History Repeats Itself? From the “King of Java” to the Pharaoh of Egypt
By Joost van Steenis
Nothing really changed, only masspeople died.
In Tunisia something happened that nobody had foreseen.
Why did it happen and can we do it again elsewhere?
BELOW: Anwar Sadat, the lionized leader of Egypt, a military man like Mubarak, who followed him, and Nasser, who preceded him, set Egypt on its course of subservience to Washington. The relationship facilitated a reign of corruption and brutality that Egyptians are just beginning to shake.
Hundreds of masspeople died, thousands were wounded and many were arrested – and I have not heard of any compensation.
Some very greedy elitepersons were thrown out – with enough money to be rich forever.
The new elite can rule without opposition and become as corrupt, rich and greedy as the ousted ones – or do you think The People can stage another round of demonstrations.
The People got some hope and they will return home and work even harder – for the benefit of the new elite.
It is sad, as sad as in Egypt or Yemen.
For real change you must attack the centre of power that is in the hands of a small group of people with money and power.
The Tunisian actions belonged to the Old Culture of Protest that asks and not to the New Culture of Resistance that forces.
Of course I welcome that the Tunisian masses became active but must we enjoy that the only result is that a new greedy group replaces the old one?
The new leading group was already powerful because they could order the police to stop shooting people. In the past these people supported the cruel president and don’t believe they suddenly became decent. Do not think that the industrialists who filled their pocket at the cost of the living conditions of common citizens will change their old habits.
The Egyptian military intervened “to safeguard the country” and some demonstrators approved. But they safeguarded their own position. The ultimate goal of power is earning money, now and in the future. The elite decided that the continuing presence of some presidents (in Tunisia and in Egypt) was contrary to their interests. The spontaneous uprising was used to remove the too greedy presidents from their high positions, the rest could continue to be greedy.
New weapons to prevent that any elite uses the country for its own benefit were not developed. Leaders were asked to behave decently, they were not forced to become human. By using outdated and insufficient actions a more humane world never can be reached.
The People must realise that it always turns around power, money and the people who have power and money. When the centre of power is not attacked any new leader will again enrich the own group because there is no opposition. Everywhere people are ruled by greedy and cruel leaders. And it takes many years before dissatisfaction becomes so huge that a single event can trigger an avalanche and The People rise up again.
Still it is interesting what happened in Tunisia. The People looked subdued, looked to accept the oppressing inhuman system. But a small deed caused chaos as has already been described by the Theory of Chaos. The flapping of the wings of a butterfly over Brazil can cause a hurricane over Cuba. But not all butterflies cause a typhoon. The copycat method of burning yourself in the hope change occurs did not work in other countries.
The Theory of Catastrophes teaches that a jump in human development can occur when The People become active. By using old methods of protest, asking for a change, fighting with the police etc. change will hardly occur. In Tunisia part of the elite could usurp power by agreeing that the top elite had to be ousted. In Egypt the military remained powerful and only removed some people at the very top. The People did not have the energy and the right idea to remove any greedy, cruel and selfish elite.
The two Theories can be used to get better results.
The right tactics were not used. There was a short period of chaos and thus the possibility something really new could be born. Then the police reinstalled order. Who ordered them to act and what kind of order they bring about? Of course not an order from which a New Humane Society can arise. Some new greedy leaders came out of the shadow to establish an order that resembles very much the old order.
This new group of greedy leaders benefits most. Remove anyone who is not right and honest. Only then you get real change.
Without the clear goal to undermine the (money) power of the greedy rich, we remain in the Old Culture of Protest.
JOOST VAN STEENIS is a Dutch author and radical theoretician.
Down with Any Elite!
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The laying bare of the real nature of American operations makes the political and media establishment anxious.
By David Walsh
19 February 2011 [print_link]
The ongoing tumultuous events in the Middle East and North Africa have further exposed the claim that the US government has an interest in democracy anywhere in the world. Outraged populations have risen up against one brutal regime after another that has been armed, financed and maintained by Washington—Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and beyond.
This has not been lost on great numbers of people, in the US and elsewhere. The laying bare of the real nature of American operations makes the political and media establishment anxious. For various historical reasons, US imperialism has previously dressed up its predatory operations in the guise of bringing “freedom and democracy” to various peoples. As Trotsky remarked derisively in 1924, “America is always liberating somebody, that’s her profession.” (After all, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and “Operation Enduring Freedom” are the official names used by the US governments for its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively.)
Only someone not right in the head, however, could pretend that supporting dictators like a Ben Ali (Tunisia), a Mubarak (Egypt), or a Saleh (Yemen) is a liberating act. These figures have presided for decades over regimes that routinely arrest, sadistically abuse and murder political opponents, suppress workers in the interest of foreign and domestic corporations, and generally terrorize their populations, while engorging themselves, their families and cronies with riches.
The editors of Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal have therefore felt it necessary to come to the defense of the dictatorships propped up by Washington. In an editorial February 16 (“Egypt and Iran”), the Journal uses the occasion of police repression by the Iranian regime to make the case for US-backed dictators.
After taking note of the Green protests in Iran on February 14, the editorial asserts that “it’s important to understand why revolution will be harder [in Iran] than in Egypt and Tunisia.” The editors go on to argue that although conditions in Iran, Egypt and numerous other countries are generally similar, Iran’s leaders are “more ruthless.” On the other hand, according to the Journal, “Hosni Mubarak and Egypt’s military, dependent on U.S. aid and support, were susceptible to outside pressure to shun violence.”
This is a grotesque lie. The Journal chooses to forget that Mubarak and Egypt’s military lived by and through violence, with the full backing of “the West,” for three decades. Far from pressuring the Egyptian government to “shun violence,” Washington enlisted Egyptian officials to torture US-held prisoners as part of Washington’s rendition program in the “war on terror.”
We will spare the reader descriptions of the barbaric methods of torture employed by the Egyptian state against its real and imagined enemies. Its prisons, by all accounts, rang with screams. The regime killed thousands and imprisoned tens of thousands, at a conservative estimate.
In the last days of Mubarak’s rule alone, the military “secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents … and at least some of these detainees have been tortured,” according to human rights activists cited by the Guardian on February 9.
Nonetheless, the Journal continues shamelessly, “To put it another way, pro-American dictatorships have more moral scruples.”
The implicit claim that the Egyptian army is refraining from a crackdown on popular protests and strikes due to its “moral scruples” is absurd. If it has so far abstained from drowning popular resistance in blood, it is because it faces a millions-strong mass movement and dares not pursue such a policy.
The generals in Cairo and their overlords in Washington fear that, with such an assault, they might provoke a revolutionary response. The military is therefore biding its time, preparing its forces, hoping that official and petty-bourgeois “opposition” forces will demobilize popular protests and allow them to re-establish control of the situation.
The timing of the Journal’s article was unfortunate, however. Within 24 hours of the editorial’s appearance, one of those “scrupulous,” pro-American dictatorships in Bahrain, an island nation whose people lives in the shadow of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, launched a lethal assault on protesters gathered in the capital city’s central square.
BELOW: Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Page Editor, a Rupert Murdoch flunkie, and prominent member of the establishment’s commentariat is one of the more outspoken voices defending and rationalizing US imperialism’s crimes. As such, he, and his ilk, are full-fledged accomplices in innumerable crimes, and one day they should be tried for such crimes.—Eds
Officially, five were killed, although 60 are missing, and some 250 people injured, by batons, rubber bullets and pellets fired from shotguns. The security forces attacked sleeping men, women and children without mercy, beating some of them to death. The savagery of the attack outraged the population, prompting huge funeral processions on Friday. Again, crowds were fired on and many wounded, by the American-trained army this time.
Bahrain is considered critical by the US for a number of geopolitical reasons, and it appears that even the crocodile tears shed by Barack Obama over repression in Egypt will not be spilled in this case. As one commentator noted, “As far as Washington is concerned, this small Persian Gulf kingdom may be where support for Middle East democracy dies.”
In any event, the US government over the decades has cooperated with and backed the most horrific regimes on earth, from Franco’s Spain and apartheid South Africa, and governments run by butchers in military uniform in Central and South America, to semi-feudal monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and the rule of mass murderers in Indonesia. American foreign policy has, in fact, sailed upon an ocean of blood and human misery.
The Journal editorial’s hostile comments about the Iranian regime are not driven by any affection for democracy. The editors are sympathetic to Iran’s Green Movement because the latter is a right-wing trend, with strongest support in middle class layers, which criticizes the Ahmadinejad government for not going far enough along the lines of International Monetary Fund-inspired “free market reforms.” A Mousavi-Karroubi regime in Iran would still be a dictatorship, but it would be precisely a “pro-American” dictatorship.
If, however, one were to set aside the Journal’s self-serving claims about Iran, what is one to make of the fact that a leading American publication openly makes the case for supporting dictatorship?
In this the Journal speaks, although perhaps more brazenly and openly than some, for the American ruling elite as a whole. The editors of the New York Times would not disagree, although they might approach the matter somewhat more gingerly … and underhandedly. The Obama administration proceeds in a similar fashion, cynically registering its “alarm” and “deep concern” about each successive atrocity carried out by its dictatorial client states.
The chatter of the Journal’s editors about “moral scruples” is just that. The Wall Street Journal appraises a given foreign government according to the most cynical Realpolitik: does it assist or stand in the way of American global interests? After the fact, the newspaper finds virtues and “moral scruples” in those governments that do—or rather, their supposed virtue lies precisely in their subservience to US strategic aims.
DAVID WALSH is a well respected cinema and media analyst with the World Socialist Web Site.
Declaration by the World Socialist Web Site and the Socialist Equality Party
The working class cannot allow this struggle to be channeled behind the perspective advanced by the state AFL-CIO and the teachers union WEAC, of putting pressure on Democratic and Republican state legislators to delay or block the legislation. Workers should oppose and denounce the position taken by the union leaders, that cuts in pay and benefits are acceptable provided that the unions themselves are involved in negotiating them.
19 February 2011 | [print_link]
The World Socialist Web Site and the Socialist Equality Party call on all working people to come to the defense of the Wisconsin public employees in their fight against the destruction of wages, benefits, working conditions and democratic rights.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled state legislature are moving to slash wages, gut health benefits and undermine pensions, while at the same time imposing a legal straitjacket on public employees, stripping them of collective bargaining rights over anything but wages, and requiring any wage rise above the rate of inflation to be approved by a statewide referendum vote.
No such controls are proposed, of course, for the gargantuan salaries of corporate CEOs or the windfall profits of the banks and big business. Nor will there be any limits imposed on the financial institutions that handle the issuing of state bonds—headed by Citigroup, the lead underwriter. The “sacrifices” decreed by the governor apply only to working people: Walker has actually increased the state deficit to provide tax cuts for Wisconsin-based corporations.
Tens of thousands of workers throughout Wisconsin have already gone into action against this assault on fundamental social and democratic rights. They have marched through the city of Madison on a daily basis, packed into the halls of the State Capitol, and staged protests and walkouts throughout the state.
Wisconsin state employees, school teachers, firefighters and other local government workers have been joined by private sector workers, university and high school students, and thousands of other working people who correctly recognize that the destruction of living standards and basic rights for public employees will have devastating consequences for the entire working class.
This class mobilization must be intensified and extended on the broadest possible basis, through the organization of a general strike of all workers in Wisconsin to put a stop to the attack on public employees. To wage such a struggle requires the building of new organizations, rank and file action committees of workers and students to unite public sector and private sector workers as well as youth in the workplaces, schools and neighborhoods.
The working class cannot allow this struggle to be channeled behind the perspective advanced by the state AFL-CIO and the teachers union WEAC, of putting pressure on Democratic and Republican state legislators to delay or block the legislation. Workers should oppose and denounce the position taken by the union leaders, that cuts in pay and benefits are acceptable provided that the unions themselves are involved in negotiating them.
There is a vast social gulf between the instinctive and heartfelt opposition to the cuts on the part of rank-and-file workers, and the posturing and demagogy by the union officials, who support the cuts so long as their own role and income from dues checkoff, and the salaries and the perks of the privileged bureaucracy, are maintained.
Thus Marty Beil, head of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said yesterday: “We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help bring our state’s budget into balance, but … we will not—I repeat we will not—be denied our rights to collectively bargain.” This only begs the question, however: what is there to bargain over if one starts by agreeing to all the concessions?
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared at Friday’s rally in Madison that the unions recognize and accept the economic reasons for cuts in state government. Who gave them that right? Trumka does not speak for workers struggling to get by on their existing salaries, under conditions of accelerating inflation, or facing the gutting of healthcare and pension plans. He speaks for the fifth column of highly paid officials who have transformed the unions into the enforcers of corporate and government demands for austerity and wage cutting.
The main goal of Trumka &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp; Co. in Wisconsin is to prevent an uncontrollable explosion in which the working class actually demonstrates its enormous social power and exposes the weakness and isolation of the ultra-right politicians like Governor Walker. There is no question that the vast majority of the population of Wisconsin sympathizes with the state workers and will support them in a serious and sustained struggle. The AFL-CIO regards such an offensive by the working class as a disaster to be prevented at all costs.
The AFL-CIO aims to divert workers away from an all-out struggle against the Walker administration by boosting illusions in the Democratic Party, hailing the protest stunt by Democratic state legislators who have temporarily blocked the legislation by leaving the state and preventing a quorum. It will seek to shut down the growing strike movement in favor of appeals to the courts, the Obama administration and, ultimately, a campaign for the Democrats in the 2012 elections.
The truth is, however, that the Democratic Party is conducting identical attacks on workers at the local, state and federal level. The brutal attacks on Wisconsin workers are not unique to their state, but are taking place in every region of the country. Democratic governors in New York, North Carolina, Illinois and California are demanding similar cuts in wages and pensions, slashing jobs and attacking democratic rights such as the right to strike.
As for Obama, he has already demonstrated his class solidarity with Governor Walker by imposing a two-year freeze on federal workers and targeting public school teachers for attacks on seniority and job security. The Obama administration is now proposing a budget that demands working people pay, through cuts in domestic social spending, for the deficits produced by the bailout of Wall Street, tax cuts for the wealthy, and imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The only difference between the two parties is that the Democrats make use of the unions as an instrument for enforcing the cuts, while the Republicans propose to dispense with the unions altogether. This difference is of utmost importance to the union officials—their incomes and privileges are at stake—but the end result for the workers is the same.
Workers in Wisconsin and those who support them nationwide must recognize that the first requirement of a real struggle against the destruction of jobs, wages, benefits and democratic rights is a political break with both the parties of big business, the Democrats as well as the Republicans. The working class must mobilize all the oppressed—workers, youth, the unemployed, the elderly—in the building of a new mass political party based on a socialist program.
Many of the workers demonstrating in Wisconsin have carried signs comparing Walker to ousted Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, and expressing the desire to carry out a rebellion that is as powerful and liberating as that conducted by Egyptian workers over the last month. There is a profound objective truth expressed in this instinctive identification with the struggles of the international working class.
Like the workers in Egypt, the workers in Wisconsin are being propelled into struggle by the crisis and breakdown of the world capitalist system. Like them, they are as yet without the organizations, leadership and political program that are necessary for victory.
Patrick Martin is a senior political analyst with the World Socialist Web Site.
Editor’s Note: The World Socialist Web Site, is an educational instrument of the Socialist Workers Party, which is trying to create a formation capable of representing the working class in the US. The Greanville Post, an independent left entity, is not a member of that organization, but recognizes the high educational quality of its opinions.
The U.S. military/security complex is capable of creating any number of false flag events in order to make these threats seem real to a public whose intelligence is limited to TV, shopping mall experiences, and football games.
The U.S. has no enemies except those that the U.S. creates by bombing and invading other countries and by overthrowing foreign leaders and installing American puppets in their place. China does not conduct naval exercises off the California coast, but the U.S. conducts war games in the China Sea off China’s coast. Russia does not mass troops on Europe’s borders, but the U.S. places missiles on Russia’s borders. The U.S. is determined to create as many enemies as possible in order to continue its bleeding of the American population to feed the ravenous military/security complex.
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
[print_link] February 18 – 20, 2011
O B A M A’ S N E W B U D G E T is a continuation of Wall Street’s class war against the poor and middle class. Wall Street wasn’t through with us when the banksters sold their fraudulent derivatives into our pension funds, wrecked Americans’ job prospects and retirement plans, secured a $700 billion bailout at taxpayers’ expense while foreclosing on the homes of millions of Americans, and loaded up the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet with several trillion dollars of junk financial paper in exchange for newly created money to shore up the banks’ balance sheets. The effect of the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing” on inflation, interest rates, and the dollar’s foreign exchange value are yet to hit. When they do, Americans will get a lesson in poverty.
BELOW: Grotesquely expensive “stealth” ship prototype for the Navy.
Now the ruling oligarchies have struck again, this time through the federal budget. The U.S. government has a huge military/security budget. It is as large as the budgets of the rest of the world combined. The Pentagon, CIA, and Homeland Security budgets account for the $1.1 trillion federal deficit that the Obama administration forecasts for fiscal year 2012. This massive deficit spending serves only one purpose–the enrichment of the private companies that serve the military/security complex. These companies, along with those on Wall Street, are who elect the U.S. government.
The U.S. has no enemies except those that the U.S. creates by bombing and invading other countries and by overthrowing foreign leaders and installing American puppets in their place.
China does not conduct naval exercises off the California coast, but the U.S. conducts war games in the China Sea off China’s coast. Russia does not mass troops on Europe’s borders, but the U.S. places missiles on Russia’s borders. The U.S. is determined to create as many enemies as possible in order to continue its bleeding of the American population to feed the ravenous military/security complex.
The U.S. government actually spends $56 billion a year, that is, $56,000 million, in order that American air travelers can be porno-scanned and sexually groped so that firms represented by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff can make large profits selling the scanning equipment.
With a perpetual budget deficit driven by the military/security complex’s desire for profits, the real cause of America’s enormous budget deficit is off-limits for discussion.
The U.S. Secretary of War-Mongering, Robert Gates, declared: “We shrink from our global security responsibilities at our peril.” The military brass warns of cutting any of the billions of aid to Israel and Egypt, two functionaries for its Middle East “policy.”
But what are “our” global security responsibilities? Where did they come from? Why would America be at peril if America stopped bombing and invading other countries and interfering in their internal affairs? The perils America faces are all self-created.
The answer to this question used to be that otherwise we would be murdered in our beds by “the worldwide communist conspiracy.” Today the answer is that we will be murdered in our airplanes, train stations, and shopping centers by “Muslim terrorists” and by a newly created imaginary threat–”domestic extremists,” that is, war protesters and environmentalists.
The U.S. military/security complex is capable of creating any number of false flag events in order to make these threats seem real to a public whose intelligence is limited to TV, shopping mall experiences, and football games.
So Americans are stuck with enormous budget deficits that the Federal Reserve must finance by printing new money, money that sooner or later will destroy the purchasing power of the dollar and its role as world reserve currency. When the dollar goes, American power goes.
For the ruling oligarchies, the question is: how to save their power.
Their answer is: make the people pay.
And that is what their latest puppet, President Obama, is doing.
With the U.S. in the worst recession since the Great Depression, a great recession that John Williams and Gerald Celente, along with myself, have said is deepening, the “Obama budget” takes aim at support programs for the poor and out-of-work. The American elites are transforming themselves into idiots as they seek to replicate in America the conditions that have led to the overthrows of similarly corrupt elites in Tunisia and Egypt and mounting challenges to U.S. puppet governments elsewhere.
All we need is a few million more Americans with nothing to lose in order to bring the disturbances in the Middle East home to America. With the U.S. military bogged down in wars abroad, an American revolution would have the best chance of success.
American politicians have to fund Israel as the money returns in campaign contributions.
The U.S. government must fund the Egyptian military if there is to be any hope of turning the next Egyptian government into another American puppet that will serve Israel by continuing the blockade of the Palestinians herded into the Gaza ghetto.
These goals are far more important to the American elite than Pell Grants that enable poor Americans to obtain an education, or clean water, or community block grants, or the low income energy assistance program (cut by the amount that U.S. taxpayers are forced to give to Israel).
There are also $7,700 million of cuts in Medicaid and other health programs over the next five years.
Given the magnitude of the U.S. budget deficit, these sums are a pittance. The cuts will have no effect on U.S. Treasury financing needs. They will put no brakes on the Federal Reserve’s need to print money in order to keep the U.S. government in operation.
These cuts serve one purpose: to further the Republican Party’s myth that America is in economic trouble because of the poor: The poor are shiftless. They won’t work. The only reason unemployment is high is that the poor had rather be on welfare.
A new addition to the welfare myth is that recent middle class college graduates won’t take the jobs offered them, because their parents have too much money, and the kids like living at home without having to do anything. A spoiled generation, they come out of university refusing any job that doesn’t start out as CEO of a Fortune 500 company. The reason that engineering graduates do not get job interviews is that they do not want them.
What all this leads to is an assault on “entitlements”, which means Social Security and Medicare. The elites have programmed, through their control of the media, a large part of the population, especially those who think of themselves as conservatives, to conflate “entitlements” with welfare. America is going to hell not because of foreign wars that serve no American purpose, but because people, who have paid 15 per cent of their payroll all their lives for old age pensions and medical care, want “handouts” in their retirement years.
Why do these selfish people think that working Americans should be forced through payroll taxes to pay for the pensions and medical care of the retirees? Why didn’t the retirees consume less and prepare for their own retirement?
The elite’s line, and that of their hired spokespersons in “think tanks” and universities, is that America is in trouble because of its retirees.
Too many Americans have been brainwashed to believe that America is in trouble because of its poor and its retirees. America is not in trouble because it coerces a dwindling number of taxpayers to support the military/security complex’s enormous profits, American puppet governments abroad, and Israel.
The American elite’s solution for America’s problems is not merely to foreclose on the homes of Americans whose jobs were sent offshore, but to add to the numbers of distressed Americans with nothing to lose the sick and the dispossessed retirees, and the university graduates who cannot find jobs that have been sent to Chine and India.
Of all the countries in the world, none need a revolution as bad as the United States, a country ruled by a handful of selfish oligarchs who have more income and wealth than can be spent in a lifetime.
IMPROBABLY, Paul Craig Roberts was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. His latest book, HOW THE ECONOMY WAS LOST, has just been published by CounterPunch/AK Press. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com
It is true that the Democratic Leadership Council itself has recently met its demise, but that doesn’t mean that its policies have lost their total sway over this administration. As one wag put it, the DLC doesn’t need to live on independently anymore; it has just moved into the White House.
STEVEN JONAS, MD, MPH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
18 February 2011 | [print_link]
Following the initial Federal Period and then until less than ten years before the first Civil War there were two major political parties in the United States: the Democratic Party and the Whig Party. While it was a national party, the base of the Democratic Party lay in the slave states of the South and its policies generally reflected the interests of the Slave Power. As the matter of the further expansion of slavery into the Western Territories became more acute, a major split began to develop in the opposition party, the Whigs. Northern Whigs were generally opposed, not to slavery so much but to its further Westward expansion. The Southern Whigs tended to favor, or at least tolerate, both the institution and its expansion. And so, as the two wings gradually drifted apart in the early 1850s, a new party was formed, the Republican Party. As a national force the Whig Party disappeared quickly. Its “Free Soil” Northern elements formed the base of the new party, while its pro-slavery (at one level or another) elements moved over to the Democrats.
The nascent Republican Party presented as an amalgam of interests. Central was the prevention the further expansion of the institution of slavery westward, for a variety of reasons. Some northern Democrats also joined it for they too were concerned with preventing the westward expansion of slavery. Anti-slavery elements of the nativist American Party, which ran the former Whig President Millard Fillmore for President in 1856, after Fillmore’s disastrous defeat also gravitated to the Republicans. Related to nativism was the Temperance Movement, originally aimed at the Germans (beer) and the Irish (whiskey). Some of them were drawn to the Republicans because of their position on the principle of slavery.
The abolitionists actually came to the Republican Party fairly late because abolition of slavery in the states in which it existed, ensconced as it was in the Constitution, was not part of the Republican platform and did not become so until well into the first Civil War. In fact in the late 1850s it was the was the radical abolitionists, led by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, who were advocating secession – of at least the New England states, if not more. But seeing the conflict over the issue coming to a head in the election of 1860, many abolitionists fell in with the Republicans too. Lincoln in fact was able to win election in that year, in a four-way race, with just 40% of the popular vote, only because of the disparate coalition which was united around one theme: opposition to the dominance of national policy on the matter of the westward expansion of slavery by the Slave Power.
And so, what do we face now? The dominance of national policy, not just on one issue but all of the major ones, by the modern equivalent of the Slave Power, which is the Corporate Power. The Slave Power was dominated by a tiny oligarchy of very wealthy men, the slave owners. Among other things, they wanted to continue the westward expansion of slavery both to increase their profits and to increase their political dominance of the national government and national policy. The Corporate Power is similarly a (relatively) tiny oligarchy of very wealthy men (and now, women) who want to maintain the domination of national policy that they have put together over the past 35 years, under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, in order to maintain and expand both their profits and their wealth.
Jonas asks the big question: Can we muster enough political gumption and intelligence to piece together a progressive version of the utterly corrupt Democratic Party?
The major elements of that policy are well-known: the continuation and where possible the expansion of American imperialism around the world; the major exportation of American capital, seeking higher profits abroad; the furtherance of the dependence of the US economy on highly profitable fossil fuels, with the concomitant necessity of the maintenance of foreign military bases to, among other things, protect the oil supply and its routes of transport to the US; the ever-shrinking rates of taxation, primarily benefitting the ruling oligarchy; the continuing attack on the US labor movement; supporting the ever-increasing attacks on personal liberty in such matters as the religious belief as to when life begins and the civil rights of homosexuals so as to make sure that the Religious Right stays firmly with their party; and so on and so forth.
The response to this agenda on the part of the Democratic Party has been increasingly limp. It was clear from the beginning of the campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2008 that Barack Obama was part of the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council’s own coalition (see my column of late 2007, http://tpjmagazine.us/jonas172). However, his rhetoric during the campaign did fool some of us for a time before the election into thinking that once in office he would behave differently (and I include myself in that group). Obviously he hasn’t. It is true that the Democratic Leadership Council itself has recently met its demise, but that doesn’t mean that its policies have lost their total sway over this administration. As one wag put it, the DLC doesn’t need to live on independently anymore; it has just moved into the White House.
And so, using the excuse of the losses in the 2010 election, which his total lack of leadership and forthright opposition to GOP policies certainly contributed to, Pres. Obama has continued to attempt to reach “compromise” with the GOP. That the Congressional leadership of the latter doesn’t seem to be interested in much else than assuring his loss in the 2012 Presidential election (Senate Minority Leader, but controller of the Senate through the use of the filibuster, Mitch McConnell) and the repeal of his signature piece of legislation, the “health care reform” act (really the Health Insurance subsidy act — Speaker of the House John Boehner) doesn’t seem to have reached his consciousness. But what is reaching the consciousness of an increasing number of rank-and-file US citizens is what GOP/DLC/Obama policy is leading us toward.
That future includes: the continuing export of US capital and with it US jobs (Obama appoints the biggest job exporter of all-time, former GE CEO Jeff Immelt, as his “jobs czar”); the destruction of the only three income redistribution programs left, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; the further concentration of both wealth and income in the hands of a smaller and smaller segment of the population; continuing war for the benefit of the military-industrial complex and US imperialism with its drain not only on the US treasury but also the ability of the US to positively influence the actions of other countries; the perpetuation, indeed the acceleration, of global warming and climate change and the ongoing mass extinctions that accompany it; the increasingly likely full destruction of the trade union movement in the US (see what is going on right now in Wisconsin with the assault on the public employee unions); the ever-burgeoning Federal deficit and national debt because of the abandonment of rational tax policy, that leads to the further dominance of Federal spending by the military and debt service; the maintenance of a Permanent Army of the Unemployed, created so neatly by the recent excesses of Finance Capitalism and the resulting “Great Recession;” and so on and so forth.
Desperately needed now, if Constitutional Democracy, as defined by the Preamble to that great document (see my Commentary of almost a year ago, “The Preamblers” http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/185) and the Bill of Rights, is to be maintained, indeed restored in the United States, and if a Second Civil War is to be prevented, is a new party. I am not talking here about a traditional US “third party” which could make a lot of us feel good but which would go nowhere politically. What we need is for the Democratic Party to split. We need the formation of the Progressive Democratic Party. Its platform would be fairly obvious and I need not detail it here. But what I will deal with here, briefly, is what it would need in order to be effective.
A Progressive Democratic Party with a chance of winning elections, and in 2012 in a three-way battle the possibility of even winning the Presidency, needs three things. It needs a significant cadre of elected officials at the Federal, state and local levels to split from Obama and the Corporate Power Democrats and join it, people like John Conyers, Al Franken, Sherrod Brown, and Peter Shumlin (the new, pro-single payer, Governor of Vermont). It needs very significant amount of money from National Interest Capitalists (URL: http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/214) like George Soros and his new group. It needs strong support from at least part of what’s left of the US trade union movement (which would obviously not include that sector of it that is trying to make nice with the US Chamber of Commerce); and it needs dynamic leadership and potential Presidential candidates, like Alan Grayson (yes, Abraham Lincoln was also a one-term Congressman defeated for re-election, in his case because he had opposed the Mexican War), Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich.
A TALL ORDER? Yes indeed. But the Republican Party is driving the nation to bankruptcy, both fiscally and in terms of policy. They are also beginning to sanction the use of deadly force to settle political differences: a committee of the Republican-controlled legislature of South Dakota recently voted out a bill which would make murder of abortion providers legal (The Progress Report, Feb. 15, 2011). If it becomes law, who’s next? Non-closeted gays in public office, for example? (Going after closeted gays in public office would significantly reduce the numbers of GOPs public office holders, so one could not have that done across the board.) Providers of contraceptives? And with the targeting of progressives for “dirty tricks” by three private security companies, possibly in the employ of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (The Progress Report, Feb. 14, 2011, the Chamber denies it), following up on the proposed South Dakota law, do unofficial death squads taking off from where the dirty tricksters finished up come next? See Rep. Giffords. Then there was the obscure liberal Tides Foundation in San Francisco that was singled out by Glen Beck and was on the hit list of a man who was fortunately pulled over for minor a traffic violation (and then engaged in a gun battle with police) before he could get there (http://www.marinatimes.com/aug10/news_presidiotides.html). Think that I’m hallucinating about a Second Civil War? Think again. The other side is increasingly turning to thoughts of violence to achieve its political aims. We desperately need a new national party in order to deal with all of these issues. So let’s “Whig it” for the new Progressive Democratic Party, now!
STEVEN JONAS, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for BuzzFlash/Truthout (http://www.buzzflash.com, http://www.truth-out.org/), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine (http://tpjmagazine.us/); a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad (http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/); a Senior Columnist for The Greanville Post (http://www.greanvillepost.com/); a Contributor to The Planetary Movement (http://www.planetarymovement.org/); a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com (http://www.opednews.com/), and a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter.
Not too improbably, what may have kept Berlusconi afloat is that he’s “all too human” in the eyes of many Italians. His penchant for nubile girls is certainly proof of that.
By Gaither Stewart
February 19, 2011
(Rome). Rubygate it’s called. The final act of the Berlusconi saga. Over fifteen years of comedy for the outside world. A comedy played out against a background of non-government and misery for many Italians. For years now, each new scandal, each new act of corruption, is identified with the suffix “gate”. Deriving from the original Watergate, even though the latter was not actually a “gate” as used today to pinpoint scandalous behavior and the resultant cover-up. During these last stages of the Berlusconi era there has been Noemi Gate, named for another of Sultan Silvio’s teenage favorites. Then, the Bunga Bunga Gate, in reference to the sex games and “orgies” in the Sultan’s luxurious private residences in Milan and Rome. In Italy, in Commedia dell’Arte fashion, the gate suffix means scandal, speculation and gossip.
“Bunga bunga” is a new word in the Italian vocabulary, familiar to probably 99 per cent of the nation’s sixty million inhabitants. Allegedly, Berlusconi borrowed the word from his friend, Muammar Gheddafi, the dictator of Libya known for his extravagant excesses, to describe his own private parties. Bunga bunga means sex games. Girls who have been there describe Berlusconi’s bunga bunga room, equipped for pole dancing and such. A room for explicit sex games. Group sex, in the popular belief. Like twenty half nude young women caressing each other for the amusement and stimulation of the Grand Old Sultan. Berlusconi claims that his hard, dedicated work for the people excuses his nocturnal passions: nights, he needs relaxation and entertainment. He needs bunga bunga.
Strangely, few Berlusconi supporters censor the Leader. They are titillated by the bunga bunga image and would do the same if they had the means. Their advice to Berlusco is: Resist! Resist! Resist! Resist the old-fashioned opposition that wants to carry modern Italy back to the dark ages. And resist he does. A new poster depicts a Berlusconi-Balboa wearing boxing gloves, his guard up, his face a mask of blood, while the fighter repeats out of the corner of his contorted mouth, “I’m not worried at all!”
Every Italian knows that Ruby gate refers to the minor, “Ruby”, that is, Karima El Mahrough, a Moroccan teenager, whom Sultan Silvio the First instructed to refer to herself around the Milan clubs and bars she frequents as an Egyptian and a niece of Mubarak. Then, she claims, he paid her a total of 187,000 euros, about $250,000, for her sexual services and his personal entertainment. That was before his perhaps fatal intercession with the Milan police to release her after she was arrested for theft.
Now four judicial processes against Berlusco are scheduled during the next forty days: a series of cases of false accounting, tax fraud, corruption, bribery of police officials and judges, charges known to most everyone in Italy. The man who claims to be “the most persecuted man in the world” is on the verge of transformation into “the most prosecuted man in the world”, as he should have been a decade and a half ago.
Ah Ruby, Ruby! Karima, Karima! If the Sultan had only imagined where his irrepressible lust for teenagers would lead! There it goes again, as with Noemi, so with Ruby-Ruby. What his mafia association didn’t accomplish, teenage beauties did. Jail sentences await the man who dreamed of becoming Italy’s next President with the power of his friend, Vladimir Putin. Instead he faces both jail and banishment forever from government service. Lifetime exile from public life awaits him. The countless girl stories have amalgamated into his one great perversion: lasciviousness and lechery.
RIGHT: Noemi Letizia, one of Berlusconi’s scandals with a teenager, and protagonist of “Noemi Gate”.
“Old man,” the girls say behind the back of the short, neckless old man with his ridiculous wig or whatever it is he wears on his round head and his built-up shoes. Old man pretending to be a young buck. So hyped up on Viagra that his own doctors worry about his heart. “Culo flaccido,” flaccid ass, the girls of the harem call him, the girls he put up in a luxurious apartment house in his very own Milano 2, the residential city of 10,500 apartments allegedly financed by mafia money. Maybe the harem-apartment building too was another Gheddafi idea.
Well, well! Rubygate. The Sultan’s undoing. Or is it? Things have a tendency to go haywire in this land of lemon tree gardens. Bet on a losing horse and win a million. Bet on a winner and lose a fortune. Mussolini, like many Roman emperors, learned too late about the fickleness of Italian electors. Now it’s showdown time for Berlusconi the First. His sundown. The decline has set in.
Now, let’s weigh the yeas and nays. Since his wife—a former soubrette herself who charges that he fucks minors—denounced him as a “sick man” in need of psychological care and divorced him, now one million Italian women have followed suit and come out in a massive demonstration against Sultan Berlusco in a demand for respect for their dignity. The Church has turned its back on this great sinner. Trade union workers, the lowest paid among leading nations of the European Union, oppose him. Part of his coalition, chiefly many ex-Fascists who were made salonfähig by Berlusconi and amalgamated in the Sultan’s party, has defected, though as I write these lines, some defectors are re-defecting, bought back by Berlusconi in his acquisition campaign (which he runs as if it were his Milan Soccer Club) in order to maintain a parliamentary majority. He remains in office and thus far out of jail thanks to his media and financial power, “money suasion.” The force of his immense wealth has created a class of “parliamentarians in transit”, rewarded with cash or paid-off mortgages in exchange for their passage from the opposition to the side of the victors.
Internationally, Berlusconi is infamous for his reckless remarks about the internal affairs of other nations. In that milieu, he has shorn any credibility he once had. He lacks the proper prestige and overall comportment expected of a statesman. And statesman he is not. Statesman he has never been. And will never be. He offends the dignity of the dignified leaders of the European Union’s 27 member states. A class that cares very much about its dignity and prestige. Berlusco, the outsider, cracks his corny jokes at the wrong moments, hams up group photographs, or sings a song. Members of Italian delegations to international conferences must shudder that he will have them sing together his personal hymn, Meno male che Silvio c’é , Thank Goodness There’s Silvio.
Yet, gate after gate, lie after lie, betrayal after betrayal, the man resists. One asks all over Europe, as does the “liberal” and “Left” Italian media, how and why Italians continue to vote for him. It is an enigma. Italians did the same for Mussolini, who carried them to destruction. Despite many politico-sociological explanations, a large core stubbornly continues to vote for the Sultan. He still sits well with much of the middle class, the haute bourgeoisie, and wide strata of the Lumpenproletariat. Like many places in the capitalist world, the ignorant cast their votes for the person who hangs out the most placards and images of himself. Just as during Mussolini’s twenty years.
Polls show that despite all the many gates and arches under which Silvio Berlusconi the First has passed, many of his voters remain faithful to their glorious leader. The leader of many promises. It is his promises and his anti-professional politician’s stance. But I insist, he gets their vote also because he reflects the base and ugly qualities—qualities that Berlusconism itself also created—of many contemporary Italians who want it all, now. The attractive young girl who believes she can become an actress or a politician overnight. He is the Leader of a vulgar culture in which “to seem” crushes the very idea of “to be”. Where any attractive young woman, once pinpointed by a political pimp, is willing to share the Sultan’s bed and can expect those great rewards, the actress role or a high-paying political post. Such attitudes of seeming, shred of even a modicum of self-esteem and personal worth filter down and down to the regional level, to the provincial level, to the communal level. It is Berlusconism, the modern modus vivendi. Berlusconi is the paradigm for all those TV-molded persons who strive to arrive quickly. His People of Freedom Party leadership belongs to the arrivistes. A party he bought: created, named and molded. He represents the culture that has transformed the land once loved by people of the world into a hell to live in.
An interesting observation of recent days is that the end of Berlusconi means also the end of Italy’s pitiful political attempt at a two-party system in imitation of America: Berlusconi’s People of Liberty Party on one side and the moderate left, the Democratic Party, on the other. Now however center parties have revived, as has the far left. Italy is returning to its true, splintered political self which in reality has never disappeared.
Now, new revelations by Wikileaks show that Berlusconi made a secret deal with Washington: Obama’s support for his government at last year’s G8 in Italy in exchange for greater Italian participation in the spread of the US empire: more Italian soldiers in Afghanistan, elite soldiers freed of restraining caveats and rules of engagement, troops free to combat alongside Marines. And more US military bases in Italy itself. Bases with extra-territorial rights operating free of Italian interference.
Lechery. Moral corruption. The old, old idea of the self-made man. Such considerations inevitably invite the question: is this moral degeneration only an Italian phenomenon? Or is it universal in our times?
In the case of Italy however, the question I raised above remains unanswered: has Berlusconi changed the Italian and Italy, or is he and his life style the paradigm of the real Italy? I prefer the former, but cannot help but fear the latter. Today, on the peninsula reaching out toward Africa, the general atmosphere is that of the end of an epoch. Of a Götterdämmerung for Berlusconi the First.
One wonders what Silvio is thinking as he follows the effusions of the nude teenagers swarming around him, engaged in their bunga bunga antics to earn their compensation. Does he feel anything in his pants? Or is he asking himself if he can risk another Viagra despite doctors’ orders? Is observation enough? No! Observation is too little. He is the man. He must display his manhood to one (or more?) of these beautiful girls younger than his own daughters. Take that Viagra. Take it now! To hell with tomorrow’s Council of Ministers during which he can anyway nap in peace. If he is needed one of his aides will wake him. Adjusting his hair piece, he sails up, up, to the sky, to the horizons. There are no limits. He has the wealth. What is his wealth worth anyway if he cannot even buy a few more moments of bliss?
Nonetheless, I believe Silvio Berlusconi has lived his life inside a web of self-deceit. Most likely he himself still doesn’t realize or accept that deceit. But the day he comes to see himself as many others see him could be fatal for him. I would not be too surprised to read some morning in the spring, when life sprouts everywhere, that Silvio, deserted by all, finally alone on his long ego trip, alone in his world of fantasy about himself, his boundless, invincible, enviable self, immune to the laws of man and decency, I would not be surprised that he decided not to take the Viagra and instead ended it all in one desperate gesture, perhaps the first true one of his life.
I have dedicated a British song of the 1930’s—in this case a dirge—to Sultan Silvio Berlusconi the First, who lived a life of dream, a dream as if it were life:
Underneath the arches
We dream our dreams away …
Every night you’ll find us
Tired out and worn
Underneath the arches
We dream our dreams away.
Senior Editor GAITHER STEWART serves as TGP European correspondent. His latest novel is The Trojan Spy (Callio). He’s currently at work on a sequel, Lily Pad Roll.
NOTE: We’re pleased to repost this article due to its relevance to the current conditions.—Eds
By Mickey Z. / September 19th, 2008
(The following is a version of a talk I’ve been giving throughout 2008)
I’d like to preface my presentation with a little story about September 11. Not September 11, 2001. September 11, 1973. On that date, the US government helped fund and sponsor a military coup in the South American nation of Chile. The democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and killed. They said he committed suicide…with a machine gun. In his place, the US propped up the dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. Not surprisingly, under Pinochet taking power, human rights violations in Chile skyrocketed. Surprisingly, someone within the US power structure talked about it.
A man named David Popper was US ambassador to Chile at the time and he sent a cable to the State Department about the human rights issues. The Secretary of State in the mid-70s was none other than Henry Kissinger (left). His response was short and sweet: “Tell Popper to cut out the political science lectures.”
Now, I may not have anything approaching a college degree, but I have taken one political science in my life. So I get it and, in a rare case of synchronicity with the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Henry Kissinger, I promise there will be no political science lectures here tonight.
Okay, here we are, in the year 2008…or, as I’d prefer to call it, the 28th consecutive year of the Reagan administration. This is the point in the evening when the speaker typically implores everyone to turn off the cell phones. But, as far as I’m concerned, you can leave yours on. This way, every time someone’s phone goes off, we can be reminded of the fact that half the humans on the planet have never made a single phone call.
Or maybe, when a phone rings, we can focus on these six simple words: The Democratic Republic of the Congo. We’d do that because one of the primary components of cell phone circuitry is a metallic ore called Columbite-Tantalite—or “coltan.” Eighty percent of the world’s known coltan can be found in the African nation of The Democratic Republic of the Congo (or DRC), which just so happens to be embroiled in a brutal (even by current standards) civil war since the pre-cell phone days of 1994. Over time, all sides in the unrelenting struggles adroitly began using the mining and sale of coltan not only to nourish the West’s seemingly insatiable cell phone addiction, but also to fund their inexorable mayhem. Civilian deaths in the DRC during this time—mostly from war-related disease and malnutrition—are estimated not in the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands, but rather in the millions…making it the world’s deadliest military conflict since the Second World War.
And it gets worse. Just ask an Eastern Lowland Gorilla, the world’s largest primate, found almost exclusively in the DRC. According to National Geographic: “Following a decade of civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, new estimates suggest that the number of eastern lowland gorillas may have plummeted by 70 percent. Conflict, illegal mining for a mineral used for electronic-device components, and the growing bush-meat trade have all taken their toll.” The UN Environment Program has reported that the number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight DRC national parks has subsequently declined by 90 percent. We can only hope that some enterprising soul has already recorded the eastern lowland gorilla’s call so it can be used as a ring tone long after they’re gone.
So yeah, go ahead and leave your phones on and enjoy your next text.
So here we are…in New York City in New York State in the white supremacist capitalist homophobic patriarchy we call America. Or, as it’s known by the indigenous crowd, “the occupied territories.”
Speaking of occupied territories, while I’m up here, let’s not forget that each and every one of us is sitting or standing on stolen land.
Let’s not forget that with each minute that passes, the US government spends one million of our tax dollars spent on war.
Let’s also not forget that on this planet of abundant resources, every two seconds, a human starves to death.
That usually quiets the crowd and gives me a chance to remind you that I am available for children’s parties.
Speaking of millions spent on war and too many people dying, I’d like to mention a forgotten anniversary: August 6, 1990. To most people—particularly activists—the starting date for the war in Iraq is March 19, 2003. However, to accept that date is to put far too much blame on one party and one president. A more accurate and useful starting date is August 6, 1990. Iraq invaded Kuwait—with US permission-on August 2, 1990. Four days later—at the behest of the US—the United Nations Security Council imposed murderous sanctions upon the people of Iraq. The war on Iraq began that day.
It is widely accepted that these sanctions were responsible for the deaths of roughly 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five. US Ambassador the UN in the mid-90s was Madelaine Albright. In 1996, Leslie Stahl asked her on 60 Minutes if a half-million dead Iraqi children was a price worth paying to pursue American foreign policy. Albright famously replied: “Yes, we think it’s worth it.”
Shortly after that, Albright was named US Secretary of State by noted liberal Democrat hero, Bill Clinton.
I highlight Clinton’s alleged liberal reputation because I’m not here to preach to the choir. I’m guessing most of you don’t need me to tell you what’s wrong with the Bush administration so I’d rather not just focus on the latest figurehead of empire. Instead, I’d rather dig deeper to the heart of our culture. A culture riddled with violence and hypocrisy. And speaking of riddles: Who gave up a life of luxury and turned his back on millions to fight for what he believed in, in the mountains and caves of Afghanistan and, as a result, is now revered by many as a “hero”?
Most people guess Osama bin Laden, but there’s another, equally accurate answer: Pat Tillman. Perception is reality and whether or not you think Osama or Tillman is a hero depends mostly on which propaganda is reaching your ears. Sure, I know “propaganda” is not a word commonly heard in polite discourse in this country—we prefer euphemisms like public relations, spin, or hype—but don’t kid yourselves: We live in a corporate propaganda state.
Perhaps my favorite illustration of life in a corporate propaganda state is the daily New York Times corrections box. Each day, the newspaper of record comes clean about what it got wrong the day before. For example, in early 2008, the Times ran a cutting edge article on the topic of tattoos but referred incorrectly to the status of Gwen Stefani’s tattoos. The next day, in the corrections box, came a dose of reality: Gwen Stefani has no permanent tattoos.
Our long national nightmare is over. We can all sleep better tonight knowing that Gwen Stefani has no permanent tattoos. So, don’t let it ever be said the corporate media does not admit its mistakes. It’s all there in black and white every single day.
Of course, the tacit message behind the daily New York Times corrections box is this: Besides a few minor typographical errors, everything else in yesterday’s paper was correct. It was accurate. It was, to use their phrase, fit to print…and has now passed on to become part of our official history. This is typical of life within a society dominated by a corporate-run press.
Whether you label them liberal or conservative, most major media outlets are large corporations owned by or aligned with even larger corporations, and they share a common goal: to make a profit by selling a product—an affluent audience—to a given market: advertisers). Therefore, we shouldn’t find it too shocking that the image of the world being presented by a corporate-owned press very much reflects the biased interests of the elite players involved in this sordid little love triangle.
That’s why every major daily newspaper has a business section, but not a labor section. Why at least once a week those same newspapers run an automobile section, but no bicycle section. This is why when the Dow Jones Industrial Average drops, it makes headlines. But if the global infant mortality rate rises, it’s questionable if it will even make the papers (and if it does, it’ll be buried on page 23). In other words, if you created a blueprint for an apparatus that utterly erased critical thought, you can make none more efficient than the American corporate media.
We may live in a relatively free country but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to break free of the cookie-cutter formula being rammed down our throats at every turn. I remember eating lunch in a diner in Virginia Beach, Virginia—lots of military bases around there—when we heard a deafening roar from outside. We asked the waitress what it was and she smiled proudly: “That’s an F-14. The sound of freedom.”
What sounds like freedom or looks like freedom or feels like freedom is often nothing more than longer chains and bigger cages. What passes for rebellion in this country is usually co-opted, sanitized, and sold back to us as a trend or commodity…and it starts young. Clarence Darrow once said: “Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.” In a poem, Ani DiFranco gives us one example of teaching children not to doubt. She talks of a test we all face in kindergarten or the first grade. You know the deal. They show us two squares and a circle and the inevitable question is: Which one doesn’t belong? Thus, at the tender age of five or six, we’re being taught that different doesn’t belong, different is wrong.
That same child, by the time they graduate high school, has seen an average of 360,000 television commercials. If they grow up and reach age 70—an increasingly difficult proposition, I might add—they will have spent ten of those 70 years watching TV.
Thanks, in part, to corporate media propaganda…
…we exist within a system in which the “Department of War” was magically transformed into the “Defense Department” just after World War II
…we exist within a system in which the US uses helicopters called Apache to quell ethnic cleansing
…we exist within a system in which more than one out of every 100 American adults are in prison, but we still live in the land of the free
…we exist within a system in which we can carpet bomb civilians from 15,000 feet in the name of humanitarianism and we still live in the home of the brave
…we exist within a system in which a war criminal like Henry Kissinger can be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize
This same system allows for free and fair presidential elections open to any candidate over the age of 35…who, of course, praises god and the free market (or am I being redundant?), describes his/her enemies as “evil,” understands that the rest of the world hates us because we’re free, and, oh yeah, can raise at least a half-billion dollars.
This same electoral system see third party candidates routinely barred from public debates (and often censored by misguided “progressives,” for that matter), only half the eligible voters will even bother showing up, and when all else fails, you can count on the Supreme Court to set things straight (and I do mean straight).
Since we have reached the electoral portion of tonight’s program, I’d like to present a public service announcement. I’m going to provide some of the many, many reasons you shouldn’t vote for McCain:
He’s raised twice as much money from Wall Street than his opponent. He voted for every Iraq war appropriation bill he faced. He refused to be photographed with San Francisco’s mayor for fear it’d be interpreted that he supported gay marriage. He voted against single payer health care. He supports the death penalty, the Israeli war machine, and the fence on the US-Mexican border. When asked if “there’s anything that’s happened in the past 7 1/2 years that the U.S. needs to apologize for in terms of foreign policy?” he responded: “No, I don’t believe in the U.S. apologizing.” He voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State and to reauthorize the Patriot Act. He…uh-oh. Sorry, I messed up and gave you some of the many, many reasons you shouldn’t vote for Barack Obama. My bad…
Regardless, I do believe that either McCain or Obama can help make this country what it once was: an arctic region covered with ice (insert rimshot here).
In 2006, the Democrats gained a majority in Congress. How’s that working out for you? Asking this reminds me of something Steve McQueen said in the movie, The Magnificent Seven. When asked how things were going, he replied: “It’s like that fella who fell off a ten-story building. As he was falling, people on each floor heard him say, ‘So far, so good.’”
After 2006 election, we were led to believe the bad times were over and the evil ones had been vanquished. What could be better, right? How about a Democrat in the White House? Well, those who want an idea of what life might be like under such a scenario need only to reflect back upon the years 1993 and 1994—when President William Jefferson Clinton was enjoying the “advantage” of a Democratically-controlled Congress.
In just two years, liberal hero Bill Clinton abandoned his pledge to consider offering asylum to Haitian refugees, backed away from his most high-profile campaign issue: health care, and reneged on his promise to “take a firm stand” against the armed forces’ ban on gays and lesbians.
In 1993-4, Clinton presided over the invasion of Somalia (which resulted in some 7000-10000 dead Somalis), signed a little something called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), increased Pentagon budget by $25 billion, fired Jocelyn Elders, dumped Lani Guinier, ordered the bombing of Iraq and the Balkans, renewed the sanctions on Iraq, ignored genocide in Rwanda, and passed a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, &amp;amp;amp; 58 more offenses punishable by death.
All this came before Newt Gingrich and much-hyped Republican “revolution” in 1994 (perhaps the most astonishing use of the word revolution in the history of the English language). Can someone please explain to me why the right wing didn’t love Bubba?
And I haven’t even gotten to the environment. In the first three years of the Clinton-Gore regime—two of which involved a Democratic House and Senate—Clinton and his green buddy gave us fun stuff like: The passage of the salvage logging rider, the continuation of the use of methyl bromide, the weakening of the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, the lowering of grazing fees on land, the subsidizing of Florida’s sugar industry, the reversing the ban on the production and importation of PCBs, and allowing the export of Alaskan oil.
When Clinton and Gore ran for re-election in 1996, David Brower, former president of the Sierra Club, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times called “Why I Won’t Vote for Clinton.” In this piece, Brower declared that Clinton and Gore had “done more harm to the environment in three years than Presidents Bush and Reagan did in 12 years.” That’s Bush the Elder, not Bush the Lesser.
I could go on for hours about the rest of Clinton’s reign, like the repeal of welfare, the telecommunications bill that further narrowed the already laughable parameters of public debate, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the fact that after eight years in office with no political price to pay, he still did not pardon Leonard Peltier. But I’ll just focus on one more Clinton gem: The Anti-Terrorism &amp;amp;amp; Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law on April 24, 1996. This USA PATRIOT Act prequel contained provisions that Clinton himself admitted “make a number of ill-advised changes in our immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting terrorism.” This unconstitutional salvo severely restricted habeas corpus and expanded the number of federal capital crimes—and the PATRIOT Act is mostly an extension its legal foundations.
For a little more two-party context, consider that John Kerry—Democratic presidential candidate in 2004—voted for Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996 and wrote parts of the PATRIOT Act in 2001, Hillary voted for in 2001 and both she and Obama voted to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act in 2005. Hooray Democrats.
With all the public outcry for Bush and the his gang, I’m wondering: Where was all the outrage for liberal hero Bill Clinton? Where was the outrage when he ordered 78 days of bombing over Yugoslavia in 1999, including the use of depleted uranium? (At the time, Secretary of State Albright asked: “What’s the point of having this magnificent military if we never use it?”)
Where were the simplistic Nazi references when Clinton blew up a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant to distract us from Monica’s cigar fetish?
Where were the Hitler mustaches when Clinton bombed Iraq in response to an alleged plot to assassinate Bush the Elder and ended up killing Leila Attar, that country’s best-known female artist?
If we want to provoke genuine social change, we must always remember that “anti-war” doesn’t just mean “anti-this-war” and it definitely doesn’t just mean “anti-Republican.”
“I think it is dangerous to confuse the idea of democracy with elections. Just because you have elections doesn’t mean you’re a democratic country.”
Arundhati Roy said that.
“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” Emma Goldman said that.
“The next time someone tells you America has a two-party system, I suggest you demand a recount.” I said that.
In 2004, 65% of congressional races were uncontested and 58% of incumbent Senators who ran were unopposed. Overall, the candidate who raised the most money won 91% of those races.
In the words of the esteemed political philosopher Cyndi Lauper: “Money changes everything.”
As Ralph Nader reminds us, if the Democrats and Republicans were corporations, they’d be sued for and convicted of anti-trust violations.
To me, America’s two-party system is like buying a ticket on a commercial airline. You can request a seat on the right side or you can request a seat on the left side of the plane. But it doesn’t matter as long as the pilot is in control.
Sure, voting for Barack Obama will prove once and for all that you’re more open-minded than your Republican brother-in-law but it’s time to recognize the most consistent and primary difference between Republicans and Democrats is this: they tell different lies to get elected.
There’s one thing both parties agree on. No matter who we are, no matter who we vote or, no matter how we feel about this war or any war, all Americans must band together and “support our troops.”
For some, the phrase “support our troops” is merely a euphemism for: support the policies that put the troops there in the first place. For others—particularly on the Left—it is a safe way to avoid taking an unqualified stand against this war (and all war). Many who passionately identify as “anti-war” will just as passionately defend the troops-no questions asked—and the excuse making typically falls into three categories:
1. They were just following orders
2. It’s a “poverty draft”
3. The troops are fighting for our freedom
Let’s start with the freedom myth. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received over the years that read something like this: “While you sit at home in your luxurious apartment, making money off your writing (insert laugh track here), those brave men and women are putting their asses on the line to fight for your freedom to write your anti-American garbage.
I say: Bullshit.
The troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are not fighting for my freedom. They are fighting to keep the world safe for petroleum. If anything, since 9/11, our freedom has been slowly eroded and the presence of the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan makes it harder for anyone to speak up in dissent. If I were in an airport, and I spoke aloud what I’ve written in this article, I’d likely be detained or arrested.
The only following orders excuse has no illegal foundation. You can use the Google function on your Internet machine to find the many treaties, charters, and agreements that back up this point, but here’s one to get you started: Principle IV of the Nuremberg Tribunal (1950) states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
Besides this, it can be easily posited that “only following orders” also has no moral footing. Of course, the facile example would be Nazi Germany. But surely every suicide bomber is merely following orders as are those detonating IEDs in Iraq. The Left praised Vietnam era draftees who fled to Canada. Yet, today’s volunteer warriors are given a free pass because they didn’t give the orders in an illegal war and occupation. This is not only illegal and immoral; it also lacks any radical credibility. Somehow, individuals and groups can stand tall against war and military intervention but refuse to shine a light on those who choose (and get paid) to fight. Nowhere else in the realm of activism does such a paradox exist.
Consider the animal rights activists struggling to end the morally indefensible and scientifically fraudulent enterprise of animal experimentation. Can they expose the corporations and academic institutions but somehow “support” the actual scientists performing the lab experiments? Surely, they are “just doing their job” and “following orders.”
How about those fighting to end unfair labor practices? Is it acceptable to call out the CEOs of Nike and The Gap but hang yellow ribbons for those who handle day-to-day operations of a sweatshop in, say, Vietnam? These men and women are just as “stuck in a bad situation” as any grunt in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The second excuse usually sounds like this: “It’s a poverty draft. These poor souls have to enlist because they any economic options.” America is certainly an unjust economic society and this would be a compelling argument…if it were true. A 2006 New York Times op-ed highlighted a study by Tim Kane and Mackenzie Eaglen that “analyzed demographic data on every single enlistee, not just a sample, and found that in terms of education, last year’s recruits were just as qualified as those of any recent year, and maybe the best ever. Over all, wartime recruits since 1999 are in many respects comparable to the youth population on the whole, except that they are on average a bit wealthier, much more likely to have graduated from high school and more rural than their civilian peers.” They also found that youths “from wealthy American ZIP codes are volunteering in ever higher numbers” while “enlistees from the poorest fifth of American neighborhoods fell nearly a full percentage point over the last two years, to 13.7 percent. In 1999, that number was exactly 18 percent.”
For the sake of argument, let’s say those numbers are inaccurate and let’s say that most of today’s enlistees volunteer because they lack almost any other economic options. What I’m wondering is this: Would this same economic excuse hold water for those who opt to become gang members for the same exact reason? A poor black kid “enlists” in the Crips, a poverty-stricken Hispanic “enlists” in the Latin Kings…for that matter: an uneducated Italian kid in Bensonhurst “enlists” in the Mafia.
These kids are also faced with a stark choice—being poor or choosing a uniform—but no one hangs yellow ribbons for them, no one makes excuses them. There are two major differences between them and the men and women who volunteer to join the US military:
1. The US military is far more dangerous than any gang or Mafia family
2. The US military is considered legal
Are some of the soldiers in Iraq there primarily for economic reasons? Sure. Did others sign up for a chance to shoot some “ragheads”? Probably. After factoring out these two relatively small groups and rejecting the illegal, immoral, and reactionary “only following orders” defense, I ask this of anti-war activists: Exactly how are the men and women who willingly signed up to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan immune from any and all scrutiny and/or blame?
After all, what do you think “our troops” are doing? “We know that 99.9% of our forces conduct themselves in an exemplary manner,” says Donald Rumsfeld. “We also know that in conflicts things that shouldn’t happen do happen.”
If only 1/10 of 1% of US soldiers make “things happen that shouldn’t happen,” what are the rest doing to have us standing and singing “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch at Yankee Stadium? How do we define exemplary manner?
By Rumsfeld’s reckoning (and the standard company line of most every politician, pundit, and peon) “exemplary” includes (among other things) waterboarding and other forms of torture, the use of Daisy Cutters, cluster bombs, napalm, depleted uranium, white phosphorus, and the launching of cruise missiles into crowded cities.
“Things that shouldn’t happen do happen,” Rumsfeld explains. But what about all the stuff that this society accepts “should” happen? Why would anyone besides a sadist feel compelled to support that unconditionally?
It should come as no surprise that my take on the “support the troops” mantra is typically greeted with unrestrained hostility from all over the political spectrum. What offends the right wing flag-wavers most is when someone actually makes use of the freedom they claim to adore. Somehow I am ungrateful for my liberty if I have the nerve to exercise it. These so-called patriots claim to celebrate freedom but want to refuse my right to exploit it. These are the same folks who walk around crowing about how they’re “proud to be an American”—as if they had anything to do with it.
The most predictable knee-jerk reaction from the liberals is that I’m too radical and I might hurt the “movement” by alienating soldiers and families. I promise to get back to the word radical later. For now, I’d rather focus on the concept of a movement. This is not semantics but rather, it gets to the heart of our discussion here tonight.
The state of global affairs has long passed the proverbial tipping point and is more likely flirting with the dreaded point of no return. Yet most folks, it seems, have confused the occasional weekend parade, I mean, protest with a full-blown movement.
Here’s a news flash: Anti-Bush bumper stickers and a heartfelt commitment to recycled toilet paper don’t constitute a movement. Neither do candlelight vigils, vegan diets, petitions, voting drives, letters to Congress, monthly donations to Greenpeace, yellow ribbons, red ribbons, pink ribbons, or becoming the change you wish to see in the world.
All you need is love? Yeah…that and a million dollars a minute.
This is not meant to denigrate or mock but rather to point out that there is a huge difference between having a sincere minority of Americans partaking in such gestures and having a tangible, functional, effective movement capable of inciting, inspiring, demanding social change. The rest of the world knows this…why don’t we?
As Arundhati Roy explains: “People from poorer places and poorer countries have to call upon their compassion not to be angry with ordinary people in America.” Ward Churchill takes it further…warning us that the same people Roy refers to “have no obligation-moral, ethical, legal or otherwise-to sit on their thumbs while the opposition here (in the US) dithers about doing anything to change the system.”
Consider this: If your neighborhood was bombed into the Stone Age—your children buried in the rubble—and taxpayers funding those bombs (in some cases, willingly funding those bombs) walked around saying you were ignorant enough and narrow-minded enough to hate them “because they’re free” and “for what they believe in,” how forgiving would you be?
Americans wield more influence and power than any people on the planet but, while an obscene number of humans live in abject poverty, we live our lives in such a manner as to threaten every living thing on Earth. Everything I’ve talked about so far (and much more) is being done in our name. In other words—with few exceptions—there are no innocent bystanders in America.
I have a question: How many of you think the planet is in peril? (Just about everyone raises his or her hand)
A second question: How many think those in power—those most responsible for putting the planet in peril—will relinquish their power voluntarily any time soon? (Everyone raises hand)
So, if most of us think the planet is in peril but the elites are not going to surrender their power, I have yet another question: How much more are we willing to tolerate before we act?
Here is some of what we’re already enduring without any serious fuss:
*Epidemics of preventable diseases: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.
*Poisoning of our air, water, and food (including mother’s breast milk)
*Global warming, climate change, animal &amp;amp;amp; plant extinctions, disappearing honeybees, destruction of the rain forest, topsoil depletion, etc.
*1/3 of Americans uninsured or underinsured: health care
*More than half of the world’s top 100 economies: corporations
*61% of corporations do not even pay taxes
*Presidential lies, electoral fraud, limited debates, etc.
*The largest prison population on the planet
*Corporate control of public land, airwaves, &amp;amp;amp; pensions
*Overt infringement of our civil liberties
*Bloated defense budget, unilateral military interventions, war crimes committed in our name, legalization of torture, blah, blah, blah…
Before you know it, the government might start spying on American citizens and detaining prisoners without charges while corporations ravage the earth in pursuit of profit, wiping out entire eco-systems in the process. Oops, sorry…they’re already doing all that without being stopped.
Take a look at your watch. Since yesterday at this hour, 13 million tons of toxic chemicals were released across the globe; two hundred thousand acres of rainforest were destroyed; more than 100 plant or animal species went extinct; and 45,000 human beings died of starvation (most of them children).
What will we say in 20-30 years when we’re asked why we didn’t do more to challenge all this? What will we say when we’re asked why cared more about Gwen Stefani’s tattoos than how our tax dollars are spent? What will we say when we’re asked why we focused on imaginary evildoers instead of the corporate pirates raping the planet and controlling our minds?
It’s not as if we don’t have choices. Ask yourself this: Which do you prefer, a consumer culture or an ozone layer? SUVs or forests? Cell phones or Eastern Lowland Gorillas? Would you give up the ability to text ttyl to your BFF in order to save a species from going extinct? In 2008, it’s not an unreasonable question.
The precarious state of things is not the result of some preordained theology or unstoppable force of nature. We’re in this mess thanks to human decisions. If different decisions had been made in the past, it’s likely that we would’ve had different outcomes. If different decisions are made now, perhaps we’ll have better outcomes in the future.
Speaking of the future, the humans (all living things) that come after us won’t care if we gave talks like this or marched in protests or held open doors for old ladies…if they have no clean air to breathe.
It won’t matter to them if we ate organic or drove a hybrid or switched to recycled toilet paper…if they have no clean water to use.
You can be damn sure they won’t care if we voted for Obama or McCain…if they end up stuck on a toxic, uninhabitable planet.
They’d probably just want to ask us this: Why did you stand by and allow everything to be consumed or poisoned or destroyed?
But before that question is asked of us, we still have time to ask this of ourselves: Will we ever disrupt our seemingly comfortable lives and dedicate ourselves to stopping—by any means necessary—global warming, US military interventionism, economic exploitation, factory farming, environmental devastation, etc. or will we continue preserving and defending our way of life?
The US constitutes 5% of the earth’s population but consumes more than 25% of the earth’s resources. Another news flash: Our way of life is the issue.
Besides, if our way of life is so worthy of being defended at any cost, why do we need so many homeless shelters, alcohol and drug rehab centers, rape crisis hotlines, battered women’s shelters, and suicide hotlines? Why does a sexual assault occur every 2 1/2 minutes?
If America is the world’s shining light, why are its citizens left with no choice but to organize to protect human, environmental, civil, &amp;amp;amp; animal rights? Why can’t we drink the water or breathe the air without the risk of becoming ill from corporate-produced toxins?
If America is the zenith of human social order, why does our vaunted “way of life” provoke terror both as a tactic and an emotion?
Whether we want to admit it or not, our “way of life” was built on a nearly exterminated indigenous population, the African slave trade, and all those killed in places like Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Southeast Asia, Central America, the Middle East, etc. It was built on stolen land with stolen oil. Our way of life was built on terror.
For an example of such terror, I’ll look back to the “good war” (a phrase in which Studs Terkel said the noun and adjective don’t match): In early 1945, US General Curtis LeMay and his 21st Bomber Command laid siege on the poorer areas of Japan’s large cities. On March 9-10, the target was Tokyo, where tightly packed wooden buildings took the brunt of 1665 tons of incendiary bombs. By design, the attack area was 87% residential. By May 1945, LeMay’s campaign had killed an estimated 672,000 Japanese civilians. An aide to MacArthur called the raids “one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history.” Secretary of War Henry Stimson worried that US would “get the reputation for outdoing Hitler in atrocities.” LeMay himself said: “I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, I was on the winning side.”
The men that devised and carried out this attack are generally considered to be part of this country’s greatest generation yet, by any sane definition, what I just described is terrorism.
No matter what you call it, there is an alternative to terrorism. It’s called justice. But to seek justice, we must first recognize injustice—even if we play a direct or indirect role. To do that, we have to open our eyes and then take action.
To do that, we have to maintain what Gramsci called the “pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.”
To do that, we have to become aware of ourselves as potential agents of collective social change.
To do that, we have to remember that the few successful movements in this country’s history—civil rights, women’s suffrage, labor—prevailed in part because they utilized tactics that were outside of what was permitted at the time.
Now, I’m gonna go out on a limb and take a guess that the world has more than enough corporate lawyers, investment bankers, Wall Street executives, and real estate brokers. If you agree, clap your hands. (Much applause)
Okay, time to play another hunch I say the world could never have enough dreamers, poets, artists, activists, romantics, visionaries, fighters, militants, rebels, radicals, and non-conformists. (Loud applause)
How many non-conformists do we have hear tonight? (Most people raise hand) Okay then, I’d like you all to take the non-conformist pledge with me. Raise your left hand and repeat after me.
I am a non-conformist (everyone repeats)
I think for myself (everyone repeats)
I do not repeat what people tell me to say (laughter)
We need more non-conformists and we need more saints. When I say saint, I am using Kurt Vonnegut’s definition of a saint as someone who behaves decently in an indecent world. Therefore, I ordain each and every one of you a saint—or at least, a saint in training—and starting right this second, you must start acting decently in this terribly indecent world.
Because everyone has something to offer. We all have boundless compassion, creativity, wisdom, and courage. We can each inspire ourselves and others toward peace, justice, and solidarity. We can all rediscover the subversive pleasure of thinking for ourselves.
But consider yourself warned. Now that you’ve listened to all this, you’re committed. As Arundhati Roy sez: “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
I know it’s not easy. Author E.B. White once said: “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
Well, to make it a little easier to plan your day, I’ve enlisted the help of some friends:
Albert Einstein sez: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Voltaire tells us: “We’re all guilty of the good we didn’t do.”
MLK says: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is this: What are you doing for others?”
Noam Chomsky reminds us: “We are responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions.”
Three simple words from Gandhi: “Action expresses priorities”
And finally Kurt Vonnegut tells us: “There is no reason good can’t triumph over evil, if only angels will get organized along the lines of the Mafia.”
Clearly, the old strategies are not working but until our tactics evolve, we remain accomplices to the perpetual global crime we call civilization. What kind of tactics? That’s up to you but, before you rule anything out, consider this: Let’s say I step out side get some air and see one of you lying on the ground. Standing above you is a large, menacing man with bad intentions and clearly, he has incapacitated you with a surprise blow. Your eyes meet mine and you indicate you need help.
I could pray. I could meditate. I could chalk it up to bad karma. I could ask you to recognize that the attacker is a human and tell him that you love him. I could blame patriarchy, the Republicans, or gangsta rap. I could ask myself: What would Jesus do? What would the Dalai Lama do? What would Oprah do? I could try to remember that excellent saying about non-violence I got from my Pilates teacher.
OR: I could stomp my foot to draw his attention downward and promptly whip out a finger jab to his eyes. When he brings hands up (too late) to protect himself, he leaves his mid-section exposed. I kick him in the balls—doubling him over—then grab him by the hair and bring his face down into a powerful knee blow. Then I’d grab the victim get the fuck out of there as fast as we can.
It’s either that or chanting. The choice is yours.
Again, we need new ideas and contrary to our chauvinistic opinion, we don’t know where the new ideas will come from. We have to keep our ears, eyes, and minds open.
The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould was once asked a silly question about the biological difference between Einstein’s brain and the rest of our brains. His answer, however, is relevant now. He said: “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
I’m guessing most of us here in this room have opportunities to use our talents. Are we? And if so, are we also working to free others and give them the same chance?
I believe the changes we need could start by bringing everything down to its most basic and human level. To explain what I mean, I’d like to share a lesson I’m still learning, a lesson that came at the end of my mother’s life.
My mother passed away on January 12, after a long illness. She was nearly 72 and had been very ill since mid-2005. Intellectually, one might think that perhaps I had time to “come to terms” with a sense of inevitably…yet I remain brokenhearted. Despite having almost three years to “prepare” for this reality, her death is teaching me previously unimaginable lessons about grief, sorrow, and loss.
Amidst my mourning, I can’t help but visualize the feelings of grief, sorrow, and loss being experienced in places directly and indirectly impacted by US foreign and economic policies. Imagine if you will, a mother in Iraq. She walks to the market as an American bomb levels her home. Her parents, her husband, her children (none of whom were affiliated with the “insurgency”): all killed. What of her grief, sorrow, and loss? I had nearly three years to “prepare” and I remain inconsolable. Can we imagine how this woman feels? And why do we relate more to the men and women who volunteer to drop the bombs than those under the bombs? When was it decided that their lives matter less than ours? Where did we get the balls to feel so superior?
And it’s not just military murders. As I said at the beginning, every two seconds, a human starves to death. That’s more grief, sorrow, loss—more anger and frustration, too. There’s a line in the song, “Middle of the Road” by the Pretenders: “When you own a big chunk of the bloody Third World…the babies just come with the scenery.”
Speaking of babies, UNICEF tells us: One in six of the planet’s children are severely hungry; one in seven have no access to health care; one in five have no safe water; one in three have no toilet or sanitation facilities at home.
29,158 children under 5 dying from mostly preventable causes every day.
The next time you’re at a sporting event or rock concert, glance around and get a feel for what 29,158 looks like. Then try your best to conceive of the feelings of grief, sorrow, and loss inspired by those 29,158…each and every day. These are humans, not statistics. They feel as much as you or I. They cry, they mourn, they miss loved ones, and they ask why when the UN says the basic nutrition and health needs of the world’s poorest people would cost only $13 billion a year (a mere fraction of what the US spends on war).
The question of this millennium so far is this: “Why do they hate us?”
I’d say we give them an excellent reason every 2 seconds and a million more reasons every single minute. Ask yourself this: How much of our tax money was spent on war while I stood up here blabbing away and how many children did we lose…tonight?
The historian Howard Zinn said: “I wonder how the foreign policies of the United States would look if we wiped out the national boundaries of the world, at least in our minds, and thought of all children everywhere as our own.”
Here’s a novel idea: Instead of blowing up babies in the Third World, let’s start feeding them, and respecting them, and loving them? Yes…loving them. Che Guevara tells us that the “true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” If Che was right, comrades, it’s high time we start showing the world some revolutionary love.
Remember, the most powerful force in the world is not the US military or economy or culture, it’s you. That’s why they’re working so damn hard to pacify you and working so damn hard to take away your rights. But if they want to take away our rights, I say we take away theirs: Their right to pollute, their right to exploit, to wage war, to steal, and to treat all living things as if they were expendable.
The author Derrick Jensen said: “One of the good things about everything being so fucked up—about the culture being so ubiquitously destructive—is that no matter where you look—no matter what your gifts, no matter where your heart lies—there’s good and desperately important work to be done.”
This is much more than most of us have been willing to do so far, but we need this commitment. We need the type of commitment displayed by Bob Marley back in 1973. There was a politically motivated assassination attempt on his life and two days later, there he was, up on stage at a giant outdoor concert. He was asked how he could get back on stage just two days after nearly being killed. His answer: “The bad people trying to make the world worse never take a day off, so why should I?”
This is the kind of focus and courage and persistence and perception what we desperately need. If you choose this path, you may find yourself called a “radical”—as if it were an insult. I say: Wear that label with pride. The Latin origin of “radical” is the same as the Latin origin of the word “root.” A radical is one who gets to the root of things. Plus, as Martin Luther King told us many years ago: “When you’re right, you can never be too radical.”
I sometimes end of that MLK quote but I have a little more tonight. I’ll take for granted that most of you are somewhat familiar with the book or film, The Grapes of Wrath. It tells the story of families thrown off their land during the Great Depression…in particular the Joad family. The Joads head out looking for work and suffer terrible indignities until tom, the oldest son, starts to organize and fight back.
He knows his work will put his family in danger s he decides to sneak away…but his mother catches him. She and Tom were very close and she worries how she will know if he’s okay. Tom’s reply is one of the greatest little speeches in literary and film history. In his song, “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Bruce Springsteen embellishes this speech a bit and I’d like to share that with you.
Tom’s Mom asks: “How will I know where you are? How will I know you’re okay?” Here is how Springsteen sang his answer:
Tom said “Ma, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Ma, I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes, Ma, you’ll see me, you’ll see me”
Thank you for listening…
Mickey Z. is probably the only person on the planet to have appeared in both a karate flick with Billy “Tae Bo” Blanks and a political book with Howard Zinn. He is the author of 9 books—most recently Self Defense for Radicals and his second novel, Dear Vito—and can be found on the Web. Read other articles by Mickey.