Inter Press Network

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11 is a Stupid White Movie

by Robert Jensen

I have been defending Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" from the
criticism in mainstream and conservative circles that the film is leftist propaganda. Nothing could be further from the truth; there is very little left critique in the movie. In fact, it's hard to find any coherent critique in the movie at all.

The sad truth is that "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a bad movie, but not for the reasons it is being attacked in the dominant culture. It's at times a racist movie. And the analysis that underlies the film's main political points is either dangerously incomplete or virtually incoherent.

But, most important, it's a conservative movie that ends with an
endorsement of one of the central lies of the United States, which
should warm the hearts of the right-wingers who condemn Moore. And the real problem is that many left/liberal/progressive people are singing the film's praises, which should tell us something about the impoverished nature of the left in this country.

I say all this not to pick at small points or harp on minor flaws.
These aren't minor points of disagreement but fundamental questions of analysis and integrity.But before elaborating on that, I want to talk about what the film does well.

The good stuff

First, Moore highlights the disenfranchisement of primarily black
voters in Florida in the 2000 election, a political scandal that the
mainstream commercial news media in the United States has largely ignored. The footage of a joint session of Congress in which Congressional Black Caucus members can't get a senator to sign their letter to allow floor debate about the issue (a procedural requirement) is a powerful indictment not only of the Republicans who perpetrated the fraud but the Democratic leadership that refused to challenge it.

Moore also provides a sharp critique of U.S. military recruiting
practices, with some amazing footage of recruiters cynically at work
scouring low-income areas for targets, whom are disproportionately non-white. The film also effectively takes apart the Bush administration's use of fear tactics after 9/11 to drive the public to accept its war policies.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" also does a good job of showing war's effects on US soldiers; we see soldiers dead and maimed, and we see how contemporary warfare deforms many of them psychologically as well. And the film pays attention to the victims of U.S. wars, showing Iraqis both before the US invasion and after in a way that humanizes them rather than uses them as props.

The problem is that these positive elements don't add up to a good
film.It's a shame that Moore's talent and flair for the dramatic aren't put in the service of a principled, clear analysis that could potentially be effective at something beyond defeating George W. Bush in 2004.

Subtle racism

How dare I describe as racist a movie that highlights the disenfranchisement of black voters and goes after the way in which
military recruiters chase low-income minority youth? My claim is not
that Moore is an overt racist, but that the movie unconsciously replicates a more subtle racism, one that we all have to struggle to resist.

First, there is one segment that invokes the worst kind of
ugly-American nativism, in which Moore mocks the Bush administration's "coalition of the willing," the nations it lined up to support the invasion of Iraq.
Aside from Great Britain there was no significant military support from other nations and no real coalition, which Moore is right to point out. But when he lists the countries in the so-called coalition, he uses images that have racist undertones. To depict the Republic of Palau (a small Pacific island nation), Moore chooses an image of stereotypical "native" dancers,while a man riding on an animal-drawn cart represents Costa Rica.Pictures of monkeys running are on the screen during a discussion of Morocco's apparent offer to send monkeys to clear land mines. To ridicule the Bush propaganda on this issue, Moore uses these images and an exaggerated voice-over in a fashion that says, in essence, "! What kind of coalition is
it that has these backward countries?" Moore might argue that is not his intention, but intention is not the only question; we all are
responsible for how we tap into these kinds of stereotypes.

More subtle and important is Moore's invocation of a racism in which
solidarity between dominant whites and non-white groups domestically
can be forged by demonizing the foreign "enemy," which these days has an Arab and South Asian face. For example, in the segment about law-enforcement infiltration of peace groups, the camera pans the almost exclusively white faces (I noticed one Asian man in the scene) in the group Peace Fresno and asks how anyone could imagine these folks could be terrorists. There is no consideration of the fact that Arab and Muslim groups that are equally dedicated to peace have to endure routine harassment and constantly prove that they weren't terrorists, precisely because they weren't white.

The other example of political repression that "Fahrenheit 9/11" offers is the story of Barry Reingold, who was visited by FBI agents after making critical remarks about Bush and the war while working out at a gym in Oakland. Reingold, a white retired phone worker, was not detained or charged with a crime; the agents questioned him and left. This is the poster child for repression? In a country where hundreds of Arab, South Asian and Muslim men were thrown into secret detention after 9/11, this is the case Moore chooses to highlight? The only reference in the film to those detentions post-9/11 is in an interview with a former FBI agent about Saudis who were allowed to leave the United States shortly after 9/11, in which it appears that Moore mentions those detentions only to contrast the kid-gloves treatment that privileged Saudi nationals allegedly received.

When I made this point to a friend, he defended Moore by saying the
filmmaker was trying to reach a wide audience that likely is mostly
white and probably wanted to use examples that those people could connect with.
So, it's acceptable to pander to the white audience members and over-
dramatize their limited risks while ignoring the actual serious harm
done to non-white people? Could not a skilled filmmaker tell the story of the people being seriously persecuted in a way that non-Arab, non-South Asian,non-Muslims could empathize with?

Bad analysis

"Fahrenheit 9/11" is strong on tapping into emotions and raising
questions about why the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11,but it is extremely weak on answering those questions in even marginally coherent fashion. To the degree the film has a thesis, it appears to be that the wars were a product of the personal politics of a corrupt Bush dynasty. I agree the Bush dynasty is corrupt, but the analysis the film offers is both internally inconsistent, extremely limited in historical understanding and, hence, misguided.

Is the administration of George W. Bush full of ideological fanatics?
Have its actions since 9/11 been reckless and put the world at risk?
In the course of pursuing those policies, has it enriched fat-cat

But it is a serious mistake to believe that these wars can be explained by focusing so exclusively on the Bush administration and ignoring clear trends in U.S. foreign and military policy. In short, these wars are not a sharp departure from the past but instead should be seen as an intensification of longstanding policies, affected by the confluence of this particular administration's ideology and the opportunities created by the events of 9/11.

Look first at Moore's treatment of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. He uses a clip of former counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke
complaining that the Bush administration's response to 9/11 in
Afghanistan was "slow and small," implying that we should have attacked faster and bigger. The film does nothing to question that assessment, leaving viewers to assume that Moore agrees. Does he think that a bombing campaign that killed at least as many innocent Afghans as Americans who died on 9/11 was justified? Does he think that a military response was appropriate, and simply should have been more intense, which would have guaranteed even more civilian casualties? Does he think that a military strategy, which many experts believe made it difficult to pursue more routine and
productive counter-terrorism law-enforcement methods, was a smart move?

Moore also suggests that the real motivation of the Bush administration in attacking Afghanistan was to secure a gas pipeline route from the Caspian Basin to the sea. It's true that Unocal had sought such a pipeline, and at one point Taliban officials were courted by the United States when it looked as if they could make such a deal happen. Moore points out that Taliban officials traveled to Texas in 1997 when Bush was governor. He fails to point out that all this happened with the Clinton administration at the negotiating table. It is highly unlikely that policymakers would go to war for a single pipeline, but even if that were plausible it is clear that both Democrats and Republicans alike have been mixed up in that
particular scheme.

The centerpiece of Moore's analysis of U.S. policy in the Middle East is the relationship of the Bush family to the Saudis and the bin Laden family. The film appears to argue that those business interests,primarily through the Carlyle Group, led the administration to favor the Saudis to the point of ignoring potential Saudi complicity in the attacks of 9/11.
After laying out the nature of those business dealings, Moore implies that the Bushes are literally on the take.

It is certainly true that the Bush family and its cronies have a
relationship with Saudi Arabia that has led officials to overlook Saudi human-rights abuses and the support that many Saudis give to movements such as al Qaeda. That is true of the Bushes, just as it was of the Clinton administration and, in fact, every post-World War II president.
Ever since FDR cut a deal with the House of Saud giving U.S. support in exchange for cooperation on the flow of oil and oil profits, U.S.
administrations have been playing ball with the Saudis. The
relationship is sometimes tense but has continued through ups and downs, with both sides getting at least part of what they need from the other.
Concentrating on Bush family business connections ignores that history and encourages viewers to see the problem as specific to Bush. Would a Gore administration have treated the Saudis differently after 9/11? There's no reason to! think so, and Moore offers no evidence or argument why it would have.

But that's only part of the story of U.S. policy in the Middle East, in which the Saudis play a role but are not the only players. The United States cuts deals with other governments in the region that are willing to support the U.S. aim of control over those energy resources. The Saudis are crucial in that system, but not alone. Egypt, Jordan and the other Gulf emirates have played a role, as did Iran under the Shah. As does,crucially, Israel. But there is no mention of Israel in the film. To raise questions about U.S. policy in the Middle East without addressing the role of Israel as a U.S. proxy is, to say the least, a significant omission.
It's unclear whether Moore actually backs Israeli crimes and U.S.
support for them, or simply doesn't understand the issue.

And what of the analysis of Iraq? Moore is correct in pointing out that US support for Iraq during the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein's war on Iran was looked upon favorably by U.S. policymakers, was a central part of Reagan and Bush I policy up to the Gulf War. And he's correct in pointing out that Bush II's invasion and occupation have caused great suffering in Iraq. What is missing is the intervening eight years in which the Clinton administration used the harshest economic embargo in modern history and regular bombing to further devastate an already devastated country. He fails to point out that Clinton killed more Iraqis through that policy than either of the Bush presidents. He fails to mention the 1998 Clinton cruise missile attack on Iraq, which was every bit as illegal as the
2003 invasion.

It's not difficult to articulate what much of the rest of the world
understands about U.S. policy in Iraq and the Middle East: Since the
end of WWII, the United States has been the dominant power in the Middle East,constructing a system that tries to keep the Arab states weak and controllable (and, as a result, undemocratic) and undermine any pan-Arab nationalism, and uses allies as platforms and surrogates for U.S. power(such as Israel and Iran under the Shah). The goal is control over (not ownership of, but control over) the strategically crucial energy resources of the region and the profits that flow from them, which in an industrial world that runs on oil is a source of incredible leverage over competitors such as the European Union, Japan and China.

The Iraq invasion, however incompetently planned and executed by the
Bush administration, is consistent with that policy. That's the most
plausible explanation for the war (by this time, we need no longer bother with the long-ago forgotten rationalizations of weapons of mass destruction and the alleged threat Iraq posed to the United States). The war was a gamble on the part of the Bush gang. Many in the foreign-policy establishment,including Bush I stalwarts such as Brent Scowcroft, spoke out publicly against war plans they thought were reckless. Whether Bush's gamble, in pure power terms, will pay off or not is yet to be determined.

When the film addresses this question directly, what analysis does
Moore offer of the reasons for the Iraq war? A family member of a soldier who died asks, "for what?" and Moore cuts to the subject of war profiteering.That segment appropriately highlights the vulture-like nature of businesses that benefit from war. But does Moore really want us to believe that a major war was launched so that Halliburton and other companies could increase its profits for a few years? Yes, war profiteering happens,but it is not the reason nations go to war. This kind of distorted analysis helps keep viewers' attention focused on the Bush administration,by noting the close ties between Bush officials and these companies,not the routine way in which corporate America makes money off the misnamed Department of Defense, no matter who is in the White House.

All this is summed up when Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a son killed in the war, visits the White House in a final, emotional scene and says that she now has somewhere to put all her pain and anger. This is the message of the film: It's all about the Bush administration. If that's the case,the obvious conclusion is to get Bush out of the White House so that things can get back to . to what? I'll return to questions of political strategy at the end, but for now it's important to realize how this attempt to construct Bush as pursuing some radically different policy is bad analysis and leads to a misunderstanding of the threat the United States poses to the world. Yes, Moore throws in a couple of jabs at the Democrats in Congress for not stopping the mad rush to war in Iraq, but the focus is always on the singular crimes of George W. Bush and his gang.

A conservative movie

The claim that "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a conservative movie may strike
some as ludicrous. But the film endorses one of the central lies that Americans tell themselves, that the U.S. military fights for our freedom. This construction of the military as a defensive force obscures the harsh reality that the military is used to project U.S. power around the world to ensure dominance, not to defend anyone's freedom, at home or abroad.

Instead of confronting this mythology, Moore ends the film with it. He points out, accurately, the irony that those who benefit the least from the U.S. system -- the chronically poor and members of minority groups are the very people who sign up for the military. "They offer to give up their lives so we can be free," Moore says, and all they ask in return is that we not send them in harm's way unless it's necessary. After the Iraq War, he wonders, "Will they ever trust us again?"

It is no doubt true that many who join the military believe they will be fighting for freedom. But we must distinguish between the mythology that many internalize and may truly believe, from the reality of the role of the U.S. military. The film includes some comments by soldiers questioning that very claim, but Moore's narration implies that somehow a glorious tradition of U.S. military endeavors to protect freedom has now been sullied by the Iraq War.

The problem is not just that the Iraq War was fundamentally illegal and immoral. The whole rotten project of empire building has been illegal and immoral -- and every bit as much a Democratic as a Republican project.
The millions of dead around the world -- in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia -- as a result of U.S. military actions and proxy wars don't care which U.S. party was pulling the strings and pulling the trigger when they were killed. It's true that much of the world hates Bush. It's also true that much of the world has hated every post-WWII US president. And for good reasons.

It is one thing to express solidarity for people forced into the
military by economic conditions. It is quite another to pander to the lies this country tells itself about the military. It is not disrespectful to those who join up to tell the truth. It is our obligation to try to prevent future wars in which people are sent to die not for freedom but for power and profit. It's hard to understand how we can do that by repeating the lies of the people who plan, and benefit from, those wars.

Political strategy

The most common defense I have heard from liberals and progressives to these criticisms of "Fahrenheit 9/11" is that, whatever its flaws, the movie sparks people to political action. One response is obvious: There is no reason a film can't spark people to political action with intelligent and defensible analysis, and without subtle racism.

But beyond that, it's not entirely clear the political action that this film will spark goes much beyond voting against Bush. The "what can I do now?" link on Moore's website suggests four actions, all of which are about turning out the vote. These resources about voting are well organized and helpful. But there are no links to grassroots groups organizing against not only the Bush regime but the American empire more generally.

I agree that Bush should be kicked out of the White House, and if I
lived in a swing state I would consider voting Democratic. But I don't believe that will be meaningful unless there emerges in the United States a significant anti-empire movement. In other words, if we beat Bush and go back to "normal," we're all in trouble. Normal is empire building.
Normal is U.S. domination, economic and military, and the suffering that vulnerable people around the world experience as a result. This doesn't mean voters can't judge one particular empire-building politician more dangerous than another. It doesn't mean we shouldn't sometimes make strategic choices to vote for one over the other. It simply means we should make such choices with eyes open and no illusions. This seems particularly important when the likely Democratic presidential candidate tries to out-hawk Bush on support for Israel, pledges to continue the occupation of Iraq, and says nothing about reversing the basic trends in foreign policy.

In this sentiment, I am not alone. Ironically, Barry Reingold -- the
Oakland man who was visited by the FBI -- is critical of what he sees as the main message of the film. He was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying: "I think Michael Moore's agenda is to get Bush out, but I think it(should be) about more than Bush. I think it's about the capitalist system, which is inequitable." He went on to critique Bush and Kerry:"I think both of them are bad. I think Kerry is actually worse because he gives the illusion that he's going to do a lot more. Bush has never given that illusion. People know that he's a friend of big business."

Nothing I have said here is an argument against reaching out to a wider audience and trying to politicize more people. That's what I try to do in my own writing and local organizing work, as do countless other activists.
The question isn't whether to reach out, but with what kind of analysis and arguments. Emotional appeals and humor have their place; the activists I work with use them. The question is, where do such appeals lead people?

It is obvious that "Fahrenheit 9/11" taps into many Americans' fear
and/or hatred of Bush and his gang of thugs. Such feelings are understandable,and I share them. But feelings are not analysis, and the film's analysis,unfortunately, doesn't go much beyond the feeling: It's all Bush's fault.
That may be appealing to people, but it's wrong. And it is hard to
imagine how a successful anti-empire movement can be built on this film's analysis unless it is challenged. Hence, the reason for this essay.

The potential value of Moore's film will be realized only if it is
discussed and critiqued, honestly. Yes, the film is under attack from the right, for very different reasons than I have raised. But those attacks shouldn't stop those who consider themselves left, progressive,liberal,anti-war, anti-empire or just plain pissed-off from criticizing the film's flaws and limitations. I think my critique of the film is accurate and relevant. Others may disagree. The focus of debate should be on the issues raised, with an eye toward the question of how to build an anti-empire movement. Rallying around the film can too easily lead to rallying
around bad analysis. Let's instead rally around the struggle for a better world,the struggle to dismantle the American empire.


Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at
Austin and the author of "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity" from City Lights Books.

He can be reached at

US, Israel Caught in Traps

by Murray Polner

Did American soldiers killed and maimed in Iraq, and Israeli soldiers killed and maimed in Gaza and the West Bank, die for nothing? Americans are dying now because of ideologues and zealots. Israeli soldiers are dying for settlements and unattainable goals. Both are trapped.

Take the United States, for example, bogged down in a war and occupation that should never have happened. The Bush administration and its amateurish, rigidly ideological neoconservatives and Christian right have recklessly dug a dark, apparently inescapable pit.

Anthony Cordesman, the astute military analyst of the Center for Strategy and International Studies, in his oral testimony to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, put it perfectly when he condemned the "illusions" of the influential and incompetent neoconservative living-room warriors who listened to no one but themselves. And much as the arrogant neoliberals of the '60s brought us Vietnam and all those war dead and wounded in body and mind, ardently pro-Likud neoconservatives have now gotten us into a lethal and unwinnable situation.

Armed with scads of money from ultra-right-wing billionaires, neocons believed they alone possessed the absolute truth. Long before 9-11 they urged an invasion of Iraq, and spread fabrications about Saddam's possession of WMDs and his alleged connection to al-Qaeda rather than looking soberly at the true source of terror, namely Osama's fanatics.

So sure of themselves, without so much as a fleeting doubt, neocons famously believed the pending invasion and subsequent occupation would be a "cakewalk" and invading troops as sure to be greeted with cheers and flowers. Dissenters were denounced as virtual traitors and un-American. The unreflecting President Bush bought their line, and his father's conservative skeptics like Brent Scowcroft were shown the door. No one paid attention to warnings that the war and its attendant resentments and hatreds might create a thousand clones of bin Laden.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict is, however, quite another thing. Despite Israel's intimate ties with the White House and neoconservatives, its war remains a mutual tragedy of disastrous proportions since whole populations are endangered. The conflict's legacy will fuel and sustain Palestinian hatred of Israel and Jews for generations.

Israel's vaunted military is as frustrated and stymied as America's, trapped in a cycle of tit-for-tat violence with no end. Its politicians are as impotent as America's. Indeed, the recent savagery in Gaza may be among the worst. "Pointless destruction," a Ha'aretz editorial said when news of the brutalizing of the people of the Rafeh refugee camp arrived. Children were killed and wounded in the assault, innocent people saw their homes smashed and then left homeless, and even the tiny Gaza zoo, once a haven for kids, was wrecked because of weapons supposedly being shipped through tunnels and the suddenly discovered need to widen the Philadelphi Route dividing Palestinian Gaza from Egypt. Meanwhile, the murders go on.

"Death and destruction and more death and destruction," rightly says the Israeli Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information. "Palestinians kill Israelis and Israelis kill Palestinians and [there is] no end in sight."

Shouldn't we ask Israelis if there are no limits to cruelty against the innocent even when you say you are defending yourself? The same question needs to be asked of Arafat and Hamas, both seeking revenge rather than justice or a solution.

Both sides assert a claim of moral legitimacy but only on their own terms. Neither deals with the carnage brought about by their actions. Asserting the right of self-defense and liberation, each is blind to the other. This mutual madness goes on, resisted, thankfully, by Israel's best – resisting reservists and pilots, high school students, conscientious objectors and the more than 150,000 Israelis who recently turned out in Tel Aviv to cry out "Enough."

Of course, it would be wonderful if more Palestinians also said "Enough," but the fourth most powerful military state in the world is the occupying power, with its conscript army, sophisticated weaponry and store of nuclear arms. Genuflecting mainstream American Jewish organizational bureaucrats are mute, fearful of offending Bush's Washington or having its wealthy donors snubbed by whoever is in power in Jerusalem. And opportunistic and pusillanimous American politicians, who rarely fail to flaunt their everlasting and profound "love" for Israel, are afraid to speak publicly about the latest outrage against Palestinian innocents. Heaven forbid there should ever be a searching, even heated public debate about the U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the Congress and White House without organized Jewry charging critics with anti-Semitism.

Since both sides are ensnared in their mutual fear and loathing, there is no way out but painful compromise. And that will never happen unless the United States – despite its failures in Iraq – under a new, more realistic presidential administration, begins playing the central role as a trusted, impartial neutral, shepherding a reasonably fair agreement favoring neither side.

Of course it won't be easy. It may even be impossible. But the alternative is to maintain the status quo and continue endlessly with killing and revenge killing. Tit-for-tat.

Originally published in The Jewish Week and reprinted with permission of the author.

The General Strike Can Teach Unions How to Grow

The following article, by U.S. Labour Journalist & Anti-War activist David Bacon,is an inspiring example of what working people have historically achieved through democratic organization and militant action.

As Bacon explains:

"The general strike and the creation of the ILWU (International Longshore & Wharehouse Worker's Union) had a ripple effect. Other workers saw dockers win a hiring hall, freeing them from the humiliating shapeup, when workers had to beg a job from a gang boss every morning. The workforce was integrated. Today Black, Latino and Asian workers are the majority in big ports like San Francisco and Los Angeles, and women drive huge container cranes. People called bums and derelicts in the 20s and 30s had some of the best-paying, most secure jobs in industrial America by the 50s and 60s. As a result, a wave of union organizing spread inland from the ports, a social movement inspiring everyone from department store clerks to farm laborers."

The General Strike Can Teach Unions How to Grow
by David Bacon; July 15, 2004

San Francisco, CA - Archie Brown was first a ship scaler, and then a longshoreman - a dockworker all his life. He was there 70 years ago, when thousands of maritime workers closed west coast ports from San Diego to Canada. He saw the tanks and guns deployed by shipowners to fence off the docks at the height of the strike. And he remembered what happened next, when police shot into crowds of strikers, killing two union activists, as they sought to break picketlines and escort struck cargo off the piers.

The deaths of Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise came at the peak one of the longest and bitterest of the labor wars of the 1930s. In shock and grief, thousands of San Francisco workers marched silently up Market Street behind the two caskets in a huge funeral procession. Then they shut down the entire city in the famous general strike.

For four days during that summer of 1934, nothing moved in San Francisco. Long afterwards, whenever he tried to explain what it was like, Archie talked about how quiet it was when all the work stopped. The important thing about the silence, he said, was not its contrast with the city's normal cacophony. It was the fact that he and his fellow workers created it themselves, by doing nothing. Not working may seem a passive form of protest, yet their action gave them a sense of power they never lost.

"Without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn." Archie must have sung this verse to Solidarity Forever, the hallowed union anthem, hundreds of times on picketlines in the decades that followed. To him and other veterans of the general strike, these were not just words. They expressed a reality experienced first hand. The strike taught these wharf rats about power - that working people could get it, and wield it with devastating effect, if they understood that the world depended on them.

Seventy years later, as our modern labor movement struggles to regain the power it's lost, these four days shine as a beacon. They point out that the way workers won power proved to be as important as what they did with it.

The maritime and general strikes were social movements that came from the bottom - from the anger and dissatisfaction of workers themselves. They were mistrustful of the old labor hierarchy that had lost the power and will to improve the lives of rank-and-file dockers and sailors. So the first thing Archie and his co-workers did was create a new organization - the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

They built a union they were sure could never be hijacked from their hands. The key was one of labor's most democratic institutions, one that survives to this day - the longshore caucus. Every time the union sits down to negotiate a new contract with multibillion-dollar transportation companies, every local union in every port elects delegates. Together they decide what the union will demand, and choose a committee to do the talking.

The 1934 strike produced a single, (coast-wide) agreement, in which dockworkers from San Diego to Seattle act as one. The secret of their power was combining local democracy with the ability to shut down the whole coast at once. Today many workers pay a terrible price when they lack this ability to act together. Last year grocery workers successfully shut down supermarkets throughout southern California, but were defeated when their employers kept stores open everywhere else.

The coast-wide contract was designed to prevent this from happening in the ports. It is no accident that, when the Bush administration intervened on the side of the ship owners during the 2002 longshore lockout, its biggest threat was legal action to force the union to negotiate a different contract in each port.

The general strike and the creation of the ILWU had a ripple effect. Other workers saw dockers win a hiring hall, freeing them from the humiliating shapeup, when workers had to beg a job from a gang boss every morning. The workforce was integrated. Today Black, Latino and Asian workers are the majority in big ports like San Francisco and Los Angeles, and women drive huge container cranes. People called bums and derelicts in the 20s and 30s had some of the best-paying, most secure jobs in industrial America by the 50s and 60s. As a result, a wave of union organizing spread inland from the ports, a social movement inspiring everyone from department store clerks to farm laborers.

That movement transformed the politics of California, Oregon, Washington, and especially Hawai'i, where it ended the domination of five big plantation-owning families over the state's political system. As a result, today Hawai'i has a greater percentage of union members than any other state. And when the Pacific Rim is called the left coast, it's a tribute to the political changes sparked by the general strike.

These changes were not welcomed by the shipping companies, the banks and the big newspapers that were their voice. They were terrified by the general strike, and invented an imaginary invasion of communist troops from Mexico to scare the public. Their real fear was more prosaic - company owners didn't want to listen to anyone, especially bums on the waterfront.

Forced to recognize the union, they went after its leaders. Employers and their government allies spent two decades trying to deport Harry Bridges, the ILWU's first president - an immigrant from Australia accused of being a communist. They failed. In the 1950s, McCarthyite legislation sought to ban communists and left wingers from holding office in unions. Archie Brown and ILWU Local 10 challenged this undemocratic law, which was later declared unconstitutional. The Coast Guard screened maritime workers for loyalty, and blacklisted and drove hundreds off the ships and docks. ILWU members like Don Watson picketed the Coast Guard every week, fought them in court, and eventually ended the vicious practice. These were some of the first and hardest political battles that eventually ended the witch hunts of the cold war.

Today's unions, debating what to do about the Patriot Act and the scapegoating of immigrants and political radicals, should remember this history. They might remember too the legacy of internationalism sparked by the general strike. In the late 1930s dockworkers refused to load scrap iron bound for fascist Japan and its brutal war in China. In the 1980s, a new generation refused to unload cargo from apartheid South Africa, or coffee used to finance Ronald Reagan's illegal war in Nicaragua. And last fall the ILWU not only condemned the US war in Iraq, but Local 10 leader Clarence Thomas went to Baghdad to offer help to unions there banned by the Bush-appointed occupation authority.

Unfortunately, labor can't rest on past achievements. The political machines built by radical unionists in the 30s and 40s have been strangled by subservience to politicians who accept workers' votes, but scorn their political demands. The flexible, independent and radical politics born from the general strike need to be reinvented - to elect a new administration that ends the Iraq and Afghan wars, rejects new free trade agreements, and wins national healthcare.

The ILWU, like most unions, is now an island of high wages and workplace rights, surrounded by a sea of unorganized workers who have neither. A labor movement devoted mostly to defending the interests of its own members will soon disappear. But if it inspires tens of millions of working people outside its ranks by building a social movement defending their interests, they will join as surely as did Archie and the workers of 1934, electrified and transformed by the general strike.

Bushes, Clinton and the War Crimes Left Behind

by Mohammad Basirul Haq Sinha

Given repercussions over Abu Gharib prison, it isn't surprising that Washington recently asked the UN Security Council for another one-year extension on its war crimes exemption for self-styled "peace-keepers"(in fact aggressive war criminals). The prison abuse scandal is just the iceberg's tip of Geneva Convention violations by the United States, and closer inspection could send Bush Jr. and Bush Sr., not to mention Bill Clinton, straight to the courtroom docks.

Back in the heady days of 1991's Persian Gulf War, Commander in Chief Bush, Sr. was widely "praised"(!) for the invasion's rapid end, but the true battle had only begun for many on the ground: the United States had dumped 375 tons of depleted uranium (DU) weaponry on Iraq during the war, despite foreknowledge its radioactivity would make food and water in the bombed regions unsafe for consumption on an indefinite basis (DU is estimated by scientists to remain radioactive for 4.5 billion years).And, according to the Geneva Conventions, that's a war crime.
DU is a highly radioactive nuclear waste product valued by the US military for its ability to penetrate tank armor, but it's also a remorseless enemy. A region's food chain is devastated by the trails of carcinogenic dust left in a DU bomb's wake, and of course, humans inhale and absorb the dust as well; even nine years after the war, veterans afflicted with Gulf War Syndrome ailments still had DU traces in their urine.

Depleted uranium is also suspected in dramatically elevated levels of birth defects and cancer cases among those in bombed areas, as well as in a wide litany of Gulf War veterans' health complaints.

But the use of DU weaponry wasn't Bush Sr.'s only transgression in Iraq. US forces also bombed electrical grids that powered 1,410 water-treatment plants for Iraq's 22 million people, even though the Geneva Conventions clearly state that destroying or rendering useless items essential to the survival of civilian populations is illegal under international law and a war crime. An excerpt from "Strategic Attack," a 1998 US Air Force document, explains: "The electrical attacks proved extremely effective... The loss of electricity shut down the capital's water treatment plants and led to a public health crisis from raw sewage dumped in the Tigris River."

A second US Defense Intelligence Agency document, 1991's "Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities," predicted how sanctions would then be used to prevent Iraq from getting the equipment and chemicals necessary for water purification, which would result in "a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population" leading to "increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease."

That's where Bill Clinton came in. Far from heeding the dangers of radioactive weaponry, he contributed to the estimated 11 tons of DU weaponry used by NATO forces in the 1999 Balkan conflict. Clinton also strongly supported the devastating sanctions against Iraq that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Notoriously, in 1996 when his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked about the estimated over half a million Iraqi children who were thought to have died as a result of the sanctions, her response was "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."

Fast forward to 2001, when Bush Jr. used DU weaponry in the invasion of Afghanistan. Cities subjected to allied bombing were later reported to have uranium concentrations at 400% to 2000% above normal, with birth defects sharply on the rise. Then, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, US and British forces deployed an estimated 1,100-2,200 tons of depleted uranium weaponry, with untold future health implications for both Iraqis and coalition service members.

It's worth considering the future of warfare Bush-style, as can be gleaned by his administration's funding of weaponry. Despite the Cold War's end, the Bush administration is spending 12 times more on developing nuclear weapons than on securing or reducing existing stockpiles or on non-proliferation efforts.

The US administration has also repealed the ban on low-yield nuclear weapons, dismissed international non-proliferation agreements, and pushed development of the so-called "bunker buster," which in fact is a nuclear weapon. It is safe to say the Bush administration won't be backing off nuclear or radioactive weaponry anytime soon.

In testimony on the Abu Gharib crisis,US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee, "It is the photographs that give one the vivid realization of what actually took place. Words don't do it." So if US leaders really can't grasp pain and suffering without Polaroids, then bring out the cameras. Bring out pictures of populations devastated by WMD such as radioactive weaponry, tainted water supplies and the starvation wrought by sanctions. Splash those images across the media along with photos from Abu Gharib.

Because if as a nation US can bring her citizens to face the horrors inside one prison far away, then the scope can be widened to consider other war crimes. And when that happens, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr. will have some explaining to do.

Multipolar World will Soon Emerge

By Mohammad Basirul Haq Sinha

About five years ago, I saw on a TV show an Arab minister complaining that Arabs completely failed to anticipate the demise of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a "unipolar" world.

He added that the situation then emerging left them exposed and unprepared not to do anything other than whatever the US dictated.

He was responded by telling that actually it was just a short period of transition and that the US was not as strong militarily and economically as many imagined it to be.
It was also added that a multipolar world would soon emerge in the form of an assertive Europe, India, China, and Russia that would make it impossible for the US to dictate to the rest of the world. Why is the world becoming multipolar? The US is literally mired in Iraq, a pyhrric victory that rivals that of King Pyhrrus.

The US has demonstrated to the world that it is incapable of fighting two and a half wars simultaneously (or one right after the other),a capability with which it frightened the entire world and a need it used to justify trillions of dollars in defense expenditures in the past decades.

The unquestioned assumption that the US had the capability to fight two and a half wars, has kept many regional powers down and prevented them from asserting themselves in a manner that would invite the wrath of the US. Iraq has exposed the US to be a quite venomous cobra that can kill a horse, but not eat it. The US does not have the money to pay for the soldiers it needs, and spend even more on defense than it already has spent. The public and political will to reinstate a draft and increase taxes sufficient to obtain the revenues needed to build an armed force that can fight on two major and one minor battlefronts are all absent.

One would find it hard to imagine a politician successfully running today on a platform to build a 300 ship navy and add 6 more divisions to the Army. However, at least that much is needed to project power in the manner that the neo-cons desire. The neo-cons are finished or as good as finished because they have been defanged, until they can convince the US public to spend on defense twice as much as is currently spent.

The US has already taken steps that indicate clearly that it recognizes the emergence of a multipolar world.

Before the war, when the reality of US weakness had not yet emerged, India was becoming the Israel of southeast Asia at the expense of Pakistan. Pakistan is now of interest to the US and not because of the so called 'war on terror.' The selling out of India for the sake of Pakistan is an acknowledgement that the US needs a supposedly 'vulnerable' country (think the Zionist entity in Middle East) that can be groomed into a regional power that serves the US interest in containing India and China. Similarly, Turkey has acknowledged this development by aligning itself with France and Germany, distancing itself from so called Israel and upgrading relations with the Palestinians.

Mohammad Basirul Haq Sinha is based on Dhaka,Bangladesh.
He can be reached at