Monday, November 27, 2006


by Thomas Riggins

The investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has an important article in the current issue of The New Yorker: “The Next Act: Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more? (November 27, 2006).
Hersh has many connections within the administration, especially the Pentagon and he is a primary source of information about what our leaders are thinking. Since neither our elected officials nor the government will tell the American people what they are doing and what they plan to do, articles such as Hersh’s become of vital concern to all Americans. This article will not only discuss the main factual content of ‘The Next Act” but attempt to go beyond the facts by deducing (always a risky business) what they imply for the future.

Early on we are told that one of the great worries of BC [for Bush-Cheney, since Cheney not Rove is clearly Bush's brain with respect to foreign policy] was that a Democratic takeover of Congress would mean that they might not be able to exercise an unrestricted military option against Iran and its apparently imaginary nuclear weapons program. The supine new Congress will of course continue to finance the mass murder of Iraqis but it might balk at an extension of the US led military terror to Iran. Hersh quotes a past senior intelligence official who told him: “They’re afraid that Congress is going to vote a binding resolution to stop a hit on Iran, a la Nicaragua in the Contra war.” Not that that stopped Reagan and his gang of criminals from violating the law and financing the war by secretly selling arms to Iran and drugs here in the US to victims in the Black community.

With two years left in the BC imperium, and a clear rejection by a majority of the American people against the terrorist policies we are implementing in Iraq, will American policy qualitatively change? Hersh quotes Cheney from an interview last month in Time magazine: “I know what the President thinks. I know what I think. [Evidence of the same brain at work--tr]. And we’re not looking for an exit strategy. We’re looking for victory.” This is bad news for the reality based community since almost all the news reports of the thinking of people familiar with Iraq (retired and current military men, intelligence experts, academics, etc.,) is that “victory”, as articulated by BC [a pro-US puppet government in a stable Iraq,with a long term (reduced) US presence and representing a sort of Arab version of Israel, allowing us strategic control of middle eastern oil] is impossible, these quotes mean BC is dreaming the impossible dream which will in turn become a nightmare not only for the peoples of the region but will blow back on the American people as well.

Cheney is also quoted as telling a Zionist group: “The United States [i.e., BC] is keeping all options [including the most idiotic] on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime [this is not self-referential]. And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” Remember, there is no hard evidence Iran is actually building such a weapon. Also note how successful BC was in “not allowing” North Korea to have a nuclear weapon. By the way, its ok for buddies of BC, Israel. India, and Pakistan to have such weapons, all of whom have invaded and attacked their neighbors, but not Iran, which hasn’t invaded anyone for over two hundred years.

The removal of Rumsfeld and the convocation of the Baker-Hamilton “Iraq Study Group” indicates to many of the former players on the BC team that a move is underway to actually get out of Iraq and not to attack Iran. The old guard of the Republican party is afraid that the BC/Neoconservative devil’s pack will cost the party any chance of retaining the presidency in 2008 and they want to isolate Cheney and have Bush back Condoleezza Rice and a diplomatic solution to the problem with Iran, and to focus on a realistic policy [yet to be determined] towards Iraq and Afghanistan . This would require splitting BC apart and recombining the B gray matter with that of Ms Rice resulting in BR, C would still be blundering about as a loose cannon The question is if the new secdef, Robert Gates and his allies, can or have the will to, effectuate this recombinant splitting (metaphorically) of the President’s brain.

Hersh also reports on some clandestine activities against Iran that the US is up to (although they can't be all that clandestine if you can read about them in The New Yorker.) It seems that the US (along with Israel) is supporting an anti-Iranian "resistance" group called the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. Its difficult to believe that any authentic resistance group would be getting support from the US and Israel! Hersh says "this group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran." This might be a "terrorist group" except that it is funded by us and only groups that oppose us are "terrorist", otherwise they are "resistance" groups. We have also established contacts with different tribes in southeastern and northern Iran to stir up trouble for Tehran. These forays are an attempt to put pressure on the Iranian government by other means than direct military involvement.

What is interesting about this activity is that it is not the CIA but the Pentagon that is carrying out these covert operations. "Such activities," Hersh informs us, "if they are considered military rather than intelligence operations, do not require congressional briefings." True to the democratic spirit motivating BC's middle eastern adventures, the American people and their elected representatives will be kept in the dark about activities that amount to acts of war against Iran. How would we react to Mexico's funding armed resistance groups launching forays into New Mexico or Arizona? (Poncho Villa where are you?)

BC has a master plan for dealing with Iran. We are told that David Wurmser is the major Middle East "expert" on Cheney's staff. He is described as "a neoconservative who was a strident advocate for the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein." Seeing as this advice has led to what many, if not most, people who know anything about it think is the worse foreign policy catastrophe for the US since the end of WW2 (although I think Vietnam deserves that honor), it would appear that Wurmser is not much of an expert. Would a doctor be an expert if he or she botched his or her operations. Would you go back to a doctor like that? Apparently so if you are BC because the "expert" Wurmser wants to now topple the government in Iran. Some people never learn.

There seems little doubt that BC has a strong desire, especially with all the prodding from Israel, to attack Iran-- a big bombing campaign since we are stuck, as Rumsfeld says, "with the army we have" commanded by incompetent careerists and too bogged down in Iraq to also take on Iran. Let's hope the new Congress can reign in the maniacs in the White House, especially as (Hersh reports), the CIA has not come up with any conclusive evidence "of a secret Iranian nuclear-weapons program running parallel to the civilian operations that Iran has declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency." The lack of any evidence is proof for some of BC's advisors that Iran must have just such a program. I know the logic is completely crazy, but this is what Hersh reports.

A high level former CIA official was a source Hersh must have felt very comfortable with as the official is quoted several times. Here is his assessment of the CIA's conclusions on what the result would be of an American attack on Iran: "An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we'll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us--- and the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West."

This may be a little too gloomy. Iran is not an Arab country and the contradictions between the countries mentioned might not lead to such united actions. But why risk it? The very possibility of BC's going it alone and attacking Iran is so serious that the House of Representatives should initiate impeachment proceedings if for no other reason that to throw the White House off balance and on the defensive for the next two years and hopefully prevent an expansion of the war that such an attack would entail.

In any event, an attack on Iran, with no clear evidence it is actually trying to make a bomb, and with no immediate threat to the US would be an act of folly and would demonstrate that the present administration is not only totally incompetent but a clear and present danger to the American people.

Thomas Riggins is a university lecturer in philosophy and ancient civilizations and can be reached at Thomas Riggins' Blog or at

Tuesday, November 21, 2006



There is an interesting book review essay by George Scialabba in the November 27, 2006 issue of The Nation (“The Business of America.”) In this essay Scialabba discusses two new books, one an apology for U.S. imperialism, the other a critique of it. The books are, respectively, “The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life,” by Michael Lind (Oxford, 294 pp.) and “Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States and the Rise of the New Imperialism,” by Greg Grandin (Metropolitan, 286 pp.). Let us see which of these two approaches better reflects reality.

Scialabba begins his essay by informing us that the view of most Americans, regular citizens and “respectable intellectuals” alike, is that the balance between material advantages and “idealism” in the history of U.S. foreign policy is “distinctive” and maybe even “unique.” Beware, for we are here in the presence of the tried and true philosophy of American “exceptionalism.”

Scialabba might benefit, by the way, in entertaining the possibility that the majority of regular Americans are completely ignorant of “the history of American foreign policy.” At the risk of being “unrespectable” I would also like to suggest many intellectuals do find that there is a lopsided relationship between “idealism” and material interests and advantages (in favor of the latter) in U.S. foreign policy. Idealists don’t have to lie, coverup and conceal their actions and motives-- an all too common characteristic of the practitioners of U.S. foreign policy.

To be fair, Scialabba doesn’t completely subscribe to this view, but allows that it contains several “grains of truth.” His examples of U.S. actions that have “earned it the permanent gratitude of humankind” are 1.) aiding the USSR in defeating Hitler (no doubt by delaying opening the Western Front in the hope that the Germans could take out as much of the Red Army as possible before being defeated.) 2.) Preventing the Red Army from advancing westward after it defeated Hitler (the USSR evidently doesn’t deserve any gratitude for this victory). There is, however, no convincing evidence that the Red Army desired to advance and take over the west. In fact it was Stalin who was most insistent that the Second Front be opened and that the allies, not the Soviets, be responsible for the liberation of western Europe. 3.) For allowing Taiwan and South Korea (“among others”) to become “stable democracies” and fore go the “horrors of Maoism and Stalinism.” Must we really have "eternal gratitude" for a foreign policy that led to the Korean War and vicious fascist dictatorships on Taiwan and South Korea that the people of those countries took forty years to get out from under?

Even if we grant that the U.S. deserves eternal gratitude for advancing its own perceived national interests, the question is, the author says, does this support the conclusion to be drawn by what he considers to be the above stated consensus: i.e., “that American foreign policy generally, including military interventions, deserves credit for good intentions, whatever mistakes were made in carrying them out.” In other words, should we take a Pollyanna like attitude toward U.S. imperialism?

Let us see what Lind’s book has to say about all this, according to Scialabba. We are told that in "The American Way of Strategy" Lind maintains, among other things, that: "The United States promotes national self-determination and basic human rights-- by example and exhortation rather than brute force, preferably,"

This is a ridiculous position. Any reading of contemporary history shows that the U.S. only promotes self-determination when it coincides with the economic interests of American corporations and U.S. imperial strategy. Let let the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile, the Iran-Contra Affair, the present day attacks on the democratically elected Chavez government in Venezuela and the attempts to subvert the democratic process in the recent elections in Nicaragua which returned Daniel Ortega to the presidency stand as evidence against any such foolish notion regarding the promotion of human rights and "self-determination" by the United States.

Lind appears to think, according to the review, that the U.S. only reacts against the imperial ambitions of others while entertaining none of its own.
Lind is quoted as saying that: "For more than two centuries the main motive for American security strategy has been the fear, sometimes unreasonable but usually justified, of other great powers." From this it follows that we had to take over Texas and California, Oregon, Florida, Hawaii, Samoa, etc., to prevent their being taken over by others. In other words, for example, if we had not invaded Mexico and taken its territory someone else would have, and that's the only reason we did so. How completely ignorant of history does Lind think his readers must be?

It gets better. Both world wars and all our actions in the cold war were the
fault of others and we were forced to do whatever we did and if we did anything wrong its really ok because our intentions were always the best.
Our actions in the cold war were especially justified because after WW2 "Stalin," Lind writes, "was poised to inherit the world." It is astonishing to me that Oxford would publish such drivel.

Scialabba is somewhat critical of Lind's views. Lind holds, for example, that the U.S. was justified in overthrowing elected governments, subverting elections, helping to repress unions and workers and peasants in other countries, etc., even as it turned to waging horrendous colonial wars resulting in what amounted to genocidal [not Lind's or the author's word]
slaughter of third world peoples, but all this was justified because, "There was, after all, an international Communist conspiracy to rule the world."
That this fairy tale is still bandied about in 2006 is beyond incredible, it is simply stupid. No doubt twenty or thirty years hence Oxford will be publishing histories of the war in Iraq explaining how Saddam Hussein's attack on the U.S. on 9/11 and his weapons of mass destruction were the reasons for it.

Scialabba"s critical view amounts to the following. "I don't believe it was necessary for the United States to wage a savage war against democracy and independent development throughout the Third World-- as we did-- in order to keep the blight of Stalinism and Maoism from spreading. But since I don't know exactly how I would have kept it from spreading, I won't press the point." A brilliant analysis. It is precisely by supporting democracy and encouraging people's independent development that the "blight" could have been stopped from spreading. The fact that we did not do that indicates that something other than stopping the "blight" of Communism was behind out foreign policy, and that was our own desire to dominate the world and control its resources and markets. To paraphrase Pogo, we met the "blight" and it was us.

So much for Lind whose shallow cold war polemic appears not worthy of a read, except to see how bad such old think is in the new century, and this despite Scialabba's opinion that he is an "estimable" thinker!

Let us now turn our attention to Grandin's "Empire's Workshop." Scialabba begins his review with two great quotes from the book. The first informs us that the U.S. developed "a coherently sophisticated imperial project, one better suited for a world in which rising nationalism was making a formal colonialism of the kind European nations practiced unworkable." The second explains how this was done, i.e., by developing "a flexible system of extraterritorial administration, one that allowed the United States, in the name of fighting Communism and promoting development, to structure the internal political and economic relations of allied countries in ways that allowed it to accrue more and more power and to exercise effective control over the supply of oil, ore, minerals, and other primary resources-- all free from the burden of formal colonialism."

While this book focuses on Latin America, the reader will easily be able to relate it to the policies of U.S. imperialism in other parts of the world. Scialabba seems to prefer this book to the previous one. His misinformed anti-Communism has not blinded him to the real nature of U.S. foreign policy. He, in fact, in the course of his review, gives an excellent definition of the concept of "democracy" as it is used in the context of U.S. foreign policy. In fact, it has a much broader use, being the tacit definition used in the media as well, as, for example, The New York Times and all other news dailies, the big news magazines, all the TV, radio and cable networks, and in all the schools and universities on the administrative level, and in the majority of the teaching levels.

This definition is that "democracy" equals "the freedom to vote for candidates who can be counted on to allow unrestricted capital flows; foreign ownership of vital resources; privatization of water, health, utility and banking systems; the opening of domestic markets to cheap (often subsidized) foreign imports; the repeal or lax enforcement of environmental, worker-safety, public-health and minimum-wage laws; an investor-friendly tax code; drastic reductions in social-welfare spending; the suppression of labor or peasant activism; and if asked, the provision of facilities for US military forces."

That is quite a long, if excellent, definition. I will only remark first that the Communist movement was historically opposed to all nine of the basic components of the aforegoing definition of "democracy" and that is the real reason it was seen as a "blight" and second, that the concept of "rule by the people" is completely absent in the definition.

Scialabba's essay was very informative. Based upon it, I would suggest that at least one of the two books discussed is well worth reading.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs magazine and can reached at

Thursday, November 16, 2006



by Thomas Riggins

The October issue of Harper’s Magazine contains an essay by George McGovern (the Democratic anti-war presidential candidate who ran against Nixon in 1972, he carried one state-- Massachusetts) and William Polk (founder of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago). This essay “The Way Out Of War: A Blueprint For Leaving Iraq Now” is an attempt to give a workable liberal democratic exit strategy to extricate the U.S. from the chaotic mess the Bush Administration has gotten us into in Iraq. Unfortunately the “blueprint” is unworkable and unrealistic.

The author’s state that a “phased withdrawal should begin on or before December 31, 2006, with the promise to make every effort to complete it by June 30, 2007.” Although the war is already lost and the U.S. (let alone its weak puppet government) has no prospects for pacifying the country, not to speak of even Baghdad, does anyone believe the unrealistic head in the sand Bush is about to start pulling out his troops in less than two months. He could at best make a token effort under this plan but the caveat, “make every effort” leaves room to stay on past the June 30 deadline and hence leaves the withdrawal open ended.

McGovern and Pope respond to the charge that so early an exit would result in chaos and upheaval being left behind in the wake of our withdrawal. They rightly point out that we already have chaos and upheaval and that much of the violence in Iraq is due to our unwanted presence. "We are as powerless to prevent the turmoil that will ensue when we withdraw," they write, "as we have been to stop the insurgency." But, they maintain, we can serve the interests of the Iraqi government (and our own) by "smoothing the edges of conflict" by engaging in a "bridging" strategy "between the occupation and complete independence."

Our peacemakers recommend that the Iraqi government and ourselves follow a six point plan. First the Iraqis should ask for "the temporary services of an international stabilization force" to provide security during and after the exit of the American troops. This is just wishful thinking. No other countries want to take over the mess we have created in Iraq and find themselves the target of the insurgency that drove us out.
They know that their services would be anything but "temporary."

The authors think that as soon as the Americans, British and private mercenary forces (basically paid for by U.S. tax payers and actually out numbering the British contingent) leave, the insurgency will have accomplished its aims and will "immediately begin to lose public support."
They claim that the "insurgent gunmen", their term for what the Iraqis may very well be thinking of as "heroic resistant fighters," "would either put down their weapons or become publicly identified as outlaws." This is another bit of wishful thinking. Like most other insurgent and resistance movements they would more than likely become the basis for a new Iraqi government and move to depose the remnants of the American dominated puppet government left behind by the fleeing Americans.

This is even more likely to happen because the second point on the McGovern-Polk blueprint is to eviscerate the already dysfunctional Iraqi army at the disposal of the present so-called Iraqi government (by their own admission not enjoying "complete independence.") "It is not in the interests of Iraq," they maintain, "to encourage the growth and heavy armament of a reconstituted Iraqi army." Who is going to protect the civilian pro-American civilian government? It must be the "international stabilization force." This force, by the way, they propose to be initially made up of 15,000 troops! After kicking out the Americans with 140 to 150,000 troops, the insurgency will disarm for these 15,000 made up of 3000 each from five different Islamic countries including Syria! What are the authors smoking?

They do not however propose to disband the Iraqi army completely. They don't want it to be a real army because Iraqi armies have acted badly in the past so it should be turned "into a national reconstruction corps modeled on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers " which can then repair damaged infrastructure. The U.S., by the way, can assist and train this Corps. It seems that we can stick around after all since this is a benign mission, the insurgents will have disarmed themselves, and the temporary international stabilization force will see to it that everything is, well, stable.

The third thing we should do is turn over all our military bases, including ones under construction-- at least 14 "enduring bases"-- to the Iraqis. Others have reported at least four permanent bases are being constructed as it seems the U.S. has plans to be in Iraq for a very long time (no doubt to make sure that the strategic balance in the Middle East vis a vis control of the oil remains subject to American power.) Our peace makers will have to get the Bush administration and the long term planners in the Pentagon to give up on The New American Century before this can happen.

We are also told that, "The Green Zone should be turned over to the Iraqi government no later than December 31, 2007." Since we are supposed to have gotten our troops out by June 30th of 2007, it is unclear how we expect to hang on to the Green Zone for an additional six months.

Step four of the blueprint entails that "America should immediately release all prisoners of war and close its detention centers." Do we have "prisoners of war" or are they "terrorists" and "enemy combatants" and "suspects" that Bush can hold indefinitely now that that pesky medieval holdover from the Magna Carta (habeas corpus) has been done away with?

Let's grant everyone prisoner of war status and immediately release them.
"Sorry guys, it was all a big mistake. You can go now, no hard feelings about the water boarding, ok." Are they going to forgive and forget, or, at least a substantial number of them, run off to join the insurgency or the militias in a spirit of revenge if not patriotism. I think we ought to give ourselves a big head start before we release the prisoners just to be on the safe side.

The fifth step in the withdrawal plan deals especially with the large force of mercenaries "euphemistically known as 'Personal Security Detail'." There are about 25,000 of them hired by over thirty different private security "contractors." They will have to go, and they should go, because they are hated by the Iraqis and are basically unanswerable to anyone except their immediate bosses. Since they are all paid for by the American tax payers, "either directly or indirectly," it should be easy enough for the U.S. to get rid of them: "all we need to do is stop payment." This is, for the foreseeable future, a pipe dream. The U.S. is not going to stop payment to the private firms they have contracts with (what type of capitalism is that) and, even more importantly, the many big shots in the U.S. puppet government who have these mercenaries as their body guards don't look forward to having to depend on their fellow country men for their security.

Step six is to remove all the land mines and unexploded ordinance that will be left behind, including shells with (cancer causing) depleted uranium, "where possible." Its too bad a lot of that uranium will hang around killing people for a couple of generations or so but, hey!, that's the cost of freedom. The authors note that this step is dangerous and that is one of the reasons, no doubt, they want to turn it over as fast as possible to "Iraqi labor." Their official reason is that it will provide jobs for the Iraqis.

That is the main plan and the major part of the blueprint. The authors go on for several more pages discussing what they call "second tier" policies to be adopted based on this basic "withdrawal package." We don't have to consider them since the basic "package" is unsound the policies following from it will be likewise. My only remark is that the whole article operates on the assumption that it is the U.S. that will decide the future of Iraqi. We went to war in Iraq so we could decide its future. Now we must leave, having lost that war and that right. It is the Iraqis and only the Iraqis that have a right to decide the future of their country after the withdrawal.
I think most people who have been following this unjustified war do want the U.S. out ASAP, but will also think this is an unworkable and impossible way to do it.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Online at:

Karen Armstrong's "The Great Transformation": A preview based on Walter Grimes' review
By Thomas Riggins

THE GREAT TRANSFORMATION: THE BEGINNING OF OUR RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS by Karen Armstrong, Alfred A. Knopf, 469 pp., reviewed by William Grimes in THE NEW YORK TIMES, Friday, April 21, 2006.

Grimes [WG] really likes this book; he calls it "splendid"-- his only reservation seems to be its ending which he calls "squishy". Armstrong [KA] is well known as a popularizer of religious history. She probably is most famous for "A History of God." She writes well, is very enjoyable to read and also very informative, but sometimes she lets her ideals, I think, distort the reality she is trying to describe.

Here she attempts to trace the origins and histories of four major religious traditions -- those coming out of India, China, Greece and Israel. Let’s see what WG says she is up to. He says that she begins 3,500 years ago (about 1500 BC) with the "Aryans" (an obsolete term these days, having been replaced by Indo-Europeans or even proto-Indo-Europeans) of "southern Russia," where he says we find "the first stirrings of religious consciousness... that would eventually lead humanity from nature worship and sacrifice to an inward-looking, self-critical and compassionate approach to life."

The only problem with this is the roots of this approach go back to several origin points, not just to the "Aryans," with a pedigree going well beyond 1500 BC. A "monotheistic" and compassionate religion had sprung up in Ancient Egypt several hundred years before this date, for example. Besides, if you look at any of the major spiritual traditions of today, many of their adherents have difficulties with being self-critical, inward looking or compassionate.

This great transformation supposedly "occurred independently in four different regions during the Axial Age, a pivotal period lasting from 900 B.C. to 200 B.C. ..." and resulting in Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and "the philosophic rationalism in Greece," WG reports. The "Axial Age" is, however, an unscientific concept cooked up in the 1930s to provide a "mystical" interpretation for these historical developments. Four extremely important "axial" figures, who were just as foundational to our world today as anything or anybody within the official "axial" parameters, actually fall outside of the 900 to 200 BC dates-- namely Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV, the "first monotheist") and Zoroaster (both before 900 BC), and Jesus and Mohammed (both after 200 BC).

The book is supposed to tell us how, WG says, "the crowded heaven of warring gods" lost out and the "human imagination" moved on to look "inward" rather than "upward" to find "enlightenment and transcendence." This just doesn't describe the real world, which is just as spiritually confused and "upward" looking with "warring gods" as it ever was.

WG says that "the military conflict and sectarian hatreds" of today are on KA's mind (they are "the powerful undertow to her book".) He quotes her as follows: "In times of spiritual and social crisis, men and women have constantly turned back to this period for guidance. They may have interpreted the Axial discoveries differently, but they have never succeeded in going beyond them."

There has never been a time, in my view, without its spiritual and social crisis, and these axial views have never and will never, I think, have any solutions for them. We have in fact gone beyond them. Modern science, Marxist economic theory, and the secular humanist values stemming from the Enlightenment are far more advanced "spiritual traditions" than anything left over from the "axial" age.

"The gradual elimination of violence from religion is one of Ms. Armstrong's great themes," according to WG. But the examples given are only cosmetic. Religion is even more violent today than in the past. From "kill a commie for Christ" to the inter-Islamic jihads of the Moslem world, the Holocaust (Christians exterminating Jews), to the Hindu-Islamic killings in India (where Kali worship still demands the sacrifice of children), as well as Christian-Muslim blood baths going on in Africa (Nigeria), there is nothing but religious violence. The contrary is Armstrong's dream as well as her theme.

KA writes, "The Axial Age was a time of spiritual genius; we live in an age of scientific and technological genius, and our spiritual education is often undeveloped."

The problem is that the spirituality of the "Axial Age" is no longer relevant to our changed circumstances and the spirituality that would be relevant to us. The social values of Marxism, Darwinism and Einstein (for example) are stifled by a corrupt, ruling elite of capitalists whose power rests, in great measure, on perpetuating ignorance and superstition. Karen Armstrong has a good heart and clearly she finds solace in these outmoded beliefs, but I prefer to stick to Enlightenment values and modern science.

--Thomas Riggins is the Book Review Editor for Political Affairs and can be reached at

Friday, November 10, 2006


Online at:

Book Review: Hugo Chávez, by Nikolas Kozloff
By Thomas Riggins

Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the U.S.
By Nikolas Kozloff
Palgrave Macmillan, 2006

Kozloff's book is a good introduction to Chávez and is generally positive in its treatment of the man and his movement. Unfortunately, Palgrave Macmillan has chosen to market it as if it were a series of exposes in the tradition of the National Enquirer. The book jacket asks "Is Hugo Chávez the Messiah?" "Is George W. Bush afraid of him?" The publisher's press release tells us that Chávez is moving to "control post-Castro Cuba" and this book will give us an "expert analysis of this complicated and dangerous man."

After that come on, I was prepared for a right wing assault on Chávez and his policies. The book, however, turns out to be a reasoned historical presentation of Chávez's rise to power and the social context which produced him-- i.e., the racist pro-US Venezuelan elite and its alliance with US imperialism in an effort to keep the vast majority Venezuelans in poverty and substandard living conditions so that it can live a privileged first world life of luxury and comfort while the people struggle in third world conditions of squalor.

"A damning United Nations report in the early 1960s concluded," Kozloff writes, "that Venezuela has one of the most unequal income distributions in the world." The publisher's marketing department should not have promoted a scholarly book this way, especially as there is nothing in the book that resembles the statements and claims I quoted above from their promos.

Chávez believes one of the reasons for the poverty in his country is the implementation of the Washington Consensus by the IMF and the World Bank. "The consensus," the author states, " stressed deregulation, privatization of state industries, implementation of austerity plans and trade liberalization." In other words, it was a major instrument of class warfare utilized by US Imperialism and its allies in the Venezuelan ruling class.

It should also be noted that the people are supposed to just passively accept the consensus, but if they don't the US provides training and support for the military (the School of the Americas is just one example) to be used to repress any social movements that threaten US hegemony.

Chávez came to power as a result of elections in 1998 in which he won "56.2 percent of the vote, the largest margin won by any candidate in the nation's history." If the word "democracy" refers to anything at all then it refers to what the Chávez government represents in Venezuela. Yet, as we all know, the Bush administration and the US media constantly treat Chávez as some sort of authoritarian undemocratic tyrant. Bush can only dream of having the type of popular support for his policies as Chávez has for his.

Kozloff recounts the now familiar story of the 2002 coup attempt against the Chávez government, carried out by business interests and elements of the military close to the US, and how massive public demonstrations, as well as loyalist military factions, restored Chávez to power after two days. He and his party the MVR (Movimiento Quinta Republica) then consolidated power through national and regional state elections that left him with a solid majority.

A new popular constitution was adopted which has an article (115) that states that "private property must serve the public good and general interest." The government can give compensation and then expropriate any company that violates this article. This article has been used against both foreign companies and members of the Venezuelan elite and is one of the most progressive, and most hated, laws enacted by the Chávez government.

One of the reasons for Chávez success is the support he has in the military. The Venezuelan military is unique in South America in not having an officer caste made up almost exclusively of upper class elements from the ruling elite. "Indeed," the author points out, "in Venezuela most of the senior officers come from poor urban and rural backgrounds." They are sympathetic to Chávez both because he shares their social background and because his policies are popular with the people.

Another source of Chávez's success and popularity is due to the oil riches for which Venezuela is justly famous. The high oil prices since Chávez took office has allowed him to fund many programs to help the poor. "Oil wealth" has been "channeled into social programs for education, healthcare, and job creation."

Chávez has been greatly influenced by the thought of Simon Bolivar and even calls his project the "Bolivarian Revolution." Bolivar, the great South American liberator who led the struggle for independence from Spain, envisioned a large republic made of what are today Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Panama. Chávez wants to bring about closer alliances with this block, both economically and politically, as a way to counter balance U.S. domination in the region. Needless to say, the U.S. considers this to be a real threat to its "national interests" (code for U.S. corporate interests).

Another ideal Chávez has picked up from Bolivar is concern for the well being of the indigenous peoples of the area. Having effectively destroyed the independence of indigenous cultures and peoples in its own territory the US now exports its anti-Indian policies to South America where it colludes with both local and international capital to oppose the rights of the indigenous peoples. Indian's demands for autonomy and respect for their native territories and land and mineral rights pose problems to big American multinationals and their plans to exploit the oil and other natural resources of the region.

Kozloff writes that, "Washington views the Andean region as the 'hottest' area in Latin America, because of emerging indigenous movements in Bolivia and Ecuador." The author also reports that "In the post- 9/11 world, the United States has equated indigenous movements with terrorism."

This is an amazing statement. That the U.S. government considers the local Indian peoples in Latin America as "terrorists" when they resist oil drilling by American companies in their forests and agricultural areas is truly outrageous and is a cynical and hypocritical use of 9/11 in support of corporate greed.

Kozloff cites the following as evidence: "In a December 2004 report issued by the U.S. National Intelligence Council entitled "Global Trends 2020-- Mapping the Global Future," the government depicts both indigenous activism and Islamic radicalism as threats to U.S. national security." The common link between Indians and Islamicists is, of course, the presence of oil in the regions where they live.

Are Latin American indigenous people really a threat to U.S. interests? Only if "threat" means democratic control of their own lives and "interests" mean "corporate interests." An indigenous legislator from Bolivia, Ricardo Diaz, is quoted as saying, "It's true that indigenous peoples are a threat, from the point of view of the political and economic powers-that-be but we aren't because our struggle is open, legal and legitimate." Anyway, how could open and legal struggle be a "terrorist threat" to the U.S. How can anyone take the pronouncements of our government seriously when it makes such claims?

Pedro Ciciliano, an anthropologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico says that the U.S. intelligence report is "exaggerated and fraught with errors typical of U.S. intelligence based on biased information. Indigenous people can be considered a threat, because they are poor and are pressing for their rights, but they don't represent a terrorist threat." I think both Diaz and Ciciliano give away too much by using the word "threat." I, at least, want to claim that no one, and certainly no people, asserting their legitimate rights can pose a threat to U.S. interests. U.S. interests are the interests of the American people and only a U.S. government that has abandoned those interests can assert that it is "threatened" by the rights of others.

This book documents many other struggles besides those going on in Venezuela. There are sections dedicated to the revolutionary movements and people's fight backs in Columbia and Bolivia, as well as progressive developments in Brazil and Argentina. If you only have time to read one book on Hugo Chávez this one would be a good choice.

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Book Review: The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans, Chris Beard, University of California Press, 2004.

The progressive community can breathe a little easier with the roll back, for the time being, of the antievolutionary religious diehards who have recently caused so much trouble in Kansas and Pennsylvania. Now that the latest round seems to have gone to Darwin and science, it might be a propitious time to review just what our evolutionary status is.

That we have all evolved from the monkeys is not a new thought for Marxists. When Darwin first suggested this with the publication in 1859 of The Origin of Species Marx and Engels were quick to give their support to his ideas. They hailed his book as a great scientific advance. A few years later Engels wrote about human origins himself, in an unfinished essay called "The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man" and now included in his The Dialectics of Nature.

What Engels had to say, while technically out of date, is not so far off the mark as many people might think. For example, in Engels’ day the Earth was thought to be about 100 or so million years old not the 4.5 billion years we think today. Thus Engels’ writes:

Many hundreds of thousands of years ago, during an epoch,
not yet definitely determinable,... the Tertiary period... a particularly highly-developed race of anthropoid apes lived somewhere in the tropical zone-- probably on a great continent that has now sunk to the bottom of the Indian Ocean..... They were completely covered with hair, they had beards and pointed ears, and they lived in bands in the trees.

German (in which Engels wrote) uses the same word for "monkey" and "ape." Engels is basing himself on Darwin and is describing the early anthropoid ancestors of what we now know to be the great apes and humans. The Tertiary period is today measured in millions not hundreds of thousands years, and there is no lost continent on the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Engels wrote before we knew about continental drift. These bands did live in a tropical environment only it was in Asia, more specifically in places such as China and neighboring areas.

Engels further says that "Hundreds of thousands of years.... certainly elapsed before human society arose out of a troupe of tree climbing monkeys. Engels’ is correct if we substitute "tens of millions" for his "hundreds of thousands." Engels was definitely on the right tract, but we have learned a great deal more about this monkey troupe, these dawn monkeys, since the 1870s when his essay was written. It would be nice to have some updated information.

This has been done for us by Chris Beard notably the winner of a MacArthur "genius grant" but who makes his living by being the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

The vertebrates he is especially interested in are us, or more particularly our relatives and fellow primates the apes and monkeys-- both the quick and the dead. His book is a well written, minimally technical, popular account of the most recent discoveries, many made by Dr. Beard himself, and theories concerning our origins and evolutionary development.

What we want to know is, who are these "dawn monkeys" and what have they it to do with us? Early on we are informed that "virtually all paleoanthropologists" believe that the lineage leading to humans developed in Africa between five and seven million years ago. It was in this two million year fuzzy time period, between the 7 and 5, that the animals that eventually became us split off from the common ancestor that we share with the chimpanzees. In other words J. Fred Muggs and President Reagan had the same great, great, etc., for many more greats, grandparents (as do we all).

Beard is interested in pushing back the knowledge of our origins to even more remote time periods. If human primates diverged from apes, where did those apes come from? Have we found enough fossils to answer this question? Not only the "where" question but how long ago as well-- certainly the apes and their ancestors must have developed many millions of years before we and the chimpanzees separated and went our different ways.

A little time perspective is needed here. The dominance of the Age of Dinosaurs ended about 65 million years ago (mya) at the end of the geologic period called the Mesozoic. The period called the Cenozoic (Recent Life ) then began. This period is divided into seven divisions: the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene, Pleistocene, and Holocene. The Eocene (dawn period) beginning about 55 mya and lasting until about 35 mya is where we are headed, incidentally, as the name of Beard’s book indicates.

There are around 35 species of living primates and the Eocene fossil primates mostly look like the "primitive" primates of today (the prosimians). But today we also have a group that, since it includes us, we like to call the "higher primates"-- these are the "anthropoids" and includes the monkeys, apes, and humans.

Now since we humans came from the apes, we have found that the apes came from the monkeys, so if we find the earliest monkey, that is if we find the earliest anthropoid we will push our family tree back to that point. Beard writes, "one of the most controversial issues in paleoanthropology today is how, when, and where the first anthropoids-- the common ancestors of monkeys, apes, and people-- evolved."

Beard has a "bold new hypothesis," based on recent fossil discoveries he has made in China, that will upset the hitherto existing scientific consensus regarding anthropoid origins. His theory moves the origin of the anthropoids from Africa to Asia and adds tens of millions of years to the age of this lineage. These new ideas all depend on the fossils Beard has called "the dawn monkey" (Eosimias) and how they are to be interpreted.

It appears that it won’t be an easy task that Beard has set himself since, as he says, for "the past several decades, all undisputed early anthropoids had been discovered in Africa" mostly due to the work of Dr. Elwyn Simons of Duke University working in the Fayum oasis in Egypt. So, a revolutionary new paradigm is afoot!

Beard says that his views are in the minority (this is because all new theories start out this way) but he gives three solid reasons to support his views. First, there is a small prosimian (pre-monkey like primate such as the lemur of today) known as a tarsier which seems to be closest in evolution to the first anthropoids. Beard thinks that their geological range points to an Asian origin for the first anthropoids. Based on the most recent DNA evidence he concludes that "the simplest hypothesis requires us to view tarsiers and anthropoids as descendants of a common ancestor." No tarsier or tarsier relatives "have ever been found in Africa. Second, there are fossils from Burma, found decades ago, which appear to be primitive anthropoids, and finally, Beard’s own discovery of Eosimias in China which he says is definitely a primitive anthropoid and is older than any African anthropoid discovery(except for one, as we shall see)..

The African anthropoids date from the next geological era, the Oligocene, while Eosimias dates from the Eocene era, many millions of years earlier. The dawn monkey’s remains show that it is intermediate between the prosimians of today and the modern monkeys. It is thus a real candidate as the ancestor of all modern anthropoids-- i.e., all living monkeys, apes, and humans.

After several chapters in which Beard discusses the ways in which primate fossils are classified and also their distribution in Asia, Europe, North America and Africa, he concludes that the AfricanOligocene anthropoid remains are too modern to represent the originating ancestors of modern anthropoids. Therefore we "have no choice but to plunge back into the mysterious void known as the Eocene." The void is "mysterious" because of the paucity of primate fossils in this era as compared with the Oligocene. Nevertheless, if the Oligocene remains are too advanced to represent transitional forms between the prosimians and the anthropoids, then it is to the Eocene that we must turn to look for such transitional forms. Here we should be mindful of a basic evolutionary rule, namely, "that similar features indicate descent from a common ancestor." This is a rule not a law but, except for examples of convergent and parallel evolution, it generally holds.

In two very interesting chapters ("Received Wisdom" and "The Birth of a Ghost Linage"), Beard discusses three of the most influential theories of anthropoid origins as well as more techniques used by paleontologists and paleoanthropologists in sorting out and classifying fossils. This is all very interesting and very nontechnical. A "ghost lineage" is a hypothetical set of fossils that should be intermediate between a "primitive" and an "advanced" form. This lineage gives us some idea of what we should expect to find in the deduction is correct. If we find such fossils-- very good-- it is evidence that our theory may be correct.

Beard claims that the tarsiers and the ur-anthropoids (ur= first) branched off from each other (that is from a common ancestor) at least 50 million years ago. So he needs to construct a ghost linage-- say from some early tarsier like creature to the Oligocene type monkeys and then see if he can find a fossil to verify the lineage. This is where Eosimias comes in.

It was in China that Beard and his associates and Chinese paleoanthropologists all working together came upon the fossil remains of a small marmoset sized primate with the distinctly hypostisized anthropoid characteristics they were on the lookout for. The remains predated the oldest African remains from the Fayum by at least 10 million years.

Beard waxes, I think, a little too poetically over this discovery:

China’s historic role as the cradle of one of the world’s great and enduring civilizations might now be extended tens of millions of years back in time, to an interval when the earliest members of the most diverse and successful branch of modern primates-- the anthropoids-- were just beginning to evolve the diagnostic features (like bigger brains, robustly constructed jaws, and associated changes in behavior and ecology) that would ensure their biological success.

In the world of the Eocene, when Africa, Europe, Asia, and India were separated from one another by water, the world of 50 million years ago, it doesn’t make much sense to talk of "China." Be that as it may, in today’s world, Chinese scientists can be proud of the essential role they played in this discovery-- which was actually made by Chinese members of the team.

Beard’s theory, however compelling, was not supported by a sufficient range of fossil evidence to convince the majority of scientists working in this field. Therefore, after its initial presentation, he and his collaborators and Chinese associates spent four years doing intensive field work in China. The result of this activity was the discovery of many new fossil primates, including anthropoids and different species of Eosimias. Now Beard had the evidence he needed to shore up his hypothesis of anthropoid origins.

"Our knowledge of Eosimias-- an animal that I had only recently ushered onto the scientific stage," he writes, "had improved rapidly and immensely. Eosimias had been introduced to the paleoanthropological community as a humble waif of a fossil whose claim to anthropoid status dangled by the thread of two scrappy jaws. Now, its place near the base of the great anthropoid branch of the primate family tree rested on a firm anatomical foundation.... No other fossil bearing on the very root of the anthropoid family tree can marshal such an extensive litany of anatomical features to support its pivotal evolutionary position."

This information, according to Beard, overthrows the heretofore established orthodoxy regarding the origin of the anthropoid line. The orthodox theory, based on the theories of Le Gros Clarke a generation ago, held that that the anthropoid line (and the hominid line eventually arising out of it) arose in Africa some 34 million years ago at the Eocene/Oligocene border. The ancestral ape that gave rise to gorillas, chimpanzees and humans dates from the Miocene, the next geological age. Beard’s evidence, however, transplants the origin of anthropoids in both time and place: to the Paleocene/Eocene border around 55 million years ago-- 20 million years earlier than previously thought. Now that several species of Eosimias have subsequently been discovered, Beard can confidently assert that eosimiids are "the most primitive anthropoids currently known."

Nevertheless, we should remember that while our ancestors originated in Asia, these "Asian anthropoids remained persistently primitive, while their African relatives evolved into increasingly advanced species" including us.

Now there is a fly in this ointment. Namely, the remains of an even older anthropoid than Eosimias have been found in Morocco. This is Altiatlasius koulchii from the Paleocene. How can Beard maintain that anthropoids originated in Asia if the oldest anthropoid remains ever discovered (Altiatlasius) are actually from Africa? The chapter "Into the African Melting Pot" deals with this problem. The short answer is that primitive anthropoids migrated from Asia to Africa earlier, by a factor of millions of years, than anyone had previously thought. Beard bases this on the fact that while Asia can show the development of the anthropoid line from the split with a common ancestor of the tarsiers, i.e., out of a tarsiod line, Africa not only doesn’t have any fossil tarsiers, it doesn’t have any primates at all antecedent to Altiatlasius. "Accordingly, Altiatlasius does not indicate that anthropoids originated in Africa. Rather, it signals that Asian anthropoids arrived there at a surprisingly early date."

Beard’s last chapter ("Paleoanthropology and Pithecophobia") reminds us that even though the anthropoids may have arisen first in Asia, our own branch of the anthropoid line has distinctly African origins. In this chapter the author recounts the history, basically in the early 20th Century, of trying to prove that humans evolved independently of the great apes, the early culmination if you will of the African anthropoids.

Because of DNA analysis the scientific consensus today is that humans and chimpanzees branched off from a common ancestor about seven million years ago. This would be just around the Miocene/Pliocene border-- the Pliocene would have begun about five or six mya and ended about 1mya with the start of the Pleistocene.

All of the early 20th Century programs to establish a non-ape ancestor for humans, Beard points out, were mostly motivated by racism, commitments to theories of eugenics, religious prejudices, and human arrogance. In a final coda Beard laments the fact that "pithecophobia" is still a force to be reckoned with. He suggests it may be behind the continuing human attitude of absolute superiority to and difference from all other animals. One of negative attitudes resulting from this is that there are not enough serious attempts being made to prevent the extinction of gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild (their numbers have declined by 50% in the last 20 years-- mostly killed by humans for the "bushmeat" trade). I will quote Beard’s parting words: "Humanity as a whole is embedded within a rich biological tapestry. The living legacy of that common evolutionary journey deserves to be celebrated rather than despised. Pithecophobia in all of its manifestations conflicts with our own deep roots."

--Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Monday, November 06, 2006


Online at:

Is Hamas Hopeless? Who is Really Responsible For The Impasse In Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks?
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

The answers to the questions posed above are pretty obvious if all you read or see or listen to are the reports from the mass media in this country. Israel wants peace but the way is blocked due to the election of a terrorist group (Hamas) which now runs the government of Palestine and is devoted to the destruction of Israel. But what if this presentation of the current situation is false?

That is the only conclusion that can be reached after reading "Hamas: The Last Chance for Peace?" by Henry Siegman (The New York Review of Books, April 27, 2006). Siegman (HS) is a former head of the American Jewish Congress and a Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. I intend to review this article and then draw some, to me, obvious conclusions.

HS lists four main reasons why the "Muslim world" is angry at "the West." These are the occupation of Palestine, the occupation of Iraq, the treatment of prisoners in US military (and CIA) prisons, and, finally, US hypocrisy with regard to "democracy." It is in this context that we have to look at the rise of Hamas and its relation to "terrorism."

One thing we must not confuse is al-Qaeda's use of Islam, and Hamas' views. HS quotes an Hamas spokesman as saying that "Hamas believes that Islam is completely different" from the al-Qaeda view and that its "battle is against the Israeli occupation and [its] only concern is to restore our rights and serve our people." And, it should be noted, no serious person thinks Hamas won the elections in the Palestinian Authority, because of its religious doctrines. HS says "Palestinian society is among the most secular in the Arab world." Iraq was also a very secular society, unlike our ally Saudi Arabia which is closer to the Taliban. Polls taken after the election showed that 73% of Palestinians favor peace with Israel and the two state formula.

This means there is a real possibility for a negotiated peace, at least from the Palestinian point of view. But what does Hamas want? HS discussed this with a senior Hamas leader and came up with six points that Hamas was willing to let guide its program: recognition of Israel, negotiations with Israel, belief that God gave Palestine to the Muslims [ many Zionists think he really gave it to the Jews-- he should make up his mind] but "temporal realities" must not be ignored so both international law and the state of Israel can be lived with, a cease-fire, reforming Palestine (to get rid of corruption and build the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and the separation of powers), and lastly, not to impose religious behavior or observances on the people. So far this doesn't sound so bad.

HS, however, reminds us that this moderate position contrasts with Hamas' previous "odiousness" with respect to it founding documents (August 1988) which were anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. He also points out that the PLO originally used the same type of language until they engaged in negotiations and learned about the real world. This type of language is also found in the positions of "official Israeli political parties" some of whom advocate ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. It seems all sides have to step back from these types of extreme views. HS' point is that Hamas is doing so, or at least is ready to do so, as a result of its new found responsibilities as a governing power. It is in the best interests of Israel and the US to encourage this evolution, not discourage it.

So what about all the current talk about not dealing with Hamas, punishing the Palestinians for voting for them, etc., (US democratic values at work-- vote only the way we tell you to). Is this a good tactic?

HS quotes the former head of Mossad (the CIA of Israel), Efraim Halevy: "Hamas constitutes about a fifth of Palestinian society... Anyone who thinks Hamas will one day evaporate is [simply] mistaken... [I]n the end there will be no way around Hamas being a partner in the Palestinian government." That was said several years ago, now they are the Palestinian government.

Halevy also said "if they take a moderate approach... we will not view that as a negative development." So-- is the Hamas victory the "end of the peace process"? No, says HS. The peace process was ended in 2000 when Sharon became prime minister of Israel. "More correctly, it was killed-- with malice aforethought--- by Sharon's 'unilateralism'."

Sharon never had any intentions of being a peace partner with the Palestinians. He and his party found, and finds, fault with whomever the Palestinians put forth as leaders. Nor did Sharon even really want a two "state" solution. His West Bank policies, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz, as quoted by HS, mean "the Palestinians are left with no territory on which to establish a state."

All the blather about Hamas having to renounce terrorism, etc., is just a smoke screen. It is also hypocritical since Israel used raw terror itself to set up the state and to enlarge it. In fact, HS references Righteous Victims by Benny Morris (Vintage, 1999) to the effect that the Palestinians learned the "art" of mass terrorism against civilian targets from the Jewish resistance movement in Palestine dating back to 1937. This is not meant to validate the immoral and odious use of suicide bombers and other acts of violence against peaceful civilians by Hamas, but to put things in perspective. The behavior of some of Israel's founding fathers also shows that "terrorists can transform themselves if they have reason to believe that legitimate national goals can be achieved by political means." The US and Israel must, if they really want peace, and that is questionable, show the Palestinians that their legitimate demands can be realized without the use of violence. If they won't do that, who then is responsible for the consequences?

It seems that the US and Israel are talking about peace and fairness only for public consumption, and in reality are doing just the opposite. The real reason for the hostility to Hamas is that it demands real fairness and real negotiations on the grounds of an "uncompromising demand for reciprocity." What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Israel wants to be recognized but, as Hamas asked "Which Israel?" The Israel of the 1967 borders or the Israel which wants to keep large sections of the West Bank and East Jerusalem? As HS says, "If its the latter, Hamas will not recognize Israel." And why should it. If its the latter that means Israel is insincere about peace and only wants more of another people's land.

The bitter truth is, as HS affirms, "that if Hamas were to recognize Israel tomorrow and dismantled its 'terrorist infrastructure,' there would still not be the slightest prospect for a resumption of a peace process..." unless the US forced it (which it won't) on Israel. The sad fact is the present government of Israel has no intention of treating the Palestinians as equal partners in peace. It is building its wall of separation and making off with as much land as it thinks it can. You reap what you sow, and the Israeli government "threatens to foreclose what prospects for Hamas moderation may in fact exist."

POSTSCRIPT: Since the above was written there has been a war crime committed against the Israeli civilian population by Islamic Jihad (New York Times, 4-18-06, "Suicide Bombing In Israel Kills 9". The fact that Israeli state terrorism and war crimes have been committed against the Palestinian people in a far more extensive manner in no way excuses Islamic Jihad for its subhuman moronic attacks on innocent civilians. It puts them on the same level as those who killed Rachel Corrie in cold blood.

The President of the Palestinian authority, Mahmoud Abbas, quite rightly condemned this inhumane attack, it was unworthy of the Palestinian people who were not responsible for the actions of a small faction of fanatics. The Times pointed out Islamic Jihad is the only one of nine Palestinian resistance groups that has refused to engage in a ceasefire currently in effect by the other eight, including Hamas.

Unfortunately, Hamas has endorsed the actions of Islamic Jihad. It is not insignificant that the bombing took place in a working-class neighborhood and that the victims were mostly working people. It shows the immaturity of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad that terror against civilians is lauded in the first place. The fact that neither group sees the difference between the ruling elite and its military and the working people of Israel, potential allies in the struggle for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the peace process, shows that neither group is fit to assume a leadership role. Hamas, however, does have a leadership role and the enemies of peace will be using its incautious and foolish endorsement of the senseless killing of innocent people to further isolate and hurt the people of Palestine.

Already an Israeli government official is blaming Hamas for the attack: "They are responsible because their leaders are encouraging these attacks. It doesn't matter which group did this; it all comes from the same school of terrorism." It of course is never mentioned that the real School of Terrorism is the Occupation. Hamas should realize that the struggle of Palestinian people is both a national struggle and part of a world struggle against imperialism and oppression of all peoples. International solidarity is vital and may well be lost by the immoral endorsements of murderous acts of terrorism committed against working people and other innocent civilians.

Finally, for those who put all the blame for these acts on the Palestinians, they must be reminded, Its the Occupation stupid!

Thomas Riggins in the Book Review Editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Friday, November 03, 2006


Translating "Capitalese" Into Ordinary English
By Thomas Riggins

Recently I read an article in The New York Times business section
("In France, a Bullet Goes Unbitten" Tuesday, April 11, 2006) by Floyd
Norris. It is a very revealing article as it shows how the Times keeps
its well heeled corporate base informed about what is really going on
in the world of capitalist economics. They use their own secret
language to communicate with one another, a language that says one
thing on the surface but has a hidden subtext that, if recognized,
allows the reader to translate "Capitalese" (the secret dialect of the
capitalists) into more meaningful ordinary English. I'll give you an

Norris begins his article talking about the views of an unnamed
(fictional?) CEO of a large transnational "based in France." Mr. X, as
I will call him, laid out his views as to the best means for "needed
economic reform" which would entail "making it much easier to hire and
fire workers." People may talk about the "partnership" between capital
and labor, but here we see that Mr. X only sees workers as pawns to be
hired and fired based on the needs of capital. So as not to mince
words, I will simply say the 'needed economic" reforms entail an
attack on the working class so as to weaken it with respect to capital
and to see how many of the gains it has made in the years since the
Second World War (and before then even) can be taken away.

Norris' Mr. X maintains that the "politicians from all parties" know
that an attack on the working class is necessary. It is also known
that this attack "was unlikely to be popular with voters" (it was an
error to enfranchise the sans culottes). In other words, the
representatives of the political institutions of so called modern
democratic Europe know that they have to launch an undemocratic attack
against the working class and it must be carried out against the
majority will. What better evidence is there that the representatives
of modern day capitalism are opposed to democracy itself and care
nothing for the will of the majority – except to manipulate it.

Mr. X now goes on to tell how this attack on the workers can best be
carried out. The parties should work to get themselves elected then
once in office start to carry out the attack. They know that this will
cause their defeat at the next election, but so what, parties switch
back and forth all the time and work in coalitions with each other
anyway. So the government will be replaced "at the next election by a
government that would then offend the voters by adopting more such
legislation, and in turn be replaced." A completely cynical and
undemocratic procedure.

Mr. X can propose this because, in general, this is just how bourgeois
democracy works in the first place. It is capital that controls the
parties and the parties ultimately represent the class interests of
the capitalists unless the masses can force concessions from them (as
recently happened in France with regard to the labor laws).

Norris says it was almost two years ago that Mr. X put forth these
views, and that he was pretty much correct. Mr. X thought Germany was
more likely than France to be able to follow this scenario. The recent
fall of Gerhard Schroder and the "abrupt surrender" of Jacques Chirac
bears this out.

But, Norris, says it also looks like many politicians are shying away
from the attack. If Silvio Berlusconi is finally out of power in Italy
it maybe because he attacked the workers (upping the retirement age)
and Romano Prodi attacked that measure. We are seeing a left upsurge
which was unforeseen 2 years ago by Mr. X. This does not, however,
change the underlying need to attack the workers and their benefits!

Here is how Norris describes Berlusconi's action – he did it
(increasing the retirement age) to "ease by a little the burden on the
government pension system." Its true that unproductive seniors are a
"burden" from the capitalist point of view but the burden could also
be eased by a small increase in the tax rate on capital. This would
amount to a small portion of the surplus value extorted from the
workers being turned over to the state pension system. Norris does not
mention this possibility.

Norris also tells us that the "pressures of globalization mean that
Europe must eventually change." This means that whatever victories in
the short run the workers may now be celebrating, the capitalist
attack upon them will not go away. This pressure is that the cost to
reproduce labor power in the third world is considerably cheaper than
in Europe.

For the time being there appears to be a standoff in France. The
coming year will let us see if Mr. X's scheme is going to get some play
or not. At least in Germany we can expect the attack on the workers to
soon get underway again. Meanwhile, France, Italy, and to a lesser
extent Spain are in the pressure cooker. So far the Spanish socialist
government has been playing a fairly progressive role. Lets hope the
new Italian center-left coalition government follows suit and that the
left also wins a solid victory in the upcoming (2007) presidential
election in France. Stay tuned.

--Thomas Riggins is the Book Review Editor of Political Affairs and
can be reached at

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


BOOK ROUND UP #16: The Disposable American & Kabul In Winter
By Thomas Riggins [PA Archives]

Here is another of our previews (reviews of reviews) of new books of interest to the progressive community. If any of our readers would like to submit a full review of any of these books (800 words) please contact me at The previous 15 Book Round Ups are archived on our website.

THE DISPOSABLE AMERICAN: LAYOFFS AND THEIR CONSEQUENCES by Louis Uchitelle, Alfred A. Knopf, 283 pp., reviewed by Thomas Geoghegan in The New York Times 3/29/2006.

According to this book, layoffs are "hollowing" out companies, wiping out middle-class jobs [only middle-class?] thus making the country suffer, and driving the middle-class, as the reviewer [TG] puts it, to "often drop permanently to a demeaning, low-wage way of life." So layoffs have three strikes against them-- but that doesn't mean they are going to be out.
There is some class bias going on here. Low-wage jobs are "demeaning" and the middle-class has to be protected from them! The author [LU] gets credit for the following, according to TG, he "effectively wrecks the claim that all this downsizing makes the country more productive, more competitive, more flexible." Both TG and LU seem to miss the point that downsizing isn't done for the sake of "the country" its done for the sake of Capital. The "middle-class" appears to be composed of both white collar salaried workers and skilled blue collar workers. No Marxist understanding of class appears in this review.

There also appears to be an unresolved contradiction at work here. LU writes, "Rather than try to outstrip foreign competitors in innovation, a costly and risky process, we gave up in product after product." But this is not a failure of nerve! Capital is adverse to risk and takes the path of profit maximization. Capital is international now and can engage in innovation using Chinese and Indian scientists overseas without exposing itself to "a costly and risky process." Thus, while bemoaning the layoffs consequent upon downsizing, LU also recognizes that "The global economy is not to be denied." You can't have it both ways.

Most of the book is taken up with reporting all the bad consequences of layoffs that put the entire "middle-class at risk." LU demands that we put an end to layoffs, but TG doesn't even give a hint as to what the plan might be to accomplish this. This is no doubt because of the undeniability of the global economy. TG even says "that it is unclear whether Mr. Uchitelle sees any good solutions now...."

The fact of the matter is that the values of commodities are basically set by their production costs and this includes the cost of the production of labor power. Overseas labor power can be reproduced at lower production costs than domestic labor power so downsizing and layoffs will continue until that imbalance is rectified either by domestic living conditions falling to third world levels, or third world conditions rising (other factors remaining equal). For the second alternative to take place will require a furious class-struggle by working people all over the world working in concert with one another. We are experiencing globally what working people experienced on a localized national level in the nineteenth century.

These words from the Communist Manifesto (slightly modified for stylistic reasons) are still relevant: "with the development of industry [ globalization] the working people not only increase in number but become concentrated in greater masses, their strength grows, and they feel that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within their ranks are more and more equalized, in proportion as machinery [global production today--TR] obliterates all distinctions of labor, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level." The counterpoise to this tendency is for national unions and labor movements to become truly international in outlook and action. LU and TG don't realize it but the solution to the problem that so exercises them is to be found within Marxism.

KABUL IN WINTER: LIFE WITHOUT PEACE IN AFGHANISTAN by Ann Jones, Illustrated Metropolitan Books, 321 pp., reviewed by William Grimes in The New York Times April 5, 2006.

Grimes [WG] tells us this book is "three things at once". A "travel book", "a work of impassioned reportage" and "a diatribe, a barely coherent rant directed at President Bush" and everyone else the author thinks responsible for all the destruction and death in Afghanistan. Most alarming are the author's [AJ] observations on the status of women in the country. They seem to be considered as subhuman by the men! WG tells us that "Wife-beating is universal" and that women are forced into arranged marriages with men "they fear or loathe" and many of them kill themselves (by self-immolation) out of despair. He also reports that "When a woman brings shame on her family for any reason--- the reasons can be many and, by Western standards, trivial-- suicide is the only option."

AJ tells the story of a woman whose first child was a girl and when her second child was also a girl her husband said to her (he wanted a boy): "if you do this to me again, I will kill you." Somebody should tell these people where the y chromosome comes from!

WG informs us that "Afghans created [he should say 'male Afghans'-tr] created this social structure all by themselves." And AJ writes that, WG reports, "Nostalgia for the days of Soviet occupation is growing." I can believe that. The social structure WG credits the Afghans with making all by themselves was on the way out under the pro-Soviet and pro-socialist Afghan government the US helped bin Laden and the fundamentalists overthrow in the 1980s. That government was training teachers and building schools for coeducational classes, stressed equality for women, and was in general bringing the Afghan people into the 20th Century based on the ideals of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that every UN member is supposed to follow and is completely in the ashcan now in Afghanistan due to US policies.

I forgot to mention what AJ's "barely coherent rant" was all about. WG is upset by the fact that she "views the United States as an imperialist power [gasp!] bent on shaping the world to its narrow interests and, with malice aforethought, imposing free-market economics on the oppressed people's of the world." Where did she ever get such a crazy idea?

Thomas Riggins is the Book Review Editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at