Monday, July 27, 2009

"...the biggest issue is the profit motive...".

Use the problems with health care as a measure of the problems with other areas in American life and you cannot help but come to the same conclusion: "the biggest issue is the profit motive that drives US health care".

As in health care, so goes the "defense industry" and auto industry, the banking and financial industries, the higher education and student loan industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the media industry, the under-the-radar "fear and scarcity" industry, and until recently, the mortgage industry.

Kudos to Wendell Potter, former senior executive at giant US health care firm Cigna. He did not need a heart transplant to find his own heart. Read the article.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Human Rights Yes! Intervention No! - Iran Rally, July 25, 2009

(I delivered this short rallying call at the Human Rights Yes! Intervention No! - Iran Rally, in San Francisco today, July 25. About 7,000 people showed up at SF City Hall. See the list of speakers, etc. And Listen to interviews recorded by KPFA Radio, too.)

Thank you for being here. That you are here today is a testament to a saying in Iran, “It might seem quiet to an outsider, but there is fire below the ashes .” Today, the fire is in all of our hearts.

For over seven weeks now -- for 52 days -- the fire below the ashes has been reigniting. For over 7 weeks, the freedom loving people of Iran have demonstrated to one another and to the world that they will not be silenced, they will not go home and shut their doors and they will not shutdown the spirits.

One of the most touching features of this movement for civil and human rights in Iran is hearing peoples’ voices echoing across the neighborhoods at night. When I first heard those calls I was deeply touched by the peoples’ determination to have a say, to not be silenced. I heard the dignity and the deeply human need to reach out to one another through the uncertainty, the fear, and the anger.
Through the dark these voices encouraged one another to keep going, they called out to boost one anothers’ spirits in the face of brutality and repression, they called out to one another to stay the course for their civil rights, for the right of the people to choose their own direction and their own leadership, a leadership that is responsive to them, the people. These nightly calls through the dark, from one neighborhood to another , expressed the essence of the peoples’ courage and fortitude.

These messages were sent to all of us – to those in their neighborhoods and to those listening from so far away, was a heartfelt message of hope and of determination to keep on struggling to express their full humanity.
And here today, 52 days later, in San Francisco, we join with hundreds of thousands of voices from over 100 countries around the world, and we send a message back the people of Iran.

We hear you ……we are inspired by your determination. …We support you in your struggle for civil rights and justice …..And we reach out to you, from human spirit to human spirit, from around the world. …..We support you with a light touch, a deeply respectful touch, a deeply human touch.
Today, We will do our part to ensure your peace and your safety. And soon, perhaps it will be you, the people of Iran, showing the world’s people of peace how to win the struggle for civil rights.

Today, we the people of the world are living in a time when we can reach out to one another and with this reaching out comes the real power to change the world, to change the status quo, to really change hearts and minds, and to change our leadership. But we need courage to do that. And we need good examples. Today, Iranians are lighting the way.

Perhaps, when the day comes that, we The People of America , need to wage a real struggle for our real freedom the people of Iran will show us how to do it.
Remember, there is fire below the ashes.
So, I invite you to add your voice and let’s call out to Iran:
We are with you…

The whole segment . (My 3 minutes is the last half hour of the audio segment.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Catching up...

So much world to little time!

Occassionally I run into folks who thrumb on about the death of the anti-war movement. Some of these folks declare, simplistically, this is because it is called The Anti-war Movement, rather than The Peace Movement. They believe that avoiding the "negative" word "war" would allow hoards of middle-the-roader, aka fence-sitting or "centrist", Americans to do more to end war IF it were framed in "positive" language.

While I agree that framing and language is important - I'm a writer and author, after all and love words -- I also find this belief system to lack basic understanding about human nature. Folks who worry about how to "reach the masses" - frankly, I am one of them - also need to understand that the masses are, fundamentally, out of reach. And not only because of the niceties of language but because "the masses" don't recognize that the world, the planet, is an integrated environment...and that they are already involved. The masses aren't convinced yet that, when the s**t hits the fan, they will be cleaning it up, that their kids will be recruited to fight and die in matter what it is called.

It matters to say, Sec State Hilary Clinton if what is going on in Honduras right now (prez thrown out by right wing coup) is called a "coup" or not because the US has military forces, training, weaponry, and $$$s invested down there. If she named it what it is, a "coup", the US (in the best case scenario, that is a scenario in which integrity ruled) would be politically obligated to pull out its various interests.

In the same vein, it matters if a killing spree is called "genocide" or not.

Bill Clinton utilized smoke screen diplomacy during the non-genocide in Rwanda, did nothing about the actual genocide (despite the US had few resources invested there...we'd have been obligated to try to prevent the killing and no politicians wanted to invest US troops down there) Close to a million people died in a matter of months.

The Armenians are still struggling to set their history straight - that is, receive recognition for that genocide...and it sometimes seems they might succeed but not so far. Not because it wasn't genocide - the term, after all derived from this massacre - but because it is not politically expedient - yet - to call it what it was.

"Coup" "genocide" and so on are political charged terms attached to diplomacy and international law and so on. It is a lot easier, for politicians, to simply avoid the reality and paint these event as something else.

While "anti-war" or "peace" are not political terms of the same ilk...they're used in the same way: as smoke screens. The level of abstraction in which the smoke screen terms "coup" or "genocide" are used is higher than the level of abstraction in which the smoke screen term "anti-war" is used...but both have the same effect: to confuse the issue, to muddy the water, to avoid looking at the absurdity, and to prevent anyone else from looking at, naming, and acting upon, the absurdity.

Next time I hear someone raise this languaging smoke screen I will remind her or him that real live people in war zones -- civilians, troops, "militias", know what war is: death, killing, blood, crying for your mother as you blood drains into the dust, rape, looting, and mayhem, homelessness, starvation, and more.

Be against that, that is be "anti-war" and understand that peace is not simply an absence of war.

On a related topic, listen to Terry Gross' show today, "A Mass Grave in Afghanistan Raises Questions." It is well worth hearing....

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"The obscenity of war is lost on most Americans..."

"The obscenity of war is lost on most Americans, and that drains the death of Robert McNamara of any real significance."

This is the last line of Bob Herbert's column in today's New York Times. Bob has been consistently so right on about war for the last 8 years that I'm sharing the link here.

Do read it: After the War Was Over

And for a more detailed and indepth look at McNamara, do read Alexander Cockburn's piece on Counterpunch: McNamara: From the Tokyo Firestorm to the World Bank

Despite the horror McNamara oversaw during his heyday, the usual admiring soliloquies will flood the media and we'll be subjected to how honorable, intelligent, and self-reflective McNamara really was.

I expect the media to pat itself on the back as it introduces a smidgen of questioning what passes for McNamara's "introspection". His rhetoric is hard to ignore as the movie going public had to confront, in the broad daylight of "Fog of War", whether he was a war criminal. That passes for introspection and will not, of course, require a serious answer... or a serious look at what we continue to do with war, in war, and about war.

Will Michael Jackson's body at Staples overshadow the news of McNamara's demise?
Will McNamara's body be flown around the country like Reagan's was?
Stay tuned!

So far, 2009 has been a helluva year for celebrities, one big name death overshadowing - so to speak - another.... It is almost as if 2009 is The Year to Die. Who is next?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Activists, actions, and reactions....

The Spirit of Humanity's crew of activists are being slowly released from Ramle prison after being arrested by the Israeli Navy in the Mediterranean. (Hear a clip from 3 imprisoned activists.)

First there was the Gaza 22, then the Gaza 21, today it is the Gaza 14. It is difficult to find news about how and which activists are being released. Three of the 6 British Free Gaza detainees will be put on a flight to London after having been moved to cells at Ben Gurion airport detention center. (I suppose all airports have detention centers these days.... Maybe they're stocked with goods commandeered by security agents from passengers' luggage at the checkpoints. Or does that stuff end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch...or at the local St. Vincent de Paul's...or for sale on e-Bay or Craigslist?)

Meanwhile, back at Colorado's Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said, "Jews, to the extent they choose to stay and live in the state of Palestine, will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel. "

Fayyad was responding to a question from former CIA director James Woolsey. I can imagine former CIA director James Woolsey choking on his caviar as these words sunk in!

I say to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, "Congratulations on turning on its head, and very creatively too, the usual go-nowhere "dialog" aimed at "peace in the region" that always has the seeming largess coming from the Israelis."

Fayyad's idea is, I hope, an example of the high quality of thought at the Ideas Festival. It is good to have creative ideas...and it is difficult to implement the best of them.

Those of us who are not Palestinian and who know how naturally generous the Palestinian heart and culture actually is -- despite what the Israelis promote -- recognize that Fayyad may not have been trying to be satirical; he may have been, in fact, speaking from his heart. His statement suggests that all this nastiness between Israelis and Palestinians will, in fact, be worked out soon ... it has just been a little misunderstanding between brothers... and soon, soon, bygones will be bygones and we can get on with our lives.

Then I read Peter Beaumont's article, "A life in ruins" that includes these paragraphs:

Six months after Israel's war against Gaza, Shifa, a 20-year-old student, sleeps with her family behind the fallen house. A trodden path leads through the rubble to a row of cramped, ramshackle shelters open to the elements and roofed with hessian sacks. They are identical to the cattle pens that stand beside them.

On closer examination I can see that the frames have been constructed out of cast-off sections of wood and metal lashed together. What walls that exist are fashioned out of old pallets and branches woven into crude wicker. Or more sacking, staked into the soil to make rudimentary windbreaks.

Shifa's family are Bedouin. Until recently they farmed this land close to the barrier, in an area once used for missile launches against the Jewish communities on the far side. This was one of Gaza's limited areas of agricultural production in a densely crowded urban area, home to 1.4 million people. Because of the missiles, this neighbourhood of farms and little factories was treated to a scorched earth policy.

Inside Shifa's own tiny, dirt-floored "compound" a fire pit has been scooped out of the earth and filled with twigs. On it sits the blackened pan in which Shifa and her mother make stews of molokhiya - spinach-like greens - with chicken, garlic and onions. "This is my kitchen," says Shifa shyly, in English. A piece of broken board is propped on two drums to function as table. Here a jam jar sits, holding a pestle and a solitary sharp knife.

I first came to this house in January, in the immediate aftermath of Israel's war against Gaza, visiting the Salman family almost every day. The family were sleeping in the ruins to shelter from the rain, surrounded by the stinking bodies of their sheep, killed during the assault. Then, Shifa complained that the frightened younger children were kept awake at night by the sound of packs of dogs scavenging among the carrion outside.
(Read the entire article.)

How does Shifa and her family let bygones be bygones? Would you be able to do that under these circumstances?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

When will we ever learn?

I remember way back in 1979 instinctively listening for the sounds of Somoza bombarding the Nicaraguan people.

At that time I'd lived in the US for about two years and I didn't know much about US foreign policy in general or in Central America in particular. I knew enough, though, to recognize that The People - Nicaraguans - were getting it in the neck. And with American financed weaponry, and American trained troops.

Somoza's family had plundered Nicaragua for decades and still the Somozas wanted more; they wanted it all. They believed they were entitled to take it all, too.

The last of the Somoza dynasty, "Our Man" in Central America "resigned" on July 17th 1979 and fled to Miami. (He went into exile in Paraguay where he was assassinated in 1980...but, I digress.)

Of course I could not hear the bombs falling, the chop-chopping of helicopters overhead, the overwhelming blasts, or people screaming in Managua and everywhere else there was resistance that had to be wiped out. I was, after all, in California. But I felt it. Something in my collective unconscious surfaced over a series of days and, despite being safe in my home, I "felt", I was psychically plugged into, the ongoing human catastrophe deriving from greed, monomania, and shortsighted policies enacted to promote capitalism and pacify the people. I'd stop whatever I was doing, stare out the window of my house, listen... and I'd hear the chaos of bombardment.

Today, as 4,000 American troops - mostly Marines - bombard Helmand Province I have a similar experience. I can hear the noise of the helicopters, the screams, the chaos as families flee the onslaught.

Which mother is going to hear tomorrow that her son is wounded...or dead? Which mother is digging at her smashed brick and mud mortar house to free her child under the rubble? How is it that so few journalists are surfacing the realities behind this slaughter: the ongoing human catastrophe deriving from greed, monomania, and shortsighted policies to pacify the people, promote capitalism and lay the oil pipelines?

Meanwhile, today, the Iraqi people are "free" of American troops in their cities...and, for the first time in four decades, since Iraqi oil was nationalized, the oil corporations are bargaining for Iraqi oil.

Somoza is dead; long live Somoza.

Eerily, this picture looks a lot like the pix from the Vietnam war... you know the ones I mean... American troops crossing a rice paddy in that familiar formation?

Pete Seeger had it right when he sang, "when will they ever learn?" When will we ever learn?

Photo: David Guttenfelder/Associated Press