Iran, Honduras, Immigrants and Marijuana

I've got a number of topics to cover today.

Let's start with Iran. Tomorrow is 18 Tir on the Islamic calendar. It marks the 10th year anniversary of a brutal crackdown on university students protesting the closure of Salem, a reformist paper at Tehran University. Public commemorations of the event are illegal, but this could be another increase in action in Iran. Ahmedinejad gave a public address yesterday calling Iran the elections in Iran the world's freest. In a very interesting type of civil disobedience people were asked to turn on all electronics and appliances to put heavy strain on the power grid. There were reported blackouts in numerous cities including Eastern Tehran.

Vice President Joe Biden made a statement that the United States would not interfere if Israel decided to attack Iran. Obama later said this was not a green light for Israel to attack Iran although while clarifying Biden was not sending a signal Obama said, "I think Vice President Biden stated a categorical fact, which is we can't dictate to other countries what their security interests are. What is also true is that it is the policy of the United States to resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear capabilities in a peaceful way through diplomatic channels." This ignores the fact that the US gives Isreal billions of dollars a year in military aid, and therefore should have a say on how they use it. But as always, this fact was not mentioned by either the president nor vice president.

Nobel laureate and Costa Rican President Oscar Arias will moderate dialog between Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and interim leader Roberto Micheletti of the coup forces. While the Honduran media supports the coup forces despite majority support for Zelaya, similar elements of the media can be seen here on the coverage. Here is a great analysis on the media's handling of the situation. As I wrote last week, even though the US has condemned the coup, their actions are starting to prove otherwise. Even though the event has been called a coup, the administration will not give it the official title cutting off aid to the military forces.

The quote of the day goes to a report by Reason Online in an article discussing how poor, high-immigrant El Paso, just across the border from violent-filled Cuidad Juarez could be one of the safest in the nation. They conclude cities with high immigrant populations usually lead to low violence. The quote:

"Most people in Washington really don't understand life on the border," El Paso Mayor John Cook told the Post. "They don't understand our philosophy here that the border joins us together, it doesn't separate us."

The Marijuana Policy Project has started running ads calling to legalize and tax marijuana in California. The move has been discussed as a way to help with the budget crises. Marijuana is the number one cash crop in the state and a $13 billion a year industry.

Noam Chomsky on the economic crisis, the middle east, the environment and industry in the US

Democracy Now broadcast a great speech by Noam Chomsky last Friday. I highly recommend watching it in its entirety.
Noam Chomsky, the MIT professor, author and dissident intellectual, just turned eighty years old this past December. He has written over 100 books, but despite being called “the most important intellectual alive” by the New York Times, he is rarely heard in the corporate media. We spend the hour with Noam Chomsky. He spoke recently here in New York at an event sponsored by the Brecht Forum. More than 2,000 people packed into Riverside Church in Harlem to hear his address, titled “Crisis and Hope: Theirs and Ours.” In his talk, Chomsky discussed the global economic crisis, the environment, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, resistance to American empire and much more.

Some excerpts:

Haiti’s first free election in 1990 threatened these economically rational programs. The poor majority made the mistake of entering the political arena and electing their own candidate, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist priest. And Washington instantly adopted standard operating procedures: the moving at once to undermine the regime. A couple of months later came the military coup, instituting a horrible reign of terror, which was backed by Bush, Bush I, and even more so by Clinton. By 1994, Clinton decided that the population was sufficiently intimidated, and he sent US forces to restore the elected president—that’s now called a humanitarian intervention—but on very strict conditions, namely that the president had to accept a very harsh neoliberal regime, in particular, no protection for the economy.


One such inefficiency, now recognized to be one of the roots of the financial crisis, is the under-pricing of systemic risk, a risk that affects the whole system. So, for example—and that’s general, like if you and I make a transaction, say, you sell me a car, we may make a good deal for ourselves, but we don’t price into that transaction the cost to others. And there’s a cost: pollution, congestion, raising the price of gas, all sorts of other things, killing people in Nigeria because we’re getting the gas from them. That doesn’t count when we—we don’t count that in. That’s an inherent market inefficiency, one of the reasons why markets can’t work.


Well, while Obama’s signaling very clearly his intention to establish a firm and large-scale presence in the region, he’s also, as you know, sharply escalating the AfPak war, following Petraeus’s strategy to drive the Taliban into Pakistan, with potentially awful results for this extremely dangerous and unstable state, which is facing insurrections throughout its territory. These are the most extreme in the tribal areas, which cross the AfPak border. It’s an artificial line imposed by the British called the Durand Line, and the same people live on both sides of it—Pashtun tribes—and they’ve never accepted it. And, in fact, the Afghanistan government never accepted it either, as long as it was independent. Well, that’s where most of the fighting is going on. One of the leading specialists on the region, Selig Harrison, he recently wrote that the outcome of Washington’s current policies, Obama’s policies, might well be, what he calls them, “Islamic Pashtunistan,” Pashtun-based separate kind of quasi-state. The Pakistani ambassador warned that if the Taliban and Pashtun nationalism merge, we’ve had it. And we’re on the verge of that.


By World War II, there was a significant change. Business leaders and elite intellectuals recognized that the public had won enough rights so that they can’t be controlled by force, so it would be necessary to do something else, namely to turn to control of attitudes and opinions. These were the days when the huge public relations industry emerged in the freest countries in the world, Britain and the United States, where the problem was most severe. The public relations industry was devoted to what Walter Lippmann approvingly called a “new art” in the practice of democracy, the “manufacture of consent.” It’s called the “engineering of consent” in the phrase of his contemporary Edward Bernays, one of the founders of the PR industry.


And they are the architects of policy. Obama made sure to staff his economic advisers from that sector, which has been pointed out, too. The former chief economist of the IMF, Simon Johnson, pointed out that the Obama administration is just in the pocket of Wall Street. As he put it, “Throughout the crisis, the government has taken extreme care not to upset the interests of the financial institutions or to question the basic outlines of the system that got us here.” And the “elite business interests” who “played a central role in creating the crisis…with the implicit backing of the government,” they’re still there, and they’re “now using their influence to prevent precisely” the set of “reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive.” He says, the economy—“The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them,” which is no surprise, considering who constitutes and who backs the government.


The state-corporate program began with a conspiracy by General Motors, Firestone Rubber, Standard Oil of California to buy up and destroy efficient electric transportation systems in Los Angeles and dozens of other cities. They were actually convicted of criminal conspiracy and given a tap on the wrist, I think a $5,000 fine. The federal government then took over. It relocated infrastructure and capital stock to suburban areas and also created a huge interstate highway system under the usual pretext of defense. Railroads were displaced by government-financed motor and air transport.


So think what’s happening. Spain and other European countries are hoping to get US taxpayer funding for high-speed rail and related infrastructure. And at the very same time, Washington is busy dismantling leading sectors of US industry, ruining the lives of workers and communities who could easily do it themselves. It’s pretty hard to conjure up a more damning indictment of the economic system that’s been constructed by state-corporate managers. Surely, the auto industry could be reconstructed to produce what the country needs using its highly skilled workforce. But that’s not even on the agenda. It’s not even being discussed. Rather, we’ll go to Spain, and we’ll give them taxpayer money for them to do it, while we destroy the capacity to do it here.


It’s also important to remind ourselves that the notion of workers’ control is as American as apple pie. It’s kind of been suppressed, but it’s there. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution in New England, working people just took it for granted that those who work in the mills should own them. And they also regarded wage labor as different from slavery, only in that it was temporary. Also Abraham Lincoln’s view. There have been immense efforts to drive these thoughts out of people’s heads, to win what the business world calls “the everlasting battle for the minds of men.” On the surface, they may appear to have succeeded, but I don’t think you have to dig too deeply to find out that they’re latent and they can be revived.