Thursday, August 31, 2006


By William Fisher

If past is prologue, it won’t be long before the chattering class in Washington, D.C. identifies a young man named Junaid Ahmad as the poster child for a clever new “cover” for Al Qaeda “sleepers” in America.

Mr. Ahmad is 24 years old. And he is among a rapidly increasing number of first generation Muslim-Americans who have decided to pursue careers in the law.

Ahmad, who was born in Chicago, Illinois, after his parents emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1973, is a second-year student at William and Mary law school in Williamsburg, Virginia. He told me he chose the law over more traditional first-generation Americans’ choices – medicine, science and engineering – because he cares deeply about human rights and civil liberties.

When he graduates from law school in 2008, he says he hopes to join the legal staff of an international human rights organization, and also do some teaching.

Ahmad says he is “worried about the politics of fear” that the Administration of President George W. Bush has encouraged since the terrorists attacks of September 11th 2001. He adds that “Many Muslims in America are being routinely harassed and stereotyped and “might feel more comfortable with lawyers who understood their language, culture and customs.”

He says his personal experience is that, despite denials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, these agencies “are practicing ethnic profiling on a routine basis.” He recalls returning to the U.S. from Pakistan several weeks ago, just after the alleged airliner-bombing plot was announced in London.

“Individuals and families with small children who seemed to look South Asian or Middle Eastern were routinely taken out of the usual waiting lines and questioned for hours” by agents of the Transportation Safety Administration, the DHS agency in charge of airline security. “And they were the only ones questioned,” he claims.

Active in human rights issues ranging from the crackdown on civil and political liberties worldwide to global economic justice during his undergraduate study at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, Ahmad currently serves as pro-bono director of communications for the National Muslim Law Students’ Association, formed in 2002, as well as an Executive Board Member of the Domestic Violence Resource Project, based in Washington, DC.

Another organization, The National Association of Muslim Lawyers, was launched in California in 1996 with 24 members, and now has 500. It actively partners with the NMLSA. And half the 100 members of the Bay Area (California) Association of Muslim Lawyers are law students, a further sign of the substantial increase.

A spokesperson for the NMLSA, Ms. Rufiath Yousuff, told me that firm numbers of Muslim law students are hard to come by because law schools and law firms do not ask an applicant’s religion. But there are currently Muslim law student organizations at approximately 30 U.S. law schools from Berkeley to Yale.

Ms. Yousuff says her organization currently has 249 subscribers, “with at least 50 joining last year alone.” Members include law graduates, law students and college students interested in law.

She told me, “After 9/11 there came a shocking realization that there were not enough Muslims in the profession to protect the rights of Muslims both within the U.S. and also the international community. And, that those who did not profess the Muslim faith may not understand the subtle dimensions and intentions of those who practiced their faith or culture in a manner that peripherally seemed un-American, when in reality no treason was intended.”

She cites the Muslim obligation to give to charity, one of the five pillars of Islam. “A Muslim may send money to another country or organization and be arrested for allegedly materially aiding a terrorist country. In such a situation, a Muslim lawyer could identify their intent in such an act, while being aware of the legal mechanisms to secure their release.”

Ms. Yousuff told me, “9/11 certainly impacted upon the career choice of many Muslim students. Moreover, there is an acknowledgment amongst the American Muslim legal community, particularly those working in the civil rights areas, that they are in essence amongst the first generation of the current Muslim civil rights movement. Like Brown v. Board of Education, some of the precedents that will be set in relation to Muslims and their plight will be set by those who struggle in this cause today.”

However, she adds, “Not all Muslim Americans entering law now are intending to join in the cause. Many will be doing it for exactly the same reason as any other American student; namely, fame, fortune, a comfortable lifestyle or an interest in a particular legal area. And in reality it would be foolish if Muslims limited themselves to one field alone. Times will inevitably change, or at least this is my hope, and when it does, I, with many others in the Muslim community, hope that Muslims will contribute to society via expertise in various areas of law.”

This view is supported by Samer Shehata, Assistant Professor of Arab Politics at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. He told me, “I do not doubt that harassment experienced in the period since 9/11 has increased Muslim-Americans’ interests in issues such as discrimination, civil rights, and the law. But it is also the case that as the children of immigrants grow up (and as their parents become more settled and established), they increasingly attend colleges and universities.”

But the motivations of NMLSA members appear to lean heavily toward the civil liberties area.

Typical is Omar Khawaja, a J.D. Candidate at Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. He says, “After 9/11 and the ensuing debate over whether it was possible to be a practicing Muslim and patriotic American, it was clear to me that policy makers in Washington D.C. needed greater input from Muslim Americans. While working on Capitol Hill, I decided that law school would help me become a better advocate for Muslim and Muslim American causes. Despite the circumstances, I'm grateful at having the opportunity to work in the legal field and make a positive contribution to society as a Muslim American.”

This attitude is being expressed in a variety of ways. For example, lawyers and law students are going into the community to teach Muslims about civil rights. In Santa Clara, California, a legal clinic at a local mosque offers free community consultations. And Muslim lawyers are taking on cases such as the Muslim woman who says she is on the Transportation Security Administration's no-fly list in error, and another who says she lost her job because she wore a hijab, or head-scarf.

No doubt the conspiracists in our midst will soon be asking who could be more effective in subverting our anti-terror laws than attorneys who are smack in the middle of the criminal justice system? We can expect Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh to embrace this notion with their usual intellectual sleight of hand. And Ann Coulter to demand their immediate disbarment.

Don’t be surprised. Its great stuff for cable ratings and book-peddling!

And for filling us with the fear with which the Bush Administration hopes to persuade us to send their minions back to Congress in November.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ruthless Exploiters, Inc.

A Little Poverty Never Hurt Anybody

By Jason Miller

"It is like paradise and hell. They throw our petitions in the dustbin. They have everything. We have nothing… If we protest, they send soldiers. They sign agreements with us and then ignore us. We have graduates going hungry, without jobs. And they bring people from Lagos to work here.”

Eghare W.O. Ojhogar, chief of the Ugborodo community in Delta State (of Nigeria)

In describing the situation in Nigeria, Eghare presents us with a microcosm of a modern Inferno, Purgatorio, e Paradiso (about which there is little divine or comic). In the timeless struggle between the “haves and “have nots”, alarming numbers of “useless eaters” (“have nots”) are sliding from Purgatorio into the abyss of abject poverty’s Inferno.

And what heinous transgression did they commit that necessitated their banishment into the Inferno? They were born, of course. Most of those experiencing the misery of indigence had the misfortune to enter this world bearing a losing lottery ticket.

From their birth, the psyches of the poor and homeless in the “developed” nations and those of the impoverished in the “developing” nations are battered with the hopelessness and despair of their harsh realities. (Realities carefully created and perpetuated in a variety of ways by their “betters”).

After spending their formative years pitted against nearly overwhelming economic and social forces, the message many of them internalize probably reads something like this:

Sorry, washout. You are the wrong color, ethnicity, caste, social class, or nationality. Surviving to age 40 will be no small task for you. And if you manage to do so, your chances of significantly bettering your situation are quite slim. After all, the lottery winners invest a great deal in maintaining structural barriers to hold you down. But the good news is that you can add meaning to your miserable existence by working for slave wages( or simply withering and dying) to ensure that the tiny percentage of humanity enjoying economic Paradiso continues to do so and that the shrinking number of fortunates in Purgatorio experience a degree of comfort and security.

To gain some perspective on the extent of human suffering, avarice, and depravity associated with the gross imbalance in wealth and power, weigh these facts:

1. More than half of the 6.5 billion human souls populating Earth subsist on less than $2 per day. 790 million of the deeply impoverished suffer from chronic malnutrition (while 65% of US Americans are overweight).

2. 20% of the human race does not have access to clean water and 31% of the world’s population has no electricity.

3. Combining the gross domestic products of the 48 poorest nations (representing 25% of global population) yields a figure that is less than the wealth of the three richest people in the world.

4. “Developed nations” account for 80% of the world’s consumption and 20% of the world’s population.

5. The wealth gap between the richest and poorest countries went from 3 to 1 in 1820 to 72 to 1 in 1992.

6. Corporations account for over half of the 100 wealthiest entities in the world.

7. And most tragically:

“According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
That is about 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year.”

(Thanks to Global for the above information)

Earth’s ruling oligarchs and plutocrats have created and perpetuated a socioeconomic dynamic in which the destitute have little or no access to education, basic healthcare, decent employment, or even basic necessities. From the United States to sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia, those isolated in despairing communities with crumbling or non-existent infrastructures find themselves mired in impoverished breeding grounds for crime, high birth rates, substance abuse, and AIDS.

Perhaps an apt message for those impoverished children arriving in this world with three strikes against them would be:

“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate”, which is most commonly translated as “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

How humane and politically correct those monopolizing Earth’s bounty have become. Monarchy has essentially been relegated to the dustbin of history. Empire building through brute force is becoming an increasingly rare event. Certainly the ruling elite maintain potent militaries to exercise their right to “defend themselves” (as they are doing in Iraq and Lebanon). But more often then not, the masters of the human race have learned to wield their economic power like a heavy cudgel, capable of battering their foes into submission with a few swift strokes.

New age dawning?

As humanity basks in the nurturing rays of a long-awaited sunrise marking the dawn of a glorious new paradigm, a determined privileged class is determined to make utopia a reality for themselves. Ushering in a veritable paradise of free trade, “robust economies”, “ownership societies”, “freedom and liberty”, and unprecedented profits generated by massive companies unfettered by frivolous government regulation, predatory human beings now issue their edicts from corporate skyscrapers rather than moated castles.

Wage slaves and sweat shop laborers have supplanted serfs and chattel slaves. Five major corporations comprise 90% of the mass media in the United States. What are their specialties? Shaping public opinion to maintain the illusion that one of the world’s most rapacious and bellicose nations is a “benevolent superpower” and enticing those who fall prey to their charms to experience a virtually insatiable desire to acquire more material possessions. A brain-washed complacent citizenry perpetually ready to go on a buying binge is a wet dream for the ruling elite.

For many, the survival of their families depends upon the meager pay they receive from corporate behemoths like Wal-Mart. More fortunate wage slaves earn enough to cover the cost of necessities and to attain the goods the corporate media push like Ecstasy. Shopping….what a rush!

Between the US Americans who have high discretionary income and the easy credit issued to those who don’t, demand for consumer goods is nearly infinite. With grossly unfair laws (protecting consumers, the environment, and workers) squeezing their profits, those ingenious devils amongst the ruling elite concluded they would locate in "developing" countries where they could truly rape, pillage and plunder. Hence the worsening plight of those beholden to their corporate masters both in the United States and abroad.

Where is the wealth?

And just how heavily are the world’s assets concentrated into the hands of the elite? While the United States is by no means home to the entire world’s de facto aristocracy, it is the “leader of the obscenely rich world” and by default is the “leader of the (ostensibly) free world”.

For example, Professor G. William Domhoff of the University of California at Santa Cruz wrote in 2001:

“In terms of types of financial wealth, the top 1 percent of households have 44.1% of all privately held stock, 58.0% of financial securities, and 57.3% of business equity. The top 10% have 85% to 90% of stock, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America.”

And thanks to the Bush administration, that 10% is maintaining a firm grasp on what they own.

Pernicious and Enduring Lies

The predator class pacifies its subservient underclass with the myth that in the United States and the satellite “free market economies” it has established (at gun-point or through the subversive activities of the CIA), everyone can become a successful entrepreneur by starting their own business. Yet like the lie that all impoverished individuals except widows, orphans, and the infirm are responsible for their own circumstances, this malicious fairy tale ignores several realities. Like the fiction about the impoverished, it assumes that all people are on a level playing field. However, that notion is far removed from reality. Some people have a higher quality education than others. Individuals receiving a high degree of support from friends and family are much more likely to succeed than those who have little or no support. While some starting a business have financial resources behind them, others have virtually nothing but their drive and ideas. Market forces, weather patterns, competition, health, and many other variables can serve to make or break a “budding capitalist”. And no two people are alike or face the same conditions.

Approximately 150 million of those young and healthy enough to work in the United States earn a wage or salary. (Versus a relatively paltry figure of 20 million who are self-employed). 85% of small businesses fail within 5 years. Corporate leviathans like Wal-Mart and Microsoft have defied anti-trust laws to crush myriad competitors, including many small entrepreneurs. Horatio Alger success stories are none too plentiful in the “land of opportunity”. And the grim reality is that the Goliath corporate giants usually prevail against the David small businesses.

In 2003, the average worker in the United States was netting $517.00 per week. How much were CEO’s taking home at that time? A mere $155,000. 52 times per year. That is a staggering 301 to 1 differential. In 1982 the ratio of CEO to average worker pay was “a mere” 42 to 1. From 1990 to 2003 US corporate profits rose 128%.

To further appreciate the obscene avarice of the world’s plutocracy, consider that the average garment worker in Bangladesh earned 13 cents per hour in 2004. The “10% of the people who own the United States” and their counter-parts in nations around the globe are doing very well thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of the remaining 6 billion or so human beings on the planet.

Incorporating their Avarice

Corporations are the Holy Grail for the rich and powerful. They provide moneyed individuals investment vehicles which afford them extremely limited personal liability, financially and criminally. By the late 19th Century in the United States, corporations had acquired many of the legal rights of a human being. Despite their roots in British colonialism and the deep apprehensions of founders like Thomas Jefferson, corporations have come to dominate the United States and much of the world culturally, politically, and economically.

Jefferson’s expression of concern to George Logan in 1816 was well-founded:

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

Not only was the aristocracy of moneyed corporations born. Its power has grown to such monstrous proportions that it has virtually crushed the life from a still relatively nascent social experiment based on democratic ideals and Constitutional law.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the pharmaceutical industry alone has spent $675 million lobbying the government to shape public policy over the last seven years. The insurance industry spent even more if one includes campaign donations. Through their corporate proxies, the moneyed elite invest a great deal in the United States’ political system. They expect and receive a great deal in return.

"Defending" the predator class is an expensive proposition

Spending at a clip of $600 billion per year (including Iraqi Occupation costs), the United States accounts for 50% of the world’s military spending. As George Bush (the current public face of the world’s plutocracy) so sagely reminded us, “Free nations are peaceful nations.” To manufacture the many instruments of peace which prove how free we are, the United States relies on 737 defense contractors, sometimes known as the military-industrial complex. Of those 737 contractors, a mere five have received government contracts totaling $284 billion over the last six years. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics do quite well at the public trough. Halliburton has also fared nicely since former CEO Dick Cheney took office and helped lie the United States into the Iraqi Occupation. Facilitating killing is their business, and business is good.

Sedating the masses with consumerism, spin, fear-mongering and historical revisions; lobbying heavily; donating huge sums to political campaigns; and maintaining the military industrial complex are powerful means of securing the seats of power in DC and Tel Aviv. However, the predator class has yet another weapon at its disposal: the revolving door between government and major corporations. Men like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are but two stalwarts of the privileged class who have traversed back and forth from roles of great influence in major corporations to positions of power within the government. But they are not pioneers. Theirs is a path blazed by many before them and almost certain to be followed by many after them.

A glimpse of the ugly reality of pathological avarice in action...

To move beyond an abstract analysis of the machinations of the oppression and exploitation of most of the human race by a select and privileged few, consider one of many specific examples. For years, British and US oil interests have enjoyed the complicity of the criminal ruling elite in Nigeria in plundering an incredibly valuable natural resource. In return a majority of the indigenous people have received land too polluted to farm, brutal attacks by government forces, and extreme poverty.

According to an article written for Amnesty International:

“It's 10 years since the Nigerian Government executed the well-known Ogoni writer and human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa. But little has changed for the people of the Niger Delta, reports Seth Jordan….

…Oil was discovered in the Ogoni region in the late 1950s by the Royal Dutch/Shell Group….by the 1990s an estimated US $30 billion worth of oil had already been extracted, and oil revenues accounted for over 98 per cent of Nigeria's foreign exchange earnings; the 550,000 local farmers and fishermen who inhabited the coastal land had received little except a ravaged environment. Once fertile farmland had been destroyed by uncontrolled pollution, and virtually all fish and wildlife had vanished. Only a handful of local people were employed by the oil companies or benefited economically in any way….

“On 4 February 2005, soldiers from Nigeria's Joint Task Force fired on protesters from the Ugborodo community at the Escravos oil terminal run by Chevron Nigeria. One man was shot and later died from his injuries. Thirty other demonstrators were injured by blows from rifle butts and other weapons. Neither the government nor the oil company provided adequate medical care or helped to transport the injured.”

Nigeria provides a potent example of the blatant abuses of the impoverished masses by the privileged few. But sadly, it is but one of many such cases.

While the rapacious individuals who wield the power in this world have stacked the deck heavily in their favor, there are glimmers of hope. The United States and Israel are both failing in their wars of aggression in the Middle East. A wave of democratic socialism is beginning to sweep South America. A populist leader may still win the presidency in Mexico. Joe Lieberman was ejected. And checks and balances were at least temporarily restored in the United States when a federal judge ordered George Bush to obey the Constitution.

A collective populist movement is slowly evolving. It is only a matter of time before humanity’s oppressed put aside their religious, racial, and nationalist differences to unite against their common enemy. When six billion people act in unison against a few million, there will indeed be a new world order.

Jason Miller describes himself a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself intellectually and spiritually. He writes prolifically and his essays have appeared widely on the Internet. He welcomes constructive correspondence at or via his blog, Thomas Paine's Corner, at

Monday, August 21, 2006


By William Fisher

I can’t tell you how comforting it is to know that at least a few folks manage to keep their focus regardless of what’s going on around them. No Attention Deficit Disorder here!

Take August 16, for example. In Iraq, there were the usual multiple car bombs and IED deaths. In Afghanistan, the resurgent Taliban continued to conduct lethal raids on Afghanis and Coalition troops. In Lebanon, a thousand people died and a million found themselves displaced by Israeli bombs. In Northern Israel, terrified families poked their heads out of bomb shelters, waiting for more sirens and more Hezbullah rockets. In Darfur, the genocide persisted unabated, while diplomats diddled. In Britain, the cops discovered an alleged plot to blow up UK-US flights. Here at home, poor people went on getting poorer, kids got sicker because they had no health care, and Katrina victims were still waiting for FEMA trailers.

But August 16 was the day I realized that, despite all these cataclysmic events, some people were still keeping their eye on the ball. Because August 16 was the day I got an email from none other than Dr. James Dobson.

The chairman of Focus on the Family Action needed my help. He asked me to write to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California “to take a stand against a pair of pro-gay bills that could become law in the Golden State.”

Specifically, he wanted me to “tell” the Governor to veto one bill, and “tell” state Assembly members to vote against another.

Dr. Dobson piqued my curiosity. Grassroots democracy in action!

The good Dr. Dobson explained that the first bill “would forbid recipients of California government funding from portraying homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality in a negative light.”

If passed, the other bill, he told me, “would force all public school teachers to present a one-sided message about homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender issues to students as young as five years old.”

To compound this bias, the bill calls for all facets of education to be stripped of any negative messages on homosexuality.

My First Amendment rights under attack?

This bill “seemingly came out of nowhere,” Dr. Dobson informed me, “with little fanfare. Both pieces of legislation are sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Sheila Kuehl,” Democrat of Los Angeles.

"The people of California have slept through this thing — at least some of them have — and they've got to wake up, because our kids, our churches, our schools are all at stake," Dobson said.

Typical of those laid-back Californians!

Then Dr. Dobson brought in a few allies to close the sale. The article on his website reported that Assemblyman Doug La Malfa, a Republican from Redding, California, had “pointed out that even the perception of homosexuality is protected, and Kuehl's bill does not provide for exemptions of any kind — not even a conscience clause.”

The legislation, LaMalfa went on, “would require faith-based organizations, in order to remain eligible for certain funds, to violate their heart-felt beliefs in order to comply with this."

Trying to separate church and state, eh?

And Barbara McPherson, legislative coordinator for the California Family Council in Sacramento, said, “In fact, anyone who does business with the state and adheres to Christian principles when it comes to homosexuality would be at risk if the bill becomes law. “

"Christian businesses who do any type of contract work with the state — let's say a Christian vendor who sells water — could conceivably lose their contract," she explained.

She must mean Holy Water!

Then came Tom Minnery, senior vice president of government and public policy for Focus on the Family Action, who called the measure a "straightjacket."

"I don't know but that a liberal court in California will say, 'Well, if you can call a policeman, you're getting benefits from the state,' so you now have to abide by this horribly strict anti-discrimination law," he said.

Those activist judges again! Upholding anti-discrimination laws!

Then came the coup de grace. The Focus on the family Action article reported that Gary Bauer, the high profile chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based group American Values, said, “homosexual activists have been pushing for decades to normalize homosexuality in the public mind.”

"We've allowed homosexuality out of the closet, and with legislation like this, men and women who believe in Judeo-Christian values are being told to get into the closet and be quiet," Bauer said.

Gary Bauer in the closet? Clearly no laughing matter!

Well, as you can imagine, I mouse-clicked furiously to the “write” page of AOL to compose my letter to the Governator. There was no time to waste!

But then it dawned on me that, since I don’t live anywhere near California, the Governor and the legislature would have little reason to pay attention to a non-voter.

Still, my hat’s off to these folks who refuse to be diverted by the sorry state of the world.

So let’s hear it for James Dobson, Gary Bauer, et al, and their Focus-on-Fear Action!

Saturday, August 19, 2006


By William Fisher

If, as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice famously declared, Israel’s response to Hezbullah’s rocket attacks marked “the birth pangs of a new Middle East,” the US is likely to be in labor for a long time.

Who won this 34-day war is still an open question. Both sides are claiming victory, though President Bush seems a lot more certain than the Israelis, whose fractious Knesset is already publicly questioning the quality of the Israel Defense Force strategy and leadership. But it is clear that this campaign put a large dent in the notion of Israeli invincibility.

And, at least as of now, made Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah a hero in much of Lebanon and most of the rest of the Muslim world. While diplomats were talking about donor conferences to mobilize international resources for reconstruction, Hezbullah was already handing out large amounts of cash to help the dispossessed relocate and start to rebuild.

The effectiveness of the United Nations cease-fire resolution – a measure the US actively delayed for weeks – remains to be seen. President Bush and Secretary Rice claimed vowed to block it until the UN agreed to address the “root cause” of the conflict. Hezbullah was identified as that root cause. But almost everyone agrees that Hezbullah is but one dangerous symptom. Ask Nasrallah about the root cause and he will tell you loud and clear that it is the very existence of the State of Israel.

Once Secretary Rice finally got around to working with France to develop a cease-fire resolution, objections from the Arab world and others obliged the UN Security Council to water it down virtually to the vanishing point. It is virtually identical to the Security Council’s previous resolution on this issue, except that the multinational force will be larger. If it ever materializes.

The most serious lapse was France’s insistence that it would not deploy troops for a “hot war.” While claiming it would “lead,” France has thus far agreed to provide only one engineering company, or about 200 soldiers. Moreover, the troops that join the multinational force in southern Lebanon will not be mandated to disarm Hezbullah. Nor will the Lebanese Government – of which Hezbullah is a member – whose army clearly lacks both the political will and the strength to do the disarming. Hezbullah is to disarm itself. Right!

Meanwhile, America’s delay in seeking a cease-fire and its seemingly unquestioning support of Israel’s arguably disproportionate response to Hezbullah attacks and hostage-taking was further alienating leaders in much of the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

And, while Lebanon and northern Israel were being battered, Israel’s “other issue” – the so-called roadmap to a two-state solution – wasn’t going away. The only thing that went away was media attention. Now Israel’s post-mortem investigation of the Lebanon campaign will make it even more difficult for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to make any progress on this key issue – on which the Bush Administration has been largely A.W.O.L. for six years. Now, that absence may not be critical; as a result of the Lebanon adventure, the US has lost its credibility as an “honest broker” of a comprehensive Middle East peace process.

The bottom line is that both the US and Israel have been significantly weakened by the Lebanon war. If there are any State actors who are perceived to have been strengthened by this adventure, they are Iran and Syria, Hezbullah’s patrons and facilitators. This may or may not be the reality, but it is the widely held diplomatic and public perception – so the reality may be irrelevant.

Meanwhile, Iran sits on its long border with Iraq, apparently able and willing to do whatever it takes to turn sectarian violence into a full-blown civil war. And Syria provides an ideal location for the trans-shipment of more deadly rockets to Hezbullah.

The timing could not be worse, because in a few weeks, the Security Council will again turn to the issue of trying to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. The US and the EU3 will press for robust sanctions; but it is doubtful the Russians and the Chinese will agree. The result may be no resolution, or another slap-on-the-wrist resolution that changes nothing. Yet, the US has had sanctions against Iran for some years and the oil-rich theocracy appears to have little trouble finding suitors.

If multilateral diplomacy via the UN fails to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, what’s left? It is now generally accepted that a US military option is a non-starter, though some of Mr. Bush’s neocon advisors refuse to recognize this inconvenient reality. The American experience in Iraq – not to mention the Israeli assault on Lebanon -- shows once again that neither air power alone nor even more conventional “shock and awe” tactics can defeat a well-trained, well-equipped guerilla insurgency. Even if we knew where Iran’s nuclear facilities were located.

Moreover, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left the American military substantially over-stretched and it is doubtful that even the Karl Rove super-spin machine could get the American people to muster any appetite for yet another uncertain and expensive military adventure.

Thus, the one avenue still open to President Bush is the one he most fiercely rejects: direct talks between the US and Iran and Syria. Syria’s last attempt at a rapprochement with the US, several years ago, was rejected out of hand by the Bush administration. And, as Mike Wallace’s recent “60 Minutes” interview with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran made clear between the lines, a dialogue with the US is the only option his country might find attractive. Nothing would confer more legitimacy and dignity on the Iranian regime than engagement by the world’s remaining superpower. And neither Iran nor Syria can afford to risk being isolated from the rest of the world.

Conferring legitimacy and dignity on the Iranian and Syrian regimes should not be the rationale for engaging these regimes. The objective should be serious face-to-face diplomacy that leaves Iran and Syria in no doubt that there are rewards for cooperation and penalties for rogue conduct. Talks through proxies and threats in the Security Council are clearly not getting the job done.

At the end of the day, President Bush may be compelled to defer his “democracy now” rhetoric for realpolitik. He may actually have to authorize direct talks with Iran’s populist demagogue leader as well as with the Syrian leadership. This would doubtless trigger many in his party to label Mr. Bush as the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century. He would have to swallow his “birth pangs of a new Middle East” agenda and risk dealing with a cataclysmic rebellion from his party’s far-right wing.

But the more important question is how effective a lame duck Administration -- weakened by a bungled war, support of a questionable Lebanese adventure, and plummeting public support -- would be if such negotiations ever got started. For example, does the US still have the leverege to persuade Iran to exercise its influence over Hezbullah? And Syria to cease being Hezbullah’s supply line?

The prospects are not great, but may not be totally bleak. After all, there is only one USA. And talking to Iran and Syria doesn’t mean George W. Bush would jump on Air Force One and head for Tehran or Damascus tomorrow.

It has been 26 years since the US government had any official relationship with Iran. For the past six years, the president has tried to outsource negotiations with Iran to the EU3. And it has resisted talking with Syria at all, though Syria might be an easier task since the US still has diplomatic relations there.

Re-starting a genuine diplomatic dialogue with both these countries would likely begin with a lengthy series of much lower-level contacts. These would probably focus on narrower issues, rather than on any grand bargain. With luck, a framework for expanded and higher-level discussions might emerge. The parties might be able to identify and execute a few confidence-building measures. Eventually, far down this road, Secretary Rice would participate. All of this would be to prepare the ground for the president.

Critics of this option will point out that while Iran and Syria are talking to the US, Iran will be buying more time to develop its nuclear weapon and creating more sectarian violence in Iraq, Syria will be busy re-supplying Hezbullah, and both countries will be using US engagement to enhance their prestige in the world, while continuing to espouse the destruction of Israel.

And they could be right. That’s why the US should seek the cooperation of the major powers in the UN. But first the Bush Administration needs to get over its notion that engagement is appeasement. The US “engages” with many unsavory regimes throughout the world – and showers its financial largesse on many of them.

On a purely practical level, what choices does America have when it has run out of good options?

The best of the remaining bad options may be talking. And nobody ever died from talking.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

the morning news

Poetry by Gwen Gould

morning wakens
glistening wet sun drops
on quivering leaves
whisper life

NY Times headlines
slip silently into my inbox
without the dramatic voice
of a newscaster

the words scream out
their horrific content
jarring the core
of my quiet

people are blown up
while they shop
ride the trains
travel to work

my garden vegetables
luscious green and swollen
from the monsoon-like rain
need weeding and tending

in the open market
kill innocent people
shopping for produce

I weed and spade
in dazed disbelief
tears mingled with sweat
fall on my broccoli

death is a high price to pay
for fresh vegetables

Gwen H. Gould is a well-known orchestra conductor.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


By William Fisher

President Bush sees the Israeli-Hezbullah conflict as “an opportunity.” Condoleeza Rice’s calls it “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” These statements are likely to remembered by history as even more iconically absurd than Vice President’s Cheney’s description of the Iraqi insurgency as being “in its last throes.”

Israel’s expansion of its military campaign in Lebanon has turned the Arab world against the US, with the so-called moderate governments of the Middle East – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, as well as most of the “Arab Street” – now more estranged than ever from US policy. And despite Karen Hughes’s characterization as “absurd” the idea that the US gave a green light to Israel, the whole of the Arab world – and lots of other nations -- believes it to be true.

That Israel was provoked by Hezbullah’s prolonged firing of Katyusha rockets into Northern Israel and, finally, its cross-border incursion and kidnap of IDF soldiers is not open to debate – it happened. Ask yourself how France would react to similar aggressive acts by, say, Germany. Or Canada lobbing rockets into New England.

Whether or not Israel “over-reacted” is now largely moot. If Hezbullah is left with the capability of firing a single Katyusha, it will claim victory – if for no other reason than that it stood up to the region’s premiere military for some weeks, perhaps months.

Israel can also be counted on to offer reasons to claim its own victory, though there is likely to be a protracted debate within Israel about the strategy of this military campaign. And since no subject is off limits in Israeli political dialogue, there may even be debate about whether Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, with the legacy of Ariel Sharon weighing heavily around his neck, felt the political need to demonstrate his own military machismo.

But the real winner in this game of smoke and mirrors will be neither Israel nor Hezbullah. The real winner will be Hezbullah’s principal sponsor, Iran. This is Tehran’s war. Hezbullah is a mere proxy.

What will Iran have won? Even if the United Nations can muster the support – and the troops -- to put a multinational force in place in Lebanon, Iran will have succeeded in distracting the world from resolution of its nuclear issue. The mere survival of Hezbullah will likely embolden Iran to continue its efforts to create a Shia “state” in the South of Iraq, and to continue to work to undermine any notion of unity there. And the world will have been further distracted from serious efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue -- that will please the Iranians and many other Arab governments who over many years have shown they would rather have an open wound than a doctor. Finally, while Sunni Hamas and Shia Hezbullah have not exactly been pals through the years, they could get a lot friendlier in the face of what they consider a common enemy – the US. To these parties, Israel is as much a proxy for America as Hezbullah is for Iran.

The US experience in Iraq has demonstrated the futility of attempting to defeat an armed insurgency militarily. Likewise, no matter how long Israel remains in Lebanon, it will never completely destroy Hezbullah. Given current attitudes in the Middle East, there will always be more Hezbullah recruits than there are Israeli shells.

And there will continue to be state actors happy to continue their covert support for such movements.

It would be simplistic to lay this mess at the feet of US foreign policy. But America does bear some responsibility. Preferring its “Axis of Evil” rhetoric to reality, it has chosen not to engage Iran. It has also shunned direct talks with Syria. Yet these countries are the two principal sources of physical and moral support for Hezbullah. Of equal consequence, the US has been largely AWOL on the Israeli-Palestinian issue for six years. Its love of elections brought Hamas to power in the Palestinian territories.

So, on that issue, if America hadn’t already completely lost its credibility as an honest broker, it has now.

The so-called International Community has also demonstrated its paralysis. Two years ago, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1559, demanding that Lebanon disarm militias like Hezbullah and assume complete control of all of its territory. That resolution placed Lebanon in a totally untenable position. Its armed forces are small, weak and heavily infiltrated by Hezbullah supporters. The UNIFIL force deployed to Lebanon was never mandated to enforce 1559 and, in any case, was never given the resources to do so. Syria was only too happy to fill that vacuum, thank you very much.

But most importantly, 1559 appeared to ignore Lebanon’s chief dilemma: Hezbullah’s role as a bona fide political party represented in the Parliament, with Ministers in the government, and with a growing constituency based on its ability to deliver the social and humanitarian services Lebanon’s government seemed incapable of providing. Both diplomats and the Western media conveniently suffered amnesia on these issues as they celebrated the Cedar Revolution.

Where was even the discussion of a multinational force then? Non-existent. As was any robust plan from the UN to help Lebanon achieve this virtually impossible goal. Pity is that there was widespread if quiet agreement that, given Lebanon’s divided government, Syria’s military presence, and Hezbullah’s growing popularity, any attempt by Lebanon to unilaterally disarm this “state within a state” would risk plunging Lebanon back into civil war.

Instead, a shattered Lebanon chose to concentrate on rebuilding itself after a generation of civil war. If the US had done half as well in Iraq, that quagmire might be looking a lot more hopeful now.

It will take Lebanon years to recover from the Israeli campaign, and exactly who will step forward to help remains problematic. Chances are that as long as the Katushas remain, the answer will be nobody.

President Bush claims he wants a resolution that will get at the root cause of the present mess. And he identifies the root cause as Hezbullah’s rockets and kidnappings.

But for most in the Middle East and other Muslim nations – states whose support we need now more than ever -- the root cause goes much further back than that -- to the establishment, with the UN’s blessing, to 1948, and the establishment of the State of Israel. Destroying Israel is high on the official agenda of Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmedinejad, and on the back-channel propaganda agendas of other Arab and Muslim states.

Disarming Hezbullah will not turn back the clock, and it is no long-term solution to the problems that beset the region, but it needs to happen. Every day it doesn’t happen means more death and destruction.

The unanswered question is: Who can make it happen? America’s green-lighting of Israel’s current Lebanon project – and the negative reaction to it by so many Arab and Western nations – leaves the US in a distressingly weakened state diplomatically. A byproduct of that sad truth is the Bush Administration’s sudden love affair with multilateralism. After six years of dissing the UN, the president and his secretary of state have, perhaps reluctantly, embraced their last remaining option.

In a best-case scenario, the UN will not only pass however many resolutions may be needed to stop the killing, but will pursue their implementation with the kind of energy too often absent from the world body.

But that will still leave many critical questions on the table: Will the US finally muster the resolve to sit down and talk directly with the Iranians and the Syrians? Can it regain the credibility to finally breathe some high-level consistency into the search for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine? And will it find the imagination to develop a sustainable strategy for success in Iraq?

In the end, talking may produce nothing. But it is better than killing.



Saturday, August 05, 2006


By William Fisher

Millions of us shook our heads in disbelief as President George W. Bush made a cottage industry of rewarding the undeserving.

The cast of characters is long and Orwellian.

There’s Jay Bybee, the Justice Department lawyer who famously wrote the “torture memo” whose twisted logic somehow blew off the Geneva Conventions and justified the interrogation techniques that brought us Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and Guantanamo. Dubya rewarded him with a lifetime appointment as a federal judge.

Nor was Bybee’s boss, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to be ignored. He got his reward by getting elevated to be the Attorney General of the United States – “the people’s lawyer.”

Then came that breathtakingly Kafkaesque White House ceremony where the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was conferred on yet more deserving folks.

There was General Tommy Franks, whose shock and awe led our troops into Baghdad without a clue about what to do when we got there.

And Ambassador Jerry Bremer, who became America’s proconsul in Iraq and arguably created history’s most inappropriate, arrogant and inefficient bureaucracy – wasting billions of dollars in taxpayer funds and managing to create many of the conditions that have now brought that country to the brink of civil war.

Not to forget George (It’s a slam-dunk) Tenet, the CIA Director who told the President exactly what the Vice-President and his Iraq cabal wanted to hear about Saddam’s WMD stockpiles, yellowcake in Niger, aluminum tubes, and mushroom clouds.

And the rewarding of the undeserving goes on, the latest example being Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. (“Get dogs!”) Miller, the Guantánamo Bay commandant who helped organize interrogation centers in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib. An Army investigation recommended that Gen. Miller be reprimanded for his key role in “GITMO-izing” Iraqi prisons, but that recommendation was turned down by his commanding officer. Instead, Gen. Miller was able to retire honorably with the military’s highest non-combat medal -- the Distinguished Service Medal -- pinned to his chest following a ceremony in – wait for it! -- the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes. The medal is for “exceptionally meritorious service to the government” beyond the performance of duty.

Well, what’s done can’t be undone, no matter how embarrassing it may be to our nation. But if there’s even a remote possibility that the President wants to restore the honor of the Medal of Freedom, I have a couple of nominees for him to consider.

The first is Stuart W. Bowen Jr., our special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. Bowen, a Texas lawyer and longtime Bush loyalist – he spent 35 days in Florida during the 2000 presidential recount – was charged in 2004 with rooting out fraud, embezzlement and misappropriation of the billions Congress appropriated to rebuild Iraq.

He began his Congressionally-mandated work in Iraq under Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority, the CPA, but could find few who were interested in what he was finding. Since the dissolution of the CPA, and Bremer’s departure from Iraq, he has found and reported to Congress evidence of millions of “missing” dollars, arrant over-charging and substandard performance – or non-performance -- by contractors, dazzling lack of oversight by American authorities both in Iraq and in the U.S., and pervasive corruption among Iraqi leaders. Many of his findings have been referred to the Justice Department and will likely result in criminal charges.

Bowen’s findings, reports and Congressional testimonies are not likely to win him many friends in the Bush Administration – but that’s exactly the point. He deserves to be honored not only for what he’s found, but because in reporting what he’s found, he has put the nation’s interest above his own.

My second nominee for President Bush’s consideration is the Controller General of the United States – a title virtually unknown outside the Beltway. His name is David M. Walker. Formerly a partner at Arthur Anderson, he was appointed to his 15-year term by President Bill Clinton in 1998.

The Comptroller General is the nation’s chief accountability officer and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), a legislative branch agency founded in 1921. GAO’s mission is to help improve the performance and assure the accountability of the federal government for the benefit of the American people.

In that role, Walker has led hundreds of objective, fact-based, non-partisan investigations into government waste, fraud, and abuse – and has found no shortage of subject matter. No agency or department in the Executive Branch has been immune from GAO’s scrutiny – including, most recently, such sacred cows as the Department of Homeland Security and its FEMA unit, and the Pentagon’s non-existent systems to manage and account for the billions in its bloated budget.

While Walker’s staff works with each agency it is examining, and solicits and publishes their objections to GAO findings and recommendations, most Executive Branch agencies quietly regard GAO as the enemy.

In a large majority of cases, the investigated department expresses agreement with GAO findings, says it’s “working on the problem” or promises to do so but, far too often, does little or nothing to correct it -- a situation exacerbated by the pitiful state of Congressional oversight.

Walker’s mission is not made any easier by the paranoid secrecy of the Bush Administration. Nonetheless, the GAO is one of the few public bodies mandated to disinfect with sunshine. For that, it deserves the nation’s gratitude.

So, Mr. President, if the real meaning of the Medal of Freedom is of any consequence to you, you might start restoring it by honoring these two genuine public servants.

We’ll be watching.