“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, April 15, 2006

the old man's scat

Isn’t this headline a thing of beauty?

For Leading Exxon to Its Riches, $144,573 a Day

The accompanying story tells us about Lee R. Raymond, paid “$686 million from 1993 to 2005, according to an analysis done for The New York Times by Brian Foley, an independent compensation consultant. That is $144,573 for each day he spent leading Exxon's "God pod," as the executive suite at the company's headquarters in Irving, Tex., is known.”

For the better understanding of this great man’s tres riches heures, remember that each day includes lunch and, surely, a pee and a dump. Now, given that Raymond is in his sixties, I imagine that a dump takes about ten minutes. Of course, he could have had some young Brazilian man’s rectum transplanted into his (no doubt, you can check Exxon’s quarterly reports to see – such an operation would surely be a courtesy given by the company, for services rendered, rather than being paid for straight out of his own compensation package – but until better information, I will put it at ten minutes). I’m including wiping and washing the hands – something his fourth wife has surely taught him by now.

So, a full Raymond dump is worth more money than I made last year. Or is it about the same? In any case, your average Cameroonian or Egyptian or Sri Lankan doesn’t make near a Raymond dump. I would put them at half a Raymond pee.

This is LI’s modest proposal. Imagine if Franklin, Washington and Lincoln came back to life. Imagine them wandering in to some fundraising dinner for the G.O.P or the Squirrel party and plopping themselves down in the seating reserved for "Raymond and party". Do you think that the guards would not be upon them in a second? Do you think those old malcontents would be allowed to stay for a minute, after such a vile act of lese majeste? No, I’m sure you will agree, the offense would be too egregious. They would be fortunate indeed if the secret service, or people claiming to be the secret service, didn't descend upon them and extradite them to a special American prison.

So why, pray tell, do we let that band of gypsies camp on the currency? Why, especially, when we could order the finest engravers of the greatest Republic the world has ever seen to render, in full, rich detail one of the great Raymond dumps, substituting for a history we don't remember a sign and symbol we all revere, a veritable american eucharist? I hasten to add, not a scape of the whole mass and accumulation of excretia. Currency is meant to be exchanged, and we don’t need bills that high. I was thinking, however, that to honor the magic of the marketplace, of which the U.S. is a veritable monument and museum, that one finely etched turd, one rich, ravishing portion of the great man’s scat, could, perhaps, take the place of paltry Grant. For smaller denominations, I would suggest we send some of the great chefs with their finest cutlery to slice into appropriate portions that product of great man's dyspepsia. A portion of the turd on the one, the five, the twenty-five and the fifty would remind us by its majestic look in whose country we have temporary residence.

The real thing, however – that standard Raymond turd – should, of course, be whisked to the Smithsonian. Preserved at 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the turd should then be encrusted with 14 carat gold so that it can be displayed to the adoring populace. I imagine it would dwarf the King Tut exhibits, as proud parents could point it out to their children and urge them to remember the historic moment.

I am hoping that this post is not in vain, and that all of us beg and plead with our congressmen to get rid of that archaic pantheon that botches up our currency. I also call upon the fair Republic’s finest artists to turn their eyes upon the sublime object, doing justice to its length, its multitudinous segmentation but also – a symbol of the power of these States – its unity.

The ownership society. Coming to a planet near you.

Friday, April 14, 2006

a pointless post about a pointless episode

Gossip has traditionally not been the subject of a multilevel evolutionary analysis that hypothesizes different utilities of gossip for individuals and groups. Wilson and colleagues (2000), however, designed and administered hypothetical paper and-pencil tests of reactions to self-serving and group-serving gossip. In samples of undergraduates in the northeastern United States, they presented subjects with a series of hypothetical vignettes that varied the interests of the fictional gossiper. Wilson et al. (2000) found a consistent pattern of approval for group-serving gossip and disapproval for self-serving gossip. In one set of varied scenarios, respondents found no fault with gossip exposing cheaters on a test, while gossip that derogated fellow classmates (i.e., competitors) drew harsh reactions. –Utilities of Gossip across Organizational Levels: Multilevel Selection, Free-Riders, and Teams Kevin M. Kniffin and David Sloan Wilson, Human Nature, Fall 2005.

LI has been pondering a pattern that has played out again and again on the blogosphere. While it would seem, at first glance, that people who have generally the same opinions, or the same range of opinions, the same references, and the same cultural level would display the easy ties of mutual affection, the blogging world periodically erupts in knife throwing and taunts.

Yesterday there was a poisonous dustup between a blog I have written for, Long Sunday, and another blog written by a gifted woman, Le Colonel Chabert. LCC split with this group a couple of months ago. Unfortunately, her supposed career, her opinions on this and that, and her comments section have since then been the target of an ugly and astonishingly childish mobbing.

LCC has a sharp and too ready tongue. When she is under attack, she never ever counts to ten. In fact, feeling the sharp side of her tongue would certainly make the blood rush to my eyes. Plus, she has insulted various bloggers I like. But … who cares? There is such a thing as reasoning, as well as throwing plates. On the other hand, she’s a good writer and she is doing one thing that I can sympathize with a lot: she is trying to find her own vocabulary and paths for thoughts which may have their roots in Marx or Foucault or Derrida, etc. History is a nightmare I am trying to wake up from, says Stephen Daedelus early in Ulysses. The same is true of philosophy, which is made by waking up from philosophy. This is why it is always going to resist professionalization. Which is also why, in spite of appearances, the form of the blog is good for philosophical musing.

So, what is the deal? Why did LS descend into a mad frenzy of accusation and counter-accusation, leaving readers astonished?

It is an odd thing about blog communities that lynching by effigy is such a popular thing. Perhaps the sublimation of these darker energies is a good thing, preventing the substitution, for effigies, of real people. Still, LI is against it. We felt the same thing, actually, about the recent lynching of the Red States America blogger. WAPO made a mistake hiring him, because he isn’t that good. However, it isn’t as if WAPO’s collective of opinion givers are geniuses. Anyway, the search was on for something this Red States guy had done in his past, and bingo, it was soon found that he plagiarized a film review for his college newspaper – absolutely shaming, no? It went on and on. Everybody was pleased when his head was put on the pike. Truly, a victory for liberalism everywhere.

So we turned to the literature – namely, this rather sinister paper by Kniffen and Wilson on gossip. K and W begin with some gems they found, in the organizational literature, such as the following:

“In larger industrial settings that are less traditionally studied by anthropologists, Knez and Simester (2001) and Hamilton et al. (2003) found that firms can benefit from the creation of structures that encourage “mutual monitoring,” a state where members of a given unit take greater responsibility for the actions of others in their unit and a prerequisite condition for gossiping (Campbell 1994). In their study of the effects of an incentive scheme that rewarded airport-specific units of ground staff as independent groups, Knez and Simester (2001) found that the introduction of team-based incentives to preexisting units increased performance as measured by the timeliness of airline flights. In a different context, Hamilton and colleagues (2003) found that the creation of work teams and the institution of team-based incentive structures led to an increase in the factory’s overall garment production.”

Ah, that “mutual monitoring” – it is lovely the way one can shake enough academic Comet in the language to wash away unlovely terms, like backbiting, spying, tale telling, informing, betraying, asskissing, and the like.

K and W’s own study was of a rowing team. The study attempted to distinguish between group-advancing and self-advancing targets of gossip. Interestingly, gossip is extended by K and W to mean something more than ‘news’ – it encompasses a number of behaviors in which the group “self-reflects.” And so we get some heartening tales like this one, of the “slacker,” a disliked member of the rowing team:

“The slacker’s most egregious offense occurred during one of the weeks when practices were being organized two times each day. While this rigorous schedule was accepted by all other members as a necessary sacrifice, the slacker informed his rowing mates one morning that he would not come to the afternoon session because “he was tired.” Since the fatigue of twice-a-day practices was shared commonly within the team, the slacker’s excuse was treated as an insult by his mates. The slacker was routinely the butt of jokes and the target of verbal sticks and stones,
but on this day he was also the subject of personal threats (because rowing teams need to be fully intact to practice since coordination and balance are so integral to boat-level performance).

As we reported elsewhere (Kniffin and Wilson 2004), the slacker’s behavior also impacted the way in which fellow team members viewed his physical attractiveness. When we compared ratings of the slacker’s physical attractiveness offered by strangers and by fellow crew members, we found that strangers rated him as relatively attractive whereas familiars rated him as relatively unattractive. Although Merry (1984) has argued that gossip needs to be consequential to function as a deterrent to anti-social behavior, these results point to important fitness-related effects that accompany negative gossip. Assuming a correlation between perceived physical attractiveness and potential reproductive fitness, the slacker’s inferior contributions to the team’s operations reduced his potential reproductive fitness among familiars within the crew. In the broader social environment replete with strangers, the slacker’s relationship to his team had no impact; however, our finding would presumably have been more important in the EEA when mutually exclusive social groups were not so abundant and accessible.

As one might expect, the slacker did not remain very long with the team; instead, he left after the first semester of our study (i.e., his second semester of participation). Gossip as a social control has two likely end-points: reforming an individual’s behavior or rejecting the person’s behavior. In this case, gossipers intended reformation as the near-term goal, at least, but their actions ultimately contributed to rejection of uncooperative behavior.”

All is obviously for the best in the best of all possible worlds there in rower land, where “rowing teams need to be fully intact to practice since coordination and balance are so integral to boat-level performance.” Culling, culling, culling, so integral to physical attractiveness – if only those damned “mutually exclusive social groups” weren’t so abundant and accessible, in which unpopular and unfit people can lick their wounds and grossly display their happiness.

K and W end their paper with a conclusion that is so dystopianly business utopian that it made me laugh:

“The multilevel selectionist perspective tested by our study contributes to research concerning gossip as well as organizational planning managed by business leaders. The model of gossip supported through this study suggests that when rewards are partitioned at the group level on a scale that permits mutual monitoring, individuals will use gossip as a tool to defend and affirm group-beneficial norms. Although contemporary industrial organizations are more explicitly and intentionally managed than groups prevalent in the EEA, our paper suggests practical benefits to be gained from evolutionary studies of behavior.”

The practical benefits of witch hunting will surely lead us to greater efficiencies, translating into serious elevations in ROI! K and W.’s conclusions converge with the conclusions of another famous researcher, Jonathan Swift:

“Another thing he wondered at in the Yahoos, was their strange disposition to nastiness and dirt; whereas there appears to be a natural love of cleanliness in all other animals.” As to the two former accusations, I was glad to let them pass without any reply, because I had not a word to offer upon them in defence of my species, which otherwise I certainly had done from my own inclinations. But I could have easily vindicated humankind from the imputation of singularity upon the last article, if there had been any swine in that country (as unluckily for me there were not), which, although it may be a sweeter quadruped than a Yahoo, cannot, I humbly conceive, in justice, be a sweeter quadruped than a Yahoo, cannot, I humbly conceive, in justice, pretend to more cleanliness; and so his honour himself must have owned, if he had seen their filthy way of feeding, and their custom of wallowing and sleeping in the mud.”

Thursday, April 13, 2006

the antichrist in america

Yesterday I was listening to Terri Gross, on NPR, interview a woman who has made a film about Betty Page. Betty Page, the woman said, is still alive. Page saw the film, in fact – it was screened for her by Hugh Hefner. So there was some talk about that, and then Terri Gross asked, with incredulity straining her voice, And Betty Page is still religious?

She meant that since Betty Page had been a sex industry worker, in the old days, that she couldn’t reconcile such things with being a Christian.

And I thought, wow. The stupidity. It is that shock one gets from the media, you know. The flaubertian frisson. The gross, intolerable, stupidity.

I have never, ever heard a TV or Radio journalist ask this question of or about a wealthy person. Yet, there is nothing in the Gospel about being tied up and spanked. Frankly, I don’t know what Jesus would have made of that. Or Paul. But one thing we know, at least, about the scriptures is that there is one thing that keeps you out of heaven: wealth. In fact, we have no story of a Judean version of Betty Page coming to Jesus and asking the master how to get into the Kingdom of God. We do have a clear story about a rich man coming to Jesus and asking about how to get into the Kingdom of God. And the answer was to give everything away. You can’t, really, be clearer than that. No parable here.

There is not a day that goes by that I’m not struck by the fact that the early Christian idea of the Anti-Christ, the black horizon of that apocalyptic cenacle, has been well and truly realized. The anti-Christ is mainstream American evangelical Christianity. Everything about capitalism – everything about considering the world as an occasion for profit – goes against the spirit and letter of the Gospel. There is no reconciliation, here. None. You cannot serve God and Mammon, and you certainly can’t serve Christ and the Anti-Christ. This is where sex comes in. Sex, which is much on all of our minds, wasn’t really on Jesus’ mind. No divorce, and no giving and taking of wives and husbands in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’s ideas about sex would have either been broadened or shocked by a little visiting around the Meditteranean periphery, but he had the cosmological urge on his brain.

As in all charismatic religions, the enemy was the very idea of the world becoming monetized, so to speak. The great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – were all intensely suspicious of the power of money. Charisma itself – the “gift” – is what these religions, with their peasant/nomadic base, with the prophet as its poetic correspondent, aimed to preserve. What Deleuze and Guattari called the deterritorializing effects of money call up the deepest anxieties in peasant societies, for good reason. Money holds in itself the end of peasant society.

Of course, the throbs of this anxiety still exist to some extent even in American Christianity. The macro story of modernity is all about the end of peasant society, and no society went at the ending of it with such a vengeance as these here states. That is why America is a different nation, historically. (Perhaps LI should make this clear – we have no nostalgia for peasant society. Quite the contrary. These are simply historical observations.)

However, it does amaze me, sometimes, how successfully the Anti-Christ structure has replaced this with sex, as if into this empty variable you could simply slot any force.

I can’t imagine a Terri Gross figure ever asking, say, Mel Gibson in some interview, so, since you have not given everything away to the poor, how can you possibly be a Christian?

Poor Betty Page. The triumph of the Anti-Christ in America definitely calls for some mock heroic epic, some Dunciad, with Betty Page as the muse of a Christ lost and buried.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

calling back the dawgs of war

LI believes in détente with Iran. My friend, the Brooding Persian, doesn’t. Now, my friend, Mr. B.P., has the advantage of Persian birth, an infinitely greater knowledge of the history, culture, and politics of Iran, and all of the tacit knowledge brought by recent and prolonged immersion in the country, while LI sits on his ass in Texas and reads newspapers. So the advantage is all to Mr. B.P.

However, we are still unconvinced. We are also unconvinced that the evident belief of some in the Bush administration that we should start the bombing of Iran any day now is actually going to be realized. It is easy to get hysterical about how incompetent the Bushies are and how bloodthirsty they are, but it is best to put this in context: the thing about history is that it operates by thens. Those who think it is the year 2002 all over again fail to reckon with the consequences of the year 2002, or the year 2004. The war in Iraq, for one thing, seemed like, and was, a short term economic winner. The excuse to mount a policy of extreme military Keynesianism in 2002, after a debilitating market crash and a pretty soft demand landscape, fit into the general Bush governing policy. But the war in Iran looks like a short term economic loser – just for starters. Plus, of course, the soldiers in Iraq are hostages to fortune, and any Cambodia invasion ploy now would simply lead to both Iran and Iraq as lead and dead weights around the President’s party. Those who have been through a war hysteria are, of course, going to be impressed by it enough to suspect that it lies latent in the population like some flue virus. They ignore the other side of war – war fatigue. War fatigue about the war in Iraq has come with remarkable swiftness – see our post about legitimacy for one (partial) explanation of it. In moments of stress, we sometimes buy into the underground comix version of America as a land of redneck Neanderthals. Exaggeration in caricature does not, however, point to statistical truth – it is best at pointing to existential and particular truths. I could easily go out into the streets of Austin and find some guy whose opinion would be that the Middle East should be nuked. But to really judge this guy, I would have to know how much that opinion weighs in his life. I would have a much harder time finding a guy who really devotes a lot of time to such questions. And even my imaginary Mr. Blowhard would probably back down (if he didn’t have one for the road in his belly) to a more moderate position. One of the things I do not like about blogs is that, all too often, one feels the blogger is writing with some caricature opponent leaning over his shoulder – this leads to a Flintstone version of politics, and you just have to put in your villain – a righwinger can put in Jane Fonda and John Kerry, a lefty can put in George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Myself, I’m of the lefty tribe, and I find George Bush and Dick Cheney villainous. But I don’t think they are unhuman – they largely share a set of motives with myself. When I lose my grip on that fact, I devalue any analysis I make of what is going on in D.C.

Which brings me to this Q and A in the post with the president of the American/Iranian council, Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers. I highly recommend the piece. While Dr. Amirahmadi has an academically naïve realism about states – to say that states have interests rather than allies sounds realistic, but actually presupposes more clarity within a state about its interest than is ever, or could be ever, the case – I am generally impressed by his grasp, a, of the political reality in Iran, in which President Ahmadinejad is struggling for internal power rather than invested with it, and b., his grasp of the wider situation.

First, a,: “Mr Ahmadinejad is a calculative man. He is also an ambitious person that have to run a country dominated by powerful clergies. His reference to Twelve Imam is directed at nuetralizing that power and gain legitimacy from it. In really, and as the experience in the last 7 months show, he has not been more religiously strict then his predecessors. No new religious restrictions have been imposed and the population does not feel that a major change in that direrction has taken place. Note also that he does not any more speak about imams but about nuclear techonology and other mundane issues.”

And … this should be soooo emphasized:
“On Ahmadinejad, his statements are to be condemned, but I must also note that the man is not the one who makes war and peace decisions for Iran, and strategic policies like ones toward the US and Israel are not determined at his level. Those bigger decisions, including the nuclear matter, are decided by the Leader, the Expediancy Council, and the National Security Council of the country. Iran has a 20-year "Vision Plan" that has set directions for the President to follow. He has some degree of autonomy but cannot disregard those directives.”
And on b, which is where Mr. B.P. and I disagree:

"Waldorf, Md.: Why are we assuming that these people are not telling the truth? Has the U.S. given them some kind of bomb making materials in the past and that is why we are so adamant about this? To me the U.S. is coming across as bullying these people. Why don't we back off a little bit. Or is there a hidden agenda that only certain people know and the public, of course, is the last to know?
Hooshang Amirahmadi: There is no hidden agenda! The US and Iran have had serious difficulty in the last 26 years. It all started with the revolution (which was made against past US interventions in Iran and against "its" dictator in Tehran). The nuclear matter is only one among such problems. There are issues of terrorism, peace in the Middle East and human rights/democracy. Over time, the situation has become even more complicated (e.g. the US situation in Iraq). Please note that nations have neither enemies nor friends; they have interests. It is only unfortunate that the governments in Tehran and Washington (as well as in Tel Aviv) have not looked deeper into the tremendous common interests that exist here and have instead focused on differences. This must change for the situation to normalize. [misspellings corrected]"

LI thinks that one of the roots of the Iraqi invasion was retaining a policy of double sanctions against Iraq and Iran in the nineties, when it should have been adjusted – there should have been a definite tilt towards Iran. Not only would this recognize reality, but Iran’s incorporation into the world system would, we think, work towards strengthening civil society in Iran by making palpable the everyday advantages of eroding the power of the mullahs. It seems to be the case – and I may be totally off base – that Iran’s majority working class population has been economically stagnant while its ownership class has prospered. Since the appeal of civil society freedoms is mixed up with economic policies that seem to reward the already prosperous ownership class, however, that appeal is justly subject to the suspicion that the price of freedom is continuing economic misery. The Cold War interpretive scrim, which the neo-cons like to drag out, is particularly distorting here: the Islamicist politico can well combine that position with the neo-liberal ultra – hence the American affection, at the moment, for a SCIRI leader who is also a free trader maximus, privatize the oil fields kind of guy.

Given what I am saying, however, I can imagine an easy objection: what you are saying, Mr. LI, contradicts itself. You are advocating normalizing Iran – integrating it into a neo-liberal world system – while analyzing the internal political situation in terms that posit the neo-liberal system as a standing evil that incites a nationalism that would interfere with any normalizing process.

I’ll slip out of that strait jacket, and doing amazing other Houdini like feats, in another post.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Here’s a news item that will be well hidden in the NYT or WAPO.

The president of Colombia, the strongest American ally in South America, is making moves that would be hyper-criticized if they were made by the greatest American devil figure in South America, Chavez. This is from Global Insight Daily Analysis:

“Incumbent Colombian consul to Italy and former head of the South American country's intelligence service, Jorge Noguera, has denied involvement in an alleged plot to kill Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe has recalled the one-time Administrative Department of Security (DAS) chief from his current post in the European country to answer allegations that were published recently by two magazines in Colombia. Noguera is accused of overseeing the plot in conjunction with Colombian paramilitaries. Claims that the DAS had been infiltrated by paramilitary groups brought about Noguera's resignation in late October last year (see Colombia: 26 October 2006: Director of Colombia's Intelligence Service Resigns). Reports stem from former DAS employee Rafael Enrique García, who accused the Uribe administration of acting in an authoritarian manner similar to that of the disgraced former Alberto Fujimori government of Peru (1990-2000).

García described Noguera as the Vladimiro Montesinos of the Uribe government, referring to the imprisoned Peruvian one-time intelligence chief who helped Fujimori control his political opponents through a spying network.”

Venezuela has done nothing, really, to harm American interests – the interests of the international lenders, perhaps. But our greatest ally, as is the way of rightwing allies, is a ticking bomb of black market money, connected to the bogus, ongoing drug war. The drug war is noxious both in what it purports to do – restraining people from medicating themselves in order to allow big pharma and the medical industry to charge us more for doing the same thing – and what it really does, creating a huge secret source of funds that America’s intelligence agencies and their clients eagerly fasten themselves to. Not surprisingly, the supposedly “disarmed” rightwing paramilitaries, who claim to have 35 percent of the Colombian legislature in their pocket and who have certainly merged their interests with Uribe, are also involved with Noguera:

“Colombia's intelligence chief has quit amid allegations that his security agency was infiltrated by the main right-wing paramilitary group. President Uribe accepted the resignation of Jorge Noguera, the head of the Administrative Security Department (DAS). President Uribe also dismissed the agency's deputy director, Jose Narvaez. The daily El Tiempo reported that DAS officers were secretly taped while discussing alleged plans by a close aide to Mr Noguera to sell intelligence information to Colombia's paramilitaries. The newspaper also claimed that Mr Narvaez asked for the recording to be made to ensnare his boss in the scandal, revealing deep divisions within the agency, Reuters reports.”

Meanwhile, according to Gary Leech, the Bush administration has indicted the leadership of Farc as the masterminds of the drug trade. FARC is the hardcore leftist group that divides atrocities with the paramilitaries in the countryside:

“The indictment of the FARC leaders further illustrates the Bush administration’s strategy to portray the FARC as the greatest perpetrator of violence and drug trafficking in Colombia. The reality, however, is very different from the Bush White House’s fictitious portrayal. The U.S. indictment provided no evidence to support its claim that FARC leaders have earned $25 billion from drug trafficking and are responsible for 60 percent of the cocaine shipped to the United States.
Meanwhile, most Colombia experts agree that the country’s right-wing paramilitaries are far more deeply involved in drug trafficking than the rebels, a fact supported by the numerous drug busts in which the seized cocaine was traced back to paramilitary groups. In fact, former associates of Pablo Escobar, the notorious leader of the now-defunct Medellín cartel, established some of Colombia’s most prominent paramilitary groups.

At the same time that the Bush administration is making the FARC the focus of its drug war propaganda, it is becoming increasingly evident that the U.S.-backed paramilitary demobilization is nothing more than a charade. Last week, demobilized paramilitary leader Ivan Roberto Duque confirmed publicly on Caracol Radio what Amnesty International, the United Nations and many analysts had been alleging for more than a year: that demobilized paramilitaries are taking up arms again. According to Duque, ex-militia fighters are offering their services to drug traffickers or “private justice” groups, also known as paramilitaries. As a result, the number of killings by paramilitaries in 2005 more than doubled that of the previous year.”

Meanwhile, how about those honest American narcs fighting away in Colombia? The Narco News has been running a nice series on those guys via reporter Bill Conroy:

“A document obtained recently by Narco News makes those questions more than hypothetical queries. In this document, Department of Justice attorney Thomas M. Kent claims that federal agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in Bogotá, Colombia, are the corrupt players in the war on drugs. (The DEA is part of the larger Justice Department.)

The information in that document is also corroborated by a number of other sources that spoke directly to Narco News, including former government officials who are familiar with the DEA’s Bogotá operations

Kent’s memorandum contains some of the most serious allegations ever raised against U.S. antinarcotics officers: that DEA agents on the front lines of the drug war in Colombia are on drug traffickers’ payrolls, complicit in the murders of informants who knew too much, and, most startlingly, directly involved in helping Colombia’s infamous rightwing paramilitary death squads to launder drug money.”

Since this definitely doesn’t fit into the narrative American papers prefer, it won’t be coming out any time soon. Since Conroy’s report in this January, Kent, the whistleblower, you will be happy to know, has been transferred.

Monday, April 10, 2006

the double face of illegitimacy

In the run up to the invasion of Iraq, LI quoted a phrase of Benjamin Constant’s that seems to haunt the whole misadventure: “When villains violate the forms against honest men, one knows that this is just one more crime. One is attached to the forms exactly insofar as they are violated; one learns, in silence, and by misfortune, to regard them as sacred things, the protectors and preservers of the social order. But when the honest men violate the forms against the villains, the people no longer know where they are; the forms and the laws present themselves now as obstacles to justice.”

Constant was active in the French revolution, and he saw the price paid by violating the “forms.” Unlike Burke, he was on the side of the revolution. Young as he was, he saw, as Burke did not, that the French monarchical system had decayed past the point of salvage. But he also appreciated, as Ste Just never did, that the republic is built on forms. As Paine once put it, while monarchy is based on will, the Republic is based on justice. Not on the guillotine, and not on God.

LI has persistently pointed out that the scandal at the heart of this war, and the reason the conversation about it in this country compulsively returns to its origin is that its origin was a brutal violation of the forms by the “honest men” against the villains. The French phrase “hommes honnêtes” is not an assessment of private moral character, but of social position – and in this case, the Bush administration plays the role of honest men. The more modern term for the forms, stemming from Weber, is legitimacy. The illegitimacy of this war has been, from the start, the thing within it which has worked against it, silently unraveling every plan and every defense of this war.

The crime against legitimacy has a double face:

On the one hand, the illegitimacy of the tactics used to promote the war, from cherrypicked intelligence reports to slander to half truths to the contemplation of open frauds, such as Bush’s suggestion that a U.N. plane be shot down over Iraq by the U.S. military disguised as Iraqis. The followers of the Bush administration in the press, the whole tribe of belligeranti, carried into the argument a foul atmosphere of libel, of derision, and of disguise. The latter was particularly important. The war’s very dimensions were disguised. From the disgracing of Shinseki to Wolfowitz’ painful testimony about the cost of the war to the refusal to even discuss the occupation, the war’s press followers existed largely to block any inquiry into what the war would entail.

On the other hand, there was the ragged band of adventurers, half Garibaldi, half Lucky Luciano, that the American government evidently intended to put in place as the native Iraqi government. The most prominent of this band, Ahmed Chalabi, is a notorious thief. And indeed, from the reports of the massive defrauding of the Iraqi people, both directly, in terms of the funds seized from Saddam’s government after Baghdad collapsed, and indirectly, from the use of American reconstruction money, it is apparent that the spirit of Chalabi like thievery has presided over every move the American’s made in “reconstructing” Iraq, right down to the military’s publication of false and unchecked numbers about schools repaired (in which the money for the repairing vanished, and the school’s employees are using the same, unreconstructed structures) to the libraries and monument restored. As importantly, the cohort of exiles, save for some of the SCIRI and DAWA politicians, had no roots in Iraq and quickly became unpopular there. A country that had seen Saddam Hussein was in no mood to support another set of thieves.

Interestingly, Constant’s dictum is so correct that support for the war, collapsing in tandem with the supposed American plan for “victory” in the war, is simply a response to the initial violation of forms. For that initial violation requires infinite covering work, thus perpetuating the violence. And this, in itself, points to a constitutional neglect which we have inherited from the Cold War. Among other things, the Cold War suspended the constitutional duty of the legislature to validate American military action. This duty wasn’t an arbitrary whim of the founding fathers. They knew too well that an executive can use a nation’s resources, its taxes and fighting men, to wage wars to its own personal advantage – in effect, making the military the mercenary force of the executive. George III’s use of Hessian soldiers was a vivid instance. The pretence that an elected executive would have more legitimacy doing the same thing was scotched by the Constitutional Convention’s skeptics. They were right. There’s been an argument – well propounded by Paul Craddick – that the U.S. was already at war with Iraq in March of 2003. That war was the result of legislative resolutions passed in 1998, as well as resolutions passed at the U.N. in 1991. In a sense, this is true – but this simply shows, in a bold way, how the forms for war have fallen into disrepair. Your average American citizen was so unaware that he lived in a nation at war in 2000 that the issue never even surfaced in the election. In fact, it was not a war so much as a sporadic hampering action. The Bush administration knew that it did not have political carte blanche to invade Iraq because of some obscure legislation passed in 1998. It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if they did – surely the rotten fabric of post-constitutional warmongering would have been brought down with a resounding crash. This would have been, all things considered, a good thing. That the U.S. Congress couldn’t even formally declare war on the government of Afghanistan after 9/11 shows how fearful both the executive and legislative branch are of resurrecting the old Constitutional curb on military action. Its use would call into question future military actions, not so legitimized.

One consequence, of course, of the failure to declare war on the Taliban and the failure to officially enact a policy that called explicitly for the capture or death of Osama bin Laden is that the outrageously negligent military campaign against OBL, culminating with Tora Bora (which, given a competent administration, would certainly have resulted in Rumsfeld’s resignation, since OBL’s escape was the direct result of Rumsfeldian policies in Afghanistan), was allowed to go forward with no ending, and to turn into a campaign in Iraq, as though all wars desired by the President are connected.

It is puzzling that supposedly sharp political reporters and commentators – the tribe of the belligeranti –were so blind to the consequences of violating, repeatedly, the forms – of advocating actions that were, on the surface, illegitimate. The puzzle is that no long war can be fought in this way. The conviction that a war is legitimate is a necessary condition for pursuing a long war. There is no way of whistling around this. As the invasion was being mounted, the belligeranti mouthpieces were still mouthing the credo that the war would be short, and were still covering up questions about the occupation with fantasies about flower strewing natives. From their own point of view, this was really suicidal behavior. A long war or a long occupation would inevitably be compared to their rhetoric, and found wanting. As the means were rotten, so would the reaction be violent.

And so it has come to pass that the crisis in Iraq is a double crisis. The group of American proxies in Iraq has been on a continuous retreat, mitigated, perhaps, by the untold wealth that said proxies have deposited in banks in England and America and Switzerland. American strength in the country now depends, oddly enough, on an alliance with an increasingly theocratic Shi’ite majority. And though American papers and politicians look hopefully at “free market” theocrats, like the NYT favorite, Mahdi, it is hard to imagine that the looting of Iraq’s oilfields by opening them up to foreign ownership could really be contrived by any party. The Americans can fall back on the warlords in Kurdistan, but this, too, looks infinitely riskier than it did in 2003. Meanwhile, of course, the Bush administration and its press followers are sinking deeper and deeper into a morass of evasions that materially weaken support for continuing this war – already a minority position, according to most polls, for more than six months now.

Yet also peculiar to this war is the passivity and foolishness of the organized anti-war faction. In LI's opinion, this is also an interesting sign. Much of the opposition to the war seems to come not from liberals, but from leftists. This is problematic. How can leftists complain about the neglect of the forms and at the same time blast all forms as manifestations of bourgeois ideology? It makes the opposition seem either childish or Machiavellian.

This should, then, be the hour of liberalism. Liberals do not blast all forms as manifestations of bourgeouis self interest. At the same time, liberals do not believe that the orienting points of legitimacy are absolute and unchanging. In fact, the illegitimacy of this war results from lies that were acceptable means of promoting wars at other times. The war of 1898 was promoted exactly the way the war in Iraq was promoted. But 1898 is not 2003. The difference in civil rights, in the ower of the state, in our expectations about justice and equity, is considerable. It is the liberal idea that one can push those expectations, and thus reorient what is and what is not "good form." This seems to be a good time for pushing -- alas, just as there seems to be an absense of prominent liberals, save for the mayor of New York City.

Which simply means, to LI -- grassroots work. As Paine said, We have it in our power to make the world anew.