Monday, January 29, 2007

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Kudos to Garry Wills, from whom excerpts follow (below):

We hear constantly now about ‘our commander in chief.’ The word has become a synonym for ‘president.’ It is said that we ‘elect a commander in chief.’ It is asked whether this or that candidate is ‘worthy to be our commander in chief.’ But the president is not … the commander in chief of civilians. … When Abraham Lincoln took actions based on military considerations, he gave himself the proper title, ‘commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.’ That title is rarely — more like never — heard today. It is just ‘commander in chief,’ or even ‘commander in chief of the United States.’”

“This reflects the increasing militarization of our politics. The citizenry at large is now thought of as under military discipline. … We must simply trust our lords and obey the commander in chief. … We used to take pride in civilian leadership of the military under the Constitution, a principle that George Washington embraced when he avoided military symbols at Mount Vernon. We are not led — or were not in the past — by caudillos.”

To add, we’re also told that the United States is itself a “battleground” in the war on terrorism, to which the “war at home” is frequently alluded.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Does our beloved Coca-Cola, the “classic” “real thing” that always refreshes and is nearly ubiquitous in our land, hire paramilitary death squads in Latin America to assassinate bottler workers trying to unionize their plants?

There is ample documentation pointing the blame squarely on the supposed death merchants at Coke, as well as case after case of all-too-convenient murders which are alleged to be occurring up to the present day. If such a case proves true, the bare moral minimum would be to end all business and sever its ties. This could be prompted by a student-led boycott of Coca-Cola and its subsidiary brands, which includes Minute Maid, PowerAde and others.

The incidents are not widely reported in the mainstream — with the apparent exceptions of two respective reports in the New York Times from 2001 and 2003, alleging that the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (known as the AUC) has, and continues, to slaughter unionists under the orders of bottling firms like the Panamco Industrial de Gaseosas, “the major Coke bottler in Colombia.” The Times also explains that the legal basis for filing lawsuits against these actions “interfere[s] with foreign policy and open[s] multinational companies to frivolous or irrelevant grievances,” according to Bush administration officials cited.

By that standard, the taking of human lives is either immaterial or — probably worse — completely necessary for the interests of corporate dominion, anywhere it looks to operate with impunity and with total sanction. Yet there are other, more substantiating accounts that bear mentioning. In the Nation (“The Case Against Coca-Cola,” 1 May 2006), free-lancer Michael Blanding quotes Javier Correa, the president of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos, which is known as Sinaltrainal, as saying that Coca-Cola policy is “to not only eliminate the union but to destroy its workers,” and stated that Sinaltrainal “membership has fallen from about 1,400 to less than 400” from 1996 to 2006.

Ed Potter, the labor-relations director at Coke, put up a seemingly good front that Blanding demolished as “at best irrelevant and at worst misleading.” It may be unfair, however, to blame Potter on that basis since he’s simply doing his job. It might also be worth noting that the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations, thankfully abbreviated as the IUF, “condemned the anti-Coke movement” as “‘based on unsubstantiated allegations and empty political slogans,’” according to the National Review. On the other hand, the allegations seem far from unsubstantiated.

Yet in September 2006, the District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that the Alien Tort Claims Act, under which Sinaltrainal sued the Coke bottlers for human rights violations, did not give the court enough “subject matter jurisdiction” to decide whether the allegations were “in violation of the law of nations,” according to the docket signed off by José Martinez, the presiding judge. The court also ruled that “there is a risk that vague … allegations will allow individuals … to engage in unwarranted ‘fishing expeditions’ against corporate entities and to abuse the judicial process in order to pursue political agendas.” All outstanding charges against the Coca-Cola bottling companies were thrown out.

For the record, here are some of the names of the slain workers, in fact murders for which Coca-Cola appears to bear responsibility — and, by extension, ourselves as consumers — according to what has so far been recorded: Oscar Darío Soto, José Eleazar Manco, Luis Enrique Gómez, Isídro Segundo Gil, and dozens of others. More than a few other workers, including Luis Adolfo Cardona, Juan Carlos Gavis, Jorgé Humberto Leal and José Domingo Flores, were tortured by security forces — or captured, intimidated, brutally handled and lucky to escape alive.

Within all of this, boycotts are not guaranteed to be successful; about that no one should have any illusions. A vibrant, sustained campaign against Coca-Cola could have an important educational effect as well as shed more light on what continue to be largely hidden abuses, specifically those acts of brutality against the very lowest links of a long chain that reaches right up to cafeterias and hallways in college campuses throughout the nation. There looks to be both promise and peril in any kind of undertaking to stop man’s inhumanity to man. And it ought to be a common-sense position that no organization should have a legitimate reason to do business with a criminal outfit, even if by proxy.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Doomsday Clock has been pushed to five minutes to midnight.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

MORE ON IRAN: Dariush Zahedi and Omid Memarian, from openDemocracy, report that US-Iran relations are definitely going to sour further as this new year goes forward, thanks to the response of the reactionary fanatics at the helm in Tehran to the December municipal elections — and the coming “confrontation” with the United States, where (not by Zahedi and Memarian’s mention) the response of the reactionary fanatics at the helm in Washington to the November elections has continued to unfold.*

Zahedi and Memarian do point out the “ideological zealotry” of the Ahmadinejad clique that is threatening Iran, including whatever democratic prospects exist within the society; those aspirations look sort of hopeful now, but that could change. Nonetheless, any zealotry that aggresses toward peace and affronts historical memory must be condemned without equivocation. Extremism within and without Iran may cripple the hope of a democratic future, but not unless Iranians and Americans of good faith do a damn good thing or two about it.

*No hesitation will be drawn here to point out the critical parallels between the leaders that are bringing their respective countries ever closer to war. Much like Bush, Ahmadinejad has distracted Iranians from disastrous economic policies with bellicosity and aggression, thinly masked with diplomatic pretense. There is of course a major difference here; we have a much larger economy to ruin and we bear the guilt and shame of foreign aggression and invasion, which does not really apply to Iran. Their government sponsors terror groups for their strategic purposes; so does ours (Hezb’ullah and the Mujahideen-e Khalq, respectively, for one example).

Monday, January 15, 2007

UPDATING IRRELEVANT POST (Jan. 11): According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a surge carries the nautical sense of “strain,” which evokes the stress and strain, and fracturing and breaking, of the U.S. Armed Forces. Thanks, chief.
“And if I’m wasting my time,
then nothing could be better/
than hanging on the line,
and waitin’ for an honest word forever”

— Jack White

Thursday, January 11, 2007

JUST A NOTE: Don’t really want to talk about this at much length, but there are interesting things about the idea of a surge, linguistically. Bear with me.

Dictionary.com is not authoritative, but it has something useful here for surge. The principal definition is “a strong, wavelike volume or body of something,” in this case several armed brigades storming into the boroughs of Baghdad. Fine; that’s the main image.

In meteorological parlance, a surge can be attributed to “normal diurnal changes,” as in the back and forth of the seas as dictated by the impersonal forces of lunar gravity. What goes up goes down. As a electrical term, surges are irrational spikes of voltage that “oscillate violently,” with unpredictable results. You cannot channel a surge constructively. Nautically, a surge refers to the slackening and “slip[ping] back” of rope, indicating retreat, going backward.

Not the New Way Forward we’re promised, then. Finally, in terms of mechanics, a surge is “something driven by an engine,” therefore without appeal to reason. To me it suggests a shift in the gears of the war machine, panicking and squealing out of control as it approaches the edge of a cliff. Don’t forget that surge is central to insurgency. Maybe the United States is better off with some surge protection.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Probably won’t be able to make it to the Young Democratic Socialists* conference this February, which also coincides with the fourth birthday of this ’blog. Anyway, looks interesting and maybe a good place to meet some people; you know, those naïve idealists folks hear so much about.

The focus, according to some of the literature they have and including their bare-bones flyer, is the usual anti-corporate, anti-imperialism stuff. The phrase “anti-capitalist” does indeed sound scary to many an American ear; suffice it to say the idea of anti-corporatism is genuinely pro-market, or at least that’s my crazy thinking.

But for whoever does have a car or whatever, and actually has some money and the time and the interest or what-have-you, check it out. Why not; this country is worth saving. (Then report back to me. Nah, that’s alright.)

*The term democratic socialism (DS) simultaneously sounds threatening and contradictory. But from what passes as my awareness of it, DS sounds well in keeping with the spirit of our Founding Fathers and the Republic they created, and therefore totally benign; but maybe there’s my naiveté. Regardless, democracy and socialism don’t inherently conflict (except for the communist off-shoot, which can rot in hell).

Monday, January 08, 2007

On Sunday, the Washington Post printed up a staggeringly complex graphic blaring out the corporate campaign contributions — per sector — to the House and Senate chairmanships, from the outgoing to the incoming people, etc. (Karen Yourish and Laura Stanton, “Congress Changes Hands — or Does It?” 7 January 2007, B2) The rhetorical question: “… is the 110th [Congress] really all that different from the 109th?” (No.)

According to my ’rithmetic, just taking the difference between the figures of the old and new in aggregate, out of the total contributions from each place (the Post uses data from the Center for Responsive Politics), you get: two percent less piggy-backing in the House and three-tenths of one percent less in the Senate (where you have the biggest offenders, notably Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden).

Oh, how politics is such a horrid game.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

You know what’s a great movie? The Front Page. (That’s all.)