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Spring Rising held a six-part Teach-In last week in Washington. Here is a dramatic talk by Raed Jarrar, who is of Iraqi and Palestinian descent, as he says, from Sunni and Shiite parents, making him a “Sushi.” Raed works for the American Friends Service Committee as Policy Impact Coordinator.
Spring Rising held a six-part Teach-In last week in Washington. Here is a dramatic talk by Raed Jarrar, who is of Iraqi and Palestinian descent, as he says, from Sunni and Shiite parents, making him a “Sushi.” Raed works for the American Friends Service Committee as Policy Impact Coordinator.
Remarks at teach-in at Spring Rising event March 20, 2015, UDC Law School. Note: Rally at White House is noon, March 21.
More times than I can count, after I've given a speech about war and peace without tears in my eyes I've afterward been either blamed or credited with optimism. As in "What the hell are you so optimistic about?" or "Oh, I'm so glad you're optimistic." So, as our local Nobel Laureate would say, let me be clear: I am not an advocate for optimism, have no respect for it, and as a matter of fact deeply despise it. I once interviewed a real expert on both nuclear dangers and environmental collapse, someone I truly respect and learn from, and asked him if he thought we'd survive these twin dangers. Yes, he declared, no question. Why? Because, he said, if you watch movies they always end happily. I don't mean that as the unconscious explanation of his confidence. I mean that's what he said and repeated when I questioned him disbelievingly. Because Hollywood, not to mention novels, plays, cartoons, etc., tends to have happy endings, at least in our culture, so will our species. What? That, to me, is about as logical as Samantha Powers' claim that bombing Iraq will work out better if we pay less attention to how bombing Libya worked out. If Hollywood is an accurate portrayal of reality, then torture works, violence rarely traumatizes, and high-speed car chases through city squares rarely hurt anybody. Are we at the point of openly encouraging each other to be idiots? That's how I view optimism.
Now, when I oppose a U.S. war on ISIS, I'm generally accused of supporting an ISIS war on the United States. After all, if you're against one side you must be for the other side. So, when I oppose optimism, I'm generally accused of supporting pessimism. And yet, in reality, I view pessimism as optimism's evil mutant twin. And I view the knowing spreading of pessimism as treason against the universe. This is because I don't think one should work to prevent death and suffering for the purpose of enjoying success. When you do that, you end up working for peace only in those cases where success is guaranteed or highly likely to arrive fast. Now, I find struggling for peace and justice highly rewarding, but that has nothing to do with the occasional successes, the expectations of success, or of course the lucrative salaries. I find struggling for peace and justice an end in itself, as Camus' Sisyphus found rolling the rock up the hill a joyful fulfillment.
Optimism and pessimism seem rather beside the point, and a bit self-indulgent. And by that I do not mean that we should act without strategic consideration of most likely routes to success. What other way to act is there? If we can lessen the damage on one particular war ever so slightly, we absolutely must do so even if we'd rather be painting a detailed picture of what a world without the institution of war would look like. The choice between demanding alternatives to war, as two of the four witnesses at a Congressional Progressive Caucus event did this week, and urging a properly civilized and limited war as the other two witnesses did, is a strategic choice, not a question of personality or emotional preference or zodiacal sign. If we don't present alternatives, the logic of war-or-nothing will land us in war up to our necks.
I've met thousands of peace activists over the past many years, and I wouldn't wish away a single one of them. We need each to bring a thousand more into the movement. But I find that I, as a proselytizing atheist who longs for a world beyond religion as well as war, often tend to have the most appreciation for the religiously driven peace activists, and I believe we usually have the most to learn from them. Why would this be? Well, for one thing, they tend not to be driven by optimism or pessimism but by something else, which they might call God's distaste for war and I might interpret as their own distaste for war. In addition, they're not typically as driven by partisanship, but rather by that purer opposition to war. And further, they're not as likely to oppose a particular war while favoring others, but to see opposing one war as a step on the path to ending all wars. On top of which, they are likely to make a moral argument against killing the people who make up over 95% of the victims of U.S. wars, namely the people who live where the wars are fought.
And here's why I prefer that approach despite rejecting as archaic its fundamental premise: I think it's the most likely to work. A U.S. war was prevented in 2013 because too many people thought it sounded too much like the war that began in 2003. But no alternative was pursued because we hadn't communicated the possibility of taking an alternative approach to the world. So the masters of war bided their time, fueled the war with trainers and weapons, and launched the same war, albeit on the opposite side of the conflict, in 2014 when the propaganda was right. By that I mean the beheading videos, which were much like the beheadings done by Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies, but these ones were used to manufacture consent for a military solution to a problem that everyone admits has no military solution although it does have a military origin.
When we wait for the right war, the right war always comes. And it is always the wrong choice.
War has a lot of new weapons these days. Who can tell me the single way in which war kills the most people? Just shout it out.
If you said through taking needed resources away from human needs you are correct, and if there's any justice we'll get President Obama's Nobel Prize transferred to you, because you've now done more than he has to earn it.
We like to get upset about the financial cost of war budgets. Yet the routine military budget, which is somehow considered non-war is typically 10 times the war budget. The solution to this is not an audit, not ending the slush-fund use of the war budget, and not ending the manufacture of weapons that don't work. The weapons that don't work are far preferable to the weapons that do work -- I mean if you're on the side of the victims rather than the executioners. The world spends about $2 trillion on war preparations each year, and the United States alone spends half of that. Meanwhile tens of billions could solve starvation, clean water, and other enormous problems, not just in a particular crisis zone but globally. That choice of how to spend unfathomable amounts of money is the top way war kills.
When we buy TV ads as one organization has just done, supporting diplomacy with Iran but falsely implying that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and threatening to use it, and stating that the danger in a war on Iran is that Americans might die, we like to think we're being strategic. After all, people are selfish and stupid, and one must appeal to their selfishness and stupidity. I don't think so. If Iran were really trying to build a nuke and kill us all (including themselves of course) I'd be scared and lean toward distrust and be more likely to urge a tough approach. If a war to prevent the total destruction of Israel could really be prevented by risking a handful of U.S. deaths, I'd consider that brave and noble -- and I'd feel obliged to sign up. It matters when our rhetoric and the facts we tell and the facts we don't tell guide people away from the action we propose.
By the way, the new year in Iran begins at 6:45 and we apologize to anyone who couldn't be here for that reason. Sadly, there is a holiday for a different group of people any day we choose, and we have to schedule things as best we can.
Let's go back to 2013 for a moment. People and groups favoring peace, or at least a time-out from war, argued, in some cases, that investing in U.S. schools and roads and parks would be preferable to wasting our money on $2 million missiles for Syria. Smart and strategic, right? Appeal to selfishness in order to prevent what Seymour Hersh later exposed as a massive campaign to destroy Syria from the air. But humanitarian warriors were given an opening and they jumped through it. We must bomb Syria because we care about the Syrians, they said. Rejecting the argument that Iraqis had failed to be grateful for the destruction of Iraq, they proposed a generous and magnanimous, even friendly, launching of missiles into Syria for the good of the Syrians, and opposed that to the greed of people who wanted more, more, more at home -- isolationist irresponsible first-world ostriches. But of course wars cost very little compared to the base military budget that Congress now wants to increase to record heights, and yet even the war budgets could fund massive investment in human needs both at home and abroad. Why choose? And why allow a debate to go on in ignorance of the fact that non-Americans die in wars, thousands and thousands of them, women, men, children, and infants?
A week ago, the Washington Post ran a column claiming that a war on Iran was the best choice. Imagine the firestorm if they'd said that racism or rape or child abuse or cruelty to cats was the best choice. Nobody would have said "They print lots of columns against torturing kittens, would you stifle debate by censoring one column in support?" Some things are rightly put beyond the realm of acceptable behavior. Not war. On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch put out a report on events of last August 31st when U.S. and Iraqi air strikes "drove ISIS forces away from the town" of Amerli. No doubt, many people died and were maimed and traumatized (also known as terrorized) by those "air strikes," but that's just part of war, which it wouldn't be ethical for Human Rights Watch to question. What concerns Human Rights Watch is what began on September 1st. About 6,000 fighters for the Iraqi government and various militias moved in, with their U.S. weaponry. They destroyed villages. They demolished homes, businesses, mosques, and public buildings. They looted. They burned. They abducted. In fact they behaved exactly as troops taught to hate and murder certain groups of people had behaved in every previously recorded war. Human Rights Watch recommends that Iraq disband the militias and care for the refugees who have fled their wrath, while holding "accountable" those responsible for the documented violations of the "laws of war." Human Rights Watch wants the United States to establish "reform benchmarks." That ought to do it. The possibility of ending participation in the war, creating an arms embargo, negotiating a ceasefire, and redirecting ALL energy into aid and restitution doesn't arise in reports on the proper and civilized if illusory conduct of mass murder.
What if we're trying to fix something that can't be fixed? What if we're asking rapists to wear condoms? Are there not things that should be ended rather than mended because they cannot be mended? Think of fossil fuel use or health insurance corporations or the death penalty or the prison complex or the United States Senate. If your children don't recite the pledge of allegiance will they be in danger of devoting their lives to the Soviet Union? Does altering the hand position to look less Nazi make the pledge non-fascist? Don't some things outlast their usefulness? The Bible verses cited to prove that climate change isn't real may have once served a purpose. Perhaps war did too.
The Strategy Committee of World Beyond War, led by Kent Shifferd, has produced a document that I have learned a lot from. It's called A Global Security System: An Alternative to War, and it begins thus:
"In On Violence, Hannah Arendt wrote that the reason warfare is still with us is not a death wish of our species nor some instinct of aggression, '. . . but the simple fact that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on the political scene.' The Alternative Global Security System we describe here is the substitute. The goal of this document is to gather into one place, in the briefest form possible, everything one needs to know to work toward an end to war by replacing it with an Alternative Global Security System in contrast to the failed system of national security."
When we look at a rational proposal like this new book from World Beyond War, our first reaction should not be to choose optimism or pessimism. Many people look at the relentless presence of war despite all rational arguments and resign themselves to the idea that humans are driven by primitive primate inclinations. The problem with pessimism is not about whether its adherents are right or wrong on some analysis, it is that they turn their analysis into defeatism. This is the process that blaming things on biology is part of. For the vast majority of the existence of the human species there was zero war. War, which for millennia was closer to a game of football than to a nuclear strike, has been sporadically and rarely present. Most countries are not at war most of the time, and most people take no part. In many countries, large majorities say they would never take part in fighting for their country. War requires more conditioning than any other behavior, and the results are more damage to participants than from any other behavior. Not one single person has ever suffered PTSD from war deprivation. And we pick this institution to excuse as inevitable and natural?
No, the case made in A Global Security System is that war cannot result from an individual's or a group's emotional inclinations. It requires long-term investment, planning, and preparation. And if we prepare for other means of avoiding and resolving conflicts then we will end up using those means. If we create a culture of peace, develop peace journalism, invest in peace planning, support systems of global law and dispute resolution, disarm the world of which the United States is the leading armer, send in peaceworkers rather than bombs, negotiate ceasefires rather than military alliances -- if we strengthen and reform and ultimately replace international structures with global, democratic, and nonviolent means of solving our problems, war will go the way of blood feuds, dueling, and colored bathrooms.
Big changes will be needed in our politics, our economy, our energy use, our culture, and in the stories we tell each other about the world. But these changes can come step-by-step and advance self-aware toward complete replacement of the war system with a peace system. Attempting such a change, which is in some ways well underway already, can hardly be less sensible than the knowing failure of war. A few weeks ago Time Magazine featured a debate on the war on ISIS. One side argued for U.S. ground troops while admitting it probably wouldn't solve anything. The other side argued for U.S. bombs and local troops, while admitting that it probably wouldn't work. This is beyond attempting the same thing and expecting a different result. This is attempting the same thing and expecting the same disastrous result.
We can do better.
Takin’ it to the streets (and voting booth)!: Time to Demand Medicare for All and Social Security Benefits We Can Live On!
By Dave Lindorff
With Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, the current president already on record as supported cuts in Social Security and Medicare, and all signs pointing to the likelihood that the 2016 election could bring us either a neo-liberal or a neo-conservative president, and an increasingly Republican-dominated Congress, it’s time for an aggressive mass movement built around defending and expanding both those critical public funding programs.
By Kathy Kelly
By the time I leave Kentucky's federal prison center, where I'm an inmate with a 3 month sentence, the world's 12th-largest city may be without water. Estimates put the water reserve of Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million people, at sixty days. Sporadic outages have already begun, the wealthy are pooling money to receive water in tankers, and government officials are heard discussing weekly five-day shutoffs of the water supply, and the possibility of warning residents to flee.
This past year United States people watched stunned as water was cut off, household by household, to struggling people in Detroit, less due to any total water shortage than to a drying up of any political power accessible to the poor in an increasingly undemocratic nation. A local privatization scheme left the city water department underfunded, while dictatorial "emergency management" imposed by the state chose to place the burden of repaying a corrupt government's bad debt on Detroit's most impoverished people. U.S. people were forced to remember the guarantee offered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, entered into as a treaty obligation by world nations after WWII, that access to water is an inalienable human right. All over the world, water scarcity is becoming a dire threat to the possibility of, as Prof. Noam Chomsky phrases it, decent human survival.
Faced with such news, it is perhaps odd that I think of Professor Yang Yoon Mo, a South Korean activist I have met who, far from any area of drought, has fought instead, and with beautiful and irrepressible courage, to save a small lush rocky outcropping ringed by ocean, and with it both the shoreline, and the hopes for a peaceful future, of his home village.
In 2008, Prof. Yang returned to Jeju island, having left a rewarding life as a famed artist and film critic in the capital, Seoul, to join protests against construction of a planned naval base on the shores of Gangjeong, a village in Jeju Island. Though described as part of South Korea's national defense, the base's dimensions are fitted to the massive size of United States nuclear submarines and Aegis destroyers, part, as Larry Kerschner notes, of a military buildup forming "a semi-circle of naval and other bases surrounding China," the United States' "Asia Pivot" away from focus on the Middle East and toward its traditional superpower rivals. Nobody in Jeju is to be made safer by the base.
Professor Yang Yoon Mo was born on Jeju in 1956, when it was already illegal for traumatized survivors there to mention the recent massacres. Under U.S. occupation between 1948 and 1952, the military government had killed tens of thousands of independence protesters and militants. After a half century of official silence, the South Korean government has apologized and erected a memorial on Jeju memorializing perhaps 14,000-30,000 people killed on Jeju Island alone, many in their prison cells, during a tragic time referred to locally as the April 3rd massacre. Many residents are understandably less than eager to welcome a U.S. military presence back to the island.
When he was born, Professor Yang's mother resolved to protect her son from the tragedy that had befallen her father and uncle, both killed in the massacres. She wanted to steer her son into a safe position in life, even if it meant becoming part of the government establishment.
But, at an early age, Professor Yang showed talent as an artist and he simply didn't "fit in" to the narrow, safe routes his mother's great fear for him dictated. As a teenager, he became fascinated by cartoons, including, to his mother's alarm, political cartoons, and he tried to correspond with mainland South Korean cartoonists. His mother interfered with his correspondence and took to destroying his art. He began to mistrust her and even hate her. Understanding has come to him, since. It was through extensive research and time for reflection, during a recent imprisonment, that he finally began to understand why his mother had wanted so badly to protect him. Among some families on Jeju Island, discussions of the past are still considered off-limits. But professor Yang steadily developed his artistic instincts and his readiness to step beyond borders of acceptable communication. As an artist, he found that his mission was to discover beauty, to protect it, and make it known to the world.
When I met him, he told me, "I have become someone who was willing to die for a rock."
In 2008, the Gureombi Rock was a kilometer-long volcanic outcropping rising stubbornly above the waves somewhat in the manner of a never-suppressed memory of injustice and lying squarely in the way of base construction. In 2008, after participating for 7 nights and 8 days in a pilgrimage to resist the construction, Prof. Yang decided to move to Gangjeong, and in 2009, he pitched a tent on the Gureombi Rock, an exquisitely beautiful, tiny island off the shore of Gangjeong, where he stayed until he was forcibly removed in 2011.
"I focused on Gureombi and not anything else," he told me. "I felt full devotion, full immersion, full absorption."
Over the coming years he would be imprisoned four times, for a total of 555 days. He almost has died. Along with his imprisonments Professor Yang, who is nearly sixty, has endured three prison fasts ranging in length from fifty to seventy-two days, refusing solid foods as a sign of his longing, his hunger, to protect the environment near his home. His most recent prison fast only ended when environmental and peace movement activists came to the prison to persuade him to continue working alongside them.
I visited Gangjeong, and met Professor Yang, in the spring of 2014. Taking a cue from organizers who have spent years protesting U.S. military bases elsewhere in the Pacific Basin, the activists in Gangjeong hold daily protests. Each morning, we would all assemble at the construction site gates, from which South Korean police would carry many of us away in our chairs to allow the passage of construction vehicles and crews to and from the site. Assemblies included Buddhist prayer chants, celebration of the Catholic daily mass and rosary recitation, dances of universal peace, songs and chants.
After several hours of spirited witness and protest, villagers and guests would go to the Gangjeong community kitchen, open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and enjoy delicious meals together, accepting a free will offering. One afternoon, at the community kitchen, most of the activists had finished their lunch and left when I noticed a slight, unassuming man slipping into the dining hall, fixing himself a tray, and sitting down to eat, alone. I recognized Prof. Yang from the banners and posters that lined roadways up to the construction site and adorned the village community center, the library and the coffee house. His most recent imprisonment had lasted 435 days.
Along with Professor Yang, I met his friend and mentor, Brother Song, a Mennonite minister who, while the Gureombi Rock still stood, nonviolently resisted its destruction by attempting to swim to it, every day. Security posted at the site would roughly throw him back into the water every day, but Brother Song was undeterred.
The protests continue, the kitchen is still open, while inside the construction site, crews assault Gangjeong's beautiful shoreline. Day and night, the South Korean government, in collusion with major companies like Samsung and Hyundai, deploys "construction" crews to rip up plant life, destroy coral reefs, bulldoze and explode entire small islands, threatening the way of life that villagers have long preserved, and arming the United States for cold war competition with China. Sasha David, at the start of his book The Empire's Edge (p.7) writes that the U.S. military buildup in the region "is less about being able to defeat China militarily (that is already possible) and more about leverage in being able to dictate terms of trade in the region."
Gureombi rock is gone from its place on the Jeju coastline. The base plans required its complete demolition: It can no longer be seen.
"Gureombi is inside of me," says Prof. Yang.
Professor Yang Yoon Mo said that earlier in his life, he would have felt defeated after destruction of the Gureombi Rock and the continued construction of the naval site. Now, he says, he realizes that the purpose for peace and environmental action continues, and he is excited to continue envisioning demilitarized islands working together for peace and environmental protection. When I last met him, along with Brother Song, it was in Seoul, South Korea, upon Professor Yang's return from a conference, held in Okinawa, Japan, uniting island activists throughout the region. They were coordinating future plans, and Professor Yang Yoon Mo said that he could even contemplate a fifth imprisonment if it would help broaden and diversify the movement.
I don't think Gureombi is gone, with the way it has changed Prof. Yang, and his community, and incidentally me. We're not permitted to ignore the beauty and hope of the present. If we close our eyes we can put ourselves in an all-too-plausible future where our resources are gone, and the human community, and the world is already barren, and by implication not worth working to save. That's when we need to become someone willing to live and work for a rock.
Back at home, and growing in part out of Occupy Sandy's grassroots humanitarian response to the recent climate-driven disaster in New York, the Detroit Water Brigade has responded to its own city's horror both with political agitation and water distribution programs. They're posting on their sites about Sao Paulo. Prof. Yang's sometime mentor, the activist Bruce Gagnon writes: "From the point of view of corporate capital we are all expendable. We are not going to defeat these corporate forces by remaining isolated inside our single-issue silos ... There is a direct connection between the massive $1 trillion a year Pentagon budget [ ] and the destruction of social progress. There is a direct connection between the military's huge carbon bootprint and climate change." The swim to our neighbor islands will tend to be part of saving our own.
Living, as I briefly do, in a world of imprisoned beauty, on an island inside that archipelago of U.S. prisons so unacceptably similar to that of our old superpower rival, it's no wonder I'm thinking of Prof. Yang Yoon Mo. What we do to the environment, we're doing to each other. What we let our state impose on those walled beyond our borders we will tend to inflict on more and more people walled up within them, until there is no world of beauty left to keep safe for our own use, and no trust left on which any safety can be built. Until it all dries up. Whereas if we recommit to risk and beauty, refusing paths of alleged safety which only avoid temporary danger by leading us toward certain doom, if we seek our security in treating other people fairly, we may find our way to decent lives, along the way toward "decent human survival."
This article first appeared on TeleSUR.
Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) is in federal prison for participation in an anti-drone protest. She can receive mail at: KATHY KELLY 04971-045; FMC LEXINGTON; FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER; SATELLITE CAMP; P.O. BOX 14525; LEXINGTON, KY 40512.
From Mary Anne Grady:
At 9:15 am on March 19, the 12th anniversary of the U.S.’ illegal invasion of Iraq, seven members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars shut the main gate of the Hancock Drone Base (near Syracuse, NY) with a giant copy of the UN Charter and three other giant books – Dirty Wars (Jeremy Scahill), Living Under Drones (NYU and Stanford Law Schools), and You Never Die Twice (Reprieve).
The nonviolent activists also held a banner quoting Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, stating that every treaty signed becomes the supreme law of the land. They brought the books to Hancock to remind everyone at the base of the signed treaties that prohibit the killing of civilians and assassinations of human beings.
The group attempted yet again to deliver a citizens indictment for war crimes to the Hancock Air Base chain of command. In the indictment, the activists state, “There is hope for a better world when WE, THE PEOPLE, hold our government accountable to the laws and treaties that govern the use of lethal force and war. To the extent that we ignore our laws and constitution and allow for the unchecked use of lethal force by our government, allowing the government to kill who ever it wants, where ever it wants, how ever it wants with no accountability, we make the world less safe for children everywhere.”
One of the giant books, Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan, states that such missions are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of noncombatants, including women and children, in that region.
One of those arrested, Fr. Bill Pickard of Scranton, PA, stated, “The Reaper drone not only kills and maims humans; it destroys homes and displaces and terrorizes whole communities. U.S. taxpayers pay for such terrorism which perpetuates the violence and generates enormous ill will against the United States.”
Hancock hosts the 174th Attack Wing of the NY Air National Guard – the MQ9 Reaper drone hub. Drones flying over Afghanistan are piloted from the base. It is also a training center for drone pilots, sensor operators and maintenance technicians
Today’s action at Hancock’s main gate is one chapter in the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars’ (www.upstatedroneaction.
Those arrested were:
Danny Burns, Ithaca
Brian Hynes, Bronx
Ed Kinane, Syracuse
Julienne Oldfield, Syracuse
Fr. Bill Pickard, Scranton
Bev Rice, NYC
James Ricks, Ithaca
Since some reactionary U.S. Senators wrote a threatening letter to the government of Iran (which has its own legitimacy problems), we are circulating a sign-on letter from people in the US to the people of Iran.The ANSWER coalition initiated this yesterday. We're adapting it and asking you to sign on, and share it widely.
Join Hatem Abudayyeh, Susan Abulhawa, Pam Africa, Abayomi Azikiwe, Ajamu Baraka, Media Benjamin, Lamis Deek, Steve Downs, Bernadette Ellorin, Glenn Ford, Sara Flounders, Bruce Gagnon, Teresa Gutierrez, Lawrence Hamm, Chris Hedges, Joe Iosbaker, Charles Jenkins, Antonia Juhasz, Chuck Kaufman, Kathy Kelly, Jeff Mackler, Christine Marie, Ray McGovern, Cynthia McKinney, Michael McPhearson, Malik Mujahid, Lucy Pagoada, Lynn Stewart, David Swanson, Clarence Thomas, Ann Wright, Kevin Zeese & many more at ...
A national conference to connect all the issues:
“Stop the Wars at Home & Abroad!”
(to register now, click the link below)
The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) invites you to attend the “Stop the Wars at Home & Abroad!” conference, to be held May 8-10, 2015, in Secaucus, N.J, just outside New York City.
More and more, we can see how all the problems of the world are connected. The trillions of dollars being spent on wars-for-profit abroad could be used here at home to rebuild our cities, educate our youth, employ our jobless, repair damage to the environment – and try to make up for the endless suffering the Pentagon is inflicting on people around the world, most of them people of color, the vast majority of whom have nothing to do with threatening us or anyone else.
Some of the connections are even more striking. Some of the very same kinds of military equipment used in Iraq was seen this past summer on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. Surveillance drones developed for use by the military are now being used by domestic police departments. The endless “war on terror” is being used to justify taking away our civil liberties here at home. Wars for oil in the Middle East keep fossil fuels flowing, accelerating the climate change that threatens all humanity.
This conference will be an opportunity to meet and network with activists from across the country and learn about the many struggles going on today, both at home and around the world. Speakers with decades of experience will be joined by members of the new generations of activists who are bringing fresh energy and ideas into the movement. Together, we will learn from and inspire each other.
Most conferences cost many hundreds of dollars to attend, but UNAC organizers are doing their best to keep this one affordable for young activists and working people. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to expand your knowledge, make many new progressive friends and build the movement for fundamental social change.
Stop the Wars at Home & Abroad!
For more information and to register for the conference, see:
To place an ad in the conference journal, see:
UNITED NATIONAL ANTIWAR COALITION (UNAC)
P.O. Box 123, Delmar, NY 12054 ● Ph: 518-227-6947
World Beyond War has just published a short book titled A Global Security System: An Alternative to War.
This act constitutes an intervention into the debate over whether to create a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force. In fact, this document should help stimulate a debate over whether to continue with the war approach to global conflicts, authorized or not.
It has become routine to acknowledge that "there is no military solution" even while pursuing military actions as preferable to doing nothing. A Global Security System builds a case for alternative actions, both in a moment of crisis, and on the long-term path toward preventing conflict and developing nonviolent means of resolving conflict.
This book describes the "hardware" of creating a peace system, and the "software" — the values and concepts — necessary to operate a peace system, and the means to spread these globally. This report is based on the work of many experts in international relations and peace studies and on the experience of many activists. A quotation from the first section reads:
"In On Violence, Hannah Arendt wrote that the reason warfare is still with us is not a death wish of our species nor some instinct of aggression, '. . . but the simple fact that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on the political scene.' The Alternative Global Security System we describe here is the substitute. The goal of this document is to gather into one place, in the briefest form possible, everything one needs to know to work toward an end to war by replacing it with an Alternative Global Security System in contrast to the failed system of national security."
The book is available free online at WorldBeyondWar.org, including the Executive Summary and full Table of Contents. Here is the full PDF version. The paperback is available at your local bookstore or any online bookseller. The distributor is Ingram. The ISBN is 978-0983083085. Buy online at Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. The audio book can be purchased here. The eBook editions (978-1495147159) are coming soon.
Comments can be posted under each section of the book on the WorldBeyondWar.org website. Some of the top experts in various fields will be engaging in conversation in these comment sections. Each book section is posted along with graphics, an audio version, and related actions that can be taken. Check it out!
A teach-in on this topic is planned for 5:00-6:30 p.m. March 20, 2015, at University of the District of Columbia Law School at 4200 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC, as part of four days of events planned by Spring Rising. Speaking will be David Swanson, author and director of World Beyond War; Matthew Hoh, a former State Department official who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan; and Robert Fantina, author and journalist whose most recent book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy.
As a scholarly specialist on the American peace movement, I am sometimes telephoned for background information by journalists writing articles about current demonstrations against war or against nuclear weapons. Almost invariably, they have no idea that the American peace movement has a rich history. Or, if they realize that it does have such a history, they have no idea that that history goes back further than the Vietnam War. This is a very big and unfortunate gap in their knowledge. Actually, the American peace movement dates back two centuries and has involved millions of people (among them prominent figures like John Quincy Adams, Charles Sumner, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Jane Addams, Robert La Follette, John Dewey, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr.). Another relatively unknown fact is the importance of New York State―and particularly New York City―in that movement’s history.
And why not? Wittner focuses on general backward stupidness: the treaty would "override" the Constitution or the importance of families or the rights of parents. He points out the treaty's support for parents and families and the impossibility of overriding the Constitution -- which we might note in any case says nothing on the subject.
Then Wittner mentions some more substantive reasons for opposition:
"... in fairness to the critics, it must be acknowledged that some current American laws do clash with the Convention’s child protection features. For example, in the United States, children under the age of 18 can be jailed for life, with no possibility of parole. Also, as Human Rights Watch notes, “exemptions in U.S. child labor laws allow children as young as 12 to be put to work in agriculture for long hours and under dangerous conditions.” Moreover, the treaty prohibits cruel and degrading punishment of children―a possible source of challenge to the one-third of U.S. states that still allow corporal punishment in their schools."
That's actually a pretty major in-fairness-to-the-critics point. The United States wants to maintain the ability to lock children in cages for the rest of their lives or to work them in the fields or to physically abuse them in school. In fact, the child prison industry is a major presence in the United States.
And let's not forget that there are children on the drone kill list and children who have been killed with drone strikes.
There are other nations that engage in some of these same abuses. Is it better to ratify a basic human rights treaty and violate it or to refuse to ratify it because you intend to act against it as a matter of principle?
I'm inclined to think the latter suggests the further remove from decent tendencies.
General Petraeus Speaks Tonight on Afghanistan; Will be Greeted by Street Protest Over War Leadership
What: Protest & Photo Op outside speech by General David Petraeus
When: Wednesday March 4 5:30 pm
Where: New-York Historical Society, Central Park West @ 77th Street
Months ago, when the New-York Historical Society announced that General David Petraeus would speak about the U.S. war on Afghanistan, groups opposed to the U.S. wars in the Middle East announced they would protest outside the speech tonight.
Petraeus was head of the U.S. military's Central Command; led the "surge" in Iraq; commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan during the highest period of civilian casualties, and briefly led the CIA until resigning in scandal. These actions led War Criminals Watch to highlight Petraeus as a "war criminal in illegitimate, immoral, unjust wars, whose actions should be exposed and visibly protested, rather than commended."
Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that Petraeus will likely plead guilty to a misdemeanor for mishandling classified materials, receiving a fine and probation, but no felony conviction or prison time, for giving secret information to his biographer.
Upon learning of the Department of Justice’s “preferential option for the poor” regarding Petraeus, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern labeled this a classic case of “prosecutorial indiscretion” and made this statement:
When former CIA officer John Kiriakou was sent to prison for inadvertently revealing the name of one Agency official cognizant of Agency torture, here’s what Neil MacBride, US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia said: "The government has a vital interest in protecting the identities of those involved in covert operations. Leaks of highly sensitive, closely held and classified information compromise national security and can put individual lives in danger."
At which point Petraeus, then CIA director, sent a memo to Agency employees applauding Kiriakou's conviction and noting, “It marks an important victory for our agency ... there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy."
Consequences for Kiriakou, but now, demonstrably, NOT for Petraeus, who reportedly gave what MacBride considers "highly sensitive" information to his mistress, including the names of all the U.S. covert agents in Afghanistan – and then lied about it to FBI investigators, which I think you're also not supposed to do.
Mr. McGovern is available for interview.
Sponsored by War Criminals Watch, World Can't Wait. Endorsed by Veterans for Peace Chapter 34 NYC and CodePink.
SAVE THE DATES: Friday evening, May 1 and all-day Saturday, May 2
Telling the Truth, Learning the Lessons
The Pentagon has a ten-year plan (funded by a $60 million appropriation from Congress) to use the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War as an opportunity to re-write the history of the war. Some of us have gotten together to push back, as reported in a front page article in the NY Times in October. We have to build a strong and sustained effort to tell the truth about the war, the role of the anti-
war movement in ending it, the war’s lessons for today and the war’s consequences for the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians, as well as many American veterans. May 2nd is the kick-off for this effort.
All of us who opposed the Vietnam War and more recent ones, plus speakers including major leaders from the anti-Vietnam War movement.
A full day of talks, workshops and a march on Saturday, plus cultural events on Friday and Saturday evenings.
New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
1313 New York Avenue, NW
For more information, contact Terry Provance at 202.686.7483 and email@example.com or Barbara Helmick at 202.462.6702 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
To make a contribution, please make your check out to our 501c3 fiscal sponsor, the Center for International Policy, 2000 M Street NW, Suite 720, Washington DC 20036. Please note that the contribution is for the Vietnam Peace Commemoration project. Thank you.
This show is a call to action to become part of Spring Rising: An Antiwar Intervention in Washington, D.C., March 18-21, 2015, with the big rally and march on Saturday March 21. See http://SpringRising.org
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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The Norwegian Nobel Committee ignores the testament of Nobel. They claim that the “champions of peace” Nobel described in his will no longer exist. To end this charade we have seen no alternative to lifting the curtain of secrecy they hide their waywardness behind.
The Nobel Committee has pursued its own ideas and failed to see how the expressions Nobel used and the promise he gave to Bertha von Suttner to “do something big for the movement” (italics added) leave no room for doubt what “champions of peace” Nobel intended to support. Expressed in modern language:
When Nobel wished to support the “champions of peace,” he meant the movement and the persons who work for a demilitarized world, for law to replace power in international politics, and for all nations to commit to cooperating on the elimination of all weapons instead of competing for military superiority.
This is the content of the prize and as the legally binding scope of all selections it was presented to the Nobel Committee 7 years ago. The committee has never contested this description of the purpose of Nobel, just used their power to ignore it. We think the peace idea of Nobel is of imperative urgency in the world today, and that everyone should know these ideas and be able to see and discuss them. That is why we have decided to publish the following list of qualified candidates.
Below is the list of those we know who are nominated AND qualified, under a wide understanding of the purpose of Nobel, either
1) by direct work for the global disarmament plan Nobel had in mind, or
2) by peace work with high utility and relevance to realizing the Nobel “uniting of disarmed nations,” particularly the work to abolish nuclear weapons, and to promote non-violence, conflict resolution and prevention, develop international law and institutions, etc.
3) by contributing new ideas and research, develop new methods for civilized, non-violent interrelation between peoples that enables a demilitarization of international relations.
The list is not final. We welcome information of nominations we are not aware of or of candidates that we – based on the Nobel purpose – should have included in our list. If you miss certain “champions of peace” in the list this year, please take steps to have them included among the nominations for 2016 – deadline: Feb 1, 2016. The Nobel Peace Prize is happy to give advice and guidance in the hope of realizing Nobel´s true purpose and idea. Contact us
LIST – VALID CANDIDATES FOR THE TRUE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE 2015
Abolition 2000, Global network organization
Article 9, Japan
Falk, Richard, USA
International Assosiation of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms, IALANA, (NY, Geneva, Colombo)
Juristen und Juristinnen gegen atomare, biologische und chemische Waffen , Germany
Krieger, David , USA
Lindner, Evelin, main basis Norway
Snowden, Edward, USA
Swanson, David, USA
Mr. Taniguchi, Sumiteru, Japan
Ware, Alyn, New Zealand
Weiss, Peter, USA
Women´s international League for Peace and Freedom, WILPF (Geneva)
Waiting list - Insufficient information
The following appear to be nominated, but we have not been able to get
the actual nomination. The list of valid candidates will be supplemented
as soon as we get additional valid nominations.
The International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear arms, ICAN
Manning, Chelsea, USA
Sharp, Gene, USA
By William Blum
American historian D.F. Fleming, writing of the post-World War II period in his eminent history of the Cold War, stated that “Greece was the first of the liberated states to be openly and forcibly compelled to accept the political system of the occupying Great Power. It was Churchill who acted first and Stalin who followed his example, in Bulgaria and then in Rumania, though with less bloodshed.”
The British intervened in Greece while World War II was still raging. His Majesty’s Army waged war against ELAS, the left-wing guerrillas who had played a major role in forcing the Nazi occupiers to flee. Shortly after the war ended, the United States joined the Brits in this great anti-communist crusade, intervening in what was now a civil war, taking the side of the neo-fascists against the Greek left. The neo-fascists won and instituted a highly brutal regime, for which the CIA created a suitably repressive internal security agency (KYP in Greek).
In 1964, the liberal George Papandreou came to power, but in April 1967 a military coup took place, just before elections which appeared certain to bring Papandreou back as prime minister. The coup had been a joint effort of the Royal Court, the Greek military, the KYP, the CIA, and the American military stationed in Greece, and was followed immediately by the traditional martial law, censorship, arrests, beatings, and killings, the victims totaling some 8,000 in the first month. This was accompanied by the equally traditional declaration that this was all being done to save the nation from a “communist takeover”. Torture, inflicted in the most gruesome of ways, often with equipment supplied by the United States, became routine.
George Papandreou was not any kind of radical. He was a liberal anti-communist type. But his son Andreas, the heir-apparent, while only a little to the left of his father, had not disguised his wish to take Greece out of the Cold War, and had questioned remaining in NATO, or at least as a satellite of the United States.
Andreas Papandreou was arrested at the time of the coup and held in prison for eight months. Shortly after his release, he and his wife Margaret visited the American ambassador, Phillips Talbot, in Athens. Papandreou later related the following:
I asked Talbot whether America could have intervened the night of the coup, to prevent the death of democracy in Greece. He denied that they could have done anything about it. Then Margaret asked a critical question: What if the coup had been a Communist or a Leftist coup? Talbot answered without hesitation. Then, of course, they would have intervened, and they would have crushed the coup.
Another charming chapter in US-Greek relations occurred in 2001, when Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street Goliath Lowlife, secretly helped Greece keep billions of dollars of debt off their balance sheet through the use of complex financial instruments like credit default swaps. This allowed Greece to meet the baseline requirements to enter the Eurozone in the first place. But it also helped create a debt bubble that would later explode and bring about the current economic crisis that’s drowning the entire continent. Goldman Sachs, however, using its insider knowledge of its Greek client, protected itself from this debt bubble by betting against Greek bonds, expecting that they would eventually fail.
Will the United States, Germany, the rest of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – collectively constituting the International Mafia – allow the new Greek leaders of the Syriza party to dictate the conditions of Greece’s rescue and salvation? The answer at the moment is a decided “No”. The fact that Syriza leaders, for some time, have made no secret of their affinity for Russia is reason enough to seal their fate. They should have known how the Cold War works.
I believe Syriza is sincere, and I’m rooting for them, but they may have overestimated their own strength, while forgetting how the Mafia came to occupy its position; it didn’t derive from a lot of compromise with left-wing upstarts. Greece may have no choice, eventually, but to default on its debts and leave the Eurozone. The hunger and unemployment of the Greek people may leave them no alternative.
The Twilight Zone of the US State Department
“You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop … the Twilight Zone.” (American Television series, 1959-1965)
State Department Daily Press Briefing, February 13, 2015. Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, questioned by Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.
Lee: President Maduro [of Venezuela] last night went on the air and said that they had arrested multiple people who were allegedly behind a coup that was backed by the United States. What is your response?
Psaki: These latest accusations, like all previous such accusations, are ludicrous. As a matter of longstanding policy, the United States does not support political transitions by non-constitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and legal. We have seen many times that the Venezuelan Government tries to distract from its own actions by blaming the United States or other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. These efforts reflect a lack of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan Government to deal with the grave situation it faces.
Lee: Sorry. The US has – whoa, whoa, whoa – the US has a longstanding practice of not promoting – What did you say? How longstanding is that? I would – in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a longstanding practice.
Psaki: Well, my point here, Matt, without getting into history –
Lee: Not in this case.
Psaki: – is that we do not support, we have no involvement with, and these are ludicrous accusations.
Lee: In this specific case.
Lee: But if you go back not that long ago, during your lifetime, even – (laughter)
Psaki: The last 21 years. (Laughter.)
Lee: Well done. Touché. But I mean, does “longstanding” mean 10 years in this case? I mean, what is –
Psaki: Matt, my intention was to speak to the specific reports.
Lee: I understand, but you said it’s a longstanding US practice, and I’m not so sure – it depends on what your definition of “longstanding” is.
Psaki: We will – okay.
Lee: Recently in Kyiv, whatever we say about Ukraine, whatever, the change of government at the beginning of last year was unconstitutional, and you supported it. The constitution was –
Psaki: That is also ludicrous, I would say.
Lee: – not observed.
Psaki: That is not accurate, nor is it with the history of the facts that happened at the time.
Lee: The history of the facts. How was it constitutional?
Psaki: Well, I don’t think I need to go through the history here, but since you gave me the opportunity –- as you know, the former leader of Ukraine left of his own accord.
Leaving the Twilight Zone … The former Ukrainian leader ran for his life from those who had staged the coup, including a mob of vicious US-supported neo-Nazis.
If you know how to contact Ms. Psaki, tell her to have a look at my list of more than 50 governments the United States has attempted to overthrow since the end of the Second World War. None of the attempts were democratic, constitutional, peaceful, or legal; well, a few were non-violent.
The ideology of the American media is that it believes that it doesn’t have any ideology
So NBC’s evening news anchor, Brian Williams, has been caught telling untruths about various events in recent years. What could be worse for a reporter? How about not knowing what’s going on in the world? In your own country? At your own employer? As a case in point I give you Williams’ rival, Scott Pelley, evening news anchor at CBS.
In August 2002, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told American newscaster Dan Rather on CBS: “We do not possess any nuclear or biological or chemical weapons.”
In December, Aziz stated to Ted Koppel on ABC: “The fact is that we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. We don’t have chemical, biological, or nuclear weaponry.”
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein himself told CBS’s Rather in February 2003: “These missiles have been destroyed. There are no missiles that are contrary to the prescription of the United Nations [as to range] in Iraq. They are no longer there.”
Moreover, Gen. Hussein Kamel, former head of Iraq’s secret weapons program, and a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein, told the UN in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed its banned missiles and chemical and biological weapons soon after the Persian Gulf War of 1991.
There are yet other examples of Iraqi officials telling the world, before the 2003 American invasion, that the WMD were non-existent.
Enter Scott Pelley. In January 2008, as a CBS reporter, Pelley interviewed FBI agent George Piro, who had interviewed Saddam Hussein before he was executed:
PELLEY: And what did he tell you about how his weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed?
PIRO: He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the U.N. inspectors in the ’90s, and those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq.
PELLEY: He had ordered them destroyed?
PELLEY: So why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk? Why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?
For a journalist there might actually be something as bad as not knowing what’s going on in his area of news coverage, even on his own station. After Brian Williams’ fall from grace, his former boss at NBC, Bob Wright, defended Williams by pointing to his favorable coverage of the military, saying: “He has been the strongest supporter of the military of any of the news players. He never comes back with negative stories, he wouldn’t question if we’re spending too much.”
I think it’s safe to say that members of the American mainstream media are not embarrassed by such a “compliment”.
In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter made the following observation:
Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period: the systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought. All this has been fully documented and verified.
But my contention here is that the US crimes in the same period have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognized as crimes at all.
It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.
Cuba made simple
“The trade embargo can be fully lifted only through legislation – unless Cuba forms a democracy, in which case the president can lift it.”
Aha! So that’s the problem, according to a Washington Post columnist – Cuba is not a democracy! That would explain why the United States does not maintain an embargo against Saudi Arabia, Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt and other distinguished pillars of freedom. The mainstream media routinely refer to Cuba as a dictatorship. Why is it not uncommon even for people on the left to do the same? I think that many of the latter do so in the belief that to say otherwise runs the risk of not being taken seriously, largely a vestige of the Cold War when Communists all over the world were ridiculed for blindly following Moscow’s party line. But what does Cuba do or lack that makes it a dictatorship?
No “free press”? Apart from the question of how free Western media is, if that’s to be the standard, what would happen if Cuba announced that from now on anyone in the country could own any kind of media? How long would it be before CIA money – secret and unlimited CIA money financing all kinds of fronts in Cuba – would own or control almost all the media worth owning or controlling?
Is it “free elections” that Cuba lacks? They regularly have elections at municipal, regional and national levels. (They do not have direct election of the president, but neither do Germany or the United Kingdom and many other countries). Money plays virtually no role in these elections; neither does party politics, including the Communist Party, since candidates run as individuals. Again, what is the standard by which Cuban elections are to be judged? Is it that they don’t have the Koch Brothers to pour in a billion dollars? Most Americans, if they gave it any thought, might find it difficult to even imagine what a free and democratic election, without great concentrations of corporate money, would look like, or how it would operate. Would Ralph Nader finally be able to get on all 50 state ballots, take part in national television debates, and be able to match the two monopoly parties in media advertising? If that were the case, I think he’d probably win; which is why it’s not the case.
Or perhaps what Cuba lacks is our marvelous “electoral college” system, where the presidential candidate with the most votes is not necessarily the winner. If we really think this system is a good example of democracy why don’t we use it for local and state elections as well?
Is Cuba not a democracy because it arrests dissidents? Many thousands of anti-war and other protesters have been arrested in the United States in recent years, as in every period in American history. During the Occupy Movement two years ago more than 7,000 people were arrested, many beaten by police and mistreated while in custody. And remember: The United States is to the Cuban government like al Qaeda is to Washington, only much more powerful and much closer; virtually without exception, Cuban dissidents have been financed by and aided in other ways by the United States.
Would Washington ignore a group of Americans receiving funds from al Qaeda and engaging in repeated meetings with known members of that organization? In recent years the United States has arrested a great many people in the US and abroad solely on the basis of alleged ties to al Qaeda, with a lot less evidence to go by than Cuba has had with its dissidents’ ties to the United States. Virtually all of Cuba’s “political prisoners” are such dissidents. While others may call Cuba’s security policies dictatorship, I call it self-defense.
The Ministry of Propaganda has a new Commissar
Last month Andrew Lack became chief executive of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees US government-supported international news media such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Radio Free Asia. In a New York Times interview, Mr. Lack was moved to allow the following to escape his mouth: “We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram.”
So … this former president of NBC News conflates Russia Today (RT) with the two most despicable groups of “human beings” on the planet. Do mainstream media executives sometimes wonder why so many of their audience has drifted to alternative media, like, for example, RT?
Those of you who have not yet discovered RT, I suggest you go to RT.com to see whether it’s available in your city. And there are no commercials.
It should be noted that the Times interviewer, Ron Nixon, expressed no surprise at Lack’s remark.
By David Swanson
Remarks prepared for event with comedian Lee Camp, Charlottesville, Va., February 21, 2015, event postponed by snow storm. When it's rescheduled I'll say something completely unrelated.
This is the serious part of tonight's event, except that Lee often deals with very serious topics. So what I mean is: this is the unfunny part of tonight's event, except that I'm going to talk about the United States government. One of my favorite things that Mark Twain didn't really say but definitely should have said was "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it." He left out the possibility of imbeciles who are putting us on.
On Thursday Comcast internet was not working at my house, just as Comcast's hired Congress members were introducing a bill to create a closed internet with fast lanes for the corporate crap we didn't need the internet for. And a good internet media outlet called TheRealNews.com wanted to do a video interview with me, which I didn't want to do in Java Java because I try not to be quite that rude. So I sat out on the Downtown Mall and did the interview. It was about 12 degrees out, and I think you can see me shaking. And what did they want to talk about? War? Peace? The climate?
They wanted to talk about Jeb Bush. Clearly he is an imbecile who is putting us on. He'd been talking on foreign policy, and of course he agreed with Obama on most everything but claimed not to. On NSA spying, for example, he disagreed basically with the fact that there has been public criticism of Obama's abuses. How he would eliminate criticism he didn't say. He didn't bring up Ukraine or Afghanistan or drone wars, because what would he disagree with? He did bring up the Korean War in order to claim it was a success and not the stupid pointless draw that everyone called it for decades, but of course the innovator in popularizing that ridiculous claim was ... President Obama.
Mostly Jeb focused on Iran, pushing the false claim that Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map and is threatening nuclear attack. Obama pushes all the same lines but then nonsensically and uniquely in this case arrives at the antiwar view that diplomacy is preferable to bombing. Jeb approves of Netanyahu stepping in on March 3rd to give Congress its war orders on the one war Obama doesn't want. I recommend going to SkipTheSpeech.organd urging Congress Members to skip it, as many have committed to doing -- even with Sheldon Adelson promising to pay for the unelection of each of them.
More broadly, Jeb pushed the idea that the Middle East is a disaster because it hasn't been bombed enough, and that the U.S. is disliked because it hasn't attacked enough countries. There are two problems with this. One, it's a disgusting and ridiculous lie that has been getting people killed for many years. A Gallup poll early last year of 65 countries found the U.S. to be considered far and away the biggest threat to peace in the world. The nations in the worst shape are the ones the U.S. has bombed. U.S. ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers has actually argued that we should stop paying attention to what bombing Libya did to Libya in order to be sufficiently willing to bomb Iraq and Syria. ISIS actually produced a 60-minute movie begging the United States to go to war against it because recruitment would soar. The U.S. obliged. Recruitment soared. This is how disliked the United States has made itself: organizations are willing to be bombed if it will show them to be the leading opponents of the United States -- a country that, by the way, puts over a trillion dollars a year into war when tens of billions could address world hunger, clean water, and other basic needs. For a fraction of war spending, the U.S. could address climate chaos, agriculture, education, etc., and become the most loved government on earth. But would that feel as good as screaming threats at ISIS?
ISIS, after all, kills people, cuts their throats like Saudi Arabia but on a smaller scale so it's more evil, and burns people to death, like U.S. drone strikes, but on a smaller scale so it must be stopped by using the larger scale killing to stop it.
It's amazing how Americans manage to think about violence. Why, we ask ourselves, don't cops need guns in London? Well, because the criminals don't have guns, but over here they do. So we have to fight guns with guns, and just to be safe spread some more guns around. But why, we ask ourselves, is the Middle East so violent? Well, that's easy: it's the result of millennia-old ethnic and religious hatreds that lie dormant for millennia and then burst into the open when we mistakenly provide freedom they're not ready for in the form of incendiary bombs and depleted uranium. And of course they have guns over there, it's part of their religion. Really? Because the U.S. State Department says that 79% of the weapons shipped to the Middle East are from the United States. That doesn't count the U.S. weapons, the weapons the CIA gives the moderate neck slitters, or the weapons the Iraqi Army abandons. In other words, the same geniuses who are selling drones to the world now have long been arming the global hotspots where they periodically seek to create peace by escalating war. I have a new theory: they are imbeciles who are putting themselves on.
The second problem with Jeb's prescription of more militarism is that President Obama has just proposed the biggest military budget ever and asked Congress for a free pass to launch new wars -- as he's doing anyway and says he'll do regardless -- and the American people are convinced that it's their duty to form opinions about Jeb and his brother and his father and Hillary Clinton and various other imbeciles or putter-oners or both. We're supposed to think that caring about such jack asses makes us good citizens. This is a disastrous distraction. It is actually our duty to engage in policy-driven activism, including activism aimed at fixing a broken election system, and to stop imagining that we're going to vote our way out of apocalypse by cheerleading the candidate for militarized corporate capitalism over the other candidate for militarized corporate capitalism.
Oh, but it's so much more fun to mock Jeb, isn't it? If we criticize Obama we have something in common with icky racists. Seriously? Which is more childish, the racism or the moronic notion that one must obey authority without question or become a racist? You don't have to "Approve" or "Disapprove" of Obama in some simplistic overall sense. There is no requirement in life or politics to be as stupid as a pollster's questions. You can encourage Obama's diplomacy on Iran and resist his warmaking in Iraq and Afghanistan. Promote the good, resist the bad. And avoid the desire to make it personal.
Jeb did try to find one other place to disagree with Obama, namely Cuba. As it happens, I just got back from Cuba last week and have a different perspective. The Republican line parroted by Jeb is that Obama did something for Cuba with nothing in return. Well, Obama is considering taking Cuba off the absurd terrorist list, since Cuba doesn't fund terrorism. But Cuba hasn't put the United States on a terrorist list to take it off of. There has been talk of ending the economic blockade, but Cuba has no blockade against the U.S. to lift. What is it Jeb wants of Cuba? Well, he wants it to stop supporting the popularly elected government of Venezuela and allow its overthrow. See, to get to Obama's right you have to go to overthrowing governments -- and then you'll discover that Obama pretty much agrees with you.
The U.S. is actually proposing to allow importing from Cuba limited items produced by private enterprise. This is an effort to privatize Cuba, to radically change or overthrow its government. By "opening" to Cuba, Obama has given himself new tools. The mission is unchanged. A few of us met with the staff of the soon-to-be U.S. embassy down there, and asked about the $20 million the U.S. spends propagandizing Cubans each year. I asked how they'd feel if Cuba funded activists in the United States. One of them told me there was no need, because the United States has freedom of speech and Cuba doesn't. OK, I said, but the United States has troops in 175 countries and more wars than it can keep track of, and Cuba doesn't. What if Cuba funded a movement against militarism in the United States? The U.S. diplomats said they'd have no problem with that at all. But of course the U.S. government would -- in fact working with Cuba on anything would constitute aiding "terrorists."
I suppose it's not very funny but it should be that if Cuba ever actually attacked the United States we would hear about it 24/7, but the United States and its terrorists living openly in Florida have for over 50 years blown up buildings and planes in Cuba, murdered in Cuba, and introduced human and animal diseases to Cuba, and the Cubans have museums full of the gear they've seized from the hapless CIA, but the Cuban people are delighted to meet Americans and don't blame us one bit for our government just as they'd no doubt like not to be blamed for their own.
Their government and many observers have a theory about why the U.S. government hates Cuba so much: it doesn't want us to see that even a poor country can provide universal healthcare, education, and a guaranteed income.
I'm thrilled with the victory of Jeff Fogel and others in the ruling this week that found a ban on panhandling unconstitutional here. But what if a nation with the resources of the U.S. were to start dreaming bigger? What if we were to do away with the need for panhandling? What if everyone had a full stomach, a good education, no debt, and some free time to pay attention to things?
I sat in a trial a few weeks ago in Alexandria of Jeffrey Sterling who had gone to Congress with the news that the CIA was giving plans for a nuclear bomb to Iran -- plans in which they'd introduced some obvious mistakes on the theory that the dumb Iranians would never notice and build their bomb wrong. Their Russian operative who took the plans to the Iranians was also not supposed to notice the flaws, but he did, immediately. The display of recklessness, stupidity, and imbecility putting itself on in this courtroom was beyond belief, and nobody was there, and the young all white jury found Sterling guilty.
One of the pieces of evidence in the trial discussed the next country the CIA was, in 2000, working on giving flawed nuclear bomb plans to after Iran. They blanked out the name of the country but showed how many letters had been blanked out. They also left it clear that the country's name began with a vowel. Only Iraq fit. These clowns were planning to give nuclear bomb plans to Iraq just before publicly making the case for invading Iraq before it nuked us.
But what else were they supposed to do? You can't do nothing, right? We must either love ISIS and do nothing or drop more bombs and create even more enemies. It's a tough counterproductive path to Armageddon but somebody's got to follow it. And somebody else has got to invent a bunch of lies to make it more palatable. When General Sherman raged through the South burning stuff he told himself that from here on out the South would know war so well that it would never want another one. And 150 years later, I dare you to just hint at taking down the statues of Southern war losers in Charlottesville. The South is the leading supporter of U.S. wars. Without the politics of the South, the U.S. might find its way clear all the way to respecting the rights of some other country. During World War II, the main newspaper in Atlanta, where Sherman had begun his march, editorialized in favor of burning every house in Japan. So, when Jeb-Obama-Hillary-McCain tell you that bombing Iraq will turn Iraqis against war, you can believe them or your own lying eyes. Have the past decades made Iraq more peaceful? Might ending slavery the way most nations did -- that is to say, without a war -- have produced something less than 150 years of resentment and displaced blowback?
If you'd like to get involved in advancing alternatives to war, please check out http://WorldBeyondWar.org
And please join in the planning for a bigger, better peace movement with the series of events planned for Washington, D.C., on March 18-21. See http://SpringRising.org
No New Authorization for the Use of Military Force
The U.S. Congress is considering another "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" -- a broad approval for more war.
This is the last thing we need. These wars are not making us safer but generating enemies. They are not surgical operations, but mass killings, as well as assaults on the natural environment and the public budget -- not to mention excuses for curtailing civil liberties.
Please sign this statement for delivery to the media and Congress:
By taking action you agree that you may be contacted by one or more of the participating organizations. This petition is a joint project of: Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Iraq Veterans Against the War, KnowDrones.com, Military Families Speak Out, Peace Action, Peace Action Montgomery, RootsAction.org, United National Antiwar Coalition, Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones, U.S. Labor Against the War, World Beyond War.
Dear WNPJ Members!
We are pleased to announce that we will be building off of the success of our Growing a Peaceful Future: Youth Film Festival last year and having our second annual this May 2nd from 1-4 pm in Madison WI.
We are asking high school students to make a video in response to the question: If you had $1 trillion, what would you do for yourself, your family and your community rather than spending it all on the military budget?
As many of you know the US spends almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined on military operations and weapons and we continue to have deficits in community needs such as education, health care, veterans benefits, and public transportation.
Over $1.5 trillion have been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and each year, nearly $1 trillion is spent on the U.S. Military. Wisconsin alone has spent $23 billion on this years military budget and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and over the past 12 years.
Please encourage any high schoolers in your life to submit a video!
Here are some important dates and information to keep in mind:
March 8th 1-4 pm Workshop on How to Create a Successful Video! at UW Madison Vilas Hall Room 4050 on University Ave and North Park St. A workshop for high school students by UW Comm Arts Professor Lori Kido Lopez on how to create a video and what to add in the video.
April 15th Deadline for submitting a video at wnpj.org/video There are more details on the website.
May 2nd 1-4 pm in Madison Location TBA. We will be showcasing the finalists for the contest, presenting the scholarships, voting on the people's choice award, having good food, building community, and taking pictures on the red carpet! Save the date!
Scholarships will be awarded to the top four videos, judged for their createivity and content. The first prize winner will recieve $1,000, 2nd place $500, and 3rd place $250, and People's Choice $250.
Please visit wnpj.org/video for great information to help get started on the video entries.
If students are interested in submitting a video please RSVP online at: wnpj.org/video Feel free to contact us with any questions.
Z! Haukeness and the Growing a Peaceful Future Team.
By Dave Lindorff
If you want to get a good understanding of how thoroughly corrupted and sold-out our government in Washington is, you need only look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest in a series of trade “deals” that is heading towards passage right now, and that, like its predecessors, NAFTA and CAFTA, as well as the World Trade Organization, will be sucking jobs out of the US for years.
What can I be sure of after only one week in Havana? Very little. There are exceptions to every pattern, and sometimes more exceptions than patterns. But a few claims, I think, are possible:
1. The sea and this island in it are stupendously beautiful even to someone longing for people and places up north.
2. The people of Cuba are sincerely warm and friendly. And, although they know the history of U.S. aggression, they sharply distinguish the U.S. government from the U.S. people. They are surprised and delighted to encounter the latter. (Americans might do well, likewise, not to identify the Cuban people with their government.)
3. The poverty here does not approach that in much of Latin America and the Caribbean -- despite the blockade (what Cubans call the embargo since the U.S. effectively prevents other countries trading with Cuba too).
4. The safety, security, life expectancy and in many ways the quality of life are high by any standard. Key West has worse food, more alcoholism, more militarism, and more money.
5. U.S. tourists will love Cuba. For the left, Cuba has socialized education, healthcare, and a basic income guarantee. For the right, Cuba has meat, machismo, meat, the war on drugs, cigarette smoke at the next table, and more meat. Welcome here are atheism, Catholicism, Santeria, and whatever else you've got. For everyone, Cuba has the beauty, culture, and adventures to match any destination in this part of the globe.
Could I live in Cuba and write in Cuba? Possibly not. The rebels in Cuba rebel against the failures of their government, and that runs up against two problems. (1) People read. (2) The government fears dissent as U.S.-funded propaganda for regime change (which a lot of it is, to the tune of $20 million U.S. tax dollars per year). In the United States I can write because no one reads and the government trusts everyone to go shopping and watch TV -- which is full of commercials, unlike Cuban TV, thus producing more shopping.
The opening between the U.S. and Cuban governments is very, very strange, because the United States does indeed want to radically change or overthrow the Cuban government, and the United States allows terrorists who have repeatedly and openly attacked Cuba to live free in the U.S. For over a half-century the U.S. has used Cuba as a lab for testing military techniques, propaganda, infiltration, sabotage, and bio-warfare -- with the result being complete failure. But without recognizing the absoluteness of that failure, much less regretting the immorality of the crimes, the U.S. wants to "normalize" relations with a government it hates and wants to put an end to.
Will this normalization become a series of embarrassing new attempts to change Cuba in ways not tried before? Or will it lead to actual normalization in the sense of mutual respect and cooperation? One way in which I think a more positive result can be advanced is with an emphasis on education. This is more important than raising the flag at the embassy or allowing the importation of fancy Cuban soap. We need student exchanges, academic exchanges, and educational tourism.
Cubans shouldn't believe that U.S. roads have no potholes. They should come to the United States to see homelessness. And extravagance. They should see people walk by without saying hello on streets with no music under skies with no sun. They should add the flaws to the positives that they've learned from Hollywood's version of perfection. And if, when they start respecting copyrights, they ingest a little less Hollywood, so much the better.
Americans shouldn't believe the vast emptiness that fills the part of their brains where history is supposed to go. They should come to the Museum of the Revolution to learn Cuba's modern history. They should come to the Museum of the Ministry of the Interior to see the collection of weapons and gadgets captured from the hapless CIA. They should learn that their own government has for decades blown up buildings and airplanes, poisoned crops and livestock, spread diseases, and generally engaged in low-scale one-sided warfare (aka terrorism) against Cuba. Tours of Hemingway sites should include information on how he died.
American tourists should get free rum and cigars if they pass a quiz upon leaving a museum:
- What did Cubans want in 1898? (Hint, the United States is currently bombing [fill in current nation] in its name.)
- What did they get instead?
- What nation has killed 3,000 Cubans in terrorist attacks?
- Why has Cuba not invaded Afghanistan and Iraq in response?
- Has Cuba ever organized any attack on the United States?
- Why does the United States want to overthrow the Cuban government?
Five correct answers should be sufficient to pass the test. As answers to #6 "To fend off the Communist takeover of the world" should get the tourist a sympathetic kiss and a gentle kick in the ass. "To spread inequality" or "to increase poverty and insecurity" or "to maximize environmental destruction" should get the tourist a free pass to visit a Cuban psychiatric clinic. Anything along the lines of "The plutocrats who control Washington want to get their claws on Cuba too" or "Those wronged in the revolution are still in a rage" or "The mob wants its casinos and brothels back" should be considered close enough to win a free song by a live band on the steps of the museum.
And what if those who lost property in the revolution are compensated to their satisfaction, while the Cubans who have suffered under the blockade and the terrorist attacks are compensated to their satisfaction? This is, after all, part of the negotiations underway.
And what if the mob is shut out and the plutocrats partially restrained?
And what if U.S. public opinion evolves along with the acquisition of relevant information? What if the U.S. public were to insist on normal relations with Cuba that are actually normal?
If Cuba comes off the ridiculous terrorist list, the educational exchange opportunities could really open up. I hope Cuba knows how incredibly little Americans know, and how much difference it makes when they know something. Cuba has produced good movies. It should produce a new one, in English, with the Cuban Five played by five previous Oscar winners. That would be worth more than another pig farm.
And while I'm giving unsolicited advice: Here is the second priority: Build that wall higher along the sea, because it's rising and we want this beautiful city to stay right where it is.
Today in Havana, Mariela Castro Espin, director of the national center for sexual education and daughter of the president of Cuba, gave us a truly enlightened talk and question-and-answer session on LGBT rights, sex education, pornography (and why young people should avoid it if they want to have good sex) -- plus her view of what the Cuban government is doing and should be doing on these issues. She advocates equal rights for same-sex couples and a ban on discrimination, for example.
In other unusual Cuban phenomena, the U.S. government is allowing tourists to bring home $100 worth of rum and cigars. And the U.S. State Department is working on a forthcoming list of products that Cubans can export to the United States. The list will not include numerous life-saving medicines currently unavailable in the United States, and not apparently because the U.S. government believes rum and cigars are better for its people than life-saving medicines. No, the reason is bizarre yet predictable. Stop and guess for a minute before reading on.
Are you guessing?
The list of products that can be exported from Cuba for sale in the United States (from the point of view of the U.S. government) will include only products from private enterprise, nothing created by state-owned enterprises in Cuba.
In other words, this "opening" is a new tool intended to advance Cuban privatization whether Cubans want it or not -- a tool that may have some beneficial side effects, but not a tool designed to advance any relationship of friendship or respect. If U.S. Cuban relations are improved by this move (assuming the Cuban government agrees to it) it will be by accident.
Falling further down the Cuban rabbit hole, I've been thinking, talking, and reading about the status of Guantanamo. The United States took the Guantanamo site, and the Isle of Pines (now called Isle of Youth) by force. The 1903 Treaty of Relations was imposed at gun-point and in some ways superseded by the 1934 Treaty of Relations. That 1934 treaty, in important regard, simply reaffirmed the 1903 treaty:
"Until the two contracting parties agree to the modification or abrogation of the stipulations of the agreement in regard to the lease to the United States of America of lands in Cuba for coaling and naval stations signed by the President of the Republic of Cuba on February 16, 1903, and by the President of the United States of America on the 23d day of the same month and year, the stipulations of that agreement with regard to the naval station of Guantanamo shall continue in effect. The supplementary agreement in regard to naval or coaling stations signed between the two Governments on July 2, 1903, also shall continue in effect in the same form and on the same conditions with respect to the naval station at Guantanamo. So long as the United States of America shall not abandon the said naval station of Guantanamo or the two Governments shall not agree to a modification of its present limits, the station shall continue to have the territorial area that it now has, with the limits that it has on the date of the signature of the present Treaty."
The 1934 treaty fails to legitimate the 1903 documents or the Platt Amendment of the same period, which was imposed on Cuba by force and remained in the Cuban Constitution until 1940. That amendment gave the United States the right "to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty." This, by 1929, had been rendered illegal by the Kellogg-Briand Pact in which the United States, Cuba, and many other nations committed to settling their disputes without the use of force -- force, of course, being what "intervene" referred to and meant in practice. In the decades between 1903 and 1934 the United States did in fact intervene by force repeatedly in Cuba. The Cuban government of 1934 was no more legitimate than the government of 1903.
Interestingly, the Platt Amendment denied Cuba the Isle of Pines without claiming it decisively for the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that there was no legal claim to the island for the United States, that the matter was purely "political." The U.S. Congress gave the island back to Cuba in 1925.
The argument of the U.S. government for its claim to Guantanamo really does not amount to anything. It amounts to the existence of an illegitimate treaty with an illegitimate government that no longer exists. The current government has refused to cash the rent checks the U.S. sends it. Sometimes the U.S. case is prettied up by claims that the "lease" is due to expire some day. It isn't. Not in anything written. The crime of stealing Guantanamo, like the Isle of Pines or Vieques or the Panama Canal or the closed bases in Ecuador or the Philippines is what is due to expire some day.
Seeking to change Cuba is openly the policy of the U.S. government, and from the Cuban point of view it amounts to an effort to overthrow the Cuban government. The United States spends $20 million a year through USAID and other agencies to fund activism and "education" or "communications" in Cuba aimed at reshaping Cuba in the image the United States desires. Much of this is done subversively, such as the recently exposed effort to create a Twitter-like tool that would propagandize Cubans without revealing its source.
The U.S. justification for this behavior is that Cuba falls short in the area of human rights. Of course, Cuba says the same of the U.S. based on a broader understanding of human rights. But were Cuba to fund activist groups in the United States those groups would be violating U.S. law due to Cuba's ridiculous presence on the U.S. government's terrorist list. And if the U.S. government were to try to honestly justify punishment of Cuba as a human rights violator alongside the absence of punishment of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and so many other human rights violators, the argument would have to be spoken by Alice's Queen of Hearts.
By Dave Lindorff
Finally some good news for a change!
At a packed session of the Philadelphia City Council Thursday morning, council members voted 14-2 to approve a bill mandating that all companies with 10 or more employees in this city of 1.5 million allow their workers to earn up to five days’ paid sick leave for themselves or to care for a sick or injured person at home.
Cuba and the Estados Unidos have been family for so long that relationships have been reversed, forgotten, turned inside out, and repeated.
In the 19th century, the Cuban community in the United States and their supporters there were the base for revolutionary democracy and the ousting of Spanish colonial rule. Americanism and Protestantism and capitalism were seen as progressive democratic challenges to colonial control -- and I mean by more than just the equivalent of Fox viewers.
Of course that's wildly different now. The United States is now willing to smack itself in the face repeatedly in hopes of occasionally landing a blow on Cuba. Here in the land of our Caribbean cousins it is commonly discussed that the United States is hurting its health, not just by eating crap food and denying people healthcare, but also by denying the U.S. people Cuban medical advances. There are 13 vaccines, the saying goes, for such things as meningitis, that Cuba has and the U.S. does not. Other medical advances are also part of this argument, including prominently a treatment of diabetes that saves people from amputations. There are also U.S. medical advances -- in particular expensive equipment -- that Cuba cannot have as long as the embargo rages on.
I remember Robin Williams telling Canada it was a nice friendly apartment over a meth lab. Unfortunately for Cuba it lives in the basement. The madness of its upstairs relatives is epitomized by the manner in which the militarism that lies at the root of the embargo directly impacts U.S. health. I mean beyond all the killing and injuries and pollution and environmental destruction, there's something more grotesque. I picture mad naked Nazis in boots -- and in the path of the hurricanes -- on Plum Island who almost certainly gave us Lyme disease and spread the West Nile virus and the Dutch duck plague and others -- all of them still spreading -- as part of the same program that weaponized Anthrax and just possibly spread Ebola.
The ongoing U.S. bio-warfare program may have caused more damage through testing and accidents than by intention, but it has intentionally brought hunger and death to Cuba as it was designed to do, introducing swine fever to the island as well as tobacco mold, and creating "an epidemic of hemorrhagic dengue fever in 1981, during which some 340,000 people were infected and 116,000 hospitalized, this in a country which had never before experienced a single case of the disease. In the end, 158 people, including 101 children, died."
Families will fight. The United States has behaved better at other times. In 1904, the U.S. signed, and in 1925 it ratified the returning of the Isle of Pine (now the Isle of Youth) to Cuba. The deep scar that deed left on the United States of America and the danger it placed all Americans in are of course ludicrous fantasies, and the same would be the case if the United States were to return Guantanamo to Cuba. Very few in the U.S. would even know about Guantanamo if it weren't being used as a human experimentation, torture, and death camp for illegal prisoners. Both Guantanamo and the Isle of Youth were stolen during what Cuba calls the Cuban-American War and the U.S. calls the Spanish-American War. If one can be given back, why not the other?
Cuba and the United States have been exchanging cultures and ideas and identities for so long that one cannot keep them straight. I'm delighted to have found Facebook and Twitter working in Cuba and to be able to get on the internet and see how handily the University of Virginia just beat N.C. State at basketball, but doing so with a live Cuban band jamming five feet away is a vast improvement. The live music and dancing at 10 in the morning, with rum drinks, that I have begun getting used to is arguably an improvement on quality of life that no quantity of home appliances or gated communities can match. I'd like to get my cell phone working but can't spare the hours to wait in the line at the Cuban phone office. But let that come later, for better or worse, along with the U.S. investors and the rising waters crashing over the wall along the Maracón.
I've seen poverty in Cuba, but not conspicuously extravagant wealth. I've seen begging for money but not hostility. I've seen genuine friendliness and what comes across as immediate intimacy. I've heard complaints of homophobia and police harassment and lack of same-sex marriage rights. I've heard complaints of racism. But these are points in common throughout our family.
I've met a woman who says she had an idyllic childhood growing up on the U.S. base at Guantanamo, which she believes should not exist. I've petted the loose dogs in the streets of Havana, which bear no resemblance to the U.S. breed known as Havanese.
Filmmaker Gloria Rolando told us at her house tonight that the 1898 war and the U.S. control of Cuba increased existing racism. In 1908, as one of her films recounts, the Independent Party of Color was founded. In 1912 a massacre killed 3,000 blacks. Similar incidents were happening in the North at the same time, incidents that the U.S. is struggling to remember.
Rolando's films tell a story of a Caribbean family, of people moving from island to island. In the 1920s and 1930s poor people in the pre-banking haven Cayman Islands came to work on the Isle of Pine. The complex history of immigrants moving to the United States and back, and to other islands and back, is a history of racial complexity as well. Cuba today has racial problems, Rolando says, but now it is possible to debate the topic, unlike 15 years ago. Some black people still favor light skin, she says, and very few blacks have family in Miami sending them money. "You have seen the ugly black dolls with cigars for sale to tourists," she says, and I have. I have also seen more mixed-race couples and groups here than ever up north.
Assata Shakur is the topic of one of Rolando's films, The Eyes of the Rainbow. In it, she remarks on Cubans' unnerving friendliness, something she grew used to after moving here.
Earlier today we traveled out of Havana to Las Terrazas, a sustainable model community in a reforested area of the mountains that used to be a French coffee plantation. This ideal model for tourists and visitors only turned to tourism recently. The 1,000 people who live there, and the gourmet vegetarian restaurant where we dined there (El Romero with chef Tito Nuñez Gudas), and the incredible beauty of the place are not representative of all of Cuba; but they are indications of what is possible.
I picked up a bottle of honey made at Las Terrazas and packaged in a re-used rum bottle. I wanted to bring it home until I realized something. Honey is a liquid. On an airplane it would be a terrorist threat or a reason to spend $50 on checking a suitcase.
We looked at the stone cells people slept in under guard when forced to work on the coffee plantation under the system of slavery. They were about the size of the slave cabins at Thomas Jefferson's house, a bit larger than the cages at Guantanamo.
Cuba and the United States have a great deal in common, but of course it all means nothing because their president is always a Castro and ours is changed every 4 or 8 years from one advocate of crazy militarism, consumption, and wealth concentration, to a nearly identical advocate of crazy militarism, consumption, and wealth concentration. When will Cuba catch up?
"It's behind us," Fernando Gonzales of the Cuban Five said with a smile when I told him just a few moments ago that I was sorry for the U.S. government having locked him in a cage for 15 years. It was nice of the New York Times to editorialize in favor of negotiations to release the remaining three, he said, especially since that paper had never reported on the story at all.
Gonzales said there is no ground for the United States keeping Cuba on its terrorist list. That there are Basques in Cuba is through an agreement with Spain, he said. The idea that Cuba is fighting wars in Central America is false, he added, noting that Colombian peace talks are underway here in Havana. "The President of the United States knows this," Gonzales said, "which is why he asked for the list to be reviewed."
Medea Benjamin recalled coming to Cuba back in an age when the United States was apparently trying to kill not only Cubans but also tourists who dared to come to Cuba. This, she said, is what the Cuban Five were trying to stop. So we're glad, she told Gonzales, that we can come here now without worrying about Obama putting a bomb in the lobby. A crazy worry? It wasn't always.
Earlier today we visited the Latin American School of Medicine, which is now misnamed as it educates doctors from all over the world, not just Latin America. It began in 1998 by converting a former navy school into a medical school at which to give free education to students from Central America. From 2005 to 2014, the school has seen 24,486 students graduate.
Their education is totally free and begins with a 20-week course in the Spanish language. This is a world-standard medical school surrounded by palm trees and sports fields on the very edge of the Caribbean, and students who are qualified for pre-med school -- which means two years of U.S. college -- can come here and become doctors without paying a dime, and without going hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt. The students do not then have to practice medicine in Cuba or do anything for Cuba, but rather are expected to return to their own countries and practice medicine where it is most needed.
Thus far 112 U.S. students have graduated, and 99 are currently enrolled. Some of them went with an aid "brigade" to Haiti. All of them, after graduating, have passed their U.S. exams back home. I spoke with Olive Albanese, a medical student from Madison, Wisconsin. I asked what she would do upon graduation. "We have a moral obligation," she replied, "to work where it's most needed." She said she would go to a rural or Native American area that has no doctors and work there. She said that the U.S. government should be offering this same service to anyone who wants it, and that people who graduate with student debt will not serve those most in need.
This morning we visited a still healthier place than the medical school: Alamar.
This organic farming cooperative on 25 acres east of Havana didn't choose to go organic. Back in the 1990s, during the "special period" (meaning catastrophically bad period) nobody had fertilizer or other poisons. They couldn't use them if they wanted to. Cuba lost 85% of its international trade when the Soviet Union broke up. So, Cubans learned to grow their own food, and learned to do so without chemicals, and learned to eat the things they grew. A meat-heavy diet began to incorporate a lot more vegetables.
Miguel Salcines, a founder of Alamar, gave us a tour, with camera crews from German television and the Associated Press following. The farm has been featured in a U.S. documentary called The Power of Community, and Salcines has given a TED talk. To Cuba's tradition of monocropping sugar, the USSR added chemicals and machinery, he said. The chemicals did damage. And the population was moving to cities. Big agriculture collapsed, and farming was transformed: smaller, more urban, and organic before anyone knew that name. People who resent the history of slavery and dislike the work of monocropping, he said, are now finding a better way of life working at organic farming coops. That includes 150 workers at Alamar, many of whom we observed and spoke with. Farm workers now include more women and more elderly Cubans.
There are more elderly Cubans working on organic farms because Cubans are living longer (life expectancy of 79.9 years) and they are living longer, according to Salcines, at least in part because of organic food. Eliminating beef has improved Cubans' health, he said. Biodiversity and beneficial insects and proper care for the soil replace fertilizers and pesticides, to everyone's benefit. Thousands of minerals must be replaced in farmed soil, he said, and replacing just a few of them results in illnesses, diabetes, heart problems, and much else, including a lack of libido -- not to mention more pests on the farm, which could be reduced by giving the plants proper nutrition. Even Cuba's bees are reportedly alive and well.
Salcines says Cuba produces 1,020,000 tons of organic vegetables per year, 400 tons of them at Alamar in great variety and at a rate of five crops per year. Alamar also produces 40 tons of worm compost per year, using 80 tons of organic matter to do so.
Salcines pointed to Cuba's healthy diet as something good that's come of the U.S. embargo. On top of that scandalous remark he declared his disagreement with Karl Marx. Population growth is exponential and food production linear, he said. Marx believed science would solve this problem, and he was wrong, declared Salcines. When women are in power, said Salcines, the population doesn't grow. So, put women in power, he concluded. The only way to feed the world, Salcines said, with an apology to Monsanto, is to reject the agriculture of killing in favor of an agriculture of life.
This evening, February 9, 2015, a handful of visitors from the land to the north asked an assistant (or "instructional" which I take to be a step below "assistant") professor of philosophy about his studies and his teaching experiences here in Cuba. One of our group made the mistake of asking whether this philosopher thought of Fidel as a philosopher. The result was an almost Fidel-length response that had little to do with philosophy and everything to do with criticizing the president.
Fidel Castro, according to this young man, had good intentions over a half century ago, but he grew stubborn and willing only to listen to advisers who said what he wanted to hear. Examples offered included a decision in the 1990s to solve a teacher shortage by making unqualified teenagers into professors.
When I asked about authors favored by Cuban philosophy students, and Slavoj Zizek's name came up, I asked if this was at all based on videos of him, given the lack of internet. "Oh, but they pirate and share everything," was the response.
This led to a discussion of the local internet people have set up in Cuba. According to this professor, people are relaying wireless signals on from house to house and running wires along telephone lines, and they are self-policing by cutting out anyone sharing pornography or other undesirable materials. In this man's view, the Cuban government could easily provide internet to many more people but chooses not to out of a desire to better control it. He himself, he said, has internet access through his job, but doesn't use email because if he did then he'd have no excuse for missing meetings announced by email.
This morning we had met with Ricardo Alarcon (Cuba's Permanent Representative to the United Nations for nearly 30 years and later Minister of Foreign Affairs before becoming President of the National Assembly of People's Power) and Kenia Serrano Puig (a member of Parliament and the President of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples or ICAP, which has already published this article).
Why so little internet? someone asked. Kenia replied that the main obstacle was the U.S. blockade, explaining that Cuba has to connect to the internet through Canada and that it is very expensive. "We'd like to have internet for everyone," she said, but the priority is to provide it to social institutions.
USAID, she noted, has spent $20 million per year to propagandize for regime change in Cuba, and USAID doesn't connect everyone to the internet, but only those whom they choose.
Cubans can speak against the Cuban government, she said, but many who do are paid by USAID, including widely read bloggers -- not dissidents, in her view, but mercenaries. Alarcon added that the Helms-Burton Act banned sharing of U.S. technology, but Obama has just changed that.
The philosophy professor acknowledged some truth to these claims, but thought it was fairly slight. I suspect there's as much a variation in perspective at work here as intentional deception. The citizen sees shortcomings. The government sees foreign dangers and price tags.
Still, it is wonderful to hear about people managing to create independent communications media in any country, including one long abused by the United States, and one that gets a great many things right.
An American who's been in Cuba for many years told me that often the government announces policies and services on television and in newspapers, but people don't watch or read, and because there's no way to find things out on a website, they never find out. This strikes me as a good reason for the Cuban government to want everyone to have the internet, and for the internet to be used to show the world what the Cuban government is doing when it is doing something creative or moral.
I'm trying to keep things in perspective. I haven't heard yet of any corruption to match the tales that Bob Fitrakis, one of our group, relates of Columbus, Ohio, politics. I haven't seen any neighborhood in as terrible shape as Detroit.
As we learn about the highs and lows of Cuban life, and their possible causes, one fact becomes clear: the excuse offered by the Cuban government for any failure is the U.S. embargo. Were the embargo to end, the excuse would certainly vanish -- and to some degree the actual problem would almost certainly be improved. By continuing the embargo, the United States provides an excuse for what it claims to be opposing, in its often hypocritical way: restrictions on freedom of the press and speech -- or what the U.S. thinks of as "human rights."
Cuba, of course, sees the rights to housing, food, education, healthcare, peace, etc., as human rights as well.
Not far from the Capitol building, modeled on the U.S. Capitol building and -- like it -- undergoing repairs, I bought a copy of the Cuban Constitution. Try putting the two preambles side by side. Try comparing the content of the Cuban and U.S. Constitutions. One is radically more democratic, and it's not the one belonging to the nation that bombs in Democracy's name.
In the U.S. the Capitol dome is one of few things that anyone bothers to repair. Havana, in contrast, is packed with repair shops for everything imaginable. The walkable streets with relatively few cars display beautiful cars that have been repaired and repaired and repaired for decades. The country's laws are reworked through very public processes. Cars tend to be much older than laws, unlike the U.S. situation in which basic laws tend to predate modern machinery.
Alarcon was very positive about recent developments in U.S.-Cuban relations but warned that a new U.S. embassy cannot work for the overthrow of the Cuban government. "We may denounce the U.S. police killing unarmed African-American boys," he said, "but we have no right to organize Americans to oppose that. To do so would be an imperialist approach."
Asked about restoring property to those who had it seized during the revolution, Alarcon said that the agrarian reform law of 1959 allows for that, but the United States refused to allow it. But, he said, Cubans have their own much larger claims due to damage from the illegal embargo. So all of that will need to be worked out between the two countries.
Is Alarcon worried about U.S. investment and culture? No, he said, Canadians have long been the top visitors to Cuba, so North Americans are familiar. Cuba has always pirated U.S. films and shown them in theaters at the same times they were showing in the United States. With normal relations, copyright laws will take effect, he said.
Why has the U.S. not sought out Cuba's market before? Because, he thinks, some visitors will inevitably find things of value in Cuba's way of running a country. Now, U.S. investors can come to Cuba but will need approval of the government for any projects, just as is the case in other Latin American countries.
I asked Kenia why Cuba needs a military, and she pointed to a history of U.S. aggression, but she said that Cuba's military is defensive rather than offensive. The Cuban Constitution is also dedicated to peace. Last year in Havana, 31 nations dedicated themselves to peace.
Medea Benjamin proposes a way in which Cuba could make a huge statement for peace, namely by turning the Guantanamo prison camp into an international center for nonviolent conflict resolution and experimentation in sustainable living. Of course, first the United States has to close the prison and give the land back.
We arrived in Havana tonight, February 8, 2015, or year 56 of the revolution, 150 of us filling an entire airplane, a group of U.S. peace and justice activists organized by CODEPINK. The place is hot and beautiful despite the rain.
The buildings, the cars, the sidewalks look as if time stopped in 1959. The tour guide on the bus from the airport to the hotel brags that the municipality around the airport has a psychiatric hospital and a spaghetti factory. Both the billboards and the tour guide fit Fidel into most every topic.
Back home en el Norte we often note that they don't build things like they used to. My own house predates the Cuban revolution. Prioritizing human needs over "growth" and gentrification is certainly something I would retroactively choose if I could.
But did Cuba choose to stop time on purpose? Or to stop it in certain ways? Or is it something one is not supposed to say or think? We'll be meeting with many Cubans in the coming week, those the government perhaps wants us to meet and those it perhaps doesn't.
Who's to blame and credit for the bad and good in Cuba? I don't yet know and am not sure how much I care. By one argument the U.S. sanctions have been disastrous. By another they've had no effect. By no argument does there seem to be any reason to continue them. Or course those claiming they've done no harm often suggest that Cuba should not be rewarded by lifting them. But incoherent nonsense is hard to respond to.
The United States waged a long terrorist war against Cuba but keeps Cuba on its terrorist list. That has to end regardless of whether Cuba has found the way to a sustainable democratic future.
An American in a hotel elevator said to me: "Shouldn't the people whose property was seized in the revolution have it restored to them?" I happen to know that at least some of them don't want it restored, but I replied, "Sure, that's worth considering, as is the United States giving Guantanamo back to Cuba." Without missing a beat, this Good American came back at me with a line he'd clearly used before: "Will you give me your car, then?" Once I'd figure out what he was saying, I pointed out that I hadn't stolen his car at gunpoint as the United States stole Guantanamo. He walked away.
I realize that carried to an extreme I'd have to ask the United States to give back the entire United States, but I'm not carrying it to that extreme. Why can't the U.S. give back Cuba's land and Cuba reform its worst political practices? Every government in the world needs to be reformed, and urging changes on one hardly endorses every action of the other 199.
The streets of Havana are dark at night, lit just enough to see and no more, but with no sense of danger, no sense of racial segregation, no threat of violence, no homeless people as one inevitably encounters in the land of capitalistic success. The bands play Guantanamera for what must be the gazillionth time, and play it like they mean it.
Taken all in all, and having just arrived, it's not a bad place to be cut off from the world. I have yet to find a SIM card or a phone. My hotel has no internet, at least not until mañana. The Hotel Nacional -- that of the Godfather movie -- tells me they have internet only in the day time. But the Havana Libre, formerly Havana Hilton, has live music, electric outlets with three holes, and slow but functioning internet (superior to Amtrak's) for 10 pesos an hour, not to mention mojitos.
Here's to Cuba!