Thursday, September 29, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Just think of what I just wrote.
Al Jazeera is an Arab TV station, Chilpancingo is at the edge of the civilized world.
Deutsch claims we can solve any problem.
I start to be convinced.
Deutsch badgered Engels, Marx, and Diamond!
Three of my intellectual heroes.!
Did he convince me?
This is my position right now.
I will be convinced if I can write a program which chooses the best fit to any data set.
I believe this will require me understanding the principles of Artificial Intelligence: Good thing, I am registered in an Online Stanford class with around 700,000 other students.
Will I learn anything?
I'll keep you posted.
His American citizen beauty queen wife just had twins in California.
I had been thinking about Dick Tracy [link]
Mexico and the US, besides sharing a huge borderline, are pioneer countries in search for Democracy. Be it as it may, being away from the cultural controls of the Old Continent. Mexicans and Americans were free to construct themselves.
I do believe in Democracy: of the people, by the people, for the people.
Our countries are still far from that goal. But we are trying.
Welcome to the world the twin daughters of Emma Coronel and Joaquín Guzmán!
I am lately reminded of an assignment when my metro editor sent me to cover a “gentle protest” over the Gulf War of the 1990s in Jackson, Mich. (Don’t remember that war – or what it was about? That’s OK – because it was probably “security” and “oil,” and George W. ultimately righted his dad’s failure to see that war action through to its completion: killing Saddam Hussein, or at least dismantling his government. But I digress.)
It was an after-hours event, likely on a weekend (as that was my beat). And when I arrived at the designated time, well after sundown, I found one lone woman walking the length of a wall at an armory or similar government-type outpost with, not a flashlight, but a real, flickering candle. Back and forth, in the dark, trudging in the snow.
No one else had shown up – except me, that is. The place was deserted and, as I recall, not on a busy road. I actually had to drive by twice before I even saw her candle and a small chair she set up for herself when she got tired. It occurred to me that, if I walked away, it would have been the same as if she’d never been there at all. Yet, incontrovertibly, there she was: protesting a war that, at the time, no one was particularly riled up about. It wasn’t a story, really.
But I decided to speak with her anyway. I walked with her for about an hour and asked questions. Apart from understanding that my editors expected my story for the next day’s edition, I also sensed that there could be a story to tell – and that, if I didn’t, no one might ever consider an opposing view that, while solitary, might be worth listening to.
I’d have to dig through years of clips to find that story now. (I’m sure it resides in the Jackson Citizen Patriot morgue). But it’s not the story that’s important to me now.
It’s that I covered it at all – and that my editors were grateful I did. And that readers seemed to value the fact we were there to capture a moment in their community they would otherwise not have known about.
More than a week ago, a small band of peaceful protesters descended on Zuccotti Park (formerly Liberty Park) in New York City, not far from Wall Street. They dubbed their little movement “Occupy Wall Street.” And, on the first weekend, starting Sept. 17, they had quite a number of people join them in marches and speeches that essentially claimed the 99% of Americans who aren’t the 1% of uber-rich are disenfranchised – and have critical needs related to unemployment, cost of living, and a range of other social issues that are either being ignored outright or largely swept under the rug by our finance-focused government.
These young people, accompanied by like-minded Xers and a few Boomers, didn’t get much coverage to start. (I doubt any authentic movement, at the outset, ever does.) The media that did arrive briefly aired the same complaint: “They are a loosely organized group of disaffected youth who are more like hippies and have no real goal,” they yawned. “Nothing to see here, but we’ve done our job by ‘covering’ it in our blogs,” they seemed to say to New Yorkers and anyone outside the Big Apple paying attention. “This too shall pass.”
The only problem is, it hasn’t. And I suspect after this weekend, it isn’t going to.
Now in its 10th day, protestors are very much entrenched at Zuccotti Park (with people across the United States and around the world watching their activities via live-streaming video, as well as sending them supplies and money, even pizza via local vendors). This past Saturday afternoon, there was a large march to Union Park, through Washington Square (and, at times, through moving traffic – which was pretty incredible to watch in real time) – and all seemed to be going well with chants and songs as the trek was covered by Occupy Wall Street’s new media team, such as the young woman Net followers dubbed “50/50 Anchor Lady,” with hair that was half blonde, half brownish-black.
As I say, all was well – that is, until a phalanx of NYC police moved in and started making mass arrests. Twitter was the only way most of us knew it actually happened; the media team, scarily, was picked off shortly after the march gained momentum near Washington Park.
It’s not like no one was aware the police were coming. I myself could hear what was going down on the police scanner, which I alternately monitored while toggling back and forth between live-streaming and searching for news updates on Google.
The tension was building - you could feel it while watching from hundreds of miles away as the protestors kept dodging orange fencing and an increasingly ominous presence of officers. The marchers were peaceful - but resolute in their efforts to keep marching.
Then, right in the thick of things, the live-streaming ended just before the mass arrests and some disturbing instances of outright police brutality (documented and later distributed via cellphone photos). But, I should note, not before the world had already witnessed some of those protestor/cop encounters. It was shocking, actually, to watch people pushed with real force or slammed to the ground when, to my eye, they hadn't provoked anything remotely requiring that kind of police-state response.
I had been one of the hundreds, then thousands, to witness the march from nearly beginning to end – and that was not how I’d expected things to turn out. But, almost on cue (as if to underscore the government's fear this would spread), things escalated quickly and publicly in the glaring view of the Twitterverse, very likely to the chagrin of the NYPD, Michael Bloomberg and anyone on Wall Street who didn’t want this little movement to earn attention or gain credibility.
Within a matter of minutes, thousands of people were logging into the live-streaming site or retweeting the police presence. Yet, the media still weren’t covering the event, except as an aside, almost. I recall the Village Voice reported on several key tweets from Occupy Wall Street – laudable in providing “real time” updates, but I never could tell if they sent an actual reporter to the site at the time. (Back in the day, my own editors would have pushed me out the door. And sent back-up reporters.)
Not to be flip, but if 60-80 people were arrested for dog-fighting, or for wrangling outside a tony nightclub, or protesting at the United Nations, that might have gotten coverage. I’m pretty sure that would have received some attention. But this: In my humble opinion, it got very little. Some, finally - but people had to be hurt, and the police department's reputation tarnished, when neither was necessary if the media were operating as it should.
Since then, media coverage has been defensive. (Said one reporter, and I’m paraphrasing here: “It’s not fair to say Occupy Wall Street hasn’t been covered.” And then a short list of stories was included to prove the point.) And the coverage has been light: I was impressed Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and even Stephen Colbert have noted this is more than dismissive hippy-ism; but no major news organization has (to the best of my knowledge) paid more than the barest attention thus far.
Perhaps it’s because no one wants a popular movement or peaceful rebellion to spread at a time when many Americans are fed up with their dysfunctional government leaders. We have enough problems, the leaders and media friends might be thinking: Why stir the pot?
Perhaps it’s because they sense, as does Bloomberg, that once a train like this gets going, it can be hijacked by the wrong people and cause real damage. (That, alone, is worthy of another story altogether.) But is that a reason to quell coverage, really?
In the end, though, a large-scale failure to acknowledge and cover this “small” group of protestors – now growing in numbers, thanks to outrage at the rough-housing NYPD, and quickly propagating similar groups in other cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., etc. – is akin to a media blindness.
The media’s job is not to turn a blind eye. The media’s job is to report. Period. Which is yet another reason why Americans are not trusting the modern media. And I have to say, given what I’ve witnessed in recent days in and around Zuccotti Park, that I clearly understand why my profession is much maligned these days.
If people are there, and they have something worthwhile to say – regardless of whether it is popular or potentially alarming or against the political status quo – it is news. Good reporters should be covering it, regardless of their personal political preferences – and let Americans come to their own conclusions.
Is it a media blackout?
Sure seems that way to me. If I can cover one voice about a Gulf War, and contribute to society’s understanding of our greater human experience, then the media can certainly begin paying attention to thousands of marchers - and what appears to be the beginnings of an American movement.
I would call upon our news organizations to acknowledge their collective mistake in ignoring this story, remember that their calling is higher than the profit motive, and begin covering news that engages our thinking skills.
America needs the media now more than ever. To find it absent, while the entire world is watching this unfolding and increasingly important story (and they are) is a travesty and a statement about how far we have fallen as a nation built on freedom of speech and thought.
These are voices worth hearing at this time of trouble and strife. Hundreds of those voices are gathering in New York and other cities right now, representing diverse people and backgrounds and views - and trying to send a message that change, Real Change, must happen.
I want to hear what they have to say. As an American, I need to hear. As a media consumer, I demand to hear. Don't you?
Taken From Common Dreams
I read from NASA, that effects can take two days to get to Earth. So the peak you see there, could've affected my Internet reception in Chilpancingo.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
The five footprints set in stone "are among the few impressions of the first inhabitants in the American continent found in Mexico", the Institute of Anthropology and History said.
The footprints were found in the remote Sierra de Tarahumara mountains in the northern state of Chihuahua, the Institute said.
The prints belong to three adults - only one of them left impressions of both feet - and a child about four-years-old.
The ancient inhabitants likely lived in caves in the Ahuatos valley, some 8km from the town of Creel, the Institute said.
A local resident informed the researchers of the find.
"It took us a lot of work to find them because they are not easily identified," said anthropologist Jose Concepcion Jimenez.
While no other footprints were found, experts found nearby the remains of primitive camps dating from the Pleistocene Era (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago).The Australian
By ELISABETH MALKIN
Published: September 25, 2011
ACAPULCO, Mexico — The message is delivered by a phone call to the office of one school, a sheaf of photocopied papers dropped off at another, a banner hung outside a third.
The demand is the same: teachers have until Oct. 1 to start handing over half of their pay. If they do not, they risk their lives.
Extortion is a booming industry in Mexico, with reported cases having almost tripled since 2004. To some analysts, it is an unintended consequence of the government’s strategy in the drug war: as the large cartels splinter, armies of street-level thugs schooled in threats and violence have brought their skills to new enterprises.
But the threat to teachers here in this tarnished tourist resort has taken the practice to a new level. Since the anonymous threats began last month, when students returned to classes after summer break, hundreds of schools have shut down.
“This isn’t about money, this is about life or death,” Alejandro Estrada, an elementary school teacher, said as he marched in protest with thousands of other teachers down Acapulco’s seafront boulevard last week. “If you don’t pay, you die.”
The word here, in the tough neighborhoods that tumble down the far side of the mountains lining the once-splendid bay, is that everybody is paying protection money: doctors, taxi drivers, local stores.
“They come every week, and you just pay because you never know,” whispered a flower seller in a market in Emiliano Zapata, a section of town where shuttered stores and padlocked schools testify to the fear.
“Everybody thinks he’s a hit man these days,” she added, refusing to give her name for fear that the people who collect less than $20 a week from her might find out that she had talked.
But unlike other groups, which appear to be suffering in silence, the teachers belong to a powerful union that can easily summon large numbers to protest. And over the past month, the strikes have spread to schools that have not received any threats, which shut in solidarity or in fear.
“We are all scared,” said a high school drawing teacher who would give her name only as Noemi. “We are targets because we have a salary that is a bit more stable than the rest.”
Nationwide, the surge in extortion was wrenched into painful focus last month after men suspected of working for the Zetas drug cartel set fire to a casino in the northern city of Monterrey, killing 52 people inside. State officials said the owners had balked when the Zetas raised the protection fee. While powerful criminal organizations like the Zetas have long made extortion their calling card, it has since taken on a life of its own.
For much of the five years since President Felipe Calderón began his crackdown against drug cartels, the government’s strategy has been to focus resources on their leaders and fracture the large organizations into smaller groups. But when violent gangs are cut loose from bosses who know how to move drugs to markets in the United States or are pushed out of traditional drug-running routes, they look for new lines of work, experts say. Extortion is among the least risky.
“Three or four armed men can call themselves Zetas and dedicate themselves to extortion,” Guillermo Zepeda, a security expert at Iteso, the Jesuit University in Guadalajara, said. In parts of Jalisco, his home state, he said, shopkeepers have closed their stores rather than pay protection money and instead live off money sent from relatives in the United States.
But extortion has now spread to many parts of Mexico that had been relatively distant from the drug wars, according to a study by Eduardo Guerrero, a security analyst at Lantia Consultores, a Mexico City consulting firm.
“Extortion is the best business after international drug trafficking,” Mr. Guerrero said in an interview. “If you are sufficiently violent you can generate regular income.”
The business “always resorts to intimidation,” he wrote in the study, published this month in the magazine Nexos, “and as a result, habitually exerts more violence than drug trafficking.”
Moreover, unlike most cartel-on-cartel crime, the violence extends to ordinary citizens. That entanglement with innocent civilians can quickly whip up community anger and is the reason some drug gangs, notably the powerful Sinaloa cartel, eschew the practice as bad for business.
The popular revulsion over extortion has become so powerful that the New People gang, a rival battling the Zetas, took pains during a recent display of grisly hubris to distance itself from the practice. The gang dumped 35 bodies, believed to be Zetas, on a main road near the port city of Veracruz on Tuesday with a sign saying, “People of Veracruz, don’t let yourselves be extorted. Don’t pay any more ‘quotas.’ ”
The official count showing a tripling of reported cases since 2004 represents only a fraction of the problem. México Evalúa, a group that compiles crime statistics, estimates that at least 80 percent of extortion cases go unreported, and notes that some states do not even bother to track them.
The Pacific port of Acapulco, now one of the country’s most dangerous cities, faces a dual threat: while warring cartels and smaller gangs continue to exact endless cycles of revenge, neighborhood thugs are terrorizing ordinary people.
Killings related to organized crime have multiplied almost eightfold here in the past two years, jumping sharply a year ago after the federal police arrested Édgar Valdez Villarreal, the American-born cartel boss known as “La Barbie” who had made Acapulco his base. By the first months of this year such killings had reached an average of 78 a month, by Mr. Guerrero’s count. “The violence is very difficult to stop once it crosses a threshold,” he added.
State officials have tried to play down the school closings, which are concentrated in public schools in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. But after an estimated 7,000 teachers protested on Wednesday, the Guerrero State governor, Ángel Aguirre, met with teachers on Thursday, promising a host of new security measures, including increased police patrols and the installation of panic buttons, telephones and video cameras in every school.
The teachers will decide Tuesday whether the government’s pledges are sufficient for them to feel safe returning to class.
Some analysts question whether the threats could even be carried out. Most criminal groups would avoid attacking a group as politically powerful as teachers.
“Extorting teachers is risky; it generates a great deal of social disgust,” said Raúl Benitez, a security specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “It’s just a stupidity.”
But among the teachers, everybody appears to have heard of a kidnapping, a car theft or a violent mugging, and they believe the threats.
On the first day of school at La Patria es Primero Elementary School (which translates roughly as “Country First”) in the Zapata neighborhood, three men sauntered in pretending to be parents and then drew guns on the teachers, making off with money, school documents and a laptop belonging to a fifth-grade teacher who would give only his first name, Ricardo.
The school’s payroll officer received a message demanding that she hand over information about teachers’ salaries and has left the city, Ricardo said. “It could just be low-level kids taking advantage,” he said, “but they are spreading a psychosis among the population.”
HERE’S SOME NEWS: When the current fiscal year ends this week, illegal border crossings from Mexico, as measured by apprehensions carried out by a massively beefed-up Border Patrol, will fall to their lowest level since 1972. You read that right. The southwestern border — the very same frontier portrayed by Republicans as so wildly out of control that it rules out any serious discussion of immigration reform — is in fact more tightly controlled than at any time since President Richard M. Nixon’s first term. Now here’s a suggestion: Wouldn’t it be novel if Republicans, who are at least partly responsible for this dramatic success, acknowledged it? And wouldn’t it also be honest?
Although final numbers won’t be available for a few more days, it appears that captures of illegal border crossers will be in the range of 325,000 for fiscal 2011. That is down 50 percent since 2008; 70 percent since 2006; and 80 percent since 2000, when 1.6 million undocumented immigrants were picked up after crossing the border. Also, new technology means fewer people can sneak over the border undetected.
It was a Republican president, George W. Bush, who began the buildup, doubling the number of Border Patrol officers at the border since 2002.
That force — now 18,000-strong — has played a role in deterring illegal crossings, as have the anemic U.S. economy; improvements in the Mexican economy and schools; and more liberal issuance of visas by the U.S. consulate in Mexico City. The Obama administration has kept up the pressure by continuing the Bush buildup and, until recently, getting tough with deportations.
Yet GOP presidential candidates and members of Congress continue to paint the border as chaotic and crime-ridden. As far as we can tell, none of them has publicly recognized the impressive gains at the border. Instead, most call for impractical, far-reaching — and hugely expensive — security measures. They justify those steps (when they bother with justification) with random anecdotes, sweeping (and often unprovable) assertions and obsolete data.
It’s worth asking Republicans a few questions. Is it really worth spending billions of dollars to build a fence across the entire 2,000-mile Mexican border, as several GOP candidates have said? Would they really revive the project to construct a so-called virtual electronic fence, which was abandoned last year after $575 million was spent to erect camera and radio towers covering just 58 miles of the border in Arizona, amid criticism that the system never worked?
Surely, there is a point of diminishing returns to such spending, particularly with illegal crossings plummeting. It’s time for the GOP to declare victory, claim credit and move to the next stage — fixing the system and providing a path to legal status for 11 million undocumented immigrants who, like it or not, have become an integral part of the nation’s fabric.Washington Post
By Robert Reich, RobertReich.org Printed on April 9, 2011
It’s tax time. It’s also a time when right-wing Republicans are setting the agenda for massive spending cuts that will hurt most Americans.
Here’s the truth: The only way America can reduce the long-term budget deficit, maintain vital services, protect Social Security and Medicare, invest more in education and infrastructure, and not raise taxes on the working middle class is by raising taxes on the super rich.
Even if we got rid of corporate welfare subsidies for big oil, big agriculture, and big Pharma – even if we cut back on our bloated defense budget – it wouldn’t be nearly enough.
The vast majority of Americans can’t afford to pay more. Despite an economy that’s twice as large as it was thirty years ago, the bottom 90 percent are still stuck in the mud. If they’re employed they’re earning on average only about $280 more a year than thirty years ago, adjusted for inflation. That’s less than a 1 percent gain over more than a third of a century. (Families are doing somewhat better but that’s only because so many families now have to rely on two incomes.)
Yet even as their share of the nation’s total income has withered, the tax burden on the middle has grown. Today’s working and middle-class taxpayers are shelling out a bigger chunk of income in payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes than thirty years ago.
It’s just the opposite for super rich.
The top 1 percent’s share of national income has doubled over the past three decades (from 10 percent in 1981 to well over 20 percent now). The richest one-tenth of 1 percent’s share has tripled. And they’re doing better than ever. According to a new analysis by the Wall Street Journal, total compensation and benefits at publicly-traded Wall Street banks and securities firms hit a record in 2010 — $135 billion. That’s up 5.7 percent from 2009.
Yet, remarkably, taxes on the top have plummeted. From the 1940s until 1980, the top tax income tax rate on the highest earners in America was at least 70 percent. In the 1950s, it was 91 percent. Now it’s 35 percent. Even if you include deductions and credits, the rich are now paying a far lower share of their incomes in taxes than at any time since World War II.
The estate tax (which only hits the top 2 percent) has also been slashed. In 2000 it was 55 percent and kicked in after $1 million. Today it’s 35 percent and kicks in at $5 million. Capital gains – comprising most of the income of the super-rich – were taxed at 35 percent in the late 1980s. They’re now taxed at 15 percent.
If the rich were taxed at the same rates they were half a century ago, they’d be paying in over $350 billion more this year alone, which translates into trillions over the next decade. That’s enough to accomplish everything the nation needs while also reducing future deficits.
If we also cut what we don’t need (corporate welfare and bloated defense), taxes could be reduced for everyone earning under $80,000, too. And with a single payer health-care system – Medicare for all – instead of a gaggle of for-profit providers, the nation could save billions more.
Yes, the rich will find ways to avoid paying more taxes courtesy of clever accountants and tax attorneys. But this has always been the case regardless of where the tax rate is set. That’s why the government should aim high. (During the 1950s, when the top rate was 91 percent, the rich exploited loopholes and deductions that as a practical matter reduced the effective top rate 50 to 60 percent – still substantial by today’s standards.)
And yes, some of the super rich will move their money to the Cayman Islands and other tax shelters. But paying taxes is a central obligation of citizenship, and those who take their money abroad in an effort to avoid paying American taxes should lose their American citizenship.
But don’t the super-rich have enough political power to kill any attempt to get them to pay their fair share? Only if we let them. Here’s the issue around which Progressives, populists on the right and left, unionized workers, and all other working people who are just plain fed up ought to be able to unite.
Besides, the reason we have a Democrat in the White House – indeed, the reason we have a Democratic Party at all – is to try to rebalance the economy exactly this way.
All the President has to do is connect the dots – the explosion of income and wealth among America’s super-rich, the dramatic drop in their tax rates, the consequential devastating budget squeezes in Washington and in state capitals, and the slashing of vital public services for the middle class and the poor.
This shouldn’t be difficult. Most Americans are on the receiving end. By now they know trickle-down economics is a lie. And they sense the dice are loaded in favor of the multi-millionaires and billionaires, and their corporations, now paying a relative pittance in taxes.
Besides, the President has the bully pulpit. But will he use it? © 2011 Robert Reich
Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama's transition advisory board. His latest book is Supercapitalism. © 2011 RobertReich.org All rights reserved. View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/150497/ [w2]
Saturday, September 24, 2011
By MICHAEL KAZIN
Published: September 24, 2011
Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown, a co-editor of Dissent and the author of “American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation.”
SOMETIMES, attention should be paid to the absence of news. America’s economic miseries continue, with unemployment still high and home sales stagnant or dropping. The gap between the wealthiest Americans and their fellow citizens is wider than it has been since the 1920s.
And yet, except for the demonstrations and energetic recall campaigns that roiled Wisconsin this year, unionists and other stern critics of corporate power and government cutbacks have failed to organize a serious movement against the people and policies that bungled the United States into recession.
Instead, the Tea Party rebellion — led by veteran conservative activists and bankrolled by billionaires — has compelled politicians from both parties to slash federal spending and defeat proposals to tax the rich and hold financiers accountable for their misdeeds. Partly as a consequence, Barack Obama’s tenure is starting to look less like the second coming of F.D.R. and more like a re-run of Jimmy Carter — although last week the president did sound a bit Rooseveltian when he proposed that millionaires should “pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare.”
How do we account for the relative silence of the left? Perhaps what really matters about a movement’s strength is the years of building that came before it. In the 1930s, the growth of unions and the popularity of demands to share the wealth and establish “industrial democracy” were not simply responses to the economic debacle. In fact, unions bloomed only in the middle of the decade, when a modest recovery was under way. The liberal triumph of the 1930s was in fact rooted in decades of eloquent oratory and patient organizing by a variety of reformers and radicals against the evils of “monopoly” and “big money.”
Similarly, the current populist right originated among the articulate spokespeople and well-funded institutions that emerged in the 1970s, long before the current crisis began. The two movements would have disagreed about nearly everything, but each had aggressive proponents who, backed up by powerful social forces, established their views as the conventional wisdom of an era.
THE seeds of the 1930s left were planted back in the Gilded Age by figures like the journalist Henry George. In 1886, George, the author of a best-selling book that condemned land speculation, ran for mayor of New York City as the nominee of the new Union Labor Party. He attracted a huge following with speeches indicting the officeholders of the Tammany Hall machine for engorging themselves on bribes and special privileges while “we have hordes of citizens living in want and in vice born of want, existing under conditions that would appall a heathen.”
George also brought his audiences a message of hope: “We are building a movement for the abolition of industrial slavery, and what we do on this side of the water will send its impulse across the land and over the sea, and give courage to all men to think and act.” Running against candidates from both major parties and the opposition of nearly every local employer and church, George would probably have been elected, if the 28-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican who finished third, had not split the anti-Tammany vote.
Despite George’s defeat, the pro-labor, anti-corporate movement that coalesced around him and others kept growing. As the turn of the century neared, wage earners mounted huge strikes for union recognition on the nation’s railroads and inside its coal mines and textile mills. In the 1890s, a mostly rural insurgency spawned the People’s Party, also known as the Populists, which quickly won control of several states and elected 22 congressmen. The party soon expired, but not before the Democrats, under William Jennings Bryan, had adopted important parts of its platform — the progressive income tax, a flexible currency and support for labor organizing.
During the early 20th century, a broader progressive coalition, including immigrant workers, middle-class urban reformers, muckraking journalists and Social Gospelers established a new common sense about the need for a government that would rein in corporate power and establish a limited welfare state. The unbridled free market and the ethic of individualism, they argued, had left too many Americans at the mercy of what Theodore Roosevelt called “malefactors of great wealth.” As Jane Addams put it, “the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”
Amid the boom years of the 1920s, conservatives rebutted this wisdom and won control of the federal government. “The chief business of the American people is business,” intoned President Calvin Coolidge. But their triumph was brief, both ideologically and electorally. When Franklin D. Roosevelt swept into the White House in 1932, most Americans were already primed to accept the economic and moral argument progressives had been making since the heyday of Henry George.
Will Rogers, the popular humorist and a loyal Democrat, put it in comfortably agrarian terms, “All the feed is going into one manger and the stock on the other side of the stall ain’t getting a thing. We got it, but we don’t know how to split it up.” The unionists of the Congress of Industrial Organizations echoed his argument, as did soak-the-rich demagogues like Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin. The architects of Social Security, the minimum wage and other landmark New Deal policies did so as well.
After years of preparation, welfare-state liberalism had finally become a mainstream faith. In 1939, John L. Lewis, the pugnacious labor leader, declared, “The millions of organized workers banded together in the C.I.O. are the main driving force of the progressive movement of workers, farmers, professional and small business people and of all other liberal elements in the community.” With such forces on his side, the politically adept F.D.R. became a great president.
But the meaning of liberalism gradually changed. The quarter century of growth and low unemployment that followed World War II understandably muted appeals for class justice on the left. Liberals focused on rights for minority groups and women more than addressing continuing inequalities of wealth. Meanwhile, conservatives began to build their own movement based on a loathing of “creeping socialism” and a growing perception that the federal government was oblivious or hostile to the interests and values of middle-class whites.
IN the late 1970s, the grass-roots right was personified by a feisty, cigar-chomping businessman-activist named Howard Jarvis. Having toiled for conservative causes since Herbert Hoover’s campaign in 1932, Jarvis had run for office on several occasions in the past, but, like Henry George, he had never been elected. Blocked at the ballot box, he became an anti-tax organizer, working on the belief that the best way to fight big government was “not to give them the money in the first place.”
In 1978 he spearheaded the Proposition 13 campaign in California to roll back property taxes and make it exceedingly hard to raise them again. That fall, Proposition 13 won almost two-thirds of the vote, and conservatives have been vigorously echoing its anti-tax argument ever since. Just as the left was once able to pin the nation’s troubles on heartless big businessmen, the right honed a straightforward critique of a big government that took Americans’ money and gave them little or nothing useful in return.
One reason for the growth of the right was that most of those in charge of the government from the mid-1960s through the 2000s — whether Democrats or Republicans — failed to carry out their biggest promises. Lyndon Johnson failed to defeat the Viet Cong or abolish poverty; Jimmy Carter was unable to tame inflation or free the hostages in Iran; George W. Bush neither accomplished his mission in Iraq nor controlled the deficit.
Like the left in the early 20th century, conservatives built an impressive set of institutions to develop and disseminate their ideas. Their think tanks, legal societies, lobbyists, talk radio and best-selling manifestos have trained, educated and financed two generations of writers and organizers. Conservative Christian colleges, both Protestant and Catholic, provide students with a more coherent worldview than do the more prestigious schools led by liberals. More recently, conservatives marshaled media outlets like Fox News and the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal to their cause.
The Tea Party is thus just the latest version of a movement that has been evolving for over half a century, longer than any comparable effort on the liberal or radical left. Conservatives have rarely celebrated a landslide win on the scale of Proposition 13, but their argument about the evils of big government has, by and large, carried the day. President Obama’s inability to solve the nation’s economic woes has only reinforced the right’s ideological advantage.
If activists on the left want to alter this reality, they will have to figure out how to redefine the old ideal of economic justice for the age of the Internet and relentless geographic mobility. During the last election, many hoped that the organizing around Barack Obama’s presidential campaign would do just that. Yet, since taking office, Mr. Obama has only rarely made an effort to move the public conversation in that direction.
Instead, the left must realize that when progressives achieved success in the past, whether at organizing unions or fighting for equal rights, they seldom bet their future on politicians. They fashioned their own institutions — unions, women’s groups, community and immigrant centers and a witty, anti-authoritarian press — in which they spoke up for themselves and for the interests of wage-earning Americans.
Today, such institutions are either absent or reeling. With unions embattled and on the decline, working people of all races lack a sturdy vehicle to articulate and fight for the vision of a more egalitarian society. Liberal universities, Web sites and non-governmental organizations cater mostly to a professional middle class and are more skillful at promoting social causes like legalizing same-sex marriage and protecting the environment than demanding millions of new jobs that pay a living wage.
A reconnection with ordinary Americans is vital not just to defeating conservatives in 2012 and in elections to come. Without it, the left will remain unable to state clearly and passionately what a better country would look like and what it will take to get there. To paraphrase the labor martyr Joe Hill, the left should stop mourning its recent past and start organizing to change the future.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 25, 2011, on page SR4 of the National edition with the headline: Whatever Happened to the American Left?.NYT
By ROBERT F. WORTH
Published: September 21, 2011
On the evening of Aug. 23, during the final hours of the battle for Tripoli, a 26-year-old lawyer named Mustafa Abdullah Atiri was lying, exhausted, against the back wall of a filthy tin-roofed warehouse crammed with 150 prisoners. He had been beaten and tortured every day since Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s soldiers arrested him four days earlier. It was just after the muezzin’s first call to evening prayer — about 10 minutes before 8 — when a pair of guards walked to the door, raised their AK-47 rifles and began spraying the men with bullets. Another guard threw a grenade into the densely packed crowd. Bodies fell on top of Atiri with the first fusillade, protecting him from the blast. Then the guards opened fire again. Blood began seeping down from the bodies above, soaking his jeans. As the officers walked back across the yard to reload, a guard named Abdel Razaq, who had shown the men some small mercies over the previous days, went to the door and shouted at the survivors: “Run! Run!”
I first met Atiri four days later. He was standing in the yard of the prison he had escaped from, a big man in a sweaty orange polo shirt with enormous, haunted eyes. It was noon under a blazing sun, and the smell of rotting corpses was stifling. Three men lay dead on the ground at our feet, their bodies bloated, dried blood pooled around them. Acrid smoke was still rising from the dark interior of the warehouse where Atiri and his fellow prisoners had been held. I walked over to take a look. I have been to a number of war zones, but nothing prepared me for what I saw. Dozens of skulls and twisted skeletons lay in a charred mound, surrounded by bones and bits of old, burned tires. There were at least 50 human remains there, and probably many more. Atiri, standing behind me, had known these men, some of them just teenagers. One was an imam who led them in prayer, he said. Atiri’s eyes roved wildly around the prison yard, his face contorted with grief. It was only after the massacre, he told me, that he realized the significance of something he saw two hours before it all began, as the guards were moving him across the prison yard. An officer had arrived at the prison’s front gate, flanked by aides. A guard whispered to Atiri that it was Khamis el-Qaddafi, the dictator’s youngest son, a military commander known for brutality. “The guard told me, ‘Khamis is signing the orders for your final release,’ ” Atiri said as we stood by the fire-blackened warehouse. “And he laughed.”
By that time, the last great battle of the Libyan civil war was over. After 42 years, the bizarre pageant of Muammar Qaddafi’s rule had collapsed quickly, in a final spasm of senseless killing. Scores of prisoners — perhaps hundreds — were executed at makeshift holding facilities like the one I saw, for no apparent reason. Many of the victims were not even rebels, just citizens picked up in random sweeps in the final days. Even the guards were killed at some jails, perhaps to silence a witness, perhaps because they refused orders. No one could say.
The end left Tripoli in a state of giddy disbelief. On the day I arrived, Bab al Aziziya, the dictator’s high-walled stronghold, lay wide open, with Libyan families strolling through and gazing wonderingly at the ruins. Outside, the vast public square was a wasteland littered with burnt-out cars, twisted metal and rags. Rebels from across Libya rode wildly through the city, firing bursts from rifles and anti-aircraft guns. Young men fanned out to trash every picture of the man known as Brother Leader and to cover the walls with triumphant, satirical graffiti. Muammar — the name is similar to a word for “builder” — was scrawled out and replaced with the rhyming Mudammer, “destroyer.”
But the celebration was tinctured with deep unease. There was still talk of snipers, of a counterattack by Qaddafi’s men, of a fifth column of “sleeper cells” lurking inside the capital. Victory had come too easily. Only weeks earlier, the rebels seemed in disarray, and Qaddafi’s forces, having withstood more than four months of NATO air strikes, seemed poised to hold out for many more. Then, on Aug. 20, a planned uprising broke out in Tripoli, as the ragged rebel army converged on the city from various directions. The final battle, expected to last weeks, was over in two days. Qaddafi and his top lieutenants fled almost immediately. Now it was hard to know who was a killer and who a mere dupe. The rumors changed every few hours: Qaddafi and his sons, who were still issuing lurid threats by satellite phone against the rebel “rats,” were hiding in the tunnels under Tripoli, people said, and might soon flood the city with mustard gas or poison its water.
Unlike Benghazi, the old opposition stronghold in eastern Libya where the rebellion began in February, Tripoli had been a relative bastion of support for Qaddafi. Even the bravest dissidents, who risked their lives for years, often posed as smiling backers of Qaddafi and his men. Now the masks were off, but another game of deception was under way. At all the military bases I visited, I found soldiers’ uniforms and boots, torn off in the moments before they had, presumably, slipped on sandals and djellabas and run back home. Even the prisoners I spoke with in makeshift rebel jails had shed their old identities or modified them. “I never fired my gun,” they would say. “I only did it for the money.” “I joined because they lied to me.”
Everyone in Tripoli, it seemed, had been with Qaddafi, at least for show; and now everyone was against him. But where did their loyalty end and their rebellion begin? Sometimes I wondered if the speakers themselves knew. Collectively, they offered an appealing narrative: the city had been liberated from within, not just by NATO’s relentless bombing campaign. For months, Qaddafi’s own officers and henchmen had quietly undermined his war, and ordinary citizens had slowly mustered recruits and weapons for the final battle. In some cases, with a few witnesses and a document or two, their version seemed solid enough. Others, like Mustafa Atiri, had gruesome proof of what they lived through. But many of the people I spoke with lacked those things. They were left with a story; and they were telling it in a giddy new world in which the old rules — the necessary lies, the enforced shell of deference to Qaddafi’s Mad Hatter philosophy — were suddenly gone. It was enough to make anyone feel a little drunk, a little uncertain about who they were and how they got there.
In a sense, the battle for Tripoli began long ago in Qaddafi’s mind and was foreshadowed in the elaborate layers of defense he built up between himself and ordinary Libyans. These were not just physical — the city within a city that was Bab al Aziziya and the underground tunnels that may have allowed him to escape — but virtual. He built an extraordinary network of surveillance and control, hiring French, Chinese and South African companies to help monitor the phones and Internet and employing a vast network of informants and contract killers who could track his domestic opponents and critics to the ends of the earth. After the rebellion broke out in February, that network flared up in a last, furious effort to monitor and neutralize the discontent.
I met one of the men who worked in this apparatus, a 27-year-old former computer hacker named Omar. He was a big man with a plump babyish face and a constant, faint smile that gave him the look of a mischievous, overweight child. We met through an acquaintance and talked several times at my hotel for a number of hours. He had worked for four years monitoring telephone and e-mail traffic in the Revolutionary Committees’ Communications Office, one of several branches of the sprawling intelligence bureaucracy. Omar (who asked me not to use his full name) told me that he never wanted to work there; the government drafted him as he was applying for a tech job at a bank and then blocked his efforts to apply for other jobs. But he conceded that it was a sought-after and cushy post. He earned 5,000 Libyan dinars a month (about $4,000) plus a car, a laptop and an AK-47.
“The serious work began on Feb. 6,” Omar said. That was when he and his colleagues began seeing Facebook pages calling for mass demonstrations, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. He began hacking into the activists’ e-mail and monitoring Web sites. “We knew everything about the rebellion in advance, the places where people would gather, the slogans they would use, everything,” he said. His supervisors were dismissive about the threat at first, but after widespread protests on Feb. 17, they went into high gear. Omar and the 13 others in his office began working 15 hours a day and were not allowed out of the building for about a month (they slept in dormitories on the compound, located on Tripoli’s airport road). Their work went beyond surveillance: on orders from the bosses, they contacted dozens of snipers in Ukraine, Serbia and Slovenia and helped arrange for visas to bring them to Libya. The atmosphere grew tense. Omar overheard his superiors shouting, and on one occasion, one of them personally urged Qaddafi to make reforms, speaking on the single green phone that was reserved for direct conversations with him. On Feb. 20, some officers in Omar’s division were transferred to Bab al Aziziya. Later, one of them returned and said he had witnessed the execution of scores of military officers, apparently for refusing to fire on protesters.
Omar told me he was sickened by the violence, and he soon began to subvert the work his bureau was doing. He and a friend — he only trusted one other man in the unit — began subtly altering the names and phone numbers of rebels before forwarding them to the Revolutionary Guard. They would change a digit here or there, reverse a first and last name, just enough to make the information useless to the men tasked with tracking or killing the rebels. In some cases, he said, he even contacted people who were under observation, urging them to change their e-mail or phone, or to go into hiding. It was impossible to know how much of this was true. One of his friends told me Omar had given him such a warning, and several rebels said independently that they received warnings from people in the government. Omar also said he was arrested in late March, after a colleague told superiors about his subterfuge. He and all but one of his 14-member unit were jailed for a month, and then allowed to go home, thanks to a senior officer who shielded them from punishment. True or not, it was a story line that kept Omar’s hands pretty clean.
Omar seemed to relish his insider status, and it was easy to imagine that he would have happily continued in his job if not for the uprising. On the second day we met, he brought his laptop and showed me some of the files he had copied, including a long list of Qaddafi’s assassins, with their real names, cover jobs and telephone numbers. He told lengthy, detailed stories about a number of the most notorious crimes Qaddafi has been accused of, including the 1988 Lockerbie bombing (he essentially confirmed the guilt of the man convicted of the crime, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi ) and the murder of Musa Sadr, an Iranian-Lebanese cleric who disappeared in Libya in 1978. (Omar said Sadr was beaten to death after daring to challenge Qaddafi at the dictator’s home on matters of theology.) He read about these cases in the intelligence archives, he said, which were easily accessible to those working in the unit. “Security was very lax once you were on the inside,” he told me. “It was only tough on the outside.”
Later that morning, Omar offered to show me his old office. He was nervous about being detained by rebels and insisted that we take his car, a dusty Toyota sedan that he had parked across from my hotel. We got in and drove along the seafront, where huge container cranes loomed in the distance and the hot sea breeze mixed with the stench of raw sewage. We soon passed from central Tripoli into an area that had not been cleared by the rebels. There were still green flags on the road — the emblem of the Qaddafi forces — and the area was deserted, its houses pocked with bullet marks, its streets full of trash and burned-out cars. Omar turned up the volume on his car stereo, playing techno dance tunes, and seemed almost to relish my unease. When we drove up to the first building, inside a gated compound, there was a stench of rotting flesh in the air. Omar turned off the car, and suddenly it was eerily silent, with the sound of eucalyptus leaves rustling in the breeze. Inside the building, there were smashed file cabinets, with heaps of paper spilling out to the hallways and a vast, defaced poster of Qaddafi. Omar clearly knew the building well. He showed me the computer servers that stored newer records on the main floor, the old archive room and his own office in a comfortable suite with faux-leather chairs. “Everything has been stolen,” he said, as he went through the shelves above his old desk. There were personnel documents scattered over the floor and tables; one had Omar’s full name on it. Afterward, he drove us to another intelligence building, where the lights and air-conditioning were still on, as if the Qaddafi men had run out earlier that morning. The rooms were full of odd, often sinister detritus: boxes full of Libyan and foreign passports, including blanks; a blue bag full of needles with injection tubes attached; surgical masks and gloves. Soon after we arrived, the photographer that I was traveling with, Jehad Nga, recognized the place. He had been held there in March when Qaddafi soldiers detained him for three days, subjecting him to brutal beatings and endless questioning from officers who insisted he was a spy. Nga found the desk where he was interrogated for eight hours at a stretch. He traced a message in the thick dust that now covered the desk surface: “I told you I’d be back.”
Omar guided us through the complex, pointing out a rest house where he said Moussa Koussa, who ran the spy agency from 1994 to 2009, would sometimes play the Arabian lute for fellow officers. Walking through one of the executive office suites, Omar narrated the life of a mukhabarat boss, with what sounded like a trace of wistfulness: “Here you have your secretary: you walk in and she greets you with a kiss,” he said, pointing to a chair. “You have your deputies, you have a private room to relax, everything you need.” Later, back on the road, I pointed out that all the doors in town seemed to be green. Instantly Omar recited from memory a passage that he said was from Qaddafi’s Green Book about the color green: all other colors represent depression and decay, only green represents hope.
It was hard to say where Omar’s true sympathies lay, or if he had any. He said he was glad Qaddafi had been overthrown but spoke dismissively about both camps. He brushed off any concerns about his own safety, saying he had four fake passports and plenty of cash. “I know how to cover my tracks,” he said. “This is a stupid society, and in a stupid society, it is easy to cover your tracks.” Ultimately, that is what he did. On the day of our last meeting, my Libyan fixer decided — without consulting me — to report Omar to one of the rebel militias that were arresting and interrogating Qaddafi officials. Omar promptly disappeared, and I never saw the documents he had been promising to bring me.
I was left wondering whether Omar had really made such a clean break with Qaddafi. But it was pretty clear that he suffered no sentimental illusions about his bosses and had seen which way the wind was blowing. Many other former loyalists made the same calculation in the final weeks and months, pulling back from their roles in the crackdown. One rebel faction leader, a 47-year-old businessman named Fawzi al Usta, told me that he owed his life to an assassin’s refusal to keep pulling the trigger.
It happened in June, Usta said, when he was on the Tunisian island of Djerba, helping to organize resistance fighters. He heard through a friend that a man in Qaddafi’s security services wanted to talk to him. Usta agreed, uneasily, and they arranged to meet with the mutual contact in a cafe at noon. The man promptly explained that Qaddafi’s people had paid him $175,000 to kill Usta, and that he didn’t want to do it. “He was very tall and broad, and he had a husky voice,” Usta told me. The man glanced through the window at the 30-odd colleagues Usta had gathered outside the cafe, just in case. “These people are supposed to protect you?” the man said derisively. “I could kill them in a second.” The assassin then laid out all the details of Usta’s history and activities, his family, his movements. He had been following him for days. He had a dozen people to help with the job, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. “There’s been too much blood already,” the man said. “But I need something to take back with me.” He wanted a faked photograph, something to make it look as if Usta was dead. Usta said he and his friends staged a suitably gory photograph, which the man took back to Tripoli.
Most of the Qaddafi loyalists with blood on their hands appear to have fled or disguised themselves. Every time I saw a pickup truck full of young rebels roar through a checkpoint, it occurred to me that Khamis Qaddafi himself could probably avoid detection in Tripoli as long as he had a rebel flag wrapped around his head and had spray-painted “Free Libya” on his truck. There were a few signs of organization: the men at the checkpoints often had lists of wanted names to check against the ID’s that people handed them. Thousands of loyalist soldiers had already been arrested and were being held at makeshift rebel bases, but almost all of them claimed to be mere cogs in the Qaddafi machine. At Maitiga Hospital, in a reclaimed military base, dozens of wounded loyalist soldiers lay in beds. Many of them told me their cases had been referred for eventual trial, but it was hard to see who would take on that responsibility, or when: there was no legal or administrative authority in Tripoli. The hospital itself was a vivid illustration of the city’s chaos. It was abandoned by its Qaddafi-era staff members days earlier, and now everyone in the building was a volunteer. Some were doctors and nurses from other hospitals, and some were civic-minded local women — teachers, administrators, housewives — who were doing whatever they could.
One volunteer told me about a prisoner in the hospital who admitted to killing for Qaddafi in the final days of the war. Her name was Nisreen al Furjani, and she said she executed about a dozen rebel prisoners with a pistol, possibly more. When I met her, she was lying on her back in a hospital bed with a broken pelvis and leg. She said it happened when she leapt out of a window trying to escape from the Qaddafi soldiers. She was a slim, sweet-looking woman of 19, with wide-set eyes, full lips and plucked eyebrows. She had a rebel flag spread over her body like a protective blanket. A guard with a rifle was posted outside her door. Furjani said Qaddafi soldiers had forced her at gunpoint to carry out the executions. She was raped repeatedly during the time she served with Qaddafi’s Popular Guards, she said, and was dragooned into service in the first place, against her own and her family’s wishes. She wept as she told her story, narrating the killings in graphic detail in a tiny, almost inaudible voice. “They brought the prisoners to stand in front of a tree,” she said. “Three men stood around me, one behind me, one on two sides. They made me shoot them.” A pediatrician named Rabia al Gajum, sitting near Nisreen’s bed, bolstered her story, saying she had spoken to Furjani’s mother and heard similar accounts of women forced to commit crimes by Qaddafi.
Furjani’s story of rape and forced execution became a minor sensation. A photograph of her, taken by Agence France Presse in June when she was with Qaddafi’s Popular Guard, made the cover of The New York Post. In the photo — apparently rediscovered in the archives after her story emerged — she is smiling and holding a gun, standing alongside two other camouflage-clad women members of the Popular Guard. The story hit a popular nerve, in part because it matched the legends about Qaddafi’s female bodyguards and his regime’s habit of training women for brutality. I had heard my share of stories about ruthless brothel madams who recruited snipers for Qaddafi, about routine rapes in government offices and drug-fueled parties at which orphans would be recruited into the Brother Leader’s army.
But a few days later, when I visited Gajum at her own clinic, she said she had concluded that Furjani was lying and had killed voluntarily. Many of the details of her story didn’t add up or seemed implausible. I went to the building where she said she had killed the men and could not match it with her description. It turned out that Furjani’s mother — who had called during one of my visits to her hospital room — was a member of Qaddafi’s Revolutionary Committees herself, Gajum told me. The rebels in charge of the hospital where Furjani had been held also concluded that she was a willing executioner and had transferred her to a prison. But the strangest part of her story was this: Furjani was her own accuser. No one else witnessed the executions. In the end, all I could be sure of was that Furjani had been part of something awful, and now she was struggling to hide from its consequences.
Of all the former Qaddafi loyalists I spoke with, only one offered a rationale that went beyond money or compulsion. His name was Idris, and he was a handsome 21-year-old medical student with a downy wisp of beard, a pink T-shirt and jeans. Idris (he asked me not to use his full name) talked about Qaddafi’s loss in a baffled, crestfallen way. We drove to a cafe not far from Algeria Square — since renamed Qatar Square by the rebels, in deference to Qatar’s support for the Libyan revolt — and got a table. I was amazed to see that Idris still had an image of Qaddafi on the screen of his cellphone. “I’ve been passionate for Qaddafi ever since I was born,” he said. His parents felt the same way, though he insisted they had not held any position or drawn any special benefits. “Libya is just a bunch of tribes, and there are blood feuds,” Idris said, when I asked him why. “We see Qaddafi as the only wise man with the power to stop the feuds. If he fails, there will be no one to mediate.” I asked what he thought of Qaddafi’s apparent support for terrorists and his reputation as a maniac in the West. “We see him as a brave man who speaks out against American bullying, as other Arab leaders do not,” Idris said. “So they accuse him of these things.” Idris conceded that Qaddafi made the mistake of surrounding himself with bloodthirsty people like Abdullah Senussi, his security chief and brother-in-law. He also said, like many loyalists, that he was misled about the rebels by Libyan state television, which portrayed them as terrorists. Yet he gave no ground in his love for Qaddafi. When I asked how he felt about Tripoli’s fall, he said: “Devastated. It’s like someone you love, and they’re gone.”
Our conversation began to draw interest from two men sitting at a nearby table, and Idris was getting nervous. We got back into the car and drove to his neighborhood, Abu Selim, a stronghold of support for Qaddafi. The neighborhood is known for criminals and immigrants — a ready base of support for the regime — but Idris’s area was more middle-class. As we drove down his own street, he pointed derisively to the new rebel flags hanging outside the houses. “This was all green flags until last week,” he said. “They love Qaddafi. They haven’t opened their shops, everything is still closed. They are afraid.” Later, he added: “Honestly, before February there was no such thing as pro- or anti-Qaddafi. Only those people who were directly affected, the prisoners or the very religious men, had any view.” We drove past the stalls of a local market, blackened by fire in the final days of fighting. Idris gazed out sadly. “Change is not worth this kind of destruction,” he said. On one wall, I saw the words “Who are you?” It was a satire, like so much of the graffiti, aimed at one of Qaddafi’s recent speeches, in which he repeatedly asked the rebels who they were. But in this neighborhood, full of silent and resentful young men like Idris, the words took on a very different meaning.
In most other parts of Tripoli, the dynamic was reversed. A new geography appeared overnight, visible to anyone driving through: even minor regime supporters, once feared, became outcasts, confined to their homes. Schools and hospitals, abandoned by the old Qaddafi-era administrators, were taken over by local volunteers. In Zawiyat Dahmani, a middle-class area along Tripoli’s seafront, I saw a shuttered storefront with the words “You Rat” written diagonally across the front in Arabic. (Qaddafi labeled the rebels “rats” in his speeches, and they promptly turned the word on his supporters.) The owner, I was told, was a vehement Qaddafi booster, whose sister was a notorious killer for the regime. Just down the street was a man named Yusef Hamali, who had been a low-level member of Qaddafi’s Revolutionary Committees, local people said. He had also worked as an informer, passing on tips about suspicious activities in the neighborhood.
I knocked on Hamali’s door one night with a neighbor who knew him, and Hamali answered. He was a haggard-looking man in his 60s with dark skin and a gaunt face. He glanced anxiously around the hall behind us as we spoke to him, as if he feared someone else might leap past us and attack him. He confirmed everything the neighbors had told me: he had a role in the Revolutionary Committees, but only as a guard. He had never harmed anyone, he said. “Thanks be to God, I have been treated well,” he said. “The people of the neighborhood have been kind.” A stale, closeted smell wafted out from the kitchen behind him. Hamali had barricaded himself and his family into the apartment on the day Tripoli fell. One of his neighbors, a sympathetic man with a round face and broken teeth named Muhammad al Bahri, told me he reassured Hamali through the keyhole on the first day. Young men were hunting for Hamali at the time, demanding his arrest. Bahri left two water bottles in front of the door, but Hamali had been too frightened to take them. Later, Bahri’s cellphone rang. It was Hamali, cowering in his apartment. “His voice sounded like it was coming from the bottom of a well,” Bahri told me. “I went to the door, and he unlocked it. His face was white from adrenaline. I could see his poor little son tiptoeing behind him, so that no one would hear. I promised him he would not be harmed as long as he gave up his weapons. He gave them to me, two Kalashnikovs and a pistol.”
Amid all the chaos of Libya’s transition from war to peace, one remarkable theme stood out: the relative absence of revenge. Despite the atrocities carried out by Qaddafi’s forces in the final months and even days, I heard very few reports of retaliatory killings. Once, as I watched a wounded Qaddafi soldier being brought into a hospital on a gurney, a rebel walked past and smacked him on the head. Instantly, the rebel standing next to me apologized. My Libyan fixer told me in late August that he had found the man who tortured him in prison a few weeks earlier. The torturer was now himself in a rebel prison. “I gave him a coffee and a cigarette,” he said. “We have all seen what happened in Iraq.” That restraint was easy to admire.
Yet it was also hard to imagine Libya’s various factions coalescing easily into a nation. Even amid the euphoria of victory, many Tripoli residents spoke resentfully of the rebels from other regions who virtually colonized parts of the capital, setting up checkpoints and spray-painting the names of their cities on the walls. Those divisions are likely to grow worse. Aside from a brief respite in the 1950s and ’60s, modern Libya has always been under the boot of a colonial power or a tyrant. Before that, it was divided into three Ottoman territories with distinct identities. Qaddafi deftly gutted the country of any real institutions; unlike Egypt, it does not even have a unified army to rally around. In the coming months, the Transitional National Council will oversee the first national elections and start redistributing the country’s oil revenues, delicate tasks at the best of times.
Many Tripoli residents seem not to have known how much they hated Qaddafi until after the rebellion broke out in February, and they realized, perhaps for the first time, that he could be overthrown. Slowly, plans began to form for an armed uprising. One of the men who helped initiate them, Jamal al Ragai, was a 31-year-old manufacturer of uniforms for Qaddafi’s army. His work involved spending lots of time gassing around with military officers, he told me. He knew he disliked Qaddafi, but he thought it was a battle for his children to fight. “Then my close friends and I started to say to ourselves: we are men in the prime of our life, between 30 and 50 years old, and we have no dignity,” Ragai told me. “We are living under a dictator who wants us to worship his Green Book.”
I met Ragai in a reclaimed Intelligence Ministry barracks in Tajoura, an eastern suburb of Tripoli. He had a militia of about 70 men, many of them veterans of bloody street battles in Misrata and other towns, and he was still running operations against Qaddafi hideouts. He was a short, powerfully built man dressed in loose fatigues, with a thick, bushy beard and a machine gun strapped over his back. (“It’s Israeli,” he told me proudly. “I stole it from the Khamis Brigade.”) It was clear from the way other men treated him that he was held in high esteem. But he didn’t exude the air of a commander. His eyes seemed to lurch around the room as if he were drunk. He apologized for his appearance, saying he had scarcely slept in days. He had also spent much of the preceding two months in jail, where he was tortured horribly; he showed me scars on his forearms and neck. At one point, he pulled out a passport-size photo and held it out to me. “This is me when I was a normal person,” he said. It was almost unrecognizable: a smiling, well-groomed young man in a button-down shirt.
It was in March, Ragai told me, after the initial protests in Tripoli had been brutally put down, that he began organizing his friends to fight Qaddafi. They started small, with leaflets, Facebook campaigns and spray-painting. As he saw the battles raging in Misrata and other Libyan cities, he grew frustrated and stepped up his commitment. He began building homemade bombs and importing weapons from Tunisia. At the same time, he was urgently cursing the rebel cause in his regular chats with Qaddafi’s military men, whom he pumped for information about battle plans and the locations of bases and weapons depots. He would then report this information to members of the Transitional National Council in Benghazi. The contradiction between his nominal and underground lives became fiercer all the time. “I managed to persuade people in the military that I was teaching political-awareness classes,” Ragai told me, citing the regime propaganda rooted in Qaddafi’s Green Book. He smiled in amazement at the extent of his own lies. “I was copying Qaddafi’s own personality, his acts,” he said. “It was crazy.”
One morning in mid-June, Ragai was walking to meet a contact for a weapons deal when he felt two gun barrels in his sides. He stopped, and two soldiers grabbed his arms and threw him into a car. “The beatings started right there in the car,” he told me. He was taken to a holding pen known as Yarmouk, outside of town — the same one from which Mustafa Atiri escaped the massacre almost three months later. Another man who was in the prison at the same time told me that Ragai was known for his bravery and generosity. “The guards used to throw water bottles at a group of prisoners, and people would grab and fight over them,” the man said. “Jamal would catch the bottles and share them with other prisoners.”
At the prison, Ragai and other inmates witnessed a toxic blend of desperation and indiscipline among the officers as the regime slowly collapsed. Some seemed to take a vindictive pleasure in torturing prisoners, knowing the tables could soon be turned. It was not just physical, he told me, but psychological: guards would persuade the prisoners that they had lost track of time and it was August, then tell them it was October the next day. Prisoners who wanted to fast for the holy month of Ramadan were told that it was long past. Others would be told their families were dead or they were forced to sign documents relinquishing all their property in exchange for freedom, only to be kept in prison. Much of the torture was carried out by women, a special humiliation in Libya’s patriarchal Arab culture. There was a Chadian woman with a shaved head who used to beat the men on their genitals, several inmates told me. Her Libyan supervisor, also a woman, would watch these beatings approvingly, then jeer at the male guards: “See, she’s more of a man than you are!” Strangest of all, to me, was the drug and alcohol use. Several inmates told me the guards were almost constantly drunk or stoned, and that this often seemed to make the torture worse. This was apparently widespread under Qaddafi. I asked an army officer, who was being held by rebels at one of their bases, whether smoking hashish had been common in the military. His face lighted up in a smile, and he said: “One hundred percent!”
In a sense, Ragai was lucky: he was transferred from the Yarmouk prison, where the massacre later took place, to a smaller jail not far away, on the grounds of a construction company. He was there on the evening of Aug. 20, when the uprising broke out in Tripoli. Ragai told me he knew instantly that everyone in the prisons would be killed if they did not escape right away. I asked him how he knew. The prisoners, after all, included many ordinary people as well as rebels, and killing them would hardly shield the Qaddafi regime from any conceivable accusation. There were plenty of other witnesses. Ragai looked at me blankly and said, “We have come to expect this from Qaddafi.” It was at a prison, he reminded me, that Qaddafi carried out one of his worst atrocities: the murder of 1,200 inmates at Abu Selim prison in 1996.
Early on the morning of Aug. 21, the guards opened the door of the cell next to Ragai’s and led out six prisoners. Ragai told me he spoke to one of the guards, a man named Munir, whom he had befriended. It was a last chance. “Munir, we are Libyans,” Ragai said. The guard said not to worry, the six men were being taken for interrogation. “Munir, we are Muslims,” Ragai said. The guard looked back uneasily, and their eyes met. Ragai asked him if he could go to the bathroom. The guard let him out. Minutes later, the men heard gunshots. The six men were being executed. But at the same time, Ragai realized that the guard had left him in a cell that could be opened from the inside. He got out, and began releasing all the remaining men, who fled the compound. The guards did not even try to stop them; instead, they piled into cars and began fleeing themselves.
Ragai told me he borrowed a car from a man he met near the prison and drove back to Tajoura. There he reunited with his old rebel friends and joined the Tripoli uprising. It started the night before, when each of Tripoli’s principal neighborhoods (except Abu Selim) deployed armed teams, according to a plan agreed upon a month earlier. They set up barricades, arrested Qaddafi loyalists and mounted checkpoints. As NATO warplanes bombed Qaddafi’s bases, gun battles erupted all over the city. Many of the loyalists quickly folded, surrendering to the rebels or just abandoning their posts. By the time the first armed convoys began reaching Tripoli on the morning of Aug. 21, the roads had mostly been left empty by deserting troops, and there was a clear path to Qaddafi’s stronghold, Bab al Aziziya.
Ragai’s own concern, he told me, was to free the 150 prisoners at Yarmouk. He knew many of the men held in that tin-roofed warehouse, and he knew that their proximity to Khamis Qaddafi’s 32nd Brigade would put them in jeopardy. Ragai gathered as many men as he could, and a large group of seasoned fighters from Misrata joined them. Soon they had a force of about 150 cars, and they drove west toward Yarmouk in an armed caravan.
At about midday, Ragai said, he got a call from one of the other fighters on his cellphone. The man had reached the Yarmouk prison and seen the deserted grounds. “It’s too late,” the man said. “Everyone is dead.”
Not quite everyone. Mustafa Atiri escaped two nights before, along with about 15 other men. Atiri told me that after running from the warehouse, they leapt over a low wall at the far end of the prison, then sprinted between empty houses and farms. They could hear the whine of bullets slicing into the fields around them, and shouts from the guards at the prison. Some of them — after days with little food and water — stopped to drink from a faucet outside a farmhouse and were gunned down. Atiri kept on running. It was dark by then, but the soldiers fired flares into the sky, illuminating the kill zone. Finally, Atiri and another prisoner named Taha banged on the door of a farmhouse and found a family willing to hide them for the night.
His ordeal was not over. The next morning, Atiri woke up in the barn after a fitful rest, and he and Taha were told they could not stay. There were still Qaddafi soldiers in the area. The family gave them new clothes and some money, and the eldest son drove the two escapees to a neighboring town and dropped them off. They tried to blend in, without success. A group of local men quickly surrounded them. One put a gun to Atiri’s head and began shouting: “You rat, you rat! Where do you come from?” At that point, a man named Ahmed al Farjani pushed through the crowd and began arguing heatedly with the gunman. He told the gathered crowd that Khamis Qaddafi’s soldiers had left town, and no one would be harmed for harboring the two escapees. He then led Atiri and Taha to his own house and locked the door.
In fact, Farjani, a 42-year-old construction worker, had no idea whether the soldiers were gone or not, he told me later. I met Farjani — who was still protecting Atiri in his house — in Tripoli, and listened to both men narrate the events of that day. I asked why he had risked his life to save a man he had never met. He seemed surprised by the question. “First, I hate Qaddafi,” he said. “Second, my morals would not allow me to leave someone alone in this situation.”
Even then, a week after his escape, Atiri walked with a limp and seemed terrified that the prison overseers would find him. “The brigades are still roaming around, and I still fear they will kill me,” he told me. “They have sleeper cells. I saw a list of names, before I was arrested, of people who have been given money and weapons to destabilize the country, like Iraq.” Perhaps there was such a plan, but it seems possible that Qaddafi’s last loyalists, lacking money and support, abandoned it.
A few days later, I went back to the Yarmouk prison. Volunteers were digging in the sand; more bodies had been found buried in the yard. Down the road, the headquarters of the Khamis Brigade was empty and covered with graffiti, and someone had stolen the numbers from its front gate. Not far away, I found a family still living in their house, one of the few that had not abandoned the area. They invited me in for tea. Their house was large and clean and cool, an unexpected refuge in that desert full of dead bodies and burned buildings. They had stayed there, often in a state of terror, through the entire period from February until August, as the war was raging. They told me Khamis Qaddafi’s soldiers had taken over the entire area in the preceding months. Huge trucks had arrived at all hours of the day and night, stockpiling weapons in preparation for the city’s defense against the rebels. Many of the weapons were still there, some of them packed in crates, some of them spilling across the warehouse floors, totally unguarded. Among the weapons I saw that day were shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles, the kind that could take down a commercial jet. (A few days after I visited, the missiles had disappeared.)
“We have been living on the edge of a volcano,” I was told by one of the family’s sons, a 32-year-old named Ahmed Zaydan.
Zaydan took me to the roof of a nearby house, where we could see a field full of munitions left by the Khamis Brigade. There was a stack of boxed land mines about 30 yards long and 15 feet high. Beyond them, in a copse of withered fruit trees, were crates of TNT in wooden boxes. “This is how Qaddafi spent our oil money,” Zaydan said. “Enough weapons to wage 10 more wars.” We walked to the other side of the roof, and Zaydan pointed to the Yarmouk prison, only a few hundred yards away. He winced as he recalled the massacre. He said the smoke had lasted for days, and he had smelled the burning bodies from his home. We were both silent for a minute. It was midday, and there was no sound but the breeze and the buzzing of the flies.
“I want Qaddafi to die,” Zaydan said. “And not just to die once, but to die every minute, every hour. Because for 42 years, he was killing us every minute, every hour.”
Editor: Joel Lovell (j.lovell-MagGroup@nytimes.com)