Friday, December 31, 2010

Let America be America Again

From: David Fertig

Let America be America again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Amy G: 'The Comeback Kid' and the Kids Who Won't

'The Comeback Kid' and the Kids Who Won't

by Amy Goodman
TruthDig: December 29, 2010

President Barack Obama signed a slew of bills into law during the lame-duck
session of Congress and was dubbed the "Comeback Kid" amid a flurry of
fawning press reports. In the hail of this surprise bipartisanship, though,
the one issue over which Democrats and Republicans always agree, war, was
completely ignored. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in U.S.
history, and 2010 has seen the highest number of U.S. and NATO soldiers

As of this writing, 497 of the reported 709 coalition fatalities in 2010
were U.S. soldiers. The website has carefully tracked the
names of these dead. There is no comprehensive list of the Afghans killed.
But one thing that's clear: Those 497 U.S. soldiers, under the command of
the "Comeback Kid," won't be coming back.

On Dec. 3, Commander in Chief Obama made a surprise visit to his troops in
Afghanistan, greeting them and speaking at Bagram Air Base. Bagram is the
air base built by the Soviet Union during that country's failed invasion and
occupation of Afghanistan. Now run by U.S. forces, it is also the site of a
notorious detention facility. On Dec. 10, 2002, almost eight years to the
day before Obama spoke there, a young Afghan man named Dilawar was beaten to
death at Bagram. The ordeal of his wrongful arrest, torture and murder was
documented in the Oscar-winning documentary by Alex Gibney, "Taxi to the
Dark Side." Dilawar was not the only one tortured and killed there by the
U.S. military.

Obama told the troops: "We said we were going to break the Taliban's
momentum, and that's what you're doing. You're going on the offense, tired
of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their
strongholds. Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban
control, and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future."

Facts on the ground contradict his rosy assessment from many different
directions. Maps made by the United Nations, showing the risk-level
assessments of Afghanistan, were leaked to The Wall Street Journal. The maps
described the risk to U.N. operations in every district of Afghanistan,
rating them as "very high risk," "high risk," "medium risk" and "low risk."
The Journal reported that, between March and October 2010, the U.N. found
that southern Afghanistan remained at "very high risk," while 16 districts
were upgraded to "high risk." Areas deemed "low risk" shrank considerably.

And then there are the comments of NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Joseph Blotz:
"There is no end to the fighting season.... We will see more violence in

Long before WikiLeaks released the trove of U.S. diplomatic cables, two key
documents were leaked to The New York Times. The "Eikenberry cables," as
they are known, were two memos from Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the U.S.
ambassador in Afghanistan, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging a
different approach to the Afghan War, with a focus on providing development
aid instead of a troop surge. Eikenberry wrote of the risk that "we will
become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves, short of
allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos."

A looming problem for the Obama administration, larger than a fraying
international coalition, is the increasing opposition to the war among the
public here at home. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 60
percent believe the war has not been worth fighting, up from 41 percent in
2007. As Congress reconvenes, with knives sharpened to push for what will
surely be controversial budget cuts, the close to $6 billion spent monthly
on the war in Afghanistan will increasingly become the subject of debate.

As Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz repeatedly points out, the
cost of war extends far beyond the immediate expenditures, with decades of
decreased productivity among the many traumatized veterans, the care for the
thousands of disabled veterans, and the families destroyed by the death or
disability of loved ones. He says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will
ultimately cost between $3 trillion and $5 trillion.

One of the main reasons Barack Obama is president today is that by openly
opposing the U.S. war in Iraq, he won first the Democratic nomination and
then the general election. If he took the same approach with the war in
Afghanistan, by calling on U.S. troops to come back home, then he might
truly become the "Comeback President" in 2012 as well.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2010 Amy Goodman

Sachs: America's Political Class Struggle

From: "Sid Shniad" <>

December 27, 2010

*America's Political Class Struggle*

*The richest 1 percent of American households now has a higher net worth
than the bottom 90 percent. The annual income of the richest 12,000
households is greater than that of the poorest 24 million households. If
this continues, a third party will emerge, committed to cleaning up American
politics and restoring a measure of decency and fairness. *

Jeffrey Sachs
Economist and Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University

America is on a collision course with itself. This month's deal between
President Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress to extend the tax
cuts initiated a decade ago by President George W. Bush is being hailed as
the start of a new bipartisan consensus. I believe, instead, that it is a
false truce in what will become a pitched battle for the soul of American

As in many countries, conflicts over public morality and national strategy
come down to questions of money. In the United States, this is truer than
ever. The US is running an annual budget deficit of around $1 trillion,
which may widen further as a result of the new tax agreement. This level of
annual borrowing is far too high for comfort. It must be cut, but how?

The problem is America's corrupted politics and loss of civic morality. One
political party, the Republicans, stands for little except tax cuts, which
they place above any other goal. The Democrats have a bit wider set of
interests, including support for health care, education, training, and
infrastructure. But, like the Republicans, the Democrats, too, are keen to
shower tax cuts on their major campaign contributors, predominantly rich

The result is a dangerous paradox. The US budget deficit is enormous and
unsustainable. The poor are squeezed by cuts in social programs and a weak
job market. One in eight Americans depends on Food Stamps to eat. Yet,
despite these circumstances, one political party wants to gut tax revenues
altogether, and the other is easily dragged along, against its better
instincts, out of concern for keeping its rich contributors happy.

This tax-cutting frenzy comes, incredibly, after three decades of elite
fiscal rule in the US that has favored the rich and powerful. Since Ronald
Reagan became president in 1981, America's budget system has been geared to
supporting the accumulation of vast wealth at the top of the income
distribution. Amazingly, the richest 1 percent of American households now
has a higher net worth than the bottom 90 percent. The annual income of the
richest 12,000 households is greater than that of the poorest 24 million

The Republican Party's real game is to try to lock that income and wealth
advantage into place. They fear, rightly, that sooner or later everyone else
will begin demanding that the budget deficit be closed in part by raising
taxes on the rich. After all, the rich are living better than ever, while
the rest of American society is suffering. It makes sense to tax them more.

The Republicans are out to prevent that by any means. This month, they
succeeded, at least for now. But they want to follow up their tactical
victory -- which postpones the restoration of pre-Bush tax rates for a
couple of years -- with a longer-term victory next spring. Their leaders in
Congress are already declaring that they will slash public spending in order
to begin reducing the deficit.

Ironically, there is one area in which large budget cuts are certainly
warranted: the military. But that is the one item most Republicans won't
touch. They want to slash the budget not by ending the useless war in
Afghanistan, and by eliminating unnecessary weapons systems, but by cutting
education, health, and other benefits for the poor and working class.

In the end, I don't think they will succeed. For the moment, most Americans
seem to be going along with Republican arguments that it is better to close
the budget deficit through spending cuts rather than tax increases. Yet when
the actual budget proposals are made, there will be a growing backlash. With
their backs against the wall, I predict, poor and working-class Americans
will begin to agitate for social justice.

This may take time. The level of political corruption in America is
staggering. Everything now is about money to run electoral campaigns, which
have become incredibly expensive. The midterm elections cost an estimated
$4.5 billion, with most of the contributions coming from big corporations
and rich contributors. These powerful forces, many of which operate
anonymously under US law, are working relentlessly to defend those at the
top of the income distribution.

But make no mistake: Both parties are implicated. There is already talk that
Obama will raise $1 billion or more for his reelection campaign. That sum
will not come from the poor.

The problem for the rich is that, other than military spending, there is no
place to cut the budget other than in areas of core support for the poor and
working class. Is America really going to cut health benefits and retirement
income? Will it really balance the budget by slashing education spending at
a time when US students already are being outperformed by their Asian
counterparts? Will America really let its public infrastructure continue to
deteriorate? The rich will try to push such an agenda, but ultimately they
will fail.

Obama swept to power on the promise of change. So far there has been none.
His administration is filled with Wall Street bankers. His top officials
leave to join the banks, as his budget director Peter Orszag recently did.
He is always ready to serve the interests of the rich and powerful, with no
line in the sand, no limit to "compromise."

If this continues, a third party will emerge, committed to cleaning up
American politics and restoring a measure of decency and fairness. This,
too, will take time. The political system is deeply skewed against
challenges to the two incumbent parties. Yet the time for change will come.
The Republicans believe that they have the upper hand and can pervert the
system further in favor of the rich. I believe that they will be proven
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Commemorating The Gaza Massacre

The Gaza Massacre And The Struggle For Justice

By Ali Abunimah

December 28, 2010 "Electronic Intifada" -- The Gaza massacre, which Israel
launched two years ago today, did not end on 18 January 2009, but continues.
It was not only a massacre of human bodies, but of the truth and of justice.
Only our actions can help bring it to an end.

The UN-commissioned Goldstone Report documented evidence of war crimes and
crimes against humanity committed in an attack aimed at the very
"foundations of civilian life in Gaza" -- schools, industrial
infrastructure, water, sanitation, flour mills, mosques, universities,
police stations, government ministries, agriculture and thousands of homes.
Yet like so many other inquiries documenting Israeli crimes, the Goldstone
Report sits gathering dust as the United States, the European Union, the
Palestinian Authority and certain Arab governments colluded to ensure it
would not translate into action.

Israel launched the attack, after breaking the ceasefire it had negotiated
with Hamas the previous June, under the bogus pretext of stopping rocket
firing from Gaza.

During those horrifying weeks from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009,
Israel's merciless bombardment killed 1,417 people according to the
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza.

They were infants like Farah Ammar al-Helu, one-year-old, killed in
al-Zaytoun. They were schoolgirls or schoolboys, like Islam Khalil Abu
Amsha, 12, of Shajaiyeh and Mahmoud Khaled al-Mashharawi, 13, of al-Daraj.
They were elders like Kamla Ali al-Attar, 82 of Beit Lahiya and Madallah
Ahmed Abu Rukba, 81, of Jabaliya; They were fathers and husbands like Dr.
Ehab Jasir al-Shaer. They were police officers like Younis Muhammad
al-Ghandour, aged 24. They were ambulance drivers and civil defense workers.
They were homemakers, school teachers, farmers, sanitation workers and
builders. And yes, some of them were fighters, battling as any other people
would to defend their communities with light and primitive weapons against
Israel's onslaught using the most advanced weaponry the United States and
European Union could provide.

The names of the dead fill 100 pages, but nothing can fill the void they
left in their families and communities ("The Dead in the course of the
Israeli recent military offensive on the Gaza strip between 27 December 2008
and 18 January 2009," [PDF] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 18 March

These were not the first to die in Israeli massacres and they have not been
the last. Dozens of people have been killed since the end of Israel's
"Operation Cast Lead," the latest Salameh Abu Hashish last week, a 20-year
old shepherd shot by Israeli occupation forces as he tended his animals in
northern Gaza.

But the tragedy does not end with those who were killed. Along with
thousands permanently injured, there is the incalculable psychological cost
of children growing up without parents, of parents burying their children,
and the mental trauma that Israel's offensive and the ongoing siege has done
to almost everyone in Gaza. There are the as yet unknown consequences of
subjecting Gaza's 700,000 children to a toxic water supply for years on end.

The siege robs 1.5 million people not just of basic goods, reconstruction
supplies (virtually nothing has been rebuilt in Gaza), and access to medical
care but of their basic rights and freedoms to travel, to study, to be part
of the world. It robs promising young people of their ambitions and futures.
It deprives the planet of all that they would have been able to create and
offer. By cutting Gaza off from the outside world, Israel hopes to make us
forget that the those inside are human.

Two years after the crime, Gaza remains a giant prison for a population
whose unforgivable sin in the eyes of Israel and its allies is to be
refugees from lands that Israel took by ethnic cleansing.

Israel's violence against Gaza, like its violence against Palestinians
everywhere, is the logical outcome of the racism that forms the inseparable
core of Zionist ideology and practice: Palestinians are merely a nuisance,
like brush or rocks to be cleared away in Zionism's relentless conquest of
the land. This is what all Palestinians are struggling against, as an open
letter today from dozens of civil society organizations in Gaza reminds us:

"We Palestinians of Gaza want to live at liberty to meet Palestinian friends
or family from Tulkarem, Jerusalem or Nazareth; we want to have the right to
travel and move freely. We want to live without fear of another bombing
campaign that leaves hundreds of our children dead and many more injured or
with cancers from the contamination of Israel's white phosphorous and
chemical warfare. We want to live without the humiliations at Israeli
checkpoints or the indignity of not providing for our families because of
the unemployment brought about by the economic control and the illegal
siege. We are calling for an end to the racism that underpins all this

Those of us who live outside Gaza can look to the people there for
inspiration and strength; even after all this deliberate cruelty, they have
not surrendered. But we cannot expect them to bear this burden alone or
ignore the appalling cost Israel's unrelenting persecution has on the minds
and bodies of people in Gaza or on society itself. We must also heed their
calls to action.

One year ago, I joined more than a thousand people from dozens of countries
on the Gaza Freedom March in an attempt to reach Gaza to commemorate the
first anniversary of the massacre. We found our way blocked by the Egyptian
government which remains complicit, with US backing, in the Israeli siege.
And although we did not reach Gaza, other convoys before, and after, such as
Viva Palestina did, only after severe obstruction and limitations by Egypt.

Yesterday, the Mavi Marmara returned to Istanbul where it was met dockside
by thousands of people. In May the ship was part of the Gaza Freedom
Flotilla which set out to break the siege by sea, only to be attacked and
hijacked in international waters by Israeli commandos who killed nine people
and injured dozens. Even that massacre has not deterred more people from
seeking to break the siege; the Asian Convoy to Gaza is on its way, and
several other efforts are being planned.

We may look at all these initiatives and say that despite their enormous
cost -- including in human lives -- the siege remains unbroken, as world
governments -- the so-called "international community" -- continue to ensure
Israeli impunity. Two years later, Gaza remains in rubble, and Israel keeps
the population always on the edge of a deliberately-induced humanitarian
catastrophe while allowing just enough supplies to appease international
opinion. It would be easy to be discouraged.

However, we must remember that the Palestinian people in Gaza are not
objects of an isolated humanitarian cause, but partners in the struggle for
justice and freedom throughout Palestine. Breaking the siege of Gaza would
be a milestone on that march.

Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament and a passenger
on the Mavi Marmara explained last October in an interview with The
Electronic Intifada that Israeli society and government do not view their
conflict with the Palestinians as one that must be resolved by providing
justice and equality to victims, but merely as a "security" problem. Zoabi
observed that the vast majority of Israelis believe Israel has largely
"solved" the security problem: in the West Bank with the apartheid wall and
"security coordination" between Israeli occupation forces and the
collaborationist Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and in Gaza with the

Israeli society, Zoabi concluded, "doesn't feel the need for peace. They
don't perceive occupation as a problem. They don't perceive the siege as a
problem. They don't perceive oppressing the Palestinians as a problem, and
they don't pay the price of occupation or the price of [the] siege [of

Thus the convoys and flotillas are an essential part of a larger effort to
make Israel understand that it does have a problem and it can never be
treated as a normal state until it ends its oppression and occupation of
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and fully respects the rights
of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinian refugees. And even if
governments continue to stand by and do nothing, global civil society is
showing the way with these efforts to break the siege, and with the broader
Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Amid all the suffering, Palestinians have not celebrated many victories in
the two years since the Gaza massacre. But there are signs that things are
moving in the right direction. Israel begs for US-endorsed "peace
negotiations" precisely because it knows that while the "peace process"
provides cover for its ongoing crimes, it will never be required to give up
anything or grant any rights to Palestinians in such a "process."

Yet Israel is mobilizing all its resources to fight the global movement for
justice, especially BDS, that has gained so much momentum since the Gaza
massacre. There can be no greater confirmation that this movement brings
justice within our grasp. Our memorial to all the victims must not be just
an annual commemoration, but the work we do every day to make the ranks of
this movement grow.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, author of One
Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a
contributor to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark
Investigation of the Gaza Conflict (Nation Books).

Kuttner: Obama to blink first, Scheer: 'the Best and the Brightest'

Obama to blink first on Social Security

By: Robert Kuttner
Politico: December 16, 2010

The tax deal negotiated by President Barack Obama and Senate
Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is just the first part of a
multistage drama that is likely to further divide and weaken Democrats.

The second part, now being teed up by the White House and key Senate
Democrats, is a scheme for the president to embrace much of the
Bowles-Simpson plan - including cuts in Social Security. This is to be
unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president's State of the
Union address.

The idea is to pre-empt an even more draconian set of budget cuts
likely to be proposed by the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, Rep.
Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as a condition of extending the debt ceiling. This is
expected to hit in April.

White House strategists believe this can also give Obama "credit" for
getting serious about deficit reduction - now more urgent with the nearly
$900 billion increase in the deficit via the tax cut deal.

How to put this politely? For a Democratic president, this approach is
bad economics and worse politics.

For starters, cutting Social Security as part of a deficit reduction
deal is needless - since Social Security is in surplus for the next 27
years. The move also gives away the single most potent distinction between
Democrats and Republicans - Democrats defend your Social Security, and
Republicans keep trying to undermine it.

If you think the Democratic base feels betrayed by Obama's tax-cut
deal, just imagine the mayhem when Obama proposes to cut the Democrats'
signature program.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) compared Obama's tax deal to punting on
first down. A pre-emptive cut in Social Security is forfeiting the game
before kickoff.

Obama is already in trouble with older voters. Republicans have
succeeded in convincing seniors that the health care reform bill diverted
money from Medicare.

Consider what the right will do when Obama moves to cut Social
Security. Republicans, with no sense of contradiction or hypocrisy, will
whack Obama once for not being sufficiently serious about deficit
reduction - then whack him again for cutting Social Security.

As for the Republicans' leverage on raising the debt ceiling, a more
resolute president would dare the Republicans to jeopardize government
bonds, just as President Bill Clinton dared Speaker Newt Gingrich to shut
down the government. One hopes that Clinton, in his recent visit to the
White House, reminded Obama that Gingrich blinked first. But Obama's
trademark is that he blinks first.

There was brief talk in the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday night
of tying an extension of the debt ceiling to the tax deal, to deprive the
Republicans of that leverage. But that support crumbled in the face of White
House lobbying and overwhelming Senate support for the deal. Obama, who
gives in repeatedly to Republicans, turns out to be highly skilled at
isolating Democrats.

Beltway Washington - the editorial writers, columnists, centrist
policy organizations, Blue Dogs and, of course, the Obama administration and
its Wall Street advisers - has become an echo chamber of bad advice.

Slaying the deficit gets top billing - generating a strong economic
recovery is offstage. A smaller deficit is said to promote recovery by
increasing confidence - though nobody can give a plausible explanation of
the economics.

Destroying government's capacity for social investment seems now only
a tertiary concern for the White House - though a prime Republican goal. In
this weird inversion, being willing to sacrifice the Democrats' best-loved
programs is taken as a sign of Democratic resolve.

Obama is finally getting the bipartisanship he craved - but entirely
on Republican terms.

Republicans win three ways. They have a Democratic president doing
their work for them, destroying the Democratic capacity to use affirmative
government to address dire national problems and annihilating his own party.

And all this before they even take over the House.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and author of "A
Presidency in Peril."

© 2010 Capitol News Company, LLC


Speaking Ill of 'the Best and the Brightest'

Robert Scheer
Truthdig: December 22, 2010

One of "the best and the brightest" died last week, and in Richard Holbrooke
we had a perfect example of the dark mischief to which David Halberstam
referred when he authored that ironic label. Holbrooke's life marks the
propensity of our elite institutions to turn out alpha leaders with
simplistic world-ordering ambitions unrestrained by moral conscience or
intellectual humility.

Fresh from Brown University, Holbrooke marched off as a foreign service
officer to win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese, who were not buying
it. He quickly became involved with the pacification program that herded
peasants off their land into barbed-wire encampments while we bombed the
surrounding areas.

Holbrooke was later so successful in the infamous CIA Phoenix program to
kill Vietnamese civilians thought to be sympathetic to the Viet Cong that at
the age of 24 he was brought back to Washington to work under the head of
that program, R.W. Komer, on a top-level White House command to save Vietnam
from the Vietnamese.

While in Washington, Holbrooke came to write a chapter of the secret
Pentagon Papers study that exposed the falsehoods justifying the war. Shades
of the WikiLeaks disclosures-when Daniel Ellsberg, who also worked on that
report, revealed it to the world, the lies stood exposed. As Defense
Secretary Robert McNamara acknowledged decades after commissioning the
study, 3.5 million Indochinese died in a war that had little if anything to
do with our national security. He concluded that he could indeed be judged a
"war criminal," except that appellation is reserved for leaders of lesser
states, like the Serbian and Iraqi leaders whose war crimes Holbrooke would
later trumpet as excuses for other U.S. wars.

Holbrooke not only failed to learn from the U.S. mistakes in Vietnam; he
repeated them in working for every Democratic president to follow. When
Jimmy Carter was elected, there was Holbrooke as an assistant secretary of
state supporting the Islamic mujahedeen in Afghanistan, a group fighting the
Soviet-backed secular government in Kabul.

Indefatigable in his hubris, Holbrooke also got Carter to support a
Cambodian exile coalition based in Thailand to attempt to overthrow the
Vietnamese-backed government in Cambodia that had ousted the mass murderer
Pol Pot. The fact that the coalition included this man who had killed
millions of his own people did not perturb Holbrooke. I have written
elsewhere of Holbrooke's arrogance in defending the U.S. backing of the
coalition at a dinner at the home of legendary television producer Norman
Lear; on that evening Holbrooke went off about the critical importance that
a regime change in tiny Cambodia would hold for the future of civilization.

In recent years Holbrooke was influential in getting the Obama
administration to commit to the folly of the U.S. surge in Afghanistan. Once
again he was all about winning the hearts and minds of people who, as it
appears from the WikiLeaks diplomatic memos, thought he was bonkers-as did
quite a few in the U.S. military.

Throughout Holbrooke's career, and this is the persistent theme in his
fawning obituaries, there was the apologia that whatever he did, his motives
could not be questioned, for after all his was a life largely of public
service. But here too the elite notion of public service is on sordid
display if one follows Holbrooke through the revolving platinum door from
public power to business greed. After messing up Cambodia and Afghanistan
during the Carter years, Holbrooke teamed up with another Democratic Party
operative, James Johnson, to form the business consulting firm Public
Strategies while at the same time serving as an adviser at Lehman Brothers.
The two proved quite successful in the business world, selling their company
to Lehman Brothers, where Holbrooke became a managing director. Johnson went
on to head Fannie Mae, presiding over its reckless expansion into the
subprime and Alt-A housing market.

From 2001 to 2008 Holbrooke teamed up again with Johnson to head Perseus
LLC, a private equity firm. During that same period, Holbrooke became a
director of AIG, the insurance company whose credit default swaps almost
brought down the economy and which required a $170 billion bailout from the

In the New York Times obituary on the "brilliant" Mr. Holbrooke, only a
single short paragraph out of 32 refers to his career in the now-troubled
financial markets: "Mr. Holbrooke also made millions as an investment banker
on Wall Street. . At various times he was a managing director of Lehman
Brothers, vice chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston and a director of the
American International Group."

The Times did not mention that Holbrooke left AIG, where he had been paid
$268,000 a year plus stock options, two months before the insurer imploded.
Further evidence that "the best and the brightest" had the same success with
our banking system as they did in foreign policy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Juan Cole: Obama's 2010 in the Middle East, Eisenhower said...

To the Editor:

As mentioned in the Op-Ed article, "we continue to spend more on the
military than the countries with the next 15 largest military budgets

In one of Eisenhower's first speeches as president, in 1953, he said:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not
fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. ... The cost of one heavy
bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. ... We pay for
a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a
single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000

He proposed universal disarmament. Regardless of our party affiliation,
maybe it is time for us to listen to Ike. The military-industrial complex is
stealing from the future of all of our grandchildren.

S. Norman Reich
Salisbury, Conn., Dec. 15, 2010


Obama's 2010 Successes and Failures in the Middle East

Juan Cole
Truthdig: December 21, 2010

As 2010 dawned, President Barack Obama had four big issues on his plate
regarding the Middle East. These were Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Iran, and
Afghanistan. The year has been as unkind to him on those issues as it was
with respect to unemployment and the Republican resurgence. As the decade
draws to a close, it is clear that the bright hopes inspired by Obama's 2009
Cairo speech have markedly faded, and the disappointments have outweighed
achievements in the most important arena for contemporary American foreign
policy. In some important respects, the fault lies with Obama himself for
being less a leader than a coordinator.

In Iraq, the U.S. State Department's hopes that the March 7 parliamentary
elections would contribute to national reconciliation between Sunnis and
Shiites and form a bridge to a successful American withdrawal have been put
in doubt. The Iraqiya Party, headed by former interim Prime Minister Ayad
Allawi, had attracted the support of Iraq's minority Sunnis, and was backed
by Saudi Arabia and, initially, the United States. Although it had the
largest single number of seats in the new Parliament, it never found enough
partners to form a majority.

In contrast, Iran sought to re-create the Shiite majority of past elections
by wheedling the Shiite parties into uniting into a postelection grand
coalition. In the end, Iran prevailed upon Muqtada al-Sadr, the
anti-American fundamentalist cleric, to side with incumbent Nouri al-Maliki,
giving him the momentum to attract the support of other Shiites and of the
Kurds. Although Maliki will include Sunni Arabs from the Iraqiya Party in
his Cabinet, his gaining of a second term can only be interpreted as a solid
victory for Iran. The good news is that Maliki has proved relatively
decisive and able to command the new Iraqi army.

If Iraq is a mixed picture, Obama's hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough in
the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians have thoroughly
crashed and burned. The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, had insisted that
Israel cease pouring colonists into the Palestinian West Bank if he was
going to sit at a table and directly negotiate the future of that territory
with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Otherwise it would be like dickering
with a furniture salesman over bedroom suites for a new house even while the
salesman's workers were carting off one piece after another for their own
homes. The Israelis agreed to only a 10-month freeze on the start of new
colonies, and then only in part of the occupied West Bank.

When that freeze expired, in the midst of the negotiations, the far
right-wing government headed by Netanyahu declined to extend it. Netanyahu
probably took heart in defying Obama from the Republican victory in the
midterms in the House of Representatives. Obama's hopes of moving quickly to
a two-state solution, or even to concrete preparations for one, have
faltered, raising the specter of decades of Israeli apartheid in the
Palestinian territories and all the anger and violence that will flow from
Palestinian statelessness and consequent lack of basic rights.

On Iran, Obama, having failed to persuade Tehran at the negotiating table to
halt its enrichment of uranium, implemented a plan B. His alternative was to
ratchet up United Nations financial sanctions. Despite initial resistance
from Russia and China, Obama skillfully rallied the U.N. Security Council
into voting the increased sanctions on June 9, 2010. Nevertheless, Turkey
and Brazil voted against new sanctions, and Lebanon abstained, showing
growing unease with punitive policies toward Iran in the global South. While
the new sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy, they are unlikely to
produce a genuine change in policy or to seriously challenge the regime.

Obama's surge in Afghanistan has faced more political than military
difficulties, but they may be the ones that sink his enterprise. President
Hamid Karzai, having blatantly stolen the presidential election in the fall
of 2009, has been acting more and more erratically, recently declaring in a
private meeting with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus that the U.S. was
one of Afghanistan's enemies and that he would have been better off joining
the Taliban. The parliamentary elections of this fall were so riddled with
fraud that a fifth of the ballots had to be thrown out, and no new Cabinet
has been formed. The despised Shiite Hazara ethnic group did
disproportionately well, and many Pashtuns (the former ruling ethnic group)
feel disadvantaged by the way parliamentary politics have unfolded.

To the humiliation of the administration and of Karzai, a man claiming to be
a high-ranking member of the Taliban, who had entered into negotiations with
Kabul in return for "a lot of money," turned out to be a confidence man. A
leaked new National Intelligence Estimate by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies
found that big chunks of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the
Taliban, and that rogue cells inside the Pakistani military continue to
support some Taliban groups in order to project Islamabad's authority inside

This was the year, then, that Iran again won the struggle for influence in
Iraq; the year the Israelis sabotaged a revived peace process; the year Iran
went on thumbing its nose at the international community with regard to its
nuclear enrichment program; and the year that the government in Afghanistan
lost a good deal of its credibility. Obama should get credit for good
intentions, and talking directly to the major principals. But he appears
never to have appreciated the lessons taught by Jimmy Carter at Camp David
in 1978, which is that a big geopolitical breakthrough can be accomplished
only if the president inserts himself directly into the negotiations and
lays his own political capital on the line. Obama has seemed relatively
distant from these pressing Middle East issues, and farmed some of them out
to subordinates. They are not the sort of problems that can be resolved in
that way.

Dean Baker: Stopping Obama's Next Bad Deal, Cambodia Redux

Saving Social Security: Stopping Obama's Next Bad Deal

by: Dean Baker,
t r u t h o u t: 20 December 2010

President Obama insists that he is a really bad negotiator, therefore, the
deal he got on the two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts and the one-year
extension of unemployment insurance benefits was the best that he could do.
This package also came with a one-year cut in the Social Security tax.

This cut will seriously threaten the program's finances if, next year, the
Republican Congress is no more willing to end a temporary tax cut than this
year's Democratic Congress.

The logic here is straightforward. Under the law, the Bush tax cuts were
supposed to end in 2010. Tax rates returned to their pre-tax cut levels in
2011. However, the Republicans maintained a steady drumbeat about the evils
of raising taxes in the middle of a downturn, even if the tax increase would
just apply to the richest 2 percent of the population.

As we saw, President Obama and the Democratic Congress could not muster the
votes needed to overcome the Republicans and ended up extending the tax cuts
for the richest 2 percent of the population. The Democrats will be faced
with a similar situation at the end of 2011 when the Social Security tax cut
is scheduled to expire, except that, this time, the tax cut in question will
apply to an overwhelming majority of working people.

Also, the House will be controlled by the Republicans and the Senate will be
considerably less Democratic. This raises the possibility, if not the
likelihood, that the tax cut will remain in place indefinitely, more than
doubling the size of Social Security's projected long-term shortfall.

Before we even get to this juncture, the Republicans will have another
opportunity to impose a really bad deal on President Obama. Sometime in the
spring, the government will run up against its debt ceiling. This will
prevent the government from any further borrowing.

Since the government has a substantial deficit, with spending exceeding
revenue, hitting this limit would mean that the government would not have
sufficient funds to pay for all its programs. It also would mean that the
government could not pay interest or principal on debt that is coming due;
in effect requiring it to default on its debt.

The prospect of the US government defaulting on its debt creates the sort of
end-of-the-world scenario in which Congress rushed to pass the TARP in 2008.
Back then, President Bush, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and all sorts of other
luminaries told members of Congress and the public that we would have a
second Great Depression if the Wall Street banks were not immediately bailed
out, no questions asked. And the money flowed.

The prospect of defaulting on the debt will create a similar outbreak of
shrill warnings of disaster. This would likely to lead to scenario in which
President Obama signs whatever debt ceiling package House Republicans hand
him, even if it includes the privatization of Social Security and Medicare
and major cuts and/or elimination of other important programs. The argument
from the administration will be that they have no choice.

In order to avoid this train wreck, supporters of Social Security and
Medicare have to restructure the options. They have to push President Obama
to announce in advance that he will never sign a debt ceiling bill that
includes cuts to Social Security and Medicare, the country's two most
important social programs.

These programs are crucial to the financial security and health of tens of
millions of people. If there are to be changes in these programs, then they
should occur after a full public debate in the light of day, not as the
result of Republican trickery and parliamentary game playing.

This would be a hugely popular position since not only Democrats, but also
independents and even Tea Party Republicans, overwhelming support Social
Security and Medicare. Furthermore, the gun, in the form of a potential debt
default, is actually pointed at the Wall Street banks, not the public.

A debt default would be a very bad situation and one that we absolutely
should try to avoid. But the day after the default, the country would still
have the same capital stock and infrastructure, the same skilled labor force
and the same technical knowledge as it did the day before the default. In
other words, the ability of our economy to produce more than $15 trillion in
goods and services each year will not have been affected.

One thing that would not be around the day after a default is Wall Street.
The default would wipe out the value of the assets of the Wall Street banks,
sending Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and the rest into bankruptcy. The recovery
for the economy from such a situation will be difficult, but the
shareholders of the Wall Street banks would be wiped out and their top
executives unemployed.

For this reason, the threat of a default is a gun pointed most directly at
Wall Street. Given the power of Wall Street over Congress, it is
inconceivable that they would ever let the Republicans pull the trigger.

This means that, if President Obama is prepared to take the right and
popular position of supporting Social Security and Medicare, he will win.
This is both good policy and great politics. The public just has to force
President Obama to stand up and show some leadership.


Cambodia Redux

"Nixon adopted this tactic in Vietnam.
It won't work any better now than it did then"

By Patrick Cockburn

December 23, 2010 "The Independent" - -Could US Special Forces make a lunge
across the Pakistan border in pursuit of the Taliban just as American and
South Vietnamese troops briefly invaded Cambodia in pursuit of the Vietcong
and North Vietnamese forces in 1970?

The precedent is not good. What US officers have in mind for the Pakistan
border regions is much smaller in scale than President Nixon's venture, but
is unlikely to be any more successful. Possible military gains are limited,
while the danger of a political backlash is acute.

American frustration is great, because so long as the 2,500km
Afghan-Pakistan border remains open, the Taliban can retreat to relatively
safe havens to rest, re-equip and re-supply. Their fighters can recover from
every tactical setback. It was this open border that prevented the Soviet
army from crushing the Afghan guerrillas in the 1980s.

But would forays by US Special Forces or associated American-controlled
Afghan militias really make much difference?

Even if it wanted to, the Pakistan military could hardly police a frontier
through mountainous terrain that is as long as the distance from London to
Moscow. Moreover the hinterland, of which the Taliban takes advantage, is
not confined to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or the border of
Baluchistan. It extends into a much wider area and includes the vast city of
Karachi, with its population of 17 million and sizeable Pashtun minority.
The purpose of the leaks may be to intimidate the Pakistan army into being
more co-operative with the US in making a ground attack on North Waziristan,
seen by the US as the main redoubt of al-Qa'ida and the Haqqani network.

So far the Pakistan army has resisted this and there is no evidence it is
going to change its mind.

The US often focuses its criticism of Pakistan's security policy on the ISI,
Pakistan's military security agency, or even pro-Taliban "rogue elements" in
it, but in practice, covert support for the Taliban is the policy of
Pakistan's 600,000-strong army. Most ISI personnel are regular officers on
secondment to the agency.

The White House under President Obama has long been aware that its main
problem in the region is with Pakistan, but it has yet to find a way of
dealing with it. Military aid - and the US pays a third of Pakistan's
military budget - has produced a modicum of Pakistani compliance with US
needs, though not enough to tip the balance against the Afghan Taliban.

The army has been prepared to act against the Pakistan Taliban, which it
sees as being entirely different. The main military action of the US in
Pakistan is through CIA-controlled drones which take off from a base in
Pakistan and have been effective.

The CIA also has a 3,000-strong Afghan army of its own across the border in

The drones are only as effective as the intelligence on which their
targeting is based and the CIA has built up an intelligence network in
border areas.

At the same time ISI officers claim privately that up-to-date information
enabling the drones to attack the houses and vehicles of militants comes
from them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bianca Jagger: Trial by Newspaper, An exceptional response to 'Feminists Debate'

From: naomi browar
To: Ed Pearl
Sent: Saturday, December 25, 2010 10:30 AM
Subject: RE: Responses to my remarks and the subject: Part II...Feminists
Debate Sexual Allegations against Julian Assange

Hello Ed

I found the conversation, verging on argument, and almost shameful in the
way they both tried to top each other in who represents (more) rape victims.
Friedman put Naomi on the defensive for no reason, since she (Friedman) did
have important points to make. However, Friedman's behavior was indicative
of the psychological damage that rape victim's (Friedman) endure, unable to
separate her own baggage from Assange's situation. From a therapists point
of view, she seemed incredibly angry and vindictive. To say that, well if he
does get extradited to the US and faces cruel punishment she'd be on the
front lines fighting for him, is absurd for it would be, more than likely,
too late. Reminds me of the local county policy stipulating that they'll
only put a traffic light in the intersection once someone gets killed.

More important- to have a discussion on "facts" when all the facts are not
in, most importantly, we have not heard Assange's testimony- is really
frustrating and therefore one sided.

I also have a feeling that Friedman does not have in depth knowledge on how
cruel are corrupt our foreign and domestic policies (e.g. John Perkins
Confessions of An Economic Hit Man).

Rachel Madow turned out to be a real disappointment. I think she showed her
true colors when she went to Afghanistan, and later commented how she would
have joined the military if not for DADT. She made a fool of herself during
the mid term elections when she went to a shooting gallery to target
practice, and her more recent comment about how she "used to like" Glen
Beck. She acts like an overgrown teenager, smug and full of herself and her
reporting is less and less informative.

You're right, thank the lord for Amy Goodman!

Happy holidays, Ed to you and yours and toda rabah, again for your important



Trial by Newspaper

By Bianca Jagger,
Reader Supported News: 23 December 10

Petition in support of Julian Assange
Click to read and support now:

Also See:
WikiLeaks' Twitter Page:
WikiLeaks' Support Page:
Lieberman Attacks New York Times Over WikiLeaks Documents:

What was missing in "10 Days in Sweden: The Full Allegations Against
Julian Assange"(the Guardian, Nick Davies, 17 December 2010):
was surprised to read the article, "10 Days in Sweden: The Full Allegations
Against Julian Assange" because I hold the Guardian in high esteem and I
cannot fathom why such a credible publication would publish a prejudiced and
unfair article. I object to the Guardian's decision to publish selective
passages from the Swedish police report, whilst omitting exculpatory
evidence contained in the document.

Julian Assange has the right to a fair and impartial trial in a court of
justice; instead, in denial of due process, he is being subjected to a
'trial by newspapers,' in an effort to discredit him. This tactic is not
new. As Justice Felix Frankfurter said in 1961, 'inflammatory' news stories
that prejudice justice are 'too often' published. For those that remember
Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to The New York Times,
this seems to be a case of history repeating itself. Like Assange, who has
been hailed a 'terrorist' by US Attorney General Eric Holder, Ellsberg was
subjected to a malicious media campaign, in which he was branded 'the most
dangerous man in the world.'

It is deplorable the Swedish police files have been given unlawfully to the
Guardian and other newspapers. By whom I wonder? We have the right to know
who is behind this obvious effort to conduct a smear campaign. According to
Assange's legal team there is a lot of exonerating evidence in the police
file, and material which they supplied to the Guardian, including a copy of
the chronology of events, and the press statement of the initial chief
prosecutor Eva Finne. This important evidence was omitted from the article.
The statement by Ms. Finne, "The decision which up to this point has been
established is that Assange is not suspected of rape and he is therefore no
longer wanted for arrest," is nowhere to be found.

I am aware that Assange's legal team failed to respond to the Guardian on
time when invited to publish a response to the article prior to its
publication. However, the point here is not about the defense. The issue is
the choices the Guardian made when presenting the facts contained in the
police dossier, and the overriding duty of any credible news publication to
present a fair rendition of events, particularly when due process is at

There is information in the public domain, including Tweets, SMS messages
and statements to friends, from the two complainants. Although there are
vague references to this correspondence, the content is conspicuously absent
from the narrative the Guardian has woven.

If the media insists in engaging in this reprehensible method of publicly
trying Julian Assange, the least they could do is publish an accurate
account. The Guardian has reversed the presumption of innocence by only
publishing allegations against him, and not his account of events or the
mitigating evidence in the police dossier. Although the article alludes to
his objections to the allegations, his account, contained in the police
file, is not directly quoted.

From a molehill, a mighty mountain of innuendos has been made to cast Julian
Assange as some kind of rapist. I refuse to be drawn into passing judgment
on the case, however, we should all remember, Assange is innocent until
proven guilty.

I condemn and abhor rape and as an advocate of women rights, I will denounce
any man who forces his sexual attention on women. I have found the sequence
of events in the case against Assange, disturbing to say the least. At the
end of the day, the issue here is justice and due process for all. Denying
justice for men will not achieve justice for women.

Assange has been criticized for not being willing to return to Sweden to
prove his innocence. It is hardly surprising he has reservations, given
Sweden's human rights record. Anyone acquainted with it will remember the
cases of Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad Alzery, two Egyptian asylum seekers who
were, according to Redress, 'removed from Sweden to Egypt by the United
States' Central Intelligence Agency in cooperation with the Swedish
authorities and outside of any legal process,' on charges of terrorism in
2001. The deportation was carried out by American and Egyptian personnel on
Swedish ground, with Swedish servicemen as passive onlookers.

In 2005, in Agiza v. Sweden (Communication No. 233/2003), the UN Committee
against Torture found that Sweden had violated the Convention against
Torture. The following year, in Mohammed Alzery v. Sweden (Communication No.
1416/2005), the UN Human Rights Committee found Sweden to have violated the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Alzery was released
without charge after two years in prison however, 'he continues to suffer
physically and psychologically as a result of his torture and
ill-treatment.' Agiza was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a military
tribunal. The process was not fair, and there is doubt as to the men's

Redress has stated:

Mr. Agiza and Mr. Alzery remain at a real risk of torture and
ill-treatment as a result of Sweden's violations of the Convention against
Torture. These cases epitomise the recent attempts by states to circumvent
the absolute principle of non-refoulement enshrined in the CAT in the name
of counterterrorism.

Given this precedent, one can appreciate why Julian Assange is apprehensive
about being extradited to Sweden. In the Today Show on December 21st,
Assange revealed that Sweden has requested that if he returns and is
arrested, he is to be held incommunicado, and his Swedish lawyer is to be
given a gag order.

Having grown up under a dictatorship in Nicaragua, I am very sensitive to
any attempts to weaken our democracy. Although I do not agree with
everything WikiLeaks has done, I feel compelled to defend freedom of speech,
freedom of the press and due process. I was in court last week, not, as has
been reported to pledge surety for Assange's bail, but to voice my support
for the founder of WikiLeaks, because I suspect that what is on trial here
is not Julian Assange's alleged sexual misconduct, but freedom of speech
guaranteed in Art 19 of The Universal declaration of Human Rights, The First
Amendment to the United States Constitution and Art 10 of The European
Convention on Human Rights. This trial has far reaching implications for all
of us who believe in the core values of our democratic system. I fear that
Mr. Assange is being punished for releasing information, which reveals the
misuse of power by the US and other governments. He is on trial for holding
governments to account.

It is my hope that justice will be served in the British judicial system. In
the meantime, I hope readers will have the insight to suspend judgment until
all evidence is available. Julian Assange is innocent until proven guilty.

I am pleased to learn that the Guardian will be publishing an interview with
Julian Assange.

Thinking of Aretha, Rivas: The hornet's nest

Elites got richer and angrier
By Jesus Rivas

Lexington Herald Leader: Dec 26, 2010

When I was a child, I learned from my old man the right way to eliminate a
hornet's nest.

He put a big plastic bag around the whole nest and closed the bag over it.
Then, he detached the nest from the ceiling and the nest fell inside the
closed bag. I could hear the enraged hornets flying and buzzing inside the
bag, but they could not do any harm.

There is another way to eliminate a hornet's nest, though. One can start
chipping away little pieces of the nest with a dull spoon, one little piece
at a time.

This latter method also moves you toward the greater goal of eliminating the
hornet's nest; but, needless to say, you will pay the consequences.

This seems to be what President Barack Obama did, attempting to rein in the
political power that big corporations have accrued. He took a few measures
that did not make a big difference in neutralizing their power, or gaining
him popular support; but he did just enough to provoke the rage of corporate
elites who came out in droves against his administration.

Consider the financial system. Obama gave big handouts to Wall Street, and
allowed the same irresponsible unregulated behavior. Banks continued
foreclosing on poor families, despite the suffering it was causing to so
many people (and the fact that some foreclosures were not even legal).

The financial system made more money during Obama's presidency than it had
made in recorded history.

But he added a few regulations on credit card companies and took away the
control of the student loans from banks. He included enough regulation to
taunt the economic elites who came out with millions of dollars in smear
money to cost many Democrats re-election.

We also have the health care bill that includes big handouts to insurance
companies, with insufficient regulations.

However, on some obscure page, there is a clause that says that, at some
time in the future, insurance companies have to use 80 to 85 percent of the
premiums to pay for medical expenses or give rebates.

Fifteen percent for the companies is not bad, but it is a lot less than the
23 to 30 percent they are making now. This was another scraping of the
hornet's nest.

The insurance sector came after the Democrats with hornet-like rage, but
they failed to provide universal health care for the American people. So,
the Democratic base was not there for them on Election Day.

Unfortunately, Obama learned nothing from it. In his epic capitulation to
Republican demands to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, Obama does not seem to
realize he is helping his base very little and the hornets will not be any
more grateful than they have been.

In the last days of this Congress, Democrats have been successful
demonstrating that Republicans are willing to go against the very
conservative values they profess, the interest of the American people and
even the country itself. Clearly, the Democrats hope this would cost
Republicans dearly in the next elections.

What the Democrats do not seem to realize is that people who pay that much
attention to politics already vote Democratic, and the great majority of
Americans will only see that the party failed to deliver on most of its
promises, despite having the largest majority in decades.

With another $1 trillion in debt, how is Obama going to protect Medicaid,
Medicare, Social Security and all other social services the hornets are
eager to destroy?

Obama talks about "the hard choices we will have to make," referring to the
inevitable butchering of all social programs.

When are we going to ask the billionaires to make hard choices?

Why are the financial elites, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and the
oil conglomerates always spared from "biting the bullet," while the poor
people have been using bullets as staple food for years?

Our senior citizens devoted their lives to build this country up. They don't
have a lot of choices left to make. How can the people who lost their houses
and lost their jobs make hard choices?

Why are we asking hard choices of those who don't have any choice?

Jesus Rivas is an assistant professor at Somerset Community College. Reach
him at

Read more:


Thinking of Aretha

Bob Herbert
NY Times Op-Ed: December 25, 2010

Nineteen sixty-seven was a tough year in many respects - riots, protests, an
unwinnable war - but I can't think of it without thinking of the glory of
Aretha Franklin, a woman in her mid-20s, introverted and somewhat shy, who
sang soul and rock 'n' roll with the power and beauty of a heavenly choir.

Newark and Detroit went up in flames in 1967, and neither city was ever to
recover. Muhammad Ali, a perfect physical specimen in his absolute athletic
prime, was convicted of dodging the draft and stripped of his world
heavyweight championship. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. endured a
hurricane of criticism when he came out publicly against the war in Vietnam
and called the United States government "the greatest purveyor of violence
in the world today."

If you were lucky, you could close the door on the din, at least for a
little while, and reach for the record album with the head and shoulder shot
of Aretha positioned at a precarious angle on the cover. The album was
called "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You," and if you listened
closely, if you paid attention, it would just thrill you, take you to a
place of exquisite human feeling. A region of laughter and tears. Of love
and joyous possibilities.

I would turn the volume up and up and up, and just ride the music: "You're
no good, heartbreaker ..." "Don't let me lose this dream ..." "R-e-s-p-e-c-t

You could hear the gospel influence, and the blues, as you allowed that
voice of hers, the most gifted of the era, to carry you beyond the ordinary.

Aretha, now 68, recently had surgery and is very ill, reportedly with
pancreatic cancer. I spoke a few days ago with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who
is very close to the Franklin family. He was reluctant to speak in detail,
saying only that Aretha is home from the hospital, that the surgery was
"successful" and she is "recovering nicely."

For someone with such an abundance of talent and fame and riches, Aretha has
had an extremely difficult life. Tragedy seemed to stalk her. Her mother,
Barbara, an accomplished gospel singer, left the family when Aretha was just
6 and died a few years later. Aretha and her siblings, including an older
sister, Erma, and a younger sister, Carolyn, both talented musicians, were
raised by the formidable C.L. Franklin, a renowned preacher and close friend
of some of the biggest names in black music. (Frequent household guests
included the gospel singers Mahalia Jackson and Clara Ward, and the
remarkable Sam Cooke.)

Reverend Franklin was shot in the head by someone who broke into his home in
1979 and remained in a coma for five years until his death. Carolyn
Franklin, who wrote the transcendentally beautiful "Ain't No Way" for
Aretha, died of cancer in 1988 at the age of 43. Erma Franklin, a singer who
had a hit with the song "Piece of My Heart" (later recorded by Janis
Joplin), died in 2002.

Aretha suffered through rough relationships with men, chronic weight
problems and bouts of despondency. But always there was the music, the
splendor and artistry and grace of Aretha when she was at her best, which
was often. As the author Peter Guralnick has put it: "Aretha staked out a
claim for the ecstatic transcendence of the imagination."

Rolling Stone magazine ranked her No. 1 on its list of the 100 greatest
singers of the rock era, calling her "a gift from God."

My sister Sandy's 18th birthday and high school prom happened to fall on the
same day in 1967, so there was a big party at our house after the prom. One
song after another from "I Never Loved a Man" was played loudly, again and
again, and all these beautiful teenagers, their lives about to get going in
earnest, were doing intricate dance routines to the music. Aretha was an
ecstatic presence in the house as surely as if she'd been there in person.
She was like a sister to every one of the kids.

Aretha has had a lifetime of musical success, but it's difficult to
overstate both the greatness and the stunning impact of that one album.
Guralnick described it as Aretha virtually exploding on the soul scene. In a
telephone interview this week, he recalled hearing the title song from the
album on a speaker outside a record shop in the Roxbury section of Boston.
It was a cold day, and strangers, moved by this exciting new record, were
dancing on the sidewalk with one another. They were thrilled, like so many
others, by the music of this great American artist.

So a toast or a prayer for Aretha this holiday season would be terrific -
just a moment of appreciation and a wish that she continue recovering

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas from Bethlehem

From: "" <>

Merry Christmas,

-----Original Message-----
From: R Scott Kennedy <>
Sent: Dec 24, 2003 9:34 PM
To: Scott Kennedy <>
Subject: Merry Christmas from Bethlehem

Benjamin Kennedy, born and raised in Santa Cruz, is a graduate of Santa
Cruz High School. He is living in Bethlehem and working as a volunteer
at the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem. Ben plans to continue
his undergraduate studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz
in 2004. Benjamin Kennedy <>

Merry Christmas from Bethlehem
by Benjamin Kennedy

This year I will spend my first Christmas away from my family. Up to
this point, all 23 of my previous Christmas celebrations have been spent
in the warm embrace of my family. This year I have the opportunity to
spend Christmas in Bethlehem, the place where it all got started. I
have been living and working here in Bethlehem for the past two months.
Even though my younger sister has joined me and will be celebrating
Christmas with in Bethlehem, the experience of these last two months
leaves me feeling very far from home. The Christmas season has only
served to highlight and amplify these feelings.

In the past, the celebrations of Christmas have naturally focused on the
town of Bethlehem. The scripture readings, the hymns, the carols, even
the wrapping paper all create an image of Bethlehem in the time of the
coming of Jesus. This picture for me was always very clear. The star,
the manger, the wise men, and so on -- the mental picture was formed in
my mind at a very young age. This picture, while familiar and
reassuring, was always lacking a basis in reality. The Biblical world
seemed so far away from my daily life, and I was always aware of the
nature of the image I had created in my head. My time in Bethlehem has
replaced this idealized and romantic image with one based in the cold
hard reality of the modern world.

The continued occupation of the Palestinian people by the State of
Israel is the dominant and overwhelming feature of life in Bethlehem.
The brutality and repression of the occupation alter every aspect of
life. Sometimes it is manifested in violent and dramatic clashes. But
most often it is seen in smaller more gradual ways. Either way, the
major result of the Israeli occupation is the destruction of Palestinian

Living under occupation and experiencing just a fraction of what
Palestinians have been experiencing virtually continuously since 1967
have permanently changed the image of Christmas in my mind. I know I
will never be able to forget the things I have seen and heard over the
past two months. They will always be associated with Bethlehem and
therefore Christmas in general. Christmas was a big event when I was a
child and children have always been the focus of the celebration of
Christmas in my family. As I have grown up, my role has changed from a
participant to more of an observer. But still my strongest association
with the feelings of Christmas will be as a child.

I would like to share two specific experiences I have had in Bethlehem
that illustrate what life is like for Palestinian children living under
the occupation. These two specific experiences serve to highlight just
what an unbearable price the children of Bethlehem and the rest of the
occupied territories have paid, simply for being Palestinians.

As I walk in the morning through town to my volunteer job, reminders of
the price of the occupation of Bethlehem surround me. On nearly every
building of the town posters of the Palestinian 'Martyrs' are pasted on
the wall. These posters are made to commemorate the deaths of all the
Palestinians that have died in the fight against the occupation. They
are a feature of every Palestinian town. Some are rather threatening
pictures depicting fighters posing with rifles and machine guns before
their deaths. But I find others are more striking. These are the posters
honoring the civilians who have been killed during the occupation. On my
way to work, the face I see the most is that of Christine Saada.
Christine was a ten year old girl who died on March 27, 2003, two days
after Israeli soldiers opened fire on her family's car, mortally
wounding her and injuring her mother, father and sister.

To me, Christine Saada is just that smiling girl in those posters. I
have read about her and seen her parents in the media, but she is still
defined mainly by the haunting image of her posters. To the small tight
knit community of Bethlehem, however, she was a friend, classmate,
sister and daughter. Christine is just one of the 494 Palestinian
children killed since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000

The other experience that has focused my attention on the plight of the
Children of Palestine came from another ten year old, but in a much
different way. Tarek Zoughbi is the eldest son of the friends I'm living
with. Tarek is an amazing boy, bright, energetic, always ready to dance
and constantly looking out for his little brothers and older sister.
Tarek, his siblings and their mother, who is an American, have just
returned from living for a year in the United States. Tarek and I had
just finished watching a movie on the satellite TV when an advertisement
for the next show came on. The advertisement was for the American movie
'Heat,' starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. Tarek immediately sat up
and exclaimed, 'Ohh!! I want to see that movie!! It looks great!!!'
Despite the fact that Heat is one of my favorite movies, in
consideration of the R rating and the tremendous amount of violence
throughout, I said, 'Tarek, that movie is pretty serious. There is a lot
of violence and I don?t think it is the best movie for you to watch.
Maybe we can find something else' For a moment I was satisfied with my
very 'parental' response. Then Tarek quickly replied, 'That stuff
doesn't work here. I know a boy who was shot by the soldiers. He was a
friend of mine. It is part of our life.' I was at a complete loss. How
could I argue with that? I looked at his mother and she just shrugged
her shoulders. The violence that I watch on TV in the States is a very
real part of every day life for every child living in the Palestinian
occupied territories. The boy that was killed was a friend from around
the neighborhood who was killed by Israeli soldiers during an invasion
into Bethlehem. Tarek and I watched the movie until bed time, happily
sharing the couch.

It is frequently stated in the US that Palestinians teach their children
to hate Israelis. A Palestinian friend of mine pointed out to me once
that, 'No Palestinian child has ever needed to be taught to hate
Israelis. They see with their own eyes what the Israelis are doing to
their families and friends.' In a meeting at the cultural center at the
Deheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, the director put it another way, 'I
knew how to throw stones at the soldiers who came into the camp before I
knew how to read.' The occupation is the crucible in which the core
principles and values of these children are being forged. Even the most
committed and ever-present parents struggle against the environment
their children grow up in.

Every Palestinian community has suffered a great deal under the
occupation. Despite the terrible pain and suffering inflicted on
Bethlehem the last years, in the bizarre and irrational world that is
life in Palestine under the Occupation, the City has been relatively
lucky. Many other towns and areas have suffered more than Bethlehem, if
such calculations are actually possible. In Jenin, the parents of a
friend of my sister and I were involved in programs to try and reach out
to the youth of the community. The mother said that: 'The boys from
seventh to eighth to ninth grade have gone crazy. There is no other word
for it. They are absolutely out of control. They have no interests other
than guns and violence. They have stopped going to school. They wait for
the Israelis to come into town and chase after the tanks to throw rocks.
It is beyond despair and anger. They really are crazy. It is hard not to
think that this whole generation is finished. Just gone.'

These are the feelings that are expressed in the inhumane and
indefensible terrorist attacks on Israel. After a few days here, the
question in one?s mind changes from: Why are there so many attacks on
Israel? To, Why aren?t there more attacks on Israel? The situation in
the occupied territories is really that bad. The solution becomes very
simple: End the Occupation!

So, as you celebrate Christmas this year, I implore you to focus some
attention and concern on the population of Bethlehem. The Israeli
occupation is a gross and indefensible violation of the Human Rights of
the Palestinian people. The challenge to myself and all Americans is
that this abuse is directly supported and encouraged by the actions of
our government. Despite this fact, every Palestinian person I have
encountered on this trip has been happy to see and eager to engage me as
a friend. As a Palestinian man said to a friend and I as he walked by
with his little girl in Ramallah, ?It gives us hope that you would come
here, and see the situation that we live in.?

It is in this spirit of humanity, compassion and understanding, that I
have the privilege and honor to extend to you the Christmas wishes of
the Palestinian people of Bethlehem: End the Occupation!! Merry
Christmas!! Peace on Earth!!

Benjamin Kennedy, born and raised in Santa Cruz, is a graduate of Santa
Cruz High School. He is living in Bethlehem and working as a volunteer
at the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem. Ben plans to continue
his undergraduate studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz
in 2004. Benjamin Kennedy <>

Saturday, December 25, 2010



By Aaron Shepard <AS@AARONSHEP.COM>

Copyright (c) 2001, 2003 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and
shared for any noncommercial purpose, but please do not omit any text,
including this notice.

ABOUT THE STORY: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is one of the most
remarkable incidents of World War I and perhaps of all military
history. Starting in some places on Christmas Eve and in others on
Christmas Day, the truce covered as much as two- thirds of the
British-German front, with thousands of soldiers taking part. Perhaps
most remarkably, it grew out of no single initiative but sprang up in
each place spontaneously and independently.

Nearly everything described here is drawn from first-hand accounts in
letters and diaries of the time. Britishisms include using "Nowell"
instead of "Noel," and "football" instead of "soccer." Visit my home
page at to learn more about the story, get a
copy in Web format, find a reader's theater script version, read more
stories, or contact the author.

-- Aaron

Christmas Day, 1914

My dear sister Janet,

It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their
dugouts -- yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the
wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems
almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn't been through it myself, I
would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang
carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy
soldiers here on the battlefields of France!

As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The
first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held
back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed
in our trenches and waited.

But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an
artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench,
killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our
heads above ground, for fear of a sniper's bullet.

And the rain -- it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects
right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans.
And with the rain has come mud -- a good foot or more deep. It
splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One
new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he
tried to get out -- just like in that American story of the tar baby!

Through all this, we couldn't help feeling curious about the German
soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we
did, and slogged about in the same muck. What's more, their first
trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man's Land,
bordered on both sides by barbed wire -- yet they were close enough we
sometimes heard their voices.

Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other
times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common.
And now it seems they felt the same.

Just yesterday morning -- Christmas Eve Day -- we had our first good
freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud
froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright
sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.

During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either
side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped
entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might
promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn't count on it. We'd been told
the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.

I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted
asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, "Come
and see! See what the Germans are doing!" I grabbed my rifle, stumbled
out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.

I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny
lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far
as the eye could see.

"What is it?" I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, "Christmas

And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of
their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.

And then we heard their voices raised in song.

"Stille nacht, heilige nacht...."

This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it
and translated: "Silent night, holy night." I've never heard one
lovelier -- or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark
softened by a first-quarter moon.

When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes,
British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started
singing, and we all joined in.

"The first Nowell, the angel did say...."

In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their
fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their
own and then began another.

"O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum...."

Then we replied.

"O come all ye faithful...."

But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.

"Adeste fideles...."

British and German harmonizing across No Man's Land! I would have
thought nothing could be more amazing -- but what came next was more

"English, come over!" we heard one of them shout. "You no shoot, we no

There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then
one of us shouted jokingly, "You come over here."

To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb
over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man's Land.
One of them called, "Send officer to talk."

I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others
did the same -- but our captain called out, "Hold your fire." Then he
climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them
talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German
cigar in his mouth!

"We've agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow," he
announced. "But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you,
stay alert."

Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting
out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing
out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man's Land, over a
hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men
we'd been trying to kill just hours earlier!

Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled -- British
khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better
dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.

Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew
English. I asked one of them why that was.

"Because many have worked in England!" he said. "Before all this, I
was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!"

"Perhaps you did!" I said, laughing.

He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had
interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, "Don't worry. We'll
have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl."

He laughed at that. Then he asked if I'd send her a postcard he'd give
me later, and I promised I would.

Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a
picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely,
I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would
like that very much and gave me his family's address.

Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts -- our
cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef
for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners,
and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I
myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt -- a fine
souvenir to show when I get home.

Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at
ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly
beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said,
"Well, you believe your newspapers and we'll believe ours."

Clearly they are lied to -- yet after meeting these men, I wonder how
truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the "savage
barbarians" we've read so much about. They are men with homes and
families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In
other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?

As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and
then all joined in for -- I am not lying to you -- "Auld Lang Syne."
Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some
talk of a football match.

I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched
my arm. "My God," he said, "why cannot we have peace and all go home?"

I told him gently, "That you must ask your emperor."

He looked at me then, searchingly. "Perhaps, my friend. But also we
must ask our hearts."

And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve
in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending
of enemies?

For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent
fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the
same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and
never could we shirk that duty.

Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown
here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must
always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in
place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of
reprisals? Would not all war end at once?

All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I
wonder if we want it quite enough.

Your loving brother,


Friday, December 24, 2010

Jesus, Happy Hollidays

There were 3 good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone "brother".
2. He liked Gospel.
3. He couldn't get a fair trial.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was
1. He went into His Fathers business.
2. He lived at home until he was 33.
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his mother was
sure he was God.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was
1. He talked with his hands.
2. He had wine with every meal.
3. He used olive oil.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was
a Californian:
1. He never cut his hair.
2. He walked around barefoot all the time.
3. He started a new religion.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was
1. He never got married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.

But the most compelling evidence of all - 3 proofs that Jesus
was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moments notice when there was no food.
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men
who just didn't get it.
3. And even when he was dead, he had to get up because there
was more work to do!!


"Government is not reason;
it is not eloquence;
it is force! Like fire,
it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
- George Washington


----- Original Message -----
From: Liam Kirsher
Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 12:14 AM
Subject: [LiamOnline] Happy Holidays!

Staying involved and staying happy. Sometimes that's a challenge! In this
essay, Howard Zinn reminds us that "Small acts, when multiplied by millions
of people, can transform the world," and that "...human history is a history
not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness."
This holiday season I'm reminded of the importance of pleasure. If you're
engaged in social and political transformation, it's important to recharge
your batteries once in a while. Get out in nature, spend time with friends,

You know, you never know! I think of the mishaps that have plagued the Bush
administration, especially in Iraq, as being due to much more than bad
planning. When so much of their policy is based upon deception, how much of
a surprise is it, really, when reality insists on disrupting the parade?
Ultimately, a thing is what it is, and no spin meister can change that, no
matter how hard they try. Truth is our ally.

Let's allow ourselves to not know how things turn out. Do we really want to
be right about our dire predictions? Let's declare our independence from
that certainty. Knowing that we can never really know the future, let's
learn to enjoy the uncertainty, the dynamic tension that exists between the
status quo and our vision for a more compassionate world. We are poised in
a present rich with possibilities for surprise, change, creativity and



The Optimism of Uncertainty
by Howard Zinn, November 06, 2004

In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in
comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay
involved and seemingly happy?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we
should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The
metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any
chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of
changing the world.

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will
continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden
crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by
unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse
of systems of power that seemed invincible.

What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter
unpredictability. A revolution to overthrow the czar of Russia, in that most
sluggish of semi-feudal empires, not only startled the most advanced
imperial powers but took Lenin himself by surprise and sent him rushing by
train to Petrograd. Who would have predicted the bizarre shifts of World War
II--the Nazi-Soviet pact (those embarrassing photos of von Ribbentrop and
Molotov shaking hands), and the German Army rolling through Russia,
apparently invincible, causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the
gates of Leningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the streets of
Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of the German army, with Hitler huddled
in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die?

And then the postwar world, taking a shape no one could have drawn in
advance: The Chinese Communist revolution, the tumultuous and violent
Cultural Revolution, and then another turnabout, with post-Mao China
renouncing its most fervently held ideas and institutions, making overtures
to the West, cuddling up to capitalist enterprise, perplexing everyone.

No one foresaw the disintegration of the old Western empires happening so
quickly after the war, or the odd array of societies that would be created
in the newly independent nations, from the benign village socialism of
Nyerere's Tanzania to the madness of Idi Amin's adjacent Uganda. Spain
became an astonishment. I recall a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
telling me that he could not imagine Spanish Fascism being overthrown
without another bloody war. But after Franco was gone, a parliamentary
democracy came into being, open to Socialists, Communists, anarchists,

The end of World War II left two superpowers with their respective spheres
of influence and control, vying for military and political power. Yet they
were unable to control events, even in those parts of the world considered
to be their respective spheres of influence. The failure of the Soviet Union
to have its way in Afghanistan, its decision to withdraw after almost a
decade of ugly intervention, was the most striking evidence that even the
possession of thermonuclear weapons does not guarantee domination over a
determined population. The United States has faced the same reality. It
waged a full-scale war in lndochina, conducting the most brutal bombardment
of a tiny peninsula in world history, and yet was forced to withdraw. In the
headlines every day we see other instances of the failure of the presumably
powerful over the presumably powerless, as in Brazil, where a grassroots
movement of workers and the poor elected a new president pledged to fight
destructive corporate power.

Looking at this catalogue of huge surprises, it's clear that the struggle
for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming
power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in
their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and
again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and
dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit,
ingenuity, courage, patience--whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa,
peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals
in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union itself. No cold calculation of the
balance of power need deter people who are persuaded that their cause is

I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is
it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all
the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope.
Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go, I find
such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem to be hundreds,
thousands, more who are open to unorthodox ideas. But they tend not to know
of one another's existence, and so, while they persist, they do so with the
desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the
mountain. I try to tell each group that it is not alone, and that the very
people who are disheartened by the absence of a national movement are
themselves proof of the potential for such a movement.

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such
moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a
more decent society. We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to
participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by
millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don't "win," there
is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other
good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope.

An optimist isn't necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark
of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It
is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but
also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to
emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only
the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those
times and places--and there are so many--where people have behaved
magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility
of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we
do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian
future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as
we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us,
is itself a marvelous victory.

Liam Kirsher <liamk/AT/numenet/DOT/com>
415-509-6822 (cell)


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