Monday, March 27, 2006

Pardona me...

What we fight for
Destination: Amnesty Nation

by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

On a recent episode of the TV show, Boston Legal, a character spoke words which could scarcely be improved upon:
"When the weapons of mass destruction thing turned out not to be true, I expected the American people to rise up. They didn't. Then, when the Abu Ghraib torture thing surfaced and it was revealed that our government participated in rendition, a practice where we kidnap people and turn them over to regimes who specialize in torture, I was sure then the American people would be heard from. We stood mute.

Then came the news that we jailed thousands of so-called terrorist suspects, locked them up without the right to a trial or even the right to confront their accusers. Certainly, we would never stand for that. We did.

And now, it's been discovered the executive branch has been conducting massive, illegal, domestic surveillance on its own citizens. You and me. And I at least consoled myself that finally, finally the American people will have had enough. Evidentially, we haven't.

In fact, if the people of this country have spoken, the message is we're okay with it all. Torture, warrant-less search and seizure, illegal wiretappings, prison without a fair trial or any trial, war on false pretenses. We, as a citizenry, are apparently not offended.

There are no demonstrations on college campuses. In fact, there's no clear indication that young people even seem to notice. . . .

The Secret Service can now declare free speech zones to contain, control and, in effect, criminalize protest. Stop for a second and try to fathom that. At a presidential rally, parade or appearance, if you have on a supportive t-shirt, you can be there. If you're wearing or carrying something in protest, you can be removed.

This! In the United States of America."
The character is fictional but the words, unfortunately, are not.

No protests greeted the discovery that the WMD clamor was nonsense, and none when it was revealed that there were serious internal doubts about the administration's pre-war public certitude. We reelected the administration after Abu Ghraib was known, forever linking America with torture, something even its worst critics had never directly associated with it earlier. The attorney general appeared before the Senate and defended warrantless wiretapping with a supreme insouciance, defending the president's action and asserting that the president had this right and much more, for this was post 9-11 America. As Boston Legal said, no protests, no demonstrations, no gatherings. After five years of in-your-face criminality, on the third anniversary of the Iraq War, many newspapers noted, the protests were smaller than before.

So what issue would raise enough outrage to bring people into the streets in huge numbers? Today's New York Times has a headline that provides an answer: Groundswell of Protests Back Illegal Immigrants. According to the report, the response to the proposed bill to restrict illegal immigration has been overwhelming, across several cities including LA, Phoenix, Denver and Chicago.

Just so we understand our priorities. Five hundred thousand people turned out in LA to protest proposed attempts to deal with illegal immigration, a far larger number than demonstrations against anything the Bush administration has done in its five years.

The pro-immigration demonstrators may have a perverse point, even if they did not say so themselves. After all, when a president himself can break the law -- and publicly boast about it when caught -- with no fear of prosecution, why should a hapless illegal entrant be made to pay a price for his offense? Presidents, after all, are sworn to uphold the law; illegal immigrants, by definition, are not.

When you wink at lawbreaking, whether by president or by commoner, it impacts the entire nation. A felon administration and a conniving Congress can hardly proclaim with any ring of conviction that the law is supreme. The same impulse which causes senators to vamoose at the first mention of the word, 'Censure' (then to go on TV and offer meretricious pontifications on the need suspend judgement until we "get all the facts"), also makes them tread on eggshells when it comes to illegal immigration.

Recall that we live an era of amnesty (and of amnesia). An administration lies us into war, opens our mail, spies on us without warrant, and then resorts to calling critics of its actions traitors. Congress responds to this garrotting of the statute in letter and spirit by proposing to change the law -- we are ever-so-user-friendly -- retrospectively!

Is it not also logical, then, to extend the same formula to illegal immigration, and grant amnesty to those who broke into the country? A political class that is simultaneously effete and venal cares little about the long term effects of such compromises. It answers to a higher power than the Constitution -- to paraphrase Michael Chertoff's words on the Port Deal, business must go on, and the state has no greater duty than to protect the free flow of commerce.

The writing on the wall (no pun intended) is clear: When a state is so obviously paralyzed by political calculation as to abdicate its very purpose, it is but one more piece of evidence that the we have slipped into classic third world mode, with the line between private and state interest disappearing at one end, and that between the country and the next one vanishing at the other.
Related Reading:

Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at His blog is at

Monday, March 20, 2006

The March of Folly, 21st Century

A fine article by Robert Fisk. Reproduced here for fuller dissemination only.

With Novices in the Saddle

IT is the march of folly. In 1914, the British, French, and Germans thought they would be home by Christmas. On April 9, 2003, corporal David Breeze of the 3rd Battalion, 4th US Marine Regiment — the very first American to enter Baghdad — borrowed my satellite phone to call his home in Michigan. “Hi you guys, I’m in Baghdad,” he told his mother. “I’m ringing to say ‘Hi, I love you. I’m doing fine. I love you guys.’ The war will be over in a few days. I’ll see you all soon.”

They were tough, those marines, big-boned men with muck on their faces and ferocity in their eyes — they had been fighting for days without sleep — but they too were on the same lonely journey of despair that the Old Contemptables and the French poilus and the Bavarian infantry embarked upon almost a century ago.

Was this because we no longer have leaders who have experienced war at first hand? When I grew up, Churchill and MacMillan were prime ministers, men who fought in the First World War and who led us through the Second World War. Eden had been in the wartime cabinet with Churchill. Tito had been wounded by German shellfire in Yugoslavia, Jack Kennedy had commanded a torpedo boat in the Pacific, de Gaulle fought in the Great War, and later helped to liberate France from the Nazis. But Blair, however much he may claim to be a friend of God, has no such distinction; nor Bush, who dodged Vietnam; nor Cheney, who also dodged Vietnam; nor Gordon Brown, nor Condoleezza Rice; nor John Howard of Australia. Colin Powell was in Vietnam; but he has gone, trailing his ignominious February 2003 UN performance on weapons of mass destruction.

Instead, the little men dressed up in the clothes of dead titans. Bush and Blair thought they were Churchills or Roosevelts. They flaunted themselves along with Aznar of Spain as the Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin; though I never discovered which of them was supposed to play the Soviet mass, murderer, as they conspired in the Azores for war. They claimed that Saddam was the Hitler of Baghdad. My old, messianic friend Tom Friedman, a New York Times columnist, got it right when he described Saddam as part Donald Duck and part Don Corleone, but this was not the kind of reality that Bush or Blair were interested in.

They were the quick-fix men, the instant statesmen, the guys who had a handle on war. Post-war control and reconstruction? Forget it, the Iraqis will do as we tell them after they have greeted us with roses and songs. Winston Churchill set up a British cabinet committee to organise the administration of post-war occupied Germany in 1941: four years before the end of the Second World War, and at a time when we still expected a Wehrmacht invasion of Britain. The Churchill frauds had not even bothered to create such a committee for days before their invasion of Iraq. For this was to be an ideological war. From its creation by the loonies of the American right — as a pro-Israeli policy to aid Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu — and then foisted on Bush, to the hell-disaster that Iraq now represents, the real war had to be turned into myth; nightmares into dreams; destruction into hope; terrible truths into profound mendacity.

Even today the occupation powers tell awesome lies. Democracy is taking hold when the “Iraqi” government controls only a few acres of Baghdad greensward. The insurgency is being crushed when 40,000 armed Iraqis are ripping into the greatest army on earth; freedom is taking hold when thousands of Iraqis are dying each month. “Operation Swarmer” is now supposedly targeting those who want a civil war in Iraq. Some of the men who are trying to provoke civil war however, work for the Iraqi interior ministry, and are paid, ultimately, by us.

For the truth, we should turn to a well-known analyst who warned us that in Iraq, the British have been “led into a trap from which it shall be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been told. Our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows ... We are today not far from a disaster.” This is the most concise and accurate account I have yet read of our present folly.

It was written about the British occupation of Iraq in 1920 by Lawrence of Arabia. In the long nights of 2003, when the dangers of each day under US bombardment were replaced by the insomnia of bomb-blasts in the Baghdad darkness outside. I would curl up like an animal in my bed and thumb through the predictions of this present folly.

I read a fearful prophecy by the evangelical preacher Pat Buchanan written five months before we illegally invaded Iraq. “This invasion will not be the cakewalk neo-conservatives predict,” he said. “Terrorist attacks in liberated Iraq seem as certain as in liberated Afghanistan. For a militant Islam ... will never accept George Bush dictating the destiny of the Islamic world ... Pax Americana will reach apogee but then the tide recedes; for the one endeavour at which Islamic peoples excel is expelling imperial powers by terror and guerrilla warfare.”

There were the dreary precedents. Muslims drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden; the French out of Algeria; the Russians out of Afghanistan; the Americans out of Somalia; and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. As Buchanan wrote, “we have started up the road to empire, and over the next hill we will meet those who went before.” However, we shall not count the bodies.

What was it Bush told us a few weeks ago? That 30,000 Iraqis had been killed since the invasion, his very words a racist admission; for what he actually said was: “30,000 more or less”. More or less, give or take a few hundred. Would he have dared to say that US casualties were “2,000 more or less”? Of course not. Our dead are precious; they are individuals with widows and children.

The Iraqis? Well, they are lesser beings whose casualties cannot be revealed to us by the Iraqi ministry of health, on orders from the Americans and British; creatures whose suffering, far greater than our own, must be submerged in the democracy and freedom in which we are drowning them; whose casualties “more or less” are probably nearer to 150,000. After all, if 1,000 Iraqis could die by violence last July — in Baghdad alone; and if they are being killed at 60 or 70 a day, then we have a near genocidal bloodbath on our hands. Iraqis, however, are now our Untermenschen for whom, frankly, we do not greatly care.

Civil war? There never was a civil war? It is a tribal, not a sectarian society. Some organisation wants a civil war; oddly, it was an occupation force’s spokesman, a certain Dan Senor, who first warned of civil war in Iraq at an Anglo-American press-conference in 2003. Why? We talk of civil war far more than the Iraqis do. Why? Repeatedly, we are told that Iraqis and westerners are kidnapped by “men wearing police uniforms” or by “men wearing army uniforms”.

What is this nonsense? Are we really to believe that there is a vast warehouse in Fallujah containing 8,000 made-to-measure police uniforms for potential insurgents? No! The truth is that many of the policemen and soldiers of Iraq, upon whose loyalty and courage our retreat, according to Bush, depends, are themselves insurgents. So deeply have the nationalists/Islamists forces infiltrated these men that the Bush-Blair promises of withdrawal are the very opposite of the truth. We are on our own. We may persuade our ex-spooks, like the former “interim prime minister” Iyad Alawi, who obediently claimed the other day that there was a civil war in progress, to try to frighten Iraqis. The reality is that our armed presence in Iraq is destroying an entire people.

So we proceed down the crumbling staircase. Let us forget the weapons of mass destruction; the 45-minute warning; the links between Saddam and 11 September 2001; the dossiers; and the lies; and our torture — yes, torture, at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay; and the ever-widening chasm between Blair’s tomfoolery and the truth. Bush told us that “More sacrifices will be required”. You bet they will be if we continue this march of folly. — (c) The Independent

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Demonstrations on 3rd Anniversary of Iraq War

All over the world, there have been demonstrations against the Iraq war. As the sun has risen across the globe this weekend, from Sydney to San Francisco, people have protested against the US invasion and continued presence in Iraq. But this is rather in the nature of the American festival of Mother's Day and Father's Day (ignore the parents for 364 days and celebrate them for one). Bush and Blair can easily grit their teeth and endure one day of effigies being burned. What they cannot tolerate is each country being forced by its demonstrators to seek that US leave Iraq. Until this happens, there will be little impact.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dr. Sultan - Wafa or Be-wafa?

Last weekend there was a New York Times article on Wafa Sultan, an outspoken critic of Islam from Los Angeles. She made news when she debated an Egyptian cleric on Al Jazeera. The LA Times also featured her. The full transcript of her debate is carried on MEMRI.

What is Wafa Sultan saying? It doesn't matter what. She may be right on one point and wrong on another. What matters is that she is saying it.She says that she has left Islam because it stifles her. Her critics say she has no business criticizing Islam since she has left it. Criticism, they say, has to be from the inside, not outside. Really? In that case, what business do the Islamists have to criticize communism, since they are not communists, or to criticize Hinduism, say (since they are not Hindus)?

There is something else about Wafa Sultan's argument that bears a second look. Most commentators, who try to impress upon us that there are no problems with Islam, assert it is just that the great religion has been 'hijacked' by terrorists and 'evildoers'. This is rather like customer support offering consolation to an irate user that there is nothing wrong with the product since the User Manual is perfectly written. By this token (see The Trouble with Infallibility, by Niranjan Ramakrishnan), every religion is perfect, only people are flawed. Wafa Sultan has a basic problem with the tenets of the religion itself, and brings up a good point -- does one have to accept everything a religion says in order to adhere to it, or can one be eclectic and still belong? Is there a way in which a religion can be updated with new ideas and experiences?

At any rate, Wafa Sultan, who has stood by her arguments despite death threats, is a brave woman, and the argument is good for clearing the air of the increasing choke of hypocrisy-filled air that has prevailed in the last few years.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Action Thing

Liberty - Use it or Lose it
by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

Some items in the news in the past month:
  • Thousands of demonstrators took part in huge and emotional demonstrations in various Arab countries, and other countries with large Muslim populations, including Nigeria and Indonesia, to protest the cartoons in the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, and their subsequent appearance in sundry European publications.

  • Huge protests greeted President George W. Bush during his visit to India, in New Delhi and Hyderabad, cities he visited, but also in other major cities including Madras, Calcutta, Bombay and Bangalore.

  • Demonstrations in Pakistan, which had commenced with the Damadola bombing where the US drones got civilians while believing they were getting Ayman Al Zawahiri, got melded with the subsequent cartoon controversy and then continued on to greet President Bush during his short visit to Pakistan. Here too, the rallies were not only in places Bush visited, but throughout Pakistan, including Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

  • In 2005, China had 87,000 protests, demonstrations and other "mass incidents" (International Herald Tribune, March 6, 2006).

  • In Venezuela, "President Hugo Chavez's supporters and opponents were out in force, taking advantage of the holiday and their freedom to demonstrate." (from the Register-Guard, Salem, Oregon)
When crowds assembled in Lebanon and Syria, people from every side pooh-poohed the poor saps who were expending so much energy over some silly cartoons. The protests in India were dismissed by commentators as an unholy combination of muslims and communists. Every protester was debunked as being led by some tinpot leader, a false ideology, or plain backwardness.

Let us allow that it is worthless to spend the day in the sun shouting slogans against a faraway paper. While doing so, let's also ask: are there more worthy reasons to protest? And if so, what might they be?

The abridgment of liberties, you reckon? The nation being committed to a criminal military adventure, with deliberate falsehoods fed to the people to gain support for the venture, perhaps? Illegal surveillance, inside the US, possibly? The death of tens of thousands, maybe? Jeopardizing a secret agent to settle personal scores, by some chance? The rendition of future generations to the shackles of debt, could it be?

Yet, how many demonstrations of any kind have we seen in the US? What exactly do you suppose are we saving ourselves for?

It would seem that the people in all these foreign parts hold the liberties enshrined in the US Constitution in far greater esteem than do its own citizens, even as we look down on them for their lack of freedoms. Imagine that for a second... We who have, without protest, countenanced members of the public being thrown out and harassed for wearing a T-Shirt critical of the president to a public meeting addressed by this putative public 'servant'!

Rep. John Conyers (Why We Act) writes of this phenomenon, "For some time, I have opened some of my speeches with a fairly standard line about how great democracy is because hardly anyone votes but everyone complains. There is a new variation on this problem among some in the progressive community and it goes like this: nothing we do matters, nothing we do changes anything so why bother doing anything..."

Everyone seems to be standing around waiting for someone else to do something. The Congress and the media are the favorite (and deserving) targets of much of our ire, but doesn't each of us have the duty to ask what we are doing? What could be sillier than to diagnose a problem in great detail and then sit back as though you had solved it?

To start with, we can help roll the impeachment ball up the (Capitol) Hill: Rep. Conyers has a resolution, currently signed by 28 House members, calling for a select committee to explore impeachment. Twenty eight House members have signed on. Has yours? Why not call and write -- and knock on your Representative's office door to ask that he join Conyers? It would be a good and meaningful act.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at His blog is at

Friday, March 03, 2006

English Media in India downplays Anti-Bush Protests

NPR' All Things Considered (Philip Reeves from New Delhi) said today that the English language media in India buried news of the huge demonstrations against the Bush visit, placing the reports somewhere in the inner pages. He termed the demonstrations "huge", and referred to the fact that they were widespread.
Dan Froomkin, in the Washington Post, asks if Bush got ambushed (not his words) on the nuclear deal, and whether he had given away too much. In a previous post (yesterday), we have an Indian government quote that they had no conditions imposed regarding the military program. Bush was perhaps desperate to be able to present something as a success in view of all the fresh problems that have surfaced during his short absence.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Nuclear Agreement Reached, Protests of Bush visit massive

PM Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush announced at a joint news conference the reaching of an agreement to share nuclear technology. India would be taken off the 'outlaw' list and provided with key nuclear assistance by the US. In return, India would open up 14 of its 22 nuclear establishments to international safeguards. According to the New York Times, Mr. Bush called it a "historic" nuclear pact that would help India satisfy its enormous civilian energy needs while allowing it to continue to develop nuclear weapons. The Indian side cryptically added that "Under the agreement India will not subject its military nuclear programme and fast breeder reactors to international safeguards. Classification of India's future nuclear reactors into civilian and military will be its sole decision and there will be 'no debate' on these." [Malayalam Manorama]

Meanwhile, massive protests marked Bush's visit throughout [See Slide Show showing protests from across the country - Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad...]. It looks as though the ordinary people grasp the enormity Bush's crimes better than their governmment.

Bush is expected to travel to Hyderabad tomorrow, and then to Pakistan on Saturday. A US diplomat was killed in an attack near the US Consulate in Karachi today. But President Bush said he would not let that deter him from visiting Pakistan.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Katrina: Bush caught on tape

Officials supplied a detailed briefing to President Bush and Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff a couple of days before Katrina made landfall. The possiblity of levees breaching was brought to his attention. Bush did not ask a single question, but kept assuring the briefers that every arrangement was being made to meet the situation. The AP (see report) has obtained a videotape of this briefing.
Why is this important? Here's why. The following week, Bush told ABC Good Morning America that "No one could have anticipated the breach of the levees". What does it prove?
Say it.
Bush Lied.

Thousands Protest Bush Visit in India

Huge crowds protested the visit of George W. Bush to India. "Go back, Bush", "Bush is a killer", "Bully Bush, buzz off", "Bush, stop the ambush", they shouted as hundreds of policemen in riot gear kept watch. (Reuters, Khaleej Times). Protests were taking place throughout India, including Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

America, however, seems to have a favorable rating among Indians, according to a new poll. Some 71% of those polled say they had a favorable impression of the United States. However, 72% of those polled by the Indian newsmagazine, Outlook, said they thought America was a 'bully'.

In an op-ed piece in the Guardian, Arundhati Roy says, "
It is not in our power stop Bush's visit. It is in our power to protest it, and we will." Here's some more from her article -- apparently Bush is going to address a public meeting at the Purana Qila, which also houses the Delhi Zoo. Arundhati Roy:
"Since the Purana Qila also houses the Delhi zoo - George Bush's audience will be a few hundred caged animals and an approved list of caged human beings who in India go under the category of "eminent persons". They're mostly rich folk who live in our poor country like captive animals, incarcerated by their own wealth, locked and barred in their gilded cages, protecting themselves from the threat of the vulgar and unruly multitudes whom they have systematically dispossessed over the centuries."