Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: Straits Times (Singapore) (6-29-07)
AT THE Russia Day awards ceremony on June 12, President Vladimir Putin gave the most prestigious national honour, the State Prize, to Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Calling the world-renowned Solzhenitsyn a man of great erudition, Mr Putin mentioned only one of his works in his award speech: a compendium of rare words and expressions in the Russian language. The omission of the major work of the 88-year-old writer and historian is a telling indicator of the political and intellectual culture of the regime.
The work that brought Solzhenitsyn the Nobel Prize and worldwide acclaim was, of course, The Gulag Archipelago - his account of the Soviet terror machine, most notably Stalin's concentration camp system. The attack on Stalin and Stalinism was one of the major thrusts of Solzhenitsyn's long literary and public career.
He invariably presented Stalin as a bloody tyrant whose reign of terror brought about the murder of countless millions. Stalin's USSR subjugated not only Russians but also numerous ethnic minorities inside the then-Soviet Republic and beyond. Indeed, in Solzhenitsyn's early works, the Red Army's march to the East was seen not as liberation of Eastern Europeans but as conquest, in which they plainly exchanged one dictator, Hitler, for another, Stalin.
This vision of Stalin and the Soviet regime is not in the minds of most average Russians today. For people who see the brazen luxury of the nouveau riche and the pervasive corruption that flourishes despite Mr Putin's promise to establish a 'dictatorship of the law', Stalin has emerged as a tough but just ruler who promptly punished the immoral and corrupt who fattened themselves at the expense of the state and society. Some innocent people had to suffer, but Stalin in this respect was hardly unique, as Mr Putin himself made clear. Recently, speaking with teachers, Mr Putin suggested that the United States' use of atomic weapons in World War II was worse than the abuses ordered by Stalin.
Stalin has also emerged as a builder of a great empire, an image that caters to the nostalgia for Soviet imperial greatness. In this view, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was an empire of mostly ethnic Russians and Russified minorities with a strong but basically protective hold over the numerous minorities. This protective, loving aspect of the empire was underscored by the fact that under the veneer of Marxism was centuries-old Orthodox Christianity, which permeated Russian society regardless of political and socioeconomic constructions....
These notions of Stalin and the Soviet regime explain why Solzhenitsyn's major work was not part of Mr Putin's speech. One might then wonder why Solzhenitsyn has become important to the Russian President. It is true that Solzhenitsyn is more favourably disposed to Mr Putin than to former president Boris Yeltsin, whom he saw as launching a path disastrous for Russia. But Solzhenitsyn received the award only after seven years of Mr Putin's rule. The reason is simple. The West increasingly sees Mr Putin's Russia as restoring an authoritarian, neo-Soviet nature and thus as not acceptable as an equal. Incorporation into the West, especially 'Old Europe', is the strongest desire of the Russian elite. Mr Putin's re-discovery of the Nobel laureate, leader of the Russian dissident movement, is a bid to show the current regime's distance from the Soviet past....
Posted on: Friday, June 29, 2007 - 19:45
SOURCE: Legal History (Blog) (6-28-07)
There is much to be said about the uses of history in today’s important case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. History mattered to the Supreme Court in grappling with the role of race in student assignment, but history became a battleground, as Justices disagreed over both the lessons of history, and also the underlying narrative – what the substance of civil rights history has been.
For basic news coverage of the ruling, the New York Times story is here. For excellent blogging on the cases, start with SCOTUS Blog. The opinions are here. My article cited in Breyer’s dissent can be found here. More to come on the issue Breyer takes up: American equality in a global context, and implications for thinking about the national stake in these cases. Because I am away at the LBJ Library this week, I’m commenting today just on one issue.
The most important move in Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion is to decontextualize 14th Amendment equality, and to take it out of the history of the subordination -- not subordination of any individual -- but of individuals who were members of certain groups: African Americans and other nonwhites. To accomplish this, Chief Justice Roberts invokes the icon of 20th century equality: Brown v. Board of Education. But he misreads Brown to support an argument that 14th amendment rights are not about groups. Roberts suggests:"This fundamental principle goes back, in this context, to Brown itself. See Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U. S. 294, 300 (1955) (Brown II) ("At stake is the personal interest of the plaintiffs in admission to public schools . . . on a nondiscriminatory basis" (emphasis added))."
Roberts’ quote is not from the substantive 14th amendment ruling in Brown I, but from Brown II, the decision that delayed Brown’s implementation out of a concern about its impact on groups. The Court was concerned that enforcing the rights of the plaintiffs might lead to resistance, so those rights were put on ice for many years, until a decade later when the Court decided that"the time for mere 'deliberate speed' has run out," and the time for meaningful remedies had arrived.
The quote Roberts uses to abstract and individualize the substantive right of equality does not pertain to the substance of the right at all. Instead, it has to do with the nature of the remedy, and the way principles of equity should be invoked. Here’s the full paragraph:
In fashioning and effectuating the decrees, the courts will be guided by equitable principles. Traditionally, equity has been characterized by a practical flexibility in shaping its remedies and by a facility for adjusting and reconciling public and private needs. These cases call for the exercise of these traditional attributes of equity power. At stake is the personal interest of the plaintiffs in admission to public schools as soon as practicable on a nondiscriminatory basis. To effectuate this interest may call for elimination of a variety of obstacles in making the transition to school systems operated in accordance with the constitutional principles set forth in our May 17, 1954, decision. Courts of equity may properly take into account the public interest in the elimination of such obstacles in a systematic and effective manner. But it should go without saying that the vitality of these constitutional principles cannot be allowed to yield simply because of disagreement with them.The plaintiffs’"personal interest" is their ability to invoke the remedy. The nature of the right being remedied is defined in Brown I, which is framed in group terms. The groups are, of course, racial groups. And so in order to recognize the rights at stake in Brown, to remedy them, and to guard against their future violation, consistent with Brown, government entities would seem bound to pay attention to groups, and certainly not disabled from doing so.
More unfortunate than Roberts’ misuse of Brown II is the majority’s effort to wrap their handiwork in the garb of the architects of the legal struggle that achieved Brown in the first place. The Chief Justice quotes from the brief for the plaintiffs in Brown. He quotes NAACP lawyer Robert Carter, now a federal judge, who was one of the advocates, along with Thurgood Marshall, in the Supreme Court. He takes their statements out of context to imply that they argued for a form of colorblindness that is now used to undo their handiwork.
If the Court wishes to carve a new path, the 5 member majority in this case has the power to do it. They need not rewrite the history of Brown to achieve this purpose.
Posted on: Friday, June 29, 2007 - 15:07
SOURCE: NYT (6-29-07)
LET us now praise the Brown decision. Let us now bury the Brown decision.
With yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling ending the use of voluntary schemes to create racial balance among students, it is time to acknowledge that Brown’s time has passed. It is worthy of a send-off with fanfare for setting off the civil rights movement and inspiring social progress for women, gays and the poor. But the decision in Brown v. Board of Education that focused on outlawing segregated schools as unconstitutional is now out of step with American political and social realities.
Desegregation does not speak to dropout rates that hover near 50 percent for black and Hispanic high school students. It does not equip society to address the so-called achievement gap between black and white students that mocks Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity....
It was an idealistic Supreme Court that in 1954 approved of Brown as a race-conscious policy needed to repair the damage of school segregation and protect every child’s 14th-Amendment right to equal treatment under law. In 1971, Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing for a unanimous court still embracing Brown, said local school officials could make racial integration a priority even if it did not improve educational outcomes because it helped “to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society.”
But today a high court with a conservative majority concludes that any policy based on race — no matter how well intentioned — is a violation of every child’s 14th-Amendment right to be treated as an individual without regard to race. We’ve come full circle....
Dealing with racism and the bitter fruit of slavery and “separate but equal” legal segregation was at the heart of the court’s brave decision 53 years ago. With Brown officially relegated to the past, the challenge for brave leaders now is to deliver on the promise of a good education for every child.
Posted on: Friday, June 29, 2007 - 15:00
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (6-29-07)
Bush said in a speech on Thursday that he hopes Iraq will be like Israel, a democracy that faces terrorist violence but manages to retain its democratic character:
In Israel, Bush said, 'terrorists have taken innocent human life for years in suicide attacks. The difference is that Israel is a functioning democracy and it's not prevented from carrying out its responsibilities. And that's a good indicator of success that we're looking for in Iraq.'
These words may be the stupidest ones ever uttered by a US president. Given their likely impact on the US war effort in the Middle East, they are downright criminal.
The US political elite just doesn't get it. Israel is not popular in the Middle East, and it isn't because Middle Easterners are bigots. It is because Israel is coded as the last European colonial presence in the region, an heir to French Algeria, British Egypt, and Dutch Indonesia-- and because the Israelis pugnaciously continue to try to colonize neighboring bits of territory. (This enmity is not inevitable or eternal; in 2002 the Arab League offered full recognition of Israel in return for its going back to 1967 borders, but the Israeli government turned down the offer.) But for the purposes of this analysis it does not really matter why Israel is unpopular. Let us just stipulate that it is. Why would you associate American Iraq with such an unpopular project, if you were trying to do public diplomacy in the region? Bush had just announced a new push to get the American message out to the Muslim world, the day before.
Let's just take the analogy seriously for a moment. Israel proper is a democracy of sorts, though its 1 million Arab citizens are in a second class position. But it rules over several million stateless Palestinians who lack even the pretence of self-rule. It is hard to characterize a country as a democracy when it has millions of disenfranchised subjects. Bush manages to only think about Jewish Israelis in the above analogy, wiping out millions of other residents of geographical Palestine who don't get to participate in 'democracy' or exercise popular sovereignty.
It is true that the Israelis managed to blunt the terror attacks of Islamic Jihad, the Qassam Brigades, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades over the years after the eruption of the 2nd Intifada. But there are still attacks, including by rocket. The reason for those attacks is that the Palestinians had mostly been driven from their homes and off their land, and were militarily, politically and economically subjected to the Israelis. The Israelis reduced the terror attacks by essentially imprisoning millions of stateless Palestinians in the territories, further restricting their movements, destroying their trade and livelihoods. The Israeli government continues to grab Palestinian land and put more colonists on it, even as we speak.
Israel-Palestine is among the world's hottest trouble spots, and the conflict has poisoned politics throughout the Middle East. It was among the motives for Bin Laden's attack on the US on September 11, so it has spilled over on America, too. A second one of those would be a good thing?
So who would play the Palestinians in Bush's analogy? Obviously, it would be the Sunni Arabs, who apparently are meant to be cordoned off from the rest of Iraqis and put behind massive walls and barbed wire, and deprived of political power. That is not a desirable outcome and is not politically or militarily tenable in the long run.
And, let's just stop and think. Even if it were true that an Israel-Palestine sort of denouement were in Bush's mind for Iraq, was it wise for him to make it public?
That sort of scenario is precisely the propaganda message broadcast by the Jihadi websites in Iraq and the Arab world! They say that the US military occupation of Iraq, in alliance with Shiites, has turned the Sunni Arabs into Palestinians! Bush could not have handed the guerrillas a better rhetorical gift. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that DVD's of Bush's comments will be spread around as a recruiting tool for jihadis, and that US troops will certainly be killed as a result of this speech. You could say that the US military presence is already pretty unpopular in the Sunni Arab areas. But what of the progress in al-Anbar Province? Will Bush's speech help or hurt Sunni Arabs who want to ally with the US against the foreign Salafi Jihadis? Hurt, obviously.
If Bush had said something like that in 2002, you could have written it off as inexperience and lack of knowledge of the Middle East. But he has been the sitting president for so many years, and has had so much to do with the Middle East that this faux pas is just inexcusable. I don't know the man and can't judge if he is just not very bright. I can confirm that he says things that are not very bright. And, worse, he says things that are guaranteed to put more US troops into the grave in Diyala, Baghdad, Salahuddin and al-Anbar Provinces.
I don't know whether to sob in grief or tear my hair out in frustration. How much longer do we have to suffer?
Posted on: Friday, June 29, 2007 - 14:14
SOURCE: WSJ (6-20-07)
Imagine this: In a Southern town, a woman accuses several men of rape. Despite the woman's limited credibility and ever-shifting story, the community and its legal establishment immediately decide the men are guilty. Their protestations of innocence are dismissed out of hand, exculpatory evidence is ignored.
The Duke rape case, right? No, the Scottsboro case that began in 1931, in the darkest days of the Jim Crow South.
The two cases offer a remarkable insight into how very, very far this country has come in race relations, and alas, in some ways how little. For race is central to why both cases became notorious. In Scottsboro, Ala., of course, the accusers were white and the accused was black. In Durham, N.C., it was the other way around.
On March 25, 1931, a group of nine young black men got into a fight with a group of whites while riding a freight train near Paint Rock, Ala. All but one of the whites were forced to jump off the train. But when it reached Paint Rock, the blacks were arrested. Two white women, dressed in boys clothing, were found on the train as well, Victoria Price, 21, and Ruby Bates, 17. Unemployed mill workers, they both had worked as prostitutes in Huntsville. Apparently to avoid getting into trouble themselves, they told a tale of having been brutally gang raped by the nine blacks....
It is now clear to everyone that the nine Scottsboro boys were guilty only of being black....
Here is where the real difference between the Scottsboro boys and the Duke boys kicked in: not race but money. The Scottsboro boys were destitute and spent years in jail, while the Duke boys were all from families who could afford first-class legal talent. Their lawyers quickly began blowing hole after hole in the case and releasing the facts to the media until it was obvious that a miscarriage of justice had occurred. The three Duke boys were guilty only of being white and affluent.
The district attorney won his election. But when the case fell apart and his almost grotesque malfeasance was exposed, he first resigned his office and ultimately was disbarred from the practice of law. Duke University has just settled with the three students it treated so shamefully for an undisclosed, but given the university's legal exposure, undoubtedly substantial sum. Meanwhile, the 88 members of the faculty have yet to apologize for a rush to judgment that was racist at its heart.
The country has come a long, long way in regard to race relations since 1931. But we have not yet reached the promised land where race is irrelevant. Far too many people are still being judged according to the color of their skin, not the content of their character, let alone the evidence.
Posted on: Thursday, June 28, 2007 - 21:56
SOURCE: Australian (6-28-07)
TO read the newspapers, one would believe US power was in steep decline. There are prophets of error, the many critics who believe US foreign policy has gone seriously wrong, especially in Iraq. And there are prophets of weakness, such as Yale historian Paul Kennedy, who wrote even before the end of the Cold War that the US had succumbed to "imperial overstretch". How much more are we overstretched today when we face crises in three or four places across the globe?
I am sceptical about these arguments. The great fact is that the US has become a dominant nation. Even if the US fails in Iraq, there still is no other country that can replace the US in dealing with the world's problems.
Among Western countries, it's not just the US but all the Anglo nations that stand supreme. By Anglo nations I mean Britain and all the countries that were settled chiefly by Britain: the US, but also Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Not only are these, as a group, the richest of all countries, they are also more or less running the world.
They are doing so directly through their own military and aid policies, and they are the mainstays of international institutions dedicated to peace and development such as the UN and World Bank. While the US is the dominant power, the other Anglo countries are among its closest allies.
More than most others, they have sent forces to hot spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and to peacekeeping operations across the globe. We will not always agree about when and where to fight, but the potential to fight is always there, and that is my main focus here. The Anglos have a capacity to project power overseas that no other countries can match.
We have in fact returned to a world order similar to the late Victorian period, at the end of the 19th century. Then, as now, the world economy was globalising and English was its lingua franca. Britain was the strongest single country and the US was just becoming a world power.
Today, the US is first and Britain is second, but remarkably little else has changed. It is as if the 20th century, with its calamitous wars and ideological conflict, has faded away. The countries that challenged the Anglos - first Germany, then Russia, then Japan - have all fallen back. The US's challengers, such as China and India, are likely to fall back as well....
In the late 19th century, Otto von Bismarck, the redoubtable leader who unified Germany, remarked that the most important fact about world affairs was that the North Americans spoke English. That was true then and it is still true today.
All of the US's potential rivals are weak. Either they lack a native propensity for capitalism, or they lack an individualist society, or they lack good government. Only the US and the other Anglo countries have all these assets. So today they are still running the world and I see no end to that any time soon.
Posted on: Thursday, June 28, 2007 - 21:38
SOURCE: Common Dreams (6-28-07)
The United States is the richest, most powerful nation in history — this you have heard many times before. What you have not heard so often is that America has also been, for nearly 200 years, the safest, most secure nation ever. Far from being aware of that fact and enjoying it, we have become a nation filled with fear and anxiety. But we fear the wrong invader.
Not since the British burned our capital in 1814 has a foreign army succeeded in invading our continental domain. Pearl Harbor lay thousands of miles from our mainland homes. And the World Trade Center bombing was no real invasion or victory of a foreign power, but one act by a handful of fanatics, all killed. Their brothers are hiding in caves along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, no more able to invade America, if we keep our eyes open, than camels could take over our national parks.
Yet a far more serious threat has appeared that our leaders are ignoring. It is global climate change. And it has the potential to bring the United States down economically, socially and agriculturally, making us a much poorer and weaker nation.
In February the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest major report of scientific data. Based on the greenhouse gases already affecting the atmosphere, and on expected increases in those gases under various economic scenarios, the IPCC projects — too cautiously, many say — that the Earth’s overall surface temperature will rise 3 to 7 degrees by the end of this century, and the sea may rise almost 2 feet.
In an April IPCC report, world policy-makers were told to expect long-term flooding of coastal areas, more intense tropical storms, increased drought in drought-prone areas, and a decline in crop productivity with increased risk of hunger.
Here is where the danger comes to the United States: Not only may we be forced to protect people on the coasts, or move them inland, we will also be in great danger of losing our agricultural heartland — the Corn Belt and the Wheat Belt. Today, half of our wheat crop goes overseas. In a few decades we may not have enough food to support our own population, let alone share with others.
And our Western cities may be paying a lot more for water, if they can find any, than for the last drops of oil.
We are most threatened today, not by terrorists, but by impersonal physical forces. And as the century goes on, that invasion will gather speed and effect with biological threats like invasive plants and malaria.
Such talk, we are told, is scare mongering. We also are told that defensive measures would cost too much.
Yet which place is worse off today? New York, which lost two major buildings and thousands of lives to terrorists? Or New Orleans, which lost many lives as well and may never recover much of its displaced population or destroyed territory after being hit by a hurricane that drew its energy from warming gulf waters?
And how can we not afford to invest in conservation and alternative energy sources to defend our own land against the ravages of global climate change, but afford to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which cost $120 billion a year? And pay four to five times that, depending on the calculation, for the military as a whole? And spend more than $40 billion more on the Homeland Security Department?
All that money to defend a country that is the most secure and safe in the world from outside human invasion!
Our homeland is facing a change of unprecedented danger, one that we have helped create by wasteful consumption. This is likely to be the greatest threat to security and prosperity in our history.
When will our leaders stop beating the drums about “a war on terrorism” and start facing the real dangers we face? When will they wake up and take action — today, this year? Will they wait until Washington is under water and the Great Plains are a burning desert?
Posted on: Thursday, June 28, 2007 - 21:12
SOURCE: TNR (6-27-07)
Last week marked the bicentennial of the last time Americans thought a vice president posed a constitutional threat to the United States (no, the merely peculative Spiro Agnew does not count): On June 24, 1807, a grand jury returned an indictment for treason against Aaron Burr, who had till 1805 served as vice president under Thomas Jefferson. Current Vice President Dick Cheney's evident opinion, reported last week, that his office need not obey laws applying to the executive branch because the vice president presides over the Senate, reminds us that more than this coincidence of dates unites him with his predecessor. Burr held Cheney-like views of the relation between business and public life, and he had a gift for alerting his fellow Americans to constitutional anomalies.
Unlike most of the Constitution's framers, Burr thought of business and government as compatible pursuits. Alexander Hamilton, whom Burr would kill in a duel, embodied their generation's virtues: As secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton made discreet payments to a Mr. Reynolds. When questions arose about these funds, Hamilton confessed he had been sleeping with Mrs. Reynolds and had to pay her husband hush money. Hamilton could more easily admit philandering than endure suspicion of bribery; he had to maintain his reputation for keeping public and private business separate. By contrast, when Burr became vice president in 1801, he thought he had gained an asset in his career as a lawyer, and figured he might "go into Courts with the Weight & influence of office & thus retail out these." A friend dissuaded him from this unseemly strategy, but it suggests Burr had a more modern cast of mind than his peers. Were Burr vice president today, he would surely, like Cheney, set policy in conference with his former business associates.
And like Cheney, Burr would keep it secret. "Things written remain," he admonished a clerk. Burr concluded letters by urging secrecy: "Say nothing of this," and "You & I should not appear to act in concert," he wrote. Although Burr himself had no compunction about seeking personal advancement through the offices of the American republic, he knew his contemporaries would have looked dimly on his pursuit of personal happiness through public life....
Posted on: Thursday, June 28, 2007 - 20:45
SOURCE: Foreign Policy Research Institute (6-1-07)
As Elie Wiesel reminds us, there is no more eloquent witness against injustice and evil than eyewitness memory. A colleague of mine at Yale, the theologian Miroslav Volf, who spent time in prison in Croatia simply because his father was a Protestant minister, has argued that evil can triumph multiple times: first when an injustice is committed, and over and over if the record of that injustice is wiped out and the memory of it denied.
In 1959, when Fidel Castro took power, the population of Cuba was only 6 million. But except for the scale, life there was much like it was in the Soviet Union. Imagine having lived in a repressive state, and then from the moment you reach the United States constantly being told what a wonderful place you came from and how wonderful the Castro revolution has been to your people. Imagine being told constantly—sometimes directly, sometimes insinuated—that you are simply selfish, you didn’t want to share your property with other people, and that’s why you are here. That’s my story and why I wrote my memoir. I face this every day still, even recently at the UN, because I come not from Europe but from the “third world.”
Cuba was a Spanish colony until 1898, when the Spanish-American war freed Cuba from Spain. In 1898, the population of Cuba was 2 million; slavery had existed until 1888. Cubans had been fighting against Spain unsuccessfully for forty years, but in 1898 the U.S. marched in and took over. In 1902, the U.S. granted independence to Cuba (which it did not do for the Philippines and Puerto Rico, the other two colonies it won from Spain). Cuba got its own constitution, but under the Platt amendment, the U.S. had the right to intervene in Cuban affairs any time it felt its interests were threatened.
Cuba’s first president, Tomas Estrada Palma, had spent most of his adult life in the U.S., teaching at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York state. Between 1902-52, the U.S. intervened directly and indirectly numerous times, removing presidents and ensuring that other presidents were installed.
Between 1900-30, one million European immigrants arrived in Cuba, completely changing the island. Contrary to prevailing myths, the country was not quite a third world country in 1959. In fact, at that time, it had more college-educated women than the U.S. per capita. It had more TV sets than all of Italy. It had a very prosperous economy and a huge middle class. Yes, there was poverty, but the country also had a high literacy rate and a liberal 1940 constitution. But unfortunately, the country was politically immature, subjected to one dictatorship after another and a great deal of corruption.
In 1952, an army coup brought to power Fulgencio Batista, who ruled with an iron fist. He made sure that the opposition met its end very quickly. But there was a degree of press freedom. Cuba had several TV stations, more than 80 radio stations, and more than 60 newspapers. There was censorship, but it was not extreme. You simply could not say anything contrary to Batista’s regime. Castro took on Batista, beat him, and succeeded him, but his was only one of 17 different revolutionary groups fighting against Batista. The first thing Castro did when he marched into Havana was to ensure that these other revolutionaries quickly disappeared. By 1960, he was expropriating American property and foreign investments and also beginning to abolish private property. Before long he had declared Cuba a Marxist-Leninist state.
From the beginning there were opponents of the regime, even among men close to Castro who had fought with him. But promised elections were never held, and people kept disappearing. There were already exiles in 1960, and the CIA decided to help them invade Cuba. While the vast majority of the men who landed in the Bay of Pigs invasion had fought against Batista, they were not there to reinstate Batista, but to fight what they had been fighting against since the mid 1950s. Castro had coopted the revolution, and from day one spoke for the entire Cuban people. Anyone who did not agree with him was no longer part of the Cuban people. They were worms, gusanos. Many of the Cubans who were concerned with the way the revolution was going assumed that it wouldn’t last long, given the long history of U.S. involvement in Cuba.
By 1961, there was a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) on every city block—citizens who would spy on their neighbors, distribute ration cards, and handle petitions for promotion or for higher education. CDR members got the most rations. All school-aged children were “requested” to perform “volunteer labor” for six weeks each summer, laboring in the countryside for no pay, in living conditions worse than those of any sweat shop in the Western world, with terrible food and no contact with their parents. (This continues today.) Beginning around 1960, many parents became concerned about their children’s future. Men and women who opposed the Castro regime wanted desperately to get their children out of Cuba. So the State Department and the CIA devised a plan to grant the children visa waivers, since children did not need security clearances. The State Department gave carte blanche to three Cubans in Havana to print up visa waivers on a mimeograph machine in a house that was directly across the street from the G2, Castro’s secret police.
But Cubans are very neighborly. Mothers began to share this information, and before you knew it, purely by word of mouth, news of the program had spread like wildfire. Women—it was only the mother—were flocking to this house. The G2 inquired why so many people were visiting the house and was told it was a canasta tournament. Between 1960-62, 14,600 children were airlifted to the U.S. I was one of them. My parents put me on a plane with my brother and sent us to the U.S. We had no family here, and my parents didn’t know where we’d end up or if we would ever see each other again. But they were willing to do that. As it turned out, I never saw my father again after April 6, 1962. The regime would not allow him to leave. Families were separated continually. If the family applied for an exit permit, the father would be fired from his job and sent to perform slave labor in the countryside for an indefinite period of time, “until you’ve paid off your debt to the revolution.”
When the missile crisis almost brought the world to an end in October 1962, Cuba sealed its borders. This meant that the parents of over 10,000 of us children were stranded in Cuba. And yet years later, in November 1999, when five-year-old Elian Gonzales was rescued from the waters off of Florida, the Cuban government insisted that he be returned to Cuba because “every boy deserves to be with his father.” Between 1962 and 1976, when my father died, the longest conversation I ever had with him was three minutes, the limit on the length of calls, with someone else listening in on the Cuban end, laughing, making snide remarks, and calling us worms.
My brother and I were separated once we got to the U.S. Eventually we found our way back together in a home for juvenile delinquents and spent nine months there, not because we had done anything wrong but because that was the only place for us. Three and a half years later our mother was able to leave through Mexico. She knew someone who knew someone who knew someone at the embassy there. But twice before that, she had her exit permit, made it to the airport, and was sent back home, told to reapply, because her seat was needed for someone more important.
The Gonzales case moved me to write my memoir. Over decades I had written on my Yale University stationery to practically every major publication in the U.S. asking them to do a story on the airlift and the way the Cuban government had split families up, and got not one acknowledgment. So for four months in the summer of 2000 every night I wrote at my life story. Simon & Schuster agreed to publish it, but not as a novel, as I had submitted it. They found it out as true and insisted that it be published as a memoir.
Man does not live by bread alone; truth is more important than bread. I wrote the book because of the countless times even highly educated people tell me that in the third world “human rights” means something completely different, that there it is a full plate of food. One college honor student who had been to Bangladesh and Cuba found the two places the same, telling me with welled-up eyes that “You don’t understand. In the third world what really matters is getting food. It doesn’t matter what kind of restrictions they live under.”
Cuba remains like the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union. My memoir has been banned there, and I’ve been declared an enemy of the revolution. Government permission is required to travel abroad, change jobs or residence, own a computer, access the Internet, sell products or services, gain access to a boat, retain a lawyer, organize activities or performances, or form a business. One cannot receive religious instruction, watch independent TV stations, read anything not approved or published by the government, earn more than the government-controlled rate ($17 per month for most jobs, $34 per month for professionals), refuse to participate in mass rallies organized by the Party, or criticize the laws, the regime, or the Party.
Sugar is no longer the chief source of income; last year, the regime closed down half the sugar mills. Much of the countryside now is fallow. An invasive plant has taken over much of these formerly rich producing sugar fields. Tourism, mostly European and Canadian, is now the main source of income. Since the 1950s, the only construction that has taken place in Cuba is that which the Soviets did, which is very little. The population is nearly double what it was in 1959, but there is no new housing. There are cases where a couple divorces, each remarries, and all four live together. European firms, mostly Spanish, Italian, and French, invest in hotels in Cuba because they make good money. They put up all the capital, Cuba provides only the land, which it leases. The laborers are paid European union wages. But the workers don’t receive this; the government skims it.
It requires special government approval to work in one of these highly coveted hotel jobs. The only Cubans allowed to set foot in these hotels and restaurants or use their beaches are those who work there. So the best beaches, hotels, and stores are off-limits to Cubans. If I weren’t an enemy of the people and was allowed to visit, my 81-year-old uncle wouldn’t be allowed to meet me in the hotel or join me for a swim. Last year, a thick book of laws came out regulating contacts between Cubans and foreigners. It is now illegal for any Cuban to accept a tip or gift from a foreigner.
My uncle has revealed to me two very sad things about Cuba today. First, the verb “to steal,” robar, no longer exists in Cuba. No one steals; they just solve their problems. And if there is no private property, can you have any theft? Second, there is no trust. Everyone knows that everyone else is looking to get something from them.
And so it is very difficult for me to read things like the following, from an August 2003 article in The Guardian by then Labour MP Brian Wilson entitled “Revolution revisited: Cuba isn’t perfect, but it is living proof that it is possible for a third world country to combat poverty, disease, and illiteracy”: “Cuba’s primary service to the world has been to provide living proof that it is possible to conquer poverty, disease and illiteracy in a country that was grossly over-familiar with all three…. The fact that it has been delivered in the face of sustained hostility from an obsessive neighbor [the U.S.] makes it all the more stunning.” Here’s a response to a 2004 PBS documentary on Fidel Castro from a man in Texas, posted at the PBS website: “Everyone below the age of 50 don’t know about the conditions of Cuba before Fidel. When a revolution is successful there is a reason and the reason in Cuba was poverty…. Without the strength of Castro, Cuba will fall into decline searching for a direction and will come under the fold of the United States just as it was in the 40s and 50s.”
What’s behind this? Bigotry of the worst sort. It is pure ignorance based on the assumption that unless they have a strong leader like Fidel Castro, Cubans can’t take care of themselves. I call it the Mussolini principle. In the 1930s many Americans and British praised Mussolini because he made the trains run on time, he made those unruly Italians mindful of time and efficient.
Travel writers do Cuba great disservice. As an exception, Thomas Swick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinelwrote a beautiful piece, recording the inane comments his fellow travel writers made on their trip (“Our Gang in Havana,” Mar. 24, 2002). The comments sound like they are discussing Rousseau’s noble savage or Kipling’s White Man’s Burden. Sarah Shuckburg, a travel writer for the UK’s Telegraph, writes as follows:
“I sit on a bench in a tiny park, and the colour, music and exuberance of old Havana engulf me…. An intoxicating blend of Spanish guitars and African drumbeats drifts from a nearby bar, where an elderly couple is performing an afternoon salsa…. Three barefoot boys in tattered shorts kick a dented can over the cobbles. Bare-chested men exchange jokes as they push barrows of rubble. A grizzled, toothless man approaches me and holds out his hand. I give him a few tiny coins.” (“A little local colour,” Mar. 5, 2006)
She thinks of this as praise for the revolution. But where are the sports programs? And the old man is grizzled and toothless because Cubans don’t have any razors or toothpaste. They have awful dental and medical care. Even Castro had to call for a Spanish surgeon to come and save his life.
I’ll conclude by letting you think about how Shuckburg summarized her experience in Cuba, based on what we’ve discussed:
“Cubans are lucky, with several giants to worship—principled, visionary reformers. Fidel Castro is one of them. There are few photographs of him, and no statues, but for most Cubans, Castro is a living legend who has maintained his communist ideals despite the collapse of communism elsewhere, and despite sanctions and embargoes from the `enemy’ to the north. The Cubans I speak to all share Castro’s patriotism and his distrust of democracy, and are intensely proud of Cuba’s egalitarianism, education, health care and sporting achievements. None of them mention human rights or freedom of expression.”
Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (2006)
Posted on: Thursday, June 28, 2007 - 17:32
SOURCE: Salon (6-28-07)
His alarm has been illustrated by the difficulties the U.S. and Iraqi militaries faced in the recent offensive operation dubbed "Operation Arrowhead Ripper," aimed at subduing Baquba (pop. 300,000), the restive capital of Diyala province, located 31 miles northeast of Baghdad. American generals admitted that 80 percent of the guerrilla leadership there had slipped away, and that the Iraqi army lacked the equipment and training to hold areas taken in difficult hand-to-hand fighting. The U.S. military compounded its public-relations problem by implausibly branding virtually everyone it fought or killed in the Sunni-majority city as "al-Qaida."
The failure of the offensive casts doubt not only on its purpose of securing swaths of territory, but also on the way the strategy has been sold to the American public. The Baquba push involves some 6,000 U.S. troops and 4,000 Iraqi ones. Despite the "white hats vs. black hats" imagery deployed by U.S. spokespersons, and the castigation of the enemy under the "al-Qaida" rubric, the operation clearly committed the United States to one side in a civil war. The Iraqi 5th Army, which is largely Shiite, was supported by special police commandos from the Ministry of the Interior, a Shiite force mostly drawn from the Badr Corps paramilitary of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council -- which was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. In practical terms, the U.S. military was helping a Shiite government and a Shiite security force impose itself on a majority Sunni population.
Ironically, the opposition now labeled "al-Qaida" is in reality a mix of enraged local Sunni tribes and Baathist "dead-enders," of which the Bush administration once spoke as being the predominant threat in Iraq. These Sunni Arabs had for the most part belonged to the Baath Party, and many had served in the Iraqi army, which fought the Iranians from 1980 to 1988. More recently, some have turned to Sunni fundamentalism. It is a bitter pill for them to swallow that they are now ruled by Shiites, who are a minority in Diyala province. The only time provincial elections have been held in Iraq, in January 2005, the Sunni Arabs boycotted them, allowing Shiite religious parties to take over the provincial and most municipal administrations. The police in Baquba have therefore been disproportionately Shiite, and Shiite militias such as the Badr Corps and the Mahdi Army have a strong presence....
This Sunni-Shiite faction fighting is among the intractable problems that impelled Lugar to speak out this week. The senator has, throughout a long and distinguished career, looked history in the eye and coolly decided what the United States could reasonably hope to accomplish. He convinced President Ronald Reagan that supporting Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the face of Corazon Aquino's "people power" movement in the 1980s would be a fruitless and dangerous strategy for Washington. Now, he says with regard to Iraq, "I see no convincing evidence that Iraqis will make the compromises necessary to solidify a functioning government and society, even if we reduce violence to a point that allows for some political and economic normalcy." Certainly, peaceful coexistence across sectarian lines in the Diyala province seems a goal unlikely to be achieved in the near or medium term.
Lugar also worries that the long and repeated deployments to Iraq are damaging U.S. military preparedness, and that the 2008 elections make it unlikely that the troop levels used for the surge can be maintained. Clearly he fears that Bush will push his military operations in Iraq as a panacea for the rest of his term in office -- and that Bush's successor will be pressured into a hasty and poorly thought-out withdrawal from Iraq. Lugar reasons that the United States is so dependent on Middle Eastern petroleum that such a scramble to exit may well imperil its energy security....
Posted on: Thursday, June 28, 2007 - 09:23
SOURCE: informationclearinghouse (6-27-07)
As most of my readers know, Ahmadinejad did not use that phrase in Persian. He quoted an old saying of Ayatollah Khomeini calling for 'this occupation regime over Jerusalem" to "vanish from the page of time.' Calling for a regime to vanish is not the same as calling for people to be killed. Ahmadinejad has not to my knowledge called for anyone to be killed. (Wampum has more; as does the American Street).
If Ahmadinejad is a genocidal maniac who just wants to kill Jews, then why are there 20,000 Jews in Iran with a member of parliament in Tehran? Couldn't he start at home if that was what he is really about?
I was talking to two otherwise well-informed Israeli historians a couple of weeks ago, and they expressed the conviction that Ahmadinejad had threatened to nuke Israel. I was taken aback. First of all, Iran doesn't have a nuke. Second, there is no proof that Iran even has a nuclear weapons program. Third, Ahmadinejad has denied wanting a bomb. Fourth, Ahmadinejad has never threatened any sort of direct Iranian military action against Israel. In other words, that is a pretty dramatic fear for educated persons to feel, on the basis of . . . nothing.
I renew my call to readers to write protest letters to newspapers and other media every time they hear it alleged that Ahmadinejad (or "Iran"!) has threatened to "wipe Israel off the map." There is no such idiom in Persian and it is not what he said, and the mistranslation gives entirely the wrong impression. Wars can start over bad translations.
It was apparently some Western wire service that mistranslated the phrase as 'wipe Israel off the map', which sounds rather more violent than calling for regime change. Since then, Iranian media working in English have themselves depended on that translation. One of the tricks of Right-Zionist propagandists is to substitute these English texts for Ahmadinejad's own Persian text. (Ethan Bronner at the New York Times tried to pull this, and more recently Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute.) But good scholarship requires that you go to the original Persian text in search of the meaning of a phrase. Bronner and Rubin are guilty disregarding philological scholarship in favor of mere propagandizing.
These propaganda efforts against Iran and Ahmadinejad also depend on declining to enter into evidence anything else he has ever said-- like that it would be wrong to kill Jews! They also ignore that Ahmadinejad is not even the commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces.
Anyone who reads this column knows that I deeply disagree with Ahmadinejad's policies and am not interested in defending him on most things. I profoundly disagree with his characterization of Israel, which is a legitimate United Nations member state, and find his Holocaust denial monstrous. But this quite false charge that he is genocidal is being promoted by Right-Zionists in and out of Congress as a preparatory step to getting up a US war against Iran on false pretences. I don't want to see my country destroyed by being further embroiled in the Middle East for the wrong reasons. If the Israeli hardliners and their American amen corner want a war with Iran, let them fight it themselves and leave young 18 year old Americans alone.
So here are some things Ahmadinezhad has said that make clear his intentions, and which are translated by the United States government Open Source Center. He is hostile to Israel. He'd like to see regime change (apparently via a referendum on the shape of the government ruling over geographical Palestine, in which all "original" residents of any religion would get a vote). Calling for a referendum on the dissolution of a government is not calling for genocide. Ahmadinejad also says he has no objection to a Jewish state in and of itself, he just thinks it should be located in, say, German territory set apart for the purpose, rather than displacing Palestinians from their homes. He may be saying unrealistic things; he is not advocating killing Jews qua Jews, or genocide.
Note that Ahmadinejad below denies being an anti-Semite (why deny it if he supposedly glories in it?); points out that he supports Jewish representation in the Iranian parliament; and compares his call for an end to the Zionist regime ruling over Jerusalem to the Western call for the dissolution of the old Soviet Union. Was Ronald Reagan inciting to genocide when he called for an end of the Soviet regime?
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 21:15
SOURCE: http://www.theaugeanstables.com (6-10-07)
To this day, most Westerners typically greet any effort to discuss the Al Durah MSM scandal with: “Fuggedaboudit! It’s over. History. Let sleeping dogs lie.” But such is not the way with blood libels.
They constantly emit their poison into the information bloodstream. So once the Al Durah “lethal narrative” entered the mainstream of public opinion worldwide, it exerted – and continues to exert — an astonishingly noxious influence, blighting our young and global 21st century.
Icon of Hatred explores:
- how PA TV took the footage of what was, at most, an Israeli error, most likely a work of Pallywood, and turned it into an accusation of cold-blooded murder, a proof of Israeli intentions to commit genocide.
- how this “blood martyr” became the icon not only of the “Al Aqsa Intifada,” but of global Jihad, catapulting Jihadism from the margins to the center of Muslim “street,” making suicide bombing the weapon of choice.
- how Al Durah became the symbol of outraged compassion in the West, fueling an anti-Zionist crusade that aligned the “human rights” and “anti-war” left with the most murderous theocrats on the globe. And how, in embracing the Muslim equation of Israel with Nazis, European intellectuals have encouraged the surge of Islamist triumphalism not only in the Middle East, but within their own countries.
In the history of psychological warfare, the Al Durah icon was an atom bomb, perhaps the first. No single event stirred Global Jihad Warming more ardently. We still suffer from its fallout.
Icon of Hatred offers a potent “red pill” for those who wish to awaken from the virtual reality that the MSM have spun around our understanding of the Middle East conflict with their “grand frame” of “Palestinian David vs. Israeli Goliath.” It sheds a stark light on the dynamics of war and mega-death that, hatched in the tragic crucible of the Arab Israeli conflict, now haunt this whole earth. The fate of the al-Durah Icon of Hatred offers that rare single narrative that unpeels multiple layers of the cultural folly that has placed the West in its current danger and disarray.
[Note: Sources for statements made in this article are listed on the website where this article was first published.]
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 20:57
Although the nuclear disarmament movement has been in the doldrums since the end of the Cold War, in recent years there have been signs of a modest revival.
Of course, even in the intervening period, the struggle against the Bomb never disappeared. Around the world, peace and disarmament organizations continued to assail nuclear weapons; however, such efforts failed to spark broad-based antinuclear activism.
But thanks to the recent erosion of the nuclear arms control regime and to the Bush administration's undisguised contempt for nuclear arms control and disarmament treaties, popular participation in disarmament ventures has begun to grow.
On May 1, 2005, the day before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference began at the United Nations, thousands of demonstrators marched through Manhattan, demanding a nuclear-weapon-free world. Drawn mostly from the United States, they were mobilized by Abolition Now (a coalition of peace and disarmament groups) and United for Peace & Justice (the largest coalition of peace groups in the United States). A New York Times article claimed that "several thousand" people participated in the event, while organizers put the number at 40,000. In either case, it was the biggest nuclear disarmament rally in the United States since the 1980s.
Less dramatically, U.S. peace groups such as Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Women's Action for New Directions, the Council for a Livable World, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation mobilized substantial grassroots pressure against the Bush administration's proposals for nuclear "bunker-busters" and "mini-nukes," playing a key role in their congressional defeat. Moreover, these same groups are currently stirring up significant opposition to two new components of a U.S. nuclear buildup--the reliable replacement warhead and Complex 2030.
Student antinuclear activism also appears to be undergoing a renaissance. In May, student hunger strikes and demonstrations broke out on three campuses of the University of California in protest against the university's involvement in U.S. nuclear weapons programs. Pressing the issue, students disrupted the university's board of regents meeting on May 18, departing only when tied up and removed by police.
The nuclear disarmament campaign also shows impressive signs of life in other countries. Among the international organizations currently working for a nuclear-weapon-free world are International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, with affiliates in 60 nations, and Abolition 2000, a campaign of about 2,000 groups in more than 90 countries.
In India, the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace--an umbrella organization of some 200 groups--sharply condemned the recent U.S.-India nuclear deal. In Germany, dozens of leaders of youth organizations issued a call for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from their country. Perhaps the fiercest antinuclear uprising over the past year occurred in Britain, where the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament led a turbulent mobilization against the British government's plan to replace its aging Trident nuclear weapons system.
Admittedly, none of this agitation is comparable to the outpouring of antinuclear protest that shook the world and shocked policy makers during the 1980s. But it does indicate the possibility for a dramatic upswing in antinuclear weapon activism, especially if there is a breakdown of the nuclear arms control and disarmament regime or a heightened prospect of nuclear war.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 20:32
SOURCE: Philadelphia Inquirer (6-20-07)
About thirty years ago, I sat in a musty college lecture hall and heard a statement that has stayed with me ever since. “The most important thing you’ll learn from history,” the professor said, “is that victims are not always angels.”
I thought of the remark last week, as I read about the ugly denouement to the rape case against three Duke University lacrosse players. Local district attorney Michael B. Nifong resigned and gave up his law license, shortly before an ethics panel charged Nifong with “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation” in his prosecution of the case. Nifong still might face criminal penalties or civil lawsuits from the three players, who were cleared of all charges earlier this year.
If the panel’s report is correct, Nifong deserves everything he gets—and more. The panel found that Nifong played up the racial dimensions of the case—three white men accused of raping a black woman—in order to win a tight election. Worst of all, he misled defense lawyers and a judge about DNA evidence that could have absolved the accused students.
So the students are clearly the victims here, railroaded by a devious prosecutor with a political axe to grind. But that doesn’t make them angels, as my professor would have warned. These kids didn’t break the law, but they did behave like fools.
Consider the forthcoming book by Mike Pressler, the good-guy coach who was forced to resign in the wake of the scandal. To their credit, Pressler and co-author Don Yaeger don’t try to sugarcoat what Pressler’s players did on March 13, 2006. And it doesn’t make for easy reading, either.
Our story begins in the afternoon, when somebody proposed that the lacrosse players go to a local strip club. But several underage team members had been “carded” and denied entry to the club. So they decided to bring the strip club to them. “Every guy that we know in every fraternity and on every sports team had had strippers to their house,” one player explained. “We thought, what’s the downside?”
So team captain Dan Flannery got on the phone, using the name Dan Flannigan, and hired two strippers. But when they appeared, they were not as young or attractive as the players had hoped. Even more, one of them was so intoxicated that she could barely dance.
Now it gets really ugly. After the intoxicated dancer collapsed, the two women simulated a sex act on the floor. But that wasn’t to the players’ liking, either, and one of them asked if the dancers had brought any “sex toys.” They replied with a joke about the size of the player’s genitals. Then another student grabbed a brown broom handle and said, “Well, how about this?”
Visibly shaken, the dancers retreated to the bathroom and locked the door. Here’s where Mike Nifong said three men raped one of them.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, students slipped bills underneath the locked door to encourage the dancers to come out; the dancers emerged, and announced they were leaving; then they quarreled loudly with the students, who demanded a refund.
And as the women drove away, one white student yelled at a black dancer, “Tell your grandfather I said thanks for my cotton shirt.”
So let’s do a little experiment here. If you have a son, raise your hand if you’d like him to act like these students did. And if you have a daughter, ask yourself if you’d like her to date them.
No hands up? I didn’t think so.
That’s because the Duke lacrosse players were exhibiting the very worst of aspects of American male conduct: crude, sexist, violent, and—in at least one instance—racist. As we now know, they didn’t attack the dancer who accused them. But their words and deeds help fuel a culture where attacks of this sort are routine, expected, and acceptable.
And they’re even more acceptable in fraternities and sports-teams, the epicenters of college bad-boy behavior. As a slew of social-science research has demonstrated, fraternity members and varsity athletes are more likely than other students to engage in violence against women and also to agree with “rape-supportive statements,” such as “about half of women who report rapes to the police are lying.”
In this case, ironically, the woman who charged rape [ITAL]was[ITAL] lying. But that doesn’t make the general statement true. Some drivers are falsely accused of speeding, after all, but no one suggests that half of the tickets issued on our highways are invalid.
So why do so many of us [ITAL]think[ITAL] it’s true? Why do we ignore, downplay, or deny violence against women? The answer is complicated, but it must start with the boorish, misogynist conduct that young men learn in school.
Let’s be clear: none of the Duke lacrosse players deserved to have their names and reputations dragged through the mud by a zealous, deceitful prosecutor. But they should be ashamed, anyway. And so should the rest of us, for teaching them all the wrong lessons about the right way to behave.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 20:17
SOURCE: Madman of Chu (blog) (6-11-07)
Recent statements by Bush administration officials to the effect that the President envisions a "Korea model" for the future trajectory of US involvement in Iraq add a new dimension to the vast edifice of distortion, delusion, and sheer lunacy that is the Bush Iraq policy. Previously one had to guess (though Tom Englehart is right, one did not need to look hard to see the clear signs) at the Bush regime's plan to maintain a permanent US troop presence in Iraq. Now discussion of the "Korea model" has drawn the curtain away from Oz and revealed the Bush strategy in all its demented glory. The willful ignorance embodied in such invocations would be comic if it had not been, and did not continue to be, so tragically destructive of human life.
Bush's Korea fallacy is the product of a logical defect that, unfortunately, is not exclusive to him alone. Many American leaders and intellectuals share in it. The President and his advisers look around the world for historical "models" to draw upon in constructing Iraq policy, and in doing so they assume that any strategic situation the US currently inhabits is autonomously of American making. We conquered Japan, we turned it into a democracy, we remained in the archipelago to steward the newly democratic society we had created. We saved South Korea from Communist takeover, we remained on the Peninsula to see that it remained free.
Such thinking completely ignores the real roots of current US geostrategy in Asia. The US remains in Japan because the Japanese people want it there. In the wake of WWII demilitarization was a goal broadly embraced by the vast majority of Japanese across the political spectrum. There were critics of the strategic partnership into which Japan would ultimately enter with the US, but its most powerful opponents were not advocates of a remilitarized Japan that would take charge of its own strategic defense. Rather, opponents of alliance with the US wanted to see Japan become a ward of the UN and to have Japan's defense entrusted to a multinational force administered by the UN Security Council. Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru did not enter into the series of treaties that have structured US-Japanese relations ever since because he was bending to American will. Rather, he saw alliance with the US as the most pragmatic way to achieve the collectively desired Japanese goal of demilitarization (as, in his view, custodianship by the UN was a practical impossibility). If the collective political will of Japan had been determined to evict US soldiers from Japanese soil, there is no way that a significant US troop presence could have remained in Japan for the long run.
On those same principles, the US continues to garrison 37,000 soldiers in South Korea for one reason only- because the South Korean people tolerate their presence. Although successive postwar governments of South Korea have required a steady US troop presence in order to remain sovereign in the face of the threat from the North, such dependency has not robbed them of legitimacy in the eyes of South Korea's people. Because the citizens of South Korea generally accept the legitimacy of their government they are willing to tolerate a garrison of US soldiers as an unfortunate necessity until there is some dramatic change of the status quo in the North. If this were not true guerrilla attacks against US forces in Korea would be as frequent as they are in Iraq.
The Iraqi people as a whole will never tolerate a significant US troop presence to the degree that the people of South Korea do, and any cursory examination of the history of Iraq would demonstrate why. As brutal as the regime of Saddam Hussein was, the Sunni citizens of Iraq generally supported it and felt represented by it. The force that displaced Hussein will always remain suspect and hostile in the eyes of a significant proportion of Sunni society. Moreover, Iraqi Arabs more broadly, both Sunni and Shi'ite, will always harbor suspicions of and animosities toward the US because of Iraq's historical experience of colonialism. The US may never have directly colonized Iraq, but as a predominately English-speaking and Christian nation many Iraqis feel there is little to choose between the US and its ally Great Britain, a country that did ruthlessly exploit Iraq as a quasi-colony in the wake of WWI. It does not help the US case that our President Woodrow Wilson did not promote self-determination for Arab-speaking former Ottoman colonies with the same fervor or effect as he did for the European colonies of the Austro-Hungarian and German empires, thus abandoning the people of the Middle East to the tender mercies of the French and British.
These historical grievances are compounded by more recent trends. Many Iraqis are angered by the role the US plays in supporting Israel and its lack of either interest or success in promoting the claims of the Palestinians for a sovereign homeland. Though Israel/Palestine is a very visible and emotional issue, perhaps of even more significance to Iraqis is the US role in the development of the petroleum industry throughout the Middle East. In nations like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait the US has provided technological and political support to narrowly despotic and regressive regimes in return for a share in the profits from private exploitation of oil resources and steady access to cheap free-market petroleum. Iraq has historically resisted this model of development, preferring a mixed economy in which petroleum resources were largely state-owned and nationally managed. Suspicion of the US in this regard is not exclusively "guilt by association" with past policies. Bush spokespeople have trumpeted their concern about the "failure" of Iraqi parliamentarians to draft and pass a law mandating the disposition of oil revenues in a federal Iraq, but such protestations elide the role of the US itself in hindering an effective compromise. US officials have insisted that Iraqi law structure the petroleum industry on free-market principles and allow US companies to participate in and profit from the development of Iraq's oil resources, a self-serving position that flies in face of long Iraqi trends going back to before the Hussein era.
In addition, the problematic relationship between the US and Iran precludes the presence of US troops becoming routine or legitimate for much of Iraqi society. Though the position of the Shi'ite clergy is a contested issue even among Shi'ite Iraqis, the institution is broadly revered and enjoys sweeping authority. The deep historical ties between the ulama of Iraq and Iran are not severable, thus as long as the US remains in a rhetorical battle with Iran's theocrats it will be viewed by many Iraqis, even some who agree with many aspects of US policy, with ambivalence and/or hostility.
Thus, though not all Iraqis are violently anti-American, suspicion and animosity toward the US is prevalent through a broad enough spectrum of Iraqi society to make a "Korea model" completely unworkable in Iraq. No Baghdad government that depends upon or even tolerates a large US troop presence in Iraq will ever enjoy sufficient authority to stabilize and pacify Iraqi society. As long as US soldiers remain on Iraqi soil a critical mass of Iraqis will remain irreconcilably opposed to the regime in power. These forces are never likely to possess the power to forcibly drive the US out of Iraq or overthrow the regime in Baghdad, but they will have enough support (some active, some tacit) in Iraqi society to fight on and keep Iraq in perpetual turmoil until such time as US troops depart.
The only way to defuse such forces is to remove the proximal condition that feeds their base of support- US troops. A plan to garrison Iraq a la South Korea is a plan to condemn Iraq to unending torment. The fact that President Bush and his advisors did not recognize this fact before invading Iraq was a shame, the fact that they still do not do so after more than four years of crisis is beyond a disgrace. All patriotic Americans on any part of the political spectrum should rise up to decry the folly of Bush policy on this score. Those who would defend Bush leadership in the face of such grotesque fallacies must be deemed either ignorant or disdainful of the best interests of the nation.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 18:54
SOURCE: National Post (6-19-07)
Note to the reader: All quotations contained in this article and all references to events before June 2007 are genuine. All references to future events are, obviously, fictional. The sentences in square brackets did not appear in the print version.
In retrospect, there were plenty of hints about the war that so abruptly broke out on June 19, 2008.
First, there were the overt verbal threats. Hatem Bazian, senior lecturer of Islamic Studies at the University of California-Berkeley, announced to a rally in April 2004 that the time had come for mass violence, an intifada, in the United States. "We're sitting here and watching the world pass by, people being bombed [by U.S. forces], and it's about time that we have an intifada in this country that change fundamentally the political dynamics in here."
In Canada, Aly Hindy of the Salaheddin Islamic Centre in Toronto threatened Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan about the government "terrorizing" Muslims. "If you try to cross the line I can't guarantee what is going to happen. Our young people, we can't control." When police remarked, "This is a kind of threat," Hindy replied, "Yes, but it's for the good of this country."
Another important sign came in May 2007, when a Pew Research Center study found that 13% of U.S. Muslim respondents believe that "suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies" and 5% expressed a favourable view of al-Qaeda.
Over a quarter century of largely ignored Islamist violence in the United States complemented these statements. The first murder took place in July 1980, when an American convert to Islam assassinated an Iranian dissident in the Washington, D.C. area. Other incidents included an Egyptian freethinker killed in Tucson, Ariz.; Meir Kahane killed in New York; an Egyptian Islamist killed in New York; and two CIA staffers killed outside agency headquarters in Langley, Va.
The first attempted mass attack took place in February 1993, when a truck bomb blew up under New York's World Trade Center — killing six people, but failing in the terrorists' objective of toppling one tower upon the other. Commentators judged this a wake-up call but Americans promptly hit the snooze button. Killings continued apace, still provoking little interest, such as the shooting of an Orthodox Jewish boy on the Brooklyn Bridge and a Danish tourist atop the Empire State building. Law enforcement successfully foiled the blind sheik's "Day of Terror" in 1993, intended to kill thousands in New York City, as well as smaller rampages in southern Florida and southern California.
Then came the 9/11 attacks and 3,000 dead, but that atrocity heightened fears more than it prompted effective countermeasures. Islamist terrorism continued apace within the United States, for the most part generally dismissed as the result of "mental imbalance," "work stress," "marital problems," or "road rage." Even in cases attended by huge publicity, seemingly any reason was proffered other than devotion to Islamist ideology. A Los Angeles Times analysis of the Beltway Snipers killing spree of October 2002, for example, mentioned John Muhammad's "stormy relationship" with his family, his "stark realization" of loss and regret, his perceived sense of abuse as an American Muslim post-9/11, his desire to "exert control" over others, his relationship with his junior partner, and his trying to make a quick buck – anything, in short, but jihad.
The absence of large-scale terrorism prompted analysts smugly to conclude that law enforcement had prevailed; or that the Islamists had opted for non-violent means.
It thus came as a great surprise in June 2008 when 51 bombs went off within a few hours in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, killing over 800 people in schools, stores, and subways. Such displays of terrorist prowess had taken place before but in remote places – 500 bombs in one day in Bangladesh in 2005, 50 in a day in south Thailand in 2006 – and the outside world had paid them little heed.
As in the Bangladeshi case, identical leaflets appeared near each of the bombings. Signed by Jihadis for Justice, a hitherto unknown group, the flyers called for replacing the Constitution with the Koran and bringing the country's foreign policy in line with Tehran's. Plagiarizing Hamas, Jihadis for Justice justified murder on the grounds that Muslim rule would benefit Jews and Christians: "When we talk about the mission of the restoration of Islam to its natural place [of world rule], we [are] calling for justice, and for goodness, and for world love… so that the Christians will live in peace, and that even the Jews will live in peace and security."...
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 18:35
SOURCE: http://commonsense.ourfuture.org (6-26-07)
"Personally, I support a fence. The current system encourages the horrific abuses that take place against immigrants attempting to sneak in. Naturally, I support allowing generous numbers of immigrants into this country, but I support doing so legally, first and foremost. I also think it encourages contempt for the law, which is a net negative in any society. (I also support the legalization of pot for the same reason.) And certainly any nation has the right to determine to whom it wishes to grant citizenship."
Alterman writes in a spirit of hard-headed humanitarianism, tough but fair. And I see nothing wrong with that spirit. But he conversely presumes nothing but gauzy sentimentality on the part of the idea's opponents--
"If a fence is the best way to enforce those choices, well, then, why not? For symbolic reasons? I don't care about 'symbolic reasons.' I care about reality."
--and this proves nothing more than my adage that if you want to be a corrective, the first thing you have to be is correct. Alterman is very, very wrong about the "reality." Some awfully fine citizens of the Reality Based Community have demonstrated just how wrong using very sound scholarly methods.
Read the work of Belinda Reyes of UC - Merced. She demonstrates in this paper that the more money we spend on law-enforcement solutions to guarding the border, the longer undocumented immigrants stay in the United States. The immigration debate has made us stupid, and you may slap yourself on the head for not thinking of this yourself but: higher fences and more cops along the border don't just make it harder for people to get in; it makes it harder for them to get out. Enforcement expenditures tripled between 1992 and 2001. A 1992 survey showed that 20 percent of the unauthorized migrants who moved to the United States returned to Mexico within six months. "By 1997, this portion had declined to 15 percent. By the time of the Mexican 2000 Census, only 7 percent of those who moved 24 months before the survey returned to Mexico wihtin the first six months and only 11 percent had returned within a year."
People who want to get into the United States, as is well-known, will show extraordinary determination to do it. Why won't any fence stop them? One reason, while we're on the subject of reality--slap your head again, because this is obvious, too--is because the portions crossing water will have to be broken up to allow debris to pass through. Or else your fence becomes, well, a dam....
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 18:30
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (6-27-07)
Sometimes, numbers can strip human beings of just about everything that makes us what we are. Numbers can silence pain, erase love, obliterate emotion, and blur individuality. But sometimes numbers can also tell a necessary story in ways nothing else can.
This January, President Bush announced his"surge" plan for Iraq, which he called his"new way forward." It was, when you think about it, all about numbers. Since then, 28,500 new American troops have surged into that country, mostly in and around Baghdad; and, according to the Washington Post, there has also been a hidden surge of private armed contractors -- hired guns, if you will -- who free up troops by taking over many mundane military positions from guarding convoys to guarding envoys. In the meantime, other telltale numbers in Iraq have surged as well.
Now, Americans are theoretically waiting for the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, to"report" to Congress in September on the"progress" of the President's surge strategy. But there really is no reason to wait for September. An interim report --"Iraq by the numbers" -- can be prepared now (as it could have been prepared last month, or last year). The trajectory of horror in Iraq has long been clear; the fact that the U.S. military is a motor driving the Iraqi cataclysm has been no less clear for years now. So here is my own early version of the"September Report."
A caveat about numbers: In the bloody chaos that is Iraq, as tens of thousands die or are wounded, as millions uproot themselves or are uprooted, and as the influence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's national government remains largely confined to the four-square mile fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital, numbers, even as they pour out of that hemorrhaging land, are eternally up for grabs. There is no way most of them can be accurate. They are, at best, a set of approximate notations in a nightmare that is beyond measurement.
Here, nonetheless, is an attempt to tell a little of the Iraqi story by those numbers:
Iraq is now widely considered # 1 -- when it comes to being the ideal jihadist training ground on the planet."If Afghanistan was a Pandora's box which when opened created problems in many countries, Iraq is a much bigger box, and what's inside much more dangerous," comments Mohammed al-Masri, a researcher at Amman's Centre for Strategic Studies. CIA analysts predicted just this in a May 2005 report leaked to the press. ("A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda's early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.")
Iraq is # 2: It now ranks as the world's second most unstable country, ahead of war-ravaged or poverty-stricken nations like Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Congo, and North Korea, according to the 2007 Failed States Index, issued recently by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine. (Afghanistan, the site of our other little war, ranked 8th.) Last year and the year before Iraq held 4th place on the list. Next year, it could surge to number #1.
Number of American troops in Iraq, June 2007: Approximately 156,000.
Number of Sunni insurgents in Iraq, May 2007:At least 100,000, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar on his most recent visit to the country.
American military dead in the surge months, February 1-June 26, 2007:481.
American military dead, February-June 2006: 292.
Number of contractors killed in the first three months of 2007:At least 146, a significant surge over previous years. (Contractor deaths sometimes go unreported and so these figures are likely to be incomplete.)
Number of American troops Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and other Pentagon civilian strategists were convinced would be stationed in Iraq in August 2003, four months after Baghdad fell:): 30,000-40,000, according to Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco.
Number of armed"private contractors" now in Iraq: at least 20,000-30,000, according to the Washington Post. (Jeremy Scahill, author of the bestseller Blackwater, puts the figure for all private contractors in Iraq at 126,000.)
Number of attacks on U.S. troops and allied Iraqi forces, April 2007: 4,900.
Percentage of U.S. deaths from roadside bombs (IEDs):70.9% in May 2007; 35% in February 2007 as the surge was beginning.
Percentage of registered U.S. supply convoys (guarded by private contractors) attacked:14.7% in 2007 (through May 10); 9.1% in 2006; 5.4% in 2005.
Percentage of Baghdad not controlled by U.S. (and Iraqi) security forces more than four months into the surge:60%, according to the U.S. military.
Number of attacks on the Green Zone, the fortified heart of Baghdad where the new $600 million American embassy is rising and the Iraqi government largely resides:More than 80 between March and the beginning of June, 2007, according to a UN report. (These attacks, by mortar or rocket, from"pacified" Red-Zone Baghdad, are on the rise and now occur nearly daily.)
Size of U.S. embassy staff in Baghdad: More than 1,000 Americans and 4,000 third-country nationals.
Staff U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker considers appropriate to the"diplomatic" job: The ambassador recently sent"an urgent plea" to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for more personnel."The people here are heroic," he wrote."I need more people, and that's the thing, not that the people who are here shouldn't be here or couldn't do it." According to the Washington Post, the Baghdad embassy, previously assigned 15 political officers, now will get 11 more; the economic staff will go from 9 to 21. This may involve"direct assignments" to Baghdad in which, against precedent, State Department officers, some reputedly against the war, will simply be ordered to take up"unaccompanied posts" (too dangerous for families to go along).
U.S. air strikes in Iraq during the surge months: Air Force planes are dropping bombs at more than twice the rate of a year ago, according to the Associated Press."Close support missions" are up 30-40%. And this surge of air power seems, from recent news reports, still to be on the rise. In the early stages of the recent surge operation against the city of Baquba in Diyala province, for instance, Michael R. Gordon of the New York Timesreported that"American forces.... fired more than 20 satellite-guided rockets into western Baquba," while Apache helicopters attacked"enemy fighters." ABC News recently reported that the Air Force has brought B-1 bombers in for missions on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Number of years Gen. Petraeus, commander of the surge operation, predicts that the U.S. will have to be engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq to have hopes of achieving success:9-10 years. ("In fact, typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years.")
Number of years administration officials are now suggesting that 30,000-40,000 American troops might have to remain garrisoned at U.S. bases in Iraq:54, according to the "Korea model" now being considered for that country. (American troops have garrisoned South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953.)
Number of Iraqi police, trained by Americans, who were not on duty as of January 2007, just before the surge plan was put into operation: Approximately 32,000 out of a force of 188,000, according to the Associated Press. About one in six Iraqi policemen has been killed, wounded, deserted, or just disappeared. About 5,000 probably have deserted; and 7,000-8,000 are simply"unaccounted for." (Recall here the President's old jingle of 2005:"As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.")
Number of years before the Iraqi security forces are capable of taking charge of their country's security:"A couple of years," according to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group.
Amount of"reconstruction" money invested in the CIA's key asset in the new Iraq, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service:$3 billion, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar.
Number of Iraqi"Kit Carson scouts" being trained in the just-captured western part of Baquba: More than 100. (There were thousands of"Kit Carsons" in the Vietnam War -- former enemy fighters employed by U.S. forces.) In fact, Vietnam-era plans, ranging from Strategic Hamlets (dubbed, in the Iraqi urban context,"gated communities") to the"oil spot" counterinsurgency strategy, have been recycled for use in Iraq, as has an American penchant for applying names from our Indian Wars to counterinsurgency situations abroad, including, for instance, dubbing an embattled supply depot near Abu Ghraib,"Fort Apache."
Number of Iraqis who have fled their country since 2003: Estimated to be between 2 million and 2.2 million, or nearly one in ten Iraqis. According to independent reporter Dahr Jamail, at least 50,000 more refugees are fleeing the country every month.
Number of Iraqi refugees who have been accepted by the United States:Fewer than 500, according to Bob Woodruff of ABC News; 701, according to Agence France Presse. (Under international and congressional pressure, the Bush administration has finally agreed to admit another 7,000 Iraqis by year's end.)
Number of Iraqis who are now internal refugees in Iraq, largely due to sectarian violence since 2003: At least 1.9 million, according to the UN. (A recent Red Crescent Society report, based on a survey taken in Iraq, indicates that internal refugees have quadrupled since January 2007, and are up eight-fold since June 2006.)
Percentage of refugees, internal and external, under 12:55%, according to the President of the Red Crescent Society.
Percentage of Baghdadi children, 3 to 10, exposed to a major traumatic event in the last two years:47%, according to a World Health Organization survey of 600 children. 14% of them showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In another study of 1,090 adolescents in Mosul, that figure reached 30%.
Number of Iraqi doctors who have fled the country since 2003: An estimated 12,000 of the country's 34,000 registered doctors since 2003, according to the Iraqi Medical Association. The Association reports that another 2,000 doctors have been slain in those years.
Number of Iraqi refugees created since UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared a"humanitarian crisis" for Iraq in January 2007: An estimated 250,000.
Percentage of Iraqis now living on less than $1 a day, according to the UN:54%.
Iraq's per-capita annual income: $3,600 in 1980; $860 in 2001 (after a decade of UN sanctions); $530 at the end of 2003, according to Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar, who estimates that the number may now have falled below $400. Unemployment in Iraq is at around 60%.
Percentage of Iraqis who do not have regular access to clean water:70%, according to the World Health Organization. (80%"lack effective sanitation.")
Rate of chronic child malnutrition:21%, according to the World Health Organization. (Rates of child malnutrition had already nearly doubled by 2004, only 20 months after the U.S. invasion.) According to UNICEF,"about one in 10 children under five in Iraq are underweight."
Number of Iraqis detained in Baquba alone in one week in June in Operation Phantom Thunder:more than 700.
Average number of Iraqis who died violently each day in 2006:100 -- and this is undoubtedly an underestimate, since not all deaths are reported.
Number of Iraqis who have died violently (based on the above average) since Ban Ki-Moon declared a"humanitarian crisis" for Iraq in January 2007:15,000 -- again certainly an undercount.
Number of Iraqis who died (in what Juan Cole terms Iraq's "everyday apocalypse") during the week of June 17-23, 2007, according to the careful daily tally from media reports offered at the website Antiwar.com: 763 or an average of 109 media-reported deaths a day. (June 17: 74; June 18: 149; June 19: 169; June 20: 116; June 21: 58; June 22: 122; June 23: 75.)
Percentage of seriously wounded who don't survive in emergency rooms and intensive-care units, due to lack of drugs, equipment, and staff:Nearly 70%, according to the World Health Organization.
Number of university professors who have been killed since the invasion of 2003:More than 200, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education.
The value of an Iraqi life: A maximum of $2,500 in" consolation" or"solatia" payments made by the American military to Iraqi civilians who died"as a result of U.S. and coalition forces' actions during combat," according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. These payments imply no legal responsibility for the killings. For rare"extraordinary cases" (and let's not even imagine what these might be), payments of up to $10,000 were approved last year, with the authorization of a division commander. According to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post,"[W]e are not talking big condolence payouts thus far. In 2005, the sums distributed in Iraq reached $21.5 million and -- with violence on the upswing -- dropped to $7.3 million last year, the GAO reported."
The value of an Iraqi car, destroyed by American forces: $2,500 would not be unusual, and conceivably the full value of the car, according to the same GAO report. A former Army judge advocate, who served in Iraq, has commented:"[T]he full market value may be paid for a Toyota run over by a tank in the course of a non-combat related accident, but only $2,500 may be paid for the death of a child shot in the crossfire."
Percentage of Americans who approve of the President's actions in Iraq:23%, according to the latest post-surge Newsweek poll. The President's overall approval rating stood at 26% in this poll, just three points above those of only one president, Richard Nixon at his Watergate worst, and Bush's polling figures are threatening to head into that territory. In the latest, now two-week old NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 10% of Americans think the"surge" has made things better in Iraq, 54% worse.
The question is: What word best describes the situation these Iraqi numbers hint at? The answer would probably be: No such word exists."Genocide" has been beaten into the ground and doesn't apply."Civil war," which shifts all blame to the Iraqis (withdrawing Americans from a country its troops have not yet begun to leave), doesn't faintly cover the matter.
If anything catches the carnage and mayhem that was once the nation of Iraq, it might be a comment by the head of the Arab League, Amr Mussa, in 2004. He warned:"The gates of hell are open in Iraq." At the very least, the"gates of hell" should now officially be considered miles behind us on the half-destroyed, well-mined highway of Iraqi life. Who knows what IEDs lie ahead? We are, after all, in the underworld.
Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 - 13:54
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (6-27-07)
What will become of Hong Kong? Many residents of the city asked this a decade ago, in the anxious days before the Hong Kong handover of July 1, 1997. And some still pose it nervously today, as the 10th anniversary nears of Hong Kong's transition from a British crown colony to a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China. The mix of concerns behind the question, though, has shifted.
In 1997, the big worry was Hong Kong's future relationship to Beijing.
Would the Communist leadership keep its promise of minimal interference in local life? Would Hong Kong – which had recently gained a more open press and stronger elected bodies than ever before (good-bye presents from a colonial regime on its way out) – quickly become as politically closed as any mainland city?
Now, while some locals still worry about Beijing's political shadow, others are more concerned about the economic shadow cast by a different city to the north: Shanghai. They fear the fallout from its rapid rise, regaining the global prominence it had circa 1930.
The anxiety over politics has not gone away, of course. Civic-minded Hong Kong residents are worried (for good reason), for example, by increasing censorship and self-censorship on the part of the press, though they realize their media remains far freer than that in any mainland city.
Still, the shift of concern from 1997 to 2007 is clear. With Shanghai rising, Hong Kong is anxious about protecting its status as China's most open – and most modern – city. Both claims were secure in 1987 when I first went to Hong Kong, midway through a year of research in Shanghai. To go from one to the other then was to move from one world to a completely different one.
Shanghai's newspapers all looked alike and took identical editorial lines. Hong Kong's varied in style and substance. Shanghai's nightlife was non-existent. Hong Kong's was hopping. There was no yawning gap between rich and poor in Shanghai. There was in Hong Kong. Shanghai had no freeways, subways, skyscrapers, or even drugstores with more than one brand of toothpaste. Hong Kong had all of those things. And so on....
Posted on: Tuesday, June 26, 2007 - 21:44
SOURCE: Email to HNN (6-21-07)
The inhabitants of Susya have already experienced the harsh sword of expulsion. About two decades ago, over a dozen families were driven from their homes so that Israel could establish an archaeological park on their land. Shortly before their expulsion, a Jewish settlement, also called Susya, was set up nearby also on lands taken from these same Palestinians. Several Palestinian families were thus forced to leave the area, while those that remained are presently living in ramshackle huts and tents on a small rocky hill between the archaeological park and the Israeli settlement.
For years, however, they have been living in constant jeopardy. The settlers and the soldiers regularly terrorize them, often severely beating them, sometimes shooting at them, and preventing them from accessing their fields or even the water wells they depend on for survival in this arid region. Moreover, the so-called Civil Administrationthat is, the Israeli occupation authorityhas, in the past, issued demolition orders against all their modest homes and dwellings.
It is quite amazing that even though some of Susya’s residents have been expelled by the military and the settlers several times, they have always managed to return to their lands. They continue to eke out a frugal living from their herds of goats and sheep and by farming the few fields that have been left to them.
For some years, these Palestinian residents alongside the joint Israeli-Palestinian group Ta'ayush and international groups like Christian Peacemaker Teams and Operation Dove have been waging a political battle to keep the Palestinian residents of Susya in their present homes. These struggles include petitions to the Israeli courts. Unfortunately, a few days ago the Supreme Court threw out an appeal against the demolition orders on technical, bureaucratic grounds. Consequently, within a month the homes of the Susya’s Palestinian residents can be legally demolished.
Those who know the reality in the territories know that it is almost impossible for Palestinians to get building permits, and casuistic arguments like those brought against our friends from Susya are regularly used to further a policy of violent expulsion. We are, however, continuing to fight this battle in the courts, and we are in the process of submitting new applications for permits. So long as we can keep the legal process alive, we gain precious time. If we fail, Susya will be destroyedand with it, perhaps, a series of other small Palestinian villages in this area. The Palestinian inhabitants of Susya will become refugees.
The situation is dire, and the threat of expulsion immediate. To fight it, we are incurring significant legal expenses. In the short term we will need approximately $10,000 simply to defray the lawyers' costs. Ta'ayush is an organization of volunteers and has no resources of its own. We call upon you to help us to save an innocent civilian population that is about to fall victim to the concerted effort of the Israeli authorities to exile them from their lands and homes.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 26, 2007 - 19:00