Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Weird World: man has 1,000 pet rats

A Californian man who kept 1,000 pet rats in his one-bed home has admitted his colony "had gotten a bit out of control. Roger Dier, 67, of Petaluma, insisted the rodents loved him and he loved them, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. But he has been charged with animal cruelty and had his pets taken away. Nancee Tavares, the city's Animal Services manager, said it was an unusual case: "Not many people like rats," she said. "They have a bad rap." Dier told authorities that he wanted to protect the rodents, but they began breeding uncontrollably, and soon he was overwhelmed.

King George, our homegrown dictator

Derailing Dictator Dubya -- by Bob Burnett

Many progressives view the November mid-term elections as a referendum on the Presidency of George Bush and the ineptitude of his rubber-stamp Republican Congress. Voters have an opportunity to express their views on the war in Iraq, the economy, and immigration. Yet lurking behind these serious problems is an issue that most Americans are only vaguely aware of: Bush's ruthless drive to increase the power of the Presidency. His plan to move the US away from a system with three equally powerful branches of government-the executive, legislative, and judicial-and replace them with an omnipotent, "unitary," President. The critical issue to be decided on November 7th is whether or not Congress will stand up to Dictator Dubya.

In a May interview in the Washington Post , House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, gave some indication of what Democrats plan to do if they take back control of the House in the November Elections. She said that during their first week in power Dems "would raise the minimum wage, roll back parts of the Republican prescription drug law, implement homeland security measures and reinstate lapsed budget deficit controls." Pelosi went on to promise "a series of investigations of the Bush administration" including their use of intelligence data to justify the invasion of Iraq. It is the threat of these investigations that has riled Republicans. They don't want the public made aware of Bush's power grab. They don't want average Americans to comprehend that Dubya has become a greater threat to democracy than the terrorists he frequently warns us about.

In a recent article in the The New York Review of Books , veteran political reporter Elizabeth Drew described the elements of Administration's design for an omnipotent presidency. The first is the widespread use of the "signing statement." First described in a Boston Globe article, Bush has amended more than 750 laws by attaching a statement saying that because, in his opinion, the law in question impinges on the power of the Presidency, he considers it "advisory in nature." In other words, George Bush doesn't veto laws; he signs them in carefully-orchestrated photo-ops and later attaches a signing statement indicating that he plans to ignore the provisions in the law he doesn't agree with.

The fact that Bush consciously subverts the will of Congress is, in itself, the basis for public hearings and national dialogue about his abrogation of the separation of powers. But "signing statements" are just one of the devices that Dubya has used to expand the power of the Presidency.

According to Republicans, since 9/11 the United States has been in a perpetual state of war and this justifies George Bush's repeated use of his constitutional powers as "commander in chief." First, the Administration created the designation of "enemy combatant" for those captured in Afghanistan. The White House decided that combatants were not to be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva conventions or to be accorded the due process rights give to defendants in the US; most were lodged in Guantanamo or in CIA-administered prisons outside the United States. At the same time, the President decided that it was permissible to torture these detainees in order to determine whether they knew of any plans to attack the US. The fact that the Administration condoned torture influenced the interrogation techniques used in Iraq, resulting in the scandals at Abu Ghraib and other facilities.

Subsequently, Congress passed "the McCain amendment," which banned cruel, inhuman, or degraded treatment" of POWs. After he signed the McCain amendment, George Bush attached as signing statement: "The executive branch shall construe [the torture provision] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judiciary." In other words, Bush would do what he thought was best, regardless of the intent of Congress.

In December, The New York Times revealed that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to monitor domestic phone calls in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Bush justified this both on the basis of his war powers as commander-in-chief and his contention that the FISA act was illegal as it limited the "inherent powers" of the Executive branch. (On June 22nd, the Times reported that Bush authorized the CIA and Treasury Departments to monitor all flows of funds in and out of the US.)

Since 9/11, George Bush and his closest advisers have seized upon the threat of another terrorist attack as the basis for an unprecedented expansion of Presidential Powers. A Republican-controlled Congress is unwilling to check this power grab because they are beholden to Bush the politician for much of their financial support. Thus, Capitol Hill "business as usual" has seen the GOP ignore Dubya's dictatorial designs. That's why it so important that Democrats seize control of one or both wings of Congress in November. Our democratic form of government is at risk and someone needs to do something about it.

(Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. Email to:

Female chauvinist pigs

Thongs, implants and the death of real passion
Lap dancers, porn stars, big-lipped, zeppelin-breasted exhibitionists - meet the new role models for young British women. And, says feminist writer Ariel Levy, women are not just accepting this supersexualised culture - they are fuelling it. But are "female chauvinist pigs" really to blame?
Interview by Kira Cochrane

Ambling along Broadway in New York, on my way to meet the writer Ariel Levy, I realise that I have developed an extra sense. A kind of "raunch-vision". I have just finished re-reading Levy's book, Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture' - an analysis of our culture's fascination with porn stars, silicone breasts and lap dancing - and suddenly, everywhere I look, I can see, well, pure raunchiness.

The mannequins in a Times Square souvenir shop, their mouths agape, remind me, suddenly, of blow-up dolls. All around, there's a profusion of nylon thongs poking above women's waistbands. A huge ad (for some sort of gel pad that cushions your feet) is illustrated with the most enormous, arched, dominatrix shoe I have ever seen, a bunion-brewing torture device. Girls are wearing cut-off tops and T-shirts saying "Porn star" and every other woman I see has breast implants. Raunch is everywhere. She is right.

And rocking up to the patisserie where Levy has suggested we meet, I'm amazed to find the words "strip bar" on the window next door. "We're next to a strip bar!" I yelp as Levy arrives, and she looks at me, confused. "Next door," I repeat, "there's a strip bar!" Her brow furrows and she glances through the window. "Oh, that ... no! You must think I'm obsessed. No, the 'strip' there refers to meat - as in, meat you eat. As in, well, not the kind of meat that people associate with stripping."

I'm here to interview Levy, a staff journalist at New York magazine in her early 30s, because her book has been causing quite a storm since publication last August. It is an investigation into the sudden popularity of phenomena such as pole dancing, vaginal "rejuvenation" surgery, and "pasties" (not the Cornish variety -these are sequined circles that strippers stick over their nipples), and it analyses women's apparent willingness not just to accept this culture, but actively to participate in it: taking up pole dancing as a hobby, for instance, or visiting strip clubs, leering and beering along with the male audience. Levy gives these women a name: "female chauvinist pigs", which she defines as "women who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves".

The cause of this cultural shift, she believes - the one overriding influence on our sexual outlook right now, the one thing that is driving all these images of big-lipped, zeppelin-breasted, supersexualised women - is consumerism.

"When you talk to people about raunch culture in terms of a specific company or corporation they just say: 'Oh, well, sex sells.' That's our justification for everything." And Barbie-doll images of women - long legs, fake breasts, blonde hair - are a glossy advertising shorthand that simultaneously appeals to everyone and no one, shifting units in a way that more complex, varied and substantive sexual images never could. "My book is not an attack on the sex industry," says Levy. "It's about how the sex industry has become every industry."

Levy isn't a prude or a scold, arguing for women to be less sexual - in fact, quite the opposite. Her point is that the single form of sexuality on offer to women - "this spring-break variety of thongs-and-implants exhibitionism" - is largely unfulfilling. And that buying into this, either by stripping yourself, or by ogling strippers, is a way of currying male approval and propping up male culture and power. (The obvious problem being that, by doing so, you undermine women, and, implicitly, yourself.)

"When it comes to raunch culture, a lot of people say: 'Well, we're living in a post-feminist age, women have won the [sex] war, and so it's OK for all this to happen. It doesn't actually threaten women's social position.' But when did we win the war? We don't have equal pay for equal work, we don't have equal representation in government ... so when exactly did we win?"

All of this has led Levy to be termed "the future of feminism". On reading her book last autumn, I found it a revelation. I had been amazed in recent months by how quickly a career in porn had gone from being the last refuge of the desperate, the poor, or, in a few rare instances, the genuinely exhibitionist, to suddenly becoming aspirational for large swathes of young British women. Six out of eight of the female contestants on Big Brother last year, for instance, said that they were keen to be glamour models or work in porn - while this year's contestants include Lea, a former porn actor, and Nikki, who entered the house in a Playboy bunny outfit.

Playboy has also become one of the most popular brands among adolescent - and even pre-adolescent - British girls: WH Smith describes the Playboy stationery line as one of the bestselling of all time. Soft-porn model Jordan's two autobiographies (again, bestsellers) have been bought primarily by women. At Cambridge university, female students have reportedly started a pole-dancing club, to practise their technique. And a WI group recently visited Spearmint Rhino, apparently for lap-dancing tips.

Reading the book a second time though, on the plane to New York, it made me much more uneasy. I still found much to admire in Levy's thesis, but that title, Female Chauvinist Pigs, bothered me, as it has many women, since it seems a direct insult to women; specifically blaming us, rather than the culture at large, for this issue.

This was always going to be controversial, but perhaps defensible if all the women Levy targeted with this tag were mature, educated and knowingly manipulative, selling out on purpose and objectifying other women to further their own interests. She refers, for instance, to a number of female television executives who are very open about their reasons for working on shows that objectify women. "One of the perks of this job was that I wouldn't have to prove myself any more," says Jen Heftler, executive producer on The Man Show, a rampant tit-fest that features big-breasted women jumping on trampolines (geddit?). 'I could say, "I worked on The Man Show", and no one would ever say, 'Oh, that prissy little woman' again. Women have always had to find ways to make guys comfortable with where we are." By objectifying other women, then, Heftler knowingly set herself up as an honorary man, grabbing all the attendant advantages.

But in fact Levy applies the label to a huge range of women and behaviour. There is the young, bikini-clad college girl on the beach, who is surrounded by a group of about 40 men and a film crew from the US TV show Girls Gone Wild, taunting, 'Show your tits!', 'Show your ass!' in an increasingly threatening atmosphere, before she finally pulls down her bikini bottoms for the camera. A victim of intimidation, surely, rather than a female chauvinist pig?

Or what about the young high-school girls who play Slut on the Bus, an elimination game where they own up to sexual behaviour and work out which of them is the biggest slut? OK, now this does sound a bit dodgy, but who isn't dodgy in their teen years, when they are testing their sexual boundaries? Is Slut on the Bus so different from the age-old game of Truth or Dare, or the game that we used to play endlessly at school, Shag or Die? Should these young women really be termed "pigs"?

Did Levy realise that her title and theory might be seen as an attack on women - an act of female chauvinist piggery in itself, even? "To be honest," she says, "my big concern wasn't, 'Is this going to offend women?', it was 'What are we going to call this?' And I never thought that female chauvinist pigs was a perfect phrase. What I'm saying is that, if there was a time when it was smiled upon for men to be pigs and to be obsessed with tits and ass - and I think that time is back -then we have now also gone co-ed. I meant it as a cultural concept."

It is a pity she couldn't have come up with the "perfect phrase", because one of the outcomes of her title has been an enthusiastic response from the American conservative right wing, clearly not her natural constituency. You can imagine their glee: a self-confessed feminist criticises women's sexual choices! Excellent!

Does it bother her that conservatives like the book? She shakes her head. "No, it's good, because if a conservative reads it and is accidentally exposed to someone who is advocating gay marriage, sex education and for a more open-minded approach to gender, then that's great. Who do I want to read this book? Conservatives! If I'm just preaching to the converted, then what's the point?"

And, equally, how does she feel about being criticised by young third-wave feminists? In her book, third-wave feminism is represented primarily by the "Cake" sex parties, monthly events in New York and London, "at which women can 'explore female sexuality' and experience 'feminism in action'". Levy attended one of these parties, and found that these noble aims involved women simulating sex on stage for an audience of men, while 50 Cent's lyric, "The hos they wanna fuck", pumped out of the club's speakers. Which led her to ask, why is this the "new feminism" and not what it looks like: the old objectification?'

But for many young feminists - who are, after all, her contemporaries - the wider third-wave project of reclaiming and embracing female sexuality, after generations in which women weren't allowed to admit to any sexual feelings or interest at all, has been a genuinely positive progression. Would Levy prefer that we return to the 1950s? "If you happen to be a person for whom this incredibly specific form of sexual expression [the ultra-consumerist porn-star ideal] is authentic," she says, "then this is your moment, and you should enjoy it. But if you're anyone else, then you may as well be back in the 1950s, because there's no other sexual model on offer to you."

And, as Levy argues convincingly, if your only form of sexual expression is inauthentic to you, is something that you have copied from strippers and porn stars - people who are, after all, paid to depict pleasure - then your chance of finding true intimacy, connection, even love, is grossly diminished. That's perhaps the saddest part of all. Levy quotes that ultimate raunch icon, Paris Hilton: "My boyfriends always tell me I'm not sexual. Sexy, but not sexual." Hilton may flash on the red carpet, may affect sexiness at all times, but her sex video apparently shows her answering her mobile during intercourse and looking fundamentally bored.

"To me," Levy writes, " 'sexy' is based on the inexplicable overlap of character and chemicals that happens between people . . . the odd sense that you have something primal in common with another person whom you may love, or you may barely even like, that can only be expressed through the physical and psychological exchange that is sex." It was that sense of the "primal" that powered the original free-love era in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a sense that sex was too important, too exciting, too liberating to be bound by the strict confines of marriage. In our current sexual era, though, the primal seems to have been replaced by performance, pheromones by perfume, body hair by depilation. Genuine passion sometimes seems to be going the way of the dodo, or, to be more accurate, the hippy.

"The whole argument that women are choosing this path themselves, and that that makes it OK, doesn't particularly make sense to me," says Levy. "I mean," she pauses, "I suppose it is a tiny nugget of progress, but it's like we have taken the cage away from women and none of us is trying to escape, we're just behaving exactly as we think men want us to. In terms of the Cake parties, I just didn't think that they were really about women's sexual pleasure at all. It was like being at your average strip club. And if you're going to try to sell that to me as feminist, then I'm just going to laugh at you."

An only child, Levy was brought up in New York by a father who worked as a writer, her mother was a massage therapist. "I haven't really rebelled," Levy admits. "I just think my parents were right. I never disagreed with anything that I was brought up with, in terms of their values or politics.'

Levy isn't entirely against pornography as a medium, and thinks that so-called "sex radicals" such as Susie Bright have the potential to use it in an alternative way, and "to really explore different sexual possibilities, which is what I'm advocating. At the moment, though, it remains the case that most women who enter the sex industry are poor, and most of them will stay poor. So let's not pretend that it's a fabulous, empowering industry."

Do sex workers count as female chauvinist pigs? If someone has very few options and they decide to strip or become a porn star, should they be criticised for that? "No, of course not. The point isn't: oh, you're a bad person because you're doing what you have to do to make a living. The point is that it is really sad that there aren't more options." She continues: "I don't pity or hate or exalt sex workers, I simply say that for us to use them as a sexual model is nutso, because these are people who are being paid to impersonate sexual pleasure and power. It doesn't make any sense. If you're going to have a role model for sexual pleasure, at least make it someone who is genuinely enjoying it, rather than an actor.'

I wonder if she has seen anything recently - any film, or music video, or TV show - that depicts an alternative, more complex sexuality than the jiggling bottoms normally on offer. After all, if there is no alternative model out there, then doesn't it make sense that women, and especially young women, might choose a stereotypical form of sexuality over and above no sexuality at all?

Levy pauses. "Well, whenever I see a film or read a book where there's more than one choice of sexuality on offer, then I'm impressed ... I was impressed by Brokeback Mountain, actually, and I thought that the straight scenes as well as the gay scenes were really sexy. It didn't make out, like, 'These guys are gay, so their sex lives with their wives mean nothing.' Any time I see something where there are sexual options other than just gyrating, rock-hard implants, then I'm impressed."

Leaving the diner, I ask Levy whether she would like to spearhead a new wave of feminism. "Well, that would be interesting," she says, "and I definitely think that someone should, but I just don't think I'm qualified. I'm a writer, not an activist. My job is to analyse things, to think them through and examine them." Which is something of a pity. Women need voices like Ariel Levy's now more than ever

(Ariel Levy will be speaking at a Guardian debate on raunch culture with Lynne Segal, Sam Roddick, Alok Jha and Zoe Williams, at 7pm on Monday June 26 at the Oliver Thompson lecture theatre, City university, Northampton Square, London, EC1V.)

I'll be damned, here's a dude with something fresh to say about why Bush started the Iraq War

I think I've got a discovery. This dude Ahmed Amr. Great name, and he’s written the most original piece I’ve ever read on the Iraq War and why it happened. The guy just sounds way more commonsensical and cut-through-the-BS than anyone else. Also, he doesn’t get angry and outraged, but rather sort of blithely amused at the bizarreness of the world.

He writes on Check him out. I’ve added four more pieces to this piece, because they show the same flair for original analysis as the first piece. He appears to me now to be, along with Prof. Juan Cole, the most reliable commentator on the Iraq War. He has a fresh POV because he’s an inveterate pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel American Arab. Kind of like Edward Said with a bigger bug up his butt. Interestingly, he loses his sense of humor completely when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. That’s when he becomes as shrill as all of us. You might not like him if you think the sun shines out of Israel’s ass, but hey, it gives him a viewpoint different from most of us who are so anti-anti-Semitic, that we cut Israel too much slack for its thoughtlessly self-suicidal treatment of the Palestinians (not that the Palestinians give Israel that great a choice, either – the two are blood brothers drowning in each other’s blood).

I discovered Ahmed Amr on wood s lot, which is my favorite place on the web. Not just because it’s the best snagger of great political, philosophical and literary links ever, but also because it’s so pristinely beautiful to look at – lovely photos and art pieces. If music is the condition all art aspires to, wood s lot is the condition to which all cultural blogs should aspire.

1. The Iraq War and the End of Economics
by Ahmed Amr

Three long years into this war of choice, most Americans and Arabs are still trying to figure out why George Bush wasted so many chips playing Iraqi roulette.

If the nasty Mess on Potamia wasn’t about the phantom weapons of mass destruction, it certainly had nothing to do with spreading the blessings of democracy to the region. “Liberating foreigners from the yoke of repression” is the last refuge of scoundrels without a good alibi for an unprovoked unilateral war of aggression against a sovereign state.

The United States had fifteen long years to encourage the development of a model democracy in Kuwait -- which remains a family-ruled oil plantation with a rubber-stamp parliament. Uncle Sam could have leaned on the Saudis to get with the program. So far, the custodians of the oil plantations in the kingdom of oil have managed to stage male-only elections to contest half the seats in a few city councils.

By now, it should be clear to one and all that war in Iraq has done nothing but create more willing and eager adversaries in the “war on terror.” As a result of Bush’s escapade, a nasty sectarian civil war has converted Baghdad into the most dangerous city on earth. There is no other place in the planet where fifty mutilated bodies are dumped in the municipal morgue on a regular daily basis. Every Iraqi is a potential victim in a chaotic landscape where a guy wearing a cop uniform by day moonlights as a member of a death squad by night.

The occupation army led by American forces has abandoned its legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their colonial subjects and focused their effort on “force protection.” These days, Washington is more concerned with conducting behind the scenes haggling with Tehran to come up with a face-saving exit strategy. Most likely, Bush will try to work out a deal where he ends up ceding Iraq to theocrats beholden to the clerics in Iran in exchange for a pledge from Tehran to forget about joining the nuclear club.

To achieve this spectacular result, Cpl. Michael Estrella made the ultimate sacrifice. As White House press secretary Tony Snow put it, the twenty-year-old marine from California became “just a number” -- number 2500 to be precise. No one is counting the number of Iraqi casualties -- but some are forecasting that the dollar tab for this venture will eventually add up to a trillion plus in borrowed greenbacks.

Regardless of the very tangible and tragic outcomes of what has been called the greatest strategic debacle in American history, our media savants have yet to ponder the reasons why Bush went out of his way to sell the war to a gullible and vulnerable post-911 America.

The clues to the answer are abundant. Just look at the line-up of the countries that supported the president’s march to war. The Saudis wanted it. The Israelis and AIPAC put their neo-con operatives on the front lines of the effort to manufacture bogus WMD intelligence to market the war. The Kuwaitis and Qatar were more than happy to provide a launching pad for the invasion. And Tony Blair, the prime minister of an oil-exporting country, was willing to stake his political future on the outcome.

And here is another clue. The countries most dependent on Gulf oil supplies were much less enthusiastic about the ill-fated venture. Why exactly did the Germans, the French, the Indians and the Chinese attempt to prevent the outbreak of hostilities?

A third clue might help. The United States can satisfy nearly 70% of its total energy needs domestically. Of the 21 million barrels of oil consumed by Americans on a daily basis, less than 3 million are imported from the Gulf region. And we don’t get any kind of discount as payback for our military intervention in the region. We pay $70 a barrel just like everybody else -- double the pre-war price.

Add to these three clues one vital statistic -- an American trade deficit that amounted to $804 billion in 2005. For every dollar of imports, America manages to export 53 cents worth of goods and services. In fact, contrary to popular belief, the United States is a trading wimp that has run up exponentially rising trade deficits for thirty consecutive years. Why are the folks in Washington constantly harping about the joys of the global economy when American producers have consistently demonstrated their inability to compete in world markets? The evidence of their lack of competitiveness is littered in thousands of communities from sea to shining sea which have been blighted by the loss of three million manufacturing jobs since Bush set foot in the White House.

The above clues tell the entire story of why Bush went to war and why he managed to line up so much Democratic Party support for his venture. Start with the trade deficit. Every twenty-four hours, Uncle Sam exports two billion dollars in newly minted currency to settle the daily trade deficit.

So, each and every day of the week, the world delivers to our harbors cars, toys, consumer electronics, oil and a thousand other necessities to maintain “our way of life.” In consideration, we give them paper money. And they still come back the next day and get another box of American currency backed by nothing more than -- you guessed it -- Arab oil.

Take a moment here to digest the most brilliant imperial venture in human history -- a feat that defies economic gravity. America has the sweetest deal with the kleptocratic custodians of the oil plantations in the Gulf. For their part, the House of Saud and the Kuwaitis have agreed to price their oil in dollars, to accept payment only in dollars and to “recycle” a good portion of those “petro-dollars” into American capital markets -- buying up corporate stocks and the bonds the United States government issues to finance the $400 billion annual budget deficit.

In exchange, the American government provides protection to the ruling dynasties against all comers -- domestic and foreign. Incidentally, one of the domestic threats against these police states is the very democracy that Bush has no intention of spreading. The nightmare scenario for the wizards in the State Department is the day common folks in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait get the right to hold their governors accountable for where the oil revenues go.

The oil-for-dollars-and-only-dollars policy forces oil importers around the globe to hoard American dollars. China and Japan now have an estimated $1,700 billion ($1.7 trillion) in US dollar reserves. Given their trade history with the United States, they definitely are not holding on to these dollar reserves to buy American products. Rather, those dollars have intrinsic value because they are directly convertible into Arab oil. That’s why they call them petrodollars. Conveniently enough, the rise in oil prices has further increased demand for the dollar -- at a time when the American trade deficit is going through the roof.

The business of America used to be business. Now, the United States government has figured out a way to produce real tangible wealth out of paper and green ink. It is a venture that dwarfs anything ever imagined by Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller or Henry Ford. America’s biggest business is the US Mint. We have become a currency-exporting economy -- a new economic phenomenon that undermines every economic theory postulated since Adam Smith. Someone should tell Francis Fukuyama that before we ever get to the end of history, we will first have to take a stroll through the end of economics.

Now here’s the bad news. The “Arab-oil-for-American-dollars” racket is no longer a cost-free proposition. With the mounting tab in blood and treasure from Bush’s dice game in Iraq, the more sober pencil-pushers in the CIA and the State Department will soon realize that their currency-exporting venture has gone from being a virtual El Dorado to a resource-hogging sinkhole.

Make no mistake, when the politicians in Washington talk about our “national interests” in the region -- they are talking about maintaining our lucrative currency-exporting franchise. Cpl. Michael Estrella’s ultimate sacrifice and the death of 2,499 of his comrades was part of the price America was willing to pay to sustain our two-billion-dollar-a-day trade deficit. That is why I have long argued that we can best support our troops by either bringing them home or paying them like the corporate mercenaries who are compensated at a rate of $1000/day for much less hazardous duties.

It is really unfortunate that the ordinary people caught on both sides of this conflict are paying the price for Bush’s wild-eyed gamble in blood. Perhaps what is more tragic is that the people in the Middle East have come to believe that this is about a western religious crusade instead of an exercise in imperial voodoo economics -- aided and abetted by their dynastic rulers who are Machiavellian enough to pose as “defenders of the faith.” On the flip side, many Americans have developed increasingly racist attitudes towards their colonial subjects who are portrayed by the mind-warping media titans at CNN and FOX as irrational culturally inferior sub-humans resisting our noble efforts to civilize them with an infusion of our democratic values.

The “culture clash” nonsense is nothing more than a convenient diversionary ruse by both Arab and American elites. Consider the fact that Prince Walid Ibn Talal is the third largest investor in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the media conglomerate most likely to infect the public square with pro-war jingoism and anti-Arab racism. Not to be outdone, Murdoch -- the man who made bigotry respectable again -- is reportedly buying into Rotana, the Arab media giant owned by Walid Ibn Talal -- who is reputedly a frontman for the Saudi Royals.

Both Arabs and Americans need to clear their minds of this culture clash trash and start asking a few basic questions. Why are two hundred thousand American soldiers permanently garrisoned in Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain? Why did the Saudis and Kuwaitis support the invasion of Iraq? Where do Saudi and Israeli interests converge? What role does the trade deficit play in formulating American policy in the region? Why do other nations hold huge dollar reserves when they obviously have no intentions of buying American products? Where do the oil revenues go? What would be the economic consequences of the emergence of democratic governments in the region that refused to price their oil in dollars? Ponder that last question and try to visualize what the “end of economics” will look like.

(Ahmed Amr is the editor of He can be reached at:

2. Plan Z in Iraq
by Ahmed Amr
March 11, 2006

As things now stand, it is difficult to predict how things will eventually turn out in Iraq. Anything is possible including eventual partition -- the outcome most favored by the neo-cons. On the other hand, we might end up with a failed state where nihilistic ethnic and sectarian militias confront each other in an orgy of violence to settle old and new grievances. The most likely scenario is the emergence of a Shia dominated theocracy tied at the hip to the clerical regime in Tehran. One can always hope for a rapid Anglo-American withdrawal followed by a broad effort at national reconciliation. But that possibility is becoming more remote with every new spasm of inter-communal mayhem.

Until now, reading the Iraqi tea leaves hardly required a degree in rocket science. It was easy enough to discount the pre-war “intelligence”, predict the insurgency and see the early signs of the infiltration of the Iraqi security forces by Iranian trained militants. Very few credible observers were confounded when Iraqis opted to vote in conformity with their sectarian and ethnic allegiances.

Even the Abu Ghraib scandal and the take-no-prisoners assaults on Fallujah, Najaf and Tal Afar were the predictable behavior of a hyper power that never does war without doing war crimes. Washington’s high tolerance for Iraqi “collateral damage” was a superficial refinement of the old doctrine of “kill them all and let God sort them out.”

There was no need for a crystal ball to figure out that Iraq would turn into a manufacturing plant for Al-Qaida sympathizers. Many neo-cons actually hailed the prospect. Of course, in their jaded worldview, there were a finite number of terrorists who would be drawn to the conflict and wiped out. The idea was to use Iraq as a magnet to lure radical jihadists to the swamp and then simply drain the swamp. Essentially, Iraq would be converted into a “fly trap” for Bin Laden and his fellow travelers. These days, even the Pentagon admits that the insurgency -- including its most radical elements -- is home grown.

It wasn’t only cynics who dismissed the notion that Bush invaded Iraq to promote democracy in the Middle East. Washington hitched a ride on the freedom train only after all other excuses for the invasion vaporized into thin air. The transparently fraudulent push for democratic reform in the region was a post-quagmire gimmick designed to defuse the domestic and international outcry over the absence of weapons of mass destruction and the advent of chaos.

It’s now pretty well established that the invasion had nothing to do with preventing nuclear mushroom clouds over New York and London. George Bush has already conceded that Saddam wasn’t even remotely connected to the suicidal assaults on the World Trade Center. Every serious intelligence analyst knew that Saddam’s military was in tatters after a decade of sanctions. And UN intrusive weapons search teams had repeatedly failed to find a trace of Iraq’s alleged nuclear and chemical arsenals. In fact, one can argue that Iraq was invaded precisely because it was deemed an easy mark.

Despite the best efforts by the alternative press, the vast majority of Americans, including anti-war activists, have failed to decipher the secret American agenda in Iraq -- propping up the almighty dollar, enhancing Israel’s strategic position and protecting the Gulf monarchies and their oil plantations.

So, as we approach the third anniversary of this war of choice, it is instructive to review the pre-invasion blue prints.

“Plan A” was simple enough. Deploy troops in Kuwait and Turkey. Put together an “international coalition” similar to the one Bush senior recruited for Desert Storm. Solicit a UN Security Council resolution to legalize the invasion. Initiate hostilities with a “shock and awe” air campaign to decapitate Saddam’s regime. Dispatch Special Forces behind enemy lines to secure the oil fields. Launch the ground assault and conduct mop up operations. Install Ahmed Chalabi as a puppet president. Assign Paul Bremer as the American Viceroy to lord over the Iraqi oil fiefdom. Iraqis would then be adopted as wards of the United States for a period of ten to twenty ten years -- or however long it took to put together a modern and secular pro-American social order. To enforce Emperor Bremer’s dictates, permanent bases would be built to accommodate a garrison of thirty to fifty thousand troops.

The cost estimate for Plan A was around fifty Billion. After greeting our troops with rose parades, the Iraqis were expected to display their generosity by reimbursing Bush for the cost of the invasion. Their oil proceeds would be more than enough to finance reconstruction efforts.

No one in the Pentagon has yet to reveal how many American casualties were expected. But since old generals usually design their battle plans based on recent military experience -- it is worth taking a guess. Serbia resulted in a single American fatality and Afghanistan was conquered with an initial loss of less than twenty members of the CIA and Special Forces. The terrain in both countries were formidable compared to Iraq. The Serbs had a modern European army at their disposal and the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were considered infinitely more motivated than the draftees in Saddam’s army. In a worse case scenario, it’s safe to assume that the Pentagon expected under a hundred fatalities.

Another projected result of the war was a reduction of oil prices -- as a pliant Iraq replaced Saudi Arabia to become the world’s major swing producer. The new Iraq would be expected to withdraw from OPEC and privatize its oil industry. Among the more fanciful neo-con fantasies was the construction of an oil pipeline to Haifa. Based on these pre-war projections, American companies were salivating at the prospect of economic dividends from Iraqi reconstruction contracts.

Once Plan A was implemented, the neo-cons had other blue prints ready for the march on Damascus and Tehran.

On first contact with reality, “Plan A” fell apart. Even before the first shot was fired, serious revisions had to be made. Turkey refused to be a staging ground for the invasion and the United Nations balked at granting Washington a license to initiate hostilities. In rounding up a credible international “coalition of the willing”, Bush Junior was reduced to pleading with stalwart allies like Mongolia and Bulgaria to volunteer a few hundred foot soldiers. Even these token participants only agreed to deploy their forces after the ground invasion was a done deal.

Aside from Tony Blair’s brigades, the only credible contributions to the effort to secure post-invasion Iraq came from Poland, Italy, Spain and South Korea. Most of these “willing” coalition partners were drawn into the Iraqi enterprise by the promise of material rewards in the form of lucrative post-invasion contracts. In the case of the Eastern European contingents, there was the additional desire to prove their loyalty as new NATO allies -- in contrast to the “fickle” men of “Old Europe” represented by the treasonous French and the ungrateful Germans. Even the Gulf Arabs -- who publicly condemned the venture but rolled out the red carpet to facilitate the invasion -- refused to pitch in with their armed forces.

So, by the time American tanks rolled into Baghdad, the initial blue print had to be repeatedly revised. “Plan B” required a last minute re-deployment of tens of thousands of troops anchored off the coast of Turkey -- after Istanbul rebuffed Wolfowitz’s last-minute entreaties to grant them landing rights. “Plan C” was to pressure the British to go into battle without a UN resolution. Unlike Bush, the Prime Minister still faces the prospect of criminal charges in British courts for launching an illegal war of aggression. The invasion date was delayed when Blair came under serious domestic pressure -- which included the resignation of Robin Cook.

Even though Hans Blix unexpectedly encountered transparency and cooperation in Baghdad, he still came up empty-handed in his search for the phantom WMD stockpiles. After building the case for war exclusively on Saddam’s possession of illicit weapons, Bush was obliged to give a preposterous ultimatum to the United Nations to suspend its search and get its people out of Baghdad. A year later, the administration quietly conceded that Iraq was innocent of all WMD charges. Instead of taking responsibility for the absence of common sense, Bush and his neo-con cronies placed the entire blame on the intelligence community.

The new popular myth about this war is that the administration failed to develop a post-war plan. In fact, State Department experts put together a comprehensive strategy that was shelved primarily because some of the planners were suspected “Arabists”. The neo-cons have an enduring grudge against American diplomats who might know a thing or two about the Middle East but have no work history in pro-Israeli think tanks.

To appease neo-con sensibilities, Dick Cheney intervened and Colin Powell’s experts were unceremoniously dismissed. Post-war planning was then handed over to the Pentagon. Rumsfeld’s nominee to lead and supervise post-hostilities reconstruction and stabilization efforts was the genius most responsible for manufacturing WMD canards -- Douglas Feith. For reasons unknown, Rummy still refuses to expedite the ongoing internal DOD investigation of Feith’s pivotal role in corrupting pre-war intelligence.

Since the invasion, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Initial resistance to the occupation was deemed to be a passing storm by disgruntled dead-enders and Saddam loyalists. Accordingly, plans were made to deal with that delusionary perception. In the meantime, the Iraqi army was disbanded. In its place, the Pentagon wizards envisioned a reconstituted 40,000 native Iraqi defense force that would be assigned to guard the borders and oil installations.

As these plans evolved and failed -- the administration finally realized they had a serious insurgency on their hands. Needless to say, new strategies had to be developed to deal with new perceptions. When the coalition forces continued to suffer daily casualties, force protection became the number one priority. To deal with that awkward reality, the Pentagon decided to reverse itself and substantially increase the size of the Iraqi army to shoulder some of the burden of confronting the rebels. This new scheme required considerable modifications when Sunni insurgents infiltrated army ranks. So, either by design or out of desperation, new Iraqi Army units developed along sectarian lines. The predictable result is that entire army brigades are now made up exclusively of Shia and Kurdish recruits.

After the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (SCIRI) won the first round of legislative elections, they handed over the post of Prime Minister to Jaffari, the leader of the Dawa party. The reason for this “generous” concession to the junior member of the Shia alliance became clear when SCIRI scored an even bigger prize -- control over the Interior Ministry. Under Bayan Jabor, a leader of the Badr Brigades, the ministry was converted into a new home for Iranian trained militants. Before long, elite police units were moonlighting as death squads. SCIRI and other Shia militias have also infiltrated the army en masse.

The British and American forces have now decided to retreat to well-protected garrisons and hand over the bulk of the fighting to the Iraqi army -- which is still a work in progress. The designated role for coalition forces is to train new recruits and back up the Iraqi army with logistical support -- including air cover. This new strategy is nothing but a replay of Nixon’s Vietnamization policy. Can “peace with honor” be far behind?

Like all previous plans, this one had unintended consequences. Iraq now appears to be caught in the early stages of what might turn out to be a nasty civil war. A reign of terror has been unleashed against ordinary Iraqis already suffering the trauma of three wars, genocidal sanctions and a brutal dictatorship. The carnage that followed the destruction of the Al-Askari shrine in Samarra indicates that the Anglo-American forces have lost control of the situation and decided to avoid “taking sides.” By keeping out of the fray, the ceded the final word to the Shia and Sunni clerics who successfully intervened to cool tempers while coalition troops stood on the sidelines.

At every stage of this unnecessary and immoral tragedy, the administration had set benchmarks that would derail the insurgency and usher in a semblance of stability. The arrest and trial of Saddam Hussein, handing nominal sovereignty to an Iraqi puppet government, the interim government elections, the constitutional referendum and last December’s election all promised to put Iraq on the path to a united secular pro-American democracy with peace and prosperity for all. Three months after the last goal post, the Iraqi parliament has yet to convene and the streets of Baghdad are as treacherous as ever.

Iraq today is a land where security forces, armed militias and insurgents are indistinguishable. All three engage in arbitrary arrest, torture their victims and dispatch them with a single bullet to the head. Reporters, intellectuals, political activists and college professors are routinely assassinated. Hardly a day goes by without car bomb explosions. Criminal gangs roam the land kidnapping victims for profit and the only relatively safe place in Baghdad is the Green Zone -- which still occasionally comes under mortar fire.

In a country blessed with ample oil reserves, Iraqis spend hours lining up at gas stations. Petroleum exports are at an all time low. Electricity is a temporary phenomenon. Most of the population remains unemployed and the southern provinces have been transformed into a virtual theocracy.

Mixed messages are coming out of Washington about the combat readiness of the new Iraqi Army. While American generals testify before Congress about “progress”, Zalmay Khalilzad concedes that the invasion of Iraq has opened a Pandora’s Box of sectarian conflicts that could spill over into neighboring states.

In the aftermath of Samarra, the only remaining justification for the continued deployment of 130,000 American troops is to prevent a major outbreak of civil strife. Yet, Rumsfeld is sending unmistakable signals that -- in the event of civil war -- US troops will take a neutral stand. Which begs the question: why continue placing American troops in harm’s way when the administration has no intention of engaging them in an effort to prevent a civil war.

Complicating matters, Iran is currently being primed for American military intervention. In the event of hostilities, Tehran would certainly retaliate by launching missiles against US troop garrisons in Iraq. The Shia militias in Iraq have publicly stated that they will not stand idle if their Iranian brethren are subjected to America’s military might. No worries. The Pentagon must have plans for that such eventualities. It’s probably called “Plan X”.

Washington now fears that the only victors to emerge from a civil war will be Iran’s theocrats. Its response, it has been making overtures to its old adversaries - the Sunni rebels.

The cumulative cost for all these plans can be readily measured in blood, in treasure and in America’s international standing. Over 2,300 American soldiers have already made the ultimate sacrifice and 16,000 have been seriously wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis -- the majority of them innocent civilians -- are no longer among the living. The administration continues to stand by its policy of not doing body counts. But if one considers the relative size of Iraq’s population -- our colonial subjects in Mesopotamia have already suffered the equivalent of one million American casualties. In terms of direct and indirect financial loss, economists are now projecting that this unnecessary intervention will probably cost upwards of one thousand billion dollars. And most security experts agree that the war has created a breeding ground for more terrorism.

While the neo-cons tinker with new plans, domestic pressures to withdraw the troops are intensifying and coming from unlikely voices on the right like William Buckley, Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and Andrew Sullivan. The majority of Americans are now firmly against the war -- including the troops stationed in Iraq. The White House’s new focus is to develop new contingency plans to deal with George Bush’s blue dress moment. I am just guessing that the blueprints will be called “Plan X”.

Which brings us to Plan Z -- a major American international campaign to expand the letters of the alphabet to deal with the unpredictable outcomes of this disastrous war of choice.

3. Abandon the Palestinians or Abandon the Dollar
by Ahmed Amr
May 17, 2006

You know something is wrong when the soft-spoken Jimmy Carter begins an article with the following line “innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime.” The former president concludes the same piece by judiciously pointing out that “depriving the people of Palestine of their basic human rights just to punish their elected leaders is not a path to peace.”

You know something is wrong because no Arab leader can be bothered to utter similar words -- certainly not with the same passion. The big difference is that Jimmy Carter cares enough to state the obvious: “It is unconscionable for Israel, the United States and others under their influence to continue punishing the innocent and already persecuted people of Palestine.”

So, have the Arabs lost their tongues or just misplaced them in the State Department? Sure, they’ve gone through the motions of collecting funds for the beleaguered Palestinians. But they seem to be having a problem with transferring the promised aid to the Palestinian Authority. Jimmy Carter understands that the Arabs always have their excuses when it comes to delivering the goods. He informs us “the U.S. government is threatening the financial existence of any Jordanian or other bank that dares to transfer this assistance into Palestine.”

Imagine the Saudis facing the disastrous prospect of American economic sanctions. Who would want to risk such a “catastrophe”? So, watcha gonna do about it? It seems that the hapless Arabs are just going to let the almighty Bush administration have their way and allow Israel to starve the Palestinians into submission.

In terms of pure economics -- consider the absurd notion that America can intimidate the oil rich and petrodollar saturated Arabs with economic sanctions. If ever there was an economic fairy tale -- this is it.

In the real world, a bloated American economic giant -- entirely dependent on foreign financing of its monstrous budget and trade deficits -- hobbles along on crutches made of Arab oil. With trade deficits running at over two billion dollars a day, one would think that the Bush administration would have more sense and better manners when threatening the Arab monarchs who go out of their way to shore up demand for a feeble dollar.

To get a change of attitude in Washington, start with a change of attitude in Arab capitals. If the Saudis and other Gulf monarchs would merely hint that they might refuse to exchange their oil for dollars -- it would take a week for Bush to grasp a few basic concepts on the subject of the economic limitations of a superpower with $800 billion annual trade deficits.

If the Arabs had the will to keep up the pressure for a month or two -- and followed it up by cutting oil production by five or ten per cent -- watch out. You might get a complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border, a resolution of the refugee problem and a lucrative Israeli offer to compensate the Palestinians for the Nakba after six decades of relentless persecution. Now, who would want a thing like that to happen?

Of course, nothing more is at stake here than the destiny of a few million Palestinians, Jerusalem and putting a limit to Israeli ambitions to unilaterally dictate a final resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. That doesn’t appear to be enough to get the attention of the custodians of the oil plantations.

As Jimmy Carter points out “with American acquiescence, the Israelis have avoided any substantive peace talks for more than five years, regardless of who had been chosen to represent the Palestinian side as interlocutor.” And what have the Arabs done to shore up the position of their Palestinian brothers? Next to nothing.

For all practical purposes, the Arab leaders have abandoned the Palestinians. It would be extremely helpful if they would do us all the favor of publicly committing themselves to follow the dictates of the neo-conservative radicals responsible for drafting American foreign policy blue prints.

But, lest we despair, the cards are not all in the hands of a few aloof Arab monarchs. For one thing, the Arab people are infinitely more sympathetic to the Palestinians cause than their unelected leaders. And while they’re in no position to challenge their governments’ policies -- they definitely have other options.

Individual Arabs -- especially the well off -- can take actions that go over the heads of their governors. They can personally engage themselves in a peaceful protest against American policy. All it would take is a grass roots movement to dump the dollar. Given the prospect that the dollar is on the verge of losing another 25% of its value, individuals participating in this pacifist act of resistance would find it not only effective but also profitable. Imagine that -- an opportunity to agitate for profit. In a single non-violent transaction, you can end up making a few bucks, or preferably a few Euros, and you get to feed a starving Palestinian while you count your gains. The best part of this campaign is that you can do it all from the safety of your local bank without the need to confront belligerent security forces.

If the movement catches fire and the alarm bells start going off in Washington, the Arab governments might have a change of heart and opt for a transplant of guts. Should they bend and decide to follow the lead of their people -- an unlikely but not altogether impossible prospect -- things will change in a hurry.

So, if you want to see a light at the end of the tunnel, set a bonfire for the dollar. There will be no more need to exchange blood for oil once the Arabs end their “oil for dollars” policy.

The choices are clear. The Arabs -- as individuals and as governments -- can opt to abandon the Palestinians or to abandon the dollar.

4. Middle East Foreign Policy After Midnight
By Ahmed Amr.
November 1, 2001

For years now, there has been a lot of talk about the virtues of personal responsibility. Those who have preached these virtues from their bully pulpits in the mass media are now in a unique position to come to terms with the error of their ways. Imagine, if the Israel Firsters in the mass media, a group that is all to willing to market venomous snake oil, would come clean and take responsibility for some of the policies that invited the murderous assaults against our shores on 9/11.

The mass media tycoons, from Sulzberger to Graham to Murdoch to Levine, are all too willing to use their infotainment monopolies to bend our minds with their ethnic agendas. These are men have no problem with probing the other guy's religion. Yet their hired pundits will go ape if somebody notices the big invisible elephant in the room; the extremist Yiddish supremacists who have elevated the Jewish State of Israel to the level of a deity.

For the last five decades, religious fundamentalism has encroached into the American public arena. An extremist right-wing group of lobbyists, collectively known as the Jewish lobby, has essentially hijacked our Middle East policy. As a by-product of their ambitious agenda, they have manufactured some very serious enemies. Enemies we could certainly have done without. It is time for this lobby to back off a bit and take into consideration the millions of lives that have been ruined by their persistent attempts to place Israeli interests above all others.

Is it possible for individual CNN media personalities like Jeff Greenberg, Wolf Blitzer, Aaron Brown and Larry King to properly identify themselves as part of the Israeli Lobby? It is intellectually dishonest to do otherwise. Besides, it is all too obvious. Could Thomas Friedman and William Safire publicly declare that they are virtual public relations agents for Israel? In these dangerous times, could they take a minute to explain their infatuation with a war criminal like Ariel Sharon? A note from their shrink would do.

Any honest analysis of the dismal failure of American foreign policies in the Middle East must delve into the murky operations of the Jewish Lobby. It is a lobby that has completely disfigured the image of America among the native people of the Middle East. Indeed, they are now working overtime to assure that America's 'public diplomacy' efforts fail, lest their success result in ending the Israeli repression of the Palestinians. Every major American Jewish Organization in America has warmly embraced Ariel Sharon, knowing full well that his resume includes vicious criminal atrocities in places like Qibya and Sabra and Shatila. The American Jewish Community has a leadership that has joined forces to create a constituency for repression. It is certain that many average American Jews consider these 'leaders' to be an eccentric fringe. But, they will need to speak out, so that we can dump the Lobby's canards in that unmarked grave that George Bush is digging for history's discarded lies.

If you watch the Israel Firsters carefully, they are easy enough to figure out. Right now their big trip is to question whether Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are 'reliable allies'. They constantly agitate for opening a second front against Iraq, a third front against Iran, a fourth front against Libya and a fifth front against the Sudan. They have suddenly discovered that human rights violations are the law of the land in Uzbekistan. Of late, they have glossed over Sharon's murderous escapade in Bethlehem and surrounding villages, which cost 50 lives, many of them innocent civilians. IDF brutality never seems to concern the Yiddish supremacists who rule over our mass media empires. They are too busy enlisting in Sharon's crusade to derail the anti-terror coalition. These boys know how to use their media franchise as a lethal weapon against any American administration that gets in the way of Israel's foreign policy.

Now, in the aftermath of the assault on New York, George Bush can make some serious choices for the good of America and the rest of the planet. He can stop allowing his cabinet to be ambushed daily by the Yiddish media's pundits. At a recent state department briefing, they had dozens of questions about Anthrax and two about Sharon's murder of 50 Palestinians in Bethlehem. That is their way of burying the news that Sharon was thumbing his nose at America.

If Bush wants to reclaim sovereignty over foreign policy, he should stop giving special privileges like exclusive interviews to the New York Times and The Washington Post. It is especially important to neutralize the New York Times, which fancies itself a shadow government. A kick in the teeth for the Yiddish supremacists at the Washington Post would do their journalism little harm. The government should reduce those two papers to their natural size as ethnic municipal rags. They should also investigate their hiring practices. There is a reason that both papers sound like an inter-Yiddish dialogue, because these guys love to talk amongst themselves and they insist on controlling the debate. If they think we should all take a road trip to Chandrala to visit Condit, that is where they send us. The crazy thing, is that many of these same intellectual peons have deluded themselves into thinking they can go from covering Chandra and sharks attacks to 'covering up' the Middle East, Afghanistan and the role of the Israeli Lobby.

Amusement is hard to come by these days. So just for laughs, I sometimes watch Chris Mathews and Geraldo Rivera. The amazing thing is that these guys apparently think they have a clue. The lack of competence is actually quite convenient. If you had real journalists on this story, they might have started inquiring into the exact size of the invisible rogue elephant, the Israeli lobby. Maybe an authentic journalist would corner Thomas Friedman and ask what he means by writing that "it's time now to tell the truth" (NYT, 10/31/01). Can it be that Friedman is coming out of his closet of lies and deception and going straight? Will William Safire end his charm offensive for his favorite Israeli war criminal, Sharon? Will the Washington Post stop coordinating with the Israeli lobby to put a hole in the international coalition? Will Rupert Murdoch and FOX tone down their 24/7 anti-Muslim campaign? Don't hold your breath. Friedman can't help lying. It's a professional requirement for those who work at the New York Times, The Daily Ruse.

As you might have noted, the mass media tycoons have declared open season on the CIA and the FBI, have second-guessed the Military on appropriate use of air strikes and have collaborated in spreading the Anthrax scare. Well, what about a second look at our foreign policy and the role of the mass-media wizards in crippling our nation's national interests with their Israel First agendas. When are they going to take responsibility for being constant advocates of repression in the Middle East? When are they going to investigate the Israel Firsters like Wolfowitz, Perle, Dennis Ross, Holbrooke, Albright, Indyk, Rubin and Kurzer? Why were so many of these Yiddish supremacists allowed to penetrate the State Department and use their powerful positions to advance the cause of a foreign state? When are our mass-media lords going to investigate the role of the Jewish Lobby in corrupting our Congressmen and Senators?

Ain't going to happen. By sheer volume and the absence of alternative voices, the Israel Firsters have once again demonstrated near total control of their mind-messing mass-media machines. But they seem to have a blind spot. What they don't see is that Americans are intent of getting to the bottom of this. Most Americans still can't understand why anyone would hate us this much. And they don't buy the 'Hollywood, short skirts and liberty' story line. But this juncture, the Yiddish supremacists have few alternatives. They cannot afford to have an open public debate on their historic role in disfiguring our foreign policy to meet Israel's every whim. More is at stake than the deflating of a five-decade propaganda campaign for the racist Jewish state. It is way past midnight, and these mass media franchises face a real danger of permanently losing the public's trust in their veracity. One day soon, enough Americans will find ways to circumvent the mass-media tycoons and discover the realities of our foreign policy. And the facts will prove that our political classes leased out the State Department to a deranged group of arrogant Yiddish media tycoons who worship thugs like Ariel Sharon.

If Yiddish supremacists manage to get away with their usual vaudevillian act, after the loss of 5000 of our citizens, we will have even darker days ahead. We need to impress upon the Israel Firsters that Americans want a decent foreign policy that will represent the true face of our country to the rest of the world. They have already inflicted immense damage to our country with their single-minded loyalty to Israel. With every passing year, they become more like a cult, willing to mindlessly market whatever Sharon feels like doing. They need to be confronted and asked to broaden their horizons to include American and Palestinian interests.

The hour is way past Midnight. So much damage has already been inflicted on America. Would it be too much to ask those responsible for our predicament to stand up and take personal responsibility? Or will we have to wait for a Robert McNamara 'confession' that will come too late and be of little use?

5. Recognizing Israel for what it is
By Ahmed Amr
March 5, 2006

Condi Rice spent the better part of her recent visit to the Middle East trying to persuade Egyptians and Gulf Arabs to join the American-Israeli efforts to isolate Hamas and impose economic sanctions on the Palestinians. To put it mildly, she was told to take a hike.

After democratic elections in the occupied territories resulted in a massive shift to the Palestinian right, Washington joined Tel Aviv in formulating a policy geared to starving the Palestinians as collective punishment for their bad voting habits. In trying to market her obscene scheme to an unreceptive audience in Cairo and Saudi Arabia, Condi once again demonstrated her total allegiance to the Israeli agenda.

Under the guidance of Secretary Rice and her predecessor, America has successfully transformed itself from the indispensable nation to an irrelevant actor on the Middle Eastern stage. In Iraq, it has lost control of events. For all practical matters, the Anglo-American occupation forces are now merely hostages to the whims of the clerical regime in Tehran and its Iraqi allies. In the event of an all out civil war, the invasion of Iraq will go down in history as the mother of all strategic blunders.

Across the region - even among staunch cold war allies - the Bush administration is held in utter contempt. The fear of American conspiracies has been replaced with disdain for the Bush administration's crude ineptitude. Even in Turkey, the most secular of Islamic nations, crowds are turning out in droves to see a movie that paints Americans as war criminals and brutes. It has already grossed more than any Turkish movie in history. Not to be outdone, a recent Egyptian blockbuster lampoons Rice as a striptease dancer and a slut. It's a riot. The Egyptian actress who performs the provocative dance was a virtual replica of the American Secretary of State - down to the gap in her teeth.

It is extraordinary, that in the midst of serial foreign policy debacles, Condi can find nothing better to do than fret over Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel. The only real change on the ground is that we now have a situation where the Likudniks refuse to negotiate with the Palestinians and the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge a government in Tel Aviv that has no intention of withdrawing from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Both sides have an agenda that calls for long term interim solutions that fall short of a final peace agreement. Hamas wants a state that doesn't recognize Israel and Israel wants recognition without granting the Palestinians a state.

There is no doubt that the Hamas victory has returned the ideological arguments between the Zionists and the native people of Palestine to ground zero. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's sometimes useful to rehash the past before moving on to the future. This is especially true when one is dealing with the Israelis who have a unique talent for corrupting the historical record.

As recent events has demonstrated, the recognition of Israel by Yasser Arafat was rewarded with more illegal settlements, more collective punishment, more repression, a monstrous apartheid wall and a stubborn refusal to negotiate a reasonable peace deal. Oslo was a scam and the Road Map was conceived as a public relations campaign to cover up for the Bush administration's abandonment of the 'peace process.'

After pocketing Palestinian concessions and recognition, the Israelis went out of their way to avoid dealing with Yasser Arafat. Sharon gave pretty much the same treatment to Abbas - who managed to arrange for a single meeting with the Israeli serial war criminal. So, why does Hamas's defacto withdrawal of recognition pose such an existential threat to Israel? Maybe it's a case of not knowing what you have till you lose it.

Accepting Israel as a legitimate presence on Palestinian soil never came easy for any native son of the Holy Land. It isn't just the Hamas faithful who view the creation of Israel as an infringement on their natural right to live unmolested in any part of their ancestral homeland. In every Palestinian psyche, there lurks the dream of a lost paradise where they roamed free from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. It was only two generations ago that a man born in Nablus could wake up on any given morning and decide to seek his fortune in Haifa or Jerusalem or go fishing in the Sea of Galilee. For Palestinians, the last sixty years have been a very wicked intrusion on that very simple reality.

Those Palestinians who feel obliged to accept Israel as a concrete reality should merely be required to recognize it for what it is - a racist colonial land grabbing settler state built on the premise that the native people of the land should be evicted based on a test of faith. It is a political reality that came about as a result of a massive ethnic cleansing campaign known as the Nakba. Israel can most accurately be described as a country built on the ruins of another people's confiscated patrimony.

Zionists basically believes that their confessional pedigree gave them a natural right to dispossess the Palestinians of their hills, their sea, their villages and their farms. If Palestinian Muslims and Christians had volunteered to convert to Judaism, they would never have been forced off their lands. Apologists for Israel consider the Nakba an act of manifest destiny - an ugly but necessary orgy of violence to restore the Holy Land to outsiders who were more 'spiritually correct.' If the Palestinians had to be dumped into the wilderness to make room for the newcomers - so be it. It was just tough luck. After all, Native Americans were forced to make room for the European intruders who coveted their lands.

Maybe this type of reasoning explains why so many North American Anglos feel a sense of affinity to Israelis. They both came, they both saw and they both plundered before making the necessary 'improvements' to erase the memory of their victims. Most recently, the Israeli government has decided to create a 'museum of tolerance' on Palestinian burial grounds.

There is, however, one significant difference between Palestinians and Native Americans. The Palestinians make up more than one percent of the population. In fact, they are half the total population of the original land area of historic Palestine. That percentage does not even take into account the majority of the Palestinian people who continue to live and die in exile.

When Sharon unilaterally disengaged from Gaza, he was just turning back the demographic clock. Israel basically locked out 1.5 million Palestinians into a giant reservation that constitutes only 2% of their homeland. After Gaza, Israel will be left to deal with the remaining four million Palestinians Arabs. The current Likudnik blue print calls for additional unilateral disengagements that will ultimately squeeze most of the remaining Palestinians in walled off cantons that make up less than half of the West Bank. The borders of the areas allocated to the Palestinians would remain under Israeli military control.

In making his case for evacuating Gaza, Sharon persuaded Israelis that they would have to settle for less than the whole land area of historical Palestine. He didn't base his arguments on international law, UN resolutions, the Oslo agreement or the Road Map. Rather, he lamented that demographic realities prevent the realization of the Zionist dream to expand Israel's borders in line with the Torah. One can only imagine what Washington's reaction would be if the Palestinians were to insist on a unilateral resolution of the conflict based on Islamic scripture or the New Testament.

It is infuriating that Israeli apologists continue to argue that a European convert to Judaism has an inherent 'right to return' to the Holy Land after two thousand years of presumed absence. And yet these very same voices insist that the Palestinian Muslims and Christians should give up on their dream to return to their native soil after only two generations of well-documented exile. The more militant Likudniks actually reject the right of surviving Palestinian communities to remain on what little land they continue to possess.

At some point, Israelis and their European and American allies need to take a reality check. They should come to terms with the Palestinian narrative and accept responsibilities for the vicious treatment of the native people of the Holy Land. The history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is short enough, simple enough to understand and extremely well documented. Regardless of the volume of canards generated by the Likudnik public relations campaigns and their media operatives in the West, the State Department and European community know every little detail about this conflict. The Israelis can win every public relations battle but the evidence of their crimes will endure in historical archives long after the headlines in the New York Times and CNN sound bites fade into a dim memory.

For purely domestic political considerations - political leaders in Europe and the United States have never managed to summon the courage to do the right thing. It is especially alarming that the German chancellor Angela Merkel feels entitled to preach to the Palestinians about the need to recognize Israel. Perhaps she should begin by recognizing that if her people hadn't slaughtered millions of European Jews - there might never have been a need to dispossess the Palestinians to make room for a Jewish refuge from genocidal continental anti-semitism.

Before any German or American politician gets on their high moral horse, they should at least give the Palestinians a credible picture of which Israel they are supposed to recognize. They should start by drawing a map of the final boundaries of the proposed Israeli State. Will that map include Jerusalem as the 'eternal capital of Israel'? Will they rezone the Holy Land along the perimeters of the Apartheid wall? Does Israel intend to remain a Jewish state within the Green Line or will it eventually evolve into a secular state that treats the million plus Israeli-Arabs as full citizens? Will Israelis insist on depriving the Palestinians of their right to go home and reclaim the ruins of their villages? In a final settlement, will Israel continue to enforce its racist immigration and land ownership laws? Are the Palestinians supposed to accept an Israel that lives in a state of Nakba denial - in effect dishonoring and desecrating the memory of six decades of unbearable suffering at the hands of their Zionist tormentors? Curious Palestinian minds want answers before they sign away eighty or ninety per cent of their homeland.

It takes a truly insolent human being to demand that the Palestinians accept Israel's 'right to exist'. What exactly does that mean? To a Palestinian ear, this apparently lofty proposition concedes to Israel a historical right to inflict an ethnic cleansing campaign on an ancient and proud Eastern Mediterranean people?

Should the catastrophe of mass expulsion that still scars every Palestinian family be accepted as a beauty mark in human history? Was the Nakba a good thing? Did Jews have a natural right to denude Palestine of its native inhabitants? It seems forgotten that it wasn't the Palestinians who ventured into Europe to pick a fight with Polish and Russian Jews. Recognizing Israel as a concrete reality is one thing. But that reality comes with historical baggage that every citizen of Israel is obliged to shoulder.

Here is an acid test for Angela Merkel and her ideological clones. If we were to roll back the clock to 1917, would Tony Blair's British Parliament have the audacity to issue the Balfour Declaration? Would the Queen of England and Prince Phillip allow their names to appear on such a document? Would Bush make a State of the Union address calling for the removal of the Palestinians to make room for a state as Jewish as England is English? Would Angela Merkel step up to the plate and offer Palestine as compensation to the Jews for the sins of the Germans? Would NATO forces storm the beaches of Palestine to ethnically cleanse the Holy Land to accommodate the new arrivals? Would AIPAC and the Israeli lobby have the chutzpah to campaign for the mass expulsion of the native population to make room for their brethren in faith?

It's time to put aside Zionist mythology and start dealing pragmatically with the tragic outcomes of this incessant conflict. The whole world should recognize Israel for what it really is, who initiated the conflict and who paid the ultimate price. Once that simple task is complete, Palestinians of all ideological stripes will be willing to sit down and work out some reasonable and permanent compromises to bring an end to this very dark chapter in the modern history of the human race.

At this stage, the most we should ask of the Palestinians is a provisional recognition of Israel as a racist belligerent state that should immediately withdraw to the 1967 borders pending a final peace agreement. If Reagan could publicly recognize the Soviet Union as the 'Evil Empire', the Palestinians should be equally accommodating and recognize Israel for what it is.

Now, back to Condi's most recent fiasco in the Middle East. When Dov Weisglass and Sharon were marketing the Gaza disengagement to the Israeli public, they never mentioned Oslo or international law. Rather, they promised that a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would defuse the demographic bomb, reduce international and domestic pressure to resolve the conflict and freeze the political process.

Dov Weisglass is on extremely intimate terms with Secretary Rice. Condi's Israeli buddy or 'Dubi' - as she likes to call him - publicly boasts that the disengagement plan was his brainchild. He had this to say about his scheme in an interview with Ha'aretz in October 2004. "It is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians. That is the significance of what we did. The significance is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian State, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress."

Condi and her Likudnik neo-con foreign policy architects were intimately involved in the design of every detail of Sharon's game plan - which is now being implemented by Olmert. As Weisglass puts it "when my conversation with Rice ends, she knows that I walk six steps to Sharon's desk and I know that she walks twelve steps to Bush's desk. That creates an intimate relationship between the two bureaus and prevents a thousand entanglements."

To put icing on the cake, Weisglass and Sharon managed to secure a multi-billion dollar aid package to finance the 'hardships' that would accrue from their disengagement charade. Another bonus was that Bush gave the Israelis the first-ever American statement that, in a final agreement, Israel could annex the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. As Weisglass pointed out "In years to come, perhaps decades, when negotiations will be held between Israel and the Palestinians, the master of the world will pound on the table and say: We stated already ten years ago that the large blocs are part of Israel." Years to come? Decades? How was that supposed to fit in with Bush's repeated public statements supporting the creation of a Palestinian State by the end of 2005? Was Bush making a promise he had no intention of keeping? Would he lie to the Palestinians? Does the President of the United States do that sort of thing?

Another thing that made Weisglass ecstatic about his secret deal with Condi was that Bush granted Israel a 'no-one-to-talk-to certificate.' As he puts it "that certificate says: (1) there is no one to talk to. (2) As long as there is no one to talk to, the geographic status quo remains intact. (3) The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens - when Palestine becomes Finland."

So, why exactly is Condi up in arms about Palestinian commitments under Oslo and the Road Map? Do Israelis really care whether they get or don't get recognition from the new Palestinian administrators of the Bantustan in Gaza and the walled in 'palitentiaries' in the West Bank? Does anybody seriously think that Israel would have negotiated in good faith if the 'other' Palestinians had won the recent elections?

After the unilateral disengagement in Gaza, the Israelis are content with freezing the 'political process' for years - if not decades. This final quote from Weisglass sheds light on their master plan: "The withdrawal in Samaria is a token one. We agreed to it only so it wouldn't be said that we concluded our obligation in Gaza." It's all smoke and mirrors and Condi has committed to provide Israel with infinite supplies of both essential elements.

It is worth recalling that former Prime Minister Netenyahu, the current leader of the Likud, called on the Knesset to formally cancel the Oslo Accords as far back as July of 2001. During his term in office, he did his very best to kill the agreement. I bring this up because the neo-con cabal that currently collaborates with Condi in formulating American foreign policy subscribes to Netenyahu's political program.

Despite her secret agreement to derail the peace process after the Gaza disengagement, Condi spent five days trying to convince Arab states to join her in starving the Palestinians. Her new declared policy is to make the West Bank and Gaza ungovernable via economic sanctions against a Hamas led government. Some commentators might conclude that this is just a case of working outside her area of expertise - Russian studies. Or maybe she had a memory lapse and forgot that she issued Sharon a 'no-one-to-talk-to certificate' two years before Hamas's surprise victory.

What exactly is the end game here? Despite of daily Israeli provocations, Hamas has not only abided by the truce agreement and is offering an extension. In response, Olmert is promising them an 'iron fist.' Are the Palestinians supposed to vanish? Should they be reduced to carrying signs that read "Let My People Eat" instead of "Set My People Free"? It's easy enough to understand Israel's insatiable real estate ambitions? But what exactly is America supposed to gain from such an insane policy? Is Condi confused about which government cuts her paycheck?

Those of us who have long dreamed of a secular Palestinian state are not entirely satisfied about the results of the recent elections. But they were democratic and they do reflect the will of the majority of the Palestinian people at this juncture in their long journey of misery.

It is now obvious that the Palestinians have been deeply radicalized as a result of unremitting and draconian repression and systematic collective punishment. The pervasive corruption in the ranks of Fatah didn't help matters. Neither has it been lost on the Palestinians that the Oslo Accord and the Road Map were nothing more than an American-Israeli farce designed to prolong their agonies. With or without Hamas, the Israelis never had any intention of accepting a Palestinian state. When it comes to matters of recognition, let's begin by recognizing Israel for what it is and Condi for what she represents - an American political establishment that dances to any tune the Israeli fiddler on the roof cares to play.

(Ahmed Amr is the editor of



“What did she think she was doing with the man when she received this so-called disease from him?”

“She had a strange view of sex.”

“Why do you say that?”

“She thought one had sex for the glory of God. Sex was in honor of Jesus Christ.”

There was another audible intake of breath in court. Some Beloveds in the audience thought they could be brought up in front of a Patriot Board just for inadvertently hearing a thought so extravagantly Non-Sanctioned.

“She thought sex out of wedlock was in honor of Christ?”

“Yes, she thought the pleasure of sex was given to us by Christ to enjoy ourselves for His sake.”

“She said this?”


“So she desecrated the name of the Lord when it came to her base desires?”

“Yes, she did not think of sex as the way in which life is created, but a way in which we devoted and dedicated our pleasure to God.”

“Would you say, on the evidence of what you heard her say, that she is a heretic? A pagan?”

“She talked like one, yes.”

“Would you say she was looking for sex for its own sake instead of to meet a prospective husband?”

“Yes, I’d say so.”

“Would you say she was looking for sex without considering that its primary function is to create precious life?”


Rachel started crying again. Eve looked at her former friend and wondered: what had they put her through to get her to this point of breakdown? They were pitting women against women, females against females. That was how they worked.

“We will have another recess for the witness to recollect herself. Female witness, are you strong enough to continue?”

The judge gave Rachel a hard look. “You are trying the patience of the court with your tears,” he sneered. “You are to give your evidence, and not come here with these irritating female ways. Understand?”

Rachel nodded meekly.

The judge sighed as he got up to return to his chambers.

Bookplanet: J.K. Rowling and death

Rowling: Two 'Potter' Characters Will Die

LONDON (AP) -- Author J.K. Rowling said two characters will die in the last installment of her boy wizard series, and she hinted Harry Potter might not survive either.

''I have never been tempted to kill him off before the final because I've always planned seven books, and I want to finish on seven books,'' Rowling said Monday on TV here.

''I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who thinks, `Well, I'm gonna kill them off because that means there can be no non-author-written sequels. So it will end with me, and after I'm dead and gone they won't be able to bring back the character'.''

Rowling declined to commit herself about Harry, saying she doesn't want to receive hate mail.

''The last book is not finished. But I'm well into it now. I wrote the final chapter in something like 1990, so I've known exactly how the series is going to end,'' she said.

Some characters might die, but the blockbuster movie franchise lives on. Warner Bros. Pictures has announced that the fifth installment will be released in U.S. theaters, including Imax screens, on July 13, 2007.

In ''Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,'' directed by David Yates, the teenage Harry continues to battle the evil Lord Voldemort (again played by Ralph Fiennes ) and his followers. Daniel Radcliffe is returning as the title character, and Emma Watson and Rupert Grint reprise their roles as Hermione and Ron. Oscar-nominated actress Imelda Staunton plays the malicious, frumpy Professor Dolores Umbridge, who tortures Harry.

In her Monday interview on the ''Richard and Judy'' show, Rowling said people are sometimes shocked to hear that she wrote the end of book seven before she had a publisher for the first book in the series.

''The final chapter is hidden away, although it's now changed very slightly. One character got a reprieve. But I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die,'' she said. ''A price has to be paid. We are dealing with pure evil here. They don't target extras do they? They go for the main characters. Well, I do.''

Rowling is the richest woman in Britain -- wealthier than even the queen -- with a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine last year at more than $1 billion.

Whatever she writes next, Rowling is sure of one thing: It won't be as successful as Harry Potter.

''I don't think I'm ever going to have anything like Harry again. You just get one like Harry.''


Deep Thoughts: does human nature make socialism impossible?

Human Nature?

MANY PEOPLE think socialism is impossible—not because the ruling class is too powerful or the world’s resources are too limited, though many people believe this—but because “human nature” will not allow it. They think “people are too lazy,” “too passive,” “too greedy,” “too self-absorbed,” “too violent,” “too ambitious.” They think that people are inherently racist, sexist, and homophobic, that they can’t help but hate people from other countries, cultures, and religions. They think that “people like being told what to do” and “people can’t think for themselves” and “people like to boss other people around.” Nevermind that some of these “inherent” traits are contradictory. Together they work to prevent socialism in the minds of many. And, as if all this weren’t enough, human nature is thought to be not only negative, but permanently fixed: “There will always be good people and evil people” and “You can’t change human nature.”

It is no surprise that people often think this way. Marx once said that the ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of the ruling class. The ruling ideas about human nature under capitalism—that it is static, and for the most part awful—greatly benefit the capitalists. On the one hand, they suggest that, because of traits inherent to human beings like greed, ambition, and a tendency towards violence, capitalism—which rewards greed and requires violence—is not only the best and most efficient economic system ever, but also the most natural. On the other hand, such ideas make it possible to blame the enormous inequality and suffering produced by the system on the “natural” defects of certain individuals. If it is natural for some people to claw their way to the top, it is also natural for others to remain stuck in squalor at the bottom.

Socialists argue something quite different. We say that human nature is flexible and multifaceted, and that the behaviors of human beings are shaped by their social circumstances. We are all capable of greed as well as generosity; which one gets expressed has more to do with the values of a society than with the inborn tendencies of the individual. As Karl Marx put it: “the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations.” 1From a socialist perspective, there is such a thing as human nature, but its most prominent feature is its changeability. What makes us distinctly human is our ability, not only to change as our circumstances change, but to create new and different social relations and then adapt to them. Socialists argue that if humans could create capitalism, humans can create socialism.

There is a lot at stake in this argument. If it is natural for humans to engage in the practices that capitalism supports or requires, then any attempt to change the system is pointless. In the words of anthropologist Ashley Montagu:

If we are killers by nature, we are wasting precious time, with the minute hand approaching midnight, in teaching people to think independently, in rehabilitating criminals, in compensating people for unlucky beginnings, in trying to improve the physical and mental health of all human beings. We should instead be devising ways of discharging our aggressive drives—[behavioral physiologist Konrad] Lorenz suggests sports as a good way—and at the same time building up our individual defenses against the inevitable holocaust. 2

Montagu was writing in 1975, but in 2006 this passage reads, not like a description of a potential dystopia, but like a page from a twenty-first century yuppie handbook. All it needs is an accompanying illustration of a man in sleek lycra shorts unloading a $3,000 bicycle from a Hummer and cursing at a homeless person for obstructing the sidewalk that leads to the gym. Today, when the ruling class controls weapons and oversees business practices that threaten the existence of the planet, promoting a socialist understanding of human nature is not only correct, but urgent.

From the beginning

The tendency to revert to human nature to justify social and economic structures and to explain their failures has been present from the very beginning of United States history. James Madison rationalized the system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches that, at the time, distinguished the U.S. form of government, on the basis of a negative view of human nature. “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” he wrote. “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?” 3No allowance is made for the fact that the framers of the U.S. Constitution were the richest men in the country at the time, busy enslaving Africans and massacring Indians, and that they, as rich white men, rather than humans as a species, were ambitious and aggressive and needed to be reined in.

The idea that capitalism’s failures should be blamed on the poor also got an early start. Eager to please their ruling-class benefactors, scientists and scholars have always been willing to develop theories and misinterpret or fabricate experimental results to support this notion. In the nineteenth century, eugenicists and “Teutonists” (think of an upper-crust Aryan Nation) fudged test scores and measured heads to produce what was considered scientific backing for the idea that poverty is the result of inherited weaknesses of character or intellect called “social inadequacy.” The resulting conviction that “poverty begets poverty” led to forced sterilization and enforced illiteracy; if the children of illiterate parents cannot be taught to read, the argument went, why waste money on schools? 4

This “scientific racism,” which was applied to all members of the lower classes regardless of skin color, existed alongside of and in combination with the racism used to rationalize the enslavement of Blacks and the genocide of Native Americans. An excellent example of the way these ideas came together is a statement by Oxford University Professor Edward Freeman, who toured America in 1881, speaking to university and “learned society” audiences. According to Freeman, and to the delight of his “learned” listeners: “the best remedy for whatever is amiss in America would be if every Irishman should kill a Negro and be hanged for it.” 5

At the start of the twenty-first century, one is struck not only by how shocking, but also by how shockingly familiar this statement sounds. In September of 2005, conservative talk show host Bill Bennett—who was secretary of education during the Reagan administration and director of drug policy under the first George Bush—told listeners of the Salem News Network: “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could—if that were your sole purpose—you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” 6

Though patently reactionary, statements like Bennett’s are not inconsistent with current ruling class views on the causes of social ills and inequality. Earlier in 2005, Lawrence Summers—then-president of Harvard University—attributed the shortage of women professors in the sciences and engineering to “innate differences” between men and women and discounted the role of discrimination in hiring practices and career advancement. According to Summers, “Research in behavioral genetics is showing that things people previously attributed to socialization weren’t” really the result of social influences but rather a lack of “natural ability.” 7

What sort of “research” supports these views? That of the sociobiologists of the seventies and the evolutionary psychologists of today. Sociobiologists attempted to use evolutionary explanations drawn from the study of animals to understand the behavior of humans. Starting from an assumption of the “universality” of a particular trait, they would assert (but not prove) that there must be a genetic explanation for that trait. According to the sociobiologists, aggression, competition, gender hierarchies and a long list of other human traits and tendencies are biologically determined and therefore permanent features of human society. As anthropologists Marshall Sahlins and Michael Ghislein point out, sociobiologists revised the theory of natural selection to reproduce almost verbatim “the precepts of laissez faire capitalism.” 8To make their case, sociobiologists used research in non-human animals, what Kohn calls “conceptual pole vaulting,” noting that “most forms of human violence are not analogous, let along homologous, with animal aggression. Only human behavior is saturated with cultural meaning, organized around symbols, [and] conceived in terms of long-range rationally devised purposes.” 9

The 1990s saw sociobiology’s reincarnation in the form of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychologists argue that humans have countless instincts, all genetically programmed into separate “modules” in our brains, and that these instincts are responsible for most of what passes for “normal” human behavior—things like men being “naturally” attracted to younger women with “perky breasts.” 10 They argue that human beings stopped evolving during the Pleistocene era that ended 10,000 years ago. Lo and behold, the instinctive processes of a “Stone Age brain” dovetail—if not seamlessly, then inevitably—with the demands of market capitalism. According to one defender of evolutionary psychology, “Those who command higher status in social hierarchies have better access to material resources and mating opportunities. Thus, evolution favors the psychology of males and females who are able successfully to compete for positions of dominance.” 12

Evolutionary psychologists’ hypotheses gloss over the fact that little is known about ancient hunter-gatherers and the problems they faced. As philosopher David Buller points out, “We don’t even know the number of species in the genus Homo let alone details about the lifestyles led by those species.”12 Attempts to generate theories on the basis of currently existing hunter-gatherer groups break apart on the basis of sheer diversity; there is little consistency among the practices of modern-day hunter-gatherers—besides a general egalitarianism (no support for the evolutionary psychologists there!)—and no way of knowing which are more like our genetic ancestors. Mostly, the evolutionary psychologists recycle modern stereotypes and project them back over human pre-history. 13

But perhaps most significantly, the theory is inconsistent with what little is currently understood about genetics and the human brain. If the claims of evolutionary psychology were accurate, and most of the structures of the brain were genetically determined, it would stand to reason that the human genome would be much larger than that of less cognitively developed animals to allow for the extra complexity of our brains. But this is not the case. Humans have the same number of genes as mice. And even if 50 percent of our genes are involved in building brain structures, most are dedicated to sensory rather than higher cognitive functions like the ones that evolutionary psychologists are attributing to genetically determined instinct modules. 14

Like the eugenicists of the turn of the last century and the sociobiologists of the 1970s, the evolutionary psychologists of today provide scientific cover for existing unequal social relations. These variant strains of biological determinism have already been exhaustively covered in this journal, 15 so I won’t go into any more detail here. Suffice it to say that, though they provide little proof of anything except their authors’ prejudices, each new crop of poorly supported nonsense is picked up by the mainstream press and pounded into the popular psyche, then retracted months or years later in a footnote or a sidebar.

The Yanomami are from Mars and so is everybody else

Take, for example, Napoleon A. Chagnon’s studies of the Yanomami. In the 1960s and 1970s, anthropologists like Chagnon considered the Yanomami of Venezuela and Brazil to be prime examples of the darker side of human nature. “Engaged in endless wars over women, status, and revenge, the Yanomami were supposed to exemplify the natural human condition of eons past. Some people took Chagnon’s work to imply that aggression is in our genes.” 16 Chagnon’s book, Yanomamo: The Fierce People, was assigned reading in introductory college anthropology courses across the U.S.—the only anthropology that students who did not go on to major in the subject would ever read.

Unfortunately for those students, alternative interpretations of Yanomami behavior did not become public until more than thirty years later. Although anthropologists had been debating the source of the Yanomami’s “fierceness” almost from the moment Chagnon published his book, the debate was not popularized until a journalist accused Chagnon of starting the Yanomami wars himself. Anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson’s more reasoned view—that the Yanomami warfare was neither pre-historical nor the fault of a single anthropologist, but could be traced to the colonial era—had been published in 1995 but largely ignored by everyone outside of the professional community. According to Ferguson, the introduction of scarce supplies of manufactured goods produced competition; the simultaneous introduction of steel weapons ensured that competitive conflict, when it occurred, was more deadly.

Although there is still some dispute over who, exactly, is responsible for Yanomami aggression and when it began, “no one paying attention to this controversy still claims that Yanomami wars can be understood without taking into account the tribe’s highly disrupted historical circumstances.” 17 That is, rather than proving that humans are naturally violent, a closer look at the Yanomami reveals them changing their behavior in response to drastic alterations in &# 220;the ensemble of social relations”: the disruption of kinship and sharing patterns by the early slave trade, disease, game depletion, and other fallout from the introduction of Western-style “free trade.”

The idea that aggression and its correlative violence are human universals is a favorite of biological determinists. Fortunately, it does not hold up to anthropological or archaeological scrutiny, or even to a casual survey of the world today. Most people are nonviolent most of the time. If humans were naturally violent and prone to kill, it would not be necessary to put soldiers through the rigors of boot camp to make them fit for war. There would be no need to dehumanize the soldier or the enemy, and soldiers would not be returning from battle with shattered psyches. But in reality this is not the case. Soldiers are taught to deny instincts and reason. They are taught to view their opponents as less than human in order to make them easier to kill. Even so, many return from battle so broken psychologically and emotionally that they cannot function in society. According to the February 2006 Journal of the American Medicinal Association, 20 percent of soldiers returning from the occupation of Iraq “met the risk criteria for a mental health concern,” and 10 percent were actually diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), many after killing or seeing people killed.

What is human nature?

Although the human race has seen enormous and rapid cultural evolution, human beings’ basic physical needs have remained the same for hundreds of thousands of years: we need air, water, food, shelter, or other protection from the elements, sleep, parenting for the young, and sex to propagate the species. 18 These general needs are accompanied by a set of specific abilities: because humans have large brains, walk upright, have hands with opposable thumbs, and vocal chords that allow speech, we are able to use our physicality, our bodies and brains and the five senses they afford us, in ways that other creatures can’t. First and foremost, we work in a distinctively human way and, through social labor, we change our environment and the conditions that determine our “nature.”

Friedrich Engels, writing in 1876, placed labor at the very center of human development: “[Labor] is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labor created man himself.” 19 Engels goes on to attribute changes in human anatomy to work in general and working with tools in particular, comparing the bone structure of the human hand to that of other primates and noting “the great gulf between the undeveloped hand of even the most man-like apes and the human hand that has been highly perfected by hundreds of thousands of years of labor.” 20

In addition to working with tools, humans have always lived and worked in groups: “The development of labor necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual.” From cooperative labor arose the need to speak and the development of language: “In short, men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to each other. Necessity created the organ; the undeveloped larynx of the ape was slowly but surely transformed.” 21 The development of complex systems of language allowed for human social consciousness: the transmission of culture and history from generation to generation.

Of course it can be argued that animals also work: they hunt, gather, and in some cases store food; they build nests and dens and tend their young. Some cooperate; some communicate, albeit nonverbally; some even use tools. But the work done by animals is mostly instinctive and unchanging. Otters may use stones to crack open sea urchins but they can’t invent a sea urchin cracker. Beavers take down trees to build their dams but they’ll never use a chain saw. Whales may communicate through songs, but they can’t write lyrics or mass produce CDs. Only humans have the ability to record their history and create art. Only humans can conceive of a project, plan out the various steps to completion, and reflect with satisfaction on a job well done. Only humans can invent and construct complex tools that alter the environment and allow for enormous increases in productivity—tools that enable us to make a lot more stuff with a lot less effort.

By acting on nature to produce their subsistence, human beings change themselves. Laboring socially, humans change the material forms of what Marx called their means of production. These engender new social relations, allowing, in the end, for the distinctive variability of human behavior through history, and from one society to the next.

The impact of capitalism

Marx observed that, under capitalism, human productive capacity increased so much that, for the first time in history, it was possible to have enough of everything for everybody. What’s more, the satisfaction of basic needs and the ways in which they were satisfied led to the development of more complicated needs. Crowded living conditions create a need for systems of sanitation. Complex machinery creates a need for higher education. These complications further the development of human tastes and abilities, and could lead, under conditions of socialized, planned production, to the fullest expression of human nature:

Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his needs, to maintain and reproduce his life, so must civilized man, and he must do so in all forms of society and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. This realm of natural necessity expands with his development, because his needs do too; but the productive forces to satisfy these expand at the same time. Freedom, in this sphere, can consist only in this, that socialized man, the associated producers, govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under the collective control instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature. 22

But there was (and is) a problem. Capitalists were not (and are not) “rationally regulating their interchange with Nature.” They compete in an irrational and unplanned manner with an eye towards maximizing profit rather than meeting human need. Promoting “conditions most favorable to, and worthy of, their human nature” does not concern them either. Instead, their interests lie in getting people to work as hard as possible for as little as possible. And so, despite its potential to do so, capitalism does not allow most of humanity to satisfy its basic needs with “the least expenditure of energy.” Instead, it works some people to the bone while others are thrown out of work. Under capitalism, advances in technology like automation create, not leisure, but unemployment for some and overtime hours of mind-numbing repetitive labor for the rest.

Capitalism created the conditions for the fullest expression of human nature, but simultaneously denied them to the vast majority of humanity by directing all the wealth up to the tiny minority at the top of society. Members of the ruling class collect homes and cars and gadgets, attend first-rate universities, travel the world, eat exquisite food and drink exquisite wine, enjoy operas and symphonies and rooms full of fine art, and develop whatever talents or abilities they have, and often those they do not. Meanwhile, the majority of the working class struggles from day to day to make ends meet, with a few weeks off per year to develop ourselves in areas other than work—if we’re lucky. Capitalism not only stunts further human development, it is also a stupendous failure when it comes to providing for the basic needs of most people. Every day, all over the world, tens of thousands of people starve or die young of curable diseases.

Far from being naturally adapted to capitalism, most humans are battered or broken by it. If it doesn’t straight out kill them, it stunts their physical and mental development; their intellects are neglected, their artistic talents remain undiscovered or unappreciated, and the distinctively human capacity to engage in creative, socially useful work is reduced to a commodity worth only as much as the capitalist can pay and still turn a profit. 23
Can humans do socialism?

Even those who recognize that capitalism thwarts and distorts human nature—and that we now possess the means to eliminate inequality and want—may still wonder whether humans are capable of the kind of truly egalitarian society that socialists envision. Forced to compete with each other for limited opportunities, compelled to work mindlessly at jobs they don’t like, encouraged to view themselves and those around them as commodities, many people might not seem prepared, at any given moment, to plan and create, “in place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms…an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” 24 We are swimming (or, more accurately, treading water) in what Marx called “the muck of ages”—racism, sexism, homophobia, competitiveness, conformity, passivity, insecurity—all the ideas capitalists require to divide and enervate the masses and maintain their minority hold on power.

And it is easy to feel, after a few hundred years of capitalism, that things have always been the way they are now and always will be. Luckily for us, this is simply not true. Capitalism is a fairly recent development, and prior to the rise of class society some several thousand years ago, human society was not characterized by classes or inequality or systematic warfare. There are class-free societies on the planet at this very moment, societies that are “egalitarian, cooperative, and on the move.” 25 All of the Ju/’hoansi (!Kung) Nharo Basarwa (San or Bushmen) from Ngamiland, Botswana, lived until just recently in societies where egalitarianism—notably along gender lines—was the rule. As some communities shift from nomadism to sedentism, this has started to change—not due to some “resurgence” of human nature, but rather to “the adoption of the economics and attitudes towards gender from non-foraging neighbors [that] facilitates the emergence of gender inequality.… [In addition, some] current development programs designed by Westerners exclude women and contribute to the increase in gender inequality which is emerging in these societies.” 26

While the existence of egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies is reassuring, we in the U.S. don’t have to look quite so far to see the tendencies in human beings that make socialism possible. After Hurricane Katrina, in the face of government neglect that created an unnatural disaster, ordinary people right here in the U.S. opened their homes, donated money, collected supplies, and devoted their time to help people they had never met. Those victimized by the storm risked their lives to save others and demonstrated their ability to do what the government wouldn’t—act like human beings. San Francisco paramedics Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky were part of a group of visitors and locals trapped in the city who pulled together to try and make it safely out of the city only to be, now famously, stopped by police at the bridge to Gretna. They witnessed countless acts of humanity and self-sacrifice:

What you will not see [in mainstream reports on the disaster], but what we witnessed, were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans.
The maintenance workers who used a forklift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, “stealing” boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hotwire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the city. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens, improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded. 27

Ordinary people expressing their ability to find creative solutions to extraordinary problems, their desire to do socially useful work, their willingness to share, and their willingness to risk their lives for others. If you pay attention, the elements of human nature necessary for socialism—despite their constant repression by the forces of capitalism—are evident during disasters and in everyday living.

The will to struggle

There is nothing about human nature that makes socialism impossible, but there is also nothing that makes it inevitable. According to Marx, people make their own history but not in circumstances of their own choosing. 28 If we want socialism—and the possibility of developing human nature to the fullest—we will need to organize and fight for it. This may seem like a pipe dream given the low level of class struggle in the U.S. at this time. But a socialist conception of human nature also allows us to understand how groups of people that for a long time appeared to be hardwired for one set of behaviors—like not fighting back—can transform radically and rapidly in response to social changes.

For example, in a recent interview, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos noted certain alterations in the behavior of the indigenous women of Mexico who became leaders in the Zapatista National Army for Liberation (EZLN by its Spanish acronym):

The first change is made internally among the relationship between women. The fact that one group of indigenous women, whose fundamental horizon was the home—getting married quite young, having a lot of children, and dedicating themselves to the home—could now go to the mountains and learn to use arms, be commanders of military troops, signified for the communities, and for the indigenous women in the communities, a very strong revolution. It is there that they started to propose that they should participate in the assemblies, and in the organizing decisions, and started to propose that they should hold positions of responsibility. It was not like that before…
[After passing their training] a group of insurgent women are now the ones who are superior, and when they head back down to the communities, they now are the ones who show the way, lead, and explain the struggle. At first this creates a type of revolt, a rebellion among the women that starts to take over spaces. Among the first rebellions is one that prohibits the sale of women into marriage, which used to be an indigenous custom, and it gives, in fact (even though it’s not on paper yet) the women the right to pick their partner. 29

This rebellion in the nature of the Zapatista women—from passive to active, from domestic servitude to public leadership—occurred as a result of the encroachment of the modern Mexican state on the indigenous community, the consequent disruption of traditional means of securing a livelihood, and the emergence of the Zapatista struggle and the radicalizing impact it has had on the consciousness of the oppressed. While it is impossible to predict the exact changes in the ensemble of social relations that will wake the sleeping giant that is the U.S. working class, recent protests against attacks on immigrant rights show that millions of people in this country are ready and willing to fight. If they are not (yet) fighting for socialism, don’t blame human nature.

(Elizabeth Terzakis, a member of the International Socialist Organization in the Bay Area, is an instructor at Cañada College in Redwood City, California.)

1 Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845), Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works: Vol. 5 (New York: Progress Publishers, 1976), 7. Hereafter MECW.
2 Ashley Montagu, The Nature of Human Aggression (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 11–12.
3 James Madison, “The structure of the government must furnish the proper checks and balances between the different departments,” The Federalist No. 51, Independent Journal, February 6, 1788,
4 Allan Chase, The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), xvii.
5 Ibid, 71.
6 Quoted in Brian Faler, “Bennett under fire for remark on crime and Black abortions.” Washington Post, September 30, 2005.
7 Quoted in Marcella Bombardieri, “Summers’ remarks on women draw fire,” Boston Globe, January 17, 2005. Because Summers refused to provide either a recording or transcript of his speech to reporters, there is some controversy as to what, exactly, he said. It was offensive enough, however, for the Harvard faculty to ask for his resignation. The fact that fewer women were hired during Summers’ tenure escaped no one; Summers resigned on February 21, 2006.
8 Sahlins and Ghiselin cited in Alfie Kohn, The Brighter Side of Human Nature: Altruism and Empathy in Everyday Life, (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 24.
9 Kohn, 54.
10 Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer, Center for Evolutionary Psychology,; see also Amanda Schaffer. “Cave Thinkers: how evolutionary psychologists get evolution wrong,” Slate, posted August 16, 2005,
11 Will Wilkinson, “Capitalism and human nature,” Cato Policy Report Vol. XXVII No. 1 (January/February 2005). If this scenario were true, then dominant people would be genetically favored, and should therefore have become the majority as the genetically submissive people disappeared from the gene pool. This would leave us with the untenable situation that the dominant had no one left to dominate. But this is the problem with all attempts to justify social hierarchy with genetics: it posits the biologically absurd argument that divides society into a minority that is genetically selected to rule, and a majority that is selected to be ruled.
12 David Buller quoted in Schaffer.
13 Schaffer.
14 Buller quoted in Schaffer.
15 For a complete discussion of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and biological determinism in general, please see the two-part series by Phil Gasper, “Genes, evolution, and human nature: Is biology destiny?” in International Socialist Review Issues 38 and 41,
16 Ferguson, R. Brian, “The birth of war: an archaeological survey concludes that warfare, despite its malignant hold on modern life, has not always been part of the human condition,” Natural History, July-August 2003. See also R. Brian Ferguson, “A savage encounter,” War in the Tribal Zone: Expanding States and Indigenous Warfare, edited by R. Brian Ferguson and Neil L. Whitehead (Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series, 1992), 199–227.
17 Ferguson.
18 John Molyneux, Is Human Nature a Barrier to Socialism? (Chicago: International Socialist Organization, 2003), 8.
19 Frederick Engels, “The part played by labor in the transition from ape to man,” MECW: Vol. 25 (New York: Progress Publishers, 1987), 453.
20 Ibid., 453.
21 Ibid., 454.
22 Karl Marx, Capital Volume III (London: Penguin Books, 1981), 959.
23 In The Condition of the Working Class in England, Frederick Engels describes the conditions inflicted on the working class by early capitalism. Though he is writing in 1845, he could be describing modern-day sweatshops and inner cities all over the world. See “Chapter 7: Results,” available at
24 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The annotated Communist Manifesto,” in The Communist Manifesto: A Roadmap to History’s Most Important Political Document, Phil Gasper, ed. (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 71.
25 Meredith Small, “Nisa: The life and words of a !Kung woman,” Natural History, February 2001.
26 Susan Kent, “Does sedentarization promote gender inequality? A case study from the Kalahari,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, v1 n3, September 1995, 513–24.
27 Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky. “Trapped in New Orleans by the flood—and martial law: The real heroes and sheroes of New Orleans.” Socialist Worker, September 9, 2005.
28 See Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” MECW: Vol. 11 (New York: Progress Publishers, 1979), 103.
29 Aura Bogado, “Building a bridge of struggles across the border: An Interview with Subcomandante Marcos,” Counterpunch, March 10, 2006.