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: Christian Science Monitor (11-20-07)
Last week, when a federal grand jury indicted baseball star Barry Bonds for perjury, it confirmed an ugly truth: America's got a big drug problem.
I'm not talking about steroids, Mr. Bonds' alleged performance-enhancer of choice. Instead, I'm talking about athletics themselves. Americans are addicted to competitive sports in ways that are profoundly unhealthy to our schools, our bodies, and ourselves. And until we confront that problem, head-on, steroids will continue to plague us.
Consider this simple fact: Although every shred of evidence shows that adolescents do not learn well before 9 a.m., US high schools start the day at around 7:30 a.m. Why? To make room for afternoon sports practice, of course.
And consider that the time allotted to athletic practice – often two or three hours – is much longer than any academic class period.
Most high schools devote between two-thirds and three-quarters of their extracurricular budgets to sports. In his bestselling book, "Friday Night Lights," since adapted into a movie and television series, H.G. Bissinger reported that a Texas high school spent more on football game film than it did on teaching materials for the English department. The team's coach earned 50 percent more than a regular classroom teacher with 20 years experience.
In the great college-admissions sweepstakes, recruited high school athletes get twice the advantage that racial minorities receive. But while many Americans squeal about affirmative action for blacks or Hispanics, nobody blinks an eye at special passes for the quarterback or power forward.
Ah, you might say, but these athletes are overwhelmingly minorities themselves. False. As every single study has shown, the vast majority of recruited athletes are white teens from well-to-do families. And these families use their privilege to buy services – coaches, trainers, and summer camps – to ensure that they get a leg up. So much for the level playing field.
But sports help our kids stay fit and healthy, right? Sure. Yet competitive athletics can harm young bodies, too. Think of girls' gymnastics, which has witnessed a spate of eating disorders. In 1976, America's Olympic gymnasts averaged 106 pounds each; by 1992, their average weight was down to 83 pounds. And if you think that's all because of healthy dieting, well, I've got an amphetamine pill to sell you.
The most dangerous sport is football, of course. During the past decade, at least 50 high school or junior-high-school players have been killed or have sustained serious head injuries on the field. Some of these deaths could have been prevented if we took the risk more seriously.
But we don't. Although athletic trainers report that 5 percent of high school football players have a concussion each season, anonymous player questionnaires bring the number up to 15 percent. And when the word "concussion" is omitted and a list of symptoms is provided instead, nearly half of all players report that they have sustained a concussion.
So why don't they tell their coaches? We all know the answer: They want to play. And they want to win.
That's the same reason they take steroids, even in the face of drug tests. A new two-year study of 11 Oregon high schools – based, again, on questionnaires of the players – showed that random drug testing did nothing to deter steroid use.
And yet we continue to ratchet up the drug tests, instead of ratcheting down our addiction to sports. The governor of Texas, Rick Perry (R), recently signed a bill allowing the testing of all high school athletes, setting aside $3 million per year for the tests. But every single dollar will go to waste as long as we teach our kids that we value athletics – and victory – above everything else.
Full disclosure: I play sports. I watch sports. I love sports. Like most things, however, sports are harmful in excess. And that's exactly the case, at every level of athletics in America.
A century ago, all high school athletics were organized and managed by the students themselves. Then the adults took over. Schools hired coaches, provided uniforms, built new gymnasiums, and so on. And they made the athletes – especially the boys – into the unofficial kings of the institution.
And that brings us back to Barry Bonds, the nation's flawed home run champion. It's easy to condemn him for possibly cheating his way into the record books. But part of that condemnation ought to directed at ourselves, too, because many of us would have done the same thing – if we knew we could get away with it. When the whole culture tells you that sports rule, nobody will follow the rules around sports.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - 02:01
SOURCE: Dissident Voice (11-16-07)
My son who just turned 18 announced, "Hey, now I can buy cigarettes." I'm sure he was just joking. But since he can, in fact, now legally do this in Massachusetts, it set me to thinking about the history of this problem of tobacco smoking. (My own experience is largely confined to imbibing a few pilfered cigarettes in the eighth grade, in later years the occasional congratulatory cigar or tobacco mixed with other material in exotic venues like Cairo. It's never been my thing. It occurs to me that were I to take it up at my age, it probably wouldn't do me in, but why would I want to contribute to the tobacco companies' profits? I'd want to grow my own and leave them out of it.)
Where did this habit start? Seems that people in the western hemisphere — probably in the Tabasco district of Mexico — started to smoke the leaves of the tobacco plant about 2000 years ago. It had been growing there for some 4000 years, doing nobody any harm. The people enjoyed the taste and effects, and gradually the habit spread across the Caribbean to the Antilles, northwards up the Mississippi River Valley, and southwards towards Brazil.
Pipe-smoking is depicted on Guatemalan pottery dating as early as the seventh century. The Maya believed that the spirit of their sky-god Manitou was present in the ascending plume of smoke. In 1492, Christopher Columbus' men having invaded the island of San Salvador were offered "certain dried leaves" by the native Arawaks. Not knowing what to do with them, they discarded these although a certain Rodrigo de Jerez soon adopted the smoking habit. He's the first European known to have done so. Columbus scolded his crewmen for sharing the "savage" practice, but observed, perceptively, "it was not within their power to refrain." By 1531, the Spanish colonists were cultivating tobacco in Santo Domingo, and in 1548 the Portuguese in Brazil were growing the plant for export.
During the second half of the sixteenth century, the whole world discovered the magical American herb: it pervaded France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Britain, Italy, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, while spreading among Englishmen in Virginia and other American colonies. The Portuguese brought it to India around 1570 and to Japan by the 1580s. It arrived in China and Korea soon thereafter. In short order millions were hooked. Queen Elizabeth I, at the urging of Sir Walter Raleigh, smoked in 1600.
Medical doctors, in particular, advocated the practice. The personal physician of King Philip II introduced tobacco to the Spanish court in 1559. Jean Nicot de Villemain, the French ambassador to Portugal, praised tobacco's curative effects. (We honor this wise man with our word "nicotine.") At the University of Seville, the physician Nicolò Monardes recommended it as a treatment for asthma, while the British doctor John Frampton astutely prescribed it for cancer in the 1570s. In 1609, an imperial prince in Japan described tobacco as "a medicine not listed" in classical Chinese pharmacological works, adding, "It is said that if a sick man tastes this smoke he is restored to glowing health" and many years are added to his life. The world was enamored of the "India weed," some of its best scientific minds inclined for a time to encourage this love affair.
The general enthusiasm soon waned, however. Political authorities, beginning to notice what seemed its deleterious health effects, took measures to curb the new habit. In 1590 Pope Urban VII banned the use of tobacco "in the porchway of or inside a church, whether it be by chewing or smoking." In 1603, the Japanese shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu banned tobacco. The next year James I, king of England and Scotland, issued his Counterblaste to Tobacco. He described smoking as a "custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse."
In 1612, the Wan-li emperor in China banned tobacco cultivation and smoking; so did the emperor Jahangir in Mughal India five years later, noting that smoking causes "disturbance in most temperaments." Under the sultan Murad IV (r. 1623-40), tobacco cultivation was banned in the Ottoman Empire; he ordered that smokers have their hands cut off. Massachusetts officials banned smoking in public in 1632, New Amsterdam followed suit in 1639. Two years later, the Russian czar Alexis imposed stiff penalties for smoking—death for a second offense.
But all these stern measures and admirable intentions, accompanied by a growing medical literature critical of the weed, collapsed before its seductive appeal and profit potential. In 1614, King Philip III of Spain established Seville as a center for the production of cigars. Philip (also the king of Portugal) was the most powerful monarch in Europe, nominal ruler of the rebellious Netherlands, and ally of tobacco foe James I. Enhanced commercial ties between England and Spain after the Treaty of London, signed in the same year (1604) as James' Counterblast assured that leaf from the Spanish New World colonies would reach ever more British consumers. When the king banned the cultivation of the plant in England, and ended imports from Spain in 1621, English colonists in Virginia and Maryland monopolized supply through London merchants licensed and taxed by the Crown. New Amsterdam and Dutch colonies in the Caribbean similarly provisioned smokers in the Netherlands.
In France, in 1629 Cardinal Richelieu, always seeking new revenues for the crown, imposed a tobacco tax. Venice established a state monopoly over the production and sale of tobacco products thirty years later, and Louis XIV of France emulated this policy in 1674. Early modern states were becoming deeply invested in tobacco addiction, and many states abolished the bans they had imposed. In 1647 the Ottoman emperor lifted the ban on smoking, as did the new Russian czar Feodor in 1676. The newly-established Qing dynasty in China overturned the ban on tobacco enforced under the Ming.
Elsewhere bans were newly applied: the town council in Berne, Switzerland established special Chambres de Tabac to punish smokers in 1675, and tobacco smoking was banned in Korea in 1692. But tolerance or even encouragement were the broader trends. In 1710, Peter the Great of Russia advocated tobacco smoking as part of his broad campaign to promote European customs in his backward empire. In 1724, Pietro Francesco Orsini was elected Pope Benedict XIII. At age 75, he had argued that due to his age and frailty he ought not to receive the post, but he shouldered it with humility — and the same year took up smoking. (He lived six more years.)
So from 1492 to ca. 1590 (Pope Urban's limited ban) there was a remarkable century of nascent tobacco addiction, encouraged by the finest minds in ruling classes everywhere. Then from 1590 to around 1640, there was a brief era of reconsideration. Rulers in China, India, Japan, Britain, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and the North American colonies determined that tobacco consumption was just a very bad idea. This period, at the height of the Scientific Revolution, might have ended with serious measures to end the problem. Instead it was followed most places by a total capitulation to the power of the purse by the political authorities exposed to, but inclined to ignore, evolving science and medical judgment. It wasn't all King Philip III's fault, of course but there isn't anyone more responsible for what happened.
The Spanish crown's promotion of cigar production, in the middle of that period of reconsideration, was tobacco's "tipping point." The state intervened decisively to enhance supply, ensure quality through inspections, and encourage demand in order to expand income from taxes. Soon France, emerging as Europe's most powerful kingdom under the "Sun King" Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715), promoted tobacco for the health of the state. The state wasn't ignorant of the human health facts. Indeed, in 1689 the Medical School of Paris produced the first scientific study concluding that smoking produces "ulcerations of the lungs," "pains in the heart," coughing, and asthma. It took 277 years for U.S. cigarette packs to bear the message: "Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health." In the interim the state positively abetted tobacco commerce, as it still does today in various ways.
In 1881, James Bonsack, a fine young student in Virginia, patented a cigarette-rolling machine than could produce 12,000 cigarettes an hour. Before this, a cigarette workshop employee was averaging some 240 per hour. This product of American ingenuity revolutionized the tobacco market, and sharply cut smoking costs. Cigarettes were issued to U.S. soldiers in World War I and World II, and photos of them smoking and sharing helped glamorize the habit. Many came home from war addicted, thanks to patriotic donations from the cigarette companies distributed through the U.S. Army.
The state promoted tobacco addiction in other ways. Up to 1994 the Department of Agriculture funded tobacco export programs; so did the Department of Commerce and the Office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to 1998. The latter continue to campaign for greater U.S. tobacco exports in the name of fighting "foreign discriminatory trade practices." With official blessing, U.S. leaf tobacco exports to Chinese cigarette manufacturers leapt from 195 tons in 2005 to 9,622 tons in 2006. China is the world's largest cigarette producer and market, and about 320 million Chinese (including many children) smoke. Last December, Altria (formerly Philip Morris) and the state-owned China National Tobacco Corporation (which has about one-third of global market share) announced a joint venture to produce Marlboro cigarettes in China.
On the one hand, the Chinese state has decided (in September) to start printing skulls on cigarette packs to alert consumers to the danger as of January 2009. On the other, it's working with American capitalists assisted by U.S. Commerce Department officials to addict a new generation to a deadly habit. The Wan-li emperor would be appalled. So would Mao Zedong, perhaps. Not because he objected to smoking (he was a chain smoker himself, and during the Yenan period in the 1930s and early 1940s cultivated his own tobacco patch), but because of the clear contradiction here between theory and practice, and between the interests of the (American and Chinese) capitalists who profit from death and those of the 1.2 million Chinese who, according to the who World Health Organization, die every year from smoking. He would likely argue that the future of tobacco be decided by public debate ("line struggle"), while those addicted be allowed to purchase what they need and also offered help from the state to quit. But I don't think he'd be pleased that his successors, in what has become a thoroughly capitalist China, collude with foreign capitalists to addict tens of millions more of Chinese youth in an era when science has clearly concluded that smoking kills.
The multinational tobacco corporations occupy a respected niche in the American system, contribute to political campaign coffers, and expand their global reach even while affecting an air of social responsibility by outwardly (as a result of legal verdicts) discouraging the consumption of their product. In doing so, of course, they advertise it, lending it to the young audience in particular added appeal of danger and self-destructive rebellion. Sales to the U.S. youth market grew from $ 737 million in 1997 to 1.2 billion in 2002. Some attribute this to R. J. Reynolds Nabisco's "Joe Camel" ad campaign; in 1991 more six year olds in the U.S. recognized the cuddly smoker character than recognized Mickey Mouse. They jump on the "globalization" bandwagon, working with the International Monetary Fund to move into markets once dominated by state-owned tobacco companies (as in Turkey in 2002, or Morocco in 2003).
Philip III and Richelieu wedded the state to tobacco profits. The "People's Republic" of China has embraced Joe Camel, the lovable beast incorporated into the avant garde art of Zhou Tiehai. "It was not within their power to refrain," wrote Columbus, of the first European tobacco addicts. Five centuries later, it's not in the power of the tobacco companies and their state allies to stop seducing and addicting our youth. They have to do what they do; it's the logic of the system.
"I can buy cigarettes now." From the young adult's point of view, the smoke might smell like freedom, maturity, sophistication — even a desultory tempting of death that lends gravity to awkward years when affectations of reckless suaveness can somewhat alleviate feelings of uncool insecurity. But if the smoke of Manitou was once cool, the product of ancient cultures who held it sacred, it has since the rosy dawn of the capitalist era stopped rising up to heaven and has rather been spiriting its addicts down to hell.
Those "dried leaves" that greeted Columbus soon embodied the spirit of profit, and lost all religious significance. The peace pipe of Native Americans, brought out on special occasions, became the soldier's cigarette, a defense against battle fatigue and stress. The unifying herbal experience of the Cree or Ojibway sweat lodge became the stuff of fierce international trade competition.
It is in fact a "savage practice," but not in the sense that Columbus used the phrase. It is merely the practice of profit, high on itself and unable to quit.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - 01:35
SOURCE: NYT (11-19-07)
AS the government of Pakistan totters, we must face a fact: the United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss. Nor would it be strategically prudent to withdraw our forces from an improving situation in Iraq to cope with a deteriorating one in Pakistan. We need to think — now — about our feasible military options in Pakistan, should it really come to that.
We do not intend to be fear mongers. Pakistan’s officer corps and ruling elites remain largely moderate and more interested in building a strong, modern state than in exporting terrorism or nuclear weapons to the highest bidder. But then again, Americans felt similarly about the shah’s regime in Iran until it was too late.
Moreover, Pakistan’s intelligence services contain enough sympathizers and supporters of the Afghan Taliban, and enough nationalists bent on seizing the disputed province of Kashmir from India, that there are grounds for real worries.
The most likely possible dangers are these: a complete collapse of Pakistani government rule that allows an extreme Islamist movement to fill the vacuum; a total loss of federal control over outlying provinces, which splinter along ethnic and tribal lines; or a struggle within the Pakistani military in which the minority sympathetic to the Taliban and Al Qaeda try to establish Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
All possible military initiatives to avoid those possibilities are daunting. With 160 million people, Pakistan is more than five times the size of Iraq. It would take a long time to move large numbers of American forces halfway across the world. And unless we had precise information about the location of all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and materials, we could not rely on bombing or using Special Forces to destroy them.
The task of stabilizing a collapsed Pakistan is beyond the means of the United States and its allies. Rule-of-thumb estimates suggest that a force of more than a million troops would be required for a country of this size. Thus, if we have any hope of success, we would have to act before a complete government collapse, and we would need the cooperation of moderate Pakistani forces....
The great paradox of the post-cold war world is that we are both safer, day to day, and in greater peril than before. There was a time when volatility in places like Pakistan was mostly a humanitarian worry; today it is as much a threat to our basic security as Soviet tanks once were. We must be militarily and diplomatically prepared to keep ourselves safe in such a world. Pakistan may be the next big test.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - 01:32
SOURCE: Lipsdadt blog (11-19-07)
The mantra of these deniers is: Tutsis have been killing Hutus for years. This was an example of the Hutus striking back.
Other than simply being incorrect, this mantra essentially blames the victims for their own brutal deaths. What will surprise most readers of this blog -- it certainly surprised me -- is that one of the people who has been most active in spreading this form of denial is Paul Rusesabagina.
If his name does not ring a bell, think Hotel Rwanda. He is the central character. He is speaking on college campuses, including Emory and serious scholars in many fields are deeply worried. At Emory these scholars include people who worked in Rwanda for years prior to the genocide and who witnessed the horrors up close.
This is not simply a matter of historical revisionism but also an attempt to destabilize the current government of Rwanda which has, apparently, made tremendous strides in creating stability and reinvigorating the economy.
On January 27th there will be a high powered panel to address this issue:
Beyond Hollywood’s Rwanda: Truth and Justice, Security and Development
Location: Glenn Memorial Auditorium, Emory University
Time: Tuesday, Nov. 27 6-8 PM
Andrew Young Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN and Mayor of Atlanta, Chairman, Goodworks Intl
James Kimonyo Rwandan Ambassador to the U.S.
Deborah E. Lipstadt Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies
Egide Karuranga Virginia State University Professor, Genocide survivor at the Hotel des
Gregory S. Gordon University of North Dakota Law Professor, Former legal Officer for International Criminal Court Tribunal for Rwanda
Jeffrey Richter Senior Historian, US Department of Justice Office of Special Investigations
Limited Seating. Free Tickets available at DUC information desk, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory School of Law, and other Atlanta locations.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 - 01:28
SOURCE: Slate & Frontpagemag.com (11-16-07)
All presidential candidates have their signature rhetorical moves, and Barack Obama's has been to make a virtue of defying pressure groups. In a recent debate, he boasted of telling a crowd of automakers—rather than"some environmental group," as he put it—that we need to raise the fuel efficiency standards of cars. He has also hyped his frankness in urging merit pay on teachers and in lecturing African-American groups that unwed fathers need to act more responsibly.
Never mind that none of these positions is terribly controversial, even among liberal Democrats. In touting these acts of supposed rebellion, Obama isn't really seeking to stake out dangerous ground; he's trying to score points for appearing to brave powerful constituencies on behalf of a larger common good. Telling Detroit to go green may (or may not) bruise him in the Michigan primary, but overall it will help him much more by buffing his aura as a truth-teller and healer.
Pundits call these gestures "Sister Souljah" moments, in honor of Bill Clinton's 1992 speech before the Rainbow Coalition blasting the rapper for seeming to advocate black-on-white violence. But that label doesn't really apply to Obama's gestures. Clinton's comments were tied closely to a specific subject matter—racial politics. Though arguably opportunistic, they were aimed squarely at Reagan Democrats who felt their party had become too tolerant of black radicalism. The particular objects of Obama's attacks, in contrast, are irrelevant. It's the larger image of candor on behalf of the general interest that he's after. A more apt precedent, then, is the rhetoric of a different Democratic standard-bearer from the past—Adlai Stevenson—who, not coincidentally, also embodies the strain of high-minded reformism that, of all liberal traditions, influences Obama most.
Stevenson, the famously virtuous Illinois governor who nobly went down to defeat against Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, remains the model Democratic loser. He was the sensible champion of civility who gallantly upheld the liberal banner in a conservative age, even while getting drubbed at the polls. One of his favorite tactics was to proclaim his ability to flout his audiences and instead act on behalf of the whole public."I remember the night in Dallas when I spoke to Texans of my views of tidelands oil," he said in a televised speech on election eve, 1952."I remember the crowd in Detroit when I said I would be the captive of all of the American people and no one else. I remember the evening in the railroad station in New Haven when I identified a powerful Democratic leader as not my kind of Democrat. ... I have done my best frankly and forthrightly." The same theme marked TV commercials like this one—an ad that also lends some insight into why Stevenson had so much trouble that year.
The appeal to the greater good, as opposed to sectarian interest, was typical of Stevenson—and of a persistent persuasion within liberalism that has now given rise to Obama's candidacy. It's an appeal that aims not only to create an image of principled candor, but, equally important, to distinguish the candidate from the familiar Democratic interest-group pluralism. Whereas most Democratic politicians have succeeded by building alliances of disparate groups, each with its own pet issues, Stevenson's approach tended to deny or elide the fact that the demands of particular groups often conflict. Instead, he was partial to language about"the common good" and"the public interest" and spoke loftily to"all Americans." This sensibility wasn't inherently hostile to Democratic constituencies like blacks, blue-collar workers, or immigrants whose interests often fell outside conventional notions of the" common" interest, but it did tend to marginalize their concerns. Conversely, it resonated most with intellectuals and well-educated upscale professionals.
Obama exhibits other elements of this Stevensonian style as well. It's a style—an ideology, really—that links the quest for common ground with a language of enlightened reason. It disdains the passionate and sometimes ugly politics of backroom deals, negative campaigning, sordid tactics, and appeals to emotion. It extols sacrifice and denigrates self-interest.
This tradition, of course, predates Stevenson. Its roots go back to the classical or civic republicanism that permeated American thought in the revolutionary era. But the real precursors of Obama and Stevenson are the educated, middle-class reformers of the Gilded Age known as the Mugwumps. (George Packer and Casey Nelson Blake have both cited the Mugwumps, in passing, as influences on Obama.)
The Mugwumps were liberal professionals and gentlemen of the late 19th century who tried to transform both the economic arrangements of the industrial age, with their deepening social inequities, and the machine-dominated political system, with its patronage and corruption. They were the forebears of the Progressives of the next generation with whom they shared many qualities—both generations were, in the main, comfortable, noble-minded, often moralistic, usually sensible in their policy prescriptions (the civil service system, clean elections), but also elitist, given to condescension toward lower classes and minorities, and often blind to those virtues that the parties and their machines did possess.
Mugwump-style reformism went into eclipse during the New Deal. Franklin Roosevelt and his circle preferred a strategy of coalition building that had roots in Democratic urban machine politics. In their policies, they focused unsentimentally on economics—passing programs that would put food on people's tables. They dispensed with the Mugwumps' and Progressives' moral uplift in favor of a pragmatic approach.
With Stevenson, though, Mugwump liberalism reasserted itself—launching an era in which it would reside almost exclusively within the Democratic Party. The original Mugwumps had been Republicans, and the Progressives included at least as many Republicans as Democrats; even Calvin Coolidge displayed Mugwump tendencies. But after Stevenson, the Democratic Party furnished most of the presidential candidates and national figures who spoke the language of civic obligation, of suppressing group interest for the common good, of restoring an elevated political discourse. From Eugene McCarthy in 1968 to Paul Tsongas in 1992 to Bill Bradley in 2000, these figures typically commanded strong followings among students and upscale liberals, while generating comparatively less enthusiasm among labor and African-Americans, among other core Democratic voters. (John Anderson, the moderate Republican congressman who ran for president as an independent in 1980, might also fit the tradition.)
No one would deny the admirable side of the Mugwump inheritance: the policies it helped to implement, the idealism it represents, the commitment to principles like clean campaigning and good government that lie at its core. Yet the failures of Stevenson and his heirs pose a warning as well to those like Obama who would adopt this ideology, rhetoric, and style. For it was no coincidence that Stevenson and others failed as campaigners; his failure was rooted in his attitude toward politics. In 1952 and again in 1956, Stevenson tried to avoid negative campaigning at first, considering it undignified and an insult to voters. (He felt the same way about TV ads.) And so when he finally, of necessity, resorted to attacking Eisenhower—mainly by going after his running mate, Richard Nixon—Stevenson came off as desperate and hypocritical. The same was true for Tsongas and Bradley when they flailed haplessly at Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Today, Barack Obama finds himself in a similar bind to those men. If he continues to heed the advice of friendly pundits to attack Hillary Clinton more forcefully, he risks undermining the very premise of his campaign, tainting his image as a new kind of politician while failing to land his punches, because in the end he's not really a street fighter. What he doesn't seem to understand—as Stevenson did not—is that democratic politics fairly demands a measure of thrust and parry, of appeals to self-interest, and of playing the political game. And so does being a good president.
Posted on: Monday, November 19, 2007 - 00:31
SOURCE: Japan Focus (11-11-07)
Is anything new under the sun in military-ruled Burma? On August 15, 2007, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military junta ordered a cut in subsidies for gasoline products, resulting in a 100 percent price increase for diesel oil and as much as 500 percent for compressed natural gas. The decree was unexpected, and imposed great hardship on people whose standard of living was already precarious. Public transport became unaffordable, forcing many people to walk to work. Food trucked in from rural areas became more expensive. Shop owners and business people could no longer afford diesel oil to fuel their generators, the only reliable source of electricity in Rangoon and most other places in Burma.
1988 and 2007
Older Burmese recalled an earlier government economic initiative, the Ne Win regime’s sudden demonetization order on September 5, 1987 that made 70 to 80 percent of all kyat (Burmese currency) banknotes worthless, without compensation. Designed to cripple “economic insurgency” (the black market), the measure impoverished people from all walks of life, not only small-scale business people and traders, but civil servants, university students, day laborers and sidecar (trishaw) drivers. In Ne Win’s Burma, most people kept their kyat savings in cash rather than in the unreliable banking system, and demonetization caused their hard-earned funds to suddenly evaporate.
That same month, following protests by university students, the universities were temporarily closed by the authorities and the students sent home. But the economic impact of the demonetization order – the impoverishment of millions of people - was a major factor in the massive popular protests of 1988 that led to the emergence of the pro-democracy movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the collapse of the Ne Win regime, though not an end to military rule.
In 1988, protests started small, but grew rapidly during March of that year due to popular resentment, indeed hatred, of the regime. This stemmed not only from economic grievances, but also from the readiness of the authorities to use lethal force to deal with student demonstrations. During March 12-18, hundreds of protesters were killed. By late summer, the Tatmadaw (Burmese armed forces) and Riot Police (Lon Htein) killed thousands more in the streets of Rangoon and other cities, and the shootings continued after the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC, known after November 1997 as the SPDC) seized power on September 18, 1988. In stark terms, the violent events of 1988 constituted not only a massive revolt of the population against the state, but also the state’s “pacification” of society, both before and after the violent birth of the SLORC martial law regime.
In 2007, the pattern was remarkably similar. On August 19, a civil society group known as the “’88 Student Generation Group,” veterans of the earlier protests, held a march with about 400 participants demanding that the SPDC rescind the fuel price hike.
During demonstrations over the next few days, protesters were attacked by toughs affiliated with the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a pro-government organization, and many participants, including ’88 Student Generation leaders Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, were arrested. Others such as human rights activist Su Su Nway narrowly escaped imprisonment by going underground.
Beatings and Boycotts
A crucial new stage in the protest was reached when security forces beat and humiliated Buddhist monks during a demonstration in the central Burma town of Pakokku on September 5. The following day, Pakokku monks briefly took government and military officials hostage. An organization known as the “Alliance of All-Burma Buddhist Monks” demanded an apology from the government for its abuse of the monks. If such an apology were not forthcoming by September 17, they vowed to impose a boycott on offerings to the Sangha (Buddhist monkhood) given by members of the Tatmadaw and other people connected to the regime. Known in Pali as patam nikkujjana kamma and colloquially as “turning over the offering bowl,” the monks’ refusal to accept offerings or participate in ceremonies connected with military personnel would deprive the latter of the major means of earning merit (kutho in Burmese), which in the Theravada Buddhism of Southeast Asia is essential to winning a happy rebirth in the cycle of samsara (death and rebirth).
Again, there was a precedent. Such a boycott had been initiated in summer of 1990 following the shooting of monks at a demonstration in Mandalay. Activist young monks and their supporters among Buddhist lay people believed that the Sangha’s paramount status as “sons of the Buddha” in Burmese society would oblige the SLORC/SPDC to make concessions, especially since rank-and-file soldiers are generally devout Buddhists, fearful of losing opportunities for merit-making. But neither in 1990 (when monasteries were raided by the Tatmadaw and monk boycott organizers arrested) nor in 2007 did this turn out to be the case.
When the date for the apology passed, the boycott began and monks numbering in the thousands marched in protest in Rangoon, Mandalay, Sittwe, Pakokku and other towns. This movement became known as the “saffron revolution,” though the robes of Burmese monks are dark red rather than yellow. On Saturday, September 22, police inexplicably allowed a procession of several hundred monks to walk to the house of Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon and she came to the gate to pay her respects. People got their first glimpse of the pro-democracy leader in over four years – she had been put under a renewed term of house arrest in 2003. The impact on the public, who deeply respect Daw Suu Kyi despite SPDC efforts to marginalize her, cannot be overestimated. By September 24-25, as many as 100,000 monks and lay people joined in protests in Rangoon, congregating at the Shwedagon Pagoda, the holiest site in Burmese Buddhism, and at the Sule Pagoda just across from the Rangoon City Hall. Both places had been sites of major demonstrations – and military shootings – during 1988. It was at the Shwedagon that Daw Suu Kyi, speaking before a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people on August 26, 1988, declared that the protests against the Ne Win regime that year constituted “the second struggle for national independence.”
Originally, the monks discouraged lay people from joining in the protests, but by September 25, when demonstrators seemed to be taking over Rangoon’s streets and the security forces still maintained a low profile, they were calling for a nationwide movement to overthrow the military regime. Monk and layperson marchers carried pictures of Gotama Buddha, Buddhist flags and red “fighting peacock” flags (symbol of the old, politically active student unions) and called for the release of Daw Suu Kyi from house arrest. Thus, as in 1988, the original economic grievances gave way to fundamental questions about the SPDC’s legitimacy, its right to rule, and specifically its repression of all political opposition.
The Junta Crackdown
Predictably, the junta cracked down. Beginning on September 26, troops and Riot Police stationed in strategic parts of Rangoon, especially around the Shwedagon Pagoda, fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition at the protesters. According to SPDC spokesmen, the number of fatalities over the next few days was ten, but émigré sources estimated as many as two hundred deaths. According to one report, soldiers in red bandanas had permission from their commanders to shoot people in the street, while those wearing green or yellow ones could beat and arrest them. Monasteries were raided, monks beaten and imprisoned, and thousands of prisoners, both monks and lay people, detained at special holding centers in various parts of the city where they were subjected to inhuman conditions.
The worst day appears to have been September 27, when the killing of peaceful demonstrators occurred at a high school in Tamwe in northeastern Rangoon, and around the Sule Pagoda. As photos and videos of the crackdown streamed out of Burma on the World Wide Web, including those showing the apparent deliberate and close-range shooting of Japanese journalist Nagai Kenji by a soldier on September 27, international indignation grew and the special envoy of the United Nations Secretary General to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, made a special visit to the country to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Than Shwe, chairman of the SPDC and the junta’s most powerful general. But by the end of the month, the streets of Rangoon and other towns had been largely cleared of protesters, and the authorities were ruthlessly hunting down dissidents who had gone underground.
There were differences between the protest movement of 1988 and that of 2007, both in terms of its nature, and the military regime’s response. Monks had taken part in the 1988 movement, but the most important group organizing protests and “strike centers” at that time were university students such as Min Ko Naing, not members of the Sangha. After almost two decades of tight government controls over the campuses, including the relocation of colleges and universities to remote locations outside of Rangoon to sever ties between student activists and townspeople, young students (in contrast to the ’88 Student Generation) seem to have been relatively inactive in 2007.
Also, the regime’s violence was more restrained than nineteen years earlier, when troops poured live ammunition into packed crowds and killed thousands, though the émigré figure of 200 dead in 2007 is probably closer to the actual number of fatalities than the official figure of ten. This time around, non-lethal as well as lethal means were used to clear the streets of protestors. Moreover, while information on the events of 1988 was limited because Burma was still an isolated country, largely cut off from global communications networks, in 2007 bloggers were able speedily to transmit photos and videos out of Rangoon (more rarely, from other towns inside Burma). In response, the SPDC shut down internet cafés and the country’s two internet providers.
However, the government’s reaction to the protests was essentially the same in 2007 as it was in 1988: the iron fist. According to a Rangoon housewife interviewed in secret in October:
I saw people in the street just beaten up for no reason – just walking along the road, not even part of the protests. There was this young boy, he was alone and not shouting with the crowd or clapping.
This captain came up to him, just started beating him and the boy fell on the street. Then the police pushed him into one of those trucks that were lined up to take demonstrators.
As they pushed him, he fell again. Then the police took out a big stick and gave him a huge blow on the back. After that, the captain told everyone in the street that they had 10 minutes to clear off.
People were running for their lives. The vendors started to grab their things. There was one lady selling fritters and she had a big vat of hot oil – she had to walk with this oil and they came after her and beat her to make her move faster. I saw two boys at that moment walking up with cellphones. The captain grabbed the boys, took their cellphones and pushed them into the truck.
Buddhism and the State
That the SPDC would use armed force against Buddhist monks, killing at least several of them and wounding and imprisoning many more, shocked people inside Burma including, it appears, many members of the armed forces. But since 1988, the top generals have given generous donations to prestigious pagodas such as the Shwedagon in Rangoon and compliant senior monks, thereby enhancing their legitimacy as defenders and promoters of the faith. This is a tradition going back to at least the eleventh century ruler Anawrahta, founder of the Pagan Dynasty (1044 – ca. 1300), who was the first Burman monarch to make Theravada Buddhism the state religion. Following the same logic, they have also ruthlessly suppressed uncooperative, mostly younger monks because they fear that criticism of the regime, based on Buddhist moral principles, would undermine their legitimacy. Arguably, the generals hate and fear activist monks even more than they do Daw Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD), the largest opposition party. While the latter pose a challenge to the military regime in the form of a revival of Burma’s modern, secular traditions of revolutionary nationalism (epitomized by Aung San, Daw Suu Kyi’s father), monk opposition constitutes a fundamental attack on the SPDC’s very “Burmeseness,” its oft-repeated claim to embody and protect Burma’s national identity, whose core is Buddhism.
The Tatmadaw and the Sangha
The Tatmadaw and the Sangha are Burma’s two most important social institutions, whose members both number around 400,000. They found themselves in conflict in September 2007, but given the army’s monopoly of lethal force and its determination to use it, monks chanting the Metta Sutta (the Sutra on Loving Kindness) had no more chance of prevailing than the unarmed student activists of 1988.
According to another witness, a teacher, interviewed in Rangoon:
I know dozens of monks. One monk is very old. He is 78. It never occurred to him that in his lifetime he would have to hide. The day after the shootings started, I went to this monastery and the faces that I saw on those monks was something that I had never seen. It is not fear. It was a sadness so unbelievable. Now the young monks that I talked to – who weren’t rounded up – they want to disrobe. They don’t have the moral courage to go on. “Better to be a layman,” they said.
I told them that this would be a terrible loss for our Buddhism.
“No,” they say. “What’s the use of meditation? The power of meditation can’t stop them from beating us.”
The worst thing now is that no amount of persuasion from the abbots will stop the young monks from disrobing. An abbot of a monastery where hundreds of children are taught said three quarters of the monks had fled…
As people around the world watched the suppression of the monk and citizen demonstrations in late September, two questions came to mind. First, why does the military regime act so violently against their own people, especially since the political opposition in Burman majority central Burma, whether in the form of Daw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, the “saffron revolution” or the generally peaceful marches in support of the monks by laypeople, has been almost without exception moderate and non-violent? In other words, why is the SPDC so tyrannical? Secondly, how can they get away with it? Why hasn’t the international community been able to get the SLORC/SPDC to improve its behavior?
Why is the SPDC so Tyrannical?
If they agree on little else, Burma watchers concur that the political crisis in Burma continues unabated: a vicious cycle of state repression and ineptness (including economic measures such as the 1987 demonetization and the 2007 fuel price hike), an explosion of popular anger and its expression in unarmed demonstrations, and the regime’s use of lethal force to suppress them. Nothing that either a moderate opposition or the international community can do seems to modify its harshness (Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly called for dialogue between the NLD and the SPDC, but to no avail). In central Burma, this cycle reaches back to at least July 1962, when General Ne Win, who had established his martial law junta, the Revolutionary Council, only a few months before, ordered his troops to fire on student demonstrators at the Rangoon University campus and demolish the Rangoon University Student Union building.
Usually, unrest was linked to economic hardship, inflation and shortages of necessities, especially rice. This was true during the anti-Chinese riots of June 1967 (which some observers have suggested may have been largely regime-instigated), the labor strikes of May-June 1974, and the events of 1987-1988, as well as 2007. In other cases, student activism itself provided the stimulus: for example, the July 1962 incident and the “U Thant incident” of December 5-11, 1974, when university students seized the coffin of the highly esteemed United Nations Secretary General U Thant (he had died in New York of cancer in November 1974) and attempted to bury it at a mausoleum built on the empty site of the Rangoon University student union building. Troops moved onto the campus and killed an undetermined number of students as well as protesters at large in the city. Student-centered protests flared up again in 1975, 1976 and again in 1996. In none of these cases, has the (Ne Win, SLORC/SPDC) military regime ever made a serious effort to use negotiation rather than brute force to resolve the crisis.
In Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma, Mary Callahan focuses on the central role of the Tatmadaw as a “war fighting” as well as a governing institution. In a study that encompasses the colonial, wartime and parliamentary democracy periods (the nineteenth century to 1962), she claims that the military regime’s essentially coercive approach to governing derives from the fatal coupling of war and state-building, which precluded peaceful, accommodative solutions to internal political problems during the formative years of Burma’s colonial and post-colonial history.
The modern Burmese army was established by the Japanese as the Burma Independence Army in December 1941. Since then, it has fought the British, the Japanese, ethnic and communist insurgents in the countryside and border areas, and an invasion of Kuomintang Chinese “irregulars” who entered the Shan States in 1949-1950 and later became deeply involved in drug-dealing. After the Ne Win regime was established, the People’s Army of the Burma Communist Party, based along the Burma-China border and generously funded by the Chinese communists in Beijing, became the most powerful insurgency fighting the Tatmadaw during 1968-1988. Moreover, at least in the initial stages of independent Burma’s history, protests inside central Burma, including student protests, were often communist-inspired – though by 1988 this appears no longer to have been the case. In short, Burma’s status as a “fault line” of Cold War regional tensions and superpower intervention (for example, US Central Intelligence Agency support for the Kuomintang “irregulars”) generated the conditions that led the armed forces not only to seize power from civilian politicians, but also to enforce an uncompromising power monopoly after 1962.
Two trends are apparent in the post-1988 Tatmadaw – and especially among its highest ranking officers. First, it is increasingly isolated from the ordinary population, Burman as well as ethnic minority, in an evolving power structure that has become -ironically - highly “colonial” in its control and management of space and resources; and secondly, this isolation and the continued vicious cycle of oppression-revolt-suppression has deprived the SPDC of any meaningful popular support outside of a small circle of crony capitalists such as Teza, owner of Htoo Trading and a major figure in the construction of the new SPDC capital, Naypyidaw.
From Rangoon to Naypyidaw
Always regarded as a foreign army of occupation in ethnic minority areas such as Karen and Shan States, army officers and men seem to have enjoyed a modicum of respect and popular support in lowland Burman areas because of their role in enforcing national unity in distant border battlefields - that is until the crackdown in 1988 erased the distinction between Burman “Us” and ethnic minority/communist “Them” by using much the same lethal tactics against the former as against the latter, on an unexpectedly large scale.
Residents of Rangoon have told me that a major reason why the SPDC decided to undertake the costly project of building a new capital, Naypyidaw, in the center of the country in 2005 was to avoid the danger of popular unrest in Rangoon, Mandalay and other large cities. In August and September 1988, at the height of anti-regime protests, top-ranking army personnel living with their families in Rangoon, surrounded by civilians, quit the city and stayed in military installations until after the September 18 SLORC power seizure. Many officers feared that if popular forces succeeded in toppling the government, they might be subject to a French Revolution-style terror, or at least “Nuremberg-style” trials. Since 1988, military officers and men and their families have enjoyed facilities – housing, hospitals, schools and universities, recreational areas and shops – far superior to those to which civilians have access, save for the richest of the new SPDC-linked capitalist class. This pattern of segregation, the management of space, invites comparison with that of European colonialists who established their own neighborhoods and social circles apart from those of the “natives” in the years before World War II. Moreover, Tatmadaw officers have been, at least when compared with civilian workers, generously rewarded for their loyalty to the SPDC: in 2006, salaries of battalion commanders were increased ten times.
Between 1989 and 2005, the SLORC/SPDC worked diligently to make Rangoon and other large cities “insurrection-proof” or safe for themselves and their families by relocating people from the city center to outlying satellite towns (an estimated half a million in Rangoon alone, mostly involuntarily), removing university campuses, hotbeds of dissent, to remote areas, tearing down neighborhoods where protests had taken place (such as Rangoon’s Myeinigone Market area) and replacing them with new apartments and shopping centers, and redesigning the city streets and open spaces to make them easier to control. Through an open economy policy encouraging foreign investment in condominiums, shopping centers, golf courses and luxury hotels, the regime sought to create the illusion, if not the reality, of consumerism and rising urban standards of living, making Rangoon appear increasingly like other Southeast Asian capitals, such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. But Burma’s economy continued to stagnate, lurching from crisis to crisis such as the 2003 failure of the country’s new commercial banks. Most importantly, the great majority of city residents (and rural Burmese as well) did not share in the benefits of the post-socialist economy. The SPDC abandonment of Rangoon in 2005 in favor of the ultra-controlled, artificial urban spaces of Naypyidaw 320 kilometers to the north thus constitutes the ultimate step in the “colonial” segregation of ruler and ruled.
The Failure of Sanctions
The second question posed above – why hasn’t the international community been able to pressure the SPDC into improving its behavior toward its own people? – is closely connected to the perennial debate over the efficacy of using economic and other sanctions versus “constructive engagement” in dealing with the Myanmar junta. Since the mid-1990s, policymakers in the United States and other Western countries have seen tough economic sanctions as the most effective way of getting the junta to reform, or even forcing it from power (though the first serious U.S. sanctions, a ban on new American investment, were not implemented until 1997); while Asian countries, including Japan, see economic engagement (trade, aid, investment) and what Japanese leaders called “quiet dialogue” as more successful in coaxing the regime toward greater openness. But by the close of the twentieth century, it was clear that neither policy had worked in getting the junta to observe democratic or human rights norms. The SPDC has been able to support itself by selling the country’s abundant natural resources, especially natural gas and teak wood, to its Asian neighbors, making it immune to economic penalties imposed by the West (sanctions) and indifferent to financial rewards (from Japan and the West) as long as they have human rights/democratization strings attached. Burma’s neighbors also give the junta economic support because of strategic considerations. For example, the Indian government was initially hostile to the SLORC, but began to engage with the regime in order to counterbalance Chinese influence in the country, which has a long Indian Ocean coastline where Chinese naval listening stations are rumored to have been built. ASEAN also promotes close economic engagement to prevent the country from falling entirely within Beijing’s sphere of influence.
At the height of the anti-government protests in late summer of 1988, the governments of developed countries including Japan, West Germany and the United States initiated a freeze of disbursements of foreign aid. Although some aid was later resumed (especially by Japan, which remains Burma’s largest donor of ODA), such funding was never as generous nor played as important a role in the post-1988, post-socialist Burmese economy as it did during the closing years of the Ne Win regime, when hundreds of millions of dollars of mostly low-interest loans flowed into the country annually for construction of development projects.
Some observers have argued that official development assistance, especially from Japan, played a role in keeping the Ne Win regime afloat during its leanest years in power. After 1988, the aid freeze forced the newly-established State Law and Order Restoration Council to find other sources of economic support, an urgent priority due not only to its lack of hard currency reserves (as low as US$10 million in late 1988) but also due to the continued restiveness of the population and the SLORC’s fear that the Tatmadaw might split, a faction of officers going over to the side of the opposition in the manner of the Philippine army during the “People’s Power” protests of 1986. The SLORC needed infusions of cash to buy the army’s loyalty and the weapons necessary to keep the population cowed.
Burma and the Asian Economic Integration
On October 6, less than a month after the SLORC power seizure, trucks were observed carrying arms provided by Singapore from Rangoon port to the military cantonment in Mingaladon Township on the city’s north side. This initial arms purchase was probably a barter arrangement, like subsequent deals. The junta also obtained a large infusion of cash (around US$435 million) from sale of a portion of its embassy land in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, to a small Japanese company at a time when Tokyo land prices were sky high. Most fundamentally, the SLORC passed the Union of Burma (Myanmar) Foreign Investment Law in November 1988 that allowed foreign companies to establish branches, wholly owned subsidiaries or joint ventures with domestic firms, on the model of China and Vietnam.
Following a summit in Rangoon between SLORC chairman General Saw Maung and Thai army commander Chaovalit Yongchaiyuth in December 1988, the newly installed junta signed contracts with Thai companies to exploit forestry resources just inside Burma’s border with Thailand, and also permitted Thai exploitation of offshore fisheries. Clear-cutting of forests has also occurred in Kachin State, with the logs being exported to China. In the mid-1990s, the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) established a joint venture with foreign (French, Thai and American) oil companies to construct a natural gas pipeline from the Yadana field in the Bay of Martaban to Thailand, for electricity generation. The first delivery of natural gas to Thailand took place in 1998, and by 2006, Burma was Thailand’s largest supplier of energy. Other offshore natural gas projects have followed, including the Shwe Prospect, a huge field in the Bay of Bengal that is being developed by MOGE and South Korean and Indian oil companies. Annual revenue to the SPDC from sales of natural gas now amount to hundreds of millions of dollars, and in coming years will grow to billions of dollars as the extraction of gas from offshore fields expands and prices rise because of intense competition for limited world energy resources.
A life saver for the regime, this abundance of natural resources has been far from a blessing for the Burmese people since it ensures that the junta can buy weapons and surveillance technology to suppress dissent, and the global environment of energy scarcity makes neighboring nations (even India, “the world’s largest democracy”) increasingly reluctant to criticize or pressure the regime. As a consequence, the SLORC/SPDC’s coercive governing style has not changed, as mentioned above. Aung San Suu Kyi was back under house arrest in 2000, released in 2002 and following a brutal attack on her and her followers by the USDA in Upper Burma on May 30, 2003 (the so-called Depayin or Black Friday Incident), she was again confined – her third term of house arrest since July 1989. Members of her National League for Democracy have been harassed, arrested and forced to resign from the party and party offices shut down nationwide. The NLD has been so thoroughly crushed that it did not play a major role in the August-September demonstrations. Brutal pacification of Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic minority areas along the country’s borders continues unabated, though since 1989 the SLORC has signed cease-fires with most ethnic armed groups, including the powerful, drug-dealing United Wa State Army. The crackdown in September 2007 was further evidence that as long as neighboring states continue to pay for raw material exports, the SPDC believes it doesn’t need the support of its own people.
The collapse of Burmese-style socialism in 1988 occurred in tandem with a wider trend, not only the post-Cold War victory of free market capitalism over revolutionary ideology (in the words of one Thai prime minister, “turning battlefields into marketplaces”), but also the integration of continental Asia as an economic region once China, the more prosperous ASEAN states and most recently India began their periods of rapid growth and industrialization. This development has made Burma progressively less dependent on the West and Japan for trade, aid and investment.
The integration of continental Asia, the growing importance of overland as well as traditional maritime routes that were established centuries ago, is likely to accelerate because of the Asian Highway project, which is designed to connect East, Southeast and South Asia with Central Asia and the Middle East; Chinese proposals to construct a transportation route joining Yunnan Province, the upper Irrawaddy Valley, Arakan State and the Bay of Bengal (thus by-passing the historically vital Straits of Malacca); and the Asian Development Bank-sponsored Greater Mekong Subregion project, which aims at the integration of the Mekong River littoral states, including Burma, and includes a plan to link the Andaman Sea overland with the South China Sea.
Those who contend that the SPDC’s move of its capital city from the seaport of Rangoon to Naypyidaw is an expression of “traditional Burmese seclusionism” like the move of the royal capital from Lower to Upper Burma in the early seventeenth century may be mistaken. The new capital is located close to the planned Asian Highway system, and to the adjacent hinterlands of China, Thailand, Laos and India. Based in Naypyidaw, the SPDC will be able to exert greater pressure on ethnic armed groups, not only the dissident Karen National Union and Shan State Army-South but also the United Wa State Army, which are obstacles to political and economic integration, and will also be able to exploit more effectively the natural resources of Upper Burma. Rather than being isolated, the SPDC’s new power center is in an ideal position to take advantage of the new regional economic order.
On October 1, 2007, Burma’s foreign minister Nyan Win, responding to criticism of the SPDC crackdown the previous month at the United Nations General Assembly, accused “opportunists…aided and abetted by some powerful countries” of “neo-colonialist attempts” to impose some new form of Western hegemony on Burma. But SPDC policies themselves have perpetuated a kind of neo-colonialism. Aside from textile plants located in industrial estates on the outskirts of Rangoon (which have been hard hit by American sanctions) and a few rusting factories from the socialist era, SPDC-ruled Burma has little industry, a situation quite similar to the British colonial period. There are also few facilities to process raw material exports: natural gas is piped out of the offshore wells directly to foreign refineries, which turn it into useable fuels. Because these fuels, especially diesel oil, are more expensive than unrefined natural gas, Burma finds itself in the odd predicament of being an energy exporter that cannot afford adequate supplies of imported gasoline and other fuels – a major factor in the fuel price hike of summer 2007 that was the immediate cause of the August-September protests.
Processing and refrigeration plants for frozen seafood, exported to neighboring countries, often cannot function because of the unavailability of electricity. The SPDC builds a new, outwardly shiny capital, but the roads leading in and out of Naypyidaw are in poor repair. Outside of the Tatmadaw military caste, skilled labor is increasingly rare because of the woeful state of the nation’s schools and colleges. Many of the most talented and best-educated Burmese leave the country and do not return. In consequence, Burma’s economy remains a peripheral one: sustained (and also crippled) by reliance on the export of low-cost, largely unprocessed commodities in exchange for manufactured goods from other parts of Asia. It also exports unskilled labor, with hundreds of thousands of economic refugees leaving the country to find jobs in neighboring countries to support their families back home. Poor Burmese are among the sub-proletariat of the “new” Asia: day laborers at construction sites, seamen, maids, sweat shop workers with no legal protection and workers in the sex industry, especially in northern Thailand.
During the post-Cold War period (that is, roughly, from 1988) there has emerged a structured hierarchy of domination and exploitation involving rapidly developing Asian states and those still mired in underdevelopment, in which Burma unfortunately finds itself at the bottom of the manufacturing, information and financial food chain. And a major reason why it finds itself in this baleful position is that the military regime has failed over the decades to work out a constructive, non-coercive relationship with the society it governs, a prerequisite for economic development. Since 1962, when General Ne Win carried out his coup d’état and toppled parliamentary government, bad governance has deprived the state of popular support, which in turn has made it necessary for the regime to seek external support at a high price – the junta’s own dependence on raw material exports to pay its troops and purchase new weapons from abroad and Burma’s inclusion within a trans-national economic system arguably as oppressive as that established by the British or even the wartime Japanese.
I have argued that the political crisis in Burma – the vicious cycle of bad governance, popular unrest, and the authorities’ violent suppression of demonstrations – shows little or no sign of abatement both because of the essentially coercive nature of the SLORC/SPDC and the Tatmadaw, which have evolved institutionally in an environment of civil war and foreign intervention since Burma was invaded by the Japanese in 1941, and because the post-1988 inclusion of raw material-exporting Burma within a new economic hierarchy insulates the junta from pressure exerted either by individual nations (American and European sanctions) or the international community in the form of a largely ineffective United Nations whose envoys shuttle hopelessly between New York and Naypyidaw. Burma’s abundance of natural gas places the junta in an increasingly favorable financial position.
Military-ruled Burma is unhappily caught up in two forms of colonialism – or “neo-colonialism.” First, the ruling elite not only enjoys economic benefits unavailable to the general population, who find themselves increasingly mired in poverty, but it constructs segregated spaces for its own security and enjoyment – the ultimate example being the new capital of Naypyidaw, located in a remote part of the country. Like the British in the early part of the twentieth century, the SPDC has collaborators, but few genuine supporters among the population. To deal with this lack of legitimacy, the British had the Indian Army and Imperial Police to quell their unruly Burmese (and Indian) subjects; the SPDC has a home-grown army, but one increasingly funded, equipped and trained by Burma’s neighbors and collaborators abroad, especially China, India, ASEAN and Russia.
Secondly, the country’s economic situation is a classic colonial one: export of cheap commodities in exchange for manufactured goods from abroad, while the population remains (in large measure a result of deliberate policy) unskilled and uneducated. One might also mention the existence of a comprador or capitalist go-between class, largely foreign business people who play a central role in negotiating trade. Business people of many nationalities, but especially Chinese, have flocked to post-1988 “free market” Burma to make their fortunes in collaboration with the top SPDC generals. Among these are the group known as “Wa-Kokang Entrepreneurs,” major figures from the China-Burma border area who use revenues from the sale of drugs to invest in property and business ventures not only in Upper Burma (Mandalay), which since the SLORC power seizure has become a major center for Chinese business, but also more recently in Lower Burma (Rangoon).
Given the hardening of these neo-colonial patterns since 1988, what can the international community do to improve the situation inside the country, in terms of human rights and human security? “Smarter” sanctions might be one answer, which target the top military-business elite rather than ordinary people (such as textile workers laid off by the ill-advised 2003 sanctions adopted by the United States, prohibiting U.S. imports of Burmese products). Pressure on China, the junta’s most important backer, to become more active in getting the SPDC to reform is another option, but given Western nations’ growing economic ties with Beijing, there is little likelihood of their using, for example, the threat of a boycott of the Beijing Olympics to force change in China’s Burma policy. Ideally, there should be close cooperation among all nations involved, including Burma’s neighbors, but given the wide divergence of national interests (especially in relation to energy) this may also be an unattainable goal. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for, at least over the short run, is a combination of moral support for the democratic opposition, intelligently designed sanctions on the part of Western nations and sustained international attention paid to the Burma crisis, including its greater prominence on the agenda of the United Nations despite Chinese or Russian vetoes in the Security Council.
For some years, observers have said that because of unceasing repression by the SPDC and the excessive caution of those of its leaders who are not in prison, the National League for Democracy has become a spent force. Although the NLD role was apparently minimal, the protests of August-September show that a new generation of oppositionists is emerging and the population at large is alienated from the SPDC, both because of its brutal treatment of the “sons of the Buddha” and its inept economic policies. On October 31, 2007, a group of about 100 monks held a procession in Pakokku, the Upper Burma site of the original incident on September 5 that led to the massive Sangha and lay protests later in the month. It was the first public dissent since late September. What Aung San Suu Kyi back in 1988 called “the second struggle for national independence” is far from over.
 Shah Paung. “Business, transport hit hard by Gas Hike.” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, August 16, 2007, at www.irrawaddy.org, accessed 09-24-2007. Low-ranking civil servants, for example, are paid 26,000 kyat per month, but following the subsidy cut will have to pay between 8,800 and 13,200 kyat per month to commute to work in Rangoon.
 Banknotes of 25, 35 and 75 kyats, which had been introduced following a 1985 demonetization order, were declared worthless, and replaced by banknotes of 45 and 90 kyats, which were said to reflect dictator Ne Win’s numerological obsession with the number “9.”
 The poorest people were especially hard hit, since the rich customarily kept their savings in the form of gold, gemstones or money-generating durables such as used cars and trucks that could be hired out.
 Bertil Lintner. Outrage: Burma’s struggle for Democracy. Hong Kong: Review Publishing, 1989: pp. 95-97. Lintner’s book remains the definitive account of the events of 1988.
 In one incident alone, the “White Bridge Incident” of March 16, 1988, between two and three hundred students were killed and many others arrested during a Riot Police attack on their protest march from the University of Rangoon to the Rangoon Institute of Technology.
 Loosely structured but united in their common experience of the 1988 uprising, the ’88 Student Generation emerged during 2006 as the instigator of surprisingly effective protests. See Bertil Lintner. “Burma’s warrior kings and the Generation of 1988” in Global Asia, vol. 2, no. 2 (Fall 2007), accessed 10-22-2007.
 A huge mass, grass-roots organization under the patronage of SPDC Chairman Senior General Than Shwe, the USDA was responsible for an attack on Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters in Sagaing Division that left an estimated 70 dead on May 30, 2003. On the arrests, see Kyaw Kwa Moe. “Burmese authorities hunt down key activists.” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, August 25, 2007, accessed 09-24-2007; and “Activist Su Su Nway escapes arrest; 200 monks protest in Sittwe.” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, August 28, 2007, accessed 09-24-2007.
 Yeni. “Burmese monks demand government apology.” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, September 10, 2007, accessed 09-24-2007.
 Kyaw Zwa Moe. “Suu Kyi greets Monks at her home; 10,000 monks demonstrate in Mandalay.” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, September 22, 2007, accessed 09-24-2007; Seth Mydans. “Monks protest is challenging Burmese junta.” The New York Times on-line, September 24, 2007, accessed 09-24-2007. Subsequent monk attempts to go to Daw Suu Kyi’s house were blocked by the police.
 Aung San Suu Kyi. “Speech to a Mass Rally at the Shwedagon Pagoda.” In Freedom from Fear and Other Writings. Edited by Michael Aris. Revised edition. London: Penguin Books, 1995: p. 193.
 Gwynn Guilford. “Burma after the Crackdown: Waiting for the Military to turn on their Generals.” Slate on-line magazine, October 15, 2007, accessed 10-16-2007.
 Saw Yan Naing. “Witnesses say September 27 was the worst.” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, October 8, 2007, accessed 10-09-2007.
 Wai Moe. “Prominent student leaders arrested.” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, October 13, 2007, accessed 10-13-2007.
 The last major demonstration by university students was in December 1996. After 1988, the SLORC/SPDC adopted three measures to control university students: (1) keeping university campuses closed for long periods during 1988-2002; (2) relocating campuses to remote, outlying areas to prevent the mixing of students and townspeople (also, dormitories were not built on new campuses, so students have to commute); and (3) promoting distance education courses, which obviate the need for students to come together in lecture rooms
 Seth Mydans. “Firsthand accounts reveal terror of the crackdown in Myanmar.” International Herald Tribune, October 14, 2007, at www.iht.com, accessed 10-15-2007.
 Larry Jagan. “Cracks appear in Myanmar military unity.” Asia Times on-line edition, accessed 10-01-2007.
 In April 1999, for example, Lt.-General Khin Nyunt, the then powerful (but later purged) head of Military Intelligence, sponsored the replacement of the hti or gold and jewel-encrusted finial on the summit of the Shwedagon Pagoda.
 This has historical resonance. In 1757, King Alaungpaya, founder of the Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885) captured the Mon [ethnic minority] capital of Pegu in the southern part of the country near Rangoon, extinguishing the Mon royal dynasty, and slaughtered 3,000 Mon monks because of their loyalty to their native king. According to historians, the monks were trampled by elephants and their monasteries pillaged. See Emmanuel Guillon. The Mons: a Civilization of Southeast Asia. Bangkok: the Siam Society, 1999: p. 203.
 Seth Mydans, “Firsthand accounts reveal terror of the crackdown in Myanmar.” See also Shah Paung. “Where have all the monks gone?” The Irrawaddy, October 16, 2007, accessed 10-16-2007.
 Since 1988, there has been remarkably little of what could be called terrorism: armed resistance in the Border Areas, where the major ethnic minorities such as the Karens, Shans and Kachins live, has been mostly ineffective; occasional bombings have occurred in Rangoon and Mandalay. One incident in May 2005 involved explosions with fatalities at shopping centers in Rangoon, and some observers speculated that it had more to do with military factionalism than with an armed, violent opposition.
 On the U Thant incident, see Andrew Selth. “Death of a Hero: the U Thant Disturbances in Burma, December 1974.” Research Paper no. 49. Brisbane: Griffith University Centre for the Study of Australia-Asia Relations, 1989.
 This discussion does not include an account of the military regime’s behavior toward ethnic minority groups in the border areas, such as the Karens, Kachins and Shans, which has been even more coercive than its behavior toward the population in central Burma. See Bertil Lintner. Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency since 1948. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1999.
 See Mary H. Callahan. Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003: especially the Introduction, pp. 1-20.
 The scale and importance of Cold War-generated conflict in Burma is perhaps underestimated, especially when compared to Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos). It resulted not only in the perpetuation of harsh military rule after 1962 but the development of powerful, drug-dealing warlord armies in the border areas, especially Shan State.
 Comment of Rangoon resident to author, March 20, 2007.
 See Donald M. Seekins. “The State and the City: 1988 and the Transformation of Rangoon.” Pacific Affairs, vol. 78, no. 2 (Summer 2005): pp. 264-270.
 Ibid., pp. 270-273.
 See Donald M. Seekins. “A Tale of Two Cities: the SPDC’s decision to move Burma’s (Myanmar’s) capital from Rangoon (Yangon) to Naypyidaw (Naypyitaw).” Paper presented at the Workshop on “Capital Cities and Their Contested Role in the Life of Nations.” Shinawatra University, Bangkok, Thailand, September 17-18, 2007.
 In October 1998, diplomats and representatives from the United Nations and World Bank met at Chilston Park, outside of London, and came up with a plan through which the SPDC would be given US$1.0 billion in aid in exchange for opening dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the opposition. The junta turned the proposal down, saying Burma would not “dance like trained monkeys” for foreign “bribes.” On the Chilston conference, see Thomas Crampton. “U.N. Links Burma Aid to Political Dialogue.” International Herald Tribune, November 26, 1998, pp. 1, 10.
 See Donald M. Seekins. Burma and Japan since 1940: From ‘Co-Prosperity’ to ‘Quiet Dialogue’. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2007: pp. 61-100.
 David I. Steinberg. Burma: the State of Myanmar. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2001: p. 256.
 Some military personnel did participate in the 1988 demonstrations in Rangoon, and in the May 1990 general election, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy received strong support in constituencies where Tatmadaw personnel and their families resided. The currency reserve figure is from Lintner, Outrage, p. 230.
 Ibid., pp. 188-189.
 Seekins, Burma and Japan since 1940, p. 116.
 Lintner, Outrage, pp. 220-222.
 On the Yadana Pipeline Project and associated human rights violations, see Earthrights International and Southeast Asian Information Network. Total Denial: A Report on the Yadana Pipeline Project in Burma. N.p.: ERI/SAIN, July 1996.
 Anuchit Nguyen. “Gas and oil discovered in Myanmar.” International Herald Tribune, August 6, 2006, accessed 11-01-2007.
 See Zaw Htet and Kyaw Thu. “Nation set for huge increases in oil and gas investment”; and “A Study of abundance: major onshore and offshore oil and gas fields in Myanmar.” The Myanmar Times and Weekly Review, August 20-26, 2007, accessed 10-30-2007
 In 1635, King Thalun officially moved his capital from Pegu, which had been a major Southeast Asian seaport and trade center, to Ava in landlocked Upper Burma. In contrast, Siam maintained its capital near the sea, at Ayuthaya until 1767, and at Bangkok after 1782. See D.G.E. Hall. A History of South-East Asia. London: Macmillan, 1964: p. 356.
 Dulyapak Preecharushh. “Myanmar’s Capital Relocation from Yangon to Pyinmana Naypyidaw.” Unpublished M.A. thesis, Southeast Asian Studies Centre of the Graduate School, Chulalongkorn University (n.d.).
 Agence France-Presse. “Myanmar violence blamed on ‘opportunists’ backed by ‘powerful countries.’” October 1, 2007,, accessed 10-10-2007.
 William Boot. “Burma’s Skyrocketing gas prices caused by ‘incompetence,’ says analysts.” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, August 16, 2007, at www.irrawaddy.org, accessed 09-24-2007; Alfred Oehlers. “Behind Burma’s fuel price rise (commentary).” The Irrawaddy on-line edition, August 22, 2007, accessed 09-24-2007.
 See Choe Sang-Hun. “In Disgust for the Junta, Burmese are united.” International Herald Tribune, October 29, 2007, accessed 10-30-2007.
 The most famous drug-financed entrepreneur is the Sino-Shan Khun Sa, formerly known as the “king of the Golden Triangle,” who signed a peace agreement with the SLORC in 1996 and was allowed to have a luxurious and secure retirement in Rangoon, investing in a number of business ventures. He died on October 28, 2007.
 See Bertil Lintner. “Myanmar’s Generals Hit where it Hurts.” Asia Times on-line, November 2, 2007, accessed 11-02-2007.
 Though this is becoming a new theme for pro-democracy activists outside of Burma.
Posted on: Friday, November 16, 2007 - 19:56
SOURCE: http://www.americanprogress.org (11-15-07)
... [George W.] Bush is the first American president ever to combine the fighting of a war with the granting of a massive tax cut to wealthiest Americans—or indeed any Americans. The president also encouraged Americans to shop and offered further tax-breaks for gas-guzzling SUVs. To top it all off, the administration refused to allow the coffins of returning soldiers to be photographed, and thereby did not invite Americans to honor their war dead. (The flights carrying wounded soldiers to U.S. military hospitals also arrived at night to preclude much photography.) Also ignoring previous precedent, George W. Bush attended no military funerals. He furthermore refused numerous requests that he personally deliver a recruitment speech, despite the crying need for new enlistees his own policies have created.
A new G.I. Bill would be smart place to for progressives to begin. As Dionne has argued, such an approach would not only be fair and decent; it would demonstrate that progressives “honor two things at least. We honor service to country and community and say that that’s important. And then by rewarding service to country and community, we assert that government has the capacity to help lift people up.”
Indeed, Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) are calling for just such a measure—a post-Iraq G.I. Bill. They noted in a joint op-ed in The New York Times last Friday that the current Montgomery G.I. Bill provides hardly enough for one to attend a community college, and that “first-class service to country deserves first-class appreciation.” Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has joined with veteran and former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) in calling for active measures to prevent veterans from losing their jobs when they return from service, since nearly 11,000 National Guard and Reserve troops alone have been denied reemployment since 9/11.
FDR’s G.I. bill was liberalism at its best; it offered opportunity in gratitude for assuming responsibility and helping remake America in its own self-image. As a symbol of just how different progressives are from conservatives today—as well as from the caricature that conservatives and their allies in the mainstream media so frequently pose—a new G.I. would paint the kind of picture that is worth not merely a thousand, but many millions of George W. Bush’s worthless words.
Posted on: Friday, November 16, 2007 - 18:00
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (11-15-07)
Georgia's on my mind. Atlanta, Georgia. It's a city in trouble in a state in trouble in a region in trouble. Water trouble. Trouble big enough that the state government's moving fast. Just this week, backed up by a choir singing "Amazing Grace," accompanied by three protestant ministers, and 20 demonstrators from the Atlanta Freethought Society, Georgia's Baptist Governor Sonny Perdue led a crowd of hundreds in prayers for rain. "We've come together here," he said, "simply for one reason and one reason only: To very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm." It seems, however, that the Almighty -- He "who can and will make a difference" -- was otherwise occupied and the regional drought continued to threaten Atlanta, a metropolis of 5 million people (and growing fast), with the possibility that it might run out of water in as little as 80 days or as much as a year, if the rains don't come.
Here's a little summary of the situation today:
Water rationing has hit the capital. Car washing and lawn watering are prohibited within city limits. Harvests in the region have dropped by 15-30%. By the end of summer, local reservoirs and dams were holding 5% of their capacity.
Oops, that's not Atlanta, or even the southeastern U.S. That's Ankara, Turkey, hit by a fierce drought and high temperatures that also have had southern and southwestern Europe in their grip.
Sorry, let's try that again. Imagine this scenario:
Over the last decade, 15-20% decreases in precipitation have been recorded. These water losses have been accompanied by record temperatures and increasing wildfires in areas where populations have been growing rapidly. A fierce drought has settled in -- of the hundred-year variety. Lawns can be watered but just for a few hours a day (and only by bucket); four-minute showers are the max allowed. Car washes are gone, though you can clean absolutely essential car windows and mirrors by hand.
Sound familiar? As it happens, that's not the American southeast either; that's a description of what's come to be called "The Big Dry" -- the unprecedented drought that has swept huge parts of Australia, the worst in at least a century on an already notoriously dry continent, but also part of the world's breadbasket, where crops are now failing regularly and farms closing down.
In fact, on my way along the parched path toward Atlanta, Georgia, I found myself taking any number of drought-stricken detours. There's Moldova. (If you're like me, odds are you don't even know where that small, former Soviet republic falls on a map.) Like much of southern Europe, it experienced baking temperatures this summer, exceptionally low precipitation, sometimes far less than 50% of expected rainfall, failing crops and farms, and spreading wildfires. (The same was true, to one degree or another, of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, and -- with its 100-year record scorching of Biblical proportions -- Greece which lost 10% of its forest cover in a month-long fiery apocalypse, leaving "large tracts of countryside…. at risk of depopulation.")
Or how about Morocco, across the Mediterranean, which experienced 50% less rainfall than normal? Or the Canary Islands, those Spanish vacation spots in the Atlantic Ocean known to millions of visitors for their year-around mild climate which, this summer, morphed into 104 degree days, strong winds, and fierce wildfires. Eighty-six thousand acres were burnt to a crisp, engulfing some of the islands in flames and smoke that drove out thousands of tourists?
Or what about Mexico's Tehuacán Valley, where, thousands of years ago, corn was first domesticated as an agricultural crop. Even today, asking for "un Tehuacán" in a restaurant in Mexico still means getting the best bottled mineral water in the country. Unfortunately, the area hasn't had a good rain since 2003, and the ensuing drought conditions have made subsistence farming next to impossible, sending desperate locals northwards and across the border as illegal immigrants -- some into southern California, itself just swept by monstrous Santa Ana-driven wildfires, fanned by prolonged drought conditions and fed tinder by new communities built deep into the wild lands where the fires gestate. And Tehuacán is but one disaster zone in a growing Mexican catastrophe. As Mike Davis has written, "Abandoned ranchitos and near-ghost towns throughout Coahuila, Chihuahua and Sonora testify to the relentless succession of dry years -- beginning in the 1980s but assuming truly catastrophic intensity in the late 1990s -- that has pushed hundreds of thousands of poor rural people toward the sweatshops of Ciudad Juárez and the barrios of Los Angeles."
According to the How Dry I Am Chart of "livability expert" Bert Sperling, four cities in Southern California, not parched Atlanta, top the national drought ratings: Los Angeles, San Diego, Oxnard, and Riverside. In addition, Pasadena has had the dubious honor, through September, of experiencing its driest year in history.
Resource Wars in the Homeland
"Resource wars" are things that happen elsewhere. We don't usually think of our country as water poor or imagine that "resource wars" might be applied as a description to various state and local governments in the southwest, southeast, or upper Midwest now fighting tooth and nail for previously shared water. And yet, "war" may not be a bad metaphor for what's on the horizon. According to the National Climate Data Center, federal officials have declared 43% of the contiguous U.S. to be in "moderate to extreme drought." Already, Sonny Perdue of Georgia is embroiled in an ever more bitter conflict -- a "water war," as the headlines say -- with the governors of Florida and Alabama, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers, over the flow of water into and out of the Atlanta area.
He's hardly alone. After all, the Southwest is in the grips of what, according to Davis, some climatologists are terming a "'mega-drought,' even the 'worst in 500 years.'" More shockingly, he writes, such conditions may actually represent the region's new "normal weather." The upper Midwest is also in rainfall-shortage mode, with water levels at all the Great Lakes dropping unnervingly. The water level of Lake Superior, for instance, has fallen to the "lowest point on record for this time of year." (Notice, by the way, how many "records" are being set nationally and globally in these drought years; how many places are already beginning to push beyond history, which means beyond any reference point we have.)
And then there's the southeast, 26% of which, according to the National Weather Service, is in a state of "exceptional" drought, its most extreme category, and 78% of which is "drought-affected." We're talking here about a region normally considered rich in water resources setting a bevy of records for dryness. It has been the driest year on record for North Carolina and Tennessee, for instance, while 18 months of blue skies have led Georgia to break every historical record, wherever measured by "the percentage of moisture in the soil, the flow rate of rivers, [or] inches of rain."
Atlanta is hardly the only city or town in the region with a dwindling water supply. According to David Bracken of Raleigh's News & Observer, "17 North Carolina water systems, including Raleigh and Durham, have 100 or fewer days of water supply remaining before they reach the dregs." Rock Spring, South Carolina, "has been without water for a month. Farmers are hauling water by pickup truck to keep their cattle alive." The same is true for the tiny town of Orme, Tennessee, where the mayor turns on the water for only three hours a day.
And then, there's Atlanta, its metropolitan area "watered" mainly by a 1950s man-made reservoir, Lake Lanier, which, in dramatic photos, is turning into baked mud. Already with a population of five million and known for its uncontrolled growth (as well as lack of water planning), the city is expected to house another two million inhabitants by 2030. And yet, depending on which article you read, Atlanta will essentially run out of water by New Year's eve, in 80 days, in 120 days, or, according to the Army Corps of Engineers -- which seems to find this reassuring -- in 375 days, if the drought continues (as it may well do).
Okay, so let's try again:
Across the region, fountains sit "bone dry"; in small towns, "full-soak" baptisms have been stopped; car washes and laundromats are cutting hours or shutting down. Golf courses have resorted to watering only tees and greens. Campfires, stoves, and grills are banned in some national parks. The boats have left Lake Lanier and the metal detectors have arrived.
This is the verdant southeastern United States, which, thanks in part to a developing La Nina effect in the Pacific Ocean, now faces the likelihood of a drier than ever winter. And, to put this in context, keep in mind that 2007 "to date has been the warmest on record for land [and]… the seventh warmest year so far over the oceans, working out to the fourth warmest overall worldwide." Oh, and up in the Arctic sea, the ice pack reached its lowest level this September since satellite measurements were begun in 1979.
And then, there's that question which has been nagging at me ever since this story first caught my attention in early October as it headed out of the regional press and slowly made its way toward the top of the nightly TV news and the front-pages of national newspapers; it's the question I've been waiting patiently for some environmental reporter(s) somewhere in the mainstream media to address; the question that seems to me so obvious I find it hard to believe everyone isn't thinking about it; the one you would automatically want to have answered -- or at least gnawed on by thoughtful, expert reporters and knowledgeable pundits. Every day for the last month or more I've waited, as each piece on Atlanta ends at more or less the same point -- with the dire possibility that the city's water will soon be gone -- as though hitting a brick wall.
Not that there hasn't been some fine reportage -- on the extremity of the situation, the overbuilding and overpopulating of the metropolitan region, the utter heedlessness that went with it, and the resource wars that have since engulfed it. Still, I've Googled around, read scores of pieces on the subject, and they all -- even the one whose first paragraph asked, "What if Atlanta's faucets really do go dry?" -- seem to end just where my question begins. It's as if, in each piece, the reporter had reached the edge of some precipice down which no one cares to look, lest we all go over.
Based on the record of the last seven years, we can take it for granted that the Bush administration hasn't the slightest desire to glance down; that no one in FEMA who matters has given the situation the thought it deserves; and that, on this subject, as on so many others, top administration officials are just hoping to make it to January 2009 without too many more scar marks. But, if not the federal government, shouldn't somebody be asking? Shouldn't somebody check out what's actually down there?
So let me ask it this way: And then?
And then what exactly can we expect? If the southeastern drought is already off the charts in Georgia, then, whether it's 80 days or 800 days, isn't there a possibility that Atlanta may one day in the not-so-distant future be without water? And what then?
Okay, they're trucking water into waterless Orme, Tennessee, but the town's mayor, Tony Reames, put the matter well, worrying about Atlanta. "We can survive. We're 145 people but you've got 4.5 million there. What are they going to do?"
What indeed? Has water ever been trucked in to so many people before? And what about industry including, in the case of Atlanta, Coca Cola, which is, after all, a business based on water? What about restaurants that need to wash their plates or doctors in hospitals who need to wash their hands?
Let's face it, with water, you're down to the basics. And if, as some say, we've passed the point not of "peak oil," but of "peak water" (and cheap water) on significant parts of the planet… well, what then?
I mean, I'm hardly an expert on this, but what exactly are we talking about here? Someday in the reasonably near future could Atlanta, or Phoenix, which in winter 2005-2006, went 143 days without a bit of rain, or Las Vegas become a Katrina minus the storm? Are we talking here about a new trail of tears? What exactly would happen to the poor of Atlanta? To Atlanta itself?
Certainly, you've seen the articles about what global warming might do in the future to fragile or low-lying areas of the world. Such pieces usually mention the possibility of enormous migrations of the poor and desperate. But we don't usually think about that in the "homeland." Maybe we should.
Or maybe, for all I know, if the drought continues, parts of the region will burn to a frizzle first, à la parts of southern California, before they can even experience the complete loss of water? Will we have hundred-year fire records in the South, without a Santa Ana wind in sight? And what then?
Okay, excuse a terrible, even tasteless, sports analogy, but think of this as a major bowl game, and they've sent one of the water boys -- me -- to man the press booth. I mean, please. Why am I the one asking this? Where's the media's first team?
In my own admittedly limited search of the mainstream, I found only one vivid, thoughtful recent piece on this subject: "The Future Is Drying Up," by Jon Gertner, written for the New York Times Magazine. It focused on the southwestern drought and began to explore some of the "and thens," as in this brief passage on Colorado in which Gertner quotes Roger Pulwarty, a "highly regarded climatologist" at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
"The worst outcome…. would be mass migrations out of the region, along with bitter interstate court battles over the dwindling water supplies. But well before that, if too much water is siphoned from agriculture, farm towns and ranch towns will wither. Meanwhile, Colorado's largest industry, tourism, might collapse if river flows became a trickle during summertime."
Mass migrations, exfiltrations…. Stop a sec and take in that possibility and what exactly it might mean. After all, we do have some small idea, having, in recent years, lost one American city, New Orleans, at least temporarily.
Or consider another "and then" prediction: What if the prolonged drought in the southwest turns out, as Mike Davis wrote in the Nation magazine, to be "on the scale of the medieval catastrophes that contributed to the notorious collapse of the complex Anasazi societies at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde during the twelfth century"?
What if, indeed.
I'm not simply being apocalyptic here. I'm just asking. It's not even that I expect answers. I'd just like to see a crew of folks with the necessary skills explore the "and then" question for the rest of us. Try to connect a few dots, or tell us if they don't connect, or just explain where the dots really are.
As the World Burns
Okay, since I'm griping on the subject, let me toss in another complaint. As this piece has indicated, the southeastern drought, unlike the famed cheese of childhood song, does not exactly stand alone. Such conditions, often involving record or near record temperatures, and record or near record wildfires, can be observed at numerous places across the planet. So why is it that, except at relatively obscure websites, you can hardly find a mainstream piece that mentions more than one drought at a time?
An honorable exception would be a recent Seattle Times column by Neal Peirce that brought together the southwestern and southeastern droughts, as well as the Western "flame zone," where "mega-fires" are increasingly the norm, in the context of global warming, in order to consider our seemingly willful "myopia about the future."
But you'd be hard-pressed to find many pieces in our major newspapers (or on the TV news) that put all (or even a number) of the extreme drought spots on the global map together in order to ask a simple question (even if its answer may prove complex indeed): Do they have anything in common? And if so, what? And if so, what then?
To find even tentative answers to such questions you have to leave the mainstream. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, for example, interviewed paleontologist and author of The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change, Tim Flannery recently on the topic of a "world on fire." Flannery offered the following observation:
"It's not just the Southeast of the United States. Europe has had its great droughts and water shortages. Australia is in the grip of a drought that's almost unbelievable in its ferocity. Again, this is a global picture. We're just getting much less usable water than we did a decade or two or three decades ago. It's a sort of thing again that the climate models are predicting. In terms of the floods, again we see the same thing. You know, a warmer atmosphere is just a more energetic atmosphere. So if you ask me about a single flood event or a single fire event, it's really hard to make the connection, but take the bigger picture and you can see very clearly what's happening."
I know answers to the "and then" question are not easy or necessarily simple. But if drought -- or call it "desertification" -- becomes more widespread, more common in heavily populated parts of the globe already bursting at the seams (and with more people arriving daily), if whole regions no longer have the necessary water, how many trails of tears, how many of those mass migrations or civilizational collapses are possible? How much burning and suffering and misery are we likely to experience? And what then?
These are questions I can't answer; that the Bush administration is guaranteed to be desperately unwilling and unprepared to face; and that, as yet, the media has largely refused to consider in a serious way. And if the media can't face this and begin to connect some dots, why shouldn't Americans be in denial, too?
It's not that no one is thinking about, or doing work on, drought. I know that scientists have been asking the "and then" questions (or perhaps far more relevant ones that I can't even formulate); that somewhere people have been exploring, studying, writing about them. But how am I to find out?
Of course, all of us can wander the Internet; we can visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has just set up a new website to help encourage drought coverage; we can drop in at blogs like RealClimate.org and ClimateProgress.org, which make a habit of keeping up with, or ahead of, such stories; or even, for instance, the Georgia Drought website of the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; or we can keep an eye on a new organization of journalists (well covered recently on the NPR show "On the Media"), Circle of Blue, who are planning to concentrate on water issues. But, believe me, even when you get to some of these sites, you may find yourself in an unknown landscape with no obvious water holes in view and no guides to lead you there.
In the meantime, there may be no trail of tears out of Atlanta; there may even be rain in the city's near future for all any of us know; but it's clear enough that, globally and possibly nationally, tragedy awaits. It's time to call in the first team to ask some questions.
Honestly, I don't demand answers. Just a little investigation, some thought, and a glimpse or two over that precipice as the world turns.... and bakes and burns.
This article first appeared on www.tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, a long time editor in publishing, the author of The End of Victory Culture, and a fellow of the Nation Institute.
Posted on: Friday, November 16, 2007 - 14:15
SOURCE: AlterNet (11-15-07)
Despite the defeat of President Bush's attempt to partially privatize Social Security, the mass misunderstanding of America's largest and most successful anti-poverty program persists. This was evident on Sunday's Meet the Press with Tim Russert, which was devoted to an interview with Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Obama is no enemy of Social Security. But like most of the country, he is misinformed on this issue. So he is going after his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for saying "that if we just get our fiscal house in order that we can solve the problem of Social Security."
Obama continued: "Now, we've got 78 million baby boomers that are going to be retiring, and every expert that looks at this problem says 'There's going to be a gap, and we're going to have more money going out than we have coming in unless we make some adjustments now.'"`
In fact, there is not the least bit of urgency regarding Social Security, and it would be best to take the issue off the table entirely until we have at least a few years of public education. Some of that public education took place during the grass-roots campaign that defeated President Bush's attempt to partially privatize the program in 2005. The President was forced within weeks to stop using the word "crisis" to describe Social Security's finances. But it was not nearly enough. Many journalists and editors remain confused, and therefore so is the citizenry.
In fact, the first cohort of baby boomers (those born in 1946) will begin retiring in just a couple of months, since many people take their Social Security at age 62 (with a correspondingly reduced benefit). Our Y2K moment is upon us, and nothing will happen - because the baby boomers' retirement has already been financed.
Back in 1983, when Social Security really was running out of money, with just a few months of payments on hand, Congress raised the payroll tax substantially. This was done deliberately in order to pile up a surplus to finance the baby boomers' retirement. And so it did: that accumulated surplus stands at more than two trillion dollars today, and is increasing at a rate of $190 billion annually.
As a result of this surplus, all the baby boomers' will have retired before Social Security runs into a projected shortfall in 2041. That is according to the Social Security's (mostly Republican-appointed) Trustees. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security can pay all promised benefits even longer, until 2046. By either date, most baby boomers will be dead, and almost all of the rest retired, before there is a problem.
Of course, there are some who maintain that the surplus "has been spent," that the Social Security Trust Fund "doesn't exist," and so on. These stories should be given all the credibility of reports about "Bat Boy" sightings in the Weekly World News. But unfortunately they are often taken seriously in the major media.
To say that Social Security's surplus "has been spent," is like saying that when you buy a U.S. government bond, your money "has been spent." Whatever has been done with the money, you are still holding a bond, and you will get your interest and principal so long as there is a US government. If there is no US government when you retire, well then you will have other things to worry about besides Social Security, including your private savings.
Even accepting that there could be a shortfall after 2046, it is not much to lose sleep about. The projected shortfall over Social Security's whole 75-year planning period is less than what we fixed in each of the decades of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s....
HNN Hot Topics: Social Security
Posted on: Friday, November 16, 2007 - 13:52
SOURCE: New Republic (11-15-07)
Campaigning for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, George W. Bush said that non-southerners, like his primary opponent John McCain, should "butt out" of the South's racial politics. In South Carolina, telephone callers asked thousands of voters if they would support McCain if they knew he'd fathered a black child. These things did not happen because Bush is a racist. They happened because Bush, like decades of Republican candidates before him, wanted to benefit from the racism of some southern voters. Today's Republican Party is made of free-traders and low-taxers, war mongers and evangelicals, yes, but it also contains the residuum of the segregationist South, which once infested the Democratic Party.
This is a simple story, and yet in the past few days, some New York Times columnists have managed to make it seem complicated. David Brooks wrote about Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, when Reagan declared, "I believe in states' rights." Now, "states' rights" was the rallying cry of racist southerners. But Brooks thinks that saying so is "a slur." The truth is more "complicated," he says, than Republicans taking advantage of "the alleged Klan-like prejudices of American voters, when there is no evidence of that conspiracy." Well, there's no evidence unless you count the opinion of the actual Klan, who, as historian Joe Crespino points out, believed that Reagan's platform "reads as if it were written by a Klansman." Mississippi's white voters were, Crespino says, "a carefully courted constituency," and two-thirds of them voted for Reagan against Jimmy Carter.
This is not complicated. If you go to Mississippi and use the same words used by every redneck desirous of pulling an ever-so-thin cloak over his bigotry, you're either stupid or you're courting the bigots. In 1980 Reagan could not yet benefit from the defense of stupidity or dementia: He was courting the bigots. Just as, when he declined the Klan's endorsement, he was not acting stupid, either: He couldn't be seen as the candidate only of bigots.
Paul Krugman takes Brooks's bait by pointing out other instances when Reagan opposed civil rights. But this too makes the story needlessly complicated. We cannot know whether Reagan was personally racist, nor is it interesting or important -- no more than it is interesting or important whether the 2000 episode makes Bush a racist. What is interesting and important is the Republicans' long battle to use racism to stop class politics.
This was a tactic first used in the U.S. over a hundred years ago by the Democratic Party. In the 1890s, southern states began to amend their laws and constitutions to keep black people from voting, in part because they wanted to stop poor whites from joining the Populist Party, which sought to implement an income tax and break up business monopolies. Democrats, then the reigning political power in the South, figured that they could keep some large number of poor whites from worrying about their economic status by appealing to their racism. They proved correct. Thus the South solidified behind the Democratic Party and white supremacy....
Posted on: Friday, November 16, 2007 - 13:43
SOURCE: Jerusalem Post (11-15-07)
The Bush administration's counterterrorism policies appear tough, but inside the courtroom, they evaporate, consistently favoring not American terror victims, but foreign terrorists.
Consider a civil lawsuit arising from a September 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem. Hamas claimed credit for five dead and 192 wounded, including several Americans. On the grounds that the Islamic Republic of Iran had financed Hamas, five injured Americans students sued it for damages.
Expert testimony established the regime's culpability during a four-day trial, leading Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, under the Flatow Amendment of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, to fine the Iranian government and its Revolutionary Guard Corps US$251 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
The plaintiffs looked for Iranian government assets in the United States to seize, in accord with the little-known section, 201a of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, which states that"Notwithstanding any other provision of law … in every case in which a person has obtained a judgment against a terrorist party on a claim based upon an act of terrorism … the blocked assets of that terrorist party … shall be subject to execution."
An ancient Iranian fragment similar to the ones in legal dispute in a terrorism case.
Strachman found just one significant cache of Iranian government money: approximately $150,000 at the Bank of New York, in an account belonging to Bank Melli, Iran's largest bank and a fully-owned subsidiary of the regime. However, when the plaintiffs sued for these funds, BoNY filed a federal lawsuit asking for a legal determination what to do with its Bank Melli assets.
The victims' task in this case may have appeared easy, given that the U.S. government (1) views Bank Melli as an"wholly-owned instrumentality" of the Iranian government and it (2) considers that government a"terrorist party."
But no, the U.S. Department of Justice"entered this case as amicus curiae in support of Bank Melli." It did so, explained a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department,"to vindicate a correct reading" of the U.S. regulation. Its amicus brief appears decisively to have influenced the trial judge, Denise Cote, who adopted the joint Bank Melli-Justice Department position in toto and ruled in March 2006 against the funds being awarded to the victims. The latter appealed to the Second Circuit Court, but it too sided with the Justice Department, dismissing the suit in April 2007.
Its funds then in the clear, Bank Melli immediately removed them all from BoNY and transferred them beyond U.S. jurisdiction.
The story does not end there. On October 25, the State Department announced that Bank Melli would henceforth be cut off from the U.S. financial system because it"provides banking services to entities involved in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs" by facilitating"numerous purchases of sensitive materials." Further, it found that Bank Melli"was used to send at least $100 million" to Iran's terrorist fronts, including those which had trained the Hamas members who perpetrated the 1997 Jerusalem bombing.
This incompetent outrage – Washington first helping Bank Melli, then sanctioning it – fits a larger pattern of federal agencies advocating in court on behalf of terrorists.
- Justice tried to shield Tehran from victims' claims in the University of Chicago case.
- It opposed the attachment of a mere $10,000 of Iranian funds to one 1997 victim family; and, when the family won in district court, it appealed the verdict.
- It interceded in Ungar v. Hamas to prevent the orphaned victims' attachment of $5 million belonging to the Holy Land Foundation, a Texas organization prosecuted as a Hamas front.
- In Ungar v. PLO and PA, the State Department rescued the Palestine Liberation Organization when the Ungars tried to enforce their $116 million judgment against a PLO-owned office building in Manhattan.
Is there not something deeply flawed about the U.S. government consistently siding with terrorists and, according to Strachman,"never once supporting terrorism victims to collect their judgments in court"? One hopes it will not require a new terrorist catastrophe to fix these misguided policies.
This article is reprinted with permission by Daniel Pipes.
Posted on: Friday, November 16, 2007 - 13:25
SOURCE: FrontpageMag.com & Weekly Standard (11-14-07)
"As we assess the security gains made over the past four months, I attribute the progress to three prominent dynamics," General Odierno explained. "First, the surge allowed us to eliminate extremist safe havens and sanctuaries, [and] just as importantly to maintain our gains. Second, the ongoing quantitative and qualitative improvement of the Iraqi security forces are translating to ever-increasing tactical successes. Lastly, there's a clear rejection of al Qaeda and other extremists by large segments of the population, this coupled with the bottom-up awakening movement by both Sunni and Shia who want a chance to reconcile with the government of Iraq." These dynamics worked together to improve security.
After President Bush decided to change strategy and increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, the goal became to secure Iraq's population from violence in order to allow civic and political progress. Generals David Petraeus and Odierno implemented the new strategy and determined how to use the additional troops.
Generals Petraeus and Odierno conducted three successive, large-scale military operations in 2007. The first was Fardh al-Qanoon, or the Baghdad Security Plan, which dispersed U.S. and Iraqi troops throughout the capital in order to secure its inhabitants. The second was Phantom Thunder, an Iraq-wide offensive to clear al Qaeda sanctuaries. The third was Phantom Strike, an Iraq-wide offensive to pursue al Qaeda operatives and other enemies as they fled those sanctuaries and attempted to regroup in smaller areas throughout Iraq. These military operations have improved security throughout central Iraq.
simultaneous and sustained offensive operations, in partnership with the Iraqi security forces. Furthermore, it allowed us to operate in areas that had not yet seen a sustained coalition presence and to retain our hard-fought gains. Our ability to put pressure on al Qaeda and other extremists and deny them safe havens and sanctuaries increased significantly. This was done with the goal of protecting the population and in concert with political and economic initiatives to buy time and space for the government of Iraq."
CLEARING ENEMY SANCTUARIES AND PROTECTING THE POPULATION
Competing enemy groups drove the sectarian violence in Baghdad in 2006. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) launched spectacular attacks against civilians, particularly in Shia neighborhoods. Death squads, operating on behalf of extremist militia groups, purged mixed neighborhoods of their Sunni residents and intimidated Shia into compliance with their agenda. As a result, beleaguered Sunnis turned to al Qaeda for protection against death squads. Al Qaeda set up defensive positions in some neighborhoods, such as Dora in southwestern Baghdad, to defend the Sunni population against attack. The car bomb was al Qaeda's offensive weapon of choice, and the IED its preferred defensive weapon. The Iraqi security forces could not remove al Qaeda from its fortified positions, nor could they stop the spectacular attacks. Shia death squads responded by increasing executions of Sunnis. By the end of 2006, al Qaeda and militia groups were fighting for control of territory in Baghdad.
U.S. commanders sent two of the five new brigades provided by the surge to Baghdad. As the Baghdad Security Plan began in February, U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad adopted a new posture. They cleared some neighborhoods in order to locate their Joint Security Stations there. U.S. and Iraqi forces lived together at these small headquarters. They sent detachments from Joint Security Stations to smaller outposts and slowly spread throughout the city. They regularly engaged with the local population. They developed relationships with residents, gained their trust, and reconnoitered or cleared enemy positions. To establish safe neighborhoods and markets, they placed concrete barriers around positions vulnerable to car bomb attacks. The combination of more U.S. troops and the new mission of protecting the population drove down the number of execution-style killings in the capital.
Commanders positioned the other three additional brigades in Baghdad's "belts," the networks of roadways, rivers, and other lines of communication within a 30-mile radius of the capital. Al Qaeda's sustained campaign of vehicle bombing relied on an extensive support system outside the city to supply stolen and stripped vehicles, factories for converting them into vehicle bombs, explosives, money, and suicide bombers (most of them foreign). Al Qaeda's strongholds and sanctuaries were in Salman Pak, Arab Jabour, Falluja, Abu Ghraib, Karma, Tarmiya, and Baquba. In early 2006, al Qaeda also moved fighters along the Euphrates River valley between Anbar Province and North Babil. U.S. and Iraqi security forces were especially sparse in these rural areas.
The enemies of the coalition and the Iraqi government were able to use the terrain around Baghdad to funnel forces and supplies into the capital, to circumnavigate the city by highway, and to move from the city into the provinces. General Odierno identified the terrain between Karma and Tarmiya, south of Lake Tharthar, as "a known al Qaeda transit route." And some of the same al Qaeda operatives and couriers moved in each of the belts and through Baghdad. The spring '07 search for American soldiers kidnapped in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, led U.S. forces to Samarra, north of Baghdad, where the identification cards of two of the soldiers were found. Al Qaeda established emirs in the northern and southern belts in order to link its efforts in the different sanctuaries in these regions.
Generals Petraeus and Odierno designed Operation Phantom Thunder to clear al Qaeda from its sanctuaries in the belts around Baghdad. Phantom Thunder consisted of multiple, simultaneous military operations around Baghdad designed to prevent the enemy from fleeing from one safe haven to another with impunity. Securing the capital from al Qaeda also required the dismantling of a car bombing network based in Karkh and Rusafa, neighborhoods in central Baghdad on both sides of the Tigris.
The Phantom Thunder offensive began on June 15, as soon as all the new brigades had arrived and were ready. Northeast of Baghdad, almost 10,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces surrounded Baquba and blocked the escape routes from the city along the Diyala River valley on June 18. U.S. forces south of Baghdad conducted clearing operations from north to south along the Tigris River valley, focusing first on the al Qaeda sanctuary in Arab Jabour on June 15. A large concentration of U.S. troops cleared the al Qaeda stronghold in the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora at the end of June and first several weeks of July. Marines, meanwhile, were clearing Falluja and Karma. Enemy attacks and U.S. casualties spiked during the first week of these major clearing operations, but both fell as U.S. forces drove the enemy from these sanctuaries.
General Joseph Fil, the Baghdad division commander, explained in late June how the operations inside and outside Baghdad worked, and why the fighting briefly intensified.
As we have gone through the city and concentrated in a lot of areas where [the enemy] had free rein sometime before, those areas are now denied to them. And so their freedom of maneuver inside of the city, their own battle space, has been more and more restricted, and their support zones have been severely restricted, both inside the city and also in the belts around the city. And so they're running out of maneuver space and they are starting to fight very hard.
By the end of June, U.S. and Iraqi forces had liberated western Baquba. By the end of July, they also controlled eastern Baquba, Dora, and Falluja--the major urban strongholds of AQI. By mid-August, they had also cleared other al Qaeda and Shia extremist strongholds south of Baghdad, including a terrorist safe haven in Musayyib, on the road from Karbala to Baghdad. The Phantom Thunder offensive killed over 1,100 enemy fighters and detained over 6,700, including 382 major figures. It drove most remaining al Qaeda into rural areas, far from population centers. The displacement of al Qaeda leaders and fighters made it possible to track many of them down with Special Forces. Phantom Thunder also fractured the belts, compartmentalizing some al Qaeda operations around the capital so that the surviving portions of the network could not readily support one another.
In order to prevent al Qaeda and Shia extremist groups from reestablishing themselves in cities or rural support areas, Generals Petraeus and Odierno launched Phantom Strike, the second Iraq-wide offensive, in the middle of August. Operation Phantom Strike, which is still going on, has consisted of quick-strike raids aimed at destroying terrorist staging areas and preventing insurgents from establishing new sanctuaries.
For example, al Qaeda leaders from Baquba reconstituted in several areas in northern Iraq after U.S. forces cleared Diyala's capital. Some took refuge along the Hamrin Ridge, just north of the Diyala River valley, on a secondary road toward Kirkuk; some reconstituted in tribal areas just south of Baquba. Other al Qaeda elements remained in strongholds along the Tigris River valley, such as Tarmiya, Balad, and Samarra, or in safe havens south of Baghdad. The headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq remained in Mosul. None of these al Qaeda groups fared well during Phantom Strike. As the offensive began, U.S. and Iraqi forces struck alternately at enemy groups in Diyala and in the provinces to the north, Nineweh, Salah-ad-Din, and Tamim.
Operations in Diyala aimed to keep Baquba secure by clearing and holding territory in its vicinity. U.S. and Iraqi forces cleared 50 villages in the Diyala River valley during the middle of August, many of which al Qaeda had occupied as recently as April. This large operation prevented al Qaeda from reinfiltrating into Diyala from the Hamrin Ridge. U.S. forces cleared the city of Muqdadiya, at the junction of the Diyala and Hamrin Lake, in a follow-on operation in mid-October. They established a new forward operating base near Muqdadiya, so that they could control the Diyala from Baquba to Hamrin Lake with Iraqi assistance.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces in August increased the tempo of attacks on al Qaeda in Balad and Samarra. These cities were important to al Qaeda's ability to project force into Anbar. Al Qaeda launched its failed June expedition to recapture Ramadi from this area, which likewise served as a base for the September 13 assassination of Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha. Thirty masked al Qaeda gunmen attempted to overrun a U.S. observation post in Samarra in late August, presumably to regain control over a safe haven or line of communication. They failed.
In Tarmiya, just south of Balad, along the Tigris, U.S. Special Forces killed and captured numerous high value targets during Phantom Thunder, culminating with the emir of the northern belts on August 7. As Phantom Strike began, Special Forces operating in Tarmiya killed or captured several major al Qaeda figures, including Ali Latif Ibrahim Hamad al-Falahi, aka Abu Ibrahim, responsible for overseeing terrorist operations in the northern belts and "coordinating VBIED attacks in Baghdad," as a military press briefing put it; Abu Yaqub al-Masri, an inner circle al Qaeda leader with close ties to Abu Ayyub al-Masri; and Muayyad Ali Husayn Sulayman al-Bayyati, aka Abu Wathiq, who helped establish AQI in Tarmiya.
In early September, when the operations south of Lake Hamrin concluded, U.S. and Iraqi forces attacked al Qaeda safe havens at the northwestern end of the Hamrin Ridge, known as the Zaab triangle. Al Qaeda's leadership used the rural villages along the Zaab River to plan and synchronize attacks. Meanwhile, U.S. and Iraqi Special Forces, as well as Iraqi conventional forces, conducted raids against key locations and individuals in Kirkuk and Mosul, cities where al Qaeda typically operated.
As U.S. operations closed the gaps in the belt from Karma to Baquba and struck along al Qaeda's north-south routes, they drove members of the network into more constrained spaces, such as Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown and a major source of Sunni insurgents since 2003. Special Forces targeted insurgents in Tikrit in August, making it more difficult for the groups to reconstitute there.
Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike did not eradicate AQI. Rather, the intensive operations in Tarmiya, Balad, Samarra, and the Zaab triangle impeded it from coordinating attacks in northern and central Iraq. Phantom Thunder and Phantom Strike not only removed the network's established personnel, but also degraded the infrastructure that had permitted the organization to stage regular vehicle bomb attacks from Karma and Tarmiya in March and April 2007. These operations also severed the northern belt from the southern belt.
After the major clearing operation in Arab Jabour and Salman Pak, enemy fighters moved southward along the Tigris just beyond the reach of U.S. forces. The opening campaign of Phantom Strike, therefore, targeted insurgents and extremists trying to reconstitute further along the Tigris River valley. The terrain in Arab Jabour consists mainly of rural farmland (conducive to producing homemade explosives from fertilizer components) and dense palm groves along the Tigris (conducive to concealing weapons caches). The population is primarily Sunni, but the predominantly Shia areas of Babil and Wasit province limit al Qaeda's ability to move freely into safe havens much farther south. Most Sunni insurgents, therefore, moved from east to west, following the arc of roads and highways from the Tigris to Mahmudiya.
Because of the sparsely settled terrain and the force composition south of Baghdad, a series of air assaults comprised the main effort in the region for much of August. By contrast, the operations running concurrently in the Diyala River valley were conducted by a heavy brigade of division cavalry. The air assaults south of Baghdad eliminated enemy positions, such as safehouses and weapons caches, in the arc from Suwayra to Iskandariya.
The key city of Mahmudiya lies on the border of Sunni and Shia zones. It also sits astride the north-south line of communications that extremist militias used to push northward from Karbala to Baghdad; and on the east-west route along which al Qaeda operatives traveled from the Euphrates to the Tigris. U.S. forces consistently worked to eliminate insurgents from Mahmudiya during the major offensives, and they drove al Qaeda further south toward Karbala and Babil. Operations in Mahmudiya targeting facilitation of foreign terrorists south of Baghdad thus led coalition forces to a major figure within AQI, Abu Usama al-Tunisi, in the third week of September. This Tunisian-born terrorist oversaw the movement of foreign terrorists in Iraq. He was a close associate of and likely successor to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the leader of AQI. Coalition forces killed him in an airstrike on September 25, near Musayyib, on the road from Mahmudiya to the Shia holy cities.
In mid-September, the main effort shifted closer to Baghdad. Hawr Rajab is farmland in Arab Jabour wedged between three important areas: the farmland closer to the Tigris that U.S. forces cleared in June; the Mahmudiya-Baghdad highway; and Baghdad's southernmost neighborhood, Abu Disheer, which is primarily Shia and sits on the underbelly of Dora. Like Arab Jabour generally, Hawr Rajab lacked American troops and Iraqi security forces prior to the summer of 2007, and was therefore an exporter of weapons to Baghdad. Before U.S. and Iraqi forces arrived, al Qaeda exerted extreme pressure on Abu Disheer from its strongholds in Dora and Hawr Rajab; Shia militias defended Abu Disheer and attacked from that location into Dora. U.S. forces fought to control Hawr Rajab in September and October in order to stabilize Arab Jabour and to tamp down the violence in Baghdad proper by weakening the regions that supplied weapons and fighters to al Qaeda in Dora.
IRAQI SECURITY FORCES AND CONCERNED LOCAL CITIZENS
U.S. forces thus moved from clearing operations in former enemy sanctuaries to the next stage, called maintenance operations, by which they controlled and retained cleared territory. Holding terrain is troop-intensive, and it requires offensive as well as defensive operations. In past years, U.S. forces relied almost exclusively on Iraqi security forces to preserve gains after clearing operations, because of lack of troops and because of the focus on a rapid transition to Iraqis. U.S. forces in 2007 likewise relied on their partner units in the Iraqi army and Iraqi police, and the greater number of Iraqi and American troops meant that more soldiers were available to hold terrain. The cooperation of Iraqi citizens, serving as interim and regular police, increased the ability of all forces to hold terrain.
The rejection of al Qaeda by the Ramadi sheikhs in late 2006 has been widely reported. General Petraeus transformed the tribal movement in Anbar into a national phenomenon supportive of government institutions. U.S. commanders fostered grassroots movements throughout Iraq, methodically negotiating security agreements with local officials, tribes, and former insurgent leaders. They thus achieved one of the major objectives of the counterinsurgency strategy by reconciling much of the Sunni population with the government.
Diyala Province, which has an extremely complex network of Sunni, Shia, and mixed tribes, illustrates the complementary relationship between improving security and movements of concerned citizens. As U.S. forces reconnoitered Baquba and its vicinity, some locals who had once fought the Americans as insurgents began cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi security forces against al Qaeda. These leaders helped U.S. forces clear enemy sanctuaries during the summer offensive by revealing enemy positions and weapons caches. For example, members of the 1920s Brigades--a Sunni insurgent group that operated alongside al Qaeda until May--in Baquba identified the specific locations of rigged houses and deep-buried IEDs before the city was cleared in June. Reconciliation efforts proceeded as soon as U.S. and Iraqi forces had cleared western Baquba, and rippled outward through the Diyala River valley as U.S. forces eliminated the enemy there. Tribal leaders in Diyala recruited locals to guard their communities alongside U.S. and Iraqi forces. Citizens did so with the aim not only of preventing the return of terrorists, but also of joining the Iraqi police and thus supporting the government of Iraq.
The summer offensive widened the scope of the population's movement against al Qaeda and other terrorists. Locals willing to cooperate with Americans and Iraqi security forces might jump-start clearing efforts, as in Hawr Rajab, but few locals turned against al Qaeda before military operations cleared terrorist sanctuaries. Rather, the "concerned local citizens" movements generally spread after U.S. and Iraqi forces, partnered together, cleared an area. For example, after removing al Qaeda leadership in Tarmiya, U.S. conventional forces conducted a series of large, coordinated operations there in mid-September, to remove an illegal court and clear gigantic caches of explosives. These operations set the stage for the concerned local citizens movement in Tarmiya, which had proceeded fitfully in June, July, and August because of al Qaeda's presence in the city. In mid-September, over 1,200 men volunteered within two days to serve as volunteers for a new provisional security group known as the Critical Infrastructure Security Contract Force to help defend Tarmiya, alongside U.S. and Iraqi security forces, and helped to hold Tarmiya against encroaching enemy forces. As of November 1, 2007, approximately 60,000 Iraqis had volunteered to protect their local communities as part of these fully screened and monitored forces.
PHANTOM STRIKE AGAINST SECRET CELLS AND SHIA EXTREMISTS
As the imminent threat from al Qaeda receded, U.S. forces waged an aggressive campaign against Iranian-backed secret cells and extreme elements of Moktada al-Sadr's militia, the Jaysh al-Mahdi. Coalition and Iraqi Special Forces captured and interrogated secret cell leaders throughout Iraq in the months from March through June, prior to the start of Phantom Thunder. In late July, U.S. and Iraqi forces intensified their operations against secret cell leaders in Baghdad, killing or capturing cell leaders and militia members threatening western Baghdad neighborhoods such as Shula, Mansour, Hurriya, Bayaa, and Aamel. Detainees included financiers, weapons traffickers, death squad leaders, snipers, and members of a splinter Jaysh al-Mahdi group that conducted extra-judicial killings. At this time, coalition forces also arrested a major smuggler of Explosively Formed Pentrators (EFPs), a powerful, armor-piercing IED, east of Baghdad and secret cell leaders north of Baghdad in Diyala.
Moktada al-Sadr's movement is based in Najaf, where the Eighth Iraqi Army Division has responsibility for security. In early August, that division, supported by its U.S. advisory team, detained a suspect in Najaf for recruiting and paying Jaysh al-Mahdi militia members from charitable funds to emplace IEDs. The division then arrested the commander of a battalion of a rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi group, and continued the campaign against secret cell leaders nearer its headquarters in Diwaniya.
These campaigns against secret cells led rogue militia and Iranian-backed elements to retaliate. An assassination campaign in August successfully targeted officeholders affiliated with the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (which, along with the two other leading Shia parties, Dawa and the Sadrist Trend, comprised the political bloc that originally helped Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki to power). Another assassination campaign targeted Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's aides in southern provinces. The disturbances became more widespread. On August 28, rogue militia elements or special groups disrupted the Shia pilgrimage in Karbala. These elements attempted to shoot their way past mosque guards, but failed. The Iraqi army secured Karbala and helped evacuate the thousands of pilgrims. Prime Minister Maliki traveled to Najaf on September 5 and met with the grand ayatollah. According to an official press release, Maliki and Sistani talked about "technocratic" government and about security in the holy cities.
The incident prompted Moktada al-Sadr to issue a statement once again requesting that militia members loyal to him lay down their arms. U.S. and Iraqi forces continued to target rogue elements of the militia that did not respond to Sadr's request throughout September and October.
EFFECTS OF THESE OPERATIONS
Clearing al Qaeda out of its strongholds in Dora, Ameriya, and Adhamiya reduced violence in Baghdad. Former insurgents in Ameriya introduced the anti-al Qaeda, concerned citizens movement to Baghdad in May. In early August, residents of Adhamiya stormed the Abu Hanifa mosque, an al Qaeda stronghold. Residents, tribal sheikhs, government officials, and U.S. commanders developed a new Critical Infrastructure Guard Force to protect important facilities in Adhamiya. The summer offensives in Hawr Rajab reduced the supply of fighters and materiel to Dora, making it more difficult for the enemy to reinfiltrate that neighborhood. In addition, the Phantom Strike offensive aggressively targeted the Karkh-Rusafa car bombing network, which al Qaeda had supplied from the belts, reducing the number and lethality of vehicle bombs in Baghdad.
In northwestern Baghdad, "murders are down from a peak of over 161 reported murders per week a year ago to less than 5 per week now, and our continued efforts to defeat sectarian expansion continue to drive these numbers down," reported Colonel J.B. Burton, the sector's commander, in mid-October. "IED and small arms attacks are down from a peak of 50 per week in June to less than 5 per week since the end of August. And Vehicle-Borne IED attacks are down nearly 85 percent thanks to our combined efforts to defeat the Karkh VBIED and IED networks--which has had a tremendous impact on insurgents' ability to instruct and employ those types of weapons effectively." The campaign against rogue militias has improved security.
The elimination of important secret cell leaders in western Baghdad has reduced EFP attacks in northwestern Baghdad dramatically. According to Colonel Burton: "Very rarely do we find an effective EFP within our . . . former . . . EFP hot spots, given the increased participation of local nationals in helping us to find these weapons, the increased responsiveness of the Iraqi security forces to defeat these cells and the increased effectiveness of our targeting operations to defeat the entire network." The operations against secret cells in the northern belt recently exposed several large caches of EFPs in Diyala Province, probably intended for Baghdad.
Generals Petraeus and Odierno have conducted a sophisticated counterinsurgency campaign aimed at securing the population of Iraq, and at the development of political, economic, and communications infrastructure to support the overarching political objectives. In addition, they coordinated simultaneous and successive military operations throughout Iraq, rather than concentrating on one region. Their campaign is the largest and longest sustained offensive that America has undertaken in Iraq so far. The operations have severely disrupted al Qaeda's ability to project power into Baghdad by denying the group sanctuaries, fragmenting the belts, destroying support networks, and eliminating key personnel. Operations against Shia militias and Iranian extremists have reduced their ability to take advantage of al Qaeda's demise in order to advance their sectarian agenda. This theater-wide effort has been aimed at securing the population using all military instruments available to the coalition; it did not prefer special forces to conventional forces, but rather used them synergistically.
Generals Petraeus and Odierno pursued a vision of local-level reconciliation aimed at supporting the overarching political goals. They recognized that national politics and legislative agendas would not determine whether violence fell. The security facilitated by the military operations accelerated the spread of local efforts to turn against al Qaeda. U.S. commanders catalyzed those efforts in former insurgent safe havens once they were cleared. Commanders are therefore trying to connect these local movements to the provincial and national government.
U.S. and Iraqi troops have fought side by side in these campaigns. The Iraqi army and Iraqi police are more capably conducting long operations. Some units still need Americans at their side, and others need them at their back as they assume new responsibilities. American troops also play a critical role in persuading the government of Iraq to accept the new military and political realities, including a Sunni community that is willing to support the government in order to participate in political decisions.
Enemy groups will attempt to regenerate. American troops play an important role in preventing the enemy from reestablishing sanctuaries. Holding territory, particularly in urban areas, requires continuous military operations based on sophisticated intelligence. The development of an economic and political capacity helps maintain our gains.
The theater-wide offensives were meant to buy time for the government of Iraq to develop the institutions of governance. The fragmentation of Al Qaeda in Iraq, extremist militias, and secret cells has only just happened. The opportunity to negotiate a political settlement now belongs to the government of Iraq. It is too soon to know what the Iraqis will do. But clearly, this skillful military operation has created new realities on the ground. With violence falling sharply, Iraqis are no longer mobilizing for full-scale civil war, as they were at the end of 2006. Whether the political developments that were always the ultimate objective of the surge can be brought to fruition remains to be seen.
Posted on: Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 01:51
SOURCE: WSJ (11-14-07)
Hating the president is almost as old as the republic itself. The people, or various factions among them, have indulged in Clinton hatred, Reagan hatred, Nixon hatred, LBJ hatred, FDR hatred, Lincoln hatred, and John Adams hatred, to mention only the more extravagant hatreds that we Americans have conceived for our presidents.
But Bush hatred is different. It's not that this time members of the intellectual class have been swept away by passion and become votaries of anger and loathing. Alas, intellectuals have always been prone to employ their learning and fine words to whip up resentment and demonize the competition. Bush hatred, however, is distinguished by the pride intellectuals have taken in their hatred, openly endorsing it as a virtue and enthusiastically proclaiming that their hatred is not only a rational response to the president and his administration but a mark of good moral hygiene.
This distinguishing feature of Bush hatred was brought home to me on a recent visit to Princeton University. I had been invited to appear on a panel to debate the ideas in Princeton professor and American Prospect editor Paul Starr's excellent new book, "Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism." To put in context Prof. Starr's grounding of contemporary progressivism in the larger liberal tradition, I recounted to the Princeton audience an exchange at a dinner I hosted in Washington in June 2004 for several distinguished progressive scholars, journalists, and policy analysts.
To get the conversation rolling at that D.C. dinner--and perhaps mischievously--I wondered aloud whether Bush hatred had not made rational discussion of politics in Washington all but impossible. One guest responded in a loud, seething, in-your-face voice, "What's irrational about hating George W. Bush?" His vehemence caused his fellow progressives to gather around and lean in, like kids on a playground who see a fight brewing.
Reluctant to see the dinner fall apart before drinks had been served, I sought to ease the tension. I said, gently, that I rarely found hatred a rational force in politics, but, who knows, perhaps this was a special case. And then I tried to change the subject.
But my dinner companion wouldn't allow it. "No," he said, angrily. "You started it. You make the case that it's not rational to hate Bush." I looked around the table for help. Instead, I found faces keen for my response. So, for several minutes, I held forth, suggesting that however wrongheaded or harmful to the national interest the president's policies may have seemed to my progressive colleagues, hatred tended to cloud judgment, and therefore was a passion that a citizen should not be proud of being in the grips of and should avoid bringing to public debate. Propositions, one might have thought, that would not be controversial among intellectuals devoted to thinking and writing about politics.
But controversial they were. Finally, another guest, a man I had long admired, an incisive thinker and a political moderate, cleared his throat, and asked if he could interject. I welcomed his intervention, confident that he would ease the tension by lending his authority in support of the sole claim that I was defending, namely, that Bush hatred subverted sound thinking. He cleared his throat for a second time. Then, with all eyes on him, and measuring every word, he proclaimed, "I . . . hate . . . the . . . way . . . Bush . . . talks."...
Posted on: Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 01:43
SOURCE: USA Today (11-14-07)
Women are more kind and nurturing than men. They are natural altruists, placing the common good — including education, health and the environment — ahead of their narrow personal interests. And that's why we need a woman president. Right?
Wrong. We don't need a female president, any more than we need a male one. Instead, we need to jettison the gender stereotypes that block half the population — the female half, that is — from participating equally in our politics.
Just ask Hillary Clinton. Poised to become our first female nominee for president, Clinton has spent most of the campaign trying to dispel the idea that she's too feminine — too gentle, too thoughtful, too caring — to lead the nation. But when she adopts a tough persona, especially on foreign policy and defense issues, some voters complain that she's behaving like a man.
How did we get here? The problem goes back to the early 1800s, when U.S. states enfranchised white men but barred women from voting. So electoral politics became, by definition, a masculine activity. Women would govern the hearth and home, providing a haven from the heartless male world of avarice and competition.
19th century reforms
"So long as a fireside and a home exist, so long must woman exercise a boundless power over the destiny of man," declared an 1838 advice manual, "A Voice to Youth." Whereas men ruled the public world via laws and armies, women influenced the private realm "by persuasion, by kindness, by gentleness and affection, and by a soothing and forgiving spirit."
In fact, women participated in all of the great political reforms of the early 19th century: temperance, anti-slavery, the quest for common schools and more. They gave speeches, wrote broadsides and circulated petitions. But they did so as women, vowing to make the nation more "home-like" by infusing it with their distinct domestic qualities. And they used high-minded moral appeals, of course, not the sleazy machinations of elections.
In the early 20th century, women used a similar claim to win the vote. Less selfish and corruptible than men, women would "sweep away" the vice and bribery of boss politics. And their ballots would usher in a new era of "municipal housekeeping," whereby government provided social services for immigrants, workers and children.
Bold vs. fair traits
But the very same characteristics that qualified women for politics — fairness, empathy and altruism — seemed to disqualify them as politicians. As the United States grew into a world power, Americans wanted leaders who were bold, tough and decisive. And they associated those attributes with men, not with women.
Around the world, more than 40 countries have chosen female heads of state. Today's crisis in Pakistan was fueled, in part, by the return of Benazir Bhutto, a female former prime minister.
Indira Gandhi governed India for 14 tumultuous years; nearby Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have elected women leaders. Eleven nations were led by women by the end of 2006, ranging from Germany and Ireland to Liberia and Mozambique. But not the USA, where our longstanding gender assumptions block female politicians from rising to the top. Such ideas have received a new boost from contemporary multiculturalism, which sometimes ascribes a distinct culture to women. So if a woman leader acts like a woman, she isn't tough enough to be president; and if she is tough enough, she's simply acting like a man.
And our kids are watching. After serving eight years as Iceland's president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir quipped that some children in her country thought that you had to be a woman to hold the office.
In the USA, you still have to be a man — or behave like one. And you always will, so long as we continue to teach our own children that gender differences make the difference in U.S. politics.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 23:50
SOURCE: Britannica Blog (11-14-07)
Talking with some folks here in Iowa the other day, we began to think about how the Iowa Caucus mirrors that other great institution of presidential politics, the Electoral College (EC). Now this is ONLY for the Democrats. The Republicans approach their presidential preference process quite simply – they vote. That is, when Republicans arrive at their caucuses, there will be some speeches and discussion about the candidates, and then they will just write their choice on a secret ballot, which will be counted, and the precinct results reported to the Republican HQ in Des Moines, where they will add up all the precincts and announce the final vote. Simple. Fast. And pretty easy to understand.
Democrats, though, are different.
Democrats are electing delegates to county conventions (to be held in March) and those delegates are elected roughly (and the key word is roughly) in proportion to the support each candidate receives at each precinct. So if Dennis Kucinich (right) gets 45% support in a lefty Iowa City precinct, he (should) get 45% of the delegates that precinct elects to the Johnson County Convention.
How, you ask, do the Democrats know how many delegates to elect at each of the 1784 precincts in Iowa? That, my reader, is determined by a mystical formula that each individual county applies (with oversight from the state party). So let me take a shot at it and explain why the Caucus is like the Electoral College (EC). Here goes…
First, like the EC where we know how many votes each state has, we know the delegate counts for every precinct before the caucuses happen – they are set ahead of time based on the Democratic performance in the precinct in the two general elections prior considered as a percentage of the total county democratic performance. (So for example, my precinct might have 3.2% of the Democratic votes in my county over the past two elections.) That percentage is then applied to the total number of delegates at the county convention to determine the delegate count for the precinct. You cannot, however, compare these numbers across counties, because each county can set its convention at whatever size it wants to. Within each county then, some precincts might elect 12 delegates and others 1 delegate. The key point is that everyone knows ahead of time how many delegates each precinct will elect, AND that number is NOT related to the number of people who actually show up to caucus, just as the EC vote is not related to the number of people who turn out in each state in a presidential election.
So to take my own county, the Peoples’ Republic of Johnson County, in some precincts in 2004 it took as few as 25 caucus attendees to win one delegate while in others it took 75 or more to win one delegate.
Why does this matter? Because the results reported by the state party on caucus night are NOT the actual votes cast for each candidate. Rather, they are “State Delegate Equivalents.” Essentially, since we DO know how many delegates each county will get to the STATE convention, and we know what percentage of the state convention each county represents, the delegates at the county level can be converted to State Delegate Equivalents by doing some basic math, which the party will do before they report the results as percentages for each candidate.
Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats have not released the actual number of people supporting each candidate in the past, so we do not get the vote count. When you get told on caucus night that Kucinich won 38% and Gravel won 18% and Clinton won 5%, it means each won the number of delegates to county conventions across the state that calculate to that percentage of state convention delegates. (Simple, isn’t it?)
Because the actual vote counts are not reported, there is no research that looks at the relationship between headcount (votes) and delegates. Can’t do it without all the data! My guess is that in fact across the whole state the numbers are reasonably related - simply because the overage/underage in terms of votes needed to earn a delegate may wash out across the whole state. BUT, that’s not completely true if one candidate (say Howard Dean last time) has disproportionate support in precincts where voters do NOT turn out regularly in the general election (so Democratic performance is lower and the number of delegates is thus lower) but a whole lot of folks suddenly show up to caucus. I’m thinking here of student precincts in 2004. My guess (and it is only a guess) is that Dean got a lower percentage of delegates than he would have in a system that just reported the vote count. Likewise, if a candidate has a strong rural strategy where there may only be one or two delegates per precinct but it takes only a handful to people to win them, he or she can get a larger percentage of delegates than actual statewide votes
And of course, candidates can get support but no delegates. The existence of the 15% viability threshold (and even higher in small precincts that only elect two or three delegates) guarantees this. In an extreme example, a candidate could get 14.9% support in every one of the 1784 precincts this time, and would be reported with 0 delegates, and thus 0%.
So how is all this like the EC? Well, the EC votes do not depend on the number of people who show up to vote; the geography of the election matters – just look at the red/blue maps from 2000 and 2004 to see that; and the EC vote generally overstates the actual vote of the winner and understates that of the loser. Maybe it is a bit of a stretch, but in the end, the point is to try to understand what Iowa is telling us on the night of January 3. If you’re a Republican the results are clear. If you’re a Democrat, well…
Disclosure: I’m a Democrat, an activist one. I was the acting County Chair for Johnson County during the 2004 caucuses and was thus responsible for 57 precinct caucuses that year. How do I defend what the Democrats do? Well, it’s pretty simple. We are electing folks to a convention, not voting on presidential candidates. Because the media wants to know “who won,” we report who won – but since it is the conventions that actually will ultimately choose delegates to the National Convention, which will (in theory of course) be the decider about the nominee, it is more accurate to report who won how many delegates than it is to report who got how many votes.
Posted on: Wednesday, November 14, 2007 - 23:40
SOURCE: WaPo (11-13-07)
Most Americans think that our role as a world power began with World War II, the "good war," and then continued with the similarly noble Cold War. We like to think that the United States acts in the world exclusively in the name of ideals such as freedom and democracy.
So it may come as a bit of a shock to learn that the United States has had an uninterrupted military presence in the Middle East for 65 years, dating to 1942. Most Americans would also bristle at the idea that this presence, from the arrival of GIs in North Africa onward, has essentially become a continuation of nearly a century and a half of European military adventures in the region. But history shows a disturbing continuity between what the European colonial powers did in the Middle East, starting with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, and what the United States is now doing in Iraq and elsewhere. Indeed, the United States has managed in a few short years to do more damage in the region than did the hated colonial powers that were finally driven out only a few decades ago.
Of course, the European powers did not stint in their use of force in the Middle East. As Juan Cole of the University of Michigan has shown, Napoleon's troops savagely repressed Egyptian resistance even while the French proclaimed the ideals of their Revolution. Aerial bombing of civilians was pioneered by the Italians in Libya in 1911, perfected by the British in Iraq in 1920 and used by the French in 1925 to level whole quarters of Syrian cities. Home demolitions, collective punishment, summary execution, detention without trial, routine torture -- these were the weapons of Europe's takeover.
But Britain and France understood that naked power was not enough to achieve lasting imperial control. They learned that they also needed expertise, a knowledge of local languages and culture, and some form of indirect rule that eventually removed their military forces from direct contact with the local population. And although they faced decades of stubborn resistance in an arc running from Morocco to Iran, they managed to hold onto the reins until World War II shattered their economies and unleashed the changes that brought independence to all these countries.
During the Cold War, neither superpower crossed a red line by deploying large numbers of troops or by occupying parts of the region outright -- until the Kremlin made the fatal, foolish mistake of invading Afghanistan in 1979. That was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, and of the Cold War era.
But since 2000, no one in a position of power in Washington seems to have bothered to read any history. Believing that the demise of the Soviet Union meant an end to checks and balances at home and to limits abroad, and seduced by the blandishments of shallow-minded theorists who believe that the rules that applied to all previous great powers do not apply to the United States, the current administration has plunged into not one but two land wars in Asia....
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 20:39
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog) (11-13-07)
The US military has begun to reverse last year's troop escalation, which brought the number of combat brigades in Iraq up to 20. It is now going back down to 19, and will stand at 15 in July of 2008 if things go according to plan. That is, the number of US troops in Iraq on the eve of the 2008 election will be about 140,000. If the"take, clear and hold" strategy of clearing guerrillas out of Baghdad neighborhoods has been successful, and if Iraqi security forces can continue the"hold" stage on their own, and if Sunni Arab guerrillas and Shiite militias don't reemerge in the neighborhoods that the US abandons in the capital, then violence looks set to hold at some 10,000 civilian deaths a year.
That level of violence is horrible, among the worst in the world. But the American Right, having promised us garlands, then democracy and secularism, then peace both in Iraq and in Israel & Palestine, has finally declared that an ongoing low intensity guerrilla war is a glorious victory and is 'turning the corner.'
My best guess is that Iraqis will go on fighting their three wars, for control of Basra among Shiite militiamen; for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunnis and Shiites; and for control of Kirkuk among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. They will fight these wars to a conclusion or a stalemate. It is only the battle for Baghdad that has been fought at a lower intensity because of the American surge in any case, and I would be surprised if it does not start back up as US troops leave. Violence in all three wars was reported by McClatchy for Monday, with bombings and mortar attacks continuing in Baghdad albeit on a reduced scale. Violence in Kirkuk, and in the northern Sunni hinterland of Baghdad (Samarra) was already reported for today early Tuesday morning.
Posted on: Tuesday, November 13, 2007 - 19:30
SOURCE: TomPaine.com (11-1-07)
Frank Capra's film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939) pervades American political culture. For decades, the film's account of an idealistic young senator who battles government corruption has been our gleaming cultural cliché, the standard by which we measure new political personalities.
But the problem with invoking Jefferson Smith—whether for inspiration or irony—is that his story is a poor touchstone for thinking about the workings of democracy. For all of its attention to senate protocol and power blocs, there is nothing in Capra’s film that can help us understand the spectacle of candidates trying to win over an electorate.
Mr. Smith, we might remember, was never elected to office; he received a special governor's appointment.
It is time to enter a new film into American political consciousness, one more suited to the spectacle of Fred Thompson announcing his presidential campaign on "The Tonight Show" or Barack Obama boogying with Ellen DeGeneres on daytime TV. My nomination is "A Face in the Crowd" (1957), screenwriter Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan’s startling film about the power of media and celebrity. Though the occasion was hardly noticed, the film recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Could there be a better time to reflect on its continuing relevance?
"A Face in the Crowd" tells the story of Lonesome Rhodes, a drunken roustabout played by a magnetic Andy Griffith. Discovered in a small town jail by an ambitious producer (Patricia O’Neal), Rhodes experiences overnight success as an Arkansas radio personality. He quickly evolves into a television sensation and guitar-picking American icon. With the help of the retired general whose vitamin company sponsors his show, he becomes a wielder of national opinion, a showman eager to comment on public affairs.
With devastating bluntness, Rhodes coaches a presidential candidate how to speak in the folksy, down-home style that his 65 million viewers prefer. (The candidate, a rather priggish senator, demonstrates his newly-acquired skills as a guest on Rhodes’ "Cracker Barrel" TV show.) Politicians see Rhodes as being so influential that they talk about giving him a new cabinet position: the Secretary of National Morale. Fueled by a heavy dose of Jack Daniels, the scene in which he responds to his empire’s collapse will forever change the way you look at the normally affable Griffith.
The film struggled to find an audience when it was released, but over the years, its portrait of television and demagoguery has attracted an impressive group of admirers. François Truffaut described "A Face in the Crowd" as "a great and beautiful work," comparing its weightiness to the writings of Roland Barthes. Spike Lee cited the film as a major inspiration and dedicated "Bamboozled "(2000) to Schulberg. It is hard to imagine such gems as "Network" (1976), "Bob Roberts" (1992), and "Bulworth" (1998) without the groundbreaking efforts of this underappreciated film.
In Lonesome Rhodes, Schulberg and Kazan showed Americans their own "demagogue in denim." Although he was inspired by Will Rogers, Arthur Godfrey, and Joseph McCarthy, his lineage is less significant than his real-life descendants. We find his DNA in the long tradition of media personalities who have tried to identify themselves with populist power—Pat Robertson, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rush Limbaugh and his "ditto-heads" among them. Rhodes's rise and fall anticipates the arc of cowboy Don Imus' career, though the speed of his demise makes the Imus departure seem like a slow ride into the sunset.
"A Face in the Crowd" was astonishingly prophetic in understanding the role that television would play in shaping political campaigns. As Kazan presented it, television was the "hypnotic terrible force" that turned celebrities into demagogues and citizens into sheep. "Let us not forget," the general remarks with chilling delight, "that in TV we have the greatest instrument for mass persuasion in the history of the world." The film led Truffaut to conclude that "In America, politics always overlaps show business, as show business always overlaps advertising.”
We have learned since the Eisenhower era that viewers play a significant role in transforming celebrities into objects of their own design. The public has grown adept at choosing which aspects of a star they admire.
And as if they were a kind of cultural Silly Putty, public figures must yield to audience distortions and manipulations that give them alternate, even subversive meanings. Spend an hour on YouTube, and you will see the many ways in which personalities from Madonna to Giuliani are re-imagined and re-conceived.
And yet, despite our media savvy, the values of Lonesome Rhodes and his backers continue to thrive in the Internet age. The 50th anniversary is a good occasion to pick up the DVD of "A Face in the Crowd" and appreciate its remarkable achievement. And as the primary season intensifies, let us hope that the film becomes part of our regular political vocabulary and a recognized source of illumination and critique.
Posted on: Monday, November 12, 2007 - 00:55
SOURCE: Counterpunch (11-5-07)
I think the New York Times has this one right. "For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush's promotion of democracy in the Muslim world. On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly."
Not since Hamas' dramatic victory in the Palestinian elections has the disconnect between Bush's democratic rhetoric and reality of U.S. policy been so starkly exposed. In the former case, Washington responded to democracy with rejection, and support for the Fatah coup. How will it respond to Musharraf's assault on the fading façade of incipient Pakistani democracy?
Recall that Musharraf toppled the democratically elected president of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in 1999. The year before Pakistan had conducted nuclear weapons tests, and been slapped with U.S. sanctions. Relations with the military dictatorship were cool until 9-11, after which Musharraf became a key U.S. ally in the "war on terror" and recipient of massive U.S. aid.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, through his deputy Richard Armitage, told Musharraf: "Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age," if he was unwilling to cooperate in the destruction of Afghanistan's Taliban regime. That regime was largely a creation of Pakistani military intelligence, and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia its main supporters. But Musharraf agreed to break ties, host U.S. forces, and even to suppress any (democratic) anti-U.S. demonstrations in his country.
Using Pakistani military bases as part of its campaign, the U.S. swiftly overthrew the primitive Taliban apparatus, chased al-Qaeda and some of the Talibs across the border into Pakistan, allowed the reemergence of the Northern Alliance warlord regime with a Pashtun fig-leaf figurehead, proclaimed a great victory and then without skipping a beat shifted its attention to the wholly unrelated target of Iraq.
In the border area, often described as "lawless" and never fully controlled by the central government of Pakistan, tribal leaders met the routed Afghans as well as the al-Qaeda Arabs with hospitality. In the interim, the latter have not only survived, regrouped and facilitated military opposition to the Karzai regime in Kabul, but acquired a following within Pakistan. There is now a Pakistani Taliban movement that in coalition with other anti-government Islamist movements in the country (alongside "moderate" democratic movements as well) seriously challenges Musharraf's regime. In July, in an effort to crack down on Islamist forces, the government stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad, killing 183 according to the BBC. Tensions between the Islamists (who are well represented in the military) and Musharraf are at a boiling point, recently obliging him to reach out to political rival former prime minister Banazir Bhutto.
The U.S. put Musharraf in a very difficult position. "You must agree," it told him in 2001, "to help us overthrow Pakistan's own creation, the Taliban." After he did, he was told, "You must send your soldiers to places in your country they have never been deployed before, to crush the fleeing Afghans and al-Qaeda terrorists. Or we will do it for you." The region where these forces have taken refuge is, as Eric Margolis recently wrote in an excellent column, "under express constitutional guarantee of total autonomy and a ban on Pakistani troops ever entering there." Pakistani army efforts to crush them have met with dismal results, forcing Islamabad to in effect sue for peace a year ago.
In September 2006 the government signed a pact with tribal groups, including the "Islamic Emirate of Waziristan" whereby the latter would prevent cross-border movement of militants into and out of Afghanistan in exchange for the government's cessation of air and ground attacks against militants in Waziristan. This met with some concern in Washington, and Voice of America announced that the pact had Mullah Omar's blessing. But Bush spokesman Tony Snow at the time said that the agreement was aimed at combating terrorism and that Islamabad had assured the U.S. the accord wouldn't undermine the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In any case, the attack on the Red Mosque led to reprisals on government forces in Waziristan and the collapse of the Waziristan Accord.
The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the collective product of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concerning national security issues, was released last July just as the accord broke down. It declared that al-Qaeda has regained the same strength it had as of the 9-11 attacks due to (1) the "safe haven" it has enjoyed in parts of Pakistan and (2) its association with "al-Qaeda in Iraq," which has allowed it to "energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives . . ." That set the neocons chattering about a U.S. attack on Pakistan.
"I think the president's going to have to take military action there over the next few weeks or months," Bill Kristol said on Fox News. "Bush has to disrupt that sanctuary. I think, frankly, we won't even tell Musharraf. We'll do what we have to do in Western Pakistan and Musharraf can say, 'Hey, they didn't tell me.'" It got the White House talking tough. Tony Snow answering reporters' questions refused to rule out striking at targets inside Pakistan. Asked if the U.S. would seek Pakistan's permission before a strike, he said "We never rule out any options, including striking actionable targets. . . . Those are matters that are best not discussed publicly." He declared that Musharraf is "going to have to be more aggressive" in going after al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
In fact, the U.S. had already conducted strikes. One in January 2006 a military airstrike targeting the village of Damadola in the Bajaur tribal area of northwestern Pakistan killed at least 18 people, including women and children. It apparently targeted al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The U.S. government denied responsibility, which suggests this was a CIA operation. During the same month a missile attack killed eight people in a village in North Waziristan, prompting protests throughout the country and two official letters of protest hand delivered from the Foreign Office to U.S. embassy officials. His American allies' disregard for Pakistani sovereignty was becoming an acute embarrassment for Musharraf.
Only July 20 Pakistan's Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasneem Aslam called US officials' comments about striking targets along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border "irresponsible and dangerous," adding, We cannot, nor should we be expect to take indiscriminate action over a large territory without any precise information about any Al Qaeda or terrorist hideout." But the following day Bush in his weekly radio address stated he was troubled by the report that al-Qaeda was gaining strength in the Pakistani tribal region. Then Frances Fragos Townsend, Bush's homeland security adviser, told CNN that if the U.S. has "actionable targets, anywhere in the world, including Pakistan, then we would respond to those targets. . . . There are no options off the table." This produced an immediate angry response from the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who told CNN: "Some people are talking irresponsibly of attack in the tribal areas by the United States. People in Pakistan get very upset when, despite all the sacrifices that Pakistan has been making, you have the sort of questions that are sometimes asked by the American media. . . [But] indiscriminate attacks could only undercut efforts to win hearts and minds."
On July 25, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Peter Verga told an unusual joint session of the House Armed Services Committee and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, "If there were information or opportunity to strike a blow" on Pakistani territory "to protect the American people" U.S. forces would act immediately. On the same day at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns declared, "Given the primacy of the fight against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, if we have in the future certainty of knowledge, then of course the United States would always have the option of taking action on its own."
Of course this sort of talk did not go down well in Pakistan, and had to worry the general. His goal was to survive assassination attempts and serve a third term as president. To do that, he had to get the parliament to change the constitution, and prevent the Supreme Court from declaring such a move illegal. Thus he suspended the Chief Justice in March. But the judge, Iftikhar Chaudhry, was reinstated by the Court in July, handing Musharraf a setback just as the U.S. was ratcheting up pressure on him. Thereafter, Condi Rice has been twisting his arm to accept an arrangement whereby Bhutto, back in Pakistan, can organize her Pakistan People's Party to work with him to support the "war on terror." That deal requires that he leave his Army post.
Last month Musharraf won the parliamentary vote for president, but the Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether he can legitimately hold the post without resigning from the army. Perhaps anticipating a negative decision, he has now declared a state of emergency and is busy locking up political opponents and shutting down the independent press. He has perhaps determined that to do otherwise he would either (1) fall to a "People's Power" type movement coalescing around Bhutto (no democrat but with some populist appeal), or (2) fall to Islamist forces including some in the military. He might also feel that the first of these results would lead dangerously to the second, embroiling Pakistan in conflict with the U.S.
Washington forced Musharraf into his present position. He's the leader of a nation in which the Taliban's presence and popularity grows. This results from no fault of his own but as a result of the "regime change" exercise in Afghanistan six years ago and its failure to destroy either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. He's the leader of a nation in which Osama bin Laden's popularity is far greater than his own. He's the leader of a nation appalled (like most nations) at the carnage in Iraq, resulting from an invasion based on lies. He's the leader of a Muslim nation with a huge Shiite minority (the second largest Shiite population in the world, next to Iran) whose adherents will---with likely Sunni support---react with outrage to a U.S. attack on neighboring brotherly Iran. He's been put in a very tight spot by the neocons' wild moves towards the creation of an American Raj in Southwest Asia. He wants to cooperate, but he's perhaps reached the point where he feels that to say "Yes, Ma'am" again to Condi will not just mean his own political fall but the rise of others whom the U.S. will target with deadly force.
"Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age." That's what Musharraf told CBS's "60 Minutes" he was told by Colin Powell's deputy in 2001. Surely such words haunt him, and played a role in his decision to declare the state of emergency, "making," as the New York Times puts it, "a mockery of President Bush's promotion of democracy in the Muslim world."
The U.S. State Department, having reportedly discouraged Musharraf from declaring martial law in the past, pronounces itself "deeply disturbed" by the "extra-constitutional actions" he has taken. Possibly this just another sniffle of hypocrisy dripping from Pinnochio's lengthening nose. Maybe the move received prior authorization from Musharraf's patrons in Washington. Quite possibly the Vice President's office has a different reaction from the State Department's (often the case) and feels a stronger, more dictatorial Musharraf will be a more useful ally when the missiles hit Iran. Surely we will soon see how sincere these U.S. expressions of support for the Pakistani constitution and "democracy" really are.
Posted on: Friday, November 9, 2007 - 19:39
SOURCE: Counterpunch (11-2-07)
The earliest Christian texts (such as the epistles of Paul) use the term "saint" (Greek, hagios) to refer to the members of the Christian community, including those who have died (for example, Ephesians 1:1). Gradually the term came to refer more particularly to persons martyred for the faith. By the fourth century, exemplary persons believed to have performed miracles were added to the list. Saints by canon law must be venerated as having entered Heaven and possessing the ability to "intercede" between the believer and God. They are, that is to say, not regarded as having the capacity to answer prayer themselves but to facilitate the process. The whole concept is rejected by most Protestants but is central to the history of Roman Catholicism. Indeed, as the historian Peter Brown writes, the cult of the saints became the dominant form of religion in Europe after the fall of Rome (The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity [University of Chicago Press, 1982], p. 3). For centuries it was closely related to the cult of saints' relics, collected by almost every church.
The Roman Catholic Church, acting as its adherents see it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has a procedure to select certain dead people for recognition as saints. The first step is beatification, which pronounces the individual "blessed" but doesn't oblige believers to venerate him or her. It merely allows the believer to pray in the beatified's name. The skeptic might suspect that politics have as much to do with beatification as divine inspiration; the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne (surely no "saint" in the colloquial sense) was beatified soon after his death in 814. The Pope, as Christ's Vicar on earth, has the final say. The late Pope John Paul II, who will surely himself be beatified eventually, beatified 1338---the largest number of any pope in history.
I personally think that this concept of beatification and sainthood, and the notion of praying to various persons in Heaven, was no part of the earliest Christianity but quite likely a meme derived from Buddhism. In Mahayana Buddhism (to which some Christians in Syria and Egypt were exposed by the second century if not earlier) we find the concept of the boddhisattva---the enlightened being who, after death, remains in the cosmos out of a spirit of compassion and is available to answer prayer. Some boddhisattvas have specific qualities or functions: for example, Avalokitesvara is associated with compassion, Manjushiri with wisdom, Vasudhara with wealth and fertility. St. Christopher (downgraded in 1969 by the Vatican due to questions about his histroical existence) was long the patron saint of travelers. His Buddhist counterpart is Ksitigarbha, the bodhisattva who helps travelers.
In the 190s, in Alexandria, Egypt, church leader Clement (later made St. Clement) in his Stromatae made the first known Christian references to Buddhism. He mentioned Buddha by that title. He also described Buddhist monks (in an era before there were any Christian monks, although he compared them with the heterodox Christian ascetics of Syria, the Encratites), and the Buddhist practice of reverencing the bones of virtuous persons under pyramids (by which he means stupas). (See John Ferguson, trans., Clement of Alexandria: Stromateis, Books One to Three [Catholic University of America Press, 1991], p. 293.) There were almost surely Indian Buddhists in Alexandria and in Antioch, the terminus of the Silk Road. Ideas like the reverence of saints often pass from one religious tradition into another quite different one. I think monasticism itself, along with the cult of relics, the use of prayer-beads, and the cult of saints---none of which are mentioned in the New Testament or are likely derived from Roman pagan practice---are Buddhist memes.
In short, I personally think the cult of saints and this whole beatification thing is a human invention to be logically and historically explained from the standpoint of comparative religious studies. It's very interesting, and perhaps harmless or even psychologically helpful for the believer; a Buddhist monk is likely to tell you, "If it alleviates suffering, what is the harm?" Nevertheless maybe sometimes the selection process can do harm. If you chose the wrong person to beatify, you may open old wounds.
In Vatican City on Oct. 28, in the largest beatification ceremony ever held, Pope Benedict XVI placed 498 persons on the road to sainthood. They all died during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9), and were presented as martyrs to their faith. This was just days before the Spanish Parliament was scheduled to debate the "Law of Historical Memory" requiring local governments in Spain to fund efforts to unearth mass graves of victims of that war containing thousands killed at the hands of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Is the timing not curious?
Half a million people died in the war. On the one hand there were the partisans of a Republican government under a leftist Popular Front coalition that won parliamentary elections. They were leftist and anticlerical, hostile to the great wealth and power of the Catholic Church. (The Church, consisting of about 115,000 priests, monks and nuns in a country of 24 million, controlled over 15% of all arable land, and had large holdings in bank capital and other financial enterprises.) On the other were the Nationalists under Gen. Franco, "hero" of Spain's colonial war in Morocco and devout son of the Church. The Republicans were supported by the Soviets, the Nationalists by Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy---and the Church.
The brutality of Franco's fascists and foreign allies is immortalized in Picasso's painting "Guernica," depicting the German Luftwaffe bombing of a Basque town in 1937. While there was brutality on all sides, the Nationalist dead were treated with respect following Franco's victory and during his long dictatorship to his death in 1975. (He enjoyed massive U.S. support during the Cold War, and continuing warm, grateful support from the Catholic Church.) There are tens of thousands of victims of the fascists whose remains have not yet been located, and some prominent clerics in Spain seem content with that. AP quotes Francisco Perez, the archbishop of Pamplona, as opposing the bill before the Spanish parliament. "You can't change history," he says, urging victims "to look for ways to forget."
In a Spanish language sermon in St. Peter's Square Sunday, Benedict declared that the beatified ones were "motivated exclusively by their love for Christ." "These martyrs," added the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (the number two man at the Vatican, according to Reuters) "have not been proposed for veneration by the people of God because of their political implications nor to fight against anybody" but because they had been exemplary Christians.
The Pope, meanwhile, has been an outspoken critic of the growing secularization of Spanish society. Church attendance has fallen dramatically since 1975, and according to a 2002 survey only 19 percent of Spaniards consider themselves practicing Catholics. Spain has under current President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero adopted a liberal divorce law and legalized gay marriage. An indignant Pope Benedict in 2005 urged Spaniards to firmly resist "secular tendencies," and perhaps he associates these with the present attention given to "historical memory."
The Spanish state wants to dig up the victims of fascism. The Church wants to leave them buried, while launching its own remembered martyrs into the stratosphere for veneration. Whom do these include? Augustinian Fr. Gabino Olaso Zabala, executed by Republican forces. In 1896 he participated in the torture of a priest in the Philippines, a Filipino Fr. Mariano Dacanay, who was suspected of sympathy for anti-Spanish revolutionaries. He encouraged prison guards to kick the priest in the head.
But as of Sunday, Catholics so inclined are authorized to seek his intercession between themselves and God.
No political implications here, says the Vatican Secretary of State, although many Spaniards seem to disagree. I wonder what they're saying in the Philippines.
Posted on: Friday, November 9, 2007 - 19:36