Tuesday, January 29, 2008

i'm looking backward, motherfucker



Former Indonesian President Suharto, one word, like Sting or Cher, was buried and given the royal and permanent send-off in Indonesia yesterday. I don’t believe in an afterlife and I don’t believe in prayer, but I plan on praying as hard as I can tonight that that bastard is tormented until the end of all time by the screams and cries of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Indonesians and East Timorese that he killed during his brutal and, of course, US-enabled regime.

I don’t want to spend too much time on Suharto, suffice it to say he was one of many incredibly vicious and incredibly corrupt US-backed dictators around the world that came to power via violence (not to be confused with Via Violenta) and maintained power through even more violence, all the while accumulating riches beyond the dreams of gods and pharaohs and pharaohs of gods . I imagine his wiki entry, which i need not link, provides the basic outline and a tidy survey of what he was up to. But what’s more interesting, and soul-crushingly depressing, is his involvement in East Timor. And your (if you’re an American) direct complicity in the atrocities committed.

East Timor was a former Portuguese colony (its West counterpart belonged to the Dutch before the Dutch East Indies became Indonesia following WWII) until the mid-70’s when Lisbon realized that it was not wealthy or strong enough to maintain its empire. Indonesia saw a nice opportunity to seize some land and resources (Oil!), and the US saw a nice opportunity to help out a loyal client state (one of the largest in Southeast Asia) and crush a people with a nationalist and leftist political presence. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of Sate Henry Kissinger visited Jakarta the night before the tanks rolled in to poor li’l East Timor (manned by Indonesian soldiers but paid for by the US). Were these two fine and still respected gents there to advise their client to not send troops into East Timor, violating international law and East Timor’s right of self-determination? No, in a perverse display of deceit and contempt for truth, decency, and human life, they were there in black ties and holding martini glasses to toast Suharto and his leadership and plan for the future. I wonder when they got around to estimating how many East Timorese would be orphaned the very next day, was it before or after the appetizers were served? (As an aside, Ford and Kissinger knew they could get away with this bloodletting because the Western media would and did ignore it).

Ultimately, 200,000 East Timorese (more than a quarter of the population) were killed. This FAQ provides some good details on what exactly happened, and the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network provides good resources for what you can do to help. Click on those links if you know what's good for you.

But the story of East Timor is not only relevant with the passing of Suharto, it sheds some light on the current campaign for the US Presidency. First, this incident as well as countless others, show that any differences in foreign policy between the two major political parties in the US are superficial compared to their similarities (this is also true with respect to domestic policy, but we digress). Jimmy Carter, Democrat and champion of human rights, escalated the aid, and thus the brutality, to Indonesia that was used to massacre East Timorese (not to mention backing the Shah in Iran). No need to comment on Reagan's or Bush I's stance on the matter. The Clinton administration welcomed Suharto as “our kind of guy,” and Clinton continued provide military aid that was used to continue the decimation of the island, despite the publicization by American freelance journalists Amy Goodwin and Allan Nairn of the 1991 slaughtering of 270 East Timorese during a peaceful funeral procession (Goodwin and Nairn were severely beaten, but unlike the East Timorese, they were left breathing). What could Clinton have done to stop Suharto? In May 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called upon Indonesian President Suharto to resign and provide for “a democratic transition.” (Suharto had lost control and hesistated to impose harsh IMF restrictions). A few hours later, Suharto transferred authority to his handpicked vice president. Though not simple cause and effect, the events illustrate the relations that prevail. Ending the torture in East Timor would have been no more difficult than dismissing Indonesia's dictator in May 1998.

Our current electoral shenanigans also bring back some of this episode’s most loathsome characters. Richard Holbrooke, Jimmy Carter’s Assistant Secretary of State in the region during the height of the genocide, was very much aware and involved in these mass killings (this has all come out in the last few years in declassified documents. One thing you’ve got to give to America, what other murderous nation would release documents that directly show its complicity in a whole slew of murderous atrocities?). Holbrooke is now an adviser for the H. Clinton campaign and is rumored to be a possible Secretary of State if she gets elected. Held to the standards of the Nuremburg Tribunal, he would have been hanged long ago.

East Timor eventually became an independent nation, and Bill Clinton was there to celebrate it as head of the Bush administration delegation on May 20, 2002. Journalist Allan Nairn, he who was previously beaten and witnessed the Dili massacre was there to ask Bill about his widespread involvement in selling arms to Suharto and the US’s role in the killings. You should try to watch the video if you can, but the transcript is good too. Clinton offers a series of politician-perfect, “if we had known this,” and “the Cold War made us do that” before finally proclaiming, “I think the right thing to do is to do what the leaders of East Timor said. They want to look forward. You want to look backward. I’m going to stick with the leaders. You want to look backward, have at it, but you’ll have to have help from someone else.” The next time I kill and rob someone, I’m telling the judge, “you want to look backward, but I just want to look forward.” Just like Bill.

One final point: this episode reveals that the US does not support or condemn a particular religion. All faiths of god are open to US support or attack. The US was helping a Muslim country decimate an island filled with Catholics. Religion or ideology or race does not matter, rather, the US pursues those policies that will enhance the power and economic returns of U.S. corporate and political elites with as few dangers of disrupting existing relations of power as possible, and especially as few disturbing effects in the form of enlarging public awareness and dissidence. This is as many profit-maximizer masquerading as a community would. The upside: the American people themselves have a non-insignificant role in shaping state actions by communicating its displeasure and determining what the state can and cannot do to them and others.

Friday, January 25, 2008

the human highlight shootout judge?

dominique wilkins was my first ever favorite athlete (kareem abdul-jabaar technically beat him to it, but i think i was too young to attain the level of statistical sophistication and daily obsession for it to really count, at least in the same way that my mental shrines to 'nique, gretzky, kovalev, morozov, and now malkin (and semin) do). i was crushed when he was foolishly traded away from the hawks (for danny manning no less) during the team's best, and his all around most complete, season. i still clearly remember going to the iconic aunt kizzie's back porch when the hawks were in town to play the clips and lakers with the intention of corralling him there. what do you know, he sauntered in with his crew, and li'l 11 year old me, decked out in a dominique t-shirt and holding the red 21 jersey, nervously approached him intending to get an autograph. he obliged and i had a bizarrely touching experience that stayed with me to today (though not nearly as painfully meaningful as the memory of the 47 he dropped in that brutal (and wholly unjust - hey it's the nba!) game 7 loss to the celtics in '88). but so yea, dominique was the best.

fast forward to now and here, when and where my sporting interest lies solely with hockey. the nhl all star "skills competition" is tomorrow night and it's always been a guilty pleasure of mine. the league, as a part of its desperate attempt to do anything to sell the game to the american audience, has fashioned an insanely silly-sounding nba slam-dunk style shootout. the shootout has become an important part of the game, no doubt, but the point is to score, not to do a robbie schremp-style lacrosse move. and here's the kicker, my boyhood idol, dominique wilkins, and former la kings draft pick tom glavine are two of the "celebrity" judges.

huh?

glavine i guess makes sense, at least he's played hockey. but how on earth is dominique going to "judge" this thing in any way that isn't pandering and preposterous. anyway, a part of me feels bad that the original human highlight reel has resorted to this, but i guess you can't really complain when your two loves are combined into one unholy union.

this is a video created by an old friend a long time ago (before it was easy to do this kind of stuff). featured is dominique in the greatest (and again, most unjust) slam-dunk contest of all time (the last two min of the vid are the highlight if you don't feel the need to watch random shots of weirdos arguing at night in santa monica circa 1988). i don't see how it's possible for pavel datsyuk and marian hossa to engage in a similar battle, but 'nique will be there either way.

video

"ok sherlock, why dont you go solve a mystery"

this post was originally going to be titled "i'm in love with teenage boys," but i didnt want the feds to start monitoring this site (though with all the chomsky love posts i've planned it's probably inevitable). but the sentiment is nevertheless true, as one of my favorite things done by anyone recently is this collection of short pieces by clark and michael. clark is clark duke, presumed friend of michael cera. michael is michael cera, canadian teenage actor, originally of arrested development fame and most recently of the nice little film, juno. (there are some very funny promotional clips featuring cera and jason bateman). unfortunately, cera is probably best known for the wildly popular and mildly watchable "superbad" (a string of adjectives that i imagine will be usable for most projects attached to judd apatow's name for years). but these little shorts, filmed way back in the halcyon days of 2006 it seems, are pure solid gold. following the fictional account of two friends living together in la and trying to pitch their idea for a tv show, the shorts contain guest spots from a who's who of funny people, but the real genius lies in the relationship and chemistry between the two namesakes. not sure if these guys have known each other since the beginning of time, but it sure seems that way. clark is the brash and outlandish, "let's do this thing" type while michael plays the subtle, shy straight man. there's a nice balance between believability and ludicrousness, but their impeccable timing and silly and witty repartee remain throughout. this is exactly what i wish i was doing when i was their age. or my current age. i'm a little disappointed that there are only 2 of 10 episodes that i've yet to see and that when i do, it'll be gone forever. i can't wait to see everything these guys do, but i'll be surprised if they ever recapture this magic.

here's a trailer for the series, but def check out the episodes here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

dont leave me, guys


This is our dog, Pasha. He’s a rascal, a fighter, a lover, a terrier, and as you can see here, quite a pouter. He sits atop the highly unofficial and equally vague, “greatest guys ever” list. He is also my best friend. I can safely say that (safely not in terms of certainty, but in terms of not expecting physical retribution) because I don’t think my girlfriend reads any of this. (Reminiscent of the line from the late, great Mitch Hedberg: "I don't have a girlfriend, I just know a girl who would get really mad if she heard me say that.") She and I are taking a quick trip to the sultry wasteland known as Los Angeles to see the nieces, catch some rays, and eat at the In-N-Out Burger. In addition to the horrifyingly execrable experience of familial dysfunction, these trips bring on the gut-wrenching decision of either leaving the li’lest guy (also known as Pashi, Mushu, or Mushi-mushu, if you're not into the whole brevity thing) here in the cold and lonely megalopolis, or sticking him under tons of steel making what I imagine are terrifying noises for hours as we’re all transported across the country, him into the tired and regretful clenches of underpaid baggage handlers who I hope are kind enough not to dognapp and sell him on the black market for the tens of thousands of dollars he's surely worth but rather see that he arrives safely and without incident into my welcoming and nervously awaiting arms. ("I know I'm paranoid, but am I, too paranoid?") We have decided that the stress and trauma of being left alone in our apartment with his sitter (which we cannot come close to estimating with any certainty) is less than the stress and trauma of accompanying us via checked baggage (which we also cannot come close to estimating with any certainty) on our fairly short trip. Probably the safest decision, but one that will nevertheless bring me immeasurable anxiety, longing, and sadness over the course of the next few days. Don’t worry li’l guy, Raddy will be home soon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

we own the world

by noam chomsky, january 1, 2008, found here and adapted from a z media institute talk, june 2007.

You all know, of course, there was an election -- what is called "an election" in the United States -- last November. There was really one issue in the election, what to do about U.S. forces in Iraq and there was, by U.S. standards, an overwhelming vote calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces on a firm timetable.

As few people know, a couple of months earlier there were extensive polls in Iraq, U.S.-run polls, with interesting results. They were not secret here. If you really looked you could find references to them, so it's not that they were concealed. This poll found that two-thirds of the people in Baghdad wanted the U.S. troops out immediately; the rest of the country -- a large majority -- wanted a firm timetable for withdrawal, most of them within a year or less.

The figures are higher for Arab Iraq in the areas where troops were actually deployed. A very large majority felt that the presence of U.S. forces increased the level of violence and a remarkable 60 percent for all of Iraq, meaning higher in the areas where the troops are deployed, felt that U.S. forces were legitimate targets of attack. So there was a considerable consensus between Iraqis and Americans on what should be done in Iraq, namely troops should be withdrawn either immediately or with a firm timetable.

Well, the reaction in the post-election U.S. government to that consensus was to violate public opinion and increase the troop presence by maybe 30,000 to 50,000. Predictably, there was a pretext announced. It was pretty obvious what it was going to be. "There is outside interference in Iraq, which we have to defend the Iraqis against. The Iranians are interfering in Iraq." Then came the alleged evidence about finding IEDs, roadside bombs with Iranian markings, as well as Iranian forces in Iraq. "What can we do? We have to escalate to defend Iraq from the outside intervention."

Then came the "debate." We are a free and open society, after all, so we have "lively" debates. On the one side were the hawks who said, "The Iranians are interfering, we have to bomb them." On the other side were the doves who said, "We cannot be sure the evidence is correct, maybe you misread the serial numbers or maybe it is just the revolutionary guards and not the government."

So we had the usual kind of debate going on, which illustrates a very important and pervasive distinction between several types of propaganda systems. To take the ideal types, exaggerating a little: totalitarian states' propaganda is that you better accept it, or else. And "or else" can be of various consequences, depending on the nature of the state. People can actually believe whatever they want as long as they obey. Democratic societies use a different method: they don't articulate the party line. That's a mistake. What they do is presuppose it, then encourage vigorous debate within the framework of the party line. This serves two purposes. For one thing it gives the impression of a free and open society because, after all, we have lively debate. It also instills a propaganda line that becomes something you presuppose, like the air you breathe.

That was the case here. This is a classic illustration. The whole debate about the Iranian "interference" in Iraq makes sense only on one assumption, namely, that "we own the world." If we own the world, then the only question that can arise is that someone else is interfering in a country we have invaded and occupied.

So if you look over the debate that took place and is still taking place about Iranian interference, no one points out this is insane. How can Iran be interfering in a country that we invaded and occupied? It's only appropriate on the presupposition that we own the world. Once you have that established in your head, the discussion is perfectly sensible.

You read a lot of comparisons now about Vietnam and Iraq. For the most part they are totally incomparable; the nature and purpose of the war, almost everything is totally different except in one respect: how they are perceived in the United States. In both cases there is what is now sometimes called the "Q" word, quagmire. Is it a quagmire? In Vietnam it is now recognized that it was a quagmire. There is a debate of whether Iraq, too, is a quagmire. In other words, is it costing us too much? That is the question you can debate.

So in the case of Vietnam, there was a debate. Not at the beginning -- in fact, there was so little discussion in the beginning that nobody even remembers when the war began -- 1962, if you're interested. That's when the U.S. attacked Vietnam. But there was no discussion, no debate, nothing.

By the mid-1960s, mainstream debate began. And it was the usual range of opinions between the hawks and the doves. The hawks said if we send more troops, we can win. The doves, well, Arthur Schlesinger, famous historian, Kennedy's advisor, in his book in 1966 said that we all pray that the hawks will be right and that the current escalation of troops, which by then was approaching half a million, will work and bring us victory. If it does, we will all be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government for winning victory -- in a land that we're reducing to ruin and wreck.

You can translate that word by word to the doves today. We all pray that the surge will work. If it does, contrary to our expectations, we will be praising the wisdom and statesmanship of the Bush administration in a country, which, if we're honest, is a total ruin, one of the worst disasters in military history for the population.

If you get way to the left end of mainstream discussion, you get somebody like Anthony Lewis who, at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, wrote in retrospect that the war began with benign intensions to do good; that is true by definition, because it's us, after all. So it began with benign intentions, but by 1969, he said, it was clear that the war was a mistake. For us to win a victory would be too costly -- for us -- so it was a mistake and we should withdraw. That was the most extreme criticism.

Very much like today. We could withdraw from Vietnam because the U.S. had already essentially obtained its objective by then. Iraq we can't because we haven't obtained our objectives.

And for those of you who are old enough to remember -- or have read about it -- you will note that the peace movement pretty much bought that line. Just like the mainstream discussion, the opposition of the war, including the peace movement, was mostly focused on the bombing of the North. When the U.S. started bombing the North regularly in February 1965, it also escalated the bombing of the South to triple the scale -- and the South had already been attacked for three years by then. A couple of hundred thousand South Vietnamese were killed and thousands, if not tens of the thousands, had been driven into concentration camps. The U.S. had been carrying out chemical warfare to destroy food crops and ground cover. By 1965 South Vietnam was already a total wreck.

Bombing the South was costless for the United States because the South had no defense. Bombing the North was costly -- you bomb the North, you bomb the harbor, you might hit Russian ships, which begins to become dangerous. You're bombing an internal Chinese railroad -- the Chinese railroads from southeast to southwest China happen to go through North Vietnam -- who knows what they might do.

In fact, the Chinese were accused, correctly, of sending Chinese forces into Vietnam, namely to rebuild the railroad that we were bombing. So that was "interference" with our divine right to bomb North Vietnam. So most of the focus was on the bombing of the North. The peace movement slogan, "Stop the bombing" meant the bombing of the North.

In 1967 the leading specialist on Vietnam, Bernard Fall, a military historian and the only specialist on Vietnam respected by the U.S. government -- who was a hawk, incidentally, but who cared about the Vietnamese -- wrote that it's a question of whether Vietnam will survive as a cultural and historical entity under the most severe bombing that has ever been applied to a country this size. He was talking about the South. He kept emphasizing it was the South that was being attacked. But that didn't matter because it was costless, therefore it's fine to continue. That is the range of debate, which only makes sense on the assumption that we own the world.

If you read, say, the Pentagon Papers, it turns out there was extensive planning about the bombing of the North -- very detailed, meticulous planning on just how far it can go, what happens if we go a little too far, and so on. There is no discussion at all about the bombing of the South, virtually none. Just an occasional announcement, okay, we will triple the bombing, or something like that.

If you read Robert McNamara's memoirs of the war -- by that time he was considered a leading dove -- he reviews the meticulous planning about the bombing of the North, but does not even mention his decision to sharply escalate the bombing of the South at the same time that the bombing of the North was begun.

I should say, incidentally, that with regard to Vietnam what I have been discussing is articulate opinion, including the leading part of the peace movement. There is also public opinion, which it turns out is radically different, and that is of some significance. By 1969 around 70 percent of the public felt that the war was not a mistake, but that it was fundamentally wrong and immoral. That was the wording of the polls and that figure remains fairly constant up until the most recent polls just a few years ago. The figures are pretty remarkable because people who say that in a poll almost certainly think, I must be the only person in the world that thinks this. They certainly did not read it anywhere, they did not hear it anywhere. But that was popular opinion.

The same is true with regard to many other issues. But for articulate opinion it's pretty much the way I've described -- largely vigorous debate between the hawks and the doves, all on the unexpressed assumption that we own the world. So the only thing that matters is how much is it costing us, or maybe for some more humane types, are we harming too many of them?

Getting back to the election, there was a lot of disappointment among anti-war people -- the majority of the population -- that Congress did not pass any withdrawal legislation. There was a Democratic resolution that was vetoed, but if you look at the resolution closely it was not a withdrawal resolution. There was a good analysis of it by General Kevin Ryan, who was a fellow at the Kennedy School at Harvard. He went through it and he said it really should be called a re-missioning proposal. It leaves about the same number of American troops, but they have a slightly different mission.

He said, first of all it allows for a national security exception. If the president says there is a national security issue, he can do whatever he wants -- end of resolution. The second gap is it allows for anti-terrorist activities. Okay, that is whatever you like. Third, it allows for training Iraqi forces. Again, anything you like.

Next it says troops have to remain for protection of U.S. forces and facilities. What are U.S. forces? Well, U.S. forces are those embedded in Iraqi armed units where 60 percent of their fellow soldiers think that they -- U.S. troops, that is -- are legitimate targets of attack. Incidentally, those figures keep going up, so they are probably higher by now. Well, okay, that is plenty of force protection. What facilities need protection was not explained in the Democratic resolution, but facilities include what is called "the embassy." The U.S. embassy in Iraq is nothing like any embassy that has ever existed in history. It's a city inside the green zone, the protected region of Iraq, that the U.S. runs. It's got everything from missiles to McDonalds, anything you want. They didn't build that huge facility because they intend to leave.

That is one facility, but there are others. There are "semi-permanent military bases," which are being built around the country. "Semi-permanent" means permanent, as long as we want.

General Ryan omitted a lot of things. He omitted the fact that the U.S. is maintaining control of logistics and logistics is the core of a modern Army. Right now about 80 percent of the supply is coming in though the south, from Kuwait, and it's going through guerilla territory, easily subject to attack, which means you have to have plenty of troops to maintain that supply line. Plus, of course, it keeps control over the Iraqi Army.

The Democratic resolution excludes the Air Force. The Air Force does whatever it wants. It is bombing pretty regularly and it can bomb more intensively. The resolution also excludes mercenaries, which is no small number -- sources such as the Wall Street Journal estimate the number of mercenaries at about 130,000, approximately the same as the number of troops, which makes some sense. The traditional way to fight a colonial war is with mercenaries, not with your own soldiers -- that is the French Foreign Legion, the British Ghurkas, or the Hessians in the Revolutionary War. That is part of the main reason the draft was dropped -- so you get professional soldiers, not people you pick off the streets.

So, yes, it is re-missioning, but the resolution was vetoed because it was too strong, so we don't even have that. And, yes, that did disappoint a lot of people. However, it would be too strong to say that no high official in Washington called for immediate withdrawal. There were some. The strongest one I know of -- when asked what is the solution to the problem in Iraq -- said it's quite obvious, "Withdraw all foreign forces and withdraw all foreign arms." That official was Condoleeza Rice and she was not referring to U.S. forces, she was referring to Iranian forces and Iranian arms. And that makes sense, too, on the assumption that we own the world because, since we own the world U.S. forces cannot be foreign forces anywhere. So if we invade Iraq or Canada, say, we are the indigenous forces. It's the Iranians that are foreign forces.

I waited for a while to see if anyone, at least in the press or journals, would point out that there was something funny about this. I could not find a word. I think everyone regarded that as a perfectly sensible comment. But I could not see a word from anyone who said, wait a second, there are foreign forces there, 150,000 American troops, plenty of American arms.

So it is reasonable that when British sailors were captured in the Gulf by Iranian forces, there was debate, "Were they in Iranian borders or in Iraqi borders? Actually there is no answer to this because there is no territorial boundary, and that was pointed out. It was taken for granted that if the British sailors were in Iraqi waters, then Iran was guilty of a crime by intervening in foreign territory. But Britain is not guilty of a crime by being in Iraqi territory, because Britain is a U.S. client state, and we own the world, so they are there by right.

What about the possible next war, Iran? There have been very credible threats by the U.S. and Israel -- essentially a U.S. client -- to attack Iran. There happens to be something called the UN Charter which says that -- in Article 2 -- the threat or use of force in international affairs is a crime. "Threat or use of force."

Does anybody care? No, because we're an outlaw state by definition, or to be more precise, our threats and use of force are not foreign, they're indigenous because we own the world. Therefore, it's fine. So there are threats to bomb Iran -- maybe we will and maybe we won't. That is the debate that goes on. Is it legitimate if we decide to do it? People might argue it's a mistake. But does anyone say it would be illegitimate? For example, the Democrats in Congress refuse to put in an amendment that would require the Executive to inform Congress if it intends to bomb Iran -- to consult, inform. Even that was not accepted.

The whole world is aghast at this possibility. It would be monstrous. A leading British military historian, Correlli Barnett, wrote recently that if the U.S. does attack, or Israel does attack, it would be World War III. The attack on Iraq has been horrendous enough. Apart from devastating Iraq, the UN High Commission on Refugees reviewed the number of displaced people -- they estimate 4.2 million, over 2 million fled the country, another 2 million fleeing within the country. That is in addition to the numbers killed, which if you extrapolate from the last studies, are probably approaching a million.

It was anticipated by U.S. intelligence and other intelligence agencies and independent experts that an attack on Iraq would probably increase the threat of terror and nuclear proliferation. But that went way beyond what anyone expected. Well known terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank estimated -- using mostly government statistics -- that what they call "the Iraq effect" increased terror by a factor of seven, and that is pretty serious. And that gives you an indication of the ranking of protection of the population in the priority list of leaders. It's very low.

So what would the Iran effect be? Well, that is incalculable. It could be World War III. Very likely a massive increase in terror, who knows what else. Even in the states right around Iraq, which don't like Iran -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey -- even there the large majority would prefer to see a nuclear armed Iran to any U.S. military action, and they are right, military action could be devastating. It doesn't mean we won't do it. There is very little discussion here of the illegitimacy of doing it, again on the assumption that anything we do is legitimate, it just might cost too much.

Is there a possible solution to the U.S./Iran crisis? Well, there are some plausible solutions. One possibility would be an agreement that allows Iran to have nuclear energy, like every signer of the non-proliferation treaty, but not to have nuclear weapons. In addition, it would call for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. That would include Iran, Israel, which has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and any U.S. or British forces deployed in the region. A third element of a solution would be for the United States and other nuclear states to obey their legal obligation, by unanimous agreement of the World Court, to make good-faith moves to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.

Is this feasible? Well, it's feasible on one assumption, that the United States and Iran become functioning democratic societies, because what I have just quoted happens to be the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the populations in Iran and the United States. On everything that I mentioned there is an overwhelming majority. So, yes, there would be a very feasible solution if these two countries were functioning democratic societies, meaning societies in which public opinion has some kind of effect on policy. The problem in the United States is the inability of organizers to do something in a population that overwhelmingly agrees with them and to make that current policy. Of course, it can be done. Peasants in Bolivia can do it, we can obviously do it here.

Can we do anything to make Iran a more democratic society? Not directly, but indirectly we can. We can pay attention to the dissidents and the reformists in Iran who are struggling courageously to turn Iran into a more democratic society. And we know exactly what they are saying, they are very outspoken about it. They are pleading with the United States to withdraw the threats against Iran. The more we threaten Iran, the more we give a gift to the reactionary, religious fanatics in the government. You make threats, you strengthen them. That is exactly what is happening. The threats have lead to repression, predictably.

Now the Americans claim they are outraged by the repression, which we should protest, but we should recognize that the repression is the direct and predictable consequence of the actions that the U.S. government is taking. So if you take actions, and then they have predictable consequences, condemning the consequences is total hypocrisy.

Incidentally, in the case of Cuba about two-thirds of Americans think we ought to end the embargo and all threats and enter into diplomatic relations. And that has been true ever since polls have been taken -- for about 30 years. The figure varies, but it's roughly there. Zero effect on policy, in Iran, Cuba, and elsewhere.

So there is a problem and that problem is that the United States is just not a functioning democracy. Public opinion does not matter and among articulate and elite opinion that is a principle -- it shouldn't matter. The only principle that matters is we own the world and the rest of you shut up, you know, whether you're abroad or at home.

So, yes, there is a potential solution to the very dangerous problem, it's essentially the same solution: do something to turn our own country into a functioning democracy. But that is in radical opposition to the fundamental presupposition of all elite discussions, mainly that we own the world and that these questions don't arise and the public should have no opinion on foreign policy, or any policy.

Once, when I was driving to work, I was listening to NPR. NPR is supposed to be the kind of extreme radical end of the spectrum. I read a statement somewhere, I don't know if it's true, but it was a quote from Obama, who is the hope of the liberal doves, in which he allegedly said that the spectrum of discussion in the United States extends between two crazy extremes, Rush Limbaugh and NPR. The truth, he said, is in the middle and that is where he is going to be, in the middle, between the crazies.

NPR then had a discussion -- it was like being at the Harvard faculty club -- serious people, educated, no grammatical errors, who know what they're talking about, usually polite. The discussion was about the so-called missile defense system that the U.S. is trying to place in Czechoslovakia and Poland -- and the Russian reaction. The main issue was, "What is going on with the Russians? Why are they acting so hostile and irrational? Are they trying to start a new Cold War? There is something wrong with those guys. Can we calm them down and make them less paranoid?"

The main specialist they called in, I think from the Pentagon or somewhere, pointed out, accurately, that a missile defense system is essentially a first-strike weapon. That is well known by strategic analysts on all sides. If you think about it for a minute, it's obvious why. A missile defense system is never going to stop a first strike, but it could, in principle, if it ever worked, stop a retaliatory strike. If you attack some country with a first strike, and practically wipe it out, if you have a missile defense system, and prevent them from retaliating, then you would be protected, or partially protected. If a country has a functioning missile defense system it will have more options for carrying out a first strike. Okay, obvious, and not a secret. It's known to every strategic analyst. I can explain it to my grandchildren in two minutes and they understand it.

So on NPR it is agreed that a missile defense system is a first-strike weapon. But then comes the second part of the discussion. Well, say the pundits, the Russians should not be worried about this. For one thing because it's not enough of a system to stop their retaliation, so therefore it's not yet a first-strike weapon against them. Then they said it is kind of irrelevant anyway because it is directed against Iran, not against Russia.

Okay, that was the end of the discussion. So, point one, missile defense is a first-strike weapon; second, it's directed against Iran. Now, you can carry out a small exercise in logic. Does anything follow from those two assumptions? Yes, what follows is it's a first-strike weapon against Iran. Since the U.S. owns the world what could be wrong with having a first-strike weapon against Iran. So the conclusion is not mentioned. It is not necessary. It follows from the fact that we own the world.

Maybe a year ago or so, Germany sold advanced submarines to Israel, which were equipped to carry missiles with nuclear weapons. Why does Israel need submarines with nuclear armed missiles? Well, there is only one imaginable reason and everyone in Germany with a brain must have understood that -- certainly their military system does -- it's a first-strike weapon against Iran. Israel can use German subs to illustrate to Iranians that if they respond to an Israeli attack they will be vaporized.

The fundamental premises of Western imperialism are extremely deep. The West owns the world and now the U.S. runs the West, so, of course, they go along. The fact that they are providing a first-strike weapon for attacking Iran probably, I'm guessing now, raised no comment because why should it?

You can forget about history, it does not matter, it's kind of "old fashioned," boring stuff we don't need to know about. But most countries pay attention to history. So, for example, for the United States there is no discussion of the history of U.S./Iranian relations. Well, for the U.S. there is only one event in Iranian history -- in 1979 Iranians overthrew the tyrant that the U.S. was backing and took some hostages for over a year. That happened and they had to be punished for that.

But for Iranians their history is that for over 50 years, literally without a break, the U.S. has been torturing Iranians. In 1953 the U.S. overthrew the parliamentary government and installed a brutal tyrant, the Shah, and kept supporting him while he compiled one of the worst human rights records in the world -- torture, assassination, anything you like. In fact, President Carter, when he visited Iran in December 1978, praised the Shah because of the love shown to him by his people, and so on and so forth, which probably accelerated the overthrow. Of course, Iranians have this odd way of remembering what happened to them and who was behind it. When the Shah was overthrown, the Carter administration immediately tried to instigate a military coup by sending arms to Iran through Israel to try to support military force to overthrow the government. We immediately turned to supporting Iraq, that is Saddam Hussein, and his invasion of Iran. Saddam was executed for crimes he committed in 1982, by his standards not very serious crimes -- complicity in killing 150 people. Well, there was something missing in that account -- 1982 is a very important year in U.S./Iraqi relations. That is the year in which Ronald Reagan removed Iraq from the list of states supporting terrorism so that the U.S. could start supplying Iraq with weapons for its invasion of Iran, including the means to develop weapons of mass destruction, chemical and nuclear weapons. That is 1982. A year later Donald Rumsfeld was sent to firm up the deal. Well, Iranians may very well remember that this led to a war in which hundreds of thousands of them were slaughtered with U.S. aid going to Iraq. They may well remember that the year after the war was over, in 1989, the U.S. government invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to come to the United States for advanced training in developing nuclear weapons.

What about the Russians? They have a history too. One part of the history is that in the last century Russia was invaded and practically destroyed three times through Eastern Europe. You can look back and ask, when was the last time that the U.S. was invaded and practically destroyed through Canada or Mexico? That doesn't happen. We crush others and we are always safe. But the Russians don't have that luxury. Now, in 1990 a remarkable event took place. I was kind of shocked, frankly. Gorbachev agreed to let Germany be unified, meaning join the West and be militarized within a hostile military alliance. This is Germany, which twice in that century practically destroyed Russia. That's a pretty remarkable agreement.

There was a quid pro quo. Then-president George Bush I agreed that NATO would not expand to the East. The Russians also demanded, but did not receive, an agreement for a nuclear-free zone from the Artic to the Baltic, which would give them a little protection from nuclear attack. That was the agreement in 1990. Then Bill Clinton came into office, the so-called liberal. One of the first things he did was to rescind the agreement, unilaterally, and expand NATO to the East.

For the Russians that's pretty serious, if you remember the history. They lost 25 million people in the last World War and over 3 million in World War I. But since the U.S. owns the world, if we want to threaten Russia, that is fine. It is all for freedom and justice, after all, and if they make unpleasant noises about it we wonder why they are so paranoid. Why is Putin screaming as if we're somehow threatening them, since we can't be threatening anyone, owning the world.

One of the other big issues on the front pages now is Chinese "aggressiveness." There is a lot of concern about the fact that the Chinese are building up their missile forces. Is China planning to conquer the world? Big debates about it. Well, what is really going on? For years China has been in the lead in trying to prevent the militarization of space. If you look at the debates and the Disarmament Commission of the UN General Assembly, the votes are 160 to 1 or 2. The U.S. insists on the militarization of space. It will not permit the outer space treaty to explicitly bar military relations in space.

Clinton's position was that the U.S. should control space for military purposes. The Bush administration is more extreme. Their position is the U.S. should own space, their words, We have to own space for military purposes. So that is the spectrum of discussion here. The Chinese have been trying to block it and that is well understood. You read the most respectable journal in the world, I suppose, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and you find leading strategic analysts, John Steinbrunner and Nancy Gallagher, a couple of years ago, warning that the Bush administration's aggressive militarization is leading to what they call "ultimate doom." Of course, there is going to be a reaction to it. You threaten people with destruction, they are going to react. These analysts call on peace-loving nations to counter Bush's aggressive militarism. They hope that China will lead peace-loving nations to counter U.S. aggressiveness. It's a pretty remarkable comment on the impossibility of achieving democracy in the United States. Again, the logic is pretty elementary. Steinbrunner and Gallagher are assuming that the United States cannot be a democratic society; it's not one of the options, so therefore we hope that maybe China will do something.

Well, China finally did something. It signaled to the United States that they noticed that we were trying to use space for military purposes, so China shot down one of their satellites. Everyone understands why -- the mili- tarization and weaponization of space depends on satellites. While missiles are very difficult or maybe impossible to stop, satellites are very easy to shoot down. You know where they are. So China is saying, "Okay, we understand you are militarizing space. We're going to counter it not by militarizing space, we can't compete with you that way, but by shooting down your satellites." That is what was behind the satellite shooting. Every military analyst certainly understood it and every lay person can understand it. But take a look at the debate. The discussion was about, "Is China trying it conquer the world by shooting down one of its own satellites?"

About a year ago there was a new rash of articles and headlines on the front page about the "Chinese military build-up." The Pentagon claimed that China had increased its offensive military capacity -- with 400 missiles, which could be nuclear armed. Then we had a debate about whether that proves China is trying to conquer the world or the numbers are wrong, or something.

Just a little footnote. How many offensive nuclear armed missiles does the United States have? Well, it turns out to be 10,000. China may now have maybe 400, if you believe the hawks. That proves that they are trying to conquer the world.

It turns out, if you read the international press closely, that the reason China is building up its military capacity is not only because of U.S. aggressiveness all over the place, but the fact that the United States has improved its targeting capacities so it can now destroy missile sites in a much more sophisticated fashion wherever they are, even if they are mobile. So who is trying to conquer the world? Well, obviously the Chinese because since we own it, they are trying to conquer it.

It's all too easy to continue with this indefinitely. Just pick your topic. It's a good exercise to try. This simple principle, "we own the world," is sufficient to explain a lot of the discussion about foreign affairs.

I will just finish with a word from George Orwell. In the introduction to Animal Farm he said, England is a free society, but it's not very different from the totalitarian monster I have been describing. He says in England unpopular ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. Then he goes on to give some dubious examples. At the end he turns to a very brief explanation, actually two sentences, but they are to the point. He says, one reason is the press is owned by wealthy men who have every reason not to want certain ideas to be expressed. And the second reason -- and I think a more important one -- is a good education. If you have gone to the best schools and graduated from Oxford and Cambridge, and so on, you have instilled in you the understanding that there are certain things it would not do to say; actually, it would not do to think. That is the primary way to prevent unpopular ideas from being expressed.

The ideas of the overwhelming majority of the population, who don't attend Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge, enable them to react like human beings, as they often do. There is a lesson there for activists.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

dry your eyes, dear comrades


A Review of the World Junior Championships Semifinal Match Between Russia and Sweden

Americans finally got a chance to watch this beauty of a tournament on TV thanks to the glorious NHL Network. This meant I was able to watch the Russia – Sweden semifinal match from the comfy confines of my couch rather than scouring the internet to watch it online on a grainy and always buffering video player. Yes.

The Russians are coming off three straight world junior gold medal game appearances and three straight losses to Canada in said games. They are also coming off a brutal seven losses and one tie shellacking in the “Super” Series against Canada. Yet, they looked pretty good against the Czechs in the quarters and were now facing a Swedish team who recently defeated the juggernaut that is the Canadian national junior team, the first time the Canadians have lost in a few years. Despite producing a slew of great players and having success at the senior level, the Swedes' junior program has been not very good for a very long time: out of the medals since ’96 and no golds since ’81. How is a nation that has produced Lidstrom, Forsberg, and Sundin (Mats not Ronnie) go through a drought like that? Some thoughts on what I found was a highly entertaining game (though I guess I could watch a Russian national team practice and find it highly entertaining; actually, judging by the result of the game, this may be the preferred way to watch the Russians play).

  • The first period was your classic feeling out, “this is a huge game let’s not do something stupid early,” period.

  • Viktor Tikhonov Jr., grandson of legendary Russian coach and legendary Russian a-hole Viktor Tikhonov Sr., has been the Russians' best forward this tournament and was once again today. This guy has a similar stride and the same bull in a china shop style as Ovechkin, and like Alex he also is not afraid to shoot the puck. The kid has some sick moves which he showed off late in the game with the score tied when he blew by three Swedish defenders and beat the fourth with an insane between the legs dangle, only to try and make another move in close on the goalie and get stuffed. Would have been the goal of the tourney without a doubt, but alas. But more impressive was this guy’s work in his own zone and on the PK. Coach Nemchinov (who probably deserves his own post) alternated Tikhonov and Maxim Mamin as the lone forwards on the 4-3 PK to begin OT. Tikhonov was making smart and aggressive defensive plays all night. How is it possible that he has been passed over twice in the NHL draft already? Great player, his game is probably more tailored to North America than the large rink. Seems like he doing OK in Severstal as a 19 year old, but someone should definitely try to bring him over here. Baby Ovechkin.

  • Russian defensive prospects have been much maligned in recent years, in part due to the declining presence of Russian defensemen in the NHL. It’s seems obvious that this is based less on a lack of quality Russian defensemen and in larger part to 1) the absence of a transfer agreement; 2) the skyrocketing and lightly taxed Russian Super League salaries; 3) the difficulty of training any defensemen, North American or European, to play in the NHL; and 4) the preference, perhaps short-sighted in some cases, of Russian players (and families and agents, I imagine) of playing at home in the RSL to riding buses and making $60,000 a year in the AHL. There are a plethora of examples of Russian defensemen who may or may not have been able to become solid NHL players but who will never have had the chance because they opted to stay at home, but there are some notable young d-men who are in the process of joining that group: Alexei Emelin, Kiril Koltsov, Ilja Nikulin.

  • Where was I going with this? Despite this phenomenon, that Russian defensemen are almost surely better than North American scouts and fans rate them, the group of defenders on this year’s junior team nevertheless does still appear to be lacking the big-name game breakers that previous teams have had. However, I was impressed by the group’s top three: Evgeni Kurbatov, Jakov Seleznev, and Vyachaslav Voinov. Kurbatov appears to be a tough as nails guy in the mold of a Dimitri Yuskevish, who has been playing in the RSL the last few years literally on one leg. Yuskevich is as tough and gutsy as they come and if Kurbatov plays half as hard, he can hang his head high. Kurbatov was a horse in this one, on the ice a ton, blocking shots, and generally exuding a certain amount of calmness. He’s another player that’s been passed over twice now in the NHL draft. I wonder if he’ll come over, but there seems to be little doubt based on his performance in Pradubice that he has the ability to play in the NHL one day. Seleznev is a bit smoother and may have been the team’s best one on one defender, despite getting walked around by 16 year old Swede wunderkind, Viktor Hedman. Seleznev has some offensive upside to his game as well. Not sure what his draft status is but he reminds me of a poor man’s Andrei Markov. And finally, Voinov is the next Kasparitis/Danny Markov, the Russian Ulf Samuelsson. He’s mean and hits hard, and I didn’t see him running around and getting out of position trying to take anyone’s head off. North American scouts are much more likely to be attracted to this kind of Russian than Kurbatov or Seleznev, but I’m not sure he’ll be the better player. Overall, I think the entire group played fairly well today. I didn’t see much of Maxim Chudinov who I thought looked good in the Super Series and against the Czechs. Marat Kalimulin had a couple of terrible plays on the Power Play, Yuri Alexandrov had an ugly last man back turnover, and Doronin, we’ll get to him. The one thing they seem to lack is the huge offensive threat from the back end, like a Gonchar or Zubov. I guess the kid Ivan Vishnevskyi is supposed to be pretty slick and skilled, and a nightmare in his own end, but he didn’t make the team.

  • It was fairly even through the game’s first half I thought when Russia began to turn the tide. Finally, late in the second the Russians drew first blood. Alexei Cherepanov corralled a puck in the neutral zone and held on to it just long enough to let 17 year old Nikita Filatov gather some speed before hitting him in stride outside Sweden's blue line. Filatov did the rest as he exploded by the Swedish defender wide and then brought the puck back inside and tucking it somewhere between the goalie’s pads. It’s the kind of goal you dream about scoring every time you walk to the rink (at least I do, dream that is). Filatov most of the time looks like the real deal, at least when his baby face is not making him look 15. He led Russia in shots on goal for the tournament but had the puck roll off his stick late in the third on a play that would have put the game out of reach. He’s also fanned on a pass to an open Cherepanov early in the second that would have been a tap-in. Maddeningly inconsistent brilliance, but Russia should not be in a position where it’s placing its scoring hopes on the shoulders of a 17 year old (2 17 year olds if you count Cherepanov). Filatov on ability alone would be a top 15 pick in next year’s draft it seems, but no transfer agreement, who knows.

  • Which brings us to Cherepanov. Ah, Cherry, he who sat in humiliation for two hours at last year’s draft as scores of players not anywhere near as talented heard their names called. Playing on what was essentially the second line, Cherry was the team’s most consistent offensive threat. He can absolutely wire the puck, though I wish he hit the net with his slapshot more, and he’s very good at controlling the puck down low. There’s nothing I hate more than the intellectually lazy and borderline rascist theory that Russians are skilled but lazy and selfish and care more about looking good than winning, etc. It’s basically nothing more than an easy to follow (and propagate) storyline forged from groupthink and ignorance. However, I hate it almost as much when it’s given credence. And when Cherry-bomb took a dumb and lazy and selfish, and worse, totally unnecessary, hooking penalty midway through the third, it not only provided ammunition to those Russian bashers, but really changed the momentum of the game and cost Russia a shot at gold. Russia had been controlling the flow most of the third and effectively protecting their one goal lead when Cherepanov, after a pretty good shift in the offensive zone actually, reached out and hooked a Swede at the blue line where, I think, he had a defenseman back covering on the play. No idea what he was thinking, but Sweden, of course, tied the game on a patient, pretty move by Robin Figren, and they basically dominated the rest of the period and the OT.

  • Russia valiantly killed off a PK in OT and I was holding to the belief that if it went to a shootout Russia would almost surely have the advantage. But unsurprisingly, it wouldn’t come to that. Mikael Backlund blew by poor Pavel Doronin and made a nice move to slip it through Sergei Bobrovsky and end it. The only few times I noticed Doronin before that were for nice plays he made, one was a great aggressive play he made to start the PK in OT, but he got beat badly and you know he’s gotta be hurting right now. You’ve got to give credit to the Swedes though; they never stopped battling and Backlund, Finger, and Patrik Berglund were particularly good (it did kill me to watch their batch of blonde haired, blue eyed kids who live in a nation where there’s no crime, high education, awesome social services, beautiful, smart women, all singing their national anthem out of tune after they won). Berglund even tried the dick-move where you turn the blade over and control the puck with just the tip of the toe as its perpendicular to the ice. It’s what all the skilled pricks try at open ice-hockey. Berglund did it in the last minutes of a tied world junior championship semi-final.

  • As for the keeper, Bobrovsky. He played great, couldn’t be blamed on either goals and made a bunch of difficult saves. It was the first time ever, I think, that I’ve watched a Russian junior team and not been afraid that a back-breaking, terrible goal was just around the corner. All in all, it’s disappointing that I won’t be watching these guys losing to Canada in the finals for the forth year in a row. Instead, I’ll be cheering them on against the filthy Americans for oh so shameful bronze. Go get it, boys.