Sunday, June 25, 2006

This Man Needs Our Support!

Ross Smith is running for school board in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I'm sure he'd appreciate some support, which you can give him through his web site

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Unbearable Question of Resistance

Any time we begin with the question "what should we DO about the resistance," some kind of argument about what does and does not constitute legitimate resistance would probably be useful here.

Of course, the pragmatic argument against ANY legitimate resistance is that we're the United States, we have taken their country, and therefore they shouldn't resist. Questions about the legitimacy of the resistance might be found on Jason's list of discussions that won't answer the pragmatic urgency at hand. (Jason is "Catbert" on Net Benefits)

There's a classic, kind of common-sense argument that is commonly asked during questions about resistance: Would YOU use violence, take up arms, to resist a foreign takeover and consolodation of your country? Sure, that question has its problems, but it does cut to the core of the "subjectivity" of resistance.

Another possible argument is that they shouldn't resist because we've made their country better off. Regardless of the soundness of that argument, I'm sure most people could see why, at the very least, this argument has some problems in terms of shared reasonability, and moreover, it's in convincing them they will be better off that the U.S. would finally crush the resistance.

Of course there's the argument that foreigners and foreign-influenced resistance is illegitimate. That seems like the kind of choice the invaded country would make--to welcome others into their fight or not. But it's also legitimate to say that those who have gone to Iraq to fight us are an unsavory bunch of people. For the sake of argument, I'd be willing to concede the point and only concentrate on the moral justification of those who are fighting in the resistance because they want American soldiers and the American infrastructure out of their country.

And not only "are they justified in fighting," which we may perhaps never answer, but the more pragmatic "what tactics are they justified in using IF they are in any way justified in fighting?"

I wrote about this a long time ago, and I'm enough of a self-promoter to at least give up the links: Here and here.

My friend the political scientist Russell Fox replies to those posts here. While he largely takes me to school on some arguments, he also admits that
The ambiguity surrounding the identity of those claiming to fight on behalf of Iraq plays into Bush's "fly-trap" strategy, giving him a certain justificatory cover: as long as terrorism continues in Iraq, then he and those around him anc assert that we're dealing with terrorists, and by definition (well, his definition anyway) you can't "deliberate" with terrorists. Therefore, American troops must be the one's on the side of democracy, because we we're trying to give it to them, only we just haven't been able to get to the point where we can ask them in any legitimate if they like the way we are delivering it or not.

Friday, June 23, 2006

must give alternative?

It is a unique and, to me, rather uncharming feature of Realist thinking that its adherents can often legitimately collapse to the following argument:

Even if the war was publicly misjustified, and even if it has been executed incompetently, and even if we have alienated all of our allies and turned the world against us, and even if there's a chance that it will make everything worse, and even if the Bush administration would never listen to you anyway, you can't legitimately criticize the war, or decisions within the war, without explaining what we should now do to get out of a mess that you didn't create.
I disagree. Criticizing the process of a decision is absolutely legitimate. It is legitimate politically because it helps condition future political decisions, shapes debate, and inspires activism. It is ethically legitimate unless you believe, and believe strongly, that the ends always justify the means.

Demanding an alternative assumes a unitary purpose to political discussion and debate. The drive for such a unitary purpose makes possible all sorts of minor rhetorical tyranies, from the forced marginalization of process-based criticism, to the entrenchment of the kind of normativity Pierre Schlag, Richard Delgado and others indict in legal thinking (and actually a particularly bad kind of normativity even worse than legal, because it affects people across a wider spectrum and works its way into other categories of thinking). In my opinion, the most dangerous thing about this so-called normative thought is that it crowds out the space to assess, to describe, to investigate, the structures and contexts, the assumptions and symbolic patterns, that sustain the conditions that caused the problems.

Demanding an alternative also assumes a political and social universalism that simply doesn't exist. This is particularly frustrating to me because many times my criticism of political decisionmaking stems precisely from the way in which people are cut off from that decisionmaking--an exclusion primarily based on people's lack of resources and lack of powerful credentials. This results in a nonsensical argument: I say "the Bush Administration screwed up and didn't listen to anyone" and your answer is "Well, what would you have them do now?" If it weren't so sad, it would make a good joke.

Moreover, demanding an alternative seems to encode a kind of temporal particularism, a "temporal stasis" to borrow a term from Dungeons and Dragons. It assumes not only the universal social class described above, but a unitary moment from which to act. It says the choice of a political subject is always in the here and now, that urgency must always trump wisdom.

In short, the demand for an immediate alternative that could only be enacted by the very agents whom we've spent a great deal of time criticizing is a demand that comes from those who don't share our concerns. It's a demand from a different world, a world which, to steal from Ursula LeGuin, we have sort of "walked away from"--not to escape our responsibility to the suffering people in that world, but to reject the notion that we have to work exclusively within its conceptual and political rules.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Clarifying the WMD Hype

Let's be very clear about something: The outdated, obsolete, and useless stockpiles of mustard or sarin gas recently found in Iraq, all manufactured before the 1991 gulf war (probably manufactured or procured from the United States and other western countries for use in the Iran-Iraq war), do not constitute the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" Bush and company listed as their primary reason to preemptively invade Iraq.

As Jane Harmon put it:
"There is nothing new here... Nothing in this report, classified or otherwise, contradicts the Duelfer Report, which assessed that we would find degraded pre-1991 weaponry in Iraq."

Even the Department of Defense and Fox News is taking the honest side of this question:
Mere hours after Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) announced breathlessly at a press conference that “we have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” a FOX news reporter found out that Santorum was hyping a document that describes degraded, pre-1991 munitions already acknowledged and dismissed by the White House’s Iraq Survey Group.
Fox News’ Jim Angle contacted the Defense Department who quickly disavowed Santorum and Hoekstra’s claims. A Defense Department official told Angle flatly that the munitions hyped by Santorum and Hoekstra are “not the WMD’s for which this country went to war.”

Remember, Bush administration officials said Saddam was manufacturing WMDs, and that he was building a nuclear weapons program. They used false intelligence to claim that Iraq could attack western targets in 45 minutes. They claimed Saddam was in danger of sharing this updated, currently-manufactured technology with Al Qaeda. And they didn't just say "there's a pretty decent chance of this..." they spoke with utter confidence, using "we know beyond the shadow of a doubt" rhetoric.

It's simply pathetic to see apologists for the war claim that these old tin cans full of old materials constitute the very same WMD program that Bush and company said existed. It's very important to let everyone know that this is not the case. Tell your pro-war friends about this farce. Make sure they know that Fox News and the Department of Defense are on record as debunking the claim.

Regardless of current positions on the war, the fact that the Bush administration deployed false information to win both Congressional and public support for the war must never fade from our collective memory. It is an indictment of means that the ends will not and cannot justify. It is an indictment of the process of decisionmaking and public justification. Condemnation of the administration for that transgression can be shared by critical-minded people from those who demand immediate pullout to those who believe we should "stay the course" and everyone in between.

PS--CNN has debunked the claim that the intelligence community was responsible for the administration's misinformation on Iraqi WMD, and the Congressional Research Service has debunked the right wing claim that Congress had the same intelligence as the administration. The Bush administration claim of an active, potent WMD manufacturing and distribution scheme was the "central pillar" of their case for preemptive war, as CNN correspondent David Ensor accurately called it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


The two American soldiers who went missing in Iraq have been found dead. They are Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Army Pfc. Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon.

The occupation of Iraq was not in their interest, and their murders were not in the interest of the working people of Iraq. To say that they were unfortunate pawns in the quibbles and rituals of the powerful is not to take away their virtues as human beings or soldiers. Indeed, one longs for a world where their heroism and bravery could have been directed in the service of an unambiguously good cause. Such a world is far, far removed from the one that sent them to their tragic and unnecessary deaths.

This is what passes for "debate" these days

Last Thursday and Friday, the House of Representatives held a hideous mockery of a debate about the war in Iraq. Patrick Martin's description, including his reporting of the illegal taxpayer-funded "Debate Prep Book" issued by the Pentagon/NSC, is spot-on:
While there were the trappings of debate, with speakers alternating for and against, the procedure was a travesty. The House Republican leadership presented a resolution declaring the Iraq war to be an integral part of a global “war on terror” and condemning any effort to set a withdrawal timetable as a surrender to terrorism. No amendments were permitted, nor were the Democrats allowed to present an alternative resolution for a vote.
The language of the resolution, HR 961, parroting White House propaganda, declared the war in Iraq to be “essential to the security of the American people,” branded as terrorists all Iraqis fighting against the US occupation, hailed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and congratulated the newly installed stooge regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
After rejecting any deadline for withdrawal, the resolution declared, “the United States is committed to the completion of the mission” in Iraq, and “the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the noble struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.”
It is one of the longstanding myths of official American politics that “support” for the troops means endorsing policies that lead to their deaths, while those who urge that US soldiers be moved out of harm’s way are slandered as being “against” the troops. If this patriotic baloney were stripped away, the debate would have seen Republicans demanding thousands, even tens of thousands more American deaths in Iraq, with the Democrats arguing that Moloch could perhaps be satisfied with slightly less blood—or more likely, that the blood should be shed elsewhere, perhaps in Iran or North Korea.
One particularly ominous aspect of the House debate was the distribution of a 74-page Iraq Floor Debate Prep Book to several members of Congress. This document was issued by the Pentagon in an unprecedented effort by the military to intervene in a debate within the legislature. After several Democratic congressmen were e-mailed the document, the Pentagon tried to recall it.
After one senator complained that the publication of the document violated a legal ban on using government funds for lobbying Congress, the Pentagon revealed that the document had actually been drafted in the Bush White House, by the National Security Council.

It's too bad the Democrats have no coherent opposition strategy. It's too bad they are beholden to the same material interests and ideological prejudices as the Republicans.

Jerry Tucker has a great piece at the Monthly Review Zine concerning "liberal orthodoxy" and the way in which mainstream liberals have given up on the working class, exemplified by George McGovern gently lecturing workers that they need to be satisfied with less.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Silence deafening on Churchill

I have reprinted Tom Mayer's defense of Churchill on three different forums and no one has said a word about it, for or against. Mayer can't get any mainstream media to print that defense, either.

Over at Swan's Commentary, Gilles d'Aymery feels the silence too:
As to Ward Churchill, the silence is deafening. The so-called Standing Committee on Research Misconduct of the University of Colorado at Boulder recently issued a politically motivated 124-page report accusing professor Churchill of "academic misconduct" and calling for sanctions, perhaps temporarily, or even excluding him from the university. Professor of sociology Tom Mayer deconstructed the report in a 1900-word article that he sent to local papers in Boulder to no avail. They all rejected the article because "it was too long." Nineteen hundred words to criticize a 124-page report are considered too long by the local guard dogs of the orthodoxy. The national press simply ignored the issue altogether -- or maybe they covered it in tiny snippets buried in the bowels of the papers. One can easily imagine a Van Gelder treatment of the news: "Controversial professor is charged with academic misconduct: Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the U. of Colorado who called the 9/11 victims at the World Trade Center 'technocrats' and 'little Eichmanns,' and blamed Americans for what he called the 'genocide' of the Indian nations, was accused of gross academic misconduct by the university Standing Committee on Research Misconduct. The committee recommends sanctions that may include his expulsion from the university."

What's troubling is that Mayer's response takes up a number of issues with the Standing Committee and the original report, on-point: The political motivation of the original investigation, the alleged improprieties and violations of protocol, the inconsistent punishment compared to other scholars guilty of the same things, the overstatement of "misconduct" when really, there's little more than allegations of factual innacuracies and lots of difference of opinion, and so on.

Yet nobody is saying anything--well, except the people who would have fired Churchill for his 9/11 statements without even pretending to look for other reasons.

Churchill's latest response can be found here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Colorado University Standing Committee Recommends Ward Churchill be Fired

Today the University of Colorado's Standing Committee on Research Misconduct voted 6 to 3 to fire Ward Churchill--terminate his employment completely. This is a substantially stronger result than was even recommended by the review panel. The recommendation will now go to the CU administration for their final decision.

Something isn't right about this. The more I read both sides of the story, the more I strongly suspect two things:

1. The investigation itself and the decision of the standing committee were politically motivated.

2. The facts in the case are problematic and in dispute:

a. the strongest charge seems to be the plagiarism, but as Tom Mayer pointed out in his powerful defense of Churchill, even Lawrence Tribe committed more egregious plagiarism and wasn't fired. Churchill has written elaborate responses to each plagiarism charge. At worst, there might be a slight preponderance of evidence in favor of plagiarism or a risk of plagiarism; it is far from clear that they were able to prove intent to plagiarize, which is probably why they recommended suspension rather than termination.

b. Churchill may have been factually incorrect about some of his conclusions and claims, but there was no INTENT to deceive proven by the review. At worst it seems that the committee concluded he had provided insufficient evidence to back up his historical claims. Since when does this constitute research MISCONDUCT as opposed to simply "bad research?"

c. CU has not, to my knowledge, responded to Churchill's allegation that the review process violated university rules concerning confidentiality. He wrote: "Under University rules, this report was part of a confidential personnel process. The fact that the committee convened a press conference to announce its findings and University officials immediately distributed the full report is but one indication of their willingness to violate my rights, as well as their own rules, in order to chill my speech and discredit my scholarship." Churchill cited many other procedural improprieties in his defense as well.

d. Again, there were no professors of Ethnic Studies on the review committee. I realize I've been over this before with some people, but my only argument here is that the conclusions of the review would have seemed much more fair, impartial, and informed if the committee would have selected any one of the HUNDREDS of qualified ES professors in North America to be on the commitee, or at least, for god's sake, to offer expert testimony in the review process.

I don't particularly like Ward Churchill's style of political engagement. I think he's set back some causes I support. But this whole process smells more and more like a railroading to me, and I was wrong when I didn't say so before.

I'll Cry 9 Billion Tears

Remember that $9 billion in Iraq reconstruction money that went missing and was never accounted for?

Regeneration Man, posting on Daily Kos, informs us that Bush used one of his notorious "signing statements" to block an investigation into the money, on the grounds of national security.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pin the Tail on Zarqawi

The "Zarqawi" in the video does not speak Arabic with a Jordanian accent. His legs seem pretty normal. And crucially, he wears a golden ring, which for an authentic jihadi would be the ultimate affront. On the same day, June 22, of the release of the Kim video, "Zarqawi" also released a statement - but with a different voice, saying he was determined to "ignite a civil war between Sunnis and Shi'ites"..."Zarqawi's" voice can be heard for a few seconds - but the audio was taken from another tape released after Abu Ghraib when he was threatening Allawi's government. (From "Zarqawi - Bush's man for all seasons," Asia Times, October 15, 2004)

It seemed puzzling, too, given the destruction and the condition of the other five bodies, that Zarqawi's head and upper body - shown on televisions across the world - could have remained largely intact. (From "Riddle of how Zarqawi died," Sydney Morning Herald, June 12, 2006)

I have consistently stated that I consider the beliefs and tactics of Islamo-Fascists (call them "terrorists," "extremists," or what you will) to be morally unacceptable, politically bankrupt and counterproductive, based on a backward and hateful mentality concerning human rights and ethical responsibility, and so on and so on. Socialists should not, and need not, take the side of Al Qaeda, Baathism, or fundamentalism of any kind in current world events. I have no sympathy for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But part of the problem is that we don't know who he was, and it's not altogether clear that he wasn't at least partially constructed by the United States; at the very least, his public meaning, the "text" of him, was very much a Western construct, created and perpetuated to justify the continued U.S. occupation.

(On the empirical question, it's important to remember that Zarqawi's entire existence in the occupation has been tainted with questions of whether he exists at all, particularly in the form and function attributed to him; fake letters, questions of whether he actually died years ago, and questions of exactly what role he really played in sectarian violence.)

At the very least, as Matthew Yglesias succinctly put it, "the whole Zarqawi phenomenon" was "the product of a bizarre collaboration between a Bush administration eager to identify an enemy in Iraq and a terrorist eager to overstate his own importance." Yglesias even goes so far as to call Zarqawi's death "apparent," which is appropriate, given that so many activities attributed to him were equally "apparent."

(For those conservatives and moderates out there who consider this kind of talk the hight of leftist reactionism and irresponsibility, remember that the U.S. pays foreign media to run fake stories. I'm as modernist as they come, but it's no exaggeration to say we don't know what's real over there!)

Zarqawi's "sociological existence", was also confirmed rhetorically by the mainstream U.S. media's response to Zarqawi's death. Response was jovial; orgasmic. I'll let Kate Randall and Barry Grey explain:
The exultation in the Islamist terrorist’s demise, replete with gruesome photos of the corpse plastered across newspapers and displayed on TV screens, takes on an almost ritualistic character...
“Gotcha!” was the front-page headline on Friday’s New York Post tabloid, atop a full-page photo of the dead man’s scarred face lying in a pool a blood. The newspaper’s inside headline read: “Evil Zarqawi Blown to Hell.”
The New York Daily News front page exclaimed “PICTURE PERFECT! Al Qaeda Terror Boss Blown Right to Hell.” Below was US soldier holding a large framed copy of the same photo...
This spectacle bespeaks both the mindset of the American ruling elite, and what it seeks to inculcate among the public at large. Terms that come to mind in regard to the outlook of the ruling establishment are “primitive,” “backward” and “self-delusionary.” It retains an almost childish belief that it can somehow extricate itself from the disaster it has created for itself in Iraq if only it can kill another 5,000, 10,000 or 100,000 people.
At the same time, it is driven by a need to brutalize and degrade public consciousness...The more obnoxious and heavy-handed their propaganda, the less real and lasting is its impact.
Most not really believe that Zarqawi was the towering figure described by the government and the media. And in this their instincts are correct. His exploits, in fact, both real and apocryphal, played a negligible role in the growth of Iraqi resistance to the American invasion and military occupation. Any impact he did have was destructive of the resistance, since his deeply reactionary aim was to incite sectarian warfare between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority.
Zarqawi was far more significant for the function he served as the latest devil incarnate conjured up by the US government and media to somehow justify the war. Unable to provide a coherent rationale for the war, the political establishment, Democratic as well as Republican, is perpetually looking to find—or manufacture—a new symbol of evil they can use to frighten and disorient the public.
Zarqawi had barely been dead a day when Bush administration and military officials began floating reports about his replacement. It appears at present that the new devil will be Abu al-Masri, reputed to be an Eqyptian-born associate of Zarqawi. The US Central Command already has a $50,000 bounty on al-Masri’s head.

There's more, of course. Michael Reagan joked on his radio show about Zarqawi "looking for the virgins" in heaven. Jay Leno told all kinds of jokes about the death. Such celebration deeply disturbed my friend Josh House, who seems to wish, not unreasonably, that we treat this alleged clash of civilizations as a struggle requiring the winning side to be genuinely ethical, genuinely above bloodlust and making light of any death and suffering whatsoever. He certainly has a point.

It's perfectly fine to feel satisfaction at the death of someone who kills other people, innocent people. It's equally fine, rational really, to take that satisfaction with a grain of salt, knowing that his death probably won't make things any "better," that is, probably won't contribute to the long-term stability of the communities of suffering, alienated human beings who have become pawns in the spats of the powerful. It's also perfectly rational, and perhaps morally and intellectually mandatory, to question the timing of all of this, to remember that the past several weeks have been very bad for the U.S. propaganda front, what with allegations of unprecedented civilian massacres and further revelations of corrupt wartime administration. One sees that the Zarqawi ritual was performed with exacting precision--the performance in Iraq, the predictable celebratory reaction back in the U.S.

Zarqawi's apparent life and apparent death are a powerful metaphor for the question of who gets to control reality; ownership of the means of reality-production, if you will...The important question is how we can produce the kind of reality that no longer rewards the commodification of life, and the ritualistic celebration of death.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Did anyone else find Peter Jackson's King Kong beautiful and profoundly sad?

Some of that certainly had to do with a very good score by James Newton Howard, David Long, and Mel Wesson.

But I won't even attempt to interpret or read deeper meaning into the movie. It was simply beautiful, and sad.

Monday, June 05, 2006

"Your troubles will cease and fortune will smile upon you"

Over the weekend Andrea and I watched Stay, written by David Benioff and directed by Marc Forster. Actually, I watched it alone Saturday night after the kids went to bed, and then Ann and I watched it Sunday night. It's a creepy, thought-provoking, beautifully constructed film about the dream-world that exists between life and death. It's the thinking person's Sixth Sense. Rent it. Watch it. Think about it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Failed Invasion of Iraq

Jason Zengerle at The Plank points out that Bill O’Reilly, of all people, has called the Iraq War not only a failure, but an avoidable failure. Zengerle draws a parallel between O’Reilly’s pronouncement and Walter Cronkite’s similar declaration during Vietnam:
After Walter Cronkite pronounced Vietnam a stalemate, LBJ famously told his aides, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America."

The recent wave of unpleasant stories of massacres, alleged massacres, and casualties-by-mistake (including children) in Iraq, combined with Bush’s historically low approval ratings and the brink of some serious gains for the Democrats in November (despite their fundamental lack of “vision” and their reliance on the same corporate influence and cynical attitudes toward their constituents), reveal two important things about current public consciousness: First, the American public is perfectly capable of respecting and being concerned for U.S. troops, even in the midst of a near-universal consensus that this war was and is horribly, horribly wrong. This first fact is especially important because the war-borgs have traditionally relied on conflating “respect for our soldiers” with unquestioning support for “the mission.” There is nothing to suggest that this conflation is the least bit successful anymore, and considerable evidence that it is counterproductive. It’s irrefutably clear that we can love, honor, respect and even admire the heroism of rank-and-file military personnel, and even contextualize (if not forgive) criminal brutalities in their midst, while understanding that the fundamental blame for this fiasco rests with the ruling class (including opportunistic Democrats).

The second fact about public consciousness is that the Bush administration’s arrogance and incompetence have not only destroyed what little shallow support existed for this war, but also the support for any future military adventures, including those ostensibly required for fighting the eternal, unending War on Terror. Skepticism, mistrust, and contempt—which the ever-shrinking right translates as treason, are the new order of the day. We have entered a new period of rejectionist thinking where military deployment is concerned. And without the usual rhetorical tricks up their sleeves, the war-borgs will have a tough time remedying this. The space has at least opened up for alternative ways of thinking about global crises, mass brutalities, enemies and allies, and inequalities of power and economics. Whether such alternative visions will result in any coherent alternatives remains to be seen, but we should be neither ashamed nor embarrassed if we derive satisfaction from seeing the Bush administration collapse under the weight of its own cynicism and stupidity. We just have to keep in mind that such justified satisfaction is not enough to make the world a better place.

Those who lament that we could have done it differently, that there was a “winnable” way to invade, kill a bunch of evil people, and build a new country, are missing the point. The belief that some new kind of U.S. leaders could be elected, in the context of the present era, who could exercise military power responsibly, ethically, and competently, is at least as utopian as any of the allegedly deranged pipe-dreams of the peace movement.

One more thing: Those who continue to insist that "everyone" was wrong about Iraq's WMDs, those who continue to insist on giving Bush the benefit of the doubt, and maintaining that he was merely misled by other people's bad intelligence, need to first read and attempt to refute this fine article published by FAIR.

And this is the view of geopolitics from the ground: