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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Glenn Greenwald Shows What Progressives Fear Most of All in the Election

It’s themselves.

Paul’s candidacy forces progressives to face the hideous positions and actions of their candidate, of the person they want to empower for another four years. If [Ron] Paul were not in the race or were not receiving attention, none of these issues would receive any attention because all the other major GOP candidates either agree with Obama on these matters or hold even worse views….

Paul scrambles the comfortable ideological and partisan categories and forces progressives to confront and account for the policies they are working to protect. His nomination would mean that it is the Republican candidate — not the Democrat — who would be the anti-war, pro-due-process, pro-transparency, anti-Fed, anti-Wall-Street-bailout, anti-Drug-War advocate (which is why some neocons are expressly arguing they’d vote for Obama over Paul). Is it really hard to see why Democrats hate his candidacy and anyone who touts its benefits?

Read it all here.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Whole World Is Watching

From the incomparable Kevin Carson:

In 1649 at St. George’s Hill in England, as recounted in the revolutionary anthem “The World Turned Upside Down,” a band of landless peasants who called themselves the Diggers tore down enclosures, built themselves cottages, and began spading up land to grow food. Their goal was to set an example for the people of England, to throw off their chains and reclaim their ancient birthright. They were eventually driven off by the local Lord of the Manor, but they survive in memory as heroes in the bloody five thousand year war between those who claim to own the Earth and those who live and work in it.

Thus it always has been, in this age-old war, going back to the time when the first landed aristocracies, by supposed right of conquest, forced those working the land to pay rent on it. We saw it reenacted throughout the twentieth century. Whenever the people of a Third World country like Guatemala or El Salvador tried to restore the land to its rightful owners, the cultivators, the United States would openly invade or secretly train and arm death squads to leave “disappeared” activists in ditches with their faces hacked off. Most starvation in the world today results not from insufficient production of food, but from enclosure of land that previously fed the people working it — by landed oligarchs in collusion with Western agribusiness — to raise cash crops for export.

Today another groups of heroes, of whom the Diggers at St. George’s Hill would be proud, are making their own stand for justice. Thousands of villagers at Wukan, in China’s Guangdong province, are protesting the theft of their communal land by a corrupt local government in collusion with developers.

The rest is here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Obama and the End of the War in Iraq

I hope to say more about this, but I wanted to draw attention to this passage in Barack Obama’s remarks to troops regarding the end of the war in Iraq.

The war in Iraq will soon belong to history.  Your service belongs to the ages.  Never forget that you are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries –- from the colonists who overthrew an empire, to your grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism, to you –- men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar, and delivered justice to those who attacked us on 9/11.

You’d never know that a signature of Obama’s 2008 campaign was his assertion that the invasion/occupation of Iraq was a bad mistake. (Actually, it was a crime, but let that go.) This was the main way he sought to distinguish himself as a candidate from Hillary Clinton, who had voted to authorize George W. Bush to use force against the Iraqi people. True enough, you didn’t have to scratch very deep before discovering a waffle. At one point he said he didn’t know how he would have voted on the authorization of force had he been in the Senate in 2002-03.

Nevertheless, it is remarkable to see Obama talking about the war this way. It is also remarkable that he can praise the troops without acknowledging the mind-numbing mess that Iraq has been left in. It is estimated that over 100,000 people died direct violent deaths from the war. A million excess deaths are also attributed to the invasion, war, and occupation. Over four million Iraqis are refugees, about half of whom left the country, and have yet to return to their homes. Obama noted the American casualties in his remarks, but of course omitted any mention of Iraqi casualties. They don’t matter. War crimes abounded, like the ones in Fallujah, Haditha, and Abu Ghraib – horrors that forever will be remembered – if not in the United States then certainly throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds -- as will the U.S-supported sectarian cleansing of Baghdad. 

Obama concluded his remarks with the standard propaganda about sacrifice and American exceptionalism:

[L]et us never forget the source of American leadership:  our commitment to the values that are written into our founding documents, and a unique willingness among nations to pay a great price for the progress of human freedom and dignity.  This is who we are.  That’s what we do as Americans, together….

All of you here today have lived through the fires of war.  You will be remembered for it.  You will be honored for it -- always.  You have done something profound with your lives.  When this nation went to war, you signed up to serve.  When times were tough, you kept fighting.  When there was no end in sight, you found light in the darkness.

And years from now, your legacy will endure in the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country; in the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and our grandchildren.  And in the quiet of night, you will recall that your heart was once touched by fire.  You will know that you answered when your country called; you served a cause greater than yourselves; you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq, and among all nations.

I could not be prouder of you, and America could not be prouder of you.

This is pretty disgusting stuff. Their “country” didn’t call. That was just some hack politician on the line. There was no great cause – Empire is not a great cause. A lot of people died and otherwise had their lives ruined, and the country was left a shambles. Sectarian violence is already erupting in the wake of the U.S. departure. To be sure, Saddam Hussein was a nasty dictator, but left in his place is a sectarian-cleansed state ruled by an authoritarian prime minister under a constitution that bears little resemblance to a protector of freedom.

I think of the line from Paddy Chayefsky’s The Americanization of Emily: “We perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.” Make war look noble and many will be eager to be sent to war. And many “leaders” will be eager to send them.

Heck, even in the Empire’s own terms there’s nothing to brag about. The Iraqi government is allied to Iran. The U.S. military got none of the permanent bases it wanted, and even the American oil companies lost out.

(Harper’s chronicle some the lowest points since 2003 here.)

Obama will campaign on how he ended the war (as Tim Lynch notes, the war began in 1991, not 2003; the U.S. government has been tormenting the Iraq people for 20 years!), and the conservatives will attack him for it, but both sides will conveniently forget that 1) the U.S. government was obligated to leave under an agreement signed by Bush and 2) Obama tried his damnedest to get the Iraqi leaders to ask the U.S. military to stay. (See Gareth Porter’s “How Maliki and Iran Outsmarted the US on Troop Withdrawal.”)

It’s not even as though the exit from the Iraq constitutes an exit from the Middle East. Hardly. The troops moved down the road to Kuwait where they will be “repostured.”

And the sabers are being rattled in the direction of Iran and Syria, where covert warfare is already being waged.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

I'm confident the surviving parents and children of Iraq are not mourning Christopher Hitchens's passing. (Also see this.)

Discussing Newt Gingrich and the Palestinians on Antiwar Radio

I spoke with Scott Horton about Newt Gingrich, the Palestinians, and Israel on Antiwar Radio recently. Here’s the audio.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Newt Gingrich, Collectivist

When Newt Gingrich declared the Palestinians an "invented people," his purpose was to delegitimate their aspirations for justice and freedom. I guess for Gingrich, individuals don't have rights to those things unless they comprise a people in his eyes.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Rabbi Outcast Honored

On December 8 Jack Ross’s excellent biography of Rabbi Elmer Berger, Rabbi Outcast (also on Kindle), which chronicles the life one of the leading Jewish anti-Zionists of the second half of the twentieth century, was honored with a panel discussion at the National Press Club. Here’s the video of some of the proceedings.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Anyone who thinks there's anything to celebrate about the U.S. involvement in Iraq hasn't been paying attention. Even the "exit" is essentially a lie. The Pentagon calls it "reposturing."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gingrich & the Palestinians: The Short Answer

Of course the Palestinian people were invented. That's what colonization does to an oppressed population.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Newt Gingrich: Demagogue, Pseudointellectual

Updated December 12
Newt Gingrich says the Palestinian people were invented. That’s very funny coming from a man who has reinvented himself a few times in his life. We didn’t need more evidence of Gingrich’s status as a rank demagogue and pseudointellectual, but he’s furnished it anyway.

Gingrich, in his typically arrogant manner, says this:
And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places.
By “chance to go many places” he means that while being expelled from their homes by Zionist/Israeli forces in 1947-48, they were free to relocate in any Arab country they chose. If I were to mimic Gingrich’s style, I’d say that’s a pro-FOUND-ly racist statement. Since these people are generic Arabs, why should it matter that someone else decides that they may no longer remain in Palestine where they and their families have lived and worked for a thousand or more years? (In the early twentieth century, incidentally, leading Zionist activists and scholars thought the Palestinians Arabs were descendants of the ancient Hebrews.)

We could as easily say:
And I think that we've had an invented Pennsylvanian people, who are in fact Americans, and were historically part of the American community. And they had a chance to go many places.
Even if we concede, contrary to the evidence, that Palestinian consciousness is a rather late development, so what? It would not be the first time that oppression of a group of people has forged group consciousness. Indeed, Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, was an assimilated Jew in Austria until the trial of Alfred Dreyfus in France. Herzl’s response to that spectacle was to say, in effect: It’s the anti-Semites who make us Jews.

In other words, Gingrich makes no sense when he suggests, as he did at the December 10 debate, that since the Arabs of Palestine didn't call themselves Palestinians until the 1970s, their uprooting from the land was perfectly okay. How does that follow?

On the particular historical question of Palestinian consciousness, Wikipedia is instructive. Also see Jeremy Sapienza's blog post on the subject. And here's something Gingrich might want to ponder: the dialect known as Palestinian Arabic. The invented people have their own language!

Here's what the Encyclopedia Brittanica has to say:
Although the Arabs of Palestine had been creating and developing a Palestinian identity for about 200 years, the idea that Palestinians form a distinct people is relatively recent. The Arabs living in Palestine had never had a separate state. Until the establishment of Israel, the term Palestinian was used by Jews and foreigners to describe the inhabitants of Palestine and had only begun to be used by the Arabs themselves at the turn of the 20th century; at the same time, most saw themselves as part of the larger Arab or Muslim community. The Arabs of Palestine began widely using the term Palestinian starting in the pre-World War I period to indicate the nationalist concept of a Palestinian people. But after 1948—and even more so after 1967—for Palestinians themselves the term came to signify not only a place of origin but, more importantly, a sense of a shared past and future in the form of a Palestinian state. [Emphasis added.]
Not to pile on, but in 1921 -- more than 50 years before the Palestinian people were supposedly invented -- something called the Syrian-Palestinian Congress met "to influence the terms of the proposed League of Nations mandate over the region." The word Palestine (or a form of it) goes back to ancient times.

As the Washington Post's fact-checker put it:
But Gingrich’s claim that “Palestinian” did not become a common term until 1977 is bizarre. The very [1921] League of Nations mandate that he mentions was called “The British Mandate for Palestine.” The text of the declaration mentions the word “Palestine” 45 times and “Palestinian” twice.
Speaking of inventing people, Gingrich might pick up Shlomo Sand’s excellent book, The Invention of the Jewish People. Sand, a professor history at Tel Aviv University, shows that most national groups were essentially invented.

See Richard Silverstein's excellent commentary.

Here’s the video of Gingrich’s balderdash.

Those who think Palestine was a “land without a people” before Israel, should watch this video.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I Like This Guy


Were Amb. Gutman’s Remarks All that Controversial?

The U.S. ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, a Jew whose father eluded the Nazis, has caused quite a row with remarks at a recent conference in which he distinguished classic anti-Semitism from anti-Jewish sentiment stemming from the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. (See also this.) The Republican presidential candidates (except for Ron Paul) have demanded Gutman’s head (the sort of thing Jon Stewart calls a “tuchus-kissoff”), and the Israel lobby wants him fired.

Is such an observation really controversial? Read the transcript of Gutman’s remarks. Commentary magazine claims the transcript is not quite the same as his oral remarks and thinks this is a big deal. Judge for yourself.

Friday, December 09, 2011

TGIF: Fearing Hayek

I’m sensing some panic in the air. Certain people seem mighty concerned that other people are . . . discovering Hayek. As a W. S. Gilbert character might say, Oh horror!

Read the full TGIF here.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The REAL Reason to Fear an Iranian Nuke

This from a leading neocon intellectual, Danielle Pletka, vice president, foreign and defense policy studies, American Enterprise Institute:
The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it, it's Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it. Because the second that they have one and they don't do anything bad, all of the naysayers are going to come back and say, "See, we told you Iran is a responsible power. We told you that Iran wasn't getting nuclear weapons in order to use them immediately." And they will eventually define Iran with nuclear weapons as not a problem.
In other words, if Iran were to build a nuke (by the way, Iran is not doing so), it might act responsibly, which would be interpreted to mean that Iran is in fact a responsible power in the Middle East.

And that would be bad -- because the U.S. government would then lose a major rationalization for dominating the Middle East. Take away the Iranian “problem” and there goes a lot of prestigious and profitable power opportunities for U.S. officials and government contractors. So Iran must be stopped from developing a weapon that 1) it is not developing, and 2) that it wouldn’t use if it were developing it.

See the Pletka video for yourself.

Pletka's colleague Thomas Donnelly agrees: "We’re fixated on the Iranian nuclear program while the Tehran regime has its eyes on the real prize: the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East."

When will these arrogant people realize that managing a balance of power is a dangerous mission (though lucrative for special interests, to be sure). They might consult the foreign-policy speeches of Richard Cobden and John Bright, whose analysis of Britain's attempt to manage the European balance of power are as relevant today as they were in the nineteenth century. Then again, the power elite would have to have real people's interests at heart for this line of thinking to have any effect.

Top Israeli officials also say they wouldn’t expect an attack from a nuclear Iran. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic quoted defense minister Ehud Barak as saying:
The real threat to Zionism [from an Iranian bomb] is the dilution of quality. Jews know that they can land on their feet in any corner of the world. The real test for us is to make Israel such an attractive place, such a cutting-edge place in human society, education, culture, science, quality of life, that even American Jewish young people want to come here…. Our young people can consciously decide to go other places. Our best youngsters could stay out of here by choice.
So Israel might have to attack Iran not because Iran might attack Israel first, but rather because young people won’t want to live in the country otherwise. Outward migration from Israel exceeds inward migration. The country’s leaders fear that continued regional tension will accelerate this exodus. Has it occurred to them that young people might not like being citizens of an increasingly isolated occupier and apartheid state that exists in constant tension with its neighbors?

It may seem reasonable to the power elite that a military attack on Iran would create an atmosphere hospitable to young people looking for a better future. But if that’s what Israel’s rulers think, they need to open their eyes.