Thursday, March 31, 2011

Juan Cole: The Sleeping Giants of Tiny Bahrain, THE Spring Booksale, this Saturday at SCL


The Sleeping Giants of Tiny Bahrain

By Juan Cole

Truthdig: March 31, 2011

Risking the radicalization of Bahrain’s Shiite community may be a very bad idea. Worries on that score are what led Vice President Joe Biden to ask again in a phone call Sunday to the king of the island nation for a negotiated settlement between the Sunni monarchy and his repressed Shiite majority. Meanwhile, as Iraqi Shiites demonstrated in favor of their coreligionists in Bahrain, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned somewhat apocalyptically this weekend that Saudi intervention against Bahrain’s Shiites could ignite a “sectarian war” in the Persian Gulf region.

Bahrain’s protest movement, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, began Feb. 14. The Bahraini crowds demanded the resignation of the prime minister, whom they accused of ordering severe and persistent human rights abuses. Khalifa Al Khalifa, the uncle of the king, has held the post since Bahrain became independent of Britain in 1971. The largely Shiite protesters, led by the Wifaq Party, also insisted that the constitution be altered to give more power to the Shiite majority, and that the country become a constitutional monarchy. Three small parties (including al-Haq, which had split from Wifaq), began calling in early March for an outright republic, and of course they frightened the Sunni monarchy and its Saudi backers most of all.

After a month of rallies and protests at the Pearl Roundabout in downtown Manama, the beleaguered Bahraini monarchy brought in a thousand Saudi troops to disperse the protesters on March 14. The action drew a sharp rebuke from Iran, where Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani warned that the Saudi invasion would not pass without a reaction from Tehran. The next day, emergency laws were imposed in Bahrain, including a ban on further large public rallies and a curfew. Manama, the capital, has gradually returned to a semblance of normality, but Shiites in 12 small towns near the capital defied the state of emergency to stage protests last Friday. They were met with a harsh reaction from security police.

Among the Middle East protest movements, that in tiny Bahrain is one of the more momentous. Manama hosts the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet, which provides security to a region that has nearly two-thirds of the world’s proven petroleum reserves. Bahrain has a citizen population of nearly 600,000 and about two-thirds of those are Shiite Muslims. The monarchy, which is close to being an absolute monarchy, is Sunni and has traditionally given the Shiites little respect. There are another 600,000 or so guest workers in Bahrain, probably a majority of them Sunni Muslims from India and Pakistan, though there are also substantial Hindu and Christian populations. Expatriate Sunnis are employed as police and in the army and security forces, and are sometimes given citizenship in a bid to offset the demographic weight of the Shiites.

The current king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, came to power as emir in 1999 and declared himself monarch in 2002. He promulgated a constitution that created a toothless legislature. He appoints the 40 members of the upper house, while the 40 seats in the lower house are filled on the basis of elections. Electoral districts are gerrymandered, however, to prevent the Shiites from gaining their rightful majority there. In the current lower house, the Shiite Wifaq Party held 18 seats before its members resigned en masse after the crackdown in early March. The lower house can be overruled by the upper house, and the legislation of both can be struck down at will by the king, so the Shiite majority remains effectively powerless.

Many of the discontents of Bahraini Shiites have to do with employment discrimination. They maintain that they are underrepresented in government jobs because of a regime preference for Sunnis. Many Shiites are from rural villages, and they find it difficult to compete for private-sector jobs with expatriate Sunnis, who often have skills and a knowledge of English that give them an edge with corporations. 

Most Shiite clerics in Bahrain reject the Iranian doctrine that clerics should rule, as a 2008 State Department cable released by WikiLeaks makes clear. Many look to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf in Iraq as an opinion leader. Only a small group is oriented to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Nevertheless, Sunnis often unfairly depict Bahraini Shiites as a fifth column for Iran.

Shiite moderation in Bahrain may well be threatened, however, by the uncompromising attitude of the king and his prime minister. Their security men have fired on protesters, killing altogether about 20 since the rallies began and wounding more than 500. The Pearl Roundabout was forcibly cleared. Wifaq alleges that more than 100 protest leaders have been arrested and are being held incommunicado. 

Those who compare the crackdown in Bahrain to that in Libya are exaggerating, since the loss of life in Libya has been hundreds of times greater. Those who blame the United States for hypocrisy in demanding that Moammar Gadhafi step down, and intervening militarily in favor of democracy while coddling the Bahraini king, have a point. Fear that the lease of the U.S. naval base will be summarily revoked if Washington pushes Manama too hard probably plays a part in the Obama administration’s timid statements on the island’s crisis. Likewise, fear of provoking sectarian conflict in the nearby oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, which is traditionally dominated by Shiites, and thereby sending oil prices spiraling still farther upward probably adds to the caution.

But Washington’s tendency to handle the Bahraini monarchy with kid gloves and to defer to the Saudis is ill serving the stability of the Persian Gulf. Angry and hopeless Arab Shiite youths, deprived of political opportunities and of a fair share of oil wealth in a generally affluent region, could turn to Iran for succor if they think the U.S. and the West in general have abandoned them. Bahrain is not a candidate for outside military intervention, since it is not rolling tanks on crowds. But it is a candidate for some tough love from the world community lest its unwise policies ignite an armed struggle that could set back human rights and democracy in the region and endanger the global economy.

From: mwelsing []
Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 3:06 PM
To: Ed Pearl
Subject: Where you'll find great books: SCL's booksale

SCL Book Sale Update:
MEMBER PREVIEW, Friday, April 1
BOOK SALE KICKOFF, Saturday, April 2

Attention SCL Members!

If you join or renew as an SCL member now now, you will be eligible to come to the Library for a special member-only preview on Friday, April 1, a full day before everyone else arrives on Saturday, the official start of the book sale.


• You must be an up-to-date member to enter the preview.

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Sign up now to become a member or renew your membership—anyone can join!



And then don't forget to join us for the:

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Scheer: Obama's Fatal Addiction, A silver lining to the Fukushima disaster?

From: Bill Totten

Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2011 1:27 AM

Subject: [R-G] [BillTottenWeblog]


A silver lining to the Fukushima disaster?


By Philip White

The Japan Times (March 30 2011)


The most remarkable thing about the response so far to the “genpatsu

shinsai” (nuclear-earthquake disaster) that has engulfed Japan is that

there are still people who think nuclear power has a future. Should

this be attributed more to the dependence of modern industrialized

societies on massive inputs of energy, or to a collective lack of



We do not yet know how this unfolding catastrophe will end, but we can

be sure that if most of the radioactivity in the Fukushima Number One

nuclear power plant remains on site, then the true believers will claim

that this is as bad as it gets and that the risk is worth taking. The

environmental damage of localized contamination and releases to sea

will be discounted and long-term health impacts from exposure to low

levels of radiation will be denied. Even those workers who suffer from

acute radiation sickness will not find their way into the most commonly

quoted statistics, unless they die promptly.


The truth is that even in the best-case scenario the environmental and

human consequences of this disaster will be enormous. The potential

impact of a worst-case scenario is beyond most people’s comprehension.

To give an indication of the amount of radioactive material involved,

the total capacity of the three reactors that were operating at the

time of the earthquake was double that of the Chernobyl Number Four

reactors that exploded 25 years ago in the Ukraine. To this you have to

add the radioactivity in the spent fuel pools of all six units and of

the shared spent fuel pool.


All of this is at risk and, due to the long-term heat-generating

properties of the fuel, the situation will not be stabilized any time

soon. Even if the radioactivity does not travel far, the release of

just a fraction would have incalculable consequences for human beings

and the environment.


Besides the true believers, there are also those who regard nuclear

energy as a necessary evil. They don’t particularly like it, but they

see no alternative. But is it true that there is no alternative? For

those who can’t see beyond the current centralized, supply-driven

electrical power systems and who assume an eternally increasing demand

for energy, then perhaps it is difficult to imagine how modern

societies could survive without nuclear power.


But if you allow the possibility of decentralized systems that reward

the efficient provision of energy services, rather than the supply of

raw energy, then hitherto unimagined options open up.


After last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and now the Fukushima

Number One genpatsu shinsai, people must realize that business as usual

is not an option.


To claim that nuclear energy has a future represents a colossal failure

of our collective imagination – a failure to imagine the risks involved

and a failure to imagine how we could do things differently.


If future generations are to say that there was a silver lining to the

cloud of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it will be because human

beings now looked beyond their recent history and chose to build a

society that was not subject to catastrophic risks of human making.




Philip White is the international liaison officer of the Tokyo-based

Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.


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Obama’s Fatal Addiction


By Robert Scheer

Truthdig: March 30, 2011


If it had been revealed that Jeffrey Immelt once hired an undocumented nanny, or defaulted on his mortgage, he would be forced to resign as head of President Barack Obama’s “Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.” But the fact that General Electric, where Immelt is CEO, didn’t pay taxes on its $14.5 billion profit last year—and indeed is asking for a $3.2 billion tax rebate—has not produced a word of criticism from the president, who in January praised Immelt as a business leader who “understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy.”


What it takes, evidently, is shifting profit and jobs abroad: As of last year only 134,000 of GE’s total workforce of 304,000 was based in the U.S. and according to the New York Times for the past three years 72% of the company’s profit was sheltered abroad. Thanks to changes in the tax law engineered when another avowedly pro-business Democrat, Bill Clinton, was president, U.S. multinational financial companies can avoid taxes on their international scams. And financial scams are what GE excelled in for decades, when GE Capital, its financial unit, which specialized in credit card, consumer loan and housing mortgage debt, accounted for most of GE’s profits.


That’s right, GE, along with General Motors with its toxic GMAC financial unit, came to look more like an investment bank than a traditional industrial manufacturing giant that once propelled this economy and ultimately it ran into the same sort of difficulties as the Wall Street hustlers. As The New York Times’ David Kocieniewski, who broke the GE profit story, put it: “Because its lending division, GE Capital, has provided more than half of the company’s profit in some recent years, many Wall Street analysts view G.E. not as a manufacturer but as an unregulated lender that also makes dishwashers and M.R.I. machines.”


Maximizing corporate profits at the taxpayer’s expense is what top CEOs are good at, and after all it was Immelt who presided over GE when it got so heavily into the subprime mortgage business that it needed a government bailout to avoid bankruptcy. This was before Obama made him a trusted adviser.


Back at the end of 2008, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. government had agreed to insure an additional $139 billion in GE Capital’s debt holdings, the second such intervention within a month, adding, “The company’s exposure to the deepest financial crisis since the 1930s has cut its market value by more than half this year.” A Washington Post exposé titled “How a Loophole Benefits GE in Bank Rescue” documented the power of Immelt’s lobbying operation in Washington. GE was not initially deemed eligible for the debt guarantee program offered to failing banks, “but regulators soon loosened the eligibility requirements, in part because of behind-the scenes appeals from GE.” And it worked; as the Post reported, “The government’s actions have been `powerful and helpful’ to the company, GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt acknowledged.” For the next two years, GE would still report enormous profits without paying taxes, adding insult to the injury that financial shenanigans had inflicted on ordinary taxpayers who bailed the company out.


On Feb. 6, 2009, Immelt sent a contrite annual letter to GE shareholders, admitting, “Our Company’s reputation was tarnished because we weren’t the ‘safe and reliable’ growth company that is our aspiration.” While conceding his own culpability in GE’s downturn, Immelt predicted a rosy future: “I accept responsibility for this. But, I think the environment presents an opportunity of a lifetime.”


Not, obviously, for the 50 million Americans who have either lost their homes or are deeply underwater in a housing market that is still in steep decline thanks to the lending practices of companies like GE Capital. Nope, the good times are in the offing only for corporations that know how to make the U.S. government a partner in their scams. As Immelt stated blatantly: “The global economy, and capitalism, will be `reset’ in several important ways. The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner.”


That’s the essential blueprint for Obama’s restructuring of the economy, as the president put it in selecting Immelt to replace Paul Volcker as head of his outside team of economic advisers. Volcker had become increasingly critical of the corporate high rollers. Obama, although noting the suffering of ordinary Americans, clearly believes that such populism is now beside the point. As the president put it in announcing Immelt’s appointment on Jan. 20, 2011: “The past two years was about moving our economy back from the brink. Our job now is putting our economy into overdrive.”


But overdrive, with CEOs like Immelt shifting the gears, is what brought us so close to the brink. Once again Obama seems fatally addicted to the notion that the heavy hitters who got us into this mess are the very folks to be trusted to get us out of it. What he seems incapable of grasping is that while they are personally very good at avoiding the precipice, the rest of us are hardly passengers in their limos.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DN: Juan Cole, Vijay Prashad Debate U.S. in Libya, Truthdig on the radio

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DN:  Juan Cole, Vijay Prashad Debate U.S. Military Intervention in Libya

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss Libya and the latest developments across the Middle East and North Africa, we’re joined by two guests. Vijay Prashad is chair in South Asian History and professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, author of 11 books, most recently The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. He opposes the U.S.-led intervention in Libya. And we’re joined by Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan. His blog, "Informed Comment," is online at His most recent book is called Engaging the Muslim World.

Professor Cole, you support the U.S.-led intervention in Libya. You wrote about it in a piece called "An Open Letter to the Left on Libya." Professor Cole is joining us from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Lay out your argument for intervention, Professor Cole.

JUAN COLE: Well, intervention is always a problematic thing, and it could go badly wrong, I have to admit from the outset. But you had a situation in Libya which was pretty peculiar. The uprising was a popular uprising. You had crowds coming out into the streets in downtowns, in Zawiyah, in Zuwarah, in so many of the cities of that country, and Benghazi. You had very substantial numbers of the officer corps defecting to the crowds, declaring for them. And it was chaotic, and it was not well coordinated, but it was nationwide. And I would estimate that, at its height, the people had thrown off Gaddafi’s rule in something on the order of 80 to 90 percent of the country. And mostly, it was done nonviolently.

And then the Gaddafi sons, who command these special forces and the tank commanders, made an attempt to put this down. And they did it in the most brutal way possible. They mounted tanks, 30, 40, 50 tanks, sent them into the downtowns of places like Zawiyah, and they just shelled civilian crowds, protesters. They shelled buildings. They brutalized people over days, until they scared everybody and put them down, and then they sent secret police around to round up alleged ringleaders and reestablish secret police rule. And they did this in town after town after town. And then they started rolling the tanks to the east, and they were on the verge of taking the rebel stronghold, Benghazi. And there certainly would have been a massacre there in the same way that there was in Zawiyah, if it hadn’t been stopped at the last moment by United Nations allies.

And here we had a situation where the Arab League met and demanded a no-fly zone. The U.S. Senate voted a resolution for a no-fly zone. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution, 1973, asking not only for a no-fly zone, but for all measures necessary to protect civilian life. And now you have NATO and Arab League members like Qatar and the UAE patrolling Libya’s skies, intervening against those tanks that were wreaking that havoc on ordinary people.

This is not something that could have been done in most situations. I mean, you were bringing up places like Yemen. Bombing Yemen would produce no result whatsoever, and I don’t think anybody has asked for Yemen to be bombed. But in Libya, it made a difference. It saved Benghazi. It saved this popular protest movement, which, by the way, includes so many workers and ordinary people. Some of the cities which have thrown off Gaddafi, like Misurata, were known, for instance, for their steel mill. These are progressive forces who were fighting a wretched secret police regime.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Vijay Prashad. You are opposed to the intervention. Why?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s a long story, and it should go back to a particular kind of understanding of Libyan history, where Libya, from the Ottoman period, has had a divide between the east and the west.

Certainly, Gaddafi, since the 1980s, has been a reactionary leader in Libya, and I have never, ever felt—and I’ve written from the ’80s onward—that Gaddafi is on the side of reaction, rather than a progressive. So let there be no mistake that what I would like to suggest is not a defense of Gaddafi by any means.

On the other hand, there has been a protest movement in the east, as I said, that goes back several decades. Most recently, on February 17th, 2006, there was an uprising in Benghazi. It was put down. And then, the anniversary came on February 17th of this year. There was an attempt to revive the protest, taking inspiration from other parts of North Africa and the Gulf. So, yes, indeed, there was a popular uprising. It was stronger in the east than in the west, although in working-class areas in Tripoli, there was some sporadic rising that was observed, in Tajura and other neighborhoods. So, that is correct.

But very quickly, the French and the United States government came in and attempted to, I think, transform the Arab spring to their advantage. So, for instance, when we talk about the rebel leadership in Benghazi, one should keep in mind that the two principal military leaders, one of whom was a former interior minister in the Gaddafi regime, and the second gentleman was a general who led troops in Chad in the 1980s and was then taken up with the Libyan National Salvation Front, went off to live in Vienna, Virginia, for 30 years, about a 10-minute drive from Langley, and returned to Benghazi to, in a sense, I think, hijack the rebellion on behalf of the forces of reaction. It’s very important to recognize, as Juan said quite correctly, that it’s Qatar and the UAE and the Gulf—the GCC, the Gulf—what is it?—Coordination Council that is behind this—you know, which is the principal Arab support for the humanitarian intervention, as it were, and these are the same places where—the same organization, which has attempted and has now put down the uprising in Bahrain. You had the Saudi Prince Faisal Al Turki talking about the GCC becoming perhaps a NATO of the Gulf region. So, I would like to suggest that, you know, even by February 26th, 27th, when NATO—when the United Nations first took up the Libyan case, the rebellion was not quite a rebel army as it was in Tahrir Square. It had already been substantially co-opted by the people who were on behalf of NATO and the United States.

So the first thing I would say is we should be very careful when we think of the rebels. We should not confuse all the rebellions across the Arab world and consider them all to be the same. There are some important differences. And secondly, the United States and NATO has its own agenda here. And when one supports an intervention, I think one should be very careful to see whose intervention we are supporting. Is this on behalf of those young people, the workers and others, with whom we have, you know, allegiances and alliances? Is it going to be on their behalf? Or is it going to be on behalf of people like Khalifa Hifter, the colonel who has returned from Vienna, Virginia, to lead the troops in Benghazi? So I would just like to say that my sense of dismay at this intervention is precisely because I think it’s for the bad side of history, and in some ways it is a measure to clamp down on the Arab spring, to take attention away, as well, from Bahrain and other places, rather than a part of the Arab spring.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Juan Cole, your response?

JUAN COLE: Well, I just think it’s a mistake to characterize a mass movement of millions of people with reference to one or two individuals. And it’s simply not the case that this was primarily—or, that is to say, only—an eastern uprising. The city of Zuwarah, which is about the farthest west you can get among major population centers, threw off Gaddafi. Zawiyah, which is in the west, threw off Gaddafi. Zintan, a major tribal center of the Zintan tribe, threw off Gaddafi, and Gaddafi’s tanks are still trying to take it back. And Misurata, which is a western city, a major western city of nearly 600,000, threw off Gaddafi. So the east-west divide is a nonstarter here. The west also didn’t want Gaddafi. I would suggest that much of Tripoli didn’t want him, and in especially the working-class districts, Souk Al-Jummah and others, as was mentioned. So, this was a very widely based, geographically and class-wise, widely based uprising.

That there are one or two individuals that you can name who came back to Benghazi and declared themselves leaders is irrelevant. We don’t know what the leadership will look like going forward. There are also, you know, allegations that some of the fighters had fought U.S. troops in Iraq and are, quote-unquote, "al-Qaeda." There’s this tendency to try to take one or two individuals and use them as a proxy to stereotype this uprising. You know, it’s just the youth of Libya, it’s the youth of Benghazi, and often city notables and workers’ unions and so forth. It’s just the people. And you’re going to have all kinds of people there, and some of them are criminals, and some of them might have a terrorist past, and some of them might be hooked up with the CIA. I don’t know. But it’s—you can’t use that as a stereotype for the whole movement and say, therefore, it’s all right if these people are massacred with tank and artillery shells as they stand peacefully in the center of a city square like that of Benghazi.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a clip of President Obama last night. In some of his most detailed comments on the Middle East and North Africa uprisings to date, Obama said the U.S. is broadly supportive of the protesters’ demands.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ten days ago, having tried to end the violence without using force, the international community offered Gaddafi a final chance to stop his campaign of killing or face the consequences. Rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance, bearing down on the city of Benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women and children who sought their freedom from fear.

At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared he would show no mercy to his own people. He compared them to rats and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city.

We knew that if we wanted—if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so, nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, this is President Obama talking about his broad support for the pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back and that we must stand alongside those people who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed at one’s own people; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people. Born as we are out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa and that young people are leading the way, because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama last night, talking about the justification for intervention in Libya and going beyond. Professor Vijay Prashad of Trinity College, your response?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, wherever people would like to be free, unless they live in Bahrain, Yemen and, you know, for a long time, even in Egypt, until the tide was too strong for the Americans to push it back.

You know, the resolutions that the United Nations passed—1970 was the first resolution, and then 1973—are deeply ambiguous resolutions. They got the support of the Arab League. They got the support tacitly, although they abstained of the Chinese and the Russians, because they said that there was going to be no attempt at assisting the rebels, there was only going to be the obligation to protect civilians. So, President Obama has been playing a tightrope between "we are protecting civilians" and "we want to get rid of Gaddafi."

The second thing, get rid of Gaddafi or give assistance to the rebels, is contrary to the U.N. Resolution 1973, and it should be borne in mind that as much as he said we will not commit ground troops, the United States has already committed ground forces. These may not be boots on the ground, but they’re the AC-130 aircraft and the A-10 aircraft, which are both low-flying ground troop support aircrafts. These are not to create a no-fly zone; these are to attack ground troops. So the United States has already taken a position in the middle of a civil war. You know, it has already established that it is, in a sense, the armed wing of the rebels.

So, in that sense, President Obama not once in his speech mentioned the rebels themselves. Like Juan, he spoke of the people versus Gaddafi. And I think that that might be too restricting or too general, perhaps, of a framework to understand this. Now, I, too, believe that there is a broad swath of opinion against Gaddafi, but I think that what this intervention has done is it’s narrowed options. And it’s not that two or three people are controlling the entire dynamic, but it is their faction because they have very close ties now with the principal military power in operation in Libya. It is because of their close ties to the principal military power that their hand is strengthened against the other people in the rebellion. We have seen this over and over again during the moment of so-called humanitarian intervention, that sometimes the worst elements take over a popular movement because they have the closest links to imperial forces. You know, there is a broad movement, and that broad movement is going to be sidelined. It’s very interesting that President Obama never talked about the rebels. He only kept indicating the endgame, which is that Gaddafi must go, that itself in contravention to U.N. Resolution 1973. I found it a very peculiar speech. There was no mention of Bahrain, no mention of the Saudi troops crossing the causeway into Manama, no mention of their quest for freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan Cole, your response?

JUAN COLE: Well, I don’t think the situation is comparable to Bahrain. I would like to see the Bahrain monarchy, which is a Sunni monarchy ruling over a Shiite majority, show greater flexibility in meeting popular demands for constitutional revision, for better representation of the Shia in the parliament, for moving the monarchy towards a constitutional monarchy. But to compare tiny Bahrain, where there has been some violence against protesters, to Libya, where there was a national popular uprising and where, in Libya, thousands are dead, not 20, it’s just not on the same scale.

And the other thing is, you know, let us be practical, let us be pragmatic. We are people of the left. We care about the ordinary people. We care about workers. We care about the aspirations of the people, and the United States should certainly be putting pressure on the Bahrain monarchy to accommodate them. And in fact, the U.S. has put pressure on it, to the extent that the Saudi government is furious with the United States. I mean, we’re saying it’s not doing enough. The reactionary forces in the Gulf are angry that we’re doing too much. And however, you know, a military intervention in Bahrain is not a practical option, and I cannot see in what way it could even have any hope of success. The Bahraini protesters themselves would object to a direct U.S. or NATO military intervention in Bahrain.

In Libya, the people asked for this intervention: they asked for a no-fly zone. And I would be the first to admit that this is going beyond a no-fly zone. There’s also a no-drive zone. The British and the French and the American fighter pilots have taken out tank positions and artillery positions that had been used to subdue villages and towns that had gone into opposition. The Gaddafi regime has been rolled back by these attacks, and that’s part of what the Western understanding, or the NATO and the Arab League understanding, of the U.N. resolution is, is that Gaddafi was wrong to roll tanks and artillery against these civilian crowds and that those have to be withdrawn. And where they’re not withdrawn, they’ll be attacked.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me just put the final question—

JUAN COLE: So, I don’t—I don’t agree that the resolution, which is worded somewhat ambiguously, that the spirit of it has so far been violated. And President Obama made it quite clear that the United States doesn’t intend to press an invasion of a sort that would overthrow Gaddafi directly.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask Vijay Prashad, on this issue of Benghazi, that—the promised massacre of the people of Benghazi, what should have happened? How would that have been prevented?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Firstly, I’m not convinced that there would have been a massacre. I think that there were troops inside Benghazi. They are the troops that were trained and armed by the Libyan regime. They had repulsed an attempt into Benghazi. The tanks were outside the city when they were bombed by French planes.

What I would have liked to have seen was some more action from the—you know, the Arab League to think about, for instance, a war refugee corridor out of Benghazi into the Egyptian border. There is a road that goes directly. It’s interesting that the Egyptian army did not act at all in this, to come and create some kind of corridor. There were war refugees fleeing Tripoli into Tunisia, but there was nothing comparable on the eastern side. This had already become a civil war, and no longer was it simply an unarmed population fighting against a state. It had become a civil war. The real humanitarian intervention there would have been to have conducted the creation of a corridor, a momentary ceasefire, let people leave as war refugees, and then see what happens, because this is not strictly the case in Benghazi of unarmed civilians fighting against a state. It is precisely why General Ham of the African Command said that from a cockpit it is very hard to know whether you’re defending civilians or whether you’re assisting rebels.

AMY GOODMAN: We going to have to leave it—

VIJAY PRASHAD: And he said, in the briefing room we were able to tell it was rebels, but really it was also civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: Vijay Prashad, Juan Cole, we will leave it there, but the debate goes on. Juan Cole, professor at the University of Michigan, blogs at "Informed Comment" at—most recent book, Engaging the Muslim World. Vijay Prashad, chair of South Asian History and professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut—his latest book, The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World.





Cronon - Wisconsin's Radical Break

Hi.  Monday morning, I sent you Paul Krugman’s piece on the thought police,

which he called ‘The Cronon Affair.”  Last night, Rachel Maddow interviewed

Professor Cronon.  Here is the actual article, introduced by the NY Times.


Wisconsin Professor’s E-Mails Are Target of G.O.P. Records Request

By A. G. Sulzberger: \
NY Times: March 26, 2011


As Wisconsin’s capital continued to echo with debate over the controversial legislation that strips public unions of collective bargaining rights, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison publicly joined the conversation last week with his first post on a new blog.

It was a speculative examination of a national organization for conservative lawmakers that the professor, William Cronon, believed was partly responsible for what he described as “this explosion of radical conservative legislation.” The post soon received more than a half million hits, he said.

Two days later, on March 17, while attending a conference of historians, Professor Cronon learned that a public records request had been filed by a state Republican Party official demanding access to months of messages on his university e-mail account that referred to certain politicized words and names, including the governor and a number of legislators

Professor Cronon, who describes himself as a political independent, said his initial nervousness had turned to anger over what he described as an attempt at harassment and intimidation. He said he had never engaged in any non-scholarly political work on university computers or time, which is prohibited, but was still concerned about the release of the e-mails


“There is an academic freedom issue here,” he said in an interview.

- - -


Wisconsin’s Radical Break

William Cronon

‘NY Times Op-Ed: March 21, 2011


Madison, Wis.

NOW that a Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked a state law that would strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights, it’s worth stepping back to place these events in larger historical context.

Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.

Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a “laboratory of democracy.” The state pioneered many social reforms: It was the first to introduce workers’ compensation, in 1911; unemployment insurance, in 1932; and public employee bargaining, in 1959.

University of Wisconsin professors helped design Social Security and were responsible for founding the union that eventually became the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Wisconsin reformers were equally active in promoting workplace safety, and often led the nation in natural resource conservation and environmental protection.

But while Americans are aware of this progressive tradition, they probably don’t know that many of the innovations on behalf of working people were at least as much the work of Republicans as of Democrats.

Although Wisconsin has a Democratic reputation these days — it backed the party’s presidential candidates in 2000, 2004 and 2008 — the state was dominated by Republicans for a full century after the Civil War. The Democratic Party was so ineffective that Wisconsin politics were largely conducted as debates between the progressive and conservative wings of the Republican Party.

When the Wisconsin Democratic Party finally revived itself in the 1950s, it did so in a context where members of both parties were unusually open to bipartisan policy approaches. Many of the new Democrats had in fact been progressive Republicans just a few years earlier, having left the party in revulsion against the reactionary politics of their own senator, Joseph R. McCarthy, and in sympathy with postwar liberalizing forces like the growing civil rights movement.

The demonizing of government at all levels that has become such a reflexive impulse for conservatives in the early 21st century would have mystified most elected officials in Wisconsin just a few decades ago.

When Gov. Gaylord A. Nelson, a Democrat, sought to extend collective bargaining rights to municipal workers in 1959, he did so in partnership with a Legislature in which one house was controlled by the Republicans. Both sides believed the normalization of labor-management relations would increase efficiency and avoid crippling strikes like those of the Milwaukee garbage collectors during the 1950s. Later, in 1967, when collective bargaining was extended to state workers for the same reasons, the reform was promoted by a Republican governor, Warren P. Knowles, with a Republican Legislature.

The policies that the current governor, Scott Walker, has sought to overturn, in other words, are legacies of his own party.

But Mr. Walker’s assault on collective bargaining rights breaks with Wisconsin history in two much deeper ways as well. Among the state’s proudest traditions is a passion for transparent government that often strikes outsiders as extreme. Its open meetings law, open records law and public comment procedures are among the strongest in the nation. Indeed, the basis for the restraining order blocking the collective bargaining law is that Republicans may have violated open meetings rules in passing it. The legislation they have enacted turns out to be radical not just in its content, but in its blunt ends-justify-the-means disregard for openness and transparency.

This in turn points to what is perhaps Mr. Walker’s greatest break from the political traditions of his state. Wisconsinites have long believed that common problems deserve common solutions, and that when something needs fixing, we should roll up our sleeves and work together — no matter what our politics — to achieve the common good.

Mr. Walker’s conduct has provoked a level of divisiveness and bitter partisan hostility the likes of which have not been seen in this state since at least the Vietnam War. Many citizens are furious at their governor and his party, not only because of profound policy differences, but because these particular Republicans have exercised power in abusively nontransparent ways that represent such a radical break from the state’s tradition of open government.

Perhaps that is why — as a centrist and a lifelong independent — I have found myself returning over the past few weeks to the question posed by the lawyer Joseph N. Welch during the hearings that finally helped bring down another Wisconsin Republican, Joe McCarthy, in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But there is something about the style of the two men — their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views — that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered. McCarthy helped create the modern Democratic Party in Wisconsin by infuriating progressive Republicans, imagining that he could build a national platform by cultivating an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him.

The turmoil in Wisconsin is not only about bargaining rights or the pension payments of public employees. It is about transparency and openness. It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect. Joe McCarthy forgot these lessons of good government, and so, I fear, has Mr. Walker. Wisconsin’s citizens have not.

William Cronon is a professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.