31 May 2007

Can You Say "Police State"?

Friendly Fire: Raising questions about 9/11 gets an Army sergeant demoted for “disloyalty.”

These days, Donald Buswell’s job is not as exciting or dangerous as it once was. For the past few months, his working hours have been spent taking care of some 40-plus wounded soldiers at San Antonio’s Fort Sam Houston medical center. The work is sometimes menial, even janitorial, but he doesn’t mind. After all, Buswell has been where these men are — three years ago, he too was recovering from wounds received in a battle zone in Iraq.

“I truly consider this an honor,” Buswell told his dad not long ago.

Still, it’s not exactly where Buswell expected to be after 20 years of well-respected service in the Army.

Since joining the Army in 1987, he had risen to the rank of sergeant first class, serving in both Gulf Wars, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Korea. He ended up with shrapnel scars and a Purple Heart and, back in the U.S. after his last tour in Iraq, a job as intelligence analyst at Fort Sam Houston.

He couldn’t have foreseen that one e-mail could derail his career and put him on his way out of the Army. One e-mail, speculating about events that millions of people have questioned for the last six years, was all it took.

Sgt. Buswell wants to know: What really happened on 9/11? And he said so in his e-mail. In the few paragraphs of that August 2006 message — a reply not to someone outside the service, but to other soldiers — Buswell wrote that he thought the official report of what happened that day at the Pentagon, and in the Pennsylvania crash of United Airlines Flight 93, was full of errors and unanswered questions.

“Who really benefited from what happened that day?” he asked rhetorically. Not “Arabs,” but “the Military Industrial Complex,” Buswell concluded. “We must demand a new, independent investigation.”

For voicing those opinions in an e-mail to 38 people on the San Antonio Army base, Buswell was stripped of his security clearance, fired from his job, demoted, and ordered to undergo a mental health exam.

(He was also ordered not to speak with the press. Information for this story came from documents, conversations with Buswell’s family members and friends, and sources within Fifth Army who asked not to be named.)

As if all that weren’t enough, Fort Sam Houston’s chief of staff penned a letter accusing Buswell of “making statements disloyal to the United States.”

Read it here.

Vet May Lose 'Honorable' Status Over Protest

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (May 31) - An Iraq war veteran could lose his honorable discharge status after being photographed wearing fatigues at an anti-war protest.

Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh and other veterans marked the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq in April by wearing their uniforms - with military insignia removed - and roaming around the nation's capital on a mock patrol.

After Kokesh was identified in a photo cutline in The Washington Post, a superior officer sent him a letter saying he might have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms without authorization.

Kokesh, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, responded with an obscenity.

Now, a military panel has been scheduled to meet with Kokesh on Monday to decide whether his discharge status should be changed from "honorable" to "other than honorable."

"This is clearly a case of selective prosecution and intimidation of veterans who speak out against the war," Kokesh said. "To suggest that while as a veteran you don't have freedom of speech is absurd."

Kokesh is part of the Individual Ready Reserve, a segment of the reserves that consists mainly of those who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations.

His attorney, Mike Lebowitz, said Kokesh's IRR status ends June 18. He said at least three other veterans have been investigated because of their involvement at demonstrations.

Kokesh, 25, enlisted in the Marines while still attending high school in New Mexico. He was a reservist in an artillery unit, assigned to the November Battery, 5th Battalion, 14th Regiment of the 4th Division based out of Pico Rivera, Calif., near Los Angeles.

Kokesh said he had reservations about Iraq even before the United States invaded, but wanted to go there to help rebuild schools and mosques after Saddam Hussein 's regime was toppled. He even learned Arabic.

He said he grew disillusioned with the war during his first tour, and now believes there is no way for the country to achieve the rule of law with a foreign military imposing martial law.

Read it here.

[+/-]

Junior Doesn't Care What You Think

At least, not with respect to ending the Iraq war. But don't believe us - here it is from the horse's mouth:

Bush Sees South Korea Model for Iraq
Wednesday May 30, 2007 10:01 PM
By TERENCE HUNT, AP White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush envisions a long-term U.S. troop presence in Iraq similar to the one in South Korea where American forces have helped keep an uneasy peace for more than 50 years, the White House said Wednesday.

The comparison was offered as the Pentagon announced the completion of the troop buildup ordered by Bush in January. The last of about 21,500 combat troops to arrive were an Army brigade in Baghdad and a Marine unit heading into the Anbar province in western Iraq.

Brig. Gen. Perry Wiggins, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there are now 20 combat brigades in Iraq, up from 15 when the buildup began. A brigade is roughly 3,500 troops. Overall, the Pentagon said there are 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. That number may still climb as more support troops move in.

The administration warns that the buildup will result in more U.S. casualties as more American soldiers come into contact with enemy forces. May already is the third bloodiest month since the war began in March 2003. As of late Tuesday, there were 116 U.S. deaths in Iraq so far in May - trailing only the 137 in November 2004 and the 135 in April 2004. Overall, more than 3,460 U.S. service members have died.

Presidential spokesman Tony Snow said Bush has cited the long-term Korea analogy in looking at the U.S. role in Iraq, where American forces are in the fifth year of an unpopular war. Bush's goal is for Iraqi forces to take over the chief security responsibilities, relieving U.S. forces of frontline combat duty, Snow said.

``I think the point he's trying to make is that the situation in Iraq, and indeed, the larger war on terror, are things that are going to take a long time,'' Snow said. ``But it is not always going to require an up-front combat presence.''

Read the rest here.

[+/-]

30 May 2007

Cindy Sheehan's Departure from Politics

Don't Go Too Far Away, Cindy: The Exit of Cindy Sheehan

I have to admit that I was quite surprised when I read that Cindy Sheehan is leaving the peace movement. After reading her explanation for the move, I was less surprised, but still a bit disappointed. After reading the piece, it is clear that Sheehan has discovered that politics can be an ugly affair. When one is the focus of a political movement like Ms. Sheehan became, they become even uglier. Her departure will leave a hole, but it should not leave a vacuum. After all, there are thousands of US residents that have been hurt by the loss of a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan, unfortunately. In addition, there are millions around the world that are just plain fed up and pissed off about these wars and the death and destruction they are causing.

Ms. Sheehan is planning to go home and raise her remaining children. That's a good thing. Her screed makes it clear that she is burned out from her past two years of antiwar activism and doing something real like caring for children will surely put her back in touch with the better side of humanity. This move is similar to the retreat from politics and the streets that much of an entire generation underwent in the years following the government murders at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970 during antiwar protests. Another side of this retreat was the turn away from politics and towards cultural and religion. Unlike caring for one's children, the latter two were mere escapism and somewhat solipsistic. One could argue that these phenomenon destroyed the potential for radical change in the United States, but a more appropriate analysis would merely claim that here in the US we had (and have) the luxury to stop fighting against the war because we do not live where the bombs are exploding and the assault weapons firing.

Ms. Sheehan makes it clear that she still opposes these wars and the power mongers who insist on continuing it. Indeed, she saves her harshest words of her farewell message for these men and women who "move them (US soldiers) around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction" and are " worried more about elections than people." Naturally, this includes the Democrats as well as the Republicans. And that, is the crux of Sheehan's despair. She honestly thought that the Democrats were different. Now that they have proved they are not, she is ready to give it all up and, by doing so, hand the forces of war and reaction a victory that they will surely relish. Yeh, there will probably be some tentative cries from various Democrats telling Cindy that their party is not a war party and that she needs to hang in there. Those cries will most likely come from party rank and file, not its leaders or elected types, since the latter are much more concerned with the 2008 elections, as Sheehan clearly points out. Meanwhile, one can almost imagine the nasty jokes and high-fives going around George Bush's breakfast table. They finally got rid of that pesky Mom whose son they killed. Maybe now they can get on with the war, especially since the Democrats caved like a cardboard box in a hurricane.

In another section of her letter, Sheehan directs her anger and frustration at the so-called leadership of the antiwar movement. Pointing a well-deserved finger at the movement and its divisions, she writes: " I have also tried to work within a peace movement that often puts personal egos above peace and human life. This group won't work with that group; he won't attend an event if she is going to be there.... It is hard to work for peace when the very movement that is named after it has so many divisions." What else can one say except, once again Ms. Sheehan has drawn an incorrect conclusion. As many others have written when addressing this issue, who cares about the pettiness of egos and power players in the movement? If one opposes the war, one gets in the streets and opposes it. Screw the fools jockeying for a future or a media spot. The war will be ended by the mass protest of the people who oppose it, not by getting a director's job with MoveOn, UFPJ, or some other antiwar organization.

The most poignant paragraph in Sheehan's statement begins with her sad acknowledgment that her son died for absolutely nothing. One can only imagine the emotions that come from this realization. Like many of her fellow citizens, Sheehan wants to believe that the United States is a good place and that the people who live there do believe in the principles espoused in its documents and by its greatest leaders. Her discovery that "(her son) Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months" is a difficult thing to take. Yet, this is not a reason to quit. It is, instead, a motivation to change things at an even more fundamental level. One may not like being called a radical because they oppose the wars Washington has dragged us into, but one must also become aware that only radical analysis and action undertaken by millions will change a system that requires those wars to survive.

I recall a discussion I had with a friend during the buildup to the first Gulf War. We were talking about activist burnout and egotistical activists as we watched the antiwar movement in Olympia, WA. grow by leaps and bounds while it struggled with internal conflicts that were primarily ego-driven. I said to my friend that whenever I felt an organization couldn't live without me, then it was time for me to step back from whatever high-profile position I happened to be in and go back to the grunt work of passing out leaflets and setting up stages. After all, it wasn't me that mattered, but the movement.

I wish Cindy Sheehan a peaceful and restorative time away from the frontlines of the antiwar movement. Her presence, commitment and personality have made a good deal of difference in the growth of the movement against Washington's wars. Indeed, it can be reasonably argued that it was Cindy Sheehan that made it okay for Middle America to protest, and for that she must be thanked. Now that she is taking a breather from the madness it is up to us to continue expanding those protests. It is certainly not time to give up.


[+/-]

Stained With a History of Horror

Inside Bedawi Camp: Refugees Forever
Bedawi Camp, N. Lebanon

Bedawi Camp is much like other Palestinian Camps: crowded, narrow streets winding between cement buildings hung with tangles of wire, the ground running with water, often muddy because it is not tarred. Small scooter motor bikes push their way between the people, children with clothes too small from them and holed at the knees running and playing ball and wanting to pose for photo after photo. But today Bedawi Camp is more crowded than usual as it is offering refuge to a people who are yet again displaced and are yet again fleeing conflict and are yet again having to leave everything behind them: clothes, food, mattresses and often brothers and husbands as well. They have come here with nothing and the Palestinian people in Bedawi Camp are opening their poverty-stricken homes to them.

It is not just Bedawi that is now sheltering the families who have been fortunate enough to escape the besieged and death-strewn streets of Nahr al-Bared Camp. Families have fled as far south as Beirut and some say even further. Shatila, witness to its own massacre, is now opening its homes to the 153 families who have so far arrived there. Aid is funneling into Bedawi but nothing is yet reaching Shatila. Many of the families here have escaped without so much as their IDs on them.

In Bedawi the injured and the well share the same piece of bread; in Shatilla the wife is without her husband and shares the same mattress as her three or four children, and often no mattress at all.

Many who have fled have no way of knowing how their men-folk are, still stuck within their besieged Camp. One woman told me how the last thing she saw as she left with her baby was her husband bleeding from a gun shot wound to his shoulder. She was weeping as she told me she couldn't help wondering if she would ever see him again.

'How do I know that Shatila is not going to be my home now forever? Maybe you can not understand what the life of the refugee is. Always fleeing, always living in a place that it temporary and always dreamingWhat do I dream for now you ask?

To return to Palestine? No, just to return to Nahr al-Bared and see that my husband is well.'

It is humbling to see how much the Palestinian people are giving to their newly displaced brethren. I have seen men donating $100.00, piling clothes into the central bin where we are collecting, giving blankets and of course the roof of their homes, when they themselves have so little. These people are living below the poverty line, in crowded and cramped camps with no stable income or prospect of a future and yet they are the ones donating and opening their arms to the victims of political complexities and international interference that is escalating out of control in this country.

As we were working in Shatila we received news that the Lebanese government has given Palestinian leaders 72 hours to solve the standoff in the north of Lebanon or they will storm the Camp with their US donated weaponry.

The Palestinian leaders must solve the problem with a group of extreme militants who are 70 per cent not Palestinian and who were armed in the first placed by the Siniora Government against Hezbollah, or else their people will be massacred and another Camp will be stained with a history of horror?

What can storming the Camp possibly achieve?

Read the rest here.

[+/-]

Alberto Gonzales

Sign the petition: impeachgonzales.org/

[+/-]

Signs of a Sick Society - Embassy of Fear

Tomgram: The Mother Ship Lands in Iraq

The Colossus of Baghdad
Wonders of the Imperial World

By Tom Engelhardt

Of the seven wonders of the ancient Mediterranean world, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the Colossus of Rhodes, four were destroyed by earthquakes, two by fire. Only the Great Pyramid of Giza today remains.

We no longer know who built those fabled monuments to the grandiosity of kings, pharaohs, and gods; nowadays, at least, it's easier to identify the various wonders of our world with their architects. Maya Lin, for instance, spun the moving black marble Vietnam Memorial from her remarkable brain for the veterans of that war; Frank Gehry dreamt up his visionary titanium-covered museum in Bilbao, Spain, for the Guggenheim; and the architectural firm of BDY (Berger Devine Yaeger), previously responsible for the Sprint Corporation's world headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas; the Visitation Church in Kansas City, Missouri; and Harrah's Hotel and Casino in North Kansas City, Missouri, turns out to have designed the biggest wonder of all -- an embassy large enough to embody the Bush administration's vision of an American-reordered Middle East. We're talking, of course, about the still-uncompleted American embassy, the largest on the planet, being constructed on a 104-acre stretch of land in the heart of Baghdad's embattled Green Zone, now regularly under mortar fire. As Patrick Lenahan, Senior Architect and Project Manager at BDY, has put it (according to the firm's website): "We understand how to involve the client most effectively as we direct our resources to make our client's vision a reality."

And what a vision it was! What a reality it's turned out to be!

Who can forget the grandiose architecture of pre-Bush-administration Baghdad: Saddam Hussein's mighty vision of kitsch Orientalism melting into terror, based on which, in those last years of his rule, he reconstructed parts of the Iraqi capital? He ensured that what was soon to become the Green Zone would be dotted with overheated, Disneyesque, Arabian-Nights palaces by the score, filled with every luxury imaginable in a country whose population was growing increasingly desperate under the weight of UN sanctions. Who can forget those vast, sculpted hands, "The Hands of Victory," supposedly modeled on Saddam's own, holding 12-story-high giant crossed swords (over piles of Iranian helmets) on a vast Baghdad parade ground? Meant to commemorate a triumph over Iran that the despot never actually achieved, they still sit there, partially dismantled and a monument to folly; while, as Jane Arraf has written, Saddam's actual hands,"the hands that wrote the orders for the war against Iran and the destruction of Iraqi villages, the hands handcuffed behind his back as he went to trial and then was led to his execution are moldering under ground."

It is worth remembering that, when the American commanders whose troops had just taken Baghdad, wanted their victory photo snapped, they memorably seated themselves, grinning happily, behind a marble table in one of those captured palaces; that American soldiers and newly arrived officials marveled at the former tyrant's exotic symbols of power; that they swam in Saddam's pools, fed rare antelopes from his son Uday's private zoo to its lions (and elsewhere shot his herd of gazelles and ate them themselves); and, when in need of someplace to set up an American embassy, the newly arrived occupation officials chose -- are you surprised? -- one of his former dream palaces. They found nothing strange in the symbolism of this (though it was carefully noted by Baghdadis), even as they swore they were bringing liberation and democracy to Saddam's benighted land.

And then, as the Iraqi capital's landscape became ever more dangerous, as an insurgency gained traction while the administration's dreams of a redesigned American Middle East remained as strong as ever, its officials evidently concluded that even one of Saddam's palaces, roomy enough for a dictator interested in the control of a single country (or the odd neighboring state), wasn't faintly big enough, or safe enough, or modern enough for the representatives of the planet's New Rome.

Hence, Missouri's BDY. That midwestern firm's designers can now be classified as architects to the wildest imperial dreamers and schemers of our time. And the company seems proud of it. You can go to its website and take a little tour in sketch form, a blast-resistant spin, through its Bush-inspired wonder, its particular colossus of the modern world. Imagine this: At $592 million, its proudest boast is that, unlike almost any other American construction project in that country, it is coming in on budget and on time. Of course, with a 30% increase in staffing size since Congress approved the project two years ago, it is now estimated that being "represented" in Baghdad will cost a staggering $1.2 billion per year. No wonder, with a crew of perhaps 1,000 officials assigned to it and a supporting staff (from food service workers to Marine guards and private security contractors) of several thousand more.

When the BDY-designed embassy opens in September (undoubtedly to the sound of mortar fire), its facilities will lack the gold-plated faucets installed in some of Saddam's palaces and villas (and those of his sons), but they won't lack for the amenities that Americans consider part and parcel of the good life, even in a "hardship" post. Take a look, for instance, at the embassy's "pool house," as imagined by BDY. (There's a lovely sketch of it at their site.) Note the palm trees dotted around it, the expansive lawns, and those tennis courts discretely in the background. For an American official not likely to leave the constricted, heavily fortified, four-mile square Green Zone during a year's tour of duty, practicing his or her serve (on the taxpayer's dollar) is undoubtedly no small thing.

Admittedly, it may be hard to take that refreshing dip or catch a few sets of tennis in Baghdad's heat if the present order for all U.S. personnel in the Green Zone to wear flak jackets and helmets at all times remains in effect -- or if, as in the present palace/embassy, the pool (and ping-pong tables) are declared, thanks to increasing mortar and missile attacks, temporarily "off limits." In that case, more time will probably be spent in the massive, largely windowless-looking Recreation Center, one of over 20 blast-resistant buildings BDY has planned. Perhaps this will house the promised embassy cinema. (Pirates of the Middle East, anyone?) Perhaps hours will be wiled away in the no less massive-looking, low-slung Post Exchange/Community Center, or in the promised commissary, the "retail and shopping areas," the restaurants, or even, so the BDY website assures us, the "schools" (though it's a difficult to imagine the State Department allowing children at this particular post).

And don't forget the "fire station" (mentioned but not shown by BDY), surely so handy once the first rockets hit. Small warning: If you are among the officials about to staff this post, keep in mind that the PX and commissary might be slightly understocked. The Washington Post recently reported that "virtually every bite and sip consumed [in the embassy] is imported from the United States, entering Iraq via Kuwait in huge truck convoys that bring fresh and processed food, including a full range of Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors, every seven to 10 days." Recently, there has been a "Theater-Wide Delay in Food Deliveries," due to unexplained convoy problems. Even the yogurt supplies have been running low.

But those of you visiting our new embassy via BDY's website have no such worries. So get that container of Baskin-Robbins from the freezer and take another moment to consider this new wonder of our world with its own self-contained electricity-generation, water-purification, and sewage systems in a city lacking most of the above. When you look at the plans for it, you have to wonder: Can it, in any meaningful sense, be considered an embassy? And if so, an embassy to whom?

Read the rest here.

[+/-]

Spencer for President - Position Paper Number 10

10. Assure equal justice for all citizens

This may seem to be a non-starter for the majority of Americans, but there is a very large contingent of U.S. citizens who have experienced unequal treatment before the law. The extent of the problem can be partially gauged by the fact that the incarceration rate in the U.S.A. is much higher than in all other modern, industrialized nations. In a large number of cases, this treatment cannot be called justice at all. It is a simple matter to point up such extreme examples as men convicted of rape or murder who have been exonerated by DNA evidence after spending years in prison.

It is a lesser mistreatment, but not just nor fair, to be “profiled”, then hassled, by the police due to your appearance. Under the heading of Not a Lesser Mistreatment - in the Portland, OR area this has resulted in what should be called murder by police officers in more than one case. Basically, profiling led to unwarranted confrontation, which led to unjustified police violence. I doubt that the Portland situation is unique.

The entire justice system can be said to engage in some form of profiling. And it can be said to advance a political purpose in many cases. I personally knew a leader in the Civil Rights movement in Texas, who was sent to prison for 30 years (served 4 before the conviction was overturned) for the equivalent of one marijuana joint in 1968. One third of male African-Americans in Mississippi are ineligible to vote due to felony convictions. Do you really believe that this situation is honest or legitimate? I do not.

Related to the problem of “profiling”, but more fundamental, is the matter of “habeas corpus”: criminal behavior can only be determined after the fact. The essence of “habeas corpus” is that the police have to have a dead body to demonstrate that murder has occurred. (The concept, of course, applies to every part of the justice system. If you do not have proof of ownership of a car being driven by a stranger, you do not have a car robbery.) It may be unfortunate in most cases that only the event proves a crime, but it is the only viable approach in a relatively free society. Without such a stricture, the power of the law-enforcement segment of government is exalted over the protection of the individual in that arrest and conviction can be based on essentially nothing. The concept of “habeas corpus” – which is much older than the relevant section in our U.S. Constitution – is included to prevent such police/state power.

Our Constitution only allows suspension of “habeas corpus” in the cases of rebellion or invasion. There is no proviso for pre-emptive war, or whatever the Bushites are calling it now. The wording is quite specific. Now, we might call the current administration an ‘invasion’ of the government by neo-cons, but the implication would be that we need to grab weapons and repel them. As far as ‘rebellion’, the whole idea of this campaign is to seek change by the standard election process, as defined by the Constitution. So it is more than a stretch to suspend “habeas corpus”, as we “petition for a redress of grievances”.

Within the “Patriot” Act and within the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) provisions and within the Military Commissions Act are the spearheads of a new attack on our democracy. The “unitary executive” (strongman) theory is being used to authorize, implement, and condone secret search and seizure. The “illegal combatant” theory dismisses “habeas corpus” for those who are so defined by administration deputies (with no appeal mechanism). (“Due process” also takes a severe beating under this theory.) “Profiling” - plus a higher threshold for police misbehavior – make arrest, confrontation, and violence more prevalent.

One of the most appealing characteristics of our image in the world used to be that we seemed to adhere to our Constitution’s definitions of suitable legal methods. Another part was that we helped to create, and officially tried to live by, the Geneva Conventions regarding treatment of prisoners of war. Of course, lynchings of Native Americans and Black Americans, plus the Vietnamese prisoners of war that were purposefully dropped out of airplanes and helicopters, might tend to belie that view; but such incidents could almost be overlooked in the total history of violence throughout the world over the last three hundred years. They could be overlooked – unless you were the victim, or a member of the victim’s family, or a friend of the victim, or a sympathetic observer.

Call it “bleeding heart” whatever, if you like. If you – as I do – empathize with victims, you cannot ignore their plight. But sackcloth and ashes and wailing and gnashing of teeth are not useful. In a U.S.A. that lives up to its ideals, the mechanisms are known and prescribed. All we have to do is follow the pertinent provisions of our Constitution, including the amendments. It’s all there: habeas corpus, due process, protection against illegal search and seizure, equal treatment before the law, protected actions, strictures against cruel and unusual punishment.

Our justice is not simply “an eye for an eye”. It is a system that includes laws, constitutional guarantees, judicial precedents, courts, juries, judges, lawyers, and legal scholars. Our traditions include the idea that a statement is almost always protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution – short of the cliché about yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. A thought is protected by the Fifth Amendment – you or I do not have to provide testimony that might incriminate ourselves. Only in a state where the government is more important than the people – where the people have fewer rights and protections than the political institutions – only in such a state do people “allow” intrusions into their speech and thoughts. Only in such a state do the people allow inroads on the protections afforded by habeas corpus and by due process.

If we had a Civil Rights Division of the federal Department of Justice that was allowed to live up to its charter, “profiling” would be a quaint, albeit problematic, memory by now. Why? Because “profiling” is objectively in opposition to our general concept of fairness and to the spirit, if not the text, of civil rights laws. In other words the federal government would bring pressure to bear on domestic police agencies to drop this practice.

Increasingly, fellow citizens, in the name of security we are experiencing a decrease in what we would traditionally call “justice”, be it equal or not. The good news is that the 111th Congress, plus a progressive, democratically-biased administration, will be inclined to review, revise, and rescind the anti-democratic provisions of laws that have been enacted by the current administration and their lackey Congresses. The further step – to enhance justice – will depend on an administration that appoints conscientious people to the leadership and senior positions of the Department of Justice.

Paul Spencer

[+/-]

29 May 2007

Memorial Day Monday Movie

A day late, but how appropriate for a Memorial Day marker. Flushing away everything that most of us understand as the foundation of this nation. Usually we mark the day with memories of those lost in wars. We mark it with memories of the nation we once lived in, now likely gone forever.

Flushed Away! -- Antiwar Street Theater -- Madison, WI

[+/-]

No Headline Required

[+/-]

CIndy Sheehan's Open Letter to the Democrats

An Open Letter to the Democratic Congress
Why I Am Leaving the Democratic Party

Dear Democratic Congress,

Hello, my name is Cindy Sheehan and my son Casey Sheehan was killed on April 04, 2004 in Sadr City , Baghdad , Iraq . He was killed when the Republicans still were in control of Congress. Naively, I set off on my tireless campaign calling on Congress to rescind George's authority to wage his war of terror while asking him "for what noble cause" did Casey and thousands of other have to die. Now, with Democrats in control of Congress, I have lost my optimistic naiveté and have become cynically pessimistic as I see you all caving into "Mr. 28%"

There is absolutely no sane or defensible reason for you to hand Bloody King George more money to condemn more of our brave, tired, and damaged soldiers and the people of Iraq to more death and carnage. You think giving him more money is politically expedient, but it is a moral abomination and every second the occupation of Iraq endures, you all have more blood on your hands.

Ms. Pelosi, Speaker of the House, said after George signed the new weak as a newborn baby funding authorization bill: "Now, I think the president's policy will begin to unravel." Begin to unravel? How many more of our children will have to be killed and how much more of Iraq will have to be demolished before you all think enough unraveling has occurred? How many more crimes will BushCo be allowed to commit while their poll numbers are crumbling before you all gain the political "courage" to hold them accountable. If Iraq hasn't unraveled in Ms. Pelosi's mind, what will it take? With almost 700,000 Iraqis dead and four million refugees (which the US refuses to admit) how could it get worse? Well, it is getting worse and it can get much worse thanks to your complicity.

Being cynically pessimistic, it seems to me that this new vote to extend the war until the end of September, (and let's face it, on October 1st, you will give him more money after some more theatrics, which you think are fooling the anti-war faction of your party) will feed right into the presidential primary season and you believe that if you just hang on until then, the Democrats will be able to re-take the White House. Didn't you see how "well" that worked for John Kerry in 2004 when he played the politics of careful fence sitting and pandering? The American electorate are getting disgusted with weaklings who blow where the wind takes them while frittering away our precious lifeblood and borrowing money from our new owners, the Chinese.

I knew having a Democratic Congress would make no difference in grassroots action. That's why we went to DC when you all were sworn in to tell you that we wanted the troops back from Iraq and BushCo held accountable while you pushed for ethics reform which is quite a hoot...don't' you think? We all know that it is affordable for you all to play this game of political mayhem because you have no children in harm's way...let me tell you what it is like:

You watch your reluctant soldier march off to a war that neither you nor he agrees with. Once your soldier leaves the country all you can do is worry. You lie awake at night staring at the moon wondering if today will be the day that you get that dreaded knock on your door. You can't concentrate, you can't eat, and your entire life becomes consumed with apprehension while you are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Then, when your worst fears are realized, you begin a life of constant pain, regret, and longing. Everyday is hard, but then you come up on "special" days...like upcoming Memorial Day. Memorial Day holds double pain for me because, not only are we supposed to honor our fallen troops, but Casey was born on Memorial Day in 1979. It used to be a day of celebration for us and now it is a day of despair. Our needlessly killed soldiers of this war and the past conflict in Vietnam have all left an unnecessary
trail of sorrow and deep holes of absence that will never be filled.

So, Democratic Congress, with the current daily death toll of 3.72 troop per day, you have condemned 473 more to these early graves. 473 more lives wasted for your political greed: Thousands of broken hearts because of your cowardice and avarice. How can you even go to sleep at night or look at yourselves in a mirror? How do you put behind you the screaming mothers on both sides of the conflict? How does the agony you have created escape you? It will never escape me...I can't run far enough or hide well enough to get away from it.

By the end of September, we will be about 80 troops short of another bloody milestone: 4000, and MoveOn.org will hold nationwide candlelight vigils and you all will be busy passing legislation that will snuff the lights out of thousands more human beings.

Congratulations Congress, you have bought yourself a few more months of an illegal and immoral bloodbath. And you know you mean to continue it indefinitely so "other presidents" can solve the horrid problem BushCo forced our world into.

It used to be George Bush's war. You could have ended it honorably. Now it is yours and you all will descend into calumnious history with BushCo.

The Camp Casey Peace Institute is calling all citizens who are as disgusted as we are with you all to join us in Philadelphia on July 4th to try and figure a way out of this "two" party system that is bought and paid for by the war machine which has a stranglehold on every aspect of our lives. As for myself, I am leaving the Democratic Party. You have completely failed those who put you in power to change the direction our country is heading. We did not elect you to help sink our ship of state but to guide it to safe harbor.

We do not condone our government's violent meddling in sovereign countries and we condemn the continued murderous occupation of Iraq .

We gave you a chance, you betrayed us.

Cindy Sheehan
Founder and President of
Gold Star Families for Peace.

Founder and Director of
The Camp Casey Peace Institute

Eternally grieving mother of Casey Sheehan

[+/-]

28 May 2007

Chomsky on the Media

Poisoned Chalice : Media & The Use of Force
Audio : Speech by Noam Chomsky

Chomsky compares U.S. aggression to Nuremberg standards of Nazi war crimes. Speech by Noam Chomsky May 17th, 07 at "20 Years of Propaganda?" Conference, University of Windsor, Canada.

Source, with thanks

[+/-]

Chomsky on Venezuela

On Recent Developments in Venezuela
Noam Chomsky interviewed by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan and Matthew Skogstad-Stubbs

Venezuelanalysis.com, May 18, 2007

Kabir Joshi-Vijayan and Matthew Skogstad-Stubbs: A friend, returning from Caracas, described a bus attempting to scale a mountain, gradually making its way up the slope, frequently stalling or stopping as the engine sputtered, but eventually reaching the summit. It reminded him of the Venezuelan revolutionary process. Why don’t we begin today by describing both the process and the impact that the Bolivarian revolution of today has had. Could you lay out how the Venezuelan society, and the daily life of its people, has changed since Chavez’s inauguration in 1999.

Noam Chomsky: There have been some changes. I don’t think they’re dramatic. This is probably the first time in Venezuelan history that there’s a government that’s making more than gestures towards using its huge resources to help the poorer parts of the population. This is mostly towards health, education, cooperatives and so on. Just how great the impact is it’s pretty hard to say. But certainly we know the popular reaction to them, which is after all the most important question. What’s important is not what we think about it, but what Venezuelans think about it. And that’s pretty well known. There are pretty good polling agencies in Latin America, the main one is Latinobarometro, which is in Chile. Very respected organization. There are similar polls in the United States in less detail. They monitor attitudes throughout Latin America on all sorts of crucial issues. The most recent one in Chile, in December, found - as earlier ones have - support for democracy and support for the government have been rising very sharply in Venezuela since 1998. Venezuela is now essentially tied with Uruguay at the top in support for the government and support for democracy. It’s well ahead of the other Latin American countries in support for the economic policies of the government and also well ahead in the belief that the policies help the poor, meaning the huge majority, instead of elites. And there are similar judgments on other issues, and as I say it has been rising rather sharply... Despite the obstacles there has been a degree of progress that has been considered by the population as very meaningful, and that’s the best measure.
With the announcement of the creation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV, and the acceleration in their attempted appropriation of various services and companies, can you predict the maturing of this revolution?

It’s not easy to say. There are conflicting tendencies, and the question for Venezuela is which one will prevail. There are democratizing tendencies, devolution of power, popular assemblies, communities taking control of their own budgets, workplace cooperatives and so on. All of that is building towards democracy. There are also authoritarian tendencies: centralization, charismatic figure, and so on. These policies in themselves you can’t really judge in which direction they’ll go. For a country to control its own resources is certainly perfectly reasonable.

Take, say Chile, which is considered the poster-boy of democratic capitalism, the advocate of the free-market, and so on and so forth. That’s the standard party line. More or less suppressed in this story is that Chile’s major export is copper - that’s its main source of income - and the world’s largest copper producer, CODELCO, is in Chile, and it happens to be nationalized. It was nationalized by Allende, and it’s still nationalized. There are also private producers. CODELCO, the government producer, provides probably ten times as much revenue to the state as the private ones, which send the revenue abroad. And that funds what there is of Chilean social programs, and so on. And many other countries control their own resources. It’s taken for granted. So if Venezuela takes greater control of its own resources, that could be a very positive development. On the other hand, it might not be. So for example, when Saudi Arabia nationalized its oil in the 1970s, that did mean that they were controlling their own oil instead of foreign corporations - mainly ARAMCO - which is to the good. On the other hand it’s in the hands of a pretty harsh tyranny. Washington’s major and most valued ally in the region, which is a pretty brutal tyranny and the most extreme Islamist fundamentalist state in the world. So the story depends on how the resources are used.

Kabir Joshi-Vijayan and Matthew Skogstad-Stubbs: Mercosur, the common market of the southern cone, is a group that boasts the largest economies of South America. It is founded on free-market style arrangements, like NAFTA, and does not seem to be leaning towards any alternative to the prevailing neoliberal doctrine. Could you comment on the organization?

Noam Chomsky: Mercosur for the moment is more of a hope than an actuality. It has plans, and has made some steps. The latest Mercosur meeting was actually in Brazil, this past December, and it did lay plans along with the meeting of Latin American leaders in Cochabamba. They’re sort of making plans for a European Union type federation. This is extremely important, historically the Latin American countries have been very much separated from one another, oriented towards the imperial power that happened to be dominant, most recently the United States. Separated from one another there was no integration in Latin America, and moves towards integration are very significant, and they’re just beginning really in a serious way. Mercosur is part of it, Cochabamba meetings are another step, and there are other steps. Integration is a powerful step towards maintaining sovereignty and independence. When countries are separated from one another they can kind of be picked off, either by force or by economic strangulation. If they integrate and cooperate, they’re much more free from external control, meaning U.S. control in the last half-century - but it goes back much farther than that.

So that’s an important step, but there are barriers. One barrier is that there is also a desperate need in Latin America for internal integration. Each of the countries has a very sharp divide between a small wealthy Europeanized, mostly white, elite, and a huge mass of deeply impoverished people, usually indian, black and mestizos. The race correlation isn’t perfect, but it’s a correlation. Latin America has some of the worst inequality in the world, and those problems are also beginning to be overcome. There’s a long way to go, but there are steps towards them. In Venezuela, in Bolivia, to some extent in Brazil, in Argentina, and not much elsewhere for the moment. Maybe Ecuador, with the new government. But both the internal integration and the external integration among the countries, these are quite important steps, and it’s really the first time since the Spanish colonization 500 years ago, so that’s of some significance.

Kabir Joshi-Vijayan and Matthew Skogstad-Stubbs: Let’s return to some of the criticisms of authoritarianism that have followed term extensions and the recent so-called enabling law.

Noam Chomsky: Well those laws were passed by the parliament. The parliament happens to be almost completely dominated by Chavez, but the reason for that is that the opposition refuses to take part. Probably under U.S. pressure. I don’t like those laws myself. How they turn out depends on popular pressures. They could be steps towards authoritarianism. They could be steps towards implementing constructive programs. It’s not for us to say, it’s for the Venezuelan people to say, and we know their opinion very well.

Kabir Joshi-Vijayan and Matthew Skogstad-Stubbs: Oil wealth in Venezuela has given the country the opportunity to extend aid to poor communities in the West, including New York and London, and it has allowed it to buy up the debt of Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador. Could you speak to the uses that Venezuela has put its oil wealth.

Noam Chomsky: Let’s begin with its aid to the West, which is a little ironic. But there’s a little bit of background to that. It began with a program right here in Boston, where I am. What happened is that a group of Senators approached the 8 major energy corporations and asked if they could provide short-term assistance to poor people in the United States, to get through the harsh winter, when they were unable to pay their oil bills because of the high oil prices. They got one response, from Citgo, the Venezuelan owned company, and that one company did indeed provide temporary low-cost oil in Boston, then the Bronx in New York and elsewhere, to survive the harsh winter. That’s the Western aid. So there’s more to it than just Chavez giving aid.

As for the rest, yes Chavez did buy up a quarter, or a third of the debt of Argentina. That was an effort to help Argentina rid themselves of the IMF, as the President of Argentina put it. The IMF, which is sort of an off-shoot of the US Treasury Department, has had a shattering effect in Latin America. Its programs have been followed more rigorously in Latin America than any other part of the world outside of Sub-Saharan Africa, and they’ve been a disaster. So take say Bolivia. They’ve been following IMF policies for 25 years, and at the end per-capita income is lower than it was in the beginning. Argentina was the poster-child of the IMF. It was marvelous, it was doing all the things right, they were urging everyone else to follow the same policies, same for the World Bank and the US Treasury Department. Well what happened is it led to a total economic catastrophe. Argentina did manage to get out of the catastrophe by radically violating IMF rules, and they determined to rid themselves of the IMF, as Kirchner put it, and Venezuela helped them. Brazil was doing the same thing in its own way and now Bolivia is doing it with Venezuelan help. The IMF is in fact in trouble because it’s financing came largely from debt collection and if the countries refuse to accept it’s borrowing because the policies are too harmful, well it’s not clear what they’re going to do.

There was also Petrocaribe. A program to provide oil on favorable terms, with delayed payment, to many of the Caribbean countries as well to some others. Another program was called Operation Miracle. It uses Venezuelan funding to send Cuban doctors - Cuban doctors are very highly trained, they have a very advanced medical system, comparable to the first-world systems - to places like Jamaica, and other countries of the region. It began by finding people who are blind, have completely lost vision, but could be surgically treated to recover vision, and they are identified by Cuban doctors, brought back to Cuba, and treated with their high-class medical facilities, and returned to their countries able to see. That leaves an impression.

There was some effort apparently by the United States and Mexico to do something similar, but it never got anywhere. In fact, the impact of Chavez’s programs can be seen very clearly by George Bush’s last trip. The press talked about his new shift of programs towards Latin America, but what actually happened if you look, is that Bush was picking up some of Chavez’s rhetoric. That’s the wonderful new programs. Picking up some of the rhetoric of Chavez, but not implementing it. Or barely implementing it.


[+/-]

We Have the Power - David MacBryde

#1 We have the power -- to sink small islands, or not.

It is now a question of what and how decisions are made.

(By the middle of the last century we developed the power, with nuclear bombs, to overkill the planet. And did not. By now we have also developed the productive activity on the planet so far that we can affect not just the regional but the whole global climate. While there may be some scientific dispute on some details, there is no scientific doubt that we do have the power and could, if we tried, rapidly burn as much oil and coal as possible and drastically alter the global climate.)

A main point: we humans, in the general sense, have created great productive capacities and have much power -- more than enough to disastrously damage our livable environment, and certainly enough to achieve, for example, the proactive Millennium Goals and benchmarks jointly developed by the sovereign nations, assembled in the forum called the United Nations. Now "We can be the first generation to overcome poverty". www.millenniumgoals.org

What decisions will be made, and how will decisions be made?

Let us here look just at the USA, and here just at co2 emissions. (Of course, as is clear for instance in the German government's long-term position, co2 emissions are directly a matter of oil and energy policy, which can involve decisions about war and peace.)

#2 We, in the USA, have the power to make decisions, and, I suggest, indeed now the power to achieve well founded decisions about co2 emissions. Thanks, Doyle (and others, of course).

Doyle was active around the Austin, Texas, scene and the Rag newspaper there, and went on to become a member of the Maryland State Legislature, and there among much else is a member of their commission on the environment. The State of Maryland has just recently joined with a number of northeastern states to work on co2 emissions. The State of California has made decisions about co2. There are many towns and cities whose citizens have decided to address the issue. Most recently the Mayor of Austin, Texas, along with our mayor here in Berlin and those of other large cities around the globe met to take steps on emissions. Recently the US Supreme Court, to some surprise, in a close 5-4 decision, ruled that the Federal Government Environmental Protection Agency must address the issue of co2 as pollution. Another "graduate" of the Rag journalism in Austin is Steve -- who went on to become a lawyer and no doubt can comment on the Supreme Court decision, and is also now one of many people traveling around the countryside, he mainly in Oklahoma, raising climate issues. Also a number of members of congress are traveling, on their way also to Germany to work on co2 emissions issues prior to the G8 meeting.

My main point: it looks to me like we already have, or are in practical range of having, the power for positive political (in the good sense) decisions about co2 issues.

Two short background notes about Germany, and decisions about co2, oil and energy policy.

(i) After the end of the student movement here in Germany in the 60s and 70s, one way former students went onward with their then adult lives and politically, and visibly, was enabled by the 5% proportional voting. Getting that 5% was a practical focus for citizens initiatives. The environment was an issue that people could get together around and that made increasing sense to voters. The German "Green" party was formed, and enabled visible practical politics. The German Greens then succeeded in mainstreaming much -- with the issues being taken on by other, and much larger, parties, to the point of achieving majorities, and so majority democratic decisions on some issues. On the environment, the head of the United Nations Environment Program was a member of the conservative party (CDU) and he helped to mainstream the issues among conservatives and in the churches, for instance. NOTE: although the 5% proportional vote was helpful and important in enabling some political activities, and getting new ideas visible, still the reality is that a majority is needed for actual governmental decisions. On some environmental issues in Germany there is now over 2/3 majority agreement.

(ii) In the economy, and decisions in the economy: A big topic. Here one point: one of the first breakthroughs was by the scientists at one of the biggest insurance companies (Munich Reinsurance -- who in effect insure the insurance industry.) They talked loudly and had large databanks. They said climate change was a problem, with incalculable weather and incalculable risks. The short point here is that there is now a broad understanding inside the economy (CEOs, unions, most everyone, with a few squeaking holdouts) that emissions into our common atmosphere is one area that capitalist market economies can not handle. Hardly anyone here anymore wants a centralized monopoly power state. What is new is the broad recognition, also among conservatives here, of the limits of capitalist markets, and the need for more and other ways to make decisions.

"We have, or can have, decision-making power (part 2)" will get into all that.

To end this commentary in preparation for the June 2007 G8 meeting:

(A) We have the power -- to sink small islands, or not. The question is what and how decisions will be made. The wrong decisions could force, for instance, migrations of hundreds of millions of fellow humans, and others. And there are even worse dangers.

(B) And decisions are needed in most all ontological dimensions -- from in the home to at international negotiations, and including for instance decisions at universities to become exemplary "green" institutions in cooperation with the cities they are in.

[+/-]

More BushCo Fraud and Cronyism

Developing New Bush Scandal Helping Big Oil Companies Hide Billions from Government at Taxpayer Expense

Corruption within the Department of Interior may have allowed oil companies to improperly save billions at the expense of the taxpayers. The Department’s Inspector General has already made at least two criminal referals to the FBI and the Justice Department, and Congressional Democrats have launched several investigations and introduced new legislation to fix the problem.

In a nutshell, oil companies leasing federal land to drill for oil are required to pay the government royalties based on a percentage of their sales. But under the Royalty-in-Kind program, the companies can pay in the form of oil and gas instead of cash. The problem is that oil prices have increased more than the value of the oil and gas royalty revenues being recieved, meaning that the oil companies are managing to withhold a growing amount of their profits from Uncle Sam.

As you might guess, Royalty-in-Kind was proposed and remains supported by the oil industry, and Bush implanted officials with deep ties to the oil industry in charge of the agency responsible for enforcing the program, the Minerals Management Service (MMS).

In light of the growing scandal, MMS Director Johnnie Burton has already announced that she will be retiring by the end of May. Burton started an oil exploration business before becoming a staunch Republican politician in Wyoming, where she developed ties with Dick Cheney. Greg Smith became the new head of MMS, but he just announced his own sudden retirement Tuesday.

"It appears this Administration uses retirement like some perverse witness protection program," said Rep. Nick Rahall. "Get them out of the spotlight and off the list of in-the-know folks who could provide damaging evidence. Instead of Watergate's 'follow the money,' the Bush Administration has "follow the retirements.' "

Rep. Rahall is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which held a hearing Wednesday on the Energy Policy Reform and Revitilization Act aimed at eliminating the oil royalty corruption and loopholes, among other things.

Much of the controversy surrounds a mistake inadvertantly created during the Clinton Administration that went unaddressed and not publically acknowledged until 2006. MMS Director Burton claimed at the time that she had only recently discovered the problem, but midlevel officials spotted the mistake in 2000 and the Interior Department’s Inspector General and even top Republicans say she either knew or should have known about the mistake as early as 2004.

The delay allowed oil companies to save more money and prevented the chance for easier lease renegotiations since energy prices were much lower at the time.

But wait, there’s more! A former Interior auditor-turned-whistleblower revealed that he was ordered by senior Washington officials to drop a case against the Kerr-McGee Corporation for cheating the government out of at least $12 million in royalties. A jury found the company guilty of underpayment, though the case remains pending in federal court on appeal.

Read it here.

[+/-]

Venezuela Leads Latin American Socialism

Communal power versus capitalism in Venezuela
by Stuart Munckton
May 27, 2007, Green Left Weekly

Led by the country's socialist president, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan revolution is sending shockwaves through the corporate elite both within Venezuela and internationally. The Venezuelan people are waging a struggle to gain sovereignty over the country's natural resources in order to rebuild the nation along pro-people lines.

From April 30 to May 9, a range of Australian trade unionists, including an official delegation from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), participated in the 2007 May Day solidarity brigade to Venezuela. This was the fifth official solidarity brigade, and the second May Day brigade, organised by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN). It was the first brigade from Australia to visit Venezuela since Chavez's announcement of a new phase in the Bolivarian revolution following his re-election on an explicitly socialist platform in December last year with the largest vote in Venezuelan history.

Chavez followed his re-election with the insistence that "now we build socialism". He has announced a series of moves, including plans to renationalise previously privatised companies, an "explosion of communal power", and the construction of a new, mass, revolutionary socialist party that would unite all militants across the country to help lead the construction of "socialism of the 21st century".

While the brigade was going on, the Chavez government carried out the nationalisation of oil ventures worth US$17 billion owned by multinational corporations in the Orinoco Belt. Also, the mass registration drive for the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) began on April 29, and they have already signed up hundreds of thousands of people — nearly 30% above the national target.

Green Left Weekly spoke to the brigade's coordinator, Federico Fuentes, who also served as a GLW correspondent in Caracas in the second half of 2005, about the brigade and the recent developments in Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution.

Fuentes told GLW: "The brigade had either official representation or members participating in a personal capacity from the Electrical Trades Union from three different states, the Community and Public Sector Union, the National Union of Workers, the Australian Services Union, [and] the Rail, Bus and Tram Union, as well as perhaps one or two others. The brigade was an extremely important way to cut through the lies in the corporate media and give Australian unionists a sense of what is really happening in Venezuela."

The brigade was especially important because "this was the first time the ACTU [has] sent an official delegation to Venezuela, on a fact finding mission to gather information on the UNT [the National Union of Workers, the pro-revolution trade union federation established in 2003 after the right-wing Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) backed attempts by the elite to overthrow the Chavez government], and the battle occurring inside the International Labor Organisation between the UNT and CTV about which federation has the right to represent Venezuela in the organisation, and about whether the Chavez government is pro- or anti-union".

As well as extensive discussions with a range of unionists, Fuentes said the brigade was able to visit a range of community organisations, as well the popular health-care clinics that provide free care to the poor. The clinics are part of the Barrio Adentro health care program, one of the many government-funded social missions that allow the poor majority to enjoy the benefits of the nation's oil wealth.

Fuentes explained that the brigade got to witness the elections for one of the communal councils in Barrio 23 de Enero, a large, impoverished neighbourhood in Caracas that is a revolutionary stronghold. The communal councils are currently Venezuela's most important experiments in popular power. More than 18,000 councils have been established, based on communities of no more than 400 families.

Fuentes explained the depth of the social gains achieved by the revolution, telling GLW that an article published during the brigade revealed that the purchasing power of the poorest wage income category has increased dramatically over the last year (in Venezuela the categories are rated from A, the richest, to E, the poorest). "This is a phenomenal figure, and is on top of figures already showing a significant drop in poverty before this period. This doesn't even include the gains associated with the mass provision of free health care and education. They are continuing to reach out to more and more communities; there are still some of the social missions that have yet to achieve national coverage. The minimum wage was increased once again on May Day, by 20% — higher than the rate of inflation."

Fuentes said that returning to Venezuela he had been struck by "a feeling among the people that, post Chavez's election victory, now was the time for serious inroads into the capitalist system, that now was the time the revolution would significantly deepen. And this has been expressed especially through the real surge of community organising.

"It is a powerful dynamic developing centred on the creation of the communal councils, with the community and workers increasingly organising to take power into their own hands. This is being constructed side-by-side with the process of the formation of the PSUV, built from the grassroots up. This has created a lot of discussions in Venezuelan society — what type of socialism, what type of party, what type of program for the party? These discussions are only just beginning, but this will undoubtedly come more and more to the fore through the year. There was a real sense that this is going to be a decisive year, perhaps one that breaks a bit of the deadlock that has existed."

Fuentes explained that the discussion on socialism "was much deeper than in 2005", when socialism was identified mostly with providing for people's basic needs, such as free education and health care. He said the discussion was "still very open". "There is a willingness to discuss and debate all different kinds of ideas", especially what had failed in previous attempts to build socialism.

Fuentes said there are a variety of perspectives on what form socialism should take, however "there is a very strong view that having property formally state-owned doesn't resolve the key question, which is how do you ensure that people feel the property really belongs to them? How do you not simply reproduce the old relations of production?"

Read the rest here.

[+/-]

27 May 2007

A Bit of Brutal Honesty About Iraq

Operation Freedom From Iraqis

05/27/07 "New York Times" -- - WHEN all else fails, those pious Americans who conceived and directed the Iraq war fall back on moral self-congratulation: at least we brought liberty and democracy to an oppressed people. But that last-ditch rationalization has now become America’s sorriest self-delusion in this tragedy.

However wholeheartedly we disposed of their horrific dictator, the Iraqis were always pawns on the geopolitical chessboard rather than actual people in the administration’s reckless bet to “transform” the Middle East. From “Stuff happens!” on, nearly every aspect of Washington policy in Iraq exuded contempt for the beneficiaries of our supposed munificence. Now this animus is completely out of the closet. Without Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to kick around anymore, the war’s dead-enders are pinning the fiasco on the Iraqis themselves. Our government abhors them almost as much as the Lou Dobbs spear carriers loathe those swarming “aliens” from Mexico.

Iraqis are clamoring to get out of Iraq. Two million have fled so far and nearly two million more have been displaced within the country. (That’s a total of some 15 percent of the population.) Save the Children reported this month that Iraq’s child-survival rate is falling faster than any other nation’s. One Iraqi in eight is killed by illness or violence by the age of 5. Yet for all the words President Bush has lavished on Darfur and AIDS in Africa, there has been a deadly silence from him about what’s happening in the country he gave “God’s gift of freedom.”

It’s easy to see why. To admit that Iraqis are voting with their feet is to concede that American policy is in ruins. A “secure” Iraq is a mirage, and, worse, those who can afford to leave are the very professionals who might have helped build one. Thus the president says nothing about Iraq’s humanitarian crisis, the worst in the Middle East since 1948, much as he tried to hide the American death toll in Iraq by keeping the troops’ coffins off-camera and staying away from military funerals.

But his silence about Iraq’s mass exodus is not merely another instance of deceptive White House P.R.; it’s part of a policy with a huge human cost. The easiest way to keep the Iraqi plight out of sight, after all, is to prevent Iraqis from coming to America. And so we do, except for stray Shiites needed to remind us of purple fingers at State of the Union time or to frame the president in Rose Garden photo ops.

Since the 2003 invasion, America has given only 466 Iraqis asylum. Sweden, which was not in the coalition of the willing, plans to admit 25,000 Iraqis this year alone. Our State Department, goaded by January hearings conducted by Ted Kennedy, says it will raise the number for this year to 7,000 (a figure that, small as it is, may be more administration propaganda). A bill passed by Congress this month will add another piddling 500, all interpreters.

In reality, more than 5,000 interpreters worked for the Americans. So did tens of thousands of drivers and security guards who also, in Senator Kennedy’s phrase, have “an assassin’s bull’s-eye on their backs” because they served the occupying government and its contractors over the past four-plus years. How we feel about these Iraqis was made naked by one of the administration’s most fervent hawks, the former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, speaking to The Times Magazine this month. He claimed that the Iraqi refugee problem had “absolutely nothing to do” with Saddam’s overthrow: “Our obligation was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war.”

Actually, we haven’t fulfilled the obligation of giving them functioning institutions and security. One of the many reasons we didn’t was that L. Paul Bremer’s provisional authority staffed the Green Zone with unqualified but well-connected Republican hacks who, in some cases, were hired after they expressed their opposition to Roe v. Wade. The administration is nothing if not consistent in its employment practices. The assistant secretary in charge of refugees at the State Department now, Ellen Sauerbrey, is a twice-defeated Republican candidate for governor of Maryland with no experience in humanitarian crises but a hefty résumé in anti-abortion politics. She is to Iraqis seeking rescue what Brownie was to Katrina victims stranded in the Superdome.

Ms. Sauerbrey’s official line on Iraqi refugees, delivered to Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” in March, is that most of them “really want to go home.” The administration excuse for keeping Iraqis out of America is national security: we have to vet every prospective immigrant for terrorist ties. But many of those with the most urgent cases for resettlement here were vetted already, when the American government and its various Halliburton subsidiaries asked them to risk their lives by hiring them in the first place. For those whose loyalties can no longer be vouched for, there is the contrasting lesson of Vietnam. Julia Taft, the official in charge of refugees in the Ford administration, reminded Mr. Pelley that 131,000 Vietnamese were resettled in America within eight months of the fall of Saigon, despite loud, Dobbs-like opposition at the time. In the past seven months, the total number of Iraqis admitted to America was 69.

Read it here, including reference links.

[+/-]

The Republican/Democratic Duopoly of Trivia

This is actually one of the most heart wrenching pieces I've read in some time. I would not be surprised to learn that the good professor decided he could not live with himself anymore.

I lost my son to a conflict I oppose. We were both doing our duty
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Special to The Washington Post

05/27/07 "Salt Lake Tribune" --- -- Parents who lose children, whether through accident or illness, inevitably wonder what they could have done to prevent their loss. When my son was killed in Iraq earlier this month at age 27, I found myself pondering my responsibility for his death.

Among the hundreds of messages that my wife and I have received, two bore directly on this question. Both held me personally culpable, insisting that my public opposition to the war had provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Each said that my son's death came as a direct result of my antiwar writings.

This may seem a vile accusation to lay against a grieving father. But in fact, it has become a staple of American political discourse, repeated endlessly by those keen to allow President Bush a free hand in waging his war. By encouraging "the terrorists," opponents of the Iraq conflict increase the risk to U.S. troops. Although the First Amendment protects antiwar critics from being tried for treason, it provides no protection for the hardly less serious charge of failing to support the troops - today's civic equivalent of dereliction of duty.

What exactly is a father's duty when his son is sent into harm's way?

Among the many ways to answer that question, mine was this one: As my son was doing his utmost to be a good soldier, I strove to be a good citizen.

As a citizen, I have tried since Sept. 11, 2001, to promote a critical understanding of U.S. foreign policy. I know that even now, people of good will find much to admire in Bush's response to that awful day. They applaud his doctrine of preventive war. They endorse his crusade to spread democracy across the Muslim world and to eliminate tyranny from the face of the Earth. They insist not only that his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was correct but that the war there can still be won. Some - the members of the "the-surge-is-already-working" school of thought - even profess to see victory just over the horizon.

I believe that such notions are dead wrong and doomed to fail. In books, articles and op-ed pieces, in talks to audiences large and small, I have said as much. "The long war is an unwinnable one," I wrote in an August 2005 opinion piece in The Washington Post. "The United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We've done all that we can do."

Here was my own version of duty.

Not for a second did I expect my own efforts to make a difference. But I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others - teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks - to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion.

The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as "the will of the people."

To be fair, responsibility for the war's continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son's death, my state's senators, Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen Lynch, our congressman, attended my son's wake. Kerry was present for the funeral mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don't blame me.

To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove - namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.

Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.

Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech into little more than a means of recording dissent.

This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works.

In joining the Army, my son was following in his father's footsteps: Before he was born, I had served in Vietnam. As military officers, we shared an ironic kinship of sorts, each of us demonstrating a peculiar knack for picking the wrong war at the wrong time. Yet he was the better soldier - brave and steadfast and irrepressible.

I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought that I was doing the same. In fact, while was he was giving all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him.

Andrew J. Bacevich teaches history and international relations at Boston University. His son, 1st Lt. Andrew John Bacevich, died May 13 after a suicide bomb explosion in Salah al-Din province.


[+/-]

The Middle East Will Defeat the Empire

The Centrality of Iraq and Afghanistan in Defeating the Empire
By James Petras
May 25, 2007, 12:07

Washington outlined in explicit language its plans to engage in sequential wars in the Middle East, Southwest and Northeast Asia and the Caribbean. Under the offensive military doctrine of ‘Pre-emptive Wars’ and the ‘Global War against Terrorism’, the United States’ pursuit of military conquest was backed by Israel, Great Britain and several newly incorporated client states from Eastern Europe. The White House’s grandiose scheme of world conquest was orchestrated and pre-maturely celebrated by top Zioncon (Zionist Conservative) officials embedded in the Pentagon, White House and the National Security Council.

The imperial wars of conquest however were stopped literally dead in their tracks at their starting point: Iraq and Afghanistan. Subsequent to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, a formidable mass armed resistance emerged from the underground, aided by widespread civilian support. Large majorities of public opinion, major religious communities, trade union militants , small business associations and neighborhood-based community organizations actively and passively opposed the US-led occupation forces at every turn, providing logistical support and intelligence to the armed and non-violent resistance. Similar developments took place at a later stage in Afghanistan. Despite draconian military measures, including the bombing of population centers, systematic mass round-ups of civilians followed by brutal torture, the US military failed to consolidate its rule via puppet regimes. As the resistance grew, Washington’s efforts to foment ethnic-religious sectarian warfare and territorial fragmentation failed. By late 2006 it was clear that the imperial army’s only territorial conquest was the bunkers in the so-called ‘Green Zone’. In 2007 Washington escalated its troop commitments in a desperate effort to fend off impending defeat and to recover massive loss of domestic support.

From a world historical perspective, the Iraqi and Afghan resistance has successfully stymied Washington’s pursuit of world domination through a series of offensive wars. The success of the national liberation movements led to the over-extension of the US imperial armed forces – weakening efforts to launch programed ground wars against Iran, Syria and elsewhere. The prolonged resistance led to wholesale domestic opposition in the face of never-ending US casualties and skyrocketing financial costs.

The demoralization of the US infantry and National Guard prevented Washington from following up its failed coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with a direct military invasion.

The prolonged and deteriorating war in Afghanistan, with the advances of the re-grouped guerrilla fighters especially among the civilian population, has led the US-controlled colonial coalition to engage in indiscriminate bombing of civilians – adding to the growth of the anti-colonial resistance.

The success of the resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan and the appeal of their examples has encouraged new formidable anti-colonial struggles, led by Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia as well as having stiffened the resolve of Iranian leaders to resist US demands to unilaterally suspend their nuclear programs. Further abroad, the weakening of US global military interventionist capacity has taken the heat off of progressive governments in Venezuela and revolutionary Cuba. The consolidation of the Venezuelan nationalist-populist government has had a powerful demonstration impact throughout Latin America, encouraging new anti-imperialist movements and dissident governments in Ecuador and beyond. In an all out battle of ideas, programs, foreign aid and solidarity, Bush is losing out to President Chavez: Unable to launch a full-scale military invasion, to eliminate the Chavez government, Washington has failed to match Venezuela’s vast petrol subsidies and promising alternative integration proposals: ALBA has prevailed over ALCA.

The failure of Washington’s will to a world empire has led to the shrinking of power relative to its global situation prior to 2001. And in large part that is due to the fighting capacity and organized resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan: Both have demonstrated that despite the great store of modern technological warfare and monopolies of media propaganda, wars are decided on the ground, by the popular majorities directly affected. It is they who set in motion the conversion of enthusiastic domestic majorities for the US war to demoralized minorities; it is they who have given backbone and resiliency to the Middle Eastern governments who vacillate between collaboration with and rejection of the colonial powers.


[+/-]

Constitution Takes Another Lickin'

From Another Day in the Empire

Bush Pens Dictatorship Directive, Few Notice

It is hardly surprising not a single corporate newspaper reported the death of the Constitution. Go to Google News and type in “National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive” and hit enter. Google returns ten paltry results, not one from the New York Times, the Washington Post, or related corporate media source. Google Trends rates the story as “mild,” that is to say it warrants nary a blip on the news radar screen. Of course, another death blow to the Constitution, already long on life support, is hardly news. Few understand we now live in a dictatorship, or maybe it should be called a decidership.

“The Bush administration has released a directive called the National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive. The directive released on May 9th, 2007 has gone almost unnoticed by the mainstream and alternative media. This is understandable considering the huge Ron Paul and immigration news but this story is equally as huge. In this directive, Bush declares that in the event of a ‘Catastrophic Emergency’ the President will be entrusted with leading the activities to ensure constitutional government. The language in this directive would in effect make the President a dictator in the case of such an emergency,” writes Lee Rogers for Global Research. “The language written in the directive is disturbing because it doesn’t say that the President will work with the other branches of government equally to ensure a constitutional government is protected. It says clearly that there will be a cooperative effort among the three branches that will be coordinated by the President. If the President is coordinating these efforts it effectively puts him in charge of every branch. The language in the directive is entirely Orwellian in nature making it seem that it is a cooperative effort between all three branches but than it says that the President is in charge of the cooperative effort.”

In short, Bush may now declare himself absolute ruler at any moment and Congress can like it or lump it. Naturally, this act of betrayal is of so little importance and consequence, the corporate media believes you are better served knowing Justin Timberlake is in love.

“This directive on its face is unconstitutional because each branch of government the executive, legislative and judicial are supposed to be equal in power,” Lee continues. “By putting the President in charge of coordinating such an effort to ensure constitutional government over all three branches is effectively making the President a dictator allowing him to tell all branches of government what to do.”

So much for the first three articles of the Constitution, designed to make sure there remains a separation of power between branches of government. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” declared James Madison in the Federalist Papers. Madison, in his original draft of the Bill of Rights, included a proposed amendment that would make the separation of powers explicit, but this proposal was rejected, primarily because his fellow members of Congress thought the separation of powers principle was obvious in the Constitution. There was no way for them to read the future, or predict the wholesale selling and buying of Congress, a judiciary stacked with reactionary troglodytes from the Federalist Society, and a largely brain dead public apparently more interested in Britney Spears lip-sync concerts than preserving the Constitution, let alone comprehending it.

Read the rest here.

[+/-]

The Sorid History of the Coalition Provisional Authority

The secret Iraq documents my 8-year-old found
By Pete Moore

With a couple of keystrokes, you too can read the hidden history of the Coalition Provisional Authority, America's late, unlamented occupation government in Iraq.

May 18, 2007 | I'm a political scientist, and I've spent many hours rooting through documents to study the bureaucracies that once, not so long ago, ran various British colonial outposts in the Middle East. Back in the days when occupation governments dealt in paper, there was always a chance that you'd find a surprise in these cobwebbed mountains of folders, ledgers and official reports. There were sometimes notes scribbled in pencil in the margins of books, and it was not unheard of to open a dusty old volume and have a personal letter fall out. Through such fortunate mistakes researchers could piece together the unofficial, off-the-record history of empire.

When I started studying the massive archive of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American occupation government that ruled Iraq from April 21, 2003, to June 28, 2004, I expected my experience to be different. I didn't think any letters would fall in my lap, because the archive is paperless. The first archive of occupation created during the IT era, the CPA's virtual history can be found online at www.cpa-iraq.org, on thousands of pages that each begin "Long live the new Iraq!"

But I forgot to factor in the ubiquity of human error, and of Microsoft Word. It turns out the IT era really is different, after all. It took my 8-year-old son just a few seconds to shake loose some hidden history from within the official transcript of the CPA.

My son made his discovery while impatiently waiting to play a computer game on my laptop. As part of a research project, I had downloaded 45 documents from a section of the CPA Web site known as Consolidated Weekly Reports. All but three of the documents were Microsoft Word. I had one of the Word documents up on my screen when my son starting toying with the computer mouse. Somehow, inadvertently, he managed to pull down the "View" menu at the top of the screen and select the "Mark up" option. If you are in a Word document where "Track changes" has been turned on, hitting "Mark up" will reveal all the deletions and insertions ever made in the document, complete with times, dates and (sometimes) the initials of the editors. When my son did it, all the deleted passages in a document with the innocuous name "Administrator's Weekly Economic Report" suddenly appeared in blue and purple. It was the electronic equivalent of seeing every draft of an author's paper manuscript and all the penciled changes made by the editors. I soon figured out that with a few keystrokes I could see the deleted passages in 20 of the 42 Word documents I'd downloaded. For an academic like myself it was a small treasure trove, and after I'd stopped hooting and hollering it took some time before I could convince my startled son that he hadn't done anything wrong.

Posting sloppily edited documents on an official Web site pales in comparison to some of the CPA's other mistakes. Its worst miscalculation was probably dissolving the Iraqi military on May 16, 2003, which jump-started the insurgency by sending 400,000 trained soldiers into the streets without jobs. In one of the best deconstructions of the CPA yet written, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran's describes the enchanted, ideologically blinkered world of the CPA workers in the Green Zone, and recounts how their bubble began to deflate as the insurgency mounted and as the harsh reality outside the high walls of the Zone began to intrude. A close look at the deletions in just one of the improperly redacted Word documents from the waning days of the CPA reveals how the enchanted mind-set worked, just before the spell wore off.

The document that my son accidentally undeleted, Administrator's Weekly Economic Report, was dated March 28, 2004. Its content is dry and unremarkable -- it charts the value of the new Iraqi dinar, for example, and summarizes public-sector economic reforms. The only truly interesting parts of it, in fact, are the deletions, which are on another topic altogether.

Presumably, staffers at the CPA's Information Management Unit, which produced the weekly reports, were cutting and pasting large sections of text into the reports and then eliminating all but the few short passages they needed. Much of the material they were cribbing seems to have come from the kind of sensitive, security-related documents that were never meant to be available to the public. In fact, about half of the 20 improperly redacted documents I downloaded, including the March 28 report, contain deleted portions that all seem to come from one single, 1,000-word security memo. The editors kept pulling text from a document titled "Why Are the Attacks Down in Al-Anbar Province -- Several Theories."

Read all the rest of this intriguing article here.

[+/-]

Perpetuating the Politics of Fear

What's so sad is that many voters believe this drivel.

GOP rivals embrace unproven Iraq-9/11 tie
By Peter S. Canellos, Globe Staff | May 27, 2007

WASHINGTON -- In defending the Iraq war, leading Republican presidential contenders are increasingly echoing words and phrases used by President Bush in the run-up to the war that reinforce the misleading impression that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the May 15 Republican debate in South Carolina, Senator John McCain of Arizona suggested that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would "follow us home" from Iraq -- a comment some viewers may have taken to mean that bin Laden was in Iraq, which he is not.

Former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani asserted, in response to a question about Iraq, that "these people want to follow us here and they have followed us here. Fort Dix happened a week ago. "

However, none of the six people arrested for allegedly plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey were from Iraq.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney identified numerous groups that he said have "come together" to try to bring down the United States, though specialists say few of the groups Romney cited have worked together and only some have threatened the United States.

"They want to bring down the West, particularly us," Romney declared. "And they've come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent."

Assertions of connections between bin Laden and terrorists in Iraq have heated up over the last month, as Congress has debated the war funding resolution. Romney, McCain, and Giuliani have endorsed -- and expanded on -- Bush's much-debated contention that Al Qaeda is the main cause of instability in Iraq.

Spokespeople for McCain and Romney say the candidates were expressing their deep-seated convictions that terrorists would benefit if the United States were to withdraw from Iraq. The spokesmen say that even if Iraq had no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists have infiltrated Iraq as security has deteriorated since the invasion, and now pose a direct threat to the United States.

But critics, including some former CIA officials, said those statements could mislead voters into believing that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks are now fighting the United States in Iraq .

Michael Scheuer , the CIA's former chief of operations against bin Laden in the late 1990s, said the comments of some GOP candidates seem to suggest that bin Laden is controlling the insurgency in Iraq, which he is not.

"There are at least 41 groups [worldwide] that have announced their allegiance to Osama bin Laden -- and I will bet that none of them are directed by Osama bin Laden," Scheuer said, pointing out that Al Qaeda in Iraq is not overseen by bin Laden.

Read the rest here.

[+/-]

26 May 2007

John McMillian on the Beatles and Stones

This is a remarkable treat - a prepublication preview of an article that will appear in the June issue of The Believer. Many thanks to the author, John McMillian, and Thorne Dreyer for enabling us to give you a preview of this fine piece of rock history.


John McMillian


On July 26, 1968, Mick Jagger flew from Los Angeles to London for a birthday party thrown in his honor at a hip new Moroccan-style bar called the Vesuvio Club—“one of the best clubs London has ever seen,” remembered proprietor Tony Sanchez. Under black lights and beautiful tapestries, some of London’s trendiest models, artists, and pop singers lounged on huge cushions and took pulls from Turkish hookahs, while a decorative, helium-filled dirigible floated aimlessly about the room. As a special treat, Mick brought along an advance pressing of the Stones’ forthcoming album, Beggars Banquet, to play over the club’s speakers. Just as the crowd was “leaping around” and celebrating the record—which would soon win accolades as the best Stones album to date—Paul McCartney strolled in, and passed Sanchez a copy of the forthcoming Beatles single “Hey Jude/Revolution,” which had never before been heard by anyone outside of Abbey Road Studios. Sanchez recalled how the “slow, thundering buildup of ‘Hey Jude’ shook the club”; the crowd demanded that the seven-minute song be played again and again. Finally, the club’s disc jockey played the flip side, and everyone heard “John Lennon’s nasal voice pumping out ‘Revolution.’ ”“When it was over,” Sanchez said,“Mick looked peeved.The Beatles had upstaged him.”

“It was a wicked piece of promotional one-upsmanship,” remembered Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ press officer. By that time, the mostly good-natured rivalry between the Beatles and the Stones had been ongoing for several years. Although the Beatles were more commercially successful, the two bands competed for radio airplay and record sales throughout the 1960s, and on both sides of the Atlantic teens defined themselves by whether they preferred the Beatles or the Stones. “If you truly loved pop music in the 1960s… there was no ducking the choice and no cop-out third option,” one writer remarked. “You could dance with them both,” but there could never be any doubt about which one you’d take home.

Much of this was by design. With their matching suits, moptops, and cheeky humor, the Beatles largely obscured their origins as working-class Liverpudlians; by contrast, under the influence of their wily manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, the Stones cultivated a decadent, outlaw image, even though they mostly hailed from the London suburbs. “The Beatles were thugs who were put across as nice blokes,” someone remarked, “and the Rolling Stones were gentlemen who were made into thugs by Andrew.”

Many in the media were quick to notice the two groups’ contrasting styles. When the Rolling Stones arrived in the United States, the first Associated Press (AP) report described them as “dirtier, streakier, and more disheveled than the Beatles.” Tom Wolfe put things more sharply: “The Beatles want to hold your hand,” he quipped, “but the Stones want to burn down your town.” Since these comparisons proved useful to everyone, both the bands and the journalists collaborated on the charade. In the early 1960s, Keith Richards remarked, “nobody took the music seriously. It was the image that counted, how to manipulate the press and dream up a few headlines.” Peter Jones, who wrote about both bands for the Record Mirror, recalled being in a “difficult position” because he was expected to “gloss over” the Beatles’ tawdry indiscretions.“It was decreed that the Beatles should be portrayed as incredibly lovable, amiable fellows, and if one of them, without mentioning any names, wanted to have a short orgy with three girls in the bathroom, then I didn’t see it.”

Whether one preferred the Beatles or the Stones in the 1960s was largely a matter of aesthetic taste and personal temperament.Though clichéd and sometimes overdrawn, most of the Beatles/Stones binaries contain a measure of plausibility: the Beatles were Apollonian, the Stones Dionysian; the Beatles pop, the Stones rock; the Beatles erudite, the Stones visceral. But in the United States, during the watershed summer of 1968, the Beatles/Stones debate suddenly became a contest of political ideologies, wherein the Beatles were thought to have aligned themselves with flower power and pacifism, and the Stones with New Left militance. Though both of these immensely talented bands helped to construct images of youth culture that generated powerful confidence, self-awareness, and libidinal energy among their listeners, neither of them ever articulated, or proved willing to defend, a coherent political cosmology. The supposed “ideological rift” between the two bands was nearly as stylized as the contrasting costumes they wore on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Nowhere was the Beatles/Stones debate more fiercely fought than in American underground newspapers, which by 1968 could be found in every pocket of the country, and had a readership that stretched into the millions.“The history of the sixties was written as much in the Berkeley Barb as in the New York Times,” claimed literary critic Morris Dickstein. Freewheeling and accessible to all manner of left-wing writers, these papers generated some of the earliest rock criticism, and provided a nexus for a running conversation among rock enthusiasts nationwide.To recall how youths assayed the Beatles/Stones rivalry is to be reminded that when rock and roll was in its juvenescence, youths interrelated with their music heroes in a way that today seems scarcely fathomable. Amid the gauzy idealism and utopian strivings that characterized the late-1960s youthquake, they believed that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones—the biggest rock stars in the world!—should speak to them clearly and directly, about issues of contemporary significance, in a spirit of mutuality, and from a vantage of authenticity. Young fans believed that rock culture was inseparable from the youth culture that they created, shared, and enjoyed. In some fundamental way, they believed themselves to be part of the same community as John and Paul, and Mick and Keith. They believed they were all fighting for the same things.

More to come in August ....

[+/-]

Only a few posts now show on a page, due to Blogger pagination changes beyond our control.

Please click on 'Older Posts' to continue reading The Rag Blog.