30 April 2009

Texas Gov. Perry : Secessionist With His Hand Out

Tea partiers in Denton, Texas. Photo by josh Berthume / The Texas Observer.

'According to FEMA's website, Texas has been the site of 13 "major disaster declarations" since Perry took office... since FEMA's record-keeping began, Texas has received federal disaster assistance more times than any other state.'

By Jonathan Stein / April 30, 2009

Like everyone else, I was amused when Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, requested help from the CDC with swine flu medication just a week or so after he said that the "federal government has become oppressive" and that if Texans started considering seceding from the union, "who knows what might come out of that." Perry didn't seem to realize that throwing off the yoke of the federal government would mean no more help when the going got tough.

Today comes news that Perry has issued a disaster declaration for the state of Texas, the first step in getting assistance from federal agencies like FEMA, DHS, and HHS. I decided to take a look at how many times the federal government has bailed Texas out during Perry's tenure. The results are pretty incredible.

According to FEMA's website, Texas has been the site of 13 "major disaster declarations" since Perry took office following George W. Bush's departure in 2001. That includes five instances of severe storms and flooding, two tropical storms, one "extreme wildfire threat," and Hurricanes Claudette, Rita, Dolly, and Ike. (Texas received significant federal assistance following Hurricane Katrina, but it did not appear on FEMA's website in the "major disaster declaration" category.)

David Riedman, a public information specialist at FEMA, explained to me that a major disaster declaration is issued when a governor "determines the state's resources are overrun." From that point forward, the federal government, under federal law, is required to reimburse the state for at least 75 percent of the cost of recovery. Help is primarily targeted at rebuilding roads and bridges, debris removal, and reparing damage to public buildings. In the relief efforts that are still under way from the damage done by Hurricane Ike, the federal government is reimbursing Texas for 100 percent of all expenses, according to Riedman.

In fact, since FEMA's record-keeping began, Texas has received federal disaster assistance more times than any other state.

Source / Mother Jones

Graphic from FEMA's website.

The Rag Blog

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Larry Ray : Facing Extinction? Grand Old Party Blues

(Only slightly defaced) Mad Hatter Tea Party Engraving by Sir John Tenniel.
Senior Republican Senator Arlen Specter's recent defection from the GOP to the Democratic Party has caused an uproar in the toxic hard-core of the remaining Republican party. But it has also brought forth thoughtful, constructive commentary from long-time loyal Republican moderates...
By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / April 30, 2009

Republican diehards at some point must realize that their invitation-only (Tea) party is over. They must first acknowledge that the vast majority of Americans are simply trying to make it through the economic and societal mess left, in large part, by the last eight years of rogue Republican superintendence. The Grand Old Party is way out of touch with political reality and running mostly on bluster and using a worn out old play book of negativity and exclusion.

Defection from the Republican ranks is notable, with tens of thousands of moderate and centrist Republicans leaving their old party and becoming Democrats or independents. Concerned Americans who have already voted their centrist values rather than hewing to the strident, divisive, self-serving GOP party line.

Senior Republican Senator Arlen Specter's recent defection from the GOP to the Democratic Party has caused an uproar in the toxic hard-core of the remaining Republican party. But it has also brought forth thoughtful, constructive commentary from long-time loyal Republican moderates like Maine Senator Olympia Snow and former New Jersey Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman. They have both recently written strong, intelligent Op-Ed articles for The New York Times calling for a reconstituted GOP.

Former Governor Whitman minced no words: "Our democracy desperately needs two vibrant parties. And for Republicans to be that second party, we need to remind the nation of the principles for which we once stood." Whitman listed those principals as a party "committed to such important values as fiscal restraint, less government interference in our everyday lives, environmental policies that promote a balanced approach between protection and economic interest, and a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world." The present party seems to have dozed through all their noble ideals for at least the past eight years.

Certainly fiscal restraint was not a hallmark of the Bush-Cheney years. The national debt more than doubled, growing from $5.727 trillion when Bush took office to $11.315 trillion as he hastily cobbled together fiscal bailout legislation as he was leaving office. That legislation included yet another provision to raise the debt ceiling in addition to the seven times Bush had already raised the debt ceiling while in office. For six of those eight years he had a Republican-controlled Congress to back up his reckless, endless spending.

No other administration in history had ever run up such national debt. After the total fiscal irresponsibility of a Republican controlled Congress that allowed mega-banks and mortgage giants to run rampant with virtually no supervision, leading to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it is really hard to be lectured by Republicans about "fiscal responsibility." And we have not mentioned the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars which had totaled some $840,000,000 at the end of Bush's term. That's not far from another trillion bucks.

As far as "less government interference in our everyday lives, environmental policies that promote a balanced approach between protection and economic interest, and a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world," just analyze those yourself.

For starters, there is Bush's warrant-less wiretapping of American citizens, unprecedented secrecy and torture, trampling the Constitution, wholesale sellout of our national resources to environmentally hostile energy companies, and a foreign policy that, against the advice of "the rest of the world" led to the unilateral invasion of Iraq, a country which had nothing at all to do with the 2001 9/11 attack.

Just what did happen to Governor Whitman's "principals" for which her GOP once stood?

Clearly the success and amazing leadership exhibited by President Obama in his first three months in office continues to energize the nation, and the world, even as a global flu pandemic threatens. Obama's team approach to attacking the GOP debris he inherited has garnered international admiration and support. This has all made the frantic, defeated, remaining conservative Republican leadership angry and more irrational than ever.

Instead of accepting reality and trying to formulate a new platform and bring forward constructive centrist ideas and proposals which would positively engage them with the majority party, they simply continue to implode.

The disappearance of the dinosaurs is generally attributed to a huge asteroid colliding with earth wiping them out. Daily Kos today posted an appropriate graphic that Michael Steele and his party might want to put in their offices and contemplate for a while. The clever, telling logo design even has elements of Leader Limbaugh in it.


[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]

The Rag Blog

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Dick J. Reavis on Mark Rudd's 'Underground,' and the 1969 SDS Split

Bernardine Dohrn, of the Radical Youth Movement faction of SDS -- and later of Weatherman -- addresses the SDS convention in Chicago in 1969, at which the Progressive Labor Party was "expelled." Mark Rudd, author of Underground, is to Dohrn's right.
Within weeks of the collapse of SDS, Rudd, like most of the leadership of RYM, wound up in the bomb-making Weathermen claque. He regrets it: 'Much of what the Weathermen did,' he writes, 'had the opposite effect of what we intended.'
By Dick J. Reavis / The Rag Blog / April 30, 2009

[The Rag Blog has run several articles inspired by Mark Rudd’s new memoir, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen. Dick J. Reavis adds an interesting element to the discussion: he addresses Rudd’s account of the 1969 split within the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that led to the formation of Weatherman – and the eventual demise of SDS -- from the perspective of a participant. Links to additional Rag Blog treatment of Rudd’s book follow this article.}

Mark Rudd was the best-known leader of the brief 1968 takeover of Columbia University by its students. He was nationally notorious for a fleeting span of time, and for several years, was on the lam, wanted by the FBI. He has belatedly written a memoir, Underground, which I think deserves a read by all of us who were seriously involved in the Students for a Democratic Society during the group’s waning days.

Rudd’s chief historical contribution, in my view, is a chapter entitled “SDS Split,” his account of the group’s death throes. I have not read all books about the rise and fall of SDS, but I’ve read a few, and Rudd’s work is the first that fully explains what happened there -- in accord with my memory as one who was present, anyway.

Rudd admits that from the podium where he stood, he and his cronies estimated that the Progressive Labor Party faction had a majority or near-majority of delegates. The incumbents with whom he ran, most members of the faction that then called itself the Revolutionary Youth Movement, responded by “expelling” the PLers in a fashion which troubles him yet.

“The long-feared split had occurred without any full debate by the whole organization, without any vote taken,” he writes. “It was a fait accompli, a coup of sorts, presented by the RYM faction.”

In other words, those who claimed -- some of whom still claim -- to have represented the “real” SDS, refused to accede to a changing of the leadership by democratic, if “manipulative” means. They were the tyrants, if any there were, unless “manipulation” is verboten.

As a former member of the PL faction, I could not be honest without admitting that PL manipulated -- played by the rules, but played to win -- in SDS. But politics, on its face, is nothing but the manipulation of other peoples’ behavior. To whimper about it as Rudd occasionally does in deconstructing SDS factional conflicts is to ask for an organization whose soul would have been naiveté.

Rudd is not a poetic writer, but his memoir is highly readable in part because of its humility. It’s a work of self-doubt and self-criticism. He does not repudiate his opposition to the Vietnam War or savage capitalism, but he does confess, time and again, that he and its other leaders were out of their league. Reading the book made me feel sorry for Mark because he blames himself too much.

Within weeks of the collapse of SDS, Rudd, like most of the leadership of RYM, wound up in the bomb-making Weathermen claque. He regrets it: “Much of what the Weathermen did,” he writes, “had the opposite effect of what we intended. We deorganized SDS while we claimed we were making it stronger; we isolated ourselves from our friends and allies as we helped split the larger antiwar movement around the issue of violence. In general, we played into the hands of the FBI -- our sworn enemies. We might as well have been on their payroll.”

PL’s student leaders of the era, who perhaps should speak on the question, haven’t been heard from in 30 years, as far as I know. Nobody I know, including a dozen ex-PLers, has any idea about what has become of them. I was never a full-fledged PLer, and so am perhaps an unauthorized voice. But I was as much a PLer as anybody in Texas, and if I can still presume to speak for what was our faction, I’d say that Rudd and his comrades have long been forgiven, at least by us, their vanquished former rivals.

The split in SDS, I’ve always thought, was nearly inevitable. Smarter leadership could perhaps have prevented it, but only by abdication, and only in a limited way.

The problem was that what might be called the Port Huron generation had by 1969 spent several years protesting the Vietnam War without any significant effect on the nation’s policies or actions. Most of us had graduated or were graduating from college. We were facing 40 years of life as adults and we dreaded the prospect because we didn’t know what we would do, or where we would fit. To guide us, as we’d gone along organizing protests, we’d formed world views that were bigger than the anti-war cause.

Those of us who had become Marxists -- in SDS, mainly followers of PL and of the Spartacist League -- had adopted a plan that stunted our ambitions and shrunk our sense of self-importance. We’d been convinced that we had to join the industrial working class, from whose ranks we’d agitate for unions and revolution perhaps until we retired or died. PL sloganized our nearly humdrum agenda as “Build a Base in the Working Class.”

Rudd and the Weathermen claimed to be Marxists, but in effect, they substituted American youth, including themselves, for industrial workers, as the agents of socialism. Their attitude, and I’m afraid, even their political wisdom was summed-up in chants like “Oink, oink, bang, bang! Dead pig!” They wanted Revolution Now! -- or if not that, Vengeance Now!—and they thought that they could spark it.

The plain facts, seen in retrospect, are that the industrial working class was already doomed to decimation, and that the much-vaunted youth rising was more nearly a generational tiff than a political one. Most of us whom PL sent into factories gave up as soon we saw that the workers wouldn’t listen. Most Weathermen dropped out after learning, as Rudd did, that life on the lam was brutish, lonely and impotent. It hurts to say so, but Bill Clinton and George Bush, and maybe even Nixon and Reagan, gauged the political capacity of our generation far better than we did.

SDS could have survived, I believe, only if it had preserved its innocence, only as a group that held out hope for capitalism and its parties and sought merely to be heard by the people in power. But to have done so, those SDSers who had learned the lessons of the protest movement -- that appeals to rulers are routinely ignored or deflected -- would have had to distance themselves from their base. We would have had to stand aside while greener students repeated the mistakes that we had made.

Even our abnegation would not have produced an anti-war movement of the scale we had known, because the millions of young whites who attended anti-war protests -- the recruiting pool for both the PL and Weathermen factions—returned to purely personal and domestic concerns almost as soon as the draft lottery was instituted.

If anybody is responsible for the death of SDS, it is the officials who, with our concurrence, abolished conscription. They placed the question of war and peace on a new stage, on which we haven’t gotten our footing yet. The hour is late and we are nearing our graves: it’s highly unlikely that we will lead any movements now. If we are as honest as Rudd, we will admit that back in the day, we failed. Neither he nor the rest of us are to blame. It is perhaps heresy to say so in the United States, where optimism is a tenet of a Foucaultian, nearly mandatory faith, but for all of a polity’s problems, solutions are not always at hand.

[Rag Blog contributor Dick J. Reavis is an award-winning journalist, educator and author. He was active in the civil rights movement in the South and with SDS at the University of Texas in Austin. He wrote for Austin’s underground newspaper The Rag, and was a senior editor at Texas Monthly magazine. Dick Reavis’ book, The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation, about the siege and burning of the Branch Davidian compound, was published by Simon and Schuster and may be the definitive work on the subject.]

Find Mark Rudd's Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen on Amazon.com.

See other Rag Blog articles on Mark Rudd's memoir and related subject matter:The Rag Blog

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Don't Panic : Seven Facts About 'Swine Flu'

Swine Flu scare: a man wears a mask upon arrival at Gatwick airport in London on a flight from Mexico City. Photo by Dan Kitwood / Getty Images.
Your best defense -- your only real defense in any flu season -- is a bulletproof immune system.
By Janet Gilles / The Rag Blog / April 30, 2009

With all the sensationalized news about the so-called swine flu flying
around, I figured we'd better set all the facts straight.

1. So far, only 82 cases of so-called swine flu have been definitively identified worldwide, mostly in Mexico (26 confirmed, 7 deaths) and the U.S.(with 40 confirmed, no deaths). (Though about 1600 suspected cases,including 159 deaths, are reported in Mexico.) That does not add up to a pandemic swine flu outbreak.

2. This virus has nothing to do with swine. In fact, it hasn't been seen in a single animal. And you can't possibly get it from eating pork.

3. No existing vaccines can prevent this new flu strain. So no matter what you hear -- even if it comes from your doctor -- don't get a regularflu shot. They rarely work against seasonal flu… and certainly can't offer protection from a never-before-seen strain.

4. Speaking of this strain, it doesn't seem to have come on naturally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this particular strain has never before been seen in pigs or people. And according to Reuters, the strain is a “genetic mix”of swine, avian and human flu. Was it created in a lab? We don't know yet.

5. The drug companies are getting excited… and that's never a good thing. According to the Associated Press at least one financial analyst estimates up to $388 million worth of Tamiflu sales in the near future –- and that's without a pandemic outbreak.

6. Let's not forget that Tamiflu comes with its own problems, including side effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, fatigue, cough… the very symptoms you're trying to avoid. And let's notforget that Japan banned this drug for children back in 2007, after links to suicidal behavior.

7. Vaccines for this flu strain probably won't have to jump through all those annoying hurdles like clinical trials for safety and effectiveness. That won't, however, stop the government from mandating the vaccine for all of us -- a very likely scenario. And if the vaccines are actually harmful… killing people, for example…the vaccine makers will be immune from lawsuits.

Your best defense -- your only real defense in any flu season -- is a bulletproof immune system.

The Rag Blog

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Universal Health Care : Defining Our National Character

Congress and meaningful health care reform. Playing us for a sucker?
Some 25 years ago the insurance industry planned, in concert, to co-opt medical care in the United States, while the medical profession through fear, misinformation, or self interest permitted it to happen.
By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / The Rag Blog / April 30, 2009

P.J. Proudhon wrote in 1858: "Justice is spontaneous respect, guaranteed, for human dignity, in whatever person it may be compromised and under whatever circumstances, and to whatever risk its defense may expose us."

We who are in favor of single payer/universal health care face the Rubicon. The next month may well define the national character of the United States. Either we join the remainder of the industrialized world in providing decent, affordable health care for all or we retreat into the immoral, deceitful world of producing profits for the insurance companies, their richly paid executives, and the requisite injustice foisted upon the American people by the pharmaceutical industry and those who profit from it.

The concept of single payer/universal care arose with the Physicians for A National Health Program after the original program for universal care was defeated by a Republican Congress and the American Medical Association, when first conceived under the Truman administration. The sole remnant of that suggestion was the adoption of Medicare which has been a first rate success. Any further suggestions to provide anything like humanitarian care have been turned aside by the interests of those involved in profit by limiting care to those who can pay the big bills.

Some 25 years ago the insurance industry planned, in concert, to co-opt medical care in the United States, while the medical profession through fear, misinformation, or self interest permitted it to happen. We now are the only nation in the western world (add in Australia, Taiwan, and Japan) to have health care not for the good of the populace, but for the profits of two of the industries with major lobbying power in Washington. Various surveys show overall health care in this country ranking 26th in the world. A release from the Connecticut Coalition for Universal Health Care brings several startling facts to our attention.
  • The United States ranks 23rd in infant mortality.
  • The United States ranks 20th in life expectancy for women.
  • The United States ranks 21st in life expectancy for men.
  • The United States ranks 50th and 100th in immunizations, depending on the immunization. Overall, 67th, right behind Botswana.
  • Outcome studies on a variety of diseases, such as coronary artery disease, and renal failure show the United States to rank below Canada and a wide variety of industrialized nations.
There are further myths perpetuated by the opponents of universal care.
  • Studies reveal that citizens in universal health care systems have more doctor visits and more hospital days than in the U.S.
  • Around 30% of Americans have problems accessing health care due to payment problems or access to care, far more than in other industrialized countries. About 17% of our population is without health care. About 75% of ill uninsured people have trouble accessing/paying for health care.
  • Comparisons of Difficulties Accessing Care are shown to be greater in the US than in Canada.
  • Access to health care is directly related to income and race in the United States. As a result poor and minorities have poorer health care than the wealthy and the whites.
The propagandists and purveyors of deceit for the insurance industry flatly lie that a universal health care system would interfere with freedom of choice. The facts differ: There would be free choice of health care providers under a single payer, universal system, unlike the current managed system which mandates insurer pre-approval for services, thus undercutting patient confidentiality and taking health care decisions away from the physician and patient.

Although health care provider fees would be set as they are in 90% of cases, providers would have a means of negotiating fees unlike the current managed care system which are set in corporate board rooms with profits, not patient care in mind. Taxes, fees, and benefits would be decided by the public insurer which would be under the control of a diverse board representing consumers, providers, business, and government. It would not be a government controlled system, although the government would have to approve the taxes. The system would be in essence a Public Trust.

To be very specific, I am speaking of two bills before Congress: the Senate bill (S703) introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the House bill (HR 676) introduced into the by Rep. John Conyers.

On April 27, 2009, The New York Times printed an article titled, "Shortage of Doctors an Obstacle to Obama Goals." This underlines what I have been pointing out for some time in articles published by The Rag Blog. This is indeed a problem of long standing and is a result of two things: the overt effort by certain elements of the medical/educational establishments to limit the number of practitioners in the United States, and the unbearable cost of medical education in the United States. We badly need primary care physicians and internists. This matter has been emphasized by the American College of Physicians in recent publications. In previous articles I have indicated two approaches, and perhaps both should be implemented. First -- as in European nations -- government scholarships to pay for qualified candidates in medical school. And second, the formation of a national Medical Academy similar to West Point or Annapolis. Of course, current medical schools could increase enrollment. In either instance, graduates would be directed into primary care in underserved areas for a number of years to be determined.

In addition to the single payer/universal care legislation there are other suggestions pending. One is the concept of "Medicare for All" proposed by President Obama during the campaign. This in essence would expand Medicare into what has been called by some a "public insurance" company, giving citizens the option to continue with their present private plan should they desire, or to enroll in the public plan, with equal or better medical care, but with payment determined by ability to pay. This concept gives the prostitutes of the insurance industry cat fits as they fear that with equal or better care at lesser cost the public will drift to the public plan.

A third option, put forth by Sen. Max Baucus, a major recipient of campaign contributions from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, calls for continuation of our present system under the control of the insurance cartels, but requiring (yes, requiring) everyone to buy insurance. Of course, this is overt insanity since a comprehensive, decent insurance plan for a family of four costs something like $2400 a month. This is far beyond what the average family can endure. Several constitutional scholars have questioned whether the government can legislate that a citizen buy a product from a private purveyor. Further, the less expensive the required insurance, the less coverage, i.e. yearly deductible of, say, $10,000 -- high co-payments, numerous exclusions. This is pure ledger domain, a real con-game.

Just yesterday I became aware of what could become a further complicating ingredient. The TV industry has had three major sources of advertising revenue: automobiles, pharmaceuticals, and food products. The auto revenue is disappearing, which is hurting TV advertising budgets. As we have pointed out previously on the Rag Blog, the United States is one of only two nations in the world that permit advertising for prescription drugs (New Zealand is the other); this is one of the many factors that result in prescription medication in the USA costing twice what it would in most other nations. I have suggested, as have many others, that under a universal health care plan there must be cost control of prescription medications, and further that Congress must redo the farcical "Medicare Prescription Drug Plan" to make it a vehicle for the benefit of the consumer rather than for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Be assured there is a tremendous public relations campaign being launched to mislead the public regarding universal health care. The profiting industries, insurance carriers, and "nonprofits,” supported by the Republican Party and some “blue dog” Democrats, will do their best to deceive you, provide you with misinformation, formulate lies that will make you vote against your best interests. At this time we must stand resolute and do what is best for the common good, as well as for the image of our nation. There will be "letters to the editor" written by ghost writers for the powers that be. There will be ads on TV, done by actors, demeaning health care in other nations, There will be recorded phone calls warning you about the horrors of socialized medicine, telling you that they will take away your right to chose your own doctor.

Finally, remember that proper single payer, universal health care can be enacted at 40% less cost to the tax-payer than any other option. According to Ralph Nader, $225 billion to $250 billion each year is wasted on inefficiency and fraud in billing.

[Dr. Stephen R. Keister, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, lives in Erie, PA. He is a retired physician who is active in health care reform. His previous articles on The Rag Blog can be found here.]

The Rag Blog

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29 April 2009

Norman Finkelstein on Israel and the Occupation of Palestine

Norman Finkelstein speaking at the University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.
His theory on Israel's attack on Gaza was that Hamas had become too moderate, too reasonable, too willing to make a deal. His most damning evidence was contained in quotes from Israeli politicians saying that if the cease fire went on too long it would give Hamas credibility.
By Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog / April 29, 2009

[Norman G. Finkelstein is an independent scholar with a doctorate in political science from Princeton University. For many years he taught political theory and the Israel-Palestine conflict and is the author of five books that have been translated into many languages. He is a consistent critic of Israel’s role in the Middle East. Finkelstein spoke to an overflow crowd Tuesday night at Welch Hall on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.}

I went to hear Norman Finkelstein last night and am glad I did. He is Jewish and the child of parents who were in the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz but he understands one cannot be moral only within one’s group. The invasion of Lebanon in 1982 opened his eyes to what the government of Israel was doing. He turned his formidable intellect on the lies told to justify the suppression and removal of Palestinians.

He invited the Zionists to field someone to debate with him but they demurred. No one came to heckle him. There was a standing room only crowd at Welch Hall, UT Austin. He reminds me of Noam Chomsky in that his delivery is so smooth and coherent, so well researched, that it sounds simply like sweet reason. His key theme was international law and the international consensus that Israel is breaking international law. Being the scholar that he is he gave plenty of names, dates, places, and quotes with referenced sources.

His theory on Israel's attack on Gaza was that Hamas had become too moderate, too reasonable, too willing to make a deal. His most damning evidence was contained in quotes from Israeli politicians saying that if the cease fire went on too long it would give Hamas credibility. If Hamas gained credibility then Israel would be forced to make a deal. Israel has no intention of leaving the West Bank so Hamas had to be provoked into firing more ineffectual rockets so that Israel could then unleash the massacre of the Gazans that it had been planning for six months.

Norman also linked the attack on the helpless civilian population in Gaza to the Israeli military's poor showing against Hezbollah in Lebanon which had caused a lack of sufficient fear of Israel among the general Arab population. Norman also quoted many Israeli military leaders in making his case. He spoke about the use of white phosphorous by the Israeli military, all made in the USA. He quoted the Red Cross, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on their reactions to the white phosphorous and the bombing of the U.N. schools, headquarters, food and medical supplies.

He spoke at length about the effects of the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the war crime that it is. Norman prefaced his remarks by defining the invasion of Gaza as a massacre. He pointed out that there were no battles since Hamas had no army in the same sense that Israel has an army. No Israeli war plane was shot down.

Norman asked that anyone present who wished to dispute anything he had to say to please come up and take the microphone. One student asked about the Marionites in Lebanon who asked for Israel's aid against those inside Lebanon who were attacking them. Norman spoke about the factions within Lebanon for a minute but said that was not the subject of his lecture and that in any case there is ample evidence that Israel was not interested in the general welfare of the Lebanese people. He invited the young man to continue the discussion of Lebanese political parties later which he did.

Visit Norman Finkelstein's website here.

To order books by Norman Finkelstein, go here.

The Rag Blog

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Dana Cloud : Identifying the Real David Horowitz

David Horowitz, a prominent neo-conservative writer, activist and founder of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, claims that UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union supports terrorism against Jews. Photo: Sandra Lee.

The McCarthyism That Horowitz Built: The Cases of Margo Ramlal Nankoe, William Robinson, Nagesh Rao, and Loretta Capeheart
By Dana Cloud / April 29, 2009

Earlier this month, the jury in Ward Churchill's civil trial against the University of Colorado found, in his favor, that the university had fired him because of critical remarks he made after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While Churchill awaits a hearing on his ongoing employment at the university, this victory is something to celebrate and replicate.

At the same time, however, the noxious weeds of the new McCarthyism have begun to bear bitter fruit around the country. Reports are coming in, not just about the better-known cases of harassment and firing of Norman Finkelstein (denied tenure at DePaul and banned from a speaking engagement at Clark College) or Joel Kovel (recently fired from his position as the Alger Hiss Chair of Social Studies at Bard College). Many readers will know the horrific case of Sami al-Arian, the University of South Florida professor jailed for five years without basis or charges for the suspicion of ties to terrorism.

Fewer people will know the names of four other targets of the Right's attack: Margo Ramlal-Nankoe, William Robinson, Nagesh Rao, and Loretta Capeheart. All four face harassment, threats, or potential removal from their jobs at their universities because they have criticized Israel, defended multiculturalism, and stood up as organized employees in defense of their rights as workers.

This rash of cases comes, not coincidentally, during an upsurge in college activism, from counter-recruitment demonstrations to the student occupation at NYU, from the struggle for gay civil rights to the demand to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel. University campuses have always been spaces for young activists and critical scholars to demand change.

This is why the Right is still holding on by its teeth to the flag of academic freedom. In a recent attack on me in The Wall Street Journal (whose editors clearly know who benefits from policing the academy), right-wing attack dog David Horowitz condemned the recent protest of his lecture at the University of Texas. Horowitz railed against me and other protesters as "little fascists." He claimed, in a bit of over-the-top self-aggrandizing drama, that because of his fear of people like me, he traveled with a (rather attractive) bodyguard named Floyd. (The only physical assault Horowitz ever "faced," so to speak, involved a cream pie.)

In his lecture, he spouted offensive nonsense: for example, that racism and sexism were not barriers to achievement, that renowned critical race scholars Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson were "buffoons" and third-rate intellects, that gender is entirely biological (and therefore so is women's inferiority at math), that Sami al-Arian is a terrorist, that support for Palestine is anti-Semitic, and so on.

He also used the podium to attack me as an alleged indoctrinator of students; when I rose during discussion to make the point that my activism is separate from my teaching and that he should respect students (about whom he is ostensibly so concerned) enough to know that they can think for themselves. This intervention was met with a diatribe, along with the accusation that my appearing so reasonable is a consequence of my skill at manipulation and deceit.

The protest and Horowitz's column have garnered opprobrium from both hard conservatives and liberals, who argue that confronting Horowitz and those of his ilk is an act of censorship. But if Joe McCarthy rose from the dead chanting "I have here a list" -- or in Horowitz's case, three books and a website -- would they shout him down before or after he ruined hundreds of people's lives and careers?

Those targeted by Horowitz, it seems, are expected to listen politely to his lies and distortions. However, left unchecked, the chilling climate that Horowitz and others have wrought is resulting in real damage to the lives and careers of talented scholars and conscientious teachers.

His state-by-state campaign for his Orwellian-named "Academic Bill of Rights" has prompted numbers of universities -- most recently the College of DuPage -- to adopt vaguely-worded and potentially repressive codes of conduct that could be deployed arbitrarily against faculty who teach from their own philosophical perspective or bring political matters into classrooms, even when relevant. AAUP President Cary Nelson called the decision "a disaster for education in a democratic society."

Why, as the ground is shifting under the Right and the country moves to the Left politically, are we seeing this proliferation of attacks on academic freedom?

John Wilson, founder of the Institute for College Freedom, explained, "The Right lost so badly that its representatives are looking for easy targets. They see the campus as a place where they can retrench," he said.

In addition, Wilson said that because state budgets are in currently in desperate shape, administrators of state universities see expendable targets in area studies (women's studies, labor studies, Middle-Eastern Studies, Latin-American Studies, African-American studies, and the like), roundly condemned by Horowitz as non-scholarly indoctrination factories. In reality, these are the programs fought for and won during the 1960s and 1970s that opened up universities to the voices of the marginalized.

The coming to fruition of a decades-long assault on academic freedom (in the name of academic freedom) is the context for the repression faced by critical and activist faculty today. Faculty who have spoken out against cuts in area studies, in defense of minorities and activists on campus, or as part of their union or other organizations are particularly at risk today, as are critics of the state of Israel.

Opposition to scholars who expose and critique the treatment of Palestinians by Israel has been front and center in the cases against Professors Margo Ramlal-Nankoe and William Robinson.

Margo Ramlal-Nankoe is an assistant professor seeking tenure in Ithaca College's Sociology Department. Her tenure process became a struggle when a small number of influential faculty and administrators began campaigning against her. She became a target of their negative campaign because she spoke out against sexual harassment within her department and challenged students and community members to think critically about US and Israeli policy in the Middle East. Ithaca College's Board of Trustees has denied Professor Ramlal-Nankoe tenure and she is scheduled to be fired on May 12th.

A tenured professor in her department revealed racism behind their decision as well: "We had little or no expectations of her; she is after all a woman of color," he wrote in a letter to the Sociology Tenure and Promotion Committee at Ithaca College in 2005.

Despite the campaign being waged against her, Professor Ramlal-Nankoe's tenure review file is full of glowing letters from her students and colleagues. The Chair of the Sociology Tenure and Promotion Committee summarized the content of the numerous letters of support Professor Ramlal-Nankoe received from her students: "Most students tell us that working with Dr. Ramlal-Nankoe has transformed their views, their life, and/or their plans for the future." The letters of support Professor Ramlal-Nankoe received from her peers also note her excellence. A typical faculty letter states that Professor Ramlal-Nankoe provides a, "superior example of pedagogy and of the teaching of traditional sociology."

With the evidence of such support, Professor Ramlal-Nankoe has concluded, "I believe the underlying basis for the violations against me stem from a discriminatory bias towards me, especially in regards to my political views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Violations of human rights and the subjected condition of the population in this area of the Middle East have long been a matter of concern in my teachings and other work. Faculty reactions to my involvement in activist organizations, such as Students for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine and Ithaca Finger Lakes Interfaith Committee for a Just Peace in the Israel/Palestine Conflict, have been extremely negative and problematic, both inside and outside of the Sociology Department."

Professor Ramlal-Nankoe's supporters have established a Facebook page for her case at www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=72989883399. Please write in protest to President@ithaca.edu.

Professor William I. Robinson, a Sociology and Global Studies professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been attacked by the Anti-Defamation League and two of his former students. In January of this year, he forwarded an email condemning the Israeli attacks on Gaza. The email was an optional read for students.

Within a week, the ADL wrote him a letter charging him with anti- Semitism and sundry violations of the Faculty Code of Conduct. The Academic Senate Charges Officer then notified him that two of he students in the class to which he circulated the email had filed complaints against him. Acting for all intents like a co-complainant of the students, the Officer fabricated additional charges not raised by the students.

The case against Williamson rests upon the assumption that any critique of Israel is evidence of anti- Semitism and that the Israeli-Palestinian issue should not be discussed in a class on globalization. These are nonsensical; a critique of Israel does not impugn Jewish people or Judaism, and of course the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a matter of concern for everyone interested in economic and political globalization. Proceeding with these charges serves only to sanction politically motivated attacks on academic freedom, including the freedom to criticize Israel. This case alongside others may chill those who wish to present controversial and critical subjects.

The charges have reached the Committee on Committees, which is now in the process of convening a committee to assess the complaints.

The campaign for Professor Robinson urges readers to 1) email the UCSB Chancellor and responsible authorities on campus to register your protest, and 2) sign the petition. Information and links are at sb4af.wordpress.com. Contact the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB at cdaf.ucsb@gmail.com.

Multicultural curriculum and diversity are at issuein the case of Nagesh Rao, an assistant professor and postcolonial scholar of English at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), a public liberal arts institution. The English department's personnel committee rejected his tenure application and has recommended that he be denied reappointment. Those close to the case believe that there are multiple political factors involved in dismissing a fine teacher and researcher who was meeting all stated requirements for promotion.

Since arriving at TCNJ four years ago, Professor Rao, who has a Ph.D. from Brown University, has taught courses that exposed students to world literatures and postcolonial studies. His students have consistently appreciated his classes for exposing them to knowledges that they would not otherwise have encountered. He is much respected and loved by his students for challenging them to think in new ways.

Similarly, Professor Rao's publication record has matched or exceeded the output of previous, successful applicants for tenure in his department. He arrived at TCNJ four years ago with an established record of publication and has since published two articles in peer-reviewed journals, edited a book of interviews with the late Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and developed a detailed book proposal. His review letter the previous year praised his accomplishments and put him on track towards tenure if he published another article in the following year. He did so. Yet, the English Department's Personnel Committee voted unanimously to deny tenure to Professor Rao.

The background for this decision is a dispute inside of the English department over the status of a multicultural literature course in the curriculum. Professor Rao chaired a group of faculty defending the course in a deeply divided department. The TCNJ student body is significantly diverse, but this diversity is not represented fully in the curriculum. Also troubling is the fact that Professor Rao is one of the few people of color on the Department of English faculty, and the only South Asian in a state with a significant South Asian population. The fate of the multicultural literature course, along with his career, hangs in the balance of this politically charged dispute.

Professor Rao seeks the appointment of a new, independent, and transparent committee to review his case. There is a petition in support of Professor Rao at thepetitionsite.com/1/defend-dr-nagesh-raos-tenure-and-reappointment-at-the-college-of-new-jersey. For more information: defendrao.wordpress.com.

If conservative administrators can't get away with openly firing critics of Israel and defenders of multiculturalism, they have another tactic at their disposal. Some university leaders are attacking outspoken faculty on the grounds that university employees have no free speech rights when it comes to criticizing their own institutions.

This argument epitomizes Northeastern Illinois University's harassment of justice studies Professor Loretta Capeheart, who has been targeted by her administration for her outspokenness for workers' rights in a 2004 faculty strike, her activism against the Iraq war, her defense of student protesters, and her arguments for increased representation of minority scholars at NEIU. In retaliation, she was denied merited awards and an appointment to chair of her department -- a position to which she was elected. NEIU Vice President Melvin Terrell publicly defamed Professor Capeheart, accusing her, without grounds, of stalking a student.

Professor Capeheart is suing Terrell for defamation, alongside NEIU's President and Provost for retaliation and violation of her constitutional right to free speech. Incredibly, the administrators' response argues that Professor Capeheart, as a state employee, may not sue the University or its officials, contravene their positions, question their conduct, or speak as a faculty member on matters of public concern.

Unfortunately, the administration has frightening legal precedent, according to the AAUP. The Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos held that state employees are not afforded first amendment protection if they are speaking on subjects relevant to their professional duties. When UC Irvine professor Juan Hong angered University administrators by opposing the replacement of tenure-track faculty by term lecturers, he was denied a merit salary increase. The Court ruled against Hong, citing Garcetti.

In March, the U.S. District Court Judge of the Northern Illinois District agreed to hear Loretta's case, despite the university's arguments that it was "futile" for her to claim any right to free speech. She awaits this hearing.

Supporters of Professor Capeheart ask that readers sign the petition supporting her at petitiononline.com/j4lc/petition.html. Please include your email in your signature comments for updates on the case.

From the 1964 free speech movement to today's anti-occupation organizations, campuses have always been places where struggles for justice break out. This potential might explain why, losing ground in politics and the economy, the Right seeks to maintain its grip on outspoken faculty and students. David Horowitz, Laura Ingraham, the Association of College Trustees and Alumni, and the like have played their assigned roles in fostering a new McCarthyism that has given rise to a series of witch-hunts against both prominent and emerging critical scholars and activists.

We cannot allow Zionism, racism, the attack on area studies and multiculturalism, or the violation of labor rights on our campuses to stand. We must call to account the administrations of Ithaca College, UCSB, The College of New Jersey, and Northeastern Illinois University. Professors Ramlal-Nankoe, Robinson, Rao, and Capeheart need your support. Their cases represent only a few of the many breaches of academic freedom coming to light in this moment. And we must fight on each and every one.

[Dana Cloud is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, University of Texas, Austin.]

Source / Monthly Review Zine

Thanks to Jeffrey Segal / The Rag Blog

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Honeybees Are Remarkable for Lots of Reasons

Honey bee nectaring on button willow.Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey, UC Davis Department of Entomology.

Let’s Hear It for the Bees
By Leon Kreitzman / April 28, 2009

Gardeners know that plants open and close their flowers at set times during the day. For example, the flowers of catmint open between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.; orange hawkweed follows between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.; field marigolds open at 9:00 a.m.

In “Philosophia Botanica” (1751), the great taxonomist Carl Linnaeus proposed that it should be possible to plant a floral clock. He noted that two species of daisy, the hawk’s-beard and the hawkbit, opened and closed at their respective times within about a half-hour each day. He suggested planting these daisies along with St. John’s Wort, marigolds, water-lilies and other species in a circle. The rhythmic opening and closing of the plants would be the effective hands of this clock.

Plants have carefully timed routines determined by internally generated rhythms. In 1729, Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, a French astronomer, put a Mimosa plant in a cupboard to see what happened when it was kept in the dark. He peeked in at various times, and although the plant was permanently in the dark its leaves still opened and closed rhythmically – it was as though it had its own representation of day and night. The plant’s leaves still drooped during its subjective night and stiffened up during its subjective day. Furthermore, all the leaves moved at the same time. It took another 230 years or so to come up with the term circadian – about a day – to describe these rhythms.

In a similar vein, tobacco plants, stocks and evening primroses release their scent as the sun starts to go down at dusk. These plants attract pollinating moths and night-flying insects. The plants tend to be white or pale. Color vision is difficult under low light, and white best reflects the mainly bluish tinge of evening light.

But plants cannot release their scent in a timely manner simply in response to an environmental cue, like the lowering of the light levels. They need time to produce the oils. To coincide with the appearance of the nocturnal insects, the plant has to anticipate the sunset and produce the scent on a circadian schedule.

Flowers of a given species all produce nectar at about the same time each day, as this increases the chances of cross-pollination. The trick works because pollinators, which in most cases means the honeybee, concentrate foraging on a particular species into a narrow time-window. In effect the honeybee has a daily diary that can include as many as nine appointments — say, 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees’ time-keeping is accurate to about 20 minutes.

The bee can do this because, like the plants and just about every living creature, it has a circadian clock that is reset daily to run in time with the solar cycle. The bee can effectively consult this clock and “check” off the given time and associate this with a particular event.

Honeybees really are nature’s little treasures. They are a centimeter or so long, their brains are tiny, and a small set of simple rules can explain the sophisticated social behavior that produces the coordinated activity of a hive. They live by sets of instructions that are familiar to computer programmers as subroutines – do this until the stop code, then into the next subroutine, and so on.

These humble little bees have an innate ability to work out the location of a food source from its position in relation to the sun. They do this even on cloudy days by reading the pattern of the polarization of the light, and pass this information to other bees. In the dark of the hive, they transpose the location of a food source in the horizontal plane through the famous “waggle” dance into communication in the vertical plane of the hive.

Honeybees can tell their sisters how far away the food is up to a distance of about 15 kilometers. For good measure, they can also allow for the fact that the sun moves relative to the hive by about 15 degrees an hour and correct for this when they pass on the information. In other words, they have their own built-in global positioning system and a language that enables them to refer to objects and events that are distant in space or time.

German scientists in the early part of the last century called this ability of bees to learn the time of day when flowers start secreting nectar and visit the flowers at appropriate times Zeitgedächtnis, or time-sense. But the species of flowers in bloom, say, this week, is likely to be replaced by a different species at a different location next week or the week after. The bee needs a flexible, dynamic appointments system that it continually updates, and it has evolved an impressive ability to learn colors, odors, shapes and routes, within a time frame, quickly and accurately.

While the initial dance by a returning scout bee informs her sisters of the location and distance of food plants and the quality of their nectar, bees that visit the food source learn to synchronize their behavior with daily floral rhythms, foraging only when nectar and pollen are at their highest levels. At other times, they remain in the hive, conserving energy that otherwise would be exhausted on non-productive foraging flights.

Although most animals, including humans, cannot sustain long-lasting periods of activity without circadian rhythms, honeybees have developed a marked flexibility in their circadian rhythm that depends on the job they are doing. Whereas a particular circadian determined behavior is usually fixed to a certain phase of the cycle, in honeybees the circadian rhythm is dependent on the job the bee is doing.

Adult worker bees perform a number of tasks in the hive when they are young, like caring for eggs and larvae, and then shift to foraging for nectar and pollen as they age. However, if the hive has a shortage of foragers, some of the young nurse bees will switch jobs and become foragers. The job transition, whether triggered by age or social cues, involves changes in genes in the honeybee brain; some genes turn on, while others turn off.

Young worker bees less than two weeks of age who typically nurse the brood around-the-clock display no circadian rhythms. Older workers (more than three weeks) typically perform foraging activities and have strong circadian rhythms that are needed for the time-compensated sun-compass navigation and timing visits to flowers.

Recent research in Israel has shown that when young worker bees are removed from caring for the brood and placed in individual cages, they rapidly show circadian rhythms in their behavior. Newly emerged bees isolated in individual cages typically show circadian rhythms in locomotor activity when at 3 days to 14 days old, ages at which most bees in the hive perform around-the-clock nursing activities as mentioned above. Older foragers who revert to nursing duties switch back to around-the-clock brood care activity similar to that of young nurses in typical colonies.

The molecular clockwork mechanism that produces the circadian rhythm works by a series of feedback loops in which the proteins produced by several genes feedback to repress their own production. It is a complicated system, but the end result is a near-24-hour cycling in the levels of various proteins that in turn result in the cycling of the secretion of hormones and other substances.

It seems that there is a plasticity, or flexibility, in the organization of this molecular clockwork mechanism in honeybees, and that the social factors that influence division of labor in honeybee colonies are important also for the regulation of this circadian mechanism. As there is mounting evidence for increased pathologies and deterioration in performance when around-the-clock activity is imposed on most animals, including humans, detailed study of the plasticity of the circadian organization in honeybees may provide pointers for ways for us to have our 24/7 cake and eat it.

Honeybees are remarkable not just for the organization of their circadian clockwork. James Gould of Princeton first studied bees as an undergraduate. It was his pioneering study that showed conclusively that Karl von Frisch, who won a Nobel Prize for elucidating the waggle dance, had been right in concluding that the dance was a means of conveying information.

Ironically, an allergy meant that Gould had to stop working directly with the creatures, but his respect for them is enormous. As he has pointed out:
When a human decides whether to recommend a restaurant, taking into account its menus, the tastes of the friend being advised, the cost of the food, the distance to the establishment, the ambience of the dining room, the ease of parking and all the other factors that enter into such a decision, we have little hesitation in attributing conscious decision-making to the calculation. When a small frenetic creature enclosed in an exoskeleton and sprouting supernumerary legs and a sting performs an analogous integration of factors, however, our biases spur us to look for another explanation, different in kind.

We have been exploiting honeybees for thousands of years by systematically robbing them of their honey. The least we can do is take proper care of these wondrous creatures. Instead we are killing them off in their billions through our befouling of their environment. The honeybee brain has only a million or so neurons, several orders of magnitude less than ours. It is a moot point as to whether humans or honeybees make the best use of their neuronal resource.



For a discussion about how bees know what to do, and when, see the appropriately titled paper by Pahl M., Zhu H, Pix W., Tautz J., Zhang S. “Circadian timed episodic-like memory – a bee knows what to do when, and also where ” J Exp Biol. 2007 Oct, 210(Pt 20):3559-67.

For circadian plasticity see Shemesh Y., Cohen M., Bloch G. “Natural plasticity in circadian rhythms is mediated by reorganization in the molecular clockwork in honeybees” FASEB J. 2007 Aug;21(10):2304-11.

James Gould quote from Gould, J. L. & Gould, C. G. (1999) “The Animal Mind.” W. H. Freeman, New York.

Source / New York Times

The Rag Blog

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Weather Report : Houston, We Have a Problem

Law and water. Houston, we have a problem.
The intense storms, the ravaging floods. . . these are but one aspect of climate change, and according to prominent scientists. . . this is precisely what is anticipated for the Houston area, and indeed, the East Texas region.
By Alyssa Burgin / The Rag Blog / April 29, 2009

For the last few days, it seems that every time I look at my inbox, I find another "breaking news" report from the Houston Chronicle, warning of another set of tornados, flash flooding, under water underpasses, electrical outages, and general weather havoc. Cohabitating in my inbox is a thread of discussion on a progressive political listserv in which numerous contributors continue to question the validity of climate change. The listserv originates in the Bayou City. Houston, we have a problem.

Posters debate what is not debatable, question science of which they have no knowledge, accept at face value that which they've heard on talk shows, and repeatedly, say that you have to make up your own mind on climate change, it's just not that certain that it's happening. The occasional voice of reason begs for reconsideration, but is dismissed for being willing to accept "propaganda."

For this apparent conundrum I have one thought -- look out your window. The intense storms, the ravaging floods, the frequency of all of it -- these are but one aspect of climate change, and according to prominent scientists like Dr. Ron Sass (Rice University), who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Dr. Richard Seager (Columbia University), who is with the prestigious Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, this is precisely what is anticipated for the Houston area, and indeed, the East Texas region.

While climate change will present symptoms of increased aridity in regions of Texas west of IH 35, it's predicted by the experts that all of East Texas will suffer the results in precisely the way they're experiencing them now. And in case you missed the reports that came out a few weeks ago from preliminary talks on climate change -- leading up to the Copenhagen meetings -- this is here to stay for at least a thousand years. Such are the wages of carbon "sin."

And what is on the "other side" of this argument? The fossil fuel industry, that's what, disguised as a think tank here, or concealed as a scientific expert there, all while receiving fat paychecks from the industry itself. It's the tobacco industry all over again, paying a handful of scientists to refute the obvious truth while thousands of scientists not so associated blew the proverbial whistle on the industry. Have we forgotten how that played out? If so, we're experiencing a repeat. Seems that the system has had a few leaks, however--even the industry's scientists were warning that climate change was for real, as Andrew Revkin recently wrote about in the New York Times.

The tragedy of it all is that as the industry's front groups continued to obfuscate the discussion about climate change, and specifically, about the role of emissions in the form of greenhouse gases, the point-of-no-return loomed closer and closer, and the masses remained unmoved, lulled into complacency by clever industry propaganda and a deliberate campaign to belittle those voices calling for action.

Houston is not my favorite city -- too much traffic, too much smog, too high a humidity, and too many hurricanes. But its residents, many lured by its rich artistic and cultural life, its melting-pot sense of opportunity for all, deserve the truth about climate change and its short-term and long-term effects on the city. Ringed by the very symbols of the fossil-fuel industry, it would suffer a very ironic fate were it to register high on the scale of victims of our drastically changing climate. That's what scientists are predicting for the nation's fourth-largest city, however -- and that's a problem for us all.

[Social activist and media consultant Alyssa Burgin lives in San Antonio. She blogs on climate change at anotherdayinwonderland.]

The Rag Blog

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Judy Gumbo Albert : Peoples' Park and Our Sixties Legacy

Art from Peoples' Park 35th anniversary celebration in Berkeley, April 25, 2009. Photo by Z / Bay Area Indymedia.

Berkeley's Peoples' Park Remembered and Zayd Dohrn’s play, Magic Forest Farm
I repeat this phrase, loudly and with more emphasis: 'Our politics have not changed.' Suddenly, with no conscious effort on my part, in an atavistic, Monty Pythonish gesture, my left arm -- and clenched fist -- shoot straight up in the air.
By Judy Gumbo Albert / The Rag Blog / April 29, 2009

[This is the second of two articles written for The Rag Blog by Judy Gumbo Albert, a founder of the Sixties countercultural protest group the Yippies, on recent activities in California commemorating the work of Sixties radicals. See her previous article here.]

Sunday around 3 p.m. I find myself in Berkeley’s People’s Park, in front of a crowd of at least 500 what, back in the day, we called hippies and freaks, letting their freak flags fly. Actually, the crowd was maybe 50% hippies and freaks, and the other 50 % just plain folks: men, women, children, neatly dressed students, Vietnam vets, homeless women and men, belly dancers, bongo drummers, black, white and multi-ethnic, one crowd, together, happy under the warm California sun. Sitting on remarkably well tended and clipped grass, with the unmistakable sweet odor of that other grass thick in the air. Just like I remember.

Building People’s Park led to Berkeley’s largest community uprising of 1969. And gave Ronald Reagan a platform on which to build his greed-driven, free-market, laissez-faire, capitalist-loving presidency -- whose upshot is, at least in part, the global financial crisis we suffer today. The economic “chickens” that Malcolm X first warned us about at the time of the Kennedy assassination have “come home to roost.”

In April 1969 a few thousand of us, including my late husband Stew Albert and I, along with many, many others, created a green, eco-before-it-was-fashionable community out of a muddy parking lot owned by the University of California. We dug the earth, laid sod, planted gardens, cooked food, played music, built stuff, and just enjoyed. There were no official or elected leaders, just strong personalities; most of us felt empowered to be our own leader, some of us ended up more “leadership” than others. Decisions (such as they were) were made by consensus (such as it was in those days). At least that’s what I recall.

Shortly after we seized the Park, the Berkeley police sealed it off with a barbed wire fence. Police and National Guard tear gassed the entire city, battled thousands of us in the streets, and, for the first time that I know of in the 1960s, used deadly force against white demonstrators, wounding 100 protestors and killing a young man named James Rector.

Forty years later, it’s easy to spot Michael Delacour. Mike, one of the Park’s originals, is always recognizable by his craggy face and long formerly black now silver hair falling way past his shoulders. He is, as far as I can tell, one of the unofficial keepers of the park’s flame.

He asks if I want to speak. How can I decline?

I start by quoting the Berkeley Liberation Program which a group of about 40 of us put together in an Oakland hotel because, in the immediate aftermath of the Park uprising, the City of Berkeley banned gatherings of more than a few people. Naturally, we model our program on the 10 point Platform and Program of the Black Panther Party. The people of Berkeley, I begin, passionately desire human solidarity, cultural freedom and peace. No reaction from the crowd. Not interested? Too stoned? Time to move on -- I’ll talk about Stew’s death. I urge anyone with Hepatitis C to get tested. I tell the story of how, two days before he dies, Stew asks me to type on his blog: “My politics have not changed.” I repeat this phrase, loudly and with more emphasis: “Our politics have not changed.” Suddenly, with no conscious effort on my part, in an atavistic, Monty Pythonish gesture, my left arm -- and clenched fist -- shoot straight up in the air.

It’s just like driving or riding a bike. There are some things you never forget.

I feel great. The crowd doesn’t exactly roar but at least I’ve caught their attention. Stewie would have been really happy.

Wavy Gravy is the event MC. By now his trademark clown outfit is a bit worn, yet he’s still the same kindly, funny person who used to unintentionally scare my young daughter if he turned in her direction. Which leads, in some roundabout, two degrees of separation way, to Zayd Dohrn’s play Magic Forest Farm, which I saw recently at the Marin Theatre Company. Zayd was born when his parents, Weather Underground folks Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, were underground. His play directly addresses the question: “How do kids raised in the shadow of the Sixties keep the parts of that experiment that were healthy -- the idealism, the hope, the courage -- while getting rid of the narcissism and silliness that had the potential to undermine it?”

How indeed? It turns out that some of our most cherished, countercultural values—”do your own thing,” dope, nudity, sexual experimentation—had, at least in Zayd’s fictional recreation of Magic Forest Farm, negative, dysfunctional consequences for some -- not all -- of the kids who lived there. I don’t doubt for a moment that the play speaks an inconvenient truth -- especially because, immediately after the play, I meet a total stranger in the woman’s bathroom who feels compelled to spill her story to me. The headline is that, as her mother lay dying, this woman was finally able to forgive her for raising her in such a commune.

As I recall, the women’s movement was just coming into full flower in Berkeley during People’s Park. We were not especially sympathetic to mothers of young children. Nor did it occur to us -- or me at least -- to empathize with the mothers of those teenagers we so warmly welcomed in People’s Park. The Free Speech Movement’s Jack Weinberg coined the phrase: “Don’t Trust Anyone Over Thirty” which morphed into Yippie leader Jerry Rubin’s “Kill Your Parents” -- a slogan which, Jerry later admitted, didn’t work because people thought he meant it literally. But symbolically Jack and Jerry were right -- to change the system and completely re-invent ourselves, we had to break from the repressive, war-mongering, right wing, dysfunctional values of our parent’s generation.

The kids of 1960’s parents I know today are terrific people. They are teachers, lawyers, parents, playwrights, writers, documentary film makers, professors, health care professionals, entrepreneurs. But there are also some who didn’t make it, kids who tragically ended up in jail or dead by their own hand. Despite all the humane, positive and progressive values we passed on to our children, our 1960’s activism also gave them difficult stuff to work through. And resent. And rebel against. This may be the moment when our 60’s generation’s chickens are coming home to roost in their own right.

I’m glad that Stew and I were able to pass our Yippie values to our daughter. I’m saddened if they caused her grief or harm in any way. Still and all, my politics have not changed.

[Judy Gumbo Albert was an original member of the 1960s countercultural protest group known as the Yippies --
along with Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, the journalist Paul Krassner, the folk singer Phil Ochs and her late husband Stew Albert who died on Jan. 30, 2006. Judy co-authored The Sixties Papers: Documents of a Rebellious Decade (Greenwood Press, 1984) and The Conspiracy Trial (Bobbs-Merrill, 1970). Her articles available online include "The Battle of Chicago," about the 1968 Democratic Convention, and "What Were Those 1960’s Terrorists Thinking Anyway," about the 1971 Mayday anti-war protests.

Albert currently lives in Berkeley and is writing her memoir titled Yippie Girl: My Remarkable Adventures with the Yippies, Black Panthers, North Vietnamese and Weathermen. Judy can be reached at yippiegirl@gmail.com or through her website yippiegirl.com.]

Also see Judy Gumbo Albert : It's 'Celebrate 60s Radicals' Week! by Judy Gumbo Albert / The Rag Blog / April 22, 2009.

The Rag Blog

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There Is More Than One Way to Interpret Ahmadinejad

On Ahmadinejad and Progressive Myopia
By Nima Shirazi / The Rag Blog / April 29, 2009

Please see links to previous Rag Blog posts on this subject, Below.
Whenever Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes a public appearance, the airwaves, papers, and Internet become flooded with outraged and self-righteous opinion pieces. He is called everything from “evil,” “racist,” a “blowhard” and a “hatemonger” to “ridiculous,” “ignorant,” “silly,” and a “clown.” His speeches are described as “diatribes,” “rants,” “screeds,” and “tirades.” Whereas this reaction is obvious and expected from those both in the mainstream media and on the Freedom Fries end of the political spectrum, these same epithets and denouncements are often found coming from a most surprising and disappointing source: so-called “liberals” who proudly identify themselves as anti-imperialist progressives.

Many recent critiques of Ahmadinejad’s speech at the Durban II conference in Geneva last week, written by peace activists and left-leaning analysts, have concluded that, even though the president may have uttered some painful and important truths, his understanding of Middle East history was reductionist, his speech poorly timed, and his words were, if twisted the wrong way by faulty analysis, an offensive, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying incitement to genocide.

This reaction is not new. The character of President Ahmadinejad himself has been consistently caricatured as some sort of Persian court jester by Western progressives: one who may speak truth to power, but who does so crudely and without requisite tact. These same progressives label him as the domineering leader of an oppressive regime and he is therefore deemed unsuited to voice the opinions of the Western anti-imperialist cause. Something about glass houses and stone-throwing follows, perhaps.

While these forward-thinking, long-time Cheney-haters have never been fooled by the bogus search for WMD or the torturific term “enhanced interrogation,” they seem to have a hard time believing that the country of Iran isn’t some Israel-threatening hotbed of hostile anti-American activity, lorded over by apocalypse-happy clerics, eagerly spinning centrifuges with the intent to destroy the Western world. This image of both the country of Iran and its current President is frustrating, and never more so when it comes from those who should be better informed and leading the fight against these very misconceptions and mischaracterizations. If the progressives among us don’t tell the truth, then who else will?

Yes, Ahmadinejad condemns Zionism. What is not explained in right-wing harangues or progressive criticism is that he views Zionism as a political ideology separate from Judaism, a distinction all informed people should make as well. He has consistently called for a free and fair referendum to determine the representative political structure of the whole population - a vote by all inhabitants of the land of historical Palestine. There is no call for the return of Palestinian land at the expense of Jews - only that justice be served and self-determination by the residents of the region be respected. He has never threatened Israel with military force or aggression (and isn’t even in a position to make such threats, considering he’s not Commander-in-Chief of the Iranian military). In fact, he attempted to quash constant accusations of the Iranian leadership’s anti-Semitism by telling Larry King last fall, “we don't have a problem with the Jewish people.” Ahmadinejad further clarified his government’s political position towards Israel during a press conference in September 2008: “We are opposed to the idea that the people who live there should be thrown into the sea or be burnt...We believe that all the people who live there, the Jews, Muslims and Christians, should take part in a free referendum and choose their government.”

It should also be made perfectly clear that Ahmadinejad does not condemn Israel for claiming to be a “Jewish” state. He believes that the decision to pick a political system should be left to the people who have to live under that system. He has stated that Iran will recognize and accept any resulting governmental system once it has been voted on openly.

The progressive left, when discussing Ahmadinejad’s position on these matters, often resorts to accusations of pot-calling-the-kettle-black-isms. It is dismissive to claim that no Iranian politician should have a problem with the ethnic or religious nature of the Israeli governmental system when Iran itself is an Islamic Republic. This can only be seen as hypocrisy by the uninformed. The Iranian Constitution, which came into force less than a year after the collapse of the Shah’s dictatorship by popular revolution, was adopted by national referendum. It established (in Chapter I, Article 1) the government of Iran as an Islamic Republic, a political system combining and integrating elements of both religious doctrine and representational democracy. The Constitution was approved by an estimated 98.2% of the Iranian voting population (and yes, that included women).

By contrast, Israel has never written or adopted a formal Constitution of any form. Israel’s own unilateral declaration of independence on May 14, 1948 stated that a constitution would be formulated and ratified by the state no later than October 1, 1948. The adoption of a democratic constitution was also a requirement of the General Assembly Resolution 181, which even supported the establishment of a “Jewish” state. Nevertheless, no constitution was ever drawn up, voted on, or adopted. Instead, Israeli constitutional law has been established piecemeal over time by Knesset-approved legislation that gained legal ascendancy by a Supreme Court ruling in 1998. These “Basic Laws,” which establish the roles of various governmental institutions and offices and affirm certain human rights to its citizenry (including the ironically named, “Freedom of Occupation”), have never been subject to popular vote or referendum by the Israeli people, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. And this is what people call the great democracy in the Middle East?

The Iranian Constitution, on the other hand, established a governmental system that was approved by the overwhelming majority of the population of that country. Iranians were not colonized or made to accept a system with which they disagreed or that would endanger their lives. Did Native Americans or African slaves get a vote regarding the US Constitution, which holds non-whites to be valued as less than a whole person and affirms the continuation of slavery, or Manifest Destiny that saw the genocide of tens of millions of people? I don't believe that Black South Africans voted for Apartheid. As such, progressives should all agree that many laws set up by colonial governments, such as Israel’s “Law of Return,” are, at the core, racist and unrepresentative.

Is Iran a perfect bastion of freedom of expression and human rights? No, certainly not. But to claim that criticism of another country must be in direct proportion to the troubles or issues facing your own country is an absurd concept. Were that the case, Barack Obama, the current embodiment of the US government, shouldn't ever open his mouth regarding anything having to do with a just foreign policy, the rule of international law, or anything else, ever. It is the US that is currently occupying two foreign countries and that has over 700 military bases overseas. It is bankrolling and supporting Israeli aggression, occupation, and continued colonialism and expansionism. Black kettles, anyone?

There is also umbrage taken at Ahmadinejad’s condemnation of the Zionist movement in Palestine - a movement that preceded World War II and the Holocaust by decades. In his Durban speech, critics argue, Ahmadinejad condenses history so as to ignore the anti-imperial elements of the pre-state Zionist militias and assigns blame to the fledgling United Nations for validating Jewish nationalism only after World War II. Personally, I do not believe that President Ahmadinejad arrived in Switzerland with the intent of giving a lengthy history lesson. Nor do I believe that his historical analysis is simplistic or reductionist. Speaking at the UN conference, Ahmadinejad discussed the UN’s role in displacing over 750,000 indigenous people from their land and the immorality and injustice of using the horrors of the Holocaust to justify such deliberate ethnic cleansing. The bombing of the King David Hotel by Irgun occurred after the Holocaust. The 1947 Partition Plan came after the Holocaust. The Deir Yassin massacre came after the Holocaust. The Nakba came after the Holocaust; this is what Ahmadinejad refers to in his speech. Since the Western powers did not support the Zionist cause before World War II, it is clear that pre-State Zionism is irrelevant to Ahmadinejad’s point.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, in his critique of Ahmadnejad’s speech, ascribes reductionism and error to the Iranian President’s truncated description of history. He claims that the Arab aversion to the implementation of Zionism in Palestine was a “misunderstanding,” explaining that “Palestinians saw the Jews as an invading force that would uproot their own Arab society. Yet most Jews coming to Palestine were fleeing oppression, and simply could not understand how Palestinians would view them as agents of a Christian West.” This viewpoint as presented by Lerner clouds the truth, intentionally or not, about Zionist thought from the very beginning.

As far back as 1898, Theodor Herzl recognized that, in order to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, the Arabs who were living there would have to be removed. He proposed the following solution for such an inconvenient indigenous population:
“We shall try to spirit the penniless population (i.e. Arab) across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our own country.”

Israel Zangwill, the sloganeer behind “The land without a people for a people without a land,” also knew full well that Palestine was already inhabited. “There is, however, a difficulty from which the Zionist dare not avert his eyes, though he rarely likes to face it. Palestine proper has already its inhabitants,” he wrote in the Voice of Jerusalem in 1904. “The Pashalik of Jerusalem is already twice as thickly populated as the United States, having fifty-two souls to every square mile, and not 25 percent of them Jews; so we must be prepared either to drive out by the sword the tribes in possession as our forefathers did, or to grapple with the problem of a large alien population, mostly Mohammedan [i.e. Muslim].”

Vladmir Jabotinsky, in his 1923 Zionist manifesto, The Iron Wall, spoke directly to Lerner’s erroneous claims when he wrote,
“…there has never been an indigenous inhabitant anywhere or at any time who has ever accepted the settlement of others in his country…And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs…We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.”

Jabotinsky continues,
“Every native population in the world resists colonists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonized…Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population…As long as there is a spark of hope that they can get rid of us, they will not sell these hopes, not for any kind of sweet words or tasty morsels, because they are not a rabble but a nation, perhaps somewhat tattered, but still living. A living people makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions only when there is no hope left.”

To claim that peaceful coexistence was the goal of Jewish nationalism is to rewrite history in order to assuage the consciences of those who regret the consequences of colonialism but insist on justifying it anyway.

Furthermore, in his article regarding the Durban II speech, Steve Weissman writes, “If we follow Ahmadinejad’s logic, as many in Hamas now do, we must fight to undo over 60 years of history, and that will be a fight to the death. The call to eliminate the State of Israel, while not explicitly a call to kill Israelis or other Jews, will sound to them as an incitement to genocide, and they will fight it without mercy.”

Sound to “them”? It appears that Mr. Weissman may hold more contempt for the Palestinian and Arab intellect than Jabotinsky. First of all, Ahmadinejad is not the leader of Palestinian resistance. Hamas certainly does not take its cues from his speeches. But it is also important to realize that Ahmadinejad’s words do not inflame the Muslim people of the Middle East, they enrage the white people of the West, those who boycott or leave international conferences without even a hint of embarrassment. In fact, the prior agreement by European delegates to walk out at the first mention of “Israel” proves that these undignified dignitaries would have missed anything he wound up saying anyway and wouldn’t have taken a lengthier, more nuanced discussion any more to heart. It is not that the historical and current reality isn’t known well enough; it’s that the imperial powers in support of the ongoing Israeli Occupation and aggression simply don’t care.

Some critics, such as Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, have accused Ahmadinejad of bad timing, delivering this particular speech at a time when American and Iranian relations may finally be rekindled. These analyses tend to focus more on the eagerness of Israeli leaders to attack Iran, using as an excuse Iran’s wholly legal nuclear energy program and the repetition of the mistranslation of Ahmadinejad’s supposed threat to “destroy Israel,” than on Ahmadinejad’s speech itself. These critics appear to blame Ahmadinejad for not kowtowing to US and Israeli rhetoric and capitulating to its demands in the face of grave and imminent danger posed by two nuclear-armed states. How is this Ahmadinejad’s problem? Is truth supposed to tremble in the face of adversity? This argument infers that the illegal threat of attack or annihilation should silence all debate, thereby entirely subverting even the most basic of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist ideologies.

Additionally, it clear that Israeli leaders are not interested in establishing peaceful relations with their immediate Arab neighbors, let alone with Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity afforded to him by misrepresenting Ahmadinejad’s speech to state that any renewed peace talks with Palestinian leaders was contingent on the removal of the “Iranian nuclear threat.” Meanwhile, Iranian leaders speak only of the need for “mutual respect and justice” and the upholding of international law in order to resume diplomacy. And yet, which nation does the United States call upon to unclench its fist?

The Iranian Constitution is quite clear with regards to international relations, explicitly stating that “the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based upon the rejection of all forms of domination, both the exertion of it and submission to it, the preservation of the independence of the country in all respects and its territorial integrity….” The document forbids any agreement that may result in foreign control over the natural resources, economy, military, or culture of Iran and affirms Iran’s commitment of “non-alignment with respect to the hegemonic superpowers and the maintenance of mutually peaceful relations with all non-belligerent States.”

Furthermore, the Constitution declares that, “The Islamic Republic of Iran has as its ideal human felicity throughout human society, and considers the attainment of independence, freedom, and rule of justice and truth to be the right of all people of the world. Accordingly, while scrupulously refraining from all forms of interference in the internal affairs of other nations, it supports the just struggles of the oppressed against the oppressors in every corner of the globe.”

Thus, to allow the threat of Israeli aggression or potential of renewed American diplomacy to muzzle him, President Ahmadinejad would have done a great disservice to himself, his government, the Iranian people, their Revolution and their Constitution.

The tone of much progressive criticism of Ahmadinejad’s speech seems to say, "He should've been more tactful… It's unhelpful to say things so bluntly… He should be more understanding, more wishy-washy, less specific, more diplomatic." Pardon me, but when did outrage over injustice have to be nicely stated? Ahmadinejad should be "nicer" when speaking out about the murderous policies of the US and Israel while Iran hasn't threatened or attacked any other country in centuries? Why is it Ahmadinejad’s responsibility gently walk on eggshells when addressing a room full of historic and current colonialists, occupiers, militarists, and imperialists, who consistently attempt to degrade him by namecalling? This smacks more of Western Caucasian apologia than progressive tenderness and tact. If you're not furious about what Israel is doing on a daily basis, then you're not paying attention. Well, Ahmadinejad is paying attention and he doesn't feel compelled to coddle the European (and American) imperialists who brought the world to this point, the same people who supported the repressive tyranny of the Shah's dictatorship in Iran.

Are these critics truly suggesting that the Iranian guy in the room should practice deferential diplomacy with Western powers? Is he their butler? The elected president of a country whose democratic government was aggressively overthrown by a CIA coup at the bidding of Britain, an historically imperial and colonial country, should be sensitive to the delicate sensibilities of the Western governments that have demonized and ostracized that country for thirty years? Why should imperialists be handled with kid gloves? So that their delegates won't storm out in a pre-planned huff like so many frustrated toddlers?

At the end of his critique, Weissman writes, “One final question: Should we join Ahmadinejad in calling the Israelis ‘racist perpetrators of genocide?’ I would not. The long-standing Israeli policy of seeking ‘more land and fewer Arabs’ is horrendous. But it is not genocide, at least not until Avigdor Lieberman has his way. And it is not essentially racial, but increasingly religious, denying people first-class citizenship because they do not share the dominant faith or identity. To me, that is every bit as pernicious as racism, whether in Israel or any number of Islamic countries.”

When it was founded in 1948, the United Nations defined genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Is this really such an outlandish description of what Palestinians have been subjected to for the past hundred years and what continues to befall them on a daily basis? Thoughts of cancer patients denied travel permits and mothers forced to go into labor at West Bank checkpoints, as well as the hundreds upon hundreds of slaughtered innocents in Gaza just four months ago, prove the point quite easily.

Also, is the “Islamic racism,” mentioned by Weissman, intended to implicate Iran? If so, he should elaborate. Even Ayatollah Khomeini, whom progressives still love to demonize as an extremist and a zealot, always made a strong distinction between Judaism and Zionism. When Khomeini returned from exile in 1979, he met with representatives of Jewish communities and issued a religious decree, ensuring the safety and protection of Jews in Iran during and after the coming Revolution.

President Ahmadinejad’s speech at Durban II doesn’t really need my defending. His words speak for themselves. However, when progressive commentators treat Ahmadinejad as a pariah, they wind up speaking for the very imperialists they’re supposed to be opposing.

There’s already plenty of propaganda out there. I think it’s time for a little truth.

[Nima Shirazi is a writer and a musician. He was born and raised in Manhattan. Now living in Brooklyn, he writes the weblog Wide Asleep In America under the moniker Lord Baltimore. He can be reached at wideasleepinamerica@gmail.com.]

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