Thursday, March 31, 2005

U.S. Meddling in Kyrgyzstan?

From via The Guardian:
The ousted Kyrgyzstan president, Askar Akayev, last night accused the US of being behind the "anti-constitutional coup" which forced him to flee the country last week, and said he would only resign if given sufficient a guarantee of his personal safety.

In his first interview with the western media since he was driven from the central Asian state he had ruled for 15 years, Mr Akayev said "foreign interference" was "unconditionally an important aspect" in the dramatic events that culminated in his flight last Thursday.

"I think that their influence was prevailing," he said when asked of US government involvement in the mayhem that is becoming known as the daffodil revolution. He added that the opposition was "supported by the [US organizations] the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, and other organizations ... They were providing training and finance," he said. The US has maintained an airbase near the capital, Bishkek, ever since it persuaded Kyrgyzstan to host its Afghanistan campaign in 2001.
I'll keep my eye on this over the next few days. I'm interested in why the U.S. would intervene in Kyrgyzstan. What strategic importance does Kyrgyzstan hold? Could President Bush's "liberty campaign" be earnest enough that it pushes democracy promotion in unstrategic locales? I don't know. One thing though, Kyrgyzstan is right next to China, so maybe Washington's looking for a proxy in the Dragon's backyard.

Continue Reading...

Superstition or Reason

Another post at caught my eye, Robert Morris's "The End of Reason." Here Morris argues correctly, and amusingly, that since faith "renounces evidence" and superstition is "belief which is not based on human reason or scientific knowledge," the two words are essentially the same. Therefore people of faith shouldn't have a problem being called people of superstition. Playing the trickster, Morris replaces faith with superstition in the following statement from President Bush. Here's the result:
I believe in the power of superstition in people's lives. Our government should not fear programs that exist because a church or a synagogue or a mosque has decided to start one. We should not discriminate against programs based upon superstition in America. We should enable them to access federal money, because superstition-based programs can change people's lives, and America will be better off for it.
Morris is clever here, because who would want their tax dollars spent on superstition, especially a superstition that's not their own. What we've seen most acutely since President Bush assumed power is faith and belief superseding rationality and evidence. While the most cogent example is Iraq (WMD, troop levels, democracy), this has played out in the domestic culture as well. As Morris explains:
A few months ago, a dozen science centers, mostly in the South, refused to show Volcanoes, a science film funded in part by the National Science Foundation. The film was turned down because it very briefly raises the possibility that life on Earth may have originated at undersea steam vents.

Carol Murray, director of marketing for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, said that many people said the film was "blasphemous." Lisa Buzzelli, director of the Charleston Imax Theater in South Carolina, told The New York Times, "We have definitely a lot more creation public than evolution public."

Buzzelli's probably right. And that cannot bode well for America's future economic and technological leadership. A 1988 survey by researchers from the University of Texas found that one of four public school biology teachers thought that humans and dinosaurs might have inhabited the earth simultaneously. A recent survey by Gallup found that 35 percent of Americans believe the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe. Another 48 percent believe it is the "inspired" word of the same. Some 46 percent of Americans take a literalist view of creation; another 40 percent believe God has guided creation over the course of millions of years.
Why is this scary? Because our economic livelihood depends on American's ability to obey reason. It is due to our reliance on the scientific method that we are the world's most powerful nation - but it's not lasting. As my editor Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in "Off Track" in last month's The Washington Monthly, America's inability to innovate could eventually undermine our economy. Deftly, he compared a talk by President Bush given to CEOs to another conference held by the Council of Competitiveness on the same day, in the same building:
The report [of the Council of Competitiveness] made a point of noting that the United States remains the world's dominant economy, the leader in fields ranging from biotechnology to computers to entertainment, but the CEOs nevertheless cited worrying evidence that this dominance might not last. For decades, the United States ranked first in the world in the percentage of its GDP devoted to scientific research; now, we've dropped behind Japan, Korea, Israel, Sweden, and Finland. The number of scientific papers published by Americans peaked in 1992 and has fallen 10 percent; a decade ago, the United States led the world in scientific publications, but now it trails Europe. For two centuries, a higher proportion of Americans had gone to university than have citizens of any other country; now several nations in Asia and Europe have caught up. “Those competitor countries…are not only wide awake,” said Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, “but they are running a marathon…and we tend to run sprints.”

While the president's talk focused almost exclusively on the need to free up capital for investment, these CEOs barely mentioned that as a problem. Instead, they stressed various below-the-radar government actions that they felt were undermining America's competitive edge: security arrangements that have crimped the supply of educated immigrants; recent cuts in science funding (the president's 2005 budget sliced money for research in 21 of 24 areas); and the reassigning of what research funding remains to applied research, most of it in homeland security and the military, and away from the basic scientific research that economists say is the essential engine of future economic growth. They also expressed concern about those policies Washington was not pursuing but should be: broadening access to patents; increasing research into alternative fuels; and bringing information technology into the health care market.
So while President Bush allows federal money to be spent on faith-based domestic programs, on a faith-based war, while cutting taxes on the faith it won't undermine the economy, he's also slashing federal funding to those R&D programs that will help us keep our economic edge. I don't know how or why faith, particularly of the Christian strain, has become so powerful, so quickly, but if people of reason don't come to the rescue soon, faith is all we're going to have left.

Continue Reading...

Labor Pains in Iraq

Head on over to and check out my interview with Abdullah Muhsin, the international representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). Iraq's fledgling labor movement (which is more than just the IFTU) needs our support. To contribute, go to the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, which is helping the nascent trade union movement get back on their feet after decades under the Baathist heel.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

What a Democratic, Sovereign Iraq Means to the U.S.

Here's Noam Chomsky in interview, via Znet, on what a democratic, sovereign Iraq means for U.S. interests in the Middle East:
The last thing the United States wants is a democratic, sovereign Iraq. To see why, it's enough to think for five minutes about what its policies are likely to be. Let's suppose there were a democratic Iraq with some degree of sovereignty. The first thing it'll do is try to improve relations with Iran. It's not that they love Iran particularly, but they'd rather have friendly relations with the neighboring Shiite state than hostile relations. So, they'll move towards improving relations with Iran, especially because it has a Shiite majority. If they're democratic enough, so the Shiite majority has a significant part. The next thing that will happen - and it's already beginning to happen - is that the victory of the Iraqis against the United States has begun to stir up similar sentiments in the Shiite areas (mostly Shiite areas) of Saudi Arabia, which is a neighbor.

DM: …and a US ally.

NC: Yeah, but that's inside Saudi Arabia, and that happens to be where most of the oil is. They have been excluded by the US and Saudi leadership, but they're not going to be likely to accept that if there is a sovereign, democratic Iraq next door. It's really a Shiite-dominated Iraq. And it's already beginning to happen. Well, you know, that'll lead towards a situation in which most of the world's oil would be under the control of a relatively autonomous Shiite alliance. The US won't tolerate that for a moment. The next thing that would happen in a sovereign Iraq is that they would try to resume their very natural position as a leading state in the Arab world. They're the most educated country, the most advanced and so on. In many ways, it should be the leader in the Arab world. Actually, those are factors that go back to Biblical times. And they'll try to resume that position, which means they'll try to rearm. They will confront the regional enemy, namely Israel, which has virtually turned into a US military outpost. They may even develop weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent against Israel's overwhelming advantage, both militarily and in weapons of mass destruction. Those are very natural developments to be expected. Can you see the US accepting any of this? I mean, those are the likely consequences - not certain, but likely consequences - of a relatively sovereign, more or less democratic Iraq. It's a nightmare for the United States. It's no wonder it tried to prevent elections in any possible way, and is now trying to undermine the results.
Love him or hate him, Chomsky's analysis is more than plausible.

Continue Reading...

Raw Deal

Nicholas Kristof of the NYTs has a poignant op-ed today on AIDS in Africa and the Bush Administration's unwillingness to develop a policy that works. First off, let's give credit to the Bush Administration for talking about the problem as well as financing some preventative programs. Undoubtedly, publicizing the problem helps garner donations from all over the world. That aside, the administration funds the least effective programs. As Kristof points out:
In theory, everybody agrees on how to prevent AIDS: the ABC method, which stands for abstinence, being faithful and condoms. But the Bush administration interprets this as ABc. New administration guidelines stipulate that U.S.-financed AIDS programs for young people must focus on abstinence or, for those who are already sexually active, "returning to abstinence."
Again we have the administration preferring ideology, or rather theology, to reality and it's once again costing lives.

But forget about the "Christian purity" aspect of the aid, because as Kristof demonstrates through Kera Sibanda, a women villager in Zimbabwe, abstinence or "returning to abstinence" isn't a possibility for married women.
Mrs. Sibanda is an educated woman and lovely English-speaker who married a man who could find a job only in another city. She suspected that he had a girlfriend there, but he would return to the village every couple of months to visit her.

"I asked him to use a condom," she said, "but he refused. There was nothing I could do."

He died two years ago, apparently of AIDS. Now Mrs. Sibanda worries that she and her beautiful 2-year-old daughter, Amanda, have H.I.V. as well.
As the article shows subtlely, married women don't have much status in many of Africa's patriarchal societies. If the husband doesn't want to where a condom, he won't. So much of this is an African problem and therefore the continent needs a women's rights movement so that females have a say in society and in the home. Nevertheless, there's more the U.S. could do to help: deprioritze abstinence, finance wider condom distribution and sex education programs, while helping to fund and create a mass-marketing campaign that inextricably ties condom use to stopping the ravages of AIDS.

Ironically, according to Kristof, there's one area where the Bush Administration does finance condom distribution: prostitution. Not surprisingly, it works. Yet, "the U.S. Center for Health and Gender Equity reports that in several countries, the U.S. is already backing away from effective programs that involve condoms."

If saving lives are what matters, U.S. aid shouldn't be tied to such theological strings, which places virtue over mercy to the detriment of innocent women and children like Mrs. Sibanda and her daughter, Amanda.

They deserve better.

Continue Reading...

Bush's Peculiar Democratic Sensibility

Via the Progress Report:

BOUNCERS IN DENVER: Although everyone finances the president's Social Security road show with their tax dollars, not everyone is welcome at the "town hall" events. Three Denver residents report "they were forcibly removed from one of President Bush's town meetings on Social Security because they displayed a bumper sticker on their car condemning the administration's Middle East policies." According to the White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, the person who removed them was a volunteer staff member who was concerned "they might try to disrupt the event." The three individuals "said nothing and did not sport T-shirts or signs criticizing the president or his policies." McClellan added, "There is plenty of opportunity outside of the event to express their views."
No commentary needed.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Science and Its Faith-Based Discontents

I just heard about this from a pretty shrill and self-massaging opinion piece on, but a Florida state representative has introduced a bill that could give students the right to sue their professors if their opinions are not respected. The Florida House Choice and Innovation Committee passed the Orwellian "Academic Freedom Bill of Rights" last Friday 8-2 "despite strenous objections from the only two Democrats," according to the Independent Florida Alligator . The bill was sponsored by Rep. Dennis Baxley to stop "leftist totalitarianism" preached by "dictator professors." According to Florida's House of Representatives Staff Analysis, if passed, this bill could:
shift the responsibility to determine whether or not a student’s or faculty member’s freedom has been infringed from professional faculty self-governance to institutional or judicial governance.
So much for conservatism's less government is better government rhetoric.

This seems to be a pretty cynical move to get "intelligent design theory" into the classroom through a legislative doggie-door. The paper quoted Baxley as saying, "Some professors say, ‘Evolution is a fact. I don’t want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don’t like it, there’s the door,’ Baxley said, citing one example when he thought a student should sue." So, his intentions are pretty clear. This is just another instance of what Lawrence M. Krauss, chairman of the physics department at Case Western Reserve University, describes as rational intelligence's losing battle against fundamentalism in today's NYTs.
The "reality-based community," as one White House insider so poetically referred to it recently, is losing the fight for hearts and minds throughout the country to a well-orchestrated marketing program that plays on sentiment and fear.

The open intrusion of religious dogma into the highest levels of government is stunning. Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court speaks of "the fact that government derives its authority from God" (during oral arguments before the court about displays of the Ten Commandments) while the president of the United States has argued that evolution is a theory not a fact.

The effort to blur the huge distinction between faith and science, between empirically falsifiable facts and beliefs, was on display again this month in two very different contexts.

Congressional leaders ignored the conclusions of the doctors who have actually examined Terri Schiavo and judges who have listened to the evidence. Senator Bill Frist, previously a heart surgeon who must have once known better, shunned the conclusions of these doctors and, without ever having examined Ms. Schiavo himself, stated his "belief" that she was not in a vegetative state.

Meanwhile, on a much less emotionally tragic but no less intellectually puzzling front, the Templeton Foundation continued with its program to sponsor the notion that science can somehow ultimately reveal the existence of God by once again awarding its annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion not to a theologian, but to a physicist.

Dr. Charles Townes, the winner, is a Nobel laureate whose scientific work has been of impeccable distinction; his prime contribution to religion appears to be his proudly proclaiming his belief in God as revealed through the beauty of nature.
Whether it be Terri Schiavo, the Templeton Foundation, or ID enthusiasts, we're moving to the point where facts don't matter. Ironically, it's the Christian theocrats that are being eerily post-modern - subjectivity matters more to them than empirical, veriable evidence. And with their "intelligent design theory," these fundamentalists are altering the scientific definition of theory. Forget what "theory" means in everyday usage, in scientific terms, "theory" means "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." This means that innumerable other scientists, independent of each other, have verified the correctness of the original hypothesis.

As the Academy of Natural Sciences further explains:
The contention that evolution should be taught as a "theory, not as a fact" confuses the common use of these words with the scientific use. In science, theories do not turn into facts through the accumulation of evidence. Rather, theories are the end points of science. They are understandings that develop from extensive observation, experimentation, and creative reflection. They incorporate a large body of scientific facts, laws, tested hypotheses, and logical inferences. In this sense, evolution is one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have.
Whether the Christian right just ignorantly fouls up this distinction or manipulates it for their own agenda is open to debate. Either way though, it's abysmal anyway you look at it. First, if it's ignorance, then it's due to a lack of intellectual curiousity and irresponsibility in the public domain. If not and it's a matter of manipulation, well you know already. Either way an absence of honesty follows.

Anyway, as Baxley's statements concerning "leftist totalitaranism" show, this is about ideological warfare, not scientific inquiry or "equal time" for opposing viewpoints. He argues that opposition to his bill are "leftists" out of touch with "mainstream society." Rather, the opposition comes from those smart enough to know, just because you think it, doesn't make it so.

The bill still has to make it through two more committees before the House can consider passing it. Cross your fingers and hope Florida is still a member of the reality based community.

Continue Reading...

David the Apostate

No, no, David Brooks is still a conservative. Yet, that's not the worst of it; he's about to switch teams, from my beloved Mets to the newly franchised Nationals. Anyway, here's his light-hearted, insightful op-ed about what draws us towards the teams we adore.

Ah, we used to have something in common. No longer I guess.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, March 24, 2005


I came across this review of Thomas Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas by Thomas Mertes in the New Left Review. Mertes brings up a good point about blue collar flight to the Republican Party that Franks doesn't acknowledge and liberals won't admit: a lot of the stereotypes of liberals played up by rightwing pundits are correct.
For all his spirited retorts to hucksters like David Brooks, Frank flinches from acknowledging the core of cold truth in their legends and demagogic stereotypes. In the recent Presidential election, the Democrats picked the wealthiest individual since George Washington ever to run for the White House as their candidate, outgunned the Republicans 59 to 41 per cent among donors with assets over $10 million, outspent Bush in every swing state of the Union, and hit an all-time financial record for a senatorial campaign: $17 million in a failed attempt to get Daschle back on the Hill. Moreover, there is little that is new in this: since the nineties virtually all of the richest electoral districts in the country have been Democratic bastions, Clinton’s cash-mountain easily topped Dole’s in 1996, and the Democrats have regularly received larger individual donations than Republicans, whose strength has been among smaller donors. In this situation, workers who vote Republican may be less deluded than Frank seems to believe. Putting it in sociological language, since there is so little to choose ‘instrumentally’ between the two parties, each of them dedicated to capital unbound, why not at least get the satisfaction of voting ‘expressively’ for the one which seems to speak for their values, if not their interests?
Combine this with the Democratic Party's turn away from labor as well as its perceived elitism and it's not hard to figure out why the white working class is embracing the faux anti-elitist populism of the GOP.

Continue Reading...

Faith Based Everything

Frank Rich keeps using entertainment and its culture to skewer the religious right with wit and wisdom. Here, Rich uses Cecil B. Demille's campy Ten Commandments as a juxtaposition, saying that even Demille wouldn't have exploited religion like our modern day theocrats have done, especially in the case of Terri Schiavo.
The religio-hucksterism surrounding the Schiavo case makes DeMille's Hollywood crusades look like amateur night. This circus is the latest and most egregious in a series of cultural shocks that have followed Election Day 2004, when a fateful exit poll question on "moral values" ignited a take-no-prisoners political grab by moral zealots. During the commercial interruptions on "The Ten Commandments" last weekend, viewers could surf over to the cable news networks and find a Bible-thumping show as only Washington could conceive it. Congress was floating such scenarios as staging a meeting in Ms. Schiavo's hospital room or, alternatively, subpoenaing her, her husband and her doctors to a hearing in Washington. All in the name of faith.
Rich has been consistently the best social critic of America's drift towards theocracy, detailing how its malignant growth is poisoning rationality and objectivity in the areas where these concepts are virtues on high.
That bullying [of the religious right], stoked by politicians in power, has become omnipresent, leading television stations to practice self-censorship and high school teachers to avoid mentioning "the E word," evolution, in their classrooms, lest they arouse fundamentalist rancor. The president is on record as saying that the jury is still out on evolution, so perhaps it's no surprise that The Los Angeles Times has uncovered a three-year-old "religious rights" unit in the Justice Department that investigated a biology professor at Texas Tech because he refused to write letters of recommendation for students who do not accept evolution as "the central, unifying principle of biology." Cornelia Dean of The New York Times broke the story last weekend that some Imax theaters, even those in science centers, are now refusing to show documentaries like "Galápagos" or "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea" because their references to Darwin and the Big Bang theory might antagonize some audiences. Soon such films will disappear along with biology textbooks that don't give equal time to creationism.

James Cameron, producer of "Volcanoes" (and, more famously, the director of "Titanic"), called this development "obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science." Faith-based science has in turn begat faith-based medicine that impedes stem-cell research, not to mention faith-based abstinence-only health policy that impedes the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and diseases like AIDS.
If this trend continues: How far are we from a return to the faith-based law of Salem because a cynical minority witnessed demons swirling throughout the forest of their imagination (or ambition)? Who will be our Arthur Miller?

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Resisting the Resistance

Yesterday a Baghdadi carpenter and his nephews attacked a group of masked insurgents in the working-class neighborhood of Doura, killing three. As Robert F. Worth of the NYTs reports:
It was the first time that private citizens are known to have retaliated successfully against the insurgents. There have been anecdotal reports of residents shooting at attackers after a bombing or an assassination. But the gun battle on Tuesday erupted in full view of at least a dozen witnesses, including a Justice Ministry official who lives nearby.
Hopefully, this is only the beginning and a signal that ordinary Iraqis are not only sick of terrorism, but willing to go on the offensive.

Continue Reading...

A Wolf in the World Bank's Corridors?

I was waiting for the comparisons between departing Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, and the NYTs obliged yesterday.

Like McNamara, Wolfowitz is defending himself from criticism that he isn't properly qualified for the position along with hostility from much of the world that his tap to fill the position is ideologically motivated.

Wolfowitz addressed the former criticism by pointing:
to his work as the American ambassador to Indonesia in Ronald Reagan's administration. According to two career diplomats who carried out his policies in Indonesia, Mr. Wolfowitz did break new ground promoting human rights in East Timor, giving financial aid to local labor unions and Islamic groups and documenting official corruption.
Also, Wolfowitz and colleagues that worked with him like to point out his anti-corruption efforts in Indonesia when he was that country's ambassador in the early-to-late 1990s. Timothy Carney worked for Wolfowitz at the Indonesia embassy and told the NYTs that Wolfowitz "encouraged him to publicize human rights abuses in East Timor and in Indonesia as a whole." This would have been a deviation from prior policy, considering the Ford Administration, under Kissinger's influence, gave Indonesia's Suharto the greenlight to crush East Timor's independence movement in 1975.

Yet Jason Vest of the Village Voice dredges up some other evidence that Wolfowitz isn't all idealist and democracy promoter. As opposed to his hurried effort to cut Hussein out of the Middle East, Vest argues "Wolfowitz was quite happy to encourage a go-slow-and-gentle approach to dealing with Suharto." As the National Security Archives state, Suharto was responsible for "perhaps 200,000 dead in the years since" the 1975 Ford/Kissinger headnod. Vest concludes this safe approach was to ensure U.S. business interests, pursued by the U.S.-Indonesia Society, weren't harmed. Conveniently, Wolfowitz sat on the Society's Board of Trustees. While Wolfowitz may have been publicizing Suharto's corruption and human rights abuses in the embassy, the Society, according to a 1997 Progressive article by Eyal Press used by Vest as a source, was part of a Washington Suharto lobby consisting:
of major multinational corporations, Suharto insiders, Indonesian billionaires, and U.S. foreign-policy elites all working in harmony to achieve two shared objectives: downplaying human-rights abuses, and bolstering U.S. commercial, diplomatic, and military support for Suharto.
With this knowledge, it doesn't seem paranoid to ask whether ensuring American corporate primacy isn't also one of Wolfowitz's chief aims, which as head of the World Bank would make him indeed a wolf guarding the sheep pen. Even the conservative Economist wrote "his appointment tells the world that Mr. Bush wants to capture the World Bank and make it an arm of American foreign policy." This may be a bit harsh, considering Christopher Hitchen's characterization of him as a "bleeding heart" yesterday on Slate.

I am genuinely confounded by Wolfowitz. Although military imposition of democracy is dangerous, I like his public pronouncements about democracy promotion, yet I can't help but be suspicious that part and parcel with "democracy promotion" comes American capital and the corporate takeover of once national and local businesses. Democracy of this kind is one of a very stunted variety.

Continue Reading...

Stealing a Death

Elizabeth Cohen, writing about her and her sister's decision to let their father die, asks the most poetic question I've come across yet, when deciding to keep extending a life on the precipice of death:

[W]hen does saving a life mean stealing a death?

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

You Need a Cover Sheet on that TPS Report, Richard!

For some reason, Terry Tate: The Office Linebacker popped into my head this afternoon after lunch - tuna if you must know. Anyway, here's the link to quite possibly the funniest commericial ever produced. (You'll need either a Realplayer or Windows Media Player to view.)

"When it's game time, it's pain time!"

Continue Reading...

Convivencia in Spain

This week's American Prospect has an amazing article on the triumphs of Spain's Socialist President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. In one short year, Zapatero has given voice back to his people, expanded civil liberties, and taken back the privileges of the Catholic Church. Zapatero shows what can happen when a politician values dialogue and believes in the strength of his convictions.

Here's a short list of his accomplishments:

He has strengthened the penalty for domestic violence. Over the past five years 350 women have died due to their male partners.

Out of 16 possible cabinet posts, Zapatero appointed half to women becoming "one of just two countries in Europe to achieve gender parity at the highest level of government."

Last October Spain legalized gay marriage with the same benefits as traditional marriage and gave adoption rights to gay married couples.

After taking office he announced plans to divest the Catholic Church, a long-time bulwark of Franquismo, and end the state subsidies flowing to the "house of God" to the chi-ching of 3.5 euros last year.

Most controversially in this country, Zapatero pulled Spain's forces out of Iraq. American critics, contempuous of popular democratic sentiments, likened Zapatero to that great appeaser, Neville Chamberlain, forgetting a full 90 percent of Spain's people were against the Iraq war in the first place.

When put to referendum, 77 percent of Spanish voters approved the European Union's Constitution.

Singlehandedly, it seems Zapatero is resurrecting the progressivism and internationalism that first attracted me to Socialist politics. Derided by American critics as an aberration due to Spanish cowardice after the Madrid train bombing, Zapatero is showing that Spain has the potential to become the progressive fire burning in the heart of Europe.

May its heat radiate throughout Europe and beyond.

Continue Reading...

Monday, March 21, 2005

George Bush: Middle East Democracy's Inspiration?

Over at, Juan Cole argues that the Jan. 30th elections played no part in the wafting scent of democratization filling the Middle East. Cole makes a good argument that functions as a great mini contemporary Middle Eastern history lesson, but, like those triumphalists on the neoconservative side, Cole is too absolutist when he writes:
The argument for change through inspiration has little evidence to underpin it. The changes in the region cited as dividends of the Bush Iraq policy are either chimeras or unconnected to Iraq.
Reuel Marc Gerecht provided some anecdotal evidence in this Weekly Standard article, writing that the Lebanese youth can't stop saying "Ju-Ju,' an affectionate Arabic take on George."Yet it is important to quote Cole's next sentence as well:
And the Bush administration has shown no signs that it will push for democracy in countries where freedom of choice would lead to outcomes unfavorable to U.S. interests.
Cole's right, can anyone say Azerbaijan?

If not, here's a link to an excellent article from Mother Jones that's a perfect riposte to anyone truly believing Bush has "turned the corner" on providing succor to Arab authoritarian regimes.

Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that some Arabs can't believe Bush is a democratic catalyst. Perception and reality contradict each other all the time. What matters is that the Middle East democratizes while the left rationally and coolly argues that this was never Bush's intention.

Continue Reading...

On Their Own Terms

The NYTs today has a terrific article on people taking death into their own hands. Currently Oregon is the only state that allows doctors to assist their patients' suicide. Naturally, that arch-conservative, President George Bush, is challenging its legitimacy in the Supreme Court -- just one more instance of the GOP's libertarian streak being blunted by religious fundamentalism.

Which brings up the question I hear Bill Maher ask all the time: Why is it the most religious people that have the biggest problem meeting their maker?

Norma, an 85 yr. old lung cancer patient, isn't afraid to die. She has a tacit, unspoken agreement with her doctor that when the pain gets too bad, she has the dosage to administer the coup de grace herself.

The NYTs article makes this clear:
They have never discussed suicide, she said, but he has written her a prescription for powerful pain medication: a bottle of 90 pills with five refills. "That's 450," she said with a giggle.
I love that she giggles.

But there are some legitimate concerns that doctor assisted suicide will become mandatory rather than merely an act of volition.
Opponents say the risk to patients and to society of physician-assisted suicide is great. One of the most prominent, Dr. Kenneth Stevens, chairman of the department of radiation oncology at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, said many patients who initially desired suicide would change their minds with counseling. Greater acceptance of physician-assisted suicide, he said, would let financial considerations drive health care down a slippery slope toward mandatory euthanasia.

"We say we want this because of choice," he said. "My concern is, in the future, will this become the only choice?"
That would be scary indeed, but I'm not one who is convinced by slippery slope arguments. Generally they're unconvincing and ideologically driven. Anyway I find its ultimately demeaning, coercive, and paternalistic to say cousenling would change their minds. Here, read counseling, as we'll try to change your mind by inducing that age old coercive: guilt.

Kudos to anyone that looks that type of counseling in the face and says, "Bring on the nothingness."

But what the article does best is show the dichotomy between what can happen when someone feels forced to do it themself and what can happen when it's under the supervision of the medical establishment.
In the absence of a law, these proponents say, some patients take desperate measures that can leave families devastated. Edward Wellwood, a retired vice president of a title company who lived in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., received a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, in July 2003, and his sister, Paula Connolly, said the prospect of living in an inert body "was a much more fearful choice for him than the thought of dying."

Mr. Wellwood told his wife and sister he feared becoming a "head on a pillow," and was worried that a long illness would wipe out the family savings. Realizing that he was determined to end his life, Mrs. Connolly offered to be with him, but he was afraid she would be arrested as an accomplice to suicide. One day last May, he left a note for his wife - they had no children - and drove to a nearby motel to shoot himself in the heart. The family then had to conduct a frantic search to find his body.

"The hardest part for me," Ms. Connolly said, "was looking for him and not knowing whether he was alive and not knowing whether he was dead - but knowing that he was alone."

Ms. Connolly wishes California had a law like Oregon's, she said, adding, "If he knew he could have a safe, easy out, he could have had another year."
But here's how death can be a beautiful farewell when doctor assisted suicide is open and legal.
Mr. Turner, the man in Charlotte, studied the various ways of ending his life and settled on starvation, since the very sick often have little interest in food.

At the end, a dose of morphine prescribed by his physician eased the discomfort from the tumor in his bowel. His daughter Lise, who is a nurse, said that after getting the pain medication, he told her, "I think this is pretty much going to be the weekend that I die."

Having seen other patients slip toward death after receiving pain medication, Ms. Turner said she doubted the pain pills themselves caused life to end. "Maybe what we did was provide the pain relief that allowed them to finally be at peace so they could die," she said.

His breathing continued to slow over the next day, and toward the end, Ms. Turner recalled, "We all piled into the bed; we all held on to him and said goodbye."

"I think when you've done it right, whatever 'right' means," she said, "you feel good."

Continue Reading...

Friday, March 18, 2005

All for the Oil?

American expatriate muckraker Greg Palast, in conjunction with BBC's Newsnight and Harper's, has uncovered the evidence that confirms many people's suspicions concerning the Bush administrations rationale for the war in Iraq: oil. It seems there were competing plans for Iraq's oil, well before the invasion took place.

The administration's resident neoconservatives wanted to use Iraq's oil as a way to break OPEC by privatizing it and drastically increasing production. Naturally, flooding the market with oil would drive prices down and "Big Oil" didn't view the neoconservative plan kindly.

As Palast writes:
Philip Carroll, the former CEO of Shell Oil U.S.A who took control of Iraq's oil production for the U.S. government a month after the invasion, stalled the sell-off scheme. Mr. Carroll told us he made it clear to Paul Bremer, the U.S. occupation chief who arrived in Iraq in May 2003, that: "There was to be no privatization of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved." The chosen successor to Mr. Carroll, a Conoco Oil executive, ordered up a new plan for a state oil company preferred by the industry
Further on, Palast continues:
Questioned by Newsnight, Ms. Jaffe said the oil industry prefers state control of Iraq's oil over a sell-off because it fears a repeat of Russia's energy privatization. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. oil companies were barred from bidding for the reserves. Jaffe said "There is no question that an American oil company ... would not be enthusiastic about a plan that would privatize all the assets with Iraq companies and they (U.S. companies) might be left out of the transaction."

In addition, Jaffe says U.S. oil companies are not warm to any plan that would undermine OPEC. "They [oil companies] have to worry about the price of oil."

So "Big Oil" won the debate and I'm glad. As long as the oil remains publicly owned, there's a chance the Iraqi population will benefit from it. Although, if I was a betting man, I'd wager a pretty penny that the oil revenue will be used for giant infrastructure investments for use by foreign multinationals rather than being spent on the Iraqi people. And there's nothing wrong with infrastructure investments as long as it's the Iraqi people who are the primary beneficiaries. But that's rarely the case according to John Perkins, the author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman and a former member of the international banking community.

In a conversation with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Perkins explained his job and what U.S. corporations got in return:
the company I worked for was a company named Chas. T. Main in Boston, Massachusetts. We were about 2,000 employees, and I became its chief economist. I ended up having fifty people working for me. But my real job was deal-making. It was giving loans to other countries, huge loans, much bigger than they could possibly repay. One of the conditions of the loan–let's say a $1 billion to a country like Indonesia or Ecuador–and this country would then have to give ninety percent of that loan back to a U.S. company, or U.S. companies, to build the infrastructure–a Halliburton or a Bechtel. These were big ones. Those companies would then go in and build an electrical system or ports or highways, and these would basically serve just a few of the very wealthiest families in those countries. The poor people in those countries would be stuck ultimately with this amazing debt that they couldn’t possibly repay. A country today like Ecuador owes over fifty percent of its national budget just to pay down its debt. And it really can’t do it. So, we literally have them over a barrel. So, when we want more oil, we go to Ecuador and say, “Look, you're not able to repay your debts, therefore give our oil companies your Amazon rain forest, which are filled with oil.”
There's no good reason to assume this isn't the script for Iraq as well.

This is a huge find by Palast, who was also integral to fleshing out the presidential vote scandal in Florida in 2000. It assures the cynics that they were correct, but it also demonstrates the U.S. is still following its post-WWII policy of controlling the Middle East's energy reserves, which was further enunciated by Jimmy Carter in his SOTU of 1980. And it confirms my suspicions proponents and critics of the neoconservatives miss: The neocons in the administration aren't radical idealists; they're the same old tired realists dressed up in a neo-Hegelian guise.

Continue Reading...

Jesus Doesn't Do Faceplants

I'm not sure if this NYT's article on skateboarders for Jesus, yes Jesus, is just hilariously bad or whether the reporter was merely hamming it up in retaliation for such a lame assignment. "I have to go out to Chandler, Arizona, to cover what? Jesus Christ."

Nevertheless, here's my favorite paragraph:
But Elijah - Elijah Moore, that is, a skate evangelist from Garland, Tex. - and the 14 other members of the King of Kings Skateboard Ministries team are quick to say that they do not skate for adulation or even for the thrill of catching big air. They skate for Jesus.
Who couldn't see that sentence kicker from a mile away.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Falling Eagle, Rising Dragon

Over at, Chalmers Johnson argues that the Bush administration's China policy is foolhardy.

It seems that the administration's neoconservatives are pushing Japan to amend its constitution, which the U.S. helped write, so that the country can rearm, ostensibly due to China's ascendancy. Currently, Japan has a pacifist constitution due to its aggression before and during WWII, which happened to kill a lot of Chinese (i.e. The Rape of Nanking). This will certainly irritate the Chinese. Chalmers writes:
America's intention is to turn Japan into what Washington neo-conservatives like to call the "Britain of the Far East" -- and then use it as a proxy in checkmating North Korea and balancing China. On October 11, 2000, Michael Green[now , then a member of Armitage Associates, wrote, "We see the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain as a model for the [U.S.-Japan] alliance." Japan has so far not resisted this American pressure since it complements a renewed nationalism among Japanese voters and a fear that a burgeoning capitalist China threatens Japan's established position as the leading economic power in East Asia. Japanese officials also claim that the country feels threatened by North Korea's developing nuclear and missile programs, although they know that the North Korean stand-off could be resolved virtually overnight -- if the Bush administration would cease trying to overthrow the Pyongyang regime and instead deliver on American trade promises (in return for North Korea's agreement to give up its nuclear weapons program). Instead, on February 25, 2005, the State Department announced that "the U.S. will refuse North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's demand for a guarantee of ‘no hostile intent' to get Pyongyang back into negotiations over its nuclear weapons programs." And on March 7, Bush nominated John Bolton to be American ambassador to the United Nations even though North Korea has refused to negotiate with him because of his insulting remarks about the country.

According to Chalmers, an additional reason the Bush administration wants to allow Japan to rearm is so Japanese engineers can help straigthen out the kinks in the Star Wars missile defense system. He fears one unintended consequence of allowing the Japanese to rearm maybe another cache of nuclear weapons on Asia. Logically, the Japanese would want a deterrent against both North Korea and China.

To top it off, some military-minded Japanese politicians are getting chummy with pro-independence Taiwanese leaders whom want to scuttle any reintegration plans with China. This is just as relations between the mainland and Taiwain were easing.

Although Chalmers warns these provocations by both segments of American and Japanese militarists may open the gate and unleash a rotweiler, the administration and Japan aren't quiting and recently "played it most dangerous card" yet.

In this context, the Bush administration, perhaps influenced by the election of November 2 and the transition from Colin Powell's to Condi Rice's State Department, played its most dangerous card. On February 19, 2005 in Washington, it signed a new military agreement with Japan. For the first time, Japan joined the administration in identifying security in the Taiwan Strait as a "common strategic objective." Nothing could have been more alarming to China's leaders than the revelation that Japan had decisively ended six decades of official pacifism by claiming a right to intervene in the Taiwan Strait.

Why should we be worried? As Chalmers exhaustively accounts, China is no longer a pariah and has been deepening its stratetic and economic relations with the EU, Latin America,and East Asia, while brand America is losing its popularity. Furthermore, unable to pay for our extravagant military expenditures and other government spending ourselves:
[T]he United States is financing these outlays by going into debt to Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and India. This situation has become increasingly unstable as the U.S. requires capital imports of at least $2 billion per day to pay for its governmental expenditures. Any decision by East Asian central banks to move significant parts of their foreign exchange reserves out of the dollar and into the euro or other currencies in order to protect themselves from dollar depreciation would produce the mother of all financial crises.
What this means is that the U.S. is running headfirst toward a fall because our current leadership's policies, aimed at keeping America superior, only precipiates our decline at an ever accelerating rate.

The question is: Can Bush push put the breaks on in time to change course?

Continue Reading...

Ireland's Hilarious History

(Disclaimer: Yes, I'm Irish, so I'm allowed to have fun at my own people's expense.)

This is very funny. The Onion, those print purveyors of fake news, ham it up and turn Ireland's sordid history into a laugh riot. I'm headed off to NYC tomorrow to march in the annual St. Patty's Day Parade, so this just got me more excited.

Here's my three favorites:

400 AD - Christian missionaries travel across Ireland, bringing guilt to the Irish people.

849 AD - Dublin holds its first Irish-pride parade. Gay Vikings protest their exclusion from the festivities.

1984 AD - A leader known only as Roth takes over the Irish Republican Army, transforming it from a terrorist organization into a tax-deferred retirement savings plan.

Comic genius...

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Brooks the Hack

I like David Brooks, but sometimes he's just a Republican shill. (The magazine I work for, The Washington Monthly, originated that argument here.) Take this op-ed today in the Times where Brooks rings the deathknell for social security reform. In his eyes, the GOP is generally concerned for the welfare of the American people, but simply rushed into reform before properly eulogizing one of the last safety nets of the welfare state. As Brooks says:
They didn't appreciate how beloved Social Security is, and how much they would have to show they love it, too, before voters would trust them to reform it.
David, David, they can't show how much they love Social Security, because they don't. We all know the famous Norquist quote about cutting off the legs of government so they can drown it in a bathtub. This has been the agenda since the Reagan Revolution: roll back the welfare state and then funnel the savings into tax incentives for big business.

What's even more perplexing is that Brooks can talk seriously about the GOP wanting to decrease the size of government when Bush has reigned over its largest expansion since LBJ. Moreover, Brooks sees Social Security reform as the last chance to cut some fat off the budget.
If Social Security reform fails - and obviously I hope this obit becomes obsolete - it will be many years before any sort of big entitlement reform will come up again. The parties will keep playing chicken, and we will soon find ourselves catastrophically buried under our own debt.
It's Brooks who's playing chicken here, failing to mention it was the Bush presidency that made fiscal surpluses run red. And for all those conservatives serious about fiscal reform, I have just four words for you: repeal Bush's tax cuts.

Continue Reading...

Monday, March 14, 2005

Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia Media Dept.

It never ceases to surprise me how clever the various terrorist cells loosely aligned with Al Qaeda are. Check out this NYTs article by Robert Worth. The story explains the sophisticated media strategy brought to the terrorism game by Zarqawi's Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. So when the "establishment" Arab media reports on the latest terrorist atrocity, Zarqawi's group posts whether they were responsible or whether the media is simply spinning. While scary, you do get priceless lines like these:
"We, the media department of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, declare that we have our own means of publication and that we observe the accuracy and truth of our statements," the statement said. "No one should aspire to say about us what we have not said."
Apparently, it's hard to get unbiased, factual coverage of your bloody attacks on civilians and infidels. Seriously, who wouldn't trust men that get their kicks out of sawing people's heads off and executing them mafia-style.

Continue Reading...

Friday, March 11, 2005

Doubling Down in Sin City

Here's an excerpt from Marc Cooper's The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas I just came across. Reading it made me want to jump out of my seat, get on the New Jersey Turnpike via I-95, and hit the tables at A.C.

The excerpt's almost a year old, but who gives a damn -- great writing in the New Journalism vein.

Continue Reading...

Ward Churchill: In His Own Words

If you only tune into Fox News sporadically, you've heard the controversy surrounding University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill. He's the one who referred to the people who wore business suits to the Twin Towers on 9/11 as "little Eichmanns." (I swear we could invade Iran or Syria and Churchill would still be the lead on the O'Reily Factor.)

While his comments concerning these "technocrats" were simplistic and dehumanizing, his overall point is sound: If the U.S. continually violates international law and relies on aggression and usury to achieve its foreign policy objectives, then terrorism against the U.S. will be a common occurence in the future.

Here's Churchill's basic points via Z Magazine. They're much easier to swallow in print than while watching him speak.

The problem with Churchill is that, to my knowledge, he hasn't argued against fanatical Islamism. Rather, he wrote of the "gallant sacrifices" of the "combat teams," not terrorists. Unforgivable. I have no doubt that U.S. foreign policy had much to do with 9/11. Yet the fanatics that attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon are not freedom fighters. They are terrorists intent on driving back their own populations into an oppressive time warp to the glory days of the Caliph and a fundamentalist interpretation of the Qu'ran. What is important to note is that because of U.S. foreign policy, the Muslim masses look up to these Islamists as a vanguard against U.S. imperialism. The only way to knock off these blinders is for U.S. foreign policy to change -- a point Mike Scheuer a.k.a Anonymous, former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit, makes all the time. If not, assholes like Churchill will stand correct, not corrected.

Continue Reading...

Commisars of Censorship

Using HBO's Deadwood as an example, the wonderful Frank Rich celebrates American vulgarity and excoriates the namby-pampys that want to tell adults what to watch and what to listen to.

Here he defends Deadwood and argues why it's so important, especially when the commisars of censorship cruise the culture.

This is why "Deadwood" could not be better timed. It reminds us of who we are and where we came from, and that even indecency is part of an American's birthright. It also, if inadvertently, illuminates the most insidious underpinnings of today's decency police by further reminding us that the same people who want to stamp out entertainment like "Deadwood" also want to rewrite American history (and, when they can, the news) according to their dictates of moral and political correctness. They won't tolerate an honest account of the real Deadwood in a classroom or museum any more than they will its fictionalized representation on HBO.

As Rich observes, both the politically correct left and the culturally conservative right are waging a revisionist war against independent thought. As in politics though, it's the right who's winning.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

21st Century Guernica

Evoking Picasso's Guernica, Timothy Garton Ash pays homage to the victims of Madrid's 3/11 train bombing, while arguing continued dialogue and contact can assuage the resort to terror among alienated, young European Muslims.

Continue Reading...

In Memoriam

Literary reporter Calvin Trillin pens a profile of First Lieutenant Brian Slavenas in this week’s New Yorker . Slavenas was killed in action when his Chinook helicopter was shot down in Iraq. Trillin learned of him about a year ago while listening to NPR on a drive to his daughter’s. His story made Trillin weep and never really left his consciousness. A year later, Trillin went and visited Slavenas' family in DeKalb County, Illinois. What follows is a wrenching story of a man whose death has made those who knew him poorer. Slavenas story is also ironic. Standing 6’5 and 230lbs, Slavenas was no warrior. Those who knew him described him as a modest, “gentle giant.” When he learned he’d be shipped to Iraq, Slavenas tried to resign his commission. Before he shipped he said, “Mom, I don’t want to hurt anybody.”

His mother, Rosemarie Slavenas, organized his funeral; there were no American flags or guns in sight. After the service, she told reporters:

George Bush killed my son. I believe my son Brian died not for his country but because of our country’s lack of a coherent and civilized foreign policy.”
Rosemarie’s ex-husband and step-son, disagreed.

The stepson, Eric, told Trillin that “not having ‘Taps’ and a flag-draped casket at Brian’s service amounted to ‘spikes in my dad’s and my heart.’”

Regardless of what side people found themselves on in relation to the war, everyone agreed Brian was an amazing guy. One heartbreaking anecdote that leaves an impression is a conversation Trillin had with his ex-girlfriend. When he asks her why Brian and her broke up, she replies, “He thought I could do better.”

Trillin’s piece effectively communicates what’s lost in the ideological battle over the war: the human warmth that animated the soldier who died. Slavenas was a person; by all accounts a great one at that. This seems lost to those on the right that view soldiers as essentially cannon fodder, and those on the obtuse left that portray American soldiers as bestial killing machines of U.S. imperialism. Most soldiers in Iraq perform their duty without the privilege of knowing whether they have been utilized correctly or morally.

That responsibility rests with us.

A damn fine piece…

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

NeoCon Advice

Just when I finally get around to write something nice about the neocons, I find this little article by the Weekly Standard's Reuel Marc Gerecht.

The Weekly Standard is one of the epicenters of neoconservative thought, edited by arch-neocon William Kristol. Kristol is also a project director for the neoconservative The Project for the New American Century, whose Rebuilding America's Defenses publication provided the framework for Bush's National Security Strategy of 2002. (Many members of the Bush Administration are attached to the think tank including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Elliot Abrams).

Within the article, Gerecht argues that "the Bush Administration ought to be prepared to encourage or coerce these regimes [Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Tunisia, Iran, and Iraq] into changing sooner, not later." (If the point is to "encourage or coerce" these countries toward democratization I'm all for it.) Gerecht's premise is that the Bush Administration is genuinely concerned with democracy promotion by virtue of the successful Iraqi elections. Yet, Gerecht fails to mention the Bush Administration was positively against free elections until Sistani forced the Administration's hand,publicly calling for voting according to the rule of "one man, one vote." This is an unforgivable sin of omission by Gerecht.

Next, Gerecht writes by force of faith and GOPventional wisdom that Bush follows a Reaganite foreign policy concerned with "expansion and protection of democracy." The people of Central America and South Africa may have a problem with Reagan being associated with the spread of democracy. Then, without irony, Gerecht writes of Elliot Abrams's "democracy-promotion job on the National Security Council." That Elliot Abrams and the phrase "democracy-promotion" can exist side by side is an indicator of Gerecht's Orwellian grasp of history. (Find out why here)

Despite his ideological affinity for Reaganite foreign policy, Gerecht's piece is nonetheless informative. He goes country-by-country either predicting the trajectory of democratizing trends or giving policy advice. Some are scary, some are dead-on. By country they are:

Advice: I gleaned none
Prediction: "...odds are good that the Syrians will withdraw"

Advice:"if the Syrian Baathists are aiding the Iraqi Baathists to the extent that the Bush Administration alleges...the United States ought to strike militarily...This doesn't mean the United States should invade Syria...But Syrian intelligence and military bases -- and any locales where Assad is hosting Iraqi insurgents -- are legitimate targets for air and special-ops raids."

Admittedly scary, albeit hard to argue with if Bush can provide proof. Again that's proof, not the dog n' pony show that led us into Iraq.

Prediction: "...the best we should hope for is an eventual cracking of Alawite power, allowing for a return of Sunni rule."

Advice: "If Mubarak thinks Egypt is ready for more democracy and freedom, then far be it from the United States not to take him at his word. Now is the time to announce that American aid to Egypt is henceforth conditioned on democratic progress. Mubarak cheats, the aid is cut. Mubarak cheats a lot, the ends."

Don't hold your breath, but if we did tie aid to democratization then everyone should support it.

Prediction: "If Egypt doesn't democratize, bin Ladenism will not end."

Logical enough, considering many terrorists are radicalized underneath dictatorships (that we supported). Let's not leave that unsaid.

Saudi Arabia
Advice: "Continue to push the democratic agenda publicly in the Arabian peninsula...and...As in Egypt, we should increasingly tie government-to-government relations and joint programs directly to Saudi progress with real national elections."

I'd like to see this, but color me cynical. The reason why Washington continues to support the Saudi monarchy is for preferential access to energy reserves and the fear that any populist government would nationalize them for the people's benefit.

Prediction: "The rather pathetic Saudi attempt to defuse democratic ferment at home and the Bush administration's growing anti-Saudi attitude by holding highly restricted municipal elections is likely to do the opposite of what the royal family intended...The turnout for the municipal elections clearly showed that the Shiites in the Eastern Province didn't consider the exercise a joke..."

Advice: "The Bush administration should relentlessly thump [President Zine el Abidine] ben Ali -- criticize his dictatorship whenever and wherever possible."

Prediction: None really, but some causes for hope. "Tunisia has an increasingly lively democratic culture developing on the Internet in the form of blogs and virtual publications..."

Advice: "...the Bush Administration would be wise to revisit the position of Algeria in the Arab world. Scarred by the civil war of the early 1990s, Algerians are probably a much wiser people than they were when Islamists first began to challenge teh corrupt military dictatorship.

Prediction: "If Algeria were to get back on track and follow through with democratic reforms, the impact on the region, and on the millions of Algerians who live in Europe, would likely be significant."

Advice: "Don't compromise the democratic future of the country by trying to buy the mullahs' nuclear goodwill. Democracy in Iran is the key to ending that country's long embrace of terrorism. And if there is a nationalist desire in Iran to have nuclear weapons (we only know for sure there is a clerical will to have these arms), then talking with a democracy about them is entirely different from trying to appease a dictatorship..."

A democratic, yet nuclear, Iran is something the U.S. can live with. If not, the same nuclear double standard prevails if the U.S. advocates against proliferation, while it refuses to downsize its nuclear capability.

Prediction: A bit of advice as well: "Let Iraq's Shia, in particular Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's democratic opinions and actions, have their effect."

Advice: Create "first and Iraqi C-SPAN controlled by Iraqis"

Good idea, but Iraqis should take the lead, although generous aid should be given by non-governmental organizations rather than the U.S. government so that no claims of U.S. interference can be leveled accurately.

Prediction: "If Iraq doesn't go off the rails--and the odds are very good that the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis will find workable democratic compromises--there will be more election aftershocks issuing from Mesopotamia, probably of a magnitude greater than January 30."

Insha'allah (God willing)

Much of Gerecht's analysis and policy ideas seems spot on, yet I can't quite get past the neocons' hegemonic adulation of President Reagan (and now Bush). I don't know, maybe its the tens of thousands of murdered Central Americans or the de facto support of apartheid on Reagan's part. Conceivably, this is all because neocons believe that democracy and capitalism are synonymous. There're not. And it's because of their inability to make this distinction and force our economic system on other countries that makes me continually fear that neoconservatism is just another form of neo-imperialism. Further, Gerecht forgets to mention the dictatorships we currently prop up throughout East Asia, particularly the "stans." So, democracy may be important to the Bush Administration, but that's only if it better fulfills economic and strategic imperatives needed for continued American hegemony.

And if you don't believe me, read between the lines of 2002's National Security Strategy. Or better yet, go to the source, PNAC's Rebuilding America's Defenses.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Touting the Wolf-man

David Brooks praised Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz today and he's right.

According to Brooks, here's why Wolfowitz is so different from other foreign policy scholars and architects:

Wolfowitz doesn't talk like those foreign policy blowhards who think the world is run by chessmasters sitting around at summits. He talks about national poets, national cultures and the power of people to bring sweeping change. His faith in people probably led to some of the mistakes in Iraq. But with change burbling in Beirut, with many young people proudly hoisting the Lebanese flag (in a country that was once a symbol of tribal factionalism), it's time to take a look at this guy again.


Besides President Bush, no one has been more maligned by the isolationist right and the nonprincipled left than Wolfowitz. Yet it will be Wolfowitz who will have the historical last laugh if things keep on keeping on in the Middle East. What a crazy thought to believe average, ordinary human beings want liberty and more open societies. What's crazier is that the left has ceded this issue over to the Republicans, who patently don't believe in or practice democracy, even though some neoconservatives, a la Wolfowitz, do believe in and labored to spread it. When the left has historically opposed U.S. meddling throughout the developing world, it wasn't because it believed in non-interventionalism, it was because in opposed the crushing of democratic uprisings for economic and strategic reasons -- the best examples being Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, and Chile 1973. While the war in Iraq was illegal according to international law, it was hard to find laudatory articles or essays about the January 30th elections on,,, etc. (Two of which I've written for). Why is this? For the foolish reason that it would indirectly support Bush's rhetoric.

And this isn't to say I believe the Bush Administration rhetoric of U.S. foreign policy supporting ever-spreading freedom. I don't. Nevertheless, is it so hard to believe that a man of principle has waged a ideological battle for freedom from within the bowels of the government? Wolfowitz should be the conservative the left can deal with. One who has helped dictatorships like Marcos in the Phillipines crumble after years of U.S. support as well as Hussein in Iraq.

Personally, I don't fear the neoconservatives like others do. Actually, I'm quite interested in them. If the U.S. is to have a foreign policy, and it must, then shouldn't it be a force for democratization throughout the world.(I know presently it's not and really never has been, but isn't this what we on the left want?)While reasonable, the realist school, associated with the likes of Henry Kissenger, is morally vacuous, only concerning itself with matters of national security. Wolfowitz inverts the realist school and argues it is in the interest of national security to bolster democratic sentiments around the world. I'm not saying this should be carried out through military intervention like Wolfowitz does, but I like the idealistic impulse behind it. Naturally, one must stay critical, especially since neoconservative idealism could be a cover for the same old imperial impulse to control strategic resources by keeping pliant regimes in power or overthrowing problem regimes to install new proxies. (And that could, and probably is, the strategy in Iraq. Which raises this question: But will Iraqis allow that strategy to win out?)

Nevertheless, I don't believe from what I've read that Wolfowitz falls into this latter category. I think he believes in liberal, capitalist democracy and thinks the U.S. should support it muscularly. Besides, even if all this is just rhetorical illusions, more and more people in the Middle East are coming to believe it.

And that's an unqualified good.

Continue Reading...

Monday, March 07, 2005

3 Hours to 24

Let's take a break from the world of real violence and take comfort in the world of fake violence.

Before this season, much to my regret, I had never seen 24. Now, I'm addicted. Every episode brims with explosions, shootings, and terrorists. It's fantastic. My only gripe with a near perfect season was the character of Mya, CTU Director Erin Driscoll's schizo kid. Thank Christ, she killed herself last episode, revealing how her irritating character fit into the larger puzzle that is 24's various interweaving subplots. It seems the shock of her daughter's suicide will lead to Driscoll's inability to lead and renegade Tony Almeida's taking over of CTU.

It also looks like 24's writers will implicate rogue elements within the government of conspiring to meltdown the nuclear reactors. Got to love healthy paranoia. Well, you know where I am every Monday between the hours of nine and ten o'clock pm.

Continue Reading...

Friday, March 04, 2005

Two Lights for Human Rights

Last Friday, Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, died. Today, Jonathon Power eulogizes him in the International Herald Tribune. With a simple idea, writing letters, Benenson and friends helped free political prisoners worldwide. His efforts continue post mortem. Check out Amnesty International's website to see what you can do to help.

Continuing with the theme of human rights, The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik reviews Ian Davidson's Voltaire in Exile. Late in life, Voltaire became an avid campaigner for human rights against the fanaticism of both Christians and Muslims alike.

As Gopnik muses,

It is still bracing, at a time when the extreme deference we pay to faith has made any attack on religious beliefs unacceptable, to hear Voltaire on Jesuits and Muslims alike—to hear him howl with indignation at the madness and malignance of religion—and to be reminded that that free-thinking, which inspired Twain and Mencken, has almost vanished from our world.

Yes, bracing (and refreshing) indeed.

Voltaire's mission, continued by Brenenson, unfortunately continues today to be taken up by the next great wave of left-liberals and secular humanists. Let's not flinch from the responsibility.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Arabs Beat the Street

The Arab Street is one of those concepts that's quasi-racist -- visually communicated as young, swarthy, Arabs angrily chanting or reacting violently to some stimuli -- and used as a conversation ender on the matters of democracy and secularism throughout the Middle East.

Two editorials over the last few days dovetail nicely on this and refute it. From Monday, Christopher Hitchens boxed up the "Arab Street" and sent it six feet deep. Today, Thomas Friedman lends his dexterous fingers to those young Arab-Muslim voices prodding him to keep writing op-eds on the need for democratic reform throughout the Middle East.

Both Hitchens and Friedman concentrate on how the people of the Middle East are defying the odds and the repressive elements within -- whether dictatorships, oligarchies, and/or fanatical Islamists -- to voice their democratic aspirations.

But the subtext of each article flashes the reflection of our own preconceptions of the Middle East back at us. Friedman takes a broader look, commenting:

America has treated the Arab-Muslim states for 50 years as a collection of gas stations. All we cared about was that their pumps were open and their prices low, and that they be nice to the Israelis. As long as the regimes did that, we said, they could do whatever they wanted "out back." They could treat their women however they wanted, they could write about America in their newspapers however they wanted, and they could preach intolerance of other religions all they wanted - just keep their pumps open and prices low and be nice to the Israelis. On 9/11, we got hit with everything that was going on "out back."
But as Christopher Hitchens argues, that doesn't mean that the Islamists that hit us on 9/11 speak for the Arab-Muslim masses as some on the left believe, quite the opposite.

The Muslim population with the closest experience of Bin Laden was the Afghan one, and the Afghan street, to judge by all available evidence, rejected him and ignored his threats in crushing and overwhelming numbers.

In the Palestinian elections, boycotted by the Islamists, a fairly solid turnout split the votes between Mahmoud Abbas and Mustapha Barghouti, the latter of whom scored an impressive 20 percent or so for a secular program. Where Hamas has done well in local elections in Gaza, it has been due to grass-roots welfare and social policy as much as to intransigent anti-Zionism, and it's possible to imagine the organization evolving, as has Hezbollah in Lebanon, into a quasi-political party with seats in the assembly. The logic of this, all rhetoric to one side, points largely in one direction.

Other Muslim streets are even more problematic for those who lazily assume that the jihadists are the voice of the unheard. The populations of Bosnia and Kosovo—populations that actually did have to confront anti-Muslim violence on a large scale—are generally hostile to Bin-Ladenism. Nobody has ever used the term "Iranian street," at least in print or on broadcast news, if only because everyone knows that Iranian opinion, as registered during the mock elections or voiced to visiting hacks, is strongly against the reigning theocracy.

This has been hard for the left to understand to my dismay. And it is this misunderstanding or disregard for the facts that allows some leftists to argue, quite against New Left principles of democracy and equity, that Al-Qaeda is the voice of the voiceless. Nevermind that demographically the Al-Qaeda movement's recruits are largely affluent, highly educated men.

Now I agree with the logic that argues 9/11 was bound to happen as a reaction to violent and oppressive U.S. foreign policies. Those who practice terrorism will likely feel the horror of it themselves. But it's quite another thing to assume those that struck the Twin Towers or the Pentagon had laudable goals or motives behind it. That's absurd, lazy and unforgivably dualistic.

In the end, what's needed is a reinvigorated internationalist left that values the principles of democracy and equality more than a knee jerk reactionism that ascribes instant freedom fighter status to those whom resist the U.S. The people of the Middle East have suffered enough under U.S. policies for the last half-century, how tragic it would be for the left to give legitimacy to those ready to seize democracy away from the people, right as it's conceivably in their reach.

-- M. Wood

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Retire the Ten Commandments

The Supreme Court heard arguments today regarding the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments in, on or around government buildings.

Seriously, I don't much care which way the court decides. What concerns me more is that people actually believe in the wisdom and relevance of the commandments today.

Throughout my entire life -- whether it was in the confines of Catholic school or, more recently, because of the frenzy surrounding Alabama nutcase Judge Roy Moore and his fanatical insistence on rolling in a 5,300 pound replica into the state's judicial building -- I've had to hear people proclaim the intelligence and judiciousness of the Ten Commandments.

Nonsense. Let's go through them quickly. Wait. Actually that's not that easy. As Joseph Lewis points out in his book The Ten Commandments, courtesy of

Were acknowledged leaders of the various religions based upon the Bible asked where the Decalogue could be found, there would be much confusion and contradiction on their part. Some would say that the Ten Commandments are recorded in the 20th Chapter of the second book of the Five Books of Moses, called Exodus. Others would state that they are to be found in the 5th Chapter of the fifth book of the Five Books of Moses, called Deuteronomy; while others would maintain that Chapters 22 and 23 of the Book of Exodus contain the revealed words. And yet "covenants" as binding as the so-called Decalogue are found in Chapters 31, 32, 33 and 34 of the Book of Exodus.

Regardless where one finds these commandments, Lewis observes:

It is not for me to determine why one version of the Ten Commandments should be found in the Book of Exodus and another in the Book of Deuteronomy. If, as is contended, Moses was the author of both books, then these precepts, if they were divinely spoken, should be as infallibly identical as two perfect reflections of the same thing.

They are not, you can perform the exercise yourself by turning your Bibles to the 20th Chapter of Exodus or the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy.

Anyway, here's the version I remember well growing up via Exodus:

1. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
2. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,"
3. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;"
4. "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy."
5. "Honour thy father and thy mother:"
6. "Thou shalt not kill."
7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery"
8. "Thou shalt not steal."
9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."
10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house,.....nor anything that is thy neighbour's.

Do any of these commandments strike you as divine in creation? If they do, then God help you indeed. Let's be frank. These were commonsensical codes of conduct infused with enough fear of divine retribution to get a simple and ignorant people across a desert with minimal hassle. Anyway, look at the first three commandments. God sure is easy to offend, and jealous and egotistical as well. The fourth is innocuous enough and out of the last six only murder and stealing really hold up as solid prohibitions. Possibly the commandment against coveting your neighbors's house or things ranks as the most out of place, especially since there'd be a host of Republicans out of work in advertising and marketing since their job is to make you covet your neighbor's property. Whatever one can say about God, he's no capitalist and I think I can say with authority that Jesus left this beyond doubt. But the real problem with these are that they're communicated as absolute laws governing morality. You don't have to be a pulp fiction writer to come up with situations that pit one commandment against another. And are the commandments ranked by weight of importance?

Besides, the only reason there's ten seems to be a mystical predilection. Shorter's better, right?

If you agree, then George Carlin boiled these ten down to two and I think they're better and far more economical. They are:

Thou shalt always be honest and faithful
to the provider of thy nookie.


Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course
they pray to a different invisible man than you.

(For Carlin's whole hilarious spiel, click here.)

So let's retire the Ten Commandments. They're antiquadated, absolute, and not at all convincing of divine inspiration. Besides, humanity's come a long way since then and I'm sure we could do better.

And as George Carlin quipped, the theocratic activists that want to have the Ten Commandments posted should be allowed to do, so as long as they provide this addendum:

Thou shalt keep thy religion to thyself.

-- M. Wood

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Real Martyrs

On February 18th, Ali Hassad Abd was returning home with his children. Along the way he was murdered in front of his children by insurgents. He helped lead the organizing effort to unionize workers at the al-Dorah refinery in Baghdad as U.S. troops surrounded the city in April 2003.

On February 24th, Ahmed Adris Abbas, a member of the Transport and Communication Workers Union in Baghdad, was murdered in Martyr's Square.

These men, along with Hadi Saleh, are the martyrs of Iraq's slow climb toward democracy. Their killers: scum.

For more on the dangers of trade union activity in Iraq, here's a press release from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Continue Reading...