30 November 2010

David Bacon : Students 'Sin Papeles' Work for DREAM Act

Latino students at the University of Virginia hold a silent march to support the DREAM Act. Photo courtesy Latino Student Alliance / University of Virginia.

'sin papeles' defy deportation,
urge Congress to support DREAM Act

By David Bacon / The Rag Blog / November 30, 2010
See "DREAM Act supporters arrested at Texas Senator Hutchison's office," Below.
OAKLAND, California -- This week, if Senator Harry Reid keeps his word, Congress may get a chance to vote on the DREAM Act. First introduced in 2003, the bill would allow undocumented students graduating from a U.S. high school to apply for permanent residence if they complete two years of college or serve two years in the U.S. military. Estimates are that it would enable over 800,000 young people to gain legal status, and eventual citizenship.

A vote in Congress would be a tribute to thousands of these young "sin papeles," or people without papers . For seven years they've marched, sat-in, written letters and mastered every civil rights tactic in the book to get their bill onto the Washington, DC agenda.

Many of them have given new meaning to "coming out" -- declaring openly their lack of legal immigration status in media interviews, defying authorities to detain them. Three were arrested last May, when they sat-in at the office of Arizona Senator John McCain, demanding that he support the bill, while defying immigration authorities to come get them. T

hey were, in fact, arrested and held in detention overnight. Then a judge recognized the obvious. These were not "aliens" who might flee if they were released from detention, but political activists who were doing their best not only to stay in the country, but to do so as visibly as possible.

Reid owes his tiny margin of victory in Nevada's election to an outpouring of Latino votes. Since he announced he'd bring the bill to the floor of Congress, more students have begun a hunger strike at the University of Texas in Austin. They insist they won't eat until Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson renounces her opposition to the DREAM Act. First their fast spread to campuses across Texas. Then students in other parts of the country announced they too would act when Reid calls the bill up for a vote.

But the DREAM Act campaigners have done more than get a vote in Washington, no matter how that may turn out. They've learned to use their activism to stop deportations. Further, they did this in an era when more people have been deported -- 400,000 last year alone -- than ever before in this country's history. To highlight the connection between the bill and their challenge to the rising wave of deportations, four undocumented students walked for weeks from Miami to Washington in protest.

In the process, they learned the lesson the civil rights movement of the 60s' taught activists of an earlier generation: Congress and Washington's political class can be forced to respond to social movements outside the capitol. When those movements grow and make themselves felt, they can win legislation, and even more. People in the streets can change the conditions in their own communities. DREAM Act activists, by stopping deportations even in the absence of Congressional action, have made possible what political insiders held to be impossible.

Fredd Reyes. Photo from Facebook.

Fredd Reyes is living proof. This week he came back to North Carolina for Thanksgiving. He was picked up last September as he was studying for exams at Guilford Technical Community College, and taken first to the North Georgia Detention Center, and then to the Stewart Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. Fredd's parents fled the massacres of Guatemala counter-insurgency war of the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan gave guns to that country's military, which they then turned on indigenous communities seeking social justice. Fredd was a toddler then.

DREAM Act students mobilized, and got Fredd sprung loose.

Jennifer Abreu had her Thanksgiving in Kentucky. She came to the U.S. with her parents when she was 13. She graduated from Lafayette High School in Lexington, where she became an activist, performed Brazilian and Colombian dances at fiestas and dreamt of life as a journalist. ICE picked her up, but a campaign by DREAM Act students and their supporters set her free too.

And in San Francisco, activists won freedom for Shing Ma "Steve" Li, a nursing student at San Francisco Community College. Immigration authorities detained him on September 15, igniting a lightening effort to stop his deportation. As the DREAM Act moved closer to a vote in Congress, he also became a living symbol for the national campaign to pass the bill.

Shing Ma "Steve" Li. Photo from America's Voice.

Li's predicament was dramatic and unusual. His parents emigrated from China to Peru, where Li was born. They later came to the U.S., where their petition for political asylum was denied. That made Li an undocumented immigrant, although as he went through San Francisco public schools, he had no knowledge of his status.

Last year, however, as the net of immigration enforcement was cast more widely than ever, Li and his mother were arrested. She was bailed out of detention, and now awaits deportation to China. But Steve Li was shipped to a detention center in Florence, Arizona, from which he would have been flown to Peru, where he was born. He has no relatives or family connections there at all.

John Morton, director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, told the media that picking up students for deportation was at the bottom of the government's priority list. "So why are they nabbing highly-motivated students? Why has Steve been in jail for the past 60 days?" asked Sang Chi, Li's Asian American studies instructor last year, at a rally on Li's behalf.

The union for teachers at the community college, AFT Local 2121, became part of a broad effort to win Li's release before he was put on the plane to South America. The case became a cause célèbre for the Asian Law Caucus, the Chinese Progressive Association, and other organizations in the city's Asian community. The city Board of Supervisors and the college's Board of Trustees both passed resolutions opposing the deportation. "We've made over 1,000 calls," Daniel Tay, a fellow nursing student who emigrated from Peru two years ago, told reporter Rupa Dev.

Finally, Senator Diane Feinstein introduced a private bill that would grant Li permanent residence status. Li was then freed by ICE, and returned to San Francisco. His freedom is not permanent, however, but lasts for just 75 days following the end of the current Congressional session.

Private bills granting an individual legal status are rarely passed. Of the 29 introduced by Feinstein since 1997, only four have passed, and in the anti-immigrant climate of the incoming Congress, passage of Li's bill is unlikely.

For Li and his supporters, however, although they're grateful that he's not in Lima, the private bill is not the answer. "As long as I'm here and able to use my voice and help myself and all those people in the same situation, I don't feel like it's a countdown," he told reporter Jessica Kwong. "It's just one step closer toward the Dream Act." Recalling the other young people he met in the Arizona detention center, he said, "their stories and faces will be with me for the rest of my life."

Without passage of the DREAM Act, "thousands of students are threatened with deportation, which is a tremendous waste of resources," says Kent Wong, vice-president of the California Federation of Teachers, director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, and one of the national organizers of the DREAM Act campaign.

Many undocumented students, however, can't get into colleges although they've graduated from U.S. high schools with excellent grades, because they're either barred directly by lack of legal status, or can't qualify for the financial aid that other students can receive. Undocumented students come overwhelmingly from working-class families.

When it was originally written, the bill would have allowed young people to qualify for legalization with 900 hours of community service, as an alternative to attending college, which many can't afford. However, when the bill was introduced, the Pentagon pressured to substitute military for community service. Many young activists are torn by this provision.

Conscientious objector Camilo Mejia. Photo from American Documentary.

Camilo Mejia, the first GI who served in Iraq to have publicly resisted the war, was imprisoned for almost a year for refusing to go back. Mejia says the country already uses a "poverty draft" to fill the military with young people who have no jobs and no money for higher education.

In a debate on Democracy Now!, he said, "[The military is] in a position to offer to the vast majority of these 65,000 [immigrant] students who graduate every year, to say, 'Come over here. We will teach you English. We will give you housing. We'll give you a steady paycheck. We'll give you all these things, if you serve in the military.'"

Rishi Singh, of Desis Rising Up and Moving, added "many of our families can't afford to send us to college. And, you know, for many of our young people, there would be no other choice but to join the military."

Debating him, undocumented former student Gabriela Pacheco said, "with the conditional residency, you are going to be able to work. Students might be able to find ways to cost and pay for their college and university."

Mexicanos Sin Fronteras in Chicago argues that
"undocumented youth are in an increasingly desperate situation... With legal status as a goal, many who otherwise might have dropped out of school could be motivated to graduate and enroll in college... Instead let's educate the youth about the injustice of these imperial wars and the historical government practice of putting the poorest and most disenfranchised youth on the front lines. Let's encourage and support them in choosing the college option.
Like many DREAM Act supporters, the California Federation of Teachers has called for reinstatement of the community service provision. But it supports the Act regardless. "The Federal Dream Act will establish the important principle that undocumented students can no longer be assigned to a second-class, inferior status and must be treated with respect and dignity," says a resolution adopted by the union in 2009.

"We have to remember that for every case like Steve Li's, there are hundreds of other young people who are deported," emphasizes Local 2121 President Alisa Messer. "These are our students. They're doing everything we want young people to do. So we have to fight for their ability to get an education, to support their families, and to participate in society. They're American kids."

Many immigrant rights activists also view the DREAM Act as an important step towards a more basic reform of the country's immigration laws. It would not only help students to stay in school, but by giving them legal status, give them the ability to work and use their education after graduation.

Luis Perez, for instance, the son of working-class parents in Los Angeles, will graduate from UCLA's law school this year and take the bar exam in January. But after that, without legalization, he won't be able to work. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act says employers may only hire workers who are citizens or who have visas that give them "work authorization."

The DREAM Act could resolve this problem for undocumented young people graduating from college. But it also highlights the same problem for millions of other undocumented workers who would not be affected by the bill. Twelve million undocumented people live in the U.S., and almost all of them work for a living.

The same wave of enforcement that led to the deportation of 400,000 people last year is also targeting undocumented people in the workplace. Thousands of workers have been fired for lack of legal status, and many have even gone to prison because they invented Social Security numbers in order to get a job. Unscrupulous employers have used their lack of status to threaten and terminate workers who protest illegal conditions or try to organize unions.

Arizona's law requiring police to stop and hold for deportation any person without legal immigration status is another example of the impact of the immigration enforcement wave -- growing cooperation between law enforcement and immigration authorities. That cooperation produced many of the hundreds of thousands of people detained and deported last year alone.

Ending that enforcement program would also require a more extensive immigration reform. So would a real effort to get at the roots of forced migration -- the military interventions, trade agreements and pro-corporate policies that uproot communities in other countries, and make migration a matter of survival.

Yet the DREAM Act students have shown that fighting detention and deportation is possible. As they've marched and demonstrated, they've pointed out over and over that stopping the enforcement wave and changing immigration law are so connected that one can't be fought without fighting for the other. In the end, the basic requirement for both is the same -- a social movement of millions of people, willing to take to the streets and the halls of Congress.

[David Bacon is a writer and photojournalist based in Oakland and Berkeley, California. He is an associate editor at Pacific News Service, and writes for Truthout, The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications. His documentary photography has been exhibited widely. His latest book is Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. This article was also published at Truthout.]
Student on hunger strike at UT Pan American in Edinburg, Texas, speaks out in support of the DREAM act. Image from KVEO NBC 23.

Dream Act
supporters arrested
at Texas Senator Hutchison's office

SAN ANTONIO -- More than a dozen UTSA [University of Texas at San Antonio] students are under arrest for trespassing at Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's district office during a protest in support of the Dream Act.

The magistrate's office had custody of the 16 protesters Tuesday morning. They were booked for criminal trespassing.

They stuck like glue to her office, and they would have stayed there until police took them away. The group included an ex-city council member, a professor and students. They want the senator to support the Dream Act, which paves the way to citizenship for undocumented students.
Cops first arrested the group of ten that formed a human chain in the hallway, and then made their way to the senator's office, where six protesters were engaged in a sit-in.

"These students made a major sacrifice," protester Joel Settles said. "They started the hunger strike 21 days ago." ...

-- Noelle Gardner / KENS 5
The Rag Blog

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Carl Davidson : Bearing Witness at the School of the Americas

Top: photo from Keep on Keepin' On. Below: photo by Linda Panetta / SOA Watch.

Bearing witness to torture and murder
at Fort Benning’s School of the Americas

By Carl Davidson / The Rag Blog / November 30, 2010

FORT BENNING, Georgia -- The annual School of the Americas Watch vigil and procession is a unique and powerful event in America political life

Going on for 20 years now, the mobilization against the training of torturers and killers in Fort Benning, Georgia, is part peace mobilization, part solidarity with Latin America event, part religious pageant, part public face of the Catholic left, and part gathering of the tribes for newly radicalized youth.

The gathering draws thousands of people, including nuns and priests, veterans and labor organizers, along with other peace and solidarity activists. They all come for a two-day creative mixture of diverse events that leaves everyone politically transformed and emotionally peaked.

This year’s event was no different. Over the weekend of Nov 19-21, close to 5,000 people took part is a series of colorful and dramatic actions. Thirty were arrested and held several days by police. Four of these were arrested after intentionally committing civil disobedience by climbing over a fence topped with barbed wire at the entrance to Fort Benning. Others were arrested for simply straying off a sidewalk in an attempt to march to downtown Columbus. Local courts imposed heavy fines and maximum sentences.

Why is the U.S military training torturers and death squads? The answer is an old one: wealth, power, and intimidated, non-union labor.

“For the past several decades, the U.S. has allied with dictators in Latin America who helped that region’s small, elite group of wealthy landowners,” said SOAW founder Father Roy Bourgeois, a Louisiana native, who lives just outside the gates of the school in Fort Benning where he carries on his work.

“We got involved militarily with these countries because they were rich in natural resources, with coffee in Colombia, bananas in Central America, copper in Chile, petroleum in Venezuela, and tin in Bolivia. With their militaries, the U.S. joined with them to exploit those natural resources and to pay workers $1 a day. There were no labor laws there,” Bourgeois noted. “We were like the new conquistadors.”

The high point of the weekend was the Sunday procession of thousands, each carrying a white cross with the name of a slain Latin American peasant, worker or child, and a number of priests and nuns, including Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, slain by those trained in Fort Benning’s SOA facility.

Teams of singers mournfully sang the names and ages, and after each one, everyone raised their crosses, and answered with the classic salute of the living to those who have fallen in battle: “Presente!

The procession lasted for hours as the column of mourners bearing crosses of the dead walked from the front of the stage up one side of the street to the police barriers and back down the other side of the street to the back of the stage. There they placed the crosses into the chain link fence blocking the entrance to the military base.

Many mourners cried. Some raised their fists. Some knelt in prayer or meditation as the singing of the names and the chant of “Presente!” continued. Behind the stage a theatre group staged a scene of murdered members of a religious order, their bodies spattered with blood. Others snapped pictures or stood quietly.

As soon as a young man approached the fence military loudspeakers surrounding the entire area blared a recorded message asserting that the military base was a legal entity and operated under the U.S. Constitution and that crossing onto base property was a federal crime.

Cheering and applause roared up as the young man climbed the fence, crossed the barbed wire top, and dropped onto the grass. Before he could reach the second fence he was apprehended and cuffed by the military police. On the east side of the street up the hillside crowds of neighborhood residents stood silently in their yards observing the ceremony of remembrance.

Over its 59 years of existence, the SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering. It has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, and interrogation tactics.

Among those targeted are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into being refugees.

“I am a different person, and so is everyone else who confronted this evil,” said Randy Shannon from Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Randy is a national committee member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. “We walked in a procession singing out the name of each and every one of the thousands of Latin American men, women, and children, mostly working people and their spiritual brothers and sisters. It was a remembrance of their loss and our shame.”

The School of the Americas Watch team had the area well organized. A strikingly decorated stage was constructed near the double barbed wire topped fences blocking the entrance to Fort Benning. The stage was at the foot of a 10-block-long section of a street that was had been blocked off by police. The wide corridor with tall loudspeakers stationed every few blocks, provided excellent acoustics.

Homes of local residents were on one side of the corridor, and many had food concessions on their lawns. On the other side of the street was a chain link fence, against which a long line of booths for political groups and vendors were arrayed. On the other side of the chain link fence was a grassy area patrolled by military and local police.

Before long, the buses start arriving. They came from across the South and the Midwest, up to Minnesota, down to Florida, and out to Nebraska. A good number were from small Catholic colleges and universities, and loads of students, along with the nuns, monks, and priests who taught them, unloaded with smiles and excitement at being there.

Photo by Linda Panetta / SOA Watch.

"As an activist since the 1960s,” said Atlanta’s Jim Skillman, “I find it intoxicating to be in the midst of so many justice-minded young people." A Vietnam veteran, Skillman had joined SDS at Georgia State after leaving the army in 1967, and has been a dedicated labor, peace, and human rights organizer ever since.

Other veterans started showing up in batches. They gathered around the Courage to Resist table, a group of today’s Iraq and Afghan vets. They were featuring a display defending Private Bradley Manning who faces 50 years in prison for being a whistleblower, leaking information about war crimes in Iraq.

A variety of religious forces also began arriving. A group of Presbyterians unfurled a banner. A group of Buddhist monks of Nipponzan Myohoji, Atlanta Dojo walked more than 100 miles as a walking prayer to "Close the SOA." They averaged 15 miles per day, staying in churches or supporters' homes. .

A major undercurrent during the weekend was a building tension with the police, military security, and the FBI, who were all present in force. The strategy of the SOA and local authorities is apparently to find every possible minor transgression to crack down hard on participants, to impose quick and severe penalties for planned civil disobedience, and where no problems exists, to use undercover agents provocateurs to create division and trouble.

The Columbus city police headed the security preparations this year, assisted by the Muscogee County sheriff’s and marshal’s offices, Fort Benning’s own military police force, and a number of undercover agents disguised as protesters.

The agents provocateurs were focused on a planned march to take the SOA Watch protest into downtown Columbus on Saturday afternoon. At a meeting the night before, three individuals kept egging people into the streets. When challenged as to who they were, they then faded away. The next day when the march did take place, a number of the crowd stepped off the sidewalk and into the street at one point. According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:
Lauren Stinson, an undercover agent with the Metro Narcotics Task Force, testified Sunday that she participated in two meetings with SOA Watch protesters as they planned to step onto Victory Drive Saturday afternoon. All but one of the 22 arrested were found guilty, an SOA Watch organizer said. Stinson followed the group of about 12 people into the southbound lane around 4:45 p.m., blocking traffic and being rounded up with the others on charges including obstruction of a highway and unlawful assembly. Stinson was put in the back of a patrol car and taken to the Muscogee County Jail, but wasn’t arrested. She testified before Columbus Recorder’s Court Judge Michael Cielinski in some of the 22 cases the judge heard Sunday afternoon.
When defense attorneys tried to question Agent Stinson on the stand to learn more about her team’s operation, the judge ruled that she didn’t have to answer, and she didn’t. For the minor incursion of stepping into the street, each protester was hit with $5000 in bail and six month jail terms.

“Many of these tactics are not new,” said Jake Olzen of the SOA Watch team.
What is new, however, is the intensity, preparation, and specific targeting used by law enforcement authorities to discredit the movement’s legitimacy through the use of scare tactics and deterrence. For example, the Columbus Police department had photographs and lists of members of the SOA Watch Legal Collective and were specifically targeting these individuals because of their capacity as organizers and their ability to offer legal support. Charity Ryerson, a former SOA Prisoner of Conscience and Georgetown University law student, was specifically sought out and arrested for her role as an organizer.
Sunday morning began with a march of about 100 veterans, followed by music from the stage, mixed with appeals for bail money for those arrested the day before.

Bob King -- the newly elected president of the United Auto Workers --
has been at the SOA Watch protest many times, and has led a U.S. trade union delegation to El Salvador. This year he was a featured speaker, and took part in the procession with his daughter.

“The SOA has a terrible history,” said King from the stage. “Its graduates were involved in some of the worst human rights abuses in South and Central America including the assassination of Archbishop Romero and six Jesuits priests at the University of Central America in San Salvador. Those of us who have democratic rights must be a voice for those less fortunate who do not have a voice because of the terrorism they face."

A speaker from Resistencia in Honduras also detailed some of the atrocities carried out by the Micheletti and Lobo regimes since the June 28 coup. The new Wikileaks exposes may well reveal a less-than-neutral hand by the Obama administration.

Father Roy Bourgeois, when he spoke from the stage, tied the arrests and undercover police efforts over the weekend to the wider efforts by the FBI to target antiwar and solidarity activists with grand jury subpoenas under the guise of "fighting terrorism."

“If the FBI is interested in investigating terrorism,” said Father Bourgeois, “they should come here to Columbus, Georgia, home of Ft. Benning, where there is the School of the Americas. This really is a well known terrorist training camp, and if we want to get serious about talking about terrorism and closing down terrorist training camps, I would highly recommend that the FBI come right in their backyard… I want to offer my support, as so many of us want to, to our brothers and sisters in the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. What has happened to them can happen to anyone, anyone that is a critic of U.S. foreign policy.”

As the speeches concluded and the procession was underway, the planned civil disobedience of climbing the barbed-wire fence into Ft. Benning got underway. This year four people took that step. Two of them, Louie Vitale, OFM, who crossed the line for the fourth time, and David Omondi of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker who crossed the line for the first time, pleaded "no contest" and were immediately convicted in federal court. They each received a six month prison sentence from U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles. Nancy Smith and Chris Spicer, the two others who crossed over the fence, will go to trial January 5, 2011.

A number of reports noted that this year’s SOAW effort was smaller than the peak of 20,000 years back. Part of the reason was that this year's efforts were divided between those who came to Ft Benning, and others who had lobbied Congress earlier this summer. In any case, given the high spirits and determination of those who came this year, the struggle will be ongoing.

Randy Shannon summed it up: “Seeing UAW’s Bob King here and hearing his militant speech pledging labor's solidarity with the peace community and Latin America, all working to close this abomination -- that gives me hope. Likewise, the thousands of students from small Catholic colleges across the country standing up against murder and torture -- that gives me hope as well.”

[Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a national board member of the Solidarity Economy Network, and webmaster for Beaver County Peace Links. His website is Keep on Keepin' On. Follow Carl Davidson on Twitter.

The Rag Blog

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29 November 2010

Ted McLaughlin : The WikiLeaks Brouhaha

Political cartoon by samir alramahi / toonpool.com.

WikiLeaks brouhaha:
A danger to our security,
or serving the public's right to know?

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / November 29, 2010
I doubt if there's any established government on earth that can't access that kind of information, which means the only people these "secrets" are being kept from are the voting public.
The internet site called WikiLeaks is in the headlines again, and once again they are embarrassing the United States government (and a bunch of other governments also, this time). They are in the process of releasing hundreds of thousands of U.S. State Department cables, which the government is claiming to be "classified" material.

Some of the material is just embarrassing, such as when government officials make unflattering remarks about other countries' officials. Other cables show us some "secret" discussions between governments that could have serious repercussions for American citizens, such as cables that show that countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia have been putting a lot of pressure on the United States to attack Iran (and at least destroy their nuclear facilities).

The big question being debated right now is whether the release of these cables to the public (several news organizations are making them widely known to the public at large) poses a real danger to the United States government and the citizens, or does it just expose some things that probably should be public knowledge anyway in a democracy (regardless of whether some officials are embarrassed or not).

The Obama administration is taking the tack that the release of this information poses a danger. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says:
To be clear, such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies.

By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals. We condemn in the strongest terms the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.
But WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange counters that the United States is just trying to cover up its participation in serious "human rights abuse and other criminal behavior." The New York Times, which is printing some of the exposed diplomatic cables, says "the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."

After much thought, I have to agree with WikiLeaks and The New York Times. This is information that the American people have a right to know. Are there times when a government needs to keep a secret for national security? Yes. But I believe a Democratic government needs to keep as few secrets as is possible, and there is little doubt that our government keeps far too much from the voters (who have the right to know as much as possible to make intelligent decisions when they go to the polls).

If the government is just covering up embarrassing blunders or statements by government officials, then they are wrong -- that kind of thing should not be a "state secret." If they are indeed covering up human rights abuses or criminal behavior, that is even worse. The American people needs to know if its government is acting in such a way.

I also have to wonder just how secure these "secrets" were if an organization like WikiLeaks could get hold of them. Frankly, any government that sends real secrets by cable or electronic transmission in this information age is pretty stupid anyway (and that is something else the people need to know).

I doubt if there's any established government on earth that can't access that kind of information, which means the only people these "secrets" are being kept from are the voting public. The idea that WikiLeaks has been able to access information not available to any interested intelligence service is just ludicrous.

The most intelligent comment on this WikiLeaks mess that I've heard comes from Professor Michael Cox, associate fellow of Chatham House Think Tank. He says:
It's a great treasure trove for historians and students of international relations. It is a sign that in the information age, it is very difficult to keep anything secret. But as to whether it's going to cause the kind of seismic collapse of international relations that governments have been talking about, I somehow doubt.

Diplomats have always said rude things about each other in private, and everyone has always known that. Governments have a tendency to try to keep as much information as possible secret or classified, whether it really needs to be or not. The really secret information, I would suggest, is still pretty safe and probably won't end up on WikiLeaks.
I seriously doubt that any of these released cables will hurt the security of the United States. I do think that there will be officials of the U.S. government (and other governments) who will be embarrassed by exposure of stupid or criminal actions. That is a good thing. I just don't care if government officials are embarrassed, and I care even less if officials from other countries are embarrassed or exposed.

The American people need to know how these other countries are thinking and acting. As for our own officials, they shouldn't be doing or saying anything they wouldn't want their fellow citizens to know about.

Are the folks at WikiLeaks traitors or heroes? I'm voting for heroes -- albeit minor ones.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

The Rag Blog

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Jonah Raskin : Historian Eric Foner: A Contemporary View of America's Past

Historian Eric Foner. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A Rag Blog interview:
Lincoln biographer Eric Foner
tells history from the bottom up

By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / November 29, 2010

The award-winning American historian, Eric Foner, has often written about the Republican Party -- its origins, icon leaders, and tipping points -- but Foner himself is not now nor has he ever been a front man for the Republicans.

A popular professor of history at Columbia University since 1981, he is the author most recently of The Fiery Trial: American Lincoln and American Slavery, in which he charts both the strengths and weaknesses of our 16th-president, and depicts him as an original thinker and as an adept politician in near-constant evolution.

Revered by students and fellow historians -- a past president of the American Historical Association -- and reviled by right-wing ideologies, Eric Foner seems to have been destined to write history. His father, Jack Foner, was an American historian who was blacklisted for years; his uncle Phil Foner was also a historian who wrote about nearly everything and everyone in American history -- from 19th-century New York merchants to Frederick Douglass, Helen Keller, and the Black Panthers.

Like his father and his uncle, he is thoroughly immersed in the American past, and yet attuned to contemporary history as it unfolds today.

I met Eric Foner at Columbia in 1960 when we were both freshman, and members of Action -- a student-run organization and a forerunner of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) -- that protested nuclear testing, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and the policies of a paternalist administration.

Even in 1960, at the age of 17, he already knew he would go on to teach and to write about American history, to see it from the bottom up and from the point of view of the underdog: the slave, the worker, the immigrant.

Fifty years on, and at the start of the 50th anniversary of the 1960s -- an era that shaped his own view of history -- Foner continues to teach, write, and speak out on controversial political issues of the day. This interview was conducted over the long Thanksgiving holiday and ranged over a wide variety of topics -- from Lincoln to Obama and Karl Marx to revolution.

Almost every day I go on line there's another piece about Lincoln? Why is this?

Lincoln is so iconic a figure in American culture -- the self-made man, frontier hero, liberator of the slaves -- that everyone wants to claim him as their own. Also, because the issues of his day still resonate with ours, he somehow seems to be our contemporary in ways other figures of our past do not.

If you could channel Lincoln what do you think he'd say about Obama?

Historians don't like to answer questions like this. Lincoln would no doubt be pleased and surprised that a black man was elected president but on bailouts, gay marriage, Afghanistan -- who knows?

And about Sarah Palin?

All that I’ll say on that subject is that Lincoln had great respect for learning and expertise.

You have a new book out on Lincoln and slavery. Why did it take so long for someone to write a book about a subject that seems to obvious?

There are previous books on Lincoln and slavery but they tend to be either hagiographies -- he was born ready to sign the Emancipation Proclamation -- or prosecutorial briefs -- he was an inveterate racist. I think it requires someone from outside what a friend of mine calls the Lincoln-industrial complex to try to show the man in all his strengths and weaknesses, and how his views changed over time.

What does the reception to your book tell you about the state of our country today?

To the extent that people relate the book to the present it may reflect a longing for political leadership in which one can take pride and have confidence.

Was Lincoln a prophetic president? Did he see into the future and see the way U.S. society was developing?

Lincoln looked back more than forward. He thought of himself as fulfilling the promise of the American Revolution. He did not foresee the rise of the industrial state of the late 19th-century, which undermined many of his deep assumptions about the dignity of labor.

You became an historian in the 1960s. What do you see now as the impact of the 1960s as an historical era on the writing and the teaching of history?

The 1960s put on the agenda of historians, issues that had been very marginalized before then -- the history of race and racism; women's history; the history more generally of ordinary people, neglected groups. We are still trying to create a persuasive new overall view of U.S. history incorporating this expansion of the historical cast of characters.

You teach U.S. history to students now. Could you characterize how this generation views history and the past?

Like previous generations, they look to history for a sense of their own identity as individuals and Americans. Because students are today so much more diverse than in the past, so must history be.

American history is continually rewritten. Only recently I read a piece about the ways that the Boston Tea Party has been viewed through the ages. Which historical periods are rewritten and revised and rethought more than others?

Reconstruction after the Civil War has been revised most thoroughly by historians, although the general public has not really caught up. The role of slavery in American life has been completely rewritten. But every period is open to reinterpretation -- that's what historians do.

What do you think is the single most important thing we ought to learn from Lincoln?

Open-mindedness, willingness to listen to critics and not surround one's self with yes men, willingness to abandon ideas and policies that are not working and move to new ones, while maintaining one's core principles.

Karl Marx wrote about the U.S. in the 1850s; how astute was he about the U.S.?

Marx was a shrewd observer of the Civil War, understanding the revolutionary implications for the society of the emancipation of the slaves.

And on Lincoln?

Marx saw Lincoln as a man willing to take radical steps to achieve his goals, but to couch them in mundane language like a lawyer. He also saw freeing the slaves as an essential step toward liberating labor more generally.

Do you think it's impossible for there to be another civil war in the U.S. -- a third American Revolution?

Probably not. A third Reconstruction (the second being the civil rights movement) would be a good idea, however.

Are all the major events of our society behind us?

I doubt it. The most important things in history come as complete surprises. More surprises will come in the future.

[Jonah Raskin is a professor of communication studies at Sonoma State University.]

The Rag Blog

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Danny Schechter : Memories of U.S. Embassy in Tehran Still Hold Us Hostage

Outside wall of U.S. Embassy, Tehran. Photo from smoughadam / Flickr.

Memories that still hold us hostage:
A visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran

By Danny Schechter / The Rag Blog / November 29, 2010

The latest massive Wikileaks revelations released Sunday show how the U.S. and its allies have been discussing military attacks and covert actions against Iran. If history is any judge, things don't always work out the way Washington wants, as Danny Schechter recounts in this report about his recent visit to the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, known locally then as a “spy nest.”

TEHRAN, Iran -- The building was smaller than I remembered. The fading images in my mind were grainy: angry crowds, students marching, flags burning, chants of “Death to America,” and Americans diplomats in blindfolds, It became a soap opera: Ted Koppel started his rise in TV News with ABC’s nightly “America Held Hostage” series, the forerunner to Nightline.

Back then, I was in radio news, just transitioning into TV. I remember publicly debating about what we should do with a DJ friend who had turned from a Vietnam War peacenik into a bomb-Iran hawk.

In Iran, he takeover of the U.S. Embassy -- what students called its “conquering” -- was justified as a blow against imperialism, the seizure of a “spy nest.” It was, at the time, the most globally covered aspect of the Iranian Revolution, an audacious confrontation between people power and a foreign power.

The events that followed may have been considered revolutionary in Iran, but for progressive Americans they became the nail in President Jimmy Carter’s political coffin. He angered Iranians first when he toasted the Shah, calling him a beloved figure. He then tried and failed to negotiate through third parties and later sent in a military "rescue” operation that crashed and burned, leading to his own downfall.

The Iranians held him responsible for sheltering the ailing Shah; he in turn was being pressured by the likes of David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger to protect the fleeing Monarch.

These events also helped bring on the turn to the right with the elevation of the actor we called “Ronnie Raygun.” The hostages were released in a tacit agreement after 444 days at the very hour of his inauguration.

We are still living with the consequences: wages declined, unions were broken, and military spending escalated. Reagan invaded Grenada and Beirut where the killings of hundreds of U.S. soldiers sparked what we now label a War on Terror and which Iranians see as a “Clash of Civilizations.”

The despotic Shah, our faithful servant for so many years, was driven from power by a popular revolt with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini soon becoming the man we loved to hate.

Now, 30-plus years later, I am standing in front of what was once our embassy, surrounded today by well-kept lawns as it was then.

It is as if the past is never past, with so many ghosts still around.

The tragedy is that polarization between our two countries remains symbolized by what is now a very politicized museum with photos of the activists who crawled through a basement window and tunnel to take it over. They were demanding the return of the Shah to stand trial. They were protesting U.S. interference in their internal affairs.

I didn’t remember that eight hostages -- women and black employees -- were released by Khomeini as a gesture. He urged the black men to return home and carry on the work of our most famous Muslim martyr, Malcolm X.

Malcolm was one of the Americans they admired.

There are rooms of creative if didactic art works, graffiti, and murals denouncing U.S. policy, including our news media which they see as a weapons system that has been deployed against them. (One slogan on the wall: “Information R.I.P.”) Perhaps this is why my film WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception was shown here and is popular.)

The angry art is not the building’s most popular attraction. On the second floor is the ex-Embassy’s own West Wing; behind a metal safe-like door is where the spying was done.

The offices are pretty much as they found them -- a soundproof glass-encased safe room within a room, cryptographic equipment, communications gear that allowed them to tap Tehran’s telephones and a forgery bench where they created passports and spread disinformation. (I once saw a similar room in a former Stasi secret police station in East Germany that kept tabs on everyone.)

The students found a secret document with a floor plan of the Ayatollah’s residence and other artifacts of CIA espionage including guns and coding machines.

Today, all of this is done digitally and with much more sophistication. Just last week, the U.S. launched a massive new spy satellite to upgrade our global surveillance capabilities.

You don’t need embassies anymore to do this dirty work. We have since set up a well-funded Office of Global Reconnaissance but it doesn’t seem be to making us any more secure.

These days, a small group like Wikileaks has found ways to release hundreds of thousands of documents that officialdom wants to hide.

(After the Embassy seizure, The U.S. government downplayed spying by its diplomats, calling it “routine.” The latest Wikileaks expose reveals that diplomats are spying more than ever.)

As the students muscled their way into the Embassy back then, U.S. officials were busy destroying documents, burning them in the basement, throwing them into chemical vats that turned paper into powder, and feeding them into huge industrial-strength shredders. I saw the machines.

They managed to keep the activists at bay for three hours while destroying sensitive and potentially embarrassing data before surrendering.

What they didn’t count on was that scores of students would spend weeks patiently and systematically piecing the shreds together, literally ironing and weaving the fragments into readable prose. They reconstructed the destroyed documents and published them in scores of books that topped the best-seller list in Iran (if there was such a thing).

The late Bill Worthy, a legendary African American journalist, brought some of the books back to Boston in 1980 only to have them confiscated at the airport where he was threatened with prosecution.

Most Americans know little of Iran’s 2,500 year history, its proud culture, or the role played by the CIA in toppling the democratically elected Mosaddegh government in 1953. Mosaddegh wanted to nationalize the country’s oil instead of being forced to allow the West to exploit it. (The Ayatollah Khomeini referenced this event when he told the U.S.: “You have no right to complain, because you took our whole country hostage in 1953.”) There is no evidence that the Ayatollah organized the Embassy takeover.

They don’t know that the U.S. orchestrated Iraq’s invasion of Iran, causing a half million deaths, many from chemical weapons. I met some of the still-sick victims of those chemicals, including a disfigured Member of Parliament who was a war correspondent. Saddam’s chemical attacks on Iran’s military got almost no press attention compared to his gassing of Kurds.

Our ignorance still feeds dangerous calls for war like those made recently by the pin-headed Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from the former Confederate State of South Carolina. He’s called for the sinking of the Iranian Navy. He seems to have forgotten his own state's role in launching the American civil war after a Naval battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack in Charleston harbor.

The Confederates started it, but the Union finished it, finishing them finally at a great cost. Today, the South and its attitudes have risen again.

Graham also seems unaware that if we attack them, Iran will likely block the Strait of Hormuz freezing oil shipments worldwide. Not a good thing.

Today, some U.S. personalities want a theocratic state here like the one in Iran. Our own fundamentalists, many of them end-of-timers politicized into Christian Right movements, the antecedents of today’s Tea Party, fired up by vicious Islamaphobia.

Theocratic evangelists like Glenn Beck -- posing as TV commentators -- urge us to let God Rule, the message of some of Iran’s Mullahs. George Bush denounced Iran as part of the “Axis of Evil” while they do the same towards us. There is a poster in the former Embassy building denouncing U.S. evils.

I know my Iranian hosts expected me to be excited by visiting the Embassy as a symbol of an embarrassing setback to U.S. plans.

I wasn’t.

I reminded them that when the Taliban took Iranian diplomats hostage, and threatened to kill them, Iran moved troops to the border, and was about to invade Afghanistan before we did.

The U.S. government learned from the Embassy takeover; they didn't change imperial policies, but did invest in more security. The U.S. now builds vast and far better-fortified “diplomatic” enclaves like Iraq’s Green Zone. Secrecy has become our national security state’s religion.

These symbols of our past conflicts have a way of blocking new initiatives and possible reconciliation. I am sure that the former Embassy building is on some target list for potential missile attacks on Tehran. Americans relish “payback” as much as do Iranians.

Avoiding an escalation of tension will not be easy as Jaswant Singh, a former Indian finance minister, foreign minister, and defense minister explains: “In both countries, deep and mutually paralyzing suspicion has poisoned relations for three decades. Negotiations in such an atmosphere are almost fated to failure.”

Can anything be done?

On the plane back, I watched the movie SALT where Angelina Jolie stops a fictionalized nuclear attack on Tehran at the last second in a gun battle staged in the bunker below the White House.

Hollywood pictures the story as a plot by Russian renegades who want to use nukes to outrage the whole Muslim world and trigger a more apocalyptic jihad against the U.S.

At the same time, we are doing all we can to block Iranian nuclear ambitions, even as I told an audience in Iran about my own objections to nuclear power plants in favor of green energies -- not a popular position.

There are legitimate nonfiction fears of a new war against Iran, another no-win conflict that will cause more death and sap more treasure.

The neocons are busy at work lobbying for just such a war, eager to replicate their “heroic victory” over Iraq. They are playing the fear card with lots of covert lobbying from Israel that claims Iran represents an “existential” threat.

To me, the arrogant right-wing politicians and propagandists in Israel are a far more dangerous threat to any prospects for peace. Successive American administrations, like the current one, keep shoveling sheckels at them, appeasing their contempt for and occupation of Palestinians.

The world mocks dogmatic believers in the Koran while fanatical Torah worshippers have a free pass to practice hatred.

Talk about hypocrisy.

War is a profitable business, and as our economy continues its decline, we can anticipate more calls to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” so we can fight and spend our way to “recovery.”

Talk about insanity.

Already our sanctions are hurting the Iranian people and their businesses without seriously impacting their government, whatever the fiery pubic claims of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

We need to engage, but even the talks President Obama promised have yet to happen. Washington seems as frozen as Tehran in making a real overture.

What if Iran turned the former U.S. Embassy into an international peace and religious center for diplomatic discourse and mediation? That might be a gesture Washington could respond to. Why not recycle a relic of the past to enable a serious initiative for resolving conflict? The growing confrontation gives both countries an enemy to mobilize against while diverting attention from real problems.

Someone has to break the ice before we end up causing each other more pain!

My walk down a lane of bad memories convinced me that we need to work for a better future, not stay mired in the images and rhetorical combats of the past.

[News Dissector Danny Schechter just returned from Tehran where he was invited to be a judge in an international short film festival. Contact hem at Dissector@mediachannel.org.]

The Rag Blog

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Pollyanna : Bad News for the Devil

Cartoon by Matt Kleinman / The Rag Blog.

Bad news for the Devil:
Yoga is Hindu

By Pollyanna / The Rag Blog / November 29, 2010

The Hindu American Foundation has launched a campaign, “Take Back Yoga," to educate Westerners about the religious origins of the popular practice. Yoga, a combination of mental and physical disciplines taught in gyms and health clubs everywhere, has strong scientific evidence supporting its health benefits, especially in combating stress and improving quality of life for those with chronic illness.

However, many Christians have worried that yoga is a tool of the Devil. In response to the campaign, however, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, said he agrees that “yoga is Hindu," and for that reason “imperils the souls of Christians who engage in it," according to The New York Times.

This would seem to infringe on Lucifer’s franchise prerogatives. But don’t worry, Old Nick is a resourceful fellow, and we predict he’ll soon be offering Pilates at your local club!

[Pollyanna is a sweet little Austin-based gray-haired granny-lady who carries two clips.]

The Rag Blog

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28 November 2010

Rabbi Arthur Waskow : Thanksgiving, My Yarmulke, and Alice's Restaurant

Rabbi Arthur Waskow (not in 1970!) wearing rainbow kippah.

You can get anything you want:
Thanksgiving and my yarmulke

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / November 28, 2010

Thursday, a little before noon, my phone rang. I knew at once who it was: my old friend Jeffrey Dekro (founder of The Shefa Fund, which gathered millions of dollars of Jewish money to invest in American inner cities and to reconstruct New Orleans), calling me and several other members of a long-ago, long-scattered men’s group, reminding us to turn on the radio.

For every year at noon on Thanksgiving, WXPN Radio in Philadelphia plays Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant," about a Thanksgiving dinner in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1967; about obtuse cops; and about nonviolent resistance to a brutal war.

And every year, this seemingly non-Jewish set of rituals stirs in me the memory of a moment long ago when my first puzzled, uncertain explorations of the "Jewish thing" took on new power for me. And when I came to understand the power of a yarmulke.

Sharing this story has become a ritual for me. Welcome to the campfire!

In 1970, I was asked by the Chicago Eight to testify in their defense. They were leaders of the movement to oppose the Vietnam War, and they had been charged by the U.S. government (i.e. the Nixon Administration and Attorney General John Mitchell, who turned out to be a criminal himself) with conspiracy to organize riot and destruction during the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968.

I had been an alternate delegate from the District of Columbia to the Convention -- elected originally as part of an anti-war, anti-racist slate to support Robert Kennedy. After he was murdered, we decided to nominate and support the chairperson of our delegation -- Rev. Channing Phillips (alav hashalom), a Black minister in the Martin Luther King mold.

Our delegation made him the first Black person ever nominated for President at a major-party convention. The following spring, on the first anniversary of Dr. King's murder, on the third night of Pesach in 1969, his church hosted the first-ever Freedom Seder.

AND -- I had also spoken the first two nights of the Convention to the anti-war demonstrators at Grant Park, at their invitation, while the crowd was being menaced by Chicago police and the National Guard. The police finally did explode in violence on the third night of the Convention, when the crowd tried to march peacefully toward the Convention as it began voting on presidential candidates.

Although the main official investigation of Chicago described it as a "police riot," the Nixon Administration decided to indict the anti-war leaders. So during the Conspiracy Trial in 1970, Tom Hayden, David Dellinger, Abbie Hoffman, et al., figured I would be reasonably respectable (as a former delegate) and therefore relatively convincing to the jury and the national public, in testifying that the anti-war folks were not trying to organize violence but instead were the victims of police violence.

As the trial went forward, it became clear that the judge -- Julius Hoffman, a Jew -- was utterly subservient to the prosecution and wildly hostile to the defense. (Some of us thought he had become possessed by the dybbuk of Torquemada, head of the Inquisition. How else could a Jew behave that way? We tried to exorcise his dybbuk. It didn't work.)

Judge Hoffman browbeat witnesses, ultimately literally gagging and binding Bobby Seale, the only Black defendant, for challenging his rulings. Dozens of his rulings against the Eight were later cited by the Court of Appeals as major legal errors, requiring reversal of all the convictions the prosecution had achieved in his court.

So when I arrived at the Federal courthouse in Chicago, I was very nervous. About the judge, much more than the prosecution or my own testimony.

The witness who was scheduled to testify right before me was Arlo Guthrie. He had sung "Alice's Restaurant" to/with the crowd at Grant Park, and the defense wanted to show the jury that there was no incitement to violence in it.

So William Kunstler, z'l, the lawyer for the defense, asked Guthrie to sing "Alice's Restaurant" so that the jury could get a direct sense of the event.

But Judge Hoffman stopped him: "You can't sing in my courtroom!!"

"But," said Kunstler, "it's evidence of the intent of the organizers and the crowd!"

For minutes they snarled at each other. Finally, Judge Hoffman: "He can SAY what he told them, but NO SINGING."

And then -- Guthrie couldn't do it. The song, which lasts 25 minutes, he knew by utter heart, having sung it probably more than a thousand times -- but to say it without singing, he couldn't. His memory was keyed to the melody. And maybe Judge Hoffman's rage helped disassemble him.

So he came back to the witness room, crushed.

And I'm up next. I start trembling, trying to figure out how I can avoid falling apart.

I decide that if I wear a yarmulke, that will strengthen me to connect with a power Higher/Other than the United States and Judge Hoffman. (Up to that moment, I had never worn a yarmulke in a non-officially "religious" situation. I had written the Freedom Seder in 1969, but was in 1970 still wrestling with the question of what this weird and powerful "Jewish thing" meant in my life.)

So I tell Kunstler I want to wear a yarmulke, and he says -- "No problem." Somewhere I find a simple black unobtrusive skullcap, and when I go to be sworn in, I put it on.

For the oath (which I did as an affirmation, as indicated by much of Jewish tradition), no problem.

Then Kunstler asks me the first question for the defense, and the Judge interrupts. "Take off your hat, sir," he says.

Kunstler erupts. "This man is an Orthodox Jew, and you want... etc etc etc." I am moaning to myself, "Please, Bill, one thing I know I'm not is an Orthodox Jew." But how can I undermine the defense attorney? So I keep my mouth shut.

Judge Hoffman also erupts: "That hat shows disrespect for the United States and this Honorable Court!" he shouts.

"Yeah," I think to myself, "that's sort-of true. Disrespect for him, absolutely. For the United States, not disrespect exactly, but much more respect for Something Else. That's the point!"

They keep yelling, and I start watching the prosecutor -- and I realize that he is watching the jury. There is one Jewish juror. What is this juror thinking?

Finally, the prosecutor addresses the judge: "Your Honor, the United States certainly understands and agrees with your concern, but we also feel that in the interests of justice, it might be best simply for the trial to go forward."

And the judge took orders!! He shut up, and the rest of my testimony was quiet and orderly.

It took me another year or so to start wearing some sort of hat all the time.

For years, it was a Tevye cap. For years, and some of the time now, a beret. Sometimes a rainbow kippah. Sometimes in a rough winter, an amazing tall Tibetan hat with earflaps and wool trimming that I found in a Tibetan Buddhist harvest festival that came right during Sukkot (when else??!!).

And whatever its shape, the hat continues to mean to me that there is a Higher, Deeper Truth in the world than any judge, any Attorney General, any President, or any Pharaoh.

It's my -- our -- "Alice's Restaurant." Or maybe "Alice's Restaurant" is Arlo's yarmulke. If you want to watch and hear Arlo singing the song, click here. [Or play embedded video, below.]

Why listen to it? Not just nostalgia or historical curiosity about the long-gone ‘60s. Here we are, so many years later, in the midst of another brutal, unwinnable war, in the midst of many other restrictions on our civil liberties, in the midst of other judges who bow down to super-wealth and super-power, in the midst of damage to our earth we couldn’t even imagine in 1967. It’s not just judges we need to go Beyond. It’s Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking, the bullies of Talk Radio, all the Big Guns.

Beyond them. We all need a hat, a song, a “men’s group” -- something that renews our inner sense of the Unity Beyond. And laughter.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, peace.

[Rabbi Arthur Waskow is the director of The Shalom Center. He is co-author of The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims; author of Godwrestling, Round 2 and Down-to-Earth Judaism; and editor of Torah of the Earth (two volumes, eco-Jewish thought from earliest Torah to our own generation). These pioneering books on eco-Judiasm are available at discount from “Shouk Shalom,” The Shalom center's online bookstore.]

The Rag Blog

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Harvey Wasserman : Afghanistan and Orwell's Perpetual War

Image from Opinione.

Keeps the wheels of industry turning:
Afghanistan is about perpetual war

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / November 28, 2010

The war in Afghanistan is about perpetual war, not Afghanistan.

It's about preventing democracy in the United States, not bringing it to Southwest Asia.

And it is the tombstone of the Obama Presidency.

To justify the fight, they've rounded up the usual suspects: Terror. Oil. Minerals. Poppies. Democracy.

But George Orwell's 1984 -- now updated with important new books -- illuminates the bigger picture: "continuous warfare" is the key to social control.

It keeps the public frightened and dependent.

And it keeps "the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed."

Better to destroy them in a ritual slaughter like Afghanistan, and wherever is next.

For a truly prosperous society, educated and secure, cannot be ruled by the few. Poverty, ignorance and fear are the three pillars of authoritarian control. Without war, they all disappear.

Thus Afghanistan. Before it: The Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, Central America. After: Whoever else is handy.

Recent books by Howard Zinn and David Swanson have updated Orwell's analysis.

Zinn's The Bomb , testifies to the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the utter senselessness of these "announced nuclear tests." Once an Allied bombardier, Zinn revisited a French town he helped destroy. He found the act, of which he was once proud, had no military meaning whatsoever.

Though he passed away earlier this year, Zinn's People's History of the United States continues to shape our understanding of this nation's true core. In narrating the hidden, bloody past of our compromised democracy, he warns at end that even for the U.S., "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people."

David Swanson's new War is a Lie adds to the litany. A tireless campaigner for peace and justice, Swanson was instrumental in tearing away the ridiculous Bush lie that the war in Iraq was about Weapons of Mass Destruction. War is a Lie adds carefully documented, passionately argued reasons why the era of endless slaughter in Southwest Asia is a tool of social control for the military-industrial elite.

Over the years, Norman Solomon's superb books, and his film War Made Easy, have also provided a firm, steady opposition to this fatal addiction.

Nowhere has our military madness become more transparent than in the Obama Administration. The "shellacking" the Democrats took this fall stems directly from Obama's painfully visible failure to bring hope or change to a nation at war since 1941.

For a few infuriating weeks, Obama danced around the decision to escalate in Afghanistan. Rarely has a single human being had a greater chance to change history.

Obama could have stood up to the generals. He could have de-escalated. He could have begun the process of drawing down the military budget, the only way to save our economy.

More than 50% of taxpayer money goes to weaponry. We have troops in more than 100 countries. We spend more on our military than all the rest of the world combined. Throughout history -- Athens, Rome, Persia -- empires have spent themselves to military oblivion. We have now been in Afghanistan longer than the USSR.

With a simple speech, Obama could have begun the Great Reversal. It was a crystal clear moment. The public support was there. It was what he was elected to do.

But like Lyndon Johnson's catastrophic March 1965 decision to escalate the war in Vietnam, Obama went exactly the wrong way. He became the first man in history to accept the Nobel Peace Prize with a pro-war speech. With Bush's Secretary of War by his side, he ceded to the military our nation's most critical decision. He doomed our domestic economy and global ecology by burying us still deeper in the lethal quagmire of perpetual war.

All else is sad detail. When Obama caved on Afghanistan, so did his presidency.

As Orwell, Zinn, Swanson, and Solomon make clear, perpetual war is the carefully engineered route to poverty, ignorance, and dictatorship. Afghanistan is merely the latest installment in this seamless, unseemly tragedy. Its ever-changing justifications are meaningless smokescreens, forever poised to cloud the inevitable transition to the next conflict. The names, places and rhetoric may change, but the impact will not.

Until we find a way to break through to a genuine state of peace -- and we must, and soon -- we have no future.

[Harvey Wasserman's History of the United States, introduced by Howard Zinn, is at www.harveywasserman.com. He edits the www.NukeFree.org web site. For a good time, see Pete Seeger, Dar Williams, David Bernz and the Rivertown Kidz sing "Solartopia!" at www.solartopia.org .

The Rag Blog

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Bruce Melton : Climate Change and Global Economic Dysfunction

Smokestack blues. Image from Planet Green.

Smokestack blues:
Confronting dangerous climate change

By Bruce Melton / The Rag Blog / November 28, 2010
Bruce Melton will be Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio, Friday, Dec. 3, 2010, 2-3 p.m. (CST), on KOOP 91.7 FM in Austin. To stream Rag Radio live on the internet, go here. To find out more about Rag Radio, and for links to earlier shows on our archives, go here.
How do we curb emissions with the way our society has evolved? Really. I mean serious curbing; enough to prevent dangerous climate change?

Do you realize that ocean primary productivity has declined 40% since 1950? Or that, this year's coral bleaching was worse than during the super El Nino of '98? Or that, the Arctic was declared functionally ice free last summer for the first time in 14 million years?

Or that, the ultra high CO2 levels in prehistory were really only half as high as we thought, meaning we are a lot closer to the extreme paleohothouse environment than we thought? Or that, the dead trees from the pine beetle pandemic in Yellowstone are visible on Google and that the pandemic has begun its transition to the boreal forest in Alberta?

Or that, October 2010 was the 308th consecutive month with an average temperature above the 20th century average?

Unless we quickly find the ability to develop the magic sequestration machine, we are indeed relegated to experience dangerous climate change at least in our children's lifetimes. By dangerous climate change, I mean the traditional scientific definition. Not, apparently, what 80 percent of Americans think.

What I mean is this: a climate change that creates global economic dysfunction. I mean what the scientists mean when they talk about dangerous climate change, A shift of our functional climate that results in significant sea level rise -- dislocating hundreds of millions, maybe billions. This is the standard scientific definition of dangerous climate change that results in global ecoregime change that kills hundreds of millions with famine.

It doesn't take long to change a grassland to a sea of sand -- meaning that dry land agriculture can dry up in a megadrought in a few years. The extremeness of megadroughts, that have happened repeatedly in the ancient past, being 100 to 300 years in duration with only half of the rainfall that we received in the Dust Bowl.

Dangerous climate change changes Earth's environment beyond the evolutionary niches of keystone species like primary productivity. When primary productivity takes a hit, not only does the most important part of Earth's natural sequestration machine lose efficiency, but significant reduction in the efficiency of Earth's oxygen generation machine takes place as well.

I don't think the cost of prevention will be any more than Lord Sterns estimates at one to two percent GDP. I am also certain that any number of sequestration technologies are entirely feasible including clean coal... If, we act really soon.

How do I know that some 80% percent of Americans do not understand the definition of dangerous climate change? I don't, but I do know that the recent Scientific American poll, a dataset that should reveal a higher level of education than most, reveals that these survey respondents would fail their Climate Change 101 class miserably. Only an eight-question survey, the telling question was #8. How much would you be willing to pay to forestall the risk of catastrophic climate change? The response was 79.6 percent for "nothing."

Curiously, Scientific American has removed the link to this poll from their site. Survey Monkey, however, still has the data up, unidentified. I looked at Scientific American to confirm this a couple of weeks ago when one of my oldest friends, who has gone over to the dark side, verbally accosted me with this news (once again) of the death of the AGW Conspiracy. The other seven questions in the poll are just as telling as to the profound depth of the success of the propaganda and misinformation campaign of the vested interests as the last question.

Expect an expanded version of this article, with Bruce's usual academic references, soon on The Rag Blog.

[When Bruce Melton, P.E., isn't practicing civil engineering, he's studying climate change and writing about it. Melton was one of eight Austinites named in the "Heroes of Climate Change" article published in
The Good Life magazine in July 2007. To read more of his work on climate change, visit his website, Melton Engineering Services Austin.]The Rag Blog

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24 November 2010

Roger Baker : American Political Denial and the 'Downsizing of Civilization'

Image from Gas 2.0.
“My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel. I drive a Mercedes. My son drives a Mercedes. His son will ride a camel.” -- Saudi warning
Our only hope may lie in crisis:
American politics and global discontent

By Roger Baker
/ The Rag Blog / November 24, 2010
See "The peak oil crisis: Did we vote ourselves to extinction?" by Tom Whipple, Below.
All the political polls show that the American public is deeply unhappy. This was reflected in the broadly anti-government sentiment that threw out many moderate incumbents during the recent mid-term elections. The onset of hard times commonly favors new and stronger political medicine in search of restoring the previous prosperity, whether this be right, left, or radical center.

Such popular discontent is now global, but is rather more concentrated in the mature and established capitalist economies accustomed to high living standards. The USA sees increasing political dissatisfaction with growing support for the Tea Party Movement and almost half thinking that America's best days are past. However we also see growing economic unrest in France, Britain, and Ireland, and echoed in much of the rest of the world.

The root cause of this dissatisfaction is a globally overextended, indebted market economy, unable to grow enough to pay back its debts without cheap energy. The end of cheap oil, with its current plateau and peaking in global production, means that the global economy will never recover its previous scale of material production and level of material profitability.

The global lack of market demand needed to generate the previous profit is being fitfully met by increases of sovereign debt, via the issuing of fiat currency by the world's major central banks. This is reflected in a retreat to investment in gold to preserve wealth.

Like a pack of hungry dogs fighting over scraps of meat, we now see the G20 nations trying to gain trade advantage for their national business interests and banking groups. This is threatening a global trade war leading to a contraction of total trade, probably leading to the creation of new regional trading blocks and alliances. Yesterday Greece, today Ireland -- tomorrow Spain?

In the USA, as grassroots political and economic anxiety increases, the corporate media is actively promoting right wing political gurus like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin. They campaign against Washington, deny global warming, offer easy solutions mostly in line with corporate profitability, and blame liberal establishment scapegoats like Obama for a steadily increasing level of economic pain, joblessness, and political gridlock. Even with effective Republican control of Congress, there are deep internal divisions in the making.

One way to grasp the core political problem is to understand that the public is economically stressed, and unwilling to tolerate much economic sacrifice. In some ways this makes sense, given that an obviously dysfunctional and unstable political coalition is in charge of managing the U.S. economy, even while the independent Federal Reserve is struggling to be seen as nonpolitical.

Facing severe problems, any government needs to convince its public to tolerate temporary economic pain for long term benefit. It is as if we badly need an operation to restore our national health, but we cannot tolerate the pain of surgery, so we listen to the medical quacks as our health deteriorates. The problem now is that U.S. voters no longer trust the government to operate fairly. This is especially so after the bank bailouts that were accompanied by little banking reform.

The reality of course, is that to actually solve our problems, we first need to somehow break through our denial of the true nature of our problem. Then we need to rekindle a national spirit of political and economic cooperation such as the U.S. public willingly offered during WWII, and more recently the level of national unity seen under President G.W. Bush just after the 9/11 attacks.

Our immediate prospects seem gloomy. Because of a combination of economic decline and political paralysis, we seem to be headed for a political and economic crisis of some sort, perhaps our greatest depression, with peak oil as the icing on that cake.

Yet there is hope. Sometimes a crisis is the only way to disrupt business as usual enough to make the system receptive to fundamental change, even if wiser policies are only adopted as a last resort after the other possibilities have been exhausted.

There are still voices of reason to be found, in fact all over the Internet. One policy analyst I follow and recommend is Tom Whipple, an expert on energy economics and a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. (The Post Carbon Institute is essentially a progressive environmental think tank, a coalition of about 30 leading environmental policy experts in different areas with a good grip on the big picture and reasonable and appropriate policy options.)

In the brief essay below, Whipple does a remarkable job of tying everything together; explaining how the end of cheap energy, the depressed U.S. economy, and the current political gridlock in Washington are tied together in terms of cause and effect. One can scarcely overemphasize the need to accurately understand what is really going on, as we collectively engage in the "downsizing of civilization."

[Roger Baker is a long time transportation-oriented environmental activist, an amateur energy-oriented economist, an amateur scientist and science writer, and a founding member of and an advisor to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA. He is active in the Green Party and the ACLU, and is a director of the Save Our Springs Association and the Save Barton Creek Association. Mostly he enjoys being an irreverent policy wonk and writing irreverent wonkish articles for The Rag Blog.]

American body politic? Image from MediaFuturist.
The peak oil crisis:
Did we vote ourselves to extinction?

By Tom Whipple / November 17, 2010

The disconnect between the American body politic and reality grows larger every day.

In reviewing hundreds of pages of commentary on the election, one searches in vain for analysis that even comes close to describing what is happening to the nation -- i.e. we are in the midst of a massive deflating credit bubble and running short of affordable liquid fuels at the same time.

There seems to be general agreement that the new balance of power in Washington means two years of gridlock. Despite an occasional bow in the direction of bi-partisanship, the new majority in the house is saying quite openly that it will work to lower taxes, cut spending, will stop any efforts to deal with climate change, and will spend the next two years investigating everything it can about the Obama administration in hopes it will be so discredited in two years that the President can't possibly win another term.

Whether this agenda is what the voters thought they would get on November 2 when they voted yet again for change is another question.

Upon assuming office, the Obama administration faced the biggest choice of any American President since Lincoln -- either face up to the fact that the industrial age, with its mantra of endless economic growth, was over and start making preparations for a new era, or try to revive the economy.

Apparently the new President, unwilling to grapple with the downsizing of civilization, chose to prolong the deteriorating industrial economy for a few more years by increasing deficit spending, attempting to reform health care, and resorting to various monetary tactics that may or may not keep the financial system from ultimately collapsing.

The basis of the problem is that without steadily increasing amounts of cheap energy, reviving economic growth as we know it is simply not sustainable for long. Borrowing and printing trillions of dollars may briefly slow the decline, but little more.

The trillions spent on bailouts and stimulation kept the illusion of recovery going for some months, but did little to increase employment or reverse the disintegration of the inflated housing market. Some polls show nearly half of U.S. households have been seriously affected in some manner by the adverse economic conditions, yet the administration continued to express optimism rather than realism.

In November of 2009 and 2010, the people spoke and the Congress and many statehouses were populated with many new faces. In most cases these newly elected officials had even less idea how the situation could be fixed, but they were new and that gave the voters a ray of hope.

The one policy area where the Obama administration tried to make major changes was in dealing with global warming by controlling carbon emissions. It is interesting that an issue on which there should be universal agreement -- saving life on the planet -- managed to degenerate into an imbroglio which approaches religious fanaticism. The reason of course is that controlling emissions is now thought by many as synonymous with further job losses.

Although a stream of studies conclude that global temperatures are rising, ice is melting everywhere, and people who study such things say increasing amounts of carbon in the atmosphere is to blame, over half of America believes man-made global warming is a giant hoax.

A recent Pew poll says that only 37 percent of Americans and 41 percent of the Chinese believe global warming is a serious problem. Only in Pakistan, which ironically is on the cusp of being done in by global warming, and Poland of all places, are people said to be less worried than here in the U.S.

So where is all this leading? The new House majority can't cut the interest on the national debt, will be viscerally reluctant to make serious cuts in defense spending, and is unlikely to have the stomach to make serious cuts in entitlements. Therefore, it will likely content itself with chopping a few marquis spending programs such as earmarks, declare victory, and go back to preparing for the 2012 elections.

There is even a good chance that they will still be preparing when the next oil price spike occurs. If the spike is high enough and lasts long enough it could enter into the political debates in the 2012 election. But it really doesn't matter; very high oil prices are going to do serious harm to the economy one of these days, and when they come, the realistic discussions can begin as to what we can do.

Unfortunately the most serious of all issues facing us in the long run could turn out to be the failure of the United States to exercise any sort of leadership on emissions controls. As matters stand right now the new majority in the House of Representatives seems dead set against any kind of controls and says it will do its utmost to prevent the administration from controlling emissions administratively.

Now a few years or even a few decades of unchecked carbon emissions may not be of consequence. The problem, however, is: what if, as many believe, we are nearing a carbon tipping point. Some climate scientists say that an average global increase of 6o C will leave the earth uninhabitable.

Long before we get there, rising sea levels, droughts, floods, storms, and what have you will make life very unpleasant for those of us still around or our descendants. Someday, those who are left will wonder just what we were thinking about when we let all this happen.

[Tom Whipple is a retired government analyst who has been following the peak oil issue for several years. This article first appeared in the Falls Church News-Press and was also published in the Energy Bulletin.]
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