Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Another Neocon Attempt to Frame Iran Falls Apart
by Gareth Porter, The Nation

Last time it was scary speed-boats, this time it's a bogus link to a bombing in Argentina -- one by one, Iran hawks' lies keep unraveling.

Research for this article was supported by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

Although nukes and Iraq have been the main focus of the Bush Administration's pressure campaign against Iran, US officials also seek to tar Iran as the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. And Team Bush's latest tactic is to play up a thirteen-year-old accusation that Iran was responsible for the notorious Buenos Aires bombing that destroyed the city's Jewish Community Center, known as AMIA, killing eighty-six and injuring 300, in 1994. Unnamed senior Administration officials told the Wall Street Journal January 15 that the bombing in Argentina "serves as a model for how Tehran has used its overseas embassies and relationship with foreign militant groups, in particular Hezbollah, to strike at its enemies."

This propaganda campaign depends heavily on a decision last November by the General Assembly of Interpol, which voted to put five former Iranian officials and a Hezbollah leader on the international police organization's "red list" for allegedly having planned the July 1994 bombing. But the Wall Street Journal reports that it was pressure from the Bush Administration, along with Israeli and Argentine diplomats, that secured the Interpol vote. In fact, the Bush Administration's manipulation of the Argentine bombing case is perfectly in line with its long practice of using distorting and manufactured evidence to build a case against its geopolitical enemies.

After spending several months interviewing officials at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires familiar with the Argentine investigation, the head of the FBI team that assisted it and the most knowledgeable independent Argentine investigator of the case, I found that no real evidence has ever been found to implicate Iran in the bombing. Based on these interviews and the documentary record of the investigation, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the case against Iran over the AMIA bombing has been driven from the beginning by US enmity toward Iran, not by a desire to find the real perpetrators.

A 'Wall of Assumptions'

US policy toward the bombing was skewed from the beginning by a Clinton Administration strategy of isolating Iran, adopted in 1993 as part of an understanding with Israel on peace negotiations with the Palestinians. On the very day of the crime, before anything could have been known about who was responsible, Secretary of State Warren Christopher blamed "those who want to stop the peace process in the Middle East"--an obvious reference to Iran.

William Brencick, then chief of the political section at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires and the primary Embassy contact for the investigation, recalled in an interview with me last June that a "wall of assumptions" guided the US approach to the case. The primary assumptions, Brencick said, were that the explosion was a suicide bombing and that use of a suicide bomb was prima facie evidence of involvement by Hezbollah--and therefore Iran.

But the suicide-bomber thesis quickly encountered serious problems. In the wake of the explosion, the Menem government asked the United States to send a team to assist in the investigation, and two days after the bombing, experts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived in Buenos Aires along with three FBI agents. According to an interview the head of the team, ATF explosives expert Charles Hunter, gave to a team of independent investigators headed by US journalist Joe Goldman and Argentine investigative journalist Jorge Lanata, as soon as the team arrived the federal police put forward a thesis that a white Renault Trafic van had carried the bomb that destroyed the AMIA.

Hunter quickly identified major discrepancies between the car-bomb thesis and the blast pattern recorded in photos. He wrote a report two weeks later noting that in the wake of the bombing, merchandise in a store immediately to the right of the AMIA was tightly packed against its front windows and merchandise in another shop had been blown out onto the street--suggesting that the blast came from inside rather than outside. Hunter also said he did not understand how the building across the street could still be standing if the bomb had exploded in front of the AMIA, as suggested by the car-bomb thesis.

The lack of eyewitness evidence supporting the thesis was just as striking. Of some 200 witnesses on the scene, only one claimed to have seen a white Renault Trafic. Several testified they were looking at the spot where the Trafic should have been when the explosion occurred and saw nothing. Nicolasa Romero, the wife of a Buenos Aires policeman, was that lone witness. She said she saw a white Renault Trafic approach the corner where she was standing with her sister and her 4-year-old son. But Romero's sister testified that the vehicle that passed them was not a white Trafic but rather a black-and-yellow taxi. Other witnesses reported seeing a black-and-yellow taxi seconds before the explosion.

Argentine prosecutors argued that pieces of a white Trafic embedded in the flesh of many of the victims of the explosion proved their case for a suicide bomb. But that evidence was discredited by Gabriel Levinas, a researcher for AMIA's own legal team. Levinas is a member of a leading Jewish family in Buenos Aires who had published a human rights magazine during the dictatorship (his uncle's car was used to kidnap war criminal Adolf Eichmann and spirit him off to Israel for trial in 1982.) Read on.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Looking for Democracy
By Maliha Masood, Matrix Contributor

Democracy is said to be rule of the people, by the people and for the people. I'm not sure if there is any country in the world at any given time, past or present that lives up to this definition. The United States, for all its hallowed claims to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is not a pure democracy. If it were, then we would have a truly independent media, one that is capable of taking a firm stand and voicing clear opinions, instead of mostly parroting back official rhetoric, as scripted by the powers that be.

It is sometimes shocking for me to know that in a country allegedly so liberal and democratic, the mainstream press is pretty reluctant to criticize the administration and even the so called progressive barons, like NPR and The New York Times don't offer much in the way of alternative models. Being neutral is of course a way of staking sides and silence does speak volumes. Think I’m exaggerating? OK people, now listen up good.

When is the last time you ever heard or read an account in the media that came as a vociferous attack against the war in Iraq or a nuanced piece on terrorism that did more than just the usual fear mongering or some commentary that perhaps bothered to explain the reasons why our world is so troubled by religious militants and suicide bombers instead of the acceptable shorthand that condenses an extremely complicated issue to the simplistic notion that the good people in the Western world are fighting the evil people supporting Osama bin Laden and dreaming of virgins in paradise all of which can be summed up in two words known as Islamic fascism.

Common guys and girls.

You know there’s more to it than that and you don’t need to open a history textbook to explain the facts behind the facts. All you need to do is go back in time a bit, take that walk down memory lane and shake out the cobwebs clouding the facts that no one likes to admit. Certainly not the American media, whatever its spin which seems to smack more and more of imitating whatever is coming out of the White House.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but often times I see our media as basically a mouthpiece for the government, for better or worse, going along with the status quo, rather like sheep herded back every day to their comfort zone pastures. Now if this is what our lovely country calls democracy, then I think we need a new definition.

Maliha Masood is a writer and teacher living in Seattle, WA.

Friday, January 25, 2008

By Malik Isasis

The pavement is littered with the bodies of celebrities the corporate media have built up, only to destroy. What has been done to Brittany Spears by the corporate media for instance is nothing short of sadistic torture porn for public consumption. The same could be said about how the corporate media covers politics.

Just as the corporate pundits began using sexist innuendoes against Hillary Clinton to destroy her credibility as a presidential candidate, the corporate punditry have swung the pendulum in the other direction, using race against Barack Obama with a lot of help from an unforeseen political operative hitman and former president, Bill Clinton.

The corporate media, as they have with every other black presidential candidate, smirked and patted Obama on the head with low expectations when he announced his candidacy for president. Since the media assumed Obama never had a chance in the first place, they toyed with him like a killer whale does with his food. Then Obama won the Iowa caucus, in a mostly white state. Eventually, the corporate media like the killer whale stopped tossing the seal and ate it.

After Obama’s victory a narrative began to emerge. Bill Bennet, a racist and Republican operative for CNN said of Obama’s win: I have been watching him. I watched him on Meet the Press. I watched him on your show, watched him on all the CNN shows -- he never brings race into it. He never plays the race card. Talk about the black community -- he has taught the black community you don't have to act like Jesse Jackson; you don't have to act like Al Sharpton. You can talk about the issues. Great dignity. And this is a breakthrough, and good for the people of Iowa.

Bennet has foreshadowed what was to come. However, it wasn’t expected that the Clintons would begin this whisper campaign by injecting race, but it was unavoidable in a country so completely obsessed with race.

When Blacks Count

The corporate media has been called out on its sexist narrative against Hillary Clinton, but not for its racist attacks against Obama. The Clintons have used this opportunity to tap into the xenophobic nature of the American populace by starting a whisper campaign e.g. if Obama wins in South Carolina, it would be because of the black vote, thus causing white voters to coagulate against Obama. Black folks are always accused of block voting, incidentally white voters always block vote, but because white supremacy is the default setting of this country, the cognitive dissonance goes unchallenged.

The corporate media is using the Clintons’ racist attacks against Obama as a cover to create their own destructive narrative, taking the Clintons’ narrative even farther. Now that black folks are supporting Obama in larger numbers, the corporate media are flogging white voters by making Obama the “Black Candidate.” This was why black folk were slow to support Obama because we knew that the media would pull the carpet because black folks' votes are only valid in the eyes of white folk when white folk are in agreement.

Back to the Future

I predicted what the media would do to an Obama candidacy in my essay Black Man Running on 12.11.2006:

I think Barack is nuanced and understands that the media is not his friend. He knows that the media is setting him up for a glorious fall. Howard Dean can testify to this truth. Dean, who knows what it’s like to be a media-darling, was a front-runner in the 2004 Presidential Race, but it was when he lost a primary race in Iowa to John Kerry and tried to rally his supporters by cheering, “Yaaah!” that the media took him out like a professional hit job. It was if everything was already aligned. Dean in his campaign, did threaten to break up large media conglomerates, is there a connection?

The media is not your friend Barack.

They are trying to make you precious, make you hire a grip of overbearing political consultants who will neuter your political passion (remember John Kerry?)…you’re going to become too safe to speak your mind, too safe to offend anyone, too safe to speak truth-to-power, just like your possible running mate, Hillary Clinton.

Exactly one year later on 12.11.2007, I wrote in my essay They Love Me, They Love Me Not:

The corporate media and their henchmen won’t come straight out with their plans of sabotaging Obama’s campaign; they will do it with a smile and blame it on his inexperience. Just as Howard Dean’s surge was interrupted in 2003, they the corporate media will try and interrupt Obama’s surge with a whisper campaign and it will be death by a thousand paper cuts. So they hope.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

by Mumia Abu-Jama, Black Agenda Report

So deeply rooted are assumptions of the "normality" of white rule in the United States, Americans of all races have trouble wrapping their minds around the very idea of a Black president. Which only goes to show that the 100 million-strong U.S. neighbor to the south is, in an important sense, culturally and historically more advanced than the United States. Mexico chose an "African-Indian" president in 1829, nearly four decades before Black men in the U.S. were granted the constitutional right to vote. Vicente Guerrero led the battle for independence from Spain and ended slavery in Mexico, the "George Washington and Abraham Lincoln" of his country. Yet, in the U.S., "178 years later, we still wonder if such a thing is possible."

For much of the U.S. populace, the very idea of a Black president is one so new, so novel, that it forces many people to think of it as if it is barely possible - as if it is the stuff of fiction, not fact. Fiction has indeed been the realm of this idea, as in movies and television series, actors have played the part; but that, of course, is on TV.

Of course, time will tell if that is more than imagination, but for millions of people who share this vast land space we call North America, the idea is neither new nor ground-breaking. That's because there are some 100 million people living in Mexico, and that country had a Black president, albeit briefly, some 173 years ago.

It was during their war for independence from Spain when a warrior emerged, a Black Indian named Vicente Guerrero. In his first battle, he was commissioned a captain. As the independence war raged on, many of the leading revolutionaries were either killed or captured. Guerrero fought on, leading some 2,000 men into the Sierra Madre mountains to continue the fight.

By 1821, the Mexicans were prevailing over the Spanish, and Guerrero was hailed as an incorruptible independence fighter. In 1829 he became president of Mexico, and as scholar William Loren Katz writes in his 1986 book, "Black Indians":

"He began a program of far-reaching reforms, abolishing the death penalty and starting construction of schools and libraries for the poor. He ended slavery in Mexico. Yet, because of his skin color, lack of education and country manner, he was held in contempt by the upper classes in Mexico City."

This president, who had, according to U.S. historian M.H. Bancroft, "a gentleness and magnetism that inspired love among his adherents," was still "a triple-blooded outsider."

Black historian J.A. Rogers summarized Guerrero's striking accomplishments by calling him "the George Washington and Abraham Lincoln of Mexico" (page 48).

Guerrero, who in his youth was an illiterate mule driver, once bitten by the bug of Mexican independence, rose to the highest office in the land. He learned to read when he was about 40 and helped craft the Mexican Constitution, of which he wrote the following provision: "All inhabitants whether white, African or Indian, are qualified to hold office." He wrote this in 1824, over 30 years before the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous Dred Scott decision, which announced, emphatically, that "a Black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect," and that Black people weren't, and could never be, citizens of the United States.

In that era of revolution and social transformation, a Black man became president of the second largest country in North America. Today, 178 years later, we still wonder if such a thing is possible.

What does that say about the United States?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

By Mikail Collins, Matrix Contributor

There are men too gentle to live amongst wolves, who tearing and devouring the rabid flesh of society's disease, satiate their own humanness with pain of fellow men.

There are men too gentle to live amongst wolves, who with quiet fortitude plumb the unexplored depths of the temple of the soul, who pioneer, not trips to the moon or distant lands, but more dangerous quests to yet undiscovered sands. There are men who in their knowledge, gentility and wisdom, are courageous enough to abdicate the dividing throne of power to immerse themselves in the tears of those who feel. These are my heroes.

There are men too gentle to live amongst wolves, who have been joyfully willing to make the excruciating journey to barren lands where nothing grows and there to plant a seed, and a marker for all mankind. These are my heroes. There are men who in their strength have broken the constricting bonds of time eternal, who see the children clutching fearfully to their mothers' breast, and on bended knees give thanks for life alone. These are my heroes.

There are men who trade, not in merchandise and marketing strategies; sunsets; seagulls and sincerity intersperse the interfaces of their illuminating software. You probably know their kind. These are my heroes. There are men too gentle to live amongst wolves who will never die, in the minds of the feeble, who in their moments of vulnerability subconsciously bludgeoned into pulp by sleeping hands, arise to the inspiration of a real man. These are my heroes.

Friday, January 18, 2008

by Maliha Masood, Matrix Contributor

It was a whole other galaxy compared to Karachi, where we had to put up with tropical weather, unbearably hot, humid and sticky summers, monsoon downpours and clogged sewers, bathrooms infested by cockroaches, kitchens swarming with flies, mosquito nets and mouse traps and the routine power cuts and load shedding that prevented me from doing my homework under bright lights.

I was tired of using a candle to do my arithmetic time tables and my father was fed up with trying to get a phone line connected to our house, a relatively simple procedure for which you had to wait months or else resort to bribing the corrupt officials. We would be through with all these nuisances if we simply packed our bags and moved on to a better place. This was more or less my father’s rationale when he applied for our immigration visas at the US consulate on Abdullah Haroun Road. Upon finalizing all the paperwork, we were given the green light. It was time to go.

The year was 1982 and Pakistan was being ruled by yet another military man, General Zia ul Haq, who had imposed martial law. I was unaware of what this implied as I went about my daily routine, going to school in a chauffeured car, listening to 70’s disco music on weekend parties and building sand castles on the shores of the Arabian Sea. On Friday afternoons, I would study the Quran with an elderly religiously scholar with coke bottle lenses and a beard reaching down to his waist. My grandmother and I would pray outside in the garden and afterwards I would recite out loud all the kalmas I had memorized thus far. Some nights, the entire family would congregate in the old Fiat with the overheating radiator and drive down to an outdoor eatery known as Bundhu Khan to feast on shish kebabs made with lamb and ice cream known as kulfi that came in small clay pots that would be smashed to the ground when empty, a ritual that made me think that Pakistanis might be close cousins to the Greeks with a penchant of breaking dishes. Indeed, we were multicultural long before I even knew the meaning of the word.
My father’s friends were mostly Goans, many of whom were Catholics. Mine were a hodgepodge of Parsis or Zorastrians. We also knew Boris, Khojas, Ismailis, Shias, Bahais, Gujratis and Makranis. The language I spoke at home was mostly British style English, peppered with Urdu phrases. But we kept hearing rumors that the government was going to change the school curriculums from English medium back to Urdu. My father alluded to things not being so good in the country anymore. He had a good job as a station manager at Swissair airlines, working at Karachi International airport. He had been with Swissair for over twenty years and he knew that leaving Swissair, leaving Karachi would also leave him in a lurch. There was no job waiting for him in the States. No possibility of a transfer unless he had chosen a bigger city like Chicago or New York, instead of Seattle. But my father’s mind was made up. He wanted a change of scene. His friends told him that he had no future in America. It was a gold mine of opportunity if you were young and ambitious, but that was no longer the case with my dad. Still he figured there were more reasons to leave, than to stay.

I was twelve years old at the time. The realization of going away for good, from a Pakistan that was no longer desired, had not yet sunk in. It was not as if I had any say in the matter, and even if I did, it would have made no difference. Twelve year old girls don’t have had the authority to overrule parental decisions. As far as I was concerned, I was going on yet another holiday to America, only on a one way ticket. And things were getting a bit stale in Karachi, or perhaps I should say as stale as they can get when one is in the sixth grade. My classmates were rather envious of my move. Many of them had been abroad and there was always much bragging and boasting to see who among us was the best traveled. From Hong Kong to Nairobi, London, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Geneva, Toronto and Los Angeles, names of familiar places rattled off the list.

Seattle was a bit of a mystery. It was considered to be in Canada given the extreme northwest location. And just as Easterners clueless about the West coast, my Karachiite friends, with typical urban arrogance, imagined Seattle as a wilderness of forests and grizzly bears. Nobody really understood why I was moving to such a place. Only Sabahat seemed to care. She was my best friend since kindergarten and the news of my departure saddened us deeply. We vowed to write letters to each other every month. As a farewell gift, she gave me a collection of verses by William Blake, whose poetry I used to memorize in Elocution class.

For my favorite tiger, she had written in the inscription. Go get ‘em in America! Love, Sabahat

The opening stanza is still inscribed in my head.
Tiger Tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

And so we did it. From Karachi to Seattle in one clean move. In all these years, I have never really tried to justify the move or question its implications. But as I see images of Pakistan flashing across the nightly news, images of Karachi burning, of street protests and riots, of security forces and turbaned militia men, and all the grim angry faces fed up with the place and its leaders, just as my father was fed up over a quarter of a century ago, I cannot help but wonder what it means to exchange one homeland for another when you have stakes on both sides. No matter how hard you try, you can never really decide where it is that you really belong.

Even though the Pakistan of today in no shape or form resembles the Pakistan I once knew, there is still a Pakistan inside me. It is there when I get sad and angry and feel helpless at the state of this scarred nation from which I will never be completely alienated. I wish I could but I don’t know how. My father claims that the bond is no longer there. The attachment has been worn out and what is there to be attached to besides just memories? Quite so. Just memories. Indeed. My past. His past. Our past. If only it were so simple to forget. But just like remembering, forgetting is not easy. The trick may be to forget things in the same proportion to what we remember. Perhaps that is the only way to maintain a level of equilibrium, the means to getting on with our lives.

I don’t agree with my father. Unlike him, I need to be reminded of the past. Because the past is who we are. The past is our evidence, our truth that Pakistan was not always this way. If geography is destiny, then I am destined to be a daughter of fault lines. My dreams and my nightmares reside in between two hemispheres, separated by more than ten thousand miles and eleven time zones, and it is my duty, certainly a privilege as a writer to make sense of what it all means. Not to do so is to be sick with amnesia, and that would probably be the biggest tragedy of all.

Maliha Masood is a Karachi transplant living in Seattle, WA. She is the author of the award-winning travel memoir, Zaatar Days Henna Nights: Adventures, Dreams and Destinations across the Middle East. Her current project is a collection of essays and short stories of the Pakistani diaspora. She can be reached at masood.maliha@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Feminism and religion do not mix
by Allison Kilkenny, The Beast

Most religions have a creepy fixation with the eradication of women's vaginas. Some African cultures mutilate the clitoris and sew the vagina shut for the sake of maintaining virginal "purity." Other zealots don't like their saviors free-falling from the womb. In fact, ideological fanatics have done everything in their power to explain away the vagina. God impregnated Mary from his great big bachelor pad in the sky, fat little Buddha burst from his mother's side, and we know little of Amna, Mohammad's mother, let alone his actual birth, but we can assume the good prophet didn't sully himself in vaginal juices. Like the rest of the prophets, Mohammad probably materialized from the heavens. After all, a woman's body is a dirty, sinful thing, which is why women are taught from an early age to be ashamed of their bodies and to keep them covered always.

The belief in a divine creator aside, no rational person can seriously argue that feminism and religiosity can coexist. If you claim to be a religious person, you are not a feminist, nor if you believe men and women are inherently equals can you claim to believe in the fundamental beliefs of any religion. As far as I know, there is no religion on Earth that presents men and women as exact equals.

The most popular version of Christianity claims women are inherently subservient to men, since Eve came from Adam's rib. Meanwhile, Mohammad married at least 11 times during his life, and his favorite wife, Ayesha Bibi, was six-years-old when he married her. Sexy.

Here are some jewels from the Quran, the sacred text of Islam:

II/223: Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate). So go to your tilth as ye will...

I don't know about you, but if some dude walked up to me at a bar and said, "Hey, baby. Mind if I plow your field?" that man will receive my fist in his eye socket.

IV/34: Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other ... As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.

Short and simple: Men are superior to women. Women are to be controlled, whether through violence or fear.

IV/15: (to women) If any one of your women is guilty of lewdness ... confine them until death claims them.

IV/16: (for men) If two men among you commit indecency (sodomy) punish them both. If they repent and mend their ways, let them be. Allah is forgiving and merciful.

Homophobia aside, we see Allah, much like God, is all sunshine and puppy kisses, forgiving and loving, until you're a woman and you sin. Then, you're a whore in need of punishment.

In fairness to Mohammad, the God of the Christian bible is no better than the typical baby's daddy you see on an episode of COPS. Picture the big, white dude in the sky who orated this stirring tale:

Exodus 21:7-10 shows us that it is perfectly cool to sell your daughter into slavery and allow her master to rape her. Also in Exodus (22:16-17), if a man sleeps with a virgin (with or without her consent,) he must marry her. However, if her father refuses to allow her to wed, the man must then pay the father a dowry of virgins. How does the recently deflowered virgin feel about being treated like a piece of property? Well, funnily enough, we don't know. The Bible doesn't seem concerned about her feelings.

Leviticus chapter 12 reminds us that women are unclean. After giving birth to a boy, a woman is considered unclean for seven days. However, if she has given birth to a girl, she is unclean for 33 days. Regardless, the concept that a woman is somehow unclean after giving birth is ludicrous. Of course, all religions fear the vagina, so it makes sense that the scribes (along with all men) went into a complete tizzy after childbirth, which very much relies upon the vagina.

Leviticus 19:20-22 teaches us that a man can rape his female slaves and be forgiven, though the slave must be punished. Likewise, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 reminds us that a man can rape a virgin, though he must marry her, and also pay her father 50 shekels.

The Bible is a weird, scary place. In case you needed further proof of that, along comes 1 Samuel 18:25-27 where Saul sells his daughter to David. Instead of wanting to be paid money for his daughter, Saul asks for ... are you ready? Saul asks for the foreskins of 100 Philistine men.

.... WHAT? There's a happy ending, though. David gives 200 foreskins, a profit of 100 foreskins for Saul to squirrel away for the winter. HUZZAH!

Eastern religions, such as Hinduism, leave no room for interpretation when it comes to the role of women: "By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent". (Laws of Manu, V, 147-8).

Women are subservient to men and inherently inferior, period.

What about Eastern religions?

Even Buddhism has been used to repress people (especially women), such as under Hirohito's rule and currently in Burma. The armies that began the horrible civil wars in Sri Lanka during the '50s and '60s were comprised of Buddhists.

The Theravadan Buddhists claim a woman could never become a Buddha. A popular belief in Buddhist countries is that negative karma results in a man being reborn as a woman. Again, the female gender's state is seen as a punishment, one filled with shame. Buddhism teaches that institutions like marriage must be regulated by society though social, political, and legal processes. This does not mean Buddhism is a progressive religion. Rather, it's sort of like passing the buck. We don't want to say women are equal to men, so we'll just let you figure it out. If you decide they're equal, fine. If you decide she's the social equivalent of a cow, and you can sell her for a dowry, that's cool too. I'll just be over here, under my Bodhi tree.

Jainism is frequently referenced as the one truly peaceful religion. They even cover their mouths whilst walking outside so they cannot accidentally inhale a defenseless bug. Surely they, the Jains, are enlightened in matters of gender. Think again. Jainism does not teach that women can gain ultimate spiritual liberation, though a woman could strive to become a man in her next life so she could then reach enlightenment.

What happens when so-called feminists create alliances with religion?

You get police-sponsored Iranian fashion shows with women dressed in different colored Hijab. Viva La Revolucion! What better way to freely express creativity, passion, and art than in the free world of fashion?

The liberated, passionate world of art, music, and fashion cannot coexist with a regime that maintains these guidelines for women's dress:

Conditions of Islamic Dress Code

1. Clothing must cover the entire body, only the hands and face may remain visible (According to some Hiqh Schools).

2. The material must not be so thin that one can see through it.

3. The clothing must hang loose so that the shape / form of the body is not apparent.

4. The female clothing must not resemble the man's clothing.

5. The design of the clothing must not resemble the clothing of the non-believing women.

6. The design must not consist of bold designs which attract attention.

7. Clothing should not be worn for the sole purpose of gaining reputation or increasing one's status in society.

Sounds chic, doesn't it? But hey, Allah never said he wanted fashion shows. He said: "Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty ; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof. " [Quran : 24.31]

Now get into your burka, and shut up. It's sad and embarrassing when feminists try to rationalize their religiosity, say with Iranian fashion shows. It's not tolerance. It's hypocrisy, illogical and downright silly. It's a bit like watching a black person try to explain why they vote Republican. Essentially, there is no way to reconcile the rational hope of all genders peacefully coexisting with irrational dogmas. Modern feminists desperately attempt to reshape their religions into something that looks vaguely modern and tolerant, but at their cores, all religions are sexist and repressive.

If the only proof of a religion's dictated guidelines to morality are their religious texts, then we must believe that the Bible, Quran, and Buddhist sutras, vinaya, and abhidharma all represent the core beliefs of their religious sources. If we are to believe they are not truly reflective of their religious roots, then why did God dictate incorrect information to his scribes? If the errors of the texts are man's folly, why has God not corrected them or made his true beliefs known? God is, after all, the supposed creator of the cosmos. Surely, he could have given us a Bible 2.0 by now. Perhaps a Bible XP?

No, we must assume these texts are truly reflective of their religion's ideologies. With that assumption firmly cemented, we see that there is no room in religion for feminism, the doctrine advocating the equality of rights, social and political, with those of men. For feminism to work, it must exist outside of the constraining margins of religion. It must operate outside of the assumption that women are inferior to men, which is a foundational belief of the major theologies. Or, feminists must attempt to rationalize their religious ideologies to reconcile them with their desire for social equality, which is an impossible order. You end up changing the definition of your religion by rejecting their sacred texts or you change the definition of feminism so it says: I want to be equal always, except when it comes to your religion that says I am inferior, and I accept that.

Either you are a feminist and you reject religion, or you are a worshiper and you reject the concept that the genders are equal.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hillary Plays a Risky 'Gender Card'
by Robert Parry, Consortium News

Many people who know the Clintons insist that the power couple truly wants what’s best for the American people. It’s just that too often their political needs or their personal foibles overwhelm their responsibility to the public interest.

But rarely could the Clintons’ determination to get their way be more detrimental to both the Democratic Party and the United States than if Hillary Clinton continues to play the "gender card" on behalf of her presidential campaign, especially in what is shaping up as a two-person race against an African-American.

Instead of an inspiring campaign between two trail-blazing politicians, the race could degenerate into a spasm of “identity politics” in which two groups – women and blacks – compete over who has been more unfairly repressed.

To this point, Sen. Barack Obama has avoided playing the "race card," favoring uplifting rhetoric about “change” that is underscored – but not overwhelmed – by the fact that he is the first African-American to be given a serious shot at winning the White House.

By contrast, over the past few months, whenever the going has gotten tough, Sen. Clinton has responded with references to herself as an embattled woman facing unfair treatment at the hands of men.

On Nov. 1, 2007, after one bruising Democratic debate, Clinton returned to her alma mater, Wellesley College, and declared that “in so many ways, this all women’s college prepared me to compete in the all boys’ club of presidential politics.”

Clinton then urged Wellesley students to help her win the presidency. “We’re ready to shatter that highest glass ceiling,” Clinton said. [NYT, Nov. 2, 2007]

Similarly, after losing the Iowa caucuses to Obama, Clinton and her supporters appealed to women to rally behind one of their own and to take a stand against sexist oppression.

In a New York Times op-ed, feminist Gloria Steinem went so far as to argue that American women have suffered more political and economic discrimination than American black men.

“Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any woman (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter),” Steinem wrote. [NYT, Jan. 8, 2008]

A Bitter Debate

Steinem’s historical arguments threw down a gauntlet to a bitter debate over who’s the bigger victim, blacks or women.

American blacks could reasonably cite their experience with generations of slavery followed by generations of brutal segregation in making the case that giving black men the vote after the Civil War was relatively meaningless.

It was not until the 1960s, when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights laws, that the United States began protecting the franchise of African-Americans across the South, where Jim Crow laws and lynchings had long held blacks down.

But blacks are still disenfranchised through tactics like those used in Florida during Election 2000 when felon purges disqualified hundreds (possibly thousands) of legitimate African-American voters. To this day, Washington D.C.’s heavily black population is denied representation in Congress.

Though dubious and even offensive, Steinem's arguments about the supposed advantages of being a black man in America were embraced by many supporters of Hillary Clinton as New Hampshire voters headed to the polls. Already, Sen. Clinton had set the stage for a women’s power rebound in the first-in-the-nation primary.

In the days after her Iowa defeat, Clinton had won sympathy from some women who were upset that the male-dominated news media was dismissing her as a viable candidate, what could be called the "Chris Matthews factor."

Then, at a Jan. 5 debate moderated by ABC’s Charles Gibson, Clinton was asked why many voters found her unlikable. “Well, that hurts my feelings,” she responded. “I don’t think I’m so bad.”

Obama didn’t help himself either with what sounded like a graceless reaction to the question. “You’re likable enough, Hillary,” he said, causing even some of his supporters to wince.

Then, on Jan. 7, a day before the New Hampshire primary, Sen. Clinton’s voice cracked when responding to a question about how she managed to hold up during the grueling campaign.

“It’s not easy, it’s not easy,” Clinton responded slowly in a softer voice than she normally uses. “I couldn’t do it if I did not passionately believe it was the right thing to do. It’s very personal to me.”

As her eyes grew moist, she added, “I have so many ideas for this country. I just don’t want to see us fall backwards. It’s about our country, it’s about our kids’ future.”

Then, seamlessly, in the same soft voice, she shifted into political attack mode: “Some of us are right, some of us are wrong. Some of us are ready, and some of us are not. Some of us know what we’ll do on day one and some of us don’t”

Her wet-eyed moment – a woman daring to show her vulnerable side – immediately became a campaign turning point.

‘Iron My Shirts’

The feminist-solidarity vote for Hillary Clinton got another boost during a final speech in Salem, New Hampshire, when two young men began heckling her with the sexist chant, “Iron my shirts!”

Upon hearing the obnoxious chant, Clinton called for the lights in the auditorium to be turned up. Then, seeing the two young men near the front of the audience, she said, “Oh, the remnants of sexism alive and well.”

As security guards escorted the pair from the auditorium, Clinton transformed the incident into a case study of how men oppress women: “As I think has just been abundantly demonstrated, I am also running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling.”

Clinton’s comments drew a standing ovation from the crowd and widespread media attention on New Hampshire’s news shows.

One source inside the Clinton camp said the “iron my shirts” comment angered and energized women in particular, while Clinton's tearing up played well with men who suddenly saw her as more human and more appealing.

Though her deft reaction to the “iron my shirts” taunt may have helped her politically, her depiction of it as an example of male oppression holding her down would appear to be a gross exaggeration.

The two hecklers were later identified as Nick Gemelli and Adolfo Gonzalez Jr. [See New York Daily News’ blog.] They are associated with Toucher & Rich, a white-guy-oriented talk show on Boston’s WBCN radio that prides itself in broadcasting content intended for “immature audiences.”

On Jan. 9, the day after Clinton's upset victory in the New Hampshire primary, the show’s host opened by running down the roster of participants and referred to Gonzalez as someone who “single-handedly changed the course of American politics.”

But instead of explaining how Gonzalez achieved that feat, the show veered off into a mocking discussion of “Afros” worn by black baseball players.

The show’s Web site listed a few “fun facts” about Gonzalez: “He weighs 345 lbs. … He couldn’t speak ANY language until he was five. …He has never had health insurance. … He talks to himself. … He has a very messy room.”

Rather than male oppressors protecting the presidential glass ceiling, the two hecklers came across as dumb-guy losers pulling a juvenile shock-jock stunt.

Still, the “iron my shirts” incident fueled the anger of New Hampshire’s women as they turned out in surprisingly strong numbers to give their support to Hillary Clinton.

The longer-term danger, however, is that Clinton’s reliance on the "gender card" – especially as Obama resists playing the "race card" – might ultimately pit two important Democratic constituencies against one another.

Identity politics could trump a serious debate over the candidates’ differences on the Iraq War and other pressing issues. In the end, many Americans surely would be turned off by a high-profile squabble over who has the bigger historic grievance, American women or American blacks.

Given the numerical superiority of women over blacks, that argument might help the Clintons achieve their immediate goal of again capturing the Democratic presidential nomination. But it could leave their party – and their nation – even more divided.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

by Malik Isasis

Former President Bill Clinton is pissing vinegar these days as a certain amount of schadenfreude by the media has dusted off the inevitability of his wife, Presidential Candidate and Senator, Hillary Clinton; or should I say Presidential Candidate and Senator Barack Obama’s ability to Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast Clinton in Survivor: Presidential Campaign?

The Real Fairytale

"It is wrong that Senator Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time--not once…Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen,” said political heavyweight Bill Clinton unraveling like a ball of yarn rolling down a flight of stairs on January 7, 2008.

Really, Bill? The 'biggest fairy tale I've ever seen?', even after 7 years of Bushworld?

Bill Clinton's anger toward Obama is displaced—where was his outrage at the media for giving the current President, George Bush a free hand at using the resources of the United States as a blunt instrument to rape and pillage the Middle East? Where was Bill Clinton’s anger when Hurricane Katrina pulled back the curtain on the Bush’s incompetence and leadership as New Orleans drowned? Where the hell was Bill Clinton’s anger in the past 7 years as he witnessed Bush flushed the country’s pride, economy and esteem down the shitter?

I'll tell you where his lips were--on the Bushes' asses, where he clings like a tick. Bill wants to be loved and accepted by the Republicans so much that he is willing to forgo his integrity and overlook the biggest heist of American treasury in U.S. history.

Bill Clinton’s displaced anger is self-serving. His and Mrs. Clinton’s anger is fueled by entitlement. It is this sense of entitlement that is causing them to lash out at Barack Obama for having the audacity to challenge their tightly written script of inevitability, and at the corporate media for pulling the carpet from beneath the feet of illusion that Hillary’s experience is all she needs.

Long ago the Clintons decided to become neoliberals who’ve sustained disastrous globalism policies, and unfettered corporatism, which has exacerbated the prison industrial complex, the military industrial complex, and the pharmaceutical/healthcare industrial complex. This so-called third way of winning philosophy created by the Democratic Leadership Council has cost the Democrats their political soul.

Entitlement has a way of co-oping integrity, and creating magical thinking within its host who tend to refuse to take responsibility for their failures. The cognitive dissonance makes their personal ambition, the nation's policy. Now that the game is changing the Clintons shouldn’t hate the player, but hate the game that they help sustain and corrupt.

Now that Barack Obama and reformed DLC member John Edwards have come along to awakened millions of young and uninspired voters from their stupor, the Clintons are finding that they’ve awakened abruptly from their very own fairytale.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Of Pride and Prejudice, Pakistani Style
by Maliha Masood, Matrix Contributor

My father has this habit of giving me newspaper or magazine articles of people and trends that he admires. Most of the content has to do with South Asian success stories such as the dotcom billionaire turned philanthropist, the industrialist tycoon, a talented child prodigy, a famous surgeon or technology wizard or rocket scientist maverick; there’s almost always some tidbit about an accomplished artist, be it poet, painter or musician, the flamboyant sports star, tales of aspiring immigrants, and then there was that funny piece about rural Indian villagers who get to sit in an airplane for the first time ever.

It’s a bit of mystery figuring out why my Dad is so fascinated by these stories, what it is about them that compel him to take a pair of scissors and neatly trim the pages from the latest issue of Time or Newsweek. Abboo calls the articles cuttings instead of clippings and usually folds them in a neat little square tucked inside used manila envelopes. I am the recipient of more than a dozen such envelopes that litter my desk drawers. And I dare not throw them away even though I don’t fully understand what they all mean to my father who certainly did not dream of becoming the next Bill Gates or following in the footsteps of other luminary icons. Yet he goes on collecting these accolades in his usual custom.

A Poignant Article

On New Year’s eve, I received another article from Abboo. This time it did not come in an envelope. It was a hastily crumpled up full page reprint of a Los Angeles Times tribute to Benazir Bhutto published in the editorial pages of the Seattle Times. And it was the last thing I wanted to see after a bombardment of headlines, analysis, blog postings and all manners of reactions to Benazir’s assassination. I was numb with information overload. Besides, when it came to Pakistan, there was nothing new to learn was my crass conclusion.

The news item my Dad had saved was lying untouched on my dining room table. I glanced at its orange highlighted paragraphs, the margins strewn with Abboo’s own comments in his trademark full caps penmanship. He had also drawn a big circle around the center page photo, circa 1972, featuring Zufikhar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father when he was the Pakistani Prime Minister, on a state visit to Simla, shaking hands with the then Indian PM, Indira Gandhi, with a collegiate 19 year old Benazir standing nearby. A poignant image that I was much too young to remember given as I was only a year old at the time. But that image triggered something in Abboo because he wrote this:


There was also a smaller photo of a beaming Benazir, beautifully resplendent as a bride upon her marriage to a sober faced Sindhi turbaned Asif Zardari in Karachi on December 18, 1987, about five years after we had left the city and immigrated to America. Underneath that photo, Abboo had jotted this statement:


Ha ha…I could almost hear my Dad’s chuckles and I admired him for holding on to his sense of humor, to be able to laugh in the face of tragedy. He has always told me not to take things so seriously and I suspect he’s telling me what he himself needs to hear. So I wasn’t anticipating Abboo would get all sentimental about the latest tragedy in Pakistan, a country that he and I both claim as our “homeland”, a loaded term that neither of us wants to wrestle with nowadays. Some days I think we just loathe the place, not even wanting to go anywhere near the touchy discussion points, so we behave as if nothing matters anymore. We become indifferent and sullen and tune out. Then there are days when we get a sudden hankering to adore the place as you still adore a sobbing infant or a cranky toddler because they are your children after all.

JFK in the Bazaar

Those are the days when Abboo and I relive our individual memory lanes. He talks about his generation coming of age in the 1950’s and 60’s enamored with Hollywood movies and American jazz. Abboo recalls with a great deal of fondness live concerts in Karachi where he saw Dizzy Gillespie, Artie Shaw, Jack Teagarden and Dave Brubeck. He still knows the names of all the Spaghetti Westerns, Hitchcock and Cary Grant films that he and his friends from St. Pats watched at the Regal, Odeon and Palace cinemas. He remembers the day he was shopping in Bori Bazaar when he read about JFK’s assassination in a Pakistani newspaper.

I nearly cried, Abboo informs me. My father was so shook up over the incident that he had to sit down on the pavement to settle his nerves. I try to conjure the image of a Pakistani man crying over the death of an American president. Then I talk about my generation growing up in Karachi during the 1970’s, wearing hideous bellbottoms and batik blouses, the Mama Parsi school girl crushes on Bjorn Borg, turntable sing along sessions to my favorite albums by Abba and the Bee Gees and how my uber cool Clifton friends taught me to groove to Travolta’s Stayin’ Alive. Oh yes. Those were indeed the days, long departed days of our youths in a country that we longer recognize on CNN. So what does one do when memories clash with reality? And how do you go about validating a past that contradicts all that we know of the present? Will the world ever know about a Pakistan beyond danger and violence? Does it even want to? Who will convince the skeptics to believe in what is remotely positive when a country’s social sophistications and urban flairs lack the currency value of its fanatics and suicide bombers?

The impasse is to be expected. My father’s Pakistan no longer exists. Neither does mine. And yet, and yet, I know we still care. I know we care in the things that we say and what we choose not to say. I know Abboo cared about something when he scribbled on the newspaper he gave me. And I know that I’m taking an exorbitantly long time to write this piece because I still do care about what happens to Pakistan, no matter how much I like to pretend otherwise. Maybe this pretence of not caring is an offshoot of the classic immigrant dilemma of detaching from your roots in order to fit in. Or maybe it comes from the anxiety and nervousness that engulfs me every time I encounter border crossings and hand over my U.S. passport showcasing a recent Pakistani visa, knowing that I will be questioned, maybe even grilled about the purpose of my visit. Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder which scenario was better. When I arrived in the United States in 1982, I had the privilege of telling my seventh grade classmates that I came from Pakistan and received blank stares. Fast forward a quarter of a century. Now I have the privilege as a teacher of telling my eleventh grade high school students that Pakistan is my birthplace only to receive scandalous stares.

Perennial Brick Wall

No one wants to feel ashamed of where he or she is from. It should be a matter of pride, to raise your head high and utter the word Pakistan and not have to hold your breath and feel your insides cringe. But pride is hard to come by these days and I think that pride is ultimately what my Dad was referring to in all those stories he has given me over the years. Pride was foremost on Abboo’s mind mulling over that seminal photo in the LA Times of Zulfikhar Bhutto and his unfulfilled potential which later shaped my Dad’s prejudice. The same could be said for Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir, who was also given the chance, not just once, but twice as Prime Minister in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. We will never know if she would have finally succeeded the third time around, back in the saddle of leadership, with her position of privilege and her articulate and intelligent mind that could have steered a sensible course for Pakistan, one that was aligned with progressive values with concern for public welfare overriding individual agendas. This of course is a tough act for any leader in any country in any given time to follow. To expect politicians to be saints is to be deluded. But to come up against sixty years of history repeating itself with the same old stalemates and disappointments, with the same crop of lackluster helmsmen and one very promising helms woman with all their broken pledges and tragic endings as has been the case since Pakistan’s creation, is to be hitting your head against the perennial brick wall.

When will enough be finally enough? When will pride remain pride and not be soured by prejudice?

One can only hope and keep on hoping.

Maliha Masood is a Karachi transplant living in Seattle, WA. She is the author of the award-winning travelogue, Zaatar Days Henna Nights: Adventures, Dreams and Destinations across the Middle East and is currently at work on an anthology of essays from Pakistani-American perspectives. She can be reached at masood.maliha@gmail.com

Friday, January 04, 2008

by Malik Isasis

The disturbing award-winning photo by Stephanie Sinclair accompanying this essay is of an 11 year old Afghani child engaged to be married to a 40 year old man who will know doubt rape her, and treat her as chattel as is accustomed in their village, Damarda. The legal age of marriage in Afghanistan is 16 years of age, which makes this union, illegal. Yet, parents still sell off their daughters to supplement their income.

Mohammad promised his child bride Ghulam an education, but history would have it that “most of these child brides are forever denied a self-determined life.”

The fear in Ghulam’s eyes is palpable. Her parents sold her and she is afraid of what lies ahead. The picture got me thinking of one of my dearest friends Shurooq, who over a cup of tea and sweets one evening two years ago, felt inspired to speak of her life growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Shurooq like Ghulam, was a child bride. Her parents married her off at the age of 14 to her 43-year-old cousin. What followed was 20 years of psychic and physical trauma.

“He punched me in the face and knocked me out and I fell hitting the side of my head.” She said.

As a result of that fall, Shurooq lost her hearing in the right ear. To look at Shurooq it is not apparent of her history. She is warm and usually smiling. She is an attractive woman with shiny chestnut brown hair, dark olive skin and eyes that have seen too much pain for one person.

When she was in her mid twenties, her husband pulled a gun on her and threatened to shoot her for some reason I don’t quit remember now.

“He took me outside and told me to stand against the wall. I did and he pointed the gun. Malik, I was so scared that I fainted.” She told me. “Just as I fainted he pulled the trigger.” She remembered witnesses telling her.

After the husband began physically abusing the children, she made an escape to Peshawar, Pakistan where she stayed until she was able to immigrate to the United States. As fate would have it, her husband was killed by the Taliban, still she felt a sense of duty to risk her life and travel back to Kabul to claim his body, which was never found.


I don’t have a fetish for Middle Eastern politics. The reasons for my focusing so much on the Middle East is because of the people in my life. After the death of my mother, I was fortunate enough to be adopted at the very late age of 19 years old by Mikail, an Israeli immigrant who I affectionately call Pops or Ol' Man. It was Pops who taught me how to become a self-actualized human being. Oshuk the woman, who knits me socks and winter hats and over feeds me when I visit, is from Turkey. I refer to her as my Turkish mother. My comrade and Matrix contributor Maliha Masood is from Pakistan. It wasn’t until I began to think of my friends that I realized that many of my closest friends were from Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, India, Slovenia, Serbia, Mexico, Germany, Ireland, Syria, Great Britain, Canada, and Lebanon.

When I think about what is going on in the Middle East I think of how it affects those I love. What happens in the Middle East is personal and maybe this is what the people in the interior; the rural parts of the United States are missing, a personal connection.

Maybe if there were more personal connections with other cultures it wouldn’t be so easy for politicians to dehumanize large swaths of the planet and use the divisiveness to feed the shadows of the country’s most darkest self. It is only when we connect to someone’s humanity that it becomes difficult to see them as anything other than being human.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Dems poised to pillage Iraq
by Matt Taibbi, The Beast

There is a growing number of people out there who believe the Reid-Pelosi Iraq war supplemental is a gigantic crock of shit, and who think the Democratic Party leadership should now officially be labeled conspirators in the war effort. I've even seen it suggested that Reid and Pelosi should now be sent official "certificates of war ownership," to formally put them in a club with Bush, Cheney, Richard Perle and the rest of the actual war authors.

The growing tension between the real antiwar movement and the Democratic Party was reflected in a long article over the weekend in the New York Times. "Antiwar Groups Use New Clout to Influence Democrats." The piece that described how an umbrella group of antiwar activists called Americans Against the Escalation in Iraq was ready to drop the public relations hammer on the Dems, should they cave too easily in their negotiations with the president.

The thinking goes something like this: the Democrats, who are mostly the same people who voted for the war in the first place, don't really want to end it. They do, however, want to take political advantage of antiwar sentiment. So they will appear to be against the conflict but set things up in such a way that their "efforts" to end the war will fall just slightly short, like a fourth-quarter pass thrown by a point-shaving quarterback.

I was squarely in that camp until recently, when it occurred to me to wonder; if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were to wake up one morning with innocent, uncorrupted brains and decide, really decide, to end the war in Iraq, how exactly would they do it? And the answer, I think we all have to admit, is: they would do it exactly the way they're doing it now.

Neither of these Democratic leaders, after all, are Huey Newton, or even Benjamin Spock. They are not going to get up on a table, shake a shoe in the direction of the White House, shout "Fuck you, pig!" and just turn off the money, consequences be damned. No, these are career bureaucrats, political herd animals who survive year after year by clinging for dear life to the concept of safety in numbers. They will watch the bushes with great big eyes to see what is rustling back there, and when exactly two-thirds of the herd decides to bolt, they all will -- not just the Democrats, but the Boehners and McConnells too, leaping over logs, tearing off big chunks of fur against the bark of trees, etc.

I can certainly see a scenario in which people like Reid and Pelosi would make a secret deal to compromise now and give Bush his money, in exchange for another bite at the apple later this year -- by which time a veto-overriding coalition of Democrats and "moderate" Republicans will have magically coalesced. The Republicans crossing the picket line later this summer will inevitably claim to have done so with heavy heart, out of principle and "concern for the safety of the troops," and yet at the same time there will mysteriously appear a new raft of appropriations calling for expensive dam and highway projects in certain districts. That tends to be the blueprint for how 67% of congress will catch up to 67% of the population on major issues like these.

So maybe Reid and Pelosi really are working the phones on this one, who knows. What I do know is this; there are elements of the Democratic-crafted Iraq supplemental that are not only severely regressive but would actually tend to encourage the continuation of the insurgency. Anyone who wants an example of why the areas in which the Democrats and Republicans are in agreement are more significant than the ones in which they differ need only look at the two parties nearly unanimous endorsement of the "Benchmarks" the Iraqi government must meet, according to the supplemental. The key passage reads as follows:

(2) whether the Government of Iraq is making substantial progress in meeting its commitment to pursue reconciliation initiatives, including a hydro-carbon law...

It is notable that the hydrocarbon law comes in first place in this clause, ahead of "legislation necessary for the conduct of provincial and local elections," reform of de-Baathification laws, amendments to the constitution and allocation of revenues for reconstruction projects. For whether or not it really was "all about oil" at the beginning of the war, the fate of the occupation really does hinge almost entirely upon oil initiatives now, as the continued presence of U.S. troops in the region may depend on whether or not the Iraqi government bites the bullet and decides to eat the proposed hydrocarbon law in question.

The law, endorsed here by the Democrats, is an unusually vicious piece of legislation, an open blueprint for colonial robbery of the Iraqi nation. It is worth pointing out that if you go back far enough in the history of this business, the law actually makes the U.S. an accomplice in the repression of Saddam Hussein, the very thing we claim to be rescuing the country from.

This has all been described at length by better reporters than myself, people like Michael Schwartz and Tom Engelhardt, but the genesis of the proposed law goes something like this:

During the Saddam years, the Iraqi government racked up massive debts as Hussein stole outright much of the country's oil revenues and built himself elaborate palaces packed with gold leafing and Balinese whores and whatever else assholes of that ilk use to furnish their garish pink mansions. Upon occupying the country, the United States agreed to forgive some of that debt in exchange for its acceptance of a "standard International Monetary Fund program," which among other things included an end to consumer price controls on food and fuel -- a move that, whatever one's feelings about government price controls may be, inarguably made it more difficult for a newly-impoverished, war-torn population to afford to eat.

Another condition was the liberalization of the economy, and the opening up of the oil industry to foreign interests. To recap: Saddam Hussein rips off Iraqi people, America "liberates" said people from Saddam, then bludgeons them with Saddam's debts until they hand over the keys to the oil industry. Nice deal, yes?

The proposed Hydrocarbon Law is a result of pressure from the American government on the Iraqis to draft an oil policy that would adhere to the IMF guidelines. It allows foreign companies to take advantage of Iraqi oil fields by allowing regions to pair up with foreigners using what are known as "production-sharing agreements" or PSAs, which guarantee investing companies large shares of the profits for decades into the future. The law also makes it impossible for the Iraqi state to regulate levels of oil production (seriously undermining OPEC), allows oil companies to repatriate profits, and would also allow companies to hire foreign workers to man facilities. Add all the measures up and the Hydrocarbon law not only takes control of the oil industry away from the Iraqi state, but virtually guarantees that the state will profit very little from future oil exploitation.

Now, I live in America and have been known to drive a car occasionally and I also understand something else -- when mighty industrial countries need oil or anything else, they're going to take it. They're also unlikely to acquiesce forever to the whims of an organization like OPEC out of mere morality and decency, when military power can change the equation. Anyone who's going to be shocked, shocked by this kind of shit had better be prepared to live in a tent and eat twigs and berries instead of African cocoa or Central American sugar or any of the millions of other products we basically steal from hungry, dark-skinned people around the world on a daily basis.

But I'll tell you what I can do without. I can do without having to listen to American journalists, as well as politicians on both sides of the aisle, bitch and moan about how the Iraqi government better start "shaping up" and "taking responsibility" and "showing progress" if they want the continued blessing of American military power. Virtually every major newspaper in the country and every hack in Washington has lumped all the "benchmarks" together, painting them as concrete signs that, if met, would mean the Iraqi government is showing "progress" or "good faith."

"President Bush will not support a war spending bill that punishes the Iraqi government for failing to meet benchmarks for progress," was how the AP put it.

"Among the mile markers that should be used to measure Iraqi progress is a finalized revenue-sharing agreement on current and future oil reserves," was the formulation of the Savannah Daily News.

Still other papers, like the Baltimore Sun, cast the supplemental as a means of exercising "tough love" with the lazy and ungrateful Iraqis, who to date have failed to show interest in governing their own country. "The talk around Congress," wrote the Sun, "was of putting together a bill with (probably nonbinding) benchmarks, designed to hold the feet of the Iraqi government to the fire -- or at least near the fire."

The title of the Sun editorial, humorously, was "Small steps" -- as if such a radical decision about what may turn out to be a fourth of the world's oil reserves is a "small step."

Of course, among politicians, it was the same bullshit. "And we now have to see... a good-faith effort on the part of the Iraqi government," said Maine's Olympia Snowe, "that they're prepared to do what it's going to require to achieve a political consensus." The recently "antiwar" Chuck Hagel concurred: "We're seen the Iraqi government miss benchmark after benchmark," he said. "You have to connect consequences to those in some way."

Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, described the benchmarks as a means to "hold the Iraqi government accountable." As if their failure to pass the Oil law would make them "not accountable."

Moreover, let's just say this about the Democratic Party. They can wash their hands of this war as much as they want publicly, but their endorsement of this crude neocolonial exploitation plan makes them accomplices in the occupation, and further legitimizes the insurgency. It is hard to argue with the logic of armed resistance to U.S. forces in Iraq when both American parties, representing the vast majority of the American voting public, endorse the same draconian plan to rob the country's riches. This isn't a situation in which there's going to be a better deal down the road, after Bush gets thrown out of office. Looking at it from that point of view, peaceful cooperation with the Americans is therefore probably impossible for any patriotic Iraqi; the economic consequences are too severe.

(A side note: there's also an argument to be made that the smart play for the Iraqis is to cooperate now, and then tear up any agreement made with the Americans once they get their troops out. The instant our army leaves, any "laws" passed now under American pressure will be meaningless anyway. Yeah, sure, take all the oil you want... hey, do you want these bath towels, too? Oh, wait, you're leaving? You sure you can't stay? Etc.)

Moreover, this endorsement of these neoliberal "benchmarks" by the Democrats makes me believe a lot less in their "gradualist" approach to ending the war. If they viewed the war as much of the world did, as a murderous and profoundly immoral criminal enterprise, they would understand that morally, they really have no choice now but to refuse to send Bush even a dime more for this war. After all, it's impossible to justify on any level voting to give George Bush more money for more troops "in the short run" if you believe that the occupation is fundamentally evil and exploitative. But the Democrats clearly do not believe it is wrong. They don't even mind having a big hand in it. They just don't think it's going very well, and understand that in the long run, it's a non-starter politically.

And that, in the end, is about the best thing you can say about Democrats -- they are just barely smart enough to step out of a burning house. Well, maybe they are. Tune in next fall, for the next supplemental...