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01 December 2007

Chomsky on Prospects for Democracy, 1994

30 November 2007

Bombs away? An Interview with Scott Ritter on Iran

Key quote:

MT: But it is now clearer than ever that our invasion of Iraq has been a disaster. How do you explain the lack of opposition?

Ritter: It's difficult to explain. First of all you have to note, from the public side, that very few Americans actually function as citizens anymore. What I mean by that are people who invest themselves in this country, people who care, who give a damn. Americans are primarily consumers today, and so long as they continue to wrap themselves in the cocoon of comfort, and the system keeps them walking down a road to the perceived path of prosperity, they don't want to rock the boat. If it doesn't have a direct impact on their day-to-day existence, they simply don't care.

There's a minority of people who do, but the majority of Americans don't. And if the people don't care — and remember, the people are the constituents — if the constituents don't care, then those they elect to higher office won't feel the pressure to change.

More here, from the 18 October issue of Esquire on those rabid radicals, Flynt Leverett and his wife, former AIPAC-er Hillary Mann, describing how the neocons in the Bush admin completely fucked us all over on Iran.

Here's the talk Leverett gave at that radical-lefty organization, the Cato Institute.

The should-be-famous-by-now-but-isn't redacted NYT op-ed mentioned in the Esquire piece.

Venezuela's referendum: What's at stake?

The article linked above injects a little balance and reality into the get-Chavez media/administration/bipartisan frenzy. Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the lake of oil Venezuela sits on, nor with the different, albeit imperfect, socioeconomic model Chavez's Venezuela embodies, and which it is exporting all over Latin America, and perhaps beyond. That is, a non-neoliberal, non-neoconservative, anti-"Washington Consensus" model of development and government.

Nope, I'm not naive enough to worship everything Chavez says and does. I am, however, results-oriented, and Chavez's party still seems to be positioning itself to get yet more real results for the majority of its citizens. Do you see any such development in either of the two parties in this Greatest Democracy on the Face of the Earth? You know, the one that has cancelled habeas corpus and engages in unilateral wars of aggression, the supreme international crime?

Yes, it is always possible that Chavez will drift toward truly dictatorial power. One must realize that "anti-Bush" doesn't equal "completely on the side of the angels, all the time." Take Putin, for instance. Simply because he is anti-US imperialism doesn't make him somehow a Jeffersonian democrat. Nor does it excuse his ample crimes, in Chechnya and in Russia. The world is just a tad more complex than "Bush bad; anyone anti-Bush good."

And, yes, there are some aspects of Chavez's administration, and desired constitutional changes, that are worrisome. However, on balance, so far, Venezuela is groping toward a far more sustainable and democratic model than we have here in the US. I am in general not a fan of increasing centralization; thus I, too, am concerned, but not for the reasons we are all battered with on a daily basis by our own corrupt media. Furthermore, despite my distaste for centralization, it's not clear that there is a decentralized way of reforming that (or possibly any) country, given a centralized and powerful opposition. Do you sieze state power (legally, of course) or dismantle or work around the state? An old debate to which I don't have an answer.

By the way, I cannot find an official full list of proposed amendments in English. This is the best I could do. Does not bode well. There's an official version in Spanish, but it consists of the final version of the new constitution if all amendments are passed. Which kinda makes it hard to see what the list of proposed changes are, unless you read Spanish and can compare it to the 1999 constitution. I can't, thus, vouch for the first link in this paragraph.

Some more information:

One more time: power corrupts, so I'm wary. However, that applies to all leaders in all countries. I judge on results for the majority; I don't react like a sheep to what I'm told -- by any source. Neither should you. Yes, that applies to this post (and all of my posts), of course. Go and find out for yourself.

But I have no sympathy for you if you simply sit back and consume whatever crap is handed to you with your critical faculties turned off. Especially by an American media system that has amply proved its untrustworthiness over and over again.

There is no alternative to digging, thinking, and judging on your own. Well, aside from being a good little sheep, of course.

Hands Off Iran, by Chris Hedges

[from the December 10, 2007 issue of The Nation]

I will not pay my income tax if we go to war with Iran. I realize this is a desperate and perhaps futile gesture. But an attack on Iran--which appears increasingly likely before the coming presidential election--will unleash a regional conflict of catastrophic proportions. This war, and especially Iranian retaliatory strikes on American targets, will be used to silence domestic dissent and abolish what is left of our civil liberties. It will solidify the slow-motion coup d'état that has been under way since the 9/11 attacks. It could mean the death of the Republic.

Let us hope sanity prevails. But sanity is a rare commodity in a White House that has twisted Trotsky's concept of permanent revolution into a policy of permanent war with nefarious aims--to intimidate and destroy all those classified as foreign opponents, to create permanent instability and fear and to strip citizens of their constitutional rights.

A war with Iran is doomed. It will be no more successful than the Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon in 2006, which failed to break Hezbollah and united most Lebanese behind that militant group. The Israeli bombing did not pacify 4 million Lebanese. What will happen when we begin to pound a country of 65 million people whose land mass is three times the size of France?

Once you begin an air campaign it is only a matter of time before you have to put troops on the ground or accept defeat, as the Israelis had to do in Lebanon. And if we begin dropping bunker busters and cruise missiles on Iran, this is the choice that must be faced: either send US forces into Iran to fight a protracted and futile guerrilla war, or walk away in humiliation.

But more ominous, an attack on Iran will ignite the Middle East. The loss of Iranian oil, coupled with possible Silkworm missile attacks by Iran against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, could send the price of oil soaring to somewhere around $200 a barrel. The effect on the domestic and world economy will be devastating, very possibly triggering a global depression. The Middle East has two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum reserves and nearly half its natural gas. A disruption in the supply will be felt immediately.

This attack will be interpreted by many Shiites in the Middle East as a religious war. The 2 million Shiites in Saudi Arabia (heavily concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province), the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey could turn in rage on us and our dwindling allies. We could see a combination of increased terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and widespread sabotage of oil production in the Persian Gulf. Iraq, as bad as it looks now, will become a death pit for US troops. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, which has so far not joined the insurgency, has strong ties to Iran. It could begin full-scale guerrilla resistance, possibly uniting for the first time with Sunnis against the occupation. Iran, in retaliation, will fire its missiles, some with a range of 1,100 miles, at US installations, including Baghdad's Green Zone. Expect substantial casualties, especially with Iranian agents and their Iraqi allies calling in precise coordinates. Iranian missiles could be launched at Israel. The Strait of Hormuz, which is the corridor for 20 percent of the world's oil supply, will become treacherous, perhaps unnavigable. Chinese-supplied antiship missiles, mines and coastal artillery, along with speedboats packed with explosives and suicide bombers, will target US shipping, along with Saudi oil production and oil export centers.

Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, closely allied with Iran, may in solidarity fire rockets into northern Israel. Israel, already struck by missiles from Tehran, could then carry out retaliatory raids against both Lebanon and Iran. Pakistan, with its huge Shiite minority, will become even more unstable. Unrest could result in the overthrow of the already weakened Pervez Musharraf and usher Islamic radicals into power. Pakistan, rather than Iran, would then become the first radical Islamic state to possess a nuclear weapon. The neat little war with Iran, which many Democrats do not oppose, has the potential to ignite an inferno.

George W. Bush has shredded, violated or absented America from its obligations under international law. He has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, backed out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, tried to kill the International Criminal Court, walked out on negotiations on chemical and biological weapons and defied the Geneva Conventions and human rights law in the treatment of detainees. Most egregious, he launched an illegal war in Iraq based on fabricated evidence we now know had been discredited even before it was made public. He seeks to do the same in Iran.

This President is guilty, in short, of what in legal circles is known as the "crime of aggression." And if we as citizens do not hold him accountable for this crime, if we do not actively defy this government, we will be complicit in the codification of a new world order, one that will have terrifying consequences. For a world without treaties, statutes and laws is a world where any nation, from a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, will be able to invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. This new order will undo five decades of international cooperation--largely put in place by the United States--and thrust us into a Hobbesian nightmare. We must as citizens make sacrifices to defend a world where diplomacy, broad cooperation and the law are respected. If we allow these international legal systems to unravel, we will destroy the possibility of cooperation between nation-states, including our closest allies.

The strongest institutional barrier standing between us and a war with Iran is being mounted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Adm. William Fallon, head of the Central Command; and Gen. George Casey, the Army's new chief of staff. These three men have informed Bush and Congress that the military is too depleted to take on another conflict and may not be able to contain or cope effectively with a regional conflagration resulting from strikes on Iran. This line of defense, however, is tenuous. Not only can Gates, Fallon and Casey easily be replaced but a provocation by Iran could be used by war propagandists here to stoke a public clamor for revenge.

A country that exists in a state of permanent war cannot exist as a democracy. Our long row of candles is being snuffed out. We may soon be in darkness. Any resistance, however symbolic, is essential. There are ways to resist without being jailed. If you owe money on your federal tax return, refuse to pay some or all of it, should Bush attack Iran. If you have a telephone, do not pay the 3 percent excise tax. If you do not owe federal taxes, reduce what is withheld by claiming at least one additional allowance on your W-4 form--and write to the IRS to explain the reasons for your protest. Many of the details and their legal ramifications are available on the War Resisters League's website (www.warresisters.org/wtr.htm).

I will put the taxes I owe in an escrow account. I will go to court to challenge the legality of the war. Maybe a courageous judge will rule that the Constitution has been usurped and the government is guilty of what the postwar Nuremberg tribunal defined as a criminal war of aggression. Maybe not. I do not know. But I do know this: I have friends in Tehran, Gaza, Beirut, Baghdad, Jerusalem and Cairo. They will endure far greater suffering and deprivation. I want to be able, once the slaughter is over, to at least earn the right to ask for their forgiveness.

29 November 2007

Dennis Kucinich, by Gore Vidal in The Nation

[from the November 26, 2007 issue]

If the Democratic presidential primary were held today in your state, whom would you support? Cast your vote in the Nation Poll.

For the past two years I've been crisscrossing the United States speaking to crowds of people about our history and politics. At the same time, would-be Presidents of the greatest nation in the country, as silver-tongued Spiro Agnew used to say, have been crowding the trail, while TV journalists sadly shake their heads at how savage the politicos have become in their language. But then, it is the task of TV journalists to foment quarrels where often none properly exist.

As I pass through the stage door of one auditorium after another, I now hear the ominous name of Darth Vader, as edgy audiences shudder at the horrible direction our political discourse has taken. Ever eager as I am to shed light, I sometimes drop the name of the least publicized applicant to the creaky throne of the West: Dennis Kucinich. It takes a moment for the name to sink in. Then genuine applause begins. He is very much a favorite out there in the amber fields of grain, and I work him into the text. A member of the House of Representatives for five terms since 1997, although many of his legislative measures have been too useful and original for our brain-dead media to comprehend. I note his well-wrought articles proposing the impeachment of Vice President Cheney, testing the patriotic nerves of his fellow Democrats, but then the fact of his useful existence often causes distress to those who genuinely hate that democracy he is so eager to extend. "Don't waste your vote," they whine in unison--as if our votes are not quadrennially wasted on those marvelous occasions when they are actually counted and recorded.

Meanwhile, Kucinich is now at least visible in lineups of the Democratic candidates; he tends to be the most eloquent of the lot. So who is he? Something of a political prodigy: at 31 he was elected mayor of Cleveland. Once he had been installed, in 1978, the city's lordly banks wanted the new mayor to sell off the city's municipally owned electric system, Muny Light, to a private competitor in which (Oh, America!) the banks had a financial interest. When Mayor Kucinich refused to sell, the money lords took their revenge, as they are wont to do: they refused to roll over the city's debt, pushing the city into default. The ensuing crisis revealed the banks' criminal involvement with the private utility of their choice, CEI, which, had it acquired Muny Light, would have become a monopoly, as five of the six lordly banks had almost 1.8 million shares of CEI stock: this is Enronesque before the fact.

Mayor Kucinich was not re-elected, but his profile was clearly etched on the consciousness of his city; and in due course he returned to the Cleveland City Council before being elected to the Ohio State Senate and then the US Congress. Kucinich has also written a description of his Dickensian youth, growing up in Cleveland. He has firsthand knowledge of urban poverty in the world's richest nation. Born in 1946 into a Croatian Catholic family, by the time he was 17 he and his family had lived in twenty-one different places, much of which he describes in Dreiserian detail in a just-published memoir.

Kucinich is opposed to the death penalty as well as the USA Patriot Act. In 1998 and 2004 he was a US delegate to the United Nations convention on climate change. At home he has been active in Rust Belt affairs, working to preserve the ninety-year-old Cleveland steel industry, a task of the sort that will confront the next President should he or she have sufficient interest in these details.

I asked a dedicated liberal his impression of Kucinich; he wondered if Kucinich was too slight to lead a nation of truly fat folk. I pointed out that he has the same physical stature as James Madison, as well as a Madisonian commitment to our 1789 Constitution; he is also farsighted, as demonstrated by his resolute opposition to Bush's cries for ever more funding for the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More to the point, in October 2002 he opposed the notion of a war then being debated. For those of us at home and in harm's way from disease, he co-wrote HR 676, a bill that would insure all of us within Medicare, just as if we were citizens of a truly civilized nation.

War Paint and Lawyers: Rainforest Indians versus Big Oil

Great investigative reporting by Greg Palast for the BBC on Ecuador, Venezuela, Bush, and, ultimately, the vile corruption in the international oil economy. Click the title of this post for the RealPlayer video. For other options, go here.

Foreclosures in Black and White

From the NYT; linked above:

As the newspaper headlines have made clear for some time, we are in a mortgage crisis and a foreclosure explosion.

A recent Times editorial, “Subprime in Black and White,” dealt with evidence that during the housing boom, African-American and Hispanic borrowers were far more likely than other borrowers to be steered into high cost loans — even after controlling for factors like borrower income and loan size.

The maps [to the right] illustrate the effects of such racial disparities in New York City. The first map shows the neighborhoods where subprime loans were concentrated. The second, nearly identical, map shows where foreclosures have occurred.

Note those gray diagonal lines in the maps. They indicate areas where racial and ethnic groups that are minorities in society as a whole are local majorities. Those diagonal lines also overlap extraordinarily with where the high cost subprime loans were given out — and where the foreclosures are occurring.

The foreclosure crisis is set to cause a lot of pain in the months ahead. The maps indicate that the pain will fall disproportionately, with African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods especially hard hit.

More on this from Democracy Now. And dig this ACORN study (the following text is a link that refuses to turn blue for some reason): Foreclosure Exposure: a study of racial and income disparities in home mortgage lending in 172 American cities. Here's part two: the cost to cities.

Excellent Blog on Economics...

By Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at NYU and former Clinton admin economic advisor.

28 November 2007

Get to Know Dennis Kucinich...

Commonwealth Club of California
San Francisco, CA
Aug 10th, 2007

Get to Know the Candidate: 2008 U.S. Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in a conversation with Joseph Epstein hosted by The Commonwealth Club of California.

Ohio Congressman Kucinich engages in a wide-ranging conversation about his political views and background.

ALL of Dennis Kucinich's replies @ 11-15-07 Dem. debate

“The End of America”: Feminist Social Critic Naomi Wolf Warns U.S. in Slow Descent into Facism

"Slow"? I'd say we're pretty much there. Wolf is a little superficial in her analysis, but she's basically right.

Click the title of this post for the Democracy Now interview. Listen to the part about the no-fly list, and what's coming up in February. 20,000 American citizens added per day.

The American Freedom Campaign: sign the petition(s)!

Talk by Naomi Wolf:

A recent interview:

Article in The Guardian. The book:

27 November 2007

Fmr. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Israel Should Heed Lessons of Scripture -- and Apartheid

Not Through Annapolis: Noam Chomsky Says Path to Mideast Peace Lies in Popular Organizing Against U.S.-Israeli “Rejectionism”

26 November 2007

Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States

Some relevant history (one hour; launches in Real Player). Parsi's been on Democracy Now, too.

From the C-SPAN Book TV page:

About the Program

Trita Parsi discusses the past and present relationship between the U.S., Iran and Israel. The talk was hosted by the World Affairs Council of Northern California.

About the Author
Trita Parsi is the co-founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council. His work has appeared in the Financial Times, the Nation, The Wall Street Journal, The American Conservative, the Jerusalem Post and other sources. For more, visit tritaparsi.com.

Here's the info from the Yale University Press website on this book:

Click here to listen to an interview with the author on the Yale Press Podcast.

Visit Trita Parsi's webpage featuring appearances, press events and interviews with the author.

Listen in on the author's recent appearance and interview on The Diane Rehm Show. Downloand this segment using Real Audio or Windows Media Player

Read The Economist, "Missed Chance? A Lost Opportunity Before Tehran's Necons Took Over"

In this era of superheated rhetoric and vitriolic exchanges between the leaders of Iran and Israel, the threat of nuclear violence looms. But the real roots of the enmity between the two nations mystify Washington policymakers, and no promising pathways to peace have emerged. This book traces the shifting relations among Israel, Iran, and the United States from 1948 to the present, uncovering for the first time the details of secret alliances, treacherous acts, and unsavory political maneuverings that have undermined Middle Eastern stability and disrupted U.S. foreign policy initiatives in the region.

Trita Parsi, a U.S. foreign policy expert with more than a decade of experience, is the only writer who has had access to senior American, Iranian, and Israeli decision makers. He dissects the complicated triangular relations of their countries, arguing that America’s hope for stability in Iraq and for peace in Israel is futile without a correct understanding of the Israeli-Iranian rivalry.

Parsi’s behind-the-scenes revelations about Middle East events will surprise even the most knowledgeable readers: Iran’s prime minister asks Israel to assassinate Khomeini, Israel reaches out to Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War, the United States foils Iran’s plan to withdraw support from Hamas and Hezbollah, and more. This book not only revises our understanding of the Middle East’s recent past, it also spells out a course for the future. In today’s belligerent world, few topics, if any, could be more important.

Trita Parsi is president, National Iranian American Council, and adjunct professor of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University SAIS. He writes frequently about the Middle East and has appeared on BBC World News, PBS News Hour, CNN, and other news programs. He lives in Washington, D.C.