James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, August 04, 2006

Another needless disaster ahead

Sadly, we'll have to keep talking about the horrors being perpetrated in the Mideast and about the propaganda machines now in full, intimidating and threatening operation. But it's time to pause and recall that in their madness and venality, the Bush crowd and their allies are doing enormous damage to other people around the world, as well.

It appears that the Bush and the Republican ideologues who control Congress are poised to do something awesomely stupid against Cuba -- with a little help from few empty-headed and/or cowardly Democrats, of course.

And it is certain that if they are allowed to proceed, they will bring considerable suffering to the Cuban people and will create in Latin America the same almost universal, passionate hatred of the United States that they have fostered throughout the Arab world and much of Africa, not to mention the now general distaste, dislike and distrust with which we are regarded throughout most of Europe and large hunks of Asia.

Thus promoting “democracy,” as the Republicans define it, and making us safer, of course.

You know they will say that.

The apparently serious illness of Fidel Castro is the spark, of course. The kindling is being provided by the usual nut cases in Congress, plus a bunch of big-time campaign contributors who control large American-based corporations and a vociferous bloc of Cuban exiles in Florida.

Caught by surprise by Castro's illness and his temporary assignment of his brother, Raul, as head of state, the Congressional crazies and the White House are winging it. So are the Cuban loudmouths in Miami. And that alone is frightening, given the tenuousness of the holds any of them have on reality.

The Associated Press reported Thursday (Aug. 3) that the White House is preparing for “a possible showdown” with Cuba, although they have not thus far given many clues to what passes for thinking in that nest of right wing extremists.

An early suggestion, the AP reported, is to give very large sums of cash to Cuban “dissidents.”

What that is supposed to accomplish no one seems to know.

In Congress, where the least rational ideas sometimes are bipartisan, Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, backed by fellow Floridian Mel Martinez, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, has introduced a bill to authorize up to $80 million to be given over two years to “dissidents and nongovernmental organizations” in Cuba.

Under the proposed legislation, half of that sum would be handed over to those ghostly, so far unidentified, dissidents almost immediately.

There are crooks and con artists everywhere, and the little island nation is no exception. If the screwball bill passes, some phony will pop up, just as Ahmad Chalabi did in Iraq, and claim to be ready to turn Cuba inside out in a matter of weeks, and this country will plop $40 million or so into his outstretched hand. Just as in Iraq.

But that's just money.

What's really frightening is the passionate love the right wingers in Congress and the White House have for violence –- for trying to force their will on others by means of bombs and other high-tech weapons in the hands of other people's children.

It is a passion shared by the most hate-filled of the Cuban exiles in the Miami area.

A brief review of pertinent history:

In January 1959, young Fidel Castro's rebels took power from a brutal government headed by Fulgencio Batista. Up until it became clear Castro was going to throw the bastards out, Batista had at least the cooperation, if not the whole-hearted support, of the U.S. Government, major U.S. Corporations with holdings in Cuba and the U.S. Mafia, which had turned the country into what was widely and accurately called “America's Whorehouse.”

At the time of the Castro takeover, the great majority of Cubans were illiterate, had no access to health care and no hope of education. They were, in fact, the next things to slaves to the hoods, the big corporations and the small, rich and arrogant Cuban plutocracy. In a matter of a few years, Castro provided universal health care and schooling, including free college education for those who qualified, and sent teachers out into the countryside and kept them there until virtually the entire population, including the aged, learned at least to read and write.

But, of course, Castro was a commooonist. He nationalized the holdings of U.S. corporations -– hotels, industrial plants, sugar and tobacco-producing land and factories, all of the good stuff.

A bunch of Cubans -– the first wave being the rich and powerful who had helped keep their countrymen in ignorance and poverty -– fled to Florida. After the plutocrats came the hoods, then all sorts of people who were frightened or who just didn't think communism, with its tight controls on individual behavior, was too great an idea.

Back to today:

There are a number of U.S. Corporations, perhaps around 200, that still cling to the hope that they can go back to Cuba and reclaim their holdings. No matter that they raped the country when they were there before; they figure they have a right to it all. And ever since 1959, they have pressed their demands on the politicians they support financially. It's kept very quiet, but it's real.

Then there are a substantial number of the exiles in Florida who, even though many of them are U.S. citizens, feel exactly the same way. Some of them have become wealthy, or wealthier, and have acquired great political power in Florida. The state's politicians jump when they say jump.

And there are quite a few perfectly decent folks who left for their own good reasons who simply want to be able to come and go freely, living in Cuba or not, spending time with family members as and when they like.

The latter folks -– I have known some and have talked with them about this -– mostly gave up thoughts of returning to live in Cuba long ago. They just want peace and the freedom to visit relatives and maybe help out with expenses and such. But a great many of them are afraid to express what they feel and believe, because the militants who hope to return and rule the island are loud and hard and often violent.

So now we have those militants actually dancing in the streets in Miami. Various news agencies have reported that they're getting their boats ready. In case you missed it, White House spokesman Tony Snow told them a couple of days ago to “Stay where you are” for the time being.

But the AP reported that Snow also said the White House “has talked about the importance, eventually, of finding an orderly and safe way for people to make transit between two places.”

In English, that means coming up with a way to help those temporary Floridians (and temporary U.S. Citizens, apparently) get back to Cuba and start running things again, along with the corporations, if not the Mafia.

The belief that Cubans will rise en masse to greet the people from Florida and hand over the keys is an incredible pipe dream. Anyone who believes it has lost claim to sanity.

Will Cubans in general welcome reforms? You damned betcha.

An awful lot of them, undoubtedly most, are sick to death of the neighborhood watchdogs keeping an eye on their every move and deciding who can have a new house or a different job. And they badly want a more robust economy. They're tired of rationed shoes and food shortages and lack of paint for their homes and much more.

But they aren't willingly going back to illiteracy and semi-slavery either. And they aren't stupid. They know what the U.S. corporations and the tough guys now in Miami want and they're as unlikely to buy that program as they are to leap into the sea when Fidel dies.

We could have begun a gradual reconciliation with Cuba any time in the past 45 years. We could have successfully encouraged a gradual tempering of its communist government, and opening up to greater democracy. But our leaders chose to play the tough-guy game of the ideologues. We and, especially, the people of Cuba have been paying unnecessarily for that stance all those years.

They know it, if Americans don't.

If we leave the Cubans alone when Castro dies -– or both Castros die -– and open up trade and travel and such, their country will heal and do well. If we try to force our will and a government of our choosing on them, we'll get the disaster I predicted at the top of this piece.

Given who runs this country, disaster is the most likely scenario.

Isn't that pitiful?

(I've been told that I should mention that one of my Pulitzer nominations, the one in which I was in serious running for the prize, came from extensive reporting on Cuba in 1977. So here's the mention. I spent several months doing research on the island and its governments before and after the Castro-led revolution. A photographer colleague and I then were the first U.S. journalists to travel freely and extensively in Cuba in 18 years. And, yes, we met Fidel. I later did some reporting on the Cuban exile community in Florida.)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Racism at core of Mideast viewpoints

A man who described himself as an older Jewish American allowed in a very brief email to me that he found “a bit of truth” in what I said in an essay a few days ago about western nations not wanting large numbers of Jewish immigrants after World War II.

That, however, was the only hint of truth he found in my writings, obviously. Equally obviously, he is not a man to consider that any criticism of Israel could be true. I can reasonably make that assumption because of his command that I go do something anatomically impossible.

(Ah, how I treasure rational discourse on difficult issues; what steps toward enlightenment we can take in that manner.)

I mention this only because my correspondent's terse note raised a claim that I hadn't read nor heard in at least two decades – that Israel “has done the world's dirty work in the Middle East since it was created.”

That is a powerful statement, though probably not in the way the writer intended.

I'll match his tiny concession to me. I think it holds a grain of truth, and how very sad and disgusting is that thought. It oozes with racist hatred and the belief that it is acceptable, even right, to put our boots on the necks of Arab peoples.

It can mean only that the rest of the world – well, the portion we call the “developed” world – looks to Israel to provide our button men, to terrorize (yes, terrorize) the Arab world into weakness and prevent Arabs from taking control of their own resources and land and their own destinies, choosing their own leaders.

In this view, Arabs are the Indians, and the Israelis are a combination of the settlers, the cowboys, the prospectors and the U.S. Cavalry and let's round up them thar savages and put them on the rez, where they cain't git in our way.

(Yes, some Arab royal families – installed by western nations, for the most part, just as was the Shah of Iran – have acquired the wealth of Solomon through milking their countries' oil reserves. Most of them fail to share well with their countrymen, and most, if not all, owe their increasingly shaky holds on their positions to the western power elite. The Saudi royal family, those bosom buddies of the Bushes, and the king of Jordan are not truly representative of the Mideast's Arab population, as becomes ever more clear.)

Next I expect to hear another long-missing justification for confiscating any Arab property that someone else covets: They were just squatting on that land, not doing anything useful with it, and Israel moved in, took over and “made the desert bloom.”

There was a time when that claim, with that exact phrase, was so common you could find it frequently in every daily newspaper in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Probably not quite so often elsewhere.

Think of the racism embedded in those two positions.

The West backs Israel in order to control the Arabs and keep them from living their own lives in their own lands as they see fit. Assumptions: We have the right to what we want in the Mideast; Arabs are not white folks and therefore need to be controlled like children. It's the Raj again, the conquering of the West, the dividing of China into western “protectorates.” And the Israelis are our hired enforcers.

Secondly, the Arabs “weren't doing anything” with the land, which lay useless until Israel was installed. Assumption: The Arab way of life (like the AmerIndian way of life?) was/is inferior because it uses the land differently from the way we want to use it, and can use it, given massive financial aid not available to the Arabs.

How can we possibly think we have any chance of creating peace in the Mideast by imposing through intimidation a foreign form of government, a foreign way of life and a foreign social/religious outlook on the people native to the lands? The arrogance or our leaders is astonishing and their racism is blatant.

Push people and eventually they will push back – and the Arabs are people who really know how to push back. We've been screwing them over – just in modern times – since the British deliberately conned them into World War I. Add desperation and despair and you create yourself an enemy of such ferocity as to be unconquerable.

Of course some Arabs, Palestinians in particular, have been filled with hate and hungry for vengeance since the very creation of Israel. They were a minority. I'm not sure they are now.

Now it's our bloodthirsty terrorists against their bloodthirsty terrorists, but we call ours an army and so far it kills and maims a lot more people than their terrorists do, and it has turned hundreds of thousands into refugees who have lost everything they ever had.

Leaders the Arab people are likely to choose now will be a terrible lot – the same kind of people who are committing the ghastly crimes in Iraq. And we're pushing the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Jordanians and all the rest into their arms and armies, just as we did in Iraq.

It would take many years of honest interaction before we could get peace now, and I don't see our leaders going for honesty. The current crop don't know how to commit honesty; it's as foreign to them as empathy. But some time we have to start. In the meantime, the bloody madness will go on and on.

Once again, the West and Israel are proving Albert Einstein's other great pronouncement: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a definition of insanity.


(Mostly things you're unlikely to see in the corporate press or hear on the air.)

*I know almost nothing about the man, but I did take note of an essay by Paul Craig Roberts, assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, that is being circulated on the Internet. It is a harsh assessment of what is going on in the Mideast and Washington, and accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing” in southern Lebanon. The essay is so nasty in tone I'd like to dispute it, but, unfortunately, the facts supporting his arguments seem to be accurate. It is impossible for me to disagree with his claim that the leadership of both the United States and Israel “are too full of hubris and paranoia to admit their terrible mistakes.”

Frankly, I haven't decided if the guy is over the line or simply has more guts than the rest of us.

*While all of the attention is on Lebanon, we should not forget that the slaughter also continues in Gaza. My local rag did take notice of that last Thursday, though it generally passes on the subject. The Thursday story said 23 people died and 76 were wounded in Israeli air and artillery attacks the day before.

The story, from the Associated Press, raised another issue, though not intentionally. It declared flatly that 16 of those killed were “militants,” and conceded that the others included a woman and her two young daughters (5 years old, 8 months old), another 3-year-old girl and two unidentified men. No mention of the last victim.

Our press routinely states how many of the dead in any given Israeli attack were “militants” or “insurgents” or something of the sort.

Israelis aren't on the ground where the killing is taking place; the chaos created by shelling and bombing makes immediate accurate gathering of such information impossible. The propagandists make up numbers on “militants” killed, conceding just enough innocent civilian deaths to give them credence, and our broadcasters and corporate publishers state them as fact. The other side also tells how man civilians were killed, but its numbers, though probably closer, aren't real counts either. Years of experience suggests that if doctors, hospital and morgues give numbers, they're probably pretty much true.

Given my decades in the news business, sometimes where estimates of crowds, victims, protesters or others were being made, I can assure you that the numbers are not accurate. How close they are depends on the sharpness and sometimes the outlook of the person doing the estimating. When you see a story that says “up to 85 Palestinians died,” it's probably in the ballpark; the guesses about how many are “militants” are fantasy/propaganda.

*A letter to anyone who might publish it – few will – by ten acclaimed writers makes a claim I will try to verify. The names and reputations of the writers, including Noam Chomsky and Harold Pinter, incline me to believe it is accurate.

The ten say that the latest mayhem between Israel and the Palestinians began not with the capture of three Israel soldiers but with the abduction of two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from Gaza by Israeli soldiers. The incident was reported in the Turkish press, and almost nowhere else, the writers claim. The first abduction of an Israeli soldier by Palestinians came the next day, and those captors immediately proposed a prisoner exchange, the writers say. The Palestinians wanted more Arab prisoners than just the doctor and his brother back.

Do we know where the present mess started? Probably not. The propaganda machines are working so hard that I'd bet the house that the story our news outfits told us is false.

*The New York Times and other publications and agencies have reported during the past few days that support for Hezbollah has grown enormously throughout the Arab world since Israel invaded Lebanon and began killing civilians (deaths now are several hundred and going up daily). Even the Saudi royal family and King Abdullah II of Jordan, “who were initially more worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, Hezbollah's main sponsor, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington,” the Times reported Friday.

*Another topic, just in case you thought the Bush was doing anything differently domestically these days: The NewStandard reports that the Sierra Club is fighting as best it can to prevent the approval of George the Puppet's nomination of John Correll to head the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining. That's the outfit that sets and monitors environmental standards for surface-mining operations.

Remember all the coal mine deaths of the past couple of years? Since 2002, Correll has been deputy assistant secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which sets standards and enforces safety compliance in the mining industry. Before that he was an executive with two mining companies.

The Sierra Club says Correll has a history of undermining regulations and weakening health and safety standards.