Saturday, March 8, 2008

Could Hillary Bequeath Us Our Long-Awaited Third Party?

Could Hillary Bequeath Us Our Long-Awaited Third Party?

By David Michael Green

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Oh boy. Where have I seen this movie before?

I think it was four years, surprisingly enough. Hey, what a coincidence! Wasn’t there a presidential election going on back then, too?

Remember how Howard Dean came out of near total obscurity, how he started walloping the presumptive front-runner, John “Fearless” Kerry, by taking bold positions (at least in the context of American politics) against the war, and against George W. Bush? Remember how Kerry changed his tune to ape Dean’s message, and how nervous Democratic voters played it safe and came home to the guy with the experience and the name brand? Remember what an outstandingly effective candidate he then turned out to be? Remember the “real deal”? (Oh, and what a deal it was. I think experienced card players refer to that hand as a ‘jack-shit straight, seven high’, if I’m not mistaken.)

Is this ringing any bells for anyone?

Only Democrats could lose the White House in 2008. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect storm favoring their decisive, landslide victory. This should be 1932 redux, and then some. There’s a reviled incumbent from the opposite party, already past his expiration date four years ago when he stole a second election. There’s a new nominee from that same party joined to him at the hip on the most important issues, and stupid enough to be seen as such publically. There’s the economy heading into a recession after years of lethargy for the middle class. An extremely unpopular war based on lies. A massive national debt. A housing crisis. An environmental crisis. Gas at well over three bucks a gallon. Oil over $100 a barrel. The dollar at record lows and plummeting. Pension stocks falling and cities falling apart – when they’re not literally drowning. Scandals everywhere in the Republican Party. Three-fourths of the country believing America to be on the wrong track. And more. Put it all together and it’s an amazing scenario! It’s like some poli sci professor somewhere was tinkering around with a real-life statistical model, setting all the variables at max to see how big a blow-out is theoretically possible. “Hey, I wonder what happens if...?”

It’s a perfect, perfect storm. And then along came Hillary. Look, I certainly don’t object to her running if she wants to. But I do object to how she’s running, and I think Democratic voters are as dumb as a bag of hammers sitting out in the rain to pull the handle for her. In this year of the great political tsunami, Republicans have managed to – inadvertently, it would seem – choose their best hope to hold on to the presidency, even if they can’t quite stand their own choice. Hillary would be the Democrats’ worst hope.

She would go into the general election with all sorts of pre-existing baggage and negatives. She would get smashed to pieces by McCain on the very voter selection criteria she herself has articulated for use against Obama: experience and national security. McCain could virtually take her 3:00 a.m. ad, pull her out and drop himself in, and use it against her. And he will. Her candidacy is already ugly to contemplate, and she hasn’t even released her tax filings yet. Aren’t Democrats just brilliant? Hey, maybe she can get Kerry to be her running mate! Perhaps Bob Shrum is free these days, and can finally push himself into double digits on his personal best lifetime count of presidential races lost (with zero wins), by managing the campaign.

But it’s not just Democrats going with the Clintons that alarms me, it’s how they might win it. It is almost a mathematical certainty that neither candidate can win the nomination by means of gathering pledged delegates in the months ahead. Under the proportional allocation system Democratic primaries and caucuses tend to use, a candidate has to do exceedingly well in the popular vote to realize a significant shift in delegates. It would appear that Clinton’s got some favorable states ahead, and that Obama has as many or perhaps more, unless momentum has really shifted now, after Tuesday. I tend to doubt that is the case, unless Obama goes all Massachusetts at this point, like Kerry and Dukakis, and stands by helplessly watching the steamroller as it relentlessly approaches. In which case, fine, anyhow – get the clown off the stage, he’s not ready for prime-time. As a tired American progressive, worn down by disappointment across more decades of losing politics than I care to count, I can abide many things. But one of them is not another wimpy Democratic presidential nominee who gets out-slugged by the latest Karl Rove and manages yet again to seize defeat from the jaws of victory.

Anyhow, let’s say we end the primary season about where we are now, with Obama about 100 delegates up, and having won more votes and more states than Clinton, but with neither candidate over the magic nomination-clinching line. It would be fairly outrageous for the Clintons to seize the brass ring at that point, but they will not care in the slightest what the ramifications of their actions might be for the party or the country. The Clintons will do anything – and I mean anything – to get the presidency. This is a sickness that infects the hearts and minds of some people much more than others. Because of their own needs, most prominently a very deep-seated personal insecurity, they simply need the validation of being president, and they go after it like a heat-seeking missile headed toward a power plant.

You don’t want to get in their way, man. Road kill is no mere metaphor when someone’s intensely-held life aspiration is on the line and their moral bearings got tossed overboard sometime back in their twenties. You don’t get that sense of desperate pathological need from, say, Jimmy Carter or George McGovern, while individuals like George H. W. Bush or Richard Nixon fairly reeked of it. In the case of Bush the Elder, clearly the whole point of being president was to be president. He didn’t seem to have any ideas of what to do with the office once he got there. In the case of his son, the whole point was to do it better than Dad, and so he had lots of completely insane ideas of what he wanted to do once he got there, particularly in areas like taxes and Iraq, where Poppy had screwed-up on the way to losing a second term (amateur!).

The Clintons are very much cut from the same cloth as Old Man Bush. Actually doing something in office is incidental to the main project, which is the psychological satisfaction (and reassurance) that comes from all the attention, glory and power attached to the White House. Compared to that overwhelming goal, they no more care about national health care than does Sean Hannity. If they can win by going single-payer, so be it. If they could win by war, the death penalty and welfare slashing instead, they would. Indeed, they have. The point is that the Clintons will do anything to secure the presidency, even if that includes wrecking that part of the Democratic Party they didn’t already wreck during the 1990s, and/or tossing a few body blows in the direction of American democracy. The definitive model here is the 2000 election, and the campaign I’m referring to wasn’t Al Gore’s, ladies and gentlemen. More like the other one in that race. Anyone with any doubt about what they’re capable of needs to adjust the satellite dish on their igloo, and fast. (If she does leave the race, it’s only because she absolutely cannot see any mathematical possibility of winning whatsoever, and she wants to preserve some shred of her reputation because – and only because – she’ll be getting ready for 2012. Even if there’s Democratic incumbent in the White House. Maybe especially if there is.)

Far more likely is that Clinton remains in the race, keeps it competitive by staying within range delegate-wise, and marches all the way to Denver fighting for the nomination. Then she plays some card, or combination of cards, in order to effectively steal it from Obama, despite his having won more states, more votes and more pledged delegates. Perhaps she does it using superdelegates. Perhaps she manages to get Florida and Michigan counted. Perhaps she sues to invalidate her loss in the Texas caucuses. Perhaps John Edwards (with anywhere from 12 to 61 delegates pledged to him, depending on whose count you believe) wants very badly to be Vice President or Secretary of State. Perhaps Bill cuts some sort of deal in a smoke-filled room somewhere. Maybe it goes to the Supreme Court for resolution (you know, those nice people in black robes who gave you the George W. Bush presidency), and they decide in her favor. Most likely she employs a combination of all these gambits, and collectively they could possibly give her enough delegates for a narrow technical (and very Pyrrhic) victory.

If any of these scenarios play out, Obama should leave the Democratic Party and run as a third-party candidate. Simple as that.

It would be the morally proper thing to do, and it just might even be successful, especially in the longer term.

If this seems an improbable quest, remember that Obama’s support is quite passionate – he’s not just your standard-issue marginal political preference for, say, Joe Biden over Chris Dodd. Nor would this be some personal (and absurd) vanity project, like Ross Perot’s. His supporters would be outraged at the stealing of the nomination from its rightful owner, and they’re a motivated bunch. Black voters would feel particularly slighted, and would be likely to follow Obama elsewhere. That alone would be enough to finish off the already badly-damaged Clinton candidacy in the general election. Given this moral high ground, too, I don’t think Obama would be perceived as the Ralph Nader who gave the election to McCain. Perhaps, because of access restrictions, he wouldn’t even be able to get on the ballot in many places, except as a write-in.

In the end, I don’t think it much matters. If he can’t win in 2008, the country will be ripe for the taking after four years of John McSame. And Obama has shown us nothing this last year if not excellence in organizing skills. There’s plenty of time by 2012 to give birth to a real progressive party that has been aching to calve off from the Democrats for three decades now. If the Clintons and the Liebermans of this world want to hang tight with their DLC party of Diet Pepsi Wall Street, let them. If they feel a burning compulsion to become the Whigs of the 21st century, I for one won’t stand in the way.

The idea of a third party alternative has long been a dream of progressives in America. It has also too often been a fantasy and a distracting albatross. Particularly since the Bill Clinton era of centrist sell-out – but really going back to the Reagan period of Democratic cowardice, the McGovern campaign of entrenched Party power acting shamelessly toward their nominee, and certainly the Johnson debacle in Vietnam – progressives have been looking to ditch the shell of the former New Deal now doing business as the corroded (and corrosive) Democratic Party.

Unfortunately – really, very unfortunately – it’s an almost impossible trick to pull off given the structure of the American political system, and I have joined lots of other smarter people counseling against the effort, suggesting an attempt at hijacking the Democratic Party instead. Not for nothing was the last new major party born in America 150 years ago. It’s not an accident that for about three-fourths of the country’s history it’s been Republicans or Democrats. Period.

Oddly enough, however, this is probably the year when the country could come closest in a long time to seeing the birth of a genuine third party. Theoretically, at least – if the right sequence of events transpired. It’s probably a long-shot, and not my personal preference for the short-term, but it is feasible, it’s probably the only way to imagine overcoming the considerable institutional barriers to creating a third party in America, and doing so would be just the shot of adrenalin this decrepit old political system needs. Moreover, there are – believe it or not – still some folks out there who don’t yet get the damage done by conservatism in America. Another four years of the same may be just the tonic to finally seal that deal forever.

So, let me see here. We’d have a destroyed Republican Party, a destroyed Democratic Party, and a new progressive, “Fired-Up!” party rising out of their ashes. We could do a lot worse than that. And we could thank Hillary Clinton for it all, if it happens.

Sometimes a silver-lining can turn into a whole pot of gold.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles ( dmg@regressiveantidote.net ), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net .

Already we have riots, hoarding, panic: the sign of things to come?

Already we have riots, hoarding, panic: the sign of things to come?

By Carl Mortished

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The spectre of food shortages is casting a shadow across the globe, causing riots in Africa, consumer protests in Europe and panic in food-importing countries. In a world of increasing affluence, the hoarding of rice and wheat has begun. The President of the Philippines made an unprecedented call last week to the Vietnamese Prime Minister, requesting that he promise to supply a quantity of rice.

The personal appeal by Gloria Arroyo to Nguyen Tan Dung for a guarantee was a highly unusual intervention and highlighted the Philippines’ dependence on food imports, rice in particular.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Robert Zeigler, who heads the International Rice Research Institute. “We have a crisis brewing in rice supply.” Half of the planet depends on rice but stocks are at their lowest since the mid1970s when Bangladesh suffered a terrible famine. Rice production will fall this year below the global consumption level of 430 million tonnes.

Street protests and rioting in West Africa towards the end of last year were a harbinger of bigger problems, the World Food Programme said. The global information and early warning system of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has monitored outbreaks of rioting in Mexico, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal. There have also been protests in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, over government price increases.Population pressure and increased wealth are mainly to blame for the resurgence of food insecurity. More people are eating meat and dairy products in Asia, which increases the demand on the animal-feed industry. Milk powder prices rose from $2,000 to $4,800 per tonne last year as rising consumption of milk products in Asia coincided with shortages in the Western world. Drought in Australia has worsened the problem as have government policies in Europe and America to increase the use of biofuels.

Mounting concern about rice has prompted the Indian Government to restrict exports of certain varieties. The measure triggered a surge in global rice prices, which have risen 50 per cent in a year, according to the FAO. The rice shortage is even felt in Britain where the price of basmati, the biggest-selling variety, is rising rapidly.

Wheat is suffering even greater pressures, with prices up 115 per cent in a year. A succession of droughts in Australia has put upward pressure on the cost of a food commodity that is already in short supply. Stocks are at a 40-year low and exports are being restricted from Beijing to Buenos Aires. Ukraine started closing its door to grain exports in June and Russia set a 40 per cent export tariff on wheat in January.

Argentina has delayed the reopening of its wheat export registry until April to protect domestic supplies, and China, a net exporter of corn, rice and wheat last year, has imposed export quotas on grain in order to stem runaway food price inflation. A surge in its inflation index in December was blamed entirely on rising food prices, notably pork, which rose 48 per cent.

Farmers worldwide are worried about feed costs. In Europe pig and poultry breeders are threatening to cut production unless they are paid higher prices.

The 'Rape' Of Okinawa

The 'Rape' Of Okinawa

By Chalmers Johnson

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It all seemed deadly familiar: an adult, 38-year-old US Marine sergeant accused by the Okinawan police of sexually violating a 14-year-old Okinawan schoolgirl. He claims he did not actually rape her but only forcibly kissed her, as if knocking down an innocent child and slobbering all over her face is OK if you're a representative of the American military forces. The accused marine has now been released because the girl has refused to press charges - perhaps because he is innocent as he claimed or perhaps because she can't face the ignominy of appearing in court.

Let us briefly recall some of the other incidents since the notorious 1995 kidnapping, beating and gang rape of a 12-year-old girl by two marines and a sailor in Kin village, Okinawa. The convicted assailants in that outrage were Marine Private First Class Roderico Harp, Marine Private First Class Kendrick Ledet and Seaman Marcus Gill. Other incidents of bodily harm, intimidation and death continue in Okinawa on an almost daily basis, including hit-and-run collisions between American troops and Okinawans on foot or on auto bikes, robberies and assaults, bar brawls and drunken and disorderly conduct.

On June 29, 2001, a 24-year-old air force staff sergeant, Timothy Woodland, was arrested for publicly raping a 20-year-old Okinawan woman on the hood of a car.

On November 2, 2002, Okinawan authorities took into custody Marine Major Michael J Brown, 41 years old, for sexually assaulting a Filipina barmaid outside the Camp Courtney officer's club.

On May 25, 2003, Marine Military Police turned over to Japanese police a 21-year-old lance corporal, Jose Torres, for breaking a 19-year-old woman's nose and raping her, once again in Kin village.

In early July 2005, a drunken air force staff sergeant molested a 10-year-old Okinawan girl on her way to Sunday school. He at first claimed to be innocent, but then police found a photo of the girl's nude torso on his cell phone.

After each of these incidents and innumerable others that make up the daily police blotter of Japan's most southerly prefecture, the commander of US forces in Okinawa, a Marine Corps lieutenant general, and the American ambassador in Tokyo, make public and abject apologies for the behavior of US troops.

Occasionally the remorse goes up to the Pacific commander-in-chief or, in the most recent case, to the secretary of state. On February 27, Condoleezza Rice said, "Our concern is for the girl and her family. We really, really deeply regret it." The various officers responsible for the discipline of US troops in Japan invariably promise to tighten supervision over them, who currently number 92,491, including civilian employees and dependents. But nothing ever changes. Why?

Because the Japanese government speaks with a forked tongue. For the sake of the Okinawans forced to live cheek-by-jowl with 37 US military bases on their small island, Tokyo condemns the behavior of the Americans. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda called the recent assault "unforgivable" and demanded tighter military discipline. But that is as far as it goes.

The Japanese government has never even discussed why a large standing army of Americans is garrisoned on Japanese territory, some 63 years after the end of World War II. There is never any analysis in the Japanese press or by the government of whether the Japanese-American Security Treaty actually requires such American troops.

Couldn't the terms of the treaty be met just as effectively if the marines were sent back to their own country and called on only in an emergency? The American military has never agreed to rewrite the Status of Forces Agreement, as demanded by every local community in Japan that plays host to American military facilities, and the Japanese government meekly goes along with this stonewalling.

Once an incident "blows over", as this latest one now has, the pundits and diplomats go back to their boiler-plate pronouncements about the "long-standing and strong alliance" (Rice in Tokyo), about how Japan is an advanced democracy (although it has been ruled by the same political party since 1949 except for a few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union), and about how indispensable America's empire of over 800 military bases in other people's countries is to the maintenance of peace and security.

As long as Japan remains a satellite of the United States, women and girls in Okinawa will continue to be slugged, beaten and raped by heavily armed young Americans who have no other reason for being there than the pretensions of American imperialism. As long as the Japanese government refuses to stand up and demand that the American troops based on its territory simply go home, nothing will change.

Chalmers Johnson in the author of the Blowback Trilogy - Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2007).

Wishful US Thinking

Wishful US Thinking

Afraid to acknowledge the consequences of disastrous US policy, American officials and the media cling to the idea that Islam is only attractive to the poor,

By Geneive Abdo

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" -- - There is a truism understood among the more astute foreign policy analysts in Washington regarding America's comprehension of the Middle East region: Whatever happens, whether it is the victory of Hamas, the downfall of the reformist movement in Iran, or most glaringly, the monumental humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq, you can count on a misreading of such events for at least three or four years after they have occurred before realism sets in. There is also another truism: when it comes to nuance in Muslim behaviour, not even time can produce US understanding.

So it should not have been surprising when The New York Times on 17 February published a front-page article about economically-strapped Egyptian youth, which claimed: "In their frustration, the young are turning to religion for solace and purpose, pulling their parents and their governments along with them. With 60 per cent of the region's population under the age of 25, this youthful religious fervour has enormous implications for the Middle East. More than ever, Islam has become the cornerstone of identity, replacing other, failed ideologies: Arabism, socialism, nationalism."

Thirty years after the American body politic was first exposed to Islamism, Islamic revivalism, Islamic identity and all the buzzwords used to explain societal transformation in the Arab world, the same flawed rationale is apparently just as valid today as it was then. Religiosity among Muslims is intensifying, the theory goes, because other ideologies have failed and economies are on the skids. Eighteen years ago, the same newspaper published a similar story about Algeria with the headline, "Militant Muslims grow stronger as Algeria's economy weakens."

The cause-and-effect relation between economic despair and religiosity is used as an explanation for everything from the increase in proportion of women who wear the hijab in countries like Egypt to the high-rate of mosque attendance in some Arab countries and the overwhelming escalation of hostility to and contempt for the United States in Muslim societies. This school of thought believes that Islam's surge could be mitigated with economic development, which would include easy access to apartments and houses for the young, and an increase in leisure time and entertainment. To put it differently, the discussion and proposed solution are framed around the age-old contrast between Islam and modernity that continues to be advanced by columnists and intellectuals, such as Francis Fukuyama, who predicted in The End of History and the Last Man that consumerism would be the death knell to radical Islamist ideology. The argument rests upon the belief that globalisation and political Islam are at odds.

After 9/11, the explanation that poverty in the Arab world contributes to extremism and Islamism was particularly rampant. In a column in The New York Times in December 2001, headlined, "Getting at the roots of Arab poverty," Yale University Professor Alan Schwartz made the following argument: "Since the terrorist attacks, Americans have learned that in many Arab and Muslim nations there are large numbers of angry young men with time on their hands, unable to find jobs -- or jobs that make use of their education -- because of their countries' poverty. We've also learned that many Muslims blame us for their poverty. But in fact they are not poor because we are rich; they are poor because of the policies their countries pursue."

Schwartz, at the time a professor of law and management, ended his column with the following warning: "September 11 has taught us anew how important it is for the United States to take this kind of active interest. If we do not promote economic growth in Muslim nations, we will by default promote growth in the supply of potential terrorists." This general presumption continues to be repeated in the media, at think tanks in Washington, and inside the US government.

But how much truth lies in this theory, especially when there is overwhelming evidence that the divide between the haves and have-nots is not a religious one? One only need look at Turkey, where the Justice and Development Party has risen to power on the heels of unprecedented economic development in that country. In the past five years, growth in GDP exceeded seven per cent annually, and exports more than tripled to more than $95 billion for the year that ended in June 2007. Unemployment, however, has remained high for that country, but not as high as in many Arab states. In Turkey, unemployment is about 10 per cent, compared with six per cent in 2000.

In Egypt, the economy has been strapped for decades. Educated Egyptians are still earning, at times, only $200 per month. According to some statistics, approximately 600,000 to one million jobs must be generated each year but only 500,000 are created. This gap affects youth the most.

But is this the reason an elevator operator prays before he pushes the down button, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman once observed while visiting Cairo? Is this the reason a majority of Egyptian women wear the hijab ? Or the reason the influence within society of Al-Azhar's fatwa committee has increased? Or why religious programming on Egyptian television has grown over the last 20 years? And most puzzling to the American mind, if poverty can't possibly be the reason a rich, former Egyptian actress opened a beauty salon in Heliopolis for veiled women, then what is?

In a perpetual search to find a reason -- one that can be detected and addressed neatly through foreign policy approaches -- America longs for an answer to Islam's surge. Underdeveloped economies provide a reasonable, plausible explanation, and can be addressed with foreign aid and new policies. This is one reason this theory is embraced by the media and the US government.

But more accurate and truthful illustrations of the importance of Islam can be found across the Arab world. Islam has become an important force and moral compass in the lives of Muslims, whether they are unemployed and living without running water in Imbaba, or whether they are wealthy movie stars who left the big screen. Even in the United States, second-generation Muslim-Americans, who are college-educated and come from affluent families, have begun attending mosques with greater frequency, wearing headscarves, and joining Muslim Students' Associations on college campuses to become better educated about their faith and to form a community with other young Muslims. They are finding that their comfort zone lies more in Islam, rather than in secular, mainstream American society.

One might assume that after years of scholarship about Islamic societies, public and policy debates, and the US government's direct intervention in the Middle East, clichés would have been replaced by facts on the ground. But the cliché that Muslims turn to Islam out of desperation, poverty and discontent is still alive and well in America.

‘Unwavering Commitment’ to Inequality

‘Unwavering Commitment’ to Inequality

By Ramzy Baroud

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Death hovered over Gaza long before locally-made Palestinian rockets struck near the Israeli southern town of Sderot on February 27, killing Roni Yechiah and sparking an Israeli ‘retaliation’ that has already claimed over 120 Palestinian lives.

Yechiah’s death was actually the first of its kind in nine months, and understandably so. The crude Palestinian rockets were often criticised even by Palestinians as useless in the tit-for-tat style of war underway, while easily used by Israeli officials as a cacus belli, or at least as an excuse for keeping Gaza ‘contained’, besieged and on the brink of starvation.

For Israel the rockets are important as a pretext to maintain a state of siege against Hamas, and a low-intensity warfare that creates permanent distraction from the confiscation of Palestinian land and the expansion of illegal settlements – and also as justification for the slow moving ‘peace process’.

However, while pro-Israeli pundits in the US and elsewhere are prepared to defend Israel’s actions, many Israelis are no longer buying into their government’s pretexts.

According to a recent Tel Aviv University Poll, cited by the Israeli daily Haaretz on February 27, “sixty-four per cent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza towards a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit."

The mayor of the Israeli town of Sderot – which borders Gaza and is the main target of rockets – had also told the British Guardian on February 23, "I would say to Hamas, let's have a ceasefire. Let's stop the rockets for the next 10 years and we will see what happens."

Hamas was actually first to issue calls of ceasefire. In fact, for years it has held true to a self-declared abstention from carrying out any suicide bombings inside Israel.

Meanwhile, the uneven numbers of casualties speak volumes.

While Yechiah’s death is tragic, he was the “first person killed by rocket attacks from Gaza since May 2007, and the fourteenth overall since the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian armed clashes in September 2000,” according to a Human Rights Watch Press release on February 29, citing Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem.

B’Tselem reported that “1,259 of the 2,679 Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip (since September 2000) were not participating in hostilities when they were killed, and 567 were minors.”

According to news agencies’ report published in Al-Arabiya website, as of February 22, 190 Palestinians were killed since the resumption of the peace process in Annapolis last November. That number received a major boost when the Israeli army escalated its attacks against the Gaza Strip, killing 34 Palestinians in 48 hours between February 27 and 28, and over 60 on March 1 alone, not counting several other Palestinians killed in the West Bank during the same period.

Despite the facts, Israel’s actions are repeatedly accepted by most media as a legitimate ‘response’ to Palestinian violence.

In an article published days before Yechiva’s death, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the death of three Palestinians who were killed by Israeli tank missile. The men were picnicking at the time, according to eyewitness accounts. However, the article seemed to report an entirely different story, featuring a photo of a Palestinian rocket that hit an empty field. “Deadly rain,” read the caption, conveniently forgetting that the rockets had not caused any deaths. The article also undermined the fact that the killed Palestinians had been picnicking, citing this as yet another Palestinian ‘claim’.

Donald Macintyre of the British Independent, who is usually much more objective than his counterparts elsewhere, reported on the killing of four Palestinian children: “Four boys playing football have been killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes...as Israel responded to the death of a man from a barrage of rocket attacks with a bloody escalation of violence.”

The perpetuation of the idea of Israel always ‘responding’ to events and never initiating them is indeed unfair.

When the utter desperation of Gazans forced them to storm massive walls separating them from Egypt in search of food and medicines, their cry fell largely on deaf ears. Palestinians were herded back into Gaza, and the border was sealed once more, followed by an escalation of troop levels alongside it (reportedly beyond those set in a 30-year-old peace accord).

Besieged, browbeaten and starved — in a way that all major human rights groups have decried as illegal and inhumane — Palestinians are told to expect more of the same. Only this time the terminology used is much more frightening. Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai threatened Palestinians in the Gaza strip with a ‘holocaust’, stating that, “the more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah (Hebrew term of Holocaust) because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."

Since the Nazi Holocaust, the Hebrew term has been used almost exclusively to describe the tragic event. While many media commentators jumped to limit the damage caused by Vilnai’s revelation, the acknowledgment of the Israel-imposed crisis on Palestinian – and the term ‘bigger’ in particular – is but another fleeting reminder of the horrors under which Gaza lives, and Gaza alone is blamed for.

As Palestinians hurriedly buried their dead, US and Israeli celebrities — including Sylvester Stallone, John Voight and Paula Abdul — rallied at an LA benefit concert for Sderot.

Speaking via Satellite, Clinton, McCain and Obama also expressed their unquestionable allegiance to Israel, as if only Israel’s dead counted, only Israel’s security mattered. Clinton – as the other presidential contenders — received another golden opportunity to express her ‘unwavering commitment’ to Israel.

When will US officials begin to acknowledge that both Palestinians and Israelis have equal rights and equal responsibilities?

When will the media begin to provide the needed context and stop manipulating terms and numbers in such a way that the Palestinians are always at fault? When will we all accept that military occupation and state-sponsored terror beget violence and breed more terror, and how this will always be the case in Palestine – as anywhere else — as long as the circumstances remain unchanged?

Ramzy Baroud (http://www.ramzybaroud.net/) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London).

Uribe Learns that the Internet Makes Everyone's Laptop Magic

Uribe Learns that the Internet Makes Everyone's Laptop Magic



By Borev


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What a relief! Latin America's littlest strongman decided to “revise” his pledge bring Hugo Chavez up on charges of “genocide” and/or “terrorism” before the International Criminal Court. Venezuelan newspapers chalk it up to Uribe’s “democratic spirit,” but it probably had a bit more to do with “lawyers” and “dictionaries” and "a super dubious past."

Anyway it got us thinking: What if the shoe were on the other foot? I mean, sure, back in the day Senator Uribe was considered to be one of the world’s top drug dealers, working for the Medellin cartel and being—how did U.S. intelligence put it?— “a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar.” But that was 1991, this is now, and surely we couldn’t hold a grudge going back to the early 90s (sorry just a little laptop humor!) Haha here at BoRev, we don’t need any miracle computer to tell you what a liberal democracy is made of. We’re kicking it analog after the jump.


For the record, Colombian paramilitaries are also listed as a terrorist group in the US and Europe. With that in mind, Uribe’s political allies alone make the FARC look like boy scouts. Por ejemplo:
>>> Fourteen of Uribe's closest congressional allies remain behind bars for their terrorist links, and are slowly revealing where bodies have been dumped, leading to discovery of mass graves last spring.

>>> His foreign minister was forced to resign a year ago when her brother (a senator) was arrested for overseeing the killing of thousands of peasants. (Yeah that’s “thousands” with a “thu”)

>>> His campaign manager/secret police chief was jailed that same month for “giving a hit list of trade unionists and activists to paramilitaries, who then killed them.”

>>> His Army chief “collaborated extensively” with illegal death squads and, back in 2002, colluded in the massacre of 14 people for their supposed leftist politics.

>>> His police intelligence unit illegally wiretapped the phones of journalists and opposition figures for two years

>>> His Defense Minister “tried to plot with the outlawed private militias to upset the rule of a former president," and

>>> In last fall’s elections, a whopping 30 major candidates turned up murdered.


And of course our little hero gags newspapers from reporting on corruption, jails journalists without trial, gave himself the power to rule by decree, overrides Supreme Court decisions by fiat, refers to human rights monitors as “political agitators in the service of terrorism,” and amended the Constitution to give himself a new term. But other than that he's a goddamned democratic beacon.

Sparks Fly at South American Summit

Sparks Fly at South American Summit


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South American leaders have traded allegations at a meeting in the Dominican Republic dominated by the growing crisis over Colombia's raid on a Farc camp in Ecuador.

The angry exchanges came as Colombia announced it had killed another top commander from the Farc, the country's biggest rebel movement.

On Friday Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorean president, angrily denied allegations by Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian president, that the Farc had helped him get elected.

Ecuador has already broken off diplomatic relations with Colombia and sent troops to its border with the country over the incident.

'Infamy'

Speaking at the meeting, Uribe said Correa had not co-operated in "the fight against terrorism".

He also said Colombian forces had seized a letter during the Ecuador raid, which killed senior Farc commander Raul Reyes, in which it mentioned "aid delivered to Rafael Correa, as instructed".

Correa rejected the claims as "infamy", and said that while Ecuador had been in contact with the Farc group, it was only during negotiations over the dozens of hostages currently being held by the group.

"This is an emergency, an emergency with the most serious consequences if we do not act in time," Correa said.

Uribe also acknowledged that he had not informed Ecuador about the raid which led to Venezuela and Ecuador sending troops to their Colombian borders.

"I didn't inform him of the operation because we have not had co-operation from the government of president Correa in the fight against terrorism," Uribe said during the summit.

"Colombia can show its willingness to co-operate with all those who want to co-operate."

Following the debate Felipe Calderon, the Mexican president, called for a solution, while Guatemala's Alvaro Colom proposed a reconciliation commission visit both countries.

The Rio Group summit of 20 Latin American states had been scheduled before the dispute, but the developing political crisis between Colombia. Ecuador and Venezuela has so far dominated proceedings.

Second killing

On Friday the Colombian military said it had killed Ivan Rios, a member of the Farc's top command, in western Colombia.

Rios, whose real name is Manuel Munoz Ortiz, was reportedly killed in combat with Colombian soldiers in the region of Samana, about 400km west of the Colombian capital, Bogota, a Colombia justice ministry official told AFP.

If confirmed, he is the second Farc commander to be killed by the Colombian army after the death of Reyes in the Ecuador raid last weekend.

Colombia's U.S.-Sponsored Aggression Destabilizing Andean Region

Colombia's U.S.-Sponsored Aggression Destabilizing Andean Region

By Richard Gott,

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This article originally appeared on Comment is Free. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.

The deaths of Raúl Reyes and Julián Conrado, two senior figures in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), are clearly a serious blow to the guerrilla organization. It will now call a halt to the release of hostages held by the FARC in the jungle over many years, a process that had been proceeding slowly under the auspices of the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. Freedom in the short term for the former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, in which the French president Nicolas Sarkozy has taken a personal interest, now seems unlikely, and many people believe that she is dying. Hopes of the imminent release of three U.S. defense contractors have also been dashed.

By all accounts, the midnight attack on the camp of the FARC leaders, a mile inside Ecuadorean territory in the jungle region south of the Putumayo River, was a political decision taken by the Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, to end the peace process orchestrated by Chávez. Four Colombian politicians, held as hostages by the FARC for the past six years, were released last week and given a royal welcome in Caracas. Reyes had been among those who organized their freedom. Killed at the age of 59, Reyes had long been more of a diplomat than a guerrilla commander, though he was often photographed in military fatigues and carrying a gun.

According to the Ecuadorean president, Rafael Correa, the bodies of the FARC commanders and 13 guerrillas were recovered in their pajamas after being bombed while sleeping in a tent on the Ecuadorean side of the frontier. The Colombian air force, Correa claimed, had used advanced technology "with the collaboration of foreign powers" to locate the camp and "to massacre" its occupants. Uribe's government is a close ally of the United States and Israel, whereas Correa belongs to the radical camp led by Chávez. Subsequent to the bombing, Colombian troops crossed the frontier into Ecuador to recover the bodies.

Ever since 9/11, the United States has requested the Colombian government to refer to the FARC as a "terrorist" organization, a word also now used by the European Union. Yet the Colombian guerrillas are the most long-lasting of all such movements in Latin America, long predating the current obsession with "terrorism." Their leader, Manuel Marulanda, first led the FARC in the early 1960s and has survived into the 21st century, while Raúl Reyes had run the organization's political wing for many years. A well-known negotiator and promoter of the FARC's cause in meetings in Europe and Latin America, Reyes was a crucial collaborator in the recent efforts by the Venezuelan president and Colombian Senator Piedad Córdoba to release some of the Colombian hostages.

The FARC has witnessed many changes over the past 40 years, but none of them has affected its ability to survive. One change has been the increasing production in Colombia of the raw material for cocaine and heroin, fueling the drug markets of the United States and Europe, which was once grown in Bolivia and Peru. Land in Colombia devoted to growing cannabis, coca and poppies has grown fivefold since the 1960s, and the FARC has long provided protection to the rural workers on these plantations, as well as exacting tribute from the drug barons.

Another change has been the growth of paramilitary organizations, first sponsored by the drug barons and then by the state, that have revived the pattern of civil war that has been a particular Colombian phenomenon since the 19th century. Coupled with the growth of the paramilitaries has been the U.S.-designed Plan Colombia, a military aid package first agreed with President Clinton in 1999, that has made Colombia the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world.

A third change has been the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the corresponding loss of influence of the Colombian Communist Party, once the principal political backer of the FARC. The death in 1990 of Jacobo Arenas, the talented Communist leader, left Marulanda and Reyes as the FARC's sole commanders.

Negotiations between the guerrillas and the government have been a feature of the past 25 years, but an unfortunate experience in the 1980s turned the FARC into a reluctant participant. After a ceasefire in 1984, the FARC was encouraged to establish a legal political party, the Patriotic Union, and to put forward candidates in the elections in 1985. The Patriotic Union was reasonably successful, securing six senators, 23 deputies, and several hundred local councillors. But the outcome was disastrous. After emerging into the open and putting their heads above the parapet, many of the UP supporters were singled out and killed. More than 4,000 left-wing activists and organizers were assassinated in the year after the elections. The guerrillas retired to their safe territories in the rural areas and vowed not to make the same mistake again. Further negotiations took place between 1999 and 2002, but the government negotiators could not overcome this legacy of mistrust on the part of the FARC. When Uribe became president in 2002, he abandoned all such efforts and embarked on seeking an entirely military solution.

Last year, Uribe came under considerable pressure from within Colombia to make greater efforts to secure the release of the hostages, and this was backed by many governments in Latin America as well as by France. Hugo Chávez took up the challenge, and in spite of noncooperation from Uribe, he was instrumental in moving the process on. The FARC will soon find new commanders, but the willful slaughter of Reyes and the other guerrillas in an illegal cross-border operation in Ecuador will put all peace negotiations on hold for a considerable time, which was clearly Uribe's purpose in ordering the strike.

He is now getting more than he bargained for. Chávez has indicated his own personal disgust with the Colombian action by closing the Venezuelan embassy in Bogota and ordering troops to the border. While still dealing with a powerful internal insurgency, Uribe now faces two angry presidents in two important neighboring countries, mobilizing their armies on his frontiers.

Hillary Clinton, Not So Good on Genocide

Hillary Clinton, Not So Good on Genocide

By Marc Cooper

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The Barack Obama campaign is about to pay a very high price for the inopportune words of one of its most distinguished foreign policy advisors. The dazzlingly brilliant journalist, Pulitzer-prize winning author, and Harvard professor, Samantha Power, has been forced to resign from the campaign after she recklessly told a reporter that Hillary Clinton is a "monster."

In the pungently hypocritical game of American politics, this is just something outside the rules. Whether it's true, or not, matters little. Nor does it matter that the object of Power's derision has just finished spending millions on TV ads implying that Obama would be responsible for the countless deaths of millions of American children sleeping at 3 a.m. Tut, tut. Nothing monstrous about that.

Power was rightfully awarded the Pulitzer for her finely written and downright horrifying book A Problem From Hell which, in macabre detail, describes the calculated indifference of the Clinton administration when 800,000 Rwandans were being systematically butchered. The red phone rang and rang and rang again. I don't know where Hillary was then. But her husband and his entire experienced foreign policy team -- from the brass in the Pentagon to the congenitally feckless Secretary of State Warren Christopher -- just let it ring.

And as more than one researcher has amply documented the case, the bloody paralysis of the Clinton administration in the face of the Rwandan genocide owed not at all to a lack of information, but rather to a lack of will. A reviewer of Power's book for The New York Times, perhaps summed it up best, saying that the picture of Clinton that emerges from this reading is that of an "amoral narcissist."

Former Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the UN forces in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, tells us a similar story in his own memoir. General Dallaire recounts how, at the height of the Rwandan holocaust, he got a phone call from a Clinton administration staffer who wanted to know how many Rwandans had already died, how many were refugees and how many were internally displaced. Writes Dallaire: "He told me that his estimates indicated that it would take the deaths of 85,000 Rwandans to justify the risking of the life of one American soldier." Eventually, ten times that many would die. And our response? A handful of years later, at a photo-op stopover in Kigali airport, Bill Clinton bit his lip and said he was sorry.

Therein resides the richest and saddest irony of all. Samantha Power has actually lived the sort of life that Hillary Clinton's campaign staff has, for public consumption, invented for its candidate. Though not quite 40 years old, Power has spent no time on any Wal-Mart boards but has rather dedicated her entire adult life rather tirelessly to championing humanitarian causes. She has spoken up when others were silent. She took great personal risks during the Balkan wars to witness and record and denounce the carnage (She reported that Bill Clinton intervened against the Serbs only when he felt he was losing personal credibility as a result of his inaction. "I'm getting creamed," Power quoted the then-President saying as he fretted over global consternation over his own hesitation to act).

We gave Power the Pulitzer for exposing the, well, monstrous indifference of the Clinton administration as it stared unblinkingly and immobile into the face of massive horror. But we give her a kick in the backside and throw her out the door when she has the temerity to publicly restate all that in one impolite word. Monstrous, indeed.

Mukasey's Racist Threats on Changing Crack Sentencing Fall on Deaf Ears

Mukasey's Racist Threats on Changing Crack Sentencing Fall on Deaf Ears

By Liliana Segura

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Look out: Michael Mukasey wants you to know that you're less safe today than you were last week -- and it's got nothing to do with FISA.

The attorney general has been issuing dire warnings for months about the horrible things to befall society if Congress allows a change in federal sentencing guidelines that could lead to the early release of some 20,000 prisoners convicted for crack cocaine offenses. The sentencing revision was officially decided upon by the U.S. Sentencing Commission on Nov. 1; on Dec. 11 it voted to make the decision retrocative, meaning that federal prisoners already serving draconian sentences for crack cocaine convictions could also catch a break. The first wave of prisoners became eligible for release on Monday, March 3 -- but not before Mukasey made it his mission to stop it.

The attorney general -- who some would argue might have better things to do -- went before Congress multiple times to try to derail the measure, employing classic White House-style fear-mongering. "Unless Congress acts by the March 3rd deadline," he warned members of the House Judiciary Committee in February, "nearly 1,600 convicted crack dealers, many of them violent gang members, will be eligible for immediate release into communities nationwide." Channeling Dick Cheney, he said, "Many of these offenders are among the most serious and violent offenders in the federal system, and their early release at a time when violent crime is rising in some communities will produce tragic, but predictable results."

In fact, the vast majority of people locked up on federal crack cocaine charges are nonviolent offenders -- with one recent analysis by the Sentencing Commission showing the number close to 90 percent.

Regardless, Congress wasn't convinced by Mukasey's theatrics and let the revision stand. March 3 came and went. In the few days since the new sentencing guideline took effect, hundreds of court orders have flooded the Federal Bureau of Prisons. It is unclear how many prisoners have been freed.

Are you reeling from the sudden crime wave?

Laid bare, Mukasey's mission was not only dishonest, it was racist. If there was ever a baldly discriminatory criminal justice policy -- one that has long attracted bipartisan criticism -- it's the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine offenses. First codified in 1986, when Ronald Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, the law imposed five-year minimum sentences on anyone found guilty of distributing five grams (about two sugar packs' worth) of crack cocaine. Yet it took 100 times that amount -- 500 grams -- of powder cocaine to get the same sentence.

Fueled by the fear of the crack epidemic, the guiding rationale was that crack cocaine was more addictive -- but years' worth of study have demonstrated this to be a myth. The real difference, aside from street price (crack is cheaper to produce and purchase) lies in the populations who use crack versus powder cocaine. The former is vastly more common in African-American communities. In 2006, more than 82 percent of federal defendants sentenced for dealing crack cocaine were black.

Anybody with a capacity for common sense can see the problem. But common sense has never had a governing role in the disastrous policies of the 30-year War on Drugs. Racism, on the other hand, has.

Thus, for more than 20 years, mandatory sentencing for crack cocaine -- 63 to 78 months for first-time offenders caught with five grams or more and 121 to 151 months for 50 grams or more -- has dismantled the lives of thousands of people, most of whom were convicted of street dealing and possession and many of whom were victims of circumstance.

Take the case of Dorothy Gaines (featured in an ACLU briefing here.) Romantically involved with a crack addict in 1994, she was slapped with drug conspiracy charges despite the total absence of drugs in her possession (or a criminal record for that matter). Sentenced to 19 (thanks to false testimony by snitches facing federal charges), Gaines was forced to abandon three children to go to prison. "I left a 9-year-old-son, an 11-year-old daughter, and a 19-year-old daughter," she said recently in emotional testimony. Natasha, her 19-year-old, dropped out of college so that her younger siblings would not be sent to foster homes.

In some ways, Gaines was lucky. She served only six years, her sentence commuted by Bill Clinton -- who recently expressed regret for his failure to curb sentencing disparities -- in 2000.

Michael Short wasn't so lucky.

"I was sentenced to 19 years and seven months, and I served 15 years, 8 months of that sentence for distributing 63 grams of crack cocaine, which is equivalent to $2,500," he said at the same ACLU hearing. "… It didn't take me 15 years to realize that what I did was wrong."

Nor should it have taken policy makers 20 years to realize that a sentencing disparity of 100 to one is horrible, racially discriminatory policy. But that's what happens when the people most brutally affected by unjust laws are the same people who are chronically ignored or -- when it's politically expedient -- demonized by elected officials.

Fortunately, elected officials from both parties have come around, as have former DEA officials, even the Supreme Court. But not the attorney general. "These offenders are often violent criminals who are likely to repeat their criminal activities," hetold the Fraternal Order of Police last month.

Earth to the AG: You can stop now. No one's buying it anymore.

Literary Frauds Strike Again ... and Again

Literary Frauds Strike Again ... and Again

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Say you meet me at a party and I tell you that when I was 7 years old, I killed a full-grown military officer, then ran off and was nurtured by a pack of wolves. Would you believe me or begin edging away quietly, keeping the snack table between us at all times?

Or say I'm a healthy-looking, articulate young white woman, and I tell you I used to work for the Bloods in L.A. -- a full-time gun-strapped gangbanger. Would you believe me or laugh in my unbruised, orthodontured face?

If you said you would believe these stories, then please stand by -- the process of natural selection will be along for you in a moment. More likely you scoffed at the idea you'd fall for such obvious crap.

But hordes of otherwise intelligent readers did believe those ridiculous stories, as told in two recent "memoirs" later shown to be invented: Misha Defonseca's Surviving With Wolves features a child killing an SS officer and being saved by wolves, and Margaret B. Jones' Love and Consequences is a gang "memoir" by a white girl from a nice, stable family. "Misha Defonseca" was born Monique de Waal, a Belgian Catholic girl. "Margaret B. Jones," supposed author of Love and Consequences, is actually Margaret Seltzer, a white woman who grew up with her intact biological family in California's San Fernando Valley. She has none of the Native-American ancestry she claims, nor did she grow up with the black foster brothers she describes in her book.

The way Seltzer's hoax was revealed shows the gap between mainstream and literary value. When Seltzer's sister read about these claims to infamy in Love and Consequences, she was outraged and started phoning everyone she could to reveal that it was all lies.

She considered her sister's claim an insult to the family. Only within the world of the self-serving memoir is a background in violence and petty crime a thing of value. And this value is quite real, as shown by the huge success of Janet Fitch's novel, White Oleander (1999), which tells a very similar, ostensibly autobiographical story of a white L.A. girl drawn into the underworld.

Of course, when you see a picture of Seltzer's notably white face, your natural reaction is to ask, "And people believed she was a Blood? How could anybody fall for such nonsense?"

People fall for literary forgeries for several reasons, all of which are very embarrassing to the victims (which is why there's always such rage against the poor forger). Improbability is crucial to these stories, a glamorous improbability, with heroes or heroines who survive exotic forms of suffering that people do not, in fact, survive.

The first ingredient is exotic, glamorous pain. We all suffer, but most suffering is not glamorous. Audiences don't want to hear about the kind of suffering they actually endure. So to a medieval peasant sufferings like cold, vermin, beatings and plague would not have been exotic or saleable. Those people wanted stories about what they didn't have, like enough to eat or a warm palace to sleep in. They told tales of palaces that fell into the possession of plucky orphans and magic tables that always overflowed with food.

If you read their stories, you'll find the suffering in the first paragraphs: "So-and-so was an orphan who was beaten every day and fed on what the pigs left. Then one day, she found a magic (noun of choice here) ...."

Fast-forward a few hundred years and you find us, the doughy descendants of those wretched peasants, so stuffed with food that we obsess on losing weight. Magic tables constantly filling with roasted goose are the last thing we want to hear about.

Only now do stories about cold and hunger without happy magical endings become popular, because that form of suffering is, for most of us, a nice distraction from the actual sufferings we undergo.

So naturally, writers, always desperate and cunning, start thinking: wouldn't it be great to make myself the hero(ine) of a story of modern suffering that was no fault of my own? That'd really have them sobbing at my feet and bring in the money too.

Jones and Defonseca found different but similar routes to a solution, fixing on suffering that was glamorous, familiar and yet exotic to their office-bound readers: the Holocaust and the L.A. gangsta life.

It's important to realize here that the "suffering" of these stories is erotic to the reader, just as the vision of a magic table always full of food was erotic to a medieval audience. And by looking at what forgers feed their gullible readers, we can see how cultures change.

The success of Jones' and Defonseca's books suggests that, to a modern American book buyer, it would be glamorous to be a gang member or be raised by wolves. This is a very recent change; wolves were the villains of the older European folk tales. People who lived in the Northern forest were scared to death of wolves. As people concentrate in cities and wiped out the wolves, wolves become glamorous; glamour and scarcity, linked as always.

The ethnic background concocted by "Misha Defonseca" is also very revealing of social changes. Very few Europeans pretended to be Jewish before 1945. It was, indeed, rather more common to pretend not to be Jewish. The fact that Misha, born into a Belgian Catholic family named de Waal, lied to make herself Jewish reflects the impressive success of American Jews in the latter half of the 20th century and the special status accorded to the Holocaust and its survivors. What's truly remarkable about the author's ethnic shift is that Monique de Waal's parents were in fact heroic Resistance fighters and really were murdered by the Nazis. But "Misha" decided that Belgian Catholic resistants were not saleable and made herself a Jew.

Misha's publisher, Jane Daniel, said, "It's almost impossible when you are up against a Holocaust survivor. That mantle became a bullet-proof vest or a Teflon coat with an assumed air of moral superiority."

Of course Daniel is hardly an innocent herself. In fact, she's the defendant in a huge lawsuit brought by Monique de Waal, or whatever you want to call her, claiming that Daniel cheated the writer and failed to honor her responsibilities as publisher. Don't expect good guys or innocents in stories about literary fraud. There are none. Everyone, even the reader -- especially the reader -- is complicit in such frauds.

But Daniel is right about the dangers of doubting any claims by Holocaust survivors, or even people who tell stories on their behalf. When Steven Spielberg was asked what right he had to make Schindler's List, he flat-out lied and said that he had been persecuted for being Jewish at his high school in Saratoga, California. When journalists went to Saratoga to follow up on this claim and came up empty, they didn't call Spielberg on it -- they just dropped it. Cultures tend to punish harshly those who puncture sacred narratives and reward those who buttress them, no matter how flimsy the claim or unqualified the storyteller.

So you'll always find the sleazy literary forger being blessed by the most sanctimonious priests, secular or religious, in any culture. Take Oprah, who famously canonized forger James Frey on her show, then excommunicated him for lying to her. She was apparently scheduled to interview the author of Misha before the charade collapsed. Oprah is to the contemporary dullard what the religious hierarchy is to most earlier cultures; she separates the wheat from the chaff, the worthy from the unworthy.

Until the 20th century, many forgers exploited the religious hierarchy in the same way Frey exploited Oprah. One hilarious example is of a cunning French impostor who landed in London, hungry and penniless, in the early 18th century. Quickly sizing up the possibilities for a glib liar, the new arrival claimed he was "Psalmanazar," a Taiwanese refugee. "Psalmanazar" was actually a young man from the South of France, one of those European drifters who, like the young Rousseau, traveled the continent exploiting the missions of one or another Christian sect. When he reached England, he cleverly put his "Taiwanese" act to work by having a well-timed epiphany upon hearing the central tenets of Anglicanism.

Psalmanazar must have enjoyed hamming it up as he pretended to listen to the tedious quibbles that validated the Anglican creed over Catholic and Calvinist "heresies," but he pretended that the light of natural reason had shone clearly on the version espoused by the state church of his new homeland. He made quite a nice living off that little testimonial and was even hired to teach the Taiwanese language -- of which he knew not one word -- to Anglican missionaries.

Forgers are always there to prop up wobbly yet precious beliefs. But as the audience's desires change, the particular beliefs and stories forgers tell change too. Take James Frey's A Million Little Pieces. When this silly tale of drugs, rehab and redemption came out in 2003, I was the first reviewer to call it a tissue of lies.

It wasn't that I'm such a clever critic; it's just that I'm one of the few Americans willing to say out loud that I love drugs, have used lots of drugs and had a great time on them. So, as an outsider, I could see how cynically Frey's story was designed to reinforce the popular lie that drugs always lead to destruction. We have all known lots of successful, functioning drug users (though many are still closeted), but almost all of us have learned to blank out that knowledge when we sit in front of the TV and listen to another sermon on the evils of drug use. So a writer who invokes "drugs" as the villain of the piece is almost as safe as one like Misha, who invoked the most villainous villains of all, the Nazis.

Forgers count on a gullible, pious audience, though the pieties invoked may not be explicitly religious. Often, they're broader, older patterns of myth that we know at heart aren't true but want badly to believe. Misha's story, for example, clearly plays on the old nonsense that good will triumph over evil, even when "good" is a 7-year-old child and "evil" a full-grown SS officer. In a fight like that, it's not hard to see what would happen: child dies horribly, so is in no position to write her memoirs.

Frey's story of (fake) debauchery redeemed by stern self-discipline confirms Americans' beloved, fatuous beliefs that people change in mid-life and that self-discipline can overcome anything.

That's all most readers of such tripe care about: the cultural bottom line, the ideology the story backs up. I discovered this when I tried to point out that Frey was a lousy writer who knew nothing about the drug world. Nobody responded to those arguments. The only thing that interested either his supporters or his detractors was whether Frey's claim to have redeemed himself without the help of Alcoholics Anonymous was helpful or destructive. Pro-AA readers excoriated Frey for leading readers from the True Path; advocates of the old bootstraps approach thought Frey was preaching the true gospel. The fact that he couldn't write and didn't know shit about drugs didn't matter to anyone.

Of course, some forgeries change the mix of ingredients: a little more erotica, a little less propping up of tenuous tribal myths. Margaret Jones' lurid stories of the wild life among the L.A. gangs focused mainly on telling the horrible details of this "suffering" in such detail that her more timid, office-slave readers could salivate over them at leisure. And at the same time she helps prop up the culture's cherished myth that drugs equals death, with lines like this: "One of the first things I did once I started making drug money was to buy a burial plot." And by displaying her own unmarred face on the book jacket, she tells readers, as did the equally unscarred James Frey, that with enough gumption the protagonist can not only escape the life of sin but erase the marks it tends to leave on everybody else who goes through it.

And along the way, ah, what an opportunity for extended, voluptuous descriptions of sin, glorious sin! Of course this has always been a common feature of preaching; it was pretty much the only way the prim Victorian audience could get its verbal pornography without guilt. Only the nature of the sin changes. When preaching to an audience truly familiar with a life of nonstop violence and treachery, most writers move quickly over the details. They know their listeners are all too familiar with them and don't really want to hear more than they need to sweeten the coming redemption.

But to a middle-class readership so timid it's afraid of second-hand smoke, caffeine and sex outside of marriage, la vida loca is pure erotica. "Oh, tell us at length about how you wallowed in such career-risking sin!" As wolves get scarce, they get sexy; the same thing applies to guns and cocaine. We live in a remarkably fogey-ish era, and the stuffier we get, the more we need to hear about people who snort, fuck and shoot without thought of what it might do to their permanent record.

This is the key: the life we actually lead, the life shown only in rare moments of brave art like the TV series The Office. This new kind of indoor suffering, which does not involve physical violence or privation, is the suffering that drives authors to go to the huge effort and risk of making up tales of more glamorous forms of suffering. They do it because their kind of suffering is not recognized yet: the suffering of not being famous in a culture that values only a few famous people, with the rest reduced to adoring, starved spectators. The suffering of being one of those slavish spectators will be understood, I suspect, a century from now. People of the 22nd century will look back, shake their heads and wonder how lives like those lived by the cast of The Office could be borne at all.

And when they do, their culture's desperate literary entrepreneurs will come up with their own forgeries, exploiting this older, more glamorous and scarce form of suffering. They will write fake memoirs with titles like I Was A Claims Adjuster in Tacoma or Three Years in a Tract Home Near Dallas. And their audience will shiver with horror and settle down for a nice, long read.

Democratic politicians rage against US Air Force contract with Airbus

Democratic politicians rage against US Air Force contract with Airbus

By Alexander Fangmann

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On February 29, the United States Air Force announced that it had awarded a major military contract to the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), the parent of Airbus, and its US partner Northrop Grumman. The contract to produce aerial refueling tankers, which will be worth an estimated $35 billion, was reached over a competing proposal from US-based Boeing Company.

Following the announcement there has been a steady stream of chauvinistic denunciations of the deal, particularly from a number of Democratic politicians with close connections to Boeing.

The ostensible source of controversy surrounding the KC-45A project is that while the planes will for the most part be assembled in Mobile, Alabama, the main partner in the deal is a European company. Some have threatened Congressional action to cancel the contract to purchase the Airbus KC-45A refueling tankers.

The bitter invective against the deal is a thoroughly cynical and a thinly veiled attempt to further Boeing’s corporate interests against the interests of Northrop Grumman and Airbus. The entire controversy underscores the intimate and often incestuous ties between the US military, politicians of both political parties, and a handful of giant military contractors.

A great deal of money is at stake. The contract in question is worth $1.5 billion initially, but could be worth up to $35-40 billion if the Air Force goes ahead with the full order of 179 planes. More importantly, this amount represents only the first phase in the complete replacement of the Air Force’s fleet of aging KC-135 refueling tankers.

The price tag for replacing the entire fleet of over 500 aircraft over a number of years is estimated to be around $100 billion. It is one of the largest new contracts for military aircraft in recent history.

The KC-135 was developed in the 1950s, and the newest planes in the fleet have been in service for over forty years. These older aircraft have maintenance costs that are many times higher than those incurred by more modern planes, and the cost of keeping the fleet in service has been increasing annually. They have also been used substantially in Iraq and Afghanistan and are an important component of the global extension of American militarism.

Plans to replace the planes have been the focus of sharp conflict within the military and political establishment for years. As far back as February 2001, Boeing said it could reengineer 767s to function as refueling tankers. In an unsolicited offer, the company proposed first to sell 26 aircraft, and later to lease 100 planes to the military.

Over a period of several years, Boeing presented a number of different proposals, all of which were constructed to address Boeing’s lagging 767 sales while getting around Air Force budgetary constraints. Facing increasing competition from Airbus, Boeing has turned to military deals to bolster company profits.

However, the deal on the tankers was eventually canceled after revelations that the civilian official who oversaw the contract negotiations, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and Management Darleen Druyun, gave preferential treatment to Boeing even as she prepared to accept a job offer from the company. Emails leaked to the press indicated that Druyan divulged privileged information to Boeing during negotiations to seal a deal, including information on a competing offer from Airbus.

Current Republican presidential candidate John McCain played a role in questioning the terms of the earlier Boeing deal. Shedding some light on the ways in which business is conducted in this industry, McCain noted that despite the deal appearing in an appropriations bill, no senator on the Armed Services Committee had any knowledge of it.

Druyun would eventually admit to a long history of giving sweetheart deals to Boeing in return for positions and job security for members of her family. Revelations of inside dealings produced a major scandal and led eventually to jail time for Druyun and for Boeing CFO Michael Sears. It also led to the resignation of CEO Phil Condit. Boeing itself ended up paying $615 million in fines.

The contract on refueling tankers was reopened for bidding, resulting in the announcement last month that it had been given to Airbus and Northrop Grumman.

The decision to go with Airbus reflects concerns within sections of the political establishment and military that not only was the Boeing offer overpriced, but that the Boeing planes would underperform those offered by Airbus.

Northrop Grumman, which produces the B-2 stealth bomber among other tools of American militarism, is also one of the most powerful US military companies, with congressmen and military officials to call on. According to a report published by Hearst newspapers last year, “the EADS-Northrop Grumman team has outspent Boeing this year both in campaign contributions and lobbying by about a third.”

Political Action Committees associated with EADS, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing have all increased their contributions to US politicians in the course of the contract competition.

For its part, the Pentagon is committed to being as flexible as possible in its purchase of armaments. In 2004, Senate leaders and the Bush administration pushed back against a proposed House measure that would have barred the Pentagon from purchasing from foreign companies that receive government subsidies. Said Pentagon official John Young: “I don’t think anybody wants to run the department as a jobs program.”

In recent days Democrats were quick to attack McCain—now the presumptive Republican presidential candidate—for his role in scuttling the Boeing deal. Representative John Murtha, chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and one of the Democrats with the closest ties to sections of the military, implied that McCain’s actions had delayed the efforts of the Air Force to replace the aging KC-135s, endangering US security.

During a hearing of his subcommittee on March 5, Murtha told Sue Payton, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, “We know what happened. We know this is costing billions of dollars... We are at a point where we don’t know how long it is going to take to get these things out in the air.”

The contending Democratic candidates for president also weighed in. Barack Obama expressed surprise that “having an American company that has been a traditional source of aeronautic excellence would not have done this job.” Obama is a senator from Illinois, the state in which Boeing’s headquarters lies.

Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton, after attempting to attach the Boeing deal to more general concerns about outsourcing, said she was “deeply concerned” about the contract being awarded “to a team that includes a European firm that our government is simultaneously suing at the WTO for receiving illegal subsidies.”

The most flagrantly cynical posturing came from Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, who is also Democratic Caucus Chair, the 4th highest-ranking member of the House Democratic Leadership. Emanuel sought to combine an appeal to anti-war sentiment and concern over worsening social conditions in the US with anti-French chauvinism. He claimed, “Having made sure that Iraq gets new schools, roads, bridges and dams that we deny America, now we are making sure that France gets the jobs that Americans used to have.”

In a clear attempt to make the Air Bus deal a presidential campaign issue Emanuel further stated, “We are sending the jobs overseas, all because John McCain demanded it.”

Members of Congress from the state of Washington, where Boeing maintains its largest production facility, were particularly outraged. Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington said, “With this Air Force contract, Airbus is not creating American jobs, it’s killing them.”

All of above politicians have, naturally, received campaign contributions from Boeing. Clinton and Obama each received around $18,000, with the total for both equaling more than the Boeing’s contributions for all of the other candidates combined. Patty Murray alone has received $35,100 for this election. Tiahrt, Emanuel, and Murtha received contributions as well, though for lesser amounts—befitting the lower average cost of an election campaign for the US House of Representatives relative to other federal offices.

Boeing is no novice at buying off politicians. As one of the largest defense contractors in the country, it is used to getting its way. Democrat Henry “Scoop” Jackson, who for forty years represented Washington state in the Senate, was at times referred to as “the Senator from Boeing.”

If anything, union leaders were less measured and more backward in their criticisms, with Richard Michalski, general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) saying that the general who made the contract announcement should “quit his job, move to France and join the French Foreign Legion.”

While the outrage of politicians and union bureaucrats is very real, it has nothing to do with defending jobs and everything to do with defending Boeing’s profits. Beneath the bitter conflict is the core reality that both Boeing and Airbus are enormous entities which operate globally, and which work with many parts suppliers all over the world. Although Boeing’s planes, and of course its military aircraft, are assembled in the United States, the largest portion of value is actually added by non-US suppliers and partners with operations in low-cost countries like China.

Moreover, years of labor and management collaboration by the trade unions and suppression of class struggle in the United States have created conditions in which it is now not only feasible, but necessary from a competitive standpoint, for European companies such as Airbus to open factories in the US in order to take advantage of low wage and benefit costs relative to those in Western Europe.

As an illustration, a recent study by the Center for Automotive Research found that European workers make nearly $10 per hour more than American autoworkers. In Airbus’s case producing planes in the US would also help to counteract the drop in value of the US dollar.

Whether or not Boeing’s political representatives are able to overturn this deal, the whole episode has cast a revealing light on corruption and profit making in the “military-industrial complex.”