Political MoJo

Turning our backs on women's suffrage

| Fri Aug. 26, 2005 11:11 AM EDT

Today is Women's Suffrage Day. 85 years ago, women in the United States gained the right to vote. In the 70's, we used to have a parade, dress in period costume, and do public readings. Now, the only thing I have to look forward to each year is Ellen Goodman's annual Sexism Awards.

The suffragists--known then and even now by the sexist, demeaning nickname, "Suffragettes"--paid a great price to get the vote. They were belittled, threatened, beaten, chained, kicked, dragged, choked, had their heads bashed against prison walls, and were force-fed, causing permanent physical damage. President Woodrow Wilson stood by quietly while the women were stalked and tortured, then took credit for the 19th Amendment when the inevitable occurred.

Though it is nice to acknowledge the anniversary of women's suffrage, it is perhaps more important to acknowledge that women in this country could not vote until the 20th Century. And that our nation--land of the free--was a so-called democracy for 144 years before half of its population could cast a vote.

In this shocking appearance on "Meet the Press" last week, PNAC bigshot Marc Gerecht allowed that since America had done okay as a "democracy" for almost 150 years without women voting, that was proof that democracy-building in Iraq does not require women's suffrage. George W. Bush seems to agree with him, but then--why wouldn't he? He is doing everything he can to derail women's rights in his own country.

Kansas State Senator Kay O'Connor is probably giving a thumbs-up to Gerecht as I write this. In 2001, she said:

I think the 19th Amendment, while it's not an evil in and of itself, is a symptom of something I don't approve of. The 19th Amendment is around because men weren't doing their jobs, and I think that's sad. I believe the man should be the head of the family. The woman should be the heart of the family.

I know irony was supposed to have died in 2001, but this was a female office-holder speaking. In fact she is running for the office of Kansas Secretary of State next year (and has already been fined for an ethics violation).

Women vote, but they vote against their own interests, even against their own safety. Consider all of the California women who voted for Arnold Schwarzengger, an unindicted but well-established sex criminal. Millions of women voted for George W. Bush, who not only doesn't mind sending their children off to die for Halliburton, but who wants to curtail their control over their own bodies and to encourage the dominance of an extreme patriarchal religious movement.

Nowadays, when August 26 rolls around, I wonder if there is much to celebrate.

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"It's just a bloody war!"

Fri Aug. 26, 2005 10:39 AM EDT

Well, it looks like Tony Blair and Jack Straw are proceeding with their xenophobic plan to purge the U.K. of immigrants in general and foreign asylum seekers in particular. Over at Lenin's Tomb we hear that her majesty's government is preparing to deport refugees...to a war zone.

Despite refugee groups and the UNHCR warning that the volatile situation in Iraq means that no-one should be forced home, the Home Office are insisting that some parts of Iraq are not as affected by insurgent action and are therefore safer. This goes against Foreign Office advice which has discouraged non- essential travel to Iraq for Britons and warns of an expected increase in attacks by insurgents.
So if your country is at war, don't think of trying to seek asylum in the U.K., they will just send you right back. This goes hand in hand with Blair's new agenda to roll back human rights legislation so that they can also deport people to countries that torture its citizens.

Hey--American Legion! Bring it on...

| Thu Aug. 25, 2005 8:46 PM EDT

Delegates to the American Legion annual convention say they will "use whatever means necessary 'to ensure the united backing of the American people to support our troops and the global war on terrorism.'"

The 2.7 million-member organization has "declared war" on antiwar protesters, calling for an end to all "public protests" and "media events" against the war.

The American Legion will stand against anyone and any group that would demoralize our troops, or worse, endanger their lives by encouraging terrorists to continue their cowardly attacks against freedom-loving peoples.

Those are the words of Thomas Cadmus, American Legion national commander, speaking to delegates in Honolulu.

Hey, Commander Cadmus--everyone knows that suicide-bombers and insurgent guerillas don't make a move unless they believe U.S. and allied troops have been sufficiently "demoralized" by Cindy Sheehan. They live for it, and die for it. And everyone knows that every time someone marches or rallies against the war, suicide bombers and insurgent guerillas have a beer, slap each other on the back, high-five it, and say "O-kay! Some Americans don't think their country should be over here. Cool. Let's go blow up another humvee."

The people who hate America hated America long before Bush invaded Iraq. The problem is that they hate us even more now. They don't want us in their country. Let's say it again: They don't want us in their country or in their part of the world. And if the Pentagon sprinkled G.I. Joe fairy dust on us tonight while we were sleeping, and we all woke up gung-ho about the war, the people who hate America would still hate America. They would still launch attacks against our soldiers. They would still go on suicide-bombing missions.

I am willing to concede there are soldiers who believe they should be in Iraq, risking their lives. I'm sorry they have been persuaded that their lives are worth less than Halliburton and PNAC, but I can do nothing about their opinions. And though they may feel anger when someone at home protests the war, the anger of the protestors is no less legitimate. Protesters are not only upset that American troops are being killed and maimed over a pack of lies, but also that the rest of us are now in more danger than ever of being attacked by terrorist groups.

The military exists to protect the homeland, and to intervene in crises deemed significant enough for intervention. Bush says it is better to "fight them over there" than to "fight them over here." The problem with that statement is that--in this case--fighting them over there is more likely to lead to fighting them over here.

People of conscience cannot be quiet when American soldiers are sent to die and lose their hands and legs because of lies told by the ersatz president of the United States.

People of conscience cannot be quiet when thousands of Iraqi civilians are killed and maimed, and when a city's infrastructure is destroyed because of lies told by a so-called leader who cuts veterans' benefits in the middle of a war and does not send the troops to battle with the proper equipment.

People of conscience cannot be quiet when it is clear that the only winner in a war is an oil products and services company.

Here is Cadmus's parting shot, but you knew it was coming:

Let's not repeat the mistakes of our past. I urge all Americans to rally around our armed forces and remember our fellow Americans who were viciously murdered on September 11, 2001.

Unlike you, Commander, I do remember my fellow Americans who were viciously murdered on September 11. They were murdered by people from Saudi Arabia, the country whose royal family is in bed 24/7 with that oil products and services company.

If I were Bill O'Reilly, I would tell you, Cadmus, to Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! But I am better-mannered than that, so I'll just ask you to stop lying and spewing anti-American rhetoric all over the place.

A Persistent Lie

Thu Aug. 25, 2005 3:20 PM EDT

Matt Taibbi's take on the Cindy Sheehan phenomenon just went online at Rolling Stone. As you'd expect, it alternates between ludicrous (like when he pretends to be an advanceman for Sean Hannity) and touching.

Taibbi takes a bit of time to point out that some of the activists who rushed to sleep on the ground in Texas, in August, are -- surprise -- a bit kooky:

At one point at Camp Casey, an informal poll taken around a campfire revealed that six out of a group of ten protesters, selected at random, believed that the United States government was directly involved in planning the 9/11 bombings. Flabbergasted, I tried to press the issue.

"Do you know how many people would have to be involved in that conspiracy?" I said. "I mean, start with the pilots . . ."

"The planes were flown by remote control," a girl sitting across from me snapped.

So what did Taibbi find at a nearby anti-Sheehan demonstration?

Aaron Martin, 31, had never heard the administration say that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, but Martin did remember one thing about Iraq that he said he'd heard "prior to 9/11."

"They had a fuselage," he said. "It was like a 747 fuselage that they use for training purposes for terrorism."

Was there any other reason he believed Iraq was connected to 9/11?

"It's just a general feeling," he said. … It was like a scene from Spinal Tap.

The latter right-wing delusion is only marginally more supported by anything resembling the truth. It just that rather than being advanced by some flat-earthers and French authors, this convenient lie was implied regularly by the President and the war's other hawks. And as Taibbi points out, this intentionally engendered confusion reinforced the prejudices that drove us to war, and still drive Sheehan's detractors.

Iraq's Forgotten War

Thu Aug. 25, 2005 2:23 PM EDT

Iraq's second war is continuing to play out. The first war is open, public, and has bitterly divided the United States. The second war is private, unheard and unseen by the West, and has received scant media attention by the corporate owned press. The first war is the one that the U.S. military is now conducting against the insurgency. The second war is the one being carried out against Iraq's trade unions.

The opening move in this second war was made by former CPA head Paul Bremer in 2003 when he reinstated Saddam's repressive law banning all strikes. This law came amidst a flurry of neoliberal changes designed to quickly open Iraq's economy for privatization and foreign ownership of nearly every industry from banking to oil.

Despite this attempt to prevent organized labor from taking a foothold in the newly "liberated" Iraq, Iraq's repressed unions quickly reorganized following Saddam's fall. The three largest being the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq, and the General Union of Oil Employees in Basra. With their new found strength and their commitment to a secular, democratic Iraq, many had hoped that the trade union movement would provide a foundation on which to build a free and pluralistic society.

Round two of this covert war moved from legal options to violent suppression. In December 2003, U.S. troops raided IFTU offices in Baghdad, arresting several of their leaders and then proceeded to shut the office down. By the end of 2004, a systematic attempt to intimidate and threaten trade union workers was being carried out. Railroad workers were kidnapped and mutilated. The offices of the Transportation and Communication Workers in Baghdad was bombed. Other workers were simply beaten.

In January 2005, much to the dismay of the international labor community, the International Secretary of IFTU Hadi Salih was kidnapped in his home, his hands and feet bound, and then tortured and assassinated. The war against Iraq's trade union movement continued in the following months as several more union leaders were kidnapped and assassinated.

Yet despite the laws attempting to repress them and despite the violence trying to eliminate them, the Iraqi trade union movement has been pushing ahead strong. IFTU now has over 200,000 members and half of the member unions have held conferences in which they democratically elected their leadership. As it currently stands, IFTU is the only union to be recognized by the Iraqi government.

And the union movement won a huge victory in December when the GUOE in Basra with its 23,000 members threatened to shut down oil production, leading to a doubling of their wages. They again held a 24-hour strike in July, asking for higher wages and a larger investment of oil profits in the impoverished region.

Now further efforts are being undertaken to break the unions' strength. The Iraqi Oil Ministry announced plans to begin privatizing portions of the southern oil fields. And earlier this month the new Iraqi government overturned an agreement allowing the trade unions to operate without state interference. Not only will the government release new regulation telling the unions how they will operate and organize, but they have also decreed that all money collected by Iraq's trade unions may be confiscated by the authorities.

And so Iraq's second war continues, unreported and unnoticed by the West, as the transnational capitalist class vies for control of Iraq's oil wealth and as the workers struggle for a democratic and just independence.

Who can be bothered with details?

| Thu Aug. 25, 2005 1:00 PM EDT

In 2002, AOL Time Warner, Inc. obtained AT&T Corporation's stake in their cable television, film production, and programming partnership in exchange for it.

About five years ago, Enron and their partners stole it from California's electricity and gas customers.

Duke Energy recently agreed to acquire Cinergy for its value in stocks.

Harrah's bought Caesar's for it.

Because of Bush's tax cut, in 2001, the federal government took it from Social Security in order to pay the government's bills.

It is more than four times the annual revenue of Ghana, 80% of the annual revenue of Nigeria, 20% of the annual revenue of Poland, and more than half the annual revenue of Iraq.

It is $9 billion, exactly the amount that is still unaccounted for in the reconstruction of Iraq because of what the U.S. Inspector General has labeled "severe inefficiencies and poor management."

Once again, the business-minded, management-oriented "reformers" in the White House proved to us that their idea of management is one that is pretty much on par with Bush's idea of scholarship when he was studying for his Harvard MBA.

The mystery of the missing $9 billion is just one more item the news media found too boring to cover. But while that money was building someone a really nice house in Baghdad, Bush was cutting veterans' benefits, and Rumsfeld was lying about the Pentagon's having requisitioned safer vehicles for the troops.

But hey--it's no big deal. It's just a lot of stolen money and dead soldiers. God bless America.

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Symbolism is not a right-wing value

| Wed Aug. 24, 2005 8:14 PM EDT

A common right-wing criticism of Cindy Sheehan is that she doesn't really want to ask Bush a question, she doesn't really want to see him--she's just there to put on a "staged" event, to call attention to her cause, and to get media coverage.

Well, a double-layered "duh" to that. Of course she is there to call attention to her cause and to get media coverage. Oh my god--someone is using symbolism to make a point. What a concept. What will we tell the children?

It's not like Bush has held dozens of staged "meetings" where only supporters were not at risk of being hauled away by the police. But if conservatives really are that literal, I guess it's up to me to set them straight.

I hate to break it to all of you Republicans, but when Pat Peale wore that Band-Aid on her face at your convention, she hadn't cut herself on the barbed wire while she was clearing brush: She was using it as a symbol to mock a man who put his life in danger to fight in Vietnam.

When Bush served a platter of plastic Turkey to the soldiers in Iraq, he wasn't auditioning to be a food stylist for the House and Garden channel: He was promoting good will among those whom he sent to be killed for PNAC and Halliburton.

The Mission Accomplished sign didn't mean that the war was over--just that the White House wanted you to have a big old testosterone charge from all that killing and destruction.

And when Bush stuffed a pair of gym socks into his flight uniform, it didn't mean he was looking to co-host with Adriano Rio--it was just a ploy to create another splash of testosterone.

Getting back to Cindy Sheehan--it is a moot point. Bush will do anything--even leave his ranch for Idaho--to avoid facing her. A vacation from his vacation. That's a lot of vacating. Because it's hard work, being a liar.

Counting the Unemployed

Wed Aug. 24, 2005 6:06 PM EDT

I came across this op/ed from the Boston Globe and I have to confess it made me ill:

Most of us fear joblessness — but if you make the best of it, it can be a time for rejuvenation, self-improvement, and even a little fun. I don't think I'm alone. I've heard it confided in whispers that unemployment — despite the obvious downside — can carry unforeseen joys...Even if you're lucky enough to get interviews, even if you're spending a good portion of your week on rewriting and printing your resume, you have lots more time at home than ever before. I read books on developing a positive outlook and generally succeeding in life. I actually cleaned my stove as soon as something spilled on it. Cleaned the rest of my apartment, too.

Read the rest if you can handle it.

Apparently this woman has never been to Chicago's South Side. I would venture to guess that the unemployed and underemployed would not agree with her fanciful and fun-filled characterization.

Just to give some examples:

Today while I was having lunch at one of the nearby fast food chains I saw a woman going through the parking lot trying to sell people her shoes. She was walking up to people sitting in parked cars or people coming in and out of the restaurant. I saw her take off the dirty low-heeled lavender dress shoes and hold them up for several people to look at. No one took her up on her offer.

Then there is the gas station by my house. I can go there at any time of the day and men ranging from 14 and 15 all the way up to 50 will be standing there offering to pump your gas for you.

Then there is the park across from my street. When I walk through there at night or early in the morning almost every bench has someone sleeping on it. Most of them have a few bags rolled up next to them, but some have nothing but a coat covering them up.

At my local video rental store there are always one or two people standing out front asking for change as you go in and leave. Sometimes I wonder if they "work" in shifts since it seems like a different person every time I go.

I doubt very much that these fine folks would consider unemployment "a time for rejuvenation." Of course, I also doubt very much that they figure in the country's unemployment statistics. They are the forgotten ones – those who gave up looking for jobs long ago in a city that couldn't find a place for them and didn't want to.

Bolton Lives On

| Wed Aug. 24, 2005 5:42 PM EDT

David Bosco has a long essay on John Bolton in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that's well worth a read. As we all know, Bolton sneaked through Congress and got himself installed as UN Ambassador by the president. In all likelihood, he'll do pretty minimal damage to the institution; the ambassador position just doesn't have enough power for him to wreak serious havoc. But the debate over Boltonism—namely, his cramped view that international institutions are useless for keeping order in the world, and may even hurt the United States—will no doubt continue to rage on for years to come. Bosco, I think, gets at the sensible case against Boltonism:

Treaties and formal organizations, such as the Biological Weapons Convention and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, are helpful precisely because they can create political and moral costs to departing from their mandates--as the United States knows all too well from the diplomatic damage it incurred in waging war against Iraq without U.N. approval.

Bolton is no doubt correct that such strictures are meaningless to outlaw nations. But regimes like North Korea, for all their danger, are anomalous. Most governments respond in some way, however imperfectly and inconsistently, to the pressure of international law and institutions. By disparaging formal treaties and exalting the PSI, Bolton may have damaged tools that are effective with most countries in an effort to craft policy for the exceptional few. Hard cases, as lawyers say, make bad law.

Can't argue with that. It's silly to pretend that international institutions such as the UN or treaties alone will somehow rein in regimes that want to go against prevailing global norms. Kim Jong Il will develop nukes no matter what the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty says. The United States went to war in Kosovo and Iraq without UN approval, and no treaty or institution could have possibly stopped it. Hard power matters. But that doesn't mean the international community is meaningless. The NPT might not stop North Korea, but it might keep countries such as, say, Brazil from going nuclear. Meanwhile, in the case of Iraq, the costs to the United States for deviating from international norms proved very real, perhaps high enough to make the country think twice before overstepping the wishes of the UN again. The same goes for many other countries that, by and large, wish to reap the benefits that come with playing by the rules: namely, they tend to play by the rules.

A similar case can be made for the International Criminal Court: yes, some very naïve Europeans believe that the ICC's indictments of the genocidaires in Khartoum will somehow have any effect on the slaughter in Darfur. It won't, they're wrong, and sometimes a piece of paper is just a piece of paper. But the ICC still remains a decent tool for adjudicating certain conflicts and pooling international resources together for prosecuting war criminals, rather than have the world continue to set up ad hoc tribunals as it did in Rwanda. (And no, contrary to Bolton's fears, the ICC would not be used against the United States.)

Meanwhile, Bolton—along with, one presumes, the president that backed him—ignores the capability of international institutions, again, like the UN, to foster cooperation and ties between countries that almost always benefit from cooperation and closer ties, but sometimes fail to cooperate for whatever reason. Many multilateral treaties aren't laws in the sense that, say, laws against murder are laws here in the United States. They're laws in the way that "everyone will drive on the right side of the road" are laws—extremely useful for coordinating behavior.

In a sense, Bolton knows all this. He oversaw, after all, the signing of 90 treaties during his tenure at the State Department—a strange bit of behavior for someone who supposedly doesn't believe in international institutions or treaties. The real problem seems to be, as Bosco points out, Bolton's nationalist paranoia that somehow the UN and other international institutions are all "out to get" the United States, that soon the black helicopters will all swoop in and take over the American hinterlands. Donald Rumsfeld's 2005 National Defense Strategy evinced a very similar paranoia when it argued, "Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora…." This may be true in small instances, of course, but it's not the sort of possibility you want to base a foreign policy on. The sooner the United States moves away from the paranoid foreign policy championed by Bolton, Rumsfeld, and Bush, the better.

Why the Charade?

Wed Aug. 24, 2005 2:04 PM EDT

In Iran, as previously happened in Iraq, inspectors were sent in to see if the respective governments were meeting all demands of the U.S. international community. With Iraq it was the mysterious and elusive "weapons of mass destruction." With Iran, it has simply been a nuclear weapons program. In both instances, the Bush administration was willing to go through the theatricals of sending in weapons inspectors to validate their claims.

And now we can say that in both instances the inspectors exonerated the countries of any weapons misconduct. Today we have word that the IAEA has concluded that traces of enriched uranium found in Iran were in fact due to contamination from their supplier and not the result of a sinister weapons program.

Yet in both instances, the Bush administration refused to accept the inspectors' reports. We all know what happened with Iraq. And now Washington seems prepared to reject the IAEA's findings as "inconclusive" and that "unresolved concerns" remain. So it seems a forgone conclusion that Bush, as with Iraq, was going to stick to his own story regardless of the findings.

Why? Why the public charade? Why go through all the drama of sending in inspectors if you have already made up your mind?

It sort of makes you wonder what the administration would count as evidence that no program exists.