Saturday, April 29, 2006
Now that my conference circuit is over, that means its time for, ai lana, the conference submission period to begin again! Next year, I think I'll do way less conferences, since I won't be writing as much in terms of my school work. The reason last year's was so packed was because my papers were in different ways related to the thesis I am writing right now for Ethnic Studies at UCSD.
I'm pasting below my most recent abstract, which I've discussed on this blog before a few times. Its building off of a short zine article I had published in Third Space last year, and I'll be expanding it to become the conclusion for my current master's thesis, as well as my presentation for the CCCC in New York in 2007.
Just thought I'd share it below:
“Things to Do in Guam When You’re Dead.”
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
University of California, San Diego, Ethnic Studies
Given that Guam is one of the last “official” colonies in the world, and one of the United States’ most strategically vital military assets in projecting its military power in the Pacific, you might think that local cries to decolonize the island would be common. Such is not the case as discourses on Guam/Chamorro dependency upon the US are far louder than any pleas to please decolonize. I refer to this resistance as the decolonial deadlock, a pervasive miasma and opposition to any transformative form of decolonization.
Discussions of decolonization by the majority of Guam people, Chamorro and non-Chamorro alike are a cruel mixture of impossibility and death. Questions of “how will we survive?” persist, not in an earnest desire to know, but in a concerted attempt to push the possibility of decolonization away. These false questions are supported by delusions of the decolonized Chamorro as bringing about “the night of the world” and the end of modernity as Guam descends into social chaos, drug addiction and is invaded by Chinese communists without the saving presence of the US. The sinthome that binds this ideation together is the commonly said, but more commonly thought notion that, “decolonization is suicide.”
My argument for this paper, is that per the theories of Fanon, Lacan and Zizek, decolonization as suicide, meaning the death of the Chamorro entangled in colonizing desires, is the way to break out of this decolonial deadlock. Therefore, the ultimate thing to do in Guam when you’re dead, is decolonize!
Friday, April 28, 2006
As the Left searched for a way to reconstitute itself, both on a broader scale and with a more appealing message, these texts are the answer. After all Empire was referred to as the first intellectual blockbluster, and No Logo is called in the article below, "the Das Kapital of the growing anti-corporate movement."
Hunggan, guaha didide' ni' umestotba put este na lepblo siha. Lao hinassosso-ku kao taibali i tinacha? Yanggen mumetgotna i kinalmten i Inakague' put este, kao debi di bei suppote este, achokka' bula na ti hu konfotme giya Siha?
Mungga mahasso na bai hu traiduti Si Naomi Klein. Hu guaiya gui' yan i che'cho'-na sinembatgo, lao i mensahi-na kalang taisakrfisio, ya ti hu hongge' na matulaike pat magoggue' i mindo sin sakrifisio.
Published on Saturday, September 23, 2000 in the Guardian/UK
Hand-To-Brand-Combat: A Profile Of Naomi Klein
As a teenager, Naomi Klein was a dedicated mall rat, fixated on designer labels. A bare decade later, the author of a life-changing book on anti-corporatism and the new politics, she is at the heart of the protest at the current World Bank summit in Prague. She tells Katharine Viner how everything turned around for her
by Katharine Viner
From the age of six, growing up in Canada, Naomi Klein was obsessed with brand names, and what she could buy. She had a thing about the bright signs she saw from the back-seat window of the family car: McDonald's, Texaco, Burger King and, especially, the fluorescent yellow gorgeousness of Shell: "So bright and cartoon-like I was convinced that, if I could climb up and touch it, it would be like touching something from another dimension - from the world of TV." She used to stitch little fake alligators on to her T-shirts so they would look like Lacoste, had a Saturday job in Esprit (they had the best logo), and her biggest fights with her parents were over Barbie and the price of designer jeans. In her high-school yearbook - where some are labeled"most likely to succeed" - she was "most likely to be in jail for stealing peroxide". She was defined by the products she used to change the color of her hair.
But now, aged 30, Klein has written a book, No Logo, which has been called "the Das Kapital of the growing anti-corporate movement". The teenager fixated on brand names has become a campaigner against our over-branded world, and a popularizer of the kind of anti-corporate ideas that are currently fueling protesters against the IMF/World Bank meeting in Prague. The book has been a word-of-mouth sensation, giving voice to a generation of people under 30 who have never related to politics until now. The band Radiohead were so inspired by No Logo that they have banned corporate advertising from their British tour, deeming all venues "logo-free" - Ed O'Brien, the guitarist, says, "No Logo certainly made me feel less alone. She was writing everything I was trying to make sense of in my head. It was very uplifting."
As a chronicler of what she calls "the next big political movement - and the first genuinely international people's movement" - Klein writes that Nike paid Michael Jordan more in 1992 for endorsing its trainers ($20 million) than the company paid its entire 30,000-strong Indonesian workforce for making them; why, in her opinion, this makes people angry; and why that anger is expressed in rallies outside the Nike Town superstore, rather than outside government buildings or embassies. She shows how globalization has hit the poor the most, and how this new political movement is both historically informed and absolutely of the moment, like nothing that has gone before.
And, as we shall see, it was bound to be some- one such as Naomi Klein who would be both at the heart of anti-corporatism and interpret it for everyone else. The anti-corporate movement is resolutely disparate, and has no leaders; but it is no coincidence that its most prominent popularizer should be a 30-year-old woman from North America (the heart of wealth and power), whose political background is a leftwing family and a teenage rebellion through shopping. As we shall see, she is perfectly placed to reflect these times.
Klein's argument starts with what we all recognize. Logos, she says, are "the closest thing we have to an international language, by force of ubiquity". Most of the world's six billion people could identify the McDonald's sign, or the Coca-Cola symbol - we are united by what we are being sold. And the selling, these days, isn't just in magazines or on billboards: Gordon's gin fills British cinemas with the smell of juniper berries; in some Scandinavian countries, you can get "free" long-distance calls if you consent to ads cutting into your telephone conversations; Nasa has solicited ads to run on its space stations. There's no escape.
Furthermore, advertising today is not merely about selling products; it is about selling a brand, a dream, a message. So Nike's aim is not to sell trainers but to "enhance people's lives through sports and fitness". IBM doesn't sell computers, it sells "solutions". And as for Polaroid, well, it's not a camera - it's a "social lubricant". You sell the message of your brand, not your product, and you can expand as widely as you like. As Richard Branson says, you "build brands not around products but around reputation" - and leap from record shops to cola to banking to trains.
But Branson's trains show how fragile this strategy might be - if Virgin trains don't run on time, why should you trust his bank? Or look what happened to Nike - from being "the spirit of sports" in the early 90s, the campaign against its use of atrocious sweatshops in developing countries led CEO Phil Knight to confess in 1998 that his shoes "have become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse". When it's no longer just about trainers, when the corporations have promised so much more - a way of life! - they have very much more to lose.
What's more, says Klein, people start to resent the colonization of their lives. Fine, they say, I'll buy my shoes from you, but I don't want you to take over my head. Young activists, says Klein, feel that their cultural and political space has been taken away and sold back to them, neatly-packaged, as "alternative" or "anti-sexist" or "anti-racist". So Seattle grunge (including its star, Kurt Cobain) implodes through commercialization, and the designer Christian Lacroix says, "It's terrible to say, very often the most exciting outfits are from the poorest people." So the Body Shop displays posters condemning domestic violence and Nike runs an ad saying, "I believe high heels are a conspiracy against women." So Nike signs up black stars such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, and then adorns the walls of Nike Town with quotes from Woods saying, "There are still courses in the US where I am not allowed to play, because of the color of my skin." It's anti-racism without the politics; 50 years of civil-rights history reduced to an anodyne advertising slogan.
Next, the big brands effectively force out small businesses and take over as much physical space as possible, with mergers and synergy being the business buzzwords. Starbucks coffee shops (once they have co-opted a right-on, third-world-loving, world-music-playing milieu) operate by "clustering": an area becomes saturated with branches, local cafes close down (preferably well-liked independent ones in groovy areas) and the big brands take over. Meanwhile, McDonald's wages a 26-year battle against a man called Ronald McDonald whose McDonald's Family Restaurant in a small town in Illinois was founded in 1956. How dare he be born with the same name as a corporate giant?
And while the corporations are busy doing what they think is important - branding a way of life, putting the squeeze on independent shopkeepers, and the like - someone, somewhere, has to make the stuff. This may be a time of "degraded production in the age of the superbrand", as Klein puts it, but corporations do tend to need a product somewhere along the line. The "death of manufacturing" is only a western phenomenon - as we're consuming more products than ever, someone must be making them. But it's difficult to find out who. As Klein says, "the shift in attitude toward production is so profound that, where a previous era of consumer goods corporations displayed their logos on the facades of their factories, many of today's brand-based multinationals maintain that the location of their production operations is a 'trade secret', to be guarded at all costs." Very often, it seems, they are produced under terrible conditions in free-trade zones in Indonesia, China, Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere.
The sweatshops Klein visited in Cavite, the largest free-trade zone in the Philippines, have rules against talking and smiling. There is forced overtime, but no job security - it's "no work, no pay" when the orders don't come in. Toilets are padlocked except during two 15-minute breaks per day - seamstresses sewing clothes for western high-street chains told Klein that they have to urinate in plastic bags under their machines. Women like Carmelita Alonzo, who sewed clothes for the Gap and Liz Claiborne, had a two-hour commute home, and died after being denied time off for pneumonia, a common illness in these factories. As Klein says, people are now demanding to know why, if the big brands have so much power and influence over price and marketing, they do not also have the power to demand and enforce ethical labor standards from such suppliers.
And don't think, says Klein, that the developing world is the only place for exploitation by western industry. "Cavite may be capitalism's dream vacation, but casualization is a game that can be played at home," she writes. Europe and North America have played host to the most extraordinary rise in impermanence at work over the past two decades. The "McJob" is a contemporary template: low-paid, no benefits, no union recognition and no guarantee that your job will be there in the morning. At Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer which opened its first British shop in July after buying Asda, "full time" in its US branches means just 28 hours a week; the average annual wage is a barely-livable $10,920. "You can buy two grande mocha cappuccinos with my hourly salary," says Laurie Bonang, a worker in Starbucks. Microsoft, the gleaming testament to the hi-tech products of our future, has an extraordinary one-third of its workforce working as temps. As Klein says, "It was Microsoft, with its famous employee stock-option plan, that developed and fostered the mythology of Silicon Gold; but it is also Microsoft that has done the most to dismantle it."
So what happens when working conditions and modes of production fail to match up to a glorious, positive, right-on brand identity? People start to get angry.
Anti-corporate activism is on the rise precisely because branding has worked so well, believes Klein, in a neat example of the Marxist idea that capitalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. "Multinationals such as Nike, Microsoft and Starbucks have sought to become the chief communicators of all that is good and cherished in our culture: art, sport, community, connection, equality. But the more successful this project is, the more vulnerable these companies become. When they do wrong, their crimes are not dismissed as the misdemeanors of another corporation trying to make a buck. This is a connection more akin to the relationship of fan and celebrity: emotionally intense, but shallow enough to turn on a dime." Having lived that relationship with consumer goods herself, Klein knows just how it feels.
She says that anti-brand activism is taking place on two fronts. "On the one hand, it's throwing bricks through McDonald's window in Seattle. On the other, it's saying that we actually want the real thing, the real 'third place' [not home, not work] that Starbucks tries to sell to us, the real public space. People are saying: 'I do want real community, this is a strong and powerful idea, and I resent the fact that this idea has been stolen from me.' You've got these products that are held up on insane pedestals - all of the collective longings of our culture have been projected on to lattes or trainers. So there's a process of actively denting the facade of the brand with the reality of the production."
This deconstruction takes many forms, some more successful than others. The activism includes "culture jamming", whereby ads are subverted by "guerrilla artists" to send anti-corporate messages out to the public; jammers paint hollow skulls on the faces of Gap models, or change an Apple ad featuring the Dalai Lama and the slogan "Think Different" to "Think Disillusioned". It includes the campaign group Reclaim The Streets, which started in Britain partly in response to the 1994 Criminal Justice Act and which focuses its concerns on environmentalism and the removal of public space; they stop cars, block a road and have a party on it. Reclaim The Streets is now an international movement - on May 16, 1998, 30 Global Street Parties took place around the world.
Students in North America, meanwhile, have been active in anti-sweatshop campaigns, most noticeably since 1995-96, which Andrew Ross, author of anti-sweatshop textbook No Sweat, calls "the year of the sweatshop". It was a year that brought many revelations. One typical example: a factory manager making clothes in El Salvador for a major US clothing firm announced that "blood will flow" if anyone joined a union. And another, more shocking for the American public: the named-brand clothes line of TV presenter Kathie Lee Gifford (a bit like Lorraine Kelly, only cheesier) was manufactured by child laborers in Honduras and in illegal sweatshops in New York. (She cried on TV and became an anti-sweatshop campaigner herself.) Guess, Mattel, Disney and Nike were the targets of similar exposés.
The tactics of many of these anti-sweatshop groups involve "head-on collisions between image and reality", says Klein, whether it is filming an Indonesian Nike worker gasping as she learns that the trainers she made for $2 a day sell for $120 a pair in San Francisco Nike Town, or comparing the hourly salary of Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney ($9,783), with that of a Haitian worker who stitches Disney merchandise (28 cents).
Other brand tactics simply hit companies where it hurts most. Nike didn't seem too bothered about the campaign against it that took off so vehemently in the US in the mid-90s, until a group of black 13-year-olds from the Bronx, the company's target market and the one exploited by it to get a street-cool image, learned that the trainers they bought for $180 cost $5 to make, which led to a mass dumping of their old Nike trainers outside New York's Nike Town. (One boy, reports Klein, looked straight into the TV news camera and, showing a brand understanding that should alert his elders, said, "Nike, we made you. We can break you.")
The UK's McLibel trial, which began in 1990, hurt McDonald's so seriously - even though the firm eventually won the case - because it forced the hamburger giant to be open about its business practices. After suing two British environmentalists for libel, the firm was forced to spend a humiliating 313 days in court, the longest trial in British history, defending every last detail of its business and making a number of spectacular gaffes along the way, such as one executive's claim that Coca-Cola is nutritious because it is "providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet"; and another's that McDonald's burial of rubbish in landfill sites is "a benefit, otherwise you will end up with lots of vast empty gravel pits all over the country".
Some activists use the courtroom; others, such as those opposed to Shell's involvement with the Nigerian military government that devastated the Ogoni lands and executed their champion, the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1994, focus on issues of freedom of expression. Others humiliate corporations on TV, take over roads, jam ads, gather wherever there is an international summit (Auckland, Vancouver, Manila, Birmingham, London, Geneva, Kuala Lumpur, Cologne, Washington DC, Seattle, Prague), wreck a McDonald's before it has even been built (the Peasant Confederation in Millau, France). And in the developing world, home to the main victims of the global economy, rural activists burn GM seeds and hold laughing protests (Karnataka state farmers in India, who claim to number 10 million), revolt against the privatization of the water system (Bolivia), strike and take over the national university over a World Bank edict to raise student fees (Mexican students). The protest in Seattle was so huge because it was diverse; the US union movement marched side by side with the head of the Filipino peasant movement. It is global, anarchic and chaotic, like the internet it uses to organize; it is, says Klein, "the internet come to life".
When we meet, Klein serves a fruity drink that, its maker's claim, is packed with intelligence-boosting herbs. (I don't remember the brand name.) She is shy at first, and then not shy at all. She doesn't wear Gap or drink Starbucks, and is a lively and witty speaker (in public, too); her conversation is full of pop culture vernacular and jokes against herself. We sit in her backyard in Toronto, which has a flourishing 'No Logo' clematis (named to celebrate finishing her book), and are interrupted a couple of times: first by her husband, Avi Lewis, a big TV star in Canada for his hugely successful, four-times-a-week political discussion program; then by his mother, Michele Landsberg, one of Canada's foremost radical feminists, bearing gossip and a salmon. Klein and Lewis married because they wanted to "have a big party", but they don't wear rings because they don't want to be branded as married. Entertaining, political, down-to-earth, they clearly have a great time together; Lewis says that, since he met Klein, he's "got a lot more serious and had a lot more fun".
Klein grew up with politics all around her. Her grandparents were American Marxists in the 30s and 40s; her grandfather was an animator at Disney who was fired and blacklisted for organizing the company's first strike. Her parents, who are also American, moved to Canada in protest at the Vietnam war. Her father is a doctor and her mother, Bonnie Klein, made the seminal anti-pornography film, This Is Not A Love Story, in 1980. "My mother was really involved in the anti-pornography movement, and when I was at school I found it very oppressive to have a very public feminist mother - it was a source of endless embarrassment. When This Is Not A Love Story came out, there was a lot of backlash against my mother. The headline in the Toronto Globe And Mail was "Bourgeois Feminist Fascist", and she was made Hustler magazine's asshole of the month; they took my mother's head and put it on the back of a donkey. It was not cool in 1980 to be making films about pornography. Not at my elementary school, anyway."
This, she says, is part of the reason she wanted nothing to do with politics when she was growing up. "I think it's why I embraced full-on consumerism. I was in constant conflict with my parents and I wanted them to leave me the hell alone." Her brother, who is two years older, did not go through the same kind of rebellion: "I don't think he was quite so much a victim of the 80s as I was. We had no culture growing up. We had Cyndi Lauper."
So, after years of obsession with Barbie, Girl's World and Disneyland, what brought about the change? "I know the only way that I escaped the mall - which is not to say that I don't ever go, or enjoy it - the only way I got consumerism and vanity into a sane place in my life, though I don't think we are ever rid of them, was just by becoming interested in other things. It's that simple. Saying that you're a bad person for buying this or wanting this only turns people off." Klein was all set to go to the University of Toronto to study English and philosophy when her mother had a very severe stroke aged 46. She took a year off to care for her. "I think that's what stopped me from being such a brat."
When she went to university a year later, a major news event ensured that her politicization was inevitable. "The pivotal moment politically for me was in December 1989, when there was a massacre at the University of Montreal. A man went into the engineering school - he had failed to get a place - and he separated the men from the women, shouted, 'You're all a bunch of fucking feminists', and opened fire. He killed 14 women. There was nothing like that incident in Canadian history - this is not America, where serial murders happen all the time - and it was a hate crime against women. It was a cataclysmic moment. It politicized us enormously. Of course, after that you call yourself a feminist."
It was also at university that Klein learned what it's like to be attacked for her opinions. She is Jewish, and during the intifada she wrote an article in the student newspaper called Victim To Victimizer, in which she said "that not only does Israel have to end the occupation for the Palestinians, but also it has to end the occupation for its own people, especially its women". As a result of this one 800-word article, Klein received bomb threats at her home and at the newspaper office - "and to this day I have never been more scared for my life".
"After the article came out, the Jewish students' union, who were staunch Zionists, called a meeting to discuss what they were going to do about my article - and I went along, because nobody knew what I looked like. And the woman sitting next to me said, 'If I ever meet Naomi Klein, I'm going to kill her.' So I just stood up and said, 'I'm Naomi Klein, I wrote Victim To Victimizer, and I'm as much a Jew as every single one of you.' I've never felt anything like the silence in that room after that. I was 19, and it made me tough."
Klein became an outspoken feminist activist at college, campaigning on issues of media representation and gender visibility that constituted feminism at the end of the 80s - she received rape threats as a result - and, rather than finish her degree, she dropped out to work as an intern on the Toronto Globe And Mail. She left to become editor of an alternative political magazine, This Magazine. "When I was there [in the early 90s], I did not feel that we were part of a political movement in any way - in that there was not a left. We had to kind of invent it as we went along. The stress of it was the stress of the left. It burned us out." The left that did exist Klein found depressing. "The only thing leftwing voices were saying was stop the cuts, stop the world we want to get off. It was very negative and regressive, it wasn't imaginative, it didn't have its own sense of itself in any way."
It was around this time that advertising and branding started to co-opt alternative politics and culture. "On the one hand, there was this total paralysis of the left. But, at the exact same time, all these ideas that I had thought were the left - feminism and diversity and gay and lesbian rights - were suddenly very chic. So, on the one hand, you're politically totally disempowered, and on the other all the imagery is pseudo-feminist, Benetton is an anti-racism organization, Starbucks does this third-world-chic thing. I watched my own politics become commercialized." This imagery was, she says, a "mask for capitalism. It was making it more difficult to see the power dynamics in society. Because this was a time when there was a growing income gap between rich and poor that was quite staggering all over the world - and yet everything looked way more equitable, in terms of the imagery of the culture."
Klein went back to university in 1995 to try to finish her degree, and something very clearly had changed. "I met this new generation of young radicals who had grown up taking for granted the idea that corporations are more powerful than governments, that it doesn't matter who you elect because they'll all act the same. And they were, like, fine, we'll go where the power is. We'll adapt. It didn't fill them with dread and depression. When I was at university before, we thought our only power was to ban something - but they were very hands-on, DIY, if you don't like something change it, cut it, paste it, download it. Even though I don't think culture jamming by itself is a powerful political tool, there's something about that posture that's impressive - it's unintimidated hand-to-brand contact. The young activists I know have grounded their political activism in economic analysis and an understanding of how power works. They're way more sophisticated than we were because they've had to be. Because capitalism is way more sophisticated now.
"I think I'm lucky because I got to witness a significant shift, something that changed, and I wanted to document that shift. And it seemed very, very clear to me that if there was going to be a future for the left it would have to be an anti-corporate movement."
And so, Seattle in November last year - where 50,000 demonstrators actually prevented a major WTO meeting from happening - did she expect it to be so big? "Oh no. Seattle surprised me with its militancy. It surprised the organizers. It surprised everyone. I mean, this was the States . There were all these underground networks of activism, and it just came to life. Right now, the movement is at the stage of grassroots ferment - and it'll either degenerate into chaos or it'll come together organically into something new."
The first thing people tend to ask Klein is where she shops. Does she buy Nike trainers? Does she never nip into Starbucks for a grande cappuccino? Is her wardrobe certifiably sweatshop-free? "I'm the worst person to ask these questions," she says, "because since the book came out people really are watching what I buy. If I walked around Toronto with a Starbucks, it would be seen that I was endorsing that brand." But, she says, for anyone who hasn't written a book about corporations and sweatshops, it's a different matter. "I firmly believe that it's not about where you shop. I'm lucky in that I happen to live a few blocks from some great independent designers, so I actually can shop in stores where I know where stuff is produced. But I can't say that to a 17-year-old girl in the suburbs who can only shop at the mall. It's not a fair message.
"This is not a consumer issue; it's a political issue. There is a way for us to respond as citizens that is not simply as consumers. Over and over again, people's immediate response to these issues is: what do I buy? I have to immediately solve this problem through shopping. But you can like the products and not like the corporate behavior; because the corporate behavior is a political issue, and the products are just stuff. The movement is really not about being purer-than-thousand producing a recipe for being an ethical consumer. That drains a lot of political energy."
Is this why she published in Britain with Flamingo, part of the Murdoch-owned HarperCollins, a major corporation if ever there was one? "To be honest, I really did not have my pick of publishers in Britain. Only one wanted the book. What I said when I signed with HarperCollins was that I was going to go out of my way to write about Murdoch, more than I would have done otherwise. I did, and they didn't touch it."
As a popularizer of the movement's arguments, does Klein consider herself an activist or a journalist? "I see myself as an activist journalist," she says. "I became a journalist because I'm not comfortable being an activist. I hate crowds - I know, great irony - and I'm physically incapable of chanting. I'm always slightly detached, so I write about it to feel more comfortable. I like to believe that I can be part of this movement without being a propagandist. There's a really strong tradition of this, like Gloria Steinem, Norman Mailer, Susan Faludi. I do think that there's so much fragmentation in this movement that if someone tries to work out a coherent thesis - even if you don't agree with all or even much of it - it can be helpful by making something more solid."
In Prague, at the protests against the IMF/World Bank, she will be speaking at today's counter-summit, but she is concerned that the media has already portrayed the protesters as mad terrorists crossing continents with the sole intention of kicking some Czech police. "Months ago we were already seeing the most extreme attempts to criminalize protest. This is a protest about the IMF and the World Bank, and the effects they're having on poorer countries. We must not let the reaction of the state and the police entirely define the message. I'm going to Prague because I believe it is a crucially important opportunity to show the world what this movement really is - the first genuinely international people's movement."
There are some who wonder, though, whether the IMF and corporations are the right target. Isn't it governments that we should be aiming at, since it is governments, initially led by Reagan and Thatcher with their dramatic lowering of corporate taxes, which gave the corporations such power in the first place? "I think these corporations are not really targets, they are metaphors," says Klein. "They're being used by this generation of young activists as a popular education tool to understand the global economy. When I was at university, we were intimidated and didn't understand anything about globalization So we tuned out from that and turned in on ourselves and became more and more insular - which is the great irony of those years, because that was when all this accelerated globalization was happening. We weren't watching. And what I see happening with, say, the campaign against Nike is a tactic on the part of activists who've decided to turn these companies into metaphors for the global economy gone awry."
In other words, when the global economy is so huge, so forbidding, the corporations are an accessible way in. "When the WTO was created in Uruguay in 1995, there were no protesters outside. These trade bureaucrats created a world of incredibly complex institutions and arcane trade agreements written by policy wonks with no interest in popularizing. So I believe that anti-corporate campaigns are the bridge: they're the first baby-step to developing an analysis of global capitalism."
Indeed, an important and fascinating aspect of the movement has been popular education - groups holding mass teach-ins on global politics, international economics, the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO (the "iron triangle of corporate rule"); NAFTA, the EU, Gatt, APEC, G-8, the OECD, structural adjustment. At Seattle, activists in their 20s sat for eight hours at a stretch listening to speakers from around the world decode globalization for them.
Is this a re-invention of left politics? After a decade in the wilderness, is anti-corporatism the post-cold war new New Left? "I think it is," says Klein, "but it's only at the early stages of re-invention. Sometimes, I think it's moving towards creating a global new deal, and sometimes I think it's way more radical than that. And it might be - I don't know." I mention the impact of the very word "capitalism", which had gone resolutely out of fashion until June 18, 1999, when demonstrators staged an "anti-capitalist" demonstration in the City of London. "Since June 18, the comeback of the word 'capitalism' is just extraordinary," laughs Klein. "It's like Santana - what the hell's going on? Suddenly they're talking about 'capitalism' on CNN, and in Washington there are all these little girls wearing caps with 'Capitalism Sux' on them. For a long time, the very word has been invisible - it's just the economy, the way the world works." And that change has happened in little over a year. "That's why I feel optimistic, and I'm not impatient about the pace of change."
The trouble is, we're used to thinking that something that is anti-capitalist must be straightforwardly socialist or communist, which is not the case with this movement. It is, instead, "an amalgam of environmentalism, anti-capitalism, anarchy and the kitchen sink", says Klein - which leads us to the central criticism leveled at all the anti-corporate protests. What do they stand for? What are their goals? Where is their vision?
"I think I have more patience for finding this out than most people," says Klein. "I've been following this movement for five years, and I know where we were at five years ago and I know where we are now. We were nowhere. That a genuine political movement can begin to emerge in that timespan, organically, on its own - it's extraordinary. I think a lot of those demanding a manifesto or a leader are people of a different generation who have an idea in their mind of what a political movement looks like, and they want Abbie Hoffman or Gloria Steinem and where are they?"
Even such diverse campaigns - from groups fighting against Nike, or agribusiness, or world debt, or the Free Trade Area of the Americas - "share a belief that the disparate problems with which they are wrestling all derive from global deregulation, an agenda that is concentrating power and wealth into fewer and fewer hands". And the fragmentation of the campaigns, says Klein, is a "reasonable, even ingenious adaptation of changes in the broader culture". The movement, with its hubs and spokes and hotlinks, its emphasis on information rather than ideology, reflects the tool it uses - it is the "internet come to life". This is why it doesn't work well on television, unlike the anti-Vietnam protests of the 60s with their leaders, their slogans, their single-issue politics.
When people say that the movement lacks vision, believes Klein, what they really mean is that it is different from anything that's gone before, that it is a completely new kind of movement - just as the internet is a completely new kind of medium. "What critics are really saying is that the movement lacks an overarching revolutionary philosophy, such as Marxism, democratic socialism, deep ecology or social anarchy, on which they all agree." But the movement should not, says Klein, be in a hurry to define itself. "Before they sign on to anyone's 10-point plan, they deserve the chance to see if, out of the movement's chaotic, decentralized, multi-headed webs, something new, something entirely its own, can emerge."
No Logo has been leapt upon by some commentators who are thrilled by Naomi Klein's rejection of the identity politics of her youth, and so see it as anti-feminist. "This is not a rejection of feminism," she says. "It is a return to the roots of feminism - early feminism was very involved in anti-sweatshop action, and the current anti-sweatshop movement very much sees it as a feminist issue, since it is overwhelmingly women of color who are being abused by the systems. I feel that we lost our way in the late 80s, when feminism became disengaged from its roots, which originally had critiques of capitalism and of consumerism. I am a feminist and this is a feminist book."
This, I believe, is crucial to understanding both why the movement is so popular with young people and why Klein is so perfectly placed to be its chief popularizer In the 60s and 70s, activists concentrated their anti-racism and feminism on matters of equality - equal rights and equal pay. In Klein's 80s and 90s, they campaigned instead on issues of culture and identity: portrayal in the media, who gets to the board. But the new generation of activists is taking the best bits of both: developing a radical critique of the global economy, while incorporating identity politics as a matter of course. So, whereas Sheila Rowbotham was greeted with a barrage of wolf-whistles and guffaws when she got on stage to speak about education at a leftist conference in 1968, no one is surprised that this movement's main theorist is a woman. This is a far more inclusive movement than those that have gone before.
There's a personal recollection in No Logo in which Klein talks about being 17 and wondering what to do with her life. She was frustrated, because if you wanted to be a traveler Lonely Planet had got there first; if you wanted to be an avant-garde artist, someone had done it all already, and put the image on a mug for you to take home. "All my parents wanted was the open road and a VW camper," she writes. "That was enough escape for them." Now it feels as if there is "no open space anywhere". It is as if this generation's culture is being sold out as they are living it; there is nothing left to discover.
Her thesis is about trying to find some space that hasn't been bought up by anyone; trying to rediscover our identities as citizens, and not just consumers. It is about globalization, and the power corporations have over our lives. But it is also about being 30, having spent your youth in a disaffected age. Her grandfather, the animator blacklisted by McCarthy, would be proud: Naomi Klein might just be helping re-invent politics for a new generation.
No Logo, by Naomi Klein, is published by HarperCollins. For links, visit the book's website.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Gofha'an pa'go na diha.
For nearly two years the boxes on all my personal pages, whether they be myspace, friendster or PFG have been clicked to "hopelessly single." Today, however I switched them all over to "in a relationship."
For those of you who don't know, my last serious relationship ended two years ago, and since then there has been a wide array of strange encounters, blood drenched social faux pas, accidents, hookups that were a lock if I drank setbesa, and near fatal crushes, but nothing that ever made me consider logging onto to myspace and changing my estao inakkamo'.
For the past few weeks I've been going out with this girl, and its been incredible. For those who regularly read my blog, she is the one whom I couldn't get the nerve up to kiss after three hours of salsa dancing turned our friendly outing into an obvious "date." One of my friend's emailed me today, chiding me that it seemed like all my dating hysteria had paid off. Hehehe.
After working for more than a year in strict grad school mode, and only being able to "play" or "dabble" in this type of relationship, I'm really enjoying myself. It feels good to stress again about where to take someone out for a good time, what should I talk about now, will we run out of things to talk about? (that reminds me I need to find out about that bar in San Diego where they sometimes play Chamorro music)
The only downside to our relationship is that we are both so busy. Sometimes we don't see each other for days. And as a Chamorro co-dependent from Guam, a few days without seeing my girl is like getting a root canal with a fosinos. I remember being in a relationship on Guam, the co-dependency was so hard core, it was like we were filming Stuck on You. I'm talking pagers, constant meals together, errands together, movies together, good night phone calls, seeing each other everyday, everything. I loved it, because there was an understanding that I am not kaduku or horribly abnormal for wanting to waste lots and lots of time with you, because you feel the same! The beauty of co-dependency is that secret psychosis that you get to share, which leads to a beautiful interiority of love, affection, temporal dependency and emotional addiction.
Here though, that everyday easy co-dependency ("hey, hafa bidada-mu la'mona?" "taya'" "you wanna watch a video?" [for full effect, the preceding dialogue must be read with a strong Chamorro accent]) just can't happen, we both have too much going on with school, activism, volunteer stuff.
What have I been doing to keep my co-dependency from transforming into schizophrenic loneliness? Something I've dreamed of doing for years but was never with a girl who could actually appreciate it, and that's write Chamorro love songs para i palao'an ni' gaige gi korason-hu. Everytime we're away from each other for a few days, I find myself searching for another tune to use, lyrics to translate, a hook to use. I didn't see i nobia-hu for four days, and started writing a song based on the tune from "I'm Cool "by Reel Big Fish ("lao meggai guihan gi tasi/ puru ha' taiguini).
For the past few weeks I've been spending alot of time staring at my computer screen, trying to write my current master's thesis. Its been hard, because I've put off really working on my thesis until now, and I would like to defend in June, which gives me not alot of time to get a draft out and have my committee members go over it.
Too often, when I'm staring at the screen, doing the worst possible job of trying to nudge my brain into activity, my eyes will wander away for a moment, and I'll wonder what i nobia-hu is doing, and when I'll see her next. My mind then starts mentally anticipating moments, connecting us through time. The hollowness of these moments in-between, continually interceding and but slowly receding, will start to be filled kalang a movie, as in a soundtrack or score. Songs will fill these moments, usually love songs (since we meet every Friday "Friday I'm in Love" by the Cure is a regular choice), or songs from our relationship lore ("Obsession" by Aventura was the first song she ever sent me).
But as those once empty and disenchanting moments become filled with as Paul Mcartney calls them "silly little love songs" I tend to stop myself, and ask, "Wait, what does Paul Mcartney really know about my relationship?" Can I really trust him or James Taylor, the Backstreet Boys, Connie Francis, Nas, Bono or Beyonce, to capture it? Its usually at this point, that I start pouring through my CDs looking for a good tune to steal.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Here's a list of my favorite moments from the Famoksaiyan gathering last week. As you read them, bear in mind that I didn't get to participate as much as I wanted to in the actual conference (discussions, presentations, etc.), so most of my moments are around the conference. Setting things up, fixing problems, driving people around, stressing out.
By the way, I've started up a listserv for the conference, to help keep everyone connected, informed and working as time goes on. You can join in by going to the following link and signing up for it, or asking me and I'll add your email to the list. We'll be using it to send out news items, notices of events, meetings, conferences, grants, opportunities, as well as find out people to help with projects and ideas and so on.
My Favorite Famoksaiyan Moments:
Taking Chaz to his first In and Out dinner
Hanging out at Kinko’s at 2 in the morning, TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW
Fanai saying that the US should be sending doctors to Guam, not more military and me responding that you know who would send doctors? Cuba.
Having the photos for the decolonization and militarization panels taken in front of a latte’, the Guam flag and the current lists of funds raised by the San Diego Liberation Day Queen Candidates (as of April 15th, Kim San Nicolas is in the lead!)
The biha who balutaned half a tray of barbeque chicken
Lina Taitingfong reminding us that our blood literally is in the soil in Guam
Seeing both men and women cry during the closing songs
Seeing Claudia the anthropology student from SDSU help clean up
Playing Apples to Apples with 16 people and having Chelsea shout at her mom “Mom I’m on the Internet all the time, isn’t that SCARY!”
Having Hope offer to go buy coffee for everyone the first day of the conference, after me, who doesn’t drink coffee completely forgot to bring some.
Nicole’s pirate face
My care package from people on Guam: 4 copies of GU, 1 Guma’ Palu Li’e CD, 1 poster ginnen I Fine’nina Konfrensia Chamoru, 1 copy of the Matto I Saina-ta as Hurao
The film Blue Streak being played over and over in my apartment, because Chaz, Miget, Jack, Kuri or someone else would start it and then leave the room, but start it all over once they came back.
Having both Jeremy and the Other Miget do American Idol snoring duel that echoed throughout the house for two nights in a row. (ekungok ayu na lanan, kao kumekematai?!)
Having the wireless broadband in my apartment lumachai by five different laptops, making it feel like 56k.
Melvin’s tree hugging goodbye
Drafting people to tumaitai
The Islander Grill for providing some great short ribs. Hmmmmmm, gof mange I beef short ribs…
All the manhoben manmanginginge’ gi as I manamko’
Catching I che’lu-hu Si Kuri, reading Althusser in bed!
After everything was cleaned up on Friday, Chaz coming up to me and asking, “do you need any help?”
All the singing, Rhea, Fanai, Rima, Miget, Josette and Destiny, John Benavente.
The huge pile of yories and shoes inside my door on Saturday night.
The President of the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club letting us use the fridge and the oven even though we didn’t pay for it.
Taking more than 150 photos with my crappy (now infamous) disposable cameras.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Check out the flyer above for information on the upcoming Tan Chong Padula Humanitarian Awards to take place next month in Garden Grove.
Each year the Chamorro community in Southern California and the Guam Communications Network puts it together. One organization or individual will receive the main award, while a number of others will receive medallions (I was lucky enough to receive one a few years ago).
Last year I was fortunate enough to attend, when the Kutturan Chamoru performers received the main award. This is truly an incredible group considered the types of performances that they are doing and that the majority of their members are stateside Chamorros. Their open debt to the work of Frank Rabon and Taotao Tano' is a welcome reprieve from the usual trajectory of Chamorro dance groups (both on Guam and in the states), which is usually hula, hula and more hula.
Chamorros are scattered throughout the United States, but they have nonetheless been able to maintain crucial social networks through events such as this and organizations such as the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club or the Guam Communications Network. The Tan Chong Padula event is huge, hundreds of Chamorros from all over the West Coast come to attend.
My use of the term "social" to describe these networks, should hint at what I'll say next.
If the preservation of our language, communities and culture is to be based on these networks, then they must go beyond being merely social, they must be political as well. Hunggan, debi di ta agradesi i manamko' sa' ma fa'tinasi hit este siha, but if these connections exist purely for parties or for social occasions, then their work is has little to do with the future of our people here or anywhere else, except in preparation for our little niche as a small but charming member of the patronizing American multi-cultural family. When I say political, of course I am referring to participation in political processes, such as securing funding for inclusion in health services, demographic data, and making sure that politicians in the states consider the interests of Chamorros when they vote (San Diego for example has 7,0000 Chamorros). But more so I am referring to our taking control over our forms of visibility and refusing to accept how we do exist and how we should exist. Not seeking to just include ourselves in the dominant culture, but remembering the sovereignty that our homeland still represents, despite its continuing colonial status. And recognizing the sovereignty we possess even in working to change that, to transform our situation.
At Famoksaiyan last week, someone asked me about the state of Chamorro affairs in the US today. I responded that, things are okay, the next and most important step we need to take, is to move beyond the food. Notice, how so many people in this country, white or anything else, have at least one Chamorro friend, and often speak graciously of the awesomeness of their friend's food. While we can take some pride in the fact that we do have great food, we have to assert our presence as something other than a producer of "ethnic food" that the US consumes. But this doesn't just go for Chamorros, but for other minority groups as well. Is our fate to be ethnic achakma' for the dominant group and culture? A little piece on the side, while ultimately it is "whiteness" that dictates all things else?
Friday, April 21, 2006
In its Big Ideas of 2006 issues, AdBusters named Alain Badiou as "The Philosopher of the Year." This passage from their short article on the reception of his work in the United States is what brought about the following post:
"To take just one example, postmodern thought has been obsessed by the figure of the cultural other. However, the abstract, absolute character of the postmodern idea of the other has insured that any attempt to reach out will always be viewed as just another form of domination. Badiou has brought a withering philosophical criticism to bear on the notion that cultural difference can be thought of in terms of overarching generalities about metaphysics, arguing instead that the social field that structures otherness is a matter of specific "situations," organized around certain concrete, tendentious exceptions, with political "truth" being a matter of bringing these exceptions to light. Thus, while postmodern philosophy dead ends into the abstract, political correct call for "respect" of difference, Badiou's philosophy yields a demonstration of the potential a fight for immigrant rights can have."
The crucial point here is that universality is not primarily positive, but rather negative. It is not a timeless, eternally structuring principle, point or class, but the gesture of universalizing a certain abject point. A point whose very universalization or "incorporation" can no longer be considered to be mere incorporation, as this gesture will require something different to emerge, a revamping, a potentially radical reformatting.
We find this potential in the tenuous relationship the United States has with "illegal" immigrants. The rhetoric of not rewarding crimes or illegal behavior does not do away with both the economic necessity nor the racial desire/fantasies that these bodies embody and stimulate. Because of this entanglement of obviously disjunctive and yet complementary desires, there is the possibility of a collision between the concepts of "citizen" and "illegal immigrant." One the "univeral" position, the other a position of abjection, and therefore a site of potential negative universality.
In every political space, there is the hegemonic position of universality, whose interests are most commonly read as the interests of all. In the United States for example, through media texts we know that it is the middle class. For example, during Presidential campaigns, the issues candidates discuss are always discussed as if they are everyone's issues, but in reality they are molded based on the imagination of the middle class. (Why else would economic health be based on how many peoplre are falling out of the middle class?)
The point which differentiates this form of universality as radical as opposed to merely liberal, is the "illegal" aspect. The immigrant body is a redeemable body, one which can in some way be assimilated, because its entrance is approved through the law and the nation. Although the bodies themselves may bring with them different histories which in different ways threaten the "original sinlessness" of the nation (Vietnamese, Filipinos, El Salvadoreans, etc.), their presence is still easily translated into the dominant racial fantasies such as "the subject supposed to immigrate," which is ultimately a crucial fantasy for the nation's reproduction (a Mexican is just someone who hasn't crossed the border yet).
This radical gesture is not a search for the position which makes the current form or framework merely more inclusive, merely more democratic, which is precisely what the Civil Rights movement accomplished. A request for you to let us occupy the same position as you. A recognition of the structure, and a demand which is based on inclusion in that structure as opposed to its transformation.
It is instead, searching for the truth attached to a particular position which can break the position to which it will be incorporated, can change the dialectic and start something else.
If the position of the "illegal" immigrant can become universalized, it might represent such a rupture. Where a point beyond the scope of the nation becomes hegemonic, becomes the structuring principles, which allows community to be re-imagined and re-shaped.
Most recently, I saw this in the film Joyeux Noel, which presents an amalgamation of different denationalized moments along the English, French and German trenches in World War I. On Christmas Even and Christmas Day 1914, a number of incidents took place where soldiers crossed the no man's land between trenches to celebrate Christmas together. This acts are presented to us across the nationalist demonizing that always takes place prior to war, where your enemy is the enemy of God, the embodiment of all things evil, and therefore it is your duty to protect and defend civilization against them. Through this lens, these nation/border crossings are truly inspirational.
But a sort of killjoy question persistently nagged me throughout the film. Why is it that the soldiers from France, England and Germany could come together on Christmas like that? It is because there is an easily identifiable point which cuts across their trenches and cultures, and that is a common European identity through religion. It is this alternative point of universality, which all the involved nations must make use of to constitute themselves as wisen and ancient, which also provides a risky potential for undermining the process of absolute enemy making and demonizing. This comity is possible precisely because of the way the soldiers recognized themselves in a third point, which lay outside of, beyond and before each of them.
Notice the difference between those instances and American soldiers in the current War in Iraq. In the discourse of the troops who are encountering the people, culture and habits of their enemy, it is not that we share some other point, which calls into question who both of us our, but rather, that these Iraqis desire who we are, what we have. Whether it be education, technology, American Idol, or freedom. Or as Zizek put it appros the protests in Tinnamen Square, when you scratch away the Yellow, you find an American."
But then again, is the inability for troops in Iraq to de-nationalize themselves because the enemy which we fight is not part of any particular nation? The enemy of American troops in Iraq isn't the Iraqis, but rather "terror" and "terrorism." Is it for this reason that Americans cannot denationalize with Iraqis since this very framework deprives them of sovereignty, and by theoretical default makes them people in need of a nation?
Published on Tuesday, April 11, 2006 by the New York Daily News
Out From the Shadows
by Juan Gonzalez
Jose Chicas had longed for this moment ever since 1982, when as a young man he fled the civil war in his native El Salvador and crossed illegally into California.
Over all those years of pickup construction jobs for low wages, Chicas kept dreaming that all hardworking immigrants like himself would one day step out of the shadows, cast off their fears of being deported and finally demand respect.
Yesterday afternoon, Chicas stood proudly on the back of a pickup truck watching his dream come true in the brilliant spring sunshine of lower Manhattan.
Around him were hundreds of fellow members from Local 79 of the Laborers' International Union, all signing in with Chicas for their union's contingent at the big immigrant rights rally at City Hall. He carefully distributed the union's bright orange T-shirts to each of them.
By 5 p.m., the throngs from the big City Hall rally stretched north along Broadway for more than 15 blocks, as police seemed surprised by the size of the turnout.
The torrent of chanting faces and flags stretched past Canal St., paralyzing rush-hour traffic in every direction.
The same scene was repeated all across America, as hundreds of thousands of janitors, hotel workers, gardeners, nannies and unskilled factory hands streamed into the streets of more than 100 cities.
Never - not even at the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s - has there been such an outpouring of our nation's huddled masses as during the past few weeks over this immigration debate.
Don't buy for a moment the nonsense that these protests don't matter, that all these marchers are illegal immigrants who can't vote so the politicians can simply ignore them.
When black people shook the South with their protests, they couldn't vote, either.
As for Chicas, it took him 15 years, but he finally obtained a green card in 1997. Now a staff organizer with Local 79, the union of demolition workers, he has become a fervent advocate for legalization of the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants.
And then there is Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat (D-Washington Heights). Espaillat came to this country several decades ago, overstayed his visa and was once an illegal immigrant himself.
Today he is one of the most respected Dominican leaders in this town and helped organize a half-dozen separate contingents from northern Manhattan for yesterday's march.
Then there is Marienela Jordan, who came to New York with her family from the Dominican Republic in 1979, a few weeks after Hurricane David.
"The storm devastated the economy, and there was no work," Jordan told me yesterday. She, too, overstayed her visa and became undocumented for a time. Today, she is not only a citizen but heads the Office of Latino Affairs for Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.
And so it is with so many legal residents and even American citizens. Having once been branded "illegal" themselves, they are furious at how some Washington lawmakers are eager to turn desperate workers into felons and tear apart whole families in the process.
Backers of an immigration crackdown will tell you there's a huge chasm between legal and illegal immigrants.
Our Native Americans would disagree. They still say all of us were illegal once. The descendants of the original Mexican settlers of Texas and California swear Sam Houston, Davy Crockett and all their progeny should never have been allowed to cross the border.
At least Chicas and the latest 11 million didn't come here with guns, determined to impose their will. They came with hands outstretched and eager to work for whatever someone would pay.
Now that they've stepped out of the shadows, all they want is a little respect from the country they love.
Juan Gonzalez is a Daily News columnist. Email: mailto:email@example.com
© 2006 Daily News, LP
Two weeks ago we bought a table at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco, to see what people thought of our work. I'll be posting more on that soon, but in the meantime, let me share with you the script for one of the ashcans that we photocopied and stapled for the convention.
It was inspired by the film, The Rising, which is the story of Mangal Pandey and his role in the sparking the First War of Indian Independence. Here is the introductory text that I put in the ashcan as well as the script itself:
"The agent of revolution, whether it be a single person, a small group or an entire people requires an element of myth, a flexible excess of meaning, which is precisely what allows the impossible to suddenly seem not just possible, but inevitable. What happens to this pre-revolutionary excess, if the revolutionary is successful, or worse yet, if it fails?"
Battle For Kamchatka ASHCAN:
Page 1: [A close up of Mangal Pandey’s face, it is up to you whether or not you want the noose around his neck to show, but definitely the rope going up over his head should be visible. His face should be beaten up a bit, and he has to have a red slash of paint on his forehead. One of the images I’m sending you has it, it’s a blessing.]
I was to be hung ten days from now, but the Company refuses to wait. Although they have marked me as the worst of criminals, in the eyes of those that are the bones and guts of this army, I am something else.
The blows I struck, the blows I strike are theirs as well.
Page 2: [Mangal Pandey is being held up, he has a sword in his hand which is bloodied, and he is being grabbed from behind around the arms by an Indian Soldier and a British soldier. In front of him, on the right side a British officer is holding a wound on his arm. In the background is a battalion of soldiers, not moving, still at attention.]
The dog dares to command me! Command me into a life without faith! A life of unclean damnation so that he can own these lands and all our riches! He commands me to kill the enemies of the Company, my enemies. But with each village razed, farmed taken, each day these “enemies” appear more and more like me.
But before I can strike the fatal blow, arms grab me from all sides. The bastard whimpers away bleeding, but still breathing.
Page 3: [Mangal Pandey, his sword arm forward, as his blade is run through the officer, who is in the right side of the panel. The two soldiers that were holding him earlier are grasping his arms. Behind them the soldiers are still indistinct, unmoved.]
And then, I am there again, but this time my sword strikes true! Their grips slip easily, unable to stop my slashes. The dog is dead! His face full of an animal horror that only pushes me further.
The dog is dead!
Page 4: [Mangal Pandey, his back now to the viewer, with his sword up in the air after he has slashed a number of soldiers. In the other arm which is lowered before him, he could be holding a bloodied British soldier by his collar. Around him, soldiers are clutching their necks and their bellies following his terrible blows. In the background the soldiers still indistinct as if in the fog of war, should be preparing for battle, (meaning no longer, immobile at attention.]
And then I am there again, five more fall over the one I know will die. The fear now bleeds from the eyes of those dogs around me. Their arms falter, their swords drop, they know they cannot stop me.
Page 5: [The battle is more violent now, Mangal Pandey is still in the center of the action, but perhaps you could have a person with a decapitated arm in the foreground screaming. More people are keeling over dead, in anguish around Mangel Pandey. If possible the people in the background should be fleeing.]
And then, the bodies pile higher. My sword shatters both metal and bone. Twenty, perhaps thirty, I lost count, I cannot count, the rush of victory, the roar of revolution is the crashing of these bodies atop each other! They cannot stop me! They start to turn and flee. Fleeing home to their precious island with their tongues and tails between their legs!
Page 6: [Mangal Pandey is now in the left corner of the scene, covered in blood and remnants of war. His sword is lifted skyward, and his face is intense. Around him, bodies are littered around the fortress, some in pieces, others visibly in the final throes of death. Behind him there the door to the fortress, beyond it there is flames (representing the battle in the streets). If you want, you can have silhouettes there locked in combat.]
And then, the bodies overflow the fortress, the piles spilling into the streets. The hundreds that I dispatch joined by the dozens cut down by shovels and hammers by farmers and artisans, who are sick of the Boot of Company Raj across our necks and bellies. Their screams rise up into the sky, traveling across mountains, across kingdoms, not the screams of conquerors, but of animals.
Filthy greedy animals, that cannot stop us!
Page 7: [Mangal Pandey in the same basic position as the previous panel, but now the bloodshed and war behind him is gone. His face could be confused, looking around. Behind him now, is a forest and sunset. He is in Kamchatka now.]
And then, nothing. Nothing but me.
Page 8: [Mangal Pandey turns around, his back now to the reader. Suggested in the folds of his shirt is the Union Jack, signifying the shift, the loss of the First War of Independence.]
My sword is unbloodied, my arms unbound, my neck safe. The war…?
Page 9: [A close up of Mangal Pandey’s face on the left side of the panel from the side, his hair blowing to the right. A single tear should be trickling down his cheek.]
Did I lose? Am I lost? I feel the fight elsewhere, it continues.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Senate Hearings on Bush, Now
by Carl Bernstein
Worse than Watergate? High crimes and misdemeanors justifying the impeachment of George W. Bush, as increasing numbers of Democrats in Washington hope, and, sotto voce, increasing numbers of Republicans—including some of the president's top lieutenants—now fear? Leaders of both parties are acutely aware of the vehemence of anti-Bush sentiment in the country, expressed especially in the increasing number of Americans—nearing fifty percent in some polls—who say they would favor impeachment if the president were proved to have deliberately lied to justify going to war in Iraq.
John Dean, the Watergate conspirator who ultimately shattered the Watergate conspiracy, rendered his precipitous (or perhaps prescient) impeachment verdict on Bush two years ago in the affirmative, without so much as a question mark in choosing the title of his book Worse than Watergate. On March 31, some three decades after he testified at the seminal hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee, Dean reiterated his dark view of Bush's presidency in a congressional hearing that shed more noise than light, and more partisan rancor than genuine inquiry. The ostensible subject: whether Bush should be censured for unconstitutional conduct in ordering electronic surveillance of Americans without a warrant.
Raising the worse-than-Watergate question and demanding unequivocally that Congress seek to answer it is, in fact, overdue and more than justified by ample evidence stacked up from Baghdad back to New Orleans and, of increasing relevance, inside a special prosecutor's office in downtown Washington.
In terms of imminent, meaningful action by the Congress, however, the question of whether the president should be impeached (or, less severely, censured) remains premature. More important, it is essential that the Senate vote—hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties—to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.
How much evidence is there to justify such action?
Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era.
"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on April 9. "[T]he President of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people … about exactly what he did." Specter was speaking specifically about a special prosecutor's assertion that Bush selectively declassified information (of dubious accuracy) and instructed the vice president to leak it to reporters to undermine criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq. But the senator's comments would be even more appropriately directed at far more pervasive and darker questions that must be answered if the American political system is to acquit itself in the Bush era, as it did in Nixon's.
Perhaps there are facts or mitigating circumstances, given the extraordinary nature of conceiving and fighting a war on terror, that justify some of the more questionable policies and conduct of this presidency, even those that turned a natural disaster in New Orleans into a catastrophe of incompetence and neglect. But the truth is we have no trustworthy official record of what has occurred in almost any aspect of this administration, how decisions were reached, and even what the actual policies promulgated and approved by the president are. Nor will we, until the subpoena powers of the Congress are used (as in Watergate) to find out the facts—not just about the war in Iraq, almost every aspect of it, beginning with the road to war, but other essential elements of Bush's presidency, particularly the routine disregard for truthfulness in the dissemination of information to the American people and Congress.
The first fundamental question that needs to be answered by and about the president, the vice president, and their political and national-security aides, from Donald Rumsfeld to Condoleezza Rice, to Karl Rove, to Michael Chertoff, to Colin Powell, to George Tenet, to Paul Wolfowitz, to Andrew Card (and a dozen others), is whether lying, disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation of information have been a basic matter of policy—used to overwhelm dissent; to hide troublesome truths and inconvenient data from the press, public, and Congress; and to defend the president and his actions when he and they have gone awry or utterly failed.
Most of what we have learned about the reality of this administration—and the disconcerting mind-set and decision-making process of President Bush himself—has come not from the White House or the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security or the Treasury Department, but from insider accounts by disaffected members of the administration after their departure, and from distinguished journalists, and, in the case of a skeletal but hugely significant body of information, from a special prosecutor. And also, of late, from an aide-de-camp to the British prime minister. Almost invariably, their accounts have revealed what the president and those serving him have deliberately concealed—torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, and its apparent authorization by presidential fiat; wholesale N.S.A. domestic wiretapping in contravention of specific prohibitive law; brutal interrogations of prisoners shipped secretly by the C.I.A. and U.S. military to Third World gulags; the nonexistence of W.M.D. in Iraq; the role of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's chief of staff in divulging the name of an undercover C.I.A. employee; the non-role of Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the events of 9/11; the death by friendly fire of Pat Tillman (whose mother, Mary Tillman, told journalist Robert Scheer, "The administration tried to attach themselves to his virtue and then they wiped their feet with him"); the lack of a coherent post-invasion strategy for Iraq, with all its consequent tragedy and loss and destabilizing global implications; the failure to coordinate economic policies for America's long-term financial health (including the misguided tax cuts) with funding a war that will drive the national debt above a trillion dollars; the assurance of Wolfowitz (since rewarded by Bush with the presidency of the World Bank) that Iraq's oil reserves would pay for the war within two to three years after the invasion; and Bush's like-minded confidence, expressed to Blair, that serious internecine strife in Iraq would be unlikely after the invasion.
But most grievous and momentous is the willingness—even enthusiasm, confirmed by the so-called Downing Street Memo and the contemporaneous notes of the chief foreign-policy adviser to British prime minister Tony Blair—to invent almost any justification for going to war in Iraq (including sending up an American U-2 plane painted with U.N. markings to be deliberately shot down by Saddam Hussein's air force, a plan hatched while the president, the vice president, and Blair insisted to the world that war would be initiated "only as a last resort"). Attending the meeting between Bush and Blair where such duplicity was discussed unabashedly ("intelligence and facts" would be jiggered as necessary and "fixed around the policy," wrote the dutiful aide to the prime minister) were Ms. Rice, then national-security adviser to the president, and Andrew Card, the recently departed White House chief of staff.
As with Watergate, the investigation of George W. Bush and his presidency needs to start from a shared premise and set of principles that can be embraced by Democrats and Republicans, by liberals and centrists and conservatives, and by opponents of the war and its advocates: that the president of the United States and members of his administration must defend the requirements of the Constitution, obey the law, demonstrate common sense, and tell the truth.
Obviously there will be disagreements, even fierce ones, along the way. Here again the Nixon example is useful: Republicans on the Senate Watergate Committee, including its vice chairman, Howard Baker of Tennessee ("What did the president know and when did he know it?"), began the investigation as defenders of Nixon. By its end, only one was willing to make any defense of Nixon's actions.
The Senate Watergate Committee was created (by a 77–0 vote of the Senate) with the formal task of investigating illegal political-campaign activities. Its seven members were chosen by the leadership of each party, three from the minority, four from the majority. (The Democratic majority leader of the Senate, Mike Mansfield, insisted that none of the Democrats be high-profile senators with presidential aspirations.) One of the crucial tasks of any committee charged with investigating the Bush presidency will be to delineate the scope of inquiry. It must not be a fishing expedition—and not only because the pond is so loaded with fish. The lines ought to be drawn so that the hearings themselves do not become the occasion for the ultimate battle of the culture wars. This investigation should be seen as an opportunity to at last rise above the culture wars and, as in Watergate, learn whether the actions of the president and his deputies have been consistent with constitutional principles, the law, and the truth.
Karl Rove and other White House strategists are betting (with odds in their favor) that Republicans on Capitol Hill are extremely unlikely to take the high road before November and endorse any kind of serious investigation into Bush's presidency—a gamble that may increase the risk of losing Republican majorities in either or both houses of Congress, and even further undermine the future of the Bush presidency. Already in the White House, there is talk of a nightmare scenario in which the Democrats successfully make the November congressional elections a referendum on impeachment—and win back a majority in the House, and maybe the Senate too.
But voting now to create a Senate investigation—chaired by a Republican—could work to the advantage both of the truth and of Republican candidates eager to put distance between themselves and the White House.
The calculations of politicians about their electoral futures should pale in comparison to the urgency of examining perhaps the most disastrous five years of decision-making of any modern American presidency.
There are huge differences between the Nixon presidency and this one, of course, but surprisingly few would appear to redound to this administration's benefit, including even the fundamental question of the competence of the president.
First and foremost among the differences may be the role of the vice president. The excesses of Watergate—the crimes, the lies, the trampling of the Constitution, the disregard for the institutional integrity of the presidency, the dutiful and even enthusiastic lawbreaking of Nixon's apparatchiks—stemmed from one aberrant president's psyche and the paranoid assumptions that issued from it, and from the notion shared by some of his White House acolytes that, because U. S. troops were fighting a war—especially a failing one against a determined, guerrilla enemy in Vietnam—the commander in chief could assume extraordinary powers nowhere assigned in the Constitution and govern above the rule of law. "When the president does it that means that it is not illegal," Nixon famously told David Frost.
Bush and Cheney have been hardly less succinct about the president's duty and right to assume unprecedented authority nowhere specified in the Constitution. "[E]specially in the day and age we live in … the president of the United States needs to have his Constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national-security policy," Cheney said less than four months ago.
Bush's doctrine of "unimpairment"—at one with his tendency to trim the truth—may be (with the question of his competence) the nub of the national nightmare. "I have the authority, both from the Constitution and the Congress, to undertake this vital program," Bush said after more than a few Republican and conservative eminences said he did not and joined the chorus of outrage about his N.S.A. domestic-surveillance program.
"Terrorism is not the only new danger of this era," noted George F. Will, the conservative columnist. "Another is the administration's argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the 'sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs' … [which] is refuted by the Constitution's plain language, which empowers Congress to ratify treaties, declare war, fund and regulate military forces, and make laws 'necessary and proper' for the execution of all presidential powers."
A voluminous accumulation of documentary and journalistic evidence suggests that the policies and philosophy of this administration that may be illegal and unconstitutional stem not just from Bush but from Cheney as well—hence there's even greater necessity for a careful, methodical investigation under Senate auspices before any consideration of impeachment in the House and its mischievous potential to create the mother of all partisan, ideological, take-no-prisoners battles, which would even further divide the Congress and the country.
Cheney's recognition of the danger to him and his patron by a re-assertion of the Watergate precedent of proper congressional oversight is not hard to fathom. Illegal wiretapping—among other related crimes—was the basis of one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon passed by the House Judiciary Committee. The other two were defiance of subpoenas and obstruction of justice in the Watergate cover-up. "Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority … [that] the president needs to be effective, especially in the national-security area," Cheney has observed. Nixon did not share his decision-making, much less philosophizing, with his vice president, and never relegated his own judgment to a number two. Former secretary of state Colin Powell's ex-chief of staff, retired army colonel Larry Wilkerson, has attested, "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."
Here it may be relevant that Powell has, in private, made statements interpreted by many important figures in Washington as seemingly questioning Cheney's emotional stability, and that Powell no longer recognizes the steady, dependable "rock" with whom he served in the administration of George W. Bush's father. Powell needs to be asked under oath about his reported observations regarding Cheney, not to mention his own appearance before the United Nations in which he spoke with assurance about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction and insisted that the United States was seeking a way to avoid war, not start it.
Because Powell was regarded by some as the administration "good guy," who was prescient in his anxiety about Bush's determination to go to war in Iraq ("You break it, you own it"), he should not be handed a pass exempting him from tough questioning in a congressional investigation. Indeed, Powell is probably more capable than any other witness of providing both fact and context to the whole story of the road to war and the actions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the others.
One of the similarities between Bush and Nixon is their contempt, lip service aside, for the legitimate oversight of Congress. In seeking to cover up his secret, illegal activities, Nixon made broad claims of executive privilege, many on grounds of national security, the most important of which were rejected by the courts.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their colleagues have successfully evaded accountability for the dire consequences of their policies through a tried-and-true strategy that has exploited a situation in which the press (understandably) has no subpoena power and is held in ill repute (understandably) by so many Americans, and the Republican-controlled Congress can be counted on to ignore its responsibility to compel relevant, forthright testimony and evidence—no matter how outrageous (failure to provide sufficient body armor for American soldiers, for example), mendacious, or inimical to the national interest the actions of the president and his principal aides might be.
As in Watergate, the Bush White House has, at almost every opportunity when endangered by the prospect of accountability, made the conduct of the press the issue instead of the misconduct of the president and his aides, and, with help from its Republican and conservative allies in and out of Congress, questioned the patriotism of the other party. As during the Nixon epoch, the strategy is finally wearing thin. "He's smoking Dutch Cleanser," said Specter when Bush's attorney general claimed legality for the president's secret order authorizing the wiretapping of Americans by the N.S.A.—first revealed in The New York Times in December.
Before the Times story had broken, the president was ardent about his civil-libertarian credentials in such matters: "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so," Bush said in a speech in Buffalo, New York, in April 2004.
Obviously, Bush's statement was demonstrably untrue. Yet instead of correcting himself, Bush attacked the Times for virtual treason, and his aides initiated a full-court press to track down whoever had provided information to the newspaper. "Our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk," he declared, as if America's terrorist enemies hadn't assumed they were subject to all manner of electronic eavesdropping by the world's most technologically sophisticated nation.
As in the Nixon White House, the search for leakers and others in the executive branch who might be truthful with reporters has become a paranoid preoccupation in the Bush White House. "Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country," Bush added. (The special prosecutor's revelation that Bush himself—through Cheney—was ultimately behind Scooter Libby's leaking to undermine Joseph Wilson has ironically caused Bush more damage among Republican members of Congress than far more grievous acts by the president.)
Literally dozens of investigations have been ordered at the C.I.A., the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, and elsewhere in the executive branch to find out who is talking to the press about secret activities undertaken in this presidency. These include polygraph investigations and a warning to the press that reporters may be prosecuted under espionage laws.
Bush's self-claimed authority to wiretap without a court order—like his self-claimed authority to hold prisoners of war indefinitely without habeas corpus (on grounds those in custody are suspected "terrorists")—stems from the same doctrine of "unimpairment" and all its Nixonian overtones: "The American people expect me to protect their lives and their civil liberties, and that's exactly what we're doing with this [N.S.A. eavesdropping] program," asserted Bush in January.
When Nixon's former attorney general John N. Mitchell was compelled to testify before the Watergate Committee, he laid out the sordid "White House horrors," as he called them—activities undertaken in the name of national security by the low-level thugs and high-level presidential aides acting in the president's name. Mitchell, loyal to the end, pictured the whole crowd, from Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Colson down to Liddy and the Watergate burglars, as self-starters, acting without authority from Nixon. The tapes, of course, told the real story—wiretapping, break-ins, attempts to illegally manipulate the outcome of the electoral process, routine smearing of the president's opponents and intricate machinations to render it untraceable, orders to firebomb a liberal think tank, the Watergate cover-up, and their origin in the Oval Office.
In the case of the Bush administration's two attorneys general, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, there are indications that—as in the Nixon White House—they approved and/or promulgated policies (horrors?) that would appear intended to enable the president to circumvent the Constitution and the law.
Ashcroft expressed reservations as early as 2004 about the legality of the wiretapping authority claimed by Bush, according to recent disclosures in the press, but Ashcroft's doubts—and the unwillingness of his principal deputy attorney general to approve central aspects of the N.S.A. domestic eavesdropping plan—were not made known to the Congress. Gonzales, as White House counsel, drew up the guidelines authorizing torture at American-run prisons and U.S. exemption from the Geneva war-crimes conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners. (His memo to the president described provisions of the conventions as "quaint.")
"Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country," said Bush when confronted with the undeniable, photographic evidence of torture. "We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being." The available facts would indicate this was an unusually evident example of presidential prevarication, but we will never know exactly how untruthful, or perhaps just slippery, until the president and the White House are compelled to cooperate with a real congressional investigation.
That statement by Bush, in June 2004, in response to worldwide outrage at the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs, illustrates two related, core methodologies employed by this president and his cadre to escape responsibility for their actions: First, an Orwellian reliance on the meaninglessness of words. (When is "torture" torture? When is "ordered" "authorized"? When is "if someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration" a scheme to keep trusted aides on the payroll through a legal process that could take years before adjudication and hide the president's own role in helping start—perhaps inadvertently—the Plame ball rolling?)
"Listen, I know of nobody—I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information," the president was quoted saying in Time magazine's issue of October 13, 2003. Time's report then noted with acuity, "Bush seemed to emphasize those last two words ['classified information'] as if hanging onto a legal life preserver in choppy seas."
The second method of escape is the absence of formal orders issued down the chain of command, leaving non-coms, enlisted men and women, and a few unfortunate non-star officers to twist in the wind for policies emanating from the president, vice president, secretary of defense, attorney general, national-security adviser to the president, and current secretary of state (formerly the national-security adviser). With a determined effort, a committee of distinguished senators should be able to establish if the grotesque abuse of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo was really the work of a "few bad apples" like Army Reserve Spc. Lynndie England wielding the leash, or a natural consequence of actions flowing from the Oval Office and Office of the Secretary of Defense.
In a baker's dozen of hearings before pliant committees of Congress, a parade of the top brass from Rice to Rumsfeld, to the Joint Chiefs, to Paul Bremer has managed for almost three years to evade responsibility for—or even acknowledgment of—the disintegrating situation on the ground in Iraq, its costs in lives and treasure, and its disastrous reverberations through the world, and for an assault on constitutional principles at home. Similarly, until the Senate Watergate hearings, Nixon and his men at the top had evaded responsibility for Watergate and their cover-up of all the "White House horrors."
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now almost impossible to look at the president's handling of the war in Iraq in isolation from his handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Certainly any investigation of the president and his administration should include both disasters. Before 9/11, Bush and Condoleezza Rice had been warned in the starkest of terms—by their own aides, by the outgoing Clinton administration, and by experts on terrorism—of the urgent danger of a spectacular al-Qaeda attack in the United States. Yet the first top-level National Security Council meeting to discuss the subject was not held until September 4, 2001—just as the F.B.I. hierarchy had been warned by field agents that there were suspected Islamic radicals learning to fly 747s with no legitimate reasons for doing so, but the bureau ultimately ignored the urgency of problem, just as Bush had ample opportunity (despite what he said later) to review and competently execute a disaster plan for the hurricane heading toward New Orleans.
There will forever be four indelible photographic images of the George W. Bush epoch: an airplane crashing into World Trade Tower number two; Bush in a Florida classroom reading from a book about a goat while a group of second-graders continued to captivate him for another seven minutes after Andrew Card had whispered to the president, "America is under attack"; floodwaters inundating New Orleans, and its residents clinging to rooftops for their lives; and, two days after the hurricane struck, Bush peeking out the window of Air Force One to inspect the devastation from a safe altitude. The aftermath of the hurricane's direct hit, both in terms of the devastation and the astonishing neglect and incompetence from the top down, would appear to be unique in American history. Except for the Civil War and the War of 1812 (when the British burned Washington), no president has ever lost an American city; and if New Orleans is not lost, it will only be because of the heroics of its people and their almost superhuman efforts to overcome the initial lethargy and apparent non-comprehension of the president. Bush's almost blank reaction was foretold vividly in a video of him and his aides meeting on August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina made landfall. The tape—withheld by the administration from Congress but obtained by the Associated Press along with seven days of transcripts of administration briefings—shows Bush and his Homeland Security chief being warned explicitly that the storm could cause levees to overflow, put large number of lives at risk, and overwhelm rescuers.
In the wake of the death and devastation in New Orleans, President Bush refused to provide the most important documents sought by Congress or allow his immediate aides in the White House to testify before Congress about decision-making in the West wing or at his Crawford ranch in the hours immediately before and after the hurricane struck. His refusal was wrapped in a package of high principle—the need for confidentiality of executive branch communications—the same principle of preserving presidential privacy that, presumably, prevented him from releasing official White House photos of himself with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff or allowing White House aides to testify about the N.S.A. electronic-eavesdropping program on grounds of executive privilege.
The unwillingness of this president—a former Texas governor familiar with the destructive powers of weather—to deal truthfully ("I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," he said in an interview with Good Morning America three days after the hurricane hit) and meaningfully with the people of the Gulf Coast or the country, or the Congress, about his government's response ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") to Hurricane Katrina may be the Rosebud moment of his presidency. The president's repeated attempts to keep secret his actions and those of his principal aides by invoking often spurious claims of executive privilege and national security in the run-up to the war in Iraq—and its prosecution since—are rendered perfectly comprehensible when seen in relation to the Katrina claim. It is an effective way to hide the truth (as Nixon attempted so often), and—when uncomfortable truths have nonetheless been revealed by others—to justify extraordinary actions that would seem to be illegal or even unconstitutional.
Is incompetence an impeachable offense? The question is another reason to defer the fraught matter of impeachment (if deserved) in the Bush era until the ground is prepared by a proper fact-finding investigation and public hearings conducted by a sober, distinguished committee of Congress.
We have never had a presidency in which the single unifying thread that flows through its major decision-making was incompetence—stitched together with hubris and mendacity on a Nixonian scale. There will be no shortage of witnesses to question about the subject, among them the retired three-star Marine Corps general who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war's planning, Gregory Newbold.
Last week he wrote, "I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—Al Qaeda. I retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy." The decision to invade Iraq, he said, "was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results." Despite the military's determination that, after Vietnam, "[W]e must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.… We have been fooled again."
The unprecedented generals' revolt against the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is—like the special prosecutor's Plame investigation—a door that once cracked open, cannot be readily shut by the president or even his most senior aides. What outsiders long suspected regarding the conduct of the war has now been given credence by those on the inside, near the top, just as in the unraveling of Watergate.
General Newbold and his fellow retired generals have (as observed elsewhere in the press) declared Rumsfeld unfit to lead America's military at almost exactly the moment when the United States must deal with the most difficult legacy of the Bush presidency: how to pry itself out of Iraq and deal with the real threat this administration ignored next door, from Iran.
Rumsfeld appeared Friday on an Al Arabiya television broadcast and said, "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the Secretary of Defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round." This kind of denial of reality—and (again) Orwellian abuse of facts and language—to describe six generals, each with more than 30 years military experience, each of whom served at the top of their commands (three in Iraq) and worked closely with Rumsfeld, is indicative of the problem any investigation by the Senate must face when dealing with this presidency.
And if Rumsfeld is unfit, how is his commander-in-chief, who has steadfastly refused to let him go (as Nixon did with Haldeman and Ehrlichman, "two of the finest public servants I have ever known"), to be judged?
The roadblock to a serious inquiry to date has been a Republican majority that fears the results, and a Democratic minority more interested in retribution and grandstanding than the national weal. There are indications, however, that by November voters may be far more discerning than they were in the last round of congressional elections, and that Republicans especially are getting the message. Indeed many are talking privately about their lack of confidence in Bush and what to do about him.
It took the Senate Watergate Committee less than six months to do its essential work. When Sam Ervin's gavel fell to close the first phase of public televised hearings on August 7, 1973, the basic facts of Nixon's conspiracy—and the White House horrors—were engraved on the nation's consciousness. The testimony of the president's men themselves—under oath and motivated perhaps in part by a real threat of being charged with perjury—left little doubt about what happened in a criminal and unconstitutional presidency.
On February 6, 1974, the House voted 410 to 4 to empower its Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation of the president. On July 27, 1974, the first of three articles of impeachment was approved, with support from 6 of the 17 Republicans (and 21 Democrats) on the committee. Two more articles were approved on July 29 and 30. On August 8, facing certain conviction in a Senate trial, Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president.
In Watergate, Republicans were the ones who finally told Richard Nixon, "Enough." They were the ones who cast the most critical votes for articles of impeachment, ensuring that Nixon would be judged with nonpartisan fairness. After the vote, the Republican congressional leadership—led by the great conservative senator Barry Goldwater—marched en masse to the White House to tell the criminal president that he had to go. And if he didn't, the leadership would recommend his conviction in the Senate and urge all their Republican colleagues to do the same.
In the case of George W. Bush, important conservative and Republican voices have, finally, begun speaking out in the past few weeks. William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the modern conservative movement and, with Goldwater, perhaps its most revered figure, said last month: "It's important that we acknowledge in the inner counsels of state that [the war in Iraq] has failed so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure." And "Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq.… If he'd invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn't get him out of this jam." And "The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns to America some kind of geo-strategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, overstretches the resources of a free country."
Even more scathing have been some officials who served in the White House under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush's father. Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy aide in the Reagan administration, a deputy assistant treasury secretary for the first President Bush, and author of a new book, Impostor: How George Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, noted: "A lot of conservatives have had reservations about him for a long time, but have been afraid to speak out for fear it would help liberals and the Democrats"—a situation that, until the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, existed in regard to Nixon. "I think there are growing misgivings about the conduct of the Iraq operation, and how that relates to a general incompetence his administration seems to have about doing basic things," said Bartlett.
After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned.
The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush—at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard.
There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived.
Carl Bernstein is a Vanity Fair contributing editor. His biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton will be published by Knopf next year.
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