March 31, 2006

The Trouble With Socialist Anarchism

The new movie "V for Vendetta" has provoked public discussion of the meaning of anarchism. Murray Rothbard was an advocate of the stateless society, but he was never accepted by the anarchist movement and is still considered more a "capitalist lackey" than anarchist thinker. Indeed, anarcho-capitalism has always been considered an oxymoron by the self-proclaimed "true" anarchists.

Part of the reason is a general inability to understand different uses and definitions of words in the classical socialist and liberal traditions. Socialists refer to "capitalism" as the system in which the state hands out and protects capitalists' privileges — and therefore oppression of labor workers. They don't see that capitalism, in the classical liberal tradition, means rather a free market based on free people, i.e., voluntary exchanges of value between free individuals.

A deeper and more interesting reason is anarchism's socialist roots. As shown in, e.g., the Anarchist FAQ, most — if not all — historical anarchist thinkers were proud to announce their ideas belonged to the progressive socialist tradition. The "founding father" of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, was socialist; American 19th century individualist anarchists often claimed to be socialists; and the Russian communist anarchists Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin were obviously socialists.

There were however a few anarchists who were not explicit socialists, but they were few and relatively unknown if at all accepted as anarchists. The German egoist Max Stirner somehow managed to become generally accepted as an anarchist even though he never claimed to be a socialist. (He never claimed to be an anarchist, either).

It would be futile to claim the anarchist tradition is not originally and mostly socialist and that is not the point of this essay. I do not refute socialism's importance to anarchism in theory nor in practice, but I will show how the definition of "socialism" is too rigid and statist, as opposed to what anarchists generally claim, and it seems to be based on an unfortunate misunderstanding of man and the market. The main problem is the socialist anarchists' refusal to think anew when new facts have been revealed.

Peter Kropotkin, the famous late 19th- and early 20th-century Russian communist anarchist, stated that there are essentially two kinds of socialism: statist socialism and anarchism. The difference between the two is that statist socialism wishes to take control of the state and use it to enforce socialism, whereas [socialist] anarchism wishes to abolish the state and thereby the oppressive capitalist economic system. Kropotkin's distinction solves quite a few inherent contradictions and problems in statist socialism, such as enforcing equality through letting a few rule the many via the state.

But some of the problems persist in the anarchist version of socialism. The problems arise due to the fact that socialists generally tend to have a static view of society, which makes them totally ignorant of how things change over time. Socialists would probably not admit this is the case, since they do know that things have been changing through the course of history (Karl Marx said so) and that things never seem to stay the same. But still they argue as if "ceteris paribus" is the divine principle of reality, and it is not.

Socialism does not allow for a time component (or, it is deemed unimportant and therefore omitted) in the analysis of the world or the economy. Things are generally thought to be as they are even though they were not the same in history and that they need to be changed in the future. In a socialist world people are equal and should stay equal; the individual choices of actors in the free marketplace (yes, socialist anarchists do talk about the market) do not change this fact. In this socialist view of the world there is simply no understanding whatsoever for that characteristic of the market that Ludwig von Mises called time preference.

This important piece of information about how the market works (that is, how people function) means a person usually prefers having a value now to having the same value some time in the future. This has nothing to do with earning interest on investments, but is rather a natural part of what it means to be a rational being (one would do better with a certain amount of food now than with that same amount food a week from now). Without knowledge about this (or even without time preference per se), calculating what "will be" on the market would be a whole lot easier (but totally wrong).

But time preference is not a part of the socialist perception of the world or economics. Understanding this fact makes it a lot easier to understand the socialist demand for teleological equality, i.e., equality as a measure of justice applicable both before and [especially] after interactions and exchanges have taken place in the market place. If the world and economy would be perpetually static and thus no values are ever created, then economic equality is theoretically possible. (It is perhaps even fair.)

But this is not the case, and thus the socialist analysis is wrong. This weakness, which we can call time ignorance, persists in the anarchist version of socialism.

Socialist Time Ignorance

Kropotkin defines this kind of socialism as "an effort to abolish the exploitation of Labour by Capital,"[1] and Benjamin Tucker says "the bottom claim of Socialism [is] that labour should be put in possession of its own."[2] Well, that doesn't sound that bad. Another way of saying the same thing would be that every individual has a natural right to that which he produces, and that it is a violation of his natural rights to forcefully remove this product of his labor from his hands.

Whether you call it natural rights or not, this is the essence and common theoretical basis for how value is generated in both classical liberalism and Marxism. Whenever an individual invests his time, skill, and effort into trying to achieve a value, he creates value and is as its creator the rightful owner of that value. It is hard to argue the individual is not the rightful owner of his labor; John Locke even went so far as to call labor the "unquestionable property of the labourer." If the individual doing the work does not own his labor, then who does?

The difference between classical socialism and liberalism is not in the definition of ownership or how it arises, but in its meaning. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, even though he is famous for stating "property is theft" (meaning property privileges causing exploitative conditions), also stated that "property is freedom" in the sense that man is only free when he is the sole owner of that which is in his possession and that which he creates. What he was referring to is wage labor being exploitation of the labor worker by the privileged capitalist.

To understand this view, we need to remember time preference is not applicable (or not allowed). From the socialist perspective, any difference in value between input and output is either fraud or theft (to use libertarian terminology). If you invest labor (input) to achieve a value of $100 and receive pay (output) of $95 dollars you are being oppressed.

This is part of why capitalism, using the socialist definition, is oppressive. Whoever "offers" a job (i.e., the capitalist) makes a profit simply because the value of the workers' invested labor is greater than what they receive in pay. (The reason they can do this, socialists claim, is because of state-enforced property privileges indirectly forcing labor workers into wage slavery.)

Another way of saying this is that surplus value is released for the managers and owners of industry through paying labor workers only part of their labor input. In this static view of how the world works under the capitalist economic system, employment sure is usury and "wage slavery." I can't argue with that, and I will not argue with the identification of many historical and contemporary employment schemes being de facto usury due to privileges handed out to capitalists by the political class.

The analysis, however, is fundamentally wrong, and it is so simply because socialists don't understand time preference. It is of value (but not necessarily monetary value) to many a worker frequently to receive a fixed amount of pay for invested labor instead of taking the risks of producing, marketing, and selling a product in the market place (even if the enterprise is not carried out individually but in cooperation with other workers).

It is also true in reverse: the "capitalist" values money now more than money later; thus, profits at a later time need to be greater than labor costs now to "break even." The point here is that if a worker would voluntarily choose between multiple different alternatives there is reason to believe employment is sometimes (or, in perhaps often) an attractive choice.

The reason this is so, is because of division of labor, risks in the market place, and so on. But it is primarily because of time preference, meaning a worker might value a fixed wage now and at predetermined intervals more than investing his labor now and gain the full value later. The laborer could therefore be in equilibrium when investing labor generating $100 worth of products a month from now even if he is paid only $95 now.

To some people less money now than more money later is indeed usury, but that is only a fact that strengthens the theory of time preference as put forth by Austrian economists. People have different perceptions of value and do value different things at different times, and therefore one individual may very well find employment is to his benefit while other individuals cannot for the world accept such terms. And the same individuals might think very differently at a different point in time.

Values are Subjective

This necessarily brings us to another important point that is closely related to the nature of time preference, and that is the identification of values as subjective. Monetary values are objective in the sense that $1 is always $1 (or, in other words, 1=1 or "A is A"), but receiving the amount of $1 could mean a lot to one individual and at the same time mean close to nothing to another. Of course, socialist anarchists and even statist socialists understand the relativity of values, e.g., that $1 to a poor person means a lot more than it ever would to a wealthy person (even though it is still only $1). That's why socialists often claim rich people have nothing to fear from taxes (even large sums don't mean much to them) whereas poor people can gain "a lot."

But relative value in this sense means only that the individual assessment of the value of $1 is relative to how many dollars he or she already has (or can easily get). This is different from the identification of values as subjective.

A subjective value does not necessarily mean a certain amount of money is compared to another amount. Values are subjective in the sense that something of value means you consider yourself being better off with it than without it. This has nothing to do with amounts of monetary units or comparing apples with apples; subjective value is the individual assessment of something as compared with the same individual's assessment of the alternatives. Values are subjective in the sense that the individual alone makes the assessment and makes it according to his or her individual preferential hierarchy. Thus, subjective value does not depend on what is being valued, but rather on how it is perceived!

Therefore, a laborer's analysis of whether employment is beneficial does not only involve the monetary value of invested labor and received payment, but also everything else he values. Employment could be of great value to a risk aversive individual, since the risk of losing money is very low, whereas the same deal for someone else, who perhaps gets a kick out of taking risk, is nothing but outright slavery. People are different.

This brings us to a third and last important point that follows directly from the fact that values are subjective: there are only individuals. Even though cultural and social identities tend to make people think in the same direction, they are still not the same and they do think differently. Socialists in general obviously fail to realize this.

As has been shown in the example of employment versus no employment, individuals value things differently. Some individuals would accept wage labor and be fully satisfied with it (and even find it the best available alternative), while others cannot find employment to their benefit at all. Individuals are uniquely different, and that means they do have different preferences.

This is one of the main reasons state policies are always oppressive and never can work satisfactorily: they provide one system or solution for one kind of people, and that has to cause problems when applied on a population such as the 300 million unique individuals living in the United States.

Anarchism: A World of Sovereigns

The fact that "there are only individuals" is also a great argument for anarchism. There cannot be a single system forced on any two individuals without it fitting one individual better than the other, and thus such a system would create legal inequalities (and therefore be oppressive). Also, since there are only individuals there is no reason to believe some individuals should have the power to rule other individuals. If there are only individuals, all of them should be sovereign self-owners and enjoy an equal full right to their selves.

But this fact means also that people are different and that some people will value certain things while other people value completely different things. Some people will have high time preference for certain values, while others will have low time preference. Some people will be able to use their time and skill to create a lot of value to others (assessed subjectively), while others create value only recognized by a few. And individual choices will always be individual choices, the decisions made depending on the individual's subjective assessment of values he chooses to identify.

Socialism, as commonly defined by the socialists (of both anarchist and statist varieties), fails to realize this fact and therefore categorically dismisses market solutions, functions, and institutions that arise voluntarily and spontaneously. It might be true that socialists themselves would never accept wage labor, but many others would perhaps happily accept employment as being beneficial to them individually or collectively.

The same is true with the famous Marxian credo, usually advocated also by socialist anarchists, that the laborer is free only when he has taken ownership of the means of production. But how can we say a certain kind of profession or "class" shares the exact same values? That necessarily presupposes an extreme class consciousness, where individuals no longer exist. If "class consciousness" is instead interpreted rather as a sense of class belonging and unity in certain values, time preference and subjectivity of values would still apply!

A free-market anarchist can embrace many of the socialist-anarchist goals, such as equality in the right to self, one's labor, and any fruits thereof. We can support the socialist anarchist goal to abolish the state as an inherently evil institution forcing individuals to relinquish that which is theirs by natural right. But we also see the shortcomings of socialism as currently defined; time preference is a fundamental piece of information on how people, and therefore the market and society, function.

Because of time preference it is not possible to dismiss totally the notion that inequalities might arise in the free marketplace.[3] Individuals will act in accordance with their perception of what is most beneficial to them and the people, gods, or artifacts important to them. Some value monetary wealth while others value health, leisure, family, a nice house, or fast cars. People will choose differently depending on their situation and their preferences, and even if they start off in a state of egalitarianism some choices will be better (with respect to something, e.g., amount of monetary assets) and some poorer.

It is not unlikely some people will choose to accumulate wealth (to whatever degree possible without the existence of state privileges) while others will eagerly spend what they earn on entertainment or engage in conspicuous consumption. The choice should be the individual's and there is no way we can say it is "right" or "wrong" — it is for the individual to decide.

Thus, if we truly believe in the individual as a self-owner and sovereign we shouldn't claim to know what he or she will (or should) choose, and we cannot say what he or she will not choose. In a society of only free individuals, all of them will be equal in their right to self and thus we cannot tell people they cannot trade their labor in the future for value now. They will do what they perceive to be in their interest, and I will do what I perceive to be in mine, and what is in our interests personally or mutually is for us to decide individually.

This is the reason one cannot say employment and capital accumulation vanishes when the state is abolished. Indeed, the opposite is true. This is also the reason Murray Rothbard truly was an anarchist, even though he did not accept the illusion of a world without time preference.

Per Bylund works as a business consultant in Sweden, in preparation for PhD studies. He is the founder of Send him mail. Visit his website. Comment on the blog.

[1] Evolution and Environment, p. 81

[2] The Anarchist Reader, p. 144

[3] In a free market, it is however less likely than in a state system, since no one can gain coercively enforced privileges at the expense of others.

Noam Chomsky with Amy Goodman

The New York Times calls him "arguably the most important intellectual alive."

The Boston Globe calls him "America's most useful citizen"

He was recently voted the world's number one intellectual in a poll by Prospect and Foreign Policy magazines.

We're talking about Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the foremost critics of U.S. foreign policy. Professor Chomsky has just released a new book titled "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy." [includes rush transcript - partial]

It examines how the United States is beginning to resemble a failed state that cannot protect its citizens from violence and has a government that regards itself as beyond the reach of domestic or international law.

In the book, Professor Noam Chomsky presents a series of solutions to help rescue the nation from turning into a failed state.

They include: Accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court; Sign the Kyoto protocols on global warming; Let the United Nations take the lead in international crises; Rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terror; and Sharply reduce military spending and sharply increase social spending

In his first broadcast interview upon the publication of his book, Professor Noam Chomsky joins us today from Boston for the hour.

This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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AMY GOODMAN: In this first broadcast interview upon publication of his book, Professor Noam Chomsky joins us today from Boston for the hour. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Noam.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you again.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Failed States, what do you mean?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, over the years there have been a series of concepts developed to justify the use of force in international affairs for a long period. It was possible to justify it on the pretext, which usually turned out to have very little substance, that the U.S. was defending itself against the communist menace. By the 1980s, that was wearing pretty thin. The Reagan administration concocted a new category: terrorist states. They declared a war on terror as soon as they entered office in the early 1980s, 1981. ‘We have to defend ourselves from the plague of the modern age, return to barbarism, the evil scourge of terrorism,’ and so on, and particularly state-directed international terrorism.

A few years later -- this is Clinton -- Clinton devised the concept of rogue states. ‘It’s 1994, we have to defend ourselves from rogue states.’ Then, later on came the failed states, which either threaten our security, like Iraq, or require our intervention in order to save them, like Haiti, often devastating them in the process. In each case, the terms have been pretty hard to sustain, because it's been difficult to overlook the fact that under any, even the most conservative characterization of these notions -- let's say U.S. law -- the United States fits fairly well into the category, as has often been recognized. By now, for example, the category -- even in the Clinton years, leading scholars, Samuel Huntington and others, observed that -- in the major journals, Foreign Affairs -- that in most of the world, much of the world, the United States is regarded as the leading rogue state and the greatest threat to their existence.

By now, a couple of years later, Bush years, same journals’ leading specialists don't even report international opinion. They just describe it as a fact that the United States has become a leading rogue state. Surely, it's a terrorist state under its own definition of international terrorism, not only carrying out violent terrorist acts and supporting them, but even radically violating the so-called "Bush Doctrine," that a state that harbors terrorists is a terrorist state. Undoubtedly, the U.S. harbors leading international terrorists, people described by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department as leading terrorists, like Orlando Bosch, now Posada Carriles, not to speak of those who actually implement state terrorism.

And I think the same is true of the category “failed states.” The U.S. increasingly has taken on the characteristics of what we describe as failed states. In the respects that one mentioned, and also, another critical respect, namely the -- what is sometimes called a democratic deficit, that is, a substantial gap between public policy and public opinion. So those suggestions that you just read off, Amy, those are actually not mine. Those are pretty conservative suggestions. They are the opinion of the majority of the American population, in fact, an overwhelming majority. And to propose those suggestions is to simply take democracy seriously. It's interesting that on these examples that you've read and many others, there is an enormous gap between public policy and public opinion. The proposals, the general attitudes of the public, which are pretty well studied, are -- both political parties are, on most of these issues, well to the right of the population.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Professor Chomsky, in the early parts of the book, especially on the issue of the one characteristic of a failed state, which is its increasing failure to protect its own citizens, you lay out a pretty comprehensive look at what the, especially in the Bush years, the war on terrorism has meant in terms of protecting the American people. And you lay out clearly, especially since the war, the invasion of Iraq, that terrorist, major terrorist action and activity around the world has increased substantially. And also, you talk about the dangers of a possible nuclear -- nuclear weapons being used against the United States. Could you expand on that a little bit?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there has been a very serious threat of nuclear war. It's not -- unfortunately, it's not much discussed among the public. But if you look at the literature of strategic analysts and so on, they're extremely concerned. And they describe particularly the Bush administration aggressive militarism as carrying an “appreciable risk of ultimate doom,” to quote one, “apocalypse soon,” to quote Robert McNamara and many others. And there's good reasons for it, I mean, which could explain, and they explain. That's been expanded by the Bush administration consciously, not because they want nuclear war, but it's just not a high priority. So the rapid expansion of offensive U.S. military capacity, including the militarization of space, which is the U.S.'s pursuit alone. The world has been trying very hard to block it. 95% of the expenditures now are from the U.S., and they're expanding.

All of these measures bring about a completely predictable reaction on the part of the likely targets. They don't say, you know, ‘Thank you. Here are our throats. Please cut them.’ They react in the ways that they can. For some, it will mean responding with the threat or maybe use of terror. For others, more powerful ones, it's going to mean sharply increasing their own offensive military capacity. So Russian military expenditures have sharply increased in response to Bush programs. Chinese expansion of offensive military capacity is also beginning to increase for the same reasons. All of that threatens -- raises the already severe threat of even -- of just accidental nuclear war. These systems are on computer-controlled alert. And we know that our own systems have many errors, which are stopped by human intervention. Their systems are far less secure; the Russian case, deteriorated. These moves all sharply enhance the threat of nuclear war. That's serious nuclear war that I'm talking about.

There's also the threat of dirty bombs, small nuclear explosions. Small means not so small, but in comparison with a major attack, which would pretty much exterminate civilized life. The U.S. intelligence community regards the threat of a dirty bomb, say in New York, in the next decade as being probably greater than 50%. And those threats increase as the threat of terror increases.

And Bush administration policies have, again, consciously been carried out in a way, which they know is likely to increase the threat of terror. The most obvious example is the Iraq invasion. That was undertaken with the anticipation that it would be very likely to increase the threat of terror and also nuclear proliferation. And, in fact, that's exactly what happened, according to the judgment of the C.I.A., National Intelligence Council, foreign intelligence agencies, independent specialists. They all point out that, yes, as anticipated, it increased the threat of terror. In fact, it did so in ways well beyond what was anticipated.

To mention just one, we commonly read that there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq. Well, it's not totally accurate. There were means to develop weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and known to be in Iraq. They were under guard by U.N. inspectors, who were dismantling them. When Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest sent in their troops, they neglected to instruct them to guard these sites. The U.N. inspectors were expelled, the sites were left unguarded. The inspectors continued their work by satellite and reported that over a hundred sites had been looted, in fact, systematically looted, not just somebody walking in, but careful looting. That included dangerous biotoxins, means to hide precision equipment to be used to develop nuclear weapons and missiles, means to develop chemical weapons and so on. All of this has disappeared. One hates to imagine where it's disappeared to, but it could end up in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Noam Chomsky, and we're going to come back with him. His new book, just published, is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. We'll be back with Professor Chomsky in a minute.



AMY GOODMAN: Our guest today is Professor Noam Chomsky. His new book is Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. Noam Chomsky, longtime professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, world-renowned linguist and political analyst. I'm Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Professor Chomsky, in your book you have a fascinating section, where you talk about the historical basis of the Bush doctrine of preemptive war, and also its relationship to empire or to the building of a U.S. empire. And you go back, you mention a historian, John Lewis Gaddis, who the Bush administration loves, because he's actually tried to find the historical rationalization for this use, going back to John Quincy Adams and as Secretary of State in the invasion by General Andrew Jackson of Florida in the Seminole Wars, and how this actually is a record of the use of this idea to continue the expansionist aims of the United States around the world.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, that's a very interesting case, actually. John Lewis Gaddis is not only the favorite historian of the Reagan administration, but he's regarded as the dean of Cold War scholarship, the leading figure in the American Cold War scholarship, a professor at Yale. And he wrote the one, so far, book-length investigation into the roots of the Bush Doctrine, which he generally approves, the usual qualifications about style and so on. He traces it is back, as you say, to his hero, the great grand strategist, John Quincy Adams, who wrote a series of famous state papers back in 1818, in which he gave post facto justification to Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida. And it's rather interesting.

Gaddis is a good historian. He knows the sources, cites all the right sources. But he doesn't tell you what they say. So what I did in the book is just add what they say, what he omitted. Well, what they describe is a shocking record of atrocities and crimes carried out against what were called runaways Negros and lawless Indians, devastated the Seminoles. There was another major Seminole war later, either exterminated them or drove them into the marshes, completely unprovoked. There were fabricated pretexts. Gaddis talks about the threat of England. There was no threat from England. England didn't do a thing. In fact, even Adams didn't claim that. But it was what Gaddis calls an -- it established what Gaddis calls the thesis that expansion is the best guarantee of security. So you want to be secure, just expand, conquer more. Then you'll be secure.

And he says, yes, that goes right through all American administrations -- he's correct about that -- and is the centerpiece of the Bush Doctrine. So he says the Bush Doctrine isn't all that new. Expansion is the key to security. So we just expand and expand, and then we become more secure. Well, you know, he doesn't mention the obvious precedents that come to mind, so I'll leave them out, but you can think of them. And there's some truth to that, except for what he ignores and, in fact, denies, namely the huge atrocities that are recorded in the various sources, scholarly sources that he cites, which also point out that Adams, by giving this justification for Jackson's war -- he was alone in the administration to do it, but he managed to convince the President -- he established the doctrine of executive wars without congressional authorization, in violation of the Constitution. Adams later recognized that and was sorry for it, and very sorry, but that established it and, yes, that's been consistent ever since then: executive wars without congressional authorization. We know of case after case. It doesn't seem to bother the so-called originalists who talk about original intent.

But that aside, he also -- the scholarship that Gaddis cites but doesn't quote also points out that Adams established other principles that are consistent from then until now, namely massive lying to the public, distortion, evoking hysterical fears, all kinds of deceitful efforts to mobilize the population in support of atrocities. And yes, that continues right up to the present, as well. So there's very interesting historical record. What it shows is almost the opposite of what Gaddis claims and what the Reagan -- the Bush administration -- I think I said Reagan -- the Bush administration likes. And it's right out of the very sources that he refers to, the right sources, the right scholarship. He simply ignores them. But, yes, the record is interesting.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, I wanted to ask you a question. As many people know, you're perhaps one of the most cited sources or analysis in the world. And I thought this was an interesting reference to these citations. This was earlier this month, program, Tim Russert, Meet the Press, questioning the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace.

    TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Jaafari said that one of his favorite American writers is Professor Noam Chomsky, someone who has written very, very strongly against the Iraq war and against most of the Bush administration foreign policy. Does that concern you?

    GEN. PETER PACE: I hope he has more than one book on his nightstand.

    TIM RUSSERT: So it troubles you?

    GEN. PETER PACE: I would be concerned if the only access to foreign ideas that the Prime Minister had was that one author. If, in fact, that's one of many, and he's digesting many different opinions, that's probably healthy.

AMY GOODMAN: That's General Peter Pace, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, being questioned by Tim Russert, talking about Jaafari, who at this very moment is struggling to be -- again, to hold on to his position as prime minister of Iraq. Your response, Noam Chomsky?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I, frankly, rather doubt that General Pace recognized my name or knew what he was referring to, but maybe he did. The quote from Tim Russert, if I recall, was that this was a book that was highly critical of the Iraq war. Well, that shouldn't surprise a prime minister of Iraq. After all, according to U.S. polls, the latest ones I've seen reported, Brookings Institution, 87%, 87% of Iraqis want a timetable for withdrawal. That's an astonishing figure. If it really is all Iraqis, as was asserted. That means virtually everyone in Arab Iraq, the areas where the troops are deployed. I, frankly, doubt that you could have found figures like that in Vichy, France, or, you know, Poland under -- when it was a Russian satellite.

What it means essentially is that virtually everyone wants a timetable for withdrawal. So, would it be surprising that a prime minister would read a book that's critical of the war and says the same thing? It's interesting that Bush and Blair, who are constantly preaching about their love of democracy, announce, declare that there will be no timetable for withdrawal. Well, that part probably reflects the contempt for democracy that both of them have continually demonstrated, them and their colleagues, virtually without exception.

But there are deeper reasons, and we ought to think about them. If we're talking about exit strategies from Iraq, we should bear in mind that for the U.S. to leave Iraq without establishing a subordinate client state would be a nightmare for Washington. All you have to do is think of the policies that an independent Iraq would be likely to pursue, if it was mildly democratic. It would almost surely strengthen its already developed relations with Shiite Iran right next door. Any degree of Iraqi autonomy stimulates autonomy pressures across the border in Saudi Arabia, where there's a substantial Shiite population, who have been bitterly repressed by the U.S.-backed tyranny but is now calling for more autonomy. That happens to be where most of Saudi oil is. So, what you can imagine -- I'm sure Washington planners are having nightmares about this -- is a potential -- pardon?

JUAN GONZALEZ: I would like to ask you, in terms of this whole issue of democracy, in your book you talk about the democracy deficit. Obviously, the Bush administration is having all kinds of problems with their -- even their model of democracy around the world, given the election results in the Palestinian territories, the situation now in Iraq, where the President is trying to force out the Prime Minister of the winning coalition there, in Venezuela, even in Iran. Your concept of the democracy deficit, and why this administration is able to hold on in the United States itself?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there are two aspects of that. One is, the democracy deficit internal to the United States, that is, the enormous and growing gap between public opinion and public policy. Second is their so-called democracy-promotion mission elsewhere in the world. The latter is just pure fraud. The only evidence that they're interested in promoting democracy is that they say so. The evidence against it is just overwhelming, including the cases you mentioned and many others. I mean, the very fact that people are even willing to talk about this shows that we're kind of insisting on being North Koreans: if the Dear Leader has spoken, that establishes the truth; it doesn't matter what the facts are. I go into that in some detail in the book.

The democracy deficit at home is another matter. How have -- I mean, they have an extremely narrow hold on political power. Their policies are strongly opposed by most of the population. How do they carry this off? Well, that's been through an intriguing mixture of deceit, lying, fabrication, public relations. There's actually a pretty good study of it by two good political scientists, Hacker and Pearson, who just run through the tactics and how it works. And they have barely managed to hold on to political power and are attempting to use it to dismantle the institutional structure that has been built up over many years with enormous popular support -- the limited benefits system; they’re trying to dismantle Social Security and are actually making progress on that; to the tax cuts, overwhelmingly for the rich, are creating -- are purposely creating a future situation, first of all, a kind of fiscal train wreck in the future, but also a situation in which it will be virtually impossible to carry out the kinds of social policies that the public overwhelmingly supports.

And to manage to carry this off has been an impressive feat of manipulation, deceit, lying, and so on. No time to talk about it here, but actually my book gives a pretty good account. I do discuss it in the book. That's a democratic deficit at home and an extremely serious one. The problems of nuclear war, environmental disaster, those are issues of survival, the top issues and the highest priority for anyone sensible. Third issue is that the U.S. government is enhancing those threats. And a fourth issue is that the U.S. population is opposed, but is excluded from the political system. That's a democratic deficit. It's one we can deal with, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, we're going to have to leave it there for now. But part two of our interview will air next week. Professor Noam Chomsky's new book, just published, is called Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.


Part II of the interview will be shown next week.

Mass Hunger Clinic grabs $3M from Queens Park

by Sam Kuhn
Organizer & Caseworker - Tenant Action Group, Belleville, Ontario
On October 3rd OCAP organized a "Mass Hunger Clinic" at Queen's Park where individuals and entire families where assessed for their "special diet" allowance. For instance, a single mom with three kids nets $1,000 extra above and beyond her normal welfare cheque if she gets assessed by a healthcare provider!

This direct action event - whereby healthcare professionals assess over a thousand social assistance recipients en masse for the bonus - is a godsend for anarchist organizers working with low income people. This little known and well kept secret provincial benefit is being exploited or its exploitation advocated by a wide array of anti-poverty groups, tenant associations, social assistance recipients, healthcare professionals and community healthcare centres, unions, foodbanks, Municipal Health Units and others. This acceptability of this tactic by the wider community speaks to the utter misery poor face.

Things have gotten so insane with this direct action tactic that even welfare workers openly distribute OCAP propanda at their front desk in Trenton!

The Tenant Action Group attended with a bus load of single moms, their kids and others for the two hour drive from Belleville to get their forms signed.

Food was served, childcare was provided, TTC tokens provided, tarps on hand for the possibility of rain...OCAP thought of everything including outstanding propanganda!

Photo: Graeme Bacque

TAG is a collective of low income tenants in Belleville engaging in direct action advocacy for poor people against slumlords, cops, welfare bureaucrats, bad bosses and the like. What struck me about the "Mass Hunger Clinic" was how how anarchist the whole action was (at least in my mind):

Mutual Aid

October 3rd saw over 1,200 people assemble at Queen's Park to literally grab 3 million dollars from the provincial government. Prior to this campaign TAG was floundering; we had been around for five years and despite some impressive victories we were getting worn down with squat takedowns and arrests, welfare office occupations and Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal battles.

Then when we were at our lowest ebb in March OCAP came up with this brilliant and meaningful action. OCAP then paid for TAG to rent a bus for a day, fill it with poor people, and then get our special diet forms signed at Regent Park Community Health Centre by nurses. When the money poured into the housing projects the people immediately got active organizing fund raising so that the masses could be fed and entertained while they waited at "their" own Hunger Clinic. The people got incenced when the County threatened to "dismantle" our clinics and we threatened back by stating our intention to march, en masse, to the welfare office and confront their bureaucracy. The County blinked and now our welfare cheques are "streamlined" in three days! TAG could only have gotten a bus to attend OCAP's "Mass Hunger Clinic" via Ontario Common Front comrades in Kingston and Ottawa.

This is an example of mutual aid because if OCAP hadn't set aside their own healthcare professionals and their desperately needed money for TAG way back in March to assess our first batch of needy - we would not now be to the point where we've processed well over 500 people on social assistance in Belleville and Trenton.

Direct Action

What the "special diet" action has done is show the ability of anti-poverty groups not only to squat empty buildings, but legislation too. This is a great example of "direct action gets the goods"; we've found a loophole and we're exploiting it to the max! The government is left with only two choices; cut-off poor people from something they now feel entitled to and endure their wrath, or, let it slip by and endure the anquished screams of the Municipalities and the right wing SUN while all the while losing millions. Talk about agitation!

Working Class

In Belleville we have tenants organizing our "Hunger Clinics" themselves. For the first time the people in the housing projects are openly organizing themselves around something the local Liberal MPP and media have deemed "illegal". These people learn the benefits and power of numbers and they learn it is good and right to resist and defy authority. When we say that "honesty is a prvilege" or that "every mother is a working mother" it resonates.

TAG gives them a place to be honest about things and name the class enemy. Decisions are made by consensus and sometimes things seem to break down to the point of collapse until somebody somewhere in the group comes up with a solution.

The title "comrade" is becoming popular again; not just with university professors but single moms and alcoholics - with the prospect of sitting in jail together one day being a distinct probability. Kids are everywhere! Selena got $1,750 bucks extra a month because she has six kids! And the talk of food is ever present: where are the best buys, how they use to survive, what crap the food bank gives out. People whose voices had never been heard are now doing OCAP radio interviews or reading about the local Director of Social Services throwing his arms up in surrender to TAG when questioned by a reporter what he intends to do about the "Hunger Clinic".

OCAP's special diet clinic stategy has brought meaningful victory in mass numbers. Most importantly the people are taking ownership of OCAP's brilliant political heist.

Another person indicted for alleged ELF action

by Sara Jean Green
A 30-year-old California woman has become the first person to face charges for the 2001 arson that destroyed the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture, the latest in a series of charges against suspected members of the Earth Liberation Front.

Briana Waters of Berkeley, Calif., was indicted by a federal grand jury and has been charged in U.S. District Court in Seattle with arson and using or carrying a destructive device during a crime of violence, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle.

Waters could face a minimum 35-year sentence if convicted. Her arraignment was set for today.

Federal prosecutors in Eugene, Ore., have already charged 13 other people in connection with a series of arsons across the West. A 14th defendant, William C. Rodgers, 40, of Prescott, Ariz., committed suicide in an Arizona jail in December after he was indicted by a Seattle federal grand jury.

On May 21, 2001, fire ripped through the UW's Center for Urban Horticulture, a research center and resource for gardeners that cost $7 million to rebuild. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF), claimed the center was targeted for its reasearch into fast-growing poplar trees.

Members of ELF and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) claimed responsibility for numerous arsons in Washington, Oregon and other states, including U.S. Forest Service buildings, a Bureau of Land Management horse corral, a meat company, a lumber company and a Vail, Colo., ski resort.

While the FBI has called ELF and the similar Animal Liberation Front (ALF) the nation's top domestic terror threat, the groups say they are careful not to hurt people.

March 30, 2006

Posted by: Outskirts of Infinity at March 29, 2006

RBR: First off, Noam, for quite a time now you've been an advocate for the anarchist idea. Many people are familiar with the introduction you wrote in 1970 to Daniel Guerin's Anarchism, but more recently, for instance in the film Manufacturing Consent, you took the opportunity to highlight again the potential of anarchism and the anarchist idea. What is it that attracts you to anarchism?

CHOMSKY: I was attracted to anarchism as a young teenager, as soon as I began to think about the world beyond a pretty narrow range, and haven't seen much reason to revise those early attitudes since. I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom. That includes political power, ownership and management, relations among men and women, parents and children, our control over the fate of future generations (the basic moral imperative behind the environmental movement, in my view), and much else. Naturally this means a challenge to the huge institutions of coercion and control: the state, the unaccountable private tyrannies that control most of the domestic and international economy, and so on. But not only these. That is what I have always understood to be the essence of anarchism: the conviction that the burden of proof has to be placed on authority, and that it should be dismantled if that burden cannot be met. Sometimes the burden can be met. If I'm taking a walk with my grandchildren and they dart out into a busy street, I will use not only authority but also physical coercion to stop them. The act should be challenged, but I think it can readily meet the challenge. And there are other cases; life is a complex affair, we understand very little about humans and society, and grand pronouncements are generally more a source of harm than of benefit. But the perspective is a valid one, I think, and can lead us quite a long way.

Blaming the Israel Lobby

by Joseph Massad
It's US Policy That Inflames the Arab World

AIPAC is indeed powerful insofar as it pushes for policies that accord with US interests and that are resonant with the reigning US imperial ideology. The power of the pro-Israel lobby, whether in Congress or on campuses among university administrators, or policy-makers is not based solely on their organisational skills or ideological uniformity. In no small measure, anti- Semitic attitudes in Congress (and among university administrators) play a role in believing the lobby's (and its enemies') exaggerated claims about its actual power, resulting in their towing the line. But even if this were true, one could argue, it would not matter whether the lobby has real or imagined power. For as long as Congress and policy-makers (and university administrators) believe it does, it will remain effective and powerful. I of course concede this point.

What then would have been different in US policy in the Middle East absent Israel and its powerful lobby? The answer in short is: the details and intensity but not the direction, content, or impact of such policies. Is the pro- Israel lobby extremely powerful in the United States? As someone who has been facing the full brunt of their power for the last three years through their formidable influence on my own university and their attempts to get me fired, I answer with a resounding yes. Are they primarily responsible for US policies towards the Palestinians and the Arab world? Absolutely not.

The United States is opposed in the Arab world as elsewhere because it has pursued and continues to pursue policies that are inimical to the interests of most people in these countries and are only beneficial to its own interests and to the minority regimes in the region that serve those interests, including Israel. Absent these policies, and not the pro-Israel lobby which supports them, the United States should expect a change in its standing among Arabs. Short of that, the United States will have to continue its policies in the region that have wreaked, and continue to wreak, havoc on the majority of Arabs and not expect that the Arab people will like it in return.

Inviting Anarchy Into My Home, by Liz Seymour

Mar 10
Greensboro, N.C./ On Aug. 1, 2002, I left behind the comfortably roomy semicircle marked "married-couple household" on the Census Bureau pie chart and slipped into an inconspicuous wedge labeled "two or more people, nonfamily." Having separated from my husband of 28 years the day before, I opened our three-bedroom 1927 Colonial Revival house to a group of men and women less than half my age. Overnight, the home I had lived in for 12 years became a seven-person anarchist collective, run by consensus and fueled by punk music, curse-studded conversation and food scavenged from Dumpsters.

Thoreau famously said that he had "traveled much in Concord." I would venture to say that I've traveled just as much, and maybe more, without ever leaving my house.

It happened like this: My husband and I had come to the end of the line, as married people sometimes do. We had helped each other into adulthood and careers (Bill is a high school English teacher; I'm a freelance writer). We had raised two daughters together, but with Isabell and Margaret grown and both of us entering our 50's, it was clear that our hopes and goals for the next couple of decades were diverging.

Bill longed for quiet and solitude; I wanted noise and movement. To complicate matters, I had become the court advocate for Justin, a 15-year-old runaway from a foster home who had been in and out of juvenile detention since he was 12. After a year of trying to find a workable home for him, I had concluded that the only recourse was to be his foster mother myself.

Now, faced with the prospect of becoming a 52-year-old single mother to a teenage boy and the challenge of supporting us both, I panicked. Trying to imagine how I could make it work, I found my mind turning to a collective house in Oregon where Isabell, my older daughter, had lived the summer before, and to a group of young anarchist artists and musicians in Greensboro whom I knew through both of my daughters.

After Isabell came home from college an anarchist herself, I began to put aside my preconceptions about these people — as disorderly, violent and destructive — and to see them as a community dedicated to replacing hierarchy with consensus and cooperation. (Isabell once described them as Quakers who swear a lot.) Over time I found myself drawn to their hopeful view that people know best what is best for them and to their determination, naïve or not, to build a better world right away. Anarchism, at least as practiced here, seemed to be more about building community gardens and making your own fun than about black bandannas and confrontations with the riot police (although it was about those things, too).

Amid the chaos of my own life I wondered if this approach to living might have something in it for me. Unconventional as it was, I figured it couldn't be any worse than struggling to pay the mortgage and being Justin's mother on my own.

So Justin and I entered a microeconomy in which it is possible to live not just comfortably, but well, on $500 a month. When we pooled our skills in our new household, we found that we had what we needed to design a Web page, paint a ceiling or install a car stereo. Sharing services and tools with people outside the house saved us thousands of dollars a year. If there is a historical model for the way we live, it is not the communes of the 60's or the utopian experiments of the 19th century, but the two-million-year prehistory of our hunting-and-gathering ancestors. Looked at through that lens, the life of our miniature tribe feels a lot like the way people were meant to live.

That account, of course, leaves out the terror I felt through the summer of 2002 as I prepared to open my house to anarchy. Also the occasional awful days and nights early in the experiment, like the evening that began with Justin's skateboard at the bottom of the stairs and that ended with shouting, slammed doors and the skateboard flying out a second-story window. Then there were the guests who wouldn't leave; the short-lived but horrifying rat invasion (brought on, I suspect, by boxes of food from Dumpsters on the back porch); and the friends who drifted out of my life, baffled by my new living arrangements.

I still own about two-thirds of the house, sharing the title with two young women in the collective, Mackie Hunter, a 25-year-old full-time political activist who had an insurance settlement to invest, and Stef Smith, a 26-year-old drummer with a never-to-be-used college fund. Their investment, and my refinancing of the house, allowed me to buy out Bill after we divorced two years ago, and gave them about a third share of the property. Since I do not want to profit from the collective as its landlady, I have decided that the portion of the equity that builds up from my housemates' monthly rent will not go to me if the house is sold or refinanced, but will serve to help keep the collective going. In essence I've converted my capital from the house to the household. Twenty years from now, when I'm in my mid-70's, I may regret giving up my equity in return for time and community, but I don't think so. I'd rather take my retirement now.

The ages in the house span 50 years, from Jodi Staley's 6-year-old daughter, Skye, to me. Justin, now 18, moved out more than a year ago to live with his girlfriend; he hopes to go to a music conservatory. (He turned out to be one of those children it takes a village to raise, and he not only thrived under the group's care but rebelled into surprisingly mainstream respectability.)

None of us work full time. We support ourselves by painting houses, typing legal depositions, teaching (as substitutes), subjecting ourselves to medical studies, cooking in restaurants and writing. The time I save allows me to help care for an elderly relative, cook for a free meal program, spend time with friends and work on a book.

On paper we look like paupers. The monthly cost of living in the house comes to $160 to $245 a person, based on the size of one's bedroom. That includes the mortgage, property taxes, household insurance, utilities (we have an unlimited long-distance plan) and wireless Internet. In addition we each put $30 a month into a house fund that pays for bulk food like rice, beans, olive oil and spices, and supplies like toilet paper, light bulbs and laundry detergent.

As for produce, a typical evening of hunting and gathering in various grocery store Dumpsters brings in plenty of food: cartons of apples, oranges, potatoes, bananas and red onions, slightly soft or spotty perhaps, but still fresh and edible.

Every Sunday it is someone's turn to fix dinner while the rest of us sweep and mop, with Al Green or the Pixies blasting from the kitchen stereo. Since the dining room has been turned into a bedroom (as have the downstairs study and a small upstairs room that was my office), we eat on the screened-in side porch or in the backyard under the crape myrtle tree when the weather is warm, or around the kitchen table or in the living room when it is cool.

On Tuesday night we hold the weekly house meeting. It is surprisingly helpful to know who has a headache, who just fell in love, who is sleepy. More than one set of roommates have blown apart over dishes piled up in the sink and wet towels left on the bathroom floor; then again, so have quite a few nuclear families. We talk things out.

Though our daily activities are a lot closer to the Waltons than to the Weather Underground, we keep "In Case of Police Raid" instructions posted by our front and back doors. It is a reminder that houses like ours in other towns do get raided.

In spite of the stigma attached to the word "anarchist" and the scrutiny openly anarchist households receive, the number of such houses is growing. Anarchists are no longer just in college towns and big cities; there are now thriving anarchist communities and houses like ours in places like Lake Worth, Fla.; Machias, Me.; and Springfield, Mo. The online directory maintained by the Fellowship for Intentional Community lists more than 1,000 collective houses, ecovillages and co-ops in the United States, compared with about 400 in the 1990 directory. Although not all of them identify themselves as anarchist, more than half make their decisions by consensus. Even that number is clearly low: none of the five collective houses I know of in Greensboro, for example, are listed in the directory.

It is a rare week when we do not have at least one guest in residence. One winter we had a Danish filmmaker living in the garage. On a rainy night last spring an entire old-time string band showed up on the doorstep. The musicians had been hopping freight trains around the country and gotten stranded; they played fiddle, banjo and musical saw in the living room and left the next day. Another guest walked from Maine to North Carolina, the first leg of a trip home to Oregon. He stayed for a week, mended some rips in his backpack, then walked off down the driveway due west.

I have friends who tell me they could not live the way I do. I believe them. The constant sound of footsteps on the stairs, the coffee cups in the sink, the mysterious things in the refrigerator that no one claims, the sheer intensity some days of so many personalities rubbing up against one another, is not for everyone. But then neither are more conventional living arrangements. For me, a household of friends — more loosely bound than a family but tied together by loyalty, affinity and shared space — satisfies a need for kinship and companionship that did not end when my family did.

The old house's former incarnation as a middle-class, nuclear-family household still rises up in my mind now and then. Someone will ask about an umbrella or a bottle of aspirin or a pair of needle nose pliers, and I'll picture so clearly the place where the object used to be that for a moment I'm there instead of here. It is not an unpleasant sensation, just a little strange.

For the most part, though, my memory keeps up a pretty sturdy firewall between the time I have come to think of as "before" and now. Where I live now is not utopia. What it is, though, is fun. It is fun to hear people laughing on the porch; it is fun to dance in the kitchen; it is fun to go out on a Wednesday evening Dumpster run. As messy as it is, to my mind it is a lot more interesting than utopia could ever be.

Is school fingerprinting out of bounds?

by Wendy Grossman
Obtaining biometric data from pupils, often without parental knowledge, shows how far this technology has already infiltrated society

Last week, news emerged that Primrose Hill primary school in north London had been fingerprinting pupils without their parents' consent. It seemed shocking yet should not have come as such a surprise. Micro Librarian Systems' Junior Librarian has been marketed in the UK since 2002 and is estimated to have fingerprinted hundreds of thousands of British children.

That so many schools have been happy to install such systems, often without thinking it necessary to consult parents, is a reflection of how this technology is infiltrating society. We can expect more of the same, for children and adults, should the ID card, debated once more this week in parliament, become reality.

Simon Davies, the executive director of Privacy International, says backing for such systems is "broad but shallow". As more detail, especially the cost, has emerged about the government's plans, support for the ID card has dropped from 80% to about 50%. There seems to be a similar attitude to biometrics in schools. One teacher and governor whose school is considering installing the same system says: "It's all internal so I can't see it's really any different from passwords giving computer access."

Davies responds that the demand for privacy "has two key drivers: systematic legal development and public relations disasters. There is something extremely personal about a biometric and if a computer holding children's stored fingerprints were stolen the psychological effect on parents would be massive."

Identity theft

Why does it all matter? Because a password is something you have; a fingerprint is something you are. A password can be reset, reissued, forgotten, copied, written down, or changed. A fingerprint is for life. Like the ID card, as biometric systems pervade society they will be used to secure data of a serious nature. Identity theft will become far more dangerous.

"One of the worries we have," says Terri Dowty, director of Action for the Rights of Children, "is the rather casual use of biometric data. If children get used to thinking biometric data can be used for trivial purposes - and a school library is a rather trivial purpose - how do they learn to be careful where they put their fingerprints and iris scans? The more you use biometric data and the more casually you use it, the more scope there is to exploit it."

It is not just to do with library books. A school in Sunderland experimented with iris scanning in the canteen and many schools around the UK are trying fingerprint registration. Dowty thinks the latter a terrible idea. "When I was teaching, attendance-taking was an important part of the day. You would call the name, look up, and make eye contact - notice them for a second. It was an important human part of the day."

Andrew Clymer, who fought to keep biometrics out of the school attended by his children, now six and eight, loves technology. An IT consultant who formerly worked for Cisco, he happily hands over his fingerprint to US border controls because "I see the benefit". But he believes the decision to hand over such information could affect his children all their lives.

MLS says the Identikit fingerprint module does not store images; it creates a mathematical template stored as a number. The data is encrypted and "cannot be used in any other database" and the fingerprint is immediately deleted when a child leaves school. Vericool, which supplies registration systems, says: "At no time can the encrypted digital signature be turned into usable, hard-copy data."

Clymer finds these claims laughable. "What we've seen in the last 10 years is what's true in IT today isn't necessarily true in future. Anybody who says it is secure and can't be compromised is a liar."

This is the kind of dispute you would expect the Information Commissioner's Office, responsible for enforcement of the UK Data Protection Act, to step into.

But a spokeswoman told the Guardian: "We haven't had any complaints. We would look into it if we did and encourage people to complain." The ICO would, she says, look into why schools were collecting information, how long they planned to keep it, what the safeguards were, whether information was obtained compulsorily and how they intended to ensure it wasn't "muddled".

Complaints procedure

In fact, the ICO has received complaints - from Privacy International, Action for the Rights of Children, parents like Clymer - and replied to them, saying much the same as the vendors about the system's workings. (MLS uses a letter from the ICO to promote its products as "safe").

"The Information Commissioner does not have any specific concerns relating to the use of such technology in schools for such purposes with respect to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998," wrote Suzanne McKay, the commissioner's casework and advice officer, in an email Pippa King received on Monday after a two-month wait. King has two children, aged seven and eight, whose Hull school did not ask permission before installing a fingerprint scanner in the library. McKay's email goes on to say: "The Commissioner accepts the introduction of such a system may be regarded as a sensitive issue and would suggest schools inform parents of their intention to introduce such a system. However, a failure by the school to [do so] would not necessarily represent a contravention of the Data Protection Act 1998."

Stephen Groesz, a partner with the law firm Bindmans, has been consulted by parents from Charles Dickens school in Southwark, and believes the system is illegal on several grounds. "Absent a specific power allowing schools to fingerprint, I'd say they have no power to do it." Police legislation, for example, is specific about when, by whom and how fingerprints may be taken and what they may be used for. "The notion you can do it because it's a neat way of keeping track of books doesn't cut it as a justification."

Privacy advocates say these systems have a more subtle danger: habituation. Andre Bacard, the author of The Computer Privacy Handbook, said if he wanted to build the surveillance society, "I would start by creating dossiers on kindergarten children so the next generation couldn't comprehend a world without surveillance." But who needs dossiers when you have fingerprints?

US soldiers

by Jeremy Paxman,From BBC Newsnight
We have a powerful film this evening. We follow a group of former US soldiers who have returned from Iraq deeply affected by the experience.

As they march across America to protest against the war they reveal their own experiences of the conflict, make some disturbing allegations about military practices in Iraq and reflect on how it feels to come home.

We'll discuss some of the issues raised with the former Judge Advocate General for the US Army who is also a decorated combat veteran.

'If you start looking at them as humans, then how are you gonna kill them?'

They are a publicity nightmare for the US military: an ever-growing number of veterans of the Iraq conflict who are campaigning against the war. To mark the third anniversary of the invasion this month, a group of them marched on Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Inigo Gilmore and Teresa Smith joined them

At a press conference in a cavernous Alabama warehouse, banners and posters are rolled out: "Abandon Iraq, not the Gulf coast!" A tall, white soldier steps forward in desert fatigues. "I was in Iraq when Katrina happened and I watched US citizens being washed ashore in New Orleans," he says. "War is oppression: we could be setting up hospitals right here. America is war-addicted. America is neglecting its poor."

A black reporter from a Fox TV news affiliate, visibly stunned, whispers: "Wow! That guy's pretty opinionated." Clearly such talk, even three years after the Iraq invasion, is still rare. This, after all, is the Deep South and this soldier less than a year ago was proudly serving his nation in Iraq.

The soldier was engaged in no ordinary protest. Over five days earlier this month, around 200 veterans, military families and survivors of hurricane Katrina walked 130 miles from Mobile, Alabama, to New Orleans to mark the third anniversary of the Iraq war. At its vanguard, Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group formed less than two years ago, whose very name has aroused intense hostility at the highest levels of the US military.

Mobile is a grand old southern naval town, clinging to the Gulf Coast. The stars and stripes flutter from almost every balcony as the soldiers parade through the town, surprising onlookers. As they begin their soon-to-be-familiar chants - "Bush lied, many died!" - some shout "traitor", or hurl less polite terms of abuse. Elsewhere, a black man salutes as a blonde, middle-aged woman, emerging from a supermarket car park, cries out, "Take it all the way to the White House!" and offers the peace sign.

Michael Blake is at the front of the march. The 22-year-old from New York state is not quite sure how he ended up in the military; the child of "a feminist mom and hippy dad", he says he signed up thinking that he would have an adventure, never imagining that he would find himself in Iraq. He served from April 2003 to March 2004, some of that time as a Humvee driver. Deeply disturbed by his experience in Iraq, he filed for conscientious objector status and has been campaigning against the war ever since.

He claims that US soldiers such as him were told little about Iraq, Iraqis or Islam before serving there; other than a book of Arabic phrases, "the message was always: 'Islam is evil' and 'They hate us.' Most of the guys I was with believed it."

Blake says that the turning point for him came one day when his unit spent eight hours guarding a group of Iraqi women and children whose men were being questioned. He recalls: "The men were taken away and the women were screaming and crying, and I just remember thinking: this was exactly what Saddam used to do - and now we're doing it."

Becoming a peace activist, he says, has been a "cleansing" experience. "I'll never be normal again. I'll always have a sense of guilt." He tells us that he witnessed civilian Iraqis being killed indiscriminately. It would not be the most startling admission by the soldiers on the march.

"When IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] would go off by the side of the road, the instructions were - or the practice was - to basically shoot up the landscape, anything that moved. And that kind of thing would happen a lot." So innocent people were killed? "It happened, yes." (He says he did not carry out any such killings himself.)

Blake, an activist with IVAW for the past 12 months, is angry that American people seem so untouched by the war, by the grim abuses committed by American soldiers. "The American media doesn't cover it and they don't care. The American people aren't seeing the real war - what's really happening there."

We are in a Mexican diner in Mississippi when Alan Shackleton, a quiet 24-year-old from Iowa, stuns the table into silence with a story of his own. He details how he and his comrades in Iraq suffered multiple casualties, including a close friend who died of his injuries. Then he pauses for a moment, swallows hard and says: "And I ran over a little kid and killed him ... and that's about it." He has been suffering from severe insomnia, but later he tells us that he has only been able to see a counsellor once every six weeks and has been prescribed sleeping pills.

"We are very, very sorry for what we did to the Iraqi people," he says the next day, holding a handwritten poster declaring: "Thou shall not kill."

As we get closer to New Orleans, the coastline becomes increasingly ravaged. Joe Hatcher, always sporting a keffiyeh and punk chains, reflects on his own time in the military and the hostility he has met from pro-war activists at home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a town with five army bases where he campaigns against the war at town hall forums. He says: "There's this old guy, George, an ex-colonel. He shows up and talks shit on everybody for being anti-war because 'it's ruining the morale of the soldier and encouraging the enemy'.

"I scraped dead bodies off the pavements with a shovel and threw them in trash bags and left them there on the side of the road. And I really don't think the anti-war movement is what is infuriating people."

When we reach Biloxi, Mississippi, the police say that there is no permit for the march and everyone will have to walk on the pavement. This is tricky because Katrina has left this coastal road looking like a bomb site.

Jody Casey left the army five days ago and came straight to join the vets. The 29-year-old is no pacifist; he still firmly backs the military but says that he is speaking out in the hope of correcting many of the mistakes being made. He served as a scout sniper for a year until last February, based, like Blake, in the Sunni triangle.

He clearly feels a little ill at ease with some of the protesters' rhetoric, but eventually agrees to talk to us. He says that the turning point for him came after he returned from Iraq and watched videos that he and other soldiers in his unit shot while out on raids, including hour after hour of Iraqi soldiers beating up Iraqi civilians. While reviewing them back home he decided "it was not right".

What upset him the most about Iraq? "The total disregard for human life," he says, matter of factly. "I mean, you do what you do at the time because you feel like you need to. But then to watch it get kind of covered up, shoved under a rug ... 'Oh, that did not happen'."

What kind of abuses did he witness? "Well, I mean, I have seen innocent people being killed. IEDs go off and [you] just zap any farmer that is close to you. You know, those people were out there trying to make a living, but on the other hand, you get hit by four or five of those IEDs and you get pretty tired of that, too."

Casey told us how, from the top down, there was little regard for the Iraqis, who were routinely called "hajjis", the Iraq equivalent of "gook". "They basically jam into your head: 'This is hajji! This is hajji!' You totally take the human being out of it and make them into a video game."

It was a way of dehumanising the Iraqis? "I mean, yeah - if you start looking at them as humans, and stuff like that, then how are you going to kill them?"

He says that soldiers who served in his area before his unit's arrival recommended them to keep spades on their vehicles so that if they killed innocent Iraqis, they could throw a spade off them to give the appearance that the dead Iraqi was digging a hole for a roadside bomb.

Casey says he didn't participate in any such killings himself, but claims the pervasive atmosphere was that "you could basically kill whoever you wanted - it was that easy. You did not even have to get off and dig a hole or anything. All you had to do was have some kind of picture. You're driving down the road at three in the morning. There's a guy on the side of the road, you shoot him ... you throw a shovel off."

The IVAW, says Hatcher, "is becoming our religion, our fight - as in any religion we've confessed our wrongs, and now it's time to atone."

Just outside New Orleans, the sudden appearance of a reporter from al-Jazeera's Washington office electrifies the former soldiers. It is a chance for the vets to turn confessional and the reporter is deluged with young former soldiers keen to be interviewed. "We want the Iraqi people to know that we stand with them," says Blake, "and that we're sorry, so sorry. That's why it was so important for us to appear on al-Jazeera."

A number of Vietnam veterans also on the march are a welcome presence. For all the attempts to deny a link between the two conflicts, for both sets of veterans the parallels are persuasive. Thomas Brinson survived the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968. "Iraq is just Arabic for Vietnam, like the poster says - the same horror, the same tears," he says.

Sitting on a riverbed outside New Orleans, Blake turns reflective. "I met an Iraqi at one of the public meetings I was talking at recently. He came up to me and told me he was originally from the town where I had been stationed. And I just went up to this complete stranger and hugged him and I said, 'I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.' And you know what? He told me it was OK. And it was beautiful ..." He starts to cry. "That was redemption".

March 29, 2006

Discrimination in OK Education

by Tre Ronne
Mar 26

March 23, the OK State Dept of Ed reversed policy to allow public schools to bar students' gay rights groups from meeting on school grounds. New policy also allows discrimination on the basis of "family, social or cultural backgrounds."

At [their March 23rd] meeting of the Oklahoma State Department of education voted to reverse its nondiscrimination policy with respect to sexual 0rientation.

At the request of Rep. Kevin Calvey, a candidate for Congressional District #5, the State Board of Education made a rule change that repeals their current sexual orientation policy to be more in sync with federal and state law. Calvey stated that this new rule will protect public schools from having to allow homosexual rights organizations to hold meetings on school grounds and will also give school board more control over personnel decisions.

First of all, this issue was not on the agenda for the State Board of Education. The Board is subject to the Open Meeting Policy as it receives money from the State and Federal Government. Oklahoma has a very interesting State Board of Education structure. The State Superintendent is elected by the people, chairs the State Board of Education, prepares the agenda and also has a vote. It certainly brings into question the "conflict of interest" policy.

Also, in 1990, the United States Supreme Court upheld the federal Equal Access Law. This new rule is in complete violation of that Law. Gay and Lesbian students do have the right to meet on school property as long as they adhere to the policy of school clubs and organizations as established by the local boards of education, i.e., faculty sponsors, etc.

US Embassy Denies Visa to Salvadoran Unionist to Speak on Resistance to Privatization of Water

On Thursday, March 23, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador denied Salvadoran union leader Wilfredo Romero a visa to come to the U.S. to attend a conference and speak about his union’s activism in El Salvador. Romero is Secretary General of SETA, the public water workers’ union in El Salvador that is actively leading a campaign to resist attempts to privatize water under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). He went to his visa appointment on Thursday at the Embassy in San Salvador, where his application was quickly rejected. Romero had documentation showing that he is a 26-year veteran worker at the public water company and is the current SETA General Secretary. However, the Consulate denied him the visa, without even reviewing the letters of invitation from U.S. unions or the other documents he had prepared.

The organization Labor Notes invited Romero to participate in their bi-annual conference in Michigan scheduled for May 5-7, 2006. The conference brings together labor activists from the US and around the world to discuss the defense of worker rights, and Romero is scheduled to share his experience as a SETA leader who is working to defend union members from government cutbacks and the threat of water privatization. He will also speak about how SETA is participating in the larger coalition to defend public management of water for all Salvadorans.

According to Romero, “I was asked two brief questions and my application was summarily denied. I was never given the opportunity to show the ample documentation which demonstrates my lifelong dedication to my union and the workers at ANDA. In short, I was not given adequate opportunity to prove my case.” The only reason the Consulate gave for the visa denial was that he had not proved sufficient ties to El Salvador, the same excuse they have given to at least 20 other Salvadoran community organizers who have been denied visas to come to the U.S. for educational tours and exchanges over the last 12 months. Since Salvadoran labor and community organizers with the same kinds of “ties” to El Salvador as Romero has have been issued visas for these kinds of exchanges in the past, it seems that this argument is merely a pretext for a new policy at the Embassy of preventing voices of resistance in El Salvador from coming to the U.S.

With the implementation of CAFTA and the attempts to privatize remaining public services in El Salvador, it is more critical than ever that workers across borders are able to share experiences and build common strategies. Take action to demand that the U.S. Consulate grant Romero a visa to come to the U.S. for the Labor Notes conference.


1. Write to the Consul General of the US Embassy in El Salvador to demand that Romero immediately be granted a visa.

Virgina Hotchner, Consul General of the US Embassy in San Salvador -Fax: 011(503)2278-5522,

2. Report back on your discussion or send a copy of your message and any reply to Krista at the CISPES National Office:

Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador- 130 West 29th St 9th Floor, New York, NY 10001 • 212-465-8115 • FAX: 212-465-8998