From Mitch to Katrina: Nature is Politics


Nature really kicks the door down once in a while, and let’s us know how humans have made a mess of things. A few years ago Hurricane Mitch laid waste much of Guatemala and neighboring countries. The hills crumbled and topsoil sluiced into the sea. There was politics, class politics, in that sluicing, same way there’s politics in most “natural” disasters. The US had crushed land reform in Guatemala in the 1950s, with the CIA overseeing a coup against Arbenz and launching decades of savage repression. The peasants had to surrender the good flat land to the United Fruit Co and scratch small holdings for subsistence into ever steeper hillsides

Katrina the aftermath is payback time for decades of stupidity, greed, pillage, racism. My thought is that the tempo towards catastrophe really picked up in the Reagan era. That’s when the notion of this society being in some deep sense a collective effort, pointed towards universal human betterment ­ the core of the old Enlightenment ­ went onto the trash heap.

Once you stop believing in universal betterment, you stop investing in social defenses, like health care, or flood control. You build your shining condo on the hill, put a fence round it, and cancel the local bus service so the poor can’t get at you. What was the final answer to the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama? Cancel the busses!

So collective effort goes out the window, and soon the society forgets how collective effort works. Tens of thousands of poor people standing on roofs in the Delta and they haven’t the slightest idea how to get them off. The ones they have brought to dry land they dump on the highway, where they stand as the Army trucks roll by.

There are all sorts of bargains the rich and the powerful in any society make with the poor. But one way or another ­ through bread, circuses, the dole, the promise that Anyone Can Make It ­ there’s the offer of a deal: Don’t make trouble: we’ll take care of you. Empires collapse when the offer ­ the “marginal rate of return” ­ becomes empty: we won’t take care of you. Or, we can’t take care of you. We don’t need you and we’re not frightened of you.

We’re at that point here. Malthus, a Christian, proposed locating the surplus poor next to unhealthy marshes, in the hope they would get sick and die. How much of a difference is there between that and the “emergency preparedness” and evacuation procedures before, during and after Katrina? How did Washington perceive New Orleans and most of the Gulf coast? Basically as a vast huddle of the mostly poor and the mostly black. So, year after year, they denied funds to shore up levees that all experts agree are bound to give way in more than a Force Three storm. They hollowed out every state economy so that in the end Mississippi’s tax base was its cut of the gambling take, from floating casinos because the Christians said the Devil’s Work couldn’t take place on dry land.

Mainstream politics in America has ceased to deliver the goods in anything but the meanest terms. The bigger the hog, the bigger the bucket of slops. There’s no worthwhile opposition at the established level. Generally I think people are looking at the scenes along the Gulf coast and in the Delta with horror, at the realization of what our society has come to.


The Antiwar Movement, Goff and Hayden (and Me):
an Admonition from Frank Bardacke

I hope we see the omens of larger resistance in the antiwar movement. No doubt about it, the people are turning against the war. The Bush crowd is truly on low ground, and the political levees are starting to crumble. They feel it in Congress.

Already there are private meetings, both sides of the aisle, evolving new positions on the war, exit strategies and so forth. Waiting in the wings are impeachment inquiries, hearings on Bush’s low balling of the casualties, the lack of body armor. Once Bush’s base starts to crumble these matters will move center stage.

Right now there’s a big argument going on about exit strategies and schedules from Iraq. Cindy Sheehan and many say Out now. Then the responsible politicos say, Be realistic. Start to leave at the end of 06. Stan Goff took a few lusty swings at Tom Hayden on this site, on this very matter of scheduling. He got attacked as being (a) nasty and abusive, and (b) being divisive and unrealistic.

I wrote Stan a note, as follows:

“Jesus Christ, this is like being suffocated by a dead ostrich. There’s nothing wrong with vigorous invective. The left doesn’t get places often because it’s way TOO polite, too reluctant to air differences, too polite about people like Tom Hayden when they are selling a pwog Democrat line.

Tom has done some good things and he’s done some bad things. In 1982 I wrote in the Village Voice that in the National Gallery in Washington DC there are 134 portraits of Benedict Arnold. None look alike. All resemble Tom Hayden. Why did I write that? Because Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda flew to the advance Israeli positions from which the Israeli gunners were indiscriminately (NYT reporter Tom Friedman’s word, censored at the time) shelling Beirut, to show solidarity with Israeli forces and to bolster Tom’s political position in California. People who raised the issue of justice for Palestinians were told year after year that it was a “divisive” issue to raise, would rock the boat, set the cat among the pigeons, cause ructions. So the Democratic Party never has dealt with it.

I haven’t the slightest idea what Tom H says now about Israel and Palestinians, but like hundreds of others prominent in the DP through 70s and 80s, he cost us all, most of all the Palestinians, very dear by his prudence. I looked at the PDA site last week and saw a parcel of shredded platitudes about internationalizing the occupying force. You were quite right to make fun of that kind of blather. This “internationalization” line reminds me of the prudent line back in 2002 and 2003, before invasion, when a lot of people wrapped up the antiwar message in talk about a UN force. Very polite, and totally unrealistic, since the UN is a wholly owned subsidiary of the US.

We aren’t, thank God, a fascist country here, like Germany was in WW2, but suppose the Germans had been able to speak freely, would they have been talking in 1942 about a withdrawal of German forces from the Soviet Union beginning at the end of 1943? No, by mid-42 any sane German would have been saying AUS NOW. And they would have been realistic, because by the end of 43 most of the German soldiers were dead or captives. Do you want to tell all those US soldiers sent to Iraq that they should ride around in their Humvees waiting to get blown up till the end of 2006 when withdrawal can commence on a schedule that preserves PDA credibility. If so, they’ll have a lot of explaining to do, to mothers like Cindy Sheehan.”

Hardly had I fired this off to Stan, before I got a remonstrative note about some sneers I’d made about vigils. It was from my friend Frank Bardacke in Watsonville, my political consigliere on many things. Frank has plenty of cred, not least in the area of antiwar organizing. He was one of the Oakland 7, arrested and tried after the attacks on the Oakland induction center in the late 60s. He’s a very radical guy.
Bardacke said … well, hell, I’ll give him the stage.

Alex: Goff is very clever and much of what he says is absolutely true but I don’t think he shows much sense about what an anti-war movement is like or how we
could create a situtation where in Goff’s words “We make the political cost so high in the US for continuing the war that it threatens the entire US
state with destablization.”

In a mass movement against the war a lot of people
are going to do a lot of different things. That’s what a mass movement is. Some people are going to pass out mealy mouthed petitions; some people are going to go to weekly vigils; some people are going to go to big marches; some people are going to think about supporting anti-war candidates; some people are going to try to counter military recruiters at high schools; some people are going to try to stop military supplies from leaving the US for Iraq. All of it together is what makes “the political cost so high…” not just the radical action in the streets and schools. And it is the overall shift in opinion against the war which makes the more militant action powerful; otherwise the radicals are easily isolated and ignored.

Things are beginning to change and Cindy had a lot to do with it. But one of the reasons that her action has been so effective is because the American people are turning against the war, as are even some sections of the media. Hayden’s petition itself is an indication that more and more folks are looking for ways to end the war. In that respect it is a good sign. It doesn’t prevent more radical deeds; and despite its proper sounding nonsense it may even help create an atmosphere in which more radical action is welcomed.

That’s the way it happened in the movement against the war in Vietnam. There were years of big moderate marches and liberal petitions before shutting down induction centers and military mutinies became a popular alternative among large numbers of people. And it was the whole thing together which put limits on the US ability to wage the war in Vietnam.

Look. We have a tough task. It is much harder to build an anti-war movement when there is no draft. Not entirely, but to a large extent the anti-war movement was not an act of solidarity with the Vietnamese, but an act of self-interest by hundreds of thousands of young men who did not want to fight, kill, and die.

It is going to be very hard to get the US out of Iraq – even harder, I believe than it was to get the US out of Vietnam. Vietnam was geographically on the periphery, and had no important natural resource. Iraq is at the center of the political world, and, of course, there is oil. Furthermore, as your brother pointed out, great powers can not suffer small losses.

Any loss becomes a big loss. The folks who call the shots in the US (Democratic and Republican politicians and the people above them) are not going to leave Iraq until they are forced to. I think it is going to take a long time. We can’t force them out; only the Iraqis can. But we can put limits on their ability to wage the war.

Actually I think we are doing well. Our vigil in Watsonville is lively and growing. We hear that the vigils elsewhere are too. During the vigil people planned a successful effort to get the school district to make it easier for parents to block the military recruiters from talking to their children. People also go into the local high school and speak against the war. Folks sign petitions, write post cards, argue politics, make sure that everyone knows about the next big demonstration. Sure, we aren’t blocking the street yet. But you don’t start out blocking the street. You block it when there a good number of people who support you. And building that support takes all kinds of work.

Goff is right. We are for immediate withdrawal. We are for immediate withdrawal because it is US troops who are provoking a civil war; it is not the presence of US troops that prevents one. And all the calls for something less than immediate withdrawal-including Hayden’s-confuses that question. And so it is right not only to support immediate withdrawal but to argue against some kind of staged, limited withdrawal, like the one proposed by Hayden. But at the same time we welcome everyone who is now moving against the war, and we encourage them to do everything they can to stop it, even if it is not exactly what we think is the best thing to do.

Well, that is a lot of words Alex. Maybe I could have just said this to Goff about Hayden: Back in the day we always welcomed the presence of opportunists. It meant that they sensed that within our movement there were opportunities.



Hitchens Tries Again:
Ten Terrible Arguments for War

“The case for overthrowing Saddam was unimpeachable. Why, then, is the administration tongue-tied? ” Thus is the Murdoch-owned, pro-Bush Weekly Standard this week, If the Standard’s editors can’t figure out the answer , let me help them. The Bush administration is tongue-tied because it doesn’t know what lie to put out next.

Each day Bush gets his minute on the news shows, wraps himself in the flag, says It’s all going well, and each day he drops another notch in the polls. The people are turning against the war. The political landscape is changing, faster than people think.

In that same issue, The Weekly Standard whistles up its Conde Nast scrivener, Christopher Hitchens, to try to make the arguments the White House can’t come up with. He starts by writing, “Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad.” This doesn’t rank very high as an argument for killing 100,000 Iraqisa since the sprting of 2003. The real point is, why is there an Abu Ghraib post-Saddam at all? “Conditions at Auschwitz have markedly improved since the takeover by allied troops — torture is down, plumbing upgraded.”

Then Hitchens offers us ten points in favor of the war. Let me deal with them, one by one.

“(1) The overthrow of Talibanism and Baathism, and the exposure of many highly suggestive links between the two elements of this Hitler-Stalin pact. Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who moved from Afghanistan to Iraq before the coalition intervention, has even gone to the trouble of naming his organization al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.”

Few points have been so generally discredited over last two years as the supposed connection between the Taliban and the Baath party in Iraq before the war in 2003. One of the supposed links – publicized by Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker – was an Iranian Kurdish drug smuggler held in jail by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Iraqi Kurdistan who claimed to have met bin Laden in Kandahar in Afghanistan and senior Baathists in Iraq. Before the war began, the smuggler was long exposed as a liar, though the New York has never apologized for promulgating this fraud. Mohammed Atta was said to have met Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague but his credit cards showed he was in the US.

On Zarquawi Hitchens is all over the map. Zarquawi was famously at odds with bin Laden in Afghanistan. It’s absurd to suggest that the presence of Zarquawi meant that Saddam Hussein was in league with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.

“(2) The subsequent capitulation of Qaddafi’s Libya in point of weapons of mass destruction ­ a capitulation that was offered not to Kofi Annan or the E.U. but to Blair and Bush.”

Long before the invasion of Iraq, Qaddafi was eager for rapprochement with the US. Blair had already reopened relations with Libya. The Iraq war did not mark a turning point in his behavior and the scenario of a cowed Qadaffi suddenly abandoning secret plans to construct a nuclear arsenal is far less persuasive than the likelihood he’d never been serious about building WMDs, and took whatever shipments from Pakistan were in the warehouse and surfaced them as an extra stimulant for the rapprochement he’s wanted for a long time.

“(3) The consequent unmasking of the A.Q. Khan network for the illicit transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea.”

The A.Q. Khan network unmasked? This was so generally known that to put it in his list Hitchens is truly scraping the bottom of the barrel.

“4) The agreement by the United Nations that its own reform is necessary and overdue, and the unmasking of a quasi-criminal network within its elite.”

It would be far more impressive if the war led to the reform of the US. Far more money has disappeared since the war than ever went missing before. At least $5 billion is missing from the Paul Bremmer era alone.

“(5) The craven admission by President Chirac and Chancellor Schröder, when confronted with irrefutable evidence of cheating and concealment, respecting solemn treaties, on the part of Iran, that not even this will alter their commitment to neutralism. (One had already suspected as much in the Iraqi case.)”

But most of the “cheating and concealment” alleged against Iraq turned out to be untrue so why does the fact that Schroder and Chirac said so at the time (unlike Bush) and got this right make their similar doubts about escalating the conflict with Iran so suspect for Hitchens? Anyway, the solemn treaty under discussionm is the non-Proliferation Treaty which specifically permits development of an enrichment program. Iran has not violated the Treaty.

“(6) The ability to certify Iraq as actually disarmed, rather than accept the word of a psychopathic autocrat.”

This is just name-calling. The UN inspectors had shown that Iraq had no useable WMD posing a threat to anybody, as Scott Ritter repeatedly pointed out. There was no need to listen to the lies of a psychopathic autocrat, whether Saddam Hussein or George Bush. The reports of Hans Blix and Mohammed el Baradei sufficed.

“(7) The immense gains made by the largest stateless minority in the region–the Kurds–and the spread of this example to other states.

The Kurds did benefit though not thanks to Bush. In the weeks before the war the US was happily inviting 40,000 Turkish troops into northern Iraq to the horror of the Iraqi Kurds. Only when the Turkish parliament, ( possibly emboldened by the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world, all ridiculed by Hitchens) rejected the presence of a US army in Turkey invading Iraq from the north was the US forced to ally itself with the Kurds.

“(8) The related encouragement of democratic and civil society movements in Egypt, Syria, and most notably Lebanon, which has regained a version of its autonomy.”

This offers a truly amazing faith in the democratic process now underway in Egypt and

“(9) The violent and ignominious death of thousands of bin Ladenist infiltrators into Iraq and Afghanistan, and the real prospect of greatly enlarging this number.”

This is a peculiarly silly remark. Of course there weren’t thousand of bin Laden militants before 2003. For video promos for al Qaeda bin Laden had to hire local tribesmen to take part in military exercises. If the implication is that all the trouble in Iraq is now caused by foreign infiltrators then Hitchens is maintaining a position which even the US army in Baghdad has abandoned.

“(10) The training and hardening of many thousands of American servicemen and women in a battle against the forces of nihilism and absolutism, which training and hardening will surely be of great use in future combat.”

Ludicrous. What is meant by “hardening” ? Getting young men and women used to killing or being killed, expert in torture? Here’s an example of “hardening” in action. In Iraq, a funeral was held Monday for Waleed Khaled, the sound technician working for the Reuters news agency who was shot dead by U.S. forces on Sunday. The 35-year-old Khaled, was shot in the face and took at least four bullets to the chest. According to Reuters, U.S. soldiers were heard joking around when Waleed Khaled’s family came to the scene of the shooting. As his tearful relatives inspected his corpse, a U.S. soldier said “Don’t bother. It’s not worth it.” A few other soldiers joked among themselves just a few feet from the body. According to Reporters Without Borders Khaled is the 66th journalist to be killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. In comparison, a total of 63 journalists were killed in the Vietnam War.

In reality of course what has happened in Iraq is like to give the US army, administration and people a lasting distaste for such ventures. And a significant percentage of the “hardened” troops coming home will exact their protracted toll, in the usual currency of alchoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence.


Remebering Jude Wanniski

He suddenly died last week, of a heart attack, at the age of 69. I really liked the man and I’ll miss him. Sometime in the late 70s, when I was at the Village Voice, I got a friendly note from Jude Wanniski, who was working on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. He sent a very funny critique of a feature I’d just had a hand in, on the Military Industrial Complex.

This was when Jude was making his name as a brilliant polemicist for the Supply Siders. It wasn’t long before he’d given me and Jim Ridgeway a wonderful interview on the supply-side struggle inside the Reagan camp. We called it The Battle for the Mind of Ronald Reagan and it made a big stir. Years later, Martin Anderson, Reagan’s man in charge of domestic policy, was still complaining about it years later.

Jude may have played a part in my ten-year stint as left wing token on the WSJ’s editorial page. I don’t know. But I talked to him off and on, and always liked him. He really was in favor of the universal good, had read Marx and thought about him, was completely unafraid of being at odds with conventional thought. He took ideas seriously. He was eased off the WSJ editorial page when some pompous WSJ overlord saw him handing out leaflets for supply-sider Jeffrey Bell who was running for office in New Jersey.

Then Jude became an independent agitator, a hammer of the neocons, a passionate foe of the war in Iraq. Some of his positions must have lost him friends in conventional places like his many defenses of Louis Farrakhan . You can google his name on this site’s search function and find the excellent pieces of his we ran. We didn’t run one, typically enthusiastic, saying in the wake of his dissent on the Kelo decision, that Clarence Thomas should become Chief Justice.

These days the libertarian right is turning out more interesting independent agitators than the left. In the old days we had the cranky populists, like Wright Patman or Ralph Yarborough. Not any more. Bernie Sanders? Imagine how boring it would be, sitting on a bus next to that guy for more than ten minutes. But from the “conservative” side have come people like Jude and his old colleague, who now sails weekly under our colors, Paul Craig Roberts.

Footnote: An earlier version of section on Hitchens’s prowar rationales ran in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last week.




We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.