Saturday, April 30, 2005

Chalabi Gets Petroleum Minister Post in New Iraq Government

from Informed Comment
More details of the new Iraqi cabinet are now out. The big and rather ominous surprise is that Ahmad Chalabi is the temporary Petroleum Minister. It has not in the past been easy to pry him out of positions once in them. And, in the past, whenever he has been around big money, a lot of it has mysteriously disappeared. Some are saying that at least he has the background to deal with foreign oil companies. But lots of Iraqis have such a background. The point is that Chalabi doesn't know anything about the petroleum industry and also has a poor business reputation to put it lightly.
The Nation and the Middle East, Cont.

from The Angry Arab News Service
My dear friend Joseph Massad wrote an excellent critique of the lousy piece on the war on Middle East studies at Columbia University in the ostensibly leftist Nation magazine... Scott Sherman, who seems to believe that you need to blame the victim for his victimhood, offers a typically weak and vapid response to the letters that reached the Nation, and only a handful of which were published. Sherman, as Angry Arab was told by inside sources, scrambled to find one token critical Arab to offer him praise in this section of the letters to the Nation but alas could not find any. And if the mainstream Washington Post does not print a news item that is not based on at least two sources, Sherman--you shall notice--is satisfied with one anonymous source merely to smear Joseph Massad.
Grassroots Fight Ensues as Schwarzenegger Favors Business Interests

from The New Standard
Facing a deficit estimated in the billions for the upcoming year, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has adopted an aggressive strategy to roll back state spending. His campaign to control the budget has touched off a battle with the state’s labor and grassroots organizations, some of which are suggesting the actor-turned-politician is proving incapable of standing independently from the business interests that helped fuel his campaign for office.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Whole Foods

from Znet:
In July 2002, employees at the Whole Foods Market in Madison, Wisconsin, made history when they voted to become the first unionized store at the natural foods mega-chain. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)-supported organizing drive was motivated by lower-than-industry wages, absence of a legally-binding grievance procedure, and other unfair labor practices. The pro-union vote also sparked a determined and eventually successful year-long campaign by the chain's notoriously anti-union CEO John Mackey to defeat the only union shop among its more than 150 stores.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Poll: Syria More Popular than US in Lebanon

from The Angry Arab News Service
Which country is more unpopular than Syria in Lebanon? Take a guess. No, it is not Micronesia. Try again. Yes. You guessed right. It is the US. According to a national Zogby poll conducted in Lebanon, US is more opposed than Syria by a sample of the Lebanese population.
Wangari Maathai

from The Progressive
You don't have to recognize only those who bring warring parties together or those who stop a war or the production of arms. For us to enjoy peace, we need to manage our resources more responsibly. We need to share our resources more equitably, both globally and nationally, and we can only do that in a democratic space. If we don't have space to discuss, to dialogue, to listen to each other, to respect each other's opinions, we're going to use our power to control our resources at the expense of those who don't have them. By doing that, we create a lot of enmity, and eventually we have conflict. In Kenya I see these things happening all the time: resources become depleted, water becomes finished, wells dry up, and the next thing you hear is that tribesmen are fighting a war.

Friday, April 15, 2005

I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and, also generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.

- Albert Einstein (commenting on why he joined the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO)

Monday, April 11, 2005

"Mission Accomplished" from the BBC

Inside Iraq as you'll never see it on CNN. Required viewing for all Americans:

(Choose "Save target as" to download and view...)

from Confessions of an Economic Hitman
Today, we still have slave traders. They no longer find it necessary to march into the forests of Africa looking for prime specimens who will bring top dollar on the auction blocks in Charleston, Cartagena, and Havana. They simple recruit desperate people and build a factory to produce the jackets, blue jeans, tennis shoes, automobile parts, computer components, and thousands of other items they can sell in the markets of their choosing...

The old-fashioned slave trader told himself that he was dealing a species that was not entirely human, and that he was offering them the opportunity to become Christianized. He also understood that slaves were fundamental to the survival of his own society, they they were the foundation of his economy. The modern slave trader assures himself (or herself) that the desperate people are better off earning one dollar a day than no dollars at all, and they are receiving the opportunity to become integrated into the larger world community. She also understands that these desperate people are fundamental to the survival of her company, that they are the foundation of her own lifestyle. She never stops to think about the larger implications of what she, her lifestyle, and the economic system behind them are doing to the world--or of how they may ultimately impact her children's future.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Morality and Power

In making a moral evaluation of any policy, past or present, we have to inquire into the motives of the policymakers. There is a tendency among ideologues from both ends of the spectrum to deduce hidden motives and/or apply unspoken dogmas (such as economic determinism, for instance) to their analyses, without bothering to look up what policymakers actually thought they were doing.

Since I proceed from the assumption that all power is used for "the good" of those in a position to exercise it, the question of how power justifies itself--whether as divinely ordained, mandated by crisis, or democratically inspired--is not morally relevant. All power justifies itself; and since it is not the tendency of humans to view themselves as criminals, the fact that those in positions of authority internalize the noble intentions of their institutions proves nothing. Adolf Eichmann certainly did not see himself as a monster; he was simply fulfilling his institutional role within the Third Reich. Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union. The Spanish and Portugese brought "civilization" and Christianity to South America. We settled land left "idle" by the Native Americans. A hundred years later we defended South Vietnam against its own population by laying waste to the nation. And we continue to prop up deeply unpopular regimes in Latin America and the Middle East because, after all, they're better than "the alternative"--a catch-all expression (interchangable with "communism") for "any government who feels a responsibility for the welfare of its people," and not the needs of US investors, financial institutions, manufacturing corporations, etc., to paraphrase the late George Kennan. So, no: I don't make moral evaluations based on the stated intentions, sincere or otherwise, of those in positions of authority over the lives of others. Morality relates specifically to behavior and its predictable human consequences, not "intent."

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Was Bush Right?

It's one thing to ask the question as if the only opinion that mattered was ours--as if we were the only ones affected by our decision to resort to force. I'm sure it's easy for American politicians, intellectuals, and pundits to feel satisfied with a policy that asked so little of them--in taxes or in the risk to their personal well-being or that of their loved ones. But since morality does not principally deal with how we feel about ourselves--but rather how our behavior affects others--it follows that one does not pose these questions to oneself.

The main moral question of Iraq, as I see it, relates to the violence we necessarily imposed on the victims of a tyrant so that we might remove him. In this case, hundreds of thousands of people, no longer among the living, that we are responsible for, due to our choices. The Iraqis who were killed certainly had no say in it, nor the family members that lost them. The question we should be asking is whether they think it was worth it, since either they or their loved ones might still be alive today otherwise. Personally, I don't feel comfortable speaking so confidently about what is "right" in such circumstances, particularly when an alternative--and preferably democratic--solution might still have been found.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Other Pope

from Informed Comment
John Paul II was a complex man and among the more intellectual popes in history. Because of his admirable stance against Stalinism in Eastern Europe (which did not in fact involve any denunciation of communism or socialism per se) and his anti-abortion stance, he is often claimed as an ally by the American Right (which is mainly Protestant and mainly about the best interests of wealthy business people).

But John Paul II was often an inconvenient man, whose moral vision would be upsetting to the US Republican establishment if it were taken seriously. He opposed the death penalty, to which George W. Bush is so attached. He opposed the Iraq War. He condemned laissez-faire capitalism and cared about the exploitation of workers, who he felt should have a dignity that is seldom bestowed upon them by the Walmarts and other firms in the US. And he cared about the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people in a way that virtually no one in the American political establishment does. He symbolically blessed the Palestinian claim that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palestinian people.

That is, the Pope's message sometimes had a strong progressive content, and he was in some important ways on our side. That progressives might have had differences with him on some issues should not forestall our celebrating his progressive legacy. The American Right appropriates shamelessly anyone who even halfway agrees with them. We on the left must learn to make sectional alliances and commemorate those areas of agreement we have with people like John Paul II.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Central American Free Trade Agreement

from The Wall Street Journal
The legislative battle over the Central American Free Trade Agreement is heating up, and if we are to believe the grandiose claims put forward by Cafta's supporters, this deal will create great jobs at home, close our trade deficit, lift Central America out of poverty, and solidify democratic reforms there. It will also boost global trade talks and allow supporters to paint themselves as "pro-growth" and "pro-jobs." Wow.

But we've heard these arguments before: 11 years ago, when Congress debated the North American Free Trade Agreement; 10 years ago, with the ratification of the World Trade Organization agreement; and five years ago, when China joined the WTO. In each instance, the American people were told the deals would open markets abroad, improve U.S. competitiveness, spur jobs and growth, and eradicate poverty.

It didn't work then and it won't work now.