Daily MoJo


Empire’s Dreamers
Washington’s bully-boys aren’t about to let reports of chaos and quagmire break their reverie.

Overtime’s Up
The Bush administration sets its sights on the 40-hour work week.

Selling Out Tibet?
Sino-Indian relations are thawing, but it may be at the price of the Dalai Lama.

Total Recall Chaos
If California Republicans manage to recall Gov. Gray Davis, are they ready to handle what comes next?

Empire’s Ugly Reality

    “In Baghdad, just before 10 a.m. on Thursday, a man on foot fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a three-vehicle military convoy moving down Haifa Street, a busy thoroughfare. One Humvee was struck, wounding three soldiers, witnesses and a military spokesman said…. The attack suggested that the urban warfare that had so concerned military planners before the fall of the Hussein government was materializing in unexpected forms. The attack against the convoy on Haifa Street was at least the second rocket-propelled grenade assault in Baghdad during daylight hours this week.”

    — Amy Waldman, U.S. ‘Still at War,’ General Declares; G.I. Dies; 20 Hurt, The New York Times, July 4

    “The issue of reinforcements is a politically sensitive one for the administration. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top aides have refused to back down from their criticism of Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, who said in February that it could take ‘something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers’ to stabilize Iraq. With General Shinseki, former commander of peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, looking more prophetic each day, and the security situation in Iraq remaining tense, officials have refused to entertain the idea of sending more American forces.

    “Asked this week if the United States should send reinforcements, Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they would await a report due later this month from Lt. Gen. John P. Abizaid, who has been designated to take command of American forces in Iraq.”

    — Eric Schmitt, After Tour, Senators Warn U.S. Is Spread Thin in Iraq, The New York Times, July 4

Note, though, that L. Paul Bremer, our Viceroy in Baghdad, has already requested more troops and undoubtedly Vietnam-like scenes of gradual “escalation” are playing through various resistant heads in Washington. Over the July 4th weekend, attacks in Iraq increased. The first mortars were used against an American base. American casualties rose. In the last week, ambushes grew more common in and out of urban areas in the northern (but not Kurdish) parts of the country. The first articles have started to appear in the press about uneasy relatives of troops in Iraq. War costs continue to rise. (For an interesting site on war costs, check out: www.costofwar.com/.) At least seven Iraqi police cadets were murdered yesterday when an explosive went off in Ramadi during graduation ceremonies for these first America-trained policemen.

Let’s be clear. This is not faintly Vietnam or anything like it, despite the parallels in American brains, but it is a developing neocolonial situation in its own right, one that is not likely to improve, given American occupation policies (given, in fact, an American occupation). It’s worth considering at the moment whether this administration has proved right about anything except its military capability to march on Baghdad, while leveling anyplace it cared to from the air.

In the meantime, our President, George II celebrated our great anti-imperial weekend of declaring independence from George III by speaking to reporters at the White House and taunting our latest subjects, the Iraqis, those at least who have expressed their lack of enthusiasm for our presence in their country with weapons: “‘There are some who feel that if they attack us we may decide to leave prematurely. They don’t understand what they’re talking about, if that’s the case. My answer is bring them on. We got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.'”

That’s the bully-boy from Yale America somehow has grown to know and love. (By the way, check out the Independence Day view from the other side of the Atlantic at the end of this dispatch — John O’Farrell’s “The Tyranny of George II” from the July 4th Guardian, which amused me.)

And, of course, over this long Independence Day weekend, we finally posted a $25 million reward for Saddam Hussein. I happen to know, by the way, why we can’t invade any more evil countries in the near future — we can’t afford to have more evil leaders on the loose. (My theory has always been that Osama bin Laden is waiting on tables somewhere in London.) Another missing evil leader added to the three already at large and the U.S. treasury could go broke posting rewards. On the other hand, maybe they’ll never have to pay out any of them. Let’s remember, when we compute the odds of catching any of these guys, that the massed forces of the FBI couldn’t find suspected anti-abortion killer Eric Rudolph for years, not until he stumbled on them while rummaging in a dumpster, although he seems never to have left the neighborhood of the woods they were combing near his North Carolina town.

As for Iraq, Paul Rogers, global analyst for the openDemocracy website, had a long, sobering piece on casualties. On the American side, he focuses on a subject barely considered in the U.S. press — not deaths, but the rising number of wounded (out of whack with usual dead-to-wounded ratios in war for reasons he explains). On the Iraqi side, reviewing casualty figures there (a subject seldom considered in the American media), he suggested stunningly that in the area of greatest resistance, the Sunni north, “The great majority of the Sunni population of Iraq would probably have known someone killed or injured in this war. It is an aspect that appears to be entirely ignored by most analysts but may come to be seen as underlying much of the opposition now in evidence.” He also puts the Iraqi “remnants” that the Bush administration is always discounting into context.

Very little attention in the American media by the way has been paid to why the Americans were so eager to run Iraq by themselves when they were perfectly ready to turn large tasks in Afghanistan over to other European forces. Or put another way, what does Iraq have that Afghanistan doesn’t and that, once again, the media seldom mentions — and if you’re not thinking about that tiger in your tank, then think again.

So that’s the Sunni north, major beneficiary of Saddam’s regime favors, likely to be resistant to “regime change” and occupation for obvious reasons. But what of the Shiite south, our obvious allies in Iraq. Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times reports that there too we’ve squandered our chances profligately:

    “It didn’t have to be this way. But because of heavy-handedness and cultural insensitivity, the American occupation force has now lost the support of the three key Shi’ite leaders in Iraq – allies through circumstance until now.

    The Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani announced last Saturday the issuing of a fatwa against an ‘illegitimate’ constitution ‘if it is not adopted by an Iraqi government elected by the people.’ Young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – whose religious family is highly influential in Iraq – has denounced American ‘terrorism.’ And Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim, the president of the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) , has said on the record that an Iraqi administration named by American proconsul L Paul Bremer would be ‘illegal’.

    Just like after the war on Afghanistan, the Americans once again have squandered their accumulated capital of good will in Iraq.”

But Iraq, of course, was only meant by our rulers in Washington as a test case. There’s still the world to deal with and, when it comes to our planet, our leaders have been dreaming hard in the dark. Here are just a few signs of where their dreams are taking us.

I vant to be alone…:

Greta Garbo supposedly said it once upon a time. Now the Bush administration agrees. In our imperial dreams and the weapons research that goes with it, Julian Borger of The Guardian reported last week we imagine ourselves colonizing the heavens with weaponry and being able to fight our wars, without allies, without forward bases, without leaving home. Our “hypersonic drones” — in our dreams at least — will reach anywhere, above or under the ground:

    “The Pentagon is planning a new generation of weapons, including huge hypersonic drones and bombs dropped from space, that will allow the US to strike its enemies at lightning speed from its own territory. Over the next 25 years, the new technology would free the US from dependence on forward bases and the cooperation of regional allies, part of the drive towards self-sufficiency spurred by the difficulties of gaining international cooperation for the invasion of Iraq.

    The new weapons are being developed under a programme codenamed Falcon (Force Application and Launch from the Continental US). A US defence website [run by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa] )has invited bids from contractors to develop the technology and the current edition of Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that the first flight tests are scheduled to take place within three years.”

The empire extends to Africa:

As our President prepares to tour Africa in a well-guarded royal processional during which he will undoubtedly touch children’s heads (as the royal Self once touched lepers) and cure AIDS, he is also considering yet another American intervention, this time in Liberia, while, undoubtedly by pure coincidence, various high military types were offering page-one-level quotes to Eric Schmitt of The New York Times on our plans to… but let me leave it to him:

    “The United States military is seeking to expand its presence in the Arab countries of northern Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa through new basing agreements and training exercises intended to combat a growing terrorist threat in the region…. ‘Africa, as can be seen by recent events, is certainly a growing problem,’ Gen. James L. Jones of the Marine Corps, the head of the European Command, said in an interview this week.

    ‘As we pursue the global war on terrorism,’ the general said, ‘we’re going to have to go where the terrorists are. And we’re seeing some evidence, at least preliminary, that more and more of these large uncontrolled, ungoverned areas are going to be potential havens for that kind of activity.'”

Since the terrorists are everywhere, if we go where they are, well, it’s just logical to add Morocco, Tunisia, and various points south to our structure of imperial forward bases and to get some troops (other than the ones in Djibouti) into Africa soon — logical at least until in 25 years we have those Falcons and no longer need to leave home.

With this in mind you might check out the latest in this practically all-Guardian dispatch from the historian of imperial overstretch Paul Kennedy. Kennedy hews a bit too strongly for my taste to the “reluctance” of imperialists, but in a single phrase he does catch our moment — perhaps the very moment the Bushites thought they wanted — “ever newer frontiers of insecurity.” Recommending an obscure forty-year-old book by two British historians, The Official Mind of Imperialism, for the President’s summer reading list, he says:

    “What most impressed the two Cambridge historians was how difficult it was to get out of an overseas operation once in it. Therefore, if President Bush hasn’t enough time to read all of Africa and the Victorians, he and his team might at least read Chapter V, wittily titled Gladstone’s Bondage in Egypt. The British under Prime Minister William Gladstone genuinely thought they were in that country for a short while after 1882, to restore order, suppress the Muslim fundamentalists, train a local army, assist economic development and then withdraw. The withdrawal, announced Gladstone, should be “as early as possible”. It actually took place about 70 years later. And while no one is suggesting that is the length of time the US will be implanted in the Middle East, the evidence of an external great power becoming ‘bondaged’ in different parts of the globe grows week by week.”

I vant to be alone (2), or damn the court (and the rest of you), full speed ahead:

Not surprisingly perhaps, the Bush administration took a leaf from the corporate handbook of the 1990s and went offshore with what passes in its book for justice. Like the corporations that set up dummy outfits on Caribbean islands, the government has managed to make itself legally untouchable by creating a judicial statelet on the only part of Cuba still occupied by the U.S. (from another imperial age) — Guantanamo Bay. There, it has arrogated to itself the right to arrest, transport, hold indefinitely, charge, try, condemn, sentence, and execute non-citizens picked up wherever in whichever wars, raids, or alarums, all of this beyond the reach of the courts or the law. (Oh yes, there is military justice, but we all know that’s an oxymoron.) If this were a cowboy movie, we’d be talking the extremes of vigilante justice here, though the President still likes to think he’s acting out the role of sheriff. (But if he’s Gary Cooper and we’re at a forty-year-long High Noon moment, then the bad guys are being shoved off the train for the showdown on Main Street with their arms pinioned behind their backs and hoods over their heads.)

Now, just to square the circle and make the world a perfect place, our government is also trying with all the muscle at its command to ensure that no American anywhere in the world will ever be brought to justice for crimes, no matter how heinous, in front of the new International Criminal Court (a very faint possibility anyway given the rules and protections of that court). Having tried to establish bilateral agreements with every country on earth, giving us immunity from prosecution, the Bush administration is now cutting off military aid — which in this militarized regime of ours is increasingly our only significant form of aid; in fact, our only significant set of global relations — to all those governments who haven’t done so, many themselves shaky and pathetically aid reliant.

Consider the imperial pathos of this global policy, as described by Harpinder Athwal and Maggie Gardner on the Foreign Policy in Focus site.

    “The administration is compromising security in conflict-ridden countries not only by undermining UN peacekeeping operations, but also by threatening to cut off most military assistance to these countries. Under the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act of 2002, most countries that belong to the ICC but do not conclude an agreement with the United States exempting all U.S. citizens and all government and military employees (past and present, including non-national contractors) lose their military aid on July 1 unless the White House has granted them waivers. Some 44 countries had signed such agreements as of June 25, though very few had ratified them. Almost all of these countries are either poor and small (including Palau, Togo, Nauru, and The Gambia) or struggling to restore order and desperately in need of U.S. assistance (such as Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and East Timor).

    Not all countries reliant on U.S. assistance for basic security, however, have capitulated. Colombia made clear its intention not to sign one of these bilateral immunity agreements, as did Croatia. Six of the seven NATO accession countries are also stalling. (Romania signed one but has not ratified it.) For these countries, it is a matter of principle and of law. Many countries have concluded, in the words of the European Union, that ‘entering into U.S. agreements–as presently drafted–would be inconsistent with ICC States Parties’ obligations in regards to the Rome Statute,’ making such agreements illegal for them. For some countries, there’s also concern about setting a double standard, especially for those being pressured by the U.S. administration to turn their own citizens over to other international courts. As Croatian President Stjepan Mesic put it in a recent interview, ‘It would be very difficult to explain to the Croatian public how we can have one way of treating our own citizens, and another for citizens of another country.'”

Of course, here’s where the imperial dreaming part really comes into play. Our dreams of immunity impunity don’t extend to those fighting “beside” (that is, under) us — the Brits, the Poles, the Hondurans, the Albanians… In our dream, while we we’re soaring dramatically off cliffs, they’re just left out. Neither immunity, nor evidently much impunity will be left for them, as sometime Guardian columnist Isabel Hinton writes of a new US/UK extradition agreement.

    “Until now, the US government had to offer evidence against the suspect before a British court. Thanks to Mr Blunkett, that has gone. All that will be required is that the US provide evidence that Joe Bloggs is who they say and Mr Bloggs is theirs. (Perhaps without Derek Bond, the septuagenarian Brit detained at FBI request in South Africa on the grounds that he was someone else, even that requirement might have gone.)

    If, on the other hand, the British government should wish to extradite a US citizen, it will have to make its case, as before. The Home Office defence against the charge that its eagerness to please does not seem to be reciprocated is that US citizens are protected by the US constitution from any such measure. Quite so. Mr Blunkett does not seem to think it his duty to protect British citizens at all.”

And just imagine, if you truly want to bring our new world into focus, this is what we offer to our closest ally.

Tom Engelhardt

Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.

Overtime’s Up
Just as the Labor Department announced the nation’s highest jobless rate in 10 years, the Bush administration is moving forward with its scheme to cut overtime pay for millions of Americans.

Last Monday, the public comment period ended for the Labor Department’s proposed cuts. During the period, the department received a whopping 75,000 letters on the proposed overtime changes, more than the agency has received on any wage issue in a decade. The debate revolves around the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which guarantees non-managerial workers overtime pay for hours worked beyond the standard 40-hour workweek. The Bush admin’s proposed change would essentially add frills to the job titles of between 644,000 and eight million Americans — making them “management” and therefore ineligible for overtime benefits. And to top it off, such drastic changes don’t require the okay of Congress.

Advocates claim that the 1938 measure is outdated and needs to be modified to reflect changes in the modern workplace. However, overtime recipients and labor unions point out that cutting overtime pay essentially dumps the notion of a 40-hour week and takes away overtime money that many workers depend on. Over 100 Democratic legislators sent Labor Secretary, Elaine L. Chao, a letter asking her to reject the changes.

Last week the labor-friendly Economic Policy Institute issued a report estimating that eight million workers could lose overtime pay through proposed changes. Interestingly, the Economics Policy Foundation, a business backed group, found that only 1.15 million workers would lose overtime if the Bush proposal becomes law.

Thursday’s New York Times editorial page drew attention to the changes. While they didn’t protest the measure, they did call for the “complex” changes to be thoroughly studied before any drastic measures are taken. Times columnist, Bob Herbert, also uses his Thursday column to accuse the Bush administration of, “ smiling at working people while siphoning money from their pockets.” Herbert nostalgically recollects his days as a young reporter where his overtime payments saved him from having to work a night job at his father’s factory.

The AFL-CIO brought thousands of union members to a rallyin Washington last Monday. Union president, John J. Sweeny told the crowd that the administrations proposal will only add to the nation’s struggling economy.

“As unemployment soars and America’s workers struggle in a faltering economy, the Bush proposal would encourage employers to cut hiring and instead rely on fewer to do more work for less money […] The proposal is an unjustified scorched earth strategy to decrease workers’ paychecks and rights in the name of ‘updating’ rules for the modern workplace.”

Perhaps the Labor Department will come to their senses by the time a decision is due at the end of the year. If not, then millions of Americans face living on even smaller paychecks. As the Post reports one protester saying, “It’s [overtime] the difference between just making ends meet and having a life.”

Selling Out Tibet?
After decades of bad blood, ties between India and China appear to be on the mend, as evidenced by a series of recent high-level meetings and declarations. That thaw, however, comes at a price: India must agree to China’s line on Tibet.

As B Raman notes in the Asia Times, India’s sudden policy shift seems to be part of a diplomatic quid pro quo. Specifically, China informally recognizes that a long-disputed border province, Sikkim, belongs to India, in return for India’s acceptance of the official Chinese definition of Tibet as an “inalienable” part of China, accompanied by a crackdown on Tibetan activists in India. India, of course, has long given sanctuary to Tibetan refugees of all stripes, and more than 100,000 live there — including the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader. In the new agreement, India has adopted China’s contention that the “Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)” is a part of “One China,” a slight semantic difference with potentially enormous implications for Tibetan independence, Raman writes.

“The Tibetan exiles have always alleged that the present TAR is smaller than the Tibetan region first occupied by China. According to them, part of the Tibetan territory was separated by the Chinese after occupation and merged with adjoining provinces. What was left was named the TAR. By accepting the new formulation, has India consciously or unconsciously legitimized the Chinese action in doing so?

Will India’s apparent yielding to Chinese pressure for a stronger formulation mark the beginning of further Chinese pressure on India to stop the non-religious activities of the Dalai Lama’s setup in Dharamsala in India?

Will it cut the ground from under the feet of the Dalai Lama in his efforts to achieve genuine autonomy for the homeland of the Tibetans and protection of their culture and religion through talks with Beijing?”

Indian officials insist that the new agreement hasn’t altered India’s Tibet policy. But already things are changing on the ground. Last month, Nepalese police rounded up a group of Tibetan activists and turned them over to the Chinese — a seismic shift in Nepal’s handling of Tibetan exiles. As the Asia Times‘ Ramtanu Maitra points out, roundups like this couldn’t happen without New Delhi’s approval.

“The implications of Nepal’s latest move cannot be ignored. Handing over the refugees to the Chinese authorities indicates that Kathmandu has finally accepted Beijing’s claims that the Tibetans are Chinese citizens and, when they cross the international boundary, must be handed over to China. Behind this move of Nepal is the growing relationship between India and China. It is assumed that the handing over of the refugees to the Chinese officials could not have occurred if India had not given Nepal the green light. In other words, New Delhi has tacitly indicated to Kathmandu that this is the way to go.”

Not surprisingly, the reaction in Dharamsala was swift and angry, as Outlook India‘s Sheela Reddy reports.

” … [M]ost of the Tibetan exiles here are yet to recover from the shock, rage, despair and, above all, deep sense of betrayal they felt as Vajpayee signed his name to a statement declaring ‘the Indian side recognises that the Tibetan Autonomous Region is part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China and reiterates that it does not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India’.

Obviously, for the community living in exile there’s a huge difference between referring to Tibet as an autonomous region of China and invoking the Chinese nomenclature of TAR, moth-eaten and all. This isn’t only about the subtle undermining of the conception of Tibet; it’s also about slicing dreams and imaginations from the homeland-and consenting to what the Chinese have done.”

Meanwhile, it’s not clear that India actually got anything in return for its climbdown on Tibet. As Saurabh Shukla observes in the Hindustan Times, while India has explicitly recognized Tibet as an integral part of China, the Chinese haven’t formally accepted India’s ownership of Sikkim.

“Analysts here feel India seems to have lost the diplomatic game of reciprocity following its new formulation on Tibet.

What is being viewed with surprise is that while [India] has accepted ‘Tibet Autonomous Region is part of the territory of People’s Republic of China’ and reiterated that it will not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India, it has not earned the explicit recognition of Sikkim in the Joint Declaration issued during the PM’s trip to China.”

Total Recall Chaos
California has a $38 billion debt, it still doesn’t have a budget and its job losses are mounting. Sacramento’s legislators are fighting a bitter partisan war that is already damaging the economy — and still some Republicans from the Golden State are expending effort to recall Governor Gray Davis. But are these opportunists ready for the chaos that could ensue?

Fully equipped with an arsenal of cash, Rep. Darrell Issa — a maverick who made his millions selling car alarms after racking up a record of grand theft auto charges — is spearheading the recall effort. With a misdemeanor gun conviction also under his belt, Issa has a somwhat tarnished personal record — the most recent revelation is a video showing that Issa’s failed 1998 US Senate campaign operated a booth at a gun show where Nazi memorabilia and high-powered weapons were being sold.

Despite warnings from both sides of the political spectrum, the recall effort pushes forward. In a recent attempt to expedite the process, recall backers have threatened to sue Secretary of State Kevin Shelley for allegedly delaying the recall process.

But the editors of the Arizona Republic ask the pointed question, “Are Californians ready for a conflict that never ends?“:

“Californians may be in a sweat over their $38 billion budget deficit and the state’s outrageous energy bills, but they haven’t really known turmoil until they actually remove a sitting governor from office.

Arizona’s own experience following the election in 1986 of Republican Gov. Evan Mecham was far from pretty.

Following Mecham’s 1988 impeachment, many of the GOP leaders who backed his removal themselves lost at the voting polls. Then followed the tumultuous Fife Symington years. Removing the irascible former car dealer Mecham from office certainly may have been a holy grail, but it undeniably generated a host of holy wars in the years that followed.

If Californians wish to oust Davis, fine. But by stepping forward to push the issue, Republicans are painting a bull’s eye on their own backs.”

Meanwhile, the anti-recall effort has drawn supporters from both sides of the party line. Some Republicans are aligning with with the anti-recall effort and have established the “Republicans Against the Recall” in an effort to quash what they say could be “an endless cycle of political instability.” The San Jose Mercury News, reports that:

“[Scott] Barnett, [former chief executive officer of the San Diego Lincoln Club] said the newly formed group, known as Republicans Against the Recall, would expand statewide to raise money against the recall.

‘This is not a “We-love-Gray-Davis effort,” because I can’t think of anything good he’s done,’ Barnett said. But if the recall succeeds, Barnett said he worries it will begin an era ‘of political mass destruction.'”

But when all is said and done, it is likely that the recall measure could be on the California ballot this year. And although Davis hasn’t been the most impressive gubernatorial leader, as The Economist points out, there is no evidence of malfeasance on his part. So the question remains: Are Californians ready to set a precedent that could boot a governor out of office simply because of poor public standing? The Economist reports:

“A measure to “recall” Mr Davis seems likely to be on the ballot this autumn or next spring. This could be ominous for the state as well as for Mr Davis. If a governor who was re-elected only last year were recalled without evidence of malfeasance, it would set an ugly precedent for representative government. With the prospect of such rapid deselection, why should any Californian politician take risks, or take a break from fund-raising?

Mr Davis has been a disappointing governor, and the recall is essentially a political ruse by the Republicans to take advantage of that; the petitioning is being financed by a rich conservative, Darrell Issa, who wants to be governor himself.”