Randall G. Shelden


Connecting the Dots


May 16, 2004:  My morning ritual has recently been getting on the Internet and reading stories from several news sources, starting with my hometown paper The Los Angeles Times.  From there I go to other sources – The New York Times, Znet, The Progressive, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation and many others, covering a wide spectrum of news sources.

            Today, as usual, the headlines are mostly about the continuing Iraq crisis, with some updates on the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.  This led me to a story from The New Yorker written by Seymour Hersh, reporting that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved a secret program last year which “encouraged physical coercion and the sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq.”  This quote comes from Aljazeera.net, the English version (http://english.aljazeera.net).

            Predictably the Pentagon goes into denial with the usual charges that Hersh’s report was “outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture.”  What these words tell me is that Hersh is on to something.  The report quotes a former intelligence official who told Hersh that Rumsfeld said “Grab whom you must.  Do what you want.” 

            Meanwhile, other war-related stories caught my eye, including a list of the most recent deaths of American soldiers in Iraq, which I found when I checked the obituaries (another morning ritual – you start doing this as you get a little older).  It was not so much the names that caught my eye, but rather their ages.  As I noted in an earlier commentary (“War: the Ultimate Crime”), I never met them in life, but their death reminds us that life is previous and should not be wasted on invasions of foreign countries because of oil profits, expanding empires (which includes, of course, expanded profits) and other inhumane ventures.

            Here are some names and their ages, taken directly from the obituaries in this morning’s Los Angeles Times:

Kyle A. Brinlee, 21, of Pryor, Okla.; specialist, Army National Guard; Philip D. Brown, 21, of El Paso; specialist, Army National Guard; Brud J. Cronkrite, 22, of Spring Valley, Calif.; sergeant, Army; James J. Holmes, 28, of East Grand Forks, Minn.; specialist, Army National Guard; Rodney A. Murray, 28, of Ayden, N.C.; sergeant, Army Reserve; Ronald R. Payne Jr., 23, of Lakeland, Fla.; corporal, Marine Corps; Isela Rubalcava, 25, of El Paso; specialist, Army; Jeremiah E. Savage, 21, of Livingston, Tenn.; lance corporal, Marine Corps; Jeffrey R. Shaver, 26, of Maple Valley, Wash.; specialist, Army National Guard; Andrew L. Tuazon, 21, of Chesapeake, Va.; private first class, Army; Chase R. Whitham, 21, of Harrisburg, Ore.; specialist, Army.

             A posting on Znet by Naomi Klein (May 15) called “The Bush Doctrine: Thumbs Up, No Matter What” also caught my eye.  Here Klein explains that no matter now bad it is either domestically or internationally, you will find the president all smiles with his “thumbs up” gesture, telling everyone things are going well and everything is A-ok.  It reminds me of Nixon’s now famous pose with both arms raised above his head, with both hands giving the victory sign. 

 In the middle of the Klein piece there is a discussion of the jobs that have been created, which is the backbone of Bush’s “job recovery” and his “thumbs up” gesture.  She reports that 82% of the jobs created in April were in the “service” industry (like retail and restaurants, which traditionally pay poorly), but the largest growth was in the “temp” industry (like Manpower, Inc. and Kelly).  Last year 27,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, unless you count flipping burgers as “manufacturing a product” (as one of Bush’s reports back in February suggested).

 What really caught my eye was this little gem:  according to the Department of Justice the number of prison guards increased by about 75% from 270,317 in 2000 to 476,000 in 2002.  Now let’s see.  Corporations continue to close plants, “outsource” thousands of jobs (which, by the way, fattens the “bottom lines” of profits which go mostly to the top 1% of the wealthholders) , and turn around and create low-wage and part-time “temp” jobs in service industries, which in turn increases the “surplus population” of mostly inner-city blacks and Latinos, who understandably hang out with their “homies” and start selling some drugs (these are not the big-time traffickers from South America), since the demand remains high (one of the beauties of our “free market” system is the law of “supply and demand”).  But the ever-expanding “war on drugs,” which has created thousands of jobs as police officers and drug agents, has to target someone, in order to meet their arrest quotas, which in turn means that the members of the afore-mentioned “surplus population” will find a new “home” within America’s ever-expanding “prison industrial complex,” which in turn creates the demand for more prison guards, not to mention thousands of new jobs as parole officers to “supervise” the estimated half a million who will be released from prison every year, only to be “recycled” back into the penal system.

            Finally, I read with keen interest a series of in-depth articles in the Los Angeles Times called “The Politics of Petroleum.”  Here we find evidence of the ever-expanding oil barons’ search for profits, giving new meaning to what Marx referred to as capitalism’s continuous search of the globe for commodities.  The parts of the globe that tend to have these valuable oil reserves are, as usual, Third World countries.  It always amazes me (but no longer surprises me) that you have all these countries rich in resources yet poverty-stricken.  One of the titles in the Los Angeles Times series sums it up well (I’m surprised to see such a title in a mainstream newspaper):  “Gusher to a Few, Trickle to the Rest” (May 13, 2004).  The subtitle to this story sums it up nicely:  “Courted by oil firms and the U.S., the elite of impoverished Angola have extracted wealth from the boom, documents say.”  A follow-up to this story is one appearing today called “Riding Shotgun on a Pipeline.”  The subtitle of this one also sums it up well:  “Going beyond the war on drugs, the U.S. backs Columbia troops in a campaign against rebels that protects an oil company’s operations.”  A year earlier a two-part series in the Los Angeles Times tells of a law suit against Unocal over human rights abuses in Myanmar (formerly Burma, in Southeast Asia).  As if the people living in this area have not suffered enough, a woman whom court documents are calling “Jane Doe 1” is ready to testify as one of 15 witnesses lined up to testify about human rights abuses, including murder, forced labor and rape by soldiers hired by Unocal to guard the pipeline construction.  Unocal’s lawyers have confirmed that the soldiers “swept the jungle, dragooning men and women to work as porters.”  The company, of course, denies any knowledge of the violent acts these soldiers allegedly committed. 

             The denials of human rights abuses, first by Unocal and now by the Pentagon, have come full circle. In the final analysis, it is all about oil, profits, and geopolitical considerations.  It is certainly not about people, unless you just count the top 1% of the wealthholders and the politicians they pay to deny what is obvious to anyone who cares to take a close look and connect the dots.


© 2004 by Randall G. Shelden. No part of this may be reproduced without permission from the author.