Saturday, February 17, 2007

Tide? Or Ivory Snow? Public Power in the Age of Empire by Arundhati Roy

Transcript of full speech by Arundhati Roy in San Francisco, California on August 16th, 2004.

I've been asked to speak about "Public Power in the Age of Empire." I'm not used to doing as I'm told, but by happy coincidence, it's exactly what I'd like to speak about tonight.

When language has been butchered and bled of meaning, how do we understand "public power"? When freedom means occupation, when democracy means neo-liberal capitalism, when reform means repression, when words like "empowerment" and "peacekeeping" make your blood run cold - why, then, "public power" could mean whatever you want it to mean. A biceps building machine, or a Community Power Shower. So, I'll just have to define "public power" as I go along, in my own self-serving sort of way.

In India, the word public is now a Hindi word. It means people. In Hindi, we have sarkar and public, the government and the people. Inherent in this use is the underlying assumption that the government is quite separate from "the people." This distinction has to do with the fact that India's freedom struggle, though magnificent, was by no means revolutionary. The Indian elite stepped easily and elegantly into the shoes of the British imperialists. A deeply impoverished, essentially feudal society became a modern, independent nation state. Even today, fifty seven years on to the day, the truly vanquished still look upon the government as mai-baap, the parent and provider. The somewhat more radical, those who still have fire in their bellies, see it as chor, the thief, the snatcher-away of all things.

Either way, for most Indians, sarkar is very separate from public. However, as you make your way up India's social ladder, the distinction between sarkar and public gets blurred. The Indian elite, like the elite anywhere in the world, finds it hard to separate itself from the state. It sees like the state, it thinks like the state, it speaks like the state.

In the United States, on the other hand, the blurring of the distinction between sarkar and public has penetrated far deeper into society. This could be a sign of a robust democracy, but unfortunately, it's a little more complicated and less pretty than that. Among other things, it has to do with the elaborate web of paranoia generated by the U.S. sarkar and spun out by the corporate media and Hollywood. Ordinary Americans have been manipulated into imagining they are a people under siege whose sole refuge and protector is their government. If it isn't the Communists, it's al-Qaeda. If it isn't Cuba. it's Nicaragua. As a result, this, the most powerful nation in the world - with its unmatchable arsenal of weapons, its history of having waged and sponsored endless wars, and the only nation in history to have actually used nuclear bombs - is peopled by a terrified citizenry, jumping at shadows. A people bonded to the state not by social services, or public health care, or employment guarantees, but by fear.

This synthetically manufactured fear is used to gain public sanction for further acts of aggression. And so it goes, building into a spiral of self-fulfilling hysteria, now formally calibrated by the U.S government's Amazing Technicolored Terror Alerts: fuchsia, turquoise, salmon pink.

To outside observers, this merging of sarkar and public in the United States sometimes makes it hard to separate the actions of the U.S. government from the American people. It is this confusion that fuels anti-Americanism in the world. Anti-Americanism is then seized upon and amplified by the U.S. government and its faithful media outlets. You know the routine: "Why do they hate us? They hate our freedoms" . . . etc. . . . etc. This enhances the sense of isolation among American people and makes the embrace between sarkar and public even more intimate. Like Red Riding Hood looking for a cuddle in the wolf's bed.

Using the threat of an external enemy to rally people behind you is a tired old horse, which politicians have ridden into power for centuries. But could it be that ordinary people are fed up of that poor old horse and are looking for something different? There's an old Hindi film song that goes yeh public hai, yeh sab jaanti hai (the public, she knows it all). Wouldn't it be lovely if the song were right and the politicians wrong?

Before Washington's illegal invasion of Iraq, a Gallup International poll showed that in no European country was the support for a unilateral war higher than 11 percent. On February 15, 2003, weeks before the invasion, more than ten million people marched against the war on different continents, including North America. And yet the governments of many supposedly democratic countries still went to war.

The question is: is "democracy" still democratic?

Are democratic governments accountable to the people who elected them? And, critically, is the public in democratic countries responsible for the actions of its sarkar?

If you think about it, the logic that underlies the war on terrorism and the logic that underlies terrorism is exactly the same. Both make ordinary citizens pay for the actions of their government. Al-Qaeda made the people of the United States pay with their lives for the actions of their government in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The U.S government has made the people of Afghanistan pay in their thousands for the actions of the Taliban and the people of Iraq pay in their hundreds of thousands for the actions of Saddam Hussein.

The crucial difference is that nobody really elected al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. But the president of the United States was elected (well ... in a manner of speaking).

The prime ministers of Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom were elected. Could it then be argued that citizens of these countries are more responsible for the actions of their government than Iraqis are for the actions of Saddam Hussein or Afghans for the Taliban?

Whose God decides which is a "just war" and which isn't? George Bush senior once said: "I will never apologize for the United States. I don't care what the facts are." When the president of the most powerful country in the world doesn't need to care what the facts are, then we can at least be sure we have entered the Age of Empire.

So what does public power mean in the Age of Empire? Does it mean anything at all? Does it actually exist?

In these allegedly democratic times, conventional political thought holds that public power is exercised through the ballot. Scores of countries in the world will go to the polls this year. Most (not all) of them will get the governments they vote for. But will they get the governments they want?

In India this year, we voted the Hindu nationalists out of office. But even as we celebrated, we knew that on nuclear bombs, neo-liberalism, privatization, censorship, big dams - on every major issue other than overt Hindu nationalism - the Congress and the BJP have no major ideological differences. We know that it is the fifty-year legacy of the Congress Party that prepared the ground culturally and politically for the far right. It was also the Congress Party that first opened India's markets to corporate globalization.

In its election campaign, the Congress Party indicated that it was prepared to rethink some of its earlier economic policies. Millions of India's poorest people came out in strength to vote in the elections. The spectacle of the great Indian democracy was telecast live - the poor farmers, the old and infirm, the veiled women with their beautiful silver jewelry, making quaint journeys to election booths on elephants and camels and bullock carts. Contrary to the predictions of all India's experts and pollsters, Congress won more votes than any other party. India's communist parties won the largest share of the vote in their history. India's poor had clearly voted against neo-liberalism's economic "reforms" and growing fascism. As soon as the votes were counted, the corporate media dispatched them like badly paid extras on a film set. Television channels featured split screens. Half the screen showed the chaos outside the home of Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Party, as the coalition government was cobbled together.

The other half showed frenzied stockbrokers outside the Bombay Stock Exchange, panicking at the thought that the Congress Party might actually honor its promises and implement its electoral mandate. We saw the Sensex stock index move up and down and sideways. The media, whose own publicly listed stocks were plummeting, reported the stock market crash as though Pakistan had launched ICBMs on New Delhi.

Even before the new government was formally sworn in, senior Congress politicians made public statements reassuring investors and the media that privatization of public utilities would continue. Meanwhile the BJP, now in opposition, has cynically, and comically, begun to oppose foreign direct investment and the further opening of Indian markets.

This is the spurious, evolving dialectic of electoral democracy.

As for the Indian poor, once they've provided the votes, they are expected to bugger off home. Policy will be decided despite them.

And what of the U.S. elections? Do U.S. voters have a real choice?

It's true that if John Kerry becomes president, some of the oil tycoons and Christian fundamentalists in the White House will change. Few will be sorry to see the back of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld or John Ashcroft and their blatant thuggery. But the real concern is that in the new administration their policies will continue. That we will have Bushism without Bush.

Those positions of real power - the bankers, the CEOs - are not vulnerable to the vote (. . . and in any case, they fund both sides).

Unfortunately the importance of the U.S elections has deteriorated into a sort of personality contest. A squabble over who would do a better job of overseeing empire. John Kerry believes in the idea of empire as fervently as George Bush does.

The U.S. political system has been carefully crafted to ensure that no one who questions the natural goodness of the military-industrial-corporate power structure will be allowed through the portals of power.

Given this, it's no surprise that in this election you have two Yale University graduates, both members of Skull and Bones, the same secret society, both millionaires, both playing at soldier-soldier, both talking up war, and arguing almost childishly about who will lead the war on terror more effectively.

Like President Bill Clinton before him, Kerry will continue the expansion of U.S. economic and military penetration into the world. He says he would have voted to authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq even if he had known that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. He promises to commit more troops to Iraq. He said recently that he supports Bush's policies toward Israel and Ariel Sharon 100 percent. He says he'll retain 98% of Bush's tax cuts.

So, underneath the shrill exchange of insults, there is almost absolute consensus. It looks as though even if Americans vote for Kerry, they'll still get Bush. President John Kerbush or President George Berry.

It's not a real choice. It's an apparent choice. Like choosing a brand of detergent. Whether you buy Ivory Snow or Tide, they're both owned by Proctor & Gamble.

This doesn't mean that one takes a position that is without nuance, that the Congress and the BJP, New Labor and the Tories, the Democrats and Republicans are the same. Of course, they're not. Neither are Tide and Ivory Snow. Tide has oxy-boosting and Ivory Snow is a gentle cleanser.

In India, there is a difference between an overtly fascist party (the BJP) and a party that slyly pits one community against another (Congress), and sows the seeds of communalism that are then so ably harvested by the BJP.

There are differences in the I.Q.s and levels of ruthlessness between this year's U.S. presidential candidates. The anti-war movement in the United States has done a phenomenal job of exposing the lies and venality that led to the invasion of Iraq, despite the propaganda and intimidation it faced.

This was a service not just to people here, but to the whole world. But now, if the anti-war movement openly campaigns for Kerry, the rest of the world will think that it approves of his policies of "sensitive" imperialism. Is U.S. imperialism preferable if it is supported by the United Nations and European countries? Is it preferable if UN asks Indian and Pakistani soldiers to do the killing and dying in Iraq instead of U.S. soldiers? Is the only change that Iraqis can hope for that French, German, and Russian companies will share in the spoils of the occupation of their country?

Is this actually better or worse for those of us who live in subject nations? Is it better for the world to have a smarter emperor in power or a stupider one? Is that our only choice?

I'm sorry, I know that these are uncomfortable, even brutal questions, but they must be asked.

The fact is that electoral democracy has become a process of cynical manipulation. It offers us a very reduced political space today. To believe that this space constitutes real choice would be naïve.

The crisis in modern democracy is a profound one.

On the global stage, beyond the jurisdiction of sovereign governments, international instruments of trade and finance oversee a complex system of multilateral laws and agreements that have entrenched a system of appropriation that puts colonialism to shame. This system allows the unrestricted entry and exit of massive amounts of speculative capital - hot money - into and out of third world countries, which then effectively dictates their economic policy. Using the threat of capital flight as a lever, international capital insinuates itself deeper and deeper into these economies. Giant transnational corporations are taking control of their essential infrastructure and natural resources, their minerals, their water, their electricity. The World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank, virtually write economic policy and parliamentary legislation. With a deadly combination of arrogance and ruthlessness, they take their sledgehammers to fragile, interdependent, historically complex societies, and devastate them.

All this goes under the fluttering banner of "reform."

As a consequence of this reform, in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, thousands of small enterprises and industries have closed down, millions of workers and farmers have lost their jobs and land.

The Spectator newspaper in London assures us that "[w]e live in the happiest, healthiest and most peaceful era in human history." Billions wonder: who's "we"? Where does he live? What's his Christian name?

The thing to understand is that modern democracy is safely premised on an almost religious acceptance of the nation state. But corporate globalization is not. Liquid capital is not. So, even though capital needs the coercive powers of the nation state to put down revolts in the servants' quarters, this set up ensures that no individual nation can oppose corporate globalization on its own.

Radical change cannot and will not be negotiated by governments; it can only be enforced by people. By the public. A public who can link hands across national borders.

So when we speak of "Public Power in the Age of Empire," I hope it's not presumptuous to assume that the only thing that is worth discussing seriously is the power of a dissenting public. A public which disagrees with the very concept of empire. A public which has set itself against incumbent power - international, national, regional, or provincial governments and institutions that support and service empire.

What are the avenues of protest available to people who wish to resist empire? By resist I don't mean only to express dissent, but to effectively force change. Empire has a range of calling cards. It uses different weapons to break open different markets. You know the check book and the cruise missile

For poor people in many countries, Empire does not always appear in the form of cruise missiles and tanks, as it has in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam. It appears in their lives in very local avatars - losing their jobs, being sent unpayable electricity bills, having their water supply cut, being evicted from their homes and uprooted from their land. All this overseen by the repressive machinery of the state, the police, the army, the judiciary. It is a process of relentless impoverishment with which the poor are historically familiar. What Empire does is to further entrench and exacerbate already existing inequalities.

Even until quite recently, it was sometimes difficult for people to see themselves as victims of the conquests of Empire. But now local struggles have begun to see their role with increasing clarity. However grand it might sound, the fact is, they are confronting Empire in their own, very different ways. Differently in Iraq, in South Africa, in India, in Argentina, and differently, for that matter, on the streets of Europe and the United States.

Mass resistance movements, individual activists, journalists, artists, and film makers have come together to strip Empire of its sheen. They have connected the dots, turned cash-flow charts and boardroom speeches into real stories about real people and real despair. They have shown how the neo-liberal project has cost people their homes, their land, their jobs, their liberty, their dignity. They have made the intangible tangible. The once seemingly in-CORP-o-real enemy is now CORP-o-real.

This is a huge victory. It was forged by the coming together of disparate political groups, with a variety of strategies. But they all recognized that the target of their anger, their activism, and their doggedness is the same. This was the beginning of real globalization. The globalization of dissent.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of mass resistance movements in third world countries today. The landless peoples' movement in Brazil, the anti-dam movement in India, the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Anti-Privatization Forum in South Africa, and hundreds of others, are fighting their own sovereign governments, which have become agents of the neo-liberal project. Most of these are radical struggles, fighting to change the structure and chosen model of "development" of their own societies.

Then there are those fighting formal and brutal neocolonial occupations in contested territories whose boundaries and fault lines were often arbitrarily drawn last century by the imperialist powers. In Palestine, Tibet, Chechnya, Kashmir, and several states in India's northeast provinces, people are waging struggles for self-determination.

Several of these struggles might have been radical, even revolutionary when they began, but often the brutality of the repression they face pushes them into conservative, even retrogressive spaces in which they use the same violent strategies and the same language of religious and cultural nationalism used by the states they seek to replace.

Many of the foot soldiers in these struggles will find, like those who fought apartheid in South Africa, that once they overcome overt occupation, they will be left with another battle on their hands - a battle against covert economic colonialism.

Meanwhile, as the rift between rich and poor is being driven deeper and the battle to control the world's resources intensifies. Economic colonialism through formal military aggression is staging a comeback.

Iraq today is a tragic illustration of this process. An illegal invasion. A brutal occupation in the name of liberation. The rewriting of laws that allow the shameless appropriation of the country's wealth and resources by corporations allied to the occupation, and now the charade of a local "Iraqi government."

For these reasons, it is absurd to condemn the resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq, as being masterminded by terrorists or insurgents or supporters of Saddam Hussein. After all if the United States were invaded and occupied, would everybody who fought to liberate it be a terrorist or an insurgent or a Bushite?

The Iraqi resistance is fighting on the frontlines of the battle against Empire. And therefore that battle is our battle.

Like most resistance movements, it combines a motley range of assorted factions. Former Baathists, liberals, Islamists, fed-up collaborationists, communists, etc. Of course, it is riddled with opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery, and criminality. But if we are only going to support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity.

This is not to say that we shouldn't ever criticize resistance movements. Many of them suffer from a lack of democracy, from the iconization of their "leaders," a lack of transparency, a lack of vision and direction. But most of all they suffer from vilification, repression, and lack of resources.

Before we prescribe how a pristine Iraqi resistance must conduct their secular, feminist, democratic, nonviolent battle, we should shore up our end of the resistance by forcing the U.S. and its allies government to withdraw from Iraq.

The first militant confrontation in the United States between the global justice movement and the neo-liberal junta took place famously at the WTO conference in Seattle in December 1999. To many mass movements in developing countries that had long been fighting lonely, isolated battles, Seattle was the first delightful sign that their anger and their vision of another kind of world was shared by people in the imperialist countries.

In January 2001, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 20,000 activists, students, film makers - some of the best minds in the world - came together to share their experiences and exchange ideas about confronting Empire. That was the birth of the now historic World Social Forum. It was the first, formal coming together of an exciting, anarchic, unindoctrinated, energetic, new kind of "Public Power." The rallying cry of the WSF is "Another World is Possible." It has become a platform where hundreds of conversations, debates, and seminars have helped to hone and refine a vision of what kind of world it should be.

By January 2004, when the fourth WSF was held in Mumbai, India, it attracted 200,000 delegates. I have never been part of a more electrifying gathering. It was a sign of the social forum's success that the mainstream media in India ignored it completely. But now, the WSF is threatened by its own success. The safe, open, festive atmosphere of the forum has allowed politicians and nongovernmental organizations that are imbricated in the political and economic systems that the forum opposes to participate and make themselves heard.

Another danger is that the WSF, which has played such a vital role in the movement for global justice, runs the risk of becoming an end unto itself. Just organizing it every year consumes the energies of some of the best activists. If conversations about resistance replace real civil disobedience, then the WSF could become an asset to those whom it was created to oppose. The forum must be held and must grow, but we have to find ways to channel our conversations there back into concrete action.

As resistance movements have begun to reach out across national borders and pose a real threat, governments have developed their own strategies of how to deal with them. They range from cooptation to repression.

I'm going to speak about three of the contemporary dangers that confront resistance movements: the difficult meeting point between mass movements and the mass media, the hazards of the NGO-ization of resistance, and the confrontation between resistance movements and increasingly repressive states.

The place in which the mass media meets mass movements is a complicated one.

Governments have learned that a crisis-driven media cannot afford to hang about in the same place for too long. Like business houses need a cash turnover, the media need crises turnover. Whole countries become old news. They cease to exist, and the darkness becomes deeper than before the light was briefly shone on them. We saw it happen in Afghanistan when the Soviets withdrew. And now, after Operation Enduring Freedom put the CIA's Hamid Karzai in place, Afghanistan has been thrown to its warlords once more.

Another CIA operative, Iyad Allawi, has been installed in Iraq, so perhaps it's time for the media to move on from there, too.

While governments hone the art of waiting out crisis, resistance movements are increasingly being ensnared in a vortex of crisis production, seeking to find ways of manufacturing them in easily consumable, spectator-friendly formats.

Every self-respecting peoples' movement, every "issue" is expected to have its own hot air balloon in the sky advertising its brand and purpose.

For this reason, starvation deaths are more effective advertisements for impoverishment than millions of malnourished people, who don't quite make the cut. Dams are not newsworthy until the devastation they wreak makes good television. (And by then, it's too late).

Standing in the rising water of a reservoir for days on end, watching your home and belongings float away to protest against a big dam used to be an effective strategy, but isn't any more. The media is dead bored of that one. So the hundreds of thousands of people being displaced by dams are expected to either conjure new tricks or give up the struggle.

Colorful demonstrations and weekend marches are vital but alone are not powerful enough to stop wars. Wars will be stopped only when soldiers refuse to fight, when workers refuse to load weapons onto ships and aircrafts, when people boycott the economic outposts of Empire that are strung across the globe.

If we want to reclaim the space for civil disobedience, we will have to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of crisis reportage and its fear of the mundane. We have to use our experience, our imagination, and our art to interrogate the instruments of that state that ensure that "normality" remains what it is: cruel, unjust, unacceptable. We have to expose the policies and processes that make ordinary things - food, water, shelter and dignity - such a distant dream for ordinary people. Real pre-emptive strike is to understand that wars are the end result of flawed and unjust peace.

As far as mass resistance movements are concerned, the fact is that no amount of media coverage can make up for mass strength on the ground. There is no option, really, to old-fashioned, back-breaking political mobilization.

Corporate globalization has increased the distance between those who make decisions and those who have to suffer the effects of those decisions. Forums like the WSF enable local resistance movements to reduce that distance and to link up with their counterparts in rich countries. That alliance is an important and formidable one. For example, when India's first private dam, the Maheshwar Dam, was being built, alliances between the Narmada Bachao Andolan (the NBA), the German organization Urgewald, the Berne Declaration in Switzerland, and the International Rivers Network in Berkeley worked together to push a series of international banks and corporations out of the project. This would not have been possible had there not been a rock solid resistance movement on the ground. The voice of that local movement was amplified by supporters on the global stage, embarrassing and forcing investors to withdraw.

An infinite number of similar, alliances, targeting specific projects and specific corporations would help to make another world possible. We should begin with the corporations who did business with Saddam Hussein and now profit from the devastation and occupation of Iraq.

A second hazard facing mass movements is the NGO-ization of resistance. It will be easy to twist what I'm about to say into an indictment of all NGOs. That would be a falsehood. In the murky waters of fake NGOs set up or to siphon off grant money or as tax dodges (in states like Bihar, they are given as dowry), of course there are NGOs doing valuable work. But it's important to consider the NGO phenomenon in a broader political context.

In India, for instance, the funded NGO boom began in the late 1980s and 1990s. It coincided with the opening of India's markets to neo-liberalism. At the time, the Indian state, in keeping with the requirements of structural adjustment, was withdrawing funding from rural development, agriculture, energy, transport, and public health. As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these very areas. The difference, of course, is that the funds available to them are a minuscule fraction of the actual cut in public spending. Most large funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are in turn funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the UN, and some multinational corporations. Though they may not be the very same agencies, they are certainly part of the same loose, political formation that oversees the neo-liberal project and demands the slash in government spending in the first place.

Why should these agencies fund NGOs? Could it be just old-fashioned missionary zeal? Guilt? It's a little more than that. NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right.

They alter the public psyche. They turn people into dependent victims and blunt the edges of political resistance. NGOs form a sort of buffer between the sarkar and public. Between Empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.

In the long run, NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among. They're what botanists would call an indicator species. It's almost as though the greater the devastation caused by neo-liberalism, the greater the outbreak of NGOs. Nothing illustrates this more poignantly than the phenomenon of the U.S. preparing to invade a country and simultaneously readying NGOs to go in and clean up the devastation.

In order make sure their funding is not jeopardized and that the governments of the countries they work in will allow them to function, NGOs have to present their work in a shallow framework more or less shorn of a political or historical context. At any rate, an inconvenient historical or political context.

Apolitical (and therefore, actually, extremely political) distress reports from poor countries and war zones eventually make the (dark) people of those (dark) countries seem like pathological victims. Another malnourished Indian, another starving Ethiopian, another Afghan refugee camp, another maimed Sudanese . . . in need of the white man's help. They unwittingly reinforce racist stereotypes and re-affirm the achievements, the comforts, and the compassion (the tough love) of Western civilization. They're the secular missionaries of the modern world.

Eventually - on a smaller scale but more insidiously - the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda. It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticizes resistance. It interferes with local peoples' movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. NGOs have funds that can employ local people who might otherwise be activists in resistance movements, but now can feel they are doing some immediate, creative good (and earning a living while they're at it). Real political resistance offers no such short cuts.

The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary.

This brings us to a third danger I want to speak about tonight: the deadly nature of the actual confrontation between resistance movements and increasingly repressive states. Between public power and the agents of Empire.

Whenever civil resistance has shown the slightest signs of evolving from symbolic action into anything remotely threatening, the crack down is merciless. We've seen what happened in the demonstrations in Seattle, in Miami, in Göthenberg, in Genoa.

In the United States, you have the USA PATRIOT Act, which has become a blueprint for antiterrorism laws passed by governments across the world. Freedoms are being curbed in the name of protecting freedom. And once we surrender our freedoms, to win them back will take a revolution.

Some governments have vast experience in the business of curbing freedoms and still smelling sweet. The government of India, an old hand at the game, lights the path.

Over the years the Indian government has passed a plethora of laws that allow it to call almost anyone a terrorist, an insurgent, a militant. We have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Public Security Act, the Special Areas Security Act, the Gangster Act, the Terrorist and Disruptive Areas Act (which has formally lapsed but under which people are still facing trial), and, most recently, POTA (the Prevention of Terrorism Act), the broad-spectrum antibiotic for the disease of dissent.

There are other steps that are being taken, such as court judgments that in effect curtail free speech, the right of government workers to go on strike, the right to life and livelihood. Courts have begun to micro-manage our lives in India. And criticizing the courts is a criminal offense.

But coming back to the counter-terrorism initiatives, over the last decade, the number of people who have been killed by the police and security forces runs into the tens of thousands. In the state of Andhra Pradesh (the pin-up girl of corporate globalization in India), an average of about 200 "extremists" are killed in what are called "encounters" every year. The Bombay police boast of how many "gangsters" they have killed in "shoot outs." In Kashmir, in a situation that almost amounts to war, an estimated 80,000 people have been killed since 1989. Thousands have simply "disappeared." In the northeastern provinces, the situation is similar.

In recent years, the Indian police have opened fire on unarmed people, mostly Dalit and Adivasi. Their preferred method is to kill them and then call them terrorists. India is not alone, though. We have seen similar thing happen in countries such Bolivia, Chile, and South Africa. In the era of neo-liberalism, poverty is a crime and protesting against it is more and more being defined as terrorism.

In India, POTA (the Prevention of Terrorism Act) is often called the Production of Terrorism Act. It's a versatile, hold-all law that could apply to anyone from an al-Qaeda operative to a disgruntled bus conductor. As with all anti-terrorism laws, the genius of POTA is that it can be whatever the government wants. After the 2002 state-assisted pogrom in Gujarat, in which an estimated 2,000 Muslims were savagely killed by Hindu mobs and 150,000 driven from their homes, 287 people have been accused under POTA. Of these, 286 are Muslim and one is a Sikh.

POTA allows confessions extracted in police custody to be admitted as judicial evidence. In effect, torture tends to replace investigation. The South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center reports that India has the highest number of torture and custodial deaths in the world. Government records show that there were 1,307 deaths in judicial custody in 2002 alone.

A few months ago, I was a member of a peoples' tribunal on POTA. Over a period of two days, we listened to harrowing testimonies of what is happening in our wonderful democracy. It's everything - from people being forced to drink urine, to being stripped, humiliated, given electric shocks, burned with cigarette butts, having iron rods put up their anuses, to being beaten and kicked to death.

The new government has promised to repeal POTA. I'd be surprised if that happens before similar legislation under a different name is put in place. If its not POTA it'll be MOTA or something.

When every avenue of non-violent dissent is closed down, and everyone who protests against the violation of their human rights is called a terrorist, should we really be surprised if vast parts of the country are overrun by those who believe in armed struggle and are more or less beyond the control of the state: in Kashmir, the north eastern provinces, large parts of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh. Ordinary people in these regions are trapped between the violence of the militants and the state.

In Kashmir, the Indian army estimates that 3,000 to 4,000 militants are operating at any given time. To control them, the Indian government deploys about 500,000 soldiers. Clearly, it isn't just the militants the army seeks to control, but a whole population of humiliated, unhappy people who see the Indian army as an occupation force.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows not just officers, but even junior commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers of the army, to use force and even kill any person on suspicion of disturbing public order. It was first imposed on a few districts in the state of Manipur in 1958. Today, it applies to virtually all of the north east and Kashmir. The documentation of instances of torture, disappearances, custodial deaths, rape, and summary execution by security forces is enough to turn your stomach.

In Andhra Pradesh, in India's heartland, the militant Marxist-Leninist Peoples' War Group - which for years been engaged in a violent armed struggle and has been the principal target of many of the Andhra police's fake "encounters" - held its first public meeting in years on July 28, 2004, in the town of Warangal.

It was attended by about hundreds of thousands of people. Under POTA, all of them are considered terrorists. Are they all going to be detained in some Indian equivalent of Guantánamo Bay?

The whole of the north east and the Kashmir valley is in ferment. What will the government do with these millions of people?

There is no discussion taking place in the world today that is more crucial than the debate about strategies of resistance. And the choice of strategy is not entirely in the hands of the public. It is also in the hands of sarkar.

After all, when the U.S. invades and occupies Iraq in the way it has done, with such overwhelming military force, can the resistance be expected to be a conventional military one? (Of course, even if it were conventional, it would still be called terrorist.) In a strange sense, the U.S. government's arsenal of weapons and unrivalled air and fire power makes terrorism an all-but-inescapable response. What people lack in wealth and power, they will make up with stealth and strategy.

In this restive, despairing time, if governments do not do all they can to honor nonviolent resistance, then by default they privilege those who turn to violence. No government's condemnation of terrorism is credible if it cannot show itself to be open to change by to nonviolent dissent.

But instead nonviolent resistance movements are being crushed. Any kind of mass political mobilization or organization is being bought off, or broken, or simply ignored.

Meanwhile, governments and the corporate media, and let's not forget the film industry, lavish their time, attention, technology, research, and admiration on war and terrorism. Violence has been deified.

The message this sends is disturbing and dangerous: If you seek to air a public grievance, violence is more effective than nonviolence.

As the rift between the rich and poor grows, as the need to appropriate and control the world's resources to feed the great capitalist machine becomes more urgent, the unrest will only escalate.

For those of us who are on the wrong side of Empire, the humiliation is becoming unbearable.

Each of the Iraqi children killed by the United States was our child. Each of the prisoners tortured in Abu Ghraib was our comrade. Each of their screams was ours. When they were humiliated, we were humiliated. The U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq - mostly volunteers in a poverty draft from small towns and poor urban neighborhoods - are victims just as much as the Iraqis of the same horrendous process, which asks them to die for a victory that will never be theirs.

The mandarins of the corporate world, the CEOs, the bankers, the politicians, the judges and generals look down on us from on high and shake their heads sternly. "There's no Alternative," they say. And let slip the dogs of war.

Then, from the ruins of Afghanistan, from the rubble of Iraq and Chechnya, from the streets of occupied Palestine and the mountains of Kashmir, from the hills and plains of Colombia and the forests of Andhra Pradesh and Assam comes the chilling reply: "There's no alternative but terrorism." Terrorism. Armed struggle. Insurgency. Call it what you want.

Terrorism is vicious, ugly, and dehumanizing for its perpetrators, as well as its victims. But so is war. You could say that terrorism is the privatization of war. Terrorists are the free marketers of war. They are people who don't believe that the state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

Human society is journeying to a terrible place.

Of course, there is an alternative to terrorism. It's called justice.

It's time to recognize that no amount of nuclear weapons or full-spectrum dominance or daisy cutters or spurious governing councils and loya jirgas can buy peace at the cost of justice.

The urge for hegemony and preponderance by some will be matched with greater intensity by the longing for dignity and justice by others.

Exactly what form that battle takes, whether its beautiful or bloodthirsty, depends on us.


by Allen L Roland, Ph.D.

When Pandora's Box is finally fully opened on the deceptions and abuses of power by the Cheney/Bush administration ~ the 9/11 coverup will stand alone as the most treasonous act in American history: Allen L Roland

Here are 40 experts, including the Chairman, 9/11 Commission, Thomas H. Kean, Former Governor of New Jersey and Vice Chairman, 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Homeland Security Advisory Council ~ sounding off in short quotes about their misgivings with the 9/11 commission and the questions that are still smoldering .


Summarized from

Senator Max Cleland – Former member of the 9/11 Commission, resigned in December 2003 "I, as a member of the [9/11] Commission, cannot look any American in the eye... It is a national scandal... this White House wants to cover [9/11] up."

Senator Mark Dayton – Member, Senate Committee on Armed Services and Homeland Security "[NORAD] lied to the American people, they lied to Congress and they lied to your 9/11 Commission...the most gross incompetence and dereliction of responsibility and negligence"

Congressman Ron Paul - Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee "the [9/11] investigations that have been done so far as more or less cover-up and no real explanation"

Congressman Curt Weldon - "[9/11 Commission] there's something very sinister going on here... something desperately wrong... This involved what is right now the covering up of information that led to the deaths of 3,000 people"

Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney
- Member of the House Armed Services Committee "the [9/11] Commission ran up against obstruction by the administration and non-cooperation from government agencies... the errors and omissions immediately jumped out at us"

Director of the FBI, Louis Freeh –
"[9/11 Commission] findings--raises serious challenges to the commission's credibility and, if the facts prove out, might just render the commission historically insignificant itself"

Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Paul Craig Roberts, PhD
- "Distinguished national and international scientists and scholars present massive evidence that the 9/11 Commission Report is a hoax and that the 9/11 "terrorist attack" has been manipulated to serve a hegemonic agenda in the Middle East... We know that it is strictly impossible for any building, much less steel columned buildings, to "pancake" at free fall speed. Therefore, it is a non-controversial fact that the official explanation of the collapse of the WTC buildings is false"

Assistant Secretary of Housing, Catherine Austin Fitts - "Regarding 9/11 " The official story could not possibly have happened... It's not possible. It's not operationally feasible... The Commission was a whitewash. "

U.S. Army Intelligence officer, Federal Prosecutor, Office of Special Investigations, U.S. Department of Justice, John Loftus ~ "The information provided by European intelligence services prior to 9/11 was so extensive that it is no longer possible for either the CIA or FBI to assert a defence of incompetence"

Foreign Service Officer, George Kenney - " I cannot believe, much as I might like to, the standard account of 9/11"

Foreign Service Officer, J. Michael Springman - "Fifteen of the nineteen people who allegedly flew airplanes into buildings in the United States got their visas from the same CIA Consulate at Jeddah"

Deputy Attorney General, State of Pennsylvania , Philip J. Berg, Esquire - "The official story of what actually took place on 0/11 is a lie. "

Major General U.S. Army, Commanding General of U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, Albert Stubblebine ~ "I look at the hole in the Pentagon and I look at the size of an airplane that was supposed to have hit the Pentagon. And I said, 'The plane does not fit in that hole'. So what did hit the Pentagon?"

Col. Ronald D. Ray, U.S. Marine Corps – Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Deputy Director of Field Operations for the U.S. Marine Corps Historical Center - "I'm astounded that the conspiracy theory advanced by the administration could in fact be true and the evidence does not seem to suggest that's accurate"

Col. Robert Bowman, U.S. Air Force, Director of Advanced Space Programs, PhD Aeronautics and Nuclear Engineering - " the official 9/11 story is impossible .. There is a cover up .. high levels of our government don't want us to know what happened .. highly placed individuals in the administration .. Dick Cheney .. the very kindest thing we can say about George W Bush .. is high treason and cospiracy to commit murder "

Col. George Nelson, U.S. Air Force, aircraft accident investigator
~ "I never witnessed nor even heard of an aircraft loss, where the wreckage was accessible, that prevented investigators from finding enough hard evidence to positively identify the make, model, and specific registration number of the aircraft -- and in most cases the precise cause of the accident... The government alleges that four wide-body airliners crashed on the morning of September 11 2001, resulting in the deaths of more than 3,000 human beings, yet not one piece of hard aircraft evidence has been produced in an attempt to positively identify any of the four aircraft. On the contrary, it seems only that all potential evidence was deliberately kept hidden from view .. with all the evidence readilty available at the pentagon crash site, any unbiased rational investigator could only conclude that a Boeing 757 did not fly into the Pentagon as alleged. Similarly, with all the evidence available at the Pennsylvania crash site, it was most doubtful that a passenger airliner caused the obvious hole in the ground and certainly not the Boeing 757 as alleged .. the most heinous conspiracy in outr country's history "

Major Douglas Rokke, PhD, U.S. Army ~ "Regarding the impact at the Pentagon on 9/11/2001 "when you look at the damage, it was obviously a missile."

Capt. Russ Wittenberg, U.S. Air Force, fighter pilot, commercial pilot flying 707, 720, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767, and 777 's. Had previously flown Flight 93, which impacted in Pennsylvania, and Flight 175, the second plane to hit the WTC ~"The government story they handed us about 9/11 is total B.S. plain and simple...[Regarding Flight 77]"The airplane could not have flown at those speeds which they said it did without going into what they call a high speed stall. The airplane won't go that fast if you start pulling those high G maneuvers at those bank angles... The vehicle that hit the Pentagon was not Flight 77"

Lt. Col. Karen U. Kwiatkowski, PhD, U.S. Air Force, Office of the Secretary of Defense, staff of the Director of the National Security Agency ~ "It is as a scientist that I have the most trouble with the official government conspiracy theory, mainly because it does not satisfy the rules of probability or physics. The collapses of the World Trade Center buildings clearly violate the laws of probability and physics...There was a derth of visible debris on the relatively unmarked Pentagon, where I stood only minutes after the impact. Beyond this strange absence of airliner debris, there was no sign of the kind of damage one would expect from the impact of a large airliner... this visible evidence or lack thereof may also have been apparent to the Sec of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who in an unfortunate slip of the tongue referred to the aircraft that slamed into the Pentagon as a ' missile ' ... I saw nothing of significance at the point of contact ~ no airplane metal or cargo debris was blowing on the lawn in front of the damaged building as smoke billowed from within the Pentagon .. all of us staring at the Pentagon that morning were indeed looking for such debris, but what we expected was not evident .. the same is true with regard to the damage we expected .. but I did not see this kind of damage. Rather, the facade had a rather small hole, no larger than 20 feet in diameter. Although this facade later collapsed, it remained standing for 30 0r 40 minutes, with the roof remaining relatively straight .. The scene, in short, was not what I would have expected from a strike by a large jetliner. It was, however, exactly what one would have expected if a missile had struck the Pentagon "

Senior Military Affairs Journalist at the Naval Postgraduate School, Barbara Honegger, MS ~ "The US military, not al Qaeda, had the sustained access weeks before 9/11 to also plant controlled demolition charges throughout the superstructures of WTC 1 and WTC 2, and in WTC 7, which brought down all three buildings on 9/11...A US military plane, not one piloted by al Qaeda, performed the highly skilled, high−speed 270−degree dive towards the Pentagon that Air Traffic Controllers on 9/11 were sure was a military plane as they watched it on their screens. Only a military aircraft, not a civilian plane flown by al Qaeda, would have given off the "Friendly" signal needed to disable the Pentagon's anti−aircraft missile batteries as it approached the building... Only the US military, not al Qaeda, had the ability to break all of its Standard Operating Procedures to paralyze its own emergency response system"

Capt. Gregory M. Zeigler, PhD, U.S. Army, U.S. Army Intelligence Officer ~ "I knew from September 18, 2001, that the official story about 9/11 was false. ... [A]nomalies poured in rapidly: the hijackers' names appearing in none of the published flight passenger lists, BBC reports of stolen identities of the alleged hijackers or the alleged hijackers being found alive, the obvious demolitions of WTC 1 and 2...and WTC7...not hit by an airplane...the lack of identifiable Boeing 757 wreckage at the Pentagon"

Capt. Eric H. May, U.S . Army, Intelligence officer ~ "I view the 911 event a matter that implies either...A) passive participation by the Bush White House through a deliberate stand-down or B) active execution of a plot by rogue elements of government, starting with the White House itself, in creating a spectacle of destruction that would lead the United States into an invasion of the Middle East"

Former Chairman, National Intelligence Estimates, CIA, responsible for preparing the President' Daily Brief, U.S. Army Intelligence Officer, Raymond L. McGovern ~ " I think at simplest terms, there's a cover-up. The 9/11 report is a joke...just as Hitler in 1933 cynically exploited the burning of the parliament building, the Reichstag, this is exactly what our President did in exploiting 9/11...making a war of aggression on a country that he knew had nothing to do with 9/11...that's certainly an impeachable offense...But compelling evidence for an even more disturbing conclusion: that the 9/11 attacks were themselves orchestrated by this administration precisely so they could be thus exploited."

National Intelligence Officer and Director of the CIA's Office of Regional and Political Analysis, William Christison ~ "there is persuasive evidence that the events of September did not unfold as the Bush administration and the 9/11 Commission would have us believe. … An airliner almost certainly did not hit The Pentagon. … The North and South Towers of the World Trade Center almost certainly did not collapse and fall to earth because hijacked aircraft hit them...this all was totally an inside job… I have since decided least some elements in this US government had contributed in some way or other to causing 9/11 to happen or at least allowing it to happen... The reason that the two towers in New York actually collapsed and fell all the way to the ground was controlled explosions rather than just being hit by two airplanes. … All of the characteristics of these demolitions show that they almost had to have been controlled explosions... I think you almost have to look at the 9/11 Commission Report as a joke and not a serious piece of analysis at all... It's a monstrous crime"

U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer, case officer CIA. Robert David Steele
~ "I am forced to conclude that there is sufficient evidence to indict (not necessarily convict) Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and others...This is, without question, the most important modern reference on state-sponsored terrorism, and also the reference that most pointedly suggests that select rogue elements within the US Government, most likely led by Dick Cheney with the assistance of George Tenet, Buzzy Kronguard, and others close to the Wall Street gangs, are the most guilty of state-sponsored terrorism...I'm absolutely certain that WTC 7 was brought down by controlled demolition and that as far as I'm concerned means that this case has not been properly investigated. There's no way that building could have come down without controlled demolition"

CIA Case Officer, Specialist in the Middle East, Directorate of Operations, Awarded Career Intelligence Medal, Robert Baer ~ " Regarding the opinion there was an aspect of 'inside job' to 9/11 within the U.S. government, "There is that possibility, the evidence points at it."
Counter-terrorism expert in the Security Division of the federal Aviation Administration. Team leader of the FAA's Red ( Terrorism ) Team in the Federal Air Marshall program, Coast Guard officer, Bogdan Dzakovic ~ "At worst, I think the 9/11 Commission Report is treasonous."

Minister of Justice, West Germany, Horst Ehmke, PhD
- "Terrorists could not have carried out such an operation with four hijacked planes without the support of a secret service."
State Secretary, Federal Ministry of Defense, West Germany, Andreas von Buelow, PhD - "The official story is so inadequate and far-fetched that there must be another one...This is unthinkable, without years-long support from secret apparatuses of the state and industry."

President of Italy, Francesco Cossiga
~ "[9/11] could not be accomplished without infiltrations in the radar and flight security personnel."

General Leonid Ivashov, Chief of Staff, Russian armed forces, Ministry of Defense
~ "Only secret services and their current chiefs – or those retired but still having influence inside the state organizations – have the ability to plan, organize and conduct an operation [9/11] of such magnitude...Osama bin Laden and "Al Qaeda" cannot be the organizers nor the performers of the September 11 attacks. They do not have the necessary organization, resources or leaders."

Foreign Minister of Egypt, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal
~ "Bin Laden does not have the capabilities for an operation [9/11] of this magnitude. When I hear Bush talking about al-Qaida as if it was Nazi Germany or the communist party of the Soviet Union, I laugh because I know what is there. Bin Laden has been under surveillance for years: every telephone call was monitored and al-Qaida has been penetrated by American intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, Saudi intelligence, Egyptian intelligence. They could not have kept secret an operation that required such a degree of organisation and sophistication."

Chief of Staff, Pakistani Army, General Mirza Aslam Beg ~ "The information which is now coming up, goes to prove that involvement by the 'rogue elements' of the U.S. military and intelligence organization is getting more obvious. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda definitely do not have the knowhow and the capability to launch such operations involving such high precision coordination, based on information and expertise."

European Parliament, Committee on Security and Defense, Giulietto Chiesa ~ regarding 9-11 "Billions of people were given only one explanation....which is entirely false....everyone who dares to question it is treated as if he was a fool."

French Army Intelligence and artillery officer, Col. Pierre-Henri Bunel, Expert in the effects of artillery weapons and explosives ~ Regarding Department of Defense photos of the Pentagon on 9/11 "Image of the impact on the Pentagon is very instructive as to the nature of the explosion. ... It corresponds to a detonation of an explosive with high energetic power. The explosion does not correspond to a deflagration of kerosene...suggests a single engine flying vehicle much smaller in size than an airliner...resembles the effects of anti-concrete hollow charges that I have been able to observe on a number of battlefields...lead me therefore to think that the detonation that struck the building was that of a high-powered hollow charge used to destroy hardened buildings and carried by an aerial vehicle, a missile."

Safety Engineer and accident Analyst, National Safety Technology Authority, Finland, Heikki Kurttila, PhD ~ "Conclusion: The observed collapse time of WTC 7 was 6.5 seconds. That is only half a second longer than it would have taken for the top of the building to fall to the ground in a vacuum, and half a second shorter than the falling time of an apple when air resistance is taken into account. ... The great speed of the collapse and the low value of the resistance factor strongly suggest controlled demolition."

Counter-Terrorism Officer, MI5 (Britain), David Shayler –
regarding 9-11 "The available evidence indicates that people in key positions in the FBI, the State Department, the CIA and so on were not loyal to the Constitution; that they saw an opportunity in plans laid down by genuine Islamic terrorists to carry out an operation that would shock the world and would therefore justify U.S. adventurism in the middle East, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Chairman, 9/11 Commission, Thomas H. Kean, Former Governor of New Jersey - "FAA and NORAD officials advanced an account of 9/11 that was untrue...We, to this day, don't know why NORAD told us what they told us...It was just so far from the truth."

Vice Chairman, 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Homeland Security Advisory Council ~ "we got started late; we had a very short time frame...we did not have enough money...We had a lot of people strongly opposed to what we did. We had a lot of trouble getting access to documents and to people. ... So there were all kinds of reasons we thought we were set up to fail"

9/11 Commissioner, Timothy J. Roemer, PhD, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence - "that panel members so distrusted testimony from Pentagon officials that they referred their concerns to the Pentagon's inspector general...We were extremely frustrated with the false statements we were getting"

Senior Counsel, 9/11 Commission, John J. Farmer, Jr., Former Attorney General, NJ, Former Commissioner of the State Commission of Investigations
~ Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon's initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public "I was shocked at how different the truth was from the way it was described...The tapes told a radically different story from what had been told to us and the public for two years"

Allen L Roland is a practicing psychotherapist, author and lecturer who also shares a daily political and social commentary on his weblog and website He also guest hosts a monthly national radio show TRUTHTALK on Conscious talk radio

Allen Roland's weblog:

Friday, February 16, 2007

Black Venezuelans and Black Americans Have Much to Learn from Each Other – and Should

By: Gregory Kane -

I kicked off Black History Month 2007 by kicking it with some Afro-Venezuelans.

Last Thursday, I visited the Venezuelan embassy to interview members of Eleggua, an Afro-Venezuelan music group of seven women and two men. I wondered what “Eleggua” meant in Spanish.

Absolutely nothing, it turns out. “Eleggua” isn’t a Spanish word. It’s Yoruba, the name of an African orisha, or god.

“He’s the god who opens the ways,” said Jorge Guerrero, one of the men in the group. “Another way of saying ‘opens the ways’ is ‘solves the problems.’”

The main problem this group of black folks had on what was their third visit to the United States was the weather. Coming from Venezuela, which one of the women in Eleggua said “is a tropical country,” they could barely tolerate the chill of last week.

But they were more than up to the task of performing for groups of school children in the nation’s capital. Last Friday, they performed for over 500 students from 11 District of Columbia schools. On Monday, they were scheduled to perform at the University of Maryland, College Park, which is just over the D.C. border in Prince George’s County, Md. Last Saturday, Eleggua performed at the Smithsonian’s Baird Auditorium. It was the folks at the Smithsonian who invited Eleggua to the United States this year to kick off Black History Month.

The group, which has been together 12 years, first came to this country for a New York rally whose participants expressed solidarity with the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Eleggua was in Minneapolis, Minn., last year for a similar rally. Kalenka Valazquez, an Eleggua member who also acts as interpreter for the group, said there’s been a greater focus on Afro-Venezuelan culture and history since Chavez took office. When she was asked if Afro-Venezuelan history and culture were honored in the pre-Chavez era, Valazquez answered “Not very much. Not really.”

That may be why, according to Guerrero, Chavez won a near-unanimous vote in predominantly Afro-Venezuelan districts in the country’s last election. Afro-Venezuelan history and culture are now not only honored in Venezuela, thanks to Chavez, but Afro-Americans now have an opportunity to learn about that history and culture. Members of Eleggua are eager to learn ours.

I asked the group what they knew about the history of Afro-Americans and what they would like Afro-Americans to know about the history of Afro-Venezuelans.

“On this occasion of Black History Month in the United States,” Guerrero said, “as part of the diaspora in Venezuela, we would like to exchange experiences. We want to use this as an opportunity for Afro-Americans to come close to the Afro-Venezuelan community and for us to come close to them. We have known of important Afro-Americans in the civil rights struggle and in the struggle against slavery. There were also important Afro-Venezuelans involved in the struggle against slavery we would like for them to know. It’s the same struggle with a different scenario.”

Guerrero cited as an example the 1552 rebellion of King Michael, an African who, with his wife Giomar, organized blacks and Native Americans working in the Buria mines and led one of the first rebellions against slavery.

“That was one of the precursors of the independence movement in Venezuela,” Guerrero said. The King Michael-Giomar revolt led to the establishment of some of the first palenque settlements in Venezuela (Palenques were free territories set up by maroons, slaves who rebelled and fought for their freedom.).

Patricia Abdelnour, a cultural attache at the Venezuelan embassy, briefly interrupted Guerrero’s history lesson to make a particularly astute observation.

“There should be a book in Venezuela about the black history of Venezuela,” Abdelnour said. “I didn’t learn this in school.”

Afro-Venezuelans, Guerrero continued, were also prominent in other rebellions and the fight for independence from Spain. He added that the cultural, economic and political contribution of blacks to Venezuela has been substantial.

“The slave trade has to be seen with other eyes,” Guerrero said. “What came from Africa was a transfer of technology and intellectual ideas."

Some of those ideas and some of that technology are evident in the instruments members of Eleggua use when they perform. Most of the songs are in Yoruba. Percussion instruments are used for most of the melodies. Some of those instruments are bamboo cylinders that have to be cut when the moon is waning to produce the proper sound.

Traditional African songs performed with traditional African instruments by descendants of Africans in the Western hemisphere. Now, there’s a sound that will always be proper to my ears.

Original source / relevant link:

Putting Black Faces on Imperial Policies

by BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford

As African Americans contemplate the possibility of Barack Obama in the Oval Office, they should consider the ramifications of a Black face at the helm of an unreconstructed imperial policy. During the Secretary of State tenures of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the face of U.S. aggression and lawlessness in the world, has been Black - a hell of an image to present to the planet! Barack Obama shows no inclination to abandon imperialism as state policy - only to avoid "dumb" wars, while placing U.S.-designated "interests" above international law.

Putting Black Faces on Imperial Policies

by BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford
"What a spectacle: American imperialism in black-face.
"Barack Obama is our son and he deserves our support," declared Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., speaking to a gathering of Black Democrats at the party's winter meeting, in Washington, earlier this month. By Jones' logic, Condoleezza Rice deserves automatic African American support as "our daughter," and Colin Powell, her predecessor as George Bush's Secretary of State, was due fealty as "our brother."

Jones' embrace of the entire African American family tree must also, therefore, extend to U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the most reactionary, anti-Black member of the High Court; and to "our brother" J. Kenneth Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State whose consuming mission in 2004 was to deny the franchise to as many fellow Blacks as possible.

Although the winter meetings are traditionally showcases for candidates to display their positions on the issues of the day, State Sen. Jones saw no need to present his appeal on Obama's behalf in any packaging other than race. In effect, Jones attempted to relieve Obama of any political obligation to Black people. Under Jones' formula, the relationship between the Black office-seeker and the African American public is reversed: it is the people that owe allegiance to the candidate, who is in turn set free to woo groups and promote interests that may be inimical to those of the Black public.
"Jones would utterly gut Black politics of all substance, rendering the entire electoral process worthless to the Black masses."
Jones and the larger political current he represents would utterly gut Black politics of all substance, rendering the entire electoral process worthless to the Black masses. Perhaps the greatest irony of Jones' issue-less directive is that it masquerades as a Black empowerment strategy. In a transparent bid to shame Blacks in the Hillary Clinton camp - another political desert - Jones said African Americans don't "owe" anyone. Jones elaborated later, in a conversation with a Chicago Sun-Times reporter. "How long do we have to owe before we have an opportunity to support our son?" he said.

In other words, Black people's "debt" to the Clintons - as if such ever existed - has been paid, and now it's time to herd Black voters behind Obama, like so many cattle. Jones' brand of politics holds that Black people don't have interests or political ideals, only obligations to one politician or the other. In Jones' world, African Americans are constantly indebted, but nobody owes them anything - certainly not Obama, "our son."

The Emil Jones brand of Black politics is based on the assumption that African American aspirations are limited to a simple desire to see Black faces on display in high places, no matter the public policy content of that representation. It is as if emancipation of the slaves could be achieved by moving Ol' Massa out of the Big House, and installing the Black butler in his place, while the conditions of life and labor in the fields remain unchanged. After all, the butler is one of "ours." The slaves should be happy to experience a vicarious freedom, through their "son." Further, it would be downright unfamily-like to pester our own kin about the need for forty acres and a mule per household.
"Barack Obama's stealth corporate presidential candidacy could create the conditions for a ‘perfect storm' that sweeps away what remains of issues-based coherence in Black electoral and institutional politics."
Jones' remarks exemplify an extraordinary vulgarization of African American politics, the product of uncritical, Jim Crow-era reflexes that linger within the Black polity, combined with the growing influence of corporate money in the Black leadership-creation process. The advent of Barack Obama's stealth corporate presidential candidacy could create the conditions for a "perfect storm" that sweeps away what remains of issues-based coherence in Black electoral and institutional politics. Should that occur - and there is much evidence that the unraveling is already well advanced - the collapse of progressive American politics becomes inevitable, a high price to pay for a Black face in the Oval Office.

Imperial Obama

African Americans will pay a special, historical price if a corporate-molded Black politician becomes the titular leader of an unreconstructed U.S. imperial state - and, make no mistake about it, Barack Obama is an imperialist. No one but a deep-fried imperialist could describe U.S. behavior in Iraq as "coddling" the Iraqis, as Obama said to an establishment foreign policy gathering in Chicago, late last year. His Iraq War De-escalation Act, carefully calibrated to make him appear slightly less belligerent than Hillary Clinton, allows the U.S. to wage war until March 31, 2008, at the very least, and to maintain a military presence in the country thereafter. It is a sham measure, more helpful in buying time for Bush than in encouraging effective dissent.

At his core, Obama is not opposed to U.S. violations of other nations' sovereignty; he simply opposes "dumb wars" - as he told a reporter for the Chicago Reader - meaning, aggressions executed by less-than-bright American Commanders-in-Chief. U.S.-designated "interests," not adherence to international law, are paramount - the fundamental tenet of imperialism.
"Obama is not opposed to U.S. violations of other nations' sovereignty; he simply opposes ‘dumb wars'"
Of the declared Democratic candidates, only Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich can pass anti-imperialist muster; thus the near-certainty of another imperialist in the White House in 2009. Which brings us to the special price that African Americans will pay if the face of U.S. imperialism, is Black.

The Face of Aggression

There was a time not that long ago, when the historic struggles of Black Americans for racial equality, decolonization and peace were admired throughout the African Diaspora and beyond. Especially in what was called the Third World, African Americans were perceived as different than the arrogant, racist "ugly Americans" - the whites that strutted around other people's nations as if they owned them. In the early years of the Vietnam War, there were many reports of Viet Cong attempts to spare Black American soldiers' lives, if practical, as an acknowledgment of shared suffering under white rule. When Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, in 1979, African Americans were soon released, along with female staffers.
"Colin Powell emerged from Gulf War One as the personification of American military might - and threat."
It is difficult to imagine such differentiations being made on foreign shores, today. General Colin Powell emerged from Gulf War One as the personification of American military might - and threat. As George Bush's Secretary of State, Powell sacrificed his reputation - and an immeasurable portion of remaining African American planetary good will - in a lie-soaked justification of the impending invasion of Iraq before the United Nations.
Colin Powell became the Black face of international piracy, to be succeeded by Condoleezza Rice.
In her first act as the Black American female face of imperial aggression, in April, 2002, then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice could not contain her disappointment at the failure of a U.S.-backed coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "We do hope that Chávez recognizes that the whole world is watching," she sneered, "and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time."

As Secretary of State, Rice is the reigning imperial drum major. Despite a string of Chavez victories in fair elections and his overwhelming support among the poor and mostly non-white Venezuelan majority, Rice last week loosed another transparent threat against his government. "I believe there is an assault on democracy in Venezuela," she told a congressional committee. "I do believe that the president of Venezuela is really, really destroying his own country, economically, politically." What a spectacle: American imperialism in black-face, threatening a mixed-race president whose government has arguably adopted the most racially progressive and inclusive policies on the South American continent.
"Condoleezza Rice is the Black, snarling symbol of U.S. lawlessness."
When Rice claimed that the U.S. had been meeting with Venezuelan Catholic leaders who were "under fire" from Chavez's government, the vice-president of the Venezuelan Bishops' Conference - no friend of Chavez - called her a "liar." Contrast this with Barack Obama's exchange of pleasantries with Rice before voting to confirm her as chief diplomatic operative of the Bush endless war doctrine.

From Beirut to Caracas, Condoleezza Rice is the Black, snarling symbol of U.S. lawlessness - a perception of our African American "daughter" that the NAACP must not have anticipated when it bestowed on her its Image Award, in early 2002. Back then, Rice told the civil rights group's gala affair: "As I travel with President Bush around the world and as we meet with leaders from around the world, I see America through other people's eyes."

After two consecutive Black Secretaries of State fronting for a hyper-aggressive U.S. regime, the world no doubt sees Black America in a very different light.

African Americans, who care so much for image - some, to the exclusion of all else - should contemplate what the ascension of a Black face to the Oval Office will mean to world perceptions of Black Americans as a group. Would Barack Obama be a worse international criminal than Hillary Clinton? My guess is, they'd function identically, as stewards of empire. But a Barack Obama presidency would leave an unindelible impression on the planet: The Blacks of the United States have arrived! They, too, are "ugly Americans."

BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford (at)

The Most Important Conference You Never Heard About (the 2007 World Social forum in Nairobi, Kenya)

By Frank Joyce, AlterNet

"G-8, G-8 -- We've got a Question for You
Why do you want us to suffer?
Why do you want us to perish?
We are the creditors
Cancel Debt, Cancel Debt"
--Lyrics to a song performed by HOPE RAISERS, a Nairobi Hip Hop group at the 2007 World Social forum held in Nairobi, Kenya

It's best to look at the recently concluded World Social Forum (WSF) 2007, held in Nairobi, Kenya through a telescope, not a microscope. What you see is a gathering force, a mood, an attitude. It's the kind of thing you might have sensed, if you knew where to look, in Montgomery, Alabama or colonial Africa in the late 1950's or, for that matter, in the British colony of North America in the 1770's.

Officially, more than 66,000 participants came together for WSF 2007. They were nuns, slum dwellers, academics, activists, Nobel Prize winners, students, trade unionists, NGO staffers and government officials including Kenneth Kaunda, the former President of Zambia. There were more than 1,400 participating organizations from 110 countries. More than any of the previous world forums, they came from Africa. That made the 2007 WSF the most globally representative yet.

As a cultural and political phenomenon, there is nothing quite like the WSF which started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. Even if you visit the United Nations or attend the Olympics, you won't be so engaged with people from so many countries speaking so many languages, wearing so many different styles of clothing and so driven by a broadly shared social vision. Nowhere else can you have this kind of six day opportunity to march, sing, dance, demonstrate, talk, listen and learn. WSF 2007 included 1,200 workshops formal workshops (the newsprint program was 176 tabloid size pages long), rallies, musical performances and other events.

It would be inconsistent with its nature and character for the WSF to take place in plush surroundings. And so the participants had to contend with numerous organizational and logistical tribulations. Workshops met in the less than ideal meeting conditions that came with holding the conference in the Kasarani sports complex, miles from the center of Nairobi. The acoustics were poor. Moreover, especially when sound systems worked, fabric "room" dividers did little to stop the audio from bleeding into the adjoining workshop. Bench seating for meetings scheduled to last two and half hours also leaves a lot to be desired.

Also problematic was the distance of the stadium from virtually any available accommodations including those in downtown Nairobi -- a $15 cab ride over crowded, pothole filled roads. That's $30 round trip, times five days of meetings. Public transportation in the form of buses and Matutu's (a common form of transportation in urban Kenya) were available. Using them, however, was discouraged because of rampant crime.

Admittedly, it isn't easy to find a venue anyplace for tens of thousand of people from all over the globe, especially when most are not affluent. And holding scores of simultaneous workshops in a soccer and track stadium does have one advantage. It is big enough to accommodate in one place all of the myriad WSF activities including meetings, workshops, demonstrations, eating facilities, vendor sales booths and cultural performances. Some who had attended previous forums considered that a worthwhile tradeoff from events held in many scattered locations. In any case, the net result was a vibe that was generally warm and friendly. And the quality of the conversations on labor rights, water, debt relief, resisting or reforming the architecture of global capital (the World Bank, IMF, WTO etc.), HIV/AIDS, tax issues, bio-diversity and a host of other subjects was quite high.

Was there a lot of Bush bashing? You might expect so. But you would be wrong. Sure, there was an anti Bush poster or reference here and there. One African group was selling a T-Shirt featuring a picture of Paul Wolfowitz that said, "Send the Wolf Back to Bush!

But mostly Bush and, for that matter, the US, were little mentioned. WSF participants simply take it for granted that the US symbolizes the world that stands as the polar opposite to the WSF slogan "Another World is Possible." Further, the meeting was in Africa. The African struggle against colonialism left a legacy of deep understanding that oppression and exploitation come from a system. It is simply not the "deviant" policy of a "bad" leader like George Bush. (One of the more profound and more amusing banners at the WSF read, "MAU MAU -- Fighting terrorism since the 1800's.")

Many delegates focused on an "issue." Some activists think that access to clean water is most important. Some concentrate on debt relief. HIV/AIDS in Africa is critical to others. Some see tax policy as the cutting edge struggle. The one clearly unifying theme is opposition to the grinding poverty found throughout the global South.

Americans might find that hard to understand. Our awareness of poverty in the global South is low. Likewise, the breadth and depth of opposition to poverty is also little appreciated. Some of that is attributable to the media. As Wahu Kaara, a Kenyan activist who played a key role in bringing the WSF to Africa, put it matter-of-factly "the architectural design of media is to misinform." A fine example of that misinformation is the invisibility of poverty, even domestic poverty in the US, let alone the deeper and wider poverty below the equator. The "shock and awe" that came with Katrina is the exception that proves the rule.

Americans live in bubble and a very thick bubble at that. For the most part, we like it in there. We'll take American Idol over Anderson Cooper reporting from Darfur any day. Other than Nicholas Kristoff and Anderson Cooper, can you think of any other MSM journalists who bother at all to report regularly on poverty and suffering outside the US? I can't. By the way, once you get past Danny Schecter, the alternative media list isn't very long either.

The net effect makes it hard to exaggerate the degree of isolation we experience. Poverty; disease; the genital mutilation of women; corruption that makes Jack Abramoff and Tom de Lay look like choir boys (although maybe not Dick Cheney); the pandemic of HIV/AIDS; brutal political dictatorships; the conscription of children as soldiers; the lack of clean water; open sewers, the hourly threat of crime and violence faced by billions: mostly, we don't want to know.

After all, one of the greatest privileges of affluence is the willful ignorance of mass suffering at home and abroad. WSF coverage in Europe was quite extensive. But as best I can determine, not one MSM media outlet in the US carried so much as one story about the WSF.

While the New York Times had at least 20 stories and columns referencing the World Economic Forum meeting of the plutocrats in Davos, Switzerland, they carried not a word on the WSF What make this all the more interesting is that they did manage to get a reporter to Nairobi the day after the WSF ended. What get their attention? Two American white women and several diplomats were robbed and murdered there in recent weeks.

Media attention or not, is the WSF is precursor to a new world government of peace and justice? Should the very existence of the WSF give even a moment's pause to the masters of the universe who meet every year in Davos?

Is another world possible?

Even though there is no WSF scheduled for 2008, in the years ahead, I believe that WSF will play a major role in spawning the kind of organizations and movements that will challenge the hegemony of transnational capitalism. (There will be a global week of WSF activities and a one-day worldwide mobilization in 2008. A WSF 2009 will take place, although the host country has yet to be determined.)

As US social activist Grace Boggs has put it, "Another World is Possible. Another World is Necessary. Another World is Already Happening."

In the "already happening" department, one of the outcomes of WSF 2007 was the creation of the Tax Justice Network for Africa, which is struggling against illicit capital flight, tax evasion, tax competition, tax avoidance and other brutal tax policies and practices. A new Africa Water Network was also formed by more than 40 organizations across Africa opposing the privatization of water. It is these kinds of networks that begin to take the WSF into a realm beyond that of a morale building festival.

John Christenson, staffer for the London based Tax Justice Network told me that the formation of the Africa tax justice group was a direct outcome of conversations at previous WSF meetings. According to Christenson, tax issues will emerge as the "next big thing' for global anti-poverty activists. He may be right.

He makes good points about tax policy as the underpinning of both injustice and misconceptions about the "third world." The basic idea is very simple. Were transnational companies to pay anything close to fair taxes on their operations in poor countries, the impact on debt relief and corruption would be enormous.

As a result of tax evasion, aggressive tax avoidance, illegal arms trafficking, outright embezzlement, transfer mispricing (a practice that Wal-Mart and others use to evade taxes even in the US), counterfeiting and narco trafficking , transnational corporations deprive the governments of poor countries of needed revenue. That in turn makes them the more vulnerable to the loan dependency manipulations of the World Bank, the IMF and the corruption that comes with the whole range of dirty money schemes. The dirty money schemes are in turn facilitated by the squeaky-clean appearance of Swiss bank accounts, offshore tax havens, the absence of transparency in global financial transactions and other components of the global banking system. There are many points of darkness in the vicious circle of exploitation of the peoples and economies of the global South but the tax evasion strategies of transnational corporations, not to mention rock stars like Bono and the Rolling Stones are certainly among them.

So too the enslavement of debt service imposed by the World Bank and the IMF. Dennis Brutus, the South African poet who became well known to a whole generation of anti-apartheid activists in the US and elsewhere in the 1970's, eloquently addressed this issue. Speaking at a forum on radical reform of the World Bank, Brutus pointed out that the struggle to defund apartheid in South Africa has much in common with the struggle to defund the World Bank.

Whether you think the World Bank is a selfless force for economic development in poor countries or the agent of Satan, you probably think you don't have much to do with its funding. But you do.

Do you own any mutual funds? Do you know how your pension funds are invested? Unbeknownst to me and I suspect many others, the World Bank raises 80% of its funds from the sale of bonds to pension funds, universities etc. So, just as religious and campus activists helped to defund apartheid, a similar campaign can be waged to defund the World Bank. And in many countries, such campaigns are already underway.

This brings us back to the impact and the future of the WSF. From outside the US, it is far easier to see that the world is in the midst of a "Copernican" revolution. New York Times columnist David Brooks can try all he wants to persuade us otherwise but that does not change the reality. Attempting to rebut the view that Iraq and other factors will permanently reduce the global power of the US, Brooks wrote on February 1, "The hegemon will change. The hegemon will do more negotiating. But the hegemon will live."

Brooks is wrong. The time when all the world revolves around the United States is waning. It is true that the United States played a key role in defeating fascism and communism in the twentieth century. That era is over. Here inside the bubble, the fumes from that history may still be thick. But in Nairobi and most other places in the world today, those vapors are long gone.

It will take years if not decades but the hegemon is ending. From Nairobi it is possible to see the beginning, however faint, of a truly new world order. Another World is Possible. Another World is Necessary. Another World is Already Happening."

A good place to judge for yourself would be to attend the United States Social Forum in Atlanta, GA this coming June (June 27-July 1).

Frank Joyce is a journalist and labor communications consultant. He is writing a book on reinventing unions.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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“If the world is upside down the way it is now, wouldn’t we have to turn it over to get it to stand up straight?” - Eduardo Galeano

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves. -- Edward R. Murrow

Obama Is the Best BS Artist Since Bill Clinton By Matt Taibbi

Last Friday night a friend called and told me that Barack Obama had posted a sort of pre-announcement of the start of his presidential campaign on his website. I immediately cued it up and within ten minutes was writing a column blasting him for ripping off half of his campaign speech from a smorgasbord of '04 Democratic candidates -- then stopped when I realized that I'd already written exactly that column about Hillary Clinton's kickoff speech a few weeks ago.

So I went back and watched the speech again, and I actually felt chills run up my spine. A few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton's launch speech ripped off John Kerry and the DLC with its "Let's have a conversation" theme; Obama, meanwhile, went the Howard Dean route, nicking "A campaign to take America back" from Dean and RFK Jr., among others. The fact that Hillary, like Kerry, is set up as the DLC-acolyte candidate while Obama, like Dean, is set up as the antiwar candidate suggests a kind of permanent template for the Democratic primary process. Maybe soon the race for the Democratic primary will be like Everytown USA's annual high school production of A Streetcar Named Desire, where every year they find a new antiwar Blanche and a new pro-corporate Stanley. The faces are different, the lines are the same.

I've been on the fence about Obama for more than two years now, ever since his breakout performance at the Democratic convention in '04. When I saw that speech -- an iconic piece of inspired nonsense/political showmanship, one that set flashbulbs popping like Michael Jordan's virtuoso 1988 dunk contest performance -- I knew right away that he would be the Democratic presidential nominee someday, perhaps even in the next election cycle.

When I mentioned this to my friends, they told me I was crazy. Obama had had absolutely no national experience at that time, he was a political virgin, there was no way he was ready for prime time. My answer to that was, compared to what? Throw a guy who can speak like that against the list of likely Democratic candidates in 2008 -- a sorry collection of human saline drips that included Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd -- and Obama could fucking walk to the nomination, even if he chose a page from the Betty Crocker cookbook as his stump speech.

Fast forward two years and that appears to be exactly what Obama has done. The Illinois Senator is the ultimate modern media creature -- he's a good-looking, youthful, smooth-talking, buttery-warm personality with an aw-shucks demeanor who exudes a seemingly impenetrable air of Harvard-crafted moral neutrality. If Hillary Clinton even dares to open her mouth within a hundred feet of him at any time during the campaign, she's going to come off like a pig digging for truffles. Even Edwards -- the so-called "slick" candidate from '04 -- sounds like a two-bit suburban Buick dealer next to Obama. You get past the "issues," and it's a wipeout.

Obama knows this, and so his entire political persona is an ingeniously crafted human cipher, a man without race, ideology, geographic allegiances, or, indeed, sharp edges of any kind. You can't run against him on the issues because you can't even find him on the ideological spectrum. Obama's "Man for all seasons" act is so perfect in its particulars that just about anyone can find a bit of himself somewhere in the candidate's background, whether in his genes or his upbringing. You can be white, you can be black, you can be Christian, you can be Muslim, you can be from the American heartland or from Africa... you can even, according to his book The Audacity of Hope, worship Norse Gods or bury your relatives according to Hawaiian rituals:

In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology. On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites ...

As far as political positioning goes, his strategy seems to be to appear as a sort of ideological Universalist, one who spends a great deal of rhetorical energy showing that he recognizes the validity of all points of view, and conversely emphasizes that when he does take hard positions on issues, he often does so reluctantly. He is a black man from Chicago who gets away with praising Ronald Reagan, which is not an easy task. His political ideal is basically a rehash of the Blair-Clinton "third way" deal, an amalgam of Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton and the New Deal; he is aiming for the middle of the middle of the middle.

In short, Obama is a creature perfectly in tune with the awesome corporate strivings of Hollywood, Madison avenue and the Beltway -- he tries, and often succeeds, at selling a politics of seeking out the very center of where we already are, to the very couch where we've been sitting all this time, as an exciting, revolutionary journey into the unknown. And while most of what he says and writes is basically some version of the same old tired clichés about family and faith and hope and optimism and "working together" and "getting involved," he adds to those clichés real literary flair, wordsmithing far beyond the range of most politicians. Take this bit about his kids in his book:

... I sat at the dinner table, watching Malia and Sasha as they laughed and bickered and resisted their string beans before their mother chased them up the stairs and to their baths. Alone in the kitchen washing the dishes, I imagined my two girls growing up, and I felt the ache that every parent must feel at one time or another, that desire to snatch up each moment of your child's presence and never let go -- to preserve every gesture, to lock in for all eternity the sight of their curls or the feel of their fingers clasped around yours.

Here's the thing about Obama, the reason they call him a "natural" and a "rare talent." When Hillary Clinton spouts a cliché, it's four words long, she's reading it off a teleprompter, and it hits the ear like the fat part of a wooden oar. Even when Hillary announced she was running for president, she sounded like she was ordering coffee. Obama on the other hand can close his eyes and the clichés just pour out of his mouth in huge polysyllabic paragraphs, like Rachmaninoff improvisations. In this sense he's exactly like Bill Clinton, who had the same gift. He is exactly what is meant by the term bullshit artist.

My usual instinct when presented with this type of Zelig-esque, Eddie Haskell, non-stick personality is to violently reject it. But over the course of the last few weeks I've found myself increasingly amused by the Obama phenomenon. For one thing, he clearly pisses off Hillary to no end. Same with Biden and all of those other windbag jerk-off assholes in that revolting "national security Democrats" clan in the Senate. There is something subtly racist (in Biden's case, not so subtle) in the way these more entrenched Democrats are riding Obama's lack of credentials and acting like the '08 nomination is their birthright, like he hasn't "waited his turn" or something, paid his dues. As if any of these clowns would wait ten seconds to declare for the White House if they had the same odds that Obama has now.

I have no idea who Obama really is, but he is against the war now (and at least never voted for it) and he seems to infuriate the right people. He has people bitching now that he's not black enough, and there are obviously going to be plenty of people for whom he's too black. And both of those groups of people, frankly, deserve whatever's coming to them. So for the time being I'm going to enjoy his rise to the top, the same way I enjoyed reading The Red and The Black -- like another great phony, Julien Sorel, Obama is a perfect mirror of the society he was born to conquer, and his journey upward throws everyone he passes into stark, humorous relief. Whether I'll vote for him is another story. But he's certainly helping make it clear who shouldn't get my vote.

Matt Taibbi is a writer for Rolling Stone.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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