq invasion was wrong, and Colin Powell is disgraced, his future destroyed, and his great past achievements forgotten.

Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, played a significant role in ending the Vietnam War by leaking the Pentagon Papers. He knew that he would face prosecution for breaking the law, but was convinced it was the correct moral choice. His courageous and principled action earned him respect and gratitude.

The Navy has just reminded its members and civilian employees what the consequences are of violating provisions concerning the release of information about the nuclear capabilities of U.S. forces. Why right now, for the first time in 12 years? Because it is well aware of moral choices that its members may face, and it hopes to deter certain actions. But courageous men and women are not easily deterred.

To disobey orders and laws and to leak information are difficult actions that entail risks. Still, many principled individuals have done it in the past and will continue to do it in the future. Conscientious objection to the threat and use of nuclear weapons is a moral choice.

Once the American public becomes fully aware that military action against Iran will include the planned use of nuclear weapons, public support for military action will quickly disappear. Anything could get the ball rolling. A great catastrophe will have been averted.

Even U.S. military law recognizes that there is no requirement to obey orders that are unlawful. The use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear country can be argued to be in violation of international law, the principle of just war, the principle of proportionality, common standards of morality and customs that make up the law of armed conflict. Even if the nuclear weapons used are small, because they are likely to cause escalation of the conflict they violate the principle of proportionality and will cause unnecessary suffering.

The Nuremberg Tribunal, which the United States helped to create, established that "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

To follow orders or to disobey orders, to keep information secret or to leak it, are choices for each individual to make – extremely difficult choices that have consequences. But not choosing is not an option.

We can only pray that people in positions of power within the Defense Department, those people who are already expressing vehement objections to the use of nuclear weapons against Iran, intensify their efforts if they fail to internally persuade the Bush Administration to change course. We must honestly acknowlege that it is unlikely to do so, given the Iraqi experience. Such actions of resistance will necessarily include the measures described by Hirsch, and, perhaps, even more confrontational ones.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

How to Post About Labor Unrest in Chile . . . . 

. . . without ever using the words Allende, socialism or neoliberalism. But, then, that would require evaluating events in Chile outside the constraints of duopoly politics in America. It might also encourage people to compare the neoliberal economic system of Chile with the emerging nationalistic, more socialistic one in Venezuela, which would break the liberal blogosphere boycott against praising anything Hugo Chavez does.

Furthermore, the protests described in the post are about a lot more than just the declining living standards of the Chilean middle class. Not to mention that, by analogizing the Chilean middle class to the American one, the post obscures the fact that middle class Chileans, indeed, all Chileans, live much less prosperous, more insecure lives than their purported American brethren.

Perhaps, this is why liberal discourse is so narrow and uninspiring, as it appears incapable of acknowledging the existence of social movements except as manifestations of middle class discontent. For example, consider this post about infrastructure and Hurricane Katrina, which emphasizes the need for increased spending for levee protection so that middle class people elsewhere around the country do not lose their homes as well, while ignoring the existence of thousands of impoverished displaced people, living in conditions of rural social isolation, who cannot return to New Orleans in the absence of new housing constructed for them.

When progressive liberals expunge the poor victims of Katrina from public discourse by reference to a simplistic form of class analysis that cannot admit their existence for fear of having to address their dire situation, we can be certain that they are doomed, at least as far as establishment politics and governance is concerned. Rest assured, however, that they are supposed to magically appear on election day to vote for Democratic candidates. With that said, though, I probably wouldn't have heard about the protests in Santiago otherwise, at least until someone over at Lenin's Tomb mentioned it later in the day, so, maybe, I shouldn't be so ascerbic.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007


After Joe published a post entitled Fun with the Political Compass last week, a post about an online questionnaire that, upon completion, situates you upon a grid governed by left/right, libertarian/authoritarian axes, several of us discovered, quite predictably, that we find ourselves congregated in the left/libertarian quadrant, as reflected in the comments. But we did receive the following provocative question:

The basic problem is that the most promising box on the chart -- left authoritarian -- is completely empty. Where are the Leninists when we really need them?

Peter Principle | 08.26.07 - 10:09 pm | #

Well, Peter, turns out that you can find them pretty readily by checking out this post, Lenin: a political moderate and a humanitarian. Long time readers of this blog should be able to identify the source before clicking on the link.

The Insurgents Get Half 

All in all, quite predictable, another indication of the futility of the US presence:

A U.S. company with a reconstruction contract hires an Iraqi subcontractor to haul supplies along insurgent-ridden roads. The Iraqi contractor sets his price at up to four times the going rate because he'll be forced to give 50 percent or more to gun-toting insurgents who demand cash in exchange for the supply convoys' safe passage.

One Iraqi official said the arrangement makes sense for insurgents. By granting safe passage to a truck loaded with $10,000 in goods, they receive a "protection fee" that can buy more weapons and vehicles. Sometimes the insurgents take the goods, too.

"The violence in Iraq has developed a political economy of its own that sustains it and keeps some of these terrorist groups afloat," said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, who recently asked the U.S.-led coalition to match the Iraqi government's pledge of $230 million for Anbar projects.

Despite several devastating U.S. military offensives to rout insurgents, the militants — or, in some cases, tribes with insurgent connections — still control the supply routes of the province, making reconstruction all but impossible without their protection.

One senior Iraqi politician with personal knowledge of the contracting system said the insurgents also use their cuts to pay border police in Syria "to look the other way" as they smuggle weapons and foot soldiers into Iraq.

"Every contractor in Anbar who works for the U.S. military and survives for more than a month is paying the insurgency," the politician said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The contracts are inflated, all of them. The insurgents get half."

One gets the impression that, for prominent figures within both the insurgency and the occupation, the rapid departure of the US is the worst thing that could possibly happen. Someday, perhaps, an Iraqi with the sensibility of an Imamura or Fassbinder will emerge to tell the paradoxical tale.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Something I Would Do . . . 

. . . if I were 25 years old again.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Baghdad Coup Rumor Round-Up 

Recently there has been a lot of a talk of a coup d'état unseating Maliki in Iraq. The discourse is confused. Contradictory rumors are being parroted around by lots of blogs; some commentators are naming Allawi as Iraq's post-coup PM, others are not. Sorting things out, as I see it, the rumor stems from three sources:

  • (1) Nibras Kazimi, fellow of the rightwing Hudson Institute, reported two weeks ago that Baghdad envoy Meghan O'Sullivan "has lined up the necessary support to unseat current Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who would ostensibly be replaced by the former PM Ayad Allawi."
  • Kazimi cites "the DC rumor mill."

  • (2) Juan Cole posted on Thursday that there is chatter among high-level Iraqi bureaucrats in exile that the US is preparing a military coup.

  • (3) On Thursday IraqSlogger's Christina Davidson broke the story that Ayad Allawi is paying a DC lobbying firm, Barbour, Griffith, and Rogers, LLC, $300,000 for "strategic counsel before the US Government, Congress, media and others."

These three items have been swirling together in the blogosphere for the past couple of days in a manner that suggests they are telling the same story, but they aren't. (1) and (2) are contradictory: Juan Cole's bureaucrats are talking about a military coup orchestrated internally by or on behalf of former military personnel who are not part of the current Iraqi military or government. Cole's sources specifically name Ayad Allawi as someone they are not talking about. Kazimi's DC cocktail party chatter suggests the US is attempting to arrange a vote of no confidence against Maliki, which Kazimi judges to be an "amateurish stunt" meant to scare Maliki into playing ball with the Sunnis. Kazimi, however, confuses matters by stating that "[n]o one can pull-off a military coup in Iraq", a nonseqitor given that no one mentioned in his post had been talking about trying.

(1) and (3), however, go together rather nicely. The official version of what Meghan O'Sullivan is currently doing in Iraq, according a five day old Boston Globe article, is arranging "a series of intense, behind-the-scenes meetings with Iraqi politicians" in order to "build enough support for Maliki to maintain control of a majority of seats in parliament", so it's not hard to believe that the exact opposite is the case. However, even if the Globe has it correct, clearly Meghan O'Sullivan is actively dealing with the possibility of Maliki's position becoming untenable -- whether lobbying for or against such a turn of events -- therefore, it makes sense for someone like Allawi to start getting a PR department together if he wants to become Prime Minister. One wonders if Allawi is really paying BGR out of his own pocket as it appears.

That said, Kazimi's statement about the impossibility of a military coup in Iraq is naive and false. Anything is possible when one has billions of dollars to throw around. But such a turn of events doesn't seem very likely in the near future. If the US staged a military coup in Iraq it wouldn't take long for it to come out that the US was behind it. Look at the recent coup attempt in Venezuela: if one cared to, one could read various informed commentators speculating about the extent of US involvement while the attempt to overthrow Chavez was still going on. But this doesn't really matter as long as US propagandists have sufficiently prepared the American people, and to some extent our allies, for the coup before it happens. In this case, such preparation hasn't occurred; at least, not to the degree necessary. There hasn't been enough newspaper stories comparing Maliki to Hitler or about Maliki vacationing with Ahamdinejad to believe a US-backed coup is forthcoming. As Juan Cole states

There is no certitude that this plan can or will be implemented. That it is being discussed at high levels seems highly likely.

The rumors that Cole reported are undoubtedly actual rumors and are undoubtedly accurate to the extent that there are people within the Bush administration talking about a military coup but I don't think that this has much to do with Meghan O'Sullivan playing Lawrence of Arabia. Now Allawi's lobbyists setting up the website www.allawi-for-iraq.com on the other hand: that, I think, has something to do with Meghan O'Sullivan playing Lawrence of Arabia.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Good News From Haiti 

Father Jean Juste returns:

Pere Gerard Jean-Juste, an outspoken Haitian voice for human rights, economic justice and democracy, returned to Haiti last weekend for the first time since being hustled out of a prison cell by heavily armed guards and put on a waiting plane to Miami in January of 2006. Pere Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest, had spent nearly six months in a series of Haitian prisons for refusing to stop his public criticisms of human rights abuses by the coup government which overthrew elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Once in Miami, Father Jean-Juste was immediately hospitalized for treatment of leukemia by Dr. Paul Farmer, a long-time friend, who had secretly performed a biopsy on Jean-Juste in his prison cell.

Now, a year and a half later, Pere Jean-Juste was coming home, not knowing how he would be received. As the plane landed in Port au Prince, Father Jean-Juste quietly blessed himself as he saw his home parish, St. Claire, from the window.

As he walked towards the entrance to the Toussaint L'Ouverture airport, dozens of people waved and clapped from the balconies overlooking the landing space. Inside, airport officials, police officers, media and church members crushed in on him. Patting his back, shaking his hands, giving him hugs, the crowds pressed in and called out "Mon Pere!"

A new Haiti greeted him. The unelected coup government had finally left the country. The people elected President Rene Preval. Democracy had returned.

Inside, TV cameras, microphones, and tape recorders were thrust in his face. Many wanted to know if he was going to be a candidate for Presidency of Haiti in the next election. Father Jean-Juste laughed and said, "The only election in the Catholic Church is for Pope and since the Pope is in good health, I do not see an election anytime soon."

Father Jean-Juste spoke of the disappearance of the human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, called for the return of President Aristide, and urged people interested in human rights in Haiti to keep the pressure on nonviolently. He was returning to Haiti on a pilgrimage. Was he afraid of death he was asked? "I am a Christian," he replied. "I know where I am going. If I die, I know the struggle will continue. The struggle must continue for human rights and democratic principles."

Someday, the United States and its surrogates in the UN will allow the Haitian people to chart their own course. Must they be forever punished for one of the most successful revolutions in history against imperialism and white supremacy?

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Does Mrs. Robinson Have a Thing About Muslim Men? 

Sara Robinson has posted periodically over the years at the Orcinus site, a fine blog created by David Neiwert that has done much to confront racial bigotry and violence. She is now one of the four contributors to the The Group News Blog, a successor to the late lamented Steve Gilliard's The News Blog.

Robinson is a consistently strong progressive, feminist voice, even if I find her liberal political perspective somewhat narrow, as she often concludes with the notion that replacing Democrats with Republicans will substantially improve the situation. OK, fine, that's what makes a horse race. She is one of those people who exploit to the fullest the opportunity to engage in effective advocacy over the Internet.

Accordingly, I have been taken aback about the following exchange that accidentally evolved out of an excellent post about the hypocrisy of the NFL and the mainstream media in condemning Michael Vick for animal cruelty, while they excuse a long history of assaultive behaviour towards women by athletes. Perhaps, I am overly sensitive, but I agree with As'ad Abukhalil, the secular, leftist Angry Arab, about the willingness of people here, even liberals and progressives, to ascribe evils solely to Islam, especially in regard to gender, that can be found amongst the practitioners of most religions.

Anyway, you decide. While doing so, please note that the purpose of this post, as should become evident in the analysis that follows the cited comments from The Group News Blog, is not to pillory Robinson in some tedious exercise of, for lack of a better term, political correctness, but, rather to place the dialogue within a much more thoughtful, serious context of our subjective perception of Muslims. Extraneous comments have been deleted:

It's an actual fact that Muslim men regard both dogs and women as unclean and untouchable.

Which explains a lot, really....
Mrs Robinson | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 3:40 pm | #


It's an actual fact that Muslim men regard both dogs and women as unclean and untouchable.

Any chance you want to take this one back? Even if it is meant to be snark (which it doesn't seem to be), it doesn't play well for obvious reasons.

We all stick a foot in our mouth from time to time. G-d knows I certainly have.
Richard Estes | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 4:14 pm | #


Richard, I'm not aware that the statement is in any way inaccurate.

Orthodox Muslims do not pet dogs (they're not part of the culture, which is why their use at Abu Ghraib was so horrific). They also do not shake hands with women, or even (if they can help it) look at women they're not related to. (Orthodox Jews are only slightly less rigid about this.)

Muslim culture has a lot of issues around women and cleanliness. And also around dogs.

If I'm wrong about this, I'm going to need a citation.
Mrs Robinson | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 4:46 pm | #


I cruised around the Internet today, and found numerous citations that indicate that Islam exalts sexuality within marriage, as do many other religions

Also, the statement is inaccurate, because your remark applied to all Muslim men, not just Orthodox ones, and most religions are known for having Orthodox factions that advocate much more rigid standards of personal behaviour than people who generally identify with the religion

for example, would you make a statement that attributes a belief of personal behaviour or values of Orthodox Jews to all Jews? Fundamentalist Christians to all Christians?

probably not

I think that these are important questions, because I think that we, as Americans, have a tendency to describe Islam and the behaviour of Muslims by reference to the most Orthodox elements of that religion, which is frequently Wahhabist in character, which is the equivalent of describing Christianity by reference to the most fundamentalist Baptists and the adherents of the Church of Christ

and, there is a serious political dimension to such a misrepresentation, as it plays into the neoconservative notion of a "clash of civilizations"

anyway, my sense is that cleanliness is an issue within Islam generally independent of gender (citation to follow), but don't you live up in the Pacific Northwest? I'm sure that there are some Muslims there that could explain the day to day social reality as opposed to Internet citations
Richard Estes | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 5:00 pm | #


I live in a majority Iranian neighborhood, Richard. "Explanation" is not required: I can walk down the main street of town and watch people interact for 15 minutes.

I'm not sure what your point is. I have male Muslim neighbors who are very Canadianized and will shake hands with me; and others who adhere to older traditions and will not. Just like when I lived among orthodox Jews in West LA. And you don't really know who's who until you reach out your hand and watch who jumps back.

Likewise: some of them have adopted the English Canadian passion for dogs (we have the most wonderfully accepting dog culture here I've ever seen); and others -- usually the newer arrivals --- give me and my dog a wide berth.

Obviously, where my neighbors come from, there are issues. How extensive these issues are does indeed vary with where they came from, how long they've been here, and which faction of the religion they belong to. But the issues are there, and they're quite real.
Mrs Robinson | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 5:13 pm | #


well, yes, I agree, of course there are issues within Islam about these questions of gender and sexuality, I never said otherwise (as a secular leftist I believe that these issues are endemic to all of the religions that I know), and was about to elaborate further on this exact theme until I read your response, but that's not what you said in your remark

and, if you can walk down the street and watch people interact for 15 minutes, and have some neighbors who will touch you and others who will not, then why was the behaviour applied to all Muslim men, when it is apparently contradicted by your own personal experience?

as for my point, I think that it is quite clear, it seems to be easy to make these kinds of reductionist statements about Muslims in this culture, attributing the most Orthodox values to all, obscuring the diversity of that community, when we would never make them about Jews and Christians

and, maybe, we should all think about why we are so willing to engage in this practice with Muslims, but not people of other religions

maybe, our willlingness to do so explains a lot about us
Richard Estes | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 5:30 pm | #


Gee. I thought the article was about American jocks, not Muslim men. Silly me, I guess.
Cassius Chaerea | 08.23.07 - 6:24 pm | #


yes, it was, until the author herself made the kind of generalized comment about Muslim men that we would never make about anyone else in this society
Richard Estes | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 6:25 pm | #


I made a lot of generalizations about American jocks, too. And I knew going in I was doing it.

There are jocks who aren't like this. There are a tiny percentage who are real, sane, normal human beings with intact moral compasses. And there's a larger group of "quarterback for Jesus" types who've bowed out of the pussy chase in the name of faith -- though, as Anita Bryant will be the first to tell you (and anyone who's been following the latest fundie scandals will be glad to fill in the details), they often have issues of their own.

But I'm making well-founded generalizations about the overall attitudes embedded in traditional jock culture. And equally well-founded generalizations about the overall beliefs that have been embedded in traditional Muslim culture.

Individuals may vary in the degree and manner that they partake of these attitudes; but they're still connected to that culture, and it forms the background against which they make their choices.
Mrs Robinson | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 6:32 pm | #


I am saddened by the silence of people who seem to believe that making this kind of generalized remark about Muslim men is appropriate, or, at least, not something that should be criticized, when Islam and Muslims are the product of a tremendously variegated culture, ethnically, culturally, socially and economically.

Like most people, I have made such insensitive comments over the course of my life as well, and, will undoubtedly do so in the future, and when challenged, I eventually, and admittedly, very begrudingly at first, accepted it as a necessary learning experience.

The last paragraph of Sara's last remark is interesting, perhaps, we should interpret it in light of why we are so willing to blithely stereotype Muslims, and the extent to which it empowers people here who use more sinister stereotypes to promote endless conflict with them.

I will limit my future remarks on this subject to the blog where I post, which can be accessed through the homepage link next to my name.

Finally, I do believe that this post is actually a very good one, and would have not made such an issue of the Muslim men remark if I did not feel very strongly about the subject.
Richard Estes | Homepage | 08.23.07 - 6:54 pm | #

It is all very odd. Precisely what does the purported belief of Muslim men that women and dogs are unclean explain, as stated in Robinson's initial remark at the beginning of the thread? As the dialogue evolved, we moved to other subjects, and never got an answer, but it came across as pejorative. It is a rather unfortunate omission, because, as a consequence, we did not realize that the primacy of cleanliness in Islam is something that applies to all believers, instead of being something that elevates men above women and dogs, or, alternatively, creates a grotesque equivalence between them.

Interestingly, Robinson lives in a neighborhood with many Iranian Muslims, whose conduct actually disproved her statement, but also revealed her willingness to characterize the attitudes of Muslim men, who reside in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Africa, North America, South America (and probably, even Antarctica), all over the world in other words, based solely upon her experience with the Iranian ones in her neigborhood.

Finally, Robinson excessively relies upon the notion of traditional Muslim culture as a way of conflating all Muslim men, something that, perhaps, she does with Christians and Jews as well (I don't know), but is not encountered very often elsewhere in this culture. Christians and Jews are commonly recognized, and rightly so, as having created modern, reformist, progressive variations of the practice of their religion. She implies, however, that Muslims are still somehow tainted, or constrained, by their traditional values, thus accidentally? deliberately? legitimizing others who separate the practitioners of Islam from practitioners of other religions.

Personally, I try to avoid these kinds of characterizations entirely for several reasons. First, I am a secular leftist, and I acknowledge my lack of knowledge when it comes to world religions, especially when I do not have any contact with many of the practitioners (I know, I know, I admit that I don't understand something, well, I can't be arrogant all the time, I have to leave that to the Angry Arab).

Second, the question as to the extent to which the behaviour of people can be defined primarily by their religion varies according to many factors. Race, class, national identity, cultural background, gender, sexual orientation, education . . . just to name a few. So, while I do tend to believe, as my comments above indicate, that Orthodox practitioners do structure much of their life around their religions, I am hesitant to extend the principle beyond them.

Lastly, I strongly believe, as I said in my comments, that there are people who have a sinister motivation to explain the behaviour of peoples around the world, especially Muslims, in terms of their religious identity. Samuel Huntington gave credence to the frightening notion that there is a inescapable global conflict that is significantly, but not exclusively, centered around the inability to reconcile the values of what he describes as Western and Islamic civilization. Maybe, he had just gotten done reading The Lord of the Rings to one of his grandchildren.

More seriously, though, such doctrines, by reducing peoples and cultures to their points of disagreement, facilitate the emergence of neoconservative policies based upon the notion that violent subjugation is the only means of survival. Hence, the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threatened attack upon Iran. Is Robinson a neoconservative? Of course not. But we should all avoid stereotypical descriptions of people that conform, however minimally, as here, to such a way of perceiving the world.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

UPDATE: Why I Rarely Read the Nation Revisited 

A informative post by Louis Proyect on the subject of The Nation, Hannah Arendt and Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's US Embassy funded visit to Caracas to learn about the Bolivarian Revolution from the children of the oligarchy: When poor Black people in Little Rock or Caracas decide to stand up for their rights, white, middle-class philosophers and psychiatrists get terribly upset. (Hat tip to plato's cave for drawing my attention to it)

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The New Homeless? 

As predicted here, the ruthless migration of people out of foreclosed properties has begun:

Some displaced homeowners are getting a cool reception as the surge in real estate foreclosures sends them back to the rental market in search of shelter.

Nevel DeHart of First Advantage SafeRent, a national tenant-screening company, warns that homeowners often are deeply in debt by the time a foreclosure occurs. With no financial reserves to fall back on, they sometimes make poor rental risks, he said. “There is just no margin for error.”

Ron Bowdoin, who oversees 2,500 rental units for the SARES-REGIS Group in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, said foreclosure victims often fail to meet his company's credit standards.

“As they reach the brink of foreclosure, their credit reports have suffered tremendously,” he said. “We have to do a co-signer or large deposits to get them into apartments.”

Smaller, locally owned rental firms generally are more willing to work with people who've had financial problems, he added. Large, corporate-owned complexes, which often have more amenities and higher rental rates, are less flexible.

Some will find roommates, some will get help from relatives, some will, as I said in my first post on this subject, move to other parts of the country, and some, sadly, will end up homeless. There, they will encounter another probable group of newly emergent homeless people, Iraqi war veterans.

Furthermore, as my brother-in-law soberly told me yesterday, employment can be conditioned upon a positive credit report. Accordingly, some of the people subject to foreclosure, after burning through all of their other forms of credit, will find themselves experiencing difficulty in the job market.

So, if they lose their current jobs, the future could be grim. Of course, employers are supposed to tell applicants that they have been denied employment because of the adverse content of a credit report, but the requirement appears easy to evade. After all, how is an applicant to know? Probably only after several failed job interviews, and a newly discovered dependence upon meals served by Food Not Bombs.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jonathan Schwarz Battling the Zombie Army of "The Foreign Policy Community" 

Last week Atrios picked a fight with some DLC-type Democratic foreign policy wonks by calling the bigtime foreign policy wonks idiots. So then one of them, Michael Cohen -- who was a speechwriter for Bill Richardson when he was an ambassador to the UN -- wrote a typical this-is-what's-wrong-with-the-liberal-blogosphere post: these bloggers have an "unwillingness to even consider the arguments of their opponents", don't have any manners, and just call people names. (In Atrios's defense, although he often does just call people names, in this case what he said -- that Lieberman Democrat and PNAC signatore, Will Marshall, has the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on his hands -- isn't so much a childish insult as a statement of fact)

Cohen's big claim is that there existed a "defensible argument" for the war whether one supported it or not. He sketches out this defensible case by offering the Bush administration's narrative of the events leading up to the invasion, the familiar story cobbled together from spin and lies that has become history as told by pundits. Okay, so bear with me if you're getting bored because here comes the good part: Jonathan Schwarz of Tiny Revolution jumps in at this point and just rips apart the Bush administration storyline offered by Cohen -- it turns out Saddam Hussein didn't kick out the weapons inspectors; the US did have spies planted in UNSCOM, etc. -- concluding:

So that's it as far as the basic facts go. I'll send this to Michael Cohen and ask him to respond.

But there's one last important point: if I can speak for Atrios and most progressive bloggers, their perspective is not that they're refusing to "advance the debate." Rather, their point is that as far as US foreign policy goes, there is no debate. We can screw around on blogs for the rest of our lives, we could be proven correct about 100 more wars, and no one with our perspective would ever be allowed on TV. Likewise, Kenneth Pollack could be catastrophically wrong about 100 more wars, and he would still be on Nightline every week. That's because being right has absolutely nothing to do with "the debate." That's the way it is, and unless it changes, all the time I spent writing this was absolutely pointless. I hope Cohen can appreciate that it's a bit frustrating to be asked to "advance the debate" under these circumstances, and to be told we have "seemingly forgotten" things that never happened.

But maybe the system's more open than I think. If Michael wants to give this post to his former bosses now running for president—Richardson and Dodd—and they start talking about everything I examined here, then I'll admit there's a real debate and one the anti-war left should join, with no namecalling. It would be particularly fruitful if Richardson could talk about the US infiltration of UNSCOM, given that he had a front row seat when he was US Ambassador to the UN.

Cohen then responds; the discussion spills over on to The Poor Man; back to Tiny Revolution; and so forth, but I'm mainly flagging this thread because the original Jonathan Schwarz rebuttal was a thing of beauty on many levels. It illustrates plainly the pointlessness or hopelessness of "the debate" that guys like Cohen say they want and Cohen is oblivious to the extent to which this pointlessness is illustrated.

In the Billmon-less blogosphere, I think Jonathan Schwarz is now my favorite liberal blogger. Actually I think he is left of liberal but then I always convince myself that people I like are left of liberal...

Fun with the Political Compass 

Via The Bone, those who run the Political Compass site placed the 2008 presidential candidates on the compass.

There is no rigorous methodology here so, at worst, it's an exercise in pseudoscience. Here's the story as I understand it: they have a test they use to place a test taker on the compass and claim to induce the answers to the test questions for public figures based on their public statements, etc. Ultimately -- to be skeptical -- it's sort of like political astrology but like astrology is entertaining. Here's the image in question:

I must say I've always thought the political compass has a nice design -- that is, the two properties they chose to measure on each of the two axiis, taken together, characterize an individual's political position rather well.

Here is the commentary on the above posted by its creators:

In response to many requests, not only from Americans, The Political Compass™ has charted the most prominent names in the 2007 US Primaries. They have been evaluated through scrutiny of public statements, manifestos, interviews and, crucially, voting records. Our apologies for those not included.
It is important to recognise that The Political Compass™ is a continuum rather than consisting of hard and fast quadrants. For example, Ron Paul on the social scale is actually closer to Dennis Kucinich than to many figures within his own party. But on the economic scale, they are, of course, far apart.
When examining the chart it is important to note that although most of the candidates seem quite different, in substance they occupy a relatively restricted area within the universal political spectrum. Democracies with a system of proportional representation give expression to a wider range of political views. While Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel are depicted on the extreme left in an American context, they would simply be mainstream social democrats within the wider political landscape of Europe. Similarly, Hillary Clinton is popularly perceived as a leftist in the United States while in any other western democracy her record is that of a moderate conservative.

Why I Rarely Read The Nation Revisited 

Travel to Venezuela to speak to an organization that receives funding to pay for your appearance through the US Embassy, fraternize with upper income students who loathe Chavez, write an article about your experiences and get published in The Nation. After all, didn't you know that, if you are unaware of Hannah Arendt, you have no business trying to make the revolution? Apparently, nothing is more frightening to the leftist academic vanguardists associated with The Nation than the possibility that people will politically act on their own in the absence of their insight.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

UPDATE: The Run on Cash Intensifies 

Well, sort of. If cash doesn't generate a good enough return, buy the next best thing, something that can be readily converted to cash, no questions asked, on a moment's notice: short-term Treasuries. The era of credit abundance is over. We are being forcibly shoved into one of credit scarcity. An unprecented opportunity for the left to recover its ability to influence society, but only if it recognizes what is happening, and responds accordingly. As the ability of many Americans to create their own secure, containerized social worlds is being ruthlessly exposed as utopian, it is essential to advocate creative collective solutions.

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Looking for Podcast Recommendations 

Recently I discovered that Democracy Now airs on Comcast cable in the Pittsburgh area on the local access channel. Anyway, it's on at a super inconvenient time (8am) but I have the Tivo and have been recording it and watching when I get home from work. It's very strange sitting around in my living room watching Amy Goodman interview, say, Raed Jarrar -- I feel like I'm in some parallel universe in which television isn't evil.

Anyway, because of the Democracy Now in my living room thing, I've gotten interested in podcasts. Does anybody listen to them? Which ones are good? etc.? -- also as far as podcasts go I'm interested in hearing about anything that is good, not just political stuff.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Quite simply, the rich and powerful - for now - can tolerate higher levels of climate change because they can pay to escape the consequences 

In addition to the post by Ellis Sharp from which the title of this one was taken, consider this primer by lenin over at Lenin's Tomb. The critical insight is that climate change will not only be disproportionately destructive for poor people, but constitutes a perverse opportunity for capitalist development through their expulsion, as already revealed by the effort to transform post-Katrina New Orleans into an urban tourist resort park.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

I Just Want It Out 

The run on cash is no longer contained within the world of hedge funds and financial institutions:

Anxious customers jammed the phone lines and website of Countrywide Bank and crowded its branch offices to pull out their savings because of concerns about the financial problems of the mortgage lender that owns the bank.

Countrywide Financial Corp., the biggest home-loan company in the nation, sought Thursday to assure depositors and the financial industry that both it and its bank were fiscally stable. And federal regulators said they weren't alarmed by the volume of withdrawals from the bank.

The mortgage lender said it would further tighten its loan standards and make fewer large mortgages. Those moves could make it harder to get a home loan and further depress the housing market in California and other states.

The rush to withdraw money -- by depositors that included a former Los Angeles Kings star hockey player and an executive of a rival home-loan company -- came a day after fears arose that Countrywide Financial could file for bankruptcy protection because of a worsening credit crunch stemming from the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

The parent firm borrowed $11.5 billion Thursday by using up an existing line of credit from 40 banks, saying the money would help the lender meet its funding needs and continue to grow. But stock investors, apparently alarmed that the company felt compelled to use the credit line, sent Countrywide's already battered stock down an additional 11%.

At Countrywide Bank offices, in a scene rare since the U.S. savings-and-loan crisis ended in the early '90s, so many people showed up to take out some or all of their money that in some cases they had to leave their names.

In West Los Angeles, a Countrywide supervisor brought in from another office served coffee to more than 25 people waiting calmly for their turn with the one clerk who could help them.

Bill Ashmore drove his Porsche Cayenne to Countrywide's Laguna Niguel office and waited half an hour to cash out $500,000, which he then wired to an account at Bank of America.

"It's because of the fear of the bankruptcy," said Ashmore, president of Irvine's Impac Mortgage Holdings, which escaped bankruptcy itself recently by shutting down virtually all its lending and laying off hundreds of employees.

"It's got my wife totally freaked out," he said. "I just don't want to deal with it. I don't care about losing 90 days' interest, I don't care if it's FDIC-insured -- I just want it out."

As explained by Doug Kass over at thestreet.com, the party is over. No more unlimited access to credit for those who want to speculate with debt. Kass focuses upon the consequences for investors, but the implications are much more serious.

Countrywide Bank, the nation's third largest savings and loan, is a classic example. It created a mortgage unit, Countrywide Financial, based upon the belief that it could always sell the unit's paper in the market to institutions willing to package the loans as bonds. Now, with the markets nearly frozen for mortgage backed securities that are not guaranteed by the federal government, Countrywide Financial is generating approximately 20 billion dollars in home mortgages per month, without the capital to finance them. And, the parent, Countrywide Bank doesn't have sufficient resources to do it, either, especially when depositors are withdrawing their money.

Clearly, from the perspective of bankers and investors, Countrywide Bank is too big to fail, given the deflationary consequences for real estate, stocks and bonds. Of course, Federal Reserve Bank President of Saint Louis, Willliam Poole, says that the real economy, you know the one that actually involves the manufacture, distribution of goods and services is fine. But, what happens if it we discover that Countrywide Bank is more representative of the US economy today than GM or Intel, and that neither the Federal Reserve nor Wall Street can prevent the demise of it?

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Why I Rarely Read The Nation 

Katha Politt provides some condescending, matronly advice to Cindy Sheehan: Please Don't Run. (Hat tip to the Angry Arab) Cindy has her quirks, to be sure, but she is definitely providing a public service by exposing those faux leftists who are only willing to do something about Iraq if the Democrats agree to it.

Ironically, I am not that enthusiastic about Sheehan running against Pelosi, either, but it has nothing to do with preserving the Republican/Democrat duopoly. Rather, it is a reflection of my increasing pessimism about the ability to accomplish anything within the existing political system. But, if Sheehan is willing to put the time and effort in proving me, and many others wrong, then I hope she does so.

A generation of liberals and leftists have persuaded themselves that they should be terrified by any spontaneous social movement that refuses to be domesticated by the Democratic Party. As I have said here previously, I respect Sheehan for insisting upon her independence, and the independence of the antiwar movement. As shocking as it may be to Politt and others, there are lot of Americans who care about Iraq for reasons other than the fact that it can be expediently used to help the Democrats win elections.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Film Notes: The Deaths of Bergman and Antonioni 

Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni died on the same day, prompting joyous reflection from a generation that reveled in the obscure alienation of their movies. I was not part of it, primarily because I have seen none of Bergman's films, and only two of Antonioni's, The Red Desert and The Passenger.

Both are fine, but I wouldn't say that either of them excited me a great deal. Certainly, one can relate to the The Red Desert as a manifestation of the alienation associated with the postwar era, a prefiguration of the purported postmodern world, a world in which life becomes more and more aimless, and, hence, neurotically agonizing. because of the lack of social conflict and cultural significance. But I suspect that Antonioni, if he were still alive, would respond angrily to such a linear interpretation. So, perhaps, it is better just to note the cool erotic vulnerability of Monica Vitti, and the fun of trying to identify all of the settings that Antonioni had painted (including trees!) before shooting the film.

Looking back, I have always been fascinated by films about people often described as socially marginal, people who survive, and even flourish, within the covert spaces of everyday life. People like the black marketeers, merchants, pimps and washed up film stars in the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the Taiwanese who lived through the transformation of their country from a Japanese colony to an technological and economic powerhouse, as chronicled in in the movies of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and the entrapped, yet independent women portrayed in the films of Imamura Shohei.

Indeed, the Japanese cinema of the 1950s and 1960s is one the great cultural achievements of recent memory. It is rare if one does not encounter a theme or subject prominently emphasized in a fine American or European film that has not previously been addressed, usually in a superior manner, in an earlier Japanese one. Perhaps, by evaluating these subjects within the context of a new, unfamiliar world, we are able to see them, and understand them, more clearly. I guess that I am more drawn to movies about people who engage with, and struggle against, their social conditions, instead of withdrawing from them.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Adios, Turd Blossom... 

I don't have much of interest to say about Rove leaving (which is why I'm writing this post about it!) other than when I was drinking my coffee and skimming articles on Salon this morning I thought for multiple minutes that their Rove piece was some kind of unfunny parody article, which was a really odd epistemological state to be in ...

Anyway here's some random thoughts ... First of all it doesn't seem likely that Rove is being pushed out for a couple of reasons:

  • It's pretty clear that as much as the Democrats love this summer's long-running miniseries Everybody Hates Alberto they're not really interested in going after anyone. It is now, you know, mid-August of 2007 ... the attorney firing story came to the media's attention when?

    Basically I hate to break it to the Dem blogs but the Gonzales story ended when the Democrats rolled over on the NSA wiretapping bill. The visit to Ashcroft's hospital bed was the angle through which someone could have been nailed -- not for any pedantic legal reason but because that story was so goddam nutty that it made good copy and would have made good TV. However they can't possibly play that card now without looking ridiculous -- most Democrats just voted in favor of what John fucking Ashcroft was supposedly making a principled stand against

  • Even if there is something brewing with Rove's involvement in the attorney firings and other scandals du jour does it really make any difference at this point if he's in the administration or out of it? In fact if he still worked for the White House it seems like it would be easier to cite executive privilege.

But I haven't really been following the Gonzales stuff lately so take my gut feelings with a grain of salt. I must, say, though, Rove doesn't seem like the quitting type -- he probably just wants to go work on some Republican's campaign full time in an attempt to regain his lost mojo, which is great news for the Democrats.

Speaking of which, I thought this Think Progress post titled "Media Gushes Over Rove: ‘Superstar,’ ‘Boy Genius,’ ‘The Mastermind Behind Everything’" was amusing; that is, I'm all for calling attention to the fact that Karl Rove actually did a rather poor job as a political strategist given the raw materials that he had at his disposal, (i.e. "He took a chance to realign the country and to unite it in a war - and threw it away in a binge of hate-filled niche campaigning, polarization and short-term expediency." to quote Andrew Sullivan) and I'm all for complaining about the fact that the media always depicts Rove as the greatest genius since Archimedes, but I'd like to point out to Think Progress et. al. that, you know, liberal blogs just very irritatingly spent about seven years buttressing up Rove's genius-boy reputation so maybe it's a little disingenuous to be shocked and dismayed about the media doing it now. For example, when I wrote the following in April of 2006,

Via Cursor, I saw this post by Philo in which he says that he has "a sinking feeling" the Republicans will win in November because of the evil genius of their nihilistic strategy in which words are never connected to reality -- now that Karl Rove is focused solely on politics again, etc.

In my opinion Philo's sinking feeling might well be accurate but, you know, I'm sorry but this whole Karl Rove as Mephistopheles routine is getting a little bit stale. It reminds me of the recent little commented upon report that the US military has been, surprise, surprise, purposely overplaying Zarqawi's significance in Iraq: at this point, if Karl Rove didn't exist the Democrats would have to invent him.

, it sure as hell wasn't out of annoyance that the mainstream media was making pre-emptive excuses for a Democratic loss because Karl Rove is a genius...

Also, I don't really know how to work this into the above but did anyone else see the footage of the press conference today in which Rove's resignation was announced and catch that bit at the end in which some loud-mouthed journalist (apparently CBS's Bill Plante) yells out, "If he's so smart, how come you lost Congress?" Good times, good times -- that almost made me do a spit-take...


The New York Times Propagandizes for More than the Iraq War 

UPDATE: Tightening lending standards and declining credit demand almost all across the board, according to the Federal Reserve's July Senior Loan Officer Survey (Hat tip to Calculated Risk). No need to worry, though, I'm sure that employment, wage growth and investment opportunities are always enhanced by reduced demand and access to credit. Maybe, the Times can reassure us by running an article on this subject tomorrow.

INITIAL POST: Click on this link. Does anyone believe that the substance of the article is remotely plausible? If so, why? I'm willing to be educated.

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Manufactured Consent 

Last week, Joe published a post that ridiculed Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollock, those purported Brookings Institution critics of the war who discovered that, gosh golly, the surge is really working, and the war is turning in our favor. Joe, unlike the mainstream media, recalled that, in fact, both of them have supported the war since its inception. Amazing what you can learn from a little Internet research when your memory fails.

In an excellent Salon article, Glenn Greenwald mercilessly exposes the role of the mainstream media in perpetuating the fraud that two war critics had changed their mind about the prospects for victory in Iraq (whatever that means). Greenwald also shatters any remaining vestige of credibility in regard to the alleged discoveries of O'Hanlon and Pollack during their trip to Iraq. The mendacity of O'Hanlon and his media enablers is a wonder to behold, the sort of thing you have to do, I guess, if you want to be appointed to a prominent foreign policy position in the next Clinton presidency.

Because, contrary to the public reaction, the purpose here is not to legitimize Bush policy, but rather, to justify the hawkish Iraq views of nearly all of the Democratic presidential candidates, with the exception of Kucinich and Richardson. In other words, as bad as Bush has been, the US is on the verge of victory if we just follow the wiser counsel of a Democratic president like Hillary or Obama. Hence, the creation of a phony antiwar advocacy group by MoveON.org and the Service Employees International Union, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, to forestall calls for immediate withdrawal.

As Justin Raimondo said today:

President Hillary Clinton will inherit a war that she intends to fight and win, no matter what she says to the Democratic base. And her "antiwar" cheerleaders at MoveOn and the SEIU will still be "building bridges" to cushy jobs, choice cuts of pork, and their fair share of political perks. Then, with sudden swiftness, we'll be hearing about the progress of labor unions in American-occupied Iraq, and why it's much better and more "humane" to continue a "residual" presence that will, like all such presences, grow of its own accord.

There remains an Alice in Wonderland, or more precisely, a Medea in Wonderland, quality to the exertions required to perpetuate the illusion that Democrats like Hillary intend to extricate US forces from Iraq. Fortunately, as described here yesterday, the Iraqi resistance doesn't rely upon such nonsense as part of their strategy to liberate their country from the predations of the occupation. Instead, the more direct approach of violent attacks upon US forces is clearly more effective.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Grinding Down the Occupation 

Like water on rock, the Iraqi resistance is slowly wearing down the forces of the occupation:

Lieutenant Clay Hanna looks sick and white. Like his colleagues he does not seem to sleep. Hanna says he catches up by napping on a cot between operations in the command centre, amid the noise of radio. He is up at 6am and tries to go to sleep by 2am or 3am. But there are operations to go on, planning to be done and after-action reports that need to be written. And war interposes its own deadly agenda that requires his attention and wakes him up.

When he emerges from his naps there is something old and paper-thin about his skin, something sketchy about his movements as the days go by.

The Americans he commands, like the other men at Sullivan - a combat outpost in Zafraniya, south east Baghdad - hit their cots when they get in from operations. But even when they wake up there is something tired and groggy about them. They are on duty for five days at a time and off for two days. When they get back to the forward operating base, they do their laundry and sleep and count the days until they will get home. It is an exhaustion that accumulates over the patrols and the rotations, over the multiple deployments, until it all joins up, wiping out any memory of leave or time at home. Until life is nothing but Iraq.

Hanna and his men are not alone in being tired most of the time. A whole army is exhausted and worn out. You see the young soldiers washed up like driftwood at Baghdad's international airport, waiting to go on leave or returning to their units, sleeping on their body armour on floors and in the dust.

The Iraqis, of course, endure far worse, fighting a technologically superior force that does not hesitate to use its weapons indiscriminately. They live in conditions of poverty, without reliable water, power and food. And, yet, they are on the verge of defeating what is commonly described as the world's only remaining superpower, despite the lack of open foreign assistance. Unlike the Vietnamese, the last people to inflict a humiliating defeat upon the US, there are no countries with the economic and military resources of countries like China and Russia to assist them.

The Iraqis are very clear about why they are fighting, they are doing so to expel the Americans. Conversely, US troops aren't so sure. They provide many reasons to gloss over the fact that they have volunteered to kill Iraqis and subjugate them in their own land. Some believe that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, others that Saddam and al-Qaeda were jointly responsible for 9/11, others that the war is part of a global religious conflict between Christianity and Islam. Cindy Sheehan probably described the most compelling reason, the need for soldiers to stand together, to fight for one another, until the war is over.

None of them are sufficient to overcome the intensity by which Iraqis are fighting to liberate themselves from occupation. While US troops express weariness and demoralization, the resistance exudes assurance. It draws support from across the whole of Iraqi society, with the exception of the Kurds. Tariq Aziz's famous remark, Let our cities be our swamps and our buildings our jungles, ceased to be implausible bravado years ago.

Nor do any of them justify what US and British troops have done to the people of Iraq. Whether this year, next year or sometime thereafter, the US, like the British, will depart. Many around the world will celebrate their victory, in the expectation that it announces a new era, one in which they too will be able to successfully challenge US hegemony. The Venezuelans will do so quite boisterously, in recognition of the debt that they know that they owe the Iraqi resistance for making it impossible for the US to violently intervene in their country. Because, while they may not know it, participants in the Iraqi resistance have been fighting not only to liberate Iraq, but to defend the Bolivarian Revolution as well.

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Friday, August 10, 2007


UPDATE 2: Next in line, behind Bear Stearns? (Hat tip to Calculated Risk)

UPDATE 1: The run on cash continues, unabated:

The Federal Reserve added $19 billion in temporary funds to the banking system through the purchase of mortgage-backed securities to help meet demand for cash amid a rout in bonds backed by home loans to riskier borrowers.

The Fed accepted only mortgage-backed debt as collateral for this morning's weekend repurchase agreement. Losses in U.S. subprime mortgage investments have been rippling through global credit markets, driving interest rates higher and sinking share prices. The Fed also added $24 billion yesterday, the most since April, as demand for cash increased.

The New York Fed's additions lowered the Federal funds rate to 5.375 percent, according to ICAP Plc, after it began trading at 6 percent, the highest opening rate since January 2001. The Fed's benchmark overnight rate is currently 5.25 percent.

``It looks like this will be enough to address the problem today because of the pace at which the funds rate moved down,'' said Tony Crescenzi, chief bond market strategist at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York. ``It's not an extraordinary amount but large.''

Fed funds traded above the central bank's target for a second straight day.

According to Berkeley economist Brad DeLong, it is highly unusual for the Federal Reserve to depart from its practice of accepting high quality Federal debt as collateral for funds, and insist upon mortgage backed securities instead.

So, we have two things happening here, the injection of more liquidity into the system, and, possibly more importantly, a specific effort by the Fed to intervene in the mortgage backed securities market by accepting them as collateral for funds released to financial institutions through the discount window. Given the notoriously poor quality of these instruments, it appears to be an unprecedent, extraordinary action.

INITIAL POST: From The Independent:

The European Central Bank released nearly €100bn (£68bn) in emergency funds into the banking system yesterday in an effort to kick-start the crippled credit markets, but its move only sparked panic selling on stock markets across the world.

The sudden cash injection was the largest since 12 September 2001, when the central bank released billions to stabilise the market after the terrorist attacks in New York.

The trigger for the €98bn package was a major overnight spike in inter-bank lending rates that if unremedied threatened to disrupt the normal functioning and stability of Europe's financial system.

As with the other market upheavals in the last month, the root cause was traced to America where the fallout from the meltdown of the market for risky, or sub-prime, loans continues to widen. "This is a reflection of the fact that the sub-prime issues will not be constrained to the US financial sector. As the financial sector across Europe shows its hand over the next weeks and months we will see where the exposure exists," said Ian Richards, European equity strategist at ABN Amro. "The ECB is acting as the lender of last resort. The scale of intervention we have seen today is quite large."

Yesterday, there was an actual run on cash. When was the last time that such a thing happened? After 9/11? Or, back then, did the global banking system release funds because they merely feared one? As it did on Black Monday in 1987? Now, the Bank of Japan has followed suit.

Meanwhile, popular, high traffic liberal blogs, like firedoglake, Daily Kos, David Sirota and Crooks and Liars are totally oblivious, running posts on their usual obssessions, the presidential campaign, wiretapping, and the invariable helpless handwringing about the war in Iraq. Have they swallowed the kool aid of the new economy, ridiculing concerns about credit and financial markets as a manifestation of membership in the cult of precious metals?

One need not be a card carrying member in the gold standard society, with a pedantic fascination in the works of obscure Austrian economists, to believe that credit is the lifeblood of capitalism, and that the disruption of it can be turbulent, if not catastrophic. As already described here last week, the probable consequences of this credit crunch will be dire for millions of Americans, driving them out of their homes and communities into lives of permanent insecurity (click on the Housing Bubble label below), and, the liberals are not only silent, they don't even realize that it's happening!

Perhaps, I just don't get it. Perhaps, we are only living through the common ups and downs of financial markets, and I am attributing a significance to the events of recent weeks that doesn't exist. But, try telling that to the Bay Area homebuyers described in this article. Or, these, back in DC. And, this is only the beginning, as soon as business reporters start contacting small businesses, credit card companies and farmers, they will discover that the credit crunch is working its way remorselessly throughout the entire economy.

Alexander Cockburn once ascerbically said, back in 2000, that Al Gore's only constituency were people that made over $100,000 a year. There was a lot of truth to this cutting remark. You get a similar impression encountering the social and economic tone deafness of the liberal blogosphere, an impression of people disconnected from the realities of everyday life. At least, Jim Cramer knows that millions of Americans are about to lose their homes. Even so, you'd think that some of the wealthier ones must have gotten a margin call from their brokers this week to break through the fog of separation.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Pariah 

I was sitting behind the stage at Union Square the other day when a young woman with a cameraman in tow approached me and asked me if she could ask me a “question.” Seldom when I am approached to answer “a” question does it turn out to be just one question and this person looked like she was about 14 years old.

“Sure,” I answered her. With eyes brimming with tears, this was her question, prefaced by a comment:” I am a soldier and I served in Afghanistan, what do you have to say to the troops who are over there?”

I don’t know what told me this soldier was not “pro-war,” she had on jeans and a non-descript striped shirt with a collar. Neither she, nor her cameraman had any anti-war paraphernalia. I think it was her watery eyes that gave her away as being anti-war. I couldn’t be sure though because it has become certain groups and individuals’ life’s missions to harass me.

My heart is always with our troops no matter what these “pro-murder, pro-destruction, pro-Bush” people think. My own son was a soldier and, although he didn’t have any kind of killer instinct and a fear of having to kill someone when he went to Iraq, he was a good soldier and he loved his Army family and proved that love by dying to save some of them. I think most of our troops are in Iraq and Afghanistan to support their “buddies” as a young soldier wrote to me:

“I did not know your son, but we lived on the same little FOB, and I recognize his name, and face. I was infantry, and he must have been in 182 since I don’t recognize him from the other INF. companies.

I hear many people ask why are we dying for nothing. NOTHING, could be further from the truth. We do not fight, and die for a man. We do not fight, and die for a cause, or corporation. We fight, and die for each other, nothing more. I will not have it said in my presence that your son died for nothing. He died for me, he died for his brothers, and sisters in arms. That is why we all fight. That is why we all die.”

I understand that kind of camaraderie and love. There are many people whom I would die for and I would have traded places with Casey in a heartbeat if given the choice. What I don’t understand is a cowardly commander-in-chief and his vice-war lord sending our brave troops to die for each other. Even the troops know there is no “noble cause” other than the bond that glues them together. I have met hundreds of vets from the Iraq/Afghanistan mistakes on down to the Korean War mistake and they all tell me that they would have taken Casey’s place, too.

When the young vet confronted me with the camera in Union Square the other day, I could only speak from my heart. I answered her:

“Oh, honey. It must seem like the peace movement in the US has forgotten about our troops in Afghanistan and the Afghani people. I know that I don’t talk about that conflict enough, although I think that it is morally wrong, too. I know that our soldiers are dying and being harmed there, too. As much as the media doesn’t cover what’s happening in Iraq, it pays even less attention to Afghanistan. However, the peace movement is not united on Afghanistan, because many people think that it is a “good war.” I believe no such thing and I promise you that I will be more vigilant about exposing that war crime, too.”

Then I hugged her and whispered in her ear: “Your buddies deserve honor and attention, too and I am so sorry for what you have had to go through!”

She replied to me: “I am going to send this to my friends in Afghanistan and I just want to let you know that we are all behind you.” That quick exchange had an enormous impact on me and I will fulfill my promise to that young woman.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

No One is Going to Protect the Public From Rapacious Capitalism 

Cramer again, here and here.

Strange times, when a former hedge fund manager and self-serving media icon tells the truth about the unwillingness of the government and the financial system to save a middle class plundered by unscrupulous lenders. Resigned to the catastrophe that is occuring in slow motion right in front of our eyes, Cramer says that he will proceed to find ways to make money in this financially Darwinian environment.

Making money is his scene, of course, but, in this instance, he's not telling the whole story. Even if we accept the notion that he actually cares about middle class Americans, Cramer is motivated by other things as well when he calls for a Federal Reserve bailout of the home mortgage sector. The peril is even greater than Cramer's belief that 7 miillon American families are about to lose their homes.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

As I Said . . . 

. . . another manifestation of the the American Palestinians:

It was bad enough when Hurricane Katrina chased Carrie Lewis out of her assisted-living home in New Orleans. Now she fears the rest of her life may be spent in the isolation of a federally sponsored trailer park.

Because hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed so much affordable housing, Lewis and thousands of others displaced - mainly the poor, elderly and infirm - have nowhere else to go.

"I want to go home," said Lewis, 79, who now lives in the Renaissance Village trailer park. "They don't have places for old people in New Orleans yet. What am I supposed to do? I don't want to die in a little trailer in the middle of a field somewhere."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided 120,000 trailers to people displaced from their Gulf Coast homes by the 2005 hurricanes.

Pamela Lomis and her two children feel abandoned. Lomis lives in a FEMA trailer in the Sugar Hill trailer park in the midst of cane fields near Convent, La., about midway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

It's 20 miles from the nearest grocery store. A single bus leaves each morning at 9 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m., Lomis' life line to a world that seems distant.

"We just sit around here with life slipping by," Lomis said. "We're just on hold. Just waiting for something that never comes," she said.

Out of sight, out of mind.

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Liberal Hawks Strike Back 

I don't know if other people have been following this but last week Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack had a NYT op-ed, "A War We Just Might Win", about how great the surge is going. After a stage-managed field trip O'Hanlon and Pollack returned to report that, yes, if you talk to the people in Iraq that the military introduces you to, they will indeed paint a positive picture of the occupation.

Given that the piece is mostly a summary of what O'Hanlon and Pollack were told by various official sources, the extent to which we should view the piece as valuable is entirely a function of its authors' credibility, and as numerous liberal blogs have pointed out, on this issue, they have none. Despite repeatedly being characterized as war critics in the media, both O'Hanlon and Pollack have been boosters of the war since 2002 -- both were in fact proponents of the surge. Greenwald does a good job of documenting this aspect of the story.

As an aside -- which I'm bringing up just because no one else is mentioning it and it's funny -- it is amusing to see the big liberal bloggers ripping into claims of O'Hanlon and Pollack's credibility due to their imaginary status as war critics. It was, after all, liberal bloggers like Josh Marshall, Matthew Yglesias, and Kevin Drum -- all three of whom were pro-invasion in late 2002 and early 2003 -- who were perhaps the most influential promoters of Kenneth Pollack's The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq in the first place. We see Greg Sargent, for example, posting a long examination of O'Hanlon and Pollack statements supporting the war on Josh Marshall's TPMCafe that for some reason doesn't cite Josh Marshall's "The Reluctant Hawk", a glowing review of Pollack's magnum opus from 2002. The spin that Yglesias, Sargent, et. al. are debunking is that we should listen to O'Hanlon and Pollack because they are praising the surge reluctantly, but it was the liberal bloggers themselves who gave at least Pollack this phony "I can't believe I'm saying this" credibility.

Since "A War We Just Might Win" is a transcription of what Pentagon talking heads would like printed in the New York Times, it offers a sneak preview of what is going to be in Petraeus's much anticipated September report on the progress of the surge. Here is the key passage:

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups [ ... ] Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies.

This is what Petraeus is going to say in September: the surge is working because we have Sunni sheiks on our side in a fight against al-Qaeda. This new line explains to a great degree the change in White House rhetoric that I commented on two months ago such that according to Bush speeches everyone the US battles in Iraq is now al-Qeada.

The story makes more sense when we are clear on who we are talking about when we talk about "Sunni sheiks". To quote veteran Australian war correspondent Michael Ware, the term "Sunni sheiks" is "a euphemism for the Sunni insurgency". When we remove the rosy spin from the new narrative what we are discussing is the US cutting a deal with Sunni insurgents at the expense of the Shiite government. In other words what Petraeus is going to do in September is confirm Seymour Hersh's piece "The Redirection" from earlier this year.

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