Friday, February 29, 2008

Don't be a Nader Hater

Ralph Nader

On the day Ralph Nader announced his bid for the White House the subsequent media coverage didn't examine his policy proposals or his lifelong commitment to consumer protection; they didn't mention Ralph, the champion of populism, or Ralph, the corporate dragon-slayer. No, all they cared to squawk about was Ralph, the spoiler.

CNN interviewed one of Al Gore's campaign advisers who suggested we all ignore Nader. So much for John Stuart Mill's concept of a marketplace of ideas. Many Democrats -- that is to say people who vote Democratic -- are buying into the notion that this is "the most important election of our lifetime". No it's not. A case could be made for the Bush/Kerry 2004 contest, but if you think Clinton, Obama or McCain will introduce any sweeping systemic reforms think again.

Clinton and Obama's milquetoast attitudes toward big business are starkly delineated only when measured against Nader's stances. What do you expect from the Corporate World's first and third (respectively) favorite presidential contenders? Neither will call for the death of Corporate personhood, neither seriously supports impeachment, neither can get us out of Iraq by the end of their first year, neither will repeal the Taft/Hartley Act and restore the power of the unions and neither have the mettle to denounce Israel. Unless you're a CEO banking multi-billion dollar profits each quarter I don't see how you can disagree with Nader on any of these issues.

So why vote Democrat? The real question seems to be are you first a Democrat or a Liberal? Liberalism has been responsible for Child Labor laws, Civil Rights, Birth Control, Workers' Rights, Women's Suffrage and so on, sometimes pressuring the establishment through third parties like the Socialist Party. The Democrats on the other hand have a fine tradition of being mealy-mouthed, ankle-grabbing sycophants.

Ralph Nader is nobody's bootlicker. People complain that a vote for a third party is a vote wasted. Not so. In fact, I submit that a vote for either of the two corporate-bought parties is a vote wasted. When you cast your ballot for an Ass or an Elephant you only legitimize what's already a rotting institution which promotes a sense of helplessness. Why do we keep repeating ourselves hoping for a different result? That is the definition of insanity. Nader offers relief from this political tail-chasing. His presence expands the discourse, and draws the other contestants past their vacuous talking points.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Friday Flashback: The Replacements - "Slow Down" (Beatles Cover) '81

Noam Chomsky: Why is Iraq Missing from 2008 Presidential Race?

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[Note: Talk starts 20 min. 15 sec. into program] In a major address, Noam Chomsky says there has been little change in the conventional debate over a US invasion abroad: from Vietnam to Iraq, the two main political parties and political pundits differ only on the tactics of US goals, which are assumed to be legitimate. On the other hand, public opposition to war has also remained consistent, Chomsky says, but, whether Iraqi or American, ignored.

AMY GOODMAN: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will face off tonight in their final debate before the crucial primaries in Ohio and Texas next week. Over the past few days, the two Democratic candidates have traded barbs over trade, foreign and domestic policies, as the rhetoric from both campaigns heats up.

Since the presidential race began well over a year ago, Iraq has been one of many topics of debate. However, the war has not been the central issue of the campaign as it was in the midterm elections in 2006, and there are still more than 160,000 US troops deployed in Iraq. Why is this?

That was the subject of a recent talk by Noam Chomsky. A professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over a half-century, Noam Chomsky is the author of scores of books on US foreign policy. His most recent is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. We spend the rest of the hour with Noam Chomsky. He recently spoke before a packed audience in Massachussetts at an event sponsored by Bikes Not Bombs.

: Not very long ago, as you all recall, it was taken for granted that the Iraq war would be the central issue in the 2008 election, as it was in the midterm election two years ago. However, it’s virtually disappeared off the radar screen, which has solicited some puzzlement among the punditry.

Actually, the reason is not very obscure. It was cogently explained forty years ago, when the US invasion of South Vietnam was in its fourth year and the surge of that day was about to add another 100,000 troops to the 175,000 already there, while South Vietnam was being bombed to shreds at triple the level of the bombing of the north and the war was expanding to the rest of Indochina. However, the war was not going very well, so the former hawks were shifting towards doubts, among them the distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger, maybe the most distinguished historian of his generation, a Kennedy adviser, who—when he and Kennedy, other Kennedy liberals were beginning to—reluctantly beginning to shift from a dedication to victory to a more dovish position.

And Schlesinger explained the reasons. He explained that—I’ll quote him now—“Of course, we all pray that the hawks are right in thinking that the surge of that day will work. And if it does, we may all be saluting the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government in winning a victory in a land that we have turned,” he said, “to wreck and ruin. But the surge probably won’t work, at an acceptable cost to us, so perhaps strategy should be rethought.”

Well, the reasoning and the underlying attitudes carry over with almost no change to the critical commentary on the US invasion of Iraq today. And it is a land of wreck and ruin. You’ve already heard a few words; I don’t have to review the facts. The highly regarded British polling agency, Oxford Research Bureau, has just updated its estimate of deaths. Their new estimate a couple of days ago is 1.3 million. That’s excluding two of the most violent provinces, Karbala and Anbar. On the side, it’s kind of intriguing to observe the ferocity of the debate over the actual number of deaths. There’s an assumption on the part of the hawks that if we only killed a couple hundred thousand people, it would be OK, so we shouldn’t accept the higher estimates. You can go along with that if you like.

Uncontroversially, there are over two million displaced within Iraq. Thanks to the generosity of Jordan and Syria, the millions of refugees who have fled the wreckage of Iraq aren’t totally wiped out. That includes most of the professional classes. But that welcome is fading, because Jordan and Syria receive no support from the perpetrators of the crimes in Washington and London, and therefore they cannot accept that huge burden for very long. It’s going to leave those two-and-a-half million refugees who fled in even more desperate straits.

The sectarian warfare that was created by the invasion never—nothing like that had ever existed before. That has devastated the country, as you know. Much of the country has been subjected to quite brutal ethnic cleansing and left in the hands of warlords and militias. That’s the primary thrust of the current counterinsurgency strategy that’s developed by the revered “Lord Petraeus,” I guess we should describe him, considering the way he’s treated. He won his fame by pacifying Mosul a couple of years ago. It’s now the scene of some of the most extreme violence in the country.

One of the most dedicated and informed journalists who has been immersed in the ongoing tragedy, Nir Rosen, has just written an epitaph entitled “The Death of Iraq” in the very mainstream and quite important journal Current History. He writes that “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols, who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century,” which has been the perception of many Iraqis, as well. “Only fools talk of ‘solutions’ now,” he went on. “There is no solution. The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.”

But Iraq is, in fact, the marginal issue, and the reasons are the traditional ones, the traditional reasoning and attitudes of the liberal doves who all pray now, as they did forty years ago, that the hawks will be right and that the US will win a victory in this land of wreck and ruin. And they’re either encouraged or silenced by the good news about Iraq.

And there is good news. The US occupying army in Iraq—euphemistically it’s called the Multi-National Force–Iraq, because they have, I think, three polls there somewhere—that the occupying army carries out extensive studies of popular attitudes. It’s an important part of counterinsurgency or any form of domination. You want to know what your subjects are thinking. And it released a report last December. It was a study of focus groups, and it was uncharacteristically upbeat. The report concluded—I’ll quote it—that the survey of focus groups “provides very strong evidence” that national reconciliation is possible and anticipated, contrary to what’s being claimed. The survey found that a sense of “optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups…and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis” from all over the country and all walks of life. This discovery of “shared beliefs” among Iraqis throughout the country is “good news, according to a military analysis of the results," Karen de Young reported in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago.

Well, the “shared beliefs” are identified in the report. I’ll quote de Young: "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the US military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of [what they call] ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation.” So those are the “shared beliefs.” According to the Iraqis then, there’s hope of national reconciliation if the invaders, who are responsible for the internal violence and the other atrocities, if they withdraw and leave Iraq to Iraqis. That’s pretty much the same as what’s been found in earlier polls, so it’s not all that surprising. Well, that’s the good news: “shared beliefs.”

The report didn’t mention some other good news, so I’ll add it. Iraqis, it appears, accept the highest values of Americans. That ought to be good news. Specifically, they accept the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal that sentenced Nazi war criminals to hanging for such crimes as supporting aggression and preemptive war. It was the main charge against von Ribbentrop, for example, whose position was—in the Nazi regime was that of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. The Tribunal defined aggression very straightforwardly: aggression, in its words, is the “invasion of its armed forces” by one state “of the territory of another state.” That’s simple. Obviously, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan are textbook examples of aggression. And the Tribunal, as I’m sure you know, went on to characterize aggression as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself all the accumulated evil of the whole.” So everything that follows from the aggression is part of the evil of the aggression.

Well, the good news from the US military survey of focus groups is that Iraqis do accept the Nuremberg principles. They understand that sectarian violence and the other postwar horrors are contained within the supreme international crime committed by the invaders. I think they were not asked whether their acceptance of American values extends to the conclusion of Justice Robert Jackson, chief prosecutor for the United States at Nuremberg. He forcefully insisted that the Tribunal would be mere farce if we do not apply the principles to ourselves.

Well, needless to say, US opinion, shared with the West generally, flatly rejects the lofty American values that were professed at Nuremberg, indeed regards them as bordering on obscene, as you could quickly discover if you try experimenting by suggesting that these values should be observed, as Iraqis insist. It’s an interesting illustration of the reality, some of the reality, that lies behind the famous “clash of civilizations.” Maybe not exactly the way we like to look at it.

There was a poll a few days ago, a really major poll, just released, which found that 75 percent of Americans believe that US foreign policy is driving the dissatisfaction with America abroad, and more than 60 percent believe that dislike of American values and of the American people are also to blame. Dissatisfaction is a kind of an understatement. The United States has become increasingly the most feared and often hated country in the world. Well, that perception is in fact incorrect. It’s fed by propaganda. There’s very little dislike of Americans in the world, shown by repeated polls, and the dissatisfaction—that is, the hatred and the anger—they come from acceptance of American values, not a rejection of them, and recognition that they’re rejected by the US government and by US elites, which does lead to hatred and anger.

There’s other “good news” that’s been reported by General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker that was during the extravaganza that was staged last September 11th. September 11th, you might ask why the timing? Well, a cynic might imagine that the timing was intended to insinuate the Bush-Cheney claims of links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. They can’t come out and say it straight out, so therefore you sort of insinuate it by devices like this. It’s intended to indicate, as they used to say outright but are now too embarrassed to say, except maybe Cheney, that by committing the supreme international crime, they were defending the world against terror, which, in fact, increased sevenfold as a result of the invasion, according to a recent analysis by terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank.

Petraeus and Crocker provided figures to explain the good news. The figures they provided on September 11th showed that the Iraqi government was greatly accelerating spending on reconstruction, which is good news indeed and remained so until it was investigated by the Government Accountability Office, which found that the actual figure was one-sixth of what Petraeus and Crocker reported and, in fact, a 50 percent decline from the previous year.

Well, more good news is the decline in sectarian violence, that’s attributable in part to the murderous ethnic cleansing that Iraqis blame on the invasion. The result of it is there are simply fewer people to kill, so sectarian violence declines. It’s also attributable to the new counterinsurgency doctrine, Washington’s decision to support the tribal groups that had already organized to drive out Iraqi al-Qaeda, to an increase in US troops, and to the decision of the Sadr’s Mahdi army to consolidate its gains to stop direct fighting. And politically, that’s what the press calls “halting aggression” by the Mahdi army. Notice that only Iraqis can commit aggression in Iraq, or Iranians, of course, but no one else.

Well, it’s possible that Petraeus’s strategy may approach the success of the Russians in Chechnya, where—I’ll quote the New York Times a couple of weeks ago—Chechnya, the fighting is now “limited and sporadic, and Grozny is in the midst of a building boom” after having been reduced to rubble by the Russian attack. Well, maybe some day Baghdad and Fallujah also will enjoy, to continue the quote, “electricity restored in many neighborhoods, new businesses opening and the city’s main streets repaved,” as in booming Grozny. Possible, but dubious, in the light of the likely consequence of creating warlord armies that may be the seeds of even greater sectarian violence, adding to the “accumulated evil” of the aggression. Well, if Russians share the beliefs and attitudes of elite liberal intellectuals in the West, then they must be praising Putin’s “wisdom and statesmanship” for his achievements in Chechnya, formerly that they had turned into a land of wreck and ruin and are now rebuilding. Great achievement.

A few days ago, the New York Times—the military and Iraq expert of the New York Times, Michael Gordon, wrote a comprehensive review, first-page comprehensive review, of the options for Iraq that are being faced by the candidates. And he went through them in detail, described the pluses and minuses and so on, interviewing political leaders, the candidates, experts, etc. There was one voice missing: Iraqis. Their preference is not rejected; rather, it’s not mentioned. And it seems that there was no notice of that fact, which makes sense, because it’s typical. It makes sense on the tacit assumption that underlies almost all discourse on international affairs. The tacit assumption, without which none of it makes any sense, is that we own the world. So, what does it matter what others think? They’re “unpeople,” nice term invented by British diplomatic historian [Mark] Curtis, based on a series of outstanding volumes on Britain’s crimes of empire—outstanding work, therefore deeply hidden. So there are the “unpeople” out there, and then there are the owners—that’s us—and we don’t have to listen to the “unpeople.”

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Noam Chomsky speaking in Arlington, Massachusetts. We’ll come back to that speech in a minute here on Democracy Now! And you can get a copy of this speech at Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to Professor Noam Chomsky, teaches linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology for over half-a-century. Noam Chomsky is the author of more than a hundred books on US foreign policy. He was speaking before a packed audience in Arlington, Massachusetts.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Last month, Panama declared a Day of Mourning to commemorate the US invasion—that’s under George Bush no. 1—that killed thousands of poor Panamanians when the US bombed the El Chorillo slums and other poor areas, so Panamanian human rights organizations claim. We don’t actually know, because we never count our crimes. Victors don’t do that; only the defeated. It aroused no interest here; there’s barely a mention of the Day of Mourning. And there’s also no interest in the fact that Bush 1’s invasion of Panama was a clear case of aggression, to which the Nuremberg principles apply, and it was apparently more deadly, in fact possibly much more deadly, than Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, happened a few months later. But it makes sense that there would be no interest in that, because we own the world, and Saddam didn’t, so the acts are quite different.

It’s also of no interest that, at that time of the time of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the greatest fear in Washington was that Saddam would imitate what the United States had just done in Panama, namely install a client government and then leave. That’s the main reason why Washington blocked diplomacy in quite interesting ways, with almost complete media cooperation. There’s actually one exception in the US media. But none of this gets any commentary. However, it does merit a lead story a few days later, when the Panamanian National Assembly was opened by President Pedro Gonzalez, who’s charged by Washington with killing two American soldiers during a protest against President Bush no.1, against his visit two years after the invasion. The charges were dismissed by Panamanian courts, but they’re upheld by the owner of the world, so he can’t travel, and that got a story.

Well, to take just one last illustration of the depth of the imperial mentality, New York Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino, veteran correspondent, writes that “Iran’s intransigence [about nuclear enrichment] appears to be defeating attempts by the rest of the world to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.” Well, the phrase “the rest of the world” is an interesting one. The rest of the world happens to exclude the vast majority of the world, namely the non-aligned movement, which forcefully endorses Iran’s right to enrich uranium in accordance with the rights granted by its being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But they’re not part of the world, even though they’re the large majority, because they don’t reflexively accept US orders, and commentary like that is unremarkable and unnoticed. You’re part of the world if you do what we say, obviously. Otherwise, you’re “unpeople.”

Well, we might, since we’re on Iran, might tarry for a moment and ask whether there’s any solution to the US-Iran confrontation over nuclear weapons, which is extremely dangerous. Here’s one idea. First point, Iran should be permitted to develop nuclear energy, but not nuclear weapons, as the Non-Proliferation Treaty determines.

Second point is that there should be a nuclear weapons-free zone in the entire region, Iran to Israel, including any US forces that are present there. Actually, though it’s never reported, the United States is committed to that position. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it appealed to a UN resolution, Resolution 687, which called upon Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. That was the flimsy legal principle invoked to justify the invasion. And if you look at Resolution 687, you discover that one of its provisions is that the US and other powers must work to develop a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, including that entire region. So we’re committed to it, and that’s the second element of this proposal.

The third element of the proposal is that the United States should accept the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a position which happens to be supported by 82 percent of Americans, namely that it should accept the requirement, in fact the legal requirement, as the World Court determined, to move to make good-faith efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether.

And a fourth proposal is that the US should turn to diplomacy, and it should end any threats against Iran. The threats are themselves crimes. They’re in violation of the UN Charter, which bars the threat or use of force.

Well, of course, these four proposals—again, Iran should have nuclear energy, but not nuclear weapons; there should be a weapons-free zone throughout the region; the US should accept the Non-Proliferation Treaty; there should be a turn to diplomacy and an end to threats—these are almost unmentionable in the United States. Not a single candidate would endorse any part of them, and they’re never discussed, and so on.

However, the proposals are not original. They happen to be the position of the overwhelming majority of the American population. And interestingly, that’s also true in Iran; roughly the same overwhelming majority accepts all of these proposals. But that’s—the results come from the world’s most prestigious polling agency, but not reported, as far as I could discover, and certainly not considered. If they were ever mentioned, they would be dismissed with the phrase “politically impossible,” which is probably correct. It’s only the position of the large majority of the population, kind of like national healthcare, but not of the people that count. So there are plenty of “unpeople” here, too—in fact, the large majority. Americans share this property of being “unpeople” with most of the rest of the world. In fact, if the United States and Iran were functioning, not merely formal, democracies, then this dangerous crisis might be readily resolved by a functioning democracy—I mean, one in which public opinion plays some role in determining policy, rather than being excluded—in fact, unmentioned, because, after all, they’re “unpeople.”

Well, while we’re on Iran, I guess I might as well turn to the third member of the famous Axis of Evil: North Korea. There is an official story—read it right now—is that the official story is this, that after having been compelled to accept an agreement on dismantling its nuclear weapons and the facilities, after having been compelled to agree to that, North Korea is again trying to evade its commitments in its usual devious way. So the New York Times headline on this ten days ago reads “The United States Sees Stalling by North Korea on Nuclear Pact.” And the article then details the charges of how North Korea is not going through with its responsibility. It’s not releasing information that it’s promised to release. If you read the story to the last paragraph—and that’s always a good idea; that’s where the interesting news usually is when you read a news story—but if you manage to get to the last paragraph, you discover that it’s the United States that has backed down on the pledges made in the agreement. The United States had promised to provide a million tons of fuel and—

What do I do? I couldn’t see you. I’m sorry.

MODERATOR: Ten minutes.

NOAM CHOMSKY: I should hurry up? Yeah, OK. Alright, just start screaming at me if I go on too long.

The US just refused to supply it. It’s refused only—it’s supplied only 85 percent of the fuel that it promised, and it was supposed to improve diplomatic relations, of course not doing that. Well, that’s quite normal.

If you want to find out what’s going on in the US-North Korea nuclear standoff, it’s better—you have to go to the specialist literature, which is uniform on it, nothing hidden, and in fact sort of sneaks out into small print in the press reports, as I mentioned. What you find is that North—I mean, North Korea may be the most hideous state in the world, but that’s not the point here. Its position has been pretty pragmatic. It’s kind of tit-for-tat. The United States gets more aggressive, they get more aggressive. The United States moves towards diplomacy and negotiations, they do the same.

So when President Bush came in, there was an agreement—it was called the Framework Agreement that had been established in 1994—and neither the US nor North Korea was quite living up to it. But it was more or less functioning. At that time, North Korea, under the Framework Agreement, had stopped any testing of long-range missiles. It had maybe one or two bombs worth of plutonium, and it was verifiably not making more. Now, that was when George Bush entered the scene. And now it has eight to ten bombs, long-range missiles, and it’s developing plutonium.

And there’s a reason. The Bush regime immediately moved to a very aggressive stance. The Axis of Evil speech was one example. Intelligence was released claiming that North Korea was carrying out—was cheating, had clandestine programs. It’s rather interesting that these intelligence reports, five years later, have been quietly rescinded as probably inadequate. The reason presumably is that if an agreement is reached, there will be inspectors in North Korea, and they’ll find that this intelligence had as much validity as the claims about Iraq, so they’re being withdrawn. Well, North Korea responded to all of this by ratcheting up its missile and weapons development.

In September 2005, under pressure, the United States did agree to negotiations, and there was an outcome. September 2005, North Korea agreed to abandon—quoting— “all nuclear weapons and existing weapons programs” and to allow international inspection. That would be in return for international aid, mainly from the United States, and a non-aggression pledge from the US and an agreement that the two sides—I’m quoting—would “respect each other’s sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize relations.”

Well, the United States, the Bush administration, had an instant reaction. It instantly renewed the threat of force. It froze North Korean funds in foreign banks. It disbanded the consortium that was supposed meet to provide North Korea with a light-water reactor. So North Korea returned to its weapons and missile development, carried out a weapons test, and confrontation escalated. Well, again, under international pressure and with its foreign policy collapsing, Washington returned to negotiations. That led to an agreement, which Washington is now scuttling.

There’s an earlier history, an interesting one. You recall a couple of weeks ago, there was a mysterious Israeli bombing in northern Syria, never explained, but it a sort of hinted that this had something to do with Syria building nuclear facilities with the help of North Korea. Pretty unlikely, but whether it’s true or not, there’s an interesting background, which wasn’t mentioned. In 1993, Israel and North Korea were on the verge of an agreement, in which Israel would recognize North Korea and in return North Korea would agree to terminate any weapons-related—missile, nuclear, other—any weapons-related activity in the Middle East. That would have been an enormous boon to Israel’s security. But the owner of the world stepped in. Clinton ordered them to refuse. Of course, you have to listen to the master’s voice. So that ended that. And it may be that there are North Korean activities in the Middle East that we don’t know about.

Well, let me finally return to the first member of the Axis of Evil: Iraq. Washington does have expectations, and they’re explicit. There are outlined in a Declaration of Principles that was agreed upon, if you can call it that, between the United States and the US-backed, US-installed Iraqi government, a government under military occupation. The two of them issued the Declaration of Principles. It allows US forces to remain indefinitely in Iraq in order to “deter foreign aggression”—well, the only aggression in sight is from the United States, but that’s not aggression, by definition—and also to facilitate and encourage “the flow of foreign investments [to] Iraq, especially American investments.” I’m quoting. That’s an unusually brazen expression of imperial will.

In fact, it was heightened a few days ago, when George Bush issued another one of his signing statements declaring that he will reject crucial provisions of congressional legislation that he had just signed, including the provision that forbids spending taxpayer money—I’m quoting—“to establish any military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of [United States} Armed Forces in Iraq” or “to exercise [United States] control of the oil resources of Iraq." OK? Shortly after, the New York Times reported that Washington “insists”—if you own the world, you insist—“insists that the Baghdad government give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations,” a demand that “faces a potential buzz saw of opposition from Iraq, with its…deep sensitivities about being seen as a dependent state.” It’s supposed to be more third world irrationality.

So, in brief, the United States is now insisting that Iraq must agree to allow permanent US military installations, provide the United—grant the United States the right to conduct combat operations freely, and to guarantee US control over the oil resources of Iraq. OK? It’s all very explicit, on the table. It’s kind of interesting that these reports do not elicit any reflection on the reasons why the United States invaded Iraq. You’ve heard those reasons offered, but they were dismissed with ridicule. Now they’re openly conceded to be accurate, but not eliciting any retraction or even any reflection.

Well, there’s a lot more to say about good news, but I was told to shut up, so I will just say that thinking about these things really does give some insight into the famous “clash of civilizations” and its actual substance, topics that really ought to be foremost in our minds, I believe. Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’s taught there for over half-a-century. He was speaking in Arlington, Massachusetts at an event sponsored by Bikes Not Bombs.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Attack on IWW Solidarity March in Providence, RI

Do you think maternity leave, overtime and the 40 hour work week are good ideas? Me too. All of these rights were earned over decades by striking workers who fought and died for a better quality of life, enduring such brutal attacks by the police as seen recently in Rhode Island. That's right, the struggle continues. It's not some dusty memory contained in a Woody Guthrie song, the fight is very real and very imminent. The police state, contrary to what many believe, isn't materializing out of the ether it's always been here. Since the founding of the nation. We just have faster, more accurate reporting, ways of circumventing mainstream propaganda mills,, we're much more aware of this type of suppression. And it's interesting how the Police always side with the rich and mighty, never the little guy. We owe a huge debt to the IWW, their vision of "One Big Union" and the Socialist movement tied to it at the turn of last century helped workers win their rights, providing for a blueprint for future thrusts forward.

Police Brutality

AUG/11/07 - Providence RI, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) march on Jackies Galaxy, a local restaurant chain supplied by HWH/Dragonland in NYC, a supplier notorious for slave labor conditions and a lack of basic labor rights. A few blocks before finishing the march North Providence police brutally tackled two of the marches after they moved to the sidewalk too slowly, both were arrested and one suffered a badly broken leg in the attack

wobbliesAttack on IWW Solidarity March in Providence, RI-Support Needed!

Today at 12pm EST the Providence wobblies organized a march on Jackies Galaxy, which is a restaurant chain that is being supplied by HWH in New York City, a supplier who is notorious for its slave labor conditions of up to 110 hours per week without basic labor rights (minimum wage and overtime).

Roughly 30-40 wobblies and supporters were marching towards a restaurant in North Providence when the police began following them en mass. They told the marches to move to the sidewalk, while this was initially ignored, the marchers listened to the police and began slowly moving to the sidewalk.

The police then surrounded the marchers in their squad cars and began getting out. With the police in full force, they began attacking the marchers, one fellow worker, Alex Svoboda, was pinned down by the police during her arrest and suffered a dislocated leg. Jason, another wob, was also arrested in during the police' attack.

Despite this, the marchers continued on to Jackies Galaxy and eventually spoke with the owner who denies doing business with HWH although he has no documentation to prove this.

The Providence wobblies will continue their pressure on Jackies Galaxy until they stop doing business with the slave labor shop HWH and until their basic rights, including the right to organize, are instated.

In the meantime they need your support! Alex Svoboda is without any health insurance and they need bail for Jaso, so please send in any donation that you, or your branch can afford to the Providence General Membership Branch (address below) or contact Mark Frey at 201-669-0714 or Billy Randel at 646-645-6284.

You can also do your part at pressuring the Mayor and Police Chief of North Providence to at the very least, formally apologizing to the marchers, dropping all baseless charges and paying for the injuries that were unjustly caused, contact info below. We must continue the solidarity as a union so slave shops like HWH don't get away with their practices. For the One Big Union!

Providence GMB:
PO box 5795
Providence R.I.

North Providence Mayor:
Charles A. Lombardi
North Providence Town Hall
2000 Smith Street
North Providence, RI 02911
Telephone: (401) 232-0900, ext. 226
Fax: (401) 232-3434

Police Chief:
Ernest C. Spaziano
North Providence Police Department
1967 Mineral Spring Ave.
North Providence, R.I. 02904
Business line: 401-233-1433
Fax number: 401-233-1438

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?

(view original)

A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”

Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”

Such, uh, lack of global awareness is the kind of thing that drives Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” up a wall. Ms. Jacoby is one of a number of writers with new books that bemoan the state of American culture.

Joining the circle of curmudgeons this season is Eric G. Wilson, whose “Against Happiness” warns that the “American obsession with happiness” could “well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation.”

Then there is Lee Siegel’s “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization. Mr. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog (“you couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces”) and to praise himself (“brave, brilliant”).

Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.

Ms. Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history. And liberal and conservative writers, from Richard Hofstadter to Allan Bloom, have regularly analyzed the phenomenon and offered advice.

T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, “The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history,” adding that in periods “when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues.”

But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.

Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.

She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.

Ms. Jacoby, dressed in a bright red turtleneck with lipstick to match, was sitting, appropriately, in that temple of knowledge, the New York Public Library’s majestic Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue. The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:

“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.

The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”

“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.

At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”
Ms. Jacoby doesn’t expect to revolutionize the nation’s educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off “American Idol” and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, “the empire of infotainment doesn’t stop at the American border,” she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.

In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said.

Ms. Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Ms. Jacoby doesn’t leave liberals out of her analysis, mentioning the New Left’s attacks on universities in the 1960s, the decision to consign African-American and women’s studies to an “academic ghetto” instead of integrating them into the core curriculum, ponderous musings on rock music and pop culture courses on everything from sitcoms to fat that trivialize college-level learning.

Avoiding the liberal or conservative label in this particular argument, she prefers to call herself a “cultural conservationist.”

For all her scholarly interests, though, Ms. Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. “I was stunned at how difficult it was for me,” she said.

The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"The Cosmic Connection" by Carl Sagan

From earliest times, human beings have pondered their place in the universe. They have wondered whether they are in some sense connected with the awesome and immense cosmos in which the Earth is imbedded.

Many thousands of years ago a pseudoscience called astrology was invented. The positions of the planets at the birth of a child were supposed to play a major role in determining his or her future. The planets, moving points of light, were thought, in some mysterious sense, to be gods. In his vanity, Man imagined the universe designed for his benefit and organized for his use.

Perhaps the planets were identified with gods because their motions seemed irregular. The word "planet" is Greek for wanderer. The unpredictable behavior of the gods in many legends may have corresponded well with the apparently unpredictable motions of the planets. The argument may have been: Gods don't follow rules; planets don't follow rules; planets are gods.

When the ancient priestly astrological caste discovered that the motions of the planets were not irregular but predictable, they seem to have kept this information to themselves. No use unnecessarily worrying the populace, undermining religious belief, and eroding the supports of political power. Moreover, the Sun was the source of life. The Moon, through the tides, dominated agriculture-especially in river basins like the Indus, the Nile the Yangtze, and the Tigris-Euphrates. How reasonable that these lesser lights, the planets, should have subtler but no less definite influence on human life!

The search for a connection, a hooking-up between people and the universe, has not diminished since the dawn of astrology. The same human needs exist despite the advances of science.

We now know that the planets are worlds more or less like our own. We know that their light and gravity have negligible influence on a newborn babe. We know that there are enormous numbers of other objects-asteroids, comets, pulsars, quasars, exploding galaxies, black holes, and the rest-objects not known to the ancient speculators who invented astrology. The universe is immensely grander than they could have imagined.

Astrology has not attempted to keep pace with the times. Even the calculations of planetary motions and positions performed by most astrologers are usually inaccurate.

No study shows a statistically significant success rate in predicting through their horoscopes the future or the personality traits of newborn children. There is no field of radioastrology or X-ray astrology or gamma-ray astrology, taking account of the energetic new astronomical sources discovered in recent years.

Nevertheless, astrology remains immensely popular everywhere. There are at least ten times more astrologers than astronomers. A large number, perhaps a majority, of newspapers in the United States have daily columns on astrology.

Many bright and socially committed young people have more than a passing interest in astrology. It satisfies an almost unspoken need to feel a significance for human beings in a vast and awesome cosmos, to believe that we are in some way hooked up with the universe-an ideal of many drug and religious experiences, the samadhi of some Eastern religions.

The great insights of modern astronomy have shown that, in some senses quite different from those imagined by the earlier astrologers, we are connected up with the universe.

The first scientists and philosophers-Aristotle, for example - imagined that the heavens were made of a different sort of material then the Earth, a special kind of celestial stuff, pure and undefiled. We now know that this is not the case. Pieces of the asteroid belt called meteorites; samples of the Moon returned by Apollo astronauts and Soviet unmanned spacecraft; the solar wind, which expands outward past our planet from the Sun; and the cosmic rays, which are probably generated from exploding stars and their remnants-all show the presence of the same atoms we know here on Earth. Astronomical spectroscopy is able to determine the chemical composition of collections of stars billions of light-years away. The entire universe is made of familiar stuff. The same atoms and molecules occur at enormous distances from Earth as occur here within our Solar System.

These studies have yielded a remarkable conclusion. Not only is the universe made everywhere of the same atoms, but the atoms, roughly speaking, are present everywhere in approximately the same proportions.

Almost all the stuff of the stars and the interstellar matter between the stars is hydrogen and helium, the two simplest atoms. All other atoms are impurities, trace constituents. This is also true for the massive outer planets of our Solar System, like Jupiter. But it is not true for the comparatively tiny hunks of rock and metal in the inner part of the Solar System, like our planet Earth. This is because the small terrestrial planets have gravities too weak to hold their original hydrogen and helium atmospheres, which have slowly leaked away to space.

The next most abundant atoms in the universe turn out to be oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and neon. These are atoms everyone has heard of. Why are the cosmically most abundant elements those that are reasonably common on Earth-rather than, say, yttrium or praseodymium?

The theory of the evolution of stars is sufficiently advanced that astronomers are able to understand the various kinds of stars and their relations-how a star is born from the interstellar gas and dust, how it shines and evolves by thermonuclear reactions in its hot interior, and how it dies. These thermonuclear reactions are of the same sort as the reactions that underlie thermonuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs): The conversion of four atoms of hydrogen into one of helium.

But in the later stages of stellar evolution, higher temperatures are reached in the insides of stars, and elements heavier than helium are generated by thermonuclear processes. Nuclear astrophysics indicates that the most abundant atoms produced in such hot red giant stars are precisely the most abundant atoms on Earth and elsewhere in the universe. The heavy atoms generated in the insides of red giants are spewed out into the interstellar medium, by slow leakage from the star's atmosphere like our own solar wind, or by mighty stellar explosions, some of which can make a star a billion times brighter than our Sun.

Recent infrared spectroscopy of hot stars has discovered that they are blowing off silicates into space-rock powder spewed out into the interstellar medium. Carbon stars probably expel graphite particles into surrounding cosmic space. Other stars shed ice. In their early histories, stars like the Sun probably propelled large quantities of organic compounds into interstellar space; indeed, simple organic molecules are found by radio astronomical methods to be filling the space between the stars. The brightest planetary nebula known (a planetary nebula is an expanding cloud usually surrounding an exploding star called a nova ) seems to contain particles of magnesium carbonate: Dolomite, the stuff of the European mountains of the same name, expelled by a star into interstellar space.

These heavy atoms-carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, and the rest-then float about in the interstellar medium until, at some later time, a local gravitational condensation occurs and a new sun and new planets are formed. This second-generation solar system is enriched in heavy elements.

The fate of individual human beings may not now be connected in a deep way with the rest of the universe, but the matter out of which each of us is made is intimately tied to processes that occurred immense intervals of time and enormous distances in space a way from us. Our Sun is a second or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star stuff.

Our atomic and molecular connection with the rest of the universe is a real and unfanciful cosmic hookup. As we explore our surroundings by telescope and space vehicle, other hookups may emerge. There may be a network of intercommunicating extraterrestrial civilizations to which we may link up tomorrow, for all we know. The undelivered promise of astrology-that the stars impel our individual characters - will not be satisfied by modern astronomy. But the deep human need to seek and understand our connection with the universe is a goal well within our grasp.

From The Cosmic Connection: an Extraterrestrial Perspective. Copyright 1973 by Carl Sagan. Published by Anchor Press / Doubleday.

The Animated Alan Watts (South Park Creators)

Music and Life

Prickles & Goo

Chalmers Johnson - Speaking Freely

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Dalai Lama - The Path to Tranquility [Full Audiobook]

Path to Tranquility

Wouldn't it be nice to have a handy collection of highlights from the Dalai Lama's writings and teachings? Renuka Singh, a student and friend of the Dalai Lama, brings together a sampling of his words for each day of the year in The Path to Tranquility. In her selections you can sense the intimate encouragement of the student-teacher relationship. The Dalai Lama's words are not distant platitudes or profound proclamations but rather small insights and patient exhortations to keep trying. "We can deny everything except that we have the possibility of being better." "As a spiritual trainee, you must be prepared to endure the hardships of being involved in a genuine spiritual pursuit." "Nothing is more important than guarding the mind." These thoughts are germane to practical cultivation, and pondering a daily passage is a great way to keep the mind coming back to its center. Take a page from the Dalai Lama, and set yourself on the path to tranquility. --Brian Bruya

The Path to Tranquility - 01
The Path to Tranquility - 02
The Path to Tranquility - 03
The Path to Tranquility - 04
The Path to Tranquility - 05
The Path to Tranquility - 06
The Path to Tranquility - 07
The Path to Tranquility - 08
The Path to Tranquility - 09
The Path to Tranquility - 10
The Path to Tranquility - 11
The Path to Tranquility - 12
The Path to Tranquility - 13
The Path to Tranquility - 14

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Social responsibility and Corporations

inauguration-protest-corporationsFrom the February 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Can corporations be trusted, or even expected, to have any social responsibility?

Millions, billions even, are spent by corporations in PR attempts to green up their images. Not spent to improve conditions for their workers, not spent to find alternative, better methods of production less harmful to the environment, not spent to seriously reduce consumption of the world's shrinking non-renewable resources, not spent to significantly reduce pollution of the planet's earth, air and water; simply spent to present an illusion of green, caring, altruistic, socially responsible business. One may even be lulled into believing that profit is the least of their worries.

Yeah, but – that far too frequent punctuation in what was meant to be a meaningful conversation – there are laws and regulations that outlaw trade in illegal timber and diamonds and there are agreements like Kyoto to reduce pollution and big name companies are now taking responsibility for the level of pay and conditions of their workers in the sweatshops in Indonesia and Bangladesh etc.

Right, of course. There are laws and agreements and treaties but for every one there are loopholes. Agreements are signed and then reneged on regularly. The buck gets passed from pillar to post with elites denying knowledge until forced by public pressure to 'take steps' to repair damage done to their image. Business just doesn't work with the best interest of the majority in mind. We have to look at the raison d'ĂȘtre of the business world which is not to make or supply goods specifically at the behest of the citizenry, not to provide the services demanded by them. Business makes the goods and provides the services and manufactures the need. It is simply and straightforwardly to make a profit. One very simple example is the call-centre. Who do you know who would choose to sit waiting on the end of a phone with mind-numbing music and recorded apologies just to get the answer to a simple question and you know you're waiting while the company is either making money by selling you something or saving money by not employing enough bodies to answer the phones. Where's the responsibility to the consumer there?

Yeah, but we need these products and services anyway, don't we?

Maybe we do need some of them but many products are produced for a created market; stuff to sell to those who have enough money to be in any particular market place. Obsolescence is built in – to cars, washing machines and other electrical gear; fans' football strip needs replacing/updating once or twice a year; fashion is a must in everything, spurred on by advertising and the media, itself a smaller and smaller group of expanding mega-businesses concentrating profit and control into fewer and fewer hands; clothes, furniture, house decoration, garden decoration, accessories of all kinds, creating an unending lust for more, more, more. The other side of this is that millions of people don't have access to most of this stuff because they don't have the resources or the access to earn the resources with which to pay for them. Even sufficient food, clean drinking water and adequate shelter is beyond the reach of many. This surely demonstrates that the over-riding motivation is profit, not responsibility. There is a green-washing, white-washing, brain-washing going on constantly by corporations and their PR departments trying to keep up with or preferably to stay one step ahead of the watchdogs and activists ready to reveal their next miscalculated step.

Yeah, but the activists and watchdogs do get some changes made . . .

Yes, they do. However, what gains are made are more than made up for by losses in other areas. Ask the activists. Ask them and ask yourself why there are more activists working in more areas than there ever were before. Slavery was abolished generations ago but it hasn't stopped slavery and trafficking. Forcing one clothing company to stop employing children or to pay a minimum wage or to allow their workers some time off the premises or even to accept that these are areas of their responsibility, not just of their sub-contractors' doesn't address the fundamental issue of general social responsibility. 'Social responsibility' and 'environmental responsibility' have become convenient screens to hide behind, theatrical masks behind which amoral, unethical pirates can continue their quest for a larger share of the world's pie untouched by the cognisance of starving millions who can't get close enough to even smell the pie. The fact is, whatever sop a corporation may deign to give, whatever concessions any number of corporations may yield, globally there are more people without work, without prospect of work, who are homeless, who are destitute – and closer to home there are more who work longer hours for less pay, who have reduced pension rights and less bargaining power.

Yeah, but back to public pressure . . .

Public pressure is important but to know, to be aware of what form that pressure should take is more important. Public awareness must come first for any kind of pressure to be effective. First we have to recognise that the corporations are just following their designated route in pursuing maximum profits so it's pointless complaining about them doing their utmost to fulfil their mission. If we focus on this only as a single issue then we are allowing ourselves to be sidetracked. If we truly wish to give people and the environment a fair deal we have to see this issue as one part of a much bigger whole. In this particular issue the only way to positively affect the whole production line from raw material to consumer is to remove the profit involved. By removing money from any transaction along the chain the gains will be for the environment and people's welfare. Similarly with regard to other issues (water – health / big dams / privatisation; wars – weapons and proliferation / numberless casualties; oil the far too frequent punctuation in what was meant to be a meaningful conversation conflict / environmental problems / imbalance in use of resources; farming – cash crop problems / big pharma – seed rights ownership / landless peasants; trafficking – drugs / sex / workers / babies; and on and on---) awareness of the negative effects of the money/profit system reveal that, as it's the capitalist system itself that requires this profit motive at its base to function, it goes without saying, it's the capitalist system as a whole which has to be replaced. And imagine how much more quickly that change could be brought about with the combined effort and energy of all those dedicated people around the world seeking justice and fairness for all through their single issue campaigns; how much stronger and more powerful the whole when all the separate parts work together for the ultimate single issue, socialism.

Janet Surman

Friday, February 01, 2008