Today at the Houston International Festival , I was accosted by a self-avowed communist distributed “free newspapers” about communism. I humored her for a while, expressing dismay with the Bush Administration, saying that intellectuals and academics are simply puzzled that Bush could have gotten as far as he did.
I told the woman of my encounters teaching in Eastern Europe, the cases of persecution, suppression of free speech and general impoverishment of its people. Still, I admitted, I had met many sincere communists, and this impressed upon me that communism as a belief system is not intrinsically corrupt; any belief system could be corrupted by people who use ideological blinders or start believing their own political rhetoric. It is the current administration’s misuse of language (called “lying” in some circles) that bothers me most. The first test for a political belief system ought to be the honesty test. Is the advocate using honest language? President Bush, when unscripted, actually can be pretty forthright; it is only when an administration “sticks to message” or uses transformative language (a la Frank Luntz) that the world really needs to watch out.
After about 10-15 minutes of chatting with a communist, the woman was beginning to get on my nerves (as extremists tend to do), especially since she demanded a donation for the gift of the “free newspaper.” But after the foreign policy news of last week, it is no wonder that well-intentioned intellectuals like this woman are falling into ideological traps.
Even a Bush basher like myself has been bewildered. According to Cherif Bassiouni, a top human rights investigator in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration had ordered his UN human rights investigation in Afganistan to cease when people were pointing to abuses within US prisons:
But, when it came to inquiry into what the U.S. forces are doing, there a stone wall was put. And I suspect it has to do with the fact that in the last two months the U.S. has been moving prisoners from Guantanamo to Afghanistan, and that soon we will see the D.O.D. open up Guantanamo for international inspection. And by then the worst cases will have been transferred to Afghanistan; Guantanamo will have been repainted, recarpeted, and would look very nice, and people who would go to inspect it there will find nothing wrong. But, of course, that means that those people who have been transferred from Guantanamo to Afghanistan could not be interviewed or seen by anybody else. So, I speculate (but I think there’s valid reason to make such speculation) that the reason that the mandate was not renewed was really to avoid having somebody like myself, and certainly myself, if I were to be renewed, insisting on going into the prison facilities and talking to the people, which would in this case have included those transferred from Guantanamo. So it was a chance that I think the U.S. didn’t want to take.
Yesterday Don Van Notta Jr. reports that the Bush Administration was engaging in extraordinary rendition, a practice of rendering prisoners in custody to third world countries with despicable treatment of prisoners. He followed reports that many “terrorist suspects” were being rendered to Uzbekistan even though its human rights abuses have been well-documented by the U.S. State Department. (Perhaps the U.S. State Department should do a report on the human rights abuses of the USA).
Either charge, if true, could lead to scandals on a scale of Iran-Contra or MaiLai Massacre. I disagree with the Bush administration, not just on a policy level but on a philosophical and moral level as one. A foreign policy needs to be founded upon commitment to human rights. And if an administration fails this test, there’s no point in talking about lesser issues like energy or global warming or gay marriage or retirement. (This was the same day that Pat Robertson admits that he thinks Muslims and Hindus are less qualified politicians than Christians and Jews).
Via Pacifica Radio, I’ve been finding out about lots of progressive voices in mp3 form.
Media Matters with Bob McChesney, a weekly show on progressive events and the media. Fortunately, its topics seem less focused on mainstream media issues and more on global issues themselves. Next week Seymour Hersh will be on–wonder what he’ll be talking about?
Here’s some more leftist mp3 links on TUCRADIO. I listened to a riveting and informative lecture by Tariq Ali, For a Movement Against the Wars in the Middle East
Tariq Ali articles (editor of New Left Review).
On another note, I requested several college lecture series from the Houston Public Library. You remember those ads they used to run advertising “listen to a prize-winning professor’s complete course on Greek Philosophy/literature/European history/etc.” Apparently my library has been buying copies. It’s getting ridiculously easy these days to educate oneself.