Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Methland by Nick Reding

According to several former agents, back in 1987, there was deep institutional ambivalence within the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) towards methamphetamine. Meth was seen as a biker drug, strictly falling under the purview of losers who didn't have enough financial sense to put together a large-scale operation. Who could imagine the business being built by two lowly coke-dealer brothers in the part of L.A. called the Inland Empire, or that this business would be connected with a kind of narcotic principate in places like Ottumwa, Iowa?

Only one person, it turns out: Gene Haislip, the deputy assistant administrator in the DEA's Office of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs. Haislip knew that large amounts of ephedrine, which was imported in bulk to make nasal decongestants, were being redirected to the Amezcua organization with no oversight. Ephedrine processing took place in only nine factories around the world, all of them in India, China, Germany and Czech Republic. To Haislip the narrow processing window posed a perfect opportunity to siphon off the meth trade; all that was required was the cooperation of those factories, along with the pharmaceutical companies that depended on the ephedrine that made them. What Haislip proposed in 1985 was a federal law to monitor all ephedrine imports into the United States.

The DEA's proposals were subject to long, withering debates and years of compromise. Haislip had to bow to pressure from both Democrats and Republicans alike not to raise the ire of pharmaceutical lobbyists. In particular, Haislip's bill came to the attention of Allen Rexinger, who was in the employ of a trade group called the Proprietary Association on behalf of the pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert. By the time Attorney General Edwin Meese III presented Haislip's bill to Congress in April 1987, five years had passed since Haislip had initially imagined nipping meth production in the bud. Meanwhile the Amezcua cartel had spread throughout California and the Desert West, and had linked up with Lori Anderson's Stockdale Organization in Iowa, which was now well on its way to producing its own industrially manufactured P2P meth.

The language in Haislip's bill had been drastically altered as well, allowing for the drug to be imported in pill form with no federal regulations whatsoever. All that meth manufacturer's had to do would be to legally buy pill-form ephedrine in bulk and crush it into powder- a small, added inconvenience. What Haislip had imagined as an early answer to a still-embryonic drug threat instead became both a mandate and a road map for meth's expansion.

Haislip, though, was not done trying. By 1993, he was moving to close the loophole that his earlier bill had created, writing new legislation to limit imports not only of ephedrine powder but of pill's, too. The bill passed and seemed to produce immediate dividends: the DEA intercepted 170 metric tins of illegal ephedrine pills in eighteen months, reducing by a large chunk the available methamphetamine in the United States. The problem was that Haislip repeated his earlier mistake and left a loophole that allowed pills containing pseudoephedrine to remain unregulated despite the fact that meth could be made from pseudoephedrine. The loophole was actually the direct result of intense lobbying by Allan Rexinger, who proudly characterized his involvement by saying that he had "pulled the plug" on DEA. IN fact, pointing traffickers to pseudoephedrine was the biggest favor that anyone could have done for makers of meth; it set the stage for fifteen years (and counting) of arguably the worst period in American narcotic history.

Still, Haislip wasn't done. In 1995, he proposed a bill stipulating that any company wising to sell more than four hundred tablet of pseudoephedrine at a time would have to get a license from DEA and would have to keep records of its sales.This time, it was not Allan Rexinger who came to the aid of the big drug companies; it was Senator Orrin Hatch, then Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It wasn't until the spring of 1996 that Hatch and Haislip finally agreed on acceptable language for the bill: vendors of pill-form pseudoephedrine would be subject to DEA licensing and bookkeeping unless those pills were sold in the now-ubiquitous clear-plastic containers with aluminum backing. Hatch's logic, it seems, was that the naroco-empire built around methamphetamine would crumble in the face of the tamper-proof blister pack.

Again, the failure of the Combat Meth Act of 2006 is the direct result of lobbying related to the pharmaceutical industry. The guiding philosophy behind the Combat Meth Act was to lessen crank production by monitoring the sale of cold medicine nationwide. The DEA gave Congress three stipulations for doing so successfully. One, the means of monitoring would have to be federally mandated, as opposed to being left up to individual states. Two, pharmacies would need to track sales via computer, rather than handwritten logs. Three, the DEA insisted that pharmacists computers would need "stop-buy" language built into their monitoring programs- meaning that if a customer who has already purchased a monthly maximum of Sudafed tries to buy more, the computer would automatically prompt the pharmacist to disallow the sale.

This time, it wasn't Allan Rexinger's Proprietary Association that objected to the key elements of the anti-meth legislation; it was the National Association of Retail Chain Stores ( acronym: NARC) representing the five major pharmaceutical drug chains in the U.S.: Target, Wal-Mart, CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid. In the end, Congress rejected the "stop-buy" language and allowed handwritten logs. More important, Congress resisted DEA's pleas that the law's interpretation be federally controlled. Instead Congress decided to make the Combat Meth Act more of a guideline than an actual mandate, leaving specific interpretations to state governments. This effectively laid the law bare to the powerful NARC lobby. Meanwhile, the law's leading advocates and negotiators- Republican Congressman Mark Souder and Senator Diane Feinstein declared the legislation a groundbreaking blow to meth.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Third Reich In America's Ivory Towers by Stephen H. Norwood

During the early months of Nazi rule in Germany, many Americans recognized that the Hitler regime represented an unprecedented relapse into barbarism. James Waterman Wise declared in 1933, in one of the first books to be published about Germany under Nazi rule, that the Third Reich was conducting "a bloodless war of extermination" against the Jews, "which gives no quarter and recognizes no non-combatants." In May 1933 Lord Melchett described Germany as a death trap for its entire Jewish population. The Nazis had expelled Jews from the professions and university faculties, shut down their businesses, and brutally beat them in the streets, in torture cellars, and in concentration camps. They delighted in inflicting the most degrading and humiliating forms of punishment on Jews, often in full public view. Respected Americans and British journalists, reporting directly from Germany or drawing on interviews from refugees from the Third Reich in neighboring countries, regularly provided detailed accounts of Nazi antisemitic atrocities, discrimination and harassment.

As the chapters in this book demonstrate, the leaders of America's colleges and universities remained for the most part uninvolved as others in this country forcefully protested the Nazis' barbaric treatment of Jews. The Nazis' antisemitic terror in 1933 precipitated demonstrations and boycotts on an unprecedented scale, often initiated at the grassroots level. Several U.S. senators and big-city mayors joined in these protests, which the American press widely publicized. But although academicians were the Americans most conversant with European affairs, few engaged in public anti-Nazi protest.

As many working and lower-middle-class Americans marched in the streets and struggled to organize a nationwide boycott of German goods and services, American universities maintained amicable relations with the Third Reich, sending their students to study at Nazified universities while welcoming Nazi exchange students to their own campuses. America's most distinguished university presidents willfully crossed the Atlantic in ships flying the swastika flag, openly defying the anti-Nazi boycott, to the benefit of the Third Reich's economy. By warmly receiving Nazi diplomats and propagandists on campus, they helped Nazis Germany present itself to the American public as a civilized nation, unfairly maligned in the press. Influenced by their administrators' example, and that of many of their professors, college and university students for the most part adopted a similar outlook, although there were significant student protests against Nazism at some schools, such as Columbia, which is analyzed in Chapter 3.

Chapter 2 considers the role of America's most prestigious institution of higher learning, Harvard University, in legitimating the Hitler regime. It focuses particularly on President James Bryant Conant; on the undergraduate newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, which reflected the outlook of the most influential segment of student opinion; and on alumni. Chapter 3 examines the role of this nation's most prominent university president, Columbia's Nicholas Murray Butler, in enhancing the image of the Third Reich, and on his highly vocal student opponents, some of whom edited the undergraduate newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. The Columbia Spectator's outlook towards Germany and antisemitism differed significantly from that of the Harvard Crimson.

Chapter 4 focuses on the Seven Sisters, the elite women's colleges, which were centrally involved in promoting student exchanges with Nazis Germany. Chapter 5 examines this nation's most prestigious foreign policy symposia, sponsored by the University of Virginia's Institute of Public Affairs. During the 1930s, these symposia provided an important forum that permitted apologists for Nazi Germany's domestic and foreign policies to reach American audiences. Chapter 6 explores the role of university German Language departments in the 1930s as disseminators of Nazis propaganda in the United States, and in hosting campus visits by Nazi Germany's diplomats. Chapter 7 analyzes the role of Catholic colleges and universities in promoting appeasement of Nazi Germany and providing a platform for propagandists for Mussolini and Franco. Chapter 8 examines the limits of protests against Nazism within academia even during 1938, a year that culminated in the Kristallnacht, when German barbarity finally instilled widespread alarm.

The Epilogue explores the role of former Harvard president James Bryant Conant in encouraging the parole of Nazis war criminals during the 1950's, as U.S. High Commissioner for Germany and as ambassador to West Germany. It also focuses on the effusive praise and respect prominent American higher education leaders accorded Mircea Eliade during his long postwar career as a professor at the University of Chicago, despite his role as a propagandist for Romania's antisemitic Iron Guard, enthusiastic collaborators with the Nazis during the 1930s and the Holocaust.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The End of The Romanovs by Helen Rappaport

On the surface, Yurovsky might have imagined the service to have gone without incident, but there had in fact been profound and telling differences this time around, the significance of which Storozhev quickly noticed. The Imperial Family had not participated in the responses in the sung liturgy, as all Russins normally did. More disturbing still had been the fact that when, as part of the service, Deacon Buimirov had come to recite the traditional prayer for the dead- 'With the saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of your servant where there is neither pain, nor sorrow, nor suffering but life everlasting'- instinct had prompted him to sing it instead, upon which the Romanovs had all silently fallen to their knees. Storozhev had sensed, in that moment, the great spiritual comfort it had given them to share that particular prayer together. The same profound religious unity of the family was manifested again at the end of the service when Storozhev came to recite the prayer to the Mother of God, in which suffering man begs her to support him in the midst of sorrow and give him the strength with dignity to carry the cross of suffering sent down from heaven by God.

At the end of the service Yurovsky allowed the Tsar and Tsaritsa to be given the sacramental bread from Storozhev as they and their servants all came forward to kiss the cross. As he turned to leave, the Romanov girls took the opportunity of their close proximity to whisper a covert thank-you to Storozhev. He noticed that there were tears in their eyes.

As he went into the commandant's office to change out of his vestments, Storozhev let out a deep sigh; overhearing him, Yurovsky laughed and asked him why. The priest made some trivial excuse about feelin unwell, to which Yutovsky jokingly responded that he should keep his windows closed so he didn't get a chill. Then his voice dropped and his tone suddenly changed: "Well, they've said their prayers and unburdened themselves', such unexpected words, said, so it seemed to Storozhev, in utter seriousness. Thrown by the commandant's remark, he responded that he who believed in God's will always found his faith fortified through prayer. 'I have never discounted the power of religion', responded Yurovsky tartly, looking the priest straight in the eye, 'and say this to you in all honesty.' It was an extraordinary remark to come from the mouth of such a man; Storozhev responded by telling Yurovsky how grateful he was that the family had been allowed this opportunity to pray. 'But why should we prevent them?' Yutovsky said cuttingly.

Yurovsky knew only too well that what had just taken place was effectively the Romanovs' last rites, their panikhida. Perhaps somewhere deep inside the mind of this hardened Bolshevik and Jewish apostate the power of his own religious roots had stirred him, reminding him of long-forgotten moments of family prayer around the Friday night table and the profound significance to his own Jewish race of the mourners' Kaddish - the prayers for the dead.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The First Crusades

The idea of fighting "for the remissions of sins" was probably unprecedented in the early 1080s, when it had come to feature in the language of Pope Gregory VII and his supporters, who apparently believed that personal engagement in just warfare was so meritorious that the danger involved could be treated as a penance. It would never have been easy to justify the inflicting of pain and loss of life on others, with the consequential distortion of the perpetrator's internal dispositions, as a penance simply because the penitent was exposing himself to danger- however unpleasant the experience might have been for him- and Gregory's opponents were predictably critical.

When Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade ten years later, however, he gave the idea a context in which it could be presented more convincingly, because he associated the forthcoming military campaign with the most charismatic of traditional penances, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As penitential events, pilgrimages were "effectively satisfactory", according to the preacher Gilbert of Tournai, "because just as a man has used all parts of his body when he has sinned, so he gives satisfaction by making all his members work hard." With respect to the First Crusade, therefore, the dangers of war gave added value to the penitential merit gained by a pilgrim.

It would be hard to exaggerate how revolutionary this was. A contemporary exclaimed that, "God has instituted in our time holy wars, so that the order of knights and the crowd running in their wake...might find a new way of gaining salvation." If the First Crusade had failed there can be little doubt that senior churchmen would have arisen out of the shadows to condemn it, but with its triumph doubts about pentitential warfare evaporated. Contemporaries used in relation to the crusades phrases that until then had been customarily applied only to monks and the monastic profession- the knighthood of Christ, the way of the cross, a journey to the heavenly Jerusalem, spiritual warfare. The crusaders, moved by the love of God and their neighbor, renouncing their wives, children, earthly possessions, and adopting temporary poverty and chastity, were described as going into voluntary exile and following the way of the cross.

Participation in the First Crusaade was considered to be in some sense an alternative to entry into the religious life. Contemporaries portrayed the army on the march as a nomadic abbey, its days and nights punctuated by solemn liturgy, its soldiers dedicated to austerity and brotherhood- "just as in the primitive church, nearly all things were shared in common". Such comparisons between monasticism and crusading were made even before the armies marched and a century and a half later the preacher Humbert of Romans maintained that necessary for the crusader were confession, contrition, good counsel, advice from the wise, the disposition of house and goods before departure, the making of a will, the restitution of goods that were not one's own and reconciliation with adversaries, constancy of purpose, the comfort of the saints and the assistance of Christian brothers, abstinence from all sin, a speedy penitence from any sin committted through human frailty while on the march, zeal in punishing any evil in the army and a preoccupation with the sacred. It is notable how similiar many of the conditions on this list were to the obligations required of someone entering a religious community.

It was the belief that crusades were collective acts of penance, repayments through self-punishment of the debts owed to God for sin... it is no exaggeration to say that a crusade was for an individual only secondarily about service in arms to God or the benefiting of the church or Christianity, it was primarily about benefiting himself, an act of self-sanctification.

The power of this conception rested in the long term on the way it answered the concerns of the faithful. The remission of sins was as relevant to survivors as to those facing death, and it was offered to members of a society in which it was almost impossible for a layman of any substance, bound by responsibilities to kindred, clients, and dependents, to avoid serious sin. For hundreds of years Europe remained marked by anxieties about sinfulness and as a consequence crusading was attractive to many people. It provided an opportunity to make a fresh start.

The fact that crusade preachers made the penitential miseries of a crusade an inspiration to recruitment is one reason among many for doubting whether material consideration played much of a part in the motivation of crusaders, at least for expeditions to the East.

There is some truth in the association of crusading, taken as a whole, with what might rather anachronistically be called proto-colonialism. The preservation of Christian hands of the kingdom of Jerusalem and the other Levantine settlements had required the exploitation of land and of commerce by colonists and traders. By-products of the crusading movement, such as the Venetian Crete and Genoese Chios, fitted into a classical colonial mold. The occupation of the Baltic seaboard by German, Danish and Swedish crusaders had colonial features and associations with early imperialism are also to be found in the journeys of exploration by the Portuguese and Castillian kings two hundred years after the last crusade. The knights of some semisecular Iberian military orders, particularly those of Santiago and Christ, played major roles in the management of the Portuguese empire.

But whether these examples provide firm enough foundation for the generalizations that have been built upon them is open to question, particularly as no economic history of crusading or judgement on its economic effects has ever been written.

The vast majority of crusaders to the East would anyway have considered the prospect of material gain to have been ridiculous. The campaigns were dangerous: recent studies of the First and Fifth Crusades estimate a death rate among the nobles and knights of around 35% and the casualties would have been higher among the less well off. They were inconvenient, for both crusaders and their families. They were always very expensive, with few rewards for the participants, who tended to return as soon as they were over, and costs wwere always causes for concern for them and their kindred, who as early as the First Crusade were adopting strategies designed to prevent the disposal through sale or pledge of land to which they had good title. Crusading became more and more of a financial burden as the expenses associated with warfare increased and it is arguable that had the papacy not introduced taxation of the church and the subsidization of crusaders from 1199 onward, the movement would have collapsed through lack of funds. As it was it remained a severe drain on family resources throughout its history.

* the photo is St. Bruno, one of Pope Urban II saintly teachers

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tagblighi Jamaat

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century Hindi nationalism gathered force as India sought ways to arm itself in its fight for independence. One of the manifestations of this nationalism was a reformist movement, both ascetic and militant in nature, the Arya Samaj. Among many aims, the movement sought to draw back to Hinduism various groups that had converted to Islam as a way of escaping their low caste status. In response to this an influential maulvi, or Muslim priest, of a reformist school of Islam, the Deoband school of North India, started a movement in Mewat in South Haryana, near Delhi, to defend the Islamic status of those that the Arya Samaj were trying to reconvert. Tagbligh means to deliver a message, or to educate, Jamaat, Jamat, or Jamiat, a gathering of Muslim elders or clerics.

This movement, Tablighi Jamaat, is intended to draw away from politics, and to act as a support to, those transitioning from rural to urban living, and on a grander scale from national to international life, while remaining within the boundries of their religion. It has grown and spread far beyond South Asia to Africa, America and Europe. It is looked on by some as being perhaps the most approachable face of modernizing Islam, with its broad spread of charitable and educational organizations. Others regard it as being a carefully promoted cover for various militant operations around the world. Some countries now have Tagblighi Jamaat on their antiterrorism list, while others welcome it on the basis of its charitable work and its modernity- there is even a rap group in America, boys with beards saying in their way while embracing their membership in Tagblighi.

The organization's European headquarters is based in the English town of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire. The mosque there is one of the largest to have been built in Europe since the 19th century. There is a school associated with the mosque where affluent residents of the Kashmir Valley sometimes sent their children, away from the persistent school closings and fear generated by civil conflict in that state since the early 1980s.

As that latent fear grew through the late 80s, Tagblighi Jamaat called for an international gathering of its members in Kashmir in 1988. Over a thousand leading members of the organization came to Srinagar from their centers all over the world. They met at Eid Ghar, the prayer field for Eid. Thousands of Kasmiris came to pray with them, and listen to their discourses on how to live a good Muslim life. Tablight members encouraged people to pray, to do good work, not to waste money on lavish weddings but to keep them simple, and within the bounds of what they could afford ( in the past lavish weddings could put Kashmiris in debt for a lifetime).

In a time of unrest, and in the face of a doubtful future, growing numbers of people were drawn to the way of life Tablighti Jamaat was preaching and promoting. It seemed to offer a safety blanket, an emotional support and structure, when an old way of life seemed to be collapsing.

Justine Hardy,"In the Valley of Mist"

photo by Muhammad Hamza; Information : Malaysia Jamaat Tablighee Ijtima' ( World ) Location : Sepang Selangor Malaysia Date : 9 ~ 12 July 2009 Additional Information : Attended by more than 200,000 thousand Muslims from around the world.

In the Valley of Mist by Justine Hardy

While corruption is part of the Indian way, in the Kashmir Valley it is a nuclear-charged version, literally, heightened by conflict, and exacerbated by the position of the state as a possible nuclear trigger between Pakistan and India. The Central Government of India pours in money to soothe the constant insecurity of the place, so the pickings are rich, the bureaucrats lining up to take the jobs and all the backhanders come, too.

Corruption has been a secondary infection digging into the wounds of the insurgency. In a culture that accepts corruption as part of the machinery of life, the insurgency has been a wonderful and all-encompassing veil that has blurred the accountability of the state.. It has allowed many to get fat and rich on money allocated by the central government in Delhi for housing, education, basic hygiene and medical programs, support packages for the victims of the conflict- it is a bulging list. Every government and ruling body in Kashmir since the early 1980's has been tainted with corruption charges, both officially and unofficially. The charges range from the lowest levels of petty bribery through to what seems impossible, the trading of human life.

Whether I have been sitting with shepards, ex-militants, soldiers, militants, village people, city people, the old or the young, the subject will come up with the same regularity as the weather. In Kashmir there is a continuing conversation about the state of the sky, the blueness of it, the depth of its gray, the brillance of the sun, how close the stars seem, a velvet night, a saturated morning, the colors of the mist, or the silence of falling snow. Corruption enters the conversation with the same regularity, as ugly to people as their sky is beautiful, and as overarcing in their lives.

"There was a housing official. He was responsible for one part of the city. He was given huge amounts to build a whole set of buildings in one place, housing for people who were being moved from an area that was being cleared for a shoppping mall."

Ibrahim blew a smoke ring as he warmed to his theme.

"Then it was the end of his time in the post and he was handing over to someone new. This new man comes and he is being very attentive to his work. He looks at the records of the building work completed, and he goes to see some of the sites. He finds there to be no buildings, just one big nothing, not even a pile of bricks. And he seeks out the man who was in the job before him and asks him what weas happening.

And the first man says to the second, 'so what can I do to help you with this, what can I give you to make this easier?' And the second man did not know what to say. The first man then had an idea. 'I know, you apply to the government for funds to pull down the building and you tell them that you have seen the structure and that it has been built on poor foundations, that it is unsafe and must be demolished. Then we will have both benefited.' Can you believe, this is the very thing that happened. Money was given first for a building that was not built, and then more money was given for a building to be pulled down that was never there."

We both laughed at the joke of it, the lunacy.

"And if anyone asks them what happened to the money these people just say that the militants stole it from their department, or that they extorted it from government offices with threats against lives. No one challenges this. And this is how it is. Nothing chnges. Too many people are involved in this and we all know about it but no one is big enough and with power enough to say 'stop this thing.'

Of course, even though the corruption is pandemic, the government cannot always just turn away as the crores (tens of millions) of rupees are thrown out an ever-open window. Sometimes the extortion or bribery is too obvious, and then someone is arrested and charged. Intermittently it is someone in the position of minister. There is no great show of surprise, little indignation, apart from the highly dramatized shock played out by the family of the accused, and the man himself. People accept it, shrug, carry on regardless. These occasional arrests do not set an example. They are neither preventive measures, nor apparently even particularly effective in stopping the culprit, once the charges have been dropped, or a small price paid for the graft committed.

"The worst of this is that people like me and my family', continued Ibrahim (a textile merchant), "we can deal with this. It is our choice not to pay these bribes, but we could also choose the other way, we could pay them. The people who are most damaged by this are the poor. They cannot afford these bribes".

It is the poor who are destroyed, whether it is the vegetable seller who has to pay a bribe to the police so that he can put his cart in the same place each day, or a wife selling her wedding jewelry, her only insurance, to pay a police mukhbir who has promised her information that does not exist about her missing husband... The brave few who try to stand their ground are simply left to struggle alone. The poor cannot afford the luxury of taking the high moral ground...the mechanism is entrenched. It will crush anyone who dares to confront it, alone and tiny, in the face of this gargantuan machine that plows over almost every bud of progress and change that as to raise itself up out of the dirt of the conflict. Too many are invested in the status quo of the corrupt system.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Five Islamic Ulama by Farad Khosrokhavar

There are five general groups in both Shiite and Sunni Islam. First the traditionalists who try to remove thenmselves from secular developments and the political state. They maintain their connections to ethnic, tribal and local community identities. These groups are becoming increasingly marginalized in the rush of modernity, especially in urban areas. For those who formerly depended on these social and religious networks for support, this gives rise to considerable frustration, alienation from the society and culture of which they are a part. The second group are the Fundamentalists who share many of the viewpoints of the Jihadist in regard to the long-term degradations occurring in Islam but are willing to cooperate with state authorities in whatever slight advantages those regimes offer. Then there are the Hyper-Fundamentalists who struggle to recapture 'Islamic purity" and overturn the status quo but reject violence as a means to do so.

Jihadists are divided into various factions, all committed to the violent overthrow not only of their respective national governments but the World System as a whole. Their goal is the triumphant of Islam on a world-wide basis. Within Jihadist groups there is a very small minority that might be classified accurately as martyropaths, followers of a cult of death, who intend to die first and formost because they feel that the shortcomings of Islam are the result of their own lack of abnegation and selflessness. Defeating the enemies of Islam is secondary to washing away their own sins, which have become unbearable to them.

There are a number of violent Jihadi theorists and polemicists about in the world today and their work is widely available on the internet. Indeed, until 9/11 they preached quite freely in places like London and Paris. Activists followers of the Jihadist line, however, are quite limited in number. Never-the-less, they glean alot of sympathy and respect from Fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden himself has obtained a certain heroic status among many Muslims who themselves do not wish to be violent, often referred to as a kind of 'Robin Hood". Operating in small, independent cells as "vanguards" of the islamic revolution, their capacity to deal out mayhem and murder is great( mostly against other Muslims- whose acquiescence to modernity is considered heretical) .

"The major problem in Muslim societies is the lack of an influential Reformist ulama (the fifth group) who could oppose the Jihadist interpretation through lectures on the Koran. Of course, many reform-minded intellectuals exist in the Muslim world, but they are far outnumbered by Fundamentalists and Jihadists, and they do not yield the same influence and do not have the powerful networks within religious institutions. The Reformists' view of Islam is at best marginal, compared to that of the Fundamentalist and Jihadist thinkers.

Violence is vindicated by the Jihadists' exegesis of the Koran, many of the verses they quote being unacceptable to the modern mind and in dire need of reinterpretation in the same fashion as biblical interpretation was developed by Protestants beginning in the sixteenth century. The advantage of the Jihadists over Reformists in the interpretation of the Koran is that in many respects, religious institutions, mainly dominated by conservatives, are in agreement with them regarding the principles of exegesis but not in their application to social reality. Most Islamic Fundamentalists, influenced by Wahhabism and financially sustained by its proponents, share the intolerance of the Jihadists, but they propose peaceful ways to achieve their goals rather than violence.

Reformist theologians in the Sunni and Shi'ite world propose a pluralist reading of the Koran and the Sunna (sayings of the Prophet outside the Koran), but they are intimidated, rejected, repressed, or simply marginalized. Sometimes they are forced to migrate to the West, for fear of being assassinated by fanatical Muslims. Religious institutions in the Muslim world are not prone to open up to Reformist intellectuals."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Uranium by Tom Zoellner

In one theory, uranium plays a role like the black monolith in the science fiction film 2001: Space Odyssey, which lay buried on the moon like a time capsule until man was knowledgeable enough to travel to the Tycho Crater and detect the enormous radio waves coming from the object. When the monolith was exposed to the light of the sun for the first time, a new era of evolution and a new chapter of mankind could begin.

In the other theory uranium is seen as a serpant out of John Milton or the rough beast out of Yeats, a sentinel of distopia, the apple of knowledge force-fed to the unready, who are exiled into a world that they never asked for a do not want. A protestor in Australia told me that he once joked with his friends while looking at the night sky: "Each one of those blazing stars up there was once a planet where the monkeys started fooling around with uranium."

In the last few years, however, the first theory has undergone something of a "renaissance", relying on the image of atomic power as a green technology- a clean alternative to the coal-burning plants that have long been the world's electrical mainstay. Coal is a particularly dirty and dangerous fuel in China, where an estimated five thousand miners die in accidents every year. That nation is now pouring up to about 26 million tons of sulfer dioxide and 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atsmosphere each year, creating pollution so thick that in the worst areas people must drive with their lights on during the daytime. Yet China must feed an overdrive economy, expanding 10 percent each year. An aggressive nuclear strategy has been the obvious answer. Unlike harnessing the wind or the sun, uranium power is here right now and ready to go. And a single ton of raw uranium provides the same electricity as twenty-thousand tons of black coal. And Uranium is itself is more common than tin, nearly five hundred times more abundant than gold. At least a hundred billion tons of reserves are now known to exist. Plans exist to increase the number of reactors, about 450 world-wide, to at least three, possibly ten thousand in the next decade or so, according to the public relations director of the World Nuclear Association.

The green argument has swayed some historical opponents of nuclear power, among them Nancy Pelosi, who told a congressonal committee, "I have a different view of nuclear than I did twenty years ago, I think it has to be on the table." The New York Times, once skeptical, said "There is good reason to give nuclear power a fresh look." A co-founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, used to deliver rants against what he called "nuclear holocaust", but he has now come out in support and is a paid consultant to the industry. James Lovelock, who is most famous for his "Gaia" hypothesis, which says that the Earth is a living organism that breathes, has joined the lobbying group Environmentalits for Nuclear Energy. "Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies, and the media", he wrote in the London "Independent"

On the other hand, some tremendous problems exist. In the first place, the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which was created with the logic of school-yard bullies, all with rocks in their fists and none wanting to be struck or, in the words of another analyst, like a man with a cigarette dangling from his lips telling everyone else to stop smoking.

Another example of the difficulties: Niger is the fourth-largest producer of uranium in the world yet sees almost none of the wealth thus generated. Because of a long- standing contract, the French consortium which owns the rights to its extraction pays only 5.5% of its revenues in taxes, and most of this goes to subsidize elites in the dusty capital of Niamey. Almost three-quarters of the people cannot read, and those that survive to the age of forty-five are living on statistically borrowed time. The United Nations recently named it the most deprived country on earth.

Furthermore the American energy policy crafted in secret during Bush's first term was generous to nuclear power, allocating up to $13 billion in subsidies and tax credits. One can presume that this was to compensate investors for the profits they would have to forgo investing in America's future rather than in short-term Pyramid and Ponzi schemes like mortgage derivatives and credit default swaps.

The total cost of America's nuclear weapons program, developed under the insane rubric of Mutually Assured Destruction, was around $10 trillion, more than the entire economic output of the U.S. during the whole of the 19th century and safe disposal of the waste and contaminations that resulted has not been completed. 1000's died prematurely as the result of dangerous mining practices in both the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the early days of the arms race. Although most of the technical problems with the nuclear generation of electrical energy have been solved, a legacy of dishonesty and mistrust remains.

It is not just a little bit ironic that uranium itself is the most unstable element on the periodic table and originated in some of the earliest life-processes on the planet.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Prison Pipeline by Timothy Black

[In the 1970s the world shifted on its political-economic axis. Declining corporate profits, saturated global markets, and the strength of organized labor and social movements signaled a crisis in capitalism. While the advantages of mobile capital had been evident to U.S. corporate leaders as far back as the 50s, advances in computer and transportation technology facilitated the movement of capital to an unprecedented degree, and along with policies that deregulated the economy, reduced social spending, lowered taxes on corporations and the weathy, and protected investments through inflation controlled interest rate adjustments, a neoliberal model was created that would reach across the globe, drawing the strings of world politics in a post-Cold War era more tightly around free markets. Corporate leaders in the United States searched and found the right candidate to carry the mantle and, in 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president.]

In many ways, Reagan picked up where President Richard Nixon had left off. From 1968to Watergate, Nixon began laying the track for draconian crime measures that would expand in Reagan's presidency and crescendo in President Clinton's 1994 crime bill. Nixon increased law enforcement funds, curtailed civil liberties, and legalized secret special grand juries.(1) Three crime bills were passed under Reagan's War on Drugs that dramatically increased law enforcement funding, established harsh mandatory minimum sentances for drug felonies, expanded asset forfeiture laws, increased the military's role in training and equipping local law enforcement officers, and created a new "drug czar" position to coordinate efforts between the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. While spending on federal employment and training programs was being reduced by one-half between 1980 and 1993, corrections spending grew 521 percent. And this was before President Clinton's $30 billion 1994 crime bill.

Clinton further abetted the public's appetite for harsh criminal punishment by increasing prison construction, extending prison time through truth-in-sentancing laws,(2) eliminating prisoners' access to federal Pell Grants to fund prison college education programs, tacking on two two years of prison time without parole for anyone manufacturing or selling drugs within one thousand feet of any type of school, increasing sentances for gang members, and providing life sentances for anyone committing three felonies. When Reagan came into office, one in four federal prisoners was sentanced for drug offenses; when Clinton left office, the ratio was one in two.

The increasing reliance unpon incarceration to address the devestation visited on urban areas in the wake of deindustriaization was reinforced by the public's preoccupation with the "black underclass". President Nixon capitalized on the white public's economic fears in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but also their fears as his law-and-order rhetoric publically condemned urban race riots, while his efforts to dismantle the War on Poverty stirred the public's wrath towards the growing numbers of black single mothers on the welfare rolls. Further, Nixon publically excoriated the Democratic Party for edging too close to the civil rights movement and succeeded at luring white Southerners and white labor union members from its electoral base.

Nixon's racial politics was evident in his hostility towards the War on Poverty architects and his efforts to wrest control of social welfare away from Washington and devolve authority to the states. His antipathy towards welfare liberals was advanced by conservative scholars whose exuberance for free market economics depicted white liberals as misguided social engineers whose generous and permissive welfare policies had created a mess in U.S. cities by refusing to coerce the poor, and especially the black poor, to take whatever jobs were available, irrespective of the wages they paid. For these scholars, joblessness represented a moral rather than an economic crisis. These accounts of urban poverty, however, failed to acknowledge the brutal political-economic forces that were transforming postindustrial U.S. cities, but they gained political currency nonetheless, espcially in a society that had become preocuppied with the ravages of black urban poverty.

In Welfare Racism, Ken Neubeck and Noel Cazenave demonstrated how the black urban rebellions in the 1960s changed the face of poverty on the covers of popular magazines. Not only did the complexion of poverty darken, they explained, but as poverty became asssociated with urban, inner city blacks, the portrayals of the poor became increasingly negative and unsympathetic, signified by the term "the underclass". The concept made its public debut in a cover story in Time magazine in 1977, but it was Ken Aulette's series in The New Yorker, which later became the basis of his 1982 book The Underclass, that gave the term public currency. Aulette represented the shift that had taken place, even among liberals, from a more empathetic perspective of the poor that emphasized social responsibility to a reformulated culture of poverty perspective focused on individual behavioral pathologies. Despite his claims to balanced reporting, Aulette adopted a framework that demeaned the underclass as antisocial, deviant, welfare-dependent, and violent, with "bad habits" and a "welfare mentality"- and even at one point profiled a welfare recipient with twenty-seven to twenty-nine children (she had lost count), as if this was a consequence of state generosity instead of mental illness....

Social scientists notwithstanding, efforts to craft a political response to black urban poverty seemed to be embedded in the white conservative backlash to the civil rights movement, the Great Society, and affirmative action initiatives. Liberals had been pronounced dead in Washington and in statehouses throughout the country, and racist political language fed the fears and insecurities of whites eager to reclaim privileges they were led to believe liberals were taking away from them.

Democrats did not miss the political lesson either. Despite his popularity among African Americans, Bill Clinton reassured white voters in his 1992 presidential campaign by pushing Jessie Jackson to the campaign margins and staging a high-profile public relations fight with rapper Sister Soulja. Further, using color-coded language himself, he promised "to end welfare as we know it," and expounded on his support for "three strikes" legislation in his 1994 State of the Union address. Later in 1994, when his first term in Washington seemed to be coming undone, Clinton delayed the release of a governmental stuidy showing that more than one-third of imprisoned drug dealers were small-time, with limited criminal histories, arrested for non-villent crimes, to minimize its effect on the debate of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which he pushed through before the midterm elections.

At the heart of Clinton's crime bill were antidrug enforcement and prison construction. The new law apropriated $8.8 billion to hire 100,000 new police officers and $7.9 billion for states to build new prisons. In fact, Clinton made Reagan's law enforcement budget look like the minor leagues, increasing annual spending to twenty times the amount the War on Drugs guru himself had spent.

Harsh penalties for drug offenders, increased police surveillance in urban minority areas, and prosecutorial instruments used to speed up judicial processing greased the wheels for the burgeoning prison industry(3).

Federal and state prisons as well as local jails were all growing, but the increase in the state prison population was stunning. Between 1980 and 2001, this population grew from 130 to 422 inmates for every 100,000 residents and became home for nine out of ten prison inmates nationwide, for a total of 1.25 million state prisoners. Forty-five percent of this was attributable to drug arrests.

In 2003, 81 white women for every 100,000 were behind bar, compared to 359 black wmen. Similiarly, 717 white men per 100,000 were locked up compared to 4,919 black men; 143 Latinas and 1,717 Latino men per 100,000 were incarcerated in 2003, yet is no evidence to suggest that drug use per 100,000 is any higher among blacks and Latinos than among whites.The War on Drugs focused primarily on black and Latino urban neighborhoods.

Born in the 1970s, the Rivera brothers and others from "the block" would know only one side of this history- the side in which urban communities like the one they grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts would be whipsawed by the loss of entry-level industrial jobs and the unprecended growth in state prisons, where surpluses of the unemployed swept up by aggressive drug enforcement would be warehoused.

(1)The 1968 Omnibus Crime Bill, passed a year before Nixon took office, weakened Miranda rights and expanded the use of phone tapping and office bugging... allowing police to intercept communications without warrant for a period up to 24 hours if they considered the situation to be an emergency. The 1970 crime bill added no-knock warrants allowing police to enter dwellings without warning. In 1970 the Nixon administration also passed the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in which secret grand juries were legalized. This gave police unprecedented powrrs to intorrogate anyone, without immunity, under threat of imprisonment.

(2) Truth-in-sentancing required convicted felons to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences behind bars, as a State's condition of eligibility for the $8.8 billion made available for new prison construction.

(3) Only District Attorney's have the power to reduce sentences beneath mandatory limits. Without this "plea-bargaining" perogative the explosion of drug arrests between 1980 and 200 would have been impossible to prosecute within the limited capacities of the Courts.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Illegal People" by David Bacon

Of the 34 or so million immigrants in this country approximately 11 million are considered 'illegal". They have social security cards and numbers- as every resident in the U.S. must if they are to obtain employment- but theirs are either faked or 'stolen'. It is important to understand, however, that the use of such appropriated numbers does not damage the individuals from whom they were taken or 'game' the system as a whole. The social security taxes that 'illegal' immigrants pay simply go into the general fund of the system and are used to pay the benefits which the immigrants themelves can never hope to recieve.

For the most part this is also true of all the other taxes such as income, sales and property taxes that are paid by "undocumented" immigrants, although some States and local governments do make provisions for the health care, education and even legal defenses of immigrants. Never-the-less, even in these rare circumstances, immigrants themselves have no opportunity to participate in the electoral processes which ultimately decide how the revenues they contribute are spent. Furthermore, if immigrants are discovered to be without proper documents they are subject to immediate detention, deportation or even long prison sentances.

"After all, the slogan of the Boston Tea Party was "no taxation without representation", those who make economic contributions should have political rights. With visas or not, 34 million migrants living in the United States, without whose labor the entire economy would collapse, cannot vote to choose political representatives who decide basic questions about wages, conditions of work, the education of their children, healthcare, public and personal safety."

These are huge and very significant numbers because if all these individuals WERE allowed representation it is highly probable that they would vote for an end to NAFTA and the neo-liberal economic policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund which help to create the conditions in their countries of origin which drove them to the United States in the first place. They would would vote to protect the right to organize labor unions, to improve and enforce protections in the workplace, raise the minimum wage, institute a national health care system, empty our prisons of non-violent offenders, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to otherwise engage the government in the interests of working people against the large corporations and the financial, real estate and insurance sectors of the economy that exploit their indentured status and plunder the fruits of their labor. This would be a win-win situation for immigrant and native workers alike, as would any collective action that resists and seeks to overturn the egregious system of 'employer sanctions', guest worker permits and contract labor arrangements used so profitably by Hotels, Meat Processors, Silicon Valley, Laundry Services, Halliburton and its subsidiares.

Although Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee's bill HR 2092 did not go so far as to propose full political representation for immigrants it did provide a way for undocumented workers to gain permanent-resident status and enforce migrants' rights in the workplace, and found other common grounds for workers of all stripes: black, white, Asian, Native American, Latino, native born or immigrant, none of whom can live without work.

"Yet this basis for an alliance of mutual interest has largely fallen off the liberal agenda. Unions were the support base for the Humprey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of the 1970's, which said that the federal government should provide jobs to eradicate unemployment. Today, however, the so-called liberals only pay lip service to this idea. In the Democratic Party, free market ideologues ridicule the idea that government should guarentee employment, as it it tried to do in the New Deal. Instead, both parties propose exploitive guest-worker programs, draconian enforcement measures which invariably hurt employeees more than employers and exacerbate competition between worker groups whereby everyone shares only increased insecurity, being forced to live for work (at low wages, without benefits and in dangerous conditions) rather than working to live."

Although Jackson Lee was ranking Democrat on the Immigration Subcommitteee of the House Judiciary Committee, she never got a hearing on her bill while the Republicans controlled Congress. When Democrats won a majority in the 2006 election, her bill didn't get a hearing either.. Never-the-less, it comprises the long-term vision which immigrant and labor rights activitist around the country want.

Whose 'New World Order" is it anyway and which side are you on?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Alger Hiss and the Battle for History by Susan Jacoby

Attitudes toward government itself- the activist government embodied by the New Deal-have played just as an important a role as attitudes towards communism in the struggle over history that has polarized intellectual politics since the Reagan administration. The lasting resonance of the Hiss case is due, in no small measure, to his and Whittaker Chamber's involvement in the dispute over the domestic as well as international legacies of the Roosevelt era.

One reason why the anti-communist fever of the late forties and early fifties burned out so quickly was that the prosecutorial hunt for domestic communists could not be disentangled from right-wing hatred of the New Deal. But centrist Republicans, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower largely accepted the domestic legacy of the Roosevelt years, including Social Security, federal aid to education and the GI Bill. They understood that the public was not about to embrace an anticommunism based on a premise that a large proportion of the leaders in Roosevelt's administration had been disloyal to their country. People like my parents may have seen Hiss as a traitor, but they were not about to swallow the right-wing thesis that the New Deal was dominated by communist sympathizers attempting to further communist goals. Liberal anti-communist historians, most notably Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., made an effective case of a U.S. government policy based on the principle that while Soviet Communism was a threat to America, communism was not a significant threat in America.

The New Deal was seen, except from the far right, not as an ideologically driven attempt to shift the balance of power from unrestrained business to government but as a pragmatic effort to correct some of the worse evils of unrestrained capitalism, such as the lack of regulation that had caused millions to lose their life savings in the stock market and failed banks.

The last major government program with origins in the reformist spirit of the thirties was Medicare, and the widespread public enthusiasm for what the right-wingers darkly portrayed as the first step toward "socialized medicine" only confirmed what centrist historians and politicians had long believed about the pragmatism of the New Deal- and about the public's approval of government safety nets that protected the middle class as well as the poor.

During the Reagan years, however, the idea that the New Deal had really been a centralized plan to restructure the American economy along anticapitalistic lines began to make a comeback. In spite of his economic conservatism Reagan-unlike his ideological descendent George W. Bush- was too adept a politician to frighten the public by insisting on big changes in programs like Medicare and Social Security. But the younger generation of right-wing ideologues, whose ideas were not disseminated to mass audiences until Bush's campaign in 2000, was already intent on the long-term goal of reversing many of the assumptions and programs originating in the New Deal. The shift to the right was evident not only in the eighties but during the Clinton years, when financial markets were deregulated to a degree that would have been unthinkable in other post-New Deal Democratic administrations. The mainstreaming of once-conservative ideas produced a new generation of "neo-liberal" politicians and intellectuals who did not share the assumption of Schlesinger's generation about the ways in which government might be used as a force for good.