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Immanuel Wallerstein's commentaries
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Commentary on news and culture from a left wing perspective.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
The fact is, the Republican Party is less riven into ideological camps than it used to be, and the issues that used to divide it, like abortion, are less salient.
Now fundamentalists, moderates, libertarians and old-fashioned Main Street types all express the same sort of concerns: about the need to win the war and anxiety that we're not fighting it properly; about the need to restore fiscal discipline and the anxiety about egregious Republican pork-barrel spending. Across the party, there is a great deal of admiration for Bush's core instincts, but a belief that his administration has not performed that well.That's quite possible. But the real question is whether that perspective will prevail this coming week, or over the next four years, should Bush attain another term. I have my doubts. It's not unlike the way the Democrats' base was repressed in favor of Kerry's warmongering. Right now US political elites are quite out of control, not really critiqued by the media, and heading for disaster. A little grumbling among the base at the conventions won't matter much.
Friday, August 27, 2004
It may be a truism to say that Americans and Europeans regard each other with deep ambivalence. But it is unavoidable. Their respective attitudes spring from a volatile combination of jealousy and admiration, mistrust and understanding, ignorance and familiarity. However, America carries the extra burden that its founders specifically rejected the aristocratic system that underpinned European society. Castles, titles and hereditary privileges, therefore, provoke a unique American reaction, one that combines guilty fascination and pious revulsion.
This mythos has nothing whatsoever to do with the America/Europe divide, as many letter-writers noted. The divide is actually rooted in two things: first, differences in political culture. Europe revolves around center-left ideas, while the US center of gravity is well to the right of center. Secondly, Americans do not know how to adapt to a world in which they are less and less being regarded as first among equals.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
I'm an average American who grew up watching "Brady Bunch" reruns, playing dodge ball and listening to Van Halen. I love the Longhorns and the Eagles. I'm you; your neighbor; the kid you used to go sledding with but who took a different career path in college. Now, I'm a Marine helicopter pilot who has spent the last two weeks heavily engaged with enemy forces here....
At first there were no news media in Najaf; now, I assume, it's getting crowded, although the authorities have restricted access after a group of journalists "embedded" with the Mahdi Militia muddied the problem and jeopardized others' safety. I haven't had time to catch much CNN or Fox News, and although I've seen a few headlines forwarded to me by friends, I don't think the world is seeing the complete picture.
I want to emphasize that our military is using every means possible to minimize damage to historical, religious and civilian structures, and is going out of its way to protect the innocent. I have not shot one round without good cause, whether it be in response to machine gun fire aimed at me or mortars shot at soldiers and marines on the ground...I've learned that this enemy is not just a mass of angry Iraqis who want us to leave their country, as some would have you believe. The forces we're fighting around Iraq are a conglomeration of renegade Shiites, former Baathists, Iranians, Syrians, terrorists with ties to Ansar al-Islam and Al Qaeda, petty criminals, destitute citizens looking for excitement or money, and yes, even a few frustrated Iraqis who worry about Wal-Mart culture infringing on their neighborhood. But I see the others who are on our side, appreciate us risking our lives, and know we're in the right. The Iraqi soldiers who are fighting alongside us are motivated to take their country back...
The pre-emptive doctrine of the current administration will continue to be debated long after I'm gone, but one fact stands for itself: America has not been hit with another catastrophic attack since 9/11. I firmly believe that our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq are major reasons that we've had it so good at home. Building a "fortress America" is not only impractical, it's impossible. Prudent homeland security measures are vital, to be sure, but attacking the source of the threat remains essential.Now we are on the verge of victory or defeat in Iraq. Success depends not only on battlefield superiority, but also on the trust and confidence of the American people. I've read some articles recently that call for cutting back our military presence in Iraq and moving our troops to the peripheries of most cities. Such advice is well-intentioned but wrong - it would soon lead to a total withdrawal...When critics of the war say their advocacy is on behalf of those of us risking our lives here, it's a type of false patriotism. I believe that when Americans say they "support our troops," it should include supporting our mission, not just sending us care packages. They don't have to believe in the cause as I do; but they should not denigrate it. That only aids the enemy in defeating us strategically...Michael Moore recently asked Bill O'Reilly if he would sacrifice his son for Falluja. A clever rhetorical device, but it's the wrong question: this war is about Des Moines, not Falluja. This country is breeding and attracting militants who are all eager to grab box cutters, dirty bombs, suicide vests or biological weapons, and then come fight us in Chicago, Santa Monica or Long Island.
The views here are such nonsense that it almost seems worth wondering if a 'Glenn Butler' even exists, although the mixture of pseudo-interest in the culture with pathological race hatred is telling, authentic or no. And you gotta love the 'on the verge of victory' crap that's always dragged out in the middle of quagmires. But here is my question--since a Marine couldn't possibly write and publish a piece that dissented from the views expressed here without risking being dishonorably discharged, shouldn't this be regarded as a shade propagandistic for the op-ed page?
Monday, August 23, 2004
Former Republican Sen. Bob Dole joined critics of Kerry, telling CNN's "Late Edition" Kerry should apologize for his testimony to Congress more than 30 years ago in which he quoted other veterans talking about alleged atrocities in Vietnam.Don't hold your breath waiting for Kerry to say straightforwardly that he was telling the truth, and that, in fact, as everyone in the world knows, American troops committed innumerable atrocities in Vietnam.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
A U.S. firm's exit poll that said President Hugo Chavez would lose a recall referendum has landed in the center of a controversy following his resounding victory....
Election officials banned publication or broadcast of any exit polls during the historic vote on whether to oust Chavez, a populist who has sought to help the poor and is reviled by the wealthy, who accuse him of stoking class divisions.
But results of the Penn, Schoen & Berland survey were sent out by fax and e-mail to media outlets and opposition offices more than four hours before polls closed. It predicted just the opposite of what happened, saying 59 percent had voted in favor of recalling Chavez.
Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States who monitored the referendum, said the poll must have had a tremendous impact on Chavez's opponents, who felt they were about to complete their two-year drive to oust him...
Critics of the exit poll have questioned how it was conducted because officials have said Penn, Schoen & Berland worked with a U.S.-funded Venezuela group that the Chavez government considers hostile.
Penn, Schoen & Berland had members of Sumate, a Venezuelan group that helped organize the recall initiative, do the fieldwork for the poll, election observers said....
The issue is potentially explosive because even before the referendum, Chavez himself cited Washington's funding of Sumate as evidence that the Bush administration was financing efforts to oust him — an allegation U.S. officials deny.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Before we jump to the conclusion that benevolent invasion, however, is the natural consequence of our new-found humanitarian duties, we should remember that this won't be the first time that either Britain or the US has intervened in Sudan. An earlier moral crusade, the "war against slavery", provided much of the ostensible justification for British colonization of the region at the end of the 19th century.
The crisis in Darfur clearly meets several of the criteria that must apply before Blair and his allies feel morally obliged to put an end to the abuse of "universal" human rights. First of all, the aggressor should be off the payroll: this rules out Turkey, Indonesia, Colombia, Israel. More importantly, the victims to be saved should lack an organized, militant movement. This rules out Palestine. Failing that, these victims should appear as helpless refugees in the wake of such a movement's defeat - this is why we are talking about intervention now rather than during the spring of 2003.
The rest of us should not pretend, though, that another round of "humanitarian intervention" would represent anything other than the soft face of that same imperialism so hard at work today in Gaza, Afghanistan and Iraq. Fresh from an illegal and deceitful war of aggression, Anglo-US forces now have only one moral responsibility: to stay at home.
The alternative is certainly not passive resignation. We should fund the immediate and forceful deployment of African peacekeepers and build on the example recently set by Paul Kagame's Rwanda. We should help the African Union become an effective and independent political actor, capable of brokering equitable political solutions to the long-standing conflicts that western intervention, almost always, has only helped provoke.
Had we been serious about the claims of Darfur's farmers for a more equitable distribution of wealth, we should have explored ways of contributing to their non-violent pursuit, or else supported the Sudan Liberation Army when it launched its initially successful rebellion in February 2003 - not simply waited to provide charity to its survivors in the refugee camps of 2004.
And if we are still serious about the SLA's claims now, then we should debate their merits and decide whether, and how, to help those struggling to achieve them. This is a political question before it is a moral or humanitarian one. Today's humanitarian crisis is precisely a result of past political failure.
The Service Employees International Union, which supports Kerry, said in an election complaint filed with the state that it has heard from more than 30 people who say their names were falsified on Nader's petitions.
The union also has warned nearly 60 of Nader's signature-gatherers that they could face a felony conviction and prison time for knowingly submitting fraudulent signatures.
"The evidence indicates a clear pattern of widespread signature fraud in the effort to put Nader on the ballot," union spokesman Mark Weiner said.
Nader's Oregon coordinator, Greg Kafoury, said one petition-gatherer was "badly shaken and intimidated" by two union members who knocked on her door and told her she was under investigation.
"We have been sabotaged and smeared, and now we have had our people bullied by people who knock on doors at night," Kafoury said.
He said there is no intentional effort to turn in invalid signatures. Particularly sad that SEIU, which is one of the better unions on most matters, is getting sucked into this nonsensse.
Last year Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors stated a bald truth: "As frank as I can be," he said, "we're opposed to [restoring voting rights] because felons don't tend to vote Republican."Full piece here (worth ready in toto: did you know felony disenfranchisment laws often date back to the 19th century, when they were passed to disenfranchise blacks?). Of course, the question is why the Democrats are timid at best in contesting these laws, considering that
Eighty percent responding to a July 2002 Harris poll said ex-felons should have their rights restored automatically; 60 percent would include current parolees, too.
Friday, August 13, 2004
Thursday, August 12, 2004
This well-planned attack thus constituted the beginning of a major US offensive almost certainly aimed at making Najaf into the showcase military victory that Fallujah was once supposed to be. A rapid and thorough defeat of the insurgents, followed by an uncontested occupation of the entire city, was undoubtedly expected, especially since the lightly armed Mehdi soldiers had previously proved a relatively uncoordinated fighting force. Huge and well-publicized casualties, as well as heavy physical destruction, were, as in Fallujah, undoubtedly part of the formula, since they provide an object example to other cities of the costs of resistance.
The reporters characterized the more general goals of the offensive in this way: "In effect, the battle appeared to have become a watershed for the new power alignment in Baghdad, with the new government, established when Iraq regained formal sovereignty on June 28, asserting political control, and American troops providing the firepower to sustain it."
In their attempt to achieve a noteworthy victory, the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies have created a potential watershed for both the war and the US presidential election. To understand why this might be so, consider the following:
This major offensive was probably motivated by the increasing possibility that the US and its allies were losing all control over most of the major cities in Iraq. In the Sunni parts of the country, city after city has in fact adopted the "Fallujah model" - refusing to allow a US presence in its streets and establishing its own local government. As a recent TomDispatch report succinctly summarized the situation: "Think of Sunni Iraq - and possibly parts of Shi'ite Iraq as well - as a 'nation' of city-state fiefdoms, each threatening to blink off [the US] map of 'sovereignty', despite our 140,000 troops and our huge bases in the country." The attack in Najaf is certainly an attempt to stem this tide before it engulfs the Shi'ite areas of Iraq as well, and it validates historian Juan Cole's ironic description of Allawi as "really ... just the mayor of downtown Baghdad". The US and its Iraqi clients probably chose Najaf because it represented their best chance of immediate success. Unlike the mujahideen in Fallujah (and other Sunni cities), the Mehdi soldiers were generally not members of Saddam Hussein's army and are therefore more lightly armed and considerably less disciplined as fighters; nor do they enjoy the unconditional support of the local population. An ambivalent city is easier to conquer, even if victory results in a sullen hatred of the conquerors. A quick victory would therefore be a noteworthy achievement and might have some chance of convincing rebels in other Shi'ite cities not to follow the Fallujah model - at least not immediately.
The US is no longer capable either of winning the "battle for the hearts and minds" of the Iraqis or governing most of the country. But by crushing the city of Najaf, the marines might be able quiet the rebellion for long enough to spin the November election back to Bush.
This is the war John Kerry is eager to continue, if elected.
Across the country, "the voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones," (Washington Post executive editor Leonard) Downie said. "We didn't pay enough attention to the minority."Idiot. Those of us who opposed the war were not in the least 'lonely'. I went to one march in Washington that was so packed one might have wished a few less people opposed the war. No, what he means by 'lonely' and a 'minority' was that in the blindered circles in which he moves, he didn't encounter us.
"People who were opposed to the war from the beginning and have been critical of the media's coverage in the period before the war have this belief that somehow the media should have crusaded against the war," Downie said. "They have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media's coverage had been different, there wouldn't have been a war."
No--We don't think the media should have 'crusaded against the war'. We think the media should have done its f__ing job and looked critically at the statements of the powerful. Had they done so, it is not inconceivable that public support for the war would have dropped far enough (it was only hovering around 50% when Bush invaded Iraq) that the war would've been called off.
I love this quote:
Given The Post's reputation for helping topple the Nixon administration, some of those involved in the prewar coverage felt compelled to say the paper's shortcomings did not reflect any reticence about taking on the Bush White House. Priest noted, however, that skeptical stories usually triggered hate mail "questioning your patriotism and suggesting that you somehow be delivered into the hands of the terrorists."
What a bunch of crybabies! Basically, if right wing idiots try to intimidate you, it's okay to be intimidated.
Unlike the national dialogue about empowerment and body image that followed Brandi Chastain's exuberant removal of her jersey in 1999 after she scored the decisive penalty kick against China to give the United States a victory in the Women's World Cup final, there has been little negative reaction to the Olympians' ubiquitous appearance in magazines.Chastain's gesture was a familiar one among athletes, rather than the marketing of her looks, which seems to be where female celebritydom for any reason inexorably leads back to these days. It's strange to think that the anti-porn movement 25 years ago was widely perceived as a retreat away from class-based, tough-minded political analysis, yet today it's perfectly obvious that the obsession with looks/commodification of sexuality is due to the rampant takeover of society by market ethos.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
the Department of Homeland Security announced today that it planned to give border patrol agents sweeping new powers to deport illegal aliens from the frontiers abutting Mexico and Canada without providing the aliens the opportunity to make their case before an immigration judge.I'm telling you, they're testing out the police state on people who have few real defenders in the US. I'm not an intelligence officer, but I can't help but imagine that Al Quaeda is trying really hard to find US citizens, who are already here and reasonably above suspicion, to carry out operations.
Ten summers ago, angered by shortages and long power cuts, Cubans took to the streets, smashed shop windows and looted central Havana stores in an unprecedented outburst of unrest.
Castro, dressed in his trademark green uniform, showed up in a military jeep to quell the riots with his charismatic presence. Cubans, who had been shouting against the government minutes before, began chanting "Viva Fidel."
These days Fidel is apparently retrenching, moving away from capitalist experiments. Personally, I think the way forward will involve overcoming the dichotomous understanding of 'capitalism' and 'socialism' that dominated twentieth century politics, but its hard not to love the guy for trying.
Monday, August 09, 2004
In addition, Allawi announced a
death penalty decree, which was wider in its scope than some Iraqis had expected when Dr. Allawi let it be known that he favored the move.The move seemed certain to have a deep resonance for a people traumatized by the grim carousel of executions under Mr. Hussein, yet struggling now to cope with bombings, assassinations and other violence that have bludgeoned the country since Mr. Hussein's fall. ...The officials said that the reduced list of capital crimes had been scoured to eliminate any possibility of execution once again becoming a political tool, and said that they intended to make the restoration of capital punishment temporary, to be rescinded again when the insurgency has ended.Now, before the war, Burns argued that the best grounds for military action was to remove the tyrant Saddam Hussein. Is it just me, or does it seem as if Burns is now bending over backwards to excuse Alawi's drift toward renewed tyranny, and make it all sound like he is just a leader with a backbone? It's not just me.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
"Forty African countries have trade agreements with China now," said the official, Li Xiaobing, deputy director of the West Asian and African Affairs division of the Trade Ministry. "We are doing a railway project in Nigeria, a Sheraton hotel in Algeria and a mobile telephone network in Tunisia. We are all over Africa now."
Elsewhere on the continent, China has become a vitally important partner of Africa's largest country, Sudan, at a time when the government there, a perennial abuser of human rights, has been accused by international rights groups and the United States Congress of organizing genocide.
"We started with Sudan from scratch," boasted the trade official, Mr. Li. "When we started there, they were an oil importer, and now they are an oil exporter. We've built refineries, pipelines and production."
He dismissed a question about Sudan's human rights record, saying, "We import from every source we can get oil from."
China's deputy foreign minister, Zhou Wenzhong, was even more blunt. "Business is business," he said in a recent interview. "We try to separate politics from business. Secondly, I think the internal situation in the Sudan is an internal affair, and we are not in a position to impose upon them."
French gives the last word to an American academic:
Some experts in African affairs caution that by taking a classic big-power approach to African relations, China may be compromising its long-term influence there.
"For most of the postcolonial period, France, Britain and the United States also embraced some of the most unsavory regimes in Africa," said Gerald Bender, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California.
"What China is perhaps not anticipating is how, when you embrace these terrible regimes, you eventually get tainted for it."
But the US attitude was never so much that 'business is business' as that 'power is power' and that opponents of the Soviets should be strengthened. Might be an important difference there.
What may be most deeply at issue is Europe's loss of confidence in its ability to forge a separate way, in the face of the American juggernaut. After all, if the United States, more boldly capitalist, less oriented toward social welfare, is portrayed as a shining light, what room is left for the European left?he completely misses the point. Europe is just starting to gain confidence, not lose it.
Friday, August 06, 2004
Stupifying how little American liberals have complained about this stuff.
A sampling of the most important orders demonstrates the economic imprint left by the Bush administration: Order No. 39 allows for: (1) privatization of Iraq's 200 state-owned enterprises; (2) 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses; (3) "national treatment" — which means no preferences for local over foreign businesses; (4) unrestricted, tax-free remittance of all profits and other funds; and (5) 40-year ownership licenses.Thus, it forbids Iraqis from receiving preference in the reconstruction while allowing foreign corporations — Halliburton and Bechtel, for example — to buy up Iraqi businesses, do all of the work and send all of their money home.
So am I saying we should cut and run? That's another loaded phrase. Nobody wants to see helicopters lifting the last Americans off the roofs of the Green Zone.
But we need to move quickly to end our position as "an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land," the fate that none other than former President George H. W. Bush correctly warned could be the result of an invasion of Iraq. And that means turning real power over to Iraqis.
Only thing missing is a call for no US military bases in Iraq.
Aside from stale air and fluorescent glare, they cite ghastly food, the long lines they must wait in to be served it, throbbing feet from walking the show floor, exhausting marathons of schmoozing and wheeling-and-dealing, the tedium of listening to long-winded lectures in windowless rooms that are either too warm or too cold and bathrooms that always seem to be a long walk away.Hard to imagine any workers who have it worse.
Thursday, August 05, 2004
The key difference is now clear. All American leaders think we are at war; most European leaders think we are still at peace.
The Bush administration started out believing that the United States could, if need be, win this war on its own. A Kerry administration would start from the position that this war can only be won by working with America's friends and allies around the world. It will therefore ask us to step straight up to the plate. Kerry's carefully unspecific recipe for the future of Iraq is that bringing more allies on board should help to reduce the American troop presence there.
If Europe has any wisdom at all, we should start thinking now about how we answer this Democratic challenge. Our answer should be, "Yes, so long as _ " Yes, so long as you rededicate yourself to a peace process between Israel and Palestine. So long as you recognize that Iraq has to be embedded into a much larger project of reform and development in the broader Middle East, which America and Europe can only achieve together. So long as you deliver on your promises to develop alternative energy technologies, address your own excessive carbon dioxide emissions, come back to the international treaties and institutions that the Bush administration abrogated and scorned.
No getting around it--if Kerry tries to live up to this agenda--and he hasn't shown any sign that he plans to--the media and congress will eat him alive. Without real leadership, or a push from below (and there is no indication either is forthcoming in the US) the possibility that the US will move in a direction Europe is comfortable with is remote.
The evolution of the law reflects the curious nature of ruling Iraq: there are domestic political considerations to weigh, but the Americans wield influence behind the scenes.Hmmm... Thought this was a transitional government with full sovereignty :). It's all especially hypocritical, given Negroponte's history of tolerance and friendship for the murderers of Honduran peasants.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Had "Forbidden Love" been a novel, there would have been little fuss, for it is a good read.And that
Observers couldn't help being moved by her visceral anguish and her ardor to rectify the wrongs of Jordanian women.
Yet the fraud was exposed because of "the book's topographical inconsistencies, cultural gaffes and whiffs of ideology". People should use the exposure of fraud to examine their own presumptions and prejudices, rather than apologize for incompetent editors and critics.
Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Rejecting undue reliance ''on American power and American decisions,'' Dionne embraces what the progressive writer John Judis has called ''a Lockean view of international relations -- of a world that eventually can be governed by social contracts rather than by the threat of force.'' Reich agrees: ''I don't like the idea of a giant military machine mounting 'pre-emptive' wars without international backing.'' These comments reflect the views of most liberals. But they don't square with the iron-fisted antifascism Reich and Dionne praise in Presidents Roosevelt and Truman -- or with the toughness and responsibility that the authors advocate on other matters. No one who is obsessed with pleasing the United Nations will ever be tough.
Finally, while Okrent notes that
The Times treats [devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans] as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slidethe same is true of anti-war demonstrators, opponents of free-trade pacts, advocates of the Palestinians and anyone else the Times perceives as left of 'sensible liberals'.