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This afternoon, students at University of Southern California began occupying their administration's offices. The action is part of a likely wave of sit-ins on the nation's campuses, as students are escalating a campaign for basic human rights for the workers, mostly young women, who make clothing bearing school logos. Seven years ago, a similar wave helped establish the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the oversight group that students established, in cooperation with workers' advocates here and in the developing world, as an alternative to monitors controlled by the apparel industry. (I covered those protests for the Nation, and later in a book.)
Students at USC have been trying for eight years to get their school to affiliate with the WRC. 168 colleges and universities have done this, making USC quite a holdout on this issue. The USC students are also demanding that their university adopt the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a sensible system established by the Worker Rights Consortium to determine that collegiate clothing is made under decent conditions. The USC president, Steven Sample, has refused to meet with the students. "As students we learn in the classroom about global problems," says junior Carlo Catteneo Adorno. "It's disappointing that President Sample refuses to tackle such problems in the real world."
Students at University of Michigan -- my alma mater, so I'm proud of them-- occupied their president's office last week, also demanding that the University adopt the DSP. The students began this protest after several years of attempted "dialogue" with the administration on this issue. Instead of taking action to ensure that U-M clothing is not made under sweatshop conditions, President Mary Sue Coleman had the students arrested and forcibly removed from the building. Being a huge football school, U-M is obviously a significant player in the collegiate clothing industry, and it would make a big difference if its administration would finally embrace the DSP.
Supporters of the war in Iraq, like Senator John McCain, say the "surge" is making progress. That we must give General David Petraeus, a man who can seemingly do no wrong, time to make his plan work. But are additional troops really helping? Or is Baghdad simply becoming reoccupied--with disastrous results?
The NewsHour's Margaret Warner recently posed these questions to New York Times Iraq correspondent Ed Wong, who's analyzed the escalation. His answers were illuminating.
"There's no clear picture right now on what's going on with the surge," Wong said. "Basically, the picture is still one of massive violence throughout large parts of Iraq." Overall Iraqi casualties have not dropped. And casualties for US troops in Baghdad have doubled since the operation began seven weeks ago.
One night when I was in my teens, I found myself at a production of Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. I had never heard of the playwright or the play, nor had I seen a play performed in the round. The actors were dramatically entering and exiting in the aisles when, suddenly, a man stood up in the audience, proclaimed himself a seventh character in search of an author, and demanded the same attention as the other six. At the time, I assumed the unruly "seventh character" was just part of the play, even after he was summarily ejected from the theater.
Now, bear with me a moment here. Back in 2002-2003, officials in the Bush administration, their neocon supporters, and allied media pundits, basking in all their Global War on Terror glory, were eager to talk about the region extending from North Africa through the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan right up to the Chinese border as an "arc of instability." That arc coincided with the energy heartlands of the planet and what was needed to "stabilize" it, to keep those energy supplies flowing freely (and in the right directions), was clear enough to them. The "last superpower," the greatest military force in history, would simply have to put its foot down and so bring to heel the "rogue" powers of the region. The geopolitical nerve would have to be mustered to stamp a massive "footprint"--to use a Pentagon term of the time--in the middle of that vast, valuable region. Also needed was the nerve not just to lob a few cruise missiles in the direction of Baghdad, but to offer such an imposing demonstration of American shock-and-awe power that those "rogues"--Iraq, Syria, Iran (Hezbollah, Hamas)--would be cowed into submission, along with uppity U.S. allies like oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
It would, in fact, be necessary--in another of those bluntly descriptive words of the era--to "decapitate" resistant regimes. This would be the first order of business for the planet's lone "hyperpower," now that it had been psychologically mobilized by the attacks of September 11, 2001. After all, what other power on Earth was capable of keeping the uncivilized parts of the planet from descending into failed-state, all-against-all warfare and dragging us (and our energy supplies) down with them?
In his New York Times article about why US troops will (and should) remain in Iraq beyond 2008, NYU law professor Noah Feldman provides a common mischaracterization of American public opinion.
He concedes that Iraqis and Americans agree "that US troops don't belong in Iraq." But he goes on to write that Americans feel a "deep ambivalence" about exiting Iraq and that "leaving too fast is seen as undesirable as well." To buttress his claim, he cites a poll by CNN showing that only 21 percent of Americans want to bring all the troops home now.
Feldman, like many former and current war advocates, is misreading public opinion to support his own views about Iraq. Americans may be ambivalent about leaving, but they are remarkably clear about the need to go, sooner rather than later. According to the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, sixty percent of Americans favor "setting a timetable for withdrawing all US troops from Iraq no later than the fall of 2008."
Black people have a great sense of humor about themselves. I don't just say this because I happen to be black but because there's ample evidence to support this. For instance, arguably the most celebrated black comedians (Richard Pryor, Chris Rock come to mind) have been self-deprecating when it comes to the subject of race. Yet there was nothing remotely funny, incisive or somewhat excusable about radio personality Don Imus' remark about the black players on Rutgers' women's basketball team.
For those of you not in the know, he referred to them as "nappy headed ho's". This is not the first foray into racially insensitive rhetoric from Mr. Imus. He's also notoriously referred to respected black PBS anchorwoman Gwen Ifill as a "cleaning lady" and has been known to regularly use the epithet "ragheads" when referring to Arabs. Yet unlike his similarly politically incorrect, but I'd argue more entertaining counterpart Howard Stern, Imus has somehow managed to gain some semblance of mainstream political acceptance.
Left-wing politicians like John Edwards and John Kerry have enthusiastically appeared on his show and while they've never, as far as I know, gone so far as to endorse Mr. Imus' views--by appearing on his program they've more or less implied that they aren't offended enough by them to not be his guest. He even headlined a White House correspondents' dinner in 1996, although he promptly bombed after making off-color jokes about the First Lady.
Is there a more perfect symbol of the excesses of global capitalism than Charles Simonyi's 13-day joyride into outer space? Simonyi, a Hungarian-American software programmer who made his fortune at Xerox and Microsoft before launching his own start-up, paid $20 million to be escorted to the Kazakh steppes, packed into a Russian Soyuz rocket and blasted towards the international space station. En route, he'll enjoy a meal of roasted quail, duck breast confit with capers, shredded chicken parmentier and rice pudding with candied fruit -- all carefully selected by his girlfriend, Martha Stewart. (Martha, whatever happened to astronaut ice cream and Tang?) No word yet on the threadcount of his sheets or if there's 24-hour concierge service in orbit.
The whole saga is Dickens for the new millennium, but without the other half. So it's up to us scolds at The Nation to point out the obvious. Simonyi might have spent his money fighting AIDS, or building housing for Hurricane Katrina survivors, or providing clean water to developing nations, or mosquito netting and medicine for malaria patients, or musical instruments for needy, photogenic, musically-gifted inner city school children or...well, depressingly, the list goes on and on. But picking on the follies of the rich is easy, and in this case, not particularly fun. Just think of the carbon footprint a Soyuz rocket leaves!
But the next time the bards of capitalism sing the praises of Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and the outstanding generosity of the mega-rich in the age of extreme wealth (and extreme poverty), I'll trot out Charles Simonyi's space odyssey as counter-example.
The 15 British sailors and marines who were held for the better part of two weeks by the Iranians should thank their lucky stars that they were under the command of Prime Minister Tony Blair, as opposed to President George Bush.
Blair believes in diplomacy. And he and his aides employed it ably to secure the safe release of the sailors and marines with a minimum of trouble.
Bush makes a point of rejecting diplomacy. He condemns those who would dare even to speak with the Syrians or Iranians â€“ most recently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose meetings with officials in Syria happened to coincide with Syrian moves to encourage the release of the British sailors.