Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

About Elly

May 16, 2015


About Elly is a 2009 Iranian film by Asghar Farhadi, who also directed A Seperation, which won an Academy Award for best foreign language picture.

Three couples go on a three-day trip to a resort on the shore of the Caspian sea along with their children. One of them, Sepideh (Golshifteh Farahani), brings along her daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Elly (Taraneh Alidoosti). She wants to introduce her to her friend, Ahmad (Shahab Hosseini), who has recently divorced from his German wife. Things go well the first day, although Elly sometimes seems a bit uncomfortable. On the second day, she disappears, and people fear that she may have drowned. The characters gradually begin to blame one another for what happened. Much of the blame centers on Sepideh, as it becomes clear that she hasn’t been completely honest about some things.

About Elly is a subtle and complex drama that touches upon many different ideas: the fact that good intentions can have bad results, the fragility of human relationships, how small deceptions can a devastating effect on people. This is the most powerful and troubling film that I have seen in quite a while.

One thing that struck me about this movie is that the men and women interact in a more-or-less equal manner. (The men have subtle advantages over the women, although one could make that argument about our society as well.) Iran is an Islamic theocracy, like Saudi Arabia. Yet, based on what I know about the latter country, I can’t imagine people there behaving in quite this way. (I certainly can’t imagine people in areas controlled by ISIS acting in this way.) This can be seen as evidence that Islam is a more complex religion than many self-styled “experts” on Islam are willing to admit.

It’s clear that the influence of Muslim and Iranian cultural notions about honor, propriety, and the role of women lead to Sepideh’s deceitful behavior, with grievous consequences for Sepideh herself. She is a great tragic figure.

What is the US Doing in Syria?

October 10, 2014


There has been a proliferation of conspiracy theories since ISIS captured Mosul last June. This should not be surprising, considering the way that ISIS just seemed to appear out of nowhere, though what actually happened is that the Western media simply didn’t pay any attention to them up until that point.

One of the most popular conspiracy theories holds that the US deliberately created ISIS to give itself an excuse to send troops back into Iraq. CJ Werleman has put forward a somewhat more plausible theory, which holds that the US and Saudi Arabia have conspired to create a sectarian army that would attack Iran’s allies in Iraq and Syria, and perhaps eventually Iran itself. But if this is the US’s plan, wouldn’t the US now be attacking Assad, who is Iran’s ally?

I’ve have grown wary of conspiracy theories as I’ve gotten older, but I still have to wonder if we’re being told the truth about what is going on. A recent article in The Guardian reports that:

    No coalition strikes have been made to help or relieve rebel forces where they were facing either Isis or government troops. Emile Hokayem of the International Institute of Strategic Studies said Assad has been able “to give his troops a break while surveying the landscape and looking for opportunities.”

We also learn that:

    Coalition hits on grain silos and a gas plant in Manbij and Deir al-Zor drew warnings of a humanitarian disaster – and the risk of playing into Isis’s hands, as shortages during the winter will be blamed on the international community. The Hazm movement – backed by the US and supplied with advanced anti-tank weapons – publicly denounced the intervention but was quickly silenced by Washington, rebel sources say. Attacks on Jabhat al Nusra (another al-Qaida-linked jihadi group and a rival to Isis) have backfired, and are said to have brought it new recruits.

    Civilian deaths caused by coalition attacks clearly risk a backlash. “We had 10 martyrs when they targeted Al-Riqa,” said Zeid Al-Jabli, a student from Zawiya in the Idlib area. “There had been a base for Jabhat al-Nusra but they pulled out a long time ago and the civilians were killed instead. Shelling by the regime has intensified because of the coalition. We have martyrs and wounded every day.”

The Guardian also reports that Kurdish fighters are saying the air strikes are doing no good:

    He [a Kurdish spokesman] said Isis had adapted its tactics to military strikes from the air. “Each time a jet approaches, they leave their open positions, they scatter and hide. What we really need is ground support. We need heavy weapons and ammunition in order to fend them off and defeat them.”

The US is following a strategy that is not only not working, but which is actually counterproductive. One can spin all sorts of conspiracy theories about this, but I suspect the problem is really just that our policymakers have no idea what they are doing.

Obama’s Speech on Syria

September 11, 2013


The speech that President Obama just gave on Syria was a depressing example of the empty rhetoric and hypocritical moral posturing that make up the political discourse in this country. He begins by saying:

    Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement. But I have resisted calls for military action, because we cannot resolve someone else’s civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas. Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons, and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits — a crime against humanity, and a violation of the laws of war.

Images of people killed by conventional bombs are every bit as sickening as the images described here. So what is it that makes chemical warfare a “crime against humanity”? It’s not until the middle of the next paragraph that Obama tries to give an answer to that question:

    Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant…

Conventional weapons can also kill on a mass scale, and they also do not distinguish between soldier and infant. The idea that chemical weapons are more inhumane than other weapons has no basis in fact. If there is anything peculiarly destructive about chemical weapons, it is the fact that some chemicals, such as Agent Orange, can linger in the environment and do long-term damage. (Although I’m guessing that Obama doesn’t consider Agent Orange to be a chemical weapon.)

Obama cites two examples from history of the use of chemical weapons:

    In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.

Obama conveniently neglects to mention that Saddam Hussein used poison gas against the Kurds and Iranians, back when he was still a U.S. ally. The president at that time was Ronald Reagan, a man for whom Obama has expressed great admiration. (I think it worth noting here that during World War I, more people were killed by artillery and machine guns than by deadly gas.)

The President goes on to say:

    When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. [Uh, you mean like Saddam Hussein?] But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it. Because what happened to those people — to those children — is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.

    Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. And it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons, and to use them to attack civilians.

This is a sophisticated reformulation of the “if we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here” argument that was wildly popular back when G.W. Bush was in the White House. First of all, our troops already face the prospect of chemical warfare, which is why they are trained in the use of gas masks. I think it a fair guess that many governments – dictatorships or otherwise – possess chemical weapons of one kind or another, regardless of any treaties. As for terrorists getting a hold of chemical weapons, that is a real possibility, I’m afraid, but it would be naïve to think that bombing Syria is going to prevent any possibility of that happening.

    If fighting spills beyond Syria’s borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran — which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon [which is not against international law], or to take a more peaceful path.

So, this is really about Iran? Obama thinks that if he kills a bunch of Syrians, this will convince the Iranians that they shouldn’t build any nuclear weapons? Might not the Iranians draw the exact opposite conclusion? They might decide they need nuclear weapons so the U.S. won’t attack them the way it did Syria.

The President’s speech ends on an optimistic note. He tells us he has decided to postpone asking Congress to authorize the use of force, so he can pursue a proposal by Russia to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons so they can be destroyed. It appears that Putin has saved Obama from the humiliation of Congress voting down the authorization. Bullshit can only get you so far in this world. Obama has once again benefited from dumb luck.

Syria and the Art of Moral Imperialism

August 28, 2013

The conflict in Syria has been going on for over two years now, and President Obama has been doing everything he can to stay out of it, but now there is talk in the media of an attack, possibly this week. Confronted by growing evidence that the Assad government has used poison gas against civilians, President Obama now has to make good on all his talk about red lines. (Barry Crimmins recently said, “If we’re prepared to use force on people who commit chemical warfare, when do we attack Monsanto?”) He is reportedly studying different options that have been presented to him by the military. However, a White House spokesman, Jay Carney, has said, “The options that we are considering are not about regime change.” So what are Obama’s aims then? My guess is that he is going to carry out a one-off attack, similar to Clinton’s missile strike in Khartoum or Reagan’s bombing of Libya. Obama can then say that the U.S. has shown zero tolerance towards the use of chemical weapons, to the applause of his supporters. The attack will increase tensions with Russia and with Iran, but it will be a small price to pay so that the U.S. can maintain its facade of moral high-mindedness.

We have come a long way since the giddy days following the invasion of Iraq, when there was delirious talk about the prospect of U.S. troops marching through the streets of Damascus and Teheran. I argued in an earlier post that the U.S. empire is not in decline, and I still hold that view. What has happened is that the Iraq War and its aftermath has taught the U.S. ruling class to take a more realistic view of what it can and cannot do, as well as to take a more realistic view of the internal politics of other countries. (Contrast Gen. Dempsey’s sober assessment of the Syrian opposition with the neoconservatives’ love affair with the convicted embezzler, Ahmad Chalabi.) In that respect, it can be argued that the U.S. empire is actually in better shape today than it was under George W. Bush.

Marmoulak (Lizard)

December 14, 2012


Marmalouk is a 2004 Iranian film directed by Kamal Tabrizi. The Iranian government banned it after a two-week run. Nevertheless, it is the successful Iranian film ever.

Reza (Parviz Parastui) is a thief who has the nickname, Marmoulak (Lizard), because of his uncanny ability to climb walls. He is caught, and he spends some time in prison, but he manages to escape by disguising himself as a mullah. He goes in search of a man who will help him escape across the border. On the way, he stops in a village where the people mistake him for the new mullah for their mosque. Reza pretends to be their mullah during the day, but at night he goes looking for the man who is supposed to help him cross the border. The villagers notice his night-time excursions, and they mistakenly believe that he is doing charitable works. Reza acquires a reputation as a saint, and people begin flocking to his sermons.

The film is implicitly critical of the Iranian clergy. It seems to suggest that they are out of touch of the people. The clergy apparently decided to prove this popular film’s point by banning it. Yet Marmoulak is not an attack on religion. Quite the contrary, it is actually very respectful towards Islam. It ends on a highly spiritual note. It is also quite funny. The characters are interesting, and it gives us a glimpse into Iranian society. It can be found on Youtube.

Jean Bricmont and Gilad Atzmon

October 3, 2012

Gilad Atzmon

Jean Bricmont has written an article defending Gilad Atzmon from his numerous critics on the Left, who accuse him of, among other things, being an anti-Semite. (Personal disclosure: I am one of them.) You can read the complete article here. (This links to Atzmon’s website. If you are unfamiliar with his work, you will be amazed at some of the things you will find there.) The first thing one notices about this piece is that it is extremely long-winded. You could cut out at least half the verbiage in it, and it would say the same exact thing. I consider that to be bad writing (although I realize some may not agree with me about this). I find this disheartening. I have always liked to think that theoretical physicists must also be good writers. Einstein wrote well. Carl Sagan could express himself clearly and succinctly. Yet another one of my illusions in life has been shattered.

After nine mostly long paragraphs, Bricmont finally gets to his main argument:

    This movement often gives the impression that its “solidarity” with Palestine takes place above all over there and requires more and more missions, trips, dialogues, reports, and even sometimes “peace processes.” But the plain facts of the matter are that the Israelis do not want to make the concessions that would be needed to live in peace and that a main reason for that attitude is that they think they can enjoy Western support ad vitam aeternam. Therefore, it is precisely this support that the solidarity movement should attack as its priority. Another frequent error is to think that this support is due to economic or strategic considerations. But, at least today, Israel is of no use to Western interests. [This is plainly false.] It turns the Muslim world against us [this is only partly true], doesn’t bring in a single drop of oil [man does not live by oil alone, Prof. Bricmont], and pushes the United States into a war with Iran that the Americans clearly don’t want [some, such as Norman Finkelstein, have argued that Israel is bluffing about this]. The reasons for this support are obvious enough: constant pressure from Zionist organizations on intellectuals, journalists and politicians by endlessly manipulating the accusation of anti-Semitism and the climate of guilt and repentance (for the Holocaust) kept on artificial life support, in large part by those same organizations. As a result, the main task of the Palestine solidarity movement should be to allow free speech about Palestine, but also to denounce the pressure and intimidation by various lobbies. Which is what Atzmon does. Far from rejecting him, the solidarity movement should make it a priority to defend the possibility of reading and listening to him, even if one is not in total agreement with what he says.

Look, so far as I and other leftists are concerned, Atzmon can write whatever bullshit that happens to float his boat. All we’re asking is that we at least acknowledge that what Atzmon writes is bullshit. Bricmont’s unwillingness to admit this raises serious questions about his intellectual honesty. Moreover, Bricmont makes so many dubious assertions here, that one must wonder whether he actually has any idea what he’s talking about. I think I should also point out that the “Israel is useless to the West” argument is often made by right-wing critics of Israel, at least some of whom are almost certainly anti-Semites. That fact should give Bricmont pause.

    By his all-out attack on Jewish “tribalism,” Atzmon’s essential contribution to solidarity with Palestine is to help non-Jews realize that they are not always in the wrong when conflicts with Jewish organizations arise. The day when non-Jews free themselves from the mixture of fear and internalization of guilt that currently paralyses them, unconditional support for Israel will collapse.

If I may speak for my fellow non-Jews, I don’t feel one shred of guilt about what happened during the years 1933-45. Again, one has to wonder whether Bricmont has any idea what he is talking about. What’s more, the second sentence is obviously nonsense. Bricmont apparently considers it a matter of principle to ignore the political and economic forces that drive the West’s support for Israel.

In all fairness to Bricmont, I should point out that he seems to be partly motivated by concerns about laws recently passed in France that prohibit certain types of speech. Although I don’t pretend to be an expert on French politics, it seems to me that the problem there is that France has no equivalent of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. (This is a problem in many other countries as well.) I realize that this argument may be too idealist, but I think there is at least some truth to it.

With all due respect, perhaps Bricmont should stick to particle physics. There is no shame in that.

Dr. Ismail Salami and the “Clash of Cultures”

September 26, 2012

Ismail Salami, Shakespearean scholar, author of children’s books, spouter of gibberish.

Dissident Voice has recently posted this cracking good article by Ismail Salami, entitled West Braces for Clash of Cultures. (No one I know is bracing for a clash of cultures, but then maybe I just don’t move through the right social circles.) The article begins:

    With the publication of the profane pictures of the holy Prophet of Islam in Charlie Hebdo magazine, the West seems to be consciously moving in a direction where chaos will dominate the international arena and a clash of cultures will inevitably run deeper for an indefinite period of time.

A literary agent once said to me, “You’ve got to grab the reader by the throat and lift him out of his chair.” Dr. Salami (I’m trying hard not to go for the obvious joke here) has clearly accomplished this with this extraordinary paragraph/run-on sentence. But what exactly does it mean? In the first half, he seems to suggest that Charlie Hebdo is published by somebody named “the West”. In the second half, he seems to be saying that a “clash of cultures” will “run deeper” (like a submarine?).

Clearly, Salami is a master of the Nietzschean aphoristic syle. However, he can be shockingly blunt when he puts his mind to it:

    There are abortive attempts by western analysts to interpret the two baneful incidents in the light of freedom of expression and thereby explain away the emotional hurt of the Muslim world.

That’s right, 1.6 billion Muslims will not be able to sleep tonight because of some cartoons in an obscure left-wing newspaper in France. If you believe that, I’ve got some property in Florida I’d like to sell you.

    However, to an intellectually trained mind, this seems more than just an insult to Islam and the Muslims.

Of course, those of us without intellectually trained minds just have no idea what the fuck is going on, do we? (By the way, someone needs to explain to Dr. Salami that “intellectually trained mind” is redundant.)

    The calculated move of the French magazine [sic] in publishing the insulting cartoons immediately after the blasphemous film indicates a united front forming against Islam in the West.

Damn right. As soon as the right-wing Christian producers of Innocence of Muslims had finished filming, they immediately called up their left-wing atheist comrades in France and said, “It’s your turn, bros!” Tag team style.

    On the one hand, the move can be seen as an attempt to help escalate the crisis in the Middle East region and on the other hand to plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.

“… plunge the world into a vortex where a clash of civilizations is imminent.” This may not be worthy of Shakespeare, but it’s almost worthy of H.P. Lovecraft.

    Should we naively believe that the anti-Islam film which has caused much uproar and intellectual chagrin in the Muslim world is the work of a Coptic Christian Egyptian fraudster, a small-time porn director and a bunch of extremists who harbor deep hatred against Islam?

Uh… yes? Is this some sort of trick question?

    This is a good question and it deserves an answer.

As my Aunt Bea used to say, “Every good question deserves an answer.”

    Still, the answer seems to be found in the incident which followed the film i.e. the publication of the blasphemous cartoons.

Uh… what?

    Seen from an analytical point of view, the entire scenario apparently tilts the scale in favor of the Zionists who capitalize on a large-scale fracas between the Muslim countries and the rest of the world. In fact, they are the ones who will catch the bigger fish in these trouble waters.

Bigger than whose fish?

    Amidst this craftily authored plan [yeah it’s fucking brilliant, isn’t it?], Israel has commenced a series of war games in Golan Heights, the biggest the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has conducted in the six years since the second Lebanon war on Hezbollah in 2006. Military sources say the war game looks like a real war with tens of thousands of soldiers and senior officers, including the artillery and the air force taking part. Israeli officials have announced that the situation in Syria is precariously volatile and that the country is in possession of a huge arsenal of chemical weapons which they fear might fall into the hands of wrong people stockpile if President Bashar Assad is ousted. This is the excuse which they use to justify their military show-off. In point of fact, Israel is readying itself to wage a military encounter in the region by using the anti-Islam scenario.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but the last two sentences seem to contradict each other. If Israel can use an alleged chemical weapons stockpile as an excuse to intervene in Syria, why would they need to use “the anti-Islam scenario” (whatever that is)? (By the way, the Israelis have never needed an excuse to do anything.)

One can clearly see why the editors of Dissident Voice thought this article was worth posting. What better way to understand what is currently happening in the Muslim world than by reading gibberish?

I feel inspired to write my own article for Dissident Voice. It will be a learned dissertation on why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Watch for it.

Jean Bricmont

September 5, 2012

The August 31 edition of CounterPunch contains an interview with the Belgian writer and physicist, Jean Bricmont, conducted by Kurosh Ziabari. I agree with most of what he says, but he makes a couple of highly problematic arguments. In response to a question about U.S. policy in the Middle East, Bricmont says:

    Well, I think one has to make a difference between support for Israel and the desire to “devour” oil. The two policies are not the same and are, in fact, contradictory. As, I think, Mearsheimer and Walt have shown, the pro-Israel policies of the U.S. are to a large extent driven by the pro-Israel lobby and do not correspond to or help their economic or geo-strategic interests. For example, as far as I know, there would be no problem for our oil companies to drill in Iran, if it weren’t for the sanctions imposed on that country; but the latter are linked to the hostility to Iran from Israel, not from any desire to control oil.

I can’t quite agree with this. Does Bricmont really think that the U.S. derives no advantage from having a heavily armed ally in the Middle East? The Arab Spring exposed the fragility of the U.S.’s client states in the Arab world. Israel, on the other hand, is rock solid. Now, more than ever, the U.S. needs to have a “policeman” in the Middle East. As for drilling for oil in Iran, even if there were no sanctions it would be impossible, because Iran has a nationalized oil industry.

From this, Bricmont immediately segues into another argument:

    The second remark is that the anti-war people are not necessarily on the left. True, there is a big part of the Right that has become neo-conservative, but there is also a big part of the Left that is influenced by the ideology of humanitarian intervention. However, there is also a libertarian Right, Ron Paul for example, that is staunchly anti-war, and there are some remnants of a pacifist or anti-imperialist Left. Note that this has always been the case: the pro and anti-imperialist position, even back in the days of colonialism, do not coincide with the Left-Right divide, if the latter is understood in socio-economic terms or in “moral” terms (about gay marriage for example).

    What we do not have is a consistent anti-war movement; to build the latter one would have to focus on war itself and unite both sides of the opposition (Right and Left). But if movements can be built around other “single issues,” like abortion or gay marriage, that put aside all socio-economic problems and class issues, why not?

This is the same as the “left-right” alliance argument that the late Alexander Cockburn used to make. This idea has always been a non-starter, for reasons that should be obvious. These “anti-war” conservatives all have terrible politics. Pat Buchanon is a racist. Ron Paul has ties to white supremacist groups. Israel Shamir is an anti-Semite. These things are not accidents. The supposed “anti-imperialism” of such people is really just the outward expression of an essentially nativist world-view. It is simply absurd to think that leftists can march side-by-side with racists and neo-fascists. Bricmont might as well talk about why the sea is boiling hot and why pigs have wings.

Wrapping Up the Naughts

December 30, 2009

Well, not only have we come to the end of the year, but we have also come to the end of the decade. All the reviews of the 2000’s that I’ve read have been pretty much the same. There seems to be universal agreement that this decade sucked big time. W.H. Auden once called the 1930’s a “low, dishonest decade.” The 2000’s certainly had more than their share of dishonesty. Just think of the mind-numbing barrage of lies during the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

This is all the more dismaying considering that the decade started out promisingly. The Anti-WTO demonstration in Seattle in November 1999 had reinvigorated the left. People wanted to do things, to get out in the streets and make a statement. During the Democratic National Convention in 2000, 40,000 people marched through the streets of Los Angeles, in the face of intimidation by the police. When George W. Bush stole the 2000 election, that didn’t put any damper on things. To many people, it just confirmed their suspicion that the system is totally corrupt. The police repression at the Genoa demonstration in the summer of 2001 did disturb some people, but still they felt that they could accomplish something.

I remember that summer I was living in Los Angeles, and I was involved in a solidarity campaign with the Immokalee farm workers. They had called for a boycott of Taco Bell, to get them to pressure the growers into raising their wages. Once a week we would have a demonstration in front of a Taco Bell in East Los Angeles. Each week the protest got bigger and louder. People from the neighborhood would join in, as well as students from nearby East Los Angeles College. They wanted to make a difference in the world. Teenagers would go up to cars in the drive-thru and explain to people why they shouldn’t buy from Taco Bell.

Then September 11th happened.

Suddenly people were all driving around with American flags on their cars and bumper stickers saying, “United We Stand.” This was an understandable visceral response to the attacks, but I could see that it would only lead to trouble. The media suddenly stopped treating Bush as a joke and began touting him as a national hero (even though he hid out at two air force bases during the day of the attacks.) In the economic slump that followed the attacks, Bush urged people to go out and shop. The media treated this as serious advice.

The left never really recovered from what happened. I think it fair to say that most of the people who marched through the streets of Seattle probably voted for John Kerry in the 2004 election. This is really sad, especially when you consider that Kerry is an enthusiastic supporter of everything those people were protesting against. (And Kerry was promising to send 40,000 more troops to Iraq.) “Anybody but Bush” became the mantra. Anyone who questioned this immediately found himself a pariah, if not threatened with physical violence. Kerry’s campaign slogan was “Help is on the way.” I guess people didn’t think they needed help, since Kerry lost the election.

Four years later, we had Obama promising us “hope”, which sounded a little catchier. Then there was the financial meltdown, and Obama became a shoo-in. The irony here was that Obama is a firm supporter of the economic policies that led to the meltdown. Sometimes hope is just that.

The year started off with Israel’s savage attack on Gaza. Not a murmur of criticism from Obama or any of the other Democrats. Once in office he impressed everyone with his ability to form complete sentences, such a refreshing change from his predecessor. He put forward an economic stimulus plan (mostly tax cuts) that was too timid to have much effect. The Republicans immediately started screaming “socialism”, and they’ve been like a stuck record ever since. In October it was announced that, for no clear reason, Obama was to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (It seems that the prize was actually for not being George W. Bush. The legacy of W.’s presidency is that the bar has been lowered on just about everything.) Shortly afterward, Obama announced he was going to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Now, the Democrats in Congress are on the verge of passing a Health Care “Reform” bill that has nothing progressive about it and is in some ways actually reactionary. One hopes that the way this bill made its way through the Senate will make people question the way our government is set up. The Senate (originally modeled after the British House of Lords) is an inherently undemocratic institution. Every state gets two senators, regardless of its size. Thus, California, which has a population of 36 million, has the same number of senators as Wyoming, which has 544,270 people. (More people live in the city of San Francisco than in the whole state of Wyoming.) This problem is compounded by the filibuster rule. It takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. (The idea here seems to be that having a simple majority just isn’t good enough.) So, we had the disgusting spectacle of Senate Democrats groveling at the feet of Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (pop. 3 million) and Ben Nelson of Nebraska (pop. 2 million). The most hilarious moment of the year came when Lieberman announced that he had suddenly changed his mind about the Medicare buy-in (which he had supported for years). He was now opposed to it, just because he had heard a liberal congressman say that he liked the idea. (This is the conservative mentality in its purest form: if the liberals are for it, I’m agin’ it!) So the Medicare buy-in was immediately jettisoned, without a murmur of protest. As for the cynical promises that were made to Nelson to get his one lousy vote, you can expect the Republicans to be making hay out of them in next year’s congressional elections.

Everything is not bleak, however. There have been a few glimmerings of a fightback, such as this summer’s G20 protests and the demonstrations at the Copenhagen climate conference. And there were the Viva Palestina convoys to Gaza. Interestingly, there has been an upsurge in struggle in Iran. It seems I was right in guessing that last summer’s demonstrations were about more that just a stolen election. So, I guess Obama wasn’t completely wrong about there being “hope”. It’s all a matter of what one does with it.

(By the way, the Immokalee workers eventually won concessions from Taco Bell. This was one of the few labor victories of this miserable decade.)


June 25, 2009

I noticed that on some of the left-wing blogs there have been debates, some of them quite heated, over what should be the attitude of the left towards the demonstrations in Iran. It seems to me that the first thing that should be borne in mind in this discussion is that even if the vote tally is accurate, the election itself was not democratic. Only candidates approved by the clergy are allowed to run in elections. Anyone promising real change is barred from running. The choice between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi is like a choice between Coke and Pepsi. (Yes, there are differences between the two, just as there are differences between Coke and Pepsi, but they are minor in the larger scheme of things.)

Some people have expressed the fear that Iran will have a bogus “color” revolution, in the manner of Ukraine or Georgia, that will install a pro-US government. I think this concern is unwarranted. Iran is a much larger country than these two, and it is more socially and culturally complex. What’s more, Mousavi, who was Iran’s prime minister during the 1980’s, is not a US puppet, and he certainly is no friend of Israel. If Mousavi were to become president, he would likely adopt a more conciliatory tone towards the US (which may not be a bad thing), but there would be no radical change in Iran’s foreign policy. There are objective reasons why Iran needs to counter US and Israeli influence. Thus, the argument that the Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy is “objectively progressive” is neither here nor there.

I suspect the protestors are motivated not so much by support for the dubious Mousavi, as by general frustration with Iran’s theocratic dictatorship. We are talking about a government that treats women as second-class citizens, executes gays, imprisons trade unionists, and persecutes religious minorities. People struggling against such a regime deserve our support.