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The Americas

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El Salvador’s gang truce: a lost opportunity?

Mon, 18 May 2015 15:32:58 +0000

The truce declared in 2012 may have been imperfect and controversial but positive lessons must be learned amid the country’s current crisis of violence. Murderous month: a young woman, bearing a 'free hugs' placard, joins nearly half a million protesters against violence across the country in late March. Demotix / Luis Alonso López Martínez. All rights reserved.Violence is escalating again in El Salvador. March 2015 was the most violent month in over a decade, and the government is preparing army and police battalions to fight the gangs. These trends mark the definitive end of a process which started in 2012 with a truce between the two main gangs—MS-13 and Barrio 18—and evolved into a more complex and multidimensional approach to reducing violence, with a degree of international support. The process was complicated, imperfect and subject to public controversy but it stands as one of the most significant examples worldwide of an effort to reduce violence through negotiation with criminal groups. With an annual homicide rate of 60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world. It is also a notable example of the trend towards non-conventional, hybrid and criminal violence. A peace agreement reached in 1992 put an end to civil war and initiated a peacebuilding process, which saw rebels of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) make a successful transition to civilian and political life. The FMLN finally won the presidency by a tiny margin in 2009, and by an even smaller sliver in 2014, overturning 20 years of rule by the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). Meanwhile, a complex set of factors triggered a transformation of violence, which became criminal and perpetrated by illegal armed groups, most notably the gangs (maras). A profound crisis of public security has since shaken the country, as well as neighbours Honduras and Guatemala. Successive governments have responded with ‘iron-fist’ approaches focused on crime suppression and militarisation of security. These policies, although of limited effectiveness, have helped to cement the electoral support of a population angered and traumatised by decades of violence. Surprise news In March 2012 the country was taken by surprise by news of a truce between Barrio 18 and MS-13, facilitated by two mediators (a former insurgent and government advisor, and a Catholic bishop) and tacitly supported by the government of the FMLN president, Mauricio Funes. Imprisoned gang leaders were transferred from a maximum-security prison to other jails in exchange for a reduction in violence. The gangs agreed to end forced recruitment of children and young people, respect schools and buses as zones of peace and reduce attacks on the security forces. In the succeeding months, the gangs surrendered limited amounts of weapons and the government acted to address shortcomings in the overcrowded prison system, such as softening visitor searches and removing the army from the task. For the first time since the war, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was invited to contribute and in October 2012 it established a special mission to monitor human rights in prison. The drop in homicides was immediate—from 14 per day to five. The gangs’ leaderships and the mediators were discussing a list of issues to be included in an enlarged process with a wider pacification agenda. Their Proposal for a Framework Agreement for the Recovery of Social Peace in El Salvador included reform of the prison system, a public-private body with gang participation to oversee rehabilitation and reinsertion, derogation of the anti-gang law and removal of the army from public-security duties. Notably absent was any demand for amnesty or reduction of prison sentences. The proposals included suspension of all acts of violence, voluntary surrender to security forces, decommissioning of weapons and explosives, and an end to forced disappearance[...]

An Oxford Scot at King Dubya's court: Niall Ferguson's 'Colossus'

Sat, 23 Jun 2012 16:28:24 +0000

The BBC has made Niall Ferguson this year's Reith Lecturer. To mark the occasion we repost Stephen Howe's 2004 review of his ‘Colossus’, setting the book it in the then young historian’s ideological, political, and – not least – media journey. Is America an empire? Should it be? With Washington appointing its proconsul to rule Mesopotamia the book was a powerful treatment of a highly topical issue - first published on 22 July 2004 The opening minutes of the Russell Crowe film Gladiator depict a dramatic confrontation between the armies of imperial Rome and the wild German tribes who resist them. The Germans reject the Roman demand for submission in fairly forthright style – by sending the emissary back to the legions’ lines, still mounted but headless. As the gory figure gallops into view and the barbarians roar defiance, one of Crowe’s legionary sidekicks says simply: “People should know when they’re conquered.” It’s a scene, a line, and an assertion that could be used as a starting-point for classroom discussion on any and every aspect of the history of empires. “’People should know when they’re conquered’ – discuss, with reference to ancient Rome, medieval Ireland, Victorian Maori or Zulu, 21st century Iraqis…” In the media, a great deal of current debate about Iraq or Afghanistan pivots around the question: when should people recognise that they have been conquered – or liberated? In academia, a large proportion of recent historical work on past British and other empires focuses on related issues: when did people recognise that they were conquered? How did they react, adapt, cooperate or resist? How did they think about those who had conquered them – and how were their ideas about themselves reshaped by the fact of conquest? Meanwhile, behind these debates and researches lies a parallel assertion about modern global politics and its antecedents, less often explicitly posed but only a little less central to current debates among analysts, current affairs polemicists or indeed historians: “people should know when they are conquerors.” This would-be teachers’ aid also carries its associated questions. How should United States – or British – citizens today react to being (or being perceived as) hegemons, imperialists or aggressors? What stories do they tell themselves about their countries’ global roles? How do these relate to their conceptions of national and other identities? How far or in what ways have notions of themselves as “being imperial” entered into, or even constructed, such identities? Niall Ferguson’s worldview revolves almost entirely around those two assertions. Some people – mostly poor and dark-skinned ones – need to recognise that they are conquered, accept the fact, indeed realise that it’s in their own best interests to be so. And other people, especially Americans, must know and accept that they are conquerors and imperialists, shoulder the accompanying burdens, understand that such a role benefits everyone. As Ferguson says in the introduction to his latest book, Colossus (2004): “Unlike most of the previous writers who have remarked on this, I have no objection in principle to an American empire. Indeed, a part of my argument is that many parts of the world would benefit from a period of American rule.” A portrait of the gladiator At only just over 40 years old, Niall Ferguson has been named as one of Britain’s 100 most important public intellectuals by Prospect magazine, and even more notably, as one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time. After a glittering undergraduate and postgraduate career at Oxford University and several years teaching there, he soon achieved a repertory of prestigious posts worthy of some particularly well-connected medieval bishop. For a time, he was simultaneously professor of political and financial history in Oxford, professor of economics at New York University, and senior fellow of the Hoover institution at Stanford. N[...]

Ronald Reagan and America: the real legacy

Mon, 04 Jul 2011 05:23:37 +0000

If you are a subscriber, and want to download the complete Reagan package, click here. “I am a shining city on a hill. You are an American exceptionalist. He is a unilateralist bully.” It is understandable that Americans should mourn Ronald Reagan as a benign figure who made them “feel good about themselves”. But this spoof conjugation makes a point that needs to be heard above the drenching chorus of eulogy that has attended the former president’s death at the age of 93. It is this: there is a direct connection between Ronald Reagan’s discovery that it was “morning in America” and those actions of the George W Bush administration that have made the world such an unnecessarily dangerous place. These actions, it is true, follow the terrorists’ own attack on the American homeland on 11 September 2001. But Bush’s conduct of the “war on terror” has shattered alliances, shaken the United Nations, made middle-east peace more remote, and dissipated much of the admiration and gratitude the United States earned by wise and generous leadership for two generations. What role, then, did Ronald Reagan play in this twenty–four–year shift in the image of America from “shining city” to “unilateralist bully”? The feelgood president One of Ronald Reagan’s most endearing of characteristics was his optimism. He made individuals who met him (as I did when making a TV biography of him in 1988) feel comfortable by his obvious interest in them and friendliness. He was indeed a very nice man. And with his superb media technique he made millions who never met him feel better about their country. Godfrey Hodgson explains the roots of the “conservative ascendancy” in America and its impact on economy and society in his new book, More Equal than Others: America from Nixon to the new century (2004) It is not surprising that people were grateful for that. When Reagan was inaugurated in January 1981, Americans had experienced almost twenty years of traumatic shock. There was the civil-rights movement in the south, welcomed by a majority, but sufficiently threatening to many white southerners to drive them out of the Democratic Party which had been their pallium for four generations. In the north, there had been racial rioting, beginning in 1964, in more than 700 cities and towns. There was the long agony of Vietnam, beginning in a major way in 1965 and ending in humiliation in 1975. There was the shock of college campuses, still seen as holding the most privileged of America’s children, not only explode in rebellion against the war, but also flout every taboo of language, respect and accepted morality. The presidency, the key institution of the modern American political system, was devastated. John Kennedy was assassinated, as were his brother Robert and Martin Luther King, the most charismatic figure to emerge in black America. Lyndon Johnson was booed and driven to abdicate. Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, and Gerald Ford was punished with defeat for pardoning him. For many who remembered Franklin Roosevelt and had seen JFK as his moral heir, Jimmy Carter – for all what we can now see were his real virtues – was a weakling and an embarrassment. Was Martin Luther King, as Godfrey Hodgson says, “the most charismatic figure” of black America? You are welcome to respond to this article in our forums And at the level of bread–and–butter politics, these were years of frustration. In the 1970s, for the first time, Americans became aware that their economy was vulnerable: to Arab oil boycotts, dependence on imports, to competition from Europe and Japan. The dollar, after 1971, was almighty no longer. That was the context of Reagan’s claim, in his campaign for re–election in 1984, that it was morning in America. It was not so much that anything substantive had changed. Morning had been declared. Official. The ingredie[...]

How to be radical? An interview with Todd Gitlin and George Monbiot

Tue, 05 Apr 2011 16:57:00 +0000

openDemocracy: Todd, what is your view of The Age of Consent? Todd Gitlin: There are three reasons I like this book. First, I heartily approve its refusal of gesture politics, of the kind of activism which just stands on the sidelines and condemns everything. Second, I am encouraged by the way George takes government seriously. This is not fashionable with the global justice movement, with its strong anarchist streak. Third, George is looking for plausible sources of power that are not conventional ones, such as the idea of a world parliament. I’m not persuaded, but I do respond seriously to your injunction, George, to come up with something better if I don’t like your suggestions. Some related texts about global governance and radical protest on openDemocracy:David Held and Paul Hirst – Globalisation: the argument of our timeTom Nairn – Globalisation today: a human experienceSimona Milio and Francesco Grillo – How to reform global governance?Pierre Bourdieu – The politics of globalisation Paul Kingsnorth – The end of the beginning? Adam Lent – The rocky path of social movementsFrank Vibert – The new cosmopolitanismMarlies Glasius – Global civil society comes of age We are not supposed to believe in the possibility of utopian yet achievable change after the fall of communism. But George has taken seriously the exercise of imagining a source of power which can actually tilt the world towards greater justice. I found the book extremely stimulating. I frequently argued with you as I read. But I appreciated the imperative to do so. I’m not usually stimulated to think on this scale, and I hope your book has the same effect on others. openDemocracy: George, what is your view of Todd’s book Letters to a Young Activist? George Monbiot: It is resonant with wisdom. It performs a critically important function for today’s activists. We in the global justice movement tend to be woefully ahistorical. We have very little grasp of our antecedents, of what has already been tried. We have a tremendous romanticism about the 1960s and the New Left. There’s an assumption that it was an easy ride, that the 1960s permitted people political liberties which aren’t available today, in which activists only had to push gently at the open door and it would swing wide open to allow in the new politics. One of the extremely useful functions of Todd’s book is to show us that it wasn’t like that at all. Politics were as tough then as today, in some respects tougher. You were up against extremely powerful reactionary forces which in some cases were better organised and came out in larger numbers than did the progressives. We see ourselves very much as the inheritors of the legacy of the 1960s, but we haven’t understood that legacy, and we’ve failed therefore to learn the lessons that you learned, Todd. It’s been revelatory to me to be able to make comparisons between, for instance, moronic movements like the Symbionese Liberation Front and elements of the Black Bloc today. Both mistake an aggressive assertion of identity for political action, and by doing so devastate the constructive efforts made by many other people. I urge all those who are active in politics today to read the book. openDemocracy: Todd writes that as the Vietnam war became unpopular in the United States towards the end of the 1960s, so – paradoxically – the anti-war movement also became unpopular. Is there a parallel today, George? The larger public may be increasingly disenchanted with the consequences of globalisation as headed by George Bush but at the same time it may turn against the protest movement. George Monbiot: Yes, there are plenty of signs that the messengers are being blamed. I’m constantly struck by the fact that people whom I try to reach often deeply resent me for even trying to reach them. Todd Gitlin: Isn’t the problem different? Today’s[...]

Burma's struggle, Aung San Suu Kyi's role

Sun, 14 Nov 2010 14:41:00 +0000

Burmese people across the world, whether in the homeland or in exile, have for the last eighteen years marked today's date with particular sharpness and poignancy. 8 August 1988 was the occasion of a massacre in the capital Rangoon in which the emerging, democratic “people's power” movement of students, workers and citizens was drowned in blood. The military regime which had ruled the country since 1962 showed that day and in the forty days of nationwide repression that followed (in which perhaps 10,000 people altogether were killed, including 3,000 on the day itself) that its determination to retain its power was absolute. This was confirmed when the ruling junta, having been forced by the strength of the people's will to concede an election in 1990, refused to recognise the overwhelming victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the terrible events of “8-8-88”, millions of Burma's people have endured continuing repression, suffering, hunger and hardship under a pitiless dictatorship. But if they do not give in to the temptation of despair, much of the reason lies in the fortitude and constancy of Aung San Suu Kyi herself, who in surviving three periods of house arrest (of which the current one is the most severe and isolating) has proved herself an inspiration to her people. Daw Suu (Daw = “auntie” in Burmese, a prefix of respect for a mature lady) is the daughter of independence hero Aung San and the recipient of the Nobel peace prize in 1991. Today, she will not be able to join her friends and colleagues to mark this melancholy anniversary. But in her Rangoon confinement, she must know that all Burmese who care for their country's freedom and future are connected to each other partly through the living presence of The Lady. Kyi May Kaung is a Burmese human-rights activist, artist and writer who has lived in exile since 1982. She holds a doctorate in political economy from the University of Pennsylvania. Most recently she worked for the Burma Fund, affiliated to the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the democratic government in exile A Burmese life Aung San Suu Kyi is in many ways an embodiment of Burma's (renamed “Myanmar” by the junta in 1989) modern history. Her father, General Aung San, was gunned down with his entire cabinet on 19 July 1947 at the age of 32 by a nephew of his political rival, U Saw. Among the other victims (who came to be known collectively as “the martyrs”) were friends of my parents such as the Mongpawn Sawbwa, and the Shan chieftain Sao Sam Htun. While the Mongpawn Sawbwa survived in hospital for a few days after the assassination attempt, Aung San died on the spot. It has become part of Burmese people's national legend that when U Saw's nephew burst into the room, Aung San – sitting at the head of the long table – stood up and stretched out his palm outwards, appealing for peace and forbearance. But he was shot point blank and his body slid under the table. A student of my father who was near the secretariat that day rushed to the scene and arrived just in time to witness the bodies being pulled down the stairs, bump by bump. This painful memory, part of our collective trauma and multiple individual traumas, has been replenished many times since, not least by the military's shootings of civilians in 1962, in 1976 and in 1988. 1988 was the great watershed event that has changed all our lives. But it was not the end to Burmese people's travails; almost two decades after the junta's crackdown, Burma's rulers are still tightening the screws. At a “birthday party” to mark Daw Suu's 61st birthday on 19 June 2006 in Silver Spring, Maryland, Christina Moon of the US Campaign for Burma showed a photograph of the shaved head of the remains of Thet Naing Oo, a dissident beaten to death on the streets of Rangoon in fu[...]


Tue, 24 Aug 2010 19:36:05 +0000

In the end I decided not to take it. There were the army roadblocks and checkpoints going into the city, and vehicle searches. I did not savour the prospect of being found by the United States military to be in possession of an unregistered weapon, even if it was a sixty-year-old, second-world-war souvenir and had not been fired in decades. But I supposed I was more haunted by the idea of giving in, of saying that civilised rules of conduct no longer applied, of asserting that carrying a gun was the only means of survival. I kept running the constantly-repeated video images of looting and lawlessness through my mind, the vicious looks the looters threw at the cameras as they ran by. They could still be there, a nest of them, camping in my home. There could be... there could be anything. I supposed that was when I shook my head and stopped. This was all getting too big in my imagination. I was being a fool, giving in to the Bad Guys. And thus I made up my mind. I would not take the gun. It was a decision I would come to regret. South Louisiana bayou country is a powerful, deep place, and yesterday morning the land made its point softly and without effort. A full harvest moon hung just above the tree line to the west, golden and soft-edged, while at the same time in the east, rising out of a twenty-foot-thick gauzy blanket of fog, a blazing red sun slowly cleared the horizon, the perfect disk intersected by the thin horizontal cuts of low clouds. As I drove the old bottom-heavy Mercury up onto the elevated highway outside of Lafayette, I could see the cane fields spread out in all directions, green and uniform like a giant's out-of-scale carpet. Only about a quarter of the fields were already blackened and cleared. At harvest time, the quarter-mile green squares are purposely set with a controlled fire to burn off the superfluous lower leaves before the ten-foot-tall stalks are gathered. I remember when I was a child being told to stay away from the autumn fires, as all sorts of animals and snakes rush headlong from the fields, fleeing the smoke and flames. Which was why, I suppose, there were numerous "Bear Crossing" signs all along the highway as I rode southeast through Terrebonne parish. I was lulled by the passing scenery, given such comfort by rural memories that I almost forgot why I was riding through the countryside in my mother's huge squeaking car with a trunk full of water, machines and provisions. I was driving into New Orleans, a city first ravaged and then abandoned, to see what parts of our lives had been left intact. And if this narrative has already grown a bit flowery, I suppose it is in reaction to the fact that I was truly frightened, and was looking for anything at all to keep me calm and level-headed going into a place so recently a seat of anarchy and death and all the horrors in between. OK. I was scared. The first signs of the hurricane began immediately upon crossing Highway 1, the sole thoroughfare all the way down Bayou LaFourche to the Gulf. We crossed the bridge and came upon a clutch of uprooted river oaks, the first of many roofs and signs we would see that had been draped without care or seeming effort in the remaining trees. Highway 90 had been cleared of debris and limbs. Amazingly so. It had only been three weeks since the Category 5 storm had marched across the coastline, and here was a major highway, running freely and without impediments. The shoulders of the road, though, were piled high with trimmed and stacked limbs, the leaning trees cut off roughly as they approached the roadbed on both sides. The leaves were already dead and brown, and there was a sense that whatever had happened to so severely disrupt, and then hack into submission, the surrounding forest was long gone. There were few cars on the road, it was early on a Sunday morning after all, though stores and cafes were opening in each of the small towns and villages we passed. [...]

"Born-again" Muslims: cultural schizophrenia

Thu, 10 Sep 2009 23:15:00 +0000

In the immediate aftermath of the skybombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 11 September 2001, anyone with a minimum of human sympathy will be overwhelmed by feelings of rage and despair. Politicians, responding to the public mood, declare a “war on terrorism”. The airline industry goes into the proverbial nosedive. The stock markets tumble and experts predict that to the cost in human sorrow will be added the pain of economic recession. Muslim statesmen and spokesmen, fearful of the consequences of America’s ire, denounce the attack as contrary to everything that Islam stands for. But Palestinian Muslims are shown on TV dancing in the streets and in Pakistan, Islamic militants are shown demanding jihad (“holy war” or “struggle in the path of Allah”) against the United States in the event of an attack on Afghanistan. Pakistan, pressured by the United States, agrees to join the “coalition against terrorism” despite fears that collaboration with the US will meet resistance from the Taliban and their Pakistani supporters. Yet a US attack on Afghanistan could trigger the overthrow of the moderate, pro-western government headed by General (and now President) Pervez Musharraf, placing Islamist fingers on the nuclear button long before President George W Bush’s "national missile defence" initiative is ready for action. An American attack on Afghanistan could well precipitate the overthrow of pro-western regimes not only in Pakistan, but in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan and north Africa. Should this occur the attack on New York and Washington will no longer be seen as acts of “nihilistic” violence as some commentators maintain. Seen from the terrorists’ perspective it was an act of provocation aimed at unleashing a global conflict between a revitalised “Islam” and “the west”. Whether or not George W Bush’s “war against terrorism” will generate such direful consequences remains to be seen. The dust has to settle and the debris cleared, with its hideous burden of human remains, before the international ramifications become fully apparent. Yet certain patterns are already beginning to emerge. Contrary to the rhetoric of politicians, the attack was far from being “cowardly” or “mindless”. A brilliantly executed feat of planning, coordination and execution backed by an astonishing degree of courage, the attack exemplifies something that has come to characterise the modern (or "post-modern") world: the union of the symbolic with the actual, the mythical with the material, in a single act of destruction shown live on television. Solidarities of tribe and faith The United States president, using the language of a Texan sheriff, has announced Osama bin Laden is “wanted dead or alive” for mass murder in New York City and Washington. The evidence linking the Saudi dissident with the atrocity appears to be largely circumstantial and it is doubtful if, on present reckoning, it would stand up in a court of law. One should, of course, be cautious before drawing firm conclusions. But if press reports fed by leaks from the FBI are accurate, the finger points directly to Osama bin Laden. Although the networks over which he presides are loosely structured - he does not apparently use his own satellite phone in case the calls are traced to him - the fact that the hijackers are thought to be Saudis and Yemenis from the same region as his own family suggests that the inner circle of al-Qaida, its Praetorian guard, may have been directly involved. There are precedents. Throughout Islamic history rebels and reformers - or, to be more precise, rebels against the established order who present themselves as mujaddids (“renovators”) – have allied themselves with closely-knit tribal communities (often their own) with a view to achieve power and[...]

A world of dignity

Wed, 19 Aug 2009 00:58:29 +0000

In discussing world civilisation – whatever that may mean – it is important to remember those who have suffered as a result of a breakdown of civilisation. We must also pay tribute to, and really think hard about, the women, men and children who continue to suffer the impact of armed conflict. By conservative estimates, some eight million men, women and children died in the Great War of 1914-18. Countless others were wounded, imprisoned, displaced or disappeared. Millions more were scarred by this horror, a horror that occurred among what are viewed as being some of the pre-eminent civilisations of that time. The United Nations in Baghdad: a tragedy for the world On 19 August 2003, while a press conference about clearing landmines was taking place, a huge bomb exploded in the headquarters of the UN mission in Baghdad. Many senior and respected UN officials were killed in addition to Sergio Vieira de Mello. They include Nadia Younis, Ranillo Buenaventura, Fiona Watson, and Jean-Selim Kanaan. Arthur Helton of the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of openDemocracy’s humanitarian monitor, was killed in the blast. His co-columnist and close friend, Gil Loescher, was very severely injured. The international community resolved, at the end of that war – whose anniversary falls today – never again to allow such human devastation. Governments banded together to establish the League of Nations, an organisation dedicated to promoting international co-operation and achieving peace and security. Many consider the League to have been unsuccessful. They consider it so because it failed to prevent the outbreak of what became the second world war of 1939-45, which was a conflict – to the extent these comparisons have any meaning – still more terrible than the first. Yet it remains a fact that the League’s creation did see the emergence of a deeper appreciation and awareness of human dignity and the sanctity of human life, as well as of the world’s growing inter-connectedness. It laid the foundation for the establishment of the United Nations and paved the way for the international protection of human rights. It is a source of pride to me that the office of the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, which I arrived at only two months ago, is itself called the Palais Wilson – and was also the original home of the League of Nations. ‘Wilsonianism’ is a concept that is frequently derided as being either naive or a failure, or both; I disagree entirely with the former and only partially with the latter. In short, it would be wrong to underestimate the importance of valuing these post-war achievements. It would be difficult to imagine the establishment today of a similar framework for attempting to ensure peace, security and respect for human rights, such as the UN system, if these institutions did not already exist. If not, would the world we live in today have the capacity and the vision to create a United Nations as pure in its ideals as the one established in 1945? What would the world look like today had the United Nations not existed? It is fortunate that we do not have to answer these questions for real. In the post-war years the international community committed to a set of basic universal values: equality, dignity, tolerance and non-discrimination. We recognised, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that ‘the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world’. ‘Freedom from fear and want’ was our common aspiration. We also agreed, in words of truly elemental passion and force, that ‘we the peoples’ would be ‘determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’. Together, we created a set of international human rights standards rooted fi[...]

Black glove/white glove: revisiting Mexico's 1968

Wed, 01 Oct 2008 23:00:00 +0000

The 2004 Athens Olympics have been accompanied by inevitable reminiscence of Olympiads past in the United States and European media. But their coverage has been marked by a notable amnesia regarding the 1968 games in Mexico City, and in particular about a single incident of terrible violence just before that event whose deep impacts on Mexican history, politics, and society continue to reverberate thirty–six years later. President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz had formally opened the Mexico City games on 12 October of that seminal year in an atmosphere redolent (according to a contemporary New York Times report) of “pageantry, brotherhood 2nd peace.” Just ten days earlier, on 2 October 1968, Díaz Ordaz – for many reasons, but certainly out of determination that the games should proceed unmolested by social protest – had unleashed the combined power of the Mexican military and police forces on a mass of unarmed student demonstrators and other civilians in the city’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas, shooting and bayoneting to death more than 300 of them, then covering up the scale of the slaughter and attendant torture and disappearances. How do societies evade, retrieve and address the painful episodes of their past? openDemocracy examines this question in our Sorry: the politics of apology debate The International Olympic Committee (IOC), even though one of its members had witnessed corpses being piled onto lorries for removal from the Plaza killing ground, voted in an emergency meeting to carry on regardless. The legacy of 1968 The 1968 games would in political terms be remembered in the wider world not for the myriad victims of Mexican state terror (as Octavio Paz called it), but for the black–gloved fists, raised in a silent but eloquent call for black power, of the Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the 200–metre gold– and bronze–medal winners. Their symbolic protest was punished by prompt ejection from the Olympic village by the tidy–minded IOC, suspension from the United States national team and vilification by its media. But for Mexicans, for Mexico, October 1968 would carry a very different political legacy: the bloody defeat of a massive, three–month–old student movement that had begun (or so it had seemed) seriously to challenge the sclerotic, authoritarian rule of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the inheritor of the mantle of the victorious Mexican revolution of 1910–20 and the sole party of government for almost four decades. And it would be not the black gloves of Smith and Carlos but the single white glove worn as identification by members of the “Olympia Battalion” – a secret army unit of thugs who weaved their way among the students, arresting them and beating them up – that would eventually come to symbolise this watershed in the nation’s history. A watershed indeed, despite the fact that the “Tlatelolco massacre” (named after the housing estate where the event took place) spelt defeat for the burgeoning student–led protest movement of 1968, and that fully thirty–two years would elapse before the election of the first non–PRI president in Mexico’s modern history – Vicente Fox of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), in July 2000. At the time, and appropriately enough, Díaz Ordaz foresaw nothing of the erosive process ahead: “Mexico will be the same before and after Tlatelolco [and] because of Tlatelolco”, he concluded in his memoirs. As Enrique Krauze notes in his Mexico: biography of power, 1810–1996 (English translation by Hank Heifetz; HarperCollins, 1997), “he could not have been more mistaken.” For the Tlatelolco massacre was also, indubitably, the beginning of the decline of the PRI’s hegemony. It might have been otherwise, for the initial cover–up was highly effective and durable. Wi[...]

Guantánamo: the inside story

Tue, 10 Jun 2008 11:00:00 +0000

Listen to the full interview (37.42 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: what is it really like? Hear Clive Stafford Smith, who visits Guantánamo regularly, talk about the camp, the prisoners and what it’s like trying to defend men the president has described as the “worst of the worst.” Listen to part one (3.06 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: what are conditions like for the prisoners? Hear Clive Stafford Smith talk about life of the men – and boys – inside the prison camp. “I have visited most of the death rows in America and none of them compare to the treatment of those prisoners there.” Listen to part two (1.12 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: the lawyer’s story. Hear Clive Stafford Smith talk about what it’s like to conduct client attorney interviews in Guantánamo. “It all depends on whether you believe in Santa Claus.” Listen to part three (2.28 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: How does a prisoner’s lawyer win his trust? Hear Clive Stafford Smith talk about the dirty tricks the US military plays on the lawyers and their clients in Guantánamo: “Nothing I’ve heard, is of any consequence to US security whatsoever, unless the fact that my clients have been tortured and abused by US soldiers is of consequence to US national security.” Listen to part four (3.36 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: why bother to defend men whom the president of the United States has described as the “worst of the worst”? Hear Clive Stafford Smith explain why he is working for the Guantánamo prisoners. “It’s always been a rule of my life that if someone is being hated, you have to get between the hated and the hater.” Listen to part five (3.05 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps You can listen to the entire interview with Clive Stafford Smith (37.43mins) here: in flashplayerin realplayer Guantánamo: the big diversion? Why have only nine of the more than 750 men who have been in Guantánamo been charged? Hear Clive Stafford Smith explain. “Those three people were meant to stand up in court and say ‘I’m guilty’ just like in the days of Joe Stalin … It’s meant to divert your attention from the fact that Osama Bin Laden has never been caught.” Listen to part six (3.20 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: what will happen to the prisoners who haven’t been charged? Hear Clive Stafford Smith on US efforts to save face as it tries to close down Guantánamo. Listen to part seven (5.02 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: has the prison made any contribution to the “war on terror”? Hear Clive Stafford Smith explain why it has been the worst public relations disaster America has ever known. Listen to part eight (2.54 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: the torture. What is the role of the United States in the upsurge of torture around the world? Hear Clive Stafford Smith, whose clients have been tortured, explain. Listen to part nine (5.17 mins) High bandwidth: 128kbps / Low bandwidth: 64kbps Guantánamo: the future. If it is closed down, will that make it all right? Hear Clive Stafford Smith explains that the real problem is the secret prisons around the world and how the US based “catastrophic decision[...]

Fidel Castro's legacy: Cuban conversations

Tue, 19 Feb 2008 22:38:00 +0000

The announcement of Fidel Castro's serious intestinal illness at the end of July 2006, and the occasion of the Cuban leader's 80th birthday on 13 August, inevitably have raised a mountain of commentary about the imminence or otherwise of a transition of power in the Caribbean communist state. But if "what comes after Fidel" is a well-worn topic of op-eds and broadcast interviews, the focus of the answer is less often where it should be: on an assessment of the character – a combination of the institutional, political, and personal – of the Cuban revolutionary experience as a whole. To approach the question in this way is also to recall the three informative encounters I have had with Cuban realities in visits to the island in 1968, 1981, and 2000. The third occasion offered most insight into where Cuba after Fidel may go, but the second also provided an illuminating sense of how elements of the Cuban political elite make sense of their place in the international environment – and of their leader. Also on Cuba on openDemocracy: Bella Thomas, "Paradox regained: a conversation with an old comandante in Cuba" (20 August 2003) Bella Thomas, "Living with Castro" (14 August 2006) A time of mistrust The first occasion I visited Cuba was in 1968, when with the Bertrand Russell Foundation I helped organise a one-month, not-very-strenuous working visit by a few dozen British radicals on a coffee plantation in Pinar del Rio province. The project included a tour of the island, and the experience of witnessing two characteristically marathon speeches by Fidel. The second visit was in 1981, when I was invited by the foreign ministry in Havana for discussions on the situation in the middle east in the context of the then fairly new Israeli threat to Lebanon, which the Cubans saw through the prism of a possible attack on their close allies Syria and (closer to home) the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. During the 1980s, I had further numerous discussions with Cuban diplomats in Europe on issues of concern to them: in the early part of the decade the threat of an American invasion of Nicaragua (and even Cuba itself) dominated their thoughts, but from the mid-1980s onwards the focus shifted to Mikhail Gorbachev's project in the Soviet Union and the gathering gulf between Havana and Moscow. In effect, therefore, the early 1980s were dominated by concern about the yanquis, the late 1980s by concern about what the Cubans always termed, with some irony and frustration, los hermanos (the brothers). The Cubans spotted very early on that something was changing for the worse in the USSR and were not slow to express a view on it. As the years of Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika gave way to the fall of the Berlin wall and the wave of revolution in east-central Europe, Cubans were particularly interested in (and it seemed alarmed by) the uprising against Nikolai Ceausescu in Romania in December 1989, which they saw as a KGB-inspired military coup that could be a dry run for Cuba. This mistrust was evidently reciprocated. Soviet officials I met during those same years in Moscow seemed still anxious about the Cuban propensity for "adventurism" in domestic and international matters. There was graphic evidence of this mutual suspicion in the huge tower of the purpose-built Soviet embassy building down the road from Havana's Institute for International Relations (IRI) in the suburb of Miramar. Cubans joked that the Soviets justified the building in terms of its function as a source of electronic surveillance of the United States, its real purpose was to invigilate them. The IRI, the academic institute attached to Cuba's foreign ministry, was at the centre of my third visit to Cuba in 20[...]

Living with Castro

Mon, 18 Feb 2008 09:00:00 +0000

The boy in the plaza was anxious and insistent. He was trying to sell us cigars. He didn't show us the cigars in his possession; he merely described them. It would be a surreptitious sale. He said he would take us to a place where they have only the best cohibas at extraordinary prices. There were no other tourists in sight. He had fastened on us, and he seemed unwilling to let us go unless we yielded to his supplications. Since we were foreigners, it was clear that he believed us to be billionaires. And if we didn't want cigars, he could get us anything we liked, he told us. He appeared supremely confident about his network, not to say cocky. His insistence began to be a trifle irritating. He would not go away. Having tried to deflect him, Carlos, my Spanish friend, gave in and tried to engage him in playful conversation. "My friend is trying to seek an interview with Fidel Castro". "Ah well", he replied, that is something I could not get you: that is - well - up there beyond the clouds". Then Carlos began to be playfully provocative, as he thought. He had been disarmed into thinking he could speak of politics as he did in Europe. In the course of the banter he asked: "Tell me, in your opinion, do you think Fidel Castro needs to see a psychoanalyst?" The response was startling if understandable. The boy's expression changed absolutely. A look of panic came over his face. He said: "Oh, of that I don't know, I really don't know". And he ran off, disappearing into the crowd in a matter of seconds. Having tried for the previous hour to give him the slip, his departure was nothing if not abrupt. I was on my first journey to Havana, in 1994. It was the lowest point in the post-Soviet period, when Cubans were identifiable by being painfully thin, owing to the lack of available food. It was a time of desperation (the "special period" in official Cuban parlance). It was before the Cuban government had legalised the dollar and had let loose a few meagre elements of the free market: the farmers' markets, the garlic merchants and the small-time restauranteurs. And it was before the tourist trade had begun to pick up. Bella Thomas worked as a journalist and researcher in Cuba and elsewhere in Latin America, and also lived and worked in Madrid for several years. She wrote for a study group (La Sociedad Economica) that looked at communist countries in transition, and for the Washington Post, Politica Exterior, and other publications. More recently she has worked in documentary films, at the British Empire & Commonwealth Museum in Bristol, and organised the Engelsberg Seminar 2006, a conference in Stockholm under the auspices of the Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation on the theme of the secular state and society. Also by Bella Thomas in openDemocracy: "Paradox regained: a conversation with an old comandante in Cuba" (20 August 2003) The staple food rations the government had provided for each individual ever since 1962 had begun to dry up. Many people I met were surviving on a banana a day. It was just prior to the August-September 1994 raft crisis, when thousands of Cubans were given free rein to get to Florida on their makeshift rafts and rubber tyres (partly, it was thought, in a calculated effort to let the most energetic Cubans - the ones who might cause political trouble - get out). The boy in the plaza, who was a hustler and a black-marketeer down to his fingertips, considered suddenly that it was quite possible we were informers, and he did not want to run the risk of his opinions getting in the way of his fragile business network. He didn't know whom we might tell. Opinions on politics can get y[...]

Climate change, global justice: letter to Al Gore

Thu, 11 Oct 2007 23:19:00 +0000

Dear Al Gore, It was an interesting experience to see you in London in June 2006 giving your presentation on climate change; in light of your successful film and book An Inconvenient Truth. It was an impressive presentation on why climate change is happening and what needs to be done to stem its inexorable tide of bad effects. The fantastic images, graphs, charts and high-tech tools carried a powerful set of messages. All this was delivered with a welcome lightness of touch: you have learned how to be funny, ironic, self-deprecating, and witty at others' expense, bringing skill and vigour to the debate in ways that visibly energised your audience. As the impressive delivery flowed, and in the question-and-answer session that followed, it became more and more clear that your message is tightly directed at the United States voter. Your pitch is to convince the American citizen of the need for changes in behaviour that have the effect of cutting back on carbon emissions and investing in new technology, so that his or her children and grandchildren will have a future worth living. It's an appeal to the US public's interests and affections, and there's a profit to be made from it too. New environment-friendly investment, carbon-trading, biofuels, engineering innovations engines … you can have your cake and eat it too. You are engaged here in a Herculean task of persuasion, and you deserve the support and encouragement of non-Americans in pursuing it. If you can help your compatriots to understand the significance of the CO2 emissions their everyday behaviour is responsible for, and take measures to reduce them substantially, that would be of immeasurable benefit to the United States and to the world we share. But in listening to your London talk and your responses to the audience, this is precisely the point at which my own doubts started to focus: namely, your apparent blind-spot when it comes to considering the rest of the world. No one would dispute that it is important to think about future US generations, but what about current generations living in other parts of the world who are suffering the adverse impacts of climate change now? Camilla Toulmin is the director of the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED), a policy-research NGO based in London. An economist by training, she has worked in the drylands of Africa on land, agriculture and livelihood systems. Also by Camilla Toulmin in openDemocracy: "Africa: make climate change history" (May 2005) "The G8 and climate change: a campaigners’ scorecard" (July 2005) – with Saleemul Huq "Why Montreal matters" (December 2005) "Montreal scorecard: Kyoto 157, United States 1" (December 2005) "The G8 summit: don't forget climate change" (July 2006) – with Saleemul HuqYou may recall that in the Q & A session after your tour de force, I asked you about the connection between climate change and global justice, and in particular: are there any grounds for some kind of compensatory mechanism to provide redress for people who have been badly hit by climate change, even though they are the least responsible for carbon emissions? The question seemed to catch you by surprise, as though such issues are not yet on your radar screen. This is itself surprising, for the imperative we face to care for this one and only earth by mitigating global warming is moral as well as environmental and social: it is a question of justice as well as sustainable life, relationships between people and planet as well as self-interest, human solidarity and security as well as lifestyle. As yet, however, it seems that little thought has been given to the fundamental[...]

When the levee breaks

Wed, 29 Aug 2007 23:00:00 +0000

The drowning of New Orleans is a disaster that will scar bodies, minds and landscape for many years to come. Like the Asian tsunami of December 2004, it has transfixed the attention of people all over the world. And like the tsunami, it seems to be a portent for those hundreds of millions who live on the shorelines of the Earth. It could be that the “Big Easy” is the first of the world’s cities to be wrecked by man-made climate change. openDemocracy’s debate on the politics of climate change addresses the science, energy policy, environmental impacts and human experience of this major global issue. It includes contributions from Ian McEwan, Bill McKibben, Fred Pearce, Camilla Toulmin, David King, Jim Di Peso, and a host of others. Caspar Henderson’s “debate guide” is a good overview Whether or not climate change is a key factor, the magnitude of the two disasters is such that they might just be what it takes to break down the mental “levees” that have prevented leading politicians from facing up to the risks from climate change. In particular, New Orleans could be a decisive symbol of unsustainable hubris: built below sea level, next to a “dead zone” of nitrate pollution from the Mississippi river, and looking out on to a seascape of wrecked oil rigs. Heedless over-development of wetlands, reliance on fossil fuels from risky places, diffuse pollution on a vast scale – all the United States’s (and many others’) ecological sins and blindspots are on display. A coastal world at risk The hurricane system in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico may not yet be directly affected by global warming – there is plenty of evidence for half-century cycles of activity that account for the special severity of recent storms. But models of climate change show that warming will probably lead to more severe and frequent storms along with sea-level rise. The tsunami highlighted the vulnerability of big cities and commercial developments that have grown on the coastlines of south Asia and have removed the natural sea defences provided by mangrove swamps. The New Orleans catastrophe provides warning of what to expect on a far wider scale if climate change proves to be as serious as most climate scientists now fear. The bulk of the world’s population lives on or near coasts. The largest cities tend to be at the mouth of big rivers and close to sea level. This presents major risks even for those cities not in the line of fire from hurricanes or tsunamis induced by earthquakes. Sea-level rise poses mounting dangers to great cities such as Venice (notoriously vulnerable to flood and decay, and human loss) and Shanghai (which is beginning to sink into its foundations). Development in heavily populated deltas, such as extraction of fresh water, leads to land sinking at a faster rate than sea-level rise. No less threatening than storm surges and the breakdown of sea defences, is the insidious risk of salt intrusion into water tables. As urban populations demand more fresh water and global warming alters rainfall patterns, so water tables will sink and salt water will invade the aquifers on which cities depend. Dependence on groundwater is all the greater given the high level of pollution in big cities’ rivers and lakes, so the damage done by salt intrusion over the long term could be fatal to large areas of many cities. Salt water has already penetrated 5km below Manila as its water table falls. So the slow-developing threat is potentially as bad as the sudden calamity. But the immediate costs from loss of life, property and insurance risk are much clearer when extreme events hit the shore. The destruction of the big coastal disasters of the past few years must [...]

America's dreaming

Sun, 10 Jun 2007 23:00:00 +0000

Dear Richard, For some years, I have been asking myself why in my country, Iran, America is considered a land of hope and success. Your recent trip to Iran gave a new dimension to my questioning and made me more determined to write you this letter and to share with you my viewpoint on the adequacy and legitimacy of what is known today even by non-Americans as the “American Dream”. It is difficult to live through the opening years of the new millennium, symbolised tragically by the nightmare of 11 September 2001 and the two American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, without stumbling on the concept of “The American Century” formulated in a 1941 Life magazine article of that title by Henry Luce. This lengthy article is devoted to what Luce calls “American internationalism”. Its last paragraph is not very distant from my own current fears and anxieties concerning the real face of the American dream in our world:   “The other day, Herbert Hoover said that America was fast becoming the sanctuary of the ideals of civilization. For the moment it may be enough to be the sanctuary of these ideals. But not for long. It now becomes our time to be the powerhouse from which the ideals spread throughout the world and do their mysterious work of lifting the life of mankind from the level of the beasts to what the Psalmist called a little lower than angels. America as the dynamic center of ever-widening spheres of enterprise, America as the training center of the skilful servants of mankind, America as the Good Samaritan, really believing again that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and America as the powerhouse of the ideals of Freedom and Justice - out of these elements surely can be fashioned a vision of the 20th century to which we can and will devote ourselves in joy and gladness and vigor and enthusiasm.” Henry Luce’s appeal could be, and was, seen by some as a call for United States imperialism and the creation of a capitalist and militarist century. What is more significant, however, is that it sees the American dream as the typical expression of the American century. The prospect that Luce glimpsed in 1941 has, over six decades later, become an unavoidable reality: America is the only superpower left free to define and impose its dream in the new world order. The American dream is the centerpiece of a national intention, which holds the country’s citizens tightly together. But it also has multiple meanings for people elsewhere in the world. To some, it represents a chauvinistic cliché, to others a symbol of good life and achievement. Some, meanwhile, believe that the dream has proven to be the most effective tool ever invented for the subversion of other cultures. In short, people in many countries have a stake in the American dream. The American dream is not only the dream of the Americans, but the dream of others to become American. From the very beginning, America, the land of freedom, has also been the world’s dream: a society built on new foundations, held together not by traditions, but by the idea of a generous and hospitable country open to any experience. I believe that the secret of the American dream’s power of attraction lies in the “invention” of America as a dream. 1492, after all, marks something deeper than the arrival of Columbus after a trans-oceanic voyage; it enshrines the American dream as the founding principle of the nation. The idea that Columbus’s journey represented dream rather than mere arrival has had many consequences. It defined America as a “new world” and cas[...]

The road not taken: the Iraq Study Group

Sun, 20 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) report proposed a way out of the Iraq quagmire in December 2006. Sadly, President Bush chose not to accept the vast majority of the recommendations of a distinguished bipartisan committee led by James A Baker and Lee Hamilton. Instead, his administration adopted just one of its elements, and incorporated it into a new military strategy based on a regular increase (or "surge") in the number of United States troops over a six-month period.This "surge" began to be implemented in February 2007, and there is already a wealth of experience on which to base a provisional judgment of its effectiveness - from the degree of political progress in Iraq to the number and impact of attacks on US forces (six American soldiers were killed in a single incident on 20 May). But an equally valid exercise at this stage is to look back to that pivotal period of the publication and rejection of the ISG report almost six months ago - to consider what was proposed, why Bush dismissed it, and what that suggests about the twenty months ahead.Bob Burnett is a writer based in Berkeley, California. He can be reached at Also by Bob Burnett in openDemocracy: "A liberal foreign policy for the US: ten maxims" (27 February 2007) "America's choice: imperial vs constitutional rule" (10 May 2007) A three-point plan Although it ultimately made no difference in the outcome, the Iraq Study Group agreed to delay the release of its report until after the congressional elections in November 2006. That was due to the tone of the document. The ISG report was to open with a grim assessment, at odds with the calculated optimism of the Bush administration: "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating". It went on to deliver a sober summary: "Current U.S. policy is not working, as the level of violence in Iraq is rising... Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq, which is the absence of national reconciliation." For the ISG, "reconciliation" meant the willingness of Iraqi leaders to bring together Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurds into an effective government. The ISG, acknowledging that there was no flawless Iraq strategy, advocated a threefold approach involving diplomacy as well as military and political action. Its report advised that the United States "should immediately launch a new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region." It recommended talking to all of Iraq's neighbours, including Iran and Syria, and noted: "There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and president Bush's June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine."Also in openDemocracy on the Iraq Study Group and the military "surge" strategy in Iraq: Sami Ramadani, "Iraq: not civil war, occupation" (7 December 2006) Tareq Y Ismael, "The Iraq Study Group report: an assessment" (8 December 2006) Godfrey Hodgson, "The US in Iraq: stay the course, pay the price" (12 January 2007) Reidar Visser, "Washington's Iraqi 'surge': where are the Iraqis? " (12 January 2007) Paul Rogers, "The Iraq insurgents' surge" (12 April 2007) The ISG stated forcefully what had already become painfully obvious to most Americans: "The most important questions about Iraq's future are now the responsibility of Iraqis." The bipartisan g[...]

Bush's royal crush

Tue, 15 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

President Bush greeted Queen Elizabeth in Washington on 7 May 2007 as a royal distraction from polls showing him as the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. Bush has held the fewest number of state dinners of recent presidents, only four previous ones, but for the queen he staged a white-tie affair and even forced himself to stay up past his usual 9 o'clock bedtime. Also in openDemocracy on the Queen goes to Washington: Godfrey Hodgson," Queen Elizabeth meets President George" (9 May 2007) The queen's events began with a welcoming ceremony on the south lawn of the White House. "You've dined with ten presidents", Bush read from his speech. "You helped our nation celebrate its bicentennial in 17 - in 1976," he said, quickly recovering. He turned to the queen, smirked, winked, paused and then said to the crowd: "She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child." Confronted with a dignified white-haired woman failing to participate in his shenanigans, Bush instantly equated her with his mother and her silence with disapproval. In his experience the most common look that a mother gives a child is censorious. The queen's presence instinctively prompted him to declare himself a naughty little boy. Indeed, the queen and the president have had a mother-and-child-like history. During the queen's 1991 visit, then first lady Barbara Bush, anxious about her ne'er-do-well eldest son, instructed him not to speak to the queen. "The family never knows what he'll say in polite society", the Washington Post commented at the time. "Are you the black sheep of the family?" Queen Elizabeth asked him. "I guess that might be true", he said. "Well, I guess all families have one", she replied. He asked her who the black sheep was in her family. "Appearing from out of nowhere", the Post reported, Barbara Bush swooped from across the room to save the queen, shouting, "Don't answer that!" The queen maintained her regal silence and walked away from the impertinent prince. Sidney Blumenthal is a former assistant and senior adviser to President Clinton. He is the author of 'How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime' (Princeton University Press, 2006). He writes a column for Salon and the Guardian. Among Sidney Blumenthal's recent articles in openDemocracy: "Neocon fantasy, Iraqi reality" (20 September 2006) "Bush’s bunker of dreams" (13 December 2006) "Washington’s political cleansing" (17 January 2007) "The Libby trial: contortions of power" (7 February 2007) "The Republican subversion of law" (20 March 2007) "Bush besieged" (4 April 2007) " Bush’s soft-focus hard-edge" (2 May 2007) After presiding at a lunch for the queen at Blair House, across Pennsylvania Avenue, President Bush, walking back, heckled a Newsweek photographer, demanding that he admit it was "a special day" at the White House, and then berating him: "Then why didn't you wear something other than hand-me-down clothes?" The photographer, however, had not received the white-tie invitation. That afternoon, the queen attended a garden party at the British embassy for several hundred guests. Knots of neo-conservatives surged toward the canapés. Neocon New York Times columnist David Brooks, in his best imitation of Uriah Heep, wrote of the event: "Although as a child I had turtles named Disraeli and Gladstone, I was never invited[...]

The crisis of Colombia's state

Mon, 14 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

The editor-in-chief of the Colombian weekly, Semana, is driven around in an armoured car with several bodyguards. Semana is a key source of some extraordinary political revelations over the last few months in a country with extraordinary politics. At the same time, it should be said that the "news" about connections between paramilitary groups and politicians in Colombia - which on 14 May 2007 led to the arrest on criminal conspiracy charges of twenty politicians and business leaders, including five congressmen, almost all political allies of Colombia's president, Álvaro Uribe - only confirms what many observers have known for a long time. In 2005, I visited Sincelejo in the northern department of Sucre, and found a town in the grip of fear. Locals talked about a new form of politics: narcoparamilipolismo (rule by an alliance of paramilitary, politicians and drug-traffickers). Nearby in San Onofre, they were digging up the remains of some 500 victims of the local paramilitary boss known as Cadena (Chain), whose henchman had just spilt the beans on a mass grave on El Palmar farm. It was from here that a group of paramilitary set off on 17 January 2001 to massacre twenty-seven peasants in El Chengue village. Jenny Pearce is professor of Latin American politics in the department of peace studies, University of Bradford. She researches situations of poverty, inequality and violence in Latin America and the social-action efforts needed to address them. Among her works is (with Jude Howell) Civil Society and Development: A Critical Exploration (Lynne Reiner, 2001) Sincelejo was a chilling place, despite the fact that the paramilitary were at the time supposedly demobilising in Santa Fe de Ralito. Yet it had once been the centre of vibrant civic and peasant movements. Many of these social leaders are now dead; "there is no civil society here", one surviving NGO activist lamented. War and politics intertwined The wave of exposures is politically of great significance. Colombia's attorney-general has publicly stated that they are more serious than the most severe political crisis of Colombia's recent history, unofficially known as the "8,000 process", when Ernesto Samper was investigated for the partial funding of his presidential electoral campaign of 1994 with drugs-cartel money. The Washington Post is now talking about "Paragate". The speculation is whether President Álvaro Uribe - in his second term of office and despite the scandal, while being buoyed by a 72% approval rating in the four main cities of the country - will manage to distance himself from the scandal, even though most of the politicians involved are his supporters. But the questions at stake are not so conjunctural. Colombian politics are a labyrinthine world. The thread of continuity is the intransigent resistance to democratising and pluralising political change and socio-economic reform on the part of key sectors of the Colombian elite. To them, supping with the devil of private armed groups and drugs mafias has been an acceptable cost for the pacification of the country and its insertion into global economic markets. At stake are big issues that affect the lives of millions of Colombians: what kind of peace is being created in Colombia, what kind of democracy, and what kind of economic development - and for whom? The revelations began, following the impounding in 2006 of the computer of the paramilitary leader known as "Jorge 40". The computer revealed in great detail the formal agreement made in 2001 between northern[...]

Mahatma 189

Thu, 10 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

"You know, Jim-Jim, this non-violence shit really pays."This from the mouth of the infamous "Mad Dog" Salvatano, semi-retired bookie and gambler extraordinaire.The setting: happy hour at Tujague's Bar on Decatur street, New Orleans, on a classic spring Monday. I made note of the occasion immediately onto a cocktail napkin. I wanted to research later to see if some heavy-metal planet oozing radiation had slipped from orbit, reasoning that there must be some cause for what I had just heard. Contradiction on such a cosmic scale does often not occur without a substantial prompt.And The Dog is not known as a master of self-restraint in any portion of his life. Thus, his name. This man was embracing non-violence?He had more to say.Jim Gabour is an award-winning film producer, writer and director living in New Orleans. His website is here A full list of Jim Gabour's articles in openDemocracy to date: "The deliveryman's story" (28 March 2006) "Urban renewal" (23 June 2006) "The big heat" (10 July 2006) "Insecticide" (21 August 2006) "Life as a remainder" (14 September 2006) "Long life lines" (6 October 2006) "Swimming" (19 December 2006) "The two worlds of New Orleans" (26 January 2007) “Cutting loose” (4 May 2007) "Yeah, me and my lady we was watching Gandhi last night..." I felt another slip in the universe."...and there he was in prison..."This I knew he could relate to. "... wearing a uniform with the numbers 189 on the pocket."OK..."So I got up right then and there and drove to the Cracker Barrel Mini-mart and put a buck on the Lotto Quick Pick 3, betting the numbers 1, 8 & 9..."Oh, no."I tell the cashier where I got my numbers, and she's cute and laughs. Seems to like me, I mean, but who doesn't? Who can resist The Dog in his prime? Though she has these dimples, which are making me crazy. So I buy us each a beer out the cooler, and we have a little talk about this philosophy stuff. We drink a second beer. Almost no customers, you know, on a Sunday night. Even let me sit behind the counter with her while we was sipping our brews. Very classy dame. I got her number."Then I figured I'd go finish the movie and get some more of the scoop, but by the time I get home, this Gandhi guy is dead, and Linda smells somebody else's perfume on me and asks me where I been and isn't any too hot about giving me a recap of the plot. "I figure it can wait and go to bed. Alone."So I get up this morning, look at the paper, and sure enough, there it is: the Quick Pick 3 winning numbers are 189. Natch. I won me five hundred bucks because a dead Indian went to jail in South Africa. I'm gonna watch that movie all the way through tonight. Maybe he sent me some more messages, hunh?"I added that to my notes. The Dog looks to Gandhi for messages, I wrote.Looking at the wadded, marker-stained cocktail napkin now, I have decided to add the flimsy piece of paper to my mojo altar. It's best to pay attention when these things happen, and I am.Gandhi probably did, too.[...]

America's choice: imperial vs constitutional rule

Wed, 09 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

The increasingly adversarial relationship between President Bush and the Democrat-controlled Congress represents either the resurgence of the traditional United States system of checks and balances or the increased polarisation of American politics. Viewed as an indicator of the state of US democracy, the debate over Iraq policy is a positive sign, evidence that the normal - albeit labyrinthine - US political process has returned. Many political observers have written off the Bush presidency as disastrously incompetent. Outside the White House, there is near universal agreement that the invasion of Iraq was the worst US foreign-policy blunder in recent memory. Meanwhile, most of Bush's other decisions - such as insisting on tax cuts while embarking on a lengthy "war on terror" - are similarly scorned.Bob Burnett is a writer based in Berkeley, California. He can be reached at Also by Bob Burnett in openDemocracy: "A liberal foreign policy for the US: ten maxims" (27 February 2007) Nonetheless, political observers note that the Bush era marks the zenith of the neo-conservative notion of the "imperial presidency": the idea that because America is at war, the three branches of the federal government are not co-equal; the executive branch takes on extraordinary powers and presidential actions are not subject to review by Congress or the judiciary. On 1 May 2007, when President Bush vetoed appropriations for Iraq, he said: "This legislation is unconstitutional because it purports to direct the conduct of the operations of the war in a way that infringes upon the powers vested in the Presidency by the Constitution, including as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces." A president's mission Bush's design for an imperial presidency surfaced after 9/11, aided by four events: traumatised Americans required reassurance that their president would protect themthe White House message machine, directed by the Machiavellian Karl Rove, played on this fear and convinced Americans that only Bush, as commander-in-chief, could save them from further attacksCongress acquiesced to the administration's plansnoting Bush's popularity, the American press gave the White House a free ride. Only after it became painfully obvious that Bush erred in declaring "mission accomplished" in Iraq, did his imperial presidency come under attack. Yet, the initial criticism didn't penetrate the consciousness of American voters: Bush's image as a stalwart commander-in-chief persisted and he prevailed in the 2004 presidential election. The president maintained his aura of invincibility until hurricane Katrina revealed him as an ineffective executive, the occupation of Iraq produced civil war, and numerous Washington Republicans were implicated in scandals. Among openDemocracy’s recent articles on United States politics and foreign policy: Ruth Rosen, " America's election: Daddy’s swagger vs Mommy’s care " (14 November 2006) Godfrey Hodgson, " The US in Iraq: stay the course, pay the price " (12 January 2007) Michael Lind, " What next? US foreign policy after Bush" (12 February 2007) - with responses from Mary Kaldor, Richard Falk, Sankaran Krishna, Mark Kingwell, Mark Luccarelli and David Rieff, and a reply by Lind Sidney Blumenthal, " The Republican subversion of law " (20 March 2007) Godfrey Hodgson, " Democracy in America: the money trap " (27 March 2007) Sidney Blumenthal, " The Republicans’ grand e[...]

Benedict XVI in Brazil: raising the Catholic flag

Tue, 08 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

Pope Benedict XVI on 9 May 2007 begins his first visit as pontiff to the western hemisphere and, in particular, to the world's largest Catholic nation: Brazil. There are plenty of reasons to see the six-day trip as a historic test for the Vatican, for the Brazilian Catholic church, and for Benedict XVI himself. In the two years of his pontificate, neither Brazilians nor Latin Americans have so far appeared at the centre of his attention, despite the fact that 500 million Catholics live here. The neglect is astounding, and reinforces the sense that the visit will be for the pope a trial by fire. Benedict XVI will encounter a religious landscape very different from the one that confronted his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in his two visits to Brazil (in 1980 and 1991). Brazil is still the world's biggest Catholic country, but it is also experiencing the rapid growth of both Pentecostalism and secularism. It is not surprising, then, that the influence of secular values and the dramatic rise of Pentecostal "sects" will be high on the agenda of the fifth general conference of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops (Celam, 13-31 May 2007) at the small city of Aparecida, near São Paulo. Benedict XVI is expected to attract more than a million people to two open-air masses during a journey that is confined to São Paulo, Brazil's wealthiest and most populous state and the headquarters of one of the world's largest Roman Catholic dioceses. The pope will address more than 30,000 Catholics in Pacaembu soccer stadium on 10 May; celebrate mass before a huge crowd at São Paulo's Campo de Marte airport on 11 May (where he will also canonise the first Brazilian-born saint, Antonio Galvão, known as Frei Galvão); and conduct a second open-air mass in front of at least 350,000 people at Aparecida on 13 May. Behind the great numbers lie important matters of theological and even political substance. John Paul II's first visit to Brazil in 1980 (which lasted for two weeks) derived some its character from its implicit contest with the country's authoritarian military regime, and with others across the continent. The Brazil and the Latin America that Benedict XVI is visiting in 2007 have undergone great political, religious and economic changes in this generation, which have had the accumulative effect of weakening the church's once unquestioned dominance. This time, the challenges of the pope's visit are as much to the church itself. Rodrigo de Almeida is a Brazilian political journalist, and a researcher at Núcleo de Estudos do Empresariado, Instituições e Capitalismo (Center of Studies of Entrepreneurial, Institutions and Capitalism / NEIC-Iuperj) in Rio de Janeiro. He was a visiting scholar at the New School for Social Research in New York. He co-edited (with Arthur Ituassu) the book O Brasil tem jeito? (Jorge Zahar, 2006) Also by Rodrigo de Almeida in openDemocracy: "Brazil in the world: principle and practice" (19 January 2007) "Brazil, the United States and ethanol" (30 March 2007) The growth in Pentecostal ranks is attracting high-level attention not only from Catholic officials but from politicians. In the presidential election in Brazil in November 2006, for instance, the incumbent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva strongly courted the Pentecostal vote. In the last Brazilian congress, some 10% of the 600 congressmen were evangelicals, mostly Pentecostals. This pattern of increased political participation is one that is being[...]

Queen Elizabeth meets President George

Tue, 08 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

First Helen Mirren, now Elizabeth Windsor. Her Majesty's visit to Jamestown and - no doubt more to her taste - to the Kentucky Derby, have brought Americans face to face again with their most ancient taboo: monarchy. During Queen Elizabeth II's state visit to the United States on 3-8 May 2007, the democratic citizens of the world's first geographically extensive republic have been confronted once again with the incarnation of the detested system from which the Founding Fathers freed them (with the crucial help of the Most Christian King of France) in the 1770s. The American papers have once again responded, as on previous royal occasions, with a curious mixture of principled contempt and anxiety to be invited. There is something strikingly confused about American attitudes to monarchy. The Washington Post, for example, published a (rather offensive) cartoon of the queen which congratulated the United States on being saved from "the madness of King George". Also in openDemocracy, a debate on "A world without monarchy? ", including: Solana Larsen "Being royalist the Danish way" (9 May 2002) Adam Zamoyski, "Poland: royal memories in the heart of Europe" (23 May 2002) Misaki Kamouchi, "Japan: from the divine to the human" (23 May 2002) Dejan Djokic, "Serbia: monarchy and national identity" (31 May 2002) Shusha Guppy, "The spirit of Persian monarchy" (25 June 2002) Yet the White House, white-tie dinner for the queen on 7 May, the Washington Post reports, was "the hottest ticket in town". Like a good republican, the president is said not to care for such an undemocratic practice as the wearing of white bowties, but in this case he has brought himself to abandon strict republican practice to please his wife. Absurdly, the press lectured the president - patrician scion of generations of millionaires and alumnus of Phillips Andover, Yale and Harvard, grandson of a senator and son of a president - on table manners. He has been told he should not drink water from a bottle or speak with his mouth full in the presence of majesty. "We are Elizabeth's subjects and she our monarch for a day", editorialised the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in contrast. This was not, however, the universal response. Like the Virginia papers, the Washington Post was full of helpful advice about how to approach the descendant of George III. You address her, the readers were told, as "Your Majesty" the first time, then "Ma'am", which rhymes with ham. At the same time, the Post published a column by Marc Fisher to remind the readers of their republican duty. "The hype and hoopla over the royal visit has driven too many of us to forget who we are. No. We are no one's subjects. We do not bow to kings and queens. When we forget this, we sully ourselves." Likewise the readers of the Louisville Courier-Journal were not all ready to be sullied. While the paper interviewed chef Gil Logan about how he was going to source the greens for the royal salad with good old Kentucky lettuce, a reader disapproved. "Frankly speaking", she wrote, "who cares what the Queen was wearing? It isn't as if she were a trendsetter, or even wears interesting clothes. And it isn't as if we were her subjects. (Thank God, say all my ancestors). At the same it's an honour to have her at the Kentucky Derby, and really gives the race the international prestige it deserves". Ambiva[...]

Cutting loose

Thu, 03 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

After my recent description of the deaths of two strangers, and the effects those occurrences had on my own post-K life, I was reminded by a few New Orleans stalwarts that over a decade ago I had written of another death, also tied to the same location. The occasion was the celebration of the passing life of a close friend, and the few pages I wrote were circulated only to those who knew him. But I was told this week that his family still keeps their (and my) memory of him alive on a website. I had forgotten the piece, had thought it lost, but I rediscovered "Cutting loose" today, stashed amidst musty electrons and some pictures of my friend. I considered asking your indulgence, but I feel that the story (with minimal updating as it was once part of a cookbook), is worth sharing with a wider audience. To me, it once again shows that this town, this wonderful old hole-in-the wall, holds both a physical and a spiritual place worth saving. That said, I offer you a story about death, from a cookbook.Jim Gabour is an award-winning film producer, writer and director living in New Orleans. His website is here A full list of Jim Gabour's articles in openDemocracy to date: "A New Orleans diary" (13 February 2006) "New Orleans ode to carnival" (28 February 2006) "Out of order" (21 March 2006) "The deliveryman's story" (28 March 2006) "An electoral storm in New Orleans" (21 April 2006) "The choice is not choice" (19 May 2006) "Frozen assets: letter from New Orleans" (6 June 2006) "Urban renewal" (23 June 2006) "The big heat" (10 July 2006) "Disarmed" (4 August 2006) "Insecticide" (21 August 2006) "Hell hath no fury: Katrina's weight" (29 August 2006) "Life as a remainder" (14 September 2006) "Long life lines" (6 October 2006) "Swimming" (19 December 2006) "Another day in New Orleans" (9 January 2007) "The two worlds of New Orleans" (26 January 2007) "A song for the kitchen, a song for the heart" (16 February 2007) "Mardi Gras, 2007" (22 February 2007) "Death and life in New Orleans" (15 March 2007) "This is personal" (23 April 2007) Before the afterlife A New Orleanian would not find it odd that a discussion of living in the city should begin with food and a funeral. Life and death hold each other fondly in these neighbourhoods, two ageless lovers engaging arm and arm to move in a slow sexy tango, bumping and grinding on the dance floor, taking turns leading. Maybe that's why so very few things bother those of us who live here. Different sexual proclivities? Have at it. Unfamiliar racial characteristics? Hey, we all look a little peculiar ‘round these parts. Odd religious identity? Child, only five years ago in the Faubourg Marigny there was an Irish Catholic church, a German Catholic church, a French Catholic church, and a Creole Catholic church, all within a dozen blocks of one another, and all getting along just fine for the last century or so. Politics? About as vital here as beer-brand preference, which makes it a bit more important than one would wish, but still no big deal. Hellsbells, these folks don't even care what species you are. Dogs would still be in most restaurants if the Feds hadn't sent down so many damned health restrictions. Basically, in this town if you eat the red beans you must be family. So, dying is not as bad here, they tell me. There's always music. The food is good. And there are cocktails avai[...]

The Malvinas and Afghanistan: unburied ghosts

Thu, 03 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

A few years ago, in my office at the London School of Economics, I was visited by the shrewd former foreign minister of Argentina, Guido di Tella, then a visiting scholar at the University of Oxford. Di Tella, who belonged to a family of prominent liberal intellectuals, had been speaking to a seminar at LSE on the theme of Argentina's relations with the rest of the world. His interpretation of his country's predicament has stayed with me. After all Argentina's modern dramas - the two regimes presided over by the populist military leader Juan Domingo Perón and his wives, Evita and Isabel (1945-1955, 1974-1976); proletarian insurrection; ferocious military repression; flamboyant but fatally deluded guerrilla struggle; a rollercoaster economy which, in the 1920s was amongst the most prosperous in the world; and, not least, the Malvinas war of 1982 itself - Di Tella made a heartfelt plea for Argentina to be a normal, serious, even boring, country. "For once let us be like Austria, or New Zealand", he remarked. To many Argentineans in his audience, and even to some like myself had been exposed over the years to the charms and rhetoric of its politics or the twisting passions of its football or its tango music, this seemed a vain hope. But, liberal optimist and inveterate Anglophile that he was, Di Tella persisted.Also in openDemocracy on the Falklands/Malvinas war: Anthony Barnett, "Churchillism: from Thatcher and the Falklands to Blair and Iraq" (30 March 2007) Ivan Briscoe, "Argentina and the Malvinas, twenty-five years on" (2 April 2007) Justin Vogler, "Argentina and Britain: the lessons of war" (3 April 2007) Celia Szusterman, "The causa Malvinas: mirror of Argentine political culture" (4 April 2007) A changing climateThe reason Guido di Tella came to see me was more specific. The Malvinas war had ended over a decade earlier, and after a decade of cold peace Britain and Argentina had in 1995 reached an agreement to open up the fishing areas around the islands, to allow regular flights from southern Argentina to the islands' capital Port Stanley, and, in general, to a reduction in tension. The then president Carlos Menem had even put aside his Peronist, populist credentials to visit Britain and pay his respects to the British war dead. But Di Tella was worried: the British government, and the Falkland islanders were deluded if they thought this peace would last. Britain's long-term possession of the islands was an anomalous and outdated arrangement that Argentines across the political spectrum would continue to push against. At least let discussions begin on joint sovereignty or other mechanisms to close the gap between the two sides. Di Tella had tried to get the attention of the British political elite and had even, in one of the more extraordinary peace initiatives of modern times, tried to woo the islands over Christmas by sending each family a letter with a Winnie the Pooh bear. Di Tella's initiative led to no change in British or Argentinean public positions. Instead, what he predicted has come to pass. The islanders, backed by the British government, are reaping the benefits of the 1995 fishing-rights deal: in a boom largely fuelled by Spanish firms, they now have the highest per-capita income in Latin America (around $60,000) and foreign reserves of $360 million. The official British position remains unchanged: they will not move unless the islande[...]

The deepening of Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution: why most people don't get it

Thu, 03 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

It is hard for an outsider to get a grip on Venezuela, or the country's President Hugo Chávez. Pick up a copy of the Financial Times , the Economist, the Independent, Wall Street Journal or the New York Times and you will be presented with a frightening vision of a "ranting populist demagogue" (In the words of a British former foreign-office minister, Denis MacShane), an anti-semite who has captured the hearts and purchased the support of hoards of irrational poor people while destroying the country's economy. In the United States, the rise of "authoritarianism" in Venezuela has led to progressive increases in funding allocated to the country's "democracy promotion" agency the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), while the "security threat" posed by the country prompted the Bush administration to set up a special intelligence committee on Venezuela. A cursory glance at the reports of the Inter American Press Association or NED-funded Reporters Without Borders reflects a country where freedom of speech is under threat and human rights under daily assault. The misiones, the Venezuelan government's extensive package of social policy programmes are also subject to blistering criticism. Variously described by critics as a clientilist tool, indication of fiscal profligacy and / or an unsustainable welfare initiative generating a culture of dependency, this $6 billion programme has no redeeming features. Julia Buxton is visiting professor at the Centre for Latin American Studies in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is also senior research fellow in the department of peace studies, Bradford University. Her work includes The Failure of Political Reform in Venezuela (Ashgate, 2001)The view from VenezuelaContrast this with opinion-poll surveys, election results and statistical information "on the ground". Hugo Chávez was re-elected to the presidency in December 2006 with 1.7 million more votes than when he was first elected in December 1998. A March 2007 poll by Datanalisis shows that 64.7% of Venezuelans have a positive view of Chávez's performance in office. Moreover, the majority of Venezuelans are optimistic and confident about the future and there is a high level of support for the new institutional and constitutional framework that the government has established. According to Latinobarometro polling, the percentage of Venezuelans satisfied with their political system increased from 32% in 1998 to over 57% and Venezuelans are more politically active than the citizens of any other surveyed country - 47% discuss politics regularly (against a regional average of 26%) while 25% are active in a political party (the regional average is 9%). 56% believe that elections in the country are "clean", (regional average 41%) and along with Uruguayans, Venezuelans express the highest percentage of confidence in elections as the most effective means of promoting change in the country (both 71%, compared to 57% for all of Latin America). The economy is booming, country risk perceptions have fallen and despite the perception of antagonism, Venezuela remains north America's second most important regional trading partner, and the twelfth largest in global terms. There is a vibrant new community media and a highly combative and antagonistic opposition controlled private-sector media - desp[...]

Bush's soft-focus hard-edge

Tue, 01 May 2007 23:00:00 +0000

Having written extensively on the Bush administration's torture policy, I came to the conclusion, in light of the shocking photographs from Abu Ghraib, that the visual medium is the most powerful and penetrating in communicating the policy's reality. More than two years ago, I brought my idea of making a documentary to Alex Gibney, the director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and he shared my sense of urgency. Taxi to the Dark Side staged its premiere on 27 April 2007 at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. (Alex is the director; I am executive producer.) Through the film runs the story of an Afghan taxi-driver, known only as Dilawar, completely innocent of any ties to terrorism, who was tortured to death by interrogators in the United States prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Taxi to the Dark Side traces the evolution of the Bush policy from Bagram (Dilawar's interrogators speak in the film) to Guantánamo (we filmed the official happy tour) to Abu Ghraib; its roots in sensory-deprivation experiments decades ago that guided the CIA in understanding torture; the opposition within the administration from the military and other significant figures (the former general counsel of the navy, Alberto Mora, and former chief-of-staff to secretary of state Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, explain how that internal debate went, while John Yoo, one of its architects, defends it); the congressional battle to restore the standard of the Geneva convention that forbids torture (centred on John McCain's tragic compromise); and the sudden popularity of the Fox TV show "24" in translating torture into entertainment by means of repetitious formulations of the bogus ticking-time-bomb scenario. Yet Taxi to the Dark Side is more than an exposé of policy. Its irrefutable images are the counterpoint to the peculiar aesthetics propagated in the age of George W Bush, in which, through the contradictory styles of softening nostalgia and hardening cruelty, the president and his followers seek to justify their actions not only to the public but also to themselves. Parts of this column by Sidney Blumethal will be published in different form by the Nexus Instituut of Amsterdam, which held a conference on kitsch attended by the author in November 2006 A Christian cowboy The notion that there might be an aesthetic that informs the Bush presidency would seem to be an unfair and artificial imposition on a man who prizes his intuition ("I'm a gut player") and openly derides complication ("I don't do nuance") - that is, if Bush himself did not insist on the connection. Indeed, he appears on the official White House website, conducting a tour of the art and artefacts he has chosen to decorate the Oval Office, assuming the duty of docent himself. He holds forth on the large windows and the rug with rays of the sun emanating from the seal of the president and the provenance of his desk before getting to the artwork. (On 19 April, Bush recounted to a crowd in Tipp City, Ohio, a story he has told many times, of how he commissioned his wife, Laura, to design the rug and then in defence of his Iraq policy simply remarked, "Remember the rug?") "Each president can put whatever paintings he wants on the wall. I've chosen some paintings that kind of reflect my nature", Bush [...]

Latin American democracy: time to experiment

Sun, 29 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

Ecuadoreans voted massively on 15 April 2007 in favour of holding a constituent assembly. The referendum result was an important victory for the president elected in November 2006, Rafael Correa. He is seeking to exploit a deep-rooted public hostility towards the country's political class to rewrite his country's political ground-rules, partly by extending political participation. In doing so, he appears to be following in the footsteps of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Bolivia's Evo Morales. In the event, some three-quarters of Ecuadorean voters gave Correa's plans to rewrite the constitution their support, albeit with a fairly low voter turn-out in a nation where voting is compulsory. The elections to a constituent assembly are now due to take place in September 2007. The assembly will then have at least 180 days in which to come up with a new constitutional draft. The assembly is to have "full powers", which means (in theory at least) that it will enjoy supremacy over the existing chamber of deputies. Correa's plans to hold a referendum had been at the centre of his appeal to voters during two rounds of presidential voting in the October-November election. He argued that this was what was required if his new government was to tackle the power of the country's established political elite. Only such a reform, he argued, would allow the country's poor majority - to whom his campaign was mainly directed - to participate fully and effectively in the affairs of state. To emphasise his antipathy to what he has called the partidocracia, Correa refused to endorse any candidates in the 2006 legislative elections, a high-risk strategy since he now has no organised backing in parliament and has to rely on a motley coalition to endorse government decisions. Parliamentary approval to hold a referendum was only achieved after fifty-seven opposition deputies were suspended for ostensibly acting in an anti-constitutional way. Correa's critics accuse him of running roughshod over Ecuador's political institutions, and using his current public support to manipulate the country's constitution to his own devices. Rather than opening up the political system, they accuse him of simply following in the footsteps of Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, in seeking to subvert democratic institutions. In the last decade, Ecuador has been one of Latin America's most unstable countries. Between 1996 and 2005, three elected presidents have been forced out before they could finish their allotted four-year terms. There has been almost constant friction between the executive and the legislature ever since the end of military rule in the late 1970s. A new constitution, introduced as recently as 1998, has not helped matters. And the country's main political parties have suffered a much of an erosion of public support as anywhere in Latin America. They are widely reviled as being both inept and corrupt. Also in openDemocracy on new politics in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela: Guy Hedgecoe, "Ecuador's election surprise" (17 October 2006) Guy Hedgecoe, "Ecuador: protest and power" (28 November 2006) George Philip, "Hugo Chávez at his peak" (28 March 2007) Phil Gunson, "Hugo Chávez: yo, el supreme" (13 April 2007) The Venezuelan precedent In some ways[...]

After occupation: a containment strategy for Iraq

Tue, 24 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

Increasing numbers of Americans have come to see that Bush administration's "surge" in Iraq is not working and that the civil war there is escalating. Yet the White House still refuses to set a date for the departure of American troops, even though the administration candidly admits to having no Plan B. This means that that the United States is drifting back to the pre-surge policy summarised by President Bush at the end of 2005 that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." This is like telling a teenager that you will keep supporting him until he starts earning a living. Setting a date for the United States to depart is preferable because it will force the Iraqi government to rise to the security challenges before the US leaves. Otherwise there will certainly be a collapse when the costs - measured in American blood, treasure, and public opinion - force a withdrawal, regardless of the situation on the ground in Iraq. But there is a more important reason for the US to set a date for departure from Iraq and then leave. This is a necessary precursor for rebuilding a strategy of containing the terrorism that will otherwise emanate from post-occupation Iraq. Ian Shapiro is Sterling professor of political science at Yale University, and author of Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy against Global Terror (Princeton University Press, 2007)Unless the US leaves, it is hard to see how it can diminish the widespread doubts the country has created across the region about American imperial ambitions there. And assuaging those doubts will be a vital first step to developing successful containment strategies for terrorism emanating from the middle east.As the Baker commission recognised when it reported in December 2006, it is vital to prevent Iraq's sectarian conflicts from spilling over into neighbouring countries, and to limit the ability of terrorists to transit through those countries into the broader region and beyond. At a minimum this will require working with Syria and Iran.Talk to themDespite the US's many conflicts with the governments of both countries, they share interests in common with America in preventing the spread of conflict and terrorism from Iraq. The Bush administration reversed decades of American policy in the middle east by openly embracing forcible regime-change in Iraq. Before that Syria had cooperated for two and-a-half decades in Lebanon (a process that began, with Henry Kissinger's permission, in an effort to stabilise the country during the civil war in 1976). Kissinger's decision had embodied a widespread belief in Washington, which would persist through successive Republican and Democratic administrations until 2001, that only the Syrians could hold Lebanon together. That belief was reaffirmed in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf war, in which Syria supported the US-led coalition against Iraq. The Syrians stopped cooperating with the US-led military policies in the region during the run-up to the 2003 war in Iraq. Having failed in their support of Saddam Hussein against the US-led invasion, the Syrians then turned their support to the insurgency. Their about-face seems to have been born of the belief that, unless the US failed or became bogged down in Iraq, Syria would be the next target for "regime change". This was a reasonable fear.[...]

The discomfort of strangers

Mon, 23 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

By now most people know that yet another American community was victim of a gun rampage. I cannot try to explain that tragedy beyond the tragic confluence of two truths: guns are too readily available in the United States and some people are severely mentally ill.But there is an aspect of the response to the murders of thirty-two people in Virginia Tech on 16 April 2007 that is in my purview. Seung-Hui Cho, the 23-year old killer was an immigrant to the United States. He was a young man in a sort of stateless limbo: his family immigrated to America from South Korea in September 1992 when their son was 8, but retained their South Korean nationality, although they would have been eligible to apply for US citizenship after five years of permanent residency. Whether they applied and were turned down or chose not to apply has not been revealed. In any case, a close reading of the coverage and the thousands of comments to the website of the New York Times and other weblogs suggest that the question of Cho's "status" in his adopted country may be a significant ramification of this tragedy. A prominent theme of the readers' debate was Cho's identity, the reaction of the Korean and Korean-American communities in the United States, and the uneasy place of immigrants.Also in openDemocracy in the aftermath of Virginia tech: Jim Gabour, "This is personal" (23 April 2007) A Korean in AmericaA Korean passport was the only one he held yet Cho had spent most of his short life outside of Korea. After fifteen years in the United States, most of those the formative ones, he had likely shed his Korean accent. At the same time, his family lived in a predominantly Korean community in Maryland, just outside Washington DC. Consequently, Cho's degree of "Americanness" perplexes the world almost as much as the mental disorder that compelled him to kill himself and so many others.Some argued that he was as American as anyone having attended grade school, high school and college in the United States. Several immigrants to America of Asian origin wrote in to protest his portrayal as Korean. Here is a representative selection of comments from the New York Times debate:"Like Mr. Cho I immigrated to the US from South Korea at about the same age. Like Mr. Cho I have lived way more in the US than in South Korea, though I am about 40 years of age. In fact, as a naturalized US citizen, I consider myself more American than Korean. Enough about Cho being a Korean national. He lived most of his life in the US and could have become a citizen if he wanted to. Yet, the media (including NYT) is treating him like he's some ‘FOB.' Does not having a blue passport mean you cannot be considered as American?" (Charles Park)"Why does the Korean embassy keep apologizing for him? He had been in America for many years, and was in no way an ‘international student', though many of his victims were" (a man who identified himself as a white American whose ancestors had been in the country for hundreds of years)"One of the things I have noticed in various blogs is the apologetic tone of many self-identified South Korean posters. Has the US become such a xenophobic nation that people from an ethnic minority feel obligated to assure the popula[...]

This is personal

Sun, 22 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

Forty-one years before Virginia Tech, there was the University of Texas. Jim Gabour has reason to remember."M.J and Mary Gabour, their two sons, and William and Marguerite Lamport were headed up the steps from the 27th floor. They found the door barricaded by a desk. Mark and Mike Gabour pushed the desk away and leaned in the door to see what was going on. Suddenly Charlie rushed at them, spraying them with pellets from his sawed-off shotgun. Mark died instantly. Charlie fired down the stairway at least three more times. Marguerite Lamport was killed; Mary Gabour was critically wounded, as was her son Mike. They would lay where they fell for more than an hour." Marlee MacLeod, Charles Whitman: The Texas Tower Sniper (account of University of Texas tower massacre, 1 August 1966) I remember when the word came in. I was home from school for the summer, doing full-time manual labor at my family's small weekly newspaper in central Louisiana. The white concrete was hot that day on Boeuf Trace, "Cattle Trail" in Cajun French, which was the name of our recently-paved street, running for a mile along palmetto-filled pastures. We were home for an afternoon meal when the heavy old black telephone receiver began ringing metallically in the kitchen. Maybe I sensed something, knew it wasn't one of my buds, because I did not rush the phone as usual. Jim Gabour is an award-winning film producer, writer and director living in New Orleans. His website is hereAmong Jim Gabour’s articles in openDemocracy: “A New Orleans diary” (13 February 2006) “An electoral storm in New Orleans” (21 April 2006) “The choice is not choice” (19 May 2006) “Urban renewal” (23 June 2006) “Disarmed” (4 August 2006) “Another day in New Orleans” (9 January 2007) “The two worlds of New Orleans” (26 January 2007) “Death and life in New Orleans” (15 March 2007) My father took the call. He was standing at first. I watched the pale, disbelieving look grow on his face as he slowly and carefully sat on the kitchen stool, the phone poised a few inches from his ear, stopping to stare at it every few seconds like it was something horrible, something foul. He listened to the voice, grew paler. Held to the windowsill like he was dizzy. I stood a few feet away and watched silently. Not wanting to intrude. Something was happening here, something was being told to my father. Something bad.I do not remember who was on the phone, who called us first. But the voice told my father that his sister Marguerite Gabour Lamport and his brother's son Mark Gabour were dead. His sister-in-law Mary Francis and our cousin Mike were critically wounded. His brother MJ was tending them, but it was not known if they would survive.Mike, a cadet at the United States air force academy, lived but his legs had been ruined forever from the shotgun blasts. His mother would be paralysed from the neck down for the rest of her life. They had been on a tour of the University of Texas tower. Where my two vacationing young brothers had also been, exactly one week before, taken there by the same Lamports, who were all the family's favorite couple.Only a few days later the cover of Time magazine held a [...]

Brazil: the moral challenge

Wed, 18 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

A major survey of Brazil by the Economist has made the country once more the centrepiece of a great national and international debate (see "Land of promise", 12 April 2007). The theme and the framing of the debate both make sense. Brazil is a big country, an increasingly important player in regional politics and global trade, with a hard-working and friendly population, culturally rich, and blessed with vast natural beauty and resources. So, as Brooke Unger - the author of the Economist's special feature - asks: "Why is Brazil not doing a lot better?"In 2006, I and my colleague Rodrigo de Almeida (of Iuperj, a well-respected institute of political science here in Rio de Janeiro) posed a very similar question to six people whose professional work obliges them constantly to "think the country". The answers became the core of a book we edited and published: O Brasil tem jeito? (Jorge Zahar, 2006)The title contains a very popular, very interesting, and very Brazilian word which embeds a meaning relevant both to the debate about Brazil's future and to the country's everyday social predicament - including the frequent eruptions of terrible violence that impact on many of its citizens. The word is jeito. Arthur Ituassu is professor of international relations at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Rio de Janeiro. His website is here Among Arthur Ituassu's articles on Brazil in openDemocracy: "Lula and Brazil: new beginning or dead end?" (19 May 2005) "A big mess in Brazil" (17 June 2005) "Lula: the dream is over" (18 August 2005) "Brazil: never the same again" (4 October 2005) "Violence in Brazil: all are targets, all are guilty" (17 May 2006) "Brazil at the crossroads" (15 August 2006) "The green and yellow phoenix" (29 September 2006) Brazil, let's talk" (4 October 2006) "Welcome to politics, Brazil" (1 November 2006) The title of our book derived from the memorable use of the word by Gustavo Franco, the economics professor and former president of Brazil's central bank who was one of the architects of the real (currency-reform) project which helped Brazil achieve macroeconomic stability after years of hyperinflation. Brazil, he wrote, has something special, which no other country can have more of than us: jeito, a "way". A thing that has jeito is a thing that can be solved. So the title of our book might be translated as: "Is there a way for Brazil?"The Economist's survey takes a different approach. It is polished and well written, and - though it offers nothing new to Brazilians themselves - presents a clear digest of the current economic and institutional problems. Among them is the absurdly skewed relationship between the cost of Brazil's public authorities and the benefit they provide Brazil's citizens. This mismatch operates at all levels of government - federal, state and municipal - which together account for almost 40% of the country's GDP without guaranteeing even basic health, education, justice or security to millions of citizens. The difficulties extend to the expensive and corrupt bureaucracy, which blocks individual i[...]

The Republicans' grand experiment

Tue, 17 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

On 26 January 2007, J Scott Jennings, the White House deputy political director working for Karl Rove, delivered a PowerPoint presentation to least forty political appointees, many participating through teleconferencing, at the General Services Administration (GSA), which oversees a $60 billion budget to manage federal properties and procure office equipment. Jennings's lecture featured maps of Republican "targets" for the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 2008 election. His talk was one of perhaps dozens given since 2001 to political appointees in departments and agencies throughout the federal government by him, Rove and Ken Mehlman, the former White House political director and Republican National Committee chairman. Rove and Co drilled polling data into the government employees and lashed them on the necessity of using federal resources for Republican victory. "Such intense regular communication from the political office had never occurred before", Los Angeles Times reporters Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten wrote in their book, One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century. At the GSA presentation, the agency's chief, Lurita Alexis Doan, according to a witness, demanded of her employees: "How can we use GSA to help our candidates in the next election?" But when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on 28 March, Doan's short-term memory loss grew progressively worse as she spoke. "There were cookies on the table", she said. "I remember coming in late - honestly, I don't even remember that." At a break, she ordered an assistant to remove her water glass, unaware that the microphone in front of her was still on. "I don't want them to have my fingerprints", she said. "They've got me totally paranoid!" The Oversight Committee is investigating multiple charges against Doan - her attempt to grant a no-bid contract to a personal friend; her effort to thwart contract audits and cut funds of the GSA Office of the Inspector General, which she called "terrorists", after it began a probe into her conduct; and her potential violation of the Hatch Act that forbids the use of government offices for partisan activity. A major Republican contributor who made a fortune as a military and homeland-security contractor, Doan had held no previous government posts before being appointed in 2006 to head the GSA. Like the fabled Michael Brown, "heck of a job Brownie", former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), she is another stellar example of the culture of cronyism that has permeated the federal government under George W Bush. But Doan's instant incompetence and wackiness under pressure disclose more than the price of patronage. To the victor belong the spoils has been the rule since Andrew Jackson. And every administration has displayed cases of abuse. But the Bush administration's practices are more than common and predictable problems with patronage. Bush has not simply filled jobs with favourites, oblivious to their underhanded dealings, as though he were a blithering latter-day version of[...]

Hugo Chávez: yo, el supremo

Thu, 12 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

If the frequency of elections in Venezuela were the sole criterion of judgment, the country might be said to be suffering from an "overdose of democracy" - as Paraguay's president, Nicanor Duarte, put it in mid-March 2007 (in what was intended as a compliment). But if the definition of democratic rule includes the checks and balances provided by the separation of powers, Hugo Chávez's government fails to qualify. First elected in 1998, and re-elected for a second time in December 2006 for a fresh, six-year term, the former army officer used to boast that his 1999 constitution increased from three to five the independent branches of government.But since coming out of the closet as a "21st-century socialist" inspired by Marx and Lenin, he has accumulated powers more usually associated with a dictatorship. The five branches of government are now effectively extensions of the executive, required to display total loyalty. Also on Hugo Chávez, Venezuela, and the "Bolivarian revolution" in openDemocracy: Ivan Briscoe, "The invisible majority: Venezuela after the revolution" (25 August 2004) Ivan Briscoe, "All change in Venezuela's revolution? " (25 January 2005) Jonah Gindin & William I Robinson, "The United States, Venezuela, and "democracy promotion" (4 August 2005) Ivan Briscoe, "Venezuela: a revolution in contraflow" (10 February 2006) Ben Schiller, "The axis of oil: China and Venezuela" (2 March 2006) George Philip, "The politics of oil in Venezuela" (24 May 2006) Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, "After Bush: dealing with Hugo Chávez" (13 March 2007) George Philip, "Hugo Chávez at his peak" (28 March 2007 ) Chávez, already head both of state and of government, will shortly become the leader of a single ruling party, created - like Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the 1920s - not by politicians seeking to form a government but by a government seeking to hold on to power.He has unchallenged personal authority over the armed forces, which now bear the name of his own movement ("Bolivarian", after independence hero Simón Bolívar) and whose generals now routinely proclaim "motherland, socialism or death!" (in violation of a constitutional ban on their involvement in politics).Under a new armed-forces law, his role as commander-in-chief now gives him direct operational control not only over regular troops but also of a political militia (‘reserves' and ‘territorial guard'), intended eventually to number some 2 million.The law specifically assigns the military a role not only in the external defence of the nation but in the maintenance of internal order, which in practice means defending the "revolution".Every member of the 167-seat, single-chamber parliament professes allegiance to Chávez, following an opposition electoral boycott in 2005. Not content with that, he sought (and obtained) powers to rule by decree in eleven key social, political and economic areas for eighteen months.A committee of loyalists, answerable only to him and meeting behind closed doors, i[...]

Kurt Vonnegut : a voice for life

Wed, 11 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

Kurt Vonnegut, who died on 11 April 2007 at the age of 84, once said that he learned "bone-deep sadness" from his parents. He was 21 when his mother committed suicide and in Breakfast of Champions a character remarks "You're afraid you'll kill yourself the way your mother did." He later confessed to himself being a monopolar depressive, even attempting suicide, insisting nonetheless that he was unashamed of the incident, which he would not repeat because he did not want to be "a two-time loser". His father, he recalled, had said some of the funniest things he had ever heard but that he was "the saddest man I ever knew". Perhaps Vonnegut's humour, always with a dark underlay, was his response to a sense of spiritual vertigo. Certainly, the laughter in his work often comes through clenched teeth. In person, he could come across as lugubrious, mixing melancholy with wit. In performance, he was a vaudevillian with a carefully honed act. He was an habitual smoker, believing it a treatment for his depression, but acknowledged the side-effects, one of which being that he set himself alight, causing serious burns. In the end, though, it was writing that proved the real therapy and as he remarked, "I don't think you have to write that close to the truth about yourself in order to feel better. I think that writing detective stories, spy stories or whatever, is probably as therapeutic." In his case the "whatever" would be science fiction.Also in openDemocracy on Kurt Vonnegut: Rob Cawston, "A Man Without a Country" (6 February 2006) Mark Hanrahan, "Slaughterhouse-Five" (26 March 2006) An American epic The Vonnegut family arrived from Germany before the American civil war. They were what he called "educated speculators" who bought into the American dream. They were in flight, he once explained, from "militarism, noblemen and the Catholic church", becoming atheists immediately on arrival. They did not, however, escape the military, serving in the Union army. When he asked what the quality of German troops was in the civil war, he was told, "very poor", and commented "I was glad to hear that." The family, who lived in Indianapolis, were proud of their German roots until the first world war when they found themselves attacked by patriots. Vonnegut remembered German being spoken in the family home. At school he learned physics, chemistry and biochemistry. He was hopelessly at sea, drawing the conclusion that school should prepare people for failure, since "that is what is going to happen to them ... almost everybody loses, as most people who set out to write books, even good books, lose." Later, he would be involved in the Battle of the Bulge whose opening days he described as the largest defeat of the United States army in history. He had an appreciation of defeat, regarding it as an inevitable part of the bargain that is life. Certainly, 1929 seemed to offer evidence for this. His father, an architect, lost all his money while commissions dried up. He could bear it. His wife could not, blaming him for thei[...]

Bush besieged

Tue, 03 Apr 2007 23:00:00 +0000

The rise and fall of the Bush presidency has had four phases: the befuddled period of steady political decline during the president's first nine months; the high tide of hubris from 11 September 2001, through the 2004 election; the self-destructive overreaching to consolidate a one-party state from 2005 to 2006, culminating in the repudiation of the Republican Congress; and, now, the terminal stage, the great unravelling, as the Democratic Congress works to uncover the abuses of the previous six years. Richard M Nixon and George W Bush both invoked secrecy for national security. Both insisted war - the war in Vietnam, the war on terror - justified impunity. And both offered the reason of secrecy to cover political power-grabs. In Watergate, "Deep Throat" counselled that the royal road to the scandal's source was to "follow the money." In the proliferating scandals of the Bush presidency, Congress is searching down a trail of records that did not exist in the time of Nixon: follow the emails. The discovery of a hitherto unknown treasure-trove of emails buried by the Bush White House may prove to be as informative as Nixon's secret White House tapes. On 23 March 2007 the National Journal disclosed that Karl Rove does "about 95 percent" of his emails outside the White House system, instead using a Republican National Committee (RNC) account. What's more, Rove doesn't tap most of his messages on a White House computer, but rather on a BlackBerry provided by the RNC. By this method, Rove and other White House aides evade the legally required archiving of official emails. The first glimmer of this dodge appeared in a small item buried in a January 2004 issue of U.S. News & World Report: "'I don't want my E-mail made public,' said one insider. As a result, many aides have shifted to Internet E-mail instead of the White House system. 'It's Yahoo!, baby,' says a Bushie." The offshoring of White House records via RNC emails became apparent when an RNC domain, (referring to George W Bush, 43rd president), turned up in a batch of emails the White House gave to House and Senate committees in mid-March. Rove's deputy, Scott Jennings, former Bush legal counsel Harriet Miers and her deputies strangely had used as an email domain. The production of these emails to Congress was a kind of slip. In its tense negotiations with lawmakers, the White House has steadfastly refused to give Congress emails other than those between the White House and the justice department or the White House and Congress. Emails among presidential aides have been withheld under the claim of executive privilege. When I worked in the Clinton White House, people brought in their personal computers if they were engaged in any campaign work, but all official transactions had to be done within the White House system as stipulated by the Presidential Records Act of 1978. (The PRA requires that "the President shall take all such steps as may be necessary to assure that the activities, deliberations, decisions, and policies that reflec[...]