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Saturday, April 26, 2003  

The Biology of Totalitarianism

Orcinus, whom everyone should read, cites Robert O. Paxton’s essay "The Five Stages of Fascism," The Journal of Modern History, March 1998. Paxton identifies five stages in fascism's arc of flight:

1. The initial creation of fascist movements
2. Their rooting as parties in a political system
3. The acquisition of power
4. The exercise of power
5. Radicalization or entropy

This is a little different from falangism:
1. The initial creation of component movements (explained below)
2. Some violent national passion
3. Period where an inadequate state struggles to fulfill the aspirations of the masses
4. A coup d’état
5. Period of rapid economic growth
6. Humiliation, implosion
(“Component movements” are organizations with diverse interests and ideologies, but a common goal. Consider, for example, Christopher Hitchens and Jerry Falwell: entirely dissimilar, but each favoring the Iraqi Invasion). By "passion," I mean some intense bloody crisis, such as Pinochet's coup.

Falangist movements are generically different from fascism in two ways: their origin can be traced to one of many potential groups; fascist movements suffer violent mutual antipathies. For example, in Austria, 1934, the fascist chancellor Dollfuss was taken hostage in his office and murdered by Austrian Nazis. More famous is the February 26th (1936) incident in Japan described vividly in the opening chapter of John Toland’s outstanding Rising Sun, in which the Imperial Way faction sought to seize control of the government. Suppressed by regular troops, it opened the way for Tojo Hidekei’s Control Faction to establish a totalitarian state.

The other big difference is that countries drift into fascism; falangism comes with a bloodbath. Falangism implodes, discredited; fascism descends into a blood-dimmed tide, like WW2 or civil war. The violence of the February 26th Incident was limited in scope; seven officials, including the great economist Takehashi Korekiyo, were assassinated. The “Night of the Long Knives” occurred almost eight months after the Nazi Party had secured a political monopoly).

Had one been alive at the time, and an experienced observer of parliamentary politics, the ascent of the fascists would have seemed a farce. The maneuvers in the Reichstag and the parliaments of Hungary, Austria, Romania… all were guided by helplessness and denial on the part of the elites. These were almost to a man, ultra-conservatives and aristocrats. In Germany, coalitions of every other party had desperately shut out the Communists; now a coalition excluding the Communists and the Nazis was impossible, and the Nazis were not a normal political party. Chancellor Von Papen and conservative kingpin Schleicher, along with a cabal of financiers, therefore, pushed through a “joint government” with Adolf Hitler as a stopgap measure (23 Jan 1933). After that, Hitler subordinated his reluctant, aristocratic patrons.

While the Nazis were unusual even for fascists in their ruthlessness, the ascent to power of other fascist groups was fairly similar. In all cases, foreign pressures were decisive.

Compare this to the ascent of falangist movements: in Brazil (1964), Chile (1973), Argentina (1976), there was a bloody coup d’état and a civil war. In Spain, Gen. Franco’s golpe touched off a war that killed nearly 365,000 people. Foreign intervention in the scores and scores of falangist coups, putsches, golpes, and other horrors have been influential once the killing began. Although allegations fly about CIA involvement in this or that coup, my own research has led me to suspect that in the majority of cases foreign intervention was opportunistic rather than causative. In general, falangist movements are extremely xenophobic and inward looking, focused narrowly on internal enemies. Fascist movements are not obviously civil wars; falangist regimes obviously are, even though the enemy of the falangist regime is to be found everywhere.

This brings us back to my original quandary: how relevant is the above to our present situation in this country?

The answer is, “More than you might suppose.” Fascist movements arise gradually and require homogeneity to triumph. A splintered fascist movement is unlikely to get to first base; I cannot find a single example of a fascist regime arising from a multiplicity of fascist groups. That, in it, is encouraging. The heterogeneity of American would-be fascists is astonishing, and becoming more so. But this is no protection against falangism. Falangism is organizationally polyzygomatic; it always arises with a host of supporting organizations. These can espouse the prevailing religion, or reject it; they can be market fundamentalists, or they can be business nationalists. Hatred of liberalism (in the political sense of the term) is a necessary and sufficient condition. A proliferation of (potentially rival) militia is not a problem for falangism; it is a problem for fascists. Mistrust of the government and a denigration of it are obstacles for fascists, but never for falangists.

Another anxiety is the suddenness of the onset. Countries drift into fascism; but falangism arises from a violent crisis — a coup, usually preceded by extreme civil breakdown. The difference between America’s response in 1930 to the onset of the Great Depression, and that of other nations to the same crisis, has a lot to do with the relative trust with which political participants regard each other.

Fascist Architecture
This is actually a gratituitous change of subject; those of you with an interest in art will want to see how various totalitation states tried to make their point with material culture.

Ceacescu’s palace of the people
Slides of one of Saddam’s palaces
Albrecht Speer’s plans for Berlin;
color photos of surviving Third Reich buildings
Guerrini, et al., Fascist Architecture
Some views of Pyongyang

American control group
(Inserted to convey a sense of architectural taste in the 1930's; Hall of State, Texas, 1936)

Falangist Architecture
A fine example of falangist architecture — Franco’s El Valle de los Caídos
To me, architecture is always a statement of the philosophy of power in a state. Please observe I have only included a single example of falangist architecture. I would greatly welcome photos of any specimen of buildings designed during the periods 1976-1983 in Argentina, 1964-1984 in Brazil, and 1973-1990 in Chile. I would be deliriously happy if someone had some shots of anything commissioned by Alfredo Stroessner, the late dictator of Paraguay, because I imagine he must have designed some very grandiose, eccentric buildings. Please forward any links or JPEG's to me at

posted by James R MacLean at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK |

Around the Web:

Wil Wheaton talks about Democratic insanity. He's got a point.

Alas, A Blog has become a group blog. Bean posts on whether or not men can be feminists, and both Bean and Ampersand discuss the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding in a fetishized world, start at the link and read down.

Untelevised finds the Bush administration being (un)shockingly immature, and posts on the too-clever-by-half folks who want to radically increase nuclear weapons spending.

Seeing the Forest explains that high taxes on the rich are an economic good.

Centerpoint posted this on the 10th, and it's a good object lesson about the welcome that a puppet government may face in Iraq.

Ruminate This talks about the Boss, the Dixie Chicks, and what happens when corporations have more rights than people.

The Nation: Why Iraqis may wake up one day in a 'democracy' to find that their entire country has been sold out from under them. And how Bush really is trying to roll back the 20th century.

Asia Times: The Taliban resurgent. Petroleum: a curse for Iran. Islamist party rises as a challenger in the upcoming Yemeni elections. Henry Liu talks about the war nobody won: why the Iraqis lost, and why the US lost.

posted by Natasha at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK |

What is the liberal philosophy?

One of the burning topics of the day for many, many progressives is what should our message be to beat Bush in the next election and to regain a sense that we can shape a better future. I know that many of us are concerned that despite the critical situation we are facing, and despite the awful job Bush is doing for the country and our future, that somehow we'll end up with a mushy message that ends up forfeiting the race to Bush and his vision of the future.

Part of this is due to Bush's ability to convince people that he is a bold and forceful leader especially after leading us into war. Another part is due to the fact that the Democratic Party has always been the real big-tent party and prone to the circular firing squad. As Will Rogers so aptly put it, "I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat!" Part of it has been the demonizing of the Democrats and liberal ideals by the right wing Wurlitzer. This aspect was captured nicely by Avedon Carol in her kvetching about the Washington Post Outlook essay discussing liberalism as a failed idea this week. And part of it comes from the infighting of the DLC and the more progressive base that makes up the Democratic Party on what our message should be and how do we compete with the Republicans.

Why is the Democratic message so mushy?

One of the more remarkable stories in the past 50 years has been the transformation of conservative Republican thought from a fringe and unpopular philosophy to the dominating governing philosophy of the US at the dawn of the 21st century. The reason that Conservatism seems to be so strong is that the world-view and philosophy of the Republicans hang together despite the fact one is a conservative Christian or a CEO or a western rancher looking for a little less meddling by those pesky environmentalists. Often it appears that the liberals are a bunch of disparate interests groups only connected in opposition of our conservative foes. (Aside: Calling the gang in power conservative does a disservice to the word "conservative". Our opponents are radicals: people who are willing to radically blowup society to reset it to their vision -- and this is hardly a "conservative" view.)

After reading George Lakoff, I think he is on the mark that the liberal metaphor is every bit as good at tying together the disparate parts of the Democratic Party and a great number of moderates into something that is more than just a loose coalition united against a common enemy. The metaphor that ties those on the right together is the "strict father" model. The metaphor for the left is the "nurturant parent" model.

Most Democrats and liberals agree that one of the hallmarks of our philosophy is that we live together in a community and that we do better when we hang together than if we only look out for ourselves. How we approach the world and our prescriptions for it are based on that philosophy and model. If we really understand how our basic "world view" underlies our approach to the world, it will make it much easier to find policies that support our goals. And it will help frame the arguments that we use when we talk with our neighbors and friends.

This philosophical underpinning explains our shared world-view:

We care about public education because we believe every child should be educated. We care about diversity because we believe all people have something to contribute and are a part of our extended community. We care about the environment because not only do we want a clean and healthy world for ourselves but also for the future generations. We care about minimum wage because we believe that there is value and dignity in work, but people should be paid enough to make ends meet. We care about nurturing positive international relations because we believe that a collaborative rules-based international framework makes us all safer. And we believe that the government can be an instrument that improves people's lives and gives a hand up to those who need it.

dKos provides an active forum for discussing how to build a compelling, coherent message that attracts more voters to the progressive perspective. There have been a number of discussions about whether the Democrats should work with the Greens. What values do we share and is it worth it? (Usually these threads end up being the site of the most vitriolic fights found on dKos' remarkable site and are often not very edifying.) This week, Kos suggested that perhaps the Democrats can pick up more of the Libertarian leaning rightys if we take gun control off the table and by framing the message that the Democratic party is the party of personal liberty. I found the discussion fascinating even though I don't think gun control is the top issue for the Libertarians. And I don't think that having an alliance on civil liberties (like Dick Armey's and Bob Barr's working with the ACLU to fight the Patriot Act), will overcome their basic belief that taxes are the root of all evil.

There were a number of thoughtful comments, but I thought Bragan's statement was perhaps the most cogent explanation of liberalism and what the majority of the Democratic party believes:

"The party of personal liberty"?

I realize this post, and dKos' philosophy in general, is about winning elections--and winning is vital--but to me this slogan and much of the rationale that supports it neglects the equally critical quality of social responsibility. Yeah, appeals to personal liberty are politically smart at times like these in which the GOP is imposing the Patriot Act upon us and GOP leaders like Santorum project values biased against minorities (homosexuals, in the case of Santorum). But let's not sacrifice the communitarian side of the Democratic party in the process.

My personal experience with self-described libertarians is that they're imbalanced, in that they fail to see the importance of "others", that to live in a healthy society--as opposed to living as a hermit in the wilderness--requires a relative balance of personal liberty and social equity. Taken to the extreme that many libertarians appear to idealize--and to me libertarians are almost by definition, idealists--minimalist government action and control leads to social darwinism (what a perverse term), or even borderline anarchy. The social fabric that holds a country together tears when weighed down with excessive preference for individuals.

I'm well aware that conservatives in this country have effectively linked "socialism" with the failed applications of communism, such that the modifiers "socialized" or even "social" can be the kiss of death to a policy. But I think most people accept the necessity of social well-being; e.g., "It Takes a Village", and even "Compassionate Conservativism".

Selfishness is the flip side of personal liberty, and that's something this country has in gross abundance.

As for gun control, obviously this is not a winning issue in the South and rural areas in general, but it has been pointed out numerous times on various threads, it'll be very difficult for a Dem. presidential candidate to win in these areas anyway and in terms of electoral votes it's not essential that we win over southern/rural voters, so why sacrifice the principal that controling such a potentially destructive tool as guns is in society's best interest? Why is it acceptable to register vehicles or obtain hunting or fishing licenses, but such regulation of guns is unacceptable? Let's not cede half the friggin' 2d Amendment to conservatives--you know, that part about a "well-regulated militia." Gun control need not or even should not be one of the more prominent ideas on a Dem. policy platform, but I rather than abandoning it as a lost cause, we should aggressively re-define it in the public mind, just as we need to re-assert the positive value of what it means to be "liberal".

Posted by Bragan at April 24, 2003 06:18 AM

Bravo! Bragan did an excellent job of expressing liberal principles and shows how it ties back very nicely to our basic philosophy that we are members of a community that rely on and count on each other.

It's not just liberty for myself, it's also our responsibility for each other that makes us liberal. And we can use the language of metaphors to build arguments that can once again inspire a hopeful, progressive and inclusive vision to counter the more fearful and devisive conservative vision.

BTW: Ruminate This has an excellent post on how we build a coalition that can win based on our shared philosophy.

Correction: My reference to the wonderful writer of The Sideshow was wrong, it should be Avedon Carol (which it now is). My bad.

posted by Mary at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK |

Friday's Paper
April 25, 2003

As an internet news junkie, I don't spend much time paying attention to the hardcopy newspapers. What use is a story in a form that I can't link to in the blog, a handy database search away for whenever I want to look it up again? But as of this Friday evening, I've discovered their potential as wall art. The most prominent, above the fold headlines for the Seattle Times read as follows:

Main: Bush hints Iraq might have destroyed arsenal

Side: N. Korea admits to U.S. it has nukes

Inset: H-Bomb plan The U.S. plans deadly bunker-busting hydrogen bomb

I bought a copy, and I'm going to have it framed. (You think I'm kidding?) It's going to sit on my wall, preserved for posterity, as a snapshot of hubris buoyed along by the irrational optimism of a befuddled public.

It'll look strange next to my sci-fi, Mucha, Monet, and Van Gogh prints. But I think that it will rarely fail to call up a grim and painful smirk that beats all heck out of banging my head on the wall in frustration. And if art is supposed to be emotive, to call up strong reactions that force us to examine our internal state and place in the world, this newspaper is art to me. Indeed, it almost seems that the effect would be spoiled by opening it.

posted by Natasha at 3:41 AM | PERMALINK |

Friday, April 25, 2003  

"Thought it would never happen to me" Department

First, some background: Uzbekistan is a nation of the former USSR, home to about 24 million people; it is the most industrialized and populous of the Central Asian countries. Uzbeks are almost entirely Muslim, although Sunni Islam in Uzbekistan tends to be moderate and reflects local Turkish traditions. In addition to the Turkish majority, Uzbekistan has a substantial Tajik minority; it was responsible for peacekeeping in neighboring Tajikistan, following a protracted civil war in the latter country.

The important thing to remember about Uzbekistan is that it is a post-ideological dictatorship. The leader, Pres. Islam Karimov, has been very friendly to Washington since the mid-1990's, while his relationship with Moscow waxes hot and cold. He's secular; his main opponents in the country are Islamic radicals; and during the civil war in Tajikistan (ended July 1996) he allied Uzbekistan with Russian forces. But oil and military cooperation with the US have been sticking points with Moscow. The political rights situation in Uzbekistan is especially dire, with torture of political opponents, framing of dissidents for alleged terrorist activities, and so on apparently routine occurrences.

MO has been working for an NGO with headquarters in the United States, but whose work is in emerging democracies, attempting to cultivate transparency. "Transparency," used in this sense, means openness, public accountablity, and lack of corruption. Curiously, states such as that in Uzbekistan welcome such efforts because they hope to create attractive business climates. Moreover, the main goal of Karimov's government is modernization; the objective is to create an efficient state. Whatever Amnesty International or Article 19 or whomever might think about the Uzbekistan government, Karimov and his supporters believe that he is not an oppressive dictator crushing opposition to cling to power. They just think he's an efficiency expert — with an attitude.

MO arrived in Toshkent in mid-December 2002, and began meeting with various officials of the Uzbek media. The initial object was to develop professionalism in the media. Of course, a professional press means it is more credible; but it is also inherently harder to censor a professional media because they are invariably approaching the bounds of what is regarded as acceptable. Another one of her organization's goals was to open up access to the internet (at the present time the internet is a state monopoly; efforts to open it up to competition have been met with suspicious attacks on activists.) She eventually offended another foreign journalist in her blog (linked above) and then had the nerve to criticize the US government.

Her remarks were actually quite mild: that THE US Embassy in Toshkent was trying to pressure her NGO to do the embassy’s public relations work. and that its interest in press freedom in Uzbekistan was very limited when it came to how the Uzbeks covered the US government. An embassy official read the blog, demanded she be fired, said the US Embassy would no longer work with her NGO, and hinted that future funding for her NGO in the region might be jeopardized.

MO's blog is truly fascinating and she's displayed extraordinary courage in maintaining her candid window on the world. I think the moral of the story is that, if one speaks up constantly, then it's far harder to be silenced. In the end, it was the official at USAID who (for now) caved. MO was always quite nervous about her candor:

I have been asked to do a small, 2 minute interview with CNN about my experiences here. CNN wants to reference this website. On the one hand, I am completely flattered. But I have to say, the idea terrifies me in many ways. In fact, many things terrify me about this website. For one, a woman from Uzbekistan found my website. And then she told her friends about it, who happen to live in CIS countries. I am paralyzed with fear. If I were in the US writing about my experiences on, say, VISTA, or writing anything that was critical of the US, I would have no problem if people from GA or CA reading my website. In fact, no one would find my website remotely interesting because there are probably a million websites critical of the US. No one cares. But this is CIS. And it is a small community. And everyone seems to be warning me that what I am writing could really harm me.

I have to confess to the following: I cannot confirm the actual events; all I know is what I was told by one party to a dispute with an official, possibly a single official, in the US Embassy. Such abuses are quite possibly inevitable in countries with dictatorships, especially when the person involved has a government with friendly diplomatic relations with that government. MO is in a somewhat precarious situation; she has asked to remain anonymous, and has purposefully refused to name her NGO lest its work be jeopardized. I too have been very circumspect in revealing information about her. MO is actually a very representative case of a highly educated, idealistic, intelligent American woman with conventional (for the US) progressive values; she’s not a political radical with an axe to grind, and in fact she has strong incentives to be very reserved.

So why have I written up this report about MO? Well, I like her blog, and when I paid a visit I was aghast to learn she had been traumatized this experience. As a rather vicarious friend (okay, a reader of her blog), I wanted to help. And this is the most I can think of, at the moment.

UPDATE TO SARS POSTING: I am grateful to Flying Chair Says (AKA Phil) and Geodog for offering this SARS blog. Additional credit goes to Crawford Kilian, a college professor in Vancouver, Canada for his postings at SARS watch as well. I want to give a big thank you to the expat Canadians in Hong Kong. If I missed anyone there, I’m sorry, it was pure ignorance. The chastened Agonist is also doing a fantastic job covering the crisis. It’s been pointed out that most of the damage and most of the danger comes from panics induced by the crisis; be advised that SARS accounts for less than 0.001% of the regional death toll since November (excluding Canada, whose share of total cases is small). I welcome any suggestions, comments, rebukes and corrections you may wish to post below. Stay well!

posted by James R MacLean at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK |

The Missing WMD

Today ABC news reports that the Bush Administration officials are now admitting they overstated the thread of Iraqi WMDs, and invaded Iraq simply to "make a point" as Kos so aptly put it. This does indeed show how awful this gang is. They truly do believe that the ends justify the means.

Some questions:

Are they so confident of the American public that they actually will brag about their lying in order to go to war? Answer: probably. They are looking at the high approval ratings and don't think this will damage them because people are now convinced that a) Saddam and Iraq were behind 9/11 and b) that America did this for the good of the Iraqi people.

Why announce it now? Answer: well, last night Steve Soto reported about a new resolution that the Bushies were introducing to the UN Security Council and he had the following question: Oh, so the issue of WMDs has suddenly fallen off the table with the Bushies? I wonder why that is? Hum. Perhaps they have to fess up about the WMD since it is interferring with their ability to get their hands on more of the Iraqi money?

Also, notice the fact that they made this announcement on a Friday! And what's the big news? Not Iraq.

As RonK reported, without the WMD, there was NO excuse for war. None. Because it was only the imminent threat to the US that provided them with the vote for force by the Congress and the UN Resolutions 1441. Without these two steps, they could not have gone to war.

For the record:

US helps Saddam 1980-1990

Halliburton & Dick Cheney profit from deals with Iraq

July 2002: Scott Ritter wrote: Does Iraq truly threaten the existence of our nation? If one takes at face value the rhetoric emanating from the Bush administration, it would seem so. According to President Bush and his advisers, Iraq is known to possess weapons of mass destruction and is actively seeking to reconstitute the weapons production capabilities that had been eliminated by UN weapons inspectors from 1991 to 1998, while at the same time barring the resumption of such inspections.

I bear personal witness through seven years as a chief weapons inspector in Iraq for the United Nations to both the scope of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and the effectiveness of the UN weapons inspectors in ultimately eliminating them.

While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding the disposition of Iraq's proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament. This figure takes into account the destruction or dismantling of every major factory associated with prohibited weapons manufacture, all significant items of production equipment, and the majority of the weapons and agent produced by Iraq.

October 2002: While President Bush marshals congressional and international support for invading Iraq, a growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats in his own government privately have deep misgivings about the administration's double-time march toward war.

These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses, including distorting his links to the al-Qaida terrorist network, have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East.

Final questions: What will the rest of the world think? And what happens next? When does the rest of the press notice?

Update: TalentShow discusses this Time Magazine column with the following observation about the missing WMD.

However sanguine officials sound in public, in private the pressure is rising. The Pentagon dispatched an entire brigade -- 3,000 troops -- to the search and offered $200,000 bounties for any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) uncovered. Local officers were authorized to make payments of $2,500 on the spot. "The White House is screaming, 'Find me some WMD,'" says a State Department official, adding that the task is one of many suddenly facing the department. Members of the Administration must feel a new bond with Blix, since they are now the ones arguing that these things take time.

Wow! Two Hundred Thousand Dollar rewards and still no WMD. Must be a whole bunch of them in Iraq, huh?

posted by Mary at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK |

Around the Web

The Angry Bear talks about a consumption tax proposal in California.

It's Still The Economy highlights a comment regarding the overconfidence of bond purchasers, who believe that the economy is too big for anything to happen to it.

Daily Kos on how, yes, it was all lies. He also brings to our attention this good post at Cogent Provocateur on the Iraqi Snipe Hunt.

pfaffenBlog gives an eyewitness account of conservative media bias, and points us to this translated Russian article that purports to answer the question of the disappearing Republican Guard.

Body and Soul brings us an article about the US failure to guard a known nuclear research facility in Iraq.

Go say 'hi' to Bohemian Mama.

Girls for sale in India.

posted by Natasha at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK |

Millenial Raj Hop

- This Asia Times article from last November is a good look at Ahmed Chalabi, a man indicted for bank fraud in Jordan. Mr. Chalabi bravely fled the country before being prosecuted. He now says that he wants no part in an interim administration.

- President Bush now brings up the possibility that the Schrodinger's weapons allegedly possessed by Iraq may have been destroyed after all. On the bright side, this particular swing of patter takes Syria off the hook, and closes the suspicions that the US would try to plant something to justify the invasion. But we haven't heard the last of this issue by a long shot.

Bush further stated that they intend to create a "government of, by, and for the Iraqi people," so long as the Iraqi people don't want (as Rumsfeld says) "an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything." But the problem with the idea of democracy is that it implies to most people that the majority of them get to pick their rulers. If the majority of the people want clerics running the place, that's technically democratic, even if it's also ill-advised.

What democracy implies to our erstwhile nation-builders is a government that agrees with the US, has neoliberal economic policies, and doesn't mind our corporations hanging around. They seem not to have considered that what the Iraqi people want may not be the same thing that they want. Or maybe, as we might guess from their behavior at home, they just never cared.

- Corporate police are favored to restore order in Iraq. You know, those efficient and upstanding folks at Dyncorp. They're the same people who now protect Hamid Karzai in Kabul, as the rest of Afghanistan becomes increasingly chaotic in the absence of a serious international presence or funding to rebuild a national military.

- Both Hamid Karzai, and the US special envoy to Afghanistan, are former Unocal consultants who'd lobbied for better US-Taliban relations for years, so long as a pipeline got run through the country linking Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India. This month, the Afghan government is expected to sign a $2 billion deal with a Unocal-led consortium to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India, via Afghanistan.

- In what is likely a completely (cough) unrelated story that we've been noticing for a while now, Iran also wants to build a pipeline to India, with a consortium of international companies standing to gain. The article notes:

...With the Brits, Dutch, French, Indians and Russians, that makes a formidable lobby for Bush to oppose. Can Bush stop it? He may be able to block Iran by persuading India to take gas from Turkmenistan instead, but that would route the pipeline through turbulent Afghanistan.

Indeed, while the Iran-India pipeline was only recently intended to go through Pakistan, India now favors bypassing them completely, as relations have continued to dissolve between the two countries. The project itself has been in the works for quite some time. And it should be noted that Russia has a more than passing interest in natural gas from Turkmenistan, themselves.

Update: And how could I have forgotten the proposed Iraq-Israel oil pipeline. It's said to be a top priority of a new Iraqi government, the one that's supposed to be expressing the will of the Iraqi people.

posted by Natasha at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK |

Thursday, April 24, 2003  

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Update

SARS is now thought to have originated in Guangdong Province, PR of China (November 2002). About 160 people worldwide have died of the pneumonia-like disease; there are about 3,300 known cases. Chinese doctors have concurred with WHO assessments that Beijing is underreporting the extent of the epidemic (Washington Post). Additional accusations of a dangerous cover-up come from journalists, who say a culture of secrecy prevented the federally organized Chinese government from creating a health awareness program (Straits Times). The NY Times takes a much sterner line about Beijing's failure to report the scale of the crisis:

From the start, China seemed to fear information about SARS as much as the pneumonia itself. For four months, as SARS spread in Guangdong, China said nothing and told Chinese journalists not to write about it. That information phobia prevented hospitals and ordinary people from taking precautions and stopped the world from getting started on a treatment. The suppression of bad news has killed millions of Chinese over the years. The famine during the Great Leap Forward, around 1960, which took 30 million lives, was exacerbated by officials' fear of admitting that harvests were poor after Mao Zedong collectivized agriculture.

Since the Chinese government is highly decentralized and complicated, it is very susceptible to confusion and inability to respond if the Party wants to suppress "damaging" information.

Several stories in the Far Eastern Economic Review (a subscription site) on SARS. At this time an extremely large global effort is underway to develop treatments for the disease; one project at the University of Hong Kong will employ protease inhibitors, while new pharmaceuticals are being screened in the US. Here is a quote from this week's issue (dated 1 May) of FEER:

SARS patients are currently treated with a combination of steroids and the antiviral drug Ribavirin, both of which have serious side effects. Concerns about the treatment's effectiveness escalated after Hong Kong posted its largest one-day death toll of 12 on April 19, with seven more deaths the next day. Some of the dead were in their 30s or 40s with no prior history of illness, as opposed to the elderly and chronically ill who were previously thought to be more vulnerable. (from “The Right Drug”By Trish Saywell)

SARS has been identified as a coronavirus and may be susceptible to treatment with alpha interferon. WHO officially identified the SARS virus as the culprit on 16 April. Mortality from the disease is evidently running at about 4%.

The previous issue of FEER included this estimate (now known to be extremely conservative). I post it to illustrate the approximate geographical distribution of the SARS crisis. Note that the estimates below are dominated by approximate business costs; responses by overloaded health care systems are probably not reported.

• China: $2.2 billion
• Hong Kong: $1.7 billion
• Indonesia: $400 million
• South Korea: $2 billion
• Malaysia: $660 million
• Philippines: $270 million
• Singapore: $950 million
• Taiwan: $820 million
• Thailand: $490 million
• Vietnam: $15 million
• Japan: $1.1 billion

Within China, the most severely affected area is Guangdong (1339 cases as of today) and Beijing-shi. Emergency health measures have been scrambled in Taiyuan, the provincial capital of Shanxi. Nei Mongol (inner Mongolia) has also reported a long number of new cases. (All data from WHO).

UPDATE: Emma at Late Night Thoughts has this post about Rosalind Franklin, whose research on DNA was exploited without credit by Crick and Watson. It's really mortifying. Please read.

Also, please check out Jeanne d'Arc's post at Body and Soul on Nina Simone, who just passed away. Looks like the Maid of Orleans has been hearing voices again. Her post about the High Priestess of Soul is exactly on. If you stop by and read this, leave a comment on which is your favorite Nina Simone song.

posted by James R MacLean at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, April 23, 2003  

Darwin redux

After reading Natasha's article on the web-of-life and our place within the world, and not over the world, I found myself attending a fascinating lecture tonight with my Dad that shows life is even stranger than we could ever imagine. We went to hear about the Neptune project by Dr. John Delany of the University of Washington.

Taking the Pulse of the Earth and the Ocean: Submarine volcanoes off the Oregon Coast are home to an ancient form of life, microbes that live without sunlight and feast on dissolved gases. Other oceans in our solar system may feature volcanoes that host similar life forms.

Dr. Delaney is one of the scientists that discovered the entirely new type of life (archaea) that lives deep in the oceans and is cast up when volcanoes erupt.

The plan is to setup a network of fibre channels and sensors around the Juan de Fuca plate off the coast of Washington and Oregon to watch and monitor the undersea volcanoes and the life forms found there. The sensors will be used to study a number of different topics. And we'll be able to checkin on the deep blue sea via the internet.

Now that scientists know what to look for, they find these same archaea bacteria associated with all volcanoes on earth so they are not just a deep sea phenomena. We also heard about the other planets and moons in our solar system that have volcanoes. And he said that this is what causes scientists to speculate that perhaps that life can exist near the volcanoes on other planets or moons.

With the Neptune project, scientists can answer more questions about what life is from the deep ocean floor and someday those answers can be applied to the planets and moons beyond our own lovely earth.

posted by Mary at 11:49 PM | PERMALINK |

More on Fascism from Orcinus

If you hadn't already known about it, Orcinus has been running a series of reports on fascism. I've been writing about the subject too (here and here) but in a different vein. Orcinus' latest is long, but worth the read. He's a slow, thoughtful writer and he clearly crafts his work. I admire Orcinus' input because he has really had a lot of personal experience with resisting white power/white separatist movements; he has a lot of knowledge about the history of the West Coast in general, and the politics of the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act, and the 1942 round-ups and internment of 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans.

Orcinus includes this chilling passage which made the hair on the back of my neck stand up:

After ruthlessly suppressing communist and socialist opposition, the NSDAP began to "coordinate" German society through steady infiltration of institutions. Wehrmacht officers, for example, were "Nazified" through oaths to Hitler, and schools and universities given "Aryan principles in every discipline." Workplaces and professional associations underwent similar upheavals. Griffin argues that none of this 'coordination' was "an end in itself," as he suggests the reorganization of Italian society was between 1925 and 1936. It was rather "the prelude to an unbroken sequence of dynamic events set in train by the new state that fully merit the concept of 'permanent revolution' with all its ultimately self defeating and unsustainable connotations."

He goes on to point out that the fascist regime, both in Italy and in Germany, was forced to confront not just the pre-nationalist regions of the 19th century third world (as did the rest of Europe) but fully nationalist countries like Poland, Greece, Yugosalvia, and of course the USSR.

I am not sure that we stand on the brink of an era of American Fascism, but I think that we ARE sowing the seeds of one. It may take ten years for the seeds to flower, and the lucky gardeners to reap their crop. It may take 50. I don't think we can yet say. But I do agree with Paxton, and his complete refutation of the 'anti-modern' thesis that fascism can only flourish in place in which democracy and political participation are shallowly rooted. This argument has been used many times, particularly by right wing inoculate right-wing elements in 'real' democracies (the U.S., England) against the charge that they have fascist tendencies, or to pooh-pooh the notion of the rise of fascism in one of their 'favored' or 'privileged' countries.

In my next essay on this subject I'll be addressing the way the centrifugal forces of "market fundamentalism" contribute to this. Hope you stop by for a quick read.

posted by James R MacLean at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK |

Support The Troops, Fund The VA
A Virtual March

Having gotten a lot of enthusiastic response to a suggestion to hold a virtual march in favor of supporting our troops via educational and health care funding, we're going to go ahead and work on getting the word out.

Steven Charest of To The Barricades made the very good suggestion that instead of doing it on May 1st, we do it on Memorial Day. This year, Memorial Day falls on Monday, May 26th. But having a suspicion that our legislators don't want to work on Memorial Day weekend anymore than most the rest of us, I called the Capitol switchboard, and it turns out that government offices will be closed that day. And for the remainder of the week, congress will be out of session.

But they'll be there the week before that, so I propose Thursday, May 22nd. This will give stragglers enough time to get their calls in before the weekend, and still sends the message.

What you can do: If you know anyone at Move On, Win Without War, or whatever your local flavor of peace organizer goes by, get in touch with them. Ask them to spread the word about this to their membership. Also, get the word out to people you know, your friends, anyone you can find. Include the number to the Capitol switchboard with any announcements, and the numbers for your area representatives if you want to target the message to a particular location.

Tell everybody. Tell them if they can't get through the first day, try back the next.

Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

For local numbers, you can look them up at You can always call local offices when the main DC numbers are busy.

posted by Natasha at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK |

Every Good Thing: Darwinian Ancestor Worship
part 1

It's one thing to have the abstract in your head that life 'started in the oceans and transitioned to land,' and another to really look at what happened. The concept of transitioning to land can sound as though, one day, some sea-faring critters woke up and decided that they'd had it up to here with being wet all the time.

If you're a purist, this account is also pretty anthropomorphized, but it just seems to work better that way.

In The Beginning...

...There were bacteria. They were around, at the very latest, 3.5 billion years ago. If they were there much before then, we couldn't know at present. That's about as far back as rocks go, anything older is either beyond our reach or no longer in its original form.

They weren't like the bacteria we typically think of today. Oxygen was poisonous to them, for one thing. But this was fine, because there wasn't much to speak of. Mainly carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Their descendants still live in thermal vents, coal tailings, water with higher concentrations of salt than the Dead Sea, the bottoms of swamps, deep rock, etc.

Then about 2 billion years ago, the ancestors of cyanobacteria developed a radical new metabolic process called photosynthesis. Removing carbon dioxide from the air, and using any available water, hydrocarbons could be synthesized for food. The main waste product was oxygen gas, which has been accumulating ever since. Even today, half of all photosynthesis is performed by microorganisms.

Survival of the Most Cooperative

The next big event happened between 1.5 and 1.9 billion years ago. At some point, one bacteria engulfed another, but instead of the usual digestion process they started to function as a single organism. This must have happened at least twice, as both mitochondria (where cellular respiration takes place) and chloroplasts (where photosynthesis takes place) appear to have their own DNA.

The first protists came into being, the family of algae, diatoms, euglenoids, kelps, etc. And this line eventually developed into all the multicellular organisms on the planet, due to the greater efficiency of cells with specialized internal structures.

And they became fruitful, and continued photosynthesizing (it was all the rage) until all the oxygen in the atmosphere began to accumulate in the upper atmosphere in the form of ozone. And gradually, the upper layers of the ocean became hospitable to life, with a real ozone layer coming about 500-600 million years ago.

We Made It!

450 million years ago, a descendant of the green algae made it onto land with the help of a fungal partner. It didn't have real roots, conductive tissue, any defenses, or even support. And it reproduced pretty strangely. Which was all okay, because there wasn't any competition, either. There wasn't much of anything on the formerly radiation bombarded surface of the planet worth eating. Except maybe lichens.

It was the first true plant, a liverwort. And the fungus it lived with acted like a root system, absorbing water and certain trace elements, in exchange for the sugars produced through photosynthesis.

Even today, the vast majority of plants have a root relationship with fungus that works on pretty much the same terms. In exchange for a little sugar, the plant gets a root system many times larger than it is capable of forming on its own. Many plants, like conifers and grasses, don't grow very well without the presence of the right fungus. Some plants, like orchids, won't grow at all without them.

Thankless Tasks

So the early plants and the lichens started building soil, all the time that animals started migrating out of the water looking for something to eat away from the crowd. And the cyanobacteria continued to perform their other neat trick, which was to take inert nitrogen from the atmosphere, and combine it with oxygen so that it would stay in the soil. Which fed the plants, which fed the animals, which fed the bacteria and the fungi.

Because all this time, whenever anything no longer needed its basic materials, the bacteria and fungi would immediately set to work recycling it. Nothing was ever discarded, wasted, or thrown away. There was never any 'away' to throw things, just other life processes that needed input.

And the decomposition, and the respiration of animals, produced carbon dioxide for the plants. Though they ate the plants, the plants had long since resigned themselves to this. They co-opted animals into helping with reproduction, by means of spending the energy to produce food sources exclusively for their benefit. Animals became indispensible pollinators, seed dispersal aids, and generally helped spread plants wherever they traveled. (Whether they wanted to or not.)

Nor was that the only contribution of the animals. Through the ceaseless efforts of earthworms, ants, and other underground dwelling animals, the soil was kept loose enough for roots to push through. Indeed, without this ongoing work, life on land would wither away within a very short time.

The plants continued to produce oxygen for the animals, and the fungi, and the bacteria who had come around to not minding it so much. They also filtered the water for other land-dwellers, so that there was such a thing as fresh water, even with all those animals around. And their roots formed 'nets' that held all the hard-won nutrients in the soil, so that they would not be washed away to the sea.

And it was very good.

Our Inheritance

The thing that I see when I look at this is that there is no such thing as 'going it alone' in nature, without the help of other living things. Indeed, none of us can be called a true bootstrapper unless we are willing to go live on the moon.

Everything on the planet that we need to live, barring basic elements and sunlight, is here because of the work of those that came before us. Not in some mystical, ooga-booga, intangible sense. But literally, the result of the life and work of countless living things.

We need the natural world, whose rich soil, atmosphere, and even to an extent, climate, is the product of living processes. Processes that we can't replace for any price.

Some people would like to point out that everything can regrow. We do not need to care about ants, or fungi, or insects, or trees, because they will come back. Which is true, even if that process would take long enough that none of us will live to see it. The doubters will be right sooner or later. They feel comfortable declaring that wide swaths of this complex system are uneccessary. Even though we don't fully understand how it all fits together, and couldn't survive at all without many of these vital, interdependent services.

We need the natural world, but it does not need us. If we disregard this inheritance, it will be back in another form long before we will.

- With many thanks to Professor Hanson.

posted by Natasha at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, April 22, 2003  

Setting matters straight about “Stagnant” Europe

Some real economists are poking holes in the tired shibboleths about Europe’s “socialist” economy. From the Center for Economic and Policy Research comes this snappy rebuttal:

There is a myth that labor market protections, such as strong unions and generous unemployment benefits are keeping unemployment high in Europe. In fact, a recent study on this topic found very little evidence to support this widely held view. Some of the countries that have the strongest labor protections in Old Europe, such as Austria, Sweden, and Norway also have the lowest unemployment rates. In the cases of these three countries, as well as Ireland and COW members Denmark and the Netherlands, the unemployment rates are actually lower than those in the United States.

Virtually every Engish-language business publication since the days of Herbert Spencer has been dedicated to the proposition that labor unions, unemployment benefits, and high taxes are sure-fire job killers. This would be true if every sector of the world economy were competitive. This assumption is not only unrealistic, it’s wholy gratuitous: tons of research and expertise has been piling up since before the American Civil War on how monopoly, oligopoly, and game theory distort markets (and what those markets look like afterwards).

Why the deception? Why do so many economists act like it’s no big deal that most sectors of the economy are monopoloid? Probably because economists need jobs too, and they turn into policy advocates (a type of lawyer, only less scrupulous). And the big guns are paying for deregulation and devolution of powers to private firms. Oh yes, and union busting. Oh yes, did I mention books have been written on how economics has been manipulated in this way over the years?

That said, please don’t assume that because economics has often been used for political polemics it’s worthless to understand. There has been a lot of real insight in economics and the heretics still proliferate. And don’t forget: grad students are confronted in each lecture with evidence that “conservative” economic policies aren’t supported by anything like a coherent theory. Brad DeLong’s website has this excellent post about the fiscal legerdemain and its far reaching implications.

And what does coherent theory say about the Bush program? I leave you with this cool slide show created by the Economic Policy Institute. Very easy on the econ jargon. Trust me.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong's site has some comments which are well worth reading, too. Please see what bakho has to say:

Brad, you write that governments should run deficits in a business cycle downturn. Does it matter how those deficits are run? Does giving tax breaks to wealthy investors, who are using the money to buy bonds issued to cover the Federal Debt make more sense than helping out the states? Most states cannot run deficits and have responded to revenue shortfalls by a combination of tax increases, layoffs, hiring freezes, salary freezes, cancellation of infrastructure projects, cuts to education, etc. These are the exact opposite of what most economists would prescribe for an economic downturn. The tragedy of the short term deficits is this administration is making matters worse by focusing on long term tax cuts and not doing the things that would help stimulate the economy in the short term. Any small amount of stimulus coming from Federal deficits is being counteracted by the actions of the states.

I'm jealous. There's more there.
UPDATE 2: SARS response: my friend Craig fowards me this report from the BBC on school closings in Beijing and Australia (NSW). Here's the same story on AP.

posted by James R at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK |

Bush's War On the Economy

Thanks to Kos for that brilliant slogan.

Tonight the terrible state of the economy was brought home to me with force while I was doing some research for my latest post for Political State Report. In Oregon, we continue to have the highest unemployment in the nation and the new budget that has been proposed promises to increase the number of unemployed. It also promises to make the state a harsher place to live for a whole bunch of people, especially if you are poor, or one of the elderly and/or disabled, or a student, or a state worker, or someone accused of a crime since we no longer can afford to provide an attorney for anyone who cannot afford to hire their own. And the drain on resources due to the lack of help from the feds to cover homeland security continues to eat away at the dwindling available resources.

Of course, Oregon is not the only state to have serious problems as was reported in the NY Times Monday. Liberal Oasis writes about the same column and also links an excellent five part series on state budget problems from He follows up with some great advice for the Democrats on how to use this issue.

So the states starve while Bush goes around "selling" his tax cut. There is an extravagance of spending at the federal level, for the war, for tax breaks, etc. that feels unseemly, while states are being impoverished and life for many Americans is becoming bleaker.

After reading George Lakoff's Metaphor, Morality and Politics, I understand the "strict father" metaphor, but it seems like Bush and the radical right-wing conservatives have taken this model to the extreme and are running the country on the "abusive father" model. What else can you call it when they drain the money out of the safety net, increase the spending requirements for homeland security and still toss money around like it was confetti? It's like a dad that refuses to pay the rent, yet goes down to the local pub to drink and gamble away the family income and when he comes home he beats up the wife.

PS: Don't miss Steve Soto's article on how the state budget problems must be a Democratic issue in the next election. Steve's campaign script is excellent:

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a president who offers a stimulus package that offers no benefits to the vast majority of you. His package would drain monies from the treasury for the benefit of the few. For the same amount of money the president would waste on those who don't need it, he could provide assistance to your state to prevent cuts or elimination of health insurance for low-income families, class-size reduction and school modernization and books for school children, and homeland security funding for those we rely on to keep us safe: our police and firefighters. Yet this president has told the states that they can expect no help from his government. Why? Because he has committed those monies to tax cuts for those who need it the least. Isn't it time to put a government back in charge that places the needs of the states and your family ahead of wealthy campaign contributors? Let's return to the days when schoolkids, families, and public safety professionals were at the head of the list, instead of being misled by broken campaign promises so that the well-off can get another tax break they don't need.

posted by Mary at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK |

Around the Web

The Agonist wonders who in the world some of these new recess appointees are, while Atrios points out that the administration still loves the Moonies.

Thanks to TBogg, we find that the Nation has covered the Daily Show, which we note approvingly gets 4 million viewers a week. Links are bloggered, so as you're scrolling down to find that post on TBogg, be sure to read the post about the 6 Republican lawmakers whose DC housing is subsidized by a secretive fundy group.

Pandagon takes Santorum apart.

Lisa Rein thinks that CNN turned up the booing in the rebroadcast of Michael Moore's Oscar speech. Thanks to Stonerwitch.

Kos tells us why, now that the bills are coming due, it wasn't such a good idea to antagonize Iraq's creditors.

It's from last Tuesday (sue me, I'm behind in my reading) but David Neiwert's lates installment on creeping fascism is a good one.

MonkeyX is disappointed by the opposition to the war, and is alternating wildly between optimism and pessimism. Amen.

In the Asia Times: Will the EU emerge as a military power? Iraqis already agitated with US presence.

posted by Natasha at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK |

Arrival in Blogistan

Actually, I really appreciate being invited to post. I wanted to mention that I was greatly moved to see much of the anguish I had been feeling about recent events reflected on the web. There's several references at Body and Soul re "the appearance of impropriety and our new persona as the emotionally needy gauleiter which I feel are especially apt, and those of you who haven't read Digby's post on psychopaths running the country, please do. Yes, I know these aren't fresh material; neither is Antigone, but these illustrate rather vehemently the sense of horror and disgust which had gripped me as I saw events unfold.

I'll include a sample of real passion at the end of this post--but there's already masters at work all around me. So I felt if I had anything of value to say, it would probably by drawing into the well of history.

In one sense, it's false that history repeats itself; it merely rhymes. The age of Imperialism is repeating itself, but instead of rival princes squabbling over estates in a preternational era, we are talking about an onslaught against states in which people have passionate national identity. It's not the same. And yet historians keep hoping that we can test ideas to destruction by looking at more favorable environments where they failed.

And there's no question that the ideas the neocons are pursuing have been tested to destruction, long ago. In an age when humans were more indifferent to whose kingdom they belonged to, the various nations of Europe--and America too, and Japan--undertook imperial ventures. They taught the human race a lesson. The most avid francophiles, men who were as French as Voltaire, served time in prison fighting French imperialism. Many imperialists sincerely thought they were bringing affluence and prosperity. How human beings can delude themselves so completely is something we ourselves are going to have a difficult time explaining to our grandchildren.

Now, I have been vested with a responsibility I take very seriously. And I sit here writing scientifically about the forces which possess a nation I love and identify with, a nation which seems to me to have turned its back on its true lover and fallen under a strange malady. It reminded me a poem written for one like this country, one who would not read the poem. When I wrote this poem, it seemed inconceiveable that I would ever again be in a situation so perverse as to be demonized by the one I love. You be the judge:

First comes the fairy tale — the Beloved
Of God's sword arm, Embodiment of ruth,
In the very bosom of jihad, dies.
The Sword Arm weeps a solitary tear
Suspended on the cheek of time, and all
The India of Spice and Mine weeps too —
Weeps not only gold, toil, and living stone,
But all discernment of still loveliness,
And the tranquility of utter grief.
Then the reality — which see, Beloved,
Lain at thy feet in lieu of creamy stone.
I fain would give thee one thine own, a Taj
Across the street from thee, and thou like he
Who wept that other tear, could gaze as he,
Shah Jahan, immured for his folly, did —
Builder and Beloved, Lover and Jailer.

posted by James R at 1:15 AM | PERMALINK |

Monday, April 21, 2003  

Addition to the watch

I've been posting some really wonderful articles by James R. MacLean recently. James had been posting comments explaining some of his research and study on falangism in Digby's comment threads which I found really fascinating so I asked if he would mind if I posted them to the watch. I found them to be another perspective on what trends we should watch in our current politics and complementary to the wonderful research and articles being written by David Neiwert.

I'm pleased to announce that James will be joining us at the watch as full-fledged poster in his own right. James tells me he will be writing about much more than falangism, since he is not only interested in history and economics, but also art, dance and music. I know I'm waiting for his next article with bated breath. It will be a stimulating and thought-provoking experience sharing a page with Natasha and James. (And I'll certainly have my hands full keeping up with them!)

posted by Mary at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK |

State versus Nation

[Another guest post by James R. MacLean]

In recent days I've written a few essays on falangism, attempting to distinguish it from fascism and explain why the distinction is important. There’s been some discussion as to whether or not it’s a bit over the top to discuss either as if we were drifting into that sort of thing. And I have to concede that the USA is a huge distance away from being either.

The key feature of totalitarian states is the war between state and nation. In the spirit of this blog’s subheading, "Escalate nonviolence," I'd like to declare that all wars are civil wars; that our war against Iraq was also a kind of inner struggle for the positioning of class interests, for the legitimacy of different voices to speak for the US and what we want. And when the gloves are off, and the war between the machinery of government and the governed has adopted the same rules of engagement as a shooting war, then we are in a very, very, very bad way. When the attitudes of the free fire zone are brought home and used on dissidents -- or when dissidents, impatient of being heard, treat the state as enemy -- then the road to totalitarianism is clear.

Civil wars do not always lead to totalitarianism. To me, it is something of a mystery how Colombia, for all of its huge problems, its three massive civil wars and its endless low intensity violence, has never erupted into a full-blown totalitarian state. Critics usually insist that the government is racist, and it is -- in an unfamiliar, Latin American way; and it's had a mild phase of military rule, under the somewhat populist Gen. Rojas Pinilla (1953-1957); but Rojas Pinilla, or the AUC (and its probable collusion with Pres. Alfonse Uribe), did not bring about falangism. Lebanon has a Phalangist Party with unmistakeably sectarian chauvinism (it's gotten better since 1990), but Lebanon has also escaped falangism. It's been occupied by the Syrians, and the Syrians chase the government they wanted, but Lebanon remains a surprisingly free society. The irony here is that Lebanon and Colombia, two of the most violent countries on earth, never adopted a totalitarian state because the violence was stochastic. It was like having a really, really high crime rate. Being loyal to the state would not save you, and the state was never able to monopolize or co-opt the violence. In Algeria, Burma or El Salvador, the rulers did succeed in co-opting killers they could not defeat, and the state has survived, authoritarian or unresponsive (and in Algeria's case, a burned-out praetorian state indifferent to any ideology or class).

Notice I keep alluding to impoverished states. The USA is of course a rich country, and unlike El Salvador, Burma, Indonesia, Argentina, Lebanon, and Brazil we have a lot of experience with democratic institutions. Unlike Chile, we don't have a long history of labor units in open confrontation with the state and the armed forces. And we are still a distance away from having a military state-within-a-state. All these things are points in our favor.

Unfortunately, what we also have is a drift towards undermining our democratic institutions. In particular, the drift of deriding public goods, as if it were un-American to want public health services or parks or libraries -- these are an attack on democratic institutions. Can the market "do things better"? In some cases, undeniably. But speaking as an economist (disclaimer: graduate student therein), I have noticed that nearly every time the argument is made, it is not made in favor of re-organizing the supply of public goods, it is made in favor of abolishing the "market" for that public good entirely. That is, for example, the entire object of the school vouchers argument. Every voucher proposal that makes it to the ballot box involves vouchers worth far less than the supply cost of educational services...especially in the inner city. Liquidation of the common (selling it to venture capitalists as a price of their choosing, and using the revenue to reduce taxes on business in order to attract more of it) is an anti-democratic act. It can be done with democratic institutions, and has been done all over the world quite a lot lately.

In the meantime, the last 60 years of world history are a period of extraordinary, unsustainable growth. It is unsustainable economically as well ecologically. If I forget to explain in another post why this is the case, I hope Natasha and Mary remind me that I'm missing something up here. In the next few years, we -- the developed world, including the EU and Japan -- are going to experience disappointing economic growth (to say the least). Will we be able to respond to future depressions as we did under FDR, with urgent and wholesome reforms? Or will we have so de-legitimized appropriate policy we will become a society at war with itself?

In previous posts or quotes I've mentioned two different -- two organically different -- forms of totalitarian societies. Both of these forms have many things in common: they exist to prevent changes in the social relations of production, to prevent the elites from making costly concessions to the non-elites; they make a cult of the past; they are obsessive about quashing dissent; and they are in all aspects, a civil war of ruler against ruled. Violence is made the leitmotif; it is either your friend, or it turns on you. Fear of violence is imagined to make one brave; never mind that the opposite is true.

Editor note: I found this last sentence to be quite interesting, and more than just a bit ambiguous. So I exchanged some email with James before posting this to try to understand more of what he was expressing:

Question: Is it the fear of violence that someone believes makes one brave? Or is it using violence? Or is it the reaction of another to violence (and their respective fear) the reason one believes himself brave?

Answer: The phrase you quoted did have that ambiguity deliberately built in. Totalitarian states have a love affair with violence and it is almost pornographic. Participants in the violence are expected to become brave and lose their fear of death; citizens of the totalitarian state are liable to experience the fear of violence at some time or another and develop a taste for it. To be sure, I've heard of this arising in fascist states for most ordinary people; in falangist states such as Chile's or Guatemala's, the elites were likely to be spared, unless during late adolescence they really rebelled. You are frightened by the violence, and then you (as, say, a conspript or a recruit in the militia) are complicit or even a perpetrator. In the latter case, having broken taboos of violence, you now share blood-guilt with the state. You have no recourse to innocence and you are supposedly emboldened by this.

My Response: There are certainly those who are enamored of violence and there are others who having experienced the fear and loathing that comes from having violence perpetrated on them, choose to inflict the same on others. I think this is what hazing perpetrates, and accounts for child abuse that spans generations.

Believing strength comes from using violence and glorifying it's use seems to be a hallmark of societies that become totalitarian in nature.

posted by Mary at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK |

In the Mid-East

Billmon posts his take on the situation in Iraq. If you haven't visited his newly opened Whiskey Bar, go now. There's even a story about sheep.

From Al Jazeera: US troops wear out welcome in Mosul, Baghdad, and with the Shias. Also, a British aid agency would like to land a planeload of aid in Arbil, but has been refused permission.

Apparently, just as in the case of the Iraq war, there's a longstanding fan club for war with Syria.

The Independent, via Talk Left, wants to know where the WMDs are. Read the comments.

And if you were a Saudi, or just a reader of the Arab news, you might be getting stories like these in your daily paper: Franklin Graham's presence in Iraq will be insult on top of injury. The slaughter continues in Palestine. US planning long term military ties with Baghdad. And a story about how the Army ignored warnings about the safety of the Iraqi museums.

Earth Day in Iran.

posted by Natasha at 2:53 AM | PERMALINK |

Sunday, April 20, 2003  

Around the Web

Al-Muhajabah has an interesting article on veiling as a spiritual struggle.

Stop by the reformed Agonist, for what's still a steady stream of good breaking news links.

PLA has several good posts up about breaking science news, recent Supreme Court decisions, and the Bush administration's contempt for congress.

Easter Lemming points out that two Bush administration cultural advisers have quit over the museum looting in Iraq.

Ironically, Eschaton has a post up on the topic of criticizing Lefty bloggers. Be sure to follow the links.

The links at Notes on the Atrocities are bloggered, but as of today, at the top of the page are a couple posts on right wing media control.

Late Night Thoughts writes about Castro. I'll agree with her endpoint, that it's no better to selectively defend any particular flavor of dictatorship over another. But I find that often what ends up happening is that the point of argument comes down to the actions of the US government, a body that does defend one flavor of dictator over another.

It wouldn't make it better if they'd been defending a different sort of authoritarian creep, but no one ever suggested that they should support any of them. In fact, the argument I've made is that we should butt out unless we're invited, or unless a sizable majority of world opinion favors intervention in a humanitarian crisis. And the reason for this is that we've seen leftist dictatorships, unsupported by the US, eventually be forced to give in to the demands of their citizens and liberalize their societies. But rightist dictatorships, who've been supported far beyond their means, have been enabled to continue inflicting themselves on the world longer than they probably would have on their own.

In both cases, any leader that's been successfully embargoed from importing everyday goods seems to get conferred with almost as much staying power as if they were being directly supported. And if that isn't a perverse twist of fate, I don't know what is.

posted by Natasha at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK |