Subject: ON THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AS HISTORY : FROM THE CENTER
FOR THE ADVANCED STUDY OF AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS.
15 March 2004
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The Grenoble Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements is in the process of organizing our Third Annual International Conference. This year the theme is "The Contemporary State of American Political Culture". It is a two-day event : On Thursday, 22 April, we will discuss various aspects of "La Class dominante aux Etats-Unis" and on Friday, 23 April, the subject will be "La Class dominée aux Etats-Unis," at which time we will discuss the many social movements in America today. [To see a copy of the provisional program for this International Conferece, please visit our web site : <http://www.u-grenoble3.fr/ciesimsa/colloques/9-PGM022.html>.
Several years ago, when I was living in Paris, and teaching at La Sorbonne Nouvelle, I encountered a young American woman on my way to visit a friend. She approached me on the sidewalk in front of l'Opera and asked me if I had let Jesus into my life. I was young and single at the time, and she was attractive, so I told her, "Not yet.", and we began to talk....
She seemed lonely, almost desperately lonely --so far away from home. She asked me if I would like to go to a meeting of Christians and pointed to a nearby building. I asked her if she would be there, and she said no, she had to stay on the sidewalk and recruit more people. I had no intention of going inside on that sunny spring day, so our conversation turned to other things, like beauty, youth, and love.....
When she conceded that one could be spiritual without actually being a Christian, I thought we were making progress. I asked her why some people were able to see beauty in life, even when they were surrounded by ugliness. (This was at the time of the Vietnam War, and Henry Kissinger was in town negotiating the shape and size of the table, before peace negotiations, while hundreds of people were being killed each day in Vietnam.)
We were becoming more intimate in our conversation, when suddenly I saw a young man crossing the street and approaching us with great haste. With a sullen expression on his face, he came between us and blurted out, with all the charm of an angry pimp : "Why are you wasting time with him?" She told her supervisor, "I think he wants to go inside."
"Do you?" he retorted, turning to me.
"Maybe," I replied, curious of what I might discover.
"Well," he warned me, "this is not just a boy-girl thing! You have to want to believe in Jesus Christ! Do you?"
I was getting turned off by his boorish behavior, but it seemed patently unfair to exclude me so early. So I asked him politely if there would be anything to eat at the meeting.
Yes, he told me, but only for those who stay till the end, and are serious about Jesus.
"Well," I replied, "I was just curious, but I really don't have time right now. Good-by!" As I turned to walk away, I looked at the young girl with whom I had been speaking for the past several minutes. Her eyes were moist, and she seemed to be slightly blushing.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, and we parted --she and her companion into
the building, and I into the spring-filled streets of Paris.
American culture is not exclusive, and exclusive ideologies ring false
to most American people. Both the French and Americans represent nations
which promote the freedom of curiosity and the courage of inquiry.
There is an unspoken assumption in these two cultures, I think --a belief
that life on earth is ultimately comprehensible, if not always compatible.
In both nations, fear of the unknown does not govern behavior for very
The award-winning author and national radio commentator, Jim Hightower, is coming from Austin, Texas to speak about George W. Bush on the Grenoble University campus the 22 and 23 of April. His book, Thieves in High Places, They've Stolen Our Country and It's Time to Take It Back, has been translated into French by our Research Center and will be available in book stores by the beginning of April. In this book, Hightower points out a terrible truth : that the US media are collaborating with a ruling oligarchy in the United States today, that only by keeping American citizens ill-informed is the political economy stabilized in America, that nearly 300 million Americans are governed by policies that do not reflect their true interests. The contempt and ill-will of the authorities, according to Hightower, toward the welfare of the nation is palpable today, and their scam is run by imposing an artificial scarcity on the nation which provokes fear, insecurities, and meaningless competition, at the expense of greater social cooperation, improved communication skills, and conviviality --all of which are essential qualities for the well-being of any society. [For a grim prognosis of a "new" American society in the making, please visit our web site, and read the essay by economic historian, Professor Douglas Dowd, whom we have featured in our Newsletter No.20 : <http://www.u-grenoble3.fr/ciesimsa>.
We invite readers now to look at four communications our Center recently received. Item A. is from the French translation of Jim Hightower best-selling book Thieves in High Places (which has been translated and will be published next month by l'Editions du Croquants).
Item B. is a message for our dear friend, Kathleen Allee, in Hollywood, California, and shares information on the contemporary campaign against "our dictator" in the United States.
Item C. is an important historical perspective of events in Haiti, by Noam Chomsky, which was forwarded to us by our graduate student, Benoit Monange.
Item D., sent to us by economics professor Richard Du Boff, is
an article from the New York Times, written by Peter Schneider, which seems
to echo Emmanuel Todd's thesis of the widening gap between American culture
and that of Europe.
As always, if you would like to be removed from our Center's mailing
list, please contact us by return mail.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
from Jim Hightower
Une Nation Kleptocrate
Nation kleptocrate [nasjô 'klept ocrat], n. 1. Ensemble de personnes gouvernées par des voleurs 2. Gouvernement caractérisé par la pratique de transférer les fonds et le pouvoir de la majorité, à une minorité 3. Classe dirigeante de gens riches qui usurpent la liberté, la justice, la souveraineté et autres droits fondamentaux du peuple 4. Les Etats-Unis en 2003
Les Kleptocrates ont pris le pouvoir. Il suffit de regarder la manière dont est dirigée l'Amérique aujourd'hui -pas seulement en politique, mais aussi dans le monde des affaires. Ne me dites pas que vous n'échangeriez pas tout ce petit lot contre une bonne instit' de maternelle.
Oubliez George W. un instant (nous y reviendrons bien assez tôt) et observez n'importe quel dirigeant d'entreprise, poids lourd du Congrès, magnat de la presse, présentateur vedette de talk shows, prêcheurs- télé gominé, et autres qui nous refourguent la nouvelle morale : prends l'oseille et file. Ca alors... dans une situation critique, est-ce que vous aimeriez être ligoté avec un de ces zigotos? Quand je regarde l'un d'eux, je ne peux pas m'empêcher de marmonner : " 100 000 spermatozoïdes et il a fallu que ce soit toi le plus rapide ? "
Et pourtant, les voilà
aux commandes. Nous vivons dans le pays le plus riche de l'histoire, un
pays riche d'opportunités sans limite, composé d'un peuple
profondément enclin au respect des idéaux démocratiques
; un pays ayant le potentiel pour réaliser des projets humainement
remarquables -mais nous nous retrouvons gouvernés (politiquement,
économiquement, culturellement, et moralement) par une confédération
Quand avez-vous remarqué pour la première fois ou, du moins, commencé à soupçonner que l'Amérique s'était perdue? Pas physiquement bien sûr - nous sommes bien là.
Perdue, à mon sens, signifie déviée du chemin honorable et vertueux balisé par Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, et d'autres qui avaient la tête bien faite autour des années 1776 -le chemin d'une société basée non pas sur des valeurs impérialistes, mais sur la philosophie des Lumières et l'égalitarisme.
Nous n'avons bien sûr jamais atteint ce but glorieux, mais l'essentiel est que durant notre séjour de quelques deux cents ans dans ce pays, nous nous sommes constamment efforcés d'y parvenir... et avons progressé. S'il existe un mot pour qualifier ce grand creuset de diversité qu'on nomme " Amérique ", c'est bien " nation de l'effort ". Malheureusement, les élites culturelles voudraient minimiser cette puissante vertu en la réduisant à la quête individuelle d'un gain matériel -Qui veut gagner des millions ? /
Comment devenir riche dans la prochaine demi-heure /Vous avez peut-être déjà gagné.
Et après ça,
on s'interroge sur le pourquoi de ce trou profond dans l'Amérique,
de ce vide que ni la frénésie de consommation, ni les élections
clés en main, ni de petits drapeaux aux couleurs de la nation, et
encore moins la télé réalité, ne sauraient
combler. L'Amérique s'est perdue dès l'instant que Ceux Qui
nous Contrôlent se sont mis à juger de la valeur d'une personne
en fonction de l'importance de son portefeuille d'actions ; car ce n'est
pas ça, l'Amérique. Ces " politiques " sont aussi paumés
que le fameux mari perdu d'avance dans une procédure de divorce
AVOCAT: Quelle est la première chose que votre mari vous ait
dit ce matin au réveil ?
TEMOIN : Il a dit, " Où suis-je, Cathy ? "
AVOCAT: Et en quoi cela vous a-t-il déplu ?
TEMOIN : Je m'appelle Susan.
Arrêtez de nous traiter
de simples " consommateurs " ou " concernés " ; nous sommes des
citoyens- des citoyens de plein exercice et exubérants. Nous sommes,
en réalité, les derniers souverains de cette terre. Notre
recherche incessante n'est pas seulement celle du gain matériel,
mais également celle du sentiment de plénitude spirituelle
que procure le fait de construire un art de vivre ensemble, et d'en récolter
la richesse sous forme du bien public.
L'idée d'appartenir à quelque chose de plus vaste que notre ego ou notre compte en banque, l'idée de partager, de s'impliquer dans un projet commun et d'y participer dans un esprit collectif, est la GRANDE IDEE même de l'Amérique. Ayant grandi à Denison, au Texas, on m'a transmis ce concept unificateur et moral à travers le goût du travail ; mes parents qui avaient connu la Grande Crise, tenaient un petit commerce dans notre village. Ils connaissaient et chérissaient, pour l'avoir expérimenté, le véritable credo de l'Amérique : "Chacun va mieux quand tout le monde va mieux", avait coutume de dire mon père.
La transgression impardonnable des dirigeants d'aujourd'hui est d'avoir abandonné cette sagesse commune qu'est le respect de la chose publique, et d'avoir cessé de tendre vers ce monde des Lumières et d'égalitarisme que les fondateurs avaient imaginé, et que tant d'hommes avaient lutté pour construire. Bien au contraire, que ce soit dans les bureaux de PDG ou à la Maison Blanche, les dirigeants d'aujourd'hui colportent une morale inhumaine, du style "Chacun pour soi, prenez tout ce que vous pourrez et, si vous êtes assez riche, enfermez-vous dans une résidence protégée."
Oh la. C'est ce qui s'appelle empester l'argent à plein nez. Ce n'est plus une société, c'est un combat de coqs ! On est bien loin de ce pays fier où nous croyions vivre- la terre de la Liberté et de la Justice pour Tous.
Non seulement les Kleptocrates nous volent notre pays, mais ils nous volent également nos idéaux démocratiques- l'idée même de l'Amérique. Et il est grand temps de la récupérer.
VAMPIRES SUCEURS DE SEVE
Les élites sont-elles donc si loin de nous ? Elles en sont même
si loin que même les modérés sont à la dérive
maintenant. Prenez Sherwood Boehlert, par exemple. Député
Républicain d'accord, mais pas un mauvais gars, malgré tout...
Sherwood se définit comme "faisant partie de la classe moyenne éclairée".
Cela fait vingt et un ans qu il est député de New York. Un bon moment. Peut-être un tantinet trop longtemps. Il dit adorer son travail, qui est, selon lui, une "pure jouissance". Hum! Après tout, il paraît que ceux qui gagnent leur vie en pelletant de la merde finissent par en apprécier l'odeur. Chacun son truc, après tout.
Mais récemment Sherwood a fait une déclaration qui me fait dire qu'il a respiré les effluves de la haute administration plus longtemps qu'il n'aurait dû:
"C'est la maison du peuple, s'est-il extasié à propos de son poste au Capitole. La seule institution au monde qui soit la personnification de cette grande démocratie qui est la notre. "
Oh ! Vite, appelez les Urgences. Il faut dépêcher au Congrès une équipe de Retour Sur Terre, attraper Sherwood, le ficeler et lui faire une cure défibrillatrice pour ramener le pauvre type à la raison.
Réfléchissez une minute : Congrès, Démocratie. Est-ce que ces deux mots sonnent bien ensemble pour vous?
Le peuple américain est fait d'infirmières, de secrétaires, de chauffeurs de taxi, d'instituteurs, de pharmaciens, de commerçants, de cadres moyens, de travailleurs postés, de bibliothécaires, de femmes de ménage, d'électriciens, d'ouvriers agricoles, d'artistes en mal de contrat- combien d'entre nous ont un siège près de Sherwood dans "la maison du peuple"?
La grande majorité des Américains gagne moins de 50 000 dollars par an ; la moitié d'entre eux gagne moins de 32 000 dollars. Combien y a-t-il de membres du Congrès qui viennent de milieux aussi modestes ? Le Congrès aujourd'hui est composé de cadres d'entreprise, d'avocats, et d'anciens permanents politiques (ce qui est le cas de Boehlert). Selon un rapport du Public Interest Research Group (groupe de recherche d'intérêt public américain), près de la moitié des nouveaux élus aux Congrès l'an dernier est millionnaire. C'est ça, votre personnification de la démocratie?
Allez, on va jouer à "QUI VEUT FAIRE PARITE DU CONGRES ?" Il y a 280 millions d'Américains. Le gros lot d'aujourd'hui sera décerné à celui qui me dira combien d'entre nous sommes millionnaires. Bip ! Le temps est écoulé. Réponse: 2,1 millions. En calculant, cela fait à peu près 7/10 d'un pour cent de la population.
Non seulement les membres du Congrès ont tendance à y descendre depuis les hautes sphères de l'économie, mais en plus ils passent le plus clair de leur temps et de leur vie sociale en compagnie de leurs semblables. La " base " d'un congressiste n'est plus formée de gens comme vous et moi, mais des gens "qui comptent". Ce sont les décideurs d'entreprise et les élites riches, ceux qui disposent de groupes de pression à plein temps et qui font des dons de mille dollars et plus pour le financement des campagnes. (Seulement 0,12 pour cent des Américains se rangent dans cette catégorie), et qui huilent les rouages de la réélection parlementaire. Ce sont les rares privilégiés qui connaissent les membres par leur prénom, que l'on rappelle systématiquement quand ils téléphonent - et dont on accepte toujours les programmes politiques.
Peut-être que c'est ce fossé économique béant entre ceux d'en haut et ceux d'en bas, qui explique pourquoi nos catins d'Etat ne trouvent jamais le temps de veiller à ce que toutes les familles aient accès à une assurance maladie, ou de voter une loi qui garantisse à chacun un revenu minimum; ou encore de s'assurer que chacun aura une retraite suffisante. Les membres du club du Congrès n'y trouvent aucune urgence parce que, hé!, ils ne sont pas concernés - eux ne sont pas inquiets outre mesure de problèmes de ce genre, parce que d'une, ils sont riches, et de deux, ils bénéficient d'une couverture financée par nous, les contribuables. Eh oui, même les multimillionnaires du Congrès bénéficient de:
· Une couverture maladie en or pour eux et leur famille, ce qui leur permet de consulter le médecin de leur choix et les spécialistes qui leur conviennent, d'avoir des soins dentaires si besoin est, et de la chirurgie esthétique pour leurs animaux familiers (là je plaisante, mais croyez-moi, ils en sont capables!)
· Une retraite plus que confortable, avec des pensions dont le montant peut aller jusqu'à dépasser leur ancien salaire. Même les premiers versements valent le détour: Phil Gramm, qui a enfin oeuvré pour le bien des Texans l'an dernier en quittant son poste, touche une pension sur une base de 78 534 dollars par an. Il sera plus payé en ne fichant rien, que plus de 80% des Américains ne le sommes en travaillant à plein temps.
from Kathleen Allee
12 March 2004
I'm sending this web address for you to take a look at. John's brother Chip Allee has designed it. It's a web site that contains different links to sites that clarify the heinous crimes of George W.
Thought you might find it useful. These are some of our current favorite
liberal websites. I'm particularly fond of Moveon.org and True Majority.
Hope this finds you well. We are struggling with the next steps to oust our dictator. We'll keep you posted and let you know if there's anything you can do to help our plight here in America. We may need your vote. Can you file an absentee ballot?
from Benoit Monange
13 March 2004
Hi Mr Feeley,
Considering the information given by the major newspapers on Haiti right now, this article by Noam Chomsky gives us some useful facts (as usual very well documented) and an essential analysis of what led to the current situation.
I hope you’re managing to put together the Hightower manuscript for the editor without suffering a nervous breakdown. If I can be of any help, please let me know.
ZNet | Foreign Policy
Those who have any concern for Haiti will naturally want to understand
how its most recent tragedy has been unfolding. And for those who have
had the privilege of any contact with the people of this tortured land,
it is not just natural but inescapable. Nevertheless, we make a serious
error if we focus too narrowly on the events of the recent past, or even
on Haiti alone. The crucial issue for us is what we should be doing about
what is taking place. That would be true even if our options and our responsibility
were limited; far more so when they are immense and decisive, as in the
case of Haiti. And even more so because the course of the terrible story
was predictable years ago -- if we failed to act to prevent it. And fail
we did. The lessons are clear, and so important that they would be the
topic off daily front-page articles in a free press.
Reviewing what was taking place in Haiti shortly after Clinton "restored democracy" in 1994, I was compelled to conclude, unhappily, in Z Magazine that "It would not be very surprising, then, if the Haitian operations become another catastrophe," and if so, "It is not a difficult chore to trot out the familiar phrases that will explain the failure of our mission of benevolence in this failed society." The reasons were evident to anyone who chose to look. And the familiar phrases again resound, sadly and predictably.
There is much solemn discussion today explaining, correctly, that democracy means more than flipping a lever every few years. Functioning democracy has preconditions. One is that the population should have some way to learn what is happening in the world. The real world, not the self-serving portrait offered by the "establishment press," which is disfigured by its "subservience to state power" and "the usual hostility to popular movements" - the accurate words of Paul Farmer, whose work on Haiti is, in its own way, perhaps even as remarkable as what he has accomplished within the country. Farmer was writing in 1993, reviewing mainstream commentary and reporting on Haiti, a disgraceful record that goes back to the days of Wilson's vicious and destructive invasion in 1915, and on to the present. The facts are extensively documented, appalling, and shameful. And they are deemed irrelevant for the usual reasons: they do not conform to the required self-image, and so are efficiently dispatched deep into the memory hole, though they can be unearthed by those who have some interest in the real world.
They will rarely be found, however, in the "establishment press." Keeping to the more liberal and knowledgeable end of the spectrum, the standard version is that in "failed states" like Haiti and Iraq the US must become engaged in benevolent "nation-building" to "enhance democracy," a "noble goal" but one that may be beyond our means because of the inadequacies of the objects of our solicitude. In Haiti, despite Washington's dedicated efforts from Wilson to FDR while the country was under Marine occupation, "the new dawn of Haitian democracy never came." And "not all America's good wishes, nor all its Marines, can achieve [democracy today] until the Haitians do it themselves" (H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe). As New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple recounted two centuries of history in 1994, reflecting on the prospects for Clinton's endeavor to "restore democracy" then underway, "Like the French in the 19th century, like the Marines who occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, the American forces who are trying to impose a new order will confront a complex and violent society with no history of democracy."
Apple does appear to go a bit beyond the norm in his reference to Napoleon's savage assault on Haiti, leaving it in ruins, in order to prevent the crime of liberation in the world's richest colony, the source of much of France's wealth. But perhaps that undertaking too satisfies the fundamental criterion of benevolence: it was supported by the United States, which was naturally outraged and frightened by "the first nation in the world to argue the case of universal freedom for all humankind, revealing the limited definition of freedom adopted by the French and American revolutions." So Haitian historian Patrick Bellegarde-Smith writes, accurately describing the terror in the slave state next door, which was not relieved even when Haiti's successful liberation struggle, at enormous cost, opened the way to the expansion to the West by compelling Napoleon to accept the Louisiana Purchase. The US continued to do what it could to strangle Haiti, even supporting France's insistence that Haiti pay a huge indemnity for the crime of liberating itself, a burden it has never escaped - and France, of course, dismisses with elegant disdain Haiti's request, recently under Aristide, that it at least repay the indemnity, forgetting the responsibilities that a civilized society would accept.
The basic contours of what led to the current tragedy are pretty clear. Just beginning with the 1990 election of Aristide (far too narrow a time frame), Washington was appalled by the election of a populist candidate with a grass-roots constituency just as it had been appalled by the prospect of the hemisphere's first free country on its doorstep two centuries earlier. Washington's traditional allies in Haiti naturally agreed. "The fear of democracy exists, by definitional necessity, in elite groups who monopolize economic and political power," Bellegarde-Smith observes in his perceptive history of Haiti; whether in Haiti or the US or anywhere else.
The threat of democracy in Haiti in 1991 was even more ominous because of the favorable reaction of the international financial institutions (World Bank, IADB) to Aristide's programs, which awakened traditional concerns over the "virus" effect of successful independent development. These are familiar themes in international affairs: American independence aroused similar concerns among European leaders. The dangers are commonly perceived to be particularly grave in a country like Haiti, which had been ravaged by France and then reduced to utter misery by a century of US intervention. If even people in such dire circumstances can take their fate into their own hands, who knows what might happen elsewhere as the "contagion spreads."
The Bush I administration reacted to the disaster of democracy by shifting aid from the democratically elected government to what are called "democratic forces": the wealthy elites and the business sectors, who, along with the murderers and torturers of the military and paramilitaries, had been lauded by the current incumbents in Washington, in their Reaganite phase, for their progress in "democratic development," justifying lavish new aid. The praise came in response to ratification by the Haitian parliament of a law granting Washington's client killer and torturer Baby Doc Duvalier the authority to suspend the rights of any political party without reasons. The law passed by a majority of 99.98%. It therefore marked a positive step towards democracy as compared with the 99% approval of a 1918 law granting US corporations the right to turn the country into a US plantation, passed by 5% of the population after the Haitian Parliament was disbanded at gunpoint by Wilson's Marines when it refused to accept this "progressive measure," essential for "economic development." Their reaction to Baby Doc's encouraging progress towards democracy was characteristic - worldwide -- on the part of the visionaries who are now entrancing educated opinion with their dedication to bringing democracy to a sufffering world - although, to be sure, their actual exploits are being tastefully rewritten to satisfy current needs.
Refugees fleeing to the US from the terror of the US-backed dictatorships were forcefully returned, in gross violation of international humanitarian law. The policy was reversed when a democratically elected government took office. Though the flow of refugees reduced to a trickle, they were mostly granted political asylum. Policy returned to normal when a military junta overthrew the Aristide government after seven months, and state terrorist atrocities rose to new heights. The perpetrators were the army - the inheritors of the National Guard left by Wilson's invaders to control the population - and its paramilitary forces. The most important of these, FRAPH, was founded by CIA asset Emmanuel Constant, who now lives happily in Queens, Clinton and Bush II having dismissed extradition requests -- because he would reveal US ties to the murderous junta, it is widely assumed. Constant's contributions to state terror weree, after all, meager; merely prime responsibility for the murder of 4-5000 poor blacks.
Recall the core element of the Bush doctrine, which has "already become a de facto rule of international relations," Harvard's Graham Allison writes in Foreign Affairs: "those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves," in the President's words, and must be treated accordingly, by large-scale bombing and invasion.
When Aristide was overthrown by the 1991 military coup, the Organization of American States declared an embargo. Bush I announced that the US would violate it by exempting US firms. He was thus "fine tuning" the embargo for the benefit of the suffering population, the New York Times reported. Clinton authorized even more extreme violations of the embargo: US trade with the junta and its wealthy supporters sharply increased. The crucial element of the embargo was, of course, oil. While the CIA solemnly testified to Congress that the junta "probably will be out of fuel and power very shortly" and "Our intelligence efforts are focused on detecting attempts to circumvent the embargo and monitoring its impact," Clinton secretly authorized the Texaco Oil Company to ship oil to the junta illegally, in violation of presidential directives. This remarkable revelation was the lead story on the AP wires the day before Clinton sent the Marines to "restore democracy," impossible to miss - I happened to be monitoring AP wires that day and saw it repeated prominently over and over -- and obviously of enormous significance for anyone who wanted to understand what was happening. It was suppressed with trulyy impressive discipline, though reported in industry journals along with scant mention buried in the business press.
Also efficiently suppressed were the crucial conditions that Clinton imposed for Aristide's return: that he adopt the program of the defeated US candidate in the 1990 elections, a former World Bank official who had received 14% of the vote. We call this "restoring democracy," a prime illustration of how US foreign policy has entered a "noble phase" with a "saintly glow," the national press explained. The harsh neoliberal program that Aristide was compelled to adopt was virtually guaranteed to demolish the remaining shreds of economic sovereignty, extending Wilson's progressive legislation and similar US-imposed measures since.
As democracy was thereby restored, the World Bank announced that "The renovated state must focus on an economic strategy centered on the energy and initiative of Civil Society, especially the private sector, both national and foreign." That has the merit of honesty: Haitian Civil Society includes the tiny rich elite and US corporations, but not the vast majority of the population, the peasants and slum-dwellers who had committed the grave sin of organizing to elect their own president. World Bank officers explained that the neoliberal program would benefit the "more open, enlightened, business class" and foreign investors, but assured us that the program "is not going to hurt the poor to the extent it has in other countries" subjected to structural adjustment, because the Haitian poor already lacked minimal protection from proper economic policy, such as subsidies for basic goods. Aristide's Minister in charge of rural development and agrarian reform was not notified of the plans to be imposed on this largely peasant society, to be returned by "America's good wishes" to the track from which it veered briefly after the regrettable democratic election in 1990.
Matters then proceeded in their predictable course. A 1995 USAID report explained that the "export-driven trade and investment policy" that Washington imposed will "relentlessly squeeze the domestic rice farmer," who will be forced to turn to agroexport, with incidental benefits to US agribusiness and investors. Despite their extreme poverty, Haitian rice farmers are quite efficient, but cannot possibly compete with US agribusiness, even if it did not receive 40% of its profits from government subsidies, sharply increased under the Reaganites who are again in power, still producing enlightened rhetoric about the miracles of the market. We now read that Haiti cannot feed itself, another sign of a "failed state."
A few small industries were still able to function, for example, making chicken parts. But US conglomerates have a large surplus of dark meat, and therefore demanded the right to dump their excess products in Haiti. They tried to do the same in Canada and Mexico too, but there illegal dumping could be barred. Not in Haiti, compelled to submit to efficient market principles by the US government and the corporations it serves.
One might note that the Pentagon's proconsul in Iraq, Paul Bremer, ordered a very similar program to be instituted there, with the same beneficiaries in mind. That's also called "enhancing democracy." In fact, the record, highly revealing and important, goes back to the 18th century. Similar programs had a large role in creating today's third world. Meanwhile the powerful ignored the rules, except when they could benefit from them, and were able to become rich developed societies; dramatically the US, which led the way in modern protectionism and, particularly since World War II, has relied crucially on the dynamic state sector for innovation and development, socializing risk and cost.
The punishment of Haiti became much more severe under Bush II -- there are differences within the narrow spectrum of cruelty and greed. Aid was cut and international institutions were presssured to do likewise, under pretexts too outlandish to merit discussion. They are extensively reviewed in Paul Farmer's Uses of Haiti, and in some current press commentary, notably by Jeffrey Sachs (Financial Times) and Tracy Kidder (New York Times).
Putting details aside, what has happened since is eerily similar to the overthrow of Haiti's first democratic government in 1991. The Aristide government, once again, was undermined by US planners, who understood, under Clinton, that the threat of democracy can be overcome if economic sovereignty is eliminated, and presumably also understood that economic development will also be a faint hope under such conditions, one of the best-confirmed lessons of economic history. Bush II planners are even more dedicated to undermining democracy and independence, and despised Aristide and the popular organizations that swept him to power with perhaps even more passion than their predecessors. The forces that reconquered the country are mostly inheritors of the US-installed army and paramilitary terrorists.
Those who are intent on diverting attention from the US role will object that the situation is more complex -- as is always true -- and that Aristide too was guilty of many crimes. Correct, but if he had been a saint the situation wouuld hardly have developed very differently, as was evident in 1994, when the only real hope was that a democratic revolution in the US would make it possible to shift policy in a more civilized direction.
What is happening now is awful, maybe beyond repair. And there is plenty of short-term responsibility on all sides. But the right way for the US and France to proceed is very clear. They should begin with payment of enormous reparations to Haiti (France is perhaps even more hypocritical and disgraceful in this regard than the US). That, however, requires construction of functioning democratic societies in which, at the very least, people have a prayer of knowing what's going on. Commentary on Haiti, Iraq, and other "failed societies" is quite right in stressing the importance of overcoming the "democratic deficit" that substantially reduces the significance of elections. It does not, however, draw the obvious corollary: the lesson applies in spades to a country where "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business," in the words of America's leading social philosopher, John Dewey, describing his own country in days when the blight had spread nowhere near as far as it has today.
For those who are concerned with the substance of democracy and human rights, the basic tasks at home are also clear enough. They have been carried out before, with no slight success, and under incomparably harsher conditions elsewhere, including the slums and hills of Haiti. We do not have to submit, voluntarily, to living in a failed state suffering from an enormous democratic deficit.
from Richard Du Boff
Date: Sat, 13 Mar 2004 10:39:07 -0500
Subject: "The US apparently cannot be wrong...
"...about anything, nor does it have to apologize to anybody. In many parts of the world people have come to believe, fairly or not, that Americans regard the life of their countrymen as infinitely more valuable than the lives of any other of the earth's inhabitants...":
New York Times March 13, 2004
Across a Great Divide
By PETER SCHNEIDER
BERLIN, March 12 - The war in Iraq has made the Atlantic seem wider. But really it has had the effect of a magnifying glass, bringing older and more fundamental differences between Europe and the United States into focus.
These growing divisions - over war, peace, religion, sex, life and death - amount to a philosophical dispute about the common origins of European and American civilization. Both children of the Enlightenment, the United States and Europe clearly differ about the nature of this inheritance and about who is its better custodian.
Start with religion. The United States is experiencing a revival of the Christian faith in many areas of civic and political life, while in Europe the process of secularization continues unabated. Today the United States is the most religious-minded society of the Western democracies. In a 2003 Harris poll 79 percent of Americans said they believed in God, and more than a third said they attended a religious service once a month or more. Numerous polls have shown that these figures are much lower in Western Europe. In the United States a majority of respondents in recent years told pollsters that they believed in angels, while in Europe the issue was apparently considered so preposterous that no one even asked the question.
When American commentators warn about a new fundamentalism, they generally mention only the Islamic one. European intellectuals include two other kinds: the Jewish and Christian variants.
Terms that President Bush has used, like "crusade" and "axis of evil,"
and Manichaean exclusions like his observation that anyone who is not on
our side is on the side of the terrorists, reveal the assumption of a religious
mantle by a secular power, which in Europe has become unthinkable. Was
it not, perhaps, this same sense of religious infallibility that seduced
senior members of the Bush administration into leading their country into
a war with Iraq on the basis of information that has turned out to be false?
Another reason for Europe's alienation from the United States is harder to define, but for want of a better term, I call it American narcissism.
When American troops in Iraq mistakenly shoot an Arab journalist or
reduce half of a village to rubble in response to the explosion of a roadside
bomb, there will inevitably be a backlash. Only a fool would maintain that
an occupying power could afford many such mistakes, even if it is under
constant threat of suicide attacks. The success of an occupation policy
- however temporary it is meant to be - depends on the occupier's ability
to convince the population, by means of symbolic and material gestures,
that it is prepared to admit to mistakes.
In its use of the language of power the Bush administration has created the opposite impression, and not just in Iraq. The United States apparently cannot be wrong about anything, nor does it have to apologize to anybody. In many parts of the world people have come to believe, fairly or not, that Americans regard the life of their countrymen as infinitely more valuable than the lives of any other of the earth's inhabitants.
Of course, even in Europe only a pacifist minority denies the existence of necessary, unavoidable, justified wars. The interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan were supported by many European nations, even if some took a long time to make up their minds. European soldiers took part in those wars and continue to play a part in the peacekeeping aftermath.
What arouses European suspicion, though, is the doctrine of just, preemptive wars President Bush has outlined. Anyone who claims to be waging a preventive war in the cause of justice is confusing either a particular or a partisan interest with the interests of humanity. A president who makes such a claim would be arrogating the right to be the ultimate arbiter of war and peace and to stand in judgment over the world. From there it is but a short step to dismissing a basic insight of the Enlightenment, namely that human judgment and decisions are fallible by their very nature. This fallibility cannot be annulled or ameliorated by any political, legal or religious authority. The same argument goes for the death penalty.
Animosity isn't the only feature of the trans-Atlantic relationship. Europe is rightly envious of America's multicultural society. There can be no doubt that the United States has produced the world's most varied and integrative culture, and it is no accident that it is the only one to have a worldwide appeal.
But the American multicultural model also generates an illusion. Since Americans really have come from all over the world, in the United States it is easy to believe that you can know and understand the world without ever leaving the country. Those who were born and brought up in America forget that these people "from all over the world" first had to become Americans - a condition that new immigrants generally accept with enthusiasm - before they could celebrate their cultural otherness.
This is why it is always an American version of otherness that is encountered in the United States. You will not necessarily learn anything about the culture and history of Vietnam by working alongside a Vietnamese doctor in the teaching hospital at Stanford. You can sit next to an Indian in the same dot.com company in Los Angeles for years without learning much about the manners and customs of India. And going to a French restaurant in Atlanta is no guarantee that you will be served French cuisine.
Foreign films account for less than 1 percent of the American film market, and the figures are similarly low for books and news from abroad.
The impressive integrative power of American society seems to generate a kind of obliviousness to the world, a multicultural unilateralism. The result is a paradox: a fantastically tolerant and flexible society that has absorbed the whole world, yet has difficulty comprehending the world beyond its borders.
These differences and irritations add up to a substantial disagreement on the joint origins of American and European civilization. Europeans think that Americans are on their way to betraying some of the elementary tenets of the Enlightenment, establishing a new principle in which they are "first among unequals."
And Washington accuses Europe of shirking its international responsibilities, and thus its own human rights inheritance.
After all, what is the point of international law if it prevents intervening in the affairs of a brutal regime to stay the hand of a tyrant? Who is the true advocate of human rights: the one who cites international law to justify standing by while genocide is being committed or the one who puts an end to the genocide, even if it means violating international law?
Unfortunately, we cannot expect the news media in the United States or Europe to present a nuanced view of this dispute. In 20 years of traveling back and forth between Germany and America I have become convinced that news broadcasts usually confirm their audiences' views: in Europe, about America, the "cowboy nation," and in the United States, about Europe, the "axis of weasels."
These disagreements will be influenced but cannot be resolved by the the American presidential election in November. The divisions are too deep, and Europe cannot meet the United States halfway on too many issues - the separation between church and state, the separation of powers, respect for international law, the abolition of the death penalty - without surrendering its version of its Enlightenment inheritance.
On other contentious issues the United States feels as strongly: the universality of human rights and the need to intervene - if the United Nations is unable to act - when there is genocide or ethnic cleansing, or when states are failing.
So are we standing on the threshold of a new understanding or a new historic divide, comparable to the evolutionary split that occurred when a group of pioneer hominids thousands of years ago turned their backs forever on their African homeland?
So far it has usually been the Americans who have had to remind the
Europeans of these common origins, which the Europeans, in turn, have so
often betrayed. Maybe this time it is up to the Europeans to remind the
Americans of the promises of the Enlightenment that the United States seems
to have forgotten.
Peter Schneider is a German novelist and essayist. This article was translated from the German by Victor Homola of The New York Times.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research at CEIMSA
Université de Grenoble-3