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September 11’s Legacy: War as Franchise

The Marriot Hotel in Jakarta was still burning when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political and security affairs, explained the implications of the day’s attack.

“Those who criticize about human rights being breached must understand that all the bombing victims are more important than any human rights issue.”

In a sentence, we got the best summary yet of the philosophy underlying Bush’s so-called “war on terror.” Terrorism doesn’t just blow up buildings; it blasts every other issue off the political map. The spectre of terrorism, real and exaggerated, has become a shield of impunity, protecting governments around the world from scrutiny for their human rights abuses.

Many have argued that the war on terror is the United States government’s thinly veiled excuse for constructing a classic Empire, in the model of Rome or Britain. Two years into the crusade, it’s clear that this is a mistake: the Bush gang doesn’t have the stick-to-it-ness to successfully occupy one country, let alone a dozen.

Manila’s Rebel Soldiers

What does it take to become a major news story in the summer of Arnold and Kobe, Ben and Jen?

A lot, as a group of young Philippine soldiers discovered recently. On July 27, 300 soldiers rigged a giant Manila shopping mall with C-4 explosives, accused one of Washington's closest allies of blowing up its own buildings to attract US military dollars — and still barely managed to make the international news.

That's our loss, because in the wake of the Marriott bombing in Jakarta and newly leaked intelligence reports claiming that the September 11 attacks were hatched in Manila, it looks like Southeast Asia is about to become the next major front in Washington's War on Terror.™

The Olympics Land Grab

In sports, as in life, “security” trumps peace.

That’s what happened when the International Olympic Committee faced a choice between Pyeongchang, South Korea and Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games.

South Korea pitched itself as the Peace Candidate: with the world in turmoil, bring the games to the very border of George Bush’s “Axis of Evil” and make a gesture of reconciliation.

Vancouver, on the other hand, sold itself as the Safety and Security Candidate: with the world in turmoil, hold the games somewhere you can be almost certain that nothing will happen. The Vancouver-Whistler Olympic bid presented the province of British Columbia as a model of harmonious, sustainable living, a place where everyone gets along: Native and non-Native, rural and urban, rich and poor.

Before the vote, IOC President Jacques Rogge tipped his hand by declaring South Korean’s peace theme to be “secondary” and telling the Los Angeles Times that his top priority was “the best possible security.”

Canada: Hippie Nation?

Canadians can't quite believe it: Suddenly, we're interesting.

After months of making the news only with our various communicable diseases-SARS, mad cow and West Nile-we're now getting world famous for our cutting-edge laws on gay marriage and legalized drugs. The Bush conservatives are repulsed by our depravity. My friends in New York and San Francisco have been quietly inquiring about applying for citizenship.

Bush to NGOs: Watch Your Mouths

The Bush administration has found its next target for pre-emptive war, but it's not Iran, Syria or North Korea — not yet, anyway.

Before launching any new foreign adventures, the Bush gang has some homeland housekeeping to take care of: It is going to sweep up those pesky non-governmental organizations that are helping to turn world opinion against US bombs and brands.

The war on NGOs is being fought on two clear fronts. One buys the silence and complicity of mainstream humanitarian and religious groups by offering lucrative reconstruction contracts. The other marginalizes and criminalizes more independent-minded NGOs by claiming that their work is a threat to democracy. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is in charge of handing out the carrots, while the American Enterprise Institute, the most powerful think tank in Washington, D.C., is wielding the sticks.

Downsizing in Disguise

The streets of Baghdad are a swamp of uncollected garbage and crime.

Battered local businesses are going bankrupt, unable to compete with cheap imports. Unemployment is soaring and thousands of laid off state workers are protesting in the streets.

In other words, Iraq looks like every other country that has undergone rapid fire "structural adjustments" prescribed by Washington, from Russia's infamous "shock therapy" in the early nineties to Argentina's disastrous "surgery without aesthetic" a few years later. Except that Iraq's so-called reconstruction makes those wrenching reforms look like spa treatments.

Paul Bremer, the U.S. appointed governor of Iraq, has already proved something of a flop in the democracy department in his three weeks there, nixing plans for Iraqis to select their own interim government in favour of his own handpicked team of advisors. But Bremer has proved to have something of a gift when it comes to rolling out the red carpet for U.S. multinationals. No wonder George Bush looked so pleased when he met Bremer in Qatar.

When Some Lives Matter More Than Others

Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie could have passed for sisters. Two all-American blondes, two destinies forever changed in a Middle East war zone. Private Jessica Lynch, the soldier, was born in Palestine, West Virginia. Rachel Corrie, the activist, died in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Corrie was four years older than 19-year old Lynch. Her body was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza seven days before Lynch was taken into Iraqi custody on March 23. Before she went to Iraq, Lynch organized a pen pal program with a local kindergarden. Before Corrie left for Gaza, she organized a pen pal program between kids in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, and children in Rafah.

Lynch went to Iraq as a soldier loyal to her government. In the words of West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, "she approached the prospect of combat with determination rather than fear."

Elections vs. Democracy in Argentina

In most of the world, it's the sign for peace, but here in Argentina it means war. The index and middle finger, held to form a "V" means, to his followers, "Menem Vuelve," Menem will return. Carlos Menem, poster boy of Latin American neo-liberalism, president for almost all of the 1990s, is looking to get his old job back on May 18.

Menem's campaign ads show menacing pictures of unemployed workers blockading roads, with a voice-over promising to bring order, even if it means calling in the military. This strategy gave him a slim lead in the first election round, though he will almost certainly lose the run-off to an obscure Peronist governor, Nestor Kirchner, considered the puppet of current president (and Menem's former vice-president) Eduardo Duhalde.

The Brukman Battle

In 1812, bands of British weavers and knitters raided textile mills and smashed industrial machines with their hammers. According to the Luddites, the new mechanized looms had eliminated thousands of jobs, broken communities, and deserved to be destroyed. The British government disagreed and called in a battalion of 14,000 soldiers to brutally repress the worker revolt and protect the machines.

Fast-forward two centuries to another textile factory, this one in Buenos Aires. At the Brukman factory, which has been producing men’s suits for fifty years, it’s the riot police who smash the sewing machines and the 58 workers who risk their lives to protect them.

Demonstrated Ideals

Review of Letters to a Young Activist, Todd Gitlin, Basic Books: 174 pp.,$22.50

Two years ago, I was invited to the South Australian desert to meet a group of Aboriginal elders who were fighting a radioactive waste dump on their land. I went to Coober Pedy expecting to be bombarded with alarming facts about toxic waste leaking into groundwater, cancer risks and the half-life of radium. Something else happened instead. Immediately upon my arrival, I was scooped up by a group of young environmentalists who dressed like "Mad Max" characters and took me camping.

For five nights we slept by a bonfire on the cracked red earth under the stars. During the days they showed me secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink. It was amazingly beautiful, but by the third day I started getting restless. When, I asked 22-year-old Nina Brown, were we going to get down to work? She replied that the senior Aboriginal women, who called themselves the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, had taught her that before you can fight, you have to know what you are fighting for.

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