Sunday, January 31, 2010

Uri Avnery: The Israeli-Palestinian impasse, powerful critique of Obama

From: Sid Shniad

Uri Avnery


The Kangaroo

GEORGE MITCHELL looks like a kangaroo hopping around with an empty pouch.

He hops here and he hops there. Hops to Jerusalem and hops to Ramallah,
Damascus, Beirut, Amman (but, God forbid, not to Gaza, because somebody may
not like it). Hops, hops, but doesn't take anything out of his pouch,
because the pouch is empty.

So why does he do it? After all, he could stay at home, raise roses or play
with his grandchildren.

This compulsive traveling reveals a grain of chutzpah. If he has nothing to
offer, why waste the time of politicians and media people? Why burn airplane
fuel and damage the environment?

THE DECLARED aim of Mitchell is to "get the peace process going again". How?
"Get the two sides to return to the negotiating table".

There is a naïve American belief that all the problems of the world could be
solved if only the parties would sit down at the table and talk. When
reasonable people talk to each other, they will eventually arrive at a

The trouble with this is that the people responsible for the fate of nations
are not, in general, reasonable people. They are politicians with passions
and prejudices and constituencies, who are driven by the mood of the masses.
When one is dealing with a 130-year old conflict, the naïve belief in the
value of talk borders on folly.

Decades of experience indicate that negotiations are useless if one of the
parties is not interested in an agreement. Worse: negotiations can actually
cause damage when one of the parties uses them to waste time while creating
a false impression of progress towards peace.

In our conflict, peace negotiations have become a substitute for peace, a
means to obstruct peace. They are an instrument used by successive Israeli
governments to gain time – time to enlarge the settlements and entrench the

(In an interview with Haaretz published yesterday, Ehud Barak accused the
"left" in general, and Gush Shalom and Peace Now in particular, of not
supporting Netanyahu's call for negotiations. He got close to accusing us of

Anyone who now proposes negotiations "without prior conditions" is
collaborating with the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman government in a ploy to
sabotage the chances of peace. Indeed, Mitchell has become – perhaps
unwittingly – such a collaborator. When he exerts pressure on Mahmoud Abbas
"to come back to the negotiating table", he is playing the game of
Netanyahu, who presents himself as the great peace-lover. Abbas is being
pictured as a man who has "climbed a high tree and doesn't know how to get
down again". There is no occupation, no ongoing settlement activity, no
Judaization of East Jerusalem. The only problem is to get a ladder. A ladder
for Abbas!

All this for what? What is the kangaroo hopping for? It's all to help Obama,
who is thirsting for a political achievement like a man in the desert
thirsting for water. The start of negotiations, however meaningless, would
be presented as a great diplomatic success.

THE OTHER day, Obama himself made a rare gesture: the President of the
United States of America declared publicly that he had made a mistake and
apologized for it. He admitted that he had not properly understood the
difficulties involved in the restarting of the peace process.

Everybody praised the President. Such a courageous leader! Such nobility!

To which I would add: And such chutzpah!

Here comes the most powerful leader in the world and says: I was wrong. I
did not understand. I have failed. For a whole year I have not achieved any
progress at all towards a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Look
how honest I am! Look how ready I am to admit mistakes!

That is chutzpah. That is chutzpah, because a whole year was lost due to
this "mistake", a whole year in which 1.5 million human beings in Gaza, men,
women and children, have been suffering utter destitution, many of them
without sufficient food, many of them without shelter in the cold and in
rain. A whole year in which more than a hundred Palestinian homes in East
Jerusalem were demolished while new Jewish housing projects sprang up at a
crazy pace. A whole year in which settlements in the West Bank were
enlarged, apartheid roads were built and pogroms, under the "price tag"
slogan, were carried out.

So, with all due respect, Mr. President, the word "mistake" hardly suffices.

The Bible says: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso
confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). Obama
covereth not his "mistake", and that is good. But it is the second half of
the verse that counts: "confesseth and forsaketh". No mercy for one who
"confesseth" but not "forsaketh". You have not hinted with a single word
that you are about to forsake your old ways.

It is chutzpah for another reason, too: You say that you have failed because
you did not properly appreciate the domestic problems of the two leaders,
Netanyahu and Abbas. Netanyahu, you say, has an extreme right-wing
coalition, and Abbas has Hamas.

Sorry, sorry, but what about your own "coalition", which does not allow you
to move an inch in the right direction? What about the two houses of
Congress, which are completely subservient to the pro-Israel lobbies, both
the Jewish and the Christian-Evangelical? What about your fear of your
extreme right, which is supporting our own extreme right? What about your
inability – or unwillingness – to exercise your leadership, invest political
capital in a confrontation with the lobbies and move forwards according to
the real interests of the United States (and Israel) – as did President
Dwight D. Eisenhower in his time, and even, for a short period, Secretary of
State James Baker?

THE TERRIBLE blow dealt to Obama in the Massachusetts by-election has
dumbfounded many people. It has changed the texture of American politics and
is endangering the health system reforms, the jewel in the crown he has put
on his head. It threatens to turn him into a lame duck that may not only
lose the midterm elections this year, but even fail to be reelected less
than three years from now.

Many ask: what happened to the shining candidate who enchanted the entire
United States and mobilized millions of enthusiastic new voters? Where is
the man with a vision who aroused the masses with the battle-cry "Yes, We

How did the inspiring campaigner turn into a so-so president, one who does
not excite anyone? How did the candidate, who always hit exactly the right
note, turn into a president who is unable to touch the hearts of the people?
How did the candidate, who made all the right decisions, turn into a
president who cannot make decisions? How did the anti-Bush turn into

It seems to me that the answers lie in one of the fundamental paradoxes of
the democratic system. I have thought about this many a time while sitting
through boring speeches in the Knesset.

A democratic leader who has a vision and wants to realize it has to pass two
tests: to win an election and to govern a country. If he does not get
elected, he will not have a chance to realize his dream. If he fails in
governing, his election victory loses its meaning.

The trouble is that these two tasks are very different. Indeed, they tend to
contradict each other, because they demand very different talents.

The candidate must make speeches, excite the imagination, make promises and
convince the voters that he is capable of fulfilling them. These talents can
indeed be of help to the ruler – but they do not suffice to enable him to
rule. The ruler must make hard decisions, withstand extreme pressures,
manage a huge apparatus with many contradictory components, convince the
public of his country and the leaders of foreign countries. He cannot
satisfy all sectors of the public and all the interest groups, the way he
tried to do as a candidate.

The most inspiring candidates often turn out to be disastrous heads of
government. They are swept into power by the enthusiasm they evoke in their
voters, and then suddenly find out that their brilliant speeches have no
impact any more – not on the members of their parliament, not on the public,
not on foreign leaders. Their brightest talent has become useless.

I have the impression that Obama's numerous speeches are starting to tire
people and are losing their appeal. When he turns his face from left to
right and from right to left, from one teleprompter to the other, he starts
to look like a mechanical doll. The millions viewing his speeches on TV see
him turning to the left and turning to the right, but never really looking
them in the eyes.

The candidate is an actor on stage playing the role of a leader. After the
elections, when he actually becomes a leader, he can become helpless. The
man who plays Julius Caesar in Shakespeare's play can be a great actor – but
if he were Caesar in real life, he would not have a clue what to do. (When I
put this to an actor, his retort was: "But Caesar himself would not be able
to play Caesar on the stage!")

Barack Obama is no Caesar. Rather he is Hamlet, Prince of America.
Enchanting, attractive, full of good intentions – but feeble and hesitant.
To rule or not to rule, that is the question.

IT IS much too early to announce Obama's political death. Contrary to Mark
Antony, who declares in the play "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him",
I am not yet ready to bury the great hope raised by him.

A year has passed since he entered the White House. A year wasted to a large
extent. Three more years are left until the next elections. True, in the
first year, after such a dramatic victory, it would have been much easier
for him to do things than in the following three years, but Obama can still
recover, draw the necessary conclusions from the experience and manage a

One of the roads there leads through Jerusalem. Obama must keep his kangaroo
tied up at home and take the initiative into his own hands. He must announce
a clear peace program, the one about which there is now a world-wide
consensus (Two states for two peoples, a Palestinian state in all the
occupied territories with its capital in East Jerusalem and the dismantling
of the settlements in Palestinian territory) and call upon the two sides to
adopt it in theory and practice – perhaps by a referendum on both sides.
When the time is ripe, he may come to Jerusalem and address the Israeli
people from the Knesset rostrum with a clear and unequivocal message.

In short: exit Hamlet, enter Julius Caesar.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

March of the Peacocks, Dan Ellzberg on Zinn, Haiti Benefit tomorrow

I've sent emails on Howard Zinn not only as a memorial tribute, but
because his profound sense of humanity really did mean just that -
all people and all struggles for justice throughout the world, with a
remarkable gift for analysis with the language of common folk and
common sense to explain and inspire.
Click on the URL below for an insightful look at Howard by a close
friend, combining stories of two or three days showing the character
of this warm, intrepid and humble giant.


March of the Peacocks

NY Times Op-Ed: January 28, 2010

Last week, the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to
the Obama administration, published an acerbic essay about the difference
between true deficit hawks and showy "deficit peacocks." You can identify
deficit peacocks, readers were told, by the way they pretend that our budget
problems can be solved with gimmicks like a temporary freeze in nondefense
discretionary spending.

One week later, in the State of the Union address, President Obama proposed
a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

Wait, it gets worse. To justify the freeze, Mr. Obama used language that was
almost identical to widely ridiculed remarks early last year by John
Boehner, the House minority leader. Boehner then: "American families are
tightening their belt, but they don't see government tightening its belt."
Obama now: "Families across the country are tightening their belts and
making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same."

What's going on here? The answer, presumably, is that Mr. Obama's advisers
believed he could score some political points by doing the deficit-peacock
strut. I think they were wrong, that he did himself more harm than good.
Either way, however, the fact that anyone thought such a dumb policy idea
was politically smart is bad news because it's an indication of the extent
to which we're failing to come to grips with our economic and fiscal

The nature of America's troubles is easy to state. We're in the aftermath of
a severe financial crisis, which has led to mass job destruction. The only
thing that's keeping us from sliding into a second Great Depression is
deficit spending. And right now we need more of that deficit spending
because millions of American lives are being blighted by high unemployment,
and the government should be doing everything it can to bring unemployment

In the long run, however, even the U.S. government has to pay its way. And
the long-run budget outlook was dire even before the recent surge in the
deficit, mainly because of inexorably rising health care costs. Looking
ahead, we're going to have to find a way to run smaller, not larger,

How can this apparent conflict between short-run needs and long-run
responsibilities be resolved? Intellectually, it's not hard at all. We
should combine actions that create jobs now with other actions that will
reduce deficits later. And economic officials in the Obama administration
understand that logic: for the past year they have been very clear that
their vision involves combining fiscal stimulus to help the economy now with
health care reform to help the budget later.

The sad truth, however, is that our political system doesn't seem capable of
doing what's necessary.

On jobs, it's now clear that the Obama stimulus wasn't nearly big enough. No
need now to resolve the question of whether the administration should or
could have sought a bigger package early last year. Either way, the point is
that the boost from the stimulus will start to fade out in around six
months, yet we're still facing years of mass unemployment. The latest
projections from the Congressional Budget Office say that the average
unemployment rate next year will be only slightly lower than the current,
disastrous, 10 percent.

Yet there is little sentiment in Congress for any major new job-creation

Meanwhile, health care reform faces a troubled outlook. Congressional
Democrats may yet manage to pass a bill; they'll be committing political
suicide if they don't. But there's no question that Republicans were very
successful at demonizing the plan. And, crucially, what they demonized most
effectively were the cost-control efforts: modest, totally reasonable
measures to ensure that Medicare dollars are spent wisely became evil "death

So if health reform fails, you can forget about any serious effort to rein
in rising Medicare costs. And even if it succeeds, many politicians will
have learned a hard lesson: you don't get any credit for doing the fiscally
responsible thing. It's better, for the sake of your career, to just pretend
that you're fiscally responsible - that is, to be a deficit peacock.

So we're paralyzed in the face of mass unemployment and out-of-control
health care costs. Don't blame Mr. Obama. There's only so much one man can
do, even if he sits in the White House. Blame our political culture instead,
a culture that rewards hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than serious
efforts to solve America's problems. And blame the filibuster, under which
41 senators can make the country ungovernable, if they choose - and they
have so chosen.

I'm sorry to say this, but the state of the union - not the speech, but the
thing itself - isn't looking very good.


From: Boulevard Music

Concert for Haiti

Culver-Palms United Methodist Church
4464 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City

Sunday, January 31st, 2-6 pm
Be there. Be hope.
Here's the final lineup, with a few added words:

All acoustic!
Laurence Juber (Grammy winning guitarist form Paul McCartney's Wings),
Amilia K. Spicer, Brad Colerick, Robby Longley, Freebo (Bonnie Raitt Band),
Lisa Turner, Robert Morgan Fisher, Dave Morrison Band, Blues legend Bernie
Pearl with Mike Barry, Susie Glaze & Hilonesome (award-winning bluegrass
band), Severin Browne, Duane Thorin, Michael Richards & Doctor Fun from
blues band Wumbloozo, James Lee Stanley, Dale LaDuke, Kara Grainger, Tracy
Newman, Dafni, Paul Lacques & Paul Marshall (from I See Hawks in L.A.), Sage
(Dan Brown and Kathy Jarel-Girgis), Tim Tedrow & Terry Vreeland, Matt
Cartsonis (famous film composer), Renaissance (top doo-wop vocal group),
Stephanie Bettman & Luke Halpin (top fiddle-playing vocalist on music

- - -

From: Bernie Pearl

I have been invited to perform at a "Concert for Haiti" benefit show, this
coming Sunday, January 31, at the Culver-Palms United Methodist Church, 4464
Sepulveda Bl., Culver City 90230. Admission by donation, all proceeds to
Haiti relief. Performances by many artists, TBA. Mike Barry and I will
perform in the early part of the program, before 3:00, which goes from
2:00-6:00. The church has a capacity of 300. Seating on a first-come basis.
I am always reluctant to clutter your mail boxes with promotion, but the
need to assist Haiti earthquake victims, I believe, supercedes other
considerations. Your understanding is appreciated. I hope to see you there,

Click the link for further information.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Historian Who Made History, Zinn::Memo to Obama


In a message dated 1/28/10 6:50:19 AM, writes:

Democracy Now's program yesterday had Noam Chomsky and Naomi
Klein briefly analyzing last night's speech, then joined by Alice Walker
to talk about their friend and teacher Howard and hear selected Zinn
thoughts, vintage and recorded on Democracy Now.



From: Dave Zirin
Edge of Sports

E of S Nation: This isn't about sports, but if you know my work, especially
A People's History of Sports in the United States, then you know I am
eternally indebted to the great historian Howard Zinn who died yesterday.
Please read or ignore. In tribute to Howard who always stood with the
underdog, I unabashedly pick the Saints to win the Super Bowl.
In struggle and sports
Dave Z

Howard Zinn: The Historian Who Made History
By Dave Zirin

Howard Zinn, my hero, teacher, and friend died of a heart attack on
Wednesday at the age of 87. With his death, we lose a man who did nothing
less than rewrite the narrative of the United States. We lose a historian
who also made history.

Anyone who believes that the United States is immune to radical politics
never attended a lecture by Howard Zinn. The rooms would be packed to the
rafters, as entire families, black, white and brown, would arrive to hear
their own history made humorous as well as heroic. "What matters is not
who's sitting in the White House. What matters is who's sitting in!" he
would say with a mischievous grin. After this casual suggestion of civil
disobedience, the crowd would burst into laughter and applause.

Only Howard could pull that off because he was entirely authentic. When he
spoke against poverty it was from the perspective of someone who had to work
in the shipyards during the Great Depression. When he spoke against war, it
was from the perspective of someone who flew as a bombardier during World
War II, and was forever changed by the experience. When he spoke against
racism it was from the perspective of someone who taught at Spelman College
during the civil rights movement and was arrested sitting in with his

And of course, when he spoke about history, it was from the perspective of
having written A People's History of the United States, a book that has sold
more than two million copies and changed the lives of countless people.
Count me among them. When I was 17 and picked up a dog-eared copy of Zinn's
book, I thought history was about learning that the Magna Carta was signed
in 1215. I couldn't tell you what the Magna Carta was, but I knew it was
signed in 1215. Howard took this history of great men in powdered wigs and
turned it on its pompous head.

In Howard's book, the central actors were the runaway slaves, the labor
radicals, the masses and the misfits. It was history writ by Robin Hood,
speaking to a desire so many share: to actually make history instead of
being history's victim. His book came alive in December with the debut of
The People Speak on the History Channel as actors, musicians, and poets,
brought Zinn's book alive.

Howard was asked once whether his praise of dissent and protest was
divisive. He answered beautifully: "Yes, dissent and protest are divisive,
but in a good way, because they represent accurately the real divisions in
society. Those divisions exist - the rich, the poor - whether there is
dissent or not, but when there is no dissent, there is no change. The
dissent has the possibility not of ending the division in society, but of
changing the reality of the division. Changing the balance of power on
behalf of the poor and the oppressed."

Words like this made Howard my hero. I never thought we would also become
friends. But through our mutual cohort, Anthony Arnove, Howard read my
sports writing and then gave his blessing to a book project we called A
People's History of Sports in the United States.

We also did a series of meetings together where I would interview Howard on
stage. Even at 87, he still had his sharp wit, strong voice, and
matinee-idol white hair. But his body had become frail. Despite this
physical weakness, Howard would stay and sign hundreds of books until his
hand would shake with the effort.

At our event in Madison, Wisconsin, Howard issued a challenge to the
audience. He said, "Our job as citizens is to honestly assess what Obama is
doing. Not measured just against Bush, because against Bush, everybody looks
good. But look honestly at what Obama's doing and act as engaged and
vigorous citizens."

He also had no fear to express his political convictions loudly and proudly.
I asked him about the prospects today for radical politics and he said,

"Let's talk about socialism. … I think it's very important to bring back the
idea of socialism into the national discussion to where it was at the turn
of the [last] century before the Soviet Union gave it a bad name. Socialism
had a good name in this country. Socialism had Eugene Debs. It had Clarence
Darrow. It had Mother Jones. It had Emma Goldman. It had several million
people reading socialist newspapers around the country… Socialism basically
said, hey, let's have a kinder, gentler society.

Let's share things. Let's have an economic system that produces things not
because they're profitable for some corporation, but produces things that
people need. People should not be retreating from the word socialism because
you have to go beyond capitalism."

Howard Zinn taught millions of us a simple lesson: Agitate. Agitate.
Agitate. But never lose your sense of humor in the process. It's a beautiful
legacy and however much it hurts to lose him, we should strive to build on
Howard's work and go out and make some history.

Edge of Sports | Modify Your Subscription | Unsubscribe Now


----- Original Message -----
Sent: Friday, July 18, 2008 9:50 PM

Memo to Obama, McCain: No one wins in a war

By Howard Zinn:
Znet: Jul 18, 2008

BARACK OBAMA and John McCain continue to argue about war. McCain says to
keep the troops in Iraq until we "win" and supports sending more troops to
Afghanistan. Obama says to withdraw some (not all) troops from Iraq and send
them to fight and "win" in Afghanistan.

For someone like myself, who fought in World War II, and since then has
protested against war, I must ask: Have our political leaders gone mad? Have
they learned nothing from recent history? Have they not learned that no one
"wins" in a war, but that hundreds of thousands of humans die, most of them
civilians, many of them children?

Did we "win" by going to war in Korea? The result was a stalemate, leaving
things as they were before with a dictatorship in South Korea and a
dictatorship in North Korea. Still, more than 2 million people - mostly
civilians - died, the United States dropped napalm on children, and 50,000
American soldiers lost their lives.
Did we "win" in Vietnam? We were forced to withdraw, but only after 2
million Vietnamese died, again mostly civilians, again leaving children
burned or armless or legless, and 58,000 American soldiers dead.

Did we win in the first Gulf War? Not really. Yes, we pushed Saddam Hussein
out of Kuwait, with only a few hundred US casualties, but perhaps 100,000
Iraqis died. And the consequences were deadly for the United States: Saddam
was still in power, which led the United States to enforce economic
sanctions. That move led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis,
according to UN officials, and set the stage for another war.
In Afghanistan, the United States declared "victory" over the Taliban. Now
the Taliban is back, and attacks are increasing. The recent US military
death count in Afghanistan exceeds that in Iraq. What makes Obama think that
sending more troops to Afghanistan will produce "victory"? And if it did, in
an immediate military sense, how long would that last, and at what cost to
human life on both sides?

The resurgence of fighting in Afghanistan is a good moment to reflect on the
beginning of US involvement there. There should be sobering thoughts to
those who say that attacking Iraq was wrong, but attacking Afghanistan was

Go back to Sept. 11, 2001. Hijackers direct jets into the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, killing close to 3,000 A terrorist act, inexcusable by any
moral code. The nation is aroused. President Bush orders the invasion and
bombing of Afghanistan, and the American public is swept into approval by a
wave of fear and anger. Bush announces a "war on terror."

Except for terrorists, we are all against terror. So a war on terror sounded
right. But there was a problem, which most Americans did not consider in the
heat of the moment: President Bush, despite his confident bravado, had no
idea how to make war against terror.

Yes, Al Qaeda - a relatively small but ruthless group of fanatics - was
apparently responsible for the attacks. And, yes, there was evidence that
Osama bin Laden and others were based in Afghanistan. But the United States
did not know exactly where they were, so it invaded and bombed the whole
country. That made many people feel righteous. "We had to do something," you
heard people say.

Yes, we had to do something. But not thoughtlessly, not recklessly. Would we
approve of a police chief, knowing there was a vicious criminal somewhere in
a neighborhood, ordering that the entire neighborhood be bombed? There was
soon a civilian death toll in Afghanistan of more than 3,000 - exceeding the
number of deaths in the Sept. 11 attacks. Hundreds of Afghans were driven
from their homes and turned into wandering refugees.

Two months after the invasion of Afghanistan, a Boston Globe story described
a 10-year-old in a hospital bed: "He lost his eyes and hands to the bomb
that hit his house after Sunday dinner." The doctor attending him said: "The
United States must be thinking he is Osama. If he is not Osama, then why
would they do this?"
We should be asking the presidential candidates: Is our war in Afghanistan
ending terrorism, or provoking it? And is not war itself terrorism?

Howard Zinn is author of "A Power Governments Cannot Suppress" published by
City Lights Books.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Zinn: Obama at One, Student Struggles at State Colleges

This may be Howard's last public writing. -Ed

Obama at One:

Little Surprising in Absence of Progressive Social Movement

By Howard Zinn

January 22, 2010 "The Nation" -- I've been searching hard for a highlight.
The only thing that comes close is some of Obama's rhetoric; I don't see any
kind of a highlight in his actions and policies.

As far as disappointments, I wasn't terribly disappointed because I didn't
expect that much. I expected him to be a traditional Democratic president.
On foreign policy, that's hardly any different from a Republican--as
nationalist, expansionist, imperial and warlike. So in that sense, there's
no expectation and no disappointment. On domestic policy, traditionally
Democratic presidents are more reformist, closer to the labor movement, more
willing to pass legislation on behalf of ordinary people--and that's been
true of Obama. But Democratic reforms have also been limited, cautious.
Obama's no exception. On healthcare, for example, he starts out with a
compromise, and when you start out with a compromise, you end with a
compromise of a compromise, which is where we are now.

I thought that in the area of constitutional rights he would be better than
he has been. That's the greatest disappointment, because Obama went to
Harvard Law School and is presumably dedicated to constitutional rights. But
he becomes president, and he's not making any significant step away from
Bush policies. Sure, he keeps talking about closing Guantánamo, but he still
treats the prisoners there as "suspected terrorists." They have not been
tried and have not been found guilty. So when Obama proposes taking people
out of Guantánamo and putting them into other prisons, he's not advancing
the cause of constitutional rights very far. And then he's gone into court
arguing for preventive detention, and he's continued the policy of sending
suspects to countries where they very well may be tortured.

I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to
begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which
means, in our time, a dangerous president--unless there is some national
movement to push him in a better direction.


Students Face a Class Struggle at State Colleges

NY Times: January 23, 2010

At 2:29 p.m. on Jan. 12, Juan Macias, 19, a sophomore at San Francisco State
University, sat in a cafe near the engineering firm where he works part time
as an office assistant, staring at a laptop computer screen.

In one minute he would get a crucial opportunity to register for classes for
the spring semester. "This is so nerve-wracking," he said as he waited for
the clock to signal that his assigned registration period had begun.

Hours earlier, scrutinizing the class schedule, he considered about 30
courses - then had to rule all of them out. They were full. The last slot on
the waiting list for a 146-seat introductory physics class he has been
trying to join for a year had disappeared minutes before, taken by another
student with an earlier registration period.

"You're trying to compete with all the other students, when we all want
education," said Mr. Macias, a business major. "It really makes me angry."
His classes - the ones that had an opening - begin on Monday.

Welcome to state-run higher education in California. Mr. Macias is just one
of more than 26,000 students at San Francisco State, and now educational
opportunities cost more and are harder to grasp and even harder to hold onto
than ever before. Mr. Macias's experience of truncated offerings, furloughed
professors and crowded classrooms is typical.

Neither of Mr. Macias's parents went to college; his father is a railroad
conductor. One of his five siblings dropped out of California Polytechnic
State University in San Luis Obispo to go to community college because of
financial constraints.

Terry Hartle, the senior vice president of the American Council on
Education, a trade association representing colleges and universities,
confirmed that higher education in California has become akin to navigating
an obstacle course.

"There are an awful lot of students in California who are having similar
problems," he said. "This is a potential tragedy for individual students."

In 1960, he added, the state created "the gold standard in high-quality,
low-cost public higher education. This year, the California legislature
abandoned the gold standard."

Because of state budget cuts to higher education, San Francisco State is now
offering 3,173 course sections, 12 percent fewer than two years ago. From
the university administration's point of view, that is not as bad as it
might have been: over $1.5 million in federal stimulus money prevented more
draconian cuts.

Among other things, oversubscribed classrooms can force a student like Mr.
Macias, who must be enrolled full time to keep financial aid, to take
courses that might have little to do with his progress toward graduation.

This semester, he is signed up for a biology class, but was unable to get
into the companion laboratory class. His other courses are a workshop on the
"history, aesthetics, mechanics and politics of rap music and hip-hop
culture," a class built around the campus radio station, KSFS, and a class
called "The Origins of Rock," which is supposed to be for upperclassmen.

He is on the waiting list for a humanities class called Style and Expressive
Forms and a physics laboratory class, which he hopes will help him get into
the physics lecture class. They are meant to be taken together.

But taking any class you can get into just to stay enrolled is no recipe for
excelling academically. Last semester his grades suffered. "I'm taking these
classes that I don't care about, getting bad grades in these classes," Mr.
Macias said. "That's affecting my G.P.A., at the same time that I'm fighting
so that I can have grades. It's really contradictory."

And it is not just classes that he has to deal with this semester. He must
also deal with the legal system. He faces misdemeanor trespassing charges as
a result of joining last semester's protests of the budget cuts.

Still, things could be worse. If he were a year younger, he would not be
able to take classes at San Francisco State. This spring, cutbacks have
largely ended the opportunity for community college students to move into
the state university system, which enrolls 433,000 students. Mr. Macias
transferred a year ago from Allan Hancock College, a community college in
Santa Maria.

Also, in response to budget cuts, San Francisco State plans to reduce
enrollment more than 10 percent for the 2010-11 academic year.

"These students are being told the doors to the university are closing,"
said Kenneth Monteiro, dean of the university's College of Ethnic Studies,
where even the student resource center has been shuttered for lack of funds.

This academic year, the university lost $38 million in state support.
Student fees are 32 percent higher. Hundreds of lecturers lost their jobs;
faculty and staff salaries were cut by 10 percent. Furlough days made the
university's schedule a chaotic patchwork of canceled lectures and shortened
office hours.

The cutbacks enraged students. On Dec. 9, Mr. Macias was among the student
activists who occupied the campus's Business Building for 24 hours,
canceling the classes held inside, including one he was taking. With a red
sweater partially obscuring his face, he took to the roof with 11 other
protesters, wielding a megaphone and leading chants.

When police broke up the occupation early the next morning, Mr. Macias, who
had never participated in a protest before he went to San Francisco State,
was arrested. On Jan. 26 he will go to court.

The chaos of trying to get into classes last fall spurred Mr. Macias. After
budget cuts forced class cancellations, he had to take a week off work to
attend 20 classes, as he tried to scrounge up enough units to keep his
full-time status and maintain his financial aid.

In an oceanography class, the professor drew names at random to pick among
the students trying to join the already-full class. Mr. Macias's name did
not come up. His final course load included several that he took to ensure a
full schedule, such as the Music of John Coltrane.

Mr. Macias also felt the cuts in the classroom. In the fall, Don Menn, a
lecturer in the journalism department since 1999, had taken pity on many
students who, like Mr. Macias, were seeking to join his introductory course,
Journalism and Mass Media. He let them all in, teaching 190 in a lecture
hall that seats 148. Some sat on the floor.

But with no budget for a teaching assistant to help with grading, Mr. Menn
had to slash the syllabus, canceling the midterm exam and the 10-page
research paper. While in the past he had frequently given essay tests, this
year all quizzes and the final were multiple choice.

"This is supposed to be a critical-thinking type class," Mr. Menn said, "and
here it was rote learning."

His students noticed the difference. "The classes are being dumbed down a
lot," Mr. Macias said.

Next year, students like Mr. Macias may face a further increase in fees.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget for 2010-11 includes a 10
percent fee increase for students at the California State University's 23
campuses. He also proposed restoring $305 million to the state university

Mr. Macias's education has already suffered. "Just worrying about having
enough units to stay in school made me lose focus on my schoolwork," he

Howard Zinn dies at 87, Zinn: From Empire to Democracy

Zinn's essay follows the obit. Like Linda Sutton, I feel a genuine
sadness, like a favorite uncle has passed. Admiration, inspiration
and a sense of deep loss. May his spirit be with us.

Democracy Now's program today has Noam Chomsky and Naomi
Klein briefly analyzing last night's speech, and are then joined by Alice
Walker to talk about their friend and teacher Howard, and hear some
selected Zinn's thoughts, vintage and recorded on Democracy Now.

From: Linda Sutton
Sent: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 5:14 PM

Very sad news...

Howard Zinn, historian who challenged status quo, dies at 87

"Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn
College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in
1956. He served at the historically black women's institution as
chairman of the history department. Among his students were the
novelist Alice Walker, who called him "the best teacher I ever had,"
and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children's Defense Fund.

During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement.
He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization
of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations."

By Mark Feeney,
Globe Staff: January 27, 2010 05:40 PM

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist
who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and a leading
faculty critic of BU president John Silber, died of a heart attack
today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling, his family said.
He was 87.

"His writings have changed the consciousness of a generation, and
helped open new paths to understanding and its crucial meaning for our
lives," Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, once
wrote of Dr. Zinn. "When action has been called for, one could always
be confident that he would be on the front lines, an example and
trustworthy guide."

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist
brand of history he taught. Dr. Zinn's best-known book, "A People's
History of the United States" (1980), had for its heroes not the
Founding Fathers — many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to
the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out — but rather the
farmers of Shays' Rebellion and the union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving
Train" (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own
history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted
more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not
just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of
silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever
they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

Certainly, it was a recipe for rancor between Dr. Zinn and Silber. Dr.
Zinn twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in
turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted)
and cited him as a prime example of teachers "who poison the well of

Dr. Zinn was a cochairman of the strike committee when BU professors
walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four
colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they
refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges
against "the BU Five" were soon dropped, however.

Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922, the son of Jewish
immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a
housewife. He attended New York public schools and worked in the
Brooklyn Navy Yard before joining the Army Air Force during World War
II. Serving as a bombardier in the Eighth Air Force, he won the Air
Medal and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until
entering New York University as a 27-year-old freshman on the GI Bill.
Professor Zinn, who had married Roslyn Shechter in 1944, worked nights
in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his
bachelor's degree from NYU, followed by master's and doctoral degrees
in history from Columbia University.

Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn
College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in
1956. He served at the historically black women's institution as
chairman of the history department. Among his students were the
novelist Alice Walker, who called him "the best teacher I ever had,"
and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children's Defense Fund.

During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement.
He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization
of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in
1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism now became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke
at countless rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he
and another leading antiwar activist, Rev. Daniel Berrigan, went to
Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North

Dr. Zinn's involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing
two books: "Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal" (1967) and "Disobedience
and Democracy" (1968). He had previously published "LaGuardia in
Congress" (1959), which had won the American Historical Association's
Albert J. Beveridge Prize; "SNCC: The New Abolitionists" (1964); "The
Southern Mystique" (1964); and "New Deal Thought" (1966).
Dr. Zinn was also the author of "The Politics of History" (1970);
"Postwar America" (1973); "Justice in Everyday Life" (1974); and
"Declarations of Independence" (1990).

In 1988, Dr. Zinn took early retirement so as to concentrate on
speaking and writing. The latter activity included writing for the
stage. Dr. Zinn had two plays produced: "Emma," about the anarchist
leader Emma Goldman, and "Daughter of Venus."

Dr. Zinn, or his writing, made a cameo appearance in the 1997 film
''Good Will Hunting.'' The title characters, played by Matt Damon,
lauds ''A People's History'' and urges Robin Williams's character to
read it. Damon, who co-wrote the script, was a neighbor of the Zinns
growing up.

Damon was later involved in a television version of the book, ''The
People Speak,'' which ran on the History Channel in 2009. Damon was
the narrator of a 2004 biographical documentary, ''Howard Zinn: You
Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train.''

On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he
could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his
lecture to come along. A hundred did so.

Dr. Zinn's wife died in 2008. He leaves a daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of
Lexington; a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three granddaugthers; and two

Funeral plans were not available.

PDLA mailing list


From Empire to Democracy

Let's not waste $700bn on a bail-out, but use 'big government' for what it's
best at - shaping a society that is fair and peaceable

by Howard Zinn
The Guardian UK: October 2, 2008

This current financial crisis is a major way-station on the way to the
collapse of the American empire. The first important sign was 9/11, with the
most heavily-armed nation in the world shown to be vulnerable to a handful
of hijackers.

And now, another sign: both major parties rushing to get an agreement to
spend $700bn of taxpayers' money to pour down the drain of huge financial
institutions which are notable for two characteristics: incompetence and

There is a much better solution to the current financial crisis. But it
requires discarding what has been conventional "wisdom" for too long: that
government intervention in the economy ("big government") must be avoided
like the plague, because the "free market" will guide the economy towards
growth and justice.

Let's face a historical truth: we have never had a "free market", we have
always had government intervention in the economy, and indeed that
intervention has been welcomed by the captains of finance and industry. They
had no quarrel with "big government" when it served their needs.

It started way back, when the founding fathers met in Philadelphia in 1787
to draft the constitution. The first big bail-out was the decision of the
new government to redeem for full value the almost worthless bonds held by
speculators. And this role of big government, supporting the interests of
the business classes, continued all through the nation's history.

The rationale for taking $700bn from the taxpayers to subsidise huge
financial institutions is that somehow that wealth will trickle down to the
people who need it. This has never worked.

The alternative is simple and powerful. Take that huge sum of money and give
it directly to the people who need it. Let the government declare a
moratorium on foreclosures and give aid to homeowners to help them pay off
their mortgages. Create a federal jobs programme to guarantee work to people
who want and need jobs and for whom "the free market" has not come through.

We have a historic and successful precedent. Roosevelt's New Deal put
millions of people to work, rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, and,
defying the cries of "socialism", established social security. That can be
carried further, with "health security" - free health care - for all.

All that will take more than $700bn. But the money is there. In the $600bn
for the military budget, once we decide we will no longer be a war-making
nation. And in the swollen bank accounts of the super-rich, by taxing
vigorously both their income and their wealth.

When the cry goes up, whether from Republicans or Democrats, that this must
not be done because it is "big government", the citizenry should just laugh.
And then agitate and organise on behalf of what the Declaration of
Independence promised: that it is the responsibility of government to ensure
the equal right of all to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".

Only such a bold approach can save the nation - not as an empire, but as a

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
Howard Zinn is a historian, playwright, and social activist

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Occupation in Humanitarian Clothing, more

The United Nations estimates 2 million Haitians are starving. As of
Satuday only 200,000 have gotten food aid. Just 10 %. I'd send you
data on US food and medical aid, but have not seen postings similar
to the above statistic or what's below. Please send me some.

I just got notice of my kind of musical benifit for Haiti, this Sunday.
Check it out, at the bottom -Ed

From: Carina Soto Aguero
Sent: Saturday, January 23, 2010 2:25 PM
Subject: courtesy of the ICC

Google translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.

Useful information about Cuban medical cooperation in Haiti

January 22, 2010

They are currently providing medical care in Haiti 417 Cuban health
collaborators. They have added 240 residents, interns, and Haitian
students of 5th year medical career who were being trained in Cuba.

Through January 22, 20,095 patients had been treated and 1,954 surgeries

Cuban doctors are working in 21 care points organized into 3 levels:

- City of Port au Prince: The Renaissence Hospital, Hospital La Paz, Ofatma
Hospital and Primary Care Traveling Brigade.

- Capital and Periphery: Leoganne Field Hospital, Arcahaie Island Lagonave,
Carrefourt, Integral Diagnostic Centers Grand Goave, Petit Goave and

- Other departments: Jacmel Field Hospital, Comprehensive Diagnostic Centers
Mirebalais, Anse-a-Veau, Raboteau and Aquin, Les Cayes, Cap Haitien, Port de
Paix, Grand Anse and Nippes

Cuba has put into operation in Haiti 14 operating rooms with 16 surgical

Alongside the Cuban personnel are working more than 100 specialists from
several countries (Venezuela, Chile, Spain, Mexico, Colombia, Canada) and 17
nuns, most of them in the Hospital de la Paz.


From: "Sid Shniad" <>

25 Jan 2010

*Haiti earthquake: Italian disaster expert attacks US response*

Guido Bertolaso, Italy's top disaster expert, has attack the US response to
the Haiti earthquake, criticising its lack of organisation and the reliance
on soldiers with no training in humanitarian operations.

Mr Bertolaso, head of Italy's civil protection service who received
international acclaim for his handling of an L'Aquila earthquake last April,
described the response as "a pathetic situation which could have been much
better organised".

Mr Bertolaso, who arrived in Haiti on Friday, told Italy's RAI state
television that Washington had made "a show of force", but military officers
co-ordinating the emergency had no links with the humanitarian groups in the
Caribbean island state.

"We are missing a leader, a co-ordination capacity that goes beyond military
discipline," said Mr Bertolaso, who holds the rank of a government minister,
late on Sunday.

"The Americans are extraordinary, but when you are facing a situation in
chaos, they tend to confuse military intervention with emergency aid, which
cannot be entrusted to the armed forces."

A contingent of 13,000 US troops and marines is helping relief efforts after
the Jan. 12, 7.1-magnitude quake, which has killed at least 150,000 and
possibly twice that and left up to 3 million hurt and homeless.

Silvio Berlusconi's centre-Right Italian government, which has tried to
foster close ties with Washington, was quick to distance itself from the

"Bertolaso ... has attacked American and international organisations head
on. The Italian government does not share these statements," said Franco
Frattini, the foreign minister, during a visit to Washington.

*Occupation in Humanitarian Clothing*

by Jesse Hagopian 24, 2010

Everything you need to know about the U.S. aid effort to assist Haiti in the
wake of the catastrophic earthquake can be summed up by Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton's touchdown in Port-Au-Prince on Saturday, January 16: they
shut down the airport for three hours surrounding her arrival for "security"
reasons, which meant that no aid flights could come in during those critical

If there was one day when the Haitian people needed aid to flow all day
long, last Saturday was it because the people trapped under the rubble on
Tuesday evening couldn't survive much beyond that without water.

Defenders of Clinton will say that her disimpassioned, monotone, photo-op
speech was needed in Haiti to draw attention to the plight of the Haitians.
But no one north of hell can defend her next move: according to airport
personnel that I spoke to during my recent evacuation from Haiti, she
paralyzed the airport later that same day to have a new outfit flown in from
the Dominican Republic. I am having a hard time readjusting to life back
home after having survived the earthquake and witnessing so much death, so
even typing those words is making my heart pound uncontrollably.

I guess for America's rulers a new pantsuit is more valuable than the lives
of poor, Black Haitians.

Unfortunately, Clinton's model of diverting and delaying critical aid to the
Haitian people, while emphasizing security, has become standard operating

Alain Joyandet, the French minister responsible for humanitarian relief in
Haiti, charged the U.S. with treating this as a military operation rather
than an aid mission. Mr. Joyandet told the Daily Telegraph he had been
involved in an argument with a U.S. commander in the airport's control tower
over the flight plan for a French evacuation flight, saying, "This is about
helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti."

But with the U.S. occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and funding the Israeli
occupation of Palestine, it seems our government knows how to do little else
when it comes to international affairs.

The day I left the Toussaint L'Ouverture International Airport I saw lots of
crates of food, water and medical supplies piled on the tarmac. But I
didn't see that aid being transported out of the airport to actually be used
by Haitians. Undoubtedly, there has been some aid distributed, but because
there was no serious effort to disperse that aid in the first four days
after the quake, tens of thousands of people trapped under rubble have died
needlessly because they couldn't get a sip of water.

The Geneva-based organization Doctors Without Borders has been turned away
from the airport numerous times to allow U.S. troops to land. A ring of
U.S. war ships surround Haiti to make sure that Haitians don't escape the
disaster and try to get to the United States. The U.S. has taken control of
Haiti's main airport and seaport, and is in the process of deploying 18,000
U.S. troops to bolster the 9,000 UN troops already occupying the island
nation--and as an eyewitness I can tell you those troops are guarding their
own compounds rather than distributing aid.

The Obama administration will try to dress up their ambition to occupy and
pillage Haiti in a humanitarian evening gown. But clothing is in short
supply in Haiti and we can't afford to waste it.

As a man from Leogane, Haiti, told Democracy Now,

"Myself, if you look at me, I don't have shoes, and I don't have food. Even
my shoes, if you look at them, you see. I need clothes. We need everything.
Even medicines, we need."

Jesse Hagopian, a teacher from Seattle, was in Haiti with his wife (who
works on HIV education in the country) and one-year-old son when the
earthquake hit. Jesse can be contacted at:


From: Boulevard Music

Concert for Haiti

Culver-Palms United Methodist Church
4464 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City

Sunday, January 31st, 2-6 pm
Be there. Be hope.
Here's the final lineup, with a few added words:

All acoustic!
Laurence Juber (Grammy winning guitarist form Paul McCartney's Wings),
Amilia K. Spicer, Brad Colerick, Robby Longley, Freebo (Bonnie Raitt Band),
Lisa Turner, Robert Morgan Fisher, Dave Morrison Band, Blues legend Bernie
Pearl with Mike Barry, Susie Glaze & Hilonesome (award-winning bluegrass
band), Severin Browne, Duane Thorin, Michael Richards & Doctor Fun from
blues band Wumbloozo, James Lee Stanley, Dale LaDuke, Kara Grainger, Tracy
Newman, Dafni, Paul Lacques & Paul Marshall (from I See Hawks in L.A.), Sage
(Dan Brown and Kathy Jarel-Girgis), Tim Tedrow & Terry Vreeland, Matt
Cartsonis (famous film composer), Renaissance (top doo-wop vocal group),
Stephanie Bettman & Luke Halpin (top fiddle-playing vocalist on music

- - -

From: Bernie Pearl

I have been invited to perform at a "Concert for Haiti" benefit show, this
coming Sunday, January 31, at the Culver-Palms United Methodist Church, 4464
Sepulveda Bl., Culver City 90230. Admission by donation, all proceeds to
Haiti relief. Performances by many artists, TBA. Mike Barry and I will
perform in the early part of the program, before 3:00, which goes from
2:00-6:00. The church has a capacity of 300. Seating on a first-come basis.
I am always reluctant to clutter your mail boxes with promotion, but the
need to assist Haiti earthquake victims, I believe, supercedes other
considerations. Your understanding is appreciated. I hope to see you there,

Click the link for further information.

Sheer, Reich: State of the Union, Tonight's speech

The Sorry State of the Union

By Robert Scheer
Truthdig: January 26. 2010

The state of the union is just miserable, no matter how President Obama
sugarcoats it. He will claim that progress has been made in stabilizing the
markets, increasing national security and advancing toward meaningful health
care reform, but he will be wrong on all three counts.

What he will be right about is that none of these problems were originally
of his creation, and that the opposition party wants to exacerbate rather
than solve any of them - believing, as they do, in that destructive maxim of
desperate losers who find their salvation in the stumbles of the winners.

There is no doubt that Obama and his party represent the lesser evil, but it
is deeply disturbing to have to defend the leaders of our nation in those
terms. They were supposed to lead us to peace, but as the cables from the
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
printed in The New York Times on Monday, make absolutely clear, the
escalation in Afghanistan is tantamount to a disaster without end.
Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who was
previously the top American commander in Afghanistan, warned: "Sending
additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over, and make
it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable

Obama distracted progressives with a grand crusade for health care reform
that reasserted the fundamental fallacy of the previous health reform effort
of the Clinton years: Give the insurance companies a captive universal
market under the absurd illusion that we can control costs without
undermining their greed with a competitive government-run option.

The same is the case with the collapse of the economy, as Obama shamefully
continued the Bush administration's mugging of U.S. taxpayers by throwing
trillions of dollars at the Wall Street bandits who caused the financial
meltdown. Meanwhile, 7 million Americans have lost their jobs and 15 million
families owe more on their homes than they are worth.

Someday our president, whom I still regard as a decent and well-intentioned
politician, will have to confront the demons of that fatal opportunism that
led him to turn over the economy to the likes of Lawrence Summers and
Timothy Geithner, who can most charitably be described as hugely successful
Wall Street pimps. Obama knows of Summers' devilish role, during his time in
the Clinton administration, in pushing the radical deregulation of the
markets that the president blamed last week for our economic debacle. And he
is aware that the TARP inspector general is hot on Geithner's heels for his
role, as head of the New York Fed, in the funneling of $62 billion dollars
through AIG to Goldman Sachs and the other bonus payout alchemists.

But there is no indication from the carefully orchestrated leaks of his
State of the Union speech that Obama is truly set to reverse course.
Rhetoric about the "fat cat" bankers aside, his policies represent more of
the same. There will be some hokey gestures of support for the disappearing
middle class, but at the heart of his new budget proposal are cuts in needed
domestic spending for education, nutrition, air traffic control and just
about every other worthwhile domestic program. But there are no cuts for the
military budget that already makes up 60% of the federal government's
discretionary spending and is comparable to the total military budget for
the rest of the world's nations combined.

Budget director Peter Orszag, who is overseeing those cuts, is, like Summers
and Geithner, a disciple of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin,
whose radical deregulatory policies brought us to this point. Orszag's
freeze on domestic spending, projected for the rest of Obama's term, will
reduce the domestic budget to its lowest percentage in 50 years. That
portion of the discretionary budget is already so small that the proposed
cuts will save a scant $10 billion to $15 billion next year-chump change
compared to the $145 billion in bonuses for Wall Street's high rollers
dispensed after a year of massive national suffering that they engineered.

Shame on Obama for now telling us after wasting many trillions on Wall
Street and the Pentagon, that he will now seek to balance the biggest
indebtedness in U.S. history not by cutting from that greasy pork but rather
into the bone of our civic life, found in funding for schools and other
desperately needed social services. That is the opposite of a New Deal for
ordinary folks in need of their government's assistance more than at any
other time since the days of that last great Democratic president, Franklin
Delano Roosevelt. Will we ever have another?



Is the president panicking?

His spending freeze invokes memories of Clinton's shift right in '94. It's
worse because it could doom the recovery

By Robert Reich Jan. 26, 2010

President Obama today offered a set of proposals for helping America's
troubled middle class. All are sensible and worthwhile. But none will bring
jobs back. And Americans could be forgiven for wondering how the president
plans to enact any of these ideas anyway, when he can no longer muster 60
votes in the Senate.

The bigger news is Obama is planning a three-year budget freeze on a big
chunk of discretionary spending. Wall Street is delighted. But it means Main
Street is in worse trouble than ever.

A spending freeze will make it even harder to get jobs back because
government is the last spender around. Consumers have pulled back, investors
won't do much until they know consumers are out there, and exports are

In December 1994, Bill Clinton proposed a so-called middle-class bill of
rights including more tax credits for families with children, expanded
retirement accounts, and tax-deductible college tuition. Clinton had lost
his battle for healthcare reform. Even worse, by that time the Dems had lost
the House and Senate. Washington was riding a huge anti-incumbent wave.
Right-wing populists were the ascendancy, with Newt Gingrich and Fox News
leading the charge. Bill Clinton thought it desperately important to assure
Americans he was on their side.

Two months later, Clinton summoned Dick Morris to the White House to figure
out how Clinton could move to the right and better position himself for
reelection. The answer: Balance the budget.

But in 1994, Clinton's inconsistencies didn't much matter. The U.S. economy
was coming out of a recession. It was of no consequence that Clinton's jobs
proposals were small or that he moved to the right and whacked the budget,
because within a year the great American jobs machine was blasting away and
the middle class felt a lot better. Dick Morris was not responsible for
Clinton's reelection. Nor was Clinton's move to the right. What reelected
Bill Clinton in 1996 was a vigorous jobs recovery that was on the way to
happening anyway.

Today, though, there's no sign on the horizon of a vigorous recovery. Jobs
may be coming back a bit in the next months but the country has lost so many
(not to mention all those who have entered the workforce over the last two
years and still can't land a job) that it will be many years before the
middle class can relax. Furthermore, this recession isn't like other
recessions in recent memory. It has more to do with problems deep in the
structure of the American economy than with the ups and downs of the
business cycle.

Like Clinton's, Obama's package of middle-class benefits is small potatoes.
They're worthwhile but they pale relative to the size and scale of the
challenge America's middle class is now facing. Obama can no longer afford
to come up with lists of nice things to do. At the least, he's got to do two
very big and important things: 1) Enact a second stimulus. It should mainly
focus on bailing out state and local governments that are now cutting
services and raising taxes, and squeezing the middle class. This would be
the best way to reinvigorate the economy quickly. 2) Help distressed
homeowners by allowing them to include their mortgage debt in personal
bankruptcy -- which will give them far more bargaining leverage with
mortgage lenders. (Wall Street hates this.)

Yet instead of moving in this direction, Obama is moving in the opposite
one. His three-year freeze on a large portion of discretionary spending will
make it impossible for him to do much of anything for the middle class that's
important. Chalk up another win for Wall Street, another loss for Main.

-- By Robert Reich

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Liptak and Nader on the Supreme Ct. Decision

Corporate Personhood Should Be Banned, Once and For All

Outrageous SCOTUS Decision Should Reignite Most Necessary of Debates

By Ralph Nader

January 21, 2010 - -Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission shreds the fabric of our
already weakened democracy by allowing corporations to more completely
dominate our corrupted electoral process. It is outrageous that corporations
already attempt to influence or bribe our political candidates through their
political action committees (PACs), which solicit employees and shareholders
for donations. With this decision, corporations can now also draw on their
corporate treasuries and pour vast amounts of corporate money, through
independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with
corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars.

This corporatist, anti-voter decision is so extreme that it should
galvanize a grassroots effort to enact a Constitutional Amendment to once
and for all end corporate personhood and curtail the corrosive impact of big
money on politics. It is indeed time for a Constitutional amendment to
prevent corporate campaign contributions from commercializing our elections
and drowning out the civic and political voices and values of citizens and
voters. It is way overdue to overthrow "King Corporation" and restore the
sovereignty of "We the People"!


A Plainspoken Justice Gets Louder

By Adam Liptak,
NY Times Op-Ed: January 24, 2010

In his dissent, Justice Stevens said no principle required overruling two
major campaign finance precedents. "The only relevant thing that has changed
since" those two decisions, he wrote, "is the composition of this court."

The Supreme Court announced its big campaign finance decision at 10 in the
morning last Thursday. By 10:30 a.m., after Justice Anthony M. Kennedy had
offered a brisk summary of the majority opinion and Justice John Paul
Stevens labored through a 20-minute rebuttal, a sort of twilight had settled
over the courtroom.

It seemed the Stevens era was ending.

Justice Stevens, who will turn 90 in April, joined the court in 1975 and is
the longest-serving current justice by more than a decade. He has given
signals that he intends to retire at the end of this term, and his dissent
on Thursday was shot through with disappointment, frustration and
uncharacteristic sarcasm.

He seemed weary, and more than once he stumbled over and mispronounced
ordinary words in the lawyer's lexicon - corruption, corporation,
allegation. Sometimes he would take a second or third run at the word,
sometimes not.

But there was no mistaking his basic message. "The rule announced today -
that Congress must treat corporations exactly like human speakers in the
political realm - represents a radical change in the law," he said from the
bench. "The court's decision is at war with the views of generations of

That was the plainspoken style of the last years of Justice Stevens's
tenure. In cases involving prisoners held without charge at Guantánamo Bay
and the mentally retarded on death row, his version of American justice was
propelled by common sense and moral clarity, and it commanded a majority.

He was on the short end of the 2008 decision finding that the Second
Amendment protected an individual right to bear arms, and he had mixed
success in fighting what he saw as illegitimate justifications for
discrimination against African-Americans, women and homosexuals.

Justice Stevens is the leader of the court's liberal wing, and its three
other members - Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia
Sotomayor - all joined his 90-page dissent. They must have been tempted to
write separately, as the case was bristling with issues of particular
interest to all of them. Instead, they allowed the spotlight to shine solely
on Justice Stevens.

There was no such solidarity among the conservatives. Though Chief Justice
John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel
A. Alito Jr. all joined Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion on its
main point, three of them added separate concurrences.

In his dissent, Justice Stevens said no principle required overruling two
major campaign finance precedents. "The only relevant thing that has changed
since" those decisions, he wrote, "is the composition of this court."

In Justice Stevens's early years on the court, his views often seemed
idiosyncratic, and he would often write separate opinions joined by no other
justice. Over the years, though, he has emerged as a master tactician, and
he came to use his seniority to great advantage. The senior justice in the
majority has the power to assign the majority opinion, and Justice Stevens
used that power with patience and skill.

This term, though, Justice Stevens has been more of a loner. Thursday's
decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, was only the 10th
signed decision of the term. In the previous nine, Justice Stevens wrote
separately and only for himself three times. On a fourth occasion, he was
joined only by Justice Kennedy.

A theme ran through these recent opinions: that the Supreme Court had lost
touch with fundamental notions of fair play. In two of the cases, Justice
Stevens lashed out at the court's failure to condemn what he called shoddy
work by defense lawyers in death penalty cases.

On Wednesday, in Wood v. Allen, Justice Stevens dissented from a majority
decision that said a lawyer fresh out of law school had made a reasonable
strategic choice in not pursuing evidence that his client was mentally

"A decision cannot be fairly characterized as 'strategic' unless it is a
conscious choice between two legitimate and rational alternatives," Justice
Stevens wrote. "It must be borne of deliberation and not happenstance,
inattention or neglect."

He made a similar point this month in a second capital case, Smith v.

"It is difficult to convey how thoroughly egregious counsel's closing
argument was," Justice Stevens wrote of a defense lawyer's work. "Suffice it
to say that the argument shares far more in common with a prosecutor's
closing than with a criminal defense attorney's. Indeed, the argument was so
outrageous that it would have rightly subjected a prosecutor to charges of

In the second case, Justice Stevens did vote to uphold the death sentence,
saying that even a closing argument worthy of Clarence Darrow would not have
spared the defendant.

That carefully calibrated distinction was of a piece with the view he
announced in 2008 in Baze v. Rees, when he said he had come to the
conclusion that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. But he went
on to say that his conclusion did not justify "a refusal to respect
precedents that remain a part of our law."

Thursday's decision in the Citizens United case was more full-throated.

"The majority blazes through our precedents," he wrote, "overruling or
disavowing a body of case law" that included seven decisions.

Justice Stevens, who served in the Navy during World War II, reached back to
those days to show the depth of his outrage at the majority's conclusion
that the government may not make legal distinctions based on whether a
corporation or a person was doing the speaking.

"Such an assumption," he wrote, "would have accorded the propaganda
broadcasts to our troops by 'Tokyo Rose' during World War II the same
protection as speech by Allied commanders."

The reference to Tokyo Rose was probably lost on many of Justice Stevens's
readers. But the concluding sentence of what may be his last major dissent
could not have been clearer.

"While American democracy is imperfect," he wrote, "few outside the majority
of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate
money in politics."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Haitian society undermined

National News

*The hate and the quake*

*Haiti was isolated at birth - ostracised and denied access to world trade,
finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of
national strangulation recorded in modern history.*


THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES is in the process of conceiving how best
to deliver a major conference on the theme Rethinking And Rebuilding Haiti.

I am very keen to provide an input into this exercise because for too long
there has been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian nation-building
project, launched on January 1, 1804, has failed on account of
mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption.

Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe
and the United States, is the evidence which shows that Haiti's independence
was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine
their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the
newly emerging democracy.

The evidence is striking, especially in the context of France.

The Haitians fought for their freedom and won, as did the Americans fifty
years earlier. The Americans declared their independence and crafted an
extraordinary constitution that set out a clear message about the value of
humanity and the right to freedom, justice, and liberty.

In the midst of this brilliant discourse, they chose to retain slavery as
the basis of the new nation state. The founding fathers therefore could not
see beyond race, as the free state was built on a slavery foundation.

The water was poisoned in the well; the Americans went back to the
battlefield a century later to resolve the fact that slavery and freedom
could not comfortably co-exist in the same place.

The French, also, declared freedom, fraternity and equality as the new
philosophies of their national transformation and gave the modern world a
tremendous progressive boost by so doing.

They abolished slavery, but Napoleon Bonaparte could not imagine the
republic without slavery and targeted the Haitians for a new, more intense
regime of slavery. The British agreed, as did the Dutch, Spanish and

All were linked in communion over the 500 000 Blacks in Haiti, the most
populous and prosperous Caribbean colony.

As the jewel of the Caribbean, they all wanted to get their hands on it.
With a massive slave base, the English, French and Dutch salivated over
owning it - and the people.

The people won a ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and declared
their independence. Every other country in the Americas was based on

Haiti was freedom, and proceeded to place in its 1805 Independence
Constitution that any person of African descent who arrived on its shores
would be declared free, and a citizen of the republic.

For the first time since slavery had commenced, Blacks were the subjects of
mass freedom and citizenship in a nation.

The French refused to recognise Haiti's independence and declared it an
illegal pariah state. The Americans, whom the Haitians looked to in
solidarity as their mentor in independence, refused to recognise them, and
offered solidarity instead to the French. The British, who were negotiating
with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti, also moved in
solidarity, as did every other nation-state the Western world.

Haiti was isolated at birth - ostracised and denied access to world trade,
finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of
national strangulation recorded in modern history.

The Cubans, at least, have had Russia, China, and Vietnam. The Haitians were
alone from inception. The crumbling began.

Then came 1825; the moment of full truth. The republic is celebrating its
21st anniversary. There is national euphoria in the streets of

The economy is bankrupt; the political leadership isolated. The cabinet took
the decision that the state of affairs could not continue.

The country had to find a way to be inserted back into the world economy.
The French government was invited to a summit.

Officials arrived and told the Haitian government that they were willing to
recognise the country as a sovereign nation but it would have to pay
compensation and reparation in exchange. The Haitians, with backs to the
wall, agreed to pay the French.

The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in
order to place a value on all lands, all physical assets, the 500 000
citizens were who formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial
properties and services.

The sums amounted to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay this
reparation to France in return for national recognition.

The Haitian government agreed; payments began immediately. Members of the
Cabinet were also valued because they had been enslaved people before

Thus began the systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti. The French
government bled the nation and rendered it a failed state. It was a
merciless exploitation that was designed and guaranteed to collapse the
Haitian economy and society.

Haiti was forced to pay this sum until 1922 when the last instalment was
made. During the long 19th century, the payment to France amounted to up to
70 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.

Jamaica today pays up to 70 per cent in order to service its international
and domestic debt. Haiti was crushed by this debt payment. It descended into
financial and social chaos.

The republic did not stand a chance. France was enriched and it took
pleasure from the fact that having been defeated by Haitians on the
battlefield, it had won on the field of finance. In the years when the
coffee crops failed, or the sugar yield was down, the Haitian government
borrowed on the French money market at double the going interest rate in
order to repay the French government.

When the Americans invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of the
reasons offered was to assist the French in collecting its reparations.

The collapse of the Haitian nation resides at the feet of France and
America, especially. These two nations betrayed, failed, and destroyed the
dream that was Haiti; crushed to dust in an effort to destroy the flower of
freedom and the seed of justice.

Haiti did not fail. It was destroyed by two of the most powerful nations on
earth, both of which continue to have a primary interest in its current

The sudden quake has come in the aftermath of summers of hate. In many ways
the quake has been less destructive than the hate.

Human life was snuffed out by the quake, while the hate has been a long and
inhumane suffocation - a crime against humanity.

During the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, strong
representation was made to the French government to repay the 150 million

The value of this amount was estimated by financial actuaries as US$21
billion. This sum of capital could rebuild Haiti and place it in a position
to re-engage the modern world. It was illegally extracted from the Haitian
people and should be repaid.

It is stolen wealth. In so doing, France could discharge its moral
obligation to the Haitian people.

For a nation that prides itself in the celebration of modern diplomacy,
France, in order to exist with the moral authority of this diplomacy in this
post-modern world, should do the just and legal thing.

Such an act at the outset of this century would open the door for a
sophisticated interface of past and present, and set the Haitian nation free
at last.

Sir Hilary Beckles is pro-vice-chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill
Campus, UWI.
Rad-Green mailing list

Lila Garrett: Connect the Dots, Bob Herbert: They Still Don't Get It

Hi. Connect the Dots goes on at 7am today and few of you will even
see this before it airs. I send it ou for its remarkable outline of many
of our problems. It also provides a fitting introduction to Bob Herbert's
essay. The program is usually worth getting up for. -Ed

Sent: Sunday, January 24, 2010 11:59 AM
Subject: CONNECT THE DOTS, Monday 7 to 8AM ob KPFK

Monday morning at 7 on CONNECT THE DOTS the one year anniversary of Obama'
election tune in or use this link as we talk with:

TIM CARPENTER Exec Dir. Of PDA, who lives in Mass about why the Dems. lost
Ted Kennedy's seat to a right wing Republican whose hero is Dick Cheney. Is
this vote a referendum on Barack Obama's first year? Carpenter talks
about how we can use this warning to turn the political climate around. In
some states we already have.

ACLU Foundation Chair STEPHEN RHODE reports on what the Obama
administration has and has not done to repair the damage Bush and Cheney
did to our Constitution. Does the U.S. still torture? Do we still
practice warrant less wire tapping? How does the ACLU decide which cases
to take on and which to leave alone. We bring up their refusal to defend
former Gov. Don Siegelman who was framed by the Christian right and Carl
Rove. Rhode considers this question.

And Congresswoman MAXINE WATERS reports on the realities of what's happening
in Haiti. Waters discusses her resolutions to relieve Haiti of their debts
to us including the 600 million they owe…(obviously chicken feed compared to
13 trillion we threw at the AIG, Morgan Stanley, the Banks and Wall Street.)
Also helpful is the decision by The international Monetary Fund (IMF) who
decided to give Haiti 100 million as a grant instead of a loan. And , when
it comes to actual food, water and shelter congratulations to the first
responders and countries like Cuba, Israel, Venezuela, dozens of others.
See for a list of reliable places to contribute.

As to the official US position who is calling the shots for Obama on Haiti.
Is it the right wing think tank, the Heritage foundation??? They laid out
the following program:

First: send in 5000 armed marines. Obama did it.

Second: Make Bush co partner with Clinton as chief fund raiser for Haiti.
Obama did it…thereby changing Bush's legacy from a mean spirited corporate
whore to a hero. (Let's remember Bush did nothing to help the people of New
Orleans with food, water or shelter. Instead he sent in Backwater and
other armed "security" contractors to quell non existent "violence" instead
of saving, healing or even feeding the people.)

Third: Forbid Haitians from seeking shelter in the United States. Obama
did it, through Sec of State Hilary Clinton who made a speech to in Haiti
warning the earthquake victims not to attempt to emigrate here.

Fourth: Demand political compliance with our agenda before any supplies are
provided. Still pending.
Big show this Monday morning at 7 on Connect the Dots.

Lila Garrett (Host of CONNECT THE DOTS)
KPFK 90.7 FM in LA; 98.7 Santa Barbara
Airs Mondays from 7AM to 8AM.
To pod cast or download the broadcast just use this link:
Each show is on line for three months.


They Still Don't Get It

NY Times Op-Ed: January 22, 2010

How loud do the alarms have to get? There is an economic emergency in the
country with millions upon millions of Americans riddled with fear and
anxiety as they struggle with long-term joblessness, home foreclosures,
personal bankruptcies and dwindling opportunities for themselves and their

The door is being slammed on the American dream and the politicians,
including the president and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, seem not
just helpless to deal with the crisis, but completely out of touch with the
hardships that have fallen on so many.

While the nation was suffering through the worst economy since the
Depression, the Democrats wasted a year squabbling like unruly toddlers over
health insurance legislation. No one in his or her right mind could have
believed that a workable, efficient, cost-effective system could come out of
the monstrously ugly plan that finally emerged from the Senate after long
months of shady alliances, disgraceful back-room deals, outlandish payoffs
and abject capitulation to the insurance companies and giant pharmaceutical

The public interest? Forget about it.

With the power elite consumed with its incessant, discordant fiddling over
health care, the economic plight of ordinary Americans, from the middle
class to the very poor, got pathetically short shrift. And there is no
evidence, even now, that leaders of either party fully grasp the depth of
the crisis, which began long before the official start of the Great
Recession in December 2007.

A new study from the Brookings Institution tells us that the largest and
fastest-growing population of poor people in the U.S. is in the suburbs. You
don't hear about this from the politicians who are always so anxious to tell
you, in between fund-raisers and photo-ops, what a great job they're doing.
From 2000 to 2008, the number of poor people in the U.S. grew by 5.2
million, reaching nearly 40 million. That represented an increase of 15.4
percent in the poor population, which was more than twice the increase in
the population as a whole during that period.

The study does not include data from 2009, when so many millions of families
were just hammered by the recession. So the reality is worse than the
Brookings figures would indicate.

Job losses, stagnant or reduced wages over the past decade, and the loss of
home equity when the housing bubble burst have combined to take a horrendous
toll on families who thought they had done all the right things and were
living the dream. A great deal of that bleeding is in the suburbs. The
study, compiled by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, said, "Suburbs
gained more than 2.5 million poor individuals, accounting for almost half of
the total increase in the nation's poor population since 2000."

Democrats in search of clues as to why voters are unhappy may want to take a
look at the report. In 2008, a startling 91.6 million people - more than 30
percent of the entire U.S. population - fell below 200 percent of the
federal poverty line, which is a meager $21,834 for a family of four.

The question for Democrats is whether there is anything that will wake them
up to their obligation to extend a powerful hand to ordinary Americans and
help them take the government, including the Supreme Court, back from the
big banks, the giant corporations and the myriad other predatory interests
that put the value of a dollar high above the value of human beings.

The Democrats still hold the presidency and large majorities in both houses
of Congress. The idea that they are not spending every waking hour trying to
fix the broken economic system and put suffering Americans back to work is
beyond pathetic. Deficit reduction is now the mantra in Washington, which
means that new large-scale investments in infrastructure and other measures
to ease the employment crisis and jump-start the most promising industries
of the 21st century are highly unlikely.

What we'll get instead is rhetoric. It's cheap, so we can expect a lot of

Those at the bottom of the economic heap seem all but doomed in this
environment. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University
in Boston put the matter in stark perspective after analyzing the employment
challenges facing young people in Chicago: "Labor market conditions for
16-19 and 20-24-year-olds in the city of Chicago in 2009 are the equivalent
of a Great Depression-era, especially for young black men."

The Republican Party has abandoned any serious approach to the nation's
biggest problems, economic or otherwise. It may be resurgent, but it's not a
serious party. That leaves only the Democrats, a party that once championed
working people and the poor, but has long since lost its way.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rebecca Solnit: Covering Haiti: When the Media Is the Disaster

Friday's LA Times story on Haiti offers a relevant intro to Solnit's essay
* It's headline is "Combing rubble to buy a day"
* the intro paragraph reads "Vast piles of debris are rich with
possibilities for the poor of Haiti, who have long had to scavenge to
* the photo is of a man harnessed to a cart filled with sticks of wood, and
captioned (bold) "On his own, A scrap collector in downtown Port-au-Prince
the devastated capital, pulls a cart called a bwet', the gathered pieces of
wood it holds will be used for cooking fuel."

Vast piles are rich with possibilities for a guy with sticks in a bwet?
The poor have long had to scavenge. Why is that? Why this interpretation
making this desperate struggle for life almost into a folk tradition?

Saturday's paper turns exotic and essentially infantalizing with Voodoo.

Here, Solnit develops an analysis of this framing and its function. -Ed,_in_haiti,_words_can_kill/

When the Media Is the Disaster
Covering Haiti

By Rebecca Solnit
Tomgram: January 21, 2010

Soon after almost every disaster the crimes begin: ruthless, selfish,
indifferent to human suffering, and generating far more suffering. The
perpetrators go unpunished and live to commit further crimes against
humanity. They care less for human life than for property. They act without
regard for consequences.

I'm talking, of course, about those members of the mass media whose
misrepresentation of what goes on in disaster often abets and justifies a
second wave of disaster. I'm talking about the treatment of sufferers as
criminals, both on the ground and in the news, and the endorsement of a
shift of resources from rescue to property patrol. They still have blood on
their hands from Hurricane Katrina, and they are staining themselves anew in

Within days of the Haitian earthquake, for example, the Los Angeles Times
ran a series of photographs with captions that kept deploying the word
"looting." One was of a man lying face down on the ground with this caption:
"A Haitian police officer ties up a suspected looter who was carrying a bag
of evaporated milk." The man's sweaty face looks up at the camera,
beseeching, anguished.

Another photo was labeled: "Looting continued in Haiti on the third day
after the earthquake, although there were more police in downtown
Port-au-Prince." It showed a somber crowd wandering amid shattered piles of
concrete in a landscape where, visibly, there could be little worth taking

A third image was captioned: "A looter makes off with rolls of fabric from
an earthquake-wrecked store." Yet another: "The body of a police officer
lies in a Port-au-Prince street. He was accidentally shot by fellow police
who mistook him for a looter."

People were then still trapped alive in the rubble. A translator for
Australian TV dug out a toddler who'd survived 68 hours without food or
water, orphaned but claimed by an uncle who had lost his pregnant wife.
Others were hideously wounded and awaiting medical attention that wasn't
arriving. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, needed, and still need,
water, food, shelter, and first aid. The media in disaster bifurcates. Some
step out of their usual "objective" roles to respond with kindness and
practical aid. Others bring out the arsenal of clichés and pernicious myths
and begin to assault the survivors all over again.

The "looter" in the first photo might well have been taking that milk to
starving children and babies, but for the news media that wasn't the most
urgent problem. The "looter" stooped under the weight of two big bolts of
fabric might well have been bringing it to now homeless people trying to
shelter from a fierce tropical sun under improvised tents.

The pictures do convey desperation, but they don't convey crime. Except
perhaps for that shooting of a fellow police officer -- his colleagues were
so focused on property that they were reckless when it came to human life,
and a man died for no good reason in a landscape already saturated with

In recent days, there have been scattered accounts of confrontations
involving weapons, and these may be a different matter. But the man with
the powdered milk? Is he really a criminal? There may be more to know, but
with what I've seen I'm not convinced.

What Would You Do?

Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no
longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your
credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run
credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any
banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to

By day three, you're pretty hungry and the water you grabbed on your way
out of your house is gone. The thirst is far worse than the hunger. You can
go for many days without food, but not water. And in the improvised
encampment you settle in, there is an old man near you who seems on the edge
of death. He no longer responds when you try to reassure him that this
ordeal will surely end. Toddlers are now crying constantly, and their
mothers infinitely stressed and distressed.

So you go out to see if any relief organization has finally arrived to
distribute anything, only to realize that there are a million others like
you stranded with nothing, and there isn't likely to be anywhere near enough
aid anytime soon. The guy with the corner store has already given away all
his goods to the neighbors. That supply's long gone by now. No wonder, when
you see the chain pharmacy with the shattered windows or the supermarket,
you don't think twice before grabbing a box of PowerBars and a few gallons
of water that might keep you alive and help you save a few lives as well.

The old man might not die, the babies might stop their squalling, and the
mothers might lose that look on their faces. Other people are calmly
wandering in and helping themselves, too. Maybe they're people like you, and
that gallon of milk the fellow near you has taken is going to spoil soon
anyway. You haven't shoplifted since you were 14, and you have plenty of
money to your name. But it doesn't mean anything now.

If you grab that stuff are you a criminal? Should you end up lying in the
dirt on your stomach with a cop tying your hands behind your back? Should
you end up labeled a looter in the international media? Should you be shot
down in the street, since the overreaction in disaster, almost any disaster,
often includes the imposition of the death penalty without benefit of trial
for suspected minor property crimes?

Or are you a rescuer? Is the survival of disaster victims more important
than the preservation of everyday property relations? Is that chain pharmacy
more vulnerable, more a victim, more in need of help from the National Guard
than you are, or those crying kids, or the thousands still trapped in
buildings and soon to die?

It's pretty obvious what my answers to these questions are, but it isn't
obvious to the mass media. And in disaster after disaster, at least since
the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, those in power, those with guns and
the force of law behind them, are too often more concerned for property than
human life. In an emergency, people can, and do, die from those priorities.
Or they get gunned down for minor thefts or imagined thefts. The media not
only endorses such outcomes, but regularly, repeatedly, helps prepare the
way for, and then eggs on, such a reaction.

If Words Could Kill

We need to banish the word "looting" from the English language. It incites
madness and obscures realities.

"Loot," the noun and the verb, is a word of Hindi origin meaning the
spoils of war or other goods seized roughly. As historian Peter Linebaugh
points out, "At one time loot was the soldier's pay." It entered the English
language as a good deal of loot from India entered the English economy, both
in soldiers' pockets and as imperial seizures.

After years of interviewing survivors of disasters, and reading first-hand
accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz
and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don't believe in looting. Two
things go on in disasters. The great majority of what happens you could call
emergency requisitioning. Someone who could be you, someone in the kind of
desperate circumstances I outlined above, takes necessary supplies to
sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not
call that looting, I wouldn't even call that theft.

Necessity is a defense for breaking the law in the United States and other
countries, though it's usually applied more to, say, confiscating the car
keys of a drunk driver than feeding hungry children. Taking things you don't
need is theft under any circumstances. It is, says the disaster sociologist
Enrico Quarantelli, who has been studying the subject for more than half a
century, vanishingly rare in most disasters.

Personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the
aftermath of a disaster. In that phase, the survivors are almost invariably
more altruistic and less attached to their own property, less concerned with
the long-term questions of acquisition, status, wealth, and security, than
just about anyone not in such situations imagines possible. (The best
accounts from Haiti of how people with next to nothing have patiently tried
to share the little they have and support those in even worse shape than
them only emphasize this disaster reality.) Crime often drops in the wake of
a disaster.

The media are another matter. They tend to arrive obsessed with property
(and the headlines that assaults on property can make). Media outlets often
call everything looting and thereby incite hostility toward the sufferers as
well as a hysterical overreaction on the part of the armed authorities. Or
sometimes the journalists on the ground do a good job and the editors back
in their safe offices cook up the crazy photo captions and the wrongheaded
interpretations and emphases.

They also deploy the word panic wrongly. Panic among ordinary people in
crisis is profoundly uncommon. The media will call a crowd of people running
from certain death a panicking mob, even though running is the only sensible
thing to do. In Haiti, they continue to report that food is being withheld
from distribution for fear of "stampedes." Do they think Haitians are

The belief that people in disaster (particularly poor and nonwhite people)
are cattle or animals or just crazy and untrustworthy regularly justifies
spending far too much energy and far too many resources on control -- the
American military calls it "security" -- rather than relief. A
British-accented voiceover on CNN calls people sprinting to where supplies
are being dumped from a helicopter a "stampede" and adds that this delivery
"risks sparking chaos." The chaos already exists, and you can't blame it on
these people desperate for food and water. Or you can, and in doing so help
convince your audience that they're unworthy and untrustworthy.

Back to looting: of course you can consider Haiti's dire poverty and
failed institutions a long-term disaster that changes the rules of the game.
There might be people who are not only interested in taking the things they
need to survive in the next few days, but things they've never been entitled
to own or things they may need next month. Technically that's theft, but I'm
not particularly surprised or distressed by it; the distressing thing is
that even before the terrible quake they led lives of deprivation and

In ordinary times, minor theft is often considered a misdemeanor. No one
is harmed. Unchecked, minor thefts could perhaps lead to an environment in
which there were more thefts and so forth, and a good argument can be made
that, in such a case, the tide needs to be stemmed. But it's not
particularly significant in a landscape of terrible suffering and mass

A number of radio hosts and other media personnel are still upset that
people apparently took TVs after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August
2005. Since I started thinking about, and talking to people about, disaster
aftermaths I've heard a lot about those damned TVs. Now, which matters more
to you, televisions or human life? People were dying on rooftops and in
overheated attics and freeway overpasses, they were stranded in all kinds of
hideous circumstances on the Gulf Coast in 2005 when the mainstream media
began to obsess about looting, and the mayor of New Orleans and the governor
of Louisiana made the decision to focus on protecting property, not human

A gang of white men on the other side of the river from New Orleans got so
worked up about property crimes that they decided to take the law into their
own hands and began shooting. They seem to have considered all black men
criminals and thieves and shot a number of them. Some apparently died; there
were bodies bloating in the September sun far from the region of the floods;
one good man trying to evacuate the ruined city barely survived; and the
media looked away. It took me months of nagging to even get the story
covered. This vigilante gang claimed to be protecting property, though its
members never demonstrated that their property was threatened. They boasted
of killing black men. And they shared values with the mainstream media and
the Louisiana powers that be.

Somehow, when the Bush administration subcontracted emergency services --
like providing evacuation buses in Hurricane Katrina -- to cronies who
profited even while providing incompetent, overpriced, and much delayed
service at the moment of greatest urgency, we didn't label that looting.

Or when a lot of wealthy Wall Street brokers decide to tinker with a basic
human need like housing.. Well, you catch my drift.

Woody Guthrie once sang that "some will rob you with a six-gun, and some
with a fountain pen." The guys with the six guns (or machetes or sharpened
sticks) make for better photographs, and the guys with the fountain pens not
only don't end up in jail, they end up in McMansions with four-car garages
and, sometimes, in elected -- or appointed -- office.

Learning to See in Crises

Last Christmas a priest, Father Tim Jones of York, started a ruckus in
Britain when he said in a sermon that shoplifting by the desperate from
chain stores might be acceptable behavior. Naturally, there was an uproar.
Jones told the Associated Press: "The point I'm making is that when we shut
down every socially acceptable avenue for people in need, then the only
avenue left is the socially unacceptable one."

The response focused almost entirely on why shoplifting is wrong, but the
claim was also repeatedly made that it doesn't help. In fact, food helps the
hungry, a fact so bald it's bizarre to even have to state it. The means by
which it arrives is a separate matter. The focus remained on shoplifting,
rather than on why there might be people so desperate in England's green and
pleasant land that shoplifting might be their only option, and whether
unnecessary human suffering is itself a crime of sorts.

Right now, the point is that people in Haiti need food, and for all the
publicity, the international delivery system has, so far, been a visible
dud. Under such circumstances, breaking into a U.N. food warehouse -- food
assumedly meant for the poor of Haiti in a catastrophic moment -- might not
be "violence," or "looting," or "law-breaking." It might be logic. It
might be the most effective way of meeting a desperate need.

Why were so many people in Haiti hungry before the earthquake? Why do we
have a planet that produces enough food for all and a distribution system
that ensures more than a billion of us don't have a decent share of that
bounty? Those are not questions whose answers should be long delayed.

Even more urgently, we need compassion for the sufferers in Haiti and
media that tell the truth about them. I'd like to propose alternative
captions for those Los Angeles Times photographs as models for all future

Let's start with the picture of the policeman hogtying the figure whose
face is so anguished: "Ignoring thousands still trapped in rubble, a
policeman accosts a sufferer who took evaporated milk. No adequate food
distribution exists for Haiti's starving millions."

And the guy with the bolt of fabric? "As with every disaster, ordinary
people show extraordinary powers of improvisation, and fabrics such as these
are being used to make sun shelters around Haiti."

For the murdered policeman: "Institutional overzealousness about
protecting property leads to a gratuitous murder, as often happens in
crises. Meanwhile countless people remain trapped beneath crushed

And the crowd in the rubble labeled looters? How about: "Resourceful
survivors salvage the means of sustaining life from the ruins of their

That one might not be totally accurate, but it's likely to be more
accurate than the existing label. And what is absolutely accurate, in Haiti
right now, and on Earth always, is that human life matters more than
property, that the survivors of a catastrophe deserve our compassion and our
understanding of their plight, and that we live and die by words and ideas,
and it matters desperately that we get them right.

At the dawn of the millennium, three catastrophes were forecast for the
United States: terrorists in New York, a hurricane in New Orleans, and an
earthquake in San Francisco. Rebecca Solnit lives in San Francisco with her
earthquake kit and is about to make her seventh trip to New Orleans since
Katrina. Her latest book, A Paradise Built in Hell, is a testament to human
bravery and innovation during disasters.

Copyright 2010 Rebecca Solnit