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"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I
can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld,
questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.
"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of
the Union, January 20, 2004.
July 29, 5:25 pm
Shell has agreed to pay
$120 million in fines to the SEC and 17 million pounds to its British counterpart, the Financial Services Association, for the serious accounting and other irregularities that caused it to overstate its reserves by almost 4.5 billion barrels (thus skewing investors' and speculators' ideas of what its net worth should be).
This scandal erupted into the news in January of this year.
Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni were hanged
on November 10, 1995, primarily because of their attempts to expose the destruction Shell was causing to their homeland. The wrongful death lawsuit by Saro-Wiwa's son may come to trial
as early as next month.Permalink
July 27, 5:32 pm
It's sort of beating a dead horse, but I feel I must make a few comments on the Democratic Convention. So, let's talk about Bill Clinton's speech
, which according to Truthout
, "electrified" the convention.
As you might expect, it was mostly blather, but there were several points which showed once again why so many ordinary people found Clinton so disgusting (and why many thought of him as a shifty liar even before Monica).
In order, then. First, he's talking about how after 9/11 everyone united behind Bush, but he used the opportunity to go way to the right of all right-thinking Americans:
Instead, he and his congressional allies made a very different choice: to use the moment of unity to push America too far to the right and to walk away from our allies, not only in attacking Iraq before the weapons inspectors finished their jobs, but in withdrawing American support for the Climate Change Treaty, the International Court for war criminals, the ABM treaty, and even the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
In December 1998, Bill Clinton had UNSCOM chief Richard Butler withdraw weapons inspectors, befre they "finished their jobs," so that he could attack Iraq. The objective was "regime change." The only difference is that, unlike Bush, Clinton didn't have the courage of his convictions (or is that "convictions") and wasn't going to send in U.S. troops to achieve it.
It was under Clinton that the CTBT was ditched. It's true that the administration signed the treaty, but it failed miserably in marshaling political support for it in the Senate. In any case, it was a dead letter before Bush got into office.
In 1998, the United States joined Iraq, Libya, Qatar, Yemen, China, and Israel in voting against the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. At that time, George W. Bush probably had never even heard of the ICC. Clinton was all in favor of internationalism when it came to prosecuting others, but refused to support the ICC unless it explicitly exempted Americans. The administration held out for a perpetual ban on trying Americans, but then, a little before Clinton left office, he agreed to sign on in exchange for a one-year exemption, to be perpetually renewed (although that renewal did fail
this year, despite his best-laid plans.
But wait, there's more of that special brand of Clintonian hypocrisy. Check this out:
Here is what I know about John Kerry. During the Vietnam War, many young men - including the current president, the vice president and me - could have gone to Vietnam but didn't. John Kerry came from a privileged background and could have avoided it too. Instead he said, send me.
When they sent those swift-boats up the river in Vietnam, and told them their job was to draw hostile fire - to show the American flag and bait the enemy to come out and fight - John Kerry said, send me. ...
OK, so Clinton didn't go and now he's lauding Kerry for going, but at least he admits it. That's all right. But look at his description of Kerry's role in the war -- showing the American flag to bait the enemy to come out and fight. We're supposed to admire this. This is basically saying, Vietnam was an immoral war, we had no defensible reason to be there and no chance to win, but we kept on going in the insane logic of killing people because they fought us, even though they only fought us because we were there, and when Kerry was asked to go on some of the most inane operations of that war, he went. This is especially ridiculous a thing to say now, when the United States is fighting according to the same logic in Iraq.
And we conclude with an example of Clinton's unequalled ability to mangle history in the service of the pursuit of cheap sentiment:
In the Civil War, America was at a crossroads, divided over whether to save the union and end slavery - we chose a more perfect union. In the 1960s, America was at a crossroads, divided again over civil rights and women's rights. Again, we chose a more perfect union. As I said in 1992, we're all in this together; we have an obligation both to work hard and to help our fellow citizens, both to fight terror and to build a world with more cooperation and less terror. Now again, it is time to choose.
Since we're all in the same boat, let us chose as the captain of our ship a brave good man who knows how to steer a vessel though troubled waters to the calm seas and clear skies of our more perfect union. We know our mission. Let us join as one and say in a loud, clear voice: Send John Kerry.
Actually, the Civil War is an odd example of choosing union -- plenty of "us" didn't. 800,000 people had to be killed before the more perfect union was temporarily chosen, then fought over again, with the upshot being that a perfect compromise was reached: Northern industrial interests won their main goals in the South and Southern whites got to have African-Americans subjugated again almost as badly as under slavery. And, oh yeah, in the North the division was over whether to save the Union or
end slavery, not and.
And in the 1960's, isn't he forgetting something that the nation was even more divided over than civil rights or the women's movement? Like, say, Vietnam. And the more perfect union was chosen for us by Reagan and Bush, who put the Vietnam syndrome to rest, so that Clinton, the first fully post-Vietnam Democrat, could emerge and we could forget all the lessons we learned.
For the average American, frankly, Clinton's hypocrisy is easier to divine than Bush's.Permalink
July 26, 10:15 am
Here's my latest radio commentary
. It's about the Democratic
Party and the upcoming convention. If you're really bored and have no
interest in using your time productively, you can read the proposed
As William Safire points
, the platform doesn't even use the phrase "global warming,"
referring to the condition merely as "global climate change."
July 23, 10:10 pm
Apologies to all for the spotty posting this week. I've been
immersed in over 1000 pages of government reports -- primarily the
report of the 9/11 commission and, at long last, the report of the
Senate Intelligence Committee. The 9/11 commission report is actually
much better-written than your typical government report -- probably
fully up to the level of a third-rate potboiler, although it has far
more interesting material.
I should have something on Iran very shortly.
For now, just a little musing.
I just caught an episode of Now with
, which is, I imagine, without much question the best
newsmagazine aired nationally in the United States. There was a long
segment with George Lakoff, a linguist who has become something of a
political consultant for the liberal left, with an eye aimed always at
affecting the strategies of the Democratic Party.
Lakoff's big thing, which was the topic of the interview, is framing.
For example: when Bush was pushing his big tax cut back in 2000, it was
always framed as "tax relief." As Lakoff explained painstakingly to
Moyers's co-host David Brancaccio, this phrase immediately evokes the
following frame: taxes are an affliction, Bush is trying to relieve
them, and therefore anyone trying to stop Bush is a bad guy.
As Lakoff goes on to point out, although "tax relief" is a pretty
straightforward attempt at framing, Bush frequently relies on heavily
Orwellian framing -- "Healthy Forests" for an initiative to let private
corporations cut down the forests, "Clear Skies" for an initiative to
let corporations pollute more, etc.
To his credit, Lakoff doesn't flinch at all when pointing out the
reason for framing and the reason he thinks that liberals or
progressives need to work a lot harder on it than they do. Roughly
rendered (I don't have a transcript), this is what Lakoff thinks:
Liberals tend to think that facts and reasoning are what matter -- a
legacy of the Enlightenment (something, of course, the radical right
never went through and is largely unaware of). In other words, they
think people are mostly rational and try to piece out what are the best
policies by looking at the facts and the arguments that the two sides
That's totally wrong, according to Lakoff. In fact, people make
decisions based on emotive associations that are formed by the creation
of simple, easily grasped, emotionally resonant frames that are then
repeated ad nauseum. Thus, for liberals to fight back, they shouldn't
ignore the facts but they need to concentrate on the frames.
For example, when Edwards was picked as Kerry's running mate, there was
a flurry of media coverage about the potential problems because Edwards
is a "trial lawyer" -- as if trial lawyers are inherently more evil
than, say, oil company CEOs, blustering sons who are business failures
that use their father's clout to get ahead, or husbands of widows of
billionaire ketchup-manufacturers. BTW, it seems pretty clear this was
another example of the media picking up some Republican talking points
and spewing them nationwide without digesting them. But, as Lakoff
suggests, why not turn this around by calling them "public protection
attorneys." They protect the public from corporations and professionals
who are negligent or greedy.
On these issues, Lakoff is an astute analyst (his actual politics is
pretty unimpressive). But I have to say that for me this falls in the
category of simple and obviously true. Politicians of almost any
stripe use it. Even Kucinich's campaign speeches were almost all full
of simple emotive catchwords like peace. NGOs or independent organizers
who really focus on winning campaigns rather than the diffuse
activities of most left activists also strive to come up with simple
slogans and easy frames.
What this amounts to, of course, is saying that the way to win
meaningful political victories is to manipulate people.
The right wing understands what Lakoff has to say and uses it
masterfully -- at least on its own base. In fact, there is increasingly
little attention paid to facts of any kind. Liberal strategists
use this in a piddly local kind of way -- how do I get my candidate to
win, etc. And if they follow Lakoff's advice they will work hard to use
it in a global way like the right does -- certainly groups like MoveOn
are trying to do this.
The question that occurs to me, though: are the rest of us, who
explicitly abjure propaganda and manipulation, also at the same time
abjuring any possibility of winning political victories?
July 21, 8:00 pm
Iraqi militants have kidnapped
six more people -- three Indians, two Kenyans, and an Egyptian, all
truck drivers. A group calling itself "Holders of the Black Banner"
(this is a reference to a black banner that the Prophet gave to Ali
before the battle of Khyber) has said that it
will execute one hostage per 72 hours if the three countries fail to
withdraw all citizens from Iraq.
Of course, India, Kenya, and Egypt are not part of the coalition.
During the 1980's, at any given time there were generally over 1
million Egyptians working in Iraq. There's nothing like that now, but
there are a fair number. For example, Iraq's cell phone service is
provided by an Egyptian company, Orascom.
The day I flew out of Baghdad on my last trip, I ran across a charter
flight to Cairo taking Orascom contract workers home. Every one of them
was carrying some bulky consumer electronics -- except for all the
explosions, Iraq is a free trade paradise, with most tariffs removed by
fiat last May. I talked to a few. They agreed the money was pretty
good. They were also extremely happy to be leaving Iraq.
The Indian workers in Iraq, as I've blogged about before (here
mostly doing menial labor, for pitiful wages, in slave-labor
conditions, abused by American contractors, and often there because
Indian subcontractors lied to them and told them they were going to be
working in Kuwait.
This is rather unfortunate development is a predictable consequence of
the Philippines' withdrawal in response to the threat to Angelo de la
Cruz. It is most likely also true that the new international jihadi
network, which nobody as yet has a good way to characterize, saw the
Spanish election as validating their methods and as a victory to be
At the same time, the Spanish election and planned withdrawal and the
Philippine withdrawal were the right things to do. It's the United
States that repeatedly acts to maintain a context in which all choices
July 21, 5:11 pm
It's not exactly news, but the General Assembly
150 to 6, with 10 abstentions, that Israel obey the ICJ's
advisory ruling that it dismantle the separation wall and pay
compensation to Palestinians affected by it.
Aside from the United States and Israel, dissenting votes came from
U.S. Pacific protectorates Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and
Australia. The empire's main outpost in the Atlantic voted with the
majority of the world.
The next step is the Security Council, where the initiative will die.
Still, this ruling is bringing closer the day when international law is
a weapon that can be used by the weak, not just by the strong.
July 19, 7:28 pm
Calls for 'Honest and Fair' Venezuela Recall
President Bush urged transparency on Monday in
an August recall referendum against Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez
and backed calls for open access for observers monitoring the vote.
No, it's not from The Onion.
July 19, 10:58 am
I do a weekly 5-minute radio commentary on Uprising
, Sonali Kolhatkar's
morning radio program on KPFK
I'm going to start posting the scripts I use (they may not be exactly
the same as what's on the radio, because I sometimes run a bit over 5
was on Thomas Franks's interesting new book, What's
the Matter with Kansas?
, which poses the question of why the poor
so often vote against their material interests.
July 17, 3:55 pm
Jonathan Steele of the Guardian recently wrote a column
about Sheikh Jawad al-Khalissi and the National Foundation Congress, a
broad-based, nonsectarian, nonviolent anti-occupation coalition that
includes Sunni, Shi'a, Arab, Kurd, Turcoman, Assyrian, secularist,
Islamist, and leftist organizations.
Steele quotes Wamidh Nadhmi, a Baghad University political scientist,
who functions as spokesman for the group:
"National unity cannot grow in a country
sectarian divisions or expects ethnic strife," he told me in the
comfortable study of his house across the Tigris from Kadhimiya. "There
has to be reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias. We're not interested
in religion as such, but we feel that by bridging the gaps, the ground
will be better prepared for a national struggle."
The real division in Iraq, he says, is not between Arab and
Kurd, Sunni and Shia, or secular and religious, but between "the
pro-occupation camp and the anti-occupation camp". In his view, "the
pro-occupation people are either completely affiliated to the US and
Britain, in effect puppets, or they saw no way to overthrow Saddam
without occupation. Let's agree not to indulge in slander but discuss
the issue openly. Unfortunately, the pro-occupation people tend not to
distinguish between resistance and terrorism, or between
anti-occupation civil society and those who use violence. They call us
all Saddam remnants, reactionaries, revenge-seekers, mercenaries,
misguided, or foreigners".
When I was in Iraq in January, I had the opportunity to interview both
al-Khalissi and Nadhmi at considerable length (when I returned in
April, there was so much going on that I spent almost all my time in
Although Steele says the National Foundation Congress was "set up a few
weeks ago," it has been much longer in inception. The founding meeting
was in December, at which time they already had managed to bring
together 200 people who were representatives of parties, clerics, or
political notables of some sort.
The organizing principle of the group, which at the time had no name,
was very simple: anyone could join, as long as they were
anti-occupation and had no association either with the Governing
Council or with the crimes of Saddam's government.
This was before Sistani's revolt in favor of universal suffrage. It was
at a time when armed attacks were petering out and the resistance
seemed to have very little strong popular support, outside of al-Anbar
province. This doesn't mean that most people condemned the resistance,
they just thought it was of no account.
Al-Khalissi's initiative seemed to me to be exactly along the right
lines for building a political resistance to the occupation (it was
clear that Trotskyists like the Worker-Communist Party and affiliated
groups like the Union of the Unemployed had very little potential to
build a mass following).
Now, when the resistance has clearly emerged with a political face, the
situation is very different, but the National Foundation Congress is
still most definitely a positive thing. Any kind of anti-occupation
political intermediary or potential intermediary between the resistance
and the mass of the people is a good thing. Groups on the Governing
Council like the Hizb-i-Islami had played such a role with the Fallujah
mujaheddin, but, of course, any group affiliated with the Governing
Council is suspect as an American stooge.
If there ever are free elections, something like the National
Foundation Congress could emerge as truly important. For the time
being, however, Iraq is still heavily enmeshed in the political logic
of military occupation by a foreign power. The primary component of
said logic is an extraordinary ability to remain unresponsive to
Dictatorships like Saddam's or, to take a milder version, Suharto's
post-1966, are extremely vulnerable to popular opinion. In fact, one
fine day in 1997, the Indonesian security forces blinked and there were
a million people in the streets of Jakarta and Suharto's long and
bloody story was at an end. Saddam never let it get that far except
when he was forced to in 1991 and at that time he needed a lot more
than just the U.S. military intervention on his side. Had it not also
been for the fanatically loyal Republican Guard, a Sunni Arab backlash
against the intifada (partly because of some bloody massacres), and an
Iraqi nationalist backlash against the intifada (partly because of the
pictures of Khomeini that found themselves at the head of many
processions by insurgents), he would have been history.
Quite to the contrary, the strength of the Israeli occupation of
Palestine or the American occupation of Iraq depends on Israeli or
American public opinion and not more than marginally on Palestinian or
Iraqi public opinion. This, by the way, is why the United States can
allow an extraordinarily higher degree of press freedom than Saddam
could. It doesn't matter to the Herrenvolk what the Untermenschen say
This is why groups like al-Khalissi's will have a hell of a time
actually meaningfully opposing the occupation.
July 17, 2:45 pm
Kerry's at it again. He's not satisfied with calling
for an increase of 40,000
in the number of U.S. troops (presumably
some of the extras to be sent to Iraq). Now he wants to double
the number of spooks
we send abroad as well.
Although he does a bit of caviling about reconstruction contracts,
entertaining the bizarre illusion that opening up bidding to the French
and Germans will induce them to send their soldiers to die in Iraq,
almost the entirety of Kerry's criticism of what's going on in Iraq is
of the "I'm tougher than Bush" variety.
Rumsfeld authorizes an increase of 30,000 troops -- Kerry wants 40,000.
The CIA says they need a 30 to 35% increase in the number of operatives
abroad, and Kerry wants it to be over 100%.
It's hard to judge Kerry's political intelligence. If he thinks this
kind of dick-waving is going to make people think he's tougher, more
manly, and more warlike than Bush, he's a fool. If he's just trying to
cover his ass while events in Iraq continue to torpedo Bush's
popularity and while Bush seems unable to come up with a decent
campaign ad, he's a political coward, but the results aren't in on
whether it's foolish or not.
Personally, I think if Bush has a strategy left, it's crucifying Kerry
in their foreign policy debate. In the second debate last time, Gore,
so worried about not appearing too cerebral, managed the remarkable
feat of appearing dumber than Bush. This time, Kerry, terrified of
saying anything meaningful about foreign policy, could well manage the
feat of appearing less substantive than Bush.
As far as policy, rather than politics, I wouldn't read too much into
these statements. I don't think Kerry is actually more of a warmonger
than Bush, nor that he's more gung-ho about the occupation. It's just
that there's virtually nothing to choose between the two.
July 16, 2:40 pm
Apparently, Seymour Hersh has been dropping hints for a while
of even darker things yet to come out of the bowels of Abu Ghraib. And,
just recently, speaking to the ACLU in San Francisco, he was a little
He said: "The boys were sodomised with the
and the worst part is the soundtrack, of the boys shrieking. And this
is your government at war."
He accused the US administration, and all but accused
President George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney of complicity in
covering up what he called "war crimes".
The boys mentioned are the children of women who were taken prisoner.
Those women were there in the first place as hostages. When U.S.
soldiers come to a house and don't find the man they're looking for, it
is not at all unheard of for them to take other family members, to be
released if the wanted man turns himself in -- i.e., they take hostages.
Then these hostages are coerced further, apparently, by having their
children tortured in front of them or at least within earshot.
Given everything else we have heard, it's sad to say that these claims
are entirely plausible. Nor do I think Hersh would make these claims if
they weren't firmly documented, although it is annoying that he hasn't
written about them yet.
This is it. It's hard to sink much lower than this. The
United States has been torturing children.
Forgetting about the claims of U.S. moral supremacy, let's examine the
basis for a simple claim: the United States government is better than
Saddam Hussein's government. It seems to me that this can in theory
rest on a variety of claims:
1. We kill fewer people.
2. We may kill more, but we don't use the evil methods he uses.
3. We may kill more and use methods just as evil, but we do lots of
good to make up for it.
4. We do just as much evil, don't make up for it by doing any good, but
at least we thoroughly investigate and acknowledge past evil before
once again pretending that it has no bearing on current policy.
Even construing harshly, Saddam may have killed 1.5 million people
(even here, I'm crediting him with all the Iraqi dead in the Iran-Iraq
war). Higher numbers just credit him with Iraqis killed in the Gulf War
or by the sanctions. I'd be surprised if the Clinton-Bush
crusade for HIV in the Third World
hasn't killed as many, although
I don't know if there will ever be any reasonable estimates. If it
hasn't yet, it will soon reach that mark. The sanctions on Iraq also
killed on the same order of magnitude -- at least 600,000 children
under the age of five alone.
We torture and sodomise children. We bomb residential areas --
sometimes for as little reason as the killing of a handful of
mercenaries, sometimes for no reason at all. There may be minor
differences in methods, but they are just quibbles.
As for doing good, even in a case, Iraq, where U.S. prestige is on the
line, where the United States would have actually saved a huge amount
of money if it had done a few basic things like rebuild Iraq's
electrical power production, it couldn't. Whatever capacity the United
States once had to do good in order to sugarcoat its empire (and the
massacres that the empire entailed) is now long gone.
As far as investigation and acknowlegment, see Congress's
Inquiry Into Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners Bogs Down
All things considered, this is as low a nadir for this country as the
Vietnam War was, both morally and politically.
July 16, 2:25 pm
Color me flabbergasted. The 216th annual General Assembly of
the Presbyterian Church (USA) just
(by a vote of 431-62) an Israel divestment measure. The
Church, which has 3 million members and in 2001 had a total investment
portfolio of $7 billion, will divest itself of all holdings in
companies that either have $1 million or more invested in Israel or
take out $1 million or more per year in profits.
In the news release announcing its decision, the Church drew an
explicit parallel to the divestment campaigns over apartheid South
The divestment movement has been around for a few years in the United
States, gathering a lot of steam with first the beginning of the
al-Aqsa intifada and then the invasion of the West Bank in April 2002.
But, unlike the divestment in South Africa movement, campus
organizations never managed to get the social weight behind them to do
more than public education and exhortation. I know of no serious
attempts, success or failure, to get a college to divest.
My opinion has always been that this is a very different ball of wax
from the old divestment movement. On a moral level, there's great
similarity -- in fact, in many ways Israeli treatment of Palestinians
in the occupied territories goes beyond what was done under apartheid.
But Israel is far more economically integrated with the United States
than South Africa ever was, and U.S. multinationals are far more
"globalized" than they were then.
While this is heartening news, I really wonder whether the Presbyterian
Church will be able to implement this measure. It seems to me that it
requires at the least divestment from any major U.S. multinational
July 14, 2:59 pm
column by Joseph Stiglitz
a few days ago, yet more evidence that
hyperprotectionism for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is a staple of
new U.S. bilateral trade agreements, even though significantly lowering
access to health-case, especially for expensive patented drugs like
those needed to treat AIDS, is an absolutely predictable consequence.
In the case Stiglitz mentions, it's Morocco.
Note also the U.S. requirement that Chile dismantle its capital
The dirty truth about U.S. bilateral trade deals is simple. No longer
can the United States gain easy acquiescence to more and more
exploitative measures in multilateral fora, whether WTO or FTAA. There
is strength in numbers, and a revolt by a handful of Third World states
can make what U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick thinks of as
"progress" difficult or impossible. It happened last year at Cancun and
In a bilateral deal, on the other hand, the United States almost always
retains sufficient leverage to push through much harsher measures.
They're starting small -- bilateral deals with Jordan, Morocco, and
Singapore won't exactly set global markets afire, and even Chile and
Thailand are only middling players. But rack up enough highly
restrictive bilateral deals and you increase the pressure even on
bigger players, in both bilateral and multilateral negotiations.
July 14, 2:35 pm
Today is Bastille Day. 215 years ago today, the people of
France stormed the Bastille. The rest, as they say, is history.
46 years ago today, after a period of 10 years of extreme political
ferment, Iraqis removed their monarchical government, heavily dominated
by British and increasingly American imperial interests. The brief
interlude of five years when Abdul Karim Qassem headed Iraq was a time
of great possibilities, most of which were never realized. But it was
the beginning for Iraqis of independence from foreign domination, an
era that came to an end with the first Gulf War and even more so with
the recent war and occupation.
One of the first decrees of the new handpicked Iraqi government was to
remove July 14 (and July 17, the date in 1968 when the Ba'ath Party
came to power, after a brief period of rule in 1963) as a day for
commemoration and replace it with April 9, the day on which Iraqis were
When there will be another July 14 in Iraqi history is unclear. That
there will be I have little doubt.
July 13, 11:15 pm
The Bush administration is carrying on the crusade started by
Al Gore to help make the Third World safe for the AIDS virus in order
to protect actual profits, future profits, theoretical profits, vaguely
imagined profits, and absolutely nonexistent perpetually unrealizable
profits of U.S. pharmaceutical corporations. It's a long and sordid
story that started in 1997 when Gore in his role as trade czar threatened
with trade sanctions when it passed a law allowing for
compulsory licensing and parallel importing of AIDS drugs.
Compulsory licensing is the production of a patented substance without
the permission of the patent-holder, but with a license fee paid;
parallel importing, something the U.S. Congress is trying to allow now
on an individual basis, is importing from a country where the item in
question is cheaper (multinational drug companies sell their products
at different prices in different countries, creating an obvious
potential arbitrage). Both are legal under the rules of the World Trade
Organization. The November 2001 Doha
reaffirmed and further specified these rights in the
area of public health.
A remarkable combination of American AIDS activists, African and other
Third World activists, and Third World companies like India's Cipla
that reverse-engineer and produce patented drugs has dealt numerous
setbacks to this noble crusade, but it continues.
concerns Thailand. Along with India and Brazil, it is a key
manufacturer of generic versions of the most important AIDS drugs:
The country began researching manufacturing
the drugs in the early 1990s and was preparing to market a generic
version of the drug didanosine when Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., the
drug's manufacturer, served notice that it held a valid patent on the
drug. The Thai government was ready to accede, but Doctors Without
Borders urged it to fight the claim.
The following year, Thailand's Central Intellectual Property
Court ruled the patent invalid in Thailand, paving the way for the
country to begin large-scale drug production.
That decision was, in effect, reinforced last September when
the World Trade Organization agreed that poor nations could ignore
patents in times of national health crises.
Thailand has reduced the cost of AIDS treatment and is planning to
start providing free drugs to many of its citizens as well as to aid in
the global fight:
In March 2002, the Thai Government
Pharmaceutical Organization began producing a single pill that contains
the three drugs recommended by UNAIDS for first-line treatment of HIV
infection: stavudine, lamivudine and nevirapine. The pill reduced the
monthly cost of treatment for an individual from an estimated $750 to
$30. The government now plans to provide it free to 50,000 Thai
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Sunday at the opening of
the 15th International AIDS Conference here that the government would
spend $20 million to provide about 40,000 of those patients with drugs
and that the rest of the money would come from the Global Fund to Fight
AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He also said Thailand would soon begin
exporting the drugs to neighboring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
Thaksin said Thailand would also offer its manufacturing technology to
Africa in the near future.
Unlike Reagan's famous offer to share "Star Wars" technology with the
Soviet Union, this is one that I believe could actually be implemented.
Unfortunately, just when things were looking up, last October, the
United States decided to "reward" its longtime ally with a bilateral
As the LA Times and other papers report today,
A free-trade agreement — meant to greatly
exchanges between the United States and Thailand — would incorporate
language reinstating the patents, in an effort to protect U.S. drug
companies. The Bush administration has also argued that the generic
versions of the drug are potentially unsafe and that they are not as
effective as the branded versions, a claim most experts dispute.
This has already become a pattern:
The reinstatement of patents was part of a
signed last year by Singapore. Brazil has refused to sign an agreement
because of the provision.
Cawthorne, head of Doctors Without Borders in Thailand,
urged the Thai government on Monday to follow Brazil's example lest it
upset its thriving generic drug industry.
Actually, the FTA will not greatly expand trade -- the Thai government,
in promotional literature
reports estimates that the total volume of trade will increase by
barely over 5%. Thailand will be opened to U.S. agribusiness -- a
similar opening in 1996 proved devastating to Haiti, which now imports
not only rice but even sugar, long a famed export.
Free trade agreements have always had tariff reduction as a component,
but for several years now it has not been a primary component. The
primary components of recent "free trade agreements" have been openly
protectionist measures like racheting up off intellectual property
protections or measures that will have a protectionist effect like the
push through the General Agreement on Trade in Services to create
natural monopolies for First World companies on basic necessary
services like provision of water or electricity.
Another point worth noting is that in bilateral trade agreements the
United States does, as Dennis Kucinich repeatedly pointed out during
his campaign, have more leverage than it does in multilateral
agreements like the one creating the WTO. The problem is that the
United States does not, as Kucinich repeatedly implied, use that extra
leverage for good, nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future. It
uses that extra leverage to impose the most horrific measures possible,
winning victories through the backdoor of bilateral agreements on
issues, like global public health, that it lost on upfront at the WTO.
Of all the measures contained in the new protectionism that is the
heart of "globalization" today, there is none more disgusting than the
efforts to deny crucial medication to the poor, even for global
epidemics like AIDS. 22 million have died of AIDS already; there is no
estimate of how many of those died because of the delays and the
chilling effect produced by Clinton and Bush administration attempts to
keep Third World countries from dealing with the problem of treatment.
With resistance popping up at high levels, like the government of
Brazil, incremental additional activism in the United States could have
For further info on what's going on with U.S. attempts to derail a
sensible global AIDS policy, and in particular for another example of
the amazing pettiness and vindictiveness of the Bush administration,
check out Under the Same Sun -- here's
a current post
about the world AIDS conference going on right now
a longer one
about several related aspects.
July 12, 11:58 pm
Taking a break from Iraq blogging as I finish up an article.
Just ran across an interesting and hopeful new venture. According to
, Indian slum-dwellers in Bangalore have a new publication
devoted to them, Slum World.
It is published in Kannada, the demotic language in Bangalore. It has
had stories about successful community organizing among slum dwellers
against a garbage dump and a profile of a woman who earns Rs. 40 (less
than $1/day) selling cigarettes but somehow manages to feed several
The publication has reached a circulation of 2500 and has interested
slum dwellers in neighboring cities.
In itself, the publication is not huge news. India has numerous large,
active social movements buttressed by a bewildering variety of NGOs,
many of which put out publications. But this is almost always the
province of middle-class activists supporting the poor. Slum World is
distinguished by the fact that the people who put it out have
themselves lived in the slums.
Bangalore is constantly pumped up (and not just by Thomas Friedman) as
the face of the Indian future, a high-tech metropolis growing fat off
of the IT boom. At the same time, the city has 700 slums. The editor,
Isaac Arul Silva, says, "Forget about support from the IT industry,
they don't want us around," says Mr Selva.
At the same time, the producers are very ready to take advantage of IT,
with plans to take the publication online.
In the last few years, we've seen dramatic increases in self-expression
from the marginalized of the world. I'll have more to say about it in
the future, but it's a sign that the defenders of the status quo are
going to have their hands full in the 21st century. These movements are
in a way enabled by "globalization," if by that one means the spread of
technology, which has put certain key elements like the Internet within
their reach, but they are also very much emerging as a response to
globalization, if by that one means the dramatic increases in global
inequality as free market fundamentalism comes to rule everywhere.
Abuse and torment humanity past a certain point and there is a
response. The poor of Bangalore will not go gentle into that good night.
July 11, 11:51 pm
Many of you have likely seen the recent New Republic
, by John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman, and Massoud Ansari.
As was reported several months ago, this spring the Bush administration
pushed for a major increase in operations in southern Afghanistan and
northern Pakistan to find Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah
Mohammed Omar, and other "high-value targets." I commented
back on March 5 about the move to "24-7" high-tech surveillance -- as
some wags commented, apparently they were finding out that the whole
9-5 thing wasn't working so well. Later that month came the operations
Apparently, Ansari et al. can add to this confirmation of what was
shall we say just a bit obvious:
This public pressure would be appropriate,
even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private
insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs)
before Americans go to the polls in November. The Bush administration
denies it has geared the war on terrorism to the electoral calendar.
"Our attitude and actions have been the same since September 11 in
terms of getting high-value targets off the street, and that doesn't
change because of an election," says National Security Council
spokesman Sean McCormack. But The New Republic has learned that
Pakistani security officials have been told they must produce HVTs by
the election. According to one source in Pakistan's powerful
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), "The Pakistani government is really
desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the
latest pressures from the U.S. administration to deliver before the
[upcoming] U.S. elections." Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda
captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism
relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official, "no
timetable[s]" were discussed in 2002 or 2003--but the November election
is apparently bringing a new deadline pressure to the hunt.
Well and good. Given the timing of the increase in pressure, there's
hardly a Pakistani official who wouldn't assume it was all about the
elections. This much is completely believable, and no surprise.
But the authors go further yet. Check this out:
A third source, an official who works under
ISI's director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed
that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or
killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's
more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told
their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing
this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given
repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ul-Haq's] meetings in
Washington." Says McCormack: "I'm aware of no such comment." But
according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last
spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT
were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the
first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Imagine that. The Americans are supposedly so crass and stupid as to
say they want something to happen during the Democratic National
Convention. It's at least as likely that the source is just planting
something with Ansari and others. There are, one must say, many reasons
why people in Islamic countries are angry with Bush. Musharraf
certainly does better with a Republican president, because it will be
easier for him to get aid, arms sales, etc. On the other hand, however,
pretty close to everybody in Pakistan is furious over what the Bush
administration has been doing and a large chunk of them are furious
with Musharraf as well.
I don't want to suggest that there are any depths of stupidity below
which Bush administration officials won't descend, but this does seem
to me more than a bit ridiculous. So I don't believe it. What's
interesting is that people at the New Republic, which was just as
gung-ho for the Iraq war as the Weekly Standard, are printing claims
like this. It's hard even to find a war-hawk who supports Bush's
foreign policy these days.
July 10, 10:15 pm
Now that "Kenny Boy" has finally had to do his little perp walk
(full 65-page indictment here
the Bush administration's reaction has been exactly what you might have
expected. Just as they've been doing since the Enron scandal broke,
it's been a chorus of "Kenny who?" Added to that, numerous smarmy
statements that Lay contributed to both Democrats and Republicans, and
thus there is no partisan implication to all of this.
Well, that's clearly nonsense. Lay and Enron actively supported
Republicans and passively supported Democrats, and in fact, Kenneth Lay
has had almost as much as Karl Rove to do with the creation of George
W. Bush. Billmon has returned from a break with a long and illuminating
about these Republican ties as well as an overview of all
their other wrongdoing.
But to me the most interesting thing about Enron as a company, aside
from its novel method of creating wealth out of othing with
phenomenally complicated accounting maneuvers, was its
unparalleled ability to use the United States government, under
Bush Sr. and Clinton, to exert political pressure on Third World
governments to force them to sign extortionate deals.
The absolute worst of these, its Dabhol power plant project in India,
involved repeated intervention in Indian internal affairs by the U.S.
government, through Clinton's ambassador to India, Frank Wisner (who
later surfaced as an Enron board member).
I wrote an article about Enron's Third World depredations and the
increasing problem of what I called "corporate extraterritoriality" in
the Third World that was published by the Texas Observer back in April
2001 under the execrable title "Riding
the Global Gravy Train
Here's a concluding passage:
Although further disquisitions on the
corporate threat to democracy, humanity, and life as we know it are
rapidly becoming superfluous, we can still learn much from the case of
Enron. In a world where corporations routinely write laws to suit
themselves, Enron stands out because of its cavalier assumption that
all laws should redound to its own benefit. In the Latin American
business press, for example, Enron executive Kathy Lynn can be found
blandly remarking that, "Through market presence [in Brazil] we hope to
be able to influence the way the regulations are written. We have a
regulatory affairs group that is active in trying to influence
regulations that affect us so we are comfortable with them."
Enron also stands out for its skill in
co-opting politicians from all parts of the spectrum to do its dirty
work, and for its willingness to grease the wheels of government with
liberal doses of campaign cash . Perhaps most striking is the way it
has grown out of nothing, combining ultramodern Internet-fueled growth
with techniques rarely seen since the days of the robber barons, when
anyone sufficiently ruthless and corrupt could create billions of
dollars in equity out of thin air.
July 10, 9:45 pm
Bill Clinton gave Christiane Amanpour an interview
last week. Check out this exchange:
AMANPOUR: In one of your farewell interviews
as president, you told an interviewer that one of your most difficult
and challenging issues as president was Iraq. In retrospect, do you
wish that you had mustered a large invasion force like President Bush?
And if not, do you think the threat you faced from Iraq was any
different than the one President Bush faced from Iraq?
CLINTON: The answer to the first question is no. I basically believe
that the policy that I inherited, which was basically to keep Saddam
Hussein in a box and under sanctions, unless and until he fully
complied with the U.N. resolutions, was the right policy. It wasn't so
great for the Iraqis, but he didn't present a substantial threat to
Wonderful. It was the "right policy," but, oh well, it "wasn't so great
for the Iraqis." What does this remind you of? Well, how about the May
12, 1996 episode of "60 Minutes:"
Lesley Stahl on U.N. sanctions against Iraq:
"We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's
more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth
Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price
think the price is worth it."
At least Albright admitted the magnitude of the cost, instead of
brushing it off with a weasel phrase like "wasn't so great."
Logically, Clinton's case stacks up poorly against Bush's. His policy
was fine because, regardless of the cost to Iraqis, Saddam "didn't
present a substantial threat to anyone else." What is easier than for
Bush to say, "Well, now Saddam doesn't present any threat, to Iraqis or
Later, when asked why the "humanitarian interventions" in Bosnia and
Kosovo, but not in Iraq, Clinton's reply was that NATO and Russia
sanctified those interventions. Again, pathetically easy for the
Bushies to answer.
Clinton joins Lieberman, Biden, and Edwards as one of a handful of
Democrats who actually make John Kerry look like a strident critic of
the war by contrast.
My prediction: if the Bushies have any collective intelligence
whatsoever (an open question), they can arrange to have Bush eviscerate
Kerry in the foreign policy debate. Unless Kerry is prepared to talk
about how bad Bush has made things for the people of Iraq. It's not
that that's what people care about most, but rather that the
"liberation" can be successfully used by Bush to deflect all ancillary
criticism that doesn't go to the heart of the matter.
And I see no sign that Kerry or any other mainstream Democrat is
prepared to address this issue.
July 9, 11:40 pm
A great victory for what the Bush administration calls "fair
trade." Facing a WTO action brought by the United States, China has
agreed to phase out a tax break for domestic computer
chipmanufacturers. Currently, China imports 80% of its chips but has
been trying to create an indigenous computer-chip industry. Every
country that has industrialized has followed a similar protectionist
strategy at some point, starting with Britain's levying of tariffs
against Indian textiles in the early 1700's.
Ending the tax break "levels the playing field
for semiconductors," said Jennifer Greeson, a policy spokeswoman for
Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel, the world's largest chip maker, which
had joined other U.S. chip makers in urging the Bush administration to
file the WTO case against China in March.
A level playing field against Intel -- wonderful. But it gets better:
At the same time, U.S. sock manufacturers,
reeling from a steep surge in low-cost Chinese competition and plunging
prices, recently petitioned the Bush administration to restrict imports
So we imperil China's domestic computer chip industry and they imperil
our sock manufacturing. Roughly equal threats to each country's
economic wellbeing, I suppose.
July 9, 11:25 pm
For readers who want a good picture of what's happened in
Haiti in the last several months, and what are its antecedents, Peter Hallward's
in the May/June edition of New Left Review is an excellent
July 9, 4:56 pm
Some good news. The International Court of Justice has found
wall is a violation of international law, and amounts to an attempt at
"de facto annexation."
It even said the wall "severely impedes the exercise of the Palestinian
people of its right to self-determination, and therefore is a breach of
Israel's obligation to the respect of that right." While the fact that
the wall is a violation of international law could be based simply on
UN Security Council Resolution 242, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and
similar standard stuff, explicit mention of the Palestinian people's
right to self-determination is a step further (242 is notorious for not
recognizing the existence of the Palestinians as a people).
The Court called on Israel to pay reparations to Palestinians and
return land seized to construct the wall. Furthermore, it suggested
that the UN "should consider what further action is required to bring
to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the
Interestingly, it ignored Israel's protests that the wall was only
temporary, saying that it would constitute a "fact on the ground" that
might then lead to de facto annexation. Apparently the Court is going
by the famous Texas maxim (or maybe it's from Tennessee), "Fool
me once, shame on you; fool me continuously and repeatedly, on a daily
basis, for 56 years, shame on me."
And, not surprisingly, the vote was just like it always is on the
Security Council -- 14-1, with the American judge dissenting (no veto
on the ICJ, fortunately).
The MSNBC report linked above says, "The 15-member court's advisory
opinions are nonbinding, but bear moral and historic weight." Another
way of saying this is, "a certain rogue nation undermined the authority
of the court in a way that it has never recovered from." Amidst all the
blathering about how this is the first administration ever to ignore
international law, etc., etc., it's worth remembering the history of
the United States and the ICJ.
In 1986, surmounting massive political obstacles, the ICJ ruled against
the United States in Military
And Paramilitary Activities In And Against
(also known as Nicaragua v. United States of America)
, ordering the United States to pay an amount later fixed at $17
reparations to Nicaragua for its illegal contra war, mining of
Nicaraguan harbors, etc. In response, the Reagan administration said
that the United States no longer recognizes the authority of the court.
In 1999, when Yugoslavia brought actions against the NATO countries for
their illegal war, the ICJ refused to hear the cases against the United
States because the internationalist Clinton administration still didn't
recognize the court's authority (if you want to read the decision with
all the "whereases," it's right here
July 8, 11:26 pm
New from the AP: Iraq
insurgency larger than thought
. Apparently, the stock "estimate" of
5000 fighters is ridiculously small.
If you take into account people who can be mobilized by clan leaders or
local imams and then demobilize afterward, the number is above 20,000.
Apparently, U.S. military officials claim that 4,000 insurgents were
killed in April, obviously without notable impairment of the ability of
the resistance to commit further attacks.
The other article of faith about the resistance, as far as mainstream
coverage is concerned, has been that foreign fighters play the main
role. I don't think military officials have backed up this line since
maybe last September or October, but it still gets considerable play in
Actually, as USA
Suspected foreign fighters account for less
than 2% of the
5,700 captives being held as security threats in Iraq, a strong
indication that Iraqis are largely responsible for the stubborn
Since last August, coalition forces have detained 17,700
people in Iraq who were considered to be enemy fighters or security
risks, and about 400 were foreign nationals, according to figures
supplied last week by the U.S. military command handling detention
operations in Iraq. Most of those detainees were freed after a review
board found they didn't pose significant threats. About 5,700 remain in
custody, 90 of them non-Iraqis.
The AP article acknowledges this point, too, going on to say
The developing intelligence picture of the
the commonly stated view in the Bush administration that the fighting
is fueled by foreign warriors intent on creating an Islamic state.
not at the forefront of a jihadist war here," said a U.S. military
official in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity.
official and others told The Associated Press the guerrillas have
enough popular support among nationalist Iraqis angered by the presence
of U.S. troops that they cannot be militarily defeated.
military official, who has logged thousands of miles driving around
Iraq to meet with insurgents or their representatives, said a skillful
Iraqi government could co-opt some of the guerrillas and reconcile with
the leaders instead of fighting them.
Apparently, some in the military -- I would assume they hold a
dissident view -- have finally figured out that this resistance cannot
be militarily defeated. Or, at least, not without the kind of massive
violence that would cause the United States and the Bush administration
serious political problems (Fallujah seems to have caused no problems
internationally or domestically in the US, so we're talking levels of
violence a few orders of magnitude beyond that).
At the same time, much of the resistance would be extremely easy to
co-opt. The administration seems to be slowly and stupidly working its
way toward a model of control that actually has a chance:
- A restricted
U.S. military presence, almost completely confined to bases;
- A free
hand for Allawi and other potential puppet figures to put an Iraqi face
on the counterinsurgency, simultaneously reassert the authority
of figures that were powerful under Saddam (including clan
leaders and some Ba'athist officials), and institute a "uniquely
Iraqi solution to an Iraqi problem" (i.e., a host of new repressive
measures that functionally give the Iraqi security forces the right to
do what the U.S. military has been doing -- arbitrary detention, etc.).
- An alliance between the Allawi puppet government and key
co-optable elements of the resistance.
And, of course, the will of the United States is enforced on the
central government (not directly on the people) by John Negroponte
through the leverage of a massive military presence on bases, control over
the lion's share of uncommitted funds for reconstruction
over key bureaucratic positions
, and the simple fact that the
people in power have been put there because they are compatible with
This can potentially work, because there are no mass political
movements in Iraq at the moment. All the same, this solution would
require large parts of the administration and the national security
establishment to move sharply against their purely militaristic
thinking on the occupation. This would require the small dissident
factions represented in this article to become the dominant ones.
As yet, unfortunately, there is no "leave the Iraqis be" faction,
except in the antiwar movement.
July 8, 8:15 pm
Apparently, Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover never
to speak at an NAACP convention
during his term in office (he
recently declined the latest invitation).
He did speak to a convention in 2000, when he was a candidate. Back
then, he was a "compassionate conservative" who supposedly stood
foursquare against the racial divisiveness of much of the Republican
Although his refusal is rather a blatant statement, it's probably not
so bad as strategy. Not only has Bush/Cheney committed itself to an
extremist "mobilize the base" campaign strategy, Bush is notoriously
bad in situations where somebody might potentially challenge him, even
a little bit.
July 8, 6:35 pm
Check out this Reuters headline -- Post-Chavez
Venezuela Would Be U.S. Ally -Opposition
. 'Nuff said.
July 7, 10:43 pm
According to a Reuters
of yesterday, although the presidential election in
Afghanistan can finally go through by mid-October, "logistical grounds"
require that parliamentary elections be delayed two to six months
to the Financial Times
today, those logistical problems are as
Officials have yet to receive accurate census
seats to parliamentary constituencies, said Aykut Tavsel, JEMB
spokesman. Political parties that are newly established or reviving
themselves after decades of civil strife need more time to field
candidates and get the lie of the political ground, he said. So far, 24
parties have registered.
The UN has also expressed concern that
the political ground has not been adequately prepared for a
parliamentary election, as the majority of irregular militia forces
that serve provincial strongmen have not been disarmed.
Apparently, according to the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB),
5.6 million of the 9.5 million eligible voters have been registered.
Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Jawed Ludin, said Karzai wants parliamentary
elections as close as possible to the presidential ones, to avoid the
charge by other Afghan politicians that he wants to consolidate power
and electoral legitimacy before allowing elections for any of them.
From the U.N. and nameless "foreign officials," on the other hand,
comes the impetus to delay parliamentary elections possibly until
The Afghan elections have already been a political football. They were
originally scheduled for June, but it was recognized
as early as February
that they would have to be postponed
because of inadequate voter registration. In a post on
, I wrote more about this issue. At that time,
basically, the Bush administration was pushing for quick elections in
Afghanistan but saying that there was no way to hold elections in Iraq
at the same time -- even though voter registration among Afghans was
marginal and for Iraqis the ration-card system was a perfectly adequate
basis for voter registration.
The reason, of course, was that the administration was quite confident
about the results of Afghan elections -- Karzai is really the only
possibility -- but not at all about elections in Iraq. Thus, it wanted
to postpone Iraqi elections until after U.S. elections, something that
has now been accomplished.
It is possible that, although there is enough data to assure a
meaningful national election (meaningful on technical grounds of
percentage of registration, not on political grounds), there won't be
enough data to apportion parliamentary seats. This is a strange
objection, though, because surely one could do an approximation and
then reapportion before the next election (Republicans are certainly
big on reapportioning between elections).
The other rationales brought up in the excerpt above are quite
interesting. Political parties need more time to develop themselves and
field candidates so that there can be meaningful parliamentary
elections. This may well be true, although, unlike with Iraq, at least
one mass-based political party (the Watan Party, successor to the
Communist PDPA) retained an existence in exile. If we grant that it is
true, the same can certainly be said for the presidential election --
other potential candidates have not had the time to develop themselves.
In fact, the rationale presupposes that Karzai is the only choice for
The other objection, that militias have not been disarmed, is the same
in character. While it is true that militias could coerce people to
vote one way or another in parliamentary elections, they could do the
same in presidential elections -- except that Karzai is the only
The timing is also interesting. Mid-October is three weeks before U.S.
elections. Could one suggest that the Bush administration is happy
having presidential elections, in which the result is a fait accompli
and where the person to be elected is already identified with the
United States, but is unhappy with parliamentary elections that could
potentially have messy and even anti-American results?
July 7, 10:14 pm
The results of my little informal survey are in. I got about
80 responses, most of them long and thoughtful, some short and to the
If it's fair to try to sum up the gist of the responses, it was this: I
should continue what I'm doing, go deeper about Iraq, cover a wide
variety of other issues, and write about ways to change the world, not
just to analyze it.
Many respondents agreed with my analysis of the centrality of the
occupation to the short-term fate of the world. Several people wrote to
say very emphatically that I shoult NOT stop writing about Iraq. Of
course, I could hardly contemplate doing that, but it was important to
get that reminder of the felt need for this kind of analysis. A couple
reminded me not to forget Afghanistan, which is so easy to do when one
is dependent on mainstream media coverage.
There were several requests for more writing focused on the election. I
have taken numerous occasions to point out that Kerry is scarcely
distinguishable from Bush in his words (actions may be a different
matter), but haven't gone into depth on this, nor on questions of
election strategy -- the last time I discussed that seriously was back
A couple people suggested that the value of my focussing on Iraq is not
as great now that I'm not there. Others said that one of the things
they value in my blogging is the feeling that I point out how the Iraqi
public feels about developments, a point of view rarely expressed in
media reporting here (although I have seen an upsurge in it in the last
There were also suggestions that I create a comment area. This is an
area where I've never looked into the relevant technology. If you think
I should create such an area strongly enough that you'd write to me
about it, please do
Thanks to everyone who took the time to write and to the numerous
others who have written to me since I started blogging. For those of
you who wrote to me between the beginning of April and about June 6, I
was in the middle of answering messages when I had some unforeseen
technical problems and lost all the messages. For those who have
written to me since then, I'm working through answering them, but I
never seem to catch up.
July 6, 8:40 pm
So John Edwards is Kerry's vice presidential candidate. As
I'm certain every reader here knows, he voted for the Patriot Act, for
the Iraq war, and then last fall was in favor of the $66 billion for
military spending but against the $18 billion for reconstruction.
Furthermore, he struck me during the primary season as the favored
candidate of everyone who was terrified about the idea of a Democratic
presidential candidate talking about the war and the occupation.
Leaving aside Sharpton and Kucinich, Dean was the mainstream candidate
carrying the torch for some very vague, unclear, antiwar feeling that
didn't include any ideas for a different foreign policy but that was
ready to criticize Bush harshly on foreign policy grounds. Clark was
the attempt by some who will remain nameless to steal Dean's thunder by
having a gung-ho military hawk elucidating the same mush critique of
the war. And Kerry carefully tacked just critical enough of the war and
the occupation to get Dean's voters (to complete the roundup, Gephardt
was the three-time loser he's been ever since he started running for
president and Lieberman was the Democrats' neoconservative).
Edwards had nothing to say about Iraq and his avoidance of the issue
conspicuous. So when I ranked the candidates who seemed to have a shot,
I ranked them Dean, Kerry, Edwards (Clark may have had a shot at one
point, but I thought his dishonesty was on a level the others couldn't
match -- also he ran out of things to say about five minutes after he
Not to say Edwards was necessarily a bad choice for Kerry to make --
just that I always disagreed strongly with the progressives who thought
he was the man to back.
Under the Same Sun has a great excerpt from Edwards' speech in favor of
the Iraq resolution, in which he says,
Saddam Hussein's regime represents a grave
threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel. For
more than two decades, Saddam Hussein has sought weapons of mass
destruction through every available means. We know that he has chemical
and biological weapons. He has already used them against his neighbors
and his own people, and is trying to build more. We know that he is
doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons, and we know that each
day he gets closer to achieving that goal.
Read the whole post here
Do you think we could refer to this by that ugly little three-letter
word -- lie?
July 6, 8:20 pm
An interesting op-ed
in the Post
today, from Rep. Henry Waxman, the man who also
commissioned the creation of a searchable
of Bush administration lies about WMD and al-Qaeda links.
Says Waxman, under Bill Clinton there was insanely excessive
congressional oversight of potential White House improprieties, but now
under Bush we have the opposite problem:
When President Clinton was in office, Congress
exercised its oversight
powers with no sense of proportionality. But oversight of the Bush
administration has been even worse: With few exceptions, Congress has
abdicated oversight responsibility altogether.
He gives an example:
Republicans in the House took more than 140
hours of testimony to investigate whether the Clinton White House
misused its holiday card database but less than five hours of testimony
regarding how the Bush administration treated Iraqi detainees.
Here's the justification for essentially not investigating the prison
One Republican chairman argued, "America's
reputation has been dealt a serious blow around the world by the
actions of a select few. The last thing our nation needs now is for
others to enflame this hatred by providing fodder and sound bites for
And the reason there's less oversight now? Leave it to the
congressional Republicans to explain it to us:
Republican Rep. Ray LaHood aptly characterized
recent congressional oversight of the administration: "Our party
controls the levers of government. We're not about to go out and look
beneath a bunch of rocks to try to cause heartburn."
If we look at the level of rhetoric and forget about facts for a
minute, we find that the same Republicans (and esp. the Bush
administration) whose talk about the politics of Iraq and the
"transformation of the Middle East" is ceaselessly pro-democratic
distinguish themselves by an a remarkably anti-democratic rhetoric when
it comes to American politics. This is not unique in American history,
but it is relatively rare.
Obviously, if we look at facts, the administration's foreign policy is
anti-democratic at a similarly remarkable level. And yet this
anti-democratic rhetoric is a fascinating phenomenon. It is not unique
in American history, but it is relatively rare. It is not a trivial
matter to try to figure out what it means, what it is aimed at, and
what it portends. I definitely do not think it is just a simple power
games as usual, rally around our side kind of approach, although that's
certainly part of it.
July 5, 11:11 pm
A couple of days ago, the White House released figures that
show everything you need to know about the "reconstruction" of Iraq. Of
roughly $18.4 billion supposedly earmarked for reconstruction
(actually, some of that money is for security forces, not for
reconstruction) in the much-debated congressional allocation of last
fall, only $366 million, 2%, has
. Not only is this scandalous, it is actually below any
of the independent estimates that people had made. Over the last few
weeks, we saw stories that said perhaps as little as $500 million,
maybe only $400 million, but the truth was even more shocking than that.
If you recall, back when this was being debated in Congress, much of
the Democratic leadership was in favor of the increased military
spending on Iraq but against grants for Iraqi reconstruction, making
the Bush administration actually appear to be the more generous party.
It turns out they were actually equal in their generosity.
But what, you ask, about all the money going to military contractors
like Halliburton and Bechtel? Well, part of the answer is that far more
in the way of funds has been allocated in contracts than spent (and
should those contracts turn out to be unexecutable, it will be
interesting to note what actually happens to the money).
But far and away the main factor is that it is Iraq's own oil money
that is being spent on those U.S. contractors. While only $366 million
of congressional money has been spent and $5.3 billion allocated (up
from a mere $2.2 billion in March), $19.1 billion of Iraq's $20 billion
in oil revenue in the Iraq Development Fund has been allocated -- $6
billion in the runup to the "transfer of sovereignty."
So, all those complaints that, for example, the United States is
spending its "own money" on providing cheap gasoline for Iraqis while
we have to pay so much at the pump are nonsense. What actually happens
-- the United States takes Iraqi oil money and gives it to Halliburton
to buy oil from Kuwait and Turkey at outrageous rates to sell to Iraqis
at a rate that is cheap in absolute terms but still not trivial for the
Even parts of the antiwar movement have made shameful arguments about
the amount of money spent on Iraqi reconstruction. They were small
parts and they haven't been saying it very loud for a while, but I do
hope that such arguments don't get resurrected in the future.
The strategy of the United States is made transparently obvious. First
of all, the fanfare about the reconstruction money is largely done to
make it appear generous while it sets about giving Iraq's oil money to
U.S. corporations without even wanting anything in return. Second, when
it finally turns over nominal control of Iraq's oil revenues to the new
"sovereign" government, we find that is has no discretionary funds --
everything is committed. Third, the rest of the congressional
allocation -- still unspent -- remains over the heads of any Iraqi
government figures who want independence in fiscal policy. If they ever
want those funds to be disbursed, then they have to go along with U.S.
plans for the money.
Expect more on this once I have finished digesting the GAO report on
July 5, 10:30 pm
Yet another airstrike in Fallujah today. If I am counting
correctly, this is the fourth occasion on which there has been aerial
bombing of Fallujah since the end of "major combat operations" there.
This one involved four 500-pound bombs and two 1000-pound bombs. The AP
says 10 were killed, but a different
Clearly, acts like these, just as with the similar bombings done by
Israel in the occupied territories, are violations of the obligations
of an occupying power. If you suspect that people you are looking for
-- resistance, terrorists, criminals -- are using a house, the thing to
do is a police raid, not an air raid.
Interestingly, according to the AP report, Allawi made a point of
saying that U.S. forces were acting on intelligence provided to them by
the Iraqis -- the report characterizes the statement as
"unprecedented." It's obvious that the Iraqi government and the groups
that make it up are sharing at least some of their intelligence with
the U.S. forces, but one wonders why Allawi made such a point of
announcing it. It's rather a brazen statement of his role as prime
minister of "sovereign" Iraq.
July 4, 11:59 pm
Because today is the Fourth of July, here is a little excerpt
from the greatest Fourth of July speech in American history, and one
that should have particular resonance today. It is actually a Fifth of
July speech. In 1852, the great former slave and abolitionist Frederick
Douglass was asked by the Rochester Anti-Slavery Society to speak on
the Fourth. He declined, delivering a speech instead the next day to a
hall of 1600 people. He spoke for two hours, from a 41-page text. He
left the audience stunned. A little excerpt:
What to the American slave is your Fourth of
July I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of
the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant
victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an
unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds
of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants,
brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow
mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with
all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast,
fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy's thin veil to cover up crimes
which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the
earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people
of these United States at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the
monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South
America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay
your facts by the side of the every-day practices of this nation, and
you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless
hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
On this day, when the eagle's wings are hopelessly stuck in the mire of
Fallujah and Abu Ghraib, when American liberty was celebrated at Bush's
speech by the removal
of two people
for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts (not even causing any
disruption), those words are as relevant as they have ever been.
July 4, 9:45 pm
Interesting political developments in Iraq. Ayad Allawi's
government is talking about an amnesty
for members of the Iraqi resistance.
In an interview today on ABC TV, Allawi said he had been approached by
Moqtada al-Sadr's people and that "He is looking for an amnesty. He is
looking to be part of
the political process."
Also today, al-Sadr released a
in which he said
"There is no truce with the occupier
and those who cooperate with it."
"We announce that the current government is illegitimate and
illegal," al-Sadr said. "It's generally following the occupation. We
demand complete sovereignty and independence by holding honest
So what the hell is going on? You may remember that, several weeks ago
(on June 12), al-Sadr declared a readiness to deal with the new
government and to start disbanding the Mehdi Army militia and turning
it into a political party. What has changed?
It seems to me that the United States has once again misplayed its
hand. Al-Sadr's initially conciliatory approach has likely been soured
by two things.
One is Bremer's late-breaking
giving the newly appointed Electoral Commission the right
to choose which political parties and individuals can stand for
election and which cannot. This builds on Order
, which distinguishes between Illegal Militias and others
(basically, the militias associated with Governing Council entities are
legal and others like al-Sadr's are illegal), calls for criminal
proceedings against members of illegal militias, and denies the right
to hold office to members of illegal militias. All of this is almost as
if designed to make al-Sadr think that if he disarms and joins the
political process as currently envisioned he will be kept from
participating and likely taken into custody.
Second is the fact that Allawi's government is talking about an amnesty
as if fighting against the occupation is something that must be
forgiven. In fact, his spokesman made it very clear that this was
something limited and conditional:
The government spokesman,
George Sada, told reporters in Baghdad that none of the "hardcore"
criminals, including those accused of murder, would be eligible for
amnesty. Only those who were "misled" by the leaders of the insurgency
would qualify, he said.
In fact, in Sadr's statement, he makes a point of saying, "Resistance
is a legitimate right and not a crime to be punished."
If this "amnesty" is going to work, it has to be extended to everyone
who fought the U.S. military, based on the recognition that armed
resistance to occupation is legitimate. Lumping those acts in with the
mass terrorist attacks on civilians is just going to make it more
difficult to stop those terrorist attacks.
The funny thing is, the amnesty is under fire here in the United States
for the opposite
-- because it would let people who have fought against
American troops off from criminal prosecution.
July 4, 8:50 pm
Check out this AP story -- Armed
Men Ban Fallujah Pro-Saddam Rally
Islamic militants prevented a group of Saddam
Hussein loyalists from holding a planned march Sunday to show
solidarity for the ousted Iraqi dictator.
About 20 cars filled with armed,
guerrillas who refer to themselves as Mujahedeen, or holy warriors,
forced about 100 people gathered for the rally to disperse. Islamic
radicals were frequently targeted by Saddam and harbor little sympathy
for the former leader, who appeared before a court last week.
"God gave victory to Fallujah,
it's a Muslim (city); because it's applying Islamic law," one of the
militants said, according to witnesses. "We don't want our victory to
go to Saddam."
As I've been saying for the past few months, the claim that Fallujah
was a Saddamist stronghold was particularly laughable. There are places
-- Aadhamiyah in Baghdad and Tikrit -- where there is more pro-Saddam
feeling, but Fallujah was the part of the so-called Sunni Triangle that
was most anti-Saddam.
Iraqis, of course, are well aware of this fact, and the propaganda put
forth by the Bush administration about Fallujah was presumably entirely
for American consumption.
Even in the 1990's, Fallujah was known for Salafist (fundamentalist)
Islamism. This was one of the reasons for its anti-Saddam feeling (the
other was tribal differences having to do with, among other things,
Saddam's execution of a prominent local notable, Muhammed al-Mazlum
ad-Dulaimy, of al-Anbar province in 1995).
Not surprisingly, the carnage caused by the Marine assault on Fallujah,
in combination with the defeat and pullback of U.S. forces, has
intensified Islamic extremism and expanded its sway in the area. Of
course, this is nothing new in the history of U.S. intervention. The
last quarter century of U.S. foreign policy could not have increased
the sway of jihadism more had it been intended to (there were times
when propping up Islamism was an explicit goal, but even when it
wasn't, that was always the effect).
July 3, 10:42 pm
, attacks on oil pipelines have once again brought Iraq's
exports down to about half of the postwar maximum. Of the two southern
terminals, Khor al-Amaya was completely shut down, and Basra (formerly
Mina al-Bakr) is at a little over half capacity.
In addition, apparently, the northern pipeline through Turkey has
carried only a little over 13 million barrels since the war (the
article says 13 million barrels per day, which is obviously absurd).
It's not easy to defend pipelines. Saudi Arabia has managed it so far,
although there are a few rogue CIA operatives (like Robert Baer) who
believe it has no capacity to withstand an organized attack on oil
transport or refinement capacity. Of course, Saudi Arabia has a
government -- a very bad one, but a government -- that keeps order.
Iraq has none and is not likely to generate one any time soon, given
the American strategy.
And, if you really want to protect the critical infrastructure for oil
production, then 138,000 U.S. troops and a handful of foreign ones are
not enough. It takes more troops to defend than to attack, because you
have to cover every potential target.
It's become a staple of the liberal critique of the occupation that the
Bush administration didn't send enough troops to Iraq. This was also
the military critique, as exemplified by former General Anthony Zinni.
It's always been an odd critique. If the assumption was that the Iraqi
populace would be basically friendly to the Americans, then the fewer
troops the better -- fewer opportunities to create resentment. If the
populace was basically not friendly, then the claim of "liberation" was
nonsense (and we all know what happened to the other rationales for the
What would have helped, of course, was a major commitment to rebuilding
infrastructure, keeping basic order (to claim that all the troops in
Baghdad could have done nothing to stop any looting, has, of course,
always been absurd), and possibly to "civil society operations" of some
sort. This would have been a sophisticated way to serve the
administration's imperial aims while potentially maintaining and
building Iraqi support.
Now, of course, the calculations are different. The combination of
brutality, as with the assault on Fallujah and the treatment of Iraqi
detainees, and negligence (in one year of "reconstruction," perhaps 800
megawatts of power production capacity have been restored, according to
a recent GAO report
has pushed things beyond such a point. It is not possible to make the
Iraqis love or even support the American policies. In fact, the
administration seems to have realized that and is going for apathetic
acquiescence as the best that can be hoped for.
Given that that's the case, the best way to do it is to do as little as
possible to rouse Iraqis from the apathy into which they're likely to
sink when they realize how little there is they can do, beyond
defending themselves. And so, the more troops you put in, the more
problems. This would be the case even if the troops weren't saturated
with a racist view of Iraqis as Untermenschen and even if they were not
so woefully lacking in any ability to deal sensibly with the problems
of running an occupation. Nor would an army of "civil affairs"
specialists help at this point -- even in order to move around, they
would need heavy armed escorts everywhere.
In fact, part of the reason that "reconstruction" is basically not
happening at all at the moment is that the reconstructers spend most of
their time holed up in the Green Zone (CPA headquarters), since going
out to their sites is so dangerous.
More troops could perhaps do more to protect what's really important to
the administration -- the oilfields and pipelines. They'd have to make
themselves sitting ducks to do it, though. So, even if I try to credit
the "need more troops" critique with something like sense, it's just
hard to do.
In fact, Kerry's naive Clintonesque technocratic faith -- put more
soldiers in, "do things
better," ask our allies more nicely to support us -- seems almost
designed to be the only strategy that might work worse for the United
States than the current one has. And "realists" like Zinni don't seem
able to do any better.
Since these plans involve more American
troops in Iraq, they will also be worse for the Iraqis.
July 3, 10:00 pm
Thanks to all the people who wrote in response to my question
last night. Responses are still pouring in, so I'll report the results
Plenty to report today. Here's a small item, from the LA Times -- Army
Stage-Managed Fall of Hussein Statue
. This is the way news is
reported in a "free society." Hundreds of hours of coverage of the
statue falling, used for propaganda purposes to silence opponents of th
war. And then, 15 months later, a one-time squib in a few newspapers.
I've never bothered to write or speak about the stage-managed aspects
of the Firdaus Square incident, for the simple reason that, in fact,
there were plenty of jubilant Iraqis who no doubt took down other
pictures, etc. of Saddam. In fact, according to legend, the first shot
in the 1991 intifada was from a tank commander in Basra, firing at an
image of Saddam.
So the feeling expressed in this psyop was genuine enough, in part of
the population. But it's certainly true that it's hard to imagine that
Iraqis, still at that point very uncertain about what the future would
hold, would take it upon themselves to express their opinions so openly
if not actively encouraged to by the U.S. forces.
July 2, 11:18 pm
I took off the last couple of days to get a bit of a
breather. Trying to stay committed to daily updates and at the same
time to offering fresh insights is difficult and it doesn't always
work. There is a certain sameness to the news, especially about Iraq,
and I'm sure long-time readers have noticed a sameness to my
commentary. Sometimes, I try to vary that by picking other subjects,
but there is no way to avoid always returning to Iraq. Like it or not,
it's my conviction that the world and its near future revolve around
the occupation of Iraq more right now than around any other single
It's not that it's more important than other issues. There are
certainly many, like the war in the Congo, that involve more human
suffering. There are many that have clear long-term implications even
greater than the specific fate of Iraq -- think of the global AIDS
crisis, for example.
But it so happens that, whatever issue you care most about, with only a
handful of exceptions, the power of the United States and the reality
of U.S. imperialism is central to it. Are you an environmentalist?
Well, it is the United States that has sabotaged international attempts
to get global warming under control -- and whose consumption is the
biggest single cause of the crisis. Do you work on poverty or health
care? It is the IMF and World Bank, acting as arms of the U.S. Treasury
Deaprtment, that are the biggest obstacles in the way of attempts at a
solution. And so on.
And thus, when U.S. imperialism and U.S. imperial credibility have been
staked on one country, Iraq, and the success of one policy, occupation,
it looms far larger than it would otherwise. Because Iraq has the
second largest oil reserves in the world, the importance of what
happens in Iraq is already tremendous. Because the success of the
occupation could usher in a new era in which U.S. imperial domination
and aggression increases to levels heretofore unimagined, and failure
of the occupation may keep U.S. imperialism in check while
counterforces build elsewhere (especially in South America right now),
the importance of the occupation is off the charts.
On the other hand, it's all become pretty clear, hasn't it? You can
open the Washington Post any day of the week and get a decent analysis
of the occupation and what's wrong with it (even the Times is starting,
very slowly, to pick it up).
So here's a question, especially for readers who have been with me for
a while. Do any of you feel as if further analysis of the occupation is
beating a dead horse and that you want and need something different? Do
you want to see more about vision for how to change the world, instead
of an exclusive focus on what's wrong with it? Thoughtful, reasoned
answers are welcome; so are straightforward votes. Drop me a line
from Baghdad -- Hospital Closings and U.S. War Crimes "Report
from Baghdad -- Winning Hearts and Minds"Report
from Fallujah -- Destroying a Town in Order to "Save" it"Report
from Baghdad -- Opening the Gates of Hell"War
on Terrorism" Makes Us All Less Safe Bush
-- Is the Tide Turning?Perle and
vs. Dean SOU
2004: Myth and