Volume 17, Number 3
Israel's Part in the US War against Iraq
Microsoft and Palladium
Beginning of the End
Famine in Zimbabwe
Civil Liberties Watch
Dianna Ortiz, The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth
Inside Standardized Testing
The 'Quota' Smokescreen
Philip Berrigan, 1923-2002: Spreading the Gospel in Deed
Iraq Peace Team: US Citizens Living in Iraq Seek to Avert War
Neocons and Their Plans for War
What We Inherit
Israel's Part in the US War against Iraq
It's remarkable how rarely Israel is mentioned today in regard to the American plans to attack Iraq with the exception of occasional notices of how strongly the Israeli government supports those plans. A proper assessment of its part in this war depends upon an understanding of Israel's position in the United States' overall policy for the Middle East, and how that policy is to be implemented with specific regard to Iraq.
Patrick Buchanan was thoroughly rebuked when he remarked on the eve of the US attack on Iraq in 1991, "There are only two groups that are beating the drums for war in the Middle East the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States." What his national chauvinism prevented him from noticing was that, in its avidity for war, the Israeli government was acting as it had for more than a generation as the principal US client, our "local cop on the beat," as the Nixon Administration had described it. It's this ongoing role that explains what part Israel will have in the slaughter of Iraqis.
US Foreign Policy: The Middle East
The US has never in fact required Mideast oil for its own society all the energy requirements of the US could be filled from national sources (especially when we include in "national resources," our "backyard" Latin America). But Germany imports 80% of its energy resources, and Japan, 100%. Who controls world oil, controls the lifeline of the modern world.
And the principal threat to U.S. control has always come from what the US called "domestic radicalism" the dangerous idea amongst the peoples of the oil-producing regions that their natural wealth should be used for the benefit of the peoples of the region, rather than for that of the corporations and the economic elites to whom the US might assign it. And the chief form of "domestic radicalism" was Arab nationalism. To guard against it, the US constructed (and took over from the British) a series of repressive Arab governments, the family dictatorships around the Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia at their head.
US Foreign Policy: Israel
For that reason (and not because of some imagined invincibility of the pro-Israel lobby), the US is willing to provide Israel with vastly more money and support than it gives to any other country in the world. (In second place is Egypt, Israel's principal antagonist in 1967, whom the Carter administration bought off at Camp David in 1978, securing Israel's southern border; in third, Turkey, Israel's principal military ally in the present-day Middle East.) Today as a result Israel has perhaps the third strongest military in the world, with hundreds of advanced nuclear weapons (Israel did not sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), missiles and submarines with which to deliver them, and an air force of US-supplied F-16s and helicopters.
For that reason too the US is willing to support Israel's brutal and racist occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (condemned by the United Nations 35 years ago in Security Council Resolution 242) and its settlement of its citizens in the occupied territories (recognized as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention a war crime around the world). Not only have these been the consistent policies of all Israeli governments, Labor and Likud, they also serve the US purpose of discouraging domestic radicalism, a democratic and secular Palestine being seen as a "threat of a good example" even by some Arab states. To discourage the threat of progressive Arab nationalism, the US and Israel have on occasion been willing to fund even Islamicist movements (Hamas and the mujahideen) that they saw as counters to it.
In 1982, in order to consolidate the Israeli control over the occupied territories, the US armed and supported the most extreme terrorist act in the Middle East in a generation, the invasion of Lebanon, which killed about 20,000 (many more than Iraq's invasion of Kuwait). It was conducted by the current Prime Minister of Israel and launched because of the danger that peace might break out in the Middle East. In the principal American client as perhaps nowhere else in the world is it true that war is the health of the state. And that war is principally a war against Palestinians.
To take a recent and specific example from among far too many, Israeli forces closed the Islamic University and the Polytechnic Institute in Hebron in last month, an action of which even the US State Department expressed mild disapproval. Elsewhere, the Israeli army looked for similarly creative forms of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing: in East Jerusalem, they sealed the apartments of three imprisoned Hamas militants (one of whom had been sentenced to thirty-five consecutive life terms) by filling them with concrete. The Guardian (UK) reports that now more than a thousand Palestinians are held by the army under detention without charge (the sort of thing we used to think only totalitarian governments did it is of course now US practice, too).
This oppressive and anti-intellectual policy is practiced by other American clients as well. US financial and military aid to Turkey was used brutally to suppress the Kurds in the southeast in the 1990s, creating millions of refugees, destroying some 3500 villages, and killing tens of thousands an ethnic cleansing supported by the Clinton administration. Since the military coup in 1980, Turkish universities have been rife with police spies, and evidence of Kurdish culture, to say nothing of Kurdish nationalism, has been suppressed. America and its clients in the Middle East have as their enemies whole peoples of the region.
Any understanding of Israel's role in the coming US attack on Iraq has to begin with its continuing position in overall US policy. Those on the American Right (and elsewhere) who think that the Israeli tail is wagging the US dog have got it quite wrong; the dog is firmly in control. Israeli governments, whether Labor or Likud, do nothing without the approval of their American paymasters. Noam Chomsky offers three recent examples, beginning with the first Bush administration:
Chomsky points out that there are many such cases, "some major ones (like Eisenhower ordering Israel out of Egyptian territory on the eve of a presidential election), others minor ones like Ramallah, many in between." Were it not for the part that Israel plays in the US government's decades-long plan for control of Middle East energy resources, it would be of no more concern to us than another racist state with a population less than that of New York City Zimbabwe, say, or Uganda (even if the latter had become a Jewish state, as was once proposed).
Israel's military usefulness to the US is not limited to the Middle East. In two of the worst examples near genocidal campaigns in which the US government was checked by political pressure at home Israel carried out the bidding of its patron. In the 1970s, at the request of the Carter administration, Israel transferred warplanes to Indonesia to aid in the suppression of the East Timorese, a massacre comparable to those in Cambodia. In the 1980s, Israeli military advisors aided the Reagan administration in genocidal campaigns in Guatemala (for which Clinton later apologized, with monstrous inadequacy).
Chomsky refers to Israel as "virtually an offshore US military establishment." An Israeli journalist recently described the country as "an army with a state, not state with an army," and that army is "almost an offshoot of the Pentagon," Chomsky adds. He points out, "Unfortunately for Israel, it's coming to resemble the US in other ways. It approximates the US in having the highest inequality in the industrial world, and its social welfare system, once impressive, is visibly declining. It may end up being almost a caricature of the worst features of American society.
These are consequences of the choice of confrontation and dependency rather than peaceful integration into the region, fateful choices decades ago." It also makes the Israeli polity dependent on war: Zalman Shoval, former Israeli ambassador to the US, is quoted as saying recently to Israel's Military Radio (GALATZ), "The postponement of the war against Iraq is against the Israeli interests."
US Foreign Policy: Iraq
First, consistent with the fundamental principle of US foreign policy, this war is a war for oil, for control of (not just access to) Iraqi oil reserves, the second largest in the world. (That control rather than access is the issue, is shown by the hesitation of the large oil companies about this war: they have access now and fear its disruption.) Second, it is a demonstration war, as all US wars since World War II (including Vietnam) have been; a state which refuses to obey Washington's orders or has the dangerous idea that it wants to use its resources for the purposes of its population, rather than integrate them into the world economy on terms set by the US must be punished severely. Third, the war distracts from our wretched economy at home; the administration mobilizes for war and encourages the fear of terrorism to cover over their understandably unpopular economic policy nothing less than the transfer of wealth form the poor to the rich and nevertheless assure their reelection (if you agree that they were elected in the first place).
The war is meant to secure and defend the long-term foreign policy of the US, in the Middle East and in the world at large. To understand why that policy requires the reduction of Iraq and by implication the destruction of any regional power with "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs), we need to grasp what might be called "asymmetrical deterrence."
The US enjoys nuclear dominance in the world and Israel, with a stronger military than any European NATO country, nuclear dominance in the region. (General Lee Butler, head of the Strategic Command under Clinton: "It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle East one nation has armed itself, ostensibly, with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the hundreds, and inspires other nations to do so.") These weapons are used primarily as a threat against weaker, non-nuclear countries. Thus every US president since Truman has threatened to use nuclear weapons against a Third World country. Even if the US reduces that country to nuclear waste, it could itself be hit with even one nuclear weapon proving the the limits to the US' ability to threaten another country.
Similarly, Israel has an overwhelming dominance of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, and chemical) in the region, but the possession of only a few or even one by a rival to the US cop can neutralize the cop's offensive dominance. Of course it would be insanity for Iraq or any other adversary of Israel's to launch an attack it would be obliterated by Israel and the US but Israel has to hesitate to use its weapons of mass destruction, or even threaten to do so, if there is any chance that the cost would be Tel Aviv.
The American "framework of order" is endangered if its regional enforcer can be constrained. It is in this way that the possession of a few WMDs is a defensive posture, not an offensive one and surely the policy that would have to be adopted even by a democratic government in Baghdad (highly unlikely, because the US doesn't want it). Similarly, on an international scale, China developed nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them a generation ago and produced about twenty, which they still have not an offensive threat, but a defensive caution to the US and Russia.
The new US attack on Iraq, then is based first of all on maintaining the persistent US position in the Middle East and eliminating a check on America's regional enforcer. But it is a good deal more than that. It is also part of a plan for a new colonialism, a plan quite publicly announced by the most extreme elements in the US government, in league with the most right-wing elements in Israel (much to the right of the current prime minister, war criminal as he may be).
Kurt Nimmo writes, "...the idea of killing Saddam Hussein and inflicting depredation on the Iraqi people is not a Bush idea (it can be argued Bush has no original ideas of his own) the current scheme was a roughcast devised by Likudite Richard Perle. In 1996, Perle (and Douglas Feith) wrote 'A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,' which he presented to then Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu. The plan called for not only eliminating Hussein and installing a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad, but also for trashing the Oslo Accords, Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and overthrowing or destabilizing the governments of Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Perle's master plan for Likud regional dominance ... was crafted for the Jerusalem and Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies (IASPS)..."
The plan had been announced in the Clinton administration (which was more extreme on Israel than the first Bush administration), but the planners came to power in the Pentagon and the State Department in the second Bush administration. They saw 9/11 as a heaven-sent opportunity to put the plan into operation. As the Washington Post recently reported, Bush signed a document directing the Pentagon to begin planning for an invasion of Iraq less than a week after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington although the administration has never had any evidence of Iraqi complicity in those attacks. And, quite consistently with the views of the Washington hawks ("chickenhawks" who avoided the military themselves), Israeli Prime Minister Sharon told The Times (UK) that Iran one of the "axis of evil" powers identified by President Bush- should be targeted "the day after" action against Iraq ends because of its role as the "centre of world terror". The plan is clearly underway.
The conservative columnist Robert Novak said on Meet the Press in December that the extremists in the Bush administration never wanted inspections in Iraq: "This is really about change of regime in Iraq and change of the political outlines in the Middle East more to Israel's benefit. That's what this has all been about, and since it's very hard to sell that to the American people, they have done it on a weapons of mass destruction basis." With the proviso that "Israel's benefit" here means the enhancement of the role that US foreign policy provides for a militarized Israel hardly to the benefit of the people of Israel the comment seems about right.
Carl Estabrook taught in the Department of History at Notre Dame in the 1970s and has contributed a number of articles to Common Sense. He is now Visiting Scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The Alliance for Catholic Education: How much federal funding of religion is appropriate?
You probably remember that George W. Bush was the principal speaker at the University of Notre Dame's 156th commencement exercises on May 20th, 2001. You might vaguely recall that two days priors to the president's address the University established a scholarship in the name of Laura Bush a scholarship to be awarded annually to an elementary or secondary school student at a Catholic school in the state of Texas served by Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). What you probably didn't know is that ACE was one of several programs and agencies cited in a lawsuit earlier this fall questioning the constitutionality of Bush's faith-based initiatives. In this column I want to explore the history of the relationship between Bush and ACE, taking Bush's commencement address as a starting point. The nature of this relationship, I believe, tells us quite a bit about Bush and not a little about ACE.
The Sales Pitch
It was offensive enough that Bush assumed that the Notre Dame community would affirm in one voice his assertion that the "war on poverty" initiated by LBJ had turned the United States into a welfare state, when he lamented that "the welfare entitlement became an enemy of personal effort and responsibility, turning many recipients into dependents." How Bush arrived at the notion that the entire Notre Dame community was entrenched in Reagan era social thinking is beyond me, but it only went downhill from there. Bush affirmed the American belief in "social mobility" and appropriated everyone from Langston Hughes to Mother Teresa to Dorothy Day and even Jesus Christ himself in his attempt to win over the Joyce Center with his simple-minded and heavy-handed version of compassionate conservatism.
All of this reprehensible Republican rhetoric culminated, of course, in Bush's proud announcement that he had created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and that he was implementing and expanding the "charitable choice" principle to ensure that "faith-based organizations should not suffer discrimination when they compete for contracts to provide social services." Clearly, Bush had ratcheted up his rhetoric and posited the absurd myth of American social mobility to win over all of the compassionate, conservative Catholics in the audience. And if they weren't biting at first, surely they would when he waved the carrot a boatload of federal faith-based dollars in front of their caring, concerned noses.
In an admissions interview a few months prior to the Bush-ACE merger, I expressed my misgivings over the bleak outlook of education in America with a prominent member of the ACE staff. Specifically, I expressed concern that Bush's overwhelming emphasis on vouchers and high-stakes testing would cause irreparable damage to the large majority of our nation's children. This staff member who had recently met with Bush and other influential members of his staff placated my concerns and insisted that Bush wasn't "an ideologue." Well, he certainly brought an ideology with him when he came to speak at Notre Dame in May, and it seems that ACE was eager to get in on the ideology.
I didn't realize just how tight ACE had become with the Bush administration until later in the summer. Sitting at a swanky and exclusive dinner attended by the ACE elite and a very special guest (I was lucky enough to win a seat through an ACE "lottery'), I heard an even more prominent member of the ACE community praise God for the existence of "people like John Ashcroft," apparently alluding to the momentum building in opposition to ACE and other faith-based programs and Ashcroft's unconstitutional quest to crush such opposition.
I was shocked, saddened, and stuck. I had entered the ACE program naively believing that it was a program that really did strive as the mission statement asserts "to meet the needs of our country's most undeserved elementary and secondary schools." The truth, in my experience, proved to be otherwise. I still can't figure out exactly what ACE is up to but I'm almost certain that the primary goal of ACE is not to serve the most needy school populations. Perhaps ACE is aiming to recruit young folks to vocations or shore up the Catholic voting block in the deep south, all the while enhancing Notre Dame's influence in the ACE belt and beyond. Either way, ACE's failure to place teachers exclusively in schools that serve students of predominantly lower socioeconomic status leads me to question their mission statement.
A Tenuous Position
ACE receives funding through the Corporation for National Service (CNS) and is also recognized as an Americorps program. Thus, the Corporation funds the ACE summer program and all ACE teachers receive the same benefits enjoyed by other Americorps volunteers, including a modest stipend, basic health coverage, and an education award of $4,725 a year. To be fair, these relationships existed long before W rose to power, dating back to 1994. But the sheer scope and ambition of Bush's faith-based program has apparently caused some people to take a closer look at these relationships, relationships that carry an inherent tension.
Each month, ACE teachers must complete an Americorps timelog, a form documenting the number of hours that ACE teachers spend engaged in direct and indirect service each month. For example, I would often log upwards of seventy hours a week mostly teaching, but some coaching and a great deal of time grading or planning for my classes, as well. I would record all of these hours on my Americorps timelog. The only restriction placed on hours logged a restriction that ACE enforces diligently, to their credit is that ACE teachers may not include any hours spent engaged in specifically religious activities. Thus, an ACE teacher may include hours spent teaching an English class, but not a theology class. An ACE teacher may include hours spent coaching volleyball, but not leading a religious retreat, and so on. In this way ACE jibes with Bush's claim, as stated during his commencement address, that "Government should never fund the teaching of faith, but it should support the good works of the faithful."
In the first week of the ACE academic program, all ACE teachers are enrolled in an intensive course entitled "Introduction to Teaching." In this course students must devise a preliminary classroom management plan, but they are also required to come up with a preliminary "spirituality plan." At the time I was taking this course, emphasis was placed on finding ways to make one's classroom "explicitly Catholic." Students were asked to present specific modes and methodologies for transforming their classrooms into centers of Catholicism. Students were expected to familiarize themselves with the Catechism and take pains to ensure that their teaching always conformed to and promoted the teachings therein. I received a poor mark on my spirituality plan, as the professor felt as though I had not "provided specific examples" of how I was going to make my classroom explicitly Catholic.
Herein lies the tension. ACE teachers are not allowed to log hours spent engaged in explicitly religious activities (i.e. teaching theology, organizing a Mass, leading a retreat), but they are asked and expected to find ways to make every little thing they do explicitly Catholic. ACE teachers can't count hours spent teaching theology, but they are expected to make math class Catholic. President Bush insisted that his government would not fund the teaching of faith, yet the ACE website prominently states that "ACE ultimately looks to add and form new leaders for the future of Catholic education," and one would have to assume that the future of Catholic education depends in large part on the teaching of the faith.
I want to stress here that this is not primarily a criticism of the ACE program. ACE follows the Americorps guidelines very closely and is merely exploiting an existing opportunity. I do not believe that the lawsuit that ACE does not want you to know about suggests in any way that ACE is violating a law my hunch is that the lawsuit questions whether the law itself is unconstitutional in allowing a program like ACE to use federal funds for what can obviously be construed as religious purposes. My biggest criticism of the ACE program remains the institutional secrecy bordering on evasiveness and duplicity that seems to pervade the program, as well as its failure to embody the Catholic social teaching which it hints at but never fully embraces.
Instead, I place most of the blame on the shoulders of President Bush and his inherently flawed faith-based agenda.
Housing provides another example. In his commencement address, Bush asserted that "owning a home is a source of dignity for families and stability for communities." He suggested that organizations such as Habitat for Humanity "make that dream possible for many low-income Americans," and he claimed that the budget he was preparing to submit to Congress was to include a "three-fold increase" in existing funding to such organizations. Fast forward to 2003, and Bush and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez are still pledging "not to discriminate" against faith-based organizations when doling out funds for housing and community development projects.
At the same time, traditional public housing operational budgets have been slashed by between 30 and 45 percent for the upcoming year, and Section 8 voucher housing has been reduced as well. Granted, the move to include faith-based organizations represents a very small amount of money, but it is indicative of the skewed priorities of the Bush administration. To highlight the inclusion of such faith-based organizations while simultaneously reducing drastically and in some cases elimination existing housing programs is disingenuous. Programs to be cut include afterschool programs, education and job training programs, security and policing programs, as well as special services for the elderly and disabled, all of which could be rescued for approximately the same amount that we have spent on military activities in Afghanistan.
The question, then, is whether it is in the best interest of our society for the federal government to continue to fund these religious organizations and enterprises. I believe the answer is no, for two reasons. First, it seems to me that the narrowly defined mission statement of an organization such as ACE makes it extremely difficult to argue that such funds as Bush argues support the good works of the faithful without funding the teaching of faith. Indeed, I do not see how the ACE program could possibly distinguish between the two. They do so for paperwork purposes, but they make no attempt to do so in their curriculum. Secondly, I refuse to believe that funding these faith-based and community initiatives is the most effective means of using federal funds in social services. Grassroots organizations are certainly crucial, but it is not the role of our government to fund them, and it is not in society's interest for the government to lean on them.
Joe Napolitano, Notre Dame '01, was a member of ACE after graduation and writes for Common Sense from Port Richey, Florida. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Microsoft and Palladium
People buy Microsoft products. Cynics argue that it is because there are no alternatives to choose from if one wants to use a PC and have compatibility with other people's computers. Others argue that they buy the products because of the number of features that come with Microsoft operating systems, and because it is the simplest of all the alternatives. However, no matter what anyone thinks of Microsoft, as a rule, if you own a pc, you probably are running Windows XP or some other windows operating system. Until now there has been relatively little reason to complain about Microsoft adding new things to their operating system: after all, Windows XP was certainly a great improvement from the buggy and crash-ridden operating systems before it. However, the new features of the program have sparked much debate and criticism, and quite possibly with good reason.
As ominous as this all sounds, this is not a system solely meant to instill the fear of, well, Microsoft in you. The new OS, code named "Palladium," offers many new features that are, in fact, quite useful. Its main purpose is to try and make computers more "trusted," meaning more secure. One feature will be the ability to filter spam. Anyone who has received countless emails from advertisers simply because you visited a website that marked you knows how useful a spam filter can be. Another sure feature is the ability of the system to stop viruses by simply not allowing malicious programs to run. I will explain later how malicious programs are determined. Also, to cut down on media industry losses to innovative hackers, Palladium will incorporate digital rights management software for all media files, including movies, music, documents, and images.
The good parts of this OS, however, do come at a price that may be slightly less agreeable.
Palladium will require that both hardware and software have digital signatures. This part of the system has the ability to give Microsoft an undue control over the computer industry. In order for a hardware company to make a product for a PC computer, they must first go to Microsoft to get this digital signature. The same goes for software developers: in order for, say, Netscape to exist on a Palladium computer, it must first go to its competitor, Microsoft. Since almost all PCs use Microsoft operating systems, hardware and software developers have little choice but to go through Microsoft in order to have their product on a PC.
In order to stop malicious programs from running, Microsoft will essentially have to certify every piece of software that is meant to run on the Palladium OS. This means that Palladium has to know what software is on your computer at all times. By signing onto Palladium, you automatically allow Microsoft access to your entire computer, via a new folder that stores personal data that is kept on the computer. This monitoring will be done through an internet connection, and upon scanning the system, Microsoft will look for any file that does not have a license tagged to it. This file will then be rendered inoperable, in the name of security. In fact, because of the agreement that you make by using Windows Media Player, Microsoft can delete the files remotely, and without your knowledge. This is done in an attempt to cut down on internet piracy, but also has an implicit loss of power for the consumer.
The worst is yet to come. The obvious solution to avoiding Microsoft control of your PC is to stay away from the internet. However, new updates to the digital signature software will be distributed through the internet simultaneously with the scanning of the computer. What does this techno mumbo-jumbo mean? It means that, if you do not log onto the internet every once in awhile to get these updates, your Microsoft Word document, or MP3, or movie could be ruled incompatible to another computer simply because your version does not match up to the current digital software. In essence, if you do not update, you risk computer isolation, unable to transfer or receive files from anyone until you update. How bad would it be, trying to send an important attachment to a teacher or a boss, and him not receiving it because you do not allow your computer to be scanned?
Think of it: Microsoft has a vested interest in too much of the Internet to have such power and be trusted with it. AIM is a direct competitor of MSN messenger. Winamp, the free and much better mp3/movie player is a direct competitor of Windows Media Player. Sure, Microsoft has released statements that say that they will allow technology to move freely, but how can that be trusted? Farhad Manjoo writes, in an article for Salon.com, "Microsoft itself says that Palladium is not meant as a vehicle for DRM that it will play anything users want it to play, whether that's an MP3 grabbed from KaZaA or an illegally copied "Simpsons' episode." But how can we really know? The majority of consumers were not aware that Sun Microsystem, the developer of Java, was basically locked out of Windows XP. Their Java Virtual Machine was not added onto the platform, and when a user came across something that needed Java they were directed to Microsoft's website to download their own version of the software.
Finally, the digital rights part of the operating system can open up whole new branches of merchandise, and not all of them positive. Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University writes, in his FAQ on Palladium about this exact topic. Take a movie that you legally downloaded, like "Snow White." First, the movie, if equipped with the software, will check if there is an authorized program on the computer to play it. The Disney server will then send an encrypted key, which will only be given to authorized programs so long as the computer is "trustworthy." "For this purpose," he contines, "'trustworthy' is defined by the security policy downloaded from a server under the control of the application owner."
What are the ramifications of this? In this situation, Disney can choose which programs can play their premium content, which is in this case the movie. This can be given in return for a contract with certain security stipulations. This can even involve money, either in making you pay every time you watch a movie, or through a rent payment on the application running the movie. Consumers would not be able to choose which programs they want in order to play a movie they paid for, unless that programs' developers made a contract with Disney. Again, the consumer loses the power to choose what programs to use.
Overall, just based on the released features, Palladium will give Microsoft power that only a regulatory branch of the government should have. Of course, Microsoft says that many of the effects written about in this article will not happen, at least not in the beginning, but eventually, whether it is over copyright or just plain business sense, any MP3, movie, or program not purchased through the proper channels will be rendered inoperable. It is just too lucrative a market to not enforce these rules, and a business is a business.
Yes, the Internet has opened up a great many security risks and has exposed entire networks to malicious viruses. Yes, media companies have lost millions to pirates who rip DVD's and distribute them, or who take music and distribute it freely. However, is giving these powers to Microsoft really the answer to the question of a "trusted" computer? Are the freedoms being sacrificed worth the amount of security being given? Think about that before you pick up this OS in 2004.
Adrian Acu is a sophomore majoring in philosophy and English. He is a member of Common Sense and knows a lot about computers.
Beginning of the End
There are plenty of things to keep Tony Blair awake at night these days, as his grey, haggard features after last week's diplo-marathon indicated. In his nightmares of the Pentagon cooking up new hare-brained schemes and dirty bombs on the underground, a new anxiety must have begun to niggle those domestic commentators who have started being so horribly nice to him. He's a "great statesman" now, one of the "greatest prime ministers"; it's when things are getting really bad you're dying, for instance that people start being this nice.
People are beginning to feel sorry for Blairthey don't buy his arguments on the necessity of war with Iraq, but they increasingly appreciate the enormous difficulty of his position. A pivotal moment in post-second world war British foreign policy has fallen to his watch. He has a fiendishly tricky hand to play in the global bid to contain two erratic, angry men, both of whom control quantities of lethal weapons and both of whom are making a mockery of the UN and any concept of international lawthe one by flouting its repeated injunctions, and the other by bullying it with bribes and threats.
But even allowing for Blair having a terrible hand, is he playing it well? The fallout from Blair's high-stakes backing of Bush is apparent on every side: internationally, we've lost weight as the fully paid-up US sergeant incapable of independent action; domestically, Blair's personal ratings fall as the delicate compromises which hitched the Labour movement to the Third Way disintegrate (why are some unpopular measures, such as going to war with Iraq, undertaken in the teeth of domestic opposition, and not others, such as higher taxation, ask the Labour faithful?).
It seemed like it couldn't get worse and then it did with last week's billet-doux to Uncle Sam. There is no fatted calf Blair won't sacrifice for Bush not even European unity. He opted for the petty snub to France and Germany rather than the one chance of effectively containing George Bush through a strong unified Europe: that was the only hope, and Blair's blown it in the company of dodgy cronies such as Silvio Berlusconi. Now America can smugly sit back while "American Europe" and "Old Europe" bicker: what kind of achievement is that for Blair, the European? Set against these failures, all that Blair has to show for his pains is a pitiful exercise of UN window-dressing to decorate American belligerence with claimed international legitimacy.
It is easy to criticise Blair's foreign policy. It's very easy to see that going to war with Iraq is at best unwise, at worst crazily dangerous; it has little justification, it sets a dangerous precedent and has no clear objective. What is far less easy and a deeply dispiriting task is to consider how the European centre-left responds to the new world order that this crisis starkly reveals. American imperialism used to be a fiction of the far-left imagination, now it is an uncomfortable fact of life.
How is the centre-left to accommodate the US's newly aggressive imperialist mission emboldened by a 9/11 licence from its electorate? Afghanistan was simply the starter, Iraq an antipasto in what could turn out to be one of those interminable feasts course after course until a pot-bellied US reels punch drunk from the table.
With US imperialism openly discussed on both sides of the Atlantic, the debate centres on three critical questions: will the empire corrupt and/or bankrupt the republic; by what administrative techniques should it exercise power; and is it basically benign? The first prompts one of those defining moments in a nation's understanding of itself what is the US will for imperial power, and what price is it prepared to pay in living standards and civil liberties? Guantanamo Bay, the debate over the use of torture, and growing government spending deficits are a foretaste of what lies ahead. But the key unknown is, can a consumer culture support empire?
The second question is about whether the empire is one of vassal states, propped up with subsidies and American arms (as in Saudi Arabia), or one of invasion and colonisation masquerading under nation-building (as in Afghanistan).
But it is the third question on which the debate hinges. This is where the gulf between the US and the European centre-left yawns widest. American faith in its good intentions remains remarkably undented by a half century of evidence that such simplicity is absurdly na₯ve (here's hoping the timely remake of The Quiet American will help jolt some strands of American public opinion). Beholden to some shadow of its puritan past, America earnestly hopes to woo the world with the promise of democracy in Baghdad, drinking water in Saddam city.
But such rhetoric has little traction on world opinion because the track record is execrable. As Michael Ignatieff points out in this month's Prospect, US spending on non-military means of promoting its influence overseas (foreign aid, etc) has shrunk to a pitiful 0.2% of GDP.
In Pakistan or the Yemen, the US presence is soldiers fortified in compounds bristling with weaponry, rather than engineers building roads and water supplies.
Furthermore, many question whether the US really has either the skill, determination or the patience to sustain its good intentions beyond a few euphoric days of Baghdad crowds staged for the TV cameras. It has shown none of these qualities in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, the issue that now defines the nature of US imperial ambition in the Middle East and makes a mockery of its supposed benignity.
The European left is lumbered with a debilitating fatalism. The benign imperium is only a set of US interests cobbled together, and what Old Europe the rightful place of Britain knows intimately from bitter recent experience is how empires are lost: how they overstretch themselves and collapse under the weight of their own illegitimacy. Ironically, it was America that proved the most adept at exploiting this in the course of the 20th century by championing the self-determination of nations.
How has the US lost that wisdom? How does it overlook the fact that imperial longevity is determined not by demonstrations of brute force, but by securing minds and hearts?
A pyrotechnic display of military force in Iraq might assuage the national humiliation of 9/11, but it will ill-serve American interests. This is the beginning of the end of the American empire: it has failed to focus on its true enemy, terrorism; failed to grasp how asymmetric terror transforms the power relationships of the globe; and is choosing instead to indulge itself in an old-fashioned war between nation states an irrelevant, costly and dangerous sideshow.
© Madeleine Bunting. This article first appeared in The Guardian (London).
Famine in Zimbabwe
In 2003, famine looms large on the horizon for several African countries. For those of us who are all too sadly familiar with this spectacle, more African famine stories may come as no great surprise. There are several twists to the story this time, however, that make it even more horrific and compelling. For one thing, among the countries facing famine are Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, normally regarded as relatively stable and able to feed their people. The second and more horrifying aspect is that the real culprit behind the famine is not drought or war, but the deliberate, destructive policies pursued by Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, in his desperate bid to hold onto power.
Relief agencies have predicted that as many as six million people in Zimbabwe alone may face starvation. Given that shocking statistic, it seems impossible that Zimbabwe, the "bread basket of Africa," should be confronting this horrific possibility because of the desperate policies of one man. Yet, the blame for this appalling situation can and should be directed primarily at Mr. Mugabe, and at the people who support or condone his actions.
To establish why blame needs to be placed at Mr. Mugabe's door, one needs to understand the background and context of Zimbabwe's current political climate. Formerly a British colony, but governed from 1965 to 1978 by a white, racist, minority government, which engaged in civil war with predominantly black organizations seeking liberation, Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980. Democratic elections were held, and Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party gained a majority of seats in the newly formed parliament. Mr. Mugabe, as the country's new Prime Minister, inherited a largely agricultural economy, based primarily on maize, wheat, sugar, corn, cattle, and tobacco which were sold on international markets to bring much needed foreign currency into the country.
Among the most pressing concerns facing Mr. Mugabe was the land issue. The country's large commercial farms, comprising almost 80% of its arable land, were owned by white farmers or corporations largely comprised of white shareholders. Unemployment was rampant and many black people living in rural areas had high expectations of being resettled onto farmable land. This unequal distribution of resources was patently unfair, especially considering that whites comprise only about one percent of the population. Clearly a just and coherent land redistribution strategy was called for: one which would maintain the agricultural rate of production, while ensuring that land was redistributed to black farmers, who would be provided with the necessary training, resources, and access to equipment. At the same time, the government needed to develop an equitable land compensation system for white farmers, many of whom would be giving up land that they had farmed for three or four generations.
Mr. Mugabe's land redistribution "policy" has been disastrous. During the 1980s, Britain refused to advance any more money towards the scheme, as instead of redistributing farms to landless peasants, Mr. Mugabe chose instead to give several farms to his political cronies, who used them as country homes or hunting farms. Monies advanced by Britain did not make their way to dispossessed white farmers. Faced with criticism, Mr. Mugabe chose not to pursue the land issue, but focused instead on consolidating his own power and cracking down on any opposition.
Fast forward to the year 2000, and the land problem then looked much as it had looked during the 1980s. Twenty years after independence Mr. Mugabe was still in power, although in the guise of President, having changed the constitution to retain power. The majority of large commercial farms were still in the hands of white farmers. Only now, the economy, after years on neglect, was in worse straits than it had been. Faced with rising unemployment, out of control inflation, an economy under siege, drought, and cut off from World Bank and other international loans because of Mr. Mugabe's decision to send troops to participate in the civil war in the Congo, the long-standing patience of many black Zimbabweans was beginning to wear thin. Confronted with challenges to his increasingly despotic, arbitrary and corrupt rule, Mr. Mugabe, instead of addressing the problems, chose to direct people's anger towards the white farmers and their large farms. He encouraged groups of militant youths who called themselves "war veterans" to forcibly reoccupy farms. Over one hundred people including farm workers and farmers died in the ensuing violence. Many people were forced to flee the farms with little more than their lives.
This ongoing "reoccupation" policy has been in force for the past two years. With attention thus diverted from other issues, Mr. Mugabe has made haste to force through a number of measures designed to secure his power. He has gutted the opposition press, made it an offence to criticize the President in print, limited access to Zimbabwe by foreign journalists, disregarded court orders to desist from forcible occupation of farms, forced through a law making it an offence to farm after being served with a notice to stop farming, and blatantly manipulated the 2002 Presidential election to maintain himself in power. All the while, violent farms seizures have continued. As a result, many of Zimbabwe's once productive farms stand derelict and unproductive. In this, the spring planting season, fields are unplowed and unsown. Zimbabwe's grain supply is depleted, and much of the tobacco that had been harvested and was drying in the sheds, was burned by the war veterans.
Recently, two of Zimbabwe's largest and most productive farms were confiscated and given by Mr. Mugabe to his wife and brother-in-law. Neither plans on farming the land. In fact, Mr. Mugabe's brother-in-law went so far as to burn down the homes of the farm workers on his new farm, despite the fact that their possessions remained inside. Since that time, several other farms have been handed to government officials. The Zimbabwe Minister of Agriculture argued that land should be given to those with the resources to farm it; in other words, not landless peasants, but the political elite. Meanwhile, those few peasants who have been resettled have no seed or equipment. Some of the farms have even been abandoned. Land has essentially been transferred from one elite group to another.
Zimbabwe, once a supplier of grain to neighboring countries, is now facing desperate food shortages, and has no foreign currency to purchase grain on the international markets. The Zimbabwean dollar has devalued so much as to be practically worthless. What food is available is extremely expensive. The US Department of State has reported that access to grain is being limited by Zimbabwe government officials to people who can show membership cards in Mr. Mugabe's political party, Zanu-PF. Food riots are taking place. Because at least 25% of the Zimbabwean population suffers from HIV or AIDS, the effects of food shortages on already weakened immune systems are likely to be dire. Agencies have estimated that up to ten million people in neighboring countries could be affected by the food shortage. Zambia and Malawi, which import grain from Zimbabwe, have had to look to overseas aid to feed their people. Even then, there is no easy solution. The US donation of grain to Zambia was refused because the US could not guarantee that the grain had not been genetically altered. Aid will therefore have to come from European countries.
That the Zimbabwe land issue had to be addressed is clear, but the violent, illegal and corrupt way in which Mr. Mugabe chose to deal with it, and the timing of, and motives behind his actions may cost up to six million people their lives. Mugabe's actions further jeopardize the lives and health of millions of others in surrounding countries. Here in the US, our President, who has made it his mission to identify the "evildoers" of the world, has not targeted Mr. Mugabe as one of those. If, someone who would jeopardize the lives of 6 million people in his own country, not to mention the lives of those in Zambia and Malawi, just to preserve his own political power does not deserve the epithet—who does?
Christine Venter was born in Zimbabwe. Her BA in law is from the University of Cape Town, her JSD from the Notre Dame Law School. She is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Notre Dame's University Writing Program.
Civil Liberties Watch
"I'll never forget going to Argentina and seeing the mothers marching in the streets asking for the names of those being held by the government. We must be very careful in this country about taking people into custody without releasing their names." Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
Several months ago, German Justice Minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin remarked that George W. Bush's tactics in the war on terror resembled some of those employed by Adolf Hitler. She later apologized for her remarks but was forced to resign soon afterward. Her words were angrily dismissed as inappropriate and without any kind of truth. However, there are many disturbing parallels between the occurrences in Germany during the days of the Third Reich and World War II and the events unfolding the U.S. in this present day war on terror.
In Germany, the Jews were labeled as enemies of the state and they were marginalized, restricted, and ruthlessly persecuted. They were hated and suspect because of their religion. In the U.S., people of Middle Eastern descent are regarded with suspicion because of their religion and ethnic origins and have endured violence and threats. Anti- Muslim hate crimes rose 1700% in the year 2001. Shortly after September 11, many women and men stopped wearing the traditional hijab and head coverings because it made them targets of harassment and sometimes outright physical violence.
In Germany, the Jews and other "undesirables" were forced to register with the government so they could be tracked and watched. It wasn't long before the mass roundups and detentions of the Jews began. The proceedings were shrouded in absolute secrecy, and it wasn't made known how many were taken, for what reasons, and what eventually happened to them. Any inquiry was either hushed up or ignored completely. Those who persisted risked arrest and even death.
After September 11th, thousands of immigrants and U.S. citizens of Middle Eastern descent were rounded up and detained indefinitely because of suspected connections to the terrorist attacks or to terrorist groups. They were held incommunicado with no access to lawyers or contact with family members. Some didn't even know what they were being held for, and around 750 were arrested for minor visa violations which normally would have been settled by a phone call, letter, or the payment of a small fine in the past. Most of them were deported and kept unaware until they were en route; and in some cases, their families weren't even informed. The detainees were kept in inhumane and sometimes physically dangerous conditions, and human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were denied access to them. The government refused to disclose information about those rounded up. As of June 2002, about seventy four remained in custody.
In response to concern about future possible terrorist threats and the safety of U.S. citizens, the United States Department of Justice set up the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) in which males, sixteen years and older, who are citizens or nationals of Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria and other countries whom the State Department or the Immigration and Naturalization Service determined to be "an elevated national security risk" were required to report to the INS for special registration.
The Special Registration Program, which was part of the second phase of NSEERS, consisted of photographing, fingerprinting, questioning, and interviewing. They were forced to answer questions under oath about their religious beliefs and political views and affiliations without having the right to have a lawyer present during proceedings. Their loyalties to the U.S. and possible sympathies with the enemy were called into question in a manner eerily similar to the way in which Japanese Americans were interrogated and accused of disloyalty during World War II. Those who failed to register by the specified deadlines faced arrest and deportation and many of those who came willingly to be registered wound up facing those exact same consequences. Many who didn't show up had been unaware that they had to register, as no information was released by the INS/DOJ until ten days before the first deadline. Citing the poor advertising and publicizing of the registration and deadlines, the American Civil Liberties Union, along with many other similar groups, stated that the goal was not to register people, but to "make them deportable; all because [they] were born into certain religious and ethnic backgrounds."
On the day of the first deadline, December 16, hundreds of Middle Eastern men and boys were arrested by the INS after they complied with orders to appear for registration. The vast majority of those arrested were in California; 700 arrested in LA, 200 in Santa Ana, and hundreds more from the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, and other parts of the country. The INS refused to release the names of the detainees, the official number arrested or why they were being held.
Many of those arrested and detained were denied food and necessary medications, hosed down with cold water, strip searched, and forced to sleep (in some cases, standing up due to overcrowding) in freezing cold cells with no blankets. Each person was rationed two squares of toilet paper. Several people were shuttled from state to state in the middle of the night, shackled and handcuffed, after available cells had been filled. One man was taken from California to Arizona, then to Chicago, and back to Arizona again before returning to California where he was moved from Bakersfield to San Diego. The INS claimed that he was "lost in the system" and that they couldn't locate him when they were pressed for information regarding his whereabouts.
Some other prisoners were shipped to Lancaster in the Mojave Desert, Arizona, or to INS camps on the U.S./Mexico border. Family members and lawyers were unable to contact them or even know of their location. Some of the detainees were told that they would be deported without ever seeing their families again. 16 year-old Hossein Ahmadi, an Iran-born boy on a student visa and on track for permanent residency, voluntarily reported to register and now faces deportation. He was pulled from the arms of his sobbing pregnant mother, who was told that her son would never come home.
Attorneys and community organizers present remarked that the scene was reminiscent of Nazi Germany. As in Germany in the case of the Jews, minority rights have been suppressed in the name of security. Dalia Ashad, the ACLU's Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Advocate called the registration program "an extended vacation from common sense" and said that it "undercuts core American concepts of law and basic decency" and "reduces security by alienating the very communities whose cooperation is essential in the fight against terrorism."
The majority of those rounded up came to the registration with the sincere desire to help in the war on terrorism and were eager to do their part as Americans. The treatment of those who willingly came to register only creates a climate of fear, mistrust, and anger within those communities and people who may have possessed useful information are unwilling to come forward for fear of being detained and deported. And this also begs the question of why would a terrorist willingly submit to undergoing a registration procedure that is supposed to be successful in discovering them. Any terrorist who would do such a thing is probably not a terrorist that the U.S. should be concerned about, but all logic and sense has seemed displaced amid the hysteria.
Many Americans have disregarded or outright ignored the treatment of people of Middle Eastern descent because they feel that the government should do whatever it takes in order to ensure security. Others don't think that they are affected because special registration programs do not pertain to them. But they are wrong. The gross violations of the civil liberties of Muslims and those of Middle Eastern descent or origin also have consequences for others. If the rights of some can be taken away, so can the rights of everyone. If violations of the civil liberties of one group can be justified, then those violations can be justified toward other groups.
In a statement released shortly after the roundups, the ACLU declared that the special registration programs are "wrong and fundamentally un-American" and they do nothing to make Americans safer, only "damage our reputation as a freedom-loving society and a land welcoming of immigrants." Those being targeted and labeled as security risks came over here in order to escape persecution, even death squads, and they would almost certainly die if they were forced to return to those countries. It is sad and tragic that they came here for our freedoms and the basic human rights that they were denied in their own countries just to be refused them both.
Saint Mary's Sophomore Sarah Edwards is a philosophy major and regular contributor to Common Sense.
Dianna Ortiz, The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth
In Dianna Ortiz's The Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth, a Hispanic American nun is kidnapped and tortured by Guatemalan army officers with an American named "Alejandro" present and, apparently, in charge. This absorbing memoir attempts to understand who the individuals are, and, crucially, what "Alejandro's" relation to the United States government is.
But Blindfold's Eyes is much more than a political thriller; it might be one of the best accounts ever of the psychic effects of torture. Some torture victims end up committing suicide because torture continually haunts them. Ortiz dreads sleep because flashbacks of torture recur then. She jumps when someone gets close to her unexpectedly. "Inheriting" a razor from another female torture victim, she keeps it nearby. At one point, several years after her 1989 torture, she cuts her wrists. Numerous interviews, conference sessions and meetings with American political officials trigger flashbacks leading to breakdowns. Yet part of Ortiz's courage and integrity is that over the years she endures these overwhelming situations in order to discover the true identity of her tormentors and, profoundly important, what the ultimate political context for her torture is. As she pursues this harrowing goal, she becomes increasingly aware of the thousands of Guatemalans tortured or massacred by the Army.
Blindfold's Eyes also embodies a theodicy. Being burned on her back more than 100 times by cigarettes during interrogation, gang-raped and hung by ropes naked over a lime-covered pit of dead and dying men, women and children, her faith gets ravaged. Impregnated, Ortiz gets an abortion. Ortiz is an Ursuline nun who not only comes from a traditional Catholic New Mexican family but must face the reaction of priests and her order. She asks where God was when she was being tortured but gradually feels his presence through the support community she attracts.
Perhaps Ortiz's most profound form of psychic networking results from one of the most diabolic acts she undergoes. Besides being filmed during the rapes from angles that falsely indicate complicity, Ortiz knifes another woman-victim's flesh by a coercive torturer's hand. She tries to propitiate this horror by giving archetypal status to this woman and in all her campaigns to shed light on all the victimized in Guatemala. Indeed, a force that sustains her afterwards is activist dedication to that female image.
One of the major deniers of Ortiz's torture is the American Ambassador to Guatemala, Thomas Stroock. His office first becomes sensitive to Ortiz's ordeal when she mentions that "Alejandro" might be an American, suggesting some connection with the American government. This of course is inflammatory for an Embassy, and Stroock's reactions is one of furious outrage that turns into assailing the very basis of Ortiz's torture, summed up in an interview he gives in which he claims that Ortiz was never raped or burned, and questions if she's even a nun. (One State Department official claims that Ortiz's burns and bruises resulted from a Lesbian sado-masochistic involvement).
However, Stroock's rage conceals complicity. According to Blindfold's Eyes, this high-placed diplomat helped implement and conceal American-supported Guatemalan-army genocide against its own people. Later, Ortiz cites documents demonstrating Stroock had no intention of doing justice to Ortiz's case. What is the price of such dissembling? "My experience," states Ortiz, "is a daily occurrence in Guatemala. Six people a week are killed....The army's counter-insurgency campaign has left an estimated 200,000 dead and another 45,000 disappeared....Some 440 Mayan villages" destroyed.
Two individuals central to moving Ortiz's narrative from torture to truth are Allen Nairn and Jennifer Harbury. At a Washington conference in the 1990s on torture in Guatemala, Nairn's powerful exposition of enormous American complicity in destroying the democratically-elected Arbenz regime in l954 and in aiding the Guatemalan death squads with lists targeting "suspects" or critics of the new regime becomes liberating and energizing for Ortiz. Nairn enables Ortiz to see her personal ordeal as part of the genocide being committed by Guatemalan authorities with American backing. "I didn't want," Ortiz says, poignantly, "to believe my government had betrayed me." Harbury, on a personal crusade to save her rebel-commander Guatemalan husband from torture and execution by the army, contacts Ortiz as part of a campaign to unify and activate Americans who have been attacked in Guatemala or lost relatives there.
Ortiz from her 1989 torture on is continually threatened both externally and internally. Not only must she deal in memory with such torturers' tactics as sexual attack by dogs; she also gets varieties of sinister threats anywhere she is in America. Something of Ortiz's spirit comes across early in Blindfold's Eyes when one of her captors, a campesino named Jose, begs her when they are alone for forgiveness, for a paramilitary atrocity he once committed, and promises to save her. Ortiz's refusal is followed by her plunge into torture but the moral fiber revealed here suggests the fortitude she later demonstrates in going after the ferocious Guatemalan army and high-placed American officials.
A major scoundrel in Blindfold's Eyes is army vice chief of staff Hector Gramajo, under whose tenure Ortiz's torture occurred. Gramajo actually published an article in a Harvard journal in which, describing Guatemalan army maneuvers, he wrote: "You needn't kill everyone to complete the job....We instituted Civil Affairs, which provides development for seventy percent of the population, while we kill thirty percent." This "plan" included, among other atrocities, killing babies, decapitating eight-year-olds and torturing elders to death. Ortiz observes that Gramajo, a School-of-the-Americas graduate, was given a Harvard scholarship by the United States Agency for International Development after his reign of terror. Today, Gramajo is considering running for president of Guatemala.
Narrative coherence in Blindfold's Eyes would have benefited from more dating of important conferences, as well as from an index to locate key participants, organizations and events. Further, it was written "with Patricia Davis"; one wonders what Davis contributed. Nevertheless, Blindfold's Eyes presents in unflinching detail and reflection the rocky progression of a soul from hell to the emancipation of bold activism, as well as a major criminal indictment of Washington's Central-American foreign policy.
Donald Gutierrez is Professor Emeritus at Western New Mexico University. He taught at Notre Dame in the 1970s and has for a long time been an active member of Amnesty International. He is a frequent contributor to Common Sense.
For moral guidance, as well as political counsel, on U.S.-Iraq relations, I have been listening these past months to Batul Al-Zubeidy. She is deep with experiential knowledge of the death-dealing policies of both violent governments. Each saw her life as worthless, a young life as it happened.
Batul Al-Zubeidy is 18. Since last September, she has been one of my students at the School Without Walls, a District of Columbia public high school where I volunteer. Only five blocks from the White House no school is closer the structure has no cafeteria, no gym, no auditorium, no lockers and no playing fields. But quality teachers are serving, for which the students are grateful.
Among the school's 75 seniors, none had as perilous a path to its front door as Batul. The youngest of eight children, she was born in 1984 in the Abu Ghreeb prison near Baghdad. Her mother, Salima, was a political prisoner. Her crime was being the wife of Hamza Al-Zubeidy, a risk-taking political organizer who publicly opposed Saddam Hussein during the 1980s when the dictator was a U.S. ally and weapons client.
In that decade and the next, Hamza Al-Zubeidy spent more than 15 years in and out of Iraqi prisons, ones known to be among the world's meanest and filthiest torture chambers. Freed in 1990, he returned to his family in Najaf, a Shiite holy city south of Baghdad. Within months, night-raiding American pilots bombed the Al-Zubeidy home, along with much of the neighborhood and nearby bridges, water and electric plants. Had Batul and her family been home during this American killing spree the family was away visiting relatives they would likely have been among the scores of Najaf's dead or maimed.
Suddenly destitute, and fearing reprisals from Hussein's military intent on squashing opposition, the Al-Zubeidys fled. Beginning in March 1991, they walked more than 600 miles with thousands of other Iraqis to the makeshift Rafha refugee camp in northern Saudi Arabia. The travelers were often at the mercy of Hussein's shock troops who as the Times reported in March 1991 were paid bounties to kill refugees.
During the next six years of Batul's childhood, she was one of 32,000 people confined to a camp where death, disease and fear were rampant, and water, food and health care scarce. With barbed-wire fences, watch towers and armed Saudi soldiers as guards, the camp was little more than a maximum security prison. In 1994, a report from Amnesty International told of "the arbitrary detention of refugees, their torture and ill-treatment in some cases resulting in death in custody possible extra-judicial executions and the forcible return of others to Iraq. Various forms of collective punishment have been systematically used against the refugees."
By August 1993, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had resettled 6,288 of the original 32,000, sending them to Iran, Scandinavia, the U.S. and other countries. The Al-Zubeidy's turn would not come until 1997.
On arrival in Washington the following year with her family, Batul spoke no English, had no teenage friends and had not been in a classroom since first grade in Iraq. That she now speaks perfect accent-free colloquial English, is a student leader, is thriving in AP courses, is taking three college classes including one in Hebrew, and volunteers for an antiwar group is a story of gritty resilience and self-motivation like few others I have known in 20 years of teaching.
"Two governments didn't care whether I lived or died," Batul says. "In Najaf, I was at the other end of the U.S. bombing runs. Walking 600 miles through the summer desert to get to the Rafha camp, Iraqi soldiers regularly shot at us."
Politically, Batul is opposed to the Iraqi government. "I would love to see a change to democracy but I don't believe that a war by the United States will bring that change. It certainly hasn't brought democracy to Afghanistan where civilians were killed and warlords now dominate. I don't think the Bush administration wants to help the Iraqi people. If I did believe that I would need to ignore the full story. U.S. officials know that the economic sanctions for the past 12 years have helped kill more than a million Iraqis, especially children. Does the U.S. government really think that's the way to win friends in Iraq? The sanctions aren't hurting Saddam Hussein."
In addition to taking ESL courses, Batul began reading American newspapers and watching television news programs to learn English. She is dismayed by the largely uncritical acceptance by the press to the Bush war plans against Iraq. "A war will only cause more destruction, more refugees, more instability, more death."
The solution? "I strongly believe in diplomacy and the work of the UN inspectors. I believe, also, in the Iraqi people. Milosevic in Yugoslavia was overthrown not by U.S. bombing but by student-led nonviolent resistance to his power. At first, few thought that could bring down the ruthless government. But it did."
At the high school, I have turned over my class several times to Batul to educate her schoolmates about the realities of state violence, whether the government five blocks away or the one across an ocean and a sea. I have taken her to other schools to lecture at student assemblies. At all sites, she speaks movingly and knowledgeably.
Batul plans to become a physician: "In the refugee camp, I saw too many people die from illnesses and diseases that could have been prevented. I was only a child but I wondered, where are the doctors? Where is the hospital? Where is the medicine? Someday I hope to be a doctor, and work in the Third World, and maybe among refugees, so at least there won't be another child asking those questions."
For now, other questions persist. If American pilots bomb Iraq cities as they did in 1991, how many Batuls will become collateral damage? How many will be in refugee camps for years? How many will be lost to despair at having had the ill fortune of being at the mercy of two brutal governments?
Colman McCarthy, a former Washington Post columnist, directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington and lectures at Notre Dame. He teaches courses on nonviolence at three universities and three public high schools. His recent book is I'd Rather Teach Peace.
Several years ago a popular highway ad campaign featured children, supposedly at your door, asking if you have milk. Or, if you read their expressions and took their grammar to convey delinquency ("Got Milk?"), demanding that you turn some over to them immediately.
And whether or not you agree that drinking cow's milk is actually healthy for humans or ethical toward cows, I think there is something very desperate about a situation where a child can't procure on their own a basic component of what we consider their daily health requirements.
It's downright pathetic that in this supposed consumer's paradise you can't send a kid to the store for a decent quart of milk.
Kids (and some of the elderly, the disabled, and the belligerent who think we might run out of petroleum someday) don't drive. And these days, unless you live in a small town that hasn't been demolished by Wal-Mart, or you're wealthy enough to live in a mixed-use upscale neighborhood, there probably isn't a store within walking or biking distance. In the 'burbs there might be a gas station that sells milk, but getting there is probably a dangerous proposition and I'm not talking about abduction by a stranger or family member. It's dangerous because rather than being a corner store, it's probably a store on a radius just tight enough for a car to change direction without slowing down much. Child pedestrian deaths have fallen in the last decade from 861 in 1990 to 475 last year according to the National Safe Kids Campaign but this has been primarily achieved by not letting kids out of the car.
And even if you're willing or able to send the child to the store, do you really want them to be drinking the milk being sold there? Even if you're not lactose-intolerant or opposed to stealing milk from cows, do you really want to be buying milk from cows that have been injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH)? Using this stuff is illegal in most industrialized countries (including our neighbors to the north, who made their decision based on the same information that our USDA used in declaring it safe) for many reasons, among them that it might cause cancer.
It certainly isn't good for the cows. They have more health problems and need to be treated more frequently with antibiotics and, well, we're learning that eating animals who have been treated with antibiotics is not so good for our own health, and maybe even drinking milk from them isn't a good idea. The higher veterinarian bills that come along with these health problems are one reason why it is mainly the larger, more factory-like farms that use rBGH. And the bigger farms increasing their per-cow production is not good news for the smaller, family dairy farms who are already having a hard time staying in business. Losing more of these smaller dairy farms is not good for the countryside, or for the planet in general.
So, do you want milk produced using rBGH? When you look at the milk in the cooler will you even be able to tell if it was? Possibly not. You might have to go to the organic-consumers.org website to see which brands use it and which don't, because the manufacturers and users of rBGH (and their politicians) have fought hard against labelling milk that DOES NOT come from cows who have been injected.
(Somehow, shopping in this environment feels a little more like living out in the wild frontier not knowing which plants are safe to eat than like living in a highly-developed civilization.)
If the milk you buy is organic, then the cows weren't injected with it. The cows have also probably had a better life eating food that hasn't been treated with pesticides and herbicides, which also isn't bad for the countryside, the planet, our health, not to mention our souls, or our imaginations. The farm probably better resembles the Old McDonald's farm that we sing about with children, but in reality rarely exists today. (If children really knew what went into the making of a McDonald's Happy Meal would it make them very happy?)
But if you're poor, organic milk may not feel like an option. (If you're not poor, consider the price difference in relation to a latte at the coffee shop.) This is where our pricing system fails. (Fails beyond whatever goes on to cause milk being dumped. And yet we need to inject cows with hormones to INCREASE their production? Somebody explain this to me) We don't pay the true price, or rather the big producers don't pay the true costs.
If they did there would be a shit tax for the extra sludge that comes from of factory-style farms, a poison tax for the herbicides and pesticides used, a health tax for the cancers caused, a natural diversity tax for the ecosystems destroyed, an eyesore or tourism tax for what monoculture does to the appearance of the countryside, etc.
Then we might start to get a fairer price for milk and other food items.
If we were to factor in the environmental and health costs of relying on petroleum to transport the goods long distances in semi-trucks to big box grocery stores, and then the petroleum used to go fetch them at these outposts, we'd have even more accurate prices.
As it stands, however, the benefactors of capitalism in the United States are big business and the cars; the consumers be damned. The cars in this country are well-fed and the asphalt carpet keeps getting rolled out for their continued comfort and freedom.
But someday it will have to change. Who knows what things will look like then. Maybe kids will be milking cows in their backyards in the 'burbs. They'll come down from the billboards and show up at your door asking, "Want Milk?"
Bridget Brown is a freelance writer and graphic designer living in South Bend.
Inside Standardized Testing
The Job Interview
The work was grading standardized tests for the state of Florida. The grader, a company in the Midwest, would be hiring several hundred diploma-bearing college graduates to grade the short essay responses of 150,000 or so of Florida's tenth-graders.
At the company's testing center, the first floor of a local technical college set between a car dealership and a strip mall, we were interviewed in batches of five and six. I arrived a few minutes early and was directed to go ahead and join the group already underway in the seminar room. One of the office administrators gave a vague talk about the work we were to do. She spoke very precisely about the length of our lunch breaks. She had us take a multiple-choice test on grammar and spelling and write a short essay. For the essay, we were asked to define the word 'Team' and illustrate what makes a good Team.
Apparently the Team ideology that swept through the American workplace in the 90s started out almost as a workplace democracy movement: workers and management coming together in a utopian dream of equality. In any workplace where I've seen the theory applied, however, it's always worked out the same way: an attempt (cynical or not) to get more work out of fewer workers for less pay. It may be only coincidental that Team building became so popular with management during the same era when so many team members were getting laid-off. Time Quality Management (TQM) became the velvet glove covering the hand delivering the pink slip. Team-building swept through American workplaces with all the staying power and effectiveness as a bullet point on a middle-manager's resume.
I ended up writing an essay comparing the Team to the human body, pointing out that the body had to work together, but that the functions of different body parts were not always apparent and sometimes only revealed their usefulness with the fullness of time. People who might appear lazy or stupid in their youth, such as Edison, or Einstein, may prove the most useful members of a Team in maturity.
Our essays were graded and while the administrator told me my scores were good, they had a surfeit of graders. They would let me know.
Special Orders Don't Upset Us
We had two days of training. The company held the training on an old farmstead. There were 300 potential test-scorers herded into a converted barn. The first order of business was to have us all sign a confidentiality statement. We were forbidden to speak to anyone, even each other, about the test outside of the barn. If we were contacted by the media (God forbid) we were to say nothing, but let the corporate reps know about any pesky reporters and the company would handle it.
Testing supervisors hovered around the room. We were told that these supervisors had once been lowly graders like us, but that through their diligence, they had risen to the rank of supervisor. The supervisors handed out blue binders of sample tests. These were both study-guides and reference books for the next three weeks of scoring.
While the supervisors handed out our binders, the vice-president for testing management took the podium. She explained that while we were scoring the tests for the state of Florida, the 'People from Florida' would be visiting and there were to be no jokes about that state's notorious difficulties with counting. A ripple of laughter went through the room, but the vice-president for testing did not smile.
We graders sat at our rows of folding tables listening to Bobby the trainer a PhD candidate in philosophy from a Midwestern university describe the test and give us clues as to how we were to grade. Bobby was a good speaker, patient with questions and slippery as a snake-headed eel.
We were to grade the students on three short answers. They could earn a 0, 1, or 2. A zero score meant the student had missed the boat completely (an 'F'); a two meant the student demonstrated superior understanding of the reading (an 'A'); while a score of one covered everything else, from a good, but not great answer to the lucky guess ('D' to 'B+').
The tests, we were told, were to be graded holistically. What this meant in practice was that, although we were told that we were to evaluate the tests 'overall' to see if the students gave evidence of reading comprehension, the students had to demonstrate that comprehension by the use of particular phrases. What those phrases might be, however, we could not be told that would not be holistic. Instead, we looked at the examples in the book and Bobby pulled out key words here and there that would count as signifying the student's understanding. The graders immediately began building cases where a student might use key words and phrases, yet in context it was clear that the word "comprehension" would in no way apply. It did not matter.
Since, according to the holistic ideal, there was no one answer to any question, yet the answers had to parrot (or approximate) key phrases, we spent hours going over the minute shadings of words and how they might in one test mean a 2, but in another, a 0. The temperature began to rise in the room as it became clear that several folks in the room appeared to be lawyers on holiday. With some 300 test-scorers all trying to define what 'holistic' meant for them, the morning proceeded step by step: 'if the student writes 'green,' it's incorrect; but what if they use 'teal?' How about 'aqua?' By the second morning the game of catching out the contradictions in the test was proceeding at a rollicking pace. We'd backed our Ph.D. candidate into a couple of tautologies and cut the throat of Florida's pretended objectivity.
Around about mid-morning the Vice-President for Testing marched again to the podium and in a voice shaking with anger, said, "we're not going to argue today over why things are scored the way they are. Make the adjustment according to what Florida wants and be happy with that. This isn't Burger King you don't get it your way. Frankly, the client [Florida] is not interested in your opinion. You are required to conform your understanding to the test and do your job. If you don't like it, there's the door."
As she left the podium, her face set in stone, about a third of my fellow test-scorers broke into applause. All the students had to do, really, was copy one or two phrases from the readings into the answer box. I didn't see how this demonstrated comprehension of the material, but, according to Florida, that was my opinion. And we all have to live with what Florida decides. I considered the proffered doors, but I was curious to see how this business would shake out in practice, and I needed rent money.
Bobby finished the training with a relatively docile group of test-scorers and then went back to his Midwestern university where they're working out the problems of teal and aqua. We were counted off into groups of ten-person 'pods' and moved to back to the company headquarters building. The company's headquarters occupied the first floor of a small technical college of grim appearance. Knots of former 10th graders huddled about the doors in the cold, smoking. It hadn't snowed in Minnesota all winter and then, mid-March the skies opened and it didn't stop until May.
Each grader was assigned a workstation and after logging onto the system (with your assigned password so that your grading could be tracked), a small square would appear on one's screen, more or less filled with a 10th-grader's writing. The grader would read the student's answer and grade it as quickly as possible, clicking on the 0, 1, or 2 buttons. The screen would prompt: 'Are you sure?' And after that split second re-consideration, the grader would consign the student to his or her future circle in Hell. Once the grader confirmed a decision, it was not possible to go back and change the grade (though I did try on more than one occasion). The student's scrawling script would disappear and the next scanned image would appear on the screen.
The students were only required to write a sentence or three. I don't know what time constraints they labored under if they had five minutes or twenty to answer. The students had a space of eight lines about three inches in width. Occasionally, some especially verbose kid would use up all eight lines, fill the margins of the box and the answer would trail off outside the scan zone. The handwriting was heinous, of course. Cursive writing is on its way out. Printing is everywhere. They wrote in neat approximations of printer fonts. I saw Caslon, Tiepolo, and Franklin Gothic. Some students wrote in tiny, tiny script. Their letters matched their test-taking confidence, although the writers whose hand-writing ballooned out to fill every millimeter of space were no easier to read. Jackson Pollack is alive and well and living in Florida as a 15 year-old.
After the first hour of grading one's eyes begin to glaze. As with most temp jobs (even those requiring college diplomas) the main obstacle of the day is boredom.
The children of Florida could be a little more entertaining.
Nevertheless, I believe the members of my workgroup graded conscientiously. No one that I knew of scored all the tests '1' (though that may have worked out statistically). Everyone seemed to make a good faith effort to gauge the students' understanding and give the kids the benefit of the doubt even though they had to live in Florida.
I was disappointed in the serious lack of bad behavior in the children. If enough of them had simply put an 'x' through their tests it would have skewed the scores and the tests would have been meaningless (though they're not exactly meaningful when the children play along either). The child who wrote: 'Screw this test. Why should I finish this? Do I get a piece of chocolate?' besides writing three rather cogent sentences, also evidenced a clear comprehension of standardized testing. He (or she) did not, however, use one of the key phrases Florida required (or a synonym thereof). And anyway, as every American office worker knows (even the temps), the chocolate is kept up front, near the receptionist's desk. It's not very good, and it has nothing to do with performance, but it's the oil of office survival.
Unfortunately, most kids tried to enter into the twisted spirit of the questions. Even those who were utterly clueless, and had clearly not read the short articles upon which the questions were based, would attempt a guess. There were hopeless phrases, or runs at an idea: 'the surfer liked to surf because...' fading off into silence. Where did they go? I wondered. Would they have done better with more chocolate? Most of the poor scorers seemed to suffer this sort of aphasia. They seemed to want to answer, but were incapable of answering. Is this the same as not understanding?
Nearly all of the students were unable to name two cycles, much less compare them or offer an adaptation. After four days of scoring the word came down from the test administrators that the adaptation aspect of the first question was dropped. A few days after that, the bar was lowered again (apparently the curve on the test was still not right). The requirement to identify two cycles was dropped and the student could score a '2' if they managed to name one cycle for two people mentioned in the article. The fate of those students unlucky enough to have been scored in the first six or seven days of grading seemed harsh, but when this was brought to the administrator's attention we were told, "that's none of your business. Your business is to sit on your butts and score tests." I should note that no graders had been scoring while standing up, nor did we stand to demand explanations.
It wasn't the students' inability to meet that ever-lowering bar that intrigued me, however, as much as their odd misreading of simple information. In fact, most of the students had difficulty with the sex of the surfer. The surfer underwent a female to male sex-change in most student responses. I suppose a woman on a surfboard is so unheard of that the 10th graders of Florida may be forgiven for not comprehending this behavior. But if the student writes consistently about the surfer using the wrong pronoun does that signify poor comprehension or is the student instead evincing a clear understanding that this person, described as an 'environmental engineer living in San Francisco's Marina district' was not a real being at all, but a sort of trust-funded ephemera generated by the gaseous fumes of the Marina's notorious land-fill yuppie-trap? If the students named two cycles of the surfer, with adaptations, but got her sex wrong, did they still receive credit?
Name, sex, species of the farmer, surfer and composer were irrelevant, so long as the student mentioned a cycle that the article named. I suppose this was holistic.
Minnesota talk radio was full of programs that month about standardized tests. A referendum was coming up on the issue. Texas and Florida are both big on these tests. In Texas they tie individual teachers' pay raises to how their students perform on their tests. Not surprisingly, teachers in Texas are 'teaching to the test,' spending large amounts of classroom time training their students how to copy a sentence out of an article.
Students in the Mist
In the book, Fossey makes clear that her co-operation with the poachers was under duress, and she does everything she can to keep the gorillas. In the article the students read for the test, however, Fossey's behavior seems more equivocal. The article rushes over the separation and instead plays up how much the baby gorillas taught Fossey. They were instrumental in her future field research in gorilla vocalization. The students were asked to describe how the two baby gorillas changed as a result of their contact with Fossey. The correct answer is that they "learned to trust humans." The article, however, clearly suggests that the trust is misplaced, or at least that it wasn't enough to save the gorillas from their fate. In addition, the text asked 15 year-olds to recognize the valuable research advances the mother-figure obtained by selling her babies up the river. Cognitive dissonance ensued.
In test after test the students would recognize that the gorillas learned to 'trust' humans, but the implicit betrayal was misread and somehow the students (bless 'em) would have Coco and Pucker Puss back in the jungle at the end of the story. "The gorillas learned to trust Dian and he (sic) set them free," was a typical response. This would get a score of 1.
Those clear-eyed students who wrote things such as, "it didn't matter how they changed, they still ended up in a cage," may have comprehended the story better, but they would have earned a score of 0. Most kids set Coco free, however, or they wrote a half-stab at an answer, "Coco and Pucker Puss change because..." and then I imagine their thoughts drifted off to, say, Judas laying a kiss on Christ and their little pencils froze in mid-thought until the buzzer rang.
Hollywood would say the gorillas escape and are happy. Born Free. It's the Spielberg-Schindler's List effect: the camera focuses on the half dozen that survive; the thousand that are carted off exit the frame. They are without interest. Maybe those who are absent (off-camera), those who don't survive Occam's Razor of evolution, change us as much as those who are still here.
"The gorillas learn to feel not fear, but sadness toward some humans." This person would earn a 0.
At a neighborhood stop, across from the boarded up Value Rite and the house with its satellite dish nailed to the doghouse roof, three homeys get on. Fifteen, sixteen years-old? They should be in school. They are somber, quiet as they roll down the aisle beep beep beep sitting down behind me in the sideways-facing seats at the back of the beep beep beep bus. We start up again and I'm wearing my fingers in my ears, though the frequency is so high that stopping one's ears doesn't stop the noise. (We're in the bus. It's like being in the trumpet.) Then I hear this other noise from behind me. One of the young men has started singing a rhythm. He's singing the sound of drums. He's quite good syncopating, anticipating the beep beep beep rhythm of the bus. He weaves an odd music out of that noise. I look out the window, listening.
Kevin Ducey is currently an MFA student at the University of Notre Dame.
The Great Survivor: Conservative attempts to engineer the overthrow of President Chavez have radicalised his supporters
The extraordinary and unprecedented events in Venezuela in recent weeks that have sent the world oil price soaring (though controlled this week by an OPEC decision to permit a small increase in production) appear to be concluding with President Hugo Chavez ever more firmly in the saddle.
When the conservative opposition to his radical government embarked on a nationwide and open-ended strike at the beginning of December, accompanied by the almost daily mobilisation of its supporters in the streets of Caracas and other major towns, the purpose was to bring about the president's downfall, through resignation or military coup d'etat. Yet although this strategy has done immense damage to the economy, almost bringing the all-important oil industry to a halt, Chavez has never shown the slightest sign of giving in.
Since the new year, he has been fighting back with vigour, leaving a divided and leaderless opposition who never expected their strike to last beyond Christmas with an uncertain future. Chavez is a popular and democratically elected president, and he is firmly backed by the armed forces. A former army officer himself, he has an intimate knowledge of the institution, and he is well aware that the opposition's attempt to cripple the nationalised oil industry the icon of the country's nationalists has not been popular with the soldiers.
He has now been given carte blanche to crush the strike, and has stepped up his rhetoric accordingly. The period of dialogue and conciliation, embarked on after an unsuccessful coup attempt last April, is over. More than a thousand strikers in the oil industry have been sacked (mostly those in the managerial class); the army has been brought in to guard installations, ports and pipelines; the company itself has been reorganised and split into two regional entities; and the street demonstrations for and against are now being tightly controlled by the national guard.
Recently, a newly confident Chavez announced that he would send in the troops to stop the hoarding of food, and to keep schools and banks open. He has threatened to revoke the licences of four private television channels that have been campaigning for his overthrow. An upbeat oil minister claims that oil production should be nearly back to normal within a month.
This change of mood in Venezuela is a reflection of a change that is sweeping Latin America, coupled with an atmosphere of uncertainty in Washington, whose chief strategists have preoccupations elsewhere. The election of leftwing presidents in Brazil and Ecuador provides a beacon of hope for Chavez, if not necessarily a lifeline. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was inaugurated in Brasilia on New Year's Day, and Lucio Rodriguez (another progressive former colonel) took office this week. The gathering of Latin American presidents in Ecuador for this ceremony has seen the formation of a group of "friends of Venezuela," designed, through the good offices of the Organisation of American States, to find a peaceful solution to the Venezuelan crisis.
Meanwhile, the trumpet in Washington sounds with an unsure tone. The departure of Otto Reich, who failed to secure the support of Congress for his appointment as the government's chief Latin American operative, was a blow to the neo-conservatives in government, as is the resignation of Mexico's pro-American foreign minister Jorge Castaneda. Democrats in Congress are also making themselves heard a group of them came out this month with a message of support for Chavez.
Chavez, to the dismay of the opposition, is now embarked upon a radicalisation of what he has always perceived as "a revolution." The country's poor majority is mobilised behind him in a way that was unimaginable a year ago. When schools joined the strike last week, parents and pupils in the poorer shanty towns organised to keep them open. Banks, newspapers and television channels now live under threat of expropriation.
The opposition, caught on the back foot, is still a formidable force. It consists of a bizarre assortment of discredited politicians and trade unionists from the ancien regime, oil executives from the nationalised oil company, important business interests, media magnates and large swaths of a middle class with its feet in Venezuela and its head in the suburban culture of the US.
Much of this middle class has been led by the media and opinion polls, and by the large size of its protest demonstrations, into believing that it forms the majority of the country, and is justified in demanding the president's resignation. Yet demonstrations are a notoriously inadequate guide to voting intentions in Latin America, and opinion polls in third world countries rarely reflect the views of the shanty towns.
By conjuring up the country's forgotten underclass, the poor and the hitherto politically invisible, Chavez has unleashed forces that will be difficult for him, or an alternative government, to put back into the bottle.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, Friday January 17, 2003. Richard Gott is the author of In the Shadow of the Liberator: Hugo Chavez and the Transformation of Venezuela (Verso).
The 'Quota' Smokescreen
George W. Bush mounted his bully pulpit on Martin Luther King's birthday and took aim at the University of Michigan's affirmative-action policies, calling them "a quota system." He tried to soft-pedal his quota-slinging rhetoric with an "I strongly support diversity of all kinds" statement and then fired off several more rounds of anti-quota talk directed at the "method used by the University of Michigan to achieve this important goal." His sympathy for the goal but condemnation of the method harked back to the compassionate conservatism of white moderates in Birmingham in 1963, whose equivocations prompted Dr. King to write his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." King posited that the Ku Klux Klaner and the White Citizens Councilers may not be "the Negro's great stumbling block." Instead, he decried "the white moderate who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods.'"
We can have an honest disagreement about what constitutes a quota or whether Michigan's approach is the most sensible one to achieve the school's laudable goals but Bush's language and the dishonest characterization of Michigan's processes in the brief filed by his Solicitor General make such a conversation all but impossible. The strategy of the Administration brief is to "quotify" any aspect of the admissions process that dares notice the race of applicants. Even when the college admissions committee merely flags the files of underrepresented students of color for further review or the law school committee seeks as a matter of informed educational policy a critical mass of students of color to assure their participation in a robust exchange of views in the law school classroom,the Administration concludes that there is no meaningful distinction from strict numerical quotas. The bottom line in their judgment seems to be that any attention to race, whether it is a nuanced point system, as at the University of Michigan college, or a more flexible and individualized process, as at the Michigan law school, is simply a quota in disguise. And yet neither the Solicitor General nor the President offers any specific evidence that anyone at either the college or the law school was admitted or excluded "solely" or even primarily based on race.
Because race has a political, economic and social component, professor of psychology Patricia Gurin finds that when people who have lived on the darker side of our racial divide have access to our classrooms and our faculties, white and nonwhite students alike achieve better intellectual growth and improved capacity to participate in our multiracial democracy. The rhetoric of quotas shuts down the conversation about racially diverse classrooms and their relationship to the learning environment. It also diverts our attention from the real double-bind that distorts the face of higher education in America.
The first thread in the double bind is the artificial scarcity created by the overinvestment of state resources in prisons because of mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws, which has starved educational budgets. As a result, many students who want to attend public institutions of higher education cannot, both because of rising tuition costs and because the competition for admission is fiercer than ever. And competition for the more selective public universities is especially tough, because the schools function less and less as educational greenhouses and more and more as status markers and gateways to elite networks.
The rising number of applications requires ever more efficient means of sorting candidates. This helps explain the second thread of the educational double-bind, our worship of simple, uniform measures of qualification, which I call "testocracy." The central problem is that Michigan, as is true of most elite educational institutions, has allowed its admissions standards to be driven by the rankings posted by a newsmagazine. No one wants to admit the dirty secret of higher education: In the name of merit as determined by U.S. News & World Report, the current system emphasizes efficiency and brand valuation over individualized assessments; test scores over initiative, persistence and creativity; and wealth over diversity.
The implicit message of Bush's statement and even more the brief filed by his Solicitor General is that attention to racial diversity, while laudable in the abstract, in practice subverts attention to qualifications based on merit. Yet their conception of merit is something of an optical illusion: High-stakes tests correlate well with socioeconomic status, but they are poor at predicting grades and totally unable to anticipate future career success. It was not affirmative action that kept the white plaintiffs out of Michigan; it was the mirage of merit (including commitments to social privilege and affluence) that was primarily responsible for their fate.
Bush himself was the beneficiary of this double standard, where we arbitrarily call something merit and thus it is so. In his day, merit was defined as "character," which gave a preference to white men of "good breeding" from what Nicholas Lemann calls the "Episcopacy." Today what we call merit is defined as scores on timed aptitude tests creating the testocracy. And yet the testocracy fails to predict most of those who will perform well in college and afterward. Test scores are at best imperfect proxies for merit, since they correlate more strongly with grandparents' class status than with first-year college or law school grades. And what's more, at least in Bush's day, there was a certain self-consciousness that the privilege of admission should be accompanied by a need to serve noblesse oblige. Today, our love affair with the testocracy grants its beneficiaries a false sense of entitlement. Students proceed as if a coveted slot in a selective school is their due reward, without any concomitant need to give back to the community that's subsidizing their education.
As a result, a study of graduates at the Michigan law school found that those with the highest conventional entry scores were the least likely to become leaders in their community, to do public service or to mentor younger attorneys. At the same time, it was the black and Latino students who in fact were most successful in realizing all three elements of the law school's mission: financial satisfaction, career satisfaction and leadership in their community.
There are certainly alternatives to Michigan's process for assuring merit and diversity. There is much to recommend the Texas 10 Percent Plan where the top 10 percent of the graduates of each high school in the state are automatically admitted to the two flagship public colleges. Black and Latino legislators, academics, advocates and activists who were genuinely committed to fairness and diversity initiated the plan. They succeeded in opening up access for blacks, Latinos and poor whites in numbers very close to their percentage under more traditional affirmative action. The plan is not only fair; it also promotes academic excellence. Those admitted under the plan outperform their counterparts who come in under the conventional testocracy. Whether white, black, Latino or Asian, the 10 percenters finish their first year of college with higher GPAs than other freshmen. The plan, however, does not apply at the graduate school level, a fact overlooked in the Administration's briefs. Liberal critics contend that the plan depends on segregated high schools to work. However, until the courts or state governments do something about segregated schools, this approach integrates one tier of the educational system, and if used at the elementary school level might integrate some magnet high schools as well.
But before we can have a meaningful conversation about alternative ways to achieve diversity, we first need to have an honest conversation about merit and opportunity. Test scores are not a fair or reliable way to distribute a scarce public resource, given the strength of their relationship to wealth rather than performance. Nor does the fictitious equation between test scores and merit actually fulfill the mission of public colleges to graduate students who go on to achieve individual goals, serve community needs and help society realize its democratic potential. With its incendiary use of the language of quotas, the Bush Administration shifts our attention from this long-overdue debate about the relationship of admissions standards across the board to the democratic mission of higher education in an increasingly multiracial and knowledge-based economy.
© The Nation, February 10, 2003.
Jerusalem Following my last military reserve duty I was kicked out of my unit the Israeli Defense Force's (IDF) educational corps.
There was a surrealistic dimension to the whole experience. I had driven a few hours to a base located near the Egyptian border after having been asked to lecture about "Leadership" to 60 soldiers of the Givati infantry brigade who were about to begin officers' training course. These young men are the military's future commanders, its elite.
I decided to concentrate in the lecture's first part on the relationship between leadership and moral virtue, examining the characteristics distinguishing leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot from others like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. In the discussion that followed, the soldiers concluded that all of the leaders mentioned possessed charisma, intelligence, and rhetorical skills, but only the latter three were guided by universal moral values the equality of all people.
The second part of the presentation focused on leadership within the IDF. My main contention was that so long as the occupation of Palestinian territories continues the Israeli military will not produce worthy leaders. The argument was mainly structural, namely that within the context of the occupation even the most humane officers would find themselves trampling human dignity. To substantiate my claim I offered several examples in which IDF soldiers committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip, an area well known to my audience.
Following the lecture the soldiers contested my analysis concerning IDF leadership, raising two major objections.
First they argued that the IDF's primary objective is to protect Israeli citizens, and in order to accomplish this goal it must, at times, violate human rights and international law.
"In order to save lives in Tel-Aviv I have to detain Palestinians at a checkpoint," one soldier exclaimed, and then added: "If, for example, in the process an infant dies because of delayed access to a hospital, then so be it." When I asked if the same rationale applied to two, three, or more babies, he replied in the affirmative without batting an eye.
The soldiers then went on to claim that the "IDF is the most moral army in the world." While several thought this to be axiomatic, others felt it necessary to offer evidence.
"Several months ago we entered a refugee camp to apprehend a 'wanted' Palestinian," one said. "We could have ordered a helicopter to bomb the house where the suspect was hiding, but we decided that the platoon would enter the camp despite possible risk to our soldiers; we did not want to harm innocent people," he explained.
Other soldiers also presented examples to show how, on numerous occasions, the IDF could have employed more brutal means, but refrained from doing so in order to minimize the number of innocent Palestinians casualties. Theirs was the voice of the military establishment, and while these two arguments are powerful, both suffer from a common fallacy of moral relativism.
Regarding the logic underlying the first claim the hypothetical death of the child at the checkpoint Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt once said that when the end justifies the means, then everything is permitted. And indeed, during the past two years we have seen the dangerous and devastating implications of a moral position that lacks an anchor.
It began with the unremitting curfews followed by reports of babies dying at checkpoints and snipers shooting children. This was just the beginning; the military continued its moral slide as soldiers demolished homes with their residents still inside, and Israeli pilots bombed populated buildings located in town centers.
The soldiers' second claim suffers from a similar error of moral relativism simply because there is no limit to human cruelty. It will always be possible to argue that the IDF could have behaved more brutally in a given situation.
The soldier who detained a sick woman for seven hours at the checkpoint could have beaten her and prevented her from passing through at all; yet this in no way justifies a seven-hour delay. The pilot who dropped the one-ton bomb on the populated houses, killing nine children, could have destroyed an entire neighborhood, but the "mercy" he showed does not in any way make his act moral.
The chain of events since the outbreak of the second Intifada suggests that the IDF has employed more and more force against a primarily civilian population, and that every action is justified by comparing it to more brutal actions the IDF could, theoretically, have carried out.
In the absence of a universal moral approach whereby there are things that one simply does not do, regardless one is left with a tribal or relativistic worldview. Here the right to human dignity is contingent on national, ethnic, or religious affiliation, rather than on membership of the human species.
Because the IDF has rejected the notion that human beings are created equal, every young commander who follows its codes will inevitably slide down the slippery moral slope. As the soldiers themselves seemed to understand at the outset of the lecture, universal moral values are what distinguish corrupt from worthy leaders an axiom that must be applied to the IDF too.
Notre Dame graduate Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philip Berrigan, 1923-2002: Spreading the Gospel in Deed
This past October, Philip Berrigan gave one of his last interviews. He said, "Violence is, was, always will be bankrupt, anti-human, criminal always." On October 5, he had turned 79. Ten months earlier, he had been released from prison, having served two years for breaking onto a US military base and pouring his own blood into the engine of and hammering on an A-10 Warthog, a warplane designed for use against tanks, personnel carriers, and other armored vehicles. Its main weapon is it 30-millimeter cannon what most people would call a machine gun that can fire 65 rounds per second. That's 3,900 rounds per minute.
The shells that the A-10 fires are coated with depleted uranium, the toxic byproduct of nuclear-power generation. No longer viable as a fuel source, DU was considered useless until scientists realized its was, in military speak, weaponizable. When the tip of a DU shell hits its target a personnel carrier, for example the DU ignites and burns through the target. Thus, the DU shell is more efficient at killing, maiming, and disfiguring 18-year-old enemy soldiers than the conventional armor-piercing shell.
Philip Berrigan believed it was his duty to alert Americans, particularly those who call themselves Christians, to the tragic destruction that this country's military inflicts upon other nations. The victims are often civilians, and they can continue to suffer the consequences of warfare long after the bombs have stopped dropping and the US has pulled out its troops. DU shells' oxidized particle remnants are highly toxic and can cause chemical and radioactive damage to those who ingest them. The US first used DU in combat during the 1991 Gulf War. A full 12 years later, Iraqi veterans and civilians are experiencing rates and types of cancer that were unknown before the war. Early-onset cancer and rare forms of birth defects are becoming so common that even experienced Iraqi oncologists and obstetricians who studied medicine in the West cannot explain their occurrence. Tens of thousands of American Gulf War veterans still suffer from Gulf War Syndrome, a disease or class of diseases about which modern medicine knows very little. Many claim that the spike in Iraqi cancer rates and the prevalence of GWS is proof that the Iraqi military used chemical weapons during its short fight in 1991, but there is very little hard evidence to support this claim. What is known is that the US military used DU for the first time in live combat.
Philip Berrigan spent many years of his life in prison. He and the three other activists who poured their blood on the warplanes in 1999 dubbed their action Plowshares vs. Depleted Uranium. It was an extremely symbolic act of civil disobedience, but it would offend Berrigan and the many other peace activists who have participated in the more than 60 Plowshares actions over the years to deny or dismiss the importance of physically disarming military hardware, especially weaponry with the potential to inflict massive suffering long after their deployment. Weapons like depleted uranium, land mines, cluster bombs, and nuclear warheads.
If they take it seriously at all, most Christians assume the text of Isaiah 2:4 is the description of a future utopia, an allegorical sketch of the right relations that the fulfillment of God's promise the Second Coming of Christ will bring to humankind: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." Berrigan and his colleagues did not interpret this passage as an eschatological promise; rather, they believed these words to be a command from God. The Plowshares movement began in 1980 with this improbable goal, and it has continued for more than two decades with an uncompromising and, many would say, irrational hope. Berrigan estimated that he participated in more than 100 acts of civil disobedience in the last 40 years of his life.
Philip Berrigan is probably best known as a member of the Catonsville Nine. On May 17, 1968, nine Roman Catholics entered the Knights of Columbus Hall in Catonsville, Md. that housed Selective Service Board #33. Announcing their intentions to the three clerks who were working in the office, the seven men and two women began pulling 1-A, 2-A, and 1-Y draft files from filing cabinets and stuffing them into wire trash baskets. After the group had removed the files, they took them to the parking lot, poured homemade napalm on them, and lit them with a cigarette. As television cameras rolled and photographers snapped shots, the group prayed the Our Father and sang hymns. Three hundred seventy-eight burned files later, police and federal agents arrested Berrigan and his co-conspirators. When one of the FBI agents recognized Philip from an earlier antiwar action, the fed said, "Good God, I'm changing my religion."
Philip's older brother Daniel, a Jesuit, was the other priest involved in the draft-file burning. He wrote a play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, culling characters' dialog from transcripts of the trial in which all nine were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. This play and the image of two priests in black burning draft files immortalized the Berrigan name in the minds of the Catholic left. Both because he has written volumes of poetry and biblical commentary and because he is still a priest, Daniel is more well-known today than Philip, who died this past Dec. 6. Both brothers participated in Catonsville; in an action earlier at the Baltimore Customs House; and the first Plowshares action in King of Prussia, Penn., in 1980. Both spent time in prison and wrote about their experiences and the need to embrace nonviolence as a goal and a method.
Despite the affinity of their uncompromising opposition to murder in any form, Daniel and Philip Berrigan took different paths to the heart of the Catholic peace movement. From an early age, Daniel seemed destined for the life of a prophet, or at least an outcast. The fifth of six children, he was a sickly child who needed glasses and wore prescription shoes to prevent his ankles from folding when he walked. He could never live up to the expectations of a cruel father who expected all his sons to work with their hands for a living, but he was a gifted student and avid reader of poetry. He joined the Jesuits in 1939, pleasing his father who used to call him "Mama's boy" and "little four-eyes" seemingly for the first time. Even as a young man, Daniel was funny looking. Skinny and suffering from a chronically bad back, which still bothers him, Daniel had an unusual, tinny voice. But the power of his words, and his ubiquitous, dry sense of humor have captivated audiences and readers alike since the 1960s.
Philip, on the other hand, was his father's perfect son. The youngest Berrigan, he was always big for his age, blond, blue-eyed, athletic, and agreeable. He was an excellent basketball and baseball player, making the high-school all-star team as a first baseman. He joined the Army after the US entered World War II and was a member of an artillery unit in the European theater. He often remarked to his fellow soldiers that he enjoyed the excitement of battle. He volunteered for Officer's Candidate School and became a second lieutenant in 90 days, but the end of the European war stopped him from leading a platoon into battle. Although the war numbed Philip to the evil of killing he recently said it took him years to unlearn what he learned in the Army it sensitized him to the evil of racism. He grew more and more enraged by the racism that white soldiers showed to black soldiers.
Upon returning to the States, Philip went to college and joined the Josephites, an order of priests committed to educating and ministering to African-Americans. He taught high school in New Orleans in 1957 when then-Archbishop Romell ordered the integration of archdiocesan parishes. When some of Philip's black students asked how they could help speed integration, he suggested they show up at the nearest (white) parish on Sunday. Two weeks later, whites armed with tire irons brutally beat the black teenagers on their way home from the church. This incident had a profound effect on Philip; he felt partially responsible for the violence and began to understand that highly visible, unpopular public actions carried with them real risks.
As the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam War movements coalesced in the tumultuous late 1960s, Philip experienced a crisis. Like his brother Daniel, who had been sent to Latin America to quiet his criticism of the war, Philip had trouble with his religious superior. In the summer of 1967, he wrote A Punishment for Peace. The book laid out his new understanding of the faith and country he had loyally served in World War II. Instead of forces for global liberation, church and state were imperial powers that oppressed the poor both at home and abroad. Because imperialism was inherently sinful, it was up to the citizens of powerful nations to resist these policies with all their might, lest they lend support, especially through their inaction, to injustice.
Philip Berrigan's slow conversion to Christian radicalism coincided with Daniel's ever fiercer commitment to nonviolence. Both brothers worked alongside the burgeoning antiwar movement but felt a sense of unease with its mainly secular motivations. A humanistic desire for social justice was integral to organizing large enough crowds to force to the US to pull out of Southeast Asia, but liberalism was also susceptible to being co-opted in the name of social justice for more insidious or national-interest goals. US involvement in Vietnam was, after all, initiated by John F. Kennedy and escalated by Lyndon B. Johnson, two of the most liberal US Presidents of the twentieth century. (Philip and Daniel would later condemn the Bill Clinton-initiated bombing of Serbia in 1999, arguably the most popular US military intervention after World War II among liberals.) In short, the Berrigans' pacifism was based on a radical reading of Christian Scripture.
In 1969 Philip and former Marymount sister Elizabeth McCalister secretly exchanged wedding vows. Their relationship, which remained secret until they announced their four-year anniversary in 1973, was difficult for many Catholic peace activists, including Daniel. He took his vow of celibacy seriously and didn't hide his displeasure from Philip. Yet Daniel eventually accepted Philip's decision, if not his contention that he was still a priest, and the couple legally married on May 28, 1973. The Josephites disowned Philip, and many critics eagerly called him a hypocrite and a liar. Some suggested that Daniel was also less than celibate.
In Baltimore Philip and Elizabeth soon established Jonah House, a nonviolent Christian community committed to living in voluntary poverty and witnessing against militarism. From 1973 until Philip's death in 2002, the couple spent their unincarcerated days at Jonah House. It was there that Elizabeth gave birth to Frida, Jerome, and Katy. Although Philip and Elizabeth always tried to make sure that at least one parent was able to remain at Jonah House, there were times that both were in jail. Their children were truly raised by a community, whose members took care of the house and the children while Philip and Elizabeth were in jail. The community supports itself by painting houses and giving lectures. Its members are also the caretakers of a nearby Irish cemetery. Into his mid-70s, Philip was still climbing ladders and painting houses in all kinds of weather, this despite a fall in which he broke a rib. He used a riding lawnmower to cut the grass at the cemetery until his last days.
Stubborn and committed till the end, Philip Berrigan was perhaps more passionate about nonviolent civil disobedience in his later years than he had been in the 1960s. "I can only give up my freedom. We speak of jail as a witness, an extension of action and resistance in a courtroom. Jail is a form of resistance, the kind of resistance practiced by Prophets, Jesus and early Christians. That's redemptive and slowly, imperceptibly, turns people if they want it." Ironically, Philip died of cancer, a disease ravishing thousands of Iraqi children because of the American use of depleted uranium in 1991 and more than 12 years of UN sanctions, which prohibit Iraq from importing the chemicals and equipment required to administer chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Berrigan refused treatment for his cancer, not because he wanted to make a final statement of solidarity with the people of Iraq but because he wanted to die in peace, surrounded by his family and friends, the community he helped build. He found out about his positive diagnosis on October 6, the day after his birthday. That day, he also learned that two Dominican nuns, members of Jonah House, had broken onto a military base in Colorado with one other activist. They disarmed a Minuteman missile silo. Phil's daughter Frida described it as the best birthday present her dad received. When he heard the news, Philip said, "Well, we can still pull off a Plowshares, and that's good news."
Good news, indeed.
John Serop Simonian is a graduate student in theology and member of Pax Christi. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Just a Touchdown from Success: Democrats who despair of getting back into power can find the answer in American football
In these macho times, fairness has a poor image. It's the credo of the also-rans, who need it to compensate them for being losers. What matters in 2003 is to be individualistic, entrepreneurial and go-getting and to make as much money as possible. Equality is out; 'diversity', the codeword that legitimises inequality, is in. The able should get the just rewards for their talents, and if that means sky-high salaries, profits and the entrenchment of 'natural' advantage, who can and should complain?
The retreat of equality and fairness over the last 20 years as key values around which we should organise ourselves economically and socially has become a rout. The new mantra, justified by hack right-wing economists, is that just as nature is a Darwinian struggle of the survival of the fittest, so we should extend the principle to economy and society. The natural order of things is to give free rein to those animal, acquisitive spirits that will benefit us all in the long run. After all, where would be if we tried to suppress those 'natural' instincts with progressive taxation, caps on executive salaries, regulations that tried to make the rules of the game fair and all the rest? That would be dread word socialism. And we know where that leads.
If this bleak philosophy dominates the British national conversation, it is the ideological inspiration of George Bush's Republicans, standard-bearers of the rise of a particular brand of conservatism that has not only polluted American culture, but which, in my view, has become one of the US's least desirable exports. Last week, for example, witnessed one of the most extraordinarily unfair budget proposals made in any Western industrial country. Half the funds consecrated to a tax-cutting stimulus were earmarked for the very rich, whose dividends on their share portfolios would now be free from tax.
The idea is that this will lift the stock market and so stimulate the economy, but because so many shares are held by funds saving for pensions that are exempt from income tax on dividends, it will make little difference, as Wall Street's indifferent reaction proved. The truth is that it is a barefaced kickback to America's millionaires justified by the same appeal to economic Darwinianism. Of course the already rich should be rewarded more; that's how the Right thinks you make capitalism work.
The protest from the Left that it is unfair has little popular resonance; ordinary voters in America, just as in Britain, have become inured to unfairness. The Democrats can fulminate and fume, but they can't find a folk language to fight fire with fire. Yet a powerful example of the argument that every blue-collar worker in America would understand is staring them in the face and which, if reworked, might even cross the Atlantic.
American football, the game where the only thing familiar to most Britons is the shape of its rugby-like ball, whose helmeted, 20-stone giants line up in seemingly inexplicable rituals called 'plays', is organised in the most successful sports league in the world. Television audiences are booming; waiting lists for season tickets run into hundreds of thousands, and the sports pages devoted to it on American newspapers are the most avidly read. Superbowl XXXVII, when the season's two best teams slug it out for the championship, beat even last year's records for audiences and ad revenues.
It's not just the game's beauty and athleticism that attracts crowds to watch a quarterback drive his team upfield in a variety of highly-planned plays and being countered by a just as well-thought-out defence is to watch a game of physical and highly mobile chess it's that the results of very few games, and Superbowl itself, are predictable. We know already that next year's finalists will be different from this year's. There is no year-after-year domination by the same few superclubs which have captured the lion's share of the TV rights and which recruit all the star players on fabulous salaries. This is a genuine competition, in which any of the 32 league members can win and it's that which generates such enormous interest.
Nor is this an accident. The ground rules of American football, stunningly and surprisingly, are organised to give each club as equal a chance as possible in order to make the best competitive spectacle. It's not like the British Premiership, dominated by Arsenal and Manchester United, or even like American baseball, dominated by clubs like the rich New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. So while baseball, whose players, on average, are paid twice as much as American footballers, faces stagnating crowds bored by the predictability of the rich clubs always winning, American football, collectivist and egalitarian in its organisation, booms.
For a start, the National Football League (NFL) shares out the receipts from the sale of the TV rights with punctilious equality; each club gets $73 million a year, so that more than four-fifths of the league's total revenue is shared equally. There are no merit payments for where a club finishes in the league or its number of appearances on television to benefit the bigger and more successful clubs. Nor are clubs allowed to hog the receipts from their own pay-for-view subscription channels, as in American baseball, which again helps the bigger clubs. The commitment to equality is profound. The clubs which fared worse in any single season have first pick of the star freshmen in the next season to give them a break. Players' salaries are capped. The NFL offers to pay for half the price of a new stadium, the aim being to ensure that every club will have a stadium of equal size and capacity so that gate receipts ticket prices are also regulated are also as equal as possible. Everything is done to ensure equality of opportunity so that any fan in any part of the country has a genuine chance of seeing his or her team win.
The result is the most spectacularly competitive and entertaining sporting league in the world. Its core value, though, is not survival of the fittest and rewarding the rich and successful. It is fairness, guaranteed by a complex regulatory apparatus. If I were an American Democrat, I would ram this point home: American football is organised around Democrat principles and succeeds; baseball is organised around Republican principles and is failing. This is also an example for our own Football Association; unless it does more to give every Premier League club a chance by distributing TV proceeds more equally, British football could follow American baseball into crisis. And there is the larger argument.
Fairness may not be macho, but without it, civilisations, like sporting leagues, soon decline. In these macho times, fairness has a poor image.
© Will Hutton. This article first appeared in The Observer (London), Sunday, January 12, 2003.
Iraq Peace Team: US Citizens Living in Iraq Seek to Avert War
There is a story about a Teacher who was asked by his disciples: "How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?"
Amid the fear of terrorism, the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and the rhetoric of war, there is a group of modern-day disciples who are trying in their own way to be lights in the darkness. They are members of the Iraq Peace Team (IPT), ordinary US and Canadian citizens, who recognize the Iraqi people as brothers and sisters, and who choose to stand with them and speak for them in this time of crisis and suffering.
Cynthia Banas, 73, a retired librarian from Vernon, N.Y., spends her days in Iraq visiting families, writing about life in Iraq from their perspective, and demonstrating with her fellow IPT members at water treatment facilities, electrical plants, and other sites that could suffer the devastating effects of US bombs. Other IPT members regularly visit orphanages and hospitals. Some volunteer daily at a home for crippled children, where they assist Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. All focus on accompanying and sharing the stories of the ordinary Iraqi civilians who will suffer most during a war.
"What difference does this make? Why are you here? Aren't you supporting Saddam Hussein's agenda? Why not focus on doing activism and education in the United States?"
Such challenges are common questions from both supporters and opponents of IPT's actions, and Cynthia and her companions must continually respond. "It makes a great deal of difference that I'm here," she asserts. Cynthia is a life-long supporter of UNICEF, and "when I found out that Iraqi babies were dying because of preventable diseases in a place that once had first-class medical facilities I knew I had to get involved." She describes her presence as both a sign of solidarity and as a crucial link of communication between Iraqis and the US citizens in whose name the sanctions policies and a potential war are wrought.
"I have a deep belief in the freedom of information. But the US media has done an A+ job of reporting only one side of the story the negative side of the regime and the culture. That's an important side, but it's only one-half of the story. The media gets an F in telling the story of the devastation of the last 12 years and the devastation a new war could bring."
Cynthia and other IPT members regularly communicate with their home countries, through email correspondence, photos, and videotapes which share the untold story of ordinary Iraqi people. Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based group which works to end the sanctions on Iraq and which organizes IPT, stresses the importance of such communication: "Our presense here would be utterly irrelevant if friends in the United States did not spread the word."
And what about the danger that their presence could be interpreted as support for a repressive regime? Kelly responds that "the sad and tragic history of this regime is well-known, and one would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sadness over the litany of abuses. But the untold story remains the greatest violation of human rights here are the sanctions enforced by the UN Security Council."
As war looms, it may seem incredible that the members of the Iraq Peace Team are voluntarily putting themselves in a dangerous situation. They do not seek to be "human shields," as some in the media have portrayed them but many do plan to remain alongside their Iraqi brothers and sisters, to share in their experience, should an attack occur. "If you can risk your life in a war [as a soldier], why can't you risk your life for peace?" Cynthia asks.
From Catholic perspective, their presence could be understood as sacramental. Surely many in the Unites States are standing, in spirit, with the Iraqi people and the Iraq Peace Team members stand as a physical sign of those thousands of hearts that join the Iraqis in yearning for peace. All of us in the United States can be part of IPT's action in fact, we are crucial to their mission. We can join them in prayer and fasting for peace. And we can do our part as vital links in the process of communication and communion between the Iraqi people and US citizens who have the power to sway our government's policies. When asked what in particular we can do, IPT members respond with a litany of suggestions: write a letter to the editor, email, fax, and call Congressional representatives and the White House, and share the stories of the Iraqi people with your friends, family, co-workers, and faith communities.
To take simple action go to www.senate.gov and www.house.gov for Congressional addresses. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Write a letter to the editor the South Bend Tribune's email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And check out www.vitw.org and www.iraqpeaceteam.org for other action suggestions.
There is enough light in this world to recognize in each other the face of a brother or a sister. Cynthia Banas, Kathy Kelly, and the Iraq Peace Team members have crossed oceans and borders in order to come close to that reality. We can be with them in this holy and crucial work for peace, today.
Sheila Provencher is a Catholic lay minister who traveled to Iraq from December 8-21, 2002. She is Assistant Director of the Notre Dame Vocational Initiative. She met with members of Iraq Peace Team, as well as with Iraqi children, doctors, Catholic sisters and priests, students, mothers, fathers, and countless other civilians. All welcomed her without reserve and asked her to share their stories with people in the United States, begging US citizens to help avert the war.
Neocons and Their Plans for War
Two years ago a project set up by the men who now surround George W. Bush said what America needed was "a new Pearl Harbor." Its published aims have, alarmingly, come true.
The threat posed by US terrorism to the security of nations and individuals was outlined in prophetic detail in a document written more than two years ago and disclosed only recently. What was needed for America to dominate much of humanity and the world's resources, it said, was "some catastrophic and catalysing event like a new Pearl Harbor". The attacks of 11 September 2001 provided the "new Pearl Harbor," described as "the opportunity of ages."
The extremists who have since exploited 11 September come from the era of Ronald Reagan, when far-right groups and "think-tanks" were established to avenge the American "defeat" in Vietnam. In the 1990s, there was an added agenda: to justify the denial of a "peace dividend" following the cold war. The Project for the New American Century was formed, along with the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute and others that have since merged the ambitions of the Reagan administration with those of the current Bush regime.
One of George W. Bush's "thinkers" is Richard Perle. I interviewed Perle when he was advising Reagan; and when he spoke about "total war," I mistakenly dismissed him as mad. He recently used the term again in describing America's "war on terror." "No stages," he said. "This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq... this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war... our children will sing great songs about us years from now."
Perle is one of the founders of the Project for the New American Century, the PNAC. Other founders include Dick Cheney, now vice-president, Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defence secretary, I. Lewis Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, William J. Bennett, Reagan's education secretary, and Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush's ambassador to Afghanistan. These are the modern chartists of American terrorism. The PNAC's seminal report, Rebuilding America's Defences: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century, was a blueprint of American aims in all but name. Two years ago it recommended an increase in arms-spending by $48bn so that Washington could "fight and win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars." This has happened. It said the United States should develop "bunker-buster" nuclear weapons and make "star wars" a national priority. This is happening. It said that, in the event of Bush taking power, Iraq should be a target. And so it is.
As for Iraq's alleged "weapons of mass destruction," these were dismissed, in so many words, as a convenient excuse, which it is. "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification," it says, "the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." How has this grand strategy been implemented? A series of articles in the Washington Post, co-authored by Bob Woodward of Watergate fame and based on long interviews with senior members of the Bush administration, reveals how 11 September was manipulated.
On the morning of 12 September 2001, without any evidence of who the hijackers were, Rumsfeld demanded that the US attack Iraq. According to Woodward, Rumsfeld told a cabinet meeting that Iraq should be "a principal target of the first round in the war against terrorism." Iraq was temporarily spared only because Colin Powell, the secretary of state, persuaded Bush that "public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible." Afghanistan was chosen as the softer option. If Jonathan Steele's estimate in the Guardian is correct, some 20,000 people in Afghanistan paid the price of this debate with their lives.
Time and again, 11 September is described as an "opportunity." In last April's New Yorker, the investigative reporter Nicholas Lemann wrote that Bush's most senior adviser, Condoleezza Rice, told him she had called together senior members of the National Security Council and asked them "to think about 'how do you capitalise on these opportunities,'" which she compared with those of "1945 to 1947": the start of the cold war. Since 11 September, America has established bases at the gateways to all the major sources of fossil fuels, especially central Asia. The Unocal oil company is to build a pipeline across Afghanistan. Bush has scrapped the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, the war crimes provisions of the International Criminal Court and the anti-ballistic missile treaty. He has said he will use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states "if necessary." Under cover of propaganda about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, the Bush regime is developing new weapons of mass destruction that undermine international treaties on biological and chemical warfare.
In the Los Angeles Times, the military analyst William Arkin describes a secret army set up by Donald Rumsfeld, similar to those run by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and which Congress outlawed. This "super-intelligence support activity" will bring together the "CIA and military covert action, information warfare, and deception." According to a classified document prepared for Rumsfeld, the new organisation, known by its Orwellian moniker as the Proactive Pre-emptive Operations Group, or P2OG, will provoke terrorist attacks which would then require "counter-attack" by the United States on countries "harbouring the terrorists."
In other words, innocent people will be killed by the United States. This is reminiscent of Operation Northwoods, the plan put to President Kennedy by his military chiefs for a phoney terrorist campaign complete with bombings, hijackings, plane crashes and dead Americans as justification for an invasion of Cuba. Kennedy rejected it. He was assassinated a few months later. Now Rumsfeld has resurrected Northwoods, but with resources undreamt of in 1963 and with no global rival to invite caution. You have to keep reminding yourself this is not fantasy: that truly dangerous men, such as Perle and Rumsfeld and Cheney, have power. The thread running through their ruminations is the importance of the media: "the prioritised task of bringing on board journalists of repute to accept our position."
"Our position" is code for lying. Certainly, as a journalist, I have never known official lying to be more pervasive than today. We may laugh at the vacuities in Tony Blair's "Iraq dossier" and Jack Straw's inept lie that Iraq has developed a nuclear bomb (which his minions rushed to "explain"). But the more insidious lies, justifying an unprovoked attack on Iraq and linking it to would-be terrorists who are said to lurk in every Tube station, are routinely channelled as news. They are not news; they are black propaganda.
This corruption makes journalists and broadcasters mere ventriloquists' dummies. An attack on a nation of 22 million suffering people is discussed by liberal commentators as if it were a subject at an academic seminar, at which pieces can be pushed around a map, as the old imperialists used to do.
The issue for these humanitarians is not primarily the brutality of modern imperial domination, but how "bad" Saddam Hussein is. There is no admission that their decision to join the war party further seals the fate of perhaps thousands of innocent Iraqis condemned to wait on America's international death row. Their doublethink will not work. You cannot support murderous piracy in the name of humanitarianism. Moreover, the extremes of American fundamentalism that we now face have been staring at us for too long for those of good heart and sense not to recognise them.
© San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center. January 10, 2003
What We Inherit
Even as George Bush announced his bid for the presidency, his speech revealed a limited grasp on the grammar and standard usage of his native language. Indeed, this shortcoming served as the source of the media's most potent ridicule of the presidential candidate; editorialists and pundits chided Bush for his linguistic blunders, essentially entreating him to re-view a few chapters in Andover's or Yale's grammar texts. While, of late, much of that early criticism has been obscured by other matters and rightly I suppose it seems to me that another English lesson would serve President Bush and his administration rather well at this time of national crisis one on perspective: its origin, relativity and invisibility.
Arguably one of the greatest benefits of literary study is an ability to discern the disparity of perspectives that inevitably inheres in literature, and really in all writing. Every "text" whether the daily newspaper of a given city or the canonical novel appearing on a collegiate reading list contains a perspective, marked or implicit. To be somewhat reductive, Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes has a decidedly conservative stance that prizes the family and a traditional Christian ethos, while American poet Adrienne Rich writes from a feminist and liberal viewpoint that has been shaped by her own personal relations and Jewish ethnicity. Although these examples may seem obvious as doubtless any exchange of language derives from a vantage point the unique perspective that a literary text evinces is anything but simple or immediately transparent.
Carrying the values, notions and beliefs of a particular milieu, an author's work is the tangible manifestation of what are innumerable intangibles: political ideals, ostensibly personal beliefs, societal customs and historical events, merely to distinguish a few. Indeed, a text is the composite of a convoluted mass of ideals and influences, values and beliefs, all of which coalesce into a perspective or, perhaps more accurately, the plural perspectives possessed by its author. In this vein, it would be just as inappropriate (if not impossible) to read and understand Henry David Thoreau's essays without appreciating inextricably linked issues, such as American slavery and President Polk's involvement in the Mexican War, as it would be to evaluate Bush's political platform without recognizing his affluent family background or his presumed "compassionate" and "Christian" conservatism. These factors and events are the respective context of both men's lives. Likewise, Saddam Hussein possesses a perspective of his own, just as Bush and many Americans evaluate the Iraqi leader's actions from a certain vantage point.
Fiction writer Dave Eggers spends much of his recent book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, attempting to clarify this issue of perspective, and not merely that which a literary work possesses but the particular vantage point that all individuals carry with them. In what is a telling metaphor for my argument, Eggers explains his social existence with a mathematical equation delineating the elements that constitute the sum that is his life. He is: "the suburban vacuum + idleness + television + Catholicism + alcoholism + violence." Like Eggers, all individuals along with the behaviors they engage in and the conflicts that they create are the aggregate of various social factors that remain largely imperceptible without some work, some "close reading." That is, if we do not carefully examine from where we receive our ideas and beliefs, we are likely to acquiesce in and perpetuate an ethos that is merely inherited, and even arbitrarily conferred upon us.
In this regard, the human individual is steeped in a perspective and an existence that is largely socially determined or more precisely, predetermined. Simply put, while we commonly speak of the perspective that an author or an individual possesses, it is really the perspective via its social inheritance that possesses the individual. As Eggers has it, his existence is in truth not "his" at all; he is much less the proprietor of his social existence than the passive inheritor of it. How, then, Eggers asks, can he claim ownership of a life in the guise of a religion, a socioeconomic class, and a political allegiance that he essentially received from the family and the neighborhood, a life that "happened to him?"
The short answer to Eggers' query seems to be that he can't. He like us cannot summarily accept an existence that possesses him more than he it. And it is for this very reason that President Bush, along with the nation, should proceed with caution when engaging in matters of international consequence in which disparate perspectives inevitably inhere. We must be consciously wary of justifying postures and political actions merely by virtue of ambiguous Americanisms oft invoked by the President, such as the "American way" or the "American ideal." For, if they remain unexamined, such expressions are just that: expressions of little, if any, real value. We begin to speak in and (perilously) act upon a discourse of disembodied abstracts. While there is, admittedly, a marked sense of futility in all of this, I think that these questions of perspective and its social inheritance are the very stuff of literature and of our lives. Indeed, much of our existence is socially predetermined; perhaps we inherit more than we actually create in our lifetimes. Yet I also believe that the ability at least to recognize these notions of perspective and our social inheritance (if not wholly to re-possess them) is the opportunity afforded us by studying language and literature.
Beyond merely being attentive to the innumerable and distinct perspectives evinced by authors in their works, writing entreats the astute person to read closely, with an eye to the perspectives that shape the text just as they do the writer and even the language's receptors themselves. It is in part for this reason, I think, that Thoreau deemed the act of reading for him, a microcosm of living as a "noble exercise," contending that to read well is an act that will "task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem."
And, while Bush's quarrel with the English language may still remain unresolved, it seems to me that he should take up this literary lesson and consider closely the notion of diverse perspectives, not only in domestic concerns but certainly in decisions of foreign policy and war that of late have confronted America. It behooves President Bush, as well as the nation, to recognize how much of our existence is steeped in a largely inherited perspective. Indeed, even those stigmatized countries that comprise the "Axis of Evil" have a particular perspective, inherited and perhaps largely invisible much like our own.
Our vantage point may be socially determined, but the question of perspective, to be sure, is not confined by geographical demarcations or social legacy. It is a human universal that implicates all individuals and thus requires the reflective, conscious attention of all: Democrats and Republicans, Bush and Hussein, and Americans as well as Iraqis. For, as Adrienne Rich affirms, boundaries and borders imposed on our world's map are but "small distinctions."
Greg Laski is a sophomore English and Spanish major.
The first day of spring
This first day of spring.
The smoke crept through the streets of New York
In the land of the Virgin Mary,
This first day of spring
Little girls still paddle the lake,
Fire or ice?
Evan Brogan is a senior at Clay High School and plans to attend Notre Dame as a photography major.