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Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

Maybe he missed the fedex

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that held last weeks talking points for liberal media plants, or maybe someone just had to give the “thinking man’s conservative” a talking to about too much thinking man, not enough conservative…
But, have no fear, Brooks is back:

So of course we need limited but energetic government. But liberals who think this disaster is going to set off a progressive revival need to explain how a comprehensive governmental failure is going to restore America’s faith in big government.

Hate to think what his masters and minders have in mind when it comes to “energetic government” but I think AvW is starting to figure it out
(Oh, and while we’re in the land of the Worden: who knew that the CIA takes Mac over PC. Think different indeed…)

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September 11, 2005 at 11:12 pm

Posted in Current Affairs

Market Update

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Anyone else notice lately that there’s been a run on human lives in the market of public opinion?

Administration officials have maintained that the U.S. needs to try to develop a nuclear warhead that would be capable of destroying deeply buried targets including bunkers tunneled into solid rock.
But opponents said that its benefits are questionable and that such a warhead would cause extensive radiation fallout above ground killing thousands of people. And they say it may make it easier for a future president to decide to use the nuclear option instead of a conventional weapon.
The Senate voted 53-43 to include $4 million for research into the feasibility of a bunker-buster nuclear warhead. Earlier this year, the House refused to provide the money, so a final decision will have to be worked out between the two chambers.

From here.
What infection, what ideological pestilence, informs the first, wrong step of response: just thousands? unless we get to tens of thousands, or better yet hundreds, we’re not yet at the level of the serious.
An upping of the ante has been going on. 9/11, Iran earthquake, tsunami, NOLA… (the first and the last, because we’re talking ‘Merican lives, count treble or even more…)

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September 11, 2005 at 2:40 am

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Brooks as Marxist

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So, David Brooks has an, um, interesting column today in the Times in which he encounters / poses as Karl Marx – in order to deliver to the even-minded readership of the sunday paper a quasi-Marxist sermon. Here’s the middle parts:

The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy –
seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades – and
then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance
of its class.

The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental
veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little
meritocrats. Members of the educated elites are more and more likely to
marry each other, which the experts call assortative mating, but which
is really a ceaseless effort to refortify class solidarity and magnify
social isolation. Children are turned into workaholic knowledge workers
– trained, tutored, tested and prepped to strengthen class dominance.

The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work
longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their
greed for second homes. They congregate in exclusive communities walled
in by the invisible fence of real estate prices, then congratulate
themselves for sending their children to public schools. They parade
their enlightened racial attitudes by supporting immigration policies
that guarantee inexpensive lawn care. They send their children off to
Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of
the professional class, where they are given the social and other
skills to extend class hegemony.

The information society is the only society in which false
consciousness is at the top. For it is an iron rule of any university
that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more
loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed. The
more they objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the
views of the left.

OK, even-minded reader (like the Dad in those obnoxious tv ads the Times puts on – know what I mean?), this is a bit confusing isn’t it? What’s Brooks – who, after all, is the official mouthpiece of enlightened neo-conservativism at the paper of record – up to? You’re especially thrown by the strange, italicized conclusion of the piece:

I don’t agree with everything in Karl’s manifesto, because I don’t
believe in incessant class struggle, but you have to admit, he makes
some good points.

Bizarre. So, the "thinking man’s conservative" has turned Marxist – or almost. (Weird line that, about the "incessant class struggle" from a guy whose bread and butter is the "red/blue" divide in the US…)

Anyway. One of Atrios’s apprentices has put on her/his decoder ring so that you don’t have to:

There really is a class war (though Brooks doesn’t believe in it)!
But it’s not between the moneyed classes and everybody else; it’s
between those latte-sipping liberals in their ivory towers and
everybody else.

This seems just about right. Oldest play in Brooks’s book, right. He makes his living writing pieces that seem reasonible – even seem to contradict the party line that he’s purported to represent. But between the lines, when you look very closely, it’s always the case that somehow he’s pinned it all the more tightly on the left – or at least upon the coastal elites, the bobos, the hihis, the nynys… Whatever…

That’s absolutely what’s going on here. But still – begs the question doesn’t it – there’s a serious grain of truth in what Brooks is saying here… In the end, this is how the class system works in America, isn’t it?

When are the universities here going to wake up to the system that they’re entangled in, perpetuating.

It’s funny. When you’re on your way out of an "elite" institution, bound for a position at a state university, everyone slaps you on your back, tells you what a meaningful thing you’re doing. Teachers at "elite" insitutions complain all the time about the nature of the students – the "less than diverse" population.

Isn’t there anything more we can do about it than complain? Something more than applauding gratefully when we hear of a single-digit increase in minority enrollement (better all the time!). Brooks nails the financial aid alibi in the piece:

The median family income of a Harvard student is $150,000. According to
the Educational Testing Service, only 3 percent of freshmen at the top
146 colleges come from the poorest quarter of the population. The
educated class ostentatiously offers financial aid to poor students who
attend these colleges and then rigs the admission criteria to ensure
that only a small, co-optable portion of them can get in.

Why can’t we do something about this?  Why can’t the Harvard faculty start doing something about this? Like stop what we’re doing, along with all of the hallway nervous joking, and not come back until, I don’t know, everything’s changed…

Idle fantasy, I know… Here…

From a photo series a few days ago in the Times:

Specialist Jason W.
Huff, 28, joined the Guard after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. He
never much liked school, Specialist Huff said, recalling how his
father, a marine, disparaged a college education. "Dad would always
talk about the people who were from college, and he didn’t like them,"
he said. "He said they knew more about books than about the job." His
wife, Amy, carried their daughter, Karly, in seeing him off.

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May 30, 2005 at 12:49 am

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Know I’m being a bit of a jerk, but it’s hard not to find it a bit funny to watch the atrios crowd discover that there’s only one thing their other hero, Brad Delong, hates more than the economic policy of Bush administration. Apparently, to offer even the mildest criticsm of global capitalist hegemony – criticism mild enough to make it on to the op-ed page of the NY Times forgodsake – is to expose yourself as "Crypto-Nazi scum." Take a look – especially at the comments – here.

Anyway, calls to mind an charming passage from Bob Woodward’s book about Greenspan. We could subtitle it, borrowing a phrase from Hobsbawm, "Clinton Learns the Rules of the Game." The game in question being the relationship between full employment and inflation.

All the economic models built
on years of history showed there was a limit to how high growth could go
without triggering inflation. To complicate matters, the economists believed –
and recent American economic history showed – that there was a level of
so-called full employment. There was a limit on how low the unemployment rate
could go without triggering inflation, and it was thought that the range was 6
to 7 percent. This lower limit was called the NAIRU – the non-accelerating
inflation rate of full employment. The unemployment rate had started the year
above 6 percent and was heading down.
    Even [Robert] Rubin insisted that there was an
optimum full employment rate of growth.
    The president [Clinton] was skeptical and even outraged. So the problems were too much economic growth and too many people working! It was ridiculous, he seethed.

But you know how the story ends.



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May 11, 2005 at 12:28 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Female Circumscription

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From the Smoking Gun:


A more interesting story, perhaps, is that of this Lynne who wrote the letter. With a legal pad at the kitchen table, carefully delineating the parallels between "the Will banks distubed woman" and the oeuvres complets of Julia. (In Lynne’s mind, it’s simply "Julia"…) Perhaps, after jotting down three or four of these "coincidences," which the Duluth police and the liberal media had simply failed to note (or is something more sinister at work?), she placed the first disc in the player and settled into the lazy boy, pen at the ready… Taos, NM, sure as hell ain’t no Yonville… All night, as "Julia" matured, never graying, she kept the vigil, jotting down an exhaustive list of parallels. (What to do with Erin Brockovitch? Two precious hours wasted…) At dawn, she culled the 5 best, sent her fax to Duluth, and downed a bottle of…

"Cet affreux goût d’encre continuait."

Sorry for the horrific quality of recent posts. Still suffering from nicotene withdrawl…

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May 9, 2005 at 4:03 pm

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But can it detect bullshit?

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Pretty amazing, this. Buried way down deep in another flaccid self-criticism today, the New York Times admits that it is considering turning to plagiarism detection software, the same sort in use in colleges and universities…

It also said The Times had discussed plagiarism-detection with
Lexis-Nexis, which was working with iThenticate, a firm that develops
detection software for use in academia. Once the software is refined,
the committee said, The Times should use it when plausible suspicions
are raised.

If the Times would like to hire me, a few days away from the completion of a year of teaching first-year writing, to supplement the plagiarism detection software with some good old fashioned bullshit detection (Ms. Miller, we need to talk after class), I’m ready to go with my red pen.

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May 9, 2005 at 10:27 am

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Switching Crisis

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A few items, all variations on a common theme… All picking up, perhaps, where I let off here.

1) Get yourself a copy of this quarter’s New Left Review and take a look at Giovanni Arrighi’s "Hegemony Unravelling." (The essay is here
if somehow you have subscriber’s privileges at NLR). The first part is
more or less a recapitulation of David Harvey’s descriptions of /
arguments about "spatial fixes," "switching crises," and current
affairs vis a vis the war on terror, the end of US dominance, and the
rise of China. In a sense, Arrighi (and Harvey) seem to be arguing that
the backstory of the war on terror is a reluctance on the part of the
US (a reluctance crystallized in the documents of the Project for a New American Century)
to pass forward the torch of economic and cultural centrality to
China… (the torch handed by Venice to the Dutch, from the Dutch to
the British, and from the British to the USA…) Anyway, tough article
to summarize that itself is an extremely lucid summary of recent
events. Arrighi develops a more subtle understanding of the
relationship between new imperialism and capitalism than the usual "war
for oil" line… Go take a look…

2) Was trying to explain this article to my wife at dinner tonight,
sounding a little sinostruck and gleefully paranoiac I imagine, only to
come home to these in the mail:


3) The sneak-preview after last week’s episode of 24 showed Jack
Bauer kicking some PLA-uniformed ass. I was like, huh, that’s
interesting. There’ve never been any Chinese involved in the terrorist
plots featured by the show in previous seasons.

Well, it turns out (spoiler alert!) that some sort of dissident
Chinese engineer sold nuke technology to the terrorists… And then
promptly sought shelter at the PRC consulate in Los Angeles. OK. The
Chinese govt won’t hand this guy over, and so Jack has to take matters
into his own hands. In the crossfire, the Chinese consul is shot and
killed (friendly fire – weird translation of the bombing of the Chinese
embassy in Belgrade?) and now it looks like the US and Chinese are
headed toward nuclearish confrontation.

OK – why am I telling you all of this? First of all, it’s always an
important sign in US "political" "culture" (both of course in quotes)
when the bad guys change on tv and in the movies. Seriously – I’m not
kidding. Germans, Japanese, Native Americans, Russians, narcolatinos,
swarthy Arabs, and now, suddenly, the Chinese… There’s a sort of
attunement that goes on, the US public has to get used to the idea of
its enemies. And this is how it does it. 24.

Further – the scenario in 24 is an interesting inversion of
Arrighi’s thesis about the relationship between the war on terror and
the Chinese. Where 24 casts Chinese tension as the result of an
accident, a misunderstanding, in the course of the real battle with
Arab fundamentalists, Arrighi persuasively argues that Afghanistan,
Iraq, have both been at root displacements and deferrals of a
confrontation with China. The US, the PNAC, wishes, in other words,
that Iraq was the battle that needed to be fought in order to
concretize a "new American century."

4) On China Daily today: "Workers of the World Unite and Go Shopping." Contains some gems:

An online poll by shows nearly 66 per cent of voters prefer to stay
at home during the so-called Golden Week.

And 80 per cent say they want to celebrate May Day by shopping.

And that’s good news for the country’s retailers.

Here’s the best one, a case study of tortured discursive transition if there ever was one:

"Enjoying more leisure time is an essential index in measuring human rights."

Apologies if all of this is terribly incoherent. But I am, believe it
or not, quitting cigarettes today (very un-PRC)… Trying the patch,
which works a lot better than I would have expected. Confident that
it’s actually going to work this time. But needless to say, I’m not
myself, and the writing would be the first to go… Anyway, never
thought there’d be a shoutout to GlaxoSmithKline on Cultural
Revolution, but there it is. Switching crisis indeed…


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May 3, 2005 at 12:36 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Grace Period II

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Another sort of grace period, from Bob Herbert’s column Monday in the NY Times:

Mr. Delgado, who eventually got conscientious objector status and
was honorably discharged last January, recalled a disturbance that
occurred while he was working in the Abu Ghraib motor pool. Detainees
who had been demonstrating over a variety of grievances began throwing
rocks at the guards. As the disturbance grew, the Army authorized
lethal force. Four detainees were shot to death.

Mr. Delgado
confronted a sergeant who, he said, had fired on the detainees. "I
asked him," said Mr. Delgado, "if he was proud that he had shot unarmed
men behind barbed wire for throwing stones. He didn’t get mad at all.
He was, like, ‘Well, I saw them bloody my buddy’s nose, so I knelt
down. I said a prayer. I stood up, and I shot them down.’ "

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May 1, 2005 at 11:55 pm

Posted in Current Affairs

Grace Period

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Just received in the mail a set of Important Amendments to My Credit Card Agreement from MBNA. (extra-US readers: MBNA is one of the big players, I imagine the biggest, in the US credit card industry…) I take it that this set of Amendments represents a rather significant turn, judging from the chatter on financially minded boards when I searched for a translation out of creditcardese into English… And it goes without saying that it comes exuberantly in the wake of this.

Here’s one bit:

(Payment Change) – GRACE PERIOD
Summary of Change: We are changing your grace period for purchases. With this change, you will need to pay your balance in full by the Payment Due Date each month in order to have a grace period and avoid finance charges on purchases. Prior to this change, you needed to pay your balance in full by the end of each business cycle.

Funny thing, this sneaky survival of the theological in our credit card statements. But then, what of the translation of the lunar month into the "business cycle."

From Debord, Society of the Spectacle, the good part:

Psuedo-cyclical time typifies the consumption of modern economic survival – of that augmented survival in which daily lived experience embodies no free choices and is subject, no longer to the natural order, but to a pseudo-nature constructed by means of alienated labor. It is therefore quite ‘natural’ that pseudo-cyclical time should echo the old cyclical rhythms that governed survival in pre-industrial societies. It builds, in fact, on the natural vestigest of cyclical time, while also using these as models on which to base new but homologous variants: day and night, weekly work and weekly rest, the cycle of vacations and so on.

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May 1, 2005 at 12:54 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Cargo Containers, Elizabeth NJ

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(Perhaps a followup to the previous followup…) Took my Nan to Newark Airport today – she stopped here on the way to see the folks where they live. And of course was treated to the fantastic perspective that the NJ turnpike provides upon the material remainder (reminder?) of the US trade deficit. The piles and piles of cargo containers that come full of the bountry of the world, but never leave. It is cheaper, apparently, to rent acre after acre of NJ swamp-land and simply let them rust than to disassemble them, sell them for scrap.


The last (and first) time I was in northern California, I was amazed by the fact that you could actually see the fault-lines. Drive right through them, over them, on US 1.



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April 16, 2005 at 12:51 am

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Preemptive Blogging II

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James Wolcott’s got a great example of preemptive blogging up today, where he asks us to watch for an uptick in the chatter of/about Hezbollah in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s your homework assignment, boys and girls. Study cable news in
the coming months, if you can stand the stomach upset, and see how many
segments are devoted to the emerging threat posed by Hezbollah, and
what America must do to protect itself. Particularly what-if scenarios
about Hezbollah obtaining WMDs, and what they could do to American
cities. I suspect we’ll see quite an uptick.

Wolcott seems to see this rolling towards Iran, but I’m wondering about the preoccupation with Syria in the last week or so. What, exactly, does Syria have to gain by way of the Lebanon assassination and the bombing in Israel, just when everything was "going so well"? If you were a mideast pariah state, is this the time that you’d pick to launch a quixotic region-wide terror campaign? Seriously?

Maybe this is what that unnamed Bush aide meant by "we create our own reality."

We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality- judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

This dude was right out of Heart of Darkness central casting, no? Speaking of which, I handed out these two passages from Said’s Culture and Imperialism today in class. Think they’re, um, timely.

Let us return to Conrad and to what I have been referring to
as the second, less imperialistically assertive possibility offered by Heart of Darkness. Recall once again
that Conrad sets the story on the deck of a boat anchored in the Thames; as
Marlow tells his story the sun sets, and by the end of the narrative the heart
of darkness has reappeared in England; outside the group of Marlow’s listeners
lies an undefined and unclear word. Conrad sometimes seems to want to fold that
world into the imperial metropolitan discourse represented by Marlow, but by
virtue of his own dislocated subjectivity he resists the effort and succeeds in
so doing, I have always believed, largely through formal devices. Conrad’s
self-consciously circular narrative forms draw attention to themselves as
artificial constructions, encouraging us to sense the potential of a reality
that seemed inaccessible to imperialism, just beyond its control, and that only
after Conrad’s death in 1924 acquired a substantial presence (28-9)

Yet the whole point of what Kurtz and Marlow talk about is
in fact imperial mastery, white European over
black Africans, and their ivory, civilization over the primitive dark continent. By accentuating the discrepancy
between the official “idea” of empire and the remarkably disorienting actuality
of Africa, Marlow unsettles the reader’s sense not only
of the very idea of empire, but of something more basic, reality itself. For if
Conrad can show that all human activity depends on controlling a radically
unstable reality to which words approximate only by will or convention, the
same is true of empire, of venerating the idea, and so forth. With Conrad,
then, we are in a world being made and unmade more or less all the time. What
appears stable and secure – the policeman at the corner, for instance – is only
slightly more secure than the white men in the jungle, and requires the same
continuous (but precarious) triumph over an all-pervading darkness, which by
the end of the tale is show to be the same in London and in Africa (29).

Great stuff…


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March 3, 2005 at 12:15 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Mr. Brown’s Neighborhood

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OK, please don’t take this as a horrifying burst of naivete, because it’s not. Let it be clearly stated: I am fully aware of the near collapse of U.S. television news, and print journalism, in the last half-decade. I’ll say it again: I am fully aware of the near collapse of U.S. television news, and print journalism, in the last half-decade.

I don’t really watch Aaron Brown’s show on CNN anymore, not since the election anyway. He’s always been a bit of a mixed bag – actually does hard news / often lashes out jingoistically or repeats the idee recue of the day. Not a great program, by any means, but a little better than the usual stuff.

But I flip over to Brown’s show tonight, and what do I find. Here are the big stories of the night:

1) Rise of poker on television and the internet
2) "After three days of intensive hearings, the FDA says three pain
medications are safe enough to use despite their links to heart risk."
3) "The Marines are investigating the death of a West Virginia boy who drowned at boot camp at Paris Island.  His parents want answers, understandably, after they saw the tape of
what preceded their son’s death, pictures shot by CNN affiliate WIS in
Charleston, South Carolina and reported by our Jason Bellini." (OK – this one was pretty good…) Leads into allegations of sex abuse in the military (US on US, of course, not Gitmo / Abu G. style)
4) Endless two segment-long interview with NBA commisioner David Stern (???)

What’s going on here? Feels as though (though I have no real evidence) Brown’s taken a ratings nosedive and the powers that be have asked him to straighten up and Zahn-ify his show… Wonder if that’s what’s happening?

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February 19, 2005 at 1:39 am

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What I Heard About Iraq

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Eliot Weinberger, "What I Heard about Iraq," London Review of Books (2/3/05)

I know others mentioned / linked to this back when it appeared at the beginning of the month, but I just got to it today. Terrific piece – and very much worthy of clipping into a Word document for your archive.

Better yet, print it out, fold it up, pry up a floorboard in the place you live, and hide it there…
The way things are going, when we’re all scribbling in our journals just outside of the gaze of the Screen (or so we thought), it’ll provide some nice material for the first chapter…

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February 19, 2005 at 1:15 am

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We’re Sorry!

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From today’s Times, "G.I.s Under Inquiry for Killing of 2 Afghans":

The first reports in the local press said that American forces had
killed two members of Al Qaeda, and that three more had escaped. But
Colonel Hayes said it was clear to him that the victims were just
villagers, and he confirmed that the military had given each of the
families $2,000 to help them through their immediate difficulties.

have no reason to say there were Taliban or Al Qaeda," Colonel Hayes
said, adding that in the few weeks he had been based in Shindand he had
seen no evidence of Taliban or Al Qaeda activity in the area.

"I can only say it was a mistake," the district chief, Mr. Kamin, said. "They had no weapons, they are from a poor family."

Of course there’s an article something like this one everyday, every other day, in the Times. There’s something to reading slowly through them, watching the absurd and horrible develop like a scene  from a terrible movie, a movie that goes nowhere…

Two men are gathering firewood
and then an SUV pulls up with US soldiers in it
and then the men run
and are shot by the soldiers.
And then, because one isn’t quite dead, the soldiers
shoot him again to make sure.

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February 18, 2005 at 10:52 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Arbeit Macht Frei

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Link: Steve Gilliard’s News Blog : We pay our slave laborers.

Returning Fallujans will face clampdown
By Anne Barnard, Globe Staff — December 5, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq — The US military is drawing up plans to keep insurgents from regaining control of this battle-scarred city, but returning residents may find that the measures make Fallujah look more like a police state than the democracy they have been promised.
    Under the plans, troops would funnel Fallujans to so-called citizen processing centers on the outskirts of the city to compile a database of their identities through DNA testing and retina scans. Residents would receive badges displaying their home addresses that they must wear at all times. Buses would ferry them into the city, where cars, the deadliest tool of suicide bombers, would be banned.
    Marine commanders working in unheated, war-damaged downtown buildings are hammering out the details of their paradoxical task: Bring back the 300,000 residents in time for January elections without letting in insurgents, even though many Fallujans were among the fighters who ruled the city until the US assault drove them out in November, and many others cooperated with fighters out of conviction or fear.
    One idea that has stirred debate among Marine officers would require all men to work, for pay, in military-style battalions. Depending on their skills, they would be assigned jobs in construction, waterworks, or rubble-clearing platoons.
    "You have to say, ‘Here are the rules,’ and you are firm and fair. That radiates stability," said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Bellon, intelligence officer for the First Regimental Combat Team, the Marine regiment that took the western half of Fallujah during the US assault and expects to be based downtown for some time.
    Bellon asserted that previous attempts to win trust from Iraqis suspicious of US intentions had telegraphed weakness by asking, " ‘What are your needs? What are your emotional needs?’ All this Oprah [stuff]," he said. "They want to figure out who the dominant tribe is and say, ‘I’m with you.’ We need to be the benevolent, dominant tribe.
    "They’re never going to like us," he added, echoing other Marine commanders who cautioned against raising hopes that Fallujans would warmly welcome troops when they return to ruined houses and rubble-strewn streets. The goal, Bellon said, is "mutual respect."
    Most Fallujans have not heard about the US plans. But for some people in a city that has long opposed the occupation, any presence of the Americans, and the restrictions they bring, feels threatening.
    "When the insurgents were here, we felt safe," said Ammar Ahmed, 19, a biology student at Anbar University. "At least I could move freely in the city; now I cannot."

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December 6, 2004 at 10:04 am

Posted in Current Affairs