Thursday, October 25, 2007

The War on Women

Maria Shuluba, 53, was raped by armed men near Bukavu, Congo, in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of a rape epidemic--one of the aftershocks of a war that ravaged the central African nation.

"With women I have no problem. With women, one threw a clog at me and I kicked her here [pointing to the crotch], I broke everything there. She can't have children. Next time she won't throw clogs at me. When one of them [a woman] spat at me, I gave her the rifle butt in the face. She doesn't have what to spit with any more.'"--Israeli soldier, describing his treatment of Palestinian women during the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

“We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear, they are done to destroy women.”-- Dr. Denis Mukwege, Gynecologist in South Kivu Province, Eastern Congo.

...kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.-- Numbers 31:17-18 (King James Version)

This week two UN officials spoke out on the prevalence of gender-violence as a tactic of warfare. “The woman’s body has become a battleground and it seems to be taken for granted that this should continue,” Rachel Mayanja, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said at a press briefing at UN Headquarters. Mayanja stresed that member states needed to take up the issue of rape and war and address it head-on.

A recent NY Times article documented the rape epidemic that has gripped the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where women are "being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen" in that war-torn region. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in the South Kivu Province alone. Some think this may be "just a fraction" of the total amount across that vast and troubled country. The main perpetrators are thought to be roving gangs of young men, mainly Hutu refugees who themselves had participated in the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. The victims say their attackers come at night, often killing men and dragging women off to be gang-raped or held for weeks, or months, as sex slaves. The sheer brutality of these attacks, in which foreign objects may be forced into the victim's bodies, has left thousands of women both physically mutilated and psychologically scarred. Congolese activist Christine Schuler Deschryver has termed this sexual terrorism and torture that has gripped her homeland as Femicide. "They are destroying the female species in Congo," she warns.

The women of the Democratic Republic of Congo are no strangers to suffering, having endured a war that raged on from 1997-2004. Women and girls were often attacked by soldiers under varied flags, seeking to pillage or demoralise the communities that happened to get in their way. Some 4 million Congolese would die in what some called 'Africas First World War.' The majority of those victims would again be women, and children, who did not die from wounds inflicted by soldiers but rather starvation and disease--yet another way war seems to unfairly persecute along gendered lines.

This disproportionate toll on women thru war extends beyond Congo. In Darfur mass rape has become a common tool of conquest for Janjaweed militias. Women there have to either go out in large groups, or under the protection of African Union peacekeepers. In Rwanda, the rape of Tutsi women was a tactic of genocide endorsed by the Hutu militia. In the last conflict that ravaged Bosnia, Serbian military and paramilitary used systematic rape to terrorize Bosnian and Albanian Muslim women as a form of "ethnic cleansing."

And while such attacks on women during war are usually blamed on more undisciplined armies of poor nations, they not without their counterparts in the more "developed" world. The rape of girls and women was used as an unofficial tactic by numerous American soldiers in Vietnam. During WWII, the Germans carried out systematic rape in regions they conquered, and the Russians would seek retribution through the rape of masses of German women when they took Berlin. The Japanese kidnapped perhaps hundreds of thousands of Korean, Chinese and other Asian women to be held as sexual concubines for their soldiers. Today, even among what some consider the most sophisticated army in the world, incidents of rape are not uncommon. In 2006, 5 US GIs stalked, gang-raped, murdered and then burned the body of a 14-yr-old Iraqi girl. Other charges of rape made by Iraqi girls and women against US occupation soldiers date back to 2004. In the midst of war, even US female soldiers find themselves at risk, forced to travel in groups to the latrines or not go out at night for fear of rape by fellow soldiers.

Documenting the history and landscape of sexual violence in warfare isn't hard. It can be found in the Old Testament, where women could be promised as victories of war. Much of the ancient world--from the Egyptians to the Romans--saw this as the normal course of warfare. From the Crusades to the Conquistadors to colonization, rape and the abuse of women have remained a facet of warfare. Why it happens however, is much harder to answer. Is it the existing patriarchal norms that pervade much of the world, to some degree or another, that make women just another commodity--a species of property to be destroyed and/or humiliated in order to further injure one's enemies? Is it the chilling spectre of genocide, where the very reproductive rights of women and the communities they belong to can be savaged with an impunity that scars far longer than napalm or cluster bombs? Or perhaps, is it that war itself is a violent enterprise that cannot be made more humane with policies and restrictions, and will always result in the most horrific expressions of brutality in the quest for power and dominance?

I'ts never easy trying to find sense in the seemingly insensible, to find reason for man's inhumanity towards man--and woman. So instead we try to find ways to control the chaos that war produces.

As reported in the International Herald Tribune, this past week UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon warned that violence against women in the wake of war had reached "hideous and pandemic proportions." The UN Security council has taken up the matter, and has demanded an end to the use of rape and sexual abuse in warfare. The council issued a statement following a meeting on the implementation of a resolution adopted in 2000 that called for the prosecution of crimes against women and increased protection of women and girls during war. It also demanded that women be included in decision-making positions at every level of peacemaking.

Commendable, but troubling when one recalls that the UN's own peacekeeping troops have been charged with sexual abuse and exploitation in the past--most notably in Liberia and Haiti. Addressing this, the UN undersecretary general for peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, stressed that the UN had taken a "zero tolerance" policy for sexual exploitation and abuse by its more than 80,000 peacekeeping troops.

"While rape is used as a weapon of war in situations" like Congo and Darfur, Guéhenno said, "addressing this war crime requires going beyond political compromise, power and resource sharing agreements....combating rape and other forms of sexual violence calls for concerted, robust and ongoing action on the part of both national actors and also the international community at every level of engagement."

With the focus on the issue--for the moment--let's hope action follows up all these meetings, resolutions and words. For if as the saying goes, "War is Hell," then for women it a torment that no word aptly describes. As Rachel Mayanja put it, "Sexual violence in conflict, particularly rape, should be named for what it is: not a private act or the unfortunate misbehavior of a renegade soldier, but aggression, torture, war crime and genocide."


Friday, October 19, 2007

The Pervasive Nature of Scientific Racism

Today the TimesOnline is stating that the 79-year-old scientist James Watson who won the Nobel prize for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, is back-pedaling from an interview in which he asserted that black African and Caribbean workers were inferior in ability and intelligence to whites. Watson, who has offered his apology, claims he is "mortified by the public response," and that the Sunday Times who performed the interview somehow misconstrued his words. The newspaper however says the interview was recorded, and is sticking by their story. While outrage and apologies now fill the air, what the Watson controversey has brought to the surface is the sometimes forgotten and neglected stepchild of white supremacy: "scientific racism."

The Pervasive Nature of Scientific Racism

by Morpheus

This week the London's Science Museum canceled a lecture by Nobel Prize-winning geneticist James Watson—part of the two-man team that first constructed the model of the DNA double helix—after the scientist told a newspaper that Africans and Europeans had different levels of intelligence. Watson provoked widespread outrage when his comments were released in a Sunday Times interview, which quoted the 79-year-old American as saying he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really." Watson would add, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true."

This isn't the first time Watson's comments have stirred controversey. As the UK Independent catalogued, the Nobel prize-winner has had a series of controversial statements. In one instance, he suggested women should have the right to abortions if tests could determine their children would be homosexual. In 2000 at a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, he claimed a link between skin color and sex drive, showing slides of bikini-clad women and asserting that higher doses of melanin was responsible for the stereotype of the "Latin Lover."

Most news reports state that people are "shocked" by Watson's comments. Outrage comes next, along with his dismissal as a "crazed." More often than not, he is described as "controversial." Even with a repeated history of such rhetoric however, Watson's historical standing assures that he is invited to speak to large audiences, and still sought out for interviews. As a 1990 article in the journal Science noted: "To many in the scientific community, Watson has long been something of a wild man, and his colleagues tend to hold their collective breath whenever he veers from the script." Translated: Many fear that Watson may dredge up the often closeted stain on the discipline of "rationality and reason"—scientific racism.

Today mostly thought of as debunked, "race science" was once taken as a normal part of academic and scientific discourse. One of its early progenitors in the modern era was probably none other than American founding father Thomas Jefferson, who in his Notes on the State of Virginia deduced from his "observations" that blacks exhibited a childlike simplicity, a wild imagination, an incapacity to reason and an inability to create artistry comparable to whites—for which he would single out black poet Phyllis Wheatley for particular criticism. Jefferson would go on to make reference to the "disagreeable odour" of blacks and claim that "the Oran-ootan (Orangutan)" had a preference "for the black women over those of his own species." Around the same time the naturalist Edward Long in his work A History of Jamaica, would compare black Africans to "dogs" and make the claim that black women sought out monkeys and baboons to "embrace" to gratify their raging sexual passions. Racism was not out of ordinary in the era of Jefferson and Long, during which time the slave trade in African bodies was booming and building up the wealth of the Western world. Yet both men were some of the early few who were beginning to assert that black inferiority was a "natural" state, that could be backed up by scientific observation. In a methodology fraught with irony, the same naturalism that would allow Jefferson to deduce the "natural rights" of man, was used to assert that some men, and women, were "naturally" inferior. Blacks were no longer simply "barbarous" due to a degradation of civilization in a jungle climate, or because they had not been introduced to the "light of Christianity." Rather blacks were inferior to whites and distinctly different on a "natural" biological level that could not be overcome, and that could be backed up by what Long would assert was "matter endued with thought and reason!"

Modern scientific racism was being given birth.

Nurtured within the developing scientific disciplines of its day, it would come to typify European notions towards blacks and those deemed as inferior "others." By the late 19th century it had ascended to the top of the white supremacy rationale ladder, churning out myriad theories that claimed a scientific basis as to the inferiority of non-whites, and blacks in particular. As far back as the early 1800s, black bodies would be cut open and studied as exotic specimens, to be passed around and examined for scientific inquiry by the likes of George Cuvier—regarded as the founder of modern day comparative anatomy. Such was the fate of 'Sara' Baartman—the Khoi woman dubbed the “Hottentot Venus” who was paraded through London and Paris on a leash. Upon her death—following a descent into prostitution through which she contracted syphillis—Cuvier made a plaster cast of her body, dissected her and preserved her organs, including her genitals and brain, in bottles of formaldehyde. Her skeleton and bottled remains were displayed at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1974, until public pressure sent them to a back room away from sight. The museum did not return her remains until 2002.

And Baartman's case was hardly unique.

From 1845 to 1849, scientific racism allowed Dr. Marion Sims, the father of modern gynecology, to carry out horrific medical experiments on the genitals of unwilling and un-anesthetized slave women. Scientific racism would allow numerous such ethical violations in the name of medicine upon black bodies—from the U.S. government’s Tuskegee experiment to other notorious acts carried out by slave owners, the armed forces, the CIA, prisons, and private institutions. The sheer scope of these atrocities is only now becoming understood, through groundbreaking studies such as Dr. Harriet A. Washington's work, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.

And scientific racism was not confined to medicine. It seemed to find a place in any field dedicated to the study of humanity. Proto-anthropologist and naturalist Samuel G. Morton would create an entire field by which human skulls were measured for racial markers of intelligence, ushering what many see as the definitive modern age of scientific racism. In none other than the pages of the now well-respected Scientific American, was an article in the early 1900s on "Congo pygmies," who were described as "small, apelike, elfish creatures, furtive and mischievous." It went on to state that these smallish Africans "closely parallel the brownies and goblins of our fairy tales.." and "live in the dense tangled forests in absolute savagery while they exhibit many ape-like features in their bodies...." Little surprise then that in 1906 Ota Benga, a so-called "pygmie" duped into leaving his African homeland with claims of payment and fortune, would be locked into a cage at the Bronx zoo, to be displayed as a type of ape.

Scientific racism would eventually merge with the related and now rogue—but at one time en vogue—branch of biology known as eugenics. Postulated by Sir Francis Galton in 1865, eugenics proposed that human behavioral traits—and talents—could be discerned through hereditary analysis. Eugenics would assert that certain undesirable traits could be eliminated from the human species. At times seemingly concerned with general matters as height and illness, eugenics also had a more sinister side—asserting that some humans needed to be eliminated (or sterilized) in order to better the species. The targets for sterilization included the mentally challenged, the physically deformed, the poor, the ill and—naturally—the more "undesirable races." In the U.S. this would result in everything from stricter immigration laws to limit more "inferior whites" (normally the Irish or Eastern Europeans), and the tightening of anti-miscegnation laws that became tied to black lynching. Some 60,000 people in the U.S. alone may have been coercively sterilized in a campaign author Edwin Black termed, the War Against the Weak.

While not all scientists were hardcore eugenecists who believed in mass sterilization or extermination, for many race science and the belief in "weaker humans" was taken as a matter of fact. Scientific racism, even in its least malign form, thus permeated the discipline not as a fringe element but as part of the mainstream discourse. From President Woodrow Wilson to women's reproductive activist Margaret Sanger, all stratum of society embraced elements of eugenics (to varying degrees) as a way to strengthen the human race—most especially, the white Nordic variant. Sanger for instance may have believed that some humans were "the defective progeny resulting from irresponsible and unintelligent breeding," but strongly condemned any attempts at forced sterilization. Ironically the pinnacle of eugenecist theory and scientific racism coincided with its demise. One of its biggest admirers was none other than Adolf Hitler, who endorsed the theories and applications of eugenecists in Europe and America for his Nazi ideology. After the world witnessed the use of scientific racism in the Third Reich to create an Aryan master race and to justify the extermination of millions, race science and eugenics saw a precipitous decline. Sanger herself was so horrified by the Nazi excesses she backed away from earlier endorsements of eugenics, but would still advocate it as an individual and voluntary decision.

But, as Dr. Watson reminds us, race science and eugenics never truly died out. Nobel Prize winner Hank Shockley in the 1970s, converting to eugenics later in life, became a staunch advocate for the belief that the less intelligent (which in his mind, by default, included blacks) should be given incentives to not breed with other humans. Mimicking scientific racism and eugenics, 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney in 1990 would assert that, "blacks have watered down genes because the less intelligent ones are the ones that have the most children." In 1995 scientific racism's boldest modern public salvo was launched with Richard J. Hernstein and Charles Murray'sThe Bell Curve,which linked IQ to race with blacks being deemed as naturally inferior. Though sparking controversy and condemnation, the book was also widely touted in the mainstream media as at the least a legitimate topic of discussion. Malcolm Browne of the New York Times would be so deferential in his review of the book, many took it as an endorsement. Today foundations like the well-monied Pioneer Fund openly advocate for race science, and advocate for changes in public policy based on scientific understandings of race.

What Dr. Watson and the history of scientific racism does is put a lie to the myth that racism is the domain of the uneducated, the ignorant and misinformed. The sad but hard reality is that racism is bigger than a disgruntled white underclass in hoods and sheets or nooses that proliferate as warnings and "pranks." Racism has a much more permeable, lasting and influential presence in the institutions, structures and culture of our society—where true power resides. And it has a long history of infecting even those among us who 'claim' to have the biggest and best of brains.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Waterboarding: Torture or Not?

Waterboarding. We've all heard it now for several years, as part of sanctioned U.S. policy of "enhanced interrogation techniques"--where someone is force fed water to make them feel as if they are drowning. Yet at the same time, American military and administration officials state that it is not torture. Or, as the recent Attorney General nominee put forth by the white house--Mike Mukasey--has stated slyly, he doesn't know if waterboarding is torture, but "If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional." Much of this double-speak is based on the fact that most people have never seen waterboarding. Thankfully (and sadly necessary), there have been more than a few demonstrations of it by individuals who want the public to see this first hand for themselves. The video above shows a few seconds of waterboarding. Look at it, place yourself or someone close to you in the position of the man in the orange jumpsuit, and ask yourself--is this torture?


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Acting White? Myths & Realities on Black Anti-Intellectualism

Since we're on Cosby... one of the key tenets of his argument, and those used by the "black apologetics" is the "acting white hypothesis." Chances are, all of us have heard some semblance of it before, which asserts that black school children do poorly because they undervalue education and perceive those who achieve academically as "acting white." Thus the argument is made: black kids equate "intelligence" with being "white." This idea was first floated by two researchers, Fordham and Ogbu, who in their study of black school children claimed to find an "oppositional culture" that emerged as a backlash to white societal oppression. Hence if dominant white society claimed scholastics was positive, black kids would deem it negative. Since the Cosby rant especially, the "acting white hypothesis" put forth by Fordham and Ogbu has been cited repeatedly, becoming a popular American catch-phrase, uttered by conservatives and liberals alike. Media pundits take it matter-of-factly as accurate, and some educators--seeking to cash in--have written entire tropes on it. Even presidential hopeful Barak Obama has joined in the chorus, denouncing "acting white" at the 2004 Democratic National Convention--to much applause, from black and white delegates alike. The problem however is that Fordham and Ogbu's thesis, which came out in 1986, has been deconstructed and critiqued for almost two decades. It turned out that Fordham and Ogbu had wrongly interpreted their data and there were much more complex understandings that numerous other researchers have pointed out. Even their basic facts were wrong, making absolutely false assertions that the oppositional culture had its rise during slavery, in which blacks shunned education. Any historian worth his or her degree will tell you that not only did slaves and freed blacks value education and intellect, but risked their lives--literally--to get it. But you wouldn't know that, given the reckless way in which the "acting white thesis" is bantered about. It's as if merely repeating it over and over again has given it legitimacy it never really earned, even among those who should know better. Fordham and Ogbu's misguided thesis has become an easy "blame-the-victim" route that posits black academic failings not on an under-funded public school system, but back on the children themselves. The following is by a school administrator who for several years has critiqued the "acting white" argument, using prior studies and his own hands-on observations. As he points out, the notion of some distinct culture of anti-intellectualism among black children is more myth than reality.

Acting White? Deconstructing the Myth of Anti-Intellectualism in Black Youth

By Cleo Wadley

Tues. Oct 9th 2007

As we observe the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock 9, predictably, a discussion of Black student achievement rises to the surface.

Now, we all have heard the dire statements of how poorly Black children perform on standardized tests or their poor completion rate from high school. The expert and layman alike won’t hesitate to dispense their take on the issue. However, I thought it might be interesting to separate myth from reality in regards to Black student achievement.

One common belief is that Black students are not successful in school because they equate high achievement with being White. This dangerous and insidious thought didn’t just materialize in our consciousness; its roots are deep in American history.

It’s curious to me how we often hear of Black children being labeled as anti-intellectual. I would argue that Black children are no more or no less anti-intellectual than any other segment of American society. In fact, anti-intellectualism is an American characteristic that goes back almost two centuries. Just take a look at the 1828 presidential election in which Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams. Presidential historians often tout this election as one of the first mud slinging elections. Jackson framed the election by setting up Adams as an elitist intellectual with loose morals and values who could not relate to the conservative values of the “common man.” He also instilled a distrust of intellectuals as tricksters who use language and rhetoric to deceive ordinary people. At the same time, Jackson framed himself as “the people’s candidate.”

Jackson’s tactic worked well in 1828, just as it served George Bush well in the 2000 election against Al Gore. Gore was portrayed as a boring, monotonous intellectual who jabbered to such a point that he couldn’t be understood or trusted. He was a classic stereotype of an arrogant intellectual out of touch with the “common man.”

But anti-intellectualism doesn’t stop with politics in American society. Just think of all the icons in popular culture that America adores. Forrest Gump, Homer Simpson, Jessica Simpson, and even the current president typify the stereotype of the dim witted rube with a heart of gold.

Just look at a few of the current television programs in prime time. Such shows as “Beauty and the Geek” and “The Big Bang Theory” display buxom blondes with “common” sense outwitting brainiacs who are dysfunctional in social arenas tinged with sexual tension.

This is no accident. Corporate America has worked diligently to keep us enamored by these classic stereotypes. PBS’s Frontline did a special several years ago titled “Merchants of Cool” detailing how much effort is put in place to create an anti-intellectual, commodity obsessed generation of consumers through advertising.

The average American spends about 50 minutes a day just watching commercials; that is equivalent to 1 ½ years in a lifetime. And of course this has an effect on children, particularly Black children who watch an average of 7 hours a day of television compared to their White counterparts who watch 4 ½ hours a day of television.

So once we accept that anti-intellectualism is not just a problem plaguing Black children, we can delve deeper into this folk theory that Black children equate high academic achievement with whiteness.

This folk theory got a huge push from a much touted 1986 paper by John Ogbu and Signithia Fordham that asserts that Black children function out of an oppositional culture model. That is, after years of oppression in society, Black children have adopted opposition to anything they identify as part of White culture, including education.

Nevertheless, there have been numerous studies to debunk the findings of Ogbu and Fordham. In 2005, Ericka Fisher, the author of “Black Student Achievement and the Oppositional Cultural Model,” concluded that the experience in success or failure of Black students who are high achievers and Black students who are low achievers has nothing to do with the oppositional culture model.

As a matter of fact, high achievers and low achievers function out of different paradigms. According to Fisher, high achievers are successful due to the following factors:

Solid time management skills
High self-concepts
Parental support
A desire to prove negative stereotypes wrong
A sense of personal responsibility
A need to control one’s own destiny

This was different from low achievers who:

See themselves as smart but lazy
Resent treatment and stereotypes by White teachers
Receive little or no individual support or encouragement
Lack support or connection to the school
Experience an acceptance of mediocre grades at home

Many students in this study, which included the high and low achievers, stated, “It’s cool to be Black and smart.”

In another study titled “Beyond Acting White: Reframing the Debate on Black Student Achievement,” researcher and author Erin McNamara Horvat stated that the reiterance of the oppositional culture model “…reifies folk theories about black inferiority and invites discussion about what is fundamentally an absurd question.”

In 1998, educational researchers James Ainsworth-Darnell and Douglas B. Downey lambasted Ogbu and concluded that Black students perceive education as key to getting employment at a higher percentage than Whites. They also condemned Ogbu by saying that it is more of a teacher perception that Black students put forth less effort than White students.

Ainsworth-Darnell and Downey also see a positive correlation between being Black and being a good student. Both high achievers and low achievers in their study reported that education can be an important tool for success.

These powerful studies then beg the question of what is the real cause of a very real and evident achievement gap between Black students and their White counterparts. It is stated and implied by these studies that Black students lack resources due to inequalities, and this in turn hinders their success in school. School districts need to work harder to differentiate instruction and adapt the learning environments to fit the individual needs and interests of students. Many underachieving students in these studies claim that they are motivated in other areas, and that schools don’t cater to their interests. Furthermore, schools need to work more on fostering better relationships between students and teachers, parents and the school, and the school and the community. Finally, Black parents and educators need to stop buying into folk theories about Black inferiority and look deeper into the true causes of low student achievement among Black students, and then we must collaboratively come up with real solutions.

Hopefully, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Little Rock 9 in 2057, we still won’t be distracted by absurd questions that cloud our minds and keep Black children intellectually segregated. Only then will no child be left behind.

Cleo Wadley is an educator and tireless advocate for urban youth in the southwest Houston area. Cleo is currently an assistant principal at Hastings High School in Alief Independent School District and works as an adjunct instructor of English for Houston Community College.


Let's Do it Again- The Cos is Back!

It's been a while since America's favorite father turned "denouncer of black morality" has been in the headlines. But have no fear the Cos is back, touting a new book called Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. The work marks a new salvo in the one-time comedian's bitter old man routine, in which he chastises the black poor, single black mothers and black youth killed while allegedly stealing pastries. When Cosby first made his tirade a few years back, there were a few of us who found his hate speech distasteful. Many other black people however seemed to give in. Deciding that Cosby's "blame-the-victim" classist rant was spot on, they applauded his Colbert type "truthiness." Thankfully to sane minds everywhere, the past few years have seen a debunking of the "Cosby Thesis." Historians like Jelani Cobb would point out the fallacies in Cosby's claims, and others like Michael Eric Dyson questioned his sanity. Even academic studies have deconstructed Cosby's claims. But this didn't stop white America--and the mass media--from applauding the former comedian and philanthropist, that seemed to say everything they'd always believed and wanted to hear. Not surprisingly, with the release of this new book, Cosby is getting alot of airtime to explain why the black poor and black people in general are to blame for their own problems. Thankfully, once again, saner black minds are speaking out in criticism. A few of their articles are posted here.

In this article at the Black Agenda Report, Glen Ford gives both review and criticism of Cosby's new book. According to Ford, the book's co-author, noted psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Pouissant, helps soften the Cosby thesis by offering much needed caveats. I'm a bit suspect about that claim, as the Dr. Pouissant I am used to hearing from--long-time friend of Cosby and advisor to his television show--seems to uphold much of the ideologies of the Afro-stocracy. In any case, Ford still pulls no punches, and points out that in the end--even with Pouissant's assistance--the book itself remains misguided.

Black Psychiatrist's ‘Intervention' Calms Cosby
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

"When presented as a substitute for political action, books like Come On People are great diversions from the tasks at hand, and weapons to bludgeon Black people."

Bill Cosby is sounding (almost) calm and reasonable, these days, under the influence of Dr. Alvin Poussaint, respected Harvard psychiatrist and co-author with Cosby in a new book. Despite his improved demeanor, Cosby's blame-the-victim worldview remains compatible with the most rightwing foes of African Americans. The no-longer-funny comedian's hectoring and "burnished anecdotes of times past are near-useless as a guide to either personal behavior in the present, or organized community action." But the corporate media gorges itself on the red-meat of Cosby's Black-bashing - and that's all that matters for book sales. Dr. Poussaint can only do so much to fix a 70-year meanness.

full article:

Black Psychiatrist's 'Intervention' Calms Cosby"

In this article, Earl Ofari Hutchinson takes on the Cosby Thesis and his new book. Given what has been Hutchinson's seeming tilt to black conservatism in the past few years (see my own criticism of his articles during the Don Imus affair), I was pleasantly surprised to see that on this issue we are in general agreement. Hutchinson points out that Cosby's book serves as little more than a way to attack black people without giving due consideration to the 800 lb gorilla of white supremacy racism.

Bill Cosby's New Book Full of Racial Stereotypes

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, AlterNet.

Posted October 15, 2007

Cosby's new book continues to tar black communities and the black poor as dysfunctional, chronic whiners, and eternally searching for a government hand-out.

Comedian Bill Cosby is the walking and now writing proof of the ancient adage that good intentions can go terribly awry. That's never been more painfully true than in Cosby's latest tome, Come on People.

Cosby and his publisher boast that the book is a big, brash, and provocative challenge to black folk to get their act together. That's got him ga ga raves, and an unprecedented one hour spin job on Meet the Press.

In the book, Cosby harangues and lectures, cobbles together a mesh of his trademark anecdotes, homilies, and personal tales of woe and success, juggles and massages facts to bolster his self-designated black morals crusade. Stripped away it's the same stock claim that blacks can't read, write or speak coherent English, and are social and educational cripples and failures.

full article:

Bill Cosby's New Book Full of Racial Stereotypes


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Che: Ode to a Revolutionary Saint

This Oct 9th marked the anniversary of one of the last century's most culturally influential figures--Che Guevara. The revolutionary theorist and fighter who carried on struggle from Cuba to the Congo, was captured in his last fight somewhere in Bolivia in 1967. One day later, he would be executed. Rumor had it his final words were to his very executioner: "Shoot, coward, you're only going to kill a man." Since his death Che has achieved a type of revoutionary sainthood on a global scale, his image appearing on struggles against varied oppressors in far-flung locales. Today the daunting face of this Argentinian one-time medical student turned world revolutionary can be found nearly everywhere. His imperfections smoothed over, or selectively omitted, wearing him on a t-shirt has come to symbolise everything from the rebelliousness of suburban white teens in designer jeans (whom comedian Bill Maher sarcastically calls merely "ironic"), to the struggle against neoliberalism to anarchism and more. In death, Che has come to stand for much more than he himself probably ever endorsed in life. The following from Democracy Now! includes an early 1960s interview with Che and a modern interview with a Latin Americanist, on the legacy of a man who died and was reborn an icon.

Read transcript of Democracy Now! Oct 9th show on Che Guevara


Listen Here

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

The Life & Legacy of Latin American Revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara: Forty Years After His Death

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of one of the most influential figures of the last century -- Latin American revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara. On October 8, 1967, Che was captured by Bolivian troops working with the CIA. He was executed one day later. Today we broadcast Che in his own words and speak with Latin American historian Greg Grandin.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of one of the most influential figures of the last century -- Latin American revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara. Born in Argentina in 1928, Che rose to international prominence as one of the key leaders of the 1959 Cuban Revolution that overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista.

After a period in the new Cuban government leadership, Che aimed to spark revolutionary activity internationally. In 1965, he led a secret Cuban operation aiding and training rebels in the Congo. One year later, Che was in Bolivia, helping to lead an uprising against the U.S.-backed government. On October 8, 1967, Che was captured by Bolivian troops working with the CIA. He was executed one day later.

Commemorations are underway today in Cuba, Bolivia and around the world. Some ten thousand people turned out Monday for a ceremony in Santa Clara, Cuba. Che's daughter Aleida Guevara addressed the crowd.

Aleida Guevara

Aleida Guevara, daugther of Che Guevara, speaking Monday in Santa Clara. In a moment, we'll be joined by Latin American historian Greg Grandin, but first, Che Guevara in his own words. This is an excerpt of Che's address to the United Nations in December 1964.

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, speaking to the UN General Assembly on December 11 1964.
Just days later, a group of journalists interviewed Che at the Cuban mission in New York. The legendary reporter Chris Koch was among that group of reporters. This is a rare excerpt of that interview, beginning with Koch's introduction.

Chris Koch and Ernesto "Che" Guevara

An excerpt of a rare interview with Che Guevara, December 11th 1964 from the Pacifica Radio Archives. Greg Grandin is here in the firehouse studio. He is a professor of Latin American history at NYU and author of "Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism."

Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at NYU and author of Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.


JUAN GONZALEZ: Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the death of one of the most influential figures of the last century: Latin American revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Born in Argentina in 1928, Che rose to international prominence as one of the key leaders of the 1959 Cuban Revolution that overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista.

After a period in the new Cuban government leadership, Che aimed to spark revolutionary activity internationally. In 1965, he led a secret Cuban operation aiding and training rebels in the Congo. One year later, Che was in Bolivia, helping to lead an uprising against the US-backed government. On October 8, 1967, he was captured by Bolivian troops working with the CIA. He was executed one day later.

Commemorations are underway today in Cuba, Bolivia and around the world. Some 10,000 people turned out Monday for a ceremony in Santa Clara, Cuba. Che's daughter Aleida Guevara addressed the crowd.

ALEIDA GUEVARA: [translated] I want to remember the commitment we all have in order to make our society stronger. Today, Latin America is starting to wake up and make all of our dreams come true. We have to be present and firmer than ever. That is the greatest homage we can make to our fathers and our loved ones.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Aleida Guevara, daughter of Che Guevara, speaking Monday in Havana. In a moment, we'll be joined by Latin American historian Greg Grandin, but first Che in his own words. This is an excerpt of Che’s address to the United Nations in December 1964.

CHE GUEVARA: [translated] The bestiality of imperialism, a bestiality that knows no limits, that has no national frontiers. The bestiality of Hitler’s armies is like the North American bestiality, like that of Belgian paratroopers and that of French imperialists in Algeria, for it is the very essence of imperialism to turn men into wild, bloodthirsty animals determined to slaughter, kill, murder and destroy the very last vestige of the image of the revolutionary or the partisan in any regime that they crush under their boots because it fights for freedom. The statue of Lumumba, destroyed today, but rebuilt tomorrow, reminds us of this tragic story of this martyr of the world revolution and makes sure that we will never trust imperialism, in no way at all, not an iota.

AMY GOODMAN: Che Guevara, speaking to the UN General Assembly, December 11, 1964. Just days later, a group of journalists interviewed Che at the Cuban mission in New York. The legendary reporter from Pacifica, Chris Koch, was among that group. This is a rare excerpt of the press conference, beginning with Koch's introduction.

CHRIS KOCH: This is Chris Koch. On Wednesday night, December 16th, a group of American Socialist journalists and writers spent about an hour talking with Comandante Che Guevara at the Cuban mission here in New York. I was there with a microphone and tape recorder, and this program will be a report of that meeting with the Cuban Minister of Industry.

East 67th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue was blocked off by barricades and a handful of policemen. The group of writers, who had met at a restaurant in the neighborhood, were stopped by police at the corner. We waited until clearance came from the Cuban mission building near the center of the block, then walked into a large townhouse through a tight line of New York's finest making comments and nudging us as we tried to get through the door.

We waited in a storeroom for about a half an hour and then went upstairs into a large room with a high ceiling, a desk, a marble fireplace, chandeliers, and three sofas partially surrounding a large coffee table. The writers arranged themselves on the sofa, and Comandante Guevara knelt on the floor in front of the table. Those standing soon settled down on the floor around the table next to him.

Comandante Guevara was dressed in pressed military fatigues and polished black boots. During the conversation, he was in constant motion, lying on his side, shifting to a squatting position, back to his side, resting his head on his hands, and puffing constantly on a cigar. Constant motion. Guevara was relaxed, joked much, smiled always.

One area of the discussion dealt with his own revolutionary past and his analysis of the Cuban guerrilla struggle.

CHRIS KOCH: You are Argentinean by birth, and rather than make a revolution in the Argentine, you went out and, as I understand it, traveled and stayed in several countries before coming into conjunction with Fidel Castro in Mexico. I would like to ask how you look back upon this and see it as some kind of lucky juncture, or that somehow you were searching until a revolutionary situation coalesced, or…

CHE GUEVARA: [translated] It seems to be a question to be answered after three or four drinks in a more intimate atmosphere. In general, we could say there are some moments in our revolution that are things completely mad, crazy: the attack against the Moncada Barracks, the expedition of the Granma, the struggle with the handful of men that remained, the defense against the last great attack by the dictatorship in Sierra Maestra, the invasion of the province of Las Villas, the seizure of the principal towns. If you analyze each one of those things, you will reach the conclusion that there was something mad in the middle, something crazy in the middle. And as all of them, as a chain, led to the seizure of power, you may have to reach a conclusion that in order to seize power you have to be a little crazy.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of a rare interview with Che Guevara, December 11, 1964, from the Pacifica Radio Archive.

Greg Grandin joins us now, professor of Latin American history at New York University, author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, just out in paperback.

Talk about how Che Guevara, an Argentine, ends up leading, with Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution.

GREG GRANDIN: Well, it's an interesting story, and before I -- what makes Che so iconic is that his life embodies the revolutionary century of Latin America. And a lot of your listeners may know what -- viewers may be aware of Che's motorcycle diary trip, where he toured around Latin America, and through that he developed a consciousness, a Pan-American consciousness. Well, right after that trip, he wound up in Guatemala, which was undergoing a profound democratic revolution between 1944 and 1954.

Guatemala was one of the most ambitious social democratic revolutions that emerged throughout Latin America after World War II. And what's important about Guatemala is that by 1948, 1950, most democratic revolutions in Latin America had been rolled back, or there was a wave of reaction throughout the continent. But in Guatemala the revolution actually deepened. And Che spent 1953 -- wound up in Guatemala -- he landed in Guatemala in 1953, and he lived through the counterrevolution. This was the United States’s first CIA-orchestrated coup in Latin America.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Against Arbenz.

GREG GRANDIN: Against Jacobo Arbenz -- United Fruit Company -- defending the interests of the United Fruit company.

AMY GOODMAN: So, first, the US CIA had overthrown Iran in 1953.


AMY GOODMAN: Then, trying to use the same model, goes --

GREG GRANDIN: Well, it was actually even more ambitious. Iran was a pretty fast operation, a couple of weeks. Guatemala was the most extensive and ambitious CIA operation to date. It utilized every aspect of US power, not just military and economic and political, but a whole broad array of psychological destabilization campaigns. Pretty much --

JUAN GONZALEZ: There was quite a bit of penetration of the Guatemalan press, as well, beforehand to prepare the way for the coup, as well.

GREG GRANDIN: The press, exactly. That's what I mean. It was really -- it became the model for other coups, in which the United States would destabilize the civil society organizations, the press and the --

AMY GOODMAN: John Foster Dulles was the head of the State Department at the time. Formerly he was the corporate lawyer for United Fruit --


AMY GOODMAN: -- on behalf of whom Guatemala was overthrown.

GREG GRANDIN: Yes. The United Fruit Company had some land expropriated, and the United States was concerned about the legalization of the Communist Party. And what's important, in terms of Che, is that he witnessed this. He was -- in Guatemala, he developed more of a revolutionary consciousness. He worked as a socially committed doctor administering to the country’s poor in a clinic, and he saw the overthrow of what was the most -- the longest-lasting post-war democracy in Latin America firsthand.

He had to flee to the -- he took asylum in the Argentine embassy. It was in the embassy, he spent a few months, and he met a number of future revolutionaries, Guatemalan new left armed revolutionaries. And then he managed to flee and receive exile in Mexico, and that's where he met -- that's where he met Fidel Castro and joined the Cuban Revolution and went on to make history.

But Guatemala had a deep impact on him. He would go on to justify the closing down -- the suppressing of civil liberties in Cuba and the radicalization of the revolution in Cuba, by saying that Cuba will not be another Guatemala. In many ways, Guatemala, much more than Cuba -- diplomatic historians love to focus on Cuba. They think the Cold War began and end in Cuba, but it was really Guatemala that was much more of a turning point, not just in Che's life, but for a whole generation of Latin American reformists and nationalists and democrats. It led to a deep radicalization and a sense that democracy and reform would not come about through an alliance with the national bourgeoisie and national progressive capitalist class. It was witnessing the downfall of the Guatemalan democracy, in which elites did ally with the CIA and the US, that led to a much more radical understanding of how to bring about social change and the Cuban Revolution.

What’s also important about the overthrow of Arbenz is that it became a model, as Juan mentioned, for the Bay of Pigs operation. And because of the success or the easy success, the seemingly easy success, of the overthrow of Arbenz, CIA got a bit confident, and a lot of -- many of the assumptions that they -- the lessons that they thought they learned from Guatemala they applied in the Bay of Pigs. Of course, the Bay of Pigs was a complete disaster, that went on to have a much more radicalizing influence throughout the Americas.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the Bay of Pigs, but even how once Fidel and Che had linked up in Mexico, how they actually launched the Revolution, came into Cuba.

GREG GRANDIN: Well, they had a yacht, the Granma. It’s a ship in which they set out on an expedition. There was a -- I can't remember the number, but it became -- it has become myth that there were twelve -- that once they landed, Batista's army was waiting for them, and they ambushed them, and the number of the people on the expedition, which I think started with eighty men, or something like that, around eighty-something, it's become myth that twelve survived. Obviously, that has a certain resonance with the New Testament. And twelve made it into the Sierra Maestra and began to organize, and among them were Che and Fidel. And Che developed a reputation, a well-deserved reputation, as a military strategist, and he took the -- he won a number of key battles against Batista's army.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Once the Revolution triumphed against Batista -- and obviously Cuba was very different in that it had a very large existing labor movement that provided eventually some mass base for the guerrillas, as well as those in the countryside -- Che then begins to -- doesn't spend very much time actually constructing the Revolution, does he?

GREG GRANDIN: No. He's not really a policymaker. He is more of a -- what could be understood as an action intellectual. He was the head of the -- speaking of Alan Greenspan, he was the head of the central bank, Cuban central bank, and minister of the economy of industry.

He wanted to go fast. His plan for Cuba was to centralize authority and industrialize as quick as possible. In an island of eight million people at the time, it didn’t -- six million people at the time, that was not a very practical plan. As Cuba became closer to the Soviet Union, it became clear that they weren't going to industrialize.

And there were some divisions. Historians debate just to what degree there was rivalry within the Cuban Revolution between Fidel and Che. But Che’s giving up his formal position within the Cuban government, and he toured the United States, and then he went to Africa to join a guerrilla movement in the Congo, and that was a failure. And then, from there he went to Bolivia.

AMY GOODMAN: There, he met Laurent Kabila --


AMY GOODMAN: -- who became the head of the Congo. But I wanted to go to Bolivian President Evo Morales. Juan and I interviewed him on Democracy Now! just a few weeks ago when he came to New York for the UN General Assembly. President Morales spoke about Che's legacy forty years after his death.

PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] First of all, in the ’40s, in the ’50s, in the ’60s -- of course, when I hadn’t been born yet -- my first perception was that people rose up in arms to struggle against the empire. Now, I see quite the opposite, that it’s the empire that’s raising up arms against the peoples. What I think is that back then, that the peoples, they got organized and struggled, looking for justice, for equality. And now I think that these transformations, these structural transformations, are being forged through democracies.

And from these two points of view, Che Guevara continues to be a symbol of someone who gave his life for the peoples, when in Bolivia and in other countries around the world reigned military dictatorships. So that's why it's amazing to see that all over the world Che Guevara is still there, forty years later. But now, we're living in other times. But to value and recognize that thinking, that struggle, and if we recognize and we value it, that doesn't mean it means to mechanically follow the steps that he took in terms of military uprising.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the Bolivian President Evo Morales, particularly significant because that is where Che Guevara died forty years ago today. GREG GRANDIN: Well, there’s debate about who ordered his killing. Who was there was Felix Rodriguez, a CIA agent. In many ways, if Che embodied the hopes and aspirations of the revolutionary left of Latin America, Felix Rodriguez embodied -- he was the anti-Che in many ways. He embodied the hopes of the counterrevolutionary Latin Americans a half-century. He was a Cuban from a wealthy Cuban family, who fled the Revolution, went to Miami, participated in an invasion of Cuba prior to the Bay of Pigs and was picked up by the CIA, and he did advance work for the Bay of Pigs invasion, and he managed to -- he got the nickname “Lazarus,” because he managed to survive the Bay of Pigs somehow and get out of Cuba.

He went on to participate in almost every counter-insurgent scandal that we know of. He was deeply involved in Iran-Contra, and the drugs for -- running drugs into the US to fund the Contras. He was involved in the Phoenix program in Vietnam, which was basically a CIA-run death squad operation. And he was put in charge in 1967 of hunting Che in Bolivia.

And there's some debate. Che entered Bolivia in late 1966, and after having -- meeting some success with a small band of guerrillas, they began to run into problems, and they became increasingly isolated in the highlands of Bolivia. And Felix Rodriguez was working closely with Bolivian military and security personnel, and they captured him in October, October 8, 1967, and executed him on October 9th.

Rodriguez claims that he wanted Che alive, and there's some debate about this, and it's perfectly feasible that the US did want to interrogate Che. But what's interesting and ironic about the execution of Che is that Rodriguez claims that even though he had orders from the US to keep Che alive, that the Bolivian government and the Bolivian military on the ground had direct orders from the Bolivian high command that they had to execute him. And Rodriguez claims that since they were on foreign territory, they had to honor Bolivian sovereignty. Now, this must have been one of the -- one time in US history where they actually honored Latin American sovereignty, in the case of executing somebody who’s fighting for Latin American sovereignty.

AMY GOODMAN: He went on to be close to President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Donald Gregg, when he was vice president -- pictures of him at the White House --


AMY GOODMAN: -- together with him, is now doing interviews in Miami, proudly talking about taking down Che and the final picture when Che thought he was going to live, but Felix Rodriguez, they took the picture and then said, “Now you will die.”

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, and he did go on to be close with Bush, and this was the involvement in Iran-Contra. Bush, obviously, was the head of the CIA, and that’s when he had developed close contacts with Bush and Gregg, Iran-Contra. He was involved in, along with Luis Posada, another Cuban terrorist, they were in charge of running military supplies to the Contras illegally. The Cuban Revolution produced -- radicalized both sides in many ways and produced generations of revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to break, then come back tot his discussion. Our guest is Professor Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at NYU, his book, Empire’s Workshop. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Greg Grandin, our guest, author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. Che Guevara, his legacy and what it means for all of Latin America right now.

GREG GRANDIN: Well, as your report suggested, there’s celebrations and commemorations all over Latin America, indeed, all over the world. And Che Guevara has become an icon of the Latin American left. In many ways, he's much more celebrated and honored today than he was while he was alive. While he was alive, the Cuban Revolution symbolized something of a break between the old Communist-based Latin American left, with its emphasis on reform and compromise, and the new revolutionary armed left. And there were many divisions and controversies and fights and sectarian fights while he was alive, but now he's become a universal symbol of the Latin American left.

And if you look at his legacy, his legacy has produced the Latin American left, which is profoundly democratic, profoundly humanist. You look at the -- going back to Felix Rodriguez, you look at the legacy of Rodriguez, and the legacy of counterinsurgency in Latin America leads straight to the torture rooms of Abu Ghraib. So you just compare those two, and you have a sense of what Che's legacy is in Latin America.

Che is a symbol. And, again, he's become more of a universal symbol of certain different kinds of values than what he represented while he was alive. Those values are anti-imperialism, standing up to the United States, defense of Latin American sovereignty, a certain kind of revolutionary purity, a search for values that aren't rooted in the marketplace and aren't quite as commodified as the neoliberal world that has been imposed on Latin America in the last twenty years. So this is why I think Che has become such an enduring icon of Latin American democrats.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I have questions about the iconic stature to the degree that -- I mean, it's very much like Malcolm. Suddenly everyone was wearing Malcolm t-shirts after the Spike Lee movie. But to what degree the young people who see him as an icon really understand the struggles, the real struggles that he represented, rather than just sort of the fashionable rebellion.

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah. The New York Times today had an article about even in Cuba his image is being commodified to some degree on key chains and t-shirts and raising revenue for the state. But, again, I think they may not understand the specifics of the struggle or the specifics of the strategy and different currents within Marxism that he represented, but I think that beyond just a commodified image of revolutionary chic, particularly in Latin America, he does represent a certain kind of non-commodified value, of standing up to the US.

And, you know, I was in Guatemala when the war ended in 1996, officially, and all of a sudden his image was everywhere in Guatemala. This is a country, probably one of the most repressed countries, arguably still is, in Latin America. And here Che was, who was no fan of free speech in Cuba, becomes an icon of exactly that in Guatemala.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The other concern is also -- that I have is in terms of how that legacy is analyzed. I think President Morales said something very interesting in the interview we had with him. When he had a meeting with Fidel Castro a few years before he was elected president, and Fidel told -- he says Fidel told him, “Don't do what I did. Do what Chavez did.” In essence, don’t -- see how you can mobilize the people to achieve constitutional change and transform the society through democratic methods.

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah. And I think that's a great example of how adaptable and evolutionary the legacy is in the Latin American left. I mean, Che is held up by those always on the hunt for any kind of residual sympathy of the militant new left as the person, or the Cuban Revolution as the event, which inflamed the continent. But that inflammation actually started with the Guatemalan overthrow of -- with the CIA overthrow of Guatemalan democracy. That's what inflamed the continent.

And there’s many reasons why the Latin American left embraced armed revolution in the 1960s. But the fact that it's managed to evolve into the kind of democratic -- again, it's one of the few bright spots in not just Latin America, but in geopolitical landscape, a landscape racked by wars and fundamentalism. The Latin American left is one of the -- and the fact that they've adopted a talisman of insurrection, it shows just how adaptable that icon has become.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's talk about where Latin America is today. At the break, we played Victor Jara, the song “Zamba del Che.” Victor Hara, killed right after September 11, 1973, when Pinochet rose to power. Now, Michelle Bachelet was in New York, the Chilean president, who herself was tortured with her mother, her father killed under Pinochet. He died of a heart attack. He was a general. Where is Latin America, based on what it's come out of? ’67, he dies. ’73, Pinochet rises to power. You’ve got the brutality in El Salvador and Guatemala through the ’70s.

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, well, Latin America right now is -- and then, beyond the brutality of Reagan’s Central American crusade in the 1980s, 1990s, you see the imposition of neoliberalism, free-market radicalism, on Latin America, which produced staggering levels of inequality and economic stagnation. And what you're seeing is an attempt to break free of that.

There’s a lot of divisions among the Latin American left, between the reformists, the moderate reformists like Bachelet, or somebody like Chavez, more willing to mobilize the populist base in order to confront capital. But I think they all share a common agenda, and that is breaking free, at least to the degree possible, of US influence, through diversifying markets, deepening integration among Latin American nations, looking for other sources of credit and capital.

All of this is a far cry from Che and Fidel urging the youth of the world to throw off the shackles of imperialism, but I think you can trace a connection between what Che was trying to do and what this new generation of reformers are doing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: They also share a common sense that the government and the state have a responsibility to affect the social life of the populations.

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, and that's the most profound, I think, rejection of neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus. In many ways, neoliberalism is not dead in Latin America. There’s still -- you can make the case that it's as strong as ever. But there is a return -- a kind of attempt to re-broaden the definition of “democracy” to mean not just a narrow version of political liberties and freedoms, but include some kind of social component. In some ways, that goes back to Che's youth, Che coming out of growing up in the 1940s, ’30s and ’40s. The definition of “democracy” was much broader in Latin America than it is now. It included not just individual liberties and political freedoms, but some form of social equality and wealth redistribution. And in some ways that’s -- and the Washington Consensus -- and the terror of the Cold War followed by the Washington Consensus was an attempt to redefine the notion of democracy and narrow it down, make it much more restrictive, a kind of free market version of democracy. And what you're seeing now is an attempt, a fight, to broaden that definition of democracy to include social rights, some form of wealth redistribution. And that's what I think is shared even among the most reformist, and even, frankly, even some of the more conservative Latin American leaders share that vision.

AMY GOODMAN: Back to this day forty years ago in Bolivia, Che Guevara is killed. His reported last words, “I know you've come to kill me. Shoot. You are only going to kill a man.” It took some thirty more years or more to even find his bones and then have his corpse returned to Cuba. Talk about the significance of that. Jon Lee Anderson, the author who wrote about Che, interviewing the general who just, in an offhand way, happened to say, “Oh, yes, we buried him under the airport here.”

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah. And in many ways, the current -- Che never -- the celebration and honor of Che never went away, but in some ways this current revival really did start with that repatriation of his remains back to Cuba, and that also corresponded with the resurrection and reemergence of a Latin American left. Those two things marked each other. In some ways, one inaugurated the other. So it's interesting.

You know, but there’s another legacy that was reported on in the Latin American press -- I don’t know, it that didn't get much attention here -- is that the person who actually did the -- who killed Che, who actually pulled the trigger, he's a Bolivian, and he's still alive, and he just recently received a cataract operation in a clinic that was built by Cuban doctors, that was staffed by Cuban doctors. So that, I think, is -- that captures the legacy of Che right there rather nicely.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it there. I want to thank you very much, Greg Grandin, for joining us. His book is called Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Clarence Thomas- The Anti-Black

I was young in my political years when the drama erupted over Clarence Thomas. Back then I was scrambling to figure out what was meant by terms like "high tech lynching" and why anyone would so wantonly abuse a coca cola can. Years later I would see Thomas depicted on the cover of the now defunct Emerge magazine, in one instance wearing an Aunt Jemima "hanker-chief" on his head, and on another refashioned as a modern-day Lawn Jockey. Clarence Thomas was and remains what one writer called "the most despised black man in black America." After years of watching Thomas in action as a Supreme Court Justice, I am no longer remotely confused by the resentment he garners in the black community.

Not only does Thomas seem to find a contrarian view to everything that hints at black progressive thought, but his voting record shows him to be antithetical to *any* form of progressive politics. Sadly, the days of Emerge are gone now (the sham-mockery that destroyed one of the best political black magazines is for another blog), but there are enough independent e-zines that have risen to the challenge in the virtual world. Probably one of the most outspoken is the Black Agenda Report, edited by Glen Ford. Described as the "Journal of African-American Political Thought and Action," the Black Agenda--and Glen Ford in particular--pulls no punches in their analysis. The following is a partial repost of Ford's review of Clarence Thomas' recently released autobiography/political polemic, My Grandfather's Son. Click the link provided to access BAR and the full article.

Clarence Thomas, the 'Anti-Black'

October 10, 2007

By BAR Executive Editor Glen Ford

The most blatant and unashamed African American-hater on the U.S. Supreme Court - and probably on the national scene - is Clarence Thomas, a psychologically damaged ally of the worst sections of the white ruling class. Thomas is often described as a "complicated" personality, but that's just a euphemism for a crazy self-loathing that he projects on the rest of Black America. Dirt-poor Pin Point, Georgia, the peers of his youth who called him "America's Blackest Child," and an overbearing grandfather who wanted more than young Clarence was willing to give, made Thomas useful to no one but Black people's most implacable foes, for whom he has become a deranged pit bull. Viewers of 60 Minutes were permitted to learn none of that, as CBS circled its protective wagons around the Most Despised Black Man in Black America.

Clarence Thomas is a deeply troubled man - a grotesquely twisted, "Down Home"-grown Black personality at war with the demons of his dark-skinned, dirt poor youth. Although Thomas has accumulated many "enemies" - earned and imagined - since his entrance to the white world in the 10th grade in Savannah, Georgia, his core pathology is Black-directed - a trait so obvious it was immediately perceived by a succession of white Republican racists who rocketed him to the U.S. Supreme Court with obscene haste to become a hit-man against his own people.

Thomas is a perverse right-wing joke played on Blacks and, being of above average intelligence despite his mental illness, he knows it. But it is a knowledge he cannot endure, a burden that has made him a pathological liar, who blurts out contradictions so antithetical to each other that they cannot possibly coexist in the same brain without a constant roiling and crashing that puts him at flight from himself and all those who remind him of his now hopelessly entangled torments and tormentors.

If African Americans had our own insane asylum, Thomas would be welcomed in and cared for, with proper compassion for the sorely afflicted. But there are no such facilities available to treat a man who forgives whites for Jim Crow and every other aspect of past and present discrimination - indeed, embraces the most racist among them - but can never forgive Blacks for the way they treated him in Savannah, Georgia and the outlying shanty town of Pin Point.

for full article:

Clarence Thomas- The Anti-Black


Friday, October 5, 2007

Hooked on War

Hooked on War: Thomas Friedman's Deadly Addiction by Norman Solomon is a thought-provoking piece that examines the so-called "liberal" Friedman's penchant for war-mongering. I thought it was worth reposting on the blog. I fear Thomas Friedman's addiction may be America's addiction--hooked on an idea of nationalistic exceptionalism melded with a reverence of militarism. This is a country where figures who *serve* the people, like say General Petraeus, are elevated to a form of worship far *above* the people and thus immune from criticism. This is a country that bemoans the violence in its streets and society, and yet cannot connect it to its state-sanctioned violence on a massive scale, that parades and takes prideful joy in its technological capacity to harm, maim and kill.

This is a country that still stockpiles thousands of nuclear warheads, and continues to manufacture them--weapons that could end all human life on the planet--yet claims to stand for peace. This is a country where presidential candidates try to outdo one another on how many billions more they will pour into the Pentagon and Eisenhower's aptly named "military industrial complex," while millions are mired in poverty at home, and billions more are condemned to an even worse fate abroad. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the US was a country with "guided missiles" but run by "misguided men." Indeed a country this in love with the art of war--which is fed by a xenophobic outlook of the world--is lacking in some fundamental moral trait.

Hooked on War: Thomas Friedman's Deadly Addiction

By Norman Solomon, CounterPunch
Posted on September 7, 2007

Reading his "Letter From Baghdad" column in the New York Times this week, you'd never know that Thomas Friedman has a history of enthusiasm for war. Now he laments that Iraq is bad for the United States -- "everyone loves seeing us tied down here" -- stuck in the "madness that is Iraq." And he concludes that the good Americans who have been sent to Iraq will not be deserved by Iraqis "if they continue to hate each other more than they love their own kids."

The column, under a Baghdad dateline, is boilerplate Friedman: sprinkled with I-am-here anecdotes and breezy geopolitical nostrums. For years now, the man widely touted as America's most influential journalist has indicated that his patience with the war in Iraq might soon run out. But, like the media establishment he embodies, Friedman can't bring himself to renounce a war that he helped to launch and then blessed as the incarnation of virtue.

On the last day of November 2003 -- eight months after the invasion -- Friedman gushed that "this war is the most important liberal, revolutionary U.S. democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan." He lauded the Iraq war as "one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad."

But the assumptions built into a Friedman column are murky outside the context of his worldview. "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," Friedman wrote approvingly in one of his explaining-the-world bestsellers. "McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

Those words appeared in Friedman's book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, but the passage first surfaced (with a few tweaks of syntax) in the New York Times Magazine on March 28, 1999, near the end of a long piece adapted from the book. Filling almost the entire cover of the magazine was a red-white-and-blue fist, with the caption "What The World Needs Now" and a smaller-type explanation: "For globalism to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is."

The clenched graphic could be seen as the "hidden fist" that "the hidden hand of the market will never work without." While the cover story's patriotic fist was intended as a symbol of the globe's need for multifaceted American power, the military facet had been unleashed just as the magazine went to press. By the time the star-spangled cover reached Sunday breakfast tables, NATO air attacks on Yugoslavia were underway; the U.S.-led bombing campaign would last for 78 straight days.

Writing columns and appearing on broadcast networks to assess the war, Tom Friedman was close to gleeful. (The man was widely viewed as a liberal, whatever that meant, and "the liberal media" provided Friedman with many platforms that often seemed to double as pedestals.) Interviewers at ABC, PBS and NPR ranged from deferential to fawning as they solicited his wisdom on the latest from Yugoslavia.

Even when he lamented the political constraints on the military options of the 19-member NATO alliance, Friedman was upbeat. "While there are many obvious downsides to war-from-15,000-feet," he wrote after bombs had been falling for more than four weeks, "it does have one great strength -- its sustainability. NATO can carry on this sort of air war for a long, long time. The Serbs need to remember that."

So, Friedman explained, "if NATO's only strength is that it can bomb forever, then it has to get every ounce out of that. Let's at least have a real air war. The idea that people are still holding rock concerts in Belgrade, or going out for Sunday merry-go-round rides, while their fellow Serbs are 'cleansing' Kosovo, is outrageous. It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted."

He added: "Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too...."

The convenience marbled through such punditry is so routine that eyebrows rarely go up. The chirpy line "Let's at least have a real air war," for instance, addressed American readers for whom, with rare exceptions, the "real air war" would be no more real than a media spectacle, with all the consequences falling on others very far away. As for rock concerts and merry-go-rounds, we could recall -- if memory were to venture into unauthorized zones -- that any number of such amusements went full throttle in the United States during the Vietnam War, and also for that matter during all subsequent U.S. wars including the one that Friedman was currently engaged in cheering on.

If the idea of civilians trying to continue with normal daily life while their government committed lethal crimes was "outrageous" enough to justify inflicting "a merciless air war" -- as Friedman urged later in the same column -- would someone have been justified in bombing the United States during its slaughter of countless innocents in Southeast Asia? Or during its active support for dictators and death squads in Latin America? For that matter, Friedman could hardly be unaware that for several weeks already American firepower had been maiming and killing Serb civilians, children included, with weaponry including cluster bombs. Today, Iraqi civilians keep dying from the U.S. war effort and other violence catalyzed by the occupation; meanwhile, of course, not a single concert or merry-go-round has stopped in the USA.

When righteousness moved Friedman to call for "lights out in Belgrade," he was urging a war crime. The urban power grids and water pipes he yearned to see destroyed were essential to infants, the elderly, the frail and infirm inside places like hospitals and nursing homes. Targeting such grids and pipes would seem like barbarism to Americans if the missiles were incoming. Any ambiguity of the matter would probably be dispelled by a vow to keep bombing the country until it was set back 50 years or, if necessary, six centuries. But Friedman's enthusiasm was similar to that of many other prominent American commentators who also greeted the bombing of Yugoslavia with something close to exhilaration.

The final paragraph of Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times on April 23, 1999, began with a punchy sentence: "Give war a chance." It was a witticism that seemed to delight Friedman. He repeated it, in print and on national television, as the bombing of Yugoslavia continued. A tone of sadism could be discerned.

This article is adapted from Norman Solomon's new book Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State, which just came off the press. For more information, visit:

© 2007 Independent Media Institute.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Billions Over Baghdad

Sometimes a picture speaks for itself, so I won't give much of a foreword here. Just keep two things in mind: (1) Most of this money belonged to the Iraqis- so add reckless theft to our list of gross crimes committed upon that country's populace- and (2) YOUR money is being sucked into this mindless hole of incompetence, colonialism and death- in the tens of $thousands- every second. In case you need a reminder, the countdown clock labeled Cost of the Iraq War is to your right. I guess we're "Spending it over there, so we don't have to spend it here."

Disgusted yet?

Reposted here from Vanity Fair.

Billions over Baghdad

Between April 2003 and June 2004, $12 billion in U.S. currency—much of it belonging to the Iraqi people—was shipped from the Federal Reserve to Baghdad, where it was dispensed by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Some of the cash went to pay for projects and keep ministries afloat, but, incredibly, at least $9 billion has gone missing, unaccounted for, in a frenzy of mismanagement and greed. Following a trail that leads from a safe in one of Saddam's palaces to a house near San Diego, to a P.O. box in the Bahamas, the authors discover just how little anyone cared about how the money was handled.

by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele October 2007

Hidden in plain sight, 10 miles west of Manhattan, amid a suburban community of middle-class homes and small businesses, stands a fortress-like building shielded by big trees and lush plantings behind an iron fence. The steel-gray structure, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is all but invisible to the thousands of commuters who whiz by every day on Route 17. Even if they noticed it, they would scarcely guess that it is the largest repository of American currency in the world.

Officially, 100 Orchard Street is referred to by the acronym eroc, for the East Rutherford Operations Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The brains of the New York Fed may lie in Manhattan, but xeroc is the beating heart of its operations—a secretive, heavily guarded compound where the bank processes checks, makes wire transfers, and receives and ships out its most precious commodity: new and used paper money.

On Tuesday, June 22, 2004, a tractor-trailer truck turned off Route 17 onto Orchard Street, stopped at a guard station for clearance, and then entered the eroc compound. What happened next would have been the stuff of routine—procedures followed countless times. Inside an immense three-story cavern known as the currency vault, the truck's next cargo was made ready for shipment. With storage space to rival a Wal-Mart's, the currency vault can reportedly hold upwards of $60 billion in cash. Human beings don't perform many functions inside the vault, and few are allowed in; a robotic system, immune to human temptation, handles everything. On that Tuesday in June the machines were especially busy. Though accustomed to receiving and shipping large quantities of cash, the vault had never before processed a single order of this magnitude: $2.4 billion in $100 bills.

Under the watchful eye of bank employees in a glass-enclosed control room, and under the even steadier gaze of a video surveillance system, pallets of shrink-wrapped bills were lifted out of currency bays by unmanned "storage and retrieval vehicles" and loaded onto conveyors that transported the 24 million bills, sorted into "bricks," to the waiting trailer. No human being would have touched this cargo, which is how the Fed wants it: the bank aims to "minimize the handling of currency by eroc employees and create an audit trail of all currency movement from initial receipt through final disposition."

Forty pallets of cash, weighing 30 tons, were loaded that day. The tractor-trailer turned back onto Route 17 and after three miles merged onto a southbound lane of the New Jersey Turnpike, looking like any other big rig on a busy highway. Hours later the truck arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C. There the seals on the truck were broken, and the cash was off-loaded and counted by Treasury Department personnel. The money was transferred to a C-130 transport plane. The next day, it arrived in Baghdad.

That transfer of cash to Iraq was the largest one-day shipment of currency in the history of the New York Fed. It was not, however, the first such shipment of cash to Iraq. Beginning soon after the invasion and continuing for more than a year, $12 billion in U.S. currency was airlifted to Baghdad, ostensibly as a stopgap measure to help run the Iraqi government and pay for basic services until a new Iraqi currency could be put into people's hands. In effect, the entire nation of Iraq needed walking-around money, and Washington mobilized to provide it.

What Washington did not do was mobilize to keep track of it. By all accounts, the New York Fed and the Treasury Department exercised strict surveillance and control over all of this money while it was on American soil. But after the money was delivered to Iraq, oversight and control evaporated. Of the $12 billion in U.S. banknotes delivered to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, at least $9 billion cannot be accounted for. A portion of that money may have been spent wisely and honestly; much of it probably wasn't. Some of it was stolen.

Once the money arrived in Iraq it entered a free-for-all environment where virtually anyone with fingers could take some of it. Moreover, the company that was hired to keep tabs on the outflow of money existed mainly on paper. Based in a private home in San Diego, it was a shell corporation with no certified public accountants. Its address of record is a post-office box in the Bahamas, where it is legally incorporated. That post-office box has been associated with shadowy offshore activities.

Coalition of the Billing
The first shipment of cash to Iraq took place on April 11, 2003—it consisted of $20 million in $1, $5, and $10 bills. It was arranged in small bills on the theory that these could quickly be circulated into the Iraqi economy "to prevent a monetary and financial collapse," as one former Treasury official put it. Those were the days when American officials worried that the gravest threat facing Iraq might be low-grade civilian unrest in Baghdad. They didn't have a clue as to the power of the insurgency that was to come. The initial $20 million came exclusively from Iraqi assets that had been frozen in U.S. banks as long ago as the Gulf War, in 1990. Subsequent airlifts of cash also included billions from Iraqi oil revenues controlled by the United Nations. After the creation of the Development Fund for Iraq (D.F.I.)—a kind of holding pit of money to be spent for "purposes benefitting the people of Iraq"—the U.N. turned over control of Iraq's oil billions to the United States.

When the U.S. military delivered the cash to Baghdad, the money passed into the hands of an entirely new set of players—the staff of the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority. To many Americans, the initials C.P.A. would soon be as familiar as those of long-established government agencies such as D.O.D. or hud. But the C.P.A. was anything but a conventional agency. And, as events would show, its initials would have nothing in common with "certified public accountant." The C.P.A. had been hastily created to serve as the interim government of Iraq, but its legality and paternity were murky from the start. The Authority was in effect established by edict outside the traditional framework of American government. Not subject to the usual restrictions and oversight of most agencies, the C.P.A. during the 14 months of its existence would become a sump for American and Iraqi money as it disappeared into the hands of Iraqi ministries and American contractors. The Coalition of the Willing, as one commentator observed, had turned into the Coalition of the Billing.

The first mention of the C.P.A. came on April 16, 2003, in a so-called freedom message to the Iraqi people by General Tommy R. Franks, commander of the coalition forces. A week after mobs ransacked Iraq's National Museum of its treasures, unchallenged by American troops, General Franks arrived in Baghdad for a six-hour whirlwind tour. He met with his commanders in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, held a video conference with President Bush, and then quickly flew off. "Our stay in Iraq will be temporary," General Franks wrote, "no longer than it takes to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and to establish stability and help Iraqis form a functioning government that respects the rule of law." With that in mind, General Franks wrote that he created the Coalition Provisional Authority "to exercise powers of government temporarily, and as necessary, especially to provide security, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and to eliminate weapons of mass destruction." Three weeks later, on May 8, 2003, the U.S. and British ambassadors to the United Nations sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council, effectively delivering the C.P.A. to the United Nations as a fait accompli.

The day before, President Bush had appointed L. Paul Bremer III, a retired diplomat, as presidential envoy to Iraq and the president's "personal representative," with the understanding that he would become the C.P.A. administrator. Bremer had held State Department posts in Afghanistan, Norway, and the Netherlands; had served as an assistant to Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig; and had closed out his diplomatic career in 1989 as ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism. More recently, he had been the chairman and chief executive officer of a crisis-management business called Marsh Crisis Consulting. Despite his State Department background, Bremer had been selected by the Pentagon, which had elbowed aside all contenders for authority in post-invasion Iraq. The C.P.A. itself was a creature of the Pentagon, and it would be Pentagon personnel who did the C.P.A.'s hiring.

Over the next year, a compliant Congress gave $1.6 billion to Bremer to administer the C.P.A. This was over and above the $12 billion in cash that the C.P.A. had been given to disburse from Iraqi oil revenues and unfrozen Iraqi funds. Few in Congress actually had any idea about the true nature of the C.P.A. as an institution. Lawmakers had never discussed the establishment of the C.P.A., much less authorized it—odd, given that the agency would be receiving taxpayer dollars. Confused members of Congress believed that the C.P.A. was a U.S. government agency, which it was not, or that at the very least it had been authorized by the United Nations, which it had not. One congressional funding measure makes reference to the C.P.A. as "an entity of the United States Government"—highly inaccurate. The same congressional measure states that the C.P.A. was "established pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolutions"—just as inaccurate. The bizarre truth, as a U.S. District Court judge would point out in an opinion, is that "no formal document … plainly establishes the C.P.A. or provides for its formation."

Accountable really to no one, its finances "off the books" for U.S. government purposes, the C.P.A. provided an unprecedented opportunity for fraud, waste, and corruption involving American government officials, American contractors, renegade Iraqis, and many others. In its short life more than $23 billion would pass through its hands. And that didn't include potentially billions more in oil shipments the C.P.A. neglected to meter. At stake was an ocean of cash that would evaporate whenever the C.P.A. did. All parties understood that there was a sell-by date, and that it was everyone for himself. An Iraqi hospital administrator told The Guardian of England that, when he arrived to sign a contract, the army officer representing the C.P.A. had crossed out the original price and doubled it. "The American officer explained that the increase (more than $1 million) was his retirement package." Alan Grayson, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for whistle-blowers who have worked for American contractors in Iraq, says simply that during that first year under the C.P.A. the country was turned into "a free-fraud zone."

Bremer has expressed general satisfaction with the C.P.A.'s work while at the same time acknowledging that mistakes were made. "I believe the C.P.A. discharged its responsibilities to manage these Iraqi funds on behalf of the Iraqi people," he told a congressional committee. "With the benefit of hindsight, I would have made some decisions differently. But on the whole, I think we made great progress under some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, including putting Iraq on the path to democracy."

The Bottomless Vault
To be fair, the C.P.A. really did need money desperately, and it really did need to start spreading it among the traumatized Iraqi population. It also needed to jump-start Iraq's basic services. As the C.P.A. demanded ever greater amounts of cash, the pallets of $1, $5, and $10 bills were soon replaced by bundles of $100 bills. During the C.P.A.'s little more than a year of life, the New York Federal Reserve Bank made 21 shipments of currency to Iraq totaling $11,981,531,000. All told, the Fed would ship 281 million individual banknotes, in bricks weighing a total of 363 tons.

After arriving in Baghdad, some of the cash was shipped to outlying regions, but most of it stayed in the capital, where it was delivered to Iraqi banks, to installations such as Camp Victory, the mammoth U.S. Army facility adjacent to the Baghdad airport, and to Saddam's former presidential palace, in the Green Zone, which had become the home of Bremer's C.P.A. and the makeshift Iraqi government. At the palace the cash disappeared into a vault in the basement. Few people ever saw the vault, but the word was that during one short period it held as much as $3 billion. Whatever the figure, it was a major repository of the banknotes from America during the brief time the cash was under the care of the C.P.A. The money flowed in and out rapidly. When someone needed cash, a unit called the Program Review Board, composed of senior C.P.A. officials, reviewed the request and decided whether to recommend a disbursement. A military officer would then present that authorization to personnel at the vault.

Even those who picked up large sums usually did not actually see the vault. Once a disbursement had been made, the cash was brought to an adjoining room for pickup. This "secure room," as one military officer called it, looked a lot like a vault itself: a thick metal door at the entrance, with the room beyond starkly furnished with only a table and chairs. The table would be piled high with cash. An authorized officer would sign papers for the money, then begin carting it upstairs—sometimes in sacks or metal boxes—to the Iraqi ministry or C.P.A. office that had requested it. Upon turning over the cash, the officer would be required to obtain a receipt—nothing more.

C.P.A. officials tried to keep a rough running tab on the amount disbursed to individual Iraqi agencies such as the Ministry of Finance ($7.7 billion). But there was little detail, nothing specific, on how the money was actually used. The system basically operated on "trust and faith," as one former C.P.A. official put it. Once the cash passed into the hands of the Iraqis or any other party, no one knew where it went. The C.P.A. turned over $1.5 billion in cash to Iraqi banks, for instance, but later auditors could account for less than $500 million. The United Nations retained a team of auditors to look over American shoulders. They didn't see much, because they were largely cut off from access while the C.P.A. held power. As a report by the U.N.'s accounting consultant, KPMG, noted dryly, "We encountered difficulties in performing our duties and meeting with key C.P.A. personnel."

"There was corruption everywhere," said one former military officer who worked with the C.P.A. in Baghdad in the months after the invasion. Some of the Iraqis who were put in charge of ministries after Saddam's fall had never run a government agency before. Their inexperience aside, he said, they lived in constant fear of losing their jobs or their lives. All many cared about, he added, was taking care of themselves. "You could see that a lot of them were trying their best to get a quick retirement fund before they were ousted or killed," he added. "You just get what you can while you're in that position of power. Instead of trying to build the nation, you build yourself."

Did any withdrawals from the vault pay for secret activities by government personnel? It is an obvious possibility. Much of the cash was clearly destined for American contractors or Iraqi subcontractors. Sometimes the Iraqis came to the palace to collect their cash; other times, when they were reluctant to show up at the American compound, U.S. military personnel had to deliver it themselves. One of the riskier jobs for some U.S. military men was to fill up a car with bags of cash and drive the money to contractors in Baghdad neighborhoods, handing it over like a postal worker delivering mail.

‘Fraud" was simply another word for "business as usual." Of 8,206 "guards" drawing paychecks courtesy of the C.P.A., only 602 warm bodies could in fact be found; the other 7,604 were ghost employees. Halliburton, the government contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, charged the C.P.A. for 42,000 daily meals for soldiers while in fact serving only 14,000 of them. Cash was handed out from the backs of pickup trucks. On one occasion a C.P.A. official received $6.75 million in cash with the expectation he would shell it out in one week. Another time, the C.P.A. decided to spend $500 million on "security." No specifics, just a half-billion dollars for security, with this cryptic explanation: "Composition TBD"—that is, "to be determined."

The pervasiveness of this Why-should-I-care? attitude was driven home in an exchange with retired admiral David Oliver, the C.P.A.'s director of management and budget. Oliver was asked by a BBC reporter what had happened to all the cash airlifted to Baghdad:

Oliver: "I have no idea—I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't—nor do I actually think it's important."

Q: "Not important?"

Oliver: "No. The coalition—and I think it was between 300 and 600 people, civilians—and you want to bring in 3,000 auditors to make sure money's being spent?"

Q: "Yes, but the fact is that billions of dollars have disappeared without a trace."

Oliver: "Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah, I understand. I'm saying what difference does it make?"

The difference it made was that some American contractors correctly believed they could walk off with as much money as they could carry. The circumstances that surround the handling of comparatively small sums help explain the billions that ultimately vanished. In the south-central region of Iraq a contracting officer stored $2 million in a safe in his bathroom. One agent kept $678,000 in an unsecured footlocker. Another agent turned over some $23 million to his team of "paying agents" to deliver to contractors, but documentation could be found for only $6.3 million of it. One project officer received $350,000 to fund human-rights projects, but in the end could account for less than $200,000 of it. Two C.P.A. agents left Iraq without accounting for two payments of $715,000 and $777,000. The money has never been found.

To Frank Willis, a senior adviser to the Iraqi transportation ministry, the presence of so much cash circulating so freely gave the Green Zone a "Wild West" feel. A moderate Republican who worked for Reagan and voted for George W. Bush, Willis spent many years in executive roles in the State Department and the Department of Transportation before leaving government service in 1985. He was a top executive of a health institute in Oklahoma when, in 2003, an old friend from Washington called and asked if he would come to Iraq to help the C.P.A. get the various transportation systems running again.

"You've got to be crazy," Willis told him at first. He says he was talked into going for 30 days, but once in Baghdad became caught up in the work and stayed for six grueling months. Willis says he wasn't there a month before he felt the way things were being done was "terribly wrong." One afternoon he returned to his office to find piles and piles of shrink-wrapped $100 bills stacked on a table. "This just got wheelbarrowed in," one of his American colleagues explained. "What do you think of two million bucks?" The money had been "checked out" of Saddam's old vault in the basement, two floors below, in order to pay a U.S. contractor hired by the C.P.A. to provide security.

The neat bundles of cash looked almost like play money, and the temptation to handle them was irresistible. "We were all in the room passing those things around and having fun," Willis remembers. He and his colleagues played a game of football, tossing the bricks back and forth. "You could spin them but not throw a spiral," Willis says with a laugh. When he called the American contractor to come get his money, Willis advised him, "You better bring a gunnysack."

"Integrity Is a Core Principle"
The American contractor needing the gunnysack was a company called Custer Battles. The name was derived not from Little Big Horn but from the names of the company's owners, Scott K. Custer and Michael J. Battles. Both were former army rangers in their mid-30s, and Battles also had once been a C.I.A. operative. The pair showed up on the streets of Baghdad with the blessing of the White House at invasion's end, looking for a way to do business. At the time, the only American civilians who could gain access to the city were those approved by President Bush's staff.

The Battles half of the team brought the White House access, secured when Michael Battles became the G.O.P.-backed candidate in the 2002 Rhode Island congressional primary for the privilege of losing to the Democratic incumbent, Patrick Kennedy. Battles not only lost the primary but was fined by the Federal Election Commission for misrepresenting campaign contributions. Nevertheless, he forged important political connections. His contributors included Haley Barbour, the longtime Washington power broker and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, who is now governor of Mississippi, and Frederic V. Malek, a former special assistant to President Nixon, who survived the Watergate scandal and went on to become an insider in the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations.

The C.P.A. awarded Custer and Battles one of its first no-bid contracts—$16.5 million to protect civilian aircraft flights, of which at the time there were few, into Baghdad International Airport. The company faced immediate obstacles: Custer and Battles didn't have any money, they didn't have a viable business, and they didn't have any employees. Bremer's C.P.A. had overlooked these shortcomings and forked over $2 million anyway, in cash, to get them started, simply ignoring long-standing requirements that the government certify that a contractor has the capacity to fulfill a contract. That first $2 million cash infusion was followed shortly by a second. Over the next year Custer Battles would secure more than $100 million in Iraq contracts. The company even set up an internal Office of Corporate Integrity. "Integrity is a core principle of Custer Battles' corporate values," Scott Custer stated in a press release.

The U.S. business community was impressed by this upstart. In May 2004, Ernst & Young, the global accounting firm, announced the finalists for its New England Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, honoring an ability "to innovate, develop, and cultivate groundbreaking business models, products, and services." Among the honorees were Scott Custer and Michael Battles.

Four months later, in September 2004, the air force issued an order barring Custer Battles from receiving any new government contracts until 2009. The company had come to epitomize the way business was done in Baghdad. Custer Battles had billed the government $400,000 for electricity that cost $74,000. It had billed $432,000 for a food order that cost $33,000. It had charged the C.P.A. for leased equipment that was stolen, and had submitted forged invoices for reimbursement—all the while moving millions of dollars into offshore bank accounts. In one instance, the company claimed ownership of forklifts used to transport the C.P.A.'s cash (among other things) around the Baghdad airport. But up until the war the forklifts had been the property of Iraqi Airways. They were "liberated," along with the Iraqi people, following hostilities. Custer Battles seized them, painted over the old name, and transferred ownership to its offshore businesses. The forklifts were then leased back to Custer Battles for thousands of dollars a month, a cost that Custer Battles passed along to the C.P.A. In 2006, a federal-court jury in Virginia ordered the company to pay $10 million in damages and penalties for defrauding the government. The jury found more than three dozen instances of fraud in which Custer Battles used shell companies in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere to manufacture phony invoices and pad its bills. During the same period Battles personally withdrew $3 million from the company coffers as a kind of bonus—or, as he put it, "a draw." The jury decision in the whistle-blower lawsuit was subsequently overturned when the trial judge set the verdict aside, pointing out that the C.P.A. was not in fact a U.S.-government entity and hence Custer Battles could not be tried under the federal fraud act. That decision is under appeal.

The NorthStar Contract
How can billions of dollars simply vanish? Wasn't there any accounting mechanism in place to keep track of the money?

La Jolla, California, is about as far away from Iraq in both distance and mind-set as one can get. The house at 5468 Soledad Road is a two-story dwelling with six bedrooms and five and a half baths, a typical California home of beige stucco under a red tiled roof. The neighborhood is lush and well kept. But in one respect 5468 Soledad is not a typical suburban house at all.

On October 25, 2003, the C.P.A. awarded a $1.4 million contract "to provide accountant and audit services" to help "in the management and accounting of the Development Fund for Iraq." In other words, the purpose was to help Bremer and the C.P.A. keep tabs on the billions of dollars under their control, and to help make sure that the money was properly spent. The one-year C.P.A. contract was awarded to a company called NorthStar Consultants.

When a request was made to the U.S. government for a copy of this contract, officials at the Pentagon, which has oversight, dragged their feet for weeks. The document they eventually supplied had been strategically redacted. Nearly all the information about the contractor had been blacked out, including the name and title of the company officer who had executed the contract, the name of the person to call for information about the company, the last four digits of the company's phone number, and the name of the U.S.-government official who had awarded the contract in the first place. But by cross-referencing public records and other sources it was possible to fill in some of the missing data. One path led to 5468 Soledad Road.

The house is owned by Thomas A. and Konsuelo Howell, according to San Diego County records. The couple apparently bought it new in 1999. State records indicate that several companies operate from the house. One of them is called International Financial Consulting, Inc., though it isn't clear what this company actually does. Incorporated in 1998, I.F.C. was described as a venture in "business consulting," according to papers Howell filed with the state. The Howells are listed as the only directors.

Another company operating out of 5468 Soledad is called Kota Industries, Inc., whose stated business is the "sale of furniture, home furnishings, flooring," according to California records. Numerous business directories in the San Diego area ascribe similar activities to Kota, listing it as a remodeling, repairing, or restoration contractor. One directory describes its specialty as "kitchen, bathroom, basement remodeling." Again, the Howells are the only officers and directors.

In January 2004, in the business-names index of San Diego County, Thomas Howell indicated that a third company was now based at 5468 Soledad, noting that it was owned by International Financial Consulting. This new company was NorthStar.

How did someone whose line of work includes home remodeling end up getting the contract to audit the billions being airlifted to Iraq? Thomas Howell is 60; he and his wife have lived in San Diego for at least two decades. Over the years, the couple has also maintained addresses in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Laredo, Texas. Neighbors describe the Howells as pleasant, but can add little else. "I know them, but I don't know what they do," said one. "That's all I can tell you." Two others could say only that they saw the Howells occasionally in the neighborhood. Were they aware that a company with an Iraqi contract had operated from the house? "Really?" said one. "No. I didn't know that."

Thomas Howell refuses to discuss the NorthStar contract in detail. A telephone exchange with him, reached at 5468 Soledad Road, went as follows.

A woman answered, "Kota Industries."

"Could I speak with Mr. Thomas Howell?"

"May I ask who is calling?" the woman asked.

"My name is Jim Steele."

"Wait just a second," the woman said.

A few moments later, a man came on the line. "Tom Howell," he said.

"My name is Jim Steele, and I am a writer with the magazine Vanity Fair. I would like to talk to you about NorthStar Consultants."

Howell said, "Well, let me find a contact who can talk all this stuff with you. What is your phone number, Jim?"

Howell repeated the number and added, "O.K. Let me get somebody who can discuss all this stuff for you."

"I'd just like to make sure here. Aren't you president of the company?"

"That's right," said Howell.

"But you can't … "

"Well, I'm not … I can't … You want to talk about the D.F.I. [Development Fund for Iraq] and that sort of stuff?" asked Howell.

"Well, yeah."

"O.K.," Howell replied, "I'll get someone who's authorized to talk about all that. I'll have them give you a call or I'll call you and give you their number."

"Is this the military or your lawyer?"

"The military," said Howell, abruptly ending the conversation with "O.K. Thanks. Good-bye."

The next attempt was a visit to Howell's home the following day. A stylishly dressed woman emerged from behind a locked fence. "May I help you?" she asked. The woman confirmed that she was Konsuelo Howell, and explained that it would be impossible to speak with her husband. "He is out of the country."

He never did call back with the name of a Pentagon official "authorized" to speak about NorthStar. Nor did anyone from the Pentagon call. When a Pentagon public-affairs officer was queried about who might be able to discuss the contract, the officer said she needed a name, which, as it turned out, only Howell could provide. The Pentagon also failed to respond to a request for the information deleted from the NorthStar contract and the name of the person who had ordered it deleted.

When Howell was contacted again, three months later, he stated that the Department of Defense had told him that "they didn't have anybody anymore specifically tasked with answering these questions." As far as D.O.D. was concerned, Howell added, the issue was "closed." Once again he refused to discuss the NorthStar contract in any detail: "The way I normally work with all my clients is: my work is confidential," he said. "If they want to let it out, that's fine. But I work for them. It's their business." Howell did say that NorthStar was his one and only U.S. government contract. How did he land it? "I saw it published on the Web, that it was out for bids," he said.

As for how much auditing NorthStar really did in Iraq, the missing billions provide the best answer. The company did have personnel in Baghdad, though how many, and for how long, and for what purpose, is not known—another point Howell declines to discuss. Under the terms of C.P.A. Regulation No. 2, signed by Bremer on June 15, 2003, money coming into Iraq was supposed to be tracked by an "independent certified public accounting firm." Howell was not a certified public accountant, nor were any of the people who worked for him. Bremer seems to have been unaware of this detail. When he was asked at a congressional hearing earlier this year about NorthStar, he answered, "I don't know what kind of firm it was, other than it was an accounting firm." Would it upset him, a congressman asked, if he found out there were no accountants on NorthStar's staff? "It would," Bremer answered, "if it were true."

It is true. And rather than reissue the contract to a certified public accountant, someone in the government contract office simply eliminated the requirement, thereby making Howell eligible for the work.

The Baghdad-Bahamas Connection
When an unknown official at the Pentagon meticulously went through the NorthStar contract and used a thick-tipped marker to black out Thomas Howell's name, title, office address, and phone number, he or she neglected to conceal one of the most intriguing aspects of the contract: NorthStar's mailing address. It was P.O. Box N-3813 in Nassau, in the Bahamas.

High on a hill in Nassau, the main post office commands panoramic views of the capital city—the pink stuccoed Parliament building, bustling Bay Street with its hordes of tourists, and, beyond it, the giant cruise ships that dock in Nassau's harbor. Just as you enter the post office, on a sprawling plaza beneath an overhang offering protection from the tropical sun and rain, there stand row after row of metal boxes, each bearing the capital letter N followed by a series of numbers. These are the private post-office boxes of Nassau. Because there is no home delivery in the city, it is the way people in the capital get their mail.

Box N-3813, four inches wide by five inches high, looks like all the other post-office boxes. It harbors many secrets that its users want to keep. No one knows whether anyone at the C.P.A. or the Pentagon questioned why one of its contractors used an offshore post-office box. It is undeniably true, however, that foreigners often use post-office boxes in the Bahamas and other tax havens for three purposes: to conceal assets, to avoid taxes, and to launder money. NorthStar would not be at all unusual among Iraq contractors in setting up its affairs this way. Post-office boxes in tax havens around the world have been flooded with contractor business based in Iraq.

Box N-3813, it turns out, has been the locus for all sorts of transactions by Americans and others looking to move money offshore. In addition to Howell's NorthStar, this particular box also served as the address of record for a man named Patrick Thomson and for his Bahamian business called Lions Gate Management. Both figured prominently in one of the more spectacular offshore frauds in recent years, the collapse of Evergreen Security. The Caribbean-based Evergreen enticed thousands of investors, many of them U.S. retirees, to pour money into its so-called tax-sheltered offshore funds, with the promise of handsome returns. Some of the money came from hundreds of Caribbean trusts for which Thomson acted as trustee. A Ponzi scheme masquerading as a mutual fund, Evergreen siphoned $200 million from investors in the United States and two dozen other countries. One of its ringleaders was William J. Zylka, a New Jersey "con artist who falsified his background, credentials and wealth in order to perpetrate elaborate schemes," according to court documents. He pocketed $27.7 million of Evergreen's money.

Throughout the looting of Evergreen, Thomson was one of the firm's three directors. During that time he also arranged for Howell to establish the same Nassau post-office box as NorthStar's legal home. Identified in Nassau as a member of one of Scotland's oldest publishing families, Thomson has operated out of one or more office buildings in the heart of Nassau for many years. Like most of those in the shadowy world of offshore deals, he has generally kept a low profile, the scandal over Evergreen Security being the one great exception. Thomson incorporated NorthStar for Howell in the Bahamas in January of 1998, as what is known as an "international business company," or I.B.C. Despite their impressive name, I.B.C.'s are little more than paper operations. As a rule, they don't carry on any business; they are empty vessels that can be used for anything. They have no real chief executive officer or board of directors, and they don't publish financial statements. An I.B.C.'s books, if there are any, can be kept anywhere in the world, but no one can inspect them. I.B.C.'s aren't required to file annual reports or disclose the identity of their owners. They're shells, operating in total secrecy. In the last two decades, they have sprouted by the hundreds of thousands in tax havens worldwide.

In a telephone interview, Thomson discussed with great reluctance his role in creating NorthStar for Thomas Howell. How did they meet?

"I believe I was introduced to him through a friend with Citibank," Thomson replied. "I believe Howell used to work for Citibank." He said it was his recollection that Howell initially established NorthStar because of some consulting work he was doing in the Far East, not the Middle East. "This was before the Iraq war started," he noted. "All we did was supply a company name." Thomson said he had had no contact with Howell in years. He had heard that Howell was in Iraq, but declined to discuss the matter further.

Turning Off the Spigot
By the spring of 2004 the clock was winding down for L. Paul Bremer and the C.P.A. Within several months—on June 30—the Authority was scheduled to turn government operations over to the Iraqis, at least formally. There was palpable anxiety among officials and contractors about what would happen under the new Iraqi regime, and they launched an aggressive effort to get as much money into the pipeline as possible. On April 26, another shipment of cash-laden pallets, this one holding $750 million, arrived at Baghdad International Airport. On May 18 the Fed made a $1 billion shipment, which was followed on June 22 by the biggest single shipment ever made by the Fed anywhere—$2.4 billion. Another $1.6 billion arrived three days later, bringing the total of cash shipments to Iraq to $5 billion in the C.P.A.'s final three months.

The C.P.A. sought to make one more huge withdrawal. On Monday, June 28, as Bremer stole away from Baghdad unannounced—two days ahead of the scheduled handover of authority—another C.P.A. official put in hurried pleas to the Federal Reserve Bank for an additional $1 billion infusion, hoping to get the money before an Iraqi provisional government came to power. Internal e-mails from the Federal Reserve Bank show that the requests for money came from Don Davis, an air-force colonel serving as the C.P.A. comptroller and manager of the Development Fund for Iraq. But the Fed would have no part of the plan. Because Bremer had already "transferred authority (which is being reported in the press as 10:26 a.m. in Baghdad)," a Fed official explained, "the C.P.A. no longer had control over Iraq's assets."

In one of his last official acts before leaving Baghdad, Bremer issued an order—prepared by the Pentagon, he says—declaring that all coalition-force members "shall be immune from any form of arrest or detention other than by persons acting on behalf of their Sending States." Contractors also got the same get-out-of-jail-free card. According to Bremer's order, "contractors shall be immune from Iraqi legal process with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Contract or any sub-contract thereto." The Iraqi people, who had had no say over Saddam Hussein's illegal conduct during his dictatorship, would have no say over illegal conduct by Americans in their new democracy.

And the "Sending State" itself is not interested in pursuing misconduct. With the exception of a few low-level individuals, the Bush administration's Justice Department has resolutely avoided the prosecution of corporate fraud stemming from the occupation of Iraq.

"In our fifth year in the war in Iraq," according to Alan Grayson, the attorney for whistle-blowers, "the Bush administration has not litigated a single case against any war profiteer under the False Claims Act." This at a time, Grayson told a congressional committee, when "billions of dollars are missing and many billions more wasted." Grayson knows what he is talking about. He represented the whistle-blowers in the Custer Battles case brought under the False Claims Act—a case in which the Justice Department refused to get involved, and the only one that has gone to trial.

There is no true method of calculating the human cost of the war in Iraq. The monetary cost, grossly inflated by theft and corruption, is another matter. One simple piece of data puts this into perspective: to date, America has spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan—an industrialized country three times Iraq's size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs. Understanding how and why this happened will take many years—if understanding comes at all. There has been no rush to explain even this one small part of the story, that of the missing Iraqi billions. No one in the U.S. government wants to talk about NorthStar Consultants, much less about the money that disappeared. Bradford R. Higgins was the C.P.A.'s chief financial officer, on loan from the State Department, where he is assistant secretary for resource management and chief financial officer. Higgins says it was "a Department of Defense–managed operation"; he says that "I don't know anyone at NorthStar" and that he did not oversee its operations. The C.P.A.'s comptroller and D.F.I. fund manager during the NorthStar days in 2003 was air-force colonel Don Davis. Through the air-force public-affairs office in the Pentagon, Davis declined to comment. L. Paul Bremer III, who wrote a 400-page book on his experiences as the C.P.A.'s administrator, stated in an interview that he had no input in the decision to hire NorthStar. He explained that "all of the contracting was done, by order of the secretary of defense, by the department of the army. They were our contracting arm … I don't think I ever heard of NorthStar until some questions came up after I left." Nor did he have any dealings with NorthStar's Howell, he said. "If I met him, I have no memory of it." Queries sent repeatedly to the army's public-affairs desk in Baghdad and the Pentagon have gone unanswered, as have those to the office of the secretary of defense.

The simple truth about the missing money is the same one that applies to so much else about the American occupation of Iraq. The U.S. government never did care about accounting for those Iraqi billions and it doesn't care now. It cares only about ensuring that an accounting does not occur.