Thursday, June 25, 2009

American Imperialism and Friedman's Clean Slate

"The theories of Milton Friedman gave him the Nobel Prize,
they gave Chile General Pinochet."
- Eduardo Galeano

The United States proved their imperialism when it came to Brazil and Indonesia. As both countries began to nationalize and cut international business profits the US decided to call them communists to justify taking out their governments. In reference to preparations for the 1964 coup in Brazil Lyndon Johnson was recorded saying "I think we ought to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to do." Weapons and funding were sent to the rebels through the CIA and according to the National Security Archive a naval task force was dispatched to "intimidate Goulart's backers and be in position to intervene militarily if fighting became protracted."Where President Goulart had been a strong backer of labor unions and welfare programs his replacement General Humberto Castello Branco immediately banned all unions and any criticism of the new government, as well as opening Brazil wide for foreign investors - following a plan designed by graduates of the University of Chicago. In the beginning Branco created a pretense of democracy by allowing limited press and limited freedom of assembly. However by the late '60s the countrey's poverty was so severe that groups began to blame the junta's Chicago School business plan and General Branco altered his methods: all democracy and civil liberties were abolished, torture and killing by the state became everyday occurrences. Indonesia's President Sukarno made enemies of the Western world by redistributing wealth, protecting their economy and banning the IMF and World Bank from the country, claiming that they were puppets of Western multinationals - which they were. Sukarno, a nationalist, worked closely with the Communist Party, consequently the US decided to remove him from office. One declassified document gave the CIA directions to "liquidate President Sukarno depending on the situation and available opportunities."The 'available opportunity' came in 1965 when CIA backed General Suharto began to seize power by eradicating a list of 5,000 leftists compiled by the CIA. The CIA would not be happy until the entire "shooting list" had been eliminated, effectively destroying any leftist support. Suharto's better known massacre was carried out by an army of religious students that he armed with clubs, knives and guns and directed them to purge the countryside of communists. In little more than a month nearly 1,000,000 people were murdered, the river ran red and river travel became impossible due to overwhelming congestion of mutilated bodies.

The Indonesian coup was especially exciting for those plotting Allende's fall from power. Most interesting was not Suharto's brutality but the role played by Indonesian economists trained in Western economics at UC Berkley - known as the Berkley Mafia. While Suharto crossed names off of his shooting list the Berkley Mafia outlined his new economic plan. Just as in Brazil the Ford Foundation not only paid the way for the Berkley Mafia to study in America but paid for Berkley professors to help setup the economic department at the University of Indonesia. Ford funded students worked on campuses to raise unrest against Sukarno and the Berkley Mafia worked alongside Suharto training him in economic policies - giving him a detailed blueprint for his new economic strategy. Suharto was such a big fan of their work that he gave members of the Berkley Mafia every financial post in his cabinet.Not as radical as the Chicago Boys the Berkley Mafia was none the less huge supporters of international investors, passing laws that allowed multinationals to completely own Indonesia's natural resources. In only 24 months the countries rich deposits of copper, rubber, hardwood, nickel, and oil were controlled completely by the world's largest mining corporations - all owned by the West.

Allende's enemies compared the two coups and recognized that while Indonesians spirit was broken the Brazilian people continued to fight General Branco several years later. It occurred to them that Suharto's immense brutality had so cowed his people that they had put up little resistance, where Branco's pretenses of democracy had backfired against him. Furthermore they recognized that the relationship between Suharto and the Berkley Mafia had not only demolished nationalism but split the borders wide open for international privatization of Indonesia's natural resources. Recognizing a good idea when they saw one they modeled their plans after their Indonesian predecessors.

Within months of Allende's election the Chicago Boys began their preparations for the coming coup. Chilean businessmen formed a secret group, funded of course by our own CIA, and began planning the actions they would take once the government was overthrown. The two groups began to meet weekly and create proposals for how to transform their country along neo-conservative lines. While the military planned the destruction of Allende's support system the economists planned the destruction of his nationalist ideals. With the help of the CIA they created a 500 page guide, known as 'The Brick', for the junta taking them step by step from the earliest stages through their attainment of power. 80% of the creators of The Brick were University of Chicago alumni.When the coup finally came it was a three pronged attack. The first was the overthrow of the heads of state, second the Friedmanite economists readily stepping in to positions of power, and lastly an overwhelmingly brutal show of force breaking the back of any opposition - a plan that you will see repeated over and over again in the coming weeks, and which was mirrored in the US occupation of Iraq. This three stage attack systematically destroyed everything that had been built up in Brazil and replaced it with a Chicago School structured system, creating a clean slate for Friedman's theories to be tested in.

Ironically enough, on September 11th, 1973 (Karma much?) General Pinochet declared a one-sided war on Allende and the Chilean government, unleashing tanks and fighter jets on government buildings. From the get go Pinochet had full control of every branch of the military as well as the police force, leaving Allende with nothing. Allende and his 36 supporters held their last stand on the roof of the Presidential Palace, attempting to hold the Chilean military off, as two dozen rockets were launched to reduce the building to rubble. The Chilean people were leveled by this violence due to their 160 years of peaceful democratic rule: the President was dead, the Presidential Palace destroyed, and Orlando Letelier was ambushed by a dozen soldiers and taken into custody.In the years leading up to the coup United States operatives had convinced the Chilean military that their country was infested with Russian communist spies and persuaded them to turn against their own people. With Allende dead and the surviving government officials shipped to labor camps General Pinochet recognized that his job was only half done. In the days to follow 13,500 people were taken from their homes and off the streets and transported to large holding centers, including two football stadiums. Hooded militiamen picked people at random and took them to makeshift torture and execution chambers. Their bodies were dumped in canals and on the sides of main roads with messages tied around their necks warning that this was an example of what resistance would bring.

To spread Pinochet's terror far and wide he formed his cruelest underlings into a "Caravan of Death" that would tour the countryside by helicopter publicly executing lines of high profile targets. In all, more than 3,200 people were kidnapped or murdered, more than 80,000 were imprisoned and tortured and 200,000 refugees fled the country. As if Pinochet's brutal regime change was not horrific enough it pales in comparison to the death and suffering that resulted from Milton Friedman's economic policy changes - the underlying cause of Allende's annihilation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Lady of Shalott

The poem 'The Lady of Shalott' by Tennyson is thought
to be loosely based on Elaine, the fair maid who was in
love with Sir Lancelot of Arthurian legend, as portrayed
in Sir Thomas Malory's 'Morte D'Arthur'.
Lancelot, alas, only had eyes for Queen Guinevere, so
Elaine locked herself in a tower on the island of Shalott
and died of a broken heart.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said
The Lady of Shalott.

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot. She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
The Lady of Shalott.

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
'The Lady of Shalott'.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seer in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance--
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right--
The leaves upon her falling light--
Thro' the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Salvador Allende And The War Against Developmentalism

"We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves."
- George Orwell

Despite the fact that Eisenhower was a strong right wing president he recognized that it would be foolhardy to challenge Keynianism's domestic reign, however he had no such qualms against fighting developmentalism abroad. In 1953 Iran has a developmentalist leader who had already nationalized their oil, Mohammad Mossadegh, and Indonesia was being led by Achmed Sukarno who had a dream of uniting the third worlds into a new world superpower on par with the United States and Russia. Between America's loss of Iran's oil, the talk of unification from Indonesia and the booming success in Latin America the United States was becoming very nervous.

The rich land and factory owners in South America were pissed off that their governments were keeping the price of crops low - making food readily affordable, their crowds of impoverished workers were demanding land redistribution and their profits being taxed to invest in other sectors. Similarly Western corporations were bitching to their governments that their products were being blocked at the borders in South America, their workers were demanding higher wages and most terrible of all there was talk of nationalizing the banks and mines of Latin America in order to further lift themselves out of their despondency.Due to the corporate pressure John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State, and his brother, Allen Dulles, head of the newly created CIA - both former employees of a major New York law firm that had represented J.P. Morgan, United Fruit Company and other major conglomerates - decided that they needed to put a new spin on developmentalism in order to bring it down. They formed a propaganda campaign which named developmentalism as a step on the road to communism. They followed up in 1953-54 with two CIA coups d'etat against third world governments that were both distinctly more Keynian than communist.

The first coup was in 1953 when the CIA overthrew democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, a beloved leader in Iran who had made bitter enemies when he nationalized his countries oil supplies. With Mosaddeq out of the way a monarchy was put into place under Mohammed Pahlavi who would rule with an iron fist for 26 years, until the Iranian people usurped him under accusations of oppression, murdering protesters, and being a puppet to the West.
The second coup took place in 1954 in Guatemala and was a direct result of the pressure applied by the United Fruit Company, a corporation in which both Dulles brothers were share holders. Democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman had retaken unused, undeveloped land, with full compensation, and given it to peasants to farm. In the 11 days following Guzman's fall from power five different juntas occupied the leadership position, finally resting on the West's bitch, formerly exiled Colonel Carlos Armas, a leader so inept that his reign created civil unrest unseen since the revolution of 1944.

To plot the downfall of developmentalism in the southern cone two men held a secret meeting in Santiago, Chile in 1953. Albion Patterson, director of USAID, and Theodore Schultz, the chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago. Recognizing that developmentalism was deeply entrenched and believing that the United States was not fighting strongly enough against Marxism Schultz suggested that they needed to convince poor countries that the only true way to economic success was to follow the path blazed by the United States.

In order to do this they launched what would be known as the "Chile Project" in which 100 Chilean students were sent to the University of Chicago to study economics, all expenses paid by US tax dollars. The following year the project was expanded to include students from all over Latin America, most specifically Brazil and Argentina, with their expenses covered by grants from the Ford Foundation. In essence Chile became Milton Friedman's wet dream: a country in which to test his economic theories. Basically the Chile Project found the brightest economic students and brought them to the University of Chicago to be indoctrinated into Friedman's champions in Latin America. In the words of Mario Zanartu, an economist at Santiago's Catholic University, the returning Chilean students were "even more Friedmanite than Friedman himself."
By the year 1963 12 of the 13 full time faculty members at Catholic University's economics department were graduates of the Chile Project, including the department chair. Soon Chilean students could study Friedman's theories without ever leaving the country.
Graduates of the two schools were known as "los Chicago Boys" and under grants from USAID they began to spread about into different universities in Latin America converting their economics programs to the Chicago School way of thinking.
Despite this intellectual imperialism none of the Chicago Boys had taken seats of political power and by the 1970 Chilean presidential elections all three candidates were strong supporters of nationalizing the countries copper mines - a resource controlled by American mining companies. In fact every Latin American country was turning even harder left than ever before. The Chile Project was an expensive dud, but the Chicago Boys were saved from obscurity by the election of US President Richard Nixon. Of Nixon Milton Friedman said he "had an imaginative, and on the whole effective, foreign policy." This could not be any more true in regards to Chile, while the Chicago Boys had failed under democratic leaders their luck would change under a dictatorship.
In 1970 Salvador Allende won the presidential seat under a platform of nationalizing everything that was run by foreign corporations. A powerful speaker he believed that socialistic change should not be forced upon them but needed to come by the vote of the people. When Nixon learned of Allende's election he was quoted as ordering the CIA director to "make their economy scream." The University of Chicago deemed the election a tragedy and believed that a military takeover might be the best approach. Although Allende planned to compensate businesses that would loose investments they were unwilling to let go of the profits they were receiving as a result of raping the Chileans - the copper mining industry had invested $1 billion and had received a return of over $7 billion.

Before his inauguration corporate America declared war on Allende, bringing together the American mining companies, the International Telephone and Telegraph company - whose 70% control of Chilean phones was going to be nationalized, as well as Pfizer Chemical, Purina and Bank of America. Their mission was to strong arm Allende into backing off by threatening to destroy their economy. They would do this by stopping all trade with Chile and by convincing foreign banks to refuse to lend the Chilean government money.
Allende sent his trusted friend, Orlando Letelier, to Washington to negotiate with the same corporations who were plotting the leaders downfall. These negotiations went nowhere as corporate America had plans of their own in place. In March of '72, during the negotiations, news was broken that ITT had secretly plotted with the State Department and CIA to block Allende from being inaugurated. The US Senate launched an investigation and uncovered multiple conspiracies, including that ITT had spent $1 million in bribes to rebellious groups in Chile to kill Allende, as well as an attempt to convince the CIA to rig the 1970 elections. Since neither plan had worked it was ITT's plan to ensure that he would not last beyond his first six months in office. The scheming even went so far as ITT making strategies for dealing with Chile and sending them to the president, calling for a military coup.

Despite putting $8 million into overthrowing Salvador Allende by 1973 his party gained more power and his popularity had grown tremendously. Finally the decision was made that in order to dethrone Allende a more radical puppet would need to take over the government and no candidate was more radical than General Augusto Pinochet.

Milton Friedman and Chicago School Economics

"I don't think I was ever regarded as evil"
~Milton Friedman

I don't know if there's any school as mysterious and myth laden than the University of Chicago's Economics Department in the 1950's. It was not simply a school, it was a new way of thinking and it did not exist to merely to teach students, it was the evil brainchild of a select group of Conservative intellectuals who were dead set on changing the dominant way of thinking at that time.

The energetic and charismatic man who was ambitious enough to run such a place could only have been Milton Friedman himself. Friedman believed in an extreme form of laissez-faire. He spent his days dreaming of a state of perfect balance, a natural state of health, a clean slate, a system free of all human interferences. Friedman believed that we needed a return to pure capitalism, capitalism free from interruptions, regulations, trade barriers, and entrenched interests. But sadly before this perfect Utopian capitalism could reign, society had to be deprogrammed and the only way to do that was to wipe the slate clean and start anew.
At the Chicago School of Economics, they did not just teach theories, they taught sacred principles, this was not a school, it was a religion. The economic forces such as supply and demand, unemployment, and inflation were viewed as fixed and never changing. All these forces were in equilibrium with each other, a perfect harmonious balance. According to Friedman, if anything went wrong, if unemployment rates or inflation skyrocketed, this was because us humans tampered with the perfect system inevitably leading to an imbalance. If the system goes awry the answer is always the same, a more severe and all encompassing application of the fundamental principles of Friedman's Chicago School theories. Just as the human body self regulates keeping itself in homeostasis, the market, when left to it's own devices, will naturally produce the right number of products at exactly the right price, created by employees who are paid just the right wage to buy those products. A utopia of zero unemployment, no inflation and unfettered creativity.

The only thing standing in Milton Friedman's way was now proving to the world that his dream of radical free market economics could actually change things for the good of all people. Friedman was a scientific man who believed strongly that economics was no different than chemistry or physics. Everything in economics needed to be put through the scientific method to be rigorously tested and proved. But Friedman's theory of perfect laissez-faire economy had never been tested. There wasn't a single economy on earth that had ever been free of all human "contamination". Unable to prove his theory, Friedman had his colleagues create elaborate equations and computer models, cooking numbers and rigging charts, whatever it took to prove that his dream for the future would and could become reality.

One of the biggest draws to Chicago School Economics was that, at a time when Marxism was promising freedom and protection for workers, Friedman's ideas offered a conservative way to keep the status quo for entrepreneurs. Both schools of thought claimed that theirs was the way to an Eden of perfection and balance. In contrast to Marxism's demands of replacing the current economic systems with socialism, Friedman showed that we needed to purify our version of capitalism. Friedman "proved" that government interference with the free market was actually doing obscene amounts of harm by throwing off the market's natural balance. Only by purging our system of sanctions such as a minimum wages, public education and price caps - which had always been viewed as protecting people - could our economy reach it's perfect state.
In the 1950s memories of the Great Depression were still fresh in people's minds: the terrible unemployment, shelters, decimation of savings and homelessness. As John Maynard Keynes predicted, laissez-faire was gone due to the peoples demand for a hand's on form of government. Between the 1930s and the 1950s America's politicians gave in to the people's demands for security with public works and social welfare programs as well as Roosevelt's launch of the New Deal. These efforts against poverty were reinforced when the world saw impoverished Germany turn to fascism to solve it's economic problems, as Keynes had warned they would. Only by guaranteeing basic protections could disillusioned citizens be protected from converting to other extreme ideologies such as communism and fascism.

At the same time developing countries came up with their own economic theory called developmentalism. By nationalizing all their natural resources, such as oil and minerals, and keeping them within their own country, rather than exporting it all to the Western first world, they would be able to climb out of their despondency. Developmentalism succeeded in all of it's endeavors and most successful of all was the southern cone of Latin America, which includes Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and parts of Brazil. With the money their governments made by keeping their natural resources local they were able to fund public works projects, such as roads and highways, offer subsidies to local businesses and farmers, and build new factories that produced cars and appliances to protect their country from foreign imports which imposed high tariffs.In the following years the Southern Cone became a beacon for all third world countries. Their factory workers had labor unions and middle class salaries, their children were able to attend cutting edge public universities and the gap between the upper and lower class narrowed dramatically. Uruguay was able to provide free health care to every citizen and sported a 95% literacy rate, and Argentina had the largest middle class on the entire continent, proving to the world that developing nations could rise up to the same level as the first world.

With the booming success in South America and of Keynesian in North America few people gave any heed to the Chicago School's rhetoric. As America's economy blossomed corporations were forced to redistribute their rocketing profits to their workers and the government via taxes. A select minority of powerful individuals recognized that through Friedman's fundamentalism the wealth that was being spread about could be redirected into their own hands.

The Keynesian revolution was burning large holes in the pockets of big business, the necessary solution was a counter revolution - not just to capitalism as it had been, but to a more pure form that would help protect their profits from the working class. Since they could not come out against the overwhelming success America was experiencing they found their perfect champion in Milton Friedman. As a mathematical genius and prestigious scholar he was able to fiercely debate the issues and charm people to his way of thinking, as well as produce Chicago School boys who would carry his message worldwide.The biggest pain in Friedman's ass was the New Deal, he saw it as America's ticket to hell in a hand basket. To pull his country back from the brink of destruction he published his first book "Capitalism and Freedom" which would subsequently become the rulebook for the agenda of the neo-conservative movement. He outlined three basic rules: 1) governments must abolish all regulations interfering with the accumulation of profits. 2) governments must sell off any asset that could be used by companies to make money. 3) all social programs should have their funding cut back - in essence deregulation, privatization and cutbacks. Additionally he taught that taxes should be minimal, that any taxes should flat regardless of income, that products should be sold worldwide and that local economies should receive no protection. He believed that minimum wages and price caps must be abolished and that every conceivable industry - from health care to mail service to national parks - needed to be sold off to private interests.

Furthermore, the socialized assets such as schools and public works which had been created using public funds, must necessarily be privatized. In other words he believed that all shared wealth and assets should be turned over to private interests. Disguised in a costume of mathematics and science Friedman's dream of unregulated capitalism played right into the hands of multinationals, who search desperately for new markets. The first stage of capitalism, colonialism, claimed land we had no right to and stripped it of it's natural resources, creating pure profit. Similarly Friedman's second stage of capitalism would create untold wealth by draining the government and the welfare state. The state became a new frontier to be conquered, it's resources sold to private companies for pennies on the dollar.

Join me over the weeks to come as we follow Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys in their attempts to prove their theories by experimenting on various countries. Watch as the Chicago School ideals rape Poland and Russia, destroy Asia and bring the southern cone to it's knees. Democratically elected leaders will be assassinated by the CIA in order to have ferocious dictators put in their place, millions of people will find themselves without food, homes or jobs, demonstrators will be arrested for protesting their victimization and individuals will be taken from their homes in the night to be tortured and killed. No, this isn't a Tom Clancy novel or a horror movie, it's the legacy of a man named Milton Friedman.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Her Name Was Neda

Unless you live under a rock you already know about the protests raging in Iran, even my Utah friends who do not follow international news knows about the rigged election and subsequent rioting. Although the protests have been quelled by non-lethal means such as tear gas and pressurized water cannons the violence has escalated to the point that protesters are now being murdered.One woman's story in particular has captured the agony and despair felt by the Iranian people and has spread like wildfire across the internet. Early this morning a young girl and her father were demonstrating in the streets of Tehran. The Basij are militias who have been brutally attacking students, women and even children. When they arrived to break up the protest this young women fell victim to the ultimate form of their cruelty. As an innocent bystandard she was standing next to her father when a Basij sniper shot her through the heart - some reports claim it was just to watch her die.
A doctor happened to be standing near by and attempted to stem the flow of arterial blood pumping from her chest while her father comforted her saying "Neda don't be afraid, don't be afraid, don't be afraid." As the blood pouring out of her began to cover her face her father began to scream "Neda stay! Neda stay!" Despite the doctors best efforts young Neda died less than two minutes after taking the bullet to her heart.
Beloved Neda, your life was extinguished too soon, your sacrifice will last forever as a call for freedom and justice. As America discovered in the blistering sands of Iraq a people cannot have freedom thrust upon them prematurely. Like a butterfly escaping it's cacoon a people must struggle for their own freedom and be tempered by the fires of persecution and oppression. Iran is such a country, whose people fight for revolution from tyranny even as I type these words. Now is the time when they need the world to stand with them, in solidarity. The responsability to take action belongs to each and every one of us.

On the streets of Tehran
On a warm summers day
A beautiful life
Was taken away

She stood with her father
Looking out on the crowd
A scene of destruction
And outrage surrounds

The victory stolen
From under their feet
A courageous people
Take to the street

A burning desire
For freedom and justice
Breaking the bonds
Of oppressions cruel clutches

She feels the excitement
As her people march on
Feeling the hope
Of a countries new dawn

She turns to her father
A smile brightens her face
She kisses his cheek
Their hands each embrace

A sharp pain in her chest
She falls to the ground
She lays there unblinking
As people surround

Her father is crying
He looks into her eyes
He sees his sweet daughter
His life's dearest prize

"Neda, please stay!"
He calls to her now
As tears of great sadness
Fall to the ground

She looks back on life's journey
She feel's so at peace
Content she lets go
And her soul is released

Her name was Neda
Which means voice or call
Her life not forgotten
She'll be remembered by all

A brave young girl
Now returned to the earth
A symbol of freedom
In a countries rebirth

Neda's tragic death was caught on video and has made it's way all across the internet. Her suffering is immense and the scene horrific but it is better that we face the blinding light of truth than turn away into shadows. To see Neda's final moments on earth click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Immanuel kant's Perpetual Peace

Perpetual peace refers to a state of affairs where peace is permanently established over a certain area, ideally this would be the world. In Immanuel Kant's 1795 essay, "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" Kant described his proposed plan that he believes will lead to this perpetual state of peace.

Kant's plan can be broken down into 3 parts, the preliminary articles, the definitive articles, and his supplemental arguments. The Preliminary Articles describe the steps that should be taken immediately, or with all deliberate speed, they include the following:

1. "No Secret Treaty of Peace Shall Be Held Valid in Which There Is Tacitly Reserved Matter for a Future War" This means that we should always choose a treaty over a truce, as this will help stop future violence.

2. "No Independent States, Large or Small, Shall Come under the Dominion of Another State by Inheritance, Exchange, Purchase, or Donation" This means that we should respect state sovereignty and only interfere when it's absolutely necessary.

3. "Standing Armies Shall in Time Be Totally Abolished" It is impossible to work for peace while at the same time you're preparing for war.

4. "National Debts Shall Not Be Contracted with a View to the External Friction of States" There can be no debt systems, you will never be able to obtain peace in a system that places the rich over the poor. Money power will always be stronger than arms power. It takes violence to sustain a system that places the rich over the poor.

5. "No State Shall by Force Interfere with the Constitution or Government of Another State" We must respect the constitutions of other states.

6. "No State Shall, during War, Permit Such Acts of Hostility Which Would Make Mutual Confidence in the Subsequent Peace Impossible: Such Are the Employment of Assassins (percussores), Poisoners (venefici), Breach of Capitulation, and Incitement to Treason (perduellio) in the Opposing State" We must have respect for the enemy even in times of war.
Next we have the definitive articles. These actions would provide not merely a cessation of hostilities, but a foundation on which to build a peace, they include:

1. "The Civil Constitution of Every State Should Be Republican" This means that the laws of civil society should be based on a republic. There should be one legislature and one government. Rule of law, freedom and liberty.

2. "The Law of Nations Shall be Founded on a Federation of Free States" Kant belived that rational people will never choose war but that not all peoples are rational, for this reason, we must have laws.

3. "The Law of World Citizenship Shall Be Limited to Conditions of Universal Hospitality" This is essentially world citizenship.

First we have the law of civil society, then we have the law of nations, and then we come to our ultimate goal, world citizenship.

Finally Kant gives us his two supplemental arguments, they are as follows:

1. The spirit of commerce is incompatible with war

2. The opinions of philosophers should be sought after in all things.
Kant's essay in some ways resembles, yet differs significantly from modern democratic peace theory. He speaks of republican, Republikanisch, (not democratic), states, which he defines to have representative governments, in which the legislature is separated from the executive. He does not discuss universal suffrage, which is vital to modern democracy and quite important to some modern theorists; many philosophers dispute whether it is implied by his language. Most importantly, he does not regard republican governments as sufficient by themselves to produce peace: freedom of emigration (hospitality) and a league of nations he believes are necessary to consciously enact his six-point program. Unlike some modern theorists, Kant claims not that republics will be at peace only with each other, but are more pacific than other forms of government in general.

I have always enjoyed Perpetual Peace. I find it to be am inspiring and truthful essay. My only argument with Kant emerges with his first supplemental argument where he claims that the spirit of commerce is incompatible with war. I would argue the opposite. I believe the spirit of commerce to be one of the greatest causes of war if not the greatest. In Kant's defense however, he probably would have never imagined "free trade" would ever become this corrupt.

At a time when immigration policies and our commitment to peace-keeping missions and foreign aid are under attack, reading Kant's essay is a powerful reminder of why these practical political measures matter from the moral standpoint. For we still have to be prepared to meet the challenge of Thrasymachus in the opening of the Republic that the only valuable political stance is that justice is the interests of the stronger, that might makes right, that we have no moral obligations, only imperatives of power.

On Charles Beitz Human Rights as a Common Concern

According to Charles Beitz there are two types of conceptions surrounding human rights – the first, nonpartisan, is one in which is universally true regardless of an individuals culture and views. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a good example of a nonpartisan conception of human rights. In Human Rights as a Common Concern Charles Beitz defends a partisan view of human rights, that they are not neutral and so they cannot be considered universal. To support the idea that human rights are not neutral he points out that they conflict with traditional Islamic doctrine, contradict traditional Asian values and condemn the practice of Female Genital Mutilation – a core tenant of some cultures.

Beitz points out that a subset of human rights that are nonpartisan seems the natural answer to this issue to many philosophers. The idea that a neutral set of human rights could be outlined is the attraction of this viewpoint. However he is quick to point out that this list would be very short indeed, it could not include equal rights for women, free choice of who one marries democracy, or even mental and physical wellbeing… “The idea of a right itself is culturally specific.”

Beitz states that one role of international human rights is to justify the interference of outside nations in order to, for example, stop genocide or restore a deposed democratic government, even to deliver assistance to victims of natural disasters. People shy from this concept because they the fear it is too paternalistic, that the intervener is left to judge standards of help by measures that the subject has no control over. However Beitz argues that paternalism applies to situations in which a person’s agency is overridden for their own good, so it cannot apply under these circumstances. To address the issue of cross-cultural standards Beitz suggests that help should be based on what is “best” by the subjects own cultural standards.

Charles Beitz uses Rawls’s concept of “decent” societies as a possible middle ground between nations with differing cultural viewpoints – specifically liberal societies and illiberal regimes. A decent society is one which protects many, but not necessarily all, basic human rights; rights of the person and of expression, the rule of law, as well as religious freedom. To what extent these rights are to be upheld is not made clear, so this theory has received some criticism for being too tolerant. He points out that unlike common core views Rawls’s theory leaves enough room for interpretation to avoid many cross cultural conflicts, however the door is left open for interference of liberal societies which may not be consistent with the native morals of those societies. Rawls’s hypothesis is that by interacting openly with liberal societies decent societies will naturally become more liberal, however Beitz points out that this fact itself may turn some countries away from pursuing the status of decency.

It is Beitz’s belief that human rights need to be recognized as a political construct rather than viewing it as a natural law or universal statement of political justice, though he concedes that it may also fall under these definitions he states that it is necessary to see human rights from a political standpoint in order to criticize or adhere to it. Beitz reaffirms the fact that transnational influence comes not only through intentional actions such as military intervention, but through indirect means such as international businesses. He states that the human rights doctrine is the outline of aspiration native to liberal societies, but that its ideals may not be embraced all at once.

Finally Beitz points to the fact that human rights by nature need to be justified and these justifications infer a cost upon others without offering any real means of fulfilling the debt. Thus a quality declaration of human rights should be viewed primarily as a theory of global justice.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On December 10th, 1948 the United Nations put forth The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It states that as human beings we are all equal and posses certain inalienable rights. Human dignity is the very essence of global peace and justice. Virtually every atrocity committed by humankind has been a direct result of a blatant disregard of certain inalienable rights. This is why they must be protected by rule of law.

The declaration consists of 30 articles. Articles one and two state that we all share equal rights and dignity and that we are born free. Articles three through eleven talk about rights that belong to everyone such as life, security, and liberty. They also state that we are free from slavery, torture, or any other kind of degrading and dehumanizing treatment. Articles twelve through seventeen are about the rights that we are to be granted in civil society. These rights include the freedom of movement, political asylum, the right to marry and start a family, and the right to own property. Articles eighteen through twenty one are about our political and religious rights. These include our right to free speech and expression, the right to an opinion, the right to choose and practice religion and the right to take part in democracy, whether it be elections or directly. Articles twenty two through twenty seven are our social, cultural, and economic rights. These rights include the right to employment, fair pay, unions, education, and cultural society. In the concluding articles, twenty eight through thirsty, everything is tied together with our responsibility to the United Nations, our society as a whole, and to each other.

For a school project t
his previous semester I decided that I wanted to visit each of the high schools in Utah County to find out if they were teaching their students about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I naturally assumed that they were not as I had never heard of it before being well into my college experience. I visited with a variety of principals, vice principals and history teachers to investigate their curriculum. At each school I explained to them why the Declaration was so important and exactly why it should be taught in our public schools. I gave each school a sample lesson about the UDHR as well as created large laminate copies of the Declaration that I asked them to hang in their school for the students to review - as most schools do with the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I found a variety of responses ranging from people asking me to come in and help teach it to the students, to one vice principal telling me that I was obviously a lesbian who was trying to sneak in material promoting gay rights.

I chose this project because of my deep love and appreciation of human rights. I believe very strongly that all human beings are born equal and free and are guaranteed certain inalienable rights that can never be taken from them. Some may criticize the declaration claiming that it is based on a western way of thinking, that it’s partisan and not suitable or relevant to all cultures. I disagree with these statements. The declaration is a product of a group of eighteen individuals who all came from very different backgrounds, regions, legal traditions and religions. These eighteen individuals were seeking a “common standard of achievement” that we could all share that would secure a “higher standard of life”. I believe that what they created was a beautiful canvas of interdependent liberties and social responsibilities.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Eleanor Roosevelt who was the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and a staunch supporter of the declaration. She stated that "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world ... Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere." Where are these small places close to home where we go to seek equal opportunity and dignity? I believe that these places are our schools. It states in the preamble of the declaration that we will “keep this Declaration constantly in mind”, that we “shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms”. It is our responsibility as a nation to uphold these promises that we have made to future generations.

Our educational system is failing our children. I never so much as saw the Universal Declaration of Human Rights until I was a junior in college. Not only had I not seen the declaration but I was never even taught about the concept of human rights, this is a travesty. How is it that I knew the histories of every great war and violent conflict but I had never been taught about my basic rights and freedoms? As a mother I am saddened and frustrated at our shortcomings as a society. I strongly believe that if we want a peaceful society we have to work for it and the best place to start is by teaching our children that, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. It is only through teaching our children love and respect for all mankind that we can ever hope to obtain a peaceable world.

It is one of my greatest desires to change the way our children are being taught about the world they live in and their place in it. Getting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights taught in our schools is just my first step towards that goal. I believe that introducing the declaration will open a whole new door in our children's education and way of thinking that will forever change the way we view each other as human beings. This project was an amazing experience for me and I am now working with the Utah Board Of Education to make sure that human rights become a part of our children's core curriculum.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On Thomas Nagel 's War and Massacre

To be honest I have never been a very big fan of philosophy, Immanuel Kant excluded, it reads dryly, is typically confusing and spends far too much time splitting hairs. However, recognizing this as a weakness in myself I have spent the last year forcing myself to read many different philosophers and their varying works. During this previous year no work stood out for me quite like Thomas Nagel's "War and Massacre". I have always considered myself to be an absolutist and because of this I have been criticized, and as far as I am concerned, greatly misunderstood. I believe that Thomas Nagel did a remarkable job in explaining the complexities of war and the role we each play in it.

In Nagel's "War and Massacre" he confronts one of the biggest moral conundrums a soldier will ever have to face: Do I give priority to my actions or do I give priority to the results these actions create? There are two basic ways to look at this. The first is from a Utilitarian way of thinking. This is when you try to maximize good while minimizing evil, you always choose the lesser evil. Secondly, there is the Absolutist point of view. The absolutist walks a very narrow moral line. In this way of thinking killing would always be wrong regardless of the circumstances. When you look at it this way, any gray areas are eliminated. If it's always wrong to kill a civilian then you do not have to worry about when it is or is not okay to kill them, because it never will be okay.

Nagel broaches the topic of 'double effect'. He gives the example of firebombing a village to kill a few terrorists who might be hanging out in the area. Double effect would state that as long as it is your intention to kill the terrorists and not the civilians, you are not responsible for the deaths of those civilians. Nagel believes this to be nothing but hypocritical bullshit and I agree with him. He writes that since you are unable to distinguish between the terrorists and the civilians, it is your intention to kill the civilians. Nagel described absolutists as living in a one to one world. One person has no right to take a right away from the other or harm them in any way. A utilitarian on the other hand lives in a more bureaucratic world. In this world it is okay to hurt another if you believe it is for the greater good.

Nagel brings up a few arguments that people have with absolutism. One of these arguments is a lifeboat situation: where you have a lifeboat that will only support so many passengers or it will sink, and there are too many people for the lifeboat, so you must either let some people die or everyone will die. Critics say that in this situation, an absolutists would have his or her hands tied. They are not allowed to cause the deaths of others so what are they to do? Nagel points out that absolutists are concerned with the actions they take, not the end result. So again they would focus on the people they were saving, not the ones that they were unable to save. Absolutists avoid evils such as murder at all costs, they do not prevent it at all costs. If utilitarians really thought about it and were honest with themselves, they should all be pacifists because never going to war would ultimately be choosing the lesser evil, it would save the most lives and avoid the most evils.

Nagel writes that our fight is with our enemy and our enemy alone. It is never under any circumstances okay to use, for example, your enemy's family to get him to surrender. He also states that you must always use the least amount of force necessary to subdue your enemy. It is wrong to kill your enemy when all you had to do was shoot them in the leg.

I really enjoyed Thomas Nagel's essay, he did an excellent job of presenting the arguments for moral absolutism and of answering many of the objections that utilitarians pose. Since I am not a philosopher I probably didn't do his article the justice that it deserves, so can read it yourself here.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

The corporate media tried to portray the student movement in China as some kind of campaign against socialism, but it was in fact a campaign against the tyranny and injustice of Communist Party rule and for a more just and democratic society. A society where workers and peasants had power in reality, not only in name.The song most frequently sung by the student protesters during the seven weeks they had occupied the heart of China's capital was called the "The Internationale."

Arise, you prisoners of starvation!
Arise, you wretched of the earth!
For justice thunders condemnation:
A better world's in birth!
No more tradition's chains shall bind us,
Arise you slaves, no more in thrall!
The earth shall rise on new foundations:
We have been nought, we shall be all!

The protesters were making a powerful witness in song, not just in protest of the tragedy then unfolding in Beijing and of the betrayal of 20th century socialism by all those who, in its name, had become a new class of oppressors and exploiters.

Despite the calamity which took place in China that day, the student martyrs had given the world a glimmer of hope. While the nonviolent movement that had emerged that spring in Beijing and in towns and cities throughout China was brutally crushed, other largely nonviolent movements would emerge elsewhere in the coming years that would bring down scores of autocratic regimes, ranging from monarchies to Communist dictatorships to right-wing military juntas. By the end of that year, such unarmed insurrections would usher in democratic governance in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Chile, and Kenya. During the 1990s, nonviolent movements brought down dictatorships in Mongolia, Mali, Thailand, Madagascar, Indonesia, Nigeria, and elsewhere. This decade has seen strategic nonviolent action play the pivotal role in overcoming corrupt and autocratic rule in such countries as Serbia, Nepal, Georgia, Ukraine and the Maldives.

We want no condescending saviors
To rule us from their judgment hall,
We workers ask not for their favors
Let us consult for all:
To make the thief disgorge his booty
To free the spirit from its cell,
We must ourselves decide our duty,
We must decide, and do it well.

It is up to those in China and elsewhere still suffering under oppressive rule to lead their own struggles for liberation from tyranny. We cannot trust that the U.S. government or any other government can legitimately engage in "democracy promotion." However, global civil society can offer the kind of international solidarity, in opposing arms transfers to human rights abusers, in providing workshops on strategic nonviolent conflict, and in raising global awareness of these struggles for freedom and justice.

It is a solidarity that is based not upon whether the oppressive regime being challenged is an ally or an adversary of the United States or what kind of economic system it claims to adhere to. It is a solidarity based upon nothing less than a universal respect for fundamental civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.