Thursday, November 30, 2006

Stop racist killer cops

Killings of 23-year-old unarmed groom, 92-year-old woman are not isolated acts

By LeiLani Dowell
and Dianne Mathiowetz
New York and Atlanta
Published Nov 30, 2006

Sean Bell was killed on what was supposed to be the morning of his wedding, Nov. 25, when police unloaded more than 50 bullets into the car he and two friends—all African American and all unarmed—were in. The three were leaving Bell’s bachelor party in Queens, N.Y.

Bell’s friend Joseph Guzman is in critical condition after being hit at least 11 times. The other, Trent Benefield, was hit three times. A report from New York in the Sydney Morning Herald said the two had been shackled to their hospital beds. (Nov. 28)

One white officer alone, Detective Mike Oliver, emptied a full magazine of bullets, reloaded and then emptied a second magazine—a total of 31 bullets. New York Police Department policy on shooting at moving vehicles clearly states that police cannot fire at a moving vehicle “unless deadly force is being used ... by means other than a moving vehicle.” (AP, Nov. 26) The officers involved were placed on administrative leave, yet are still being paid.

Not just ‘bad apples’

Authorities are scrambling to come up with excuses for Bell’s death. The police claim that one of Bell’s friends made reference to a gun. “Experts” discuss the problem of “contagious shooting”—which was amplified in 1993 when the NYPD switched from revolvers to semiautomatic weapons. The media is quick to point out that a multinational group of officers were involved in the incident—two white, two Black and one Latino—to downplay the racism in the killings. However, to reiterate, all the victims are Black.

But despite any excuses and “bad apple” theories, police violence and terror in communities of color is systemic, not individual. The police act as an indiscriminate, armed occupying force, with the mentality that the poor and people of color are disposable. Brutality against these communities is a daily occurrence.

As if to prove this point, the next day in the Bronx police attacked and then arrested Juanita Young, an activist against police brutality and the mother of Malcolm Ferguson, who had been killed by the NYPD in March 2000. According to a press release by the October 22nd Coalition, as many as eight cops participated in the attack, kicking her in the chest and back.

In addition, the group TransJustice has called for a press conference and rally on Nov. 29 to denounce the Nov. 1 beating and arrest of two African American men beaten by cops in the West Village of New York City. When a white male police officer pushed a young African-American woman without provocation, 23-year-old African-American college student Shakur Trammel requested his badge number. In response, the officer punched Trammel in the face and chest, threw him onto the police van and choked him with his nightstick. Eyewitnesses report that between four to six mostly white cops then kicked and punched Trammel and another African-American man who was being very vocal about his outrage at Trammel’s beating.

State violence grows with class tensions

Frederick Engels, Karl Marx’s closest collaborator and co-founder of scientific socialism, described the state as a public power that “consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons and institutions of coercion of all kinds.” Engels continues to explain, “It [the public power] grows stronger ... in proportion as class antagonisms within the state become more acute.” (Engels, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” 1884)

Anger in poor communities and communities of color is growing over the lack of jobs, healthcare and social services, the number of soldiers coming home dead or maimed from a war for big business, the news that the rich are getting even richer while the poor are still getting poorer. As during the Vietnam War, the ruling class fears organization and rebellion in the communities. The police apparatus is stepped up to keep these communities in line, to remind them of their “place.”

But this kind of repression inevitably leads to resistance. At a rally held the day after Bell’s killing, New York City Councilperson Charles Barron told the crowd, “I am fed up. I am not asking my people to do anything passive anymore. ... Don’t ask us to ask our people to be peaceful while they are being murdered. We are not the only ones that can bleed.”

A rally against the police state is planned for Dec. 6, 4:30 p.m., at One Police Plaza in downtown New York City. A statement by the December 12th Movement, organizers of the event, reads, “The issues on the agenda include the police profiling of Black youth; NYPD/Homeland Security occupation of the Black community; police aggression, harassment and overkill, as well as President Bush’s assault on Habeas Corpus; the erosion of civil rights; and Iraq war for oil.”

Atlanta cops kill 92-year-old woman

Police brutality of course is not unique to New York City. In Atlanta, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was killed Nov. 21 when an Atlanta drug squad executed a “no-knock” search warrant at her home.

Johnston’s neighborhood is close to an area known for drug trafficking and crime. According to her family, she was very concerned about being victimized and so had bars on her windows and doors and a permit for a pistol.

When Atlanta police pried the bars off the front door and broke it down, Johnston fired her rusty gun in self-defense, wounding three of the cops. They responded with a barrage of bullets.

Initially, the police claimed an undercover agent had purchased drugs at her home. Then the story changed: an informant had purchased crack cocaine with city-supplied funds at the address.

This informant allegedly told police that there were surveillance cameras at the house—an element which increased the likelihood of a “no-knock” warrant being granted. On Nov. 21 around 6 p.m., a Fulton County magistrate issued that warrant, based on an affidavit with these details submitted by narcotics investigator Jason R. Smith.

Barely more than an hour later, Atlanta police smashed through the front door of Johnston’s home.

Outraged neighbors and family insist that she lived alone. No one recognizes the description of the drug suspect, “Sam,” named in the warrant.

Johnston’s long-time neighbor Curtis Mitchell said, “I think that’s just something they made up.” Her niece, Sarah C. Dozier, agreed, saying, “As far as I am concerned, they shot her down like a dog.”

That suspicion was verified six days after Johnston’s death, when the informant publicly stated that he provided no such information to the police. He says that shortly after the shooting occurred, police called him, telling him to back up their story. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he has told internal affairs investigators and local media that the police fabricated the whole thing and told him to lie about his role in it. (Nov. 28)

Johnston’s killing came on the same day that the district attorney in adjacent DeKalb County announced that she will ask a grand jury to review a string of deadly police shootings there to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. Organized pressure forced this move by local officials, though it is only a modest response to community demands for police accountability and civilian review.

Since January 2006, DeKalb police have shot and killed 12 people and admit that several officers violated standard procedures. A 13th person died in custody after being hit with a baton and pepper-sprayed. Just days before the DA’s announcement, a 34-year-old woman was fatally shot by a police officer who said she came at him with a knife. Others at the scene said that she was scared and running away.

Congressperson Cynthia McKinney made a formal request on Nov. 25 for an immediate Department of Justice investigation into “a developing national pattern of police misconduct and abuse.”

From New York to Colorado to Milwaukee to Georgia, family members, community activists and progressive elected officials have demanded not only answers to what happened to these individuals but an end to police disregard for the lives of residents of working class and poor neighborhoods.

For weeks in Atlanta, there have been vigils, press conferences, rallies and other protests that have forced the issue of police killings into the public spotlight. Over and over, the people have made it clear: “No justice, No peace.”
Copyright © 1995-2006 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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Iran president's letter to the U.S.

'Both our nations are God-fearing, truth-loving and justice-seeking'

Message of H.E. Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
To the American People

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

O, Almighty God, bestow upon humanity the perfect human being promised to all by You, and make us among his followers.

Noble Americans,

Were we not faced with the activities of the US administration in this part of the world and the negative ramifications of those activities on the daily lives of our peoples, coupled with the many wars and calamities caused by the US administration as well as the tragic consequences of US interference in other countries;

Were the American people not God-fearing, truth-loving, and justice-seeking, while the US administration actively conceals the truth and impedes any objective portrayal of current realities;

And if we did not share a common responsibility to promote and protect freedom and human dignity and integrity;

Then, there would have been little urgency to have a dialogue with you.

While Divine providence has placed Iran and the United States geographically far apart, we should be cognizant that human values and our common human spirit, which proclaim the dignity and exalted worth of all human beings, have brought our two great nations of Iran and the United States closer together.

Both our nations are God-fearing, truth-loving and justice-seeking, and both seek dignity, respect and perfection.

Both greatly value and readily embrace the promotion of human ideals such as compassion, empathy, respect for the rights of human beings, securing justice and equity, and defending the innocent and the weak against oppressors and bullies.

We are all inclined towards the good, and towards extending a helping hand to one another, particularly to those in need.

We all deplore injustice, the trampling of peoples' rights and the intimidation and humiliation of human beings.

We all detest darkness, deceit, lies and distortion, and seek and admire salvation, enlightenment, sincerity and honesty.

The pure human essence of the two great nations of Iran and the United States testify to the veracity of these statements.

Noble Americans,

Our nation has always extended its hand of friendship to all other nations of the world.

Hundreds of thousands of my Iranian compatriots are living amongst you in friendship and peace, and are contributing positively to your society. Our people have been in contact with you over the past many years and have maintained these contacts despite the unnecessary restrictions of US authorities.

As mentioned, we have common concerns, face similar challenges, and are pained by the sufferings and afflictions in the world.

We, like you, are aggrieved by the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people. Persistent aggressions by the Zionists are making life more and more difficult for the rightful owners of the land of Palestine. In broad day-light, in front of cameras and before the eyes of the world, they are bombarding innocent defenseless civilians, bulldozing houses, firing machine guns at students in the streets and alleys, and subjecting their families to endless grief.

No day goes by without a new crime.

Palestinian mothers, just like Iranian and American mothers, love their children, and are painfully bereaved by the imprisonment, wounding and murder of their children. What mother wouldn't?

For 60 years, the Zionist regime has driven millions of the inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes. Many of these refugees have died in the Diaspora and in refugee camps. Their children have spent their youth in these camps and are aging while still in the hope of returning to homeland.

You know well that the US administration has persistently provided blind and blanket support to the Zionist regime, has emboldened it to continue its crimes, and has prevented the UN Security Council from condemning it.

Who can deny such broken promises and grave injustices towards humanity by the US administration?

Governments are there to serve their own people. No people wants to side with or support any oppressors. But regrettably, the US administration disregards even its own public opinion and remains in the forefront of supporting the trampling of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Let's take a look at Iraq. Since the commencement of the US military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced. Terrorism in Iraq has grown exponentially. With the presence of the US military in Iraq, nothing has been done to rebuild the ruins, to restore the infrastructure or to alleviate poverty. The US Government used the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but later it became clear that that was just a lie and a deception.

Although Saddam was overthrown and people are happy about his departure, the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people has persisted and has even been aggravated.

In Iraq, about one hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers, separated from their families and loved ones, are operating under the command of the current US administration. A substantial number of them have been killed or wounded and their presence in Iraq has tarnished the image of the American people and government.

Their mothers and relatives have, on numerous occasions, displayed their discontent with the presence of their sons and daughters in a land thousands of miles away from US shores. American soldiers often wonder why they have been sent to Iraq.

I consider it extremely unlikely that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure.

Noble Americans,

You have heard that the US administration is kidnapping its presumed opponents from across the globe and arbitrarily holding them without trial or any international supervision in horrendous prisons that it has established in various parts of the world. God knows who these detainees actually are, and what terrible fate awaits them.

You have certainly heard the sad stories of the Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib prisons. The US administration attempts to justify them through its proclaimed "war on terror." But every one knows that such behavior, in fact, offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the US image and its credibility among nations.

The US administration's illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders. You are witnessing daily that under the pretext of "the war on terror," civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed. Even the privacy of individuals is fast losing its meaning. Judicial due process and fundamental rights are trampled upon. Private phones are tapped, suspects are arbitrarily arrested, sometimes beaten in the streets, or even shot to death.

I have no doubt that the American people do not approve of this behavior and indeed deplore it.

The US administration does not accept accountability before any organization, institution or council. The US administration has undermined the credibility of international organizations, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council. But, I do not intend to address all the challenges and calamities in this message.

The legitimacy, power and influence of a government do not emanate from its arsenals of tanks, fighter aircrafts, missiles or nuclear weapons. Legitimacy and influence reside in sound logic, quest for justice and compassion and empathy for all humanity. The global position of the United States is in all probability weakened because the administration has continued to resort to force, to conceal the truth, and to mislead the American people about its policies and practices.

Undoubtedly, the American people are not satisfied with this behavior and they showed their discontent in the recent elections. I hope that in the wake of the mid-term elections, the administration of President Bush will have heard and will heed the message of the American people.

My questions are the following:

Is there not a better approach to governance?

Is it not possible to put wealth and power in the service of peace, stability, prosperity and the happiness of all peoples through a commitment to justice and respect for the rights of all nations, instead of aggression and war?

We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.

But, can terrorism be contained and eradicated through war, destruction and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents?

If that were possible, then why has the problem not been resolved?

The sad experience of invading Iraq is before us all.

What has blind support for the Zionists by the US administration brought for the American people? It is regrettable that for the US administration, the interests of these occupiers supersedes the interests of the American people and of the other nations of the world.

What have the Zionists done for the American people that the US administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors? Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors?

I recommend that in a demonstration of respect for the American people and for humanity, the right of Palestinians to live in their own homeland should be recognized so that millions of Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and the future of all of Palestine and its form of government be determined in a referendum. This will benefit everyone.

Now that Iraq has a Constitution and an independent Assembly and Government, would it not be more beneficial to bring the US officers and soldiers home, and to spend the astronomical US military expenditures in Iraq for the welfare and prosperity of the American people? As you know very well, many victims of Katrina continue to suffer, and countless Americans continue to live in poverty and homelessness.

I'd also like to say a word to the winners of the recent elections in the US:

The United States has had many administrations; some who have left a positive legacy, and others that are neither remembered fondly by the American people nor by other nations.

Now that you control an important branch of the US Government, you will also be held to account by the people and by history.

If the US Government meets the current domestic and external challenges with an approach based on truth and Justice, it can remedy some of the past afflictions and alleviate some of the global resentment and hatred of America. But if the approach remains the same, it would not be unexpected that the American people would similarly reject the new electoral winners, although the recent elections, rather than reflecting a victory, in reality point to the failure of the current administration's policies. These issues had been extensively dealt with in my letter to President Bush earlier this year.

To sum up:

It is possible to govern based on an approach that is distinctly different from one of coercion, force and injustice.

It is possible to sincerely serve and promote common human values, and honesty and compassion.

It is possible to provide welfare and prosperity without tension, threats, imposition or war.

It is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets.

Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.

What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.

I am confident that you, the American people, will play an instrumental role in the establishment of justice and spirituality throughout the world. The promises of the Almighty and His prophets will certainly be realized, Justice and Truth will prevail and all nations will live a true life in a climate replete with love, compassion and fraternity.

The US governing establishment, the authorities and the powerful should not choose irreversible paths. As all prophets have taught us, injustice and transgression will eventually bring about decline and demise. Today, the path of return to faith and spirituality is open and unimpeded.

We should all heed the Divine Word of the Holy Qur'an:

"But those who repent, have faith and do good may receive Salvation. Your Lord, alone, creates and chooses as He will, and others have no part in His choice; Glorified is God and Exalted above any partners they ascribe to Him." (28:67-68)

I pray to the Almighty to bless the Iranian and American nations and indeed all nations of the world with dignity and success.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

29 November 2006

© 2006 MSNBC InteractiveText provided by the United Nations


Baker To Bush: Game Over

Robert Dreyfuss
November 30, 2006

Robert Dreyfuss is an Alexandria, Va.-based writer specializing in politics and national security issues. He is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005), a contributing editor at The Nation, and a writer for Mother Jones, The American Prospect and Rolling Stone. He can be reached through his website,

Today’s report that the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, will call for a pullback of American combat forces in Iraq is the beginning of the end of the war in Iraq. Stripped of its diplomatic weasel words, the ISG’s recommendations are a stunning blow to the administration of George W. Bush and everything it stands for. “We had to move the national debate from whether to stay the course to how do we start down the path out,” said one of the ISG’s commission members, according to The New York Times.

Faced with the ISG consensus, backed by a determined Democratic majority in Congress that was catapulted into power by an American electorate sick of the war, President Bush will have no choice but to capitulate. Early in 2007, American troops will start to come home. War-weary, mainstream Republicans, eager to get Iraq off the table before the 2008 elections, will strongly support the ISG’s exit strategy. It marks a sweeping, irreversible change of course for American foreign policy, and a death blow to Vice President Dick Cheney and the remaining, but dwindling population of neoconservatives inside the administration.

Adding insult to injury, the policy will be carried out by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, a former member of the ISG, who will purge the Pentagon of neocons, Rumsfeld loyalists, and assorted other extremists.

The ISG’s decision, which will be officially announced on December 6, represents a formal recognition by the American foreign policy establishment that Bush’s criminally misguided war of aggression in Iraq is lost. A war that was meant to demonstrate to the world the shock and awe of American power is ending as proof positive that the United States is too weak to subdue a fragmented nation of 25 million. A war that was meant to secure a preeminent place for the United States in the oil-rich Persian Gulf is ending with America in full retreat, leaving a shattered Iraq, a resurgent Iran, and a Saudi Arabia that is angry, bitter and disgusted with American bungling. A war that was meant to enhance Israel’s regional might is ending with what is likely, now, to be a reinvigorated push for a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian issue that will come at Israel’s expense—in Syria, in Lebanon, and in the Occupied Territories.

It is a war that has alienated America’s allies, emboldened its adversaries and rivals, inflamed its enemies and eviscerated its prestige. With each day that U.S. occupation of Iraq continues, each one of those effects is amplified. By supporting an end to the war, the Iraq Study Group has decided, at least, to stop the bleeding.

It is, however, too late to stop the bleeding in Iraq. Six hundred thousand dead Iraqis later, the United States will depart from Iraq leaving behind a nation whose citizens will be struggling to rebuild their society for decades. The U.S. invasion of Iraq is a war crime of the first magnitude, an illegal war that destroyed a nation that had never attacked the United States, that did not have any weapons of mass destruction, that did not have any ties to al-Qaida, that had no connection to the September 11 attacks, and which—at the start of the war—was a small, impoverished country with a decimated army. The civil war in Iraq may indeed get worse, and it may last for years. Each and every one of those deaths will be on George W. Bush’s conscience—if, in fact, the Bible-thumping hypocrite has any conscience left.

Even as the grown-ups in Washington scrambled to find a formula to end the war, Bush was reeling through another foreign trip like a manic Captain Queeg. “I’m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete,” Bush ranted in Latvia, where he embarrassed America once again at a NATO summit. “We can accept nothing less than victory.” Departing Latvia, Bush bumbled into Amman, Jordan. There, he was humiliated by Nouri al-Maliki, the powerless and ineffectual prime minister of Iraq, who decided he had more important things to do than to keep a dinner appointment with the president of the United States. (With Bush sufficiently humbled, they will meet today.)

The wreckage of Bush’s Middle East policy sprawls in front of him. As Jordan’s King Abdullah impolitely pointed out, the Middle East faces not one, but three separate civil wars: Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. The megalomaniacal Iranian ayatollahs are flexing their muscle throughout the region, training Shiite rebels in Iraq, backing Hezbollah in Lebanon and pressuring the Arab kleptocracies of the Gulf. A surly Israel is stiff-arming the Palestinians, even as it threatens Lebanon and Syria and issues dark warnings about bombing Iran’s nuclear installations. Afghanistan is spiraling out of control. Pakistan could fall any day to radical-right Islamists and careen toward war with India. The Bush record in the Middle East is one of breathtaking incompetence. The empty rhetoric of a “Global War on Terror” cannot disguise a policy that has led to chaos and carnage.

The ISG’s recommendations are not enough. Their reported intent to call for a “pullback” of 15 combat brigades still leaves open the door for a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq far greater than needed. Its apparent failure to call for a specific timetable, though politically expedient—reportedly, a compromise among its Republican and Democratic members—can allow for slippage or a stall. And there are legions of devils in the details. But in starting the process, the ISG has made George Bush an offer that he cannot refuse.

Meanwhile, the ISG—in fact, a thousand ISGs—can’t guarantee that the repercussions of the U.S. occupation of Iraq don’t spiral out of control. The civil war in Iraq could wind down, with the help of massive outside diplomatic help and the constructive involvement of Iraq’s six neighbors—or it could escalate, leaving another million or more Iraqis dead. And in so doing, it could pull in Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others, sparking a bloody regional conflagration. No one knows. The ISG doesn’t know. There are measures that can be taken to lessen the chances of the worst-case scenario unfolding. Such measures cannot be left to the United States. Like it or not, Iraq is now a basket case, and the world community—the United Nations, the Arab League, Iraq’s neighbors, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and powers like China and Japan—will need to step in. Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, has already offered to host a national reconciliation conference for Iraq’s warring sects and ethnic groups. A hundred other initiatives such as that will be needed.

Pray it isn’t too late.

Related Post:
Baker-Hamilton: Road to peace leads through Iran

Be All That You Can Be: Leave the Army

By David Swanson,
Posted on November 30, 2006

As long as there has been a U.S. military, people have been leaving it. That choice has never been more appropriate than today. Individuals who signed up to defend the United States are engaged in a war that was sold on the basis of lies, was entirely unnecessary, is making us less safe, has nothing to do with defending anyone, and which involves the horror of slaughtering men, women, and children by the hundreds of thousands. The majority of Americans want the war to end and just voted accordingly in the Congressional elections. The majority of Iraqis want the war to end. The majority of American service men and women in Iraq want the war to end. And taking part in this war is illegal, whether you are ordered to do so or not.

Approximately 8,000 Americans have refused to report for duty or deserted in order to avoid taking part in this war, or to avoid taking further part in it. Many have objected to the stop loss program that requires them to serve longer than they had agreed to. Others have objected to the rationale behind the war and the horrors that are part of it. Many are best able to support their families by avoiding military service that is poorly compensated. In the cases we know the most about, one motivation for desertion that is clearly absent is cowardice. While quiet desertion tends not to result in any penalty, public opposition and resistance often means prison.

Lt. Ehren Watada, the first U.S. military commissioned officer to publicly refuse to fight in Iraq, has said that he will not obey an illegal order. He faces court martial on February 4, 2007, for obeying the law. Sgt. Camilo Mejia was one of the first Iraq War vets to publicly refuse to return to Iraq -- for which he served 9 months in prison. Mejia objected to the war as based on lies and to the murdering and torturing of civilians that he witnessed. Sgt. Kevin Benderman is serving a 15-month sentence for the crime of applying for conscientious objector status and refusing to serve any longer in Iraq. Marine Corps reservist Stephen Funk was the first enlisted man to publicly refuse deployment to Iraq, and he spent 6 months in prison as a result. He said: "I will not obey an unjust war based on deception by our leaders." Dan Felushko enlisted as a Marine after September 11, 2001. When ordered to Iraq he deserted, commenting: "I didn't want 'Died Deluded in Iraq' over my gravestone. I didn't see a connection between the attack on America and Saddam Hussein."

Some who have deserted and been AWOL for months or years have decided that it is their proper duty to turn themselves in and face court martial. Ricky Clousing has done this. (Watch his explanation on video.).

Agustin Aguayo has done the same and faces charges with a maximum penalty of 7 years.

In many cases, turning yourself in is not easy. Pvt. Kyle Snyder, who spent Thanksgiving helping restore houses in New Orleans with Iraq Veterans Against the War, is currently AWOL and says that his lawyer has tried to contact the military 75 times.

The Army used to pay bounties for turning in deserters. Now the U.S. military leaves deserters alone but requires the troops who don't desert to serve longer than they agreed to. (These days we even elect deserters president. Bush was AWOL during the Vietnam War, and Clinton too avoided serving.) This is a break with the past, but much about resistance to the military has changed little since 1776.

Robert Fantina has just published a careful survey of past wars titled "Desertion and the American Soldier, 1776-2006." During the Revolutionary War, he tells us, one reason for desertion was the corporal punishment endured in the military. Men were often given 100 lashes. When George Washington was unable to convince Congress to raise the legal limit to 500 lashes, he considered using hard labor as a punishment instead, but dropped that idea because the hard labor was indistinguishable from regular service in the Continental Army. Soldiers also left because they needed food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and money. They signed up for pay, were not paid, and endangered their families' well being by remaining in the Army unpaid.

During the Mexican-American War, in a tribute to a future president, soldiers were branded on the face with a "W" if for some reason they were deemed worthless. This sort of treatment, as in the Revolutionary War, was one reason for desertions, but another reason played a large role and would play an increasingly prominent role in desertions through the course of later wars: lack of belief in the cause.

Through the course of recounting the types of desertions prevalent during the various U.S. wars and peace time, Fantina slowly begins to make a case for reforms in the military that he believes would reduce desertions. By the time he's discussing World War I he's arguing as follows: "Without fundamental change that allows a man or woman to be, first and foremost a human being, and a soldier only by chosen occupation, the military will continue to struggle with desertion."

But if, as Fantina proposes, soldiers are permitted to resign at any time, will we not see mass resignations? If troops now serving in Iraq could legally choose to quit, wouldn't many of them do so?

Fantina lists the various rights that soldiers die fighting to supposedly protect but which, as soldiers, they are denied. He views this as hypocrisy and injustice. But is it not necessary in order to get people to kill each other? Fantina describes cases in which deserters have been executed, deserters whose desertion put no one at risk, whose desertion was arguably justified, whose current lives were a threat to no one. "One can only wonder what good such [executions] accomplish," writes Fantina. But those who make war don't wonder much, I think. Does Fantina not see that he is calling into question the entire logic of war?

In the book's final pages, Fantina writes: "The following list of military reforms was suggested in 1903: Over 100 years later, most of them are yet to be implemented, yet they would certainly contribute to a more stable military force:

* 1. Private soldiers to receive a substantial increase in pay.

* 2. The employment of trained cooks.

* 3. Recognition of the right of all soldiers of whatever position to engage in criticism and in free speech at all times and under all circumstances.

* 4. All the food a soldier wishes to eat, instead of being limited as at present, to an inadequate 'ration.'

* 5. Absolute amnesty to all deserters from the army and navy.

* 6. The erection of modern sanitary buildings at all places where troops are quartered.

* 7. Service in the army to be limited to two years.

* 8. Abolition of military salutes and all other imbecile and servile practices.

* 9. Thorough practice in mobility, rapid field movements, quick concentration, with special attention to supplying the troops promptly and regularly with abundant, wholesome nourishing food.

* 10. All soldiers and officers, whatsoever, to eat exactly the same food, and to be housed or quartered alike at all times and in all places.

* 11. Prohibition of all forms of torture and violence."

Of course, Fantina is right. It is a disgrace the way we mistreat those who risk their lives for us. But would rectifying this produce a more stable force or a force likely to collapse when ordered to kill innocent people for power-mad cowboys and their oil profits?

Then again, would that be such a bad thing? Does anyone doubt for a minute that if the United States were actually threatened soldiers would sign up to fight proudly in its defense? Many did so following September 11, 2001. Many of them have since deserted. And rightly so. They, the deserters and resisters, are the ones to whom we owe the most gratitude.

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happy Christmas/War is Over

So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Christmas/War is over
For weak and for strong/If you want it
For rich and the poor ones/War is over
The world is so wrong/Ah ah ah ah
And so happy Christmas/War is over
For black and for white/If you want it
For yellow and red ones/War is over
Let's stop all the fight/Ah ah ah ah

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over
If you want it
War is over


Restoring constitutional government

Restoring civil liberties

A decent education program to replace the 'no child fiasco'

Getting out of Iraq

Ending hostilities against Muslim countries

Palestinian statehood

Ending use of torture, renditions & Gitmo

Population growth

Ending the war on drugs

Universal healthcare

Public campaign financing

Instant runoff voting & proportional representation

Reliable vote counting

End to robber baron capitalism

Foreign policy based on peace not war

Reduction of poverty & homelessness

End of corporate personshood

Nuclear disarmament

Use of eminent domain by private developers

Devolution of power

Small business

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

What, Actually, would it mean to win?

By Michael Albert, ZNet

Winning could mean a lot of things. It could mean that we won an end to a war, or to the IMF or World Bank. Or it could refer to winning higher wages, better work conditions, open information in a workplace, affirmative action for race or gender, or new ecological laws, or, of course, many other important gains.

But, I suspect the intended question is, "what, actually, would it mean to win another world?" And I suspect that by another world is meant one that leaves behind the racism, sexism, classism, authoritarianism, ecological devastation, and international violence so common to the current world, and that has various profound virtues such as promoting diversity, enhancing solidarity, attaining equity and justice, conveying self managing power to all citizens, husbanding the environment, attaining international peace, and so on.

If that's the intent of the question, then I think winning another world would mean winning a set of new institutions to replace key ones we now endure and able to accomplish necessary political, cultural, sexual, social, and economic tasks of society while furthering the positive values we aspire to.

Thus, winning another world would mean winning new ways of legislating norms, adjudicating disputes, and establishing and carrying out shared social projects: new polity.

And it would mean winning new ways of procreating and nurturing and socializing the next generation and of living in our families and other household units and enjoying our sexual and emotional potentials: new kinship.

And it would mean winning new ways of establishing, celebrating, and exploring collective identities, whether ethnic, racial, religious, or others: new community.

And it would mean winning new ways of producing our means of life, allocating that output, and also consuming it: new economics.

About each of these realms - political, kin, cultural, and economic - we know a great deal about current relations and their authoritarian, sexist, racist, and classist flaws. We know less, however, though still a significant amount, about features that would make the new world worthy and viable. Yet, to make organizing progress, we need to know much more of the latter, and to communicate it in inspiring ways suited to orienting and guiding immediate activity.

My own work has highlighted economics and in that realm, Participatory Economics, my preferred replacement for capitalism, is built on four institutional commitments.

First, the broad structures by which people participate in economic life and decision making are nested workers and consumers councils of the sort we have seen arise throughout history when workers and consumers seek to control their own economies. As an additional feature parecon's councils incorporate self management as the logic of decision making. People influence decisions in proportion as they are in turn affected by them.

Sometimes self management could require one person one vote and majority rule. Sometimes it could require that a different tally is needed, or that only some segment of the whole populace votes, or that consensus is needed. All such options are tactics to attain self managing say for all involved actors.

Second, remuneration in a parecon is for effort and sacrifice, not output of one's property or of one's labors, and not bargaining power either. In a parecon we earn more if we work longer, if we work harder, or if we work under more harsh or harmful conditions. Remuneration is for duration, intensity, and harshness endured - not for property, power, or output.

Parecon rejects the idea that someone should earn by virtue of having a deed in his or her pocket. There is no moral warrant for that nor is there any incentive warrant for it. Parecon also rejects a thuggish economy in which one gets what one can take, as in market exchange. And most controversially, parecon rejects the idea that we should get back from the economy the amount we contributed to it by our personal labors. Parecon understands that our personal output depends on many factors we can't control: our having better or worse tools, or our working in a more or less productive environment, or our producing more or less valued items, or our having innate qualities that increase or fail to increase our productivity.

Third, participatory economics needs a new division of labor.

If a new economy were to remove private profit and incorporate self managing councils with remuneration for effort and sacrifice, but simultaneously retained the current corporate division of labor, its commitments would be inconsistent. Having 20% of the workforce monopolize largely empowering and more pleasurable work and leaving 80% left with more obedient, rote, stultifying, and less pleasurable work, would guarantee that the former group - I want to call them the coordinator class - ruled over the latter group, or the working class.

Even with a formal commitment to self management, the coordinators, by virtue of the work they do, would enter each decision discussion having set the agenda for it, owning the information relevant to debate, possessing the habits of communication that will inform discussion, and exuding the confidence and energy to fully participate. The workers, in contrast, having been deadened and exhausted by the work they do, would come to decision discussions only disempowered and exhausted. The coordinators would determine outcomes and seeing themselves as superior would in time choose to remunerate themselves more, to streamline meetings and decision-making by excluding those below, and to orient economic decisions in their own ruling interests.

What this view highlights, in other words, is that one kind of class that exists above workers is owners, as we all know. By having a deed to property capitalist owners dispose over means of production, including hiring and firing wage slaves. But even with this class division eliminated, with no more deeds to productive property, with no more capitalists, the lesson of the perspective is that classlessness is not necessarily attained.

Another group that is also defined by its position in the economy, albeit differently than capitalists, can still wield virtually complete power and aggrandize itself above workers. And to avoid this type of coordinator class rule by about 20% of the workforce due to its monopolizing empowering positions and tasks we must replace the familiar corporate division of labor with a new approach to defining work roles. Parecon calls this third institutional commitment balanced job complexes.

Each of us who works at some job, in any society at all, will by definition be doing some collection of tasks. If the economy employs a corporate division of labor, however, then for about 20% of us our tasks will combine into a job that is largely empowering and very likely possesses greater than average quality of life impact, while for 80% of us our tasks will combine into a job that is largely disempowering and very likely possesses lower than average quality of life impact. The former coordinator class will be empowered and become the economy's ruling class. The latter working class will remain disempowered and remain subordinate.

In a participatory economy, in contrast, we combine tasks into jobs so that for each participant the overall quality of life and empowerment effect of his or her job is like the overall quality of life and empowerment effect of every other person's job. Everyone has an average balanced job complex. We don't have managers and assemblers, editors and secretaries, surgeons and nurses. The functions these actors now fulfill persist in a parecon, of course, but the labor is divided up differently.

So some people do surgery while most don't, but those who take scalpel to brains also clean bed pans, sweep floors, or assist with other hospital functions. The total empowerment and pleasure the surgeon's job affords is altered by remixing tasks. She now has a balanced job complex conveying the same total empowerment and probably also roughly the same pleasure as the new job of the person who previously only cleaned up.

The domination of what I call the coordinator class over all other workers is removed not by eliminating empowering tasks, or by everyone doing the same things, both of which scenarios are not only irrational but impossible, nor by merely extolling rote work as important, which is possible to do and is even familiar historically, but which is structurally nearly vacuous -- but by distributing empowering and rote work so that all economic actors are able to participate in self managed decision making without advantage or disadvantage due to their economic roles.

Finally, fourth, what if we have lots of workplaces and communities that are all committed to having workers and consumers councils, to using self managed decision making procedures, to having balanced job complexes, and to remunerating for effort and sacrifice, but, in addition to these features, we opt for central planning or for markets for economic allocation? Would this constitute a worthy vision?

With central planning the central planners would be distinguished by the conceptual and design character of their labor, and no doubt by their academic or other credentials. They would seek to have agents in each workplace with whom they could interact and who would be responsible for enforcing the central plan, people who held similar credentials to the central planners and were vested with similar dominating rights.

The dynamics of central planning are down go instructions up comes information about the possibility of fulfilling them, down go altered instructions up comes more information, down go final instructions up comes obedience. This command structure is authoritarian and its class implications are to resurrect the coordinator/worker distinction in each workplace and in the whole economy, in turn violating equitable remuneration and self management, as well. Even cursory analysis of central planning predicts that it would undo our other innovations, as does a look at its history, and so central planning must be rejected as unfit for desirable allocation.

Markets are similar in their unworthiness, and the case is even more important because markets have so much more support around the world and even on the left. I hate to do the ills of markets the injustice of a summary, but offering more about markets in a short essay like this would be an injustice too, misleadingly implying comprehensiveness that couldn't be present without much more attention given. In sum, markets misprice everything due to taking account only of buyers and sellers but not of others affected by transactions.

Markets create a rat race environment that breeds anti sociality thereby obliterating solidarity. In market exchanges nice guys finish last. Markets make violating the environment not only highly likely due to markets not properly accounting for environmental effects, but makes it inevitable, as sellers are forced to seek means to raise profits and ensure market share in a context where avoiding the costs of ecological damage rears up as one very effective route to that end.

Markets also require inside workplaces vicious cost cutting to generate sufficient surpluses to avoid being out competed, which in turn requires a sector of the workforce who decides the cost cutting policies, which sector to do a good job needs to be immune to the pains induced by cost cutting and schooled in making such decisions aggressively despite the human suffering the decisions impose. All this leads to the coordinator class being reinvigorated.

Rejected for all these reasons and more, what can we incorporate to replace markets and central planning as a component of participatory economics? The answer is participatory planning, a method of workers and consumers councils collectively and cooperatively negotiating inputs and outputs in accord with true and full social costs and benefits and in accord with each actor having self managing say.

Space forbids a full presentation of the structures, logic, and motivations of participatory planning, and many such descriptions exist online and in books in any case. The bottom line claim for participatory economics, however, is that combining workers and consumers councils, self managed decision making, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, balanced job complexes, and also participatory planning, not only attains classlessness but also propels solidarity, diversity, and equity. More, to the extent possible and with no recurring biases, participatory planning apportions to each worker and consumer about each economic decision self managing influence.

In sum, Parecon doesn't reduce productivity but instead provides adequate and proper incentives to work. It doesn't bias toward longer hours but allows free choice of work versus leisure. It doesn't pursue what is most profitable regardless of impact on workers, on the ecology, and even on consumers, but it reorients output toward what is truly beneficial in light of full social and environmental costs and benefits.

Parecon doesn't waste the human talents of people now doing surgery, or composing music, or otherwise engaging in difficult and skilled labor by requiring that they do offsetting less empowering labor as well, but by this requirement instead surfaces a gargantuan reservoir of previously untapped talents throughout the populace while apportioning both fulfilling and onerous and empowering and rote labor not only justly, but in accord with true and full self management and classlessness.

Parecon doesn't assume sociable much less divine citizens but instead creates an institutional context in which to get ahead in their economic engagements even people who grow up entirely self seeking and anti-social must be concerned for the general social good and the well being of others.

For these reasons and many more I think parecon is part of what it will mean to win a new world, and I hope that before long we can fill out our broad understanding of our goals with comparably defined visions for polity, culture, and kinship, thereby answering compellingly and inspiringly the question "what do you want," and thereby putting to rest the widespread despair-mongering fear that there is no better alternative." I believe such accomplishments can set us on the road not to hypothetically answering the question "what would it mean to win," but to actually winning, and then seeing what doing so would mean with our own eyes.

Rumsfeld to stay a while longer...

By Melissa McEwan
Posted on November 28, 2006, Printed on November 28, 2006

The White House says that incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whose confirmation is all but a sure thing, won't be sworn in until next year, because he "needs extra time to wind up affairs as president of Texas A&M University" -- an assertion that's apparently news to Gates, who has publicly said he's ready to quit as soon as he's been confirmed.

Another source (anonymous, natch) suggests that the White House may just be letting Rumsfeld break one last thing before he leaves: the record for longest-serving Secretary of Defense.

One source close to the White House, who spoke anonymously in order to keep his job, believes President George W. Bush has decided to wait until after Dec. 29 "as a personal gesture to Rumsfeld." On that date Rumsfeld would become the longest-serving Defense secretary, beating Robert McNamara's record of 85 months.

Crack out the bubbly. That's something worth celebrating.

(Via The Carbetbagger Report.)

Melissa McEwan writes and edits the blog Shakespeare's Sister.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Psychotics 4 Bush!

By Melissa McEwan
Posted on November 28, 2006, Printed on November 28, 2006

To be filed under duh:

[Christopher Lohse], a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.

…Lohse's study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person's psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.

The study began in part as an advocacy project "designed to register mentally ill voters and encourage them" to vote, while assessing "knowledge of current issues, government and politics." The Bush trend emerged in the course of the study, according to Lohse, who describes himself as a "Reagan revolution fanatic" who nonetheless finds Bush "beyond the pale." During the course of the study, it emerged that "Bush supporters has significantly less knowledge about current issues, government and politics than those who supported Kerry," and that greater levels of psychosis predicted Bush support.

"Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader," Lohse says. "If your world is very mixed up, there's something very comforting about someone telling you, 'This is how it's going to be'."

None of this is actually new information. That liberal voters tend to be much better informed as a group and tend to reject authoritarianism is well documented, from both the chicken came first angle and the egg came first angle. But it's nonetheless amusing to have further evidence that the people constantly calling progressives unhinged lunatics are, you know, way more likely to be nutzoid than the targets of their gleeful finger-pointing.

Via Tom Tomorrow, who dryly notes: "Anyone who's spent any time reading right wing blogs already understood this to be true." Indeed.

(This Modern World)

Melissa McEwan writes and edits the blog Shakespeare's Sister.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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EPA OKs spraying pesticides over waters

By Michael Doyle
McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration pleased farmers and frustrated environmentalists Monday by declaring that pesticides can be sprayed into and over waters without first obtaining special permits.

The heavily lobbied decision is supposed to settle a dispute that's roiled federal courts and divided state regulators. It's popular among those who spray pesticides for a living, but it worries those who fear poisoned waters will result.

"We need to act fast to stop mosquitoes when they are found," argued Jim Tassano, a pest-control operator in the California foothills town of Sonora. "Any delay results in adults emerging. It is far cheaper and much more effective to kill them as larvae ... (and) if a permit is required, the costs would skyrocket."

Tassano was one of hundreds to weigh in over the past three years as the Environmental Protection Agency mulled its options. His sentiments were shared by California's Merced and Tulare mosquito control districts, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Potato Commission.

"Requiring (federal) permitting would unnecessarily disrupt the effectiveness of (pest) control operations and adversely impact hundreds of business," the South Carolina Aquatic Plant Management Society warned.

The EPA decision gave the pest operators what they wanted. It also closely parsed the English language for what the all-important word "pollutant" means.

EPA officials concluded that a pesticide, when it's deliberately applied, isn't a "pollutant" under the terms of the 1972 Clean Water Act. Consequently, after considering nearly 700 public comments, officials ruled that federal "discharge" permits aren't necessary when using pesticides to control waterborne pests.

"It will just make things a little less messy," Fresno Mosquito and Vector Control District Manager David Farley said of the decision Monday. "It means we can continue to do what we have done for years, without additional permitting requirements."

The EPA also declared that permits aren't needed when using pesticides to control pests found over or near waterways, as in national forests. Any resulting damage is unfortunate but strictly collateral, officials maintained.

"Forest canopy insecticide applications can result in deposition to streams and other waters of the U.S., which are either not visible to the aerial applicator or not possible to avoid," the EPA stated.

Environmentalists, though, note that mosquito-killing chemicals can also poison shrimp, frogs and other aquatic innocents. The good intentions of mosquito-hunters shouldn't exempt the chemicals from permit requirements, these advocates believe.

"Pesticides are intended to kill living organisms, something that most would consider an adverse effect on the environment," noted Janette K. Brimmer, legal director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

EPA officials note that lawmakers didn't specifically include pesticides in the list of items covered under the Clean Water Act. Lawmakers did specify, though, a litany of substances that include "chemical wastes, biological materials, radioactive materials ... and agricultural waste."

The quantity of pesticides applied directly to water is only a small percentage of the total used. In California, for instance, the pesticides applied for mosquito abatement last year amounted to less than 4 percent of the state's total pesticide use.

When agencies in California's Central Valley were tamping down the West Nile Virus threat last summer, they typically were aerially spraying about one ounce of pesticide per acre. California officials hope that the new EPA decision could clear up some potential confusion over how such chemicals are regulated.

"The fact that we now have some clarification on this is a good thing," said Glenn Brank, a spokesman for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

The prior confusion stemmed in part from court decisions.

In 2001, the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal permit was required before herbicides could be applied on national forests in Oregon. Courts elsewhere, though, issued conflicting opinions, leading the EPA to try to clarify the muddle.

With environmentalists warning that the EPA's interpretation of the Clean Water Act is "unlawful," the possibility for future legal challenge remains.

© 2006 McClatchy Washington Bureau and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

United Nations v. United States

Phyllis Bennis
November 28, 2006
TomPaine Article

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. Her most recent book is Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the U.N. Defy U.S. Power.

This is a moment of several overlapping transitions at the United Nations. A new secretary-general will take over when Kofi Annan’s 10 years are up at the end of December. New countries will join the Security Council as temporary members. And U.N. agencies are choosing new leadership.

The stakes are high, as the U.N. remains the key to governments challenging U.S. wars and invasions. But the longstanding battle between U.S. domination and U.N. independence remains, and so far, it is off to a less than optimistic start. In the big game to this point, it’s 2 ½ points for U.S. domination versus just 1½ for U.N. independence.

First was the election of U.S.-backed Ban Ki-Moon, the South Korean foreign minister, as new secretary-general of the global organization. While his government had cautiously contested Washington’s hard-line policy on North Korea with its own “sunshine policy” focused on stability and ultimately reunification between North and South, Pyongyang’s recent nuclear tests have brought Seoul’s hard-liners to the fore, undermining adherents of the earlier policy including the foreign minister. It is very unlikely that Ban, known personally for a quiet, confrontation-averse diplomatic style will risk burning his fingers a second time in any high-visibility challenge to the U.S. on issues such as U.N. sanctions or extending the mandate of Washington’s “multilateral forces” occupying Iraq. And with the possibility remaining that President Bush could still appoint the take-no-quarter John Bolton to the U.N. on another non-ratified basis, it is doubtful we will see Ban stepping up to use the secretary-general’s global bully pulpit to mobilize opposition to Washington’s next unilateral war. Score one for the U.S.

Then came the composition of the new Security Council, in which five new “non-permanent” members are selected each year to join five other similarly second-class members in the Council alongside the “perm five”—the veto-wielding powers with permanent tenure: the U.S., France, Russia, China and Britain. Most of the time, the regional groups at the U.N. operate collaboratively, sending to the General Assembly for ratification the same number of candidates as their group’s vacant Council seats. That worked this time around for the Asian (Indonesia), African (South Africa) and European (Belgium and Italy) seats. But Latin America, which has emerged as the central front of the new challenges to U.S. economic and political policy, was different.

The region had one open seat (Peru will remain on the Council for another year). Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had months earlier staked out a high-profile international candidacy, using his oil wealth and undoubted—if sometimes private—popularity for standing up to Washington, to win support for a Council seat. Only after Chavez’s world-wide campaign (all members of the General Assembly vote to select the new regional members of the Council) was well underway did Washington enter the fray. The Bush administration was careful, to a point. Not wanting to acknowledge that they were carrying out their usual business of meddling in Latin American affairs, they didn’t publicly oppose Venezuela, but instead encouraged Guatemala’s sudden candidacy. The result was a high-profile battle of the bribes—though hardly an equal fight, since Washington’s diplomatic arsenal contains a far wider array of tools, including threats, punishments and other blandishments.

Quite quickly paralysis set in. After the Asian, African and European candidates had been ratified, weeks of campaigning and 46 separate votes were held in the General Assembly to choose between Guatemala (a hapless candidate indeed, discredited for being Washington’s pawn and facing opposition from more than 100 civil society organizations inside Guatemala, who urged the world body to deny their own government a role on the Council because of its continuing human rights violations) and Venezuela.

At the end of the day, both Guatemala and Venezuela agreed to step down in favor of a third candidate—giving the victory to Panama. In the broader U.S.-U.N. power struggle, this one would have to be called a draw: Venezuela wasn’t able to win majority support, and some diplomats attributed the failure to Chavez’s speech at the September 2006 General Assembly, when he famously referred to Bush as “the devil.” The remark brought not only laughter from the bored-with-diplomatic-oratory diplomats filling the Assembly Hall, but a huge ovation as well—leading embarrassed U.N. protocol officers to rush into the seats urging decorum. But even among some governments eager for greater challenges to U.S. unilateralism, there were fears that Chavez’s rhetorical excesses might undermine the potential for building strategic alliances against Washington’s power.

On the other hand, despite its huge investment of high-profile diplomatic capital, the U.S. couldn’t get its way either. Perhaps it failed because the General Assembly votes were taken by secret ballots, so U.S. threats had less resonance. Perhaps it failed because in 2006 Latin America is the center of a rising bloc of progressive governments ready to challenge U.S. economic and political strategies, and with the political and economic clout to do so safely. But whatever the reason, the U.S. defeat was a far cry from the most famous example of U.S. pressure at the U.N., the so-called “Yemen precedent,” still spoken of in whispers throughout U.N. headquarters. In that instance, during the November 1990 U.S. effort to win unanimous Security Council support for its resolution endorsing war against Iraq, U.S. bribes and threats had won a large majority of support in the Council. (Even China, which had long threatened to veto the resolution, was bribed into abstaining rather than using a veto.) But two countries voted no—Cuba, which opposed the war on principle, and Yemen, the sole Arab country on the Council. No sooner had the Yemeni ambassador put down his hand after voting against the resolution, the U.S. ambassador was at his side saying “that will be the most expensive ‘no’ vote you ever cast.” The remark was picked up on an open U.N. radio microphone, and broadcast throughout the building and ultimately around the world. So three days later, when the U.S. cut its entire aid budget to Yemen, the world took notice.

So far the score was 1½, for the U.S. domination, only ½ a point for U.N. independence.

Next came the moment to appoint a new head of the World Food Program, one of the most vital of the U.N.’s emergency assistance agencies. The WFP director is, by tradition, an American. (The same tradition holds true for UNICEF, the U.N.’s children’s agency.) The appointment would be made by out-going Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but with consultation and approval of his successor, Ban Ki-Moon. It was a moment to express at least a hint of independence. But instead, the U.S. preference carried the day, and the selection went to Josette Shiner, the nominee of the Bush administration. Shiner is a former editor of the right-wing Washington Times, owned by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon, and was a long-time member of the church itself. Perhaps more relevant, Shiner is currently the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs. What she knows about global hunger and feeding starving people appears to be nothing; the slick pamphlet produced by the State Department to push her candidacy focuses on her management skills. U.S. business interests as well as ideology appear to be the key bases for the nomination. Shiner’s appointment was not unlike that of Ann Venemen, the current director of UNICEF, who came to the position directly from her post as Secretary of Agriculture in the Bush administration. In both instances, supporting U.S. agricultural interests (just where will WFP and UNICEF be most likely to buy sorghum and wheat for high-protein emergency rations?) trumped the knowledge of how to feed hungry children.

Score one for Washington.

Perhaps looking to catch up, Secretary-General Annan moved to reassert U.N. power in his leading role at the international global warming conference last week in Nairobi. He berated world leaders, singling out most major industrialized countries for special scorn. Political leaders who continue to resist the massive changes that will be required, Annan went on, are “out of step, out of arguments and out of time.” Score one for the United Nations.

It is still possible for the U.N. to reclaim its independence, and with it, the global support of the world’s people, something now endangered by the perception of the U.N. giving in to Washington’s pressure. It is still possible for the incoming Secretary-general Ban Ki Moon to claim the global role of defender of the U.N. Charter, international law and multilateralism, and to speak out against U.S. domination. It is still possible for the General Assembly to answer Washington’s most recent Security Council veto, once again of a resolution designed to hold Israel accountable for its illegal actions in the Gaza artillery attack that left 19 people dead, including 7 children and 6 women, by passing its own resolution condemning the assault and calling for international protection for Palestinians in Gaza.

It is still possible. But with the score at 2 ½ to 1½, time is running out for the U.N.—especially the secretary-general and the General Assembly—to return to the role of a global challenger to U.S. unilateralism and militarism. The last time the U.N. played its Charter-mandated role of working to stop “the scourge of war” was in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq, when the Security Council refused to endorse the invasion, the General Assembly condemned it, and eventually the secretary general called it illegal. The U.N. then was part of the massive mobilization in which “the world said no to war.”

It wasn’t enough, ultimately, to prevent the invasion, but it did deny the Bush administration what it so desperately sought: international legitimacy. It’s not too late for the United Nations to reclaim that role.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Alternative media can balance establishment's experts

By Gary Olson

The late political philosopher Isaiah Berlin coined the term ''secular priesthood'' to describe Russian commissars who were apologists for Stalin's crimes. Later, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky adapted the term to characterize their counterpart in contemporary societies, namely the higher level media, commentators and academic types who learn which side of their crusty French bread has the foie gras.

Just whom do they serve in our own society? Although we avoid the subject, we live in a class society. Roughly 2 percent of the population owns virtually everything that matters. Below them reside about 18 percent, those whom political analyst Michael Albert calls the ''coordinator class,'' most of whom administer the daily operations of the economy. They are the agents that workers encounter on a day-to-day basis. The government, including both parties, serves this group. Finally, at the bottom, 80 percent of the population consists of working people with little or no power or influence.

The secular priesthood belongs in the second group and the target for their actions are the minds of newspapers readers like yourselves, educated people with some discretionary time and resources. The fear is that if this vast middle class knew the truth, they would demand changes that would threaten the top 20 percent. Therefore, obedience to the system must be engineered by those whose stated opinions habitually echo what Orwell once called the official truth.

For their servility, the secular priesthood is accorded a lavish lifestyle, respectability, minor celebrity status, and the label ''experts.'' Henry Kissinger, in a rare candid moment, once defined an expert as ''a person who knows how to articulate the consensus of his constituency.'' Their function is to create public opinion, in Chomsky's phrase, to ''manufacture consent'' through disinformation, misinformation, and especially omission of vital information. It's impossible not to detect a measure of contempt for ordinary citizens in this behavior.

Some carefully vetted academics become, as British writer Tariq Ali terms them, ''embedded experts of the empire.'' Being ''useful'' wins them prizes, access to major media outlets and tenure at places like Harvard, Yale and Stanford. They are called upon to provide commentaries in The New York Times, on CNN, NPR and The PBS Nightly News Hour. Within the media, establishment lapdogs do entertain vigorous debate, but only within narrowly circumscribed limits of acceptable thought. Because core issues are never addressed, they presumably do not exist.

By contrast, critical intellectuals who raise nettlesome questions aren't invited. To accord ''expert'' status to them would undermine the legitimacy of the domesticated intellectuals. Therefore, critical intellectuals are marginalized, dismissed as provocative, pariahs or worse. (Here I might note that this newspaper, The Morning Call, deserves credit for its routinely demonstrated practice of a free press and respect for the First Amendment.)

What are a few propositions that demand widespread exposure and debate?

1. Meaningful democracy and capitalism are mutually exclusive.
2. The United States is hated not for what we are but what we do in the world.
3. Oil can never be cited as the real motive behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
4. Sources of cheap labor, resources and profits — not promoting freedom — explain the 800 U.S. military bases around the globe and U.S. foreign policy since 1945.
5. The Israeli lobby in Washington does not serve this country's best interests.
6. The ''war on terrorism'' is only the latest propaganda tool to scare the public for other ends.
7. The proposed U.S. ''defense shield'' in outer space is an offensive weapon.
8. The purchasing power (adjusted for inflation) of the typical American family been falling for many years.
9. Big Business loves illegal immigration.
10. Most people experience no signficant upward mobility and the American Dream is now officially a myth.

Where does one find an antidote to the ''official truth'' on these and other issues? Progressive Web outlets that I use frequently include Common Dreams, ZNet/Z Magazine, F.A.I.R., DollarsandSense,, Counterpunch, TheProgressiveMagazine, Pacifica Radio and AlterNet. Alternative media aren't a substitute for activism, but they are a necessary prerequisite.

Gary Olson, Ph.D. is chair of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem. His e-mail address is

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sam Smith Is The Man!


Why it's so hard to make good things happen

Sam Smith,

This is the part of history I don't like. Not the part where people don't know what's happening to them nor the part where they try to do something about it. There's plenty to do in both those parts. No, it's the part where people know there's something wrong but nobody knows what to do and how to do it and so they just sit around or go through the same old motions just as vulnerable as when they didn't know what was going on only now they're also mad and frustrated and confused and nothing happens even though everyone wants it to.

It's also a time of fear and, as boxing trainer Teddy Atlas points out, fear usually lasts longer than the thing you fear. You can count by seconds the time the other boxer smashes you about, but you can count by hours or days the time you spent worrying about it, hours and days that, that beyond their intrinsic pain, can make the thing you fear, when it happens, even worse than it had to be.

So you try to push away the fear and do the same old thing and just wait.

And what are you waiting for? Perhaps for something so catastrophic or moving that everyone changes what they're doing or not doing and does something else. Or for some group of people to do something nobody was expecting and then nothing is the same - typically because the group that does something is too young or too idealistic or too committed to have jettisoned all their hope, or because they're too poor or too beaten down to worry about falling any further.

If you follow history you know these times are going to come but you also know that you're not going to know when they're gong to come and so, if you still care at all, you just keep doing what you have been doing all along and hope that change will come sooner rather than later.

And then sometimes the hope just fizzles out. Like the Zapatistas, the World Trade demonstrations, the immigrant' protests with all their vibrations suggestive of something big about to happen. But in the end, the tectonic plates just stay right where they've been all along.

And what if we have fouled our own souls and psyches as badly as we have fouled the environment? What if we are the rats in a cage we call civilization but which is really the end of a civilization? Maybe we won't become extinct but only lousy versions of what we were once. It happens to other creatures. What gives us the immunity that frogs lack?

I would like to be surprised just like everyone was surprised when a few students sat down at a lunch counter in the 1960s but I'm struck by how many ways the rules have altered since then and how much harder that makes it for the serendipity of change.

Over the past few months I've been jotting some of these ways down on scratch pads, file cards, or the margins of the morning paper. Then one day I started putting them into the computer and even my keyboard almost went into catatonic collapse.

I can't write this, I scolded myself. I will just be aiding the enemy with gratuitous despair.

But the words still seemed true and, in a curious way, offered a glint of courage because they helped diagnose the cause of our suffering and perhaps contained, albeit well concealed, the hint of a cure. By considering these things we might find clues not only as to the true direction of hope but also about why so much of what has been tried hasn't worked. In doing so we may better distinguish between what is truly useless and what is merely the frustrations of the darkest part of the night.

Here then are a few of the ways in which America has become harder to change. Read them not as a victim seeking vindication for weakness or despair but as a mechanic seeking the right place to start the repairs:

- Americans are becoming increasingly socially isolated. It is hard, for example, to imagine a great social revolution with so many ears literally tuned out. And not just to Ipods. Many, as non-profits are finding, are too stressed or too busy to engage in joint ventures beyond the necessary or the profitable. From the hyper schedules of well-ordered pre-schoolers to the adult time destruction by the economy, it is harder to find the room to change.

- We live in a semiosphere of lies, noise and myth - bombarded by advertising, hype, interminable words and by sights and sounds devoid of meaning. The unavoidable ubiquity of these external messages is only a few decades old. Assessing reality in such circumstances is a chancy business at best.

- The media and its manipulators have developed weapons of propaganda far exceeding anything Goebbels could have imagined. Conversely badly needed information is simply not reported. As my nephew Trip Kise put it, "Information is marginalized, minimalized or spread as disinformation."

- Our educational system increasingly demands answers without thought and it tests for inculcation rather than judging imagination, critical analysis and comprehension. Pursuing change on campus has become a form of disorderly conduct.

- Progressive churches and church leaders have either vanished, become intimidated by the religious and secular right, or operate at funding and energy levels a fraction of what they enjoyed during earlier activist periods.

- Anyone wishing to create a coalition soon runs into the atomization of public interest groups each with their own turf and funding demands and often leery of taking up arms with others of whom their funders might not approve or who might be seeking funds from some of the same sources. Thus easily perceived demands of intramural competition among these groups often overwhelm grander but less obvious common causes.

- At the other end are pseudo movements that create the illusion of mass action while in fact being little more than public relation agencies for particular causes taking up space that a real movement might otherwise occupy. Many of these faux movements are funded by foundations or political groups that aren't all that interested in change anyway.

- A major decline of progressive America occurred during the Clinton years as many liberals and their organizations accepted the presence of a Democratic president as an adequate substitute for the things liberals once believed in. Liberalism and a social democratic spirit painfully grown over the previous 60 years withered during the Clinton administration.

- History has become far less socially important. In preliterate societies, history was inexorably blended with the present and was a living part of current reality. More modern societies put history in its temporal place but still gave it honor and considerable social significance. Now, however, we are increasingly relegating history to the back cable channels and replacing it in schools with driving and anti-drug programs. In its place, our culture gives extraordinary emphasis to the new and the ephemeral. The result is that both the virtues and the horrors of the past are not easily available as organizing or educational tools.

- Our constitutional republic is dead. One may argue whether we have only temporarily lost our way or are moving inexorably towards fascism but, in either case, social and political action lack the protection that comes from a commonly observed moral and democratic core.

- There is no clearly apparent counterculture around which dissent and action can organize itself.

- There are a lack of comfortable social refuges for dissenters.

- There is little sense of solidarity among the unhappy and restless of the country. It seems at times that the evolution of our culture, which has removed so many from family and community and left them to fight their battles on their own, makes the whole idea of solidarity an alien one.

- Nothing can happen for long before its definition and image becomes the intellectual property of a media that couldn't care less for its well being.

- America's most self-serving, self-promoting, self-important, self-absorbed and self-referential establishment - with the least possible justification for any of these traits - has spent the past quarter century destroying our economy, environment and constitution. Establishments are typically obstacles to change; this one has been a deadly enemy.

- We have changed from being a country that makes things to being a country that markets things. An extraordinary number of Americans outside the service industries spend their lives selling products, ideas or images to others. Their targets are no longer considered citizens but merely consumers and even many progressive organizations treat them this way, demanding only their contributions and their signatures. But consumers don't produce change; citizens do.

- More than a few young Americans have mentioned to me that whatever one does will simply get co-opted by greater forces in politics and corporations. This pessimism probably has a far greater hold than is generally recognized.

- The Internet was seen by many of its early users (including myself) as a tool for the restoration of democratic power and the achievement of change. We were wrong. In the 15 years that the Internet has played a marked social role, America has moved dramatically to the right. Coincidence? Perhaps, but it is something that needs to be examined.

- Our last two presidents have been pathologically clever and deceitful in manipulating public opinion and repeatedly dishonest.

- We haven't elected a president by a clear majority in nearly 20 years which has helped to leave a sense of a permanent insurmountable division.

- The population of the U.S. has nearly doubled since 1950; it has increased about 50% since 1970. The original 13 colonies - about the size of today's Los Angeles - had a population less than 2% of today's America. This has huge implications for how people relate to one another, how they spend their time, and how they go about getting other people to do good things.

- During the period that the size of the country has doubled, television has become an overwhelming factor in politics, business and social life. The time that televisions are turn on in the average home has increased by an hour just in the past decade.

- Television has had an impact on how people are organized and how organizers think they should be organized. Mass meetings of the sort that built the Populist and Socialist parties are rare; For the typical voter, politics is a virtual and lonely business.

- For most adults, a politics defined by television means that politics has not only become less personal and less communal but less dependent on folklore and local information. Politics was once about things remembered. Politics was also about gratitude. Above all, politics was about relationships. The politician grew organically out of a constituency and remained rooted to it as long as incumbency lasted. Today, we increasingly elect people about whom we have little to remember, to whom we owe no gratitude and with whom we have no relationship except that formed during the great carnie show we call a campaign.

- The media has shifted from being economically and socially representative of its audience to being a part of the establishment that controls the audience. The media can no longer be expected to stand up for its readers or viewers against the establishment.

- The media regularly suppresses debate on major issues such as national health insurance policy and the war on drugs. The media basically functions as a Berlin Wall of the mind, preventing the logical, the fair, the moral from entering public affairs.

- The government and its police have become more aggressively repressive of political action, more fascistic in techniques, and ubiquitous in surveillance.

- There has been, nationally and globally, a marked increase in Christian, Muslim and Jewish radical fundamentalism and aggressive self-righteousness.

- America has increasingly engaged in social bigotry towards groups that earlier would have been considered constituencies to which to appeal. This includes not only immigrants, but pot smokers, the young, the poor, and the overweight. In an older politics, simply thanks to the numbers of voters involved, politicians would have courted rather than alienating such groups. Now some are sent to jail, some are ridiculed, some are deported, some get their subsidies reduced, and some are held up as negative examples.

- Why is this possible? One good reason is that what matters now in campaigns is money - which the votes dutifully follow. Another is that far fewer people bother to vote. If those of voting age turned out today's presidential elections in the same proportion as they had in 1960, there would be 24 million more voters, or nearly 25% more cast ballots. Those are people who have given up on the system or have no idea of how to use it.

- Politicians and the media have conspired to redefine what were once considered "unalienable rights" as matters to be balanced at the will of the government by "responsibilities" as defined by that government.

- The direct intervention in politics by criminal - as opposed to merely corrupt - elements, which began with mob's involvement in the Kennedy election, has now become commonplace. In politics, we all live in a Mafia neighborhood now.

- The declining integrity of election systems has not only raised questions about the last two presidential votes, but for some about the value of voting at all.

- Traditional political corruption operated as a feudal system in which the politician was expected to repay favors at the grassroots level. Today's corruption offers no rebate to the average citizen. Instead, one has to be wealthy and powerful to benefit from political corruption.

- Politics is carried out in a culture of impunity in which those in the establishment increasingly see themselves exempt from standards previously established by tradition, community, constitution or ordinary law.

- Ethnic politicians - both black and latino - have retreated to, or been pushed into, the security of a ghettoized politics in which their positions are both safe and largely irrelevant. Given the perversity of our non-proportional election system, minority politicians can only exercise real influence when they lead the majority but most minority politicians - aided by the effects of growing gerrymandering - find themselves instead living on political reservations where what they do and think really doesn't matter. When one occasionally breaks out, such as Barak Obama, it is only because he represents a safe change in color without any significant change in politics.

- The drug Soma, obstacle golf, Feelie movies and Centrifugal Bumble-puppy were used in Huxley's Brave New World to placate the masses. These have been supplanted by a enormous variety of political tranquilizers ranging from actual drugs to distractions such as video games and even substitute elections such as American Idol and Survivor. Never have Americans in their off-work hours had so many ways to avoid what is really going on. Never have so many Americans been deactivated in imagination, creativity and energy by drugs prescribed by medicine rather than by taking those of their own choice.

Short of exile, how does one deal with such a situation? Merely berating it is futile, yet ignoring it is masochistic.

Part of the value in detailing our problem is that it reminds us in how many ways what we have been doing about it hasn't worked. Move On hasn't worked but then neither has the Green Party. The conventional media hasn't worked but then neither has the Internet. Thoughtful analysis hasn't helped but then neither have blogger rants or political pop theater.

Admittedly, maybe all we're waiting for is one of those mysterious moments when everything starts to move, a phase transition that frees up action, hope, and decency. Maybe nothing will work until forces that refuse to be hurried find themselves suddenly aligned.

But it is more likely that we simply haven't caught up with the number and mass of new influences affecting people and their politics so that we are, in effect, still fighting the last war.

What if, on the other hand, we accept that our approach to politics may be anachronistic and start asking questions that might lead us towards some new answers. Questions like:

- How does one increase the solidarity among those in opposition to greed-grounded and repressive forces in the face of all the distractions and disabilities of our semiotic addictions?

- How does one avoid the wheel spinning typical of normal progressive gatherings with their stolidly pre-determined agendas that limits both participants and results?

- Many Democrats, Greens, and Libertarians agree on some critical issues. Why is it so difficult to create cross-over coalitions on matters such as civil liberties?

- How could the Internet be better used to create broad-based consensus rather than being a largely tool for groups clever at niche manipulation? How do we make the Internet the virtual lower house of parliament in a world in which the major division is between governments and their peoples?

- What effect could voting reforms such as public campaign financing or instant runoff voting have? Don't we have to change the rules of the game before we stand a chance of winning it?

- How do we reintegrate politics and culture so that the former is no longer relegated to television but reflects and grows out of the latter? How do we train activists to make politics a part of culture again?

- Couldn't we at least have a button or logo - as with the peace symbol in the 60s - that would help us to know how many others draw from the same well of the soul?

- Which of our current habits bear up under today's conditions? Are marches and demonstrations really an effective way to produce change? Do we use radio enough? Do we use music as effectively as we might?

These are just a few examples of the sort of things worth discussing in seeking a new era in progressive politics that is not so heavily driven by traditional practices that once worked but no longer do.

Give each of the aforementioned problems some time and some meetings and some emails and some debates and maybe we can do better than we do right now. Give each problem some lateral thinking and maybe the guy on the left in the last row will come up with a new idea.

We can't lose anything from trying because even if we don't succeed we're only taking time and energy away from failure - so, at worse, it will just be a draw. And, as our belated awakening to ecological disaster reminds us, it is better to spend our time trying to figure out how the world really is than how we thought it was during the last war - which we didn't win either.