Tuesday, February 24, 2004

ESSAY CONTEST

If you are a conservative, or if you have conservative, anti-same-sex marriage associates who might be interested in this, please read and forward as you like.

It is my belief that opponents of same-sex marriage compose and construct their arguments in very abstract and metaphysical terms. That is their right, of course, but I have trouble seeing how these arguments are capable of ever being used in a genuine dialogue with the subjects of the debate: individuals who wish to marry their partners.

Thus, an essay contest:

I have two friends. We'll call them Patricia and Rosemary. They are females. They want to marry one another so they can enjoy the same social benefits as other couples who can marry. They intend to live (and have already, for some years, lived) in monogamy.

Write a letter, worded personally, to Patricia and Rosemary, telling them why the values, social impacts, or religious principles to which you appeal when arguing against same-sex marriage are more important than their wish to marry the partner of their choice. Write as if you were speaking to them face-to-face. Tell Patricia and Rosemary why, specifically, their love for one another is not more important than the values, social impacts or religious principles that contextualize your opposition to same-sex marriage.

I will publish the essays I receive, and invite commentary from my readers. If I receive an overwhelming number of entries, I will find new webspace specifically for this contest. After a sufficient number of entries have been received, I will poll my readers to pick several winners.

So if you are opposed to same-sex marriage, let's see if you can frame your opposition in terms that could be expressed to two human beings who wish to be married.

Send entries to: stannard67@aol.com

PENTAGON/GLOBAL WARMING UPDATE

So more than one element of this story was "hot air."

It wasn't a leaked, secret report. Rather, it was a Pentagon-sanctioned study conducted by independent scientists opining on, among other things, a "worst-case scenario" about global warming. And that makes it politically intriguing, but hardly has the salty taste of a "leak."

Thanks to my friend Omri Ceren for finding this information. He found details here. Apparently, the Observer's bogus leak story fooled most of the news organizations in Australia: SBS, ABC, AFP and the Australian (along with my usually reliable source, Agence France Presse).

The actual report is here. Its conclusions are, in fact, sobering, even if they are a "worst-case scenario," and there's little doubt in my mind that the Pentagon is planning its share of climate-war scenarios. The political intrigue has become more nuanced, but both the bogus leak angle and the way climate science has been politicized serve as object lessons for radicals that are hardly mutually exclusive.

Monday, February 23, 2004

MANY, MANY THINGS GOING ON

The District Qualifier for the National Debate Tournament is this weekend and we have been working very, very hard.

I am sorry I haven't finished my same-sex marriage essay. But I am happy that the Wyoming legislature won't be hearing the cowboy Defense of Marriage Act. It died in committee last week on a 3-2 decision. There are many reasons why I am particularly happy Wyoming will retain some sensibilities for now.

1. As a straight progressive male married to a straight progressive female, we want our gay friends to have the same rights and privileges as we do. We don't find anything particularly offensive about gay sex. But even if we did, we wouldn't feel that those offensive traits would be legitimate grounds for legally restricting its practitioners, provided everyone entered into those contracts competently and bindingly and no innocent people harmed.

2. As a Wyomingite, I have seen, time and again, the phenomena that is Wyoming politics. You won't find a more fiscally conservative state, but you also will find an attitude that exemplifies and encourages free agency, free assembly, freedom of conscience, and an open (albeit quiet) tolerance for differences. Former Republican Senator Al Simpson, a fairly conservative fellow, has written an important essay calling for a position on same-sex marriage that is so identical to my own I feel like buying the man a beer.

3. My church, the Unitarian Universalist Organization, has a solid history of promoting marriage, and performing same-sex marriages, and I am perfectly happy appealing to their authority in this matter.

I'm still working on the essay. I want it to be my best. I don't know why, exactly, I find myself more indignant about this issue than so many others, but I can no longer stand silent.


Meanwhile, in one of the most shocking (and so far, undercovered) events in recent memory, someone at the Pentagon has leaked a document calling global warming a greater threat than terrorism.

According to Agence France Presse:

The report was ordered by an influential US Pentagon advisor but was covered up by "US defense chiefs" for four months, until it was "obtained" by the British weekly.
The leak promises to draw angry attention to US environmental and
military policies, following Washington's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and President George W. Bush's skepticism about global warning -- a stance that has stunned scientists worldwide.
The Pentagon report, commissioned by Andrew Marshall, predicts that "abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies," The Observer reported.


Holy mother of God. I don't know why this isn't a bigger political story than it is a scientific story. This should make Bush look extremely bad, and it may even underscore one category of issues in which there actually are extreme differences between Republicans and Democrats (there aren't that many, but this one is clearly a defined difference).

I'm interested in others' commentary and speculations on both the politics and the implications of the new "Pentagon Papers." In the meantime, I am sure the coming CLIMATE WARS will provide Bush (or his cynical Democratic successor) with plenty of ammunition for future threat construction. As the Star Tribune puts it:

"What a remarkable disconnect: While the White House pursues policies that accelerate production of globe-warming gases, the Pentagon is war-gaming what will happen when the climate reaches a tipping point."



I am equally curious as to why nobody's talking about Israel's nuclear weapons...the ones they refuse to admit they have:

"February 22, 2004 Sunday WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (UPI) -- A new book written by a Washington Times veteran Pentagon reporter contains a Defense Intelligence Agency report that Israel has
82 nuclear weapons. The book [is] "Rumsfeld's War" by Rowan Scarborough..."


Umm...I was under the impression that building nukes and hiding them makes you a "rogue nation." Oh well.

(By the way, I don't like attacks on Israel that question its right to exist, or even [the questions get more complicated] its right to self-defense. I just want to know why it's okay for some nations to lie and not others.)


Finally, someone got on my bad side today on a listserve I am on, for falling into the familiar clap trap of trying to establish who --liberals or conservatives-- engage in more personal attacks and below-the-belt bashing. In this case, the poster in question was attacking liberals for personal attacks on conservatives, and actually made his claims in a loosely empirical sort of way (caveating, of course with a kind of "this is what I hear" framework).

Here's my angry response. It felt good to write, and y'all can draw your own conclusions from that:

What planet do you live on, sir?

First: All kinds of people on the left (not merely liberals) are attacking Bush for bad policymaking. If you don't believe me, read The Nation, Alternet.com, Mother Jones, and the World Socialist Web Site--there's a pretty wide range of leftism for you. I promise you that policy criticism outnumbers "personal attacks" at least 5-1 and maybe even more. Yeah there are a lot of personal attacks, just like there were against Clinton, because that's the way bourgeois politics works, and maybe even because BOTH CLINTON AND BUSH ARE SMARMY, PRIVILEGED ASSHOLES.

Even your use of the term "liberals" to refer to everyone who dislikes Bush kind of shows who is educating you in this language and baseless labeling.

Second: No less than three nationally prominent conservatives have attacked Kerry for marrying rich widows, and all three have used the term "widow-chaser." Clinton was attacked by legitimate figures on the far right (including representatives in Washington) for MURDERING Vince Foster. In every redneck bar Hillary was called a lesbian, and Rush Limbaugh showed a picture of Chelsea when talking about the Clinton's "new family dog." I could give you a list a mile long of conservatives who routinely engage in personal attacks, but that's not even the most important point.

Most of Clinton's policies actually withstood weak, halfhearted conservative attacks because they were pretty conservative policies. The smart right hated Clinton precisely because he captured much of their agenda and forced them to go even further right to define themselves.

Third: This charge of "personal versus policy attacks" is the biggest and longest-running red herring in contemporary political discourse, and I'm frankly disappointed that somebody on this list would so easily fall into it. The fact is that people on both sides utilize personal attacks at their leisure, and policy attacks when they can muster up the requisite clarity and research skills. Pointing to one side or the other as substantially more guilty of personal attacks is a pointless, empirically baseless exercise. And if you're going to answer "well, it's just my opinion...it just seems to me like these guys attack those dudes more than those dudes attack these guys," well, congratulations on being one of a couple hundred million Americans with opinions.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Most American commentators (including many rigid and limited thinkers over at net benefits) tend to discuss the occupation of Iraq in extreme either-or terms. If you don't support the occupation, you must support the terrorist "resistance." If you can't come up with an alternative, you aren't allowed to protest the war (or even complain about the process which led to the invasion). If you complain about how the Iraqis have it now, you must think they were better off under Saddam Hussein. And, of course, if you protest without a feasible alternative (meaning, presumably, an alternative the U.S. will accept, which is none), then you are merely an America-Basher, a member of the amorphous but presumably monolithic "Left" that is on the repugnant and losing side of history.

The problem is, it just isn't that simple, and any thinking person knows that. But posturing and trying very hard to look like you're on the winning side of history is very important these days--for academics as well as wannabee pundits. Those who are in Iraq have a different idea of things, of course, which brings me to the point of this post:

In December, Thomas Schmidlinger conducted an interview with Aso Jabbar of the Iraqi Worker-Communist Party, which was published in the German left newspaper Jungle World. Alex LoCascio translated it into English.

In my mind, this is the most important part of the interview, and speaks to what I have been trying to express about the "Occupiers or Terrorists" false dichotomy:

"The conflict in Iraq cannot be reduced to a conflict between occupiers and resistance. Just because people are against the occupation, does not mean that they represent a progressive movement. The resistance of Arab nationalists or of political Islamists is extremely reactionary and contemptuous of human life. These groups have nothing to contribute to the liberation of the Iraqi population. The traditional left in Europe commits a serious mistake, when they view the military and terrorist attacks of Islamist and nationalist groups as legitimate attacks on US-Imperialism. Obviously, after decades of the Baathist dictatorship and the gruesome embargo against the Iraqi population, there is a mood of discouragement in Iraq, which the Baathists and Islamists want to make use of. These attacks, which are regularly committed against civilian targets and civilian infrastructure, cannot make an emanzipatory contribution, and we condemn them. We are against the occupation, but
our efforts for an independent Iraq have nothing to do with the terrorist methods of this 'resistance.'"


Jabbar is a member of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, a coordinator of the unemployed trade union in Iraq and the "Organization for Woman's Liberation in Iraq" in Switzerland as well as editor-in-chief of the newsletter "Forward Brief," a German-language publication of the Worker-Communist Party. The Worker-Communist Party is a Council Communist group active in the Northern Iraqi city of Sulemaniya, which predominantly consists of young Kurds. Although it won only 300 votes from the almost one million residents of Sulemaniya in the elections for city council, the Worker-Communist Party is, after the Communist Party (which is represented on the City Council), the only regionally active Communist group.

He also says:

"What we are seeing today in Iraq is the continuation of a terrorist contest between the United States and political Islam, which began after the events of September 11. The USA wants to impose its hegemony and military dominance on the world. Political Islam wants to impose its goals and inhuman politics with violence."
More on the Material Situation in Iraq

With 70% of Iraq formally unemployed, and the Iraqi Governing Council threatening everything from tyranny of the majority to the imposition of Sharia rule, it is a fair question to ask whether the majority of Iraqis (and especially Iraqi women) face a future that can, objectively, be called "better" than life under the brutal, tin-horn dictator Saddam Hussein (who at least secularized his regime). I say "objectively" because it's a damn hard thing to say that a people are worse off than they were under a regime where hundreds of thousands were tortured and killed as a matter of routine political expediency. But one must remember that the political expediencies of U.S. occupation throughout history have often called for U.S. leaders to shake hands with and prop up all sorts of devils, comparable to Saddam and often much more brutal. And one must also remember that some of these demons could very well be part of the IGC, or be playing very close to their doors.

One must also remember that this is a dynamic, ever-changing situation, and that the designations "better" and "worse" should not obfuscate the dynamic nature of the situation. Absent Saddam, it appears some political spaces for struggle have opened up, even if those struggles are conditioned by, or necessitated by, U.S. occupation.

Here's Ewa Jasiewicz of Occupation Watch, Baghdad, writing on wage cuts and a threatened strike in the energy sector that appears to have actually forced the CPA to blink. Apparently the thought of labor disputes with soldiers guarding Iraqi oil facilities from Iraqis themselves was just too much to bear:

"In early September, the CPA designed, and Paul Bremer the Third
signed, Order 30 on Salaries and Employment Conditions, which
cancelled all previous state subsidies for public sector workers such
as family, housing, location, and risk benefits. Iraqi workers had
relied on these subsidies in order to survive their pittance
dictatorship wages. Instead, the CPA imposed a new 10 step, 13 level
salary table which sets the country's minimum monthly wage at 69,000 Dinar ($40) per month. This is less than half of the recommended salary of a sweatshop worker in one of neighbouring Iran's Free Trade Zones."

"For any workers receiving the new CPA minimum wage, this means their income will almost be slashed in half."

"Occupation Watch interviewed workers and trade unionists in Basra on their conditions and organising. The response from Iraqi Port
Authority workers, Southern Oil Company Workers, Basra Oil Company Workers, Electricity Plant Workers and Transport Union
representatives was that they needed a rise. Most workers we spoke to were receiving $60 or $120 monthly wages..."

"Market prices, for basic foodstuffs, have almost doubled in some
parts of Iraq, the price of a kilo of onions rising from 250 dinar to
750 in Basra, and apples going up by a third. Ration card rice was
cut also cut three months ago, say mother and wives, still struggling
to make ends meet. Fruit is too expensive to barely ever be seen in
family homes in Basra's poorest areas such as Haiyania and
Jhoomouria, where I have been living for the past month with trade
unionists and their families..."

"'If the ministry refuses to pay our new table, all of the refineries,
the power plants and crude oil pumping stations will stop. And no
one from the administration will be able to interfere', told us
Faleh. The threat of a total shut down of Iraq was however, more of
a shock-tactic according to Hassan Jum'a who reasoned, 'We won't shut down everything, there are humanitarian needs that need to be met, water purification plants, hospitals, these facilities must be kept
going and we want the SOC to keep going too. But, what we will have a total shut down of, is exports'. And the expected response to that?
'One of our assumptions is that soldiers will occupy the pumps. If
they do, we will fight them. We will resist them with force. And we
will join the armed resistance'."

"Unsurprisingly, the threat of a general oil strike in Iraq's biggest
oil company and one of only two still functioning and shipping oil to
market, plus thousands of radical oil workers joining the armed
resistance, caused some alarm at CPA-Governing Council levels and
prompted the Minister of Oil himself came down to hold talks with the
Union. The result was that until the new wage table can be agreed, through negotiation, between the Ministry of Finance and the union, the old sparse-step CPA emergency payment system (starting at $60 per month rather than the risible $40) will replace the 130-step CPA dictated one..."

Elsewhere I have talked about the differences between the Iraqi Communist Party, who are part of the IGC, and the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, associated of the WCP of Iran and adherents to the perspectives of Mansoor Hekmat, who wanted to unify communists in Iran and Iraq, and who died in 2002.

Yoshie Furuhashi at LBO-Talk writes:

"If any Iraqis are looking for a political party for secular democracy
associated with neither the Ba'ath Party nor the US occupation, as
some LBO-talk subscribers suggest they should, they won't probably
look to the Iraqi Communist Party. The ICP was in the
Ba'ath-dominated the National Progressive Front for seven years
(1972-1979) and joined, together with Islamists and former exiles,
the Iraqi Governing Council appointed by Washington.

"Joining the Iraqi Governing Council was a mistake. Moreover, the ICP
has missed several chances to correct the error to its political
advantage. One of the latest and most important moments that should have prompted a change of course came when the Iraqi Governing Council placed gender and family issues under the jurisdiction of sharia, making women's social position worse than under the Ba'ath Party..."

At least, however, the ICP has criticized Resolution 137 (the Sharia resolution) from within its position in the IGC. Their resolution in part reads:

"We return to this issue as a result of the decree adopted by some members of the interim Governing Council against the norms for decision-making, which require a two-third majority to pass such a decree. It was also wrong for the Council to take such a grave decision. Once again, we reiterate our opposition and total rejection of this decree, as expressed by our Party representative in the Council. This is also to respond to some politically bankrupt claims that the Party was in favour of such a decree although we had opposed and rejected it!

"We seize this opportunity to call upon all women organisations, and all women, to take their cause into their own hands, and also call upon all sections of the democratic public opinion to continue the work for consolidating the rights of women and children stipulated in the International Declaration of Human Rights and the two relevant UN covenants. It is necessary to demand that these UN documents should be incorporated in Iraqi legislation, especially the forthcoming constitution, in order to confirm these rights. Consistent efforts should continue for their implementation in real life, as an important part of building a new democratic, pluralistic, federal, unified and prosperous Iraq.

So it is important to remember that the ICP is calling for groups outside of the IGC to protest and organize against Resolution 137. This suggests that the ICP isn't a complete sell-out and isn't going to rubber-stamp every IGC decision.

The Urgency for Women (and secularism):

From MADRE, the international human rights organization, on Jan. 30:

"Under IGC Resolution 137, issued on December 29, 2003, arbitrary interpretations of religious law threaten to replace one of the Middle East’s most progressive personal status laws. The Resolution gravely endangers women’s rights, undermines prospects for democracy and foments a dangerous sectarianism in an already destabilized society.

"Resolution 137 could give self-appointed religious clerics the authority to inflict grave human rights violations on Iraqi women, including denial of the rights to education, employment, freedom of movement and travel, property inheritance and custody of their children. Forced early marriage, polygamy, compulsory religious dress, wife beating, execution by stoning as punishment for female adultery and public flogging of women for disobeying religious rules could all be sanctioned if the Resolution is upheld."

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the reactionaries in the IGC succeed in imposing Sharia and set women's rights back a hundred years...and that the CPA and the Iraqi bourgeoisie succeeds in crushing labor unions there. SOMEBODY WHO SUPPORTED THE INVASION OF IRAQ ON HUMAN RIGHTS GROUNDS PLEASE TELL ME WHY THIS WOULDN'T BE AT LEAST AS BAD OR WORSE THAN LIFE UNDER SADDAM!!! Material reality is material reality. You can't uphold the "symbolic" or rhetorical value of removing Saddam as some kind of answer to a material situation (poverty, suppression of labor rights, destruction of women's rights) that is objectively no different (or, arguably, worse) than life under Saddam.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Many of you have been faithfully reading my AOL web journal.

Due to space limitations there, I have switched to blogspot. I hope this is the start of a long and prosperous (albeit ad-supported) relationship.

The AOL journal will now be home to pictures, mostly of family and the debate community.

Essays and commentary soon to come, as well as a better-looking, more fleshed-out web page with links and quotes and the like.

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