March 10, 2008, Issue #135 Part 1
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
This newsletter/calendar, published in New Paltz, N.Y., appears once a month, supplemented by additional listings of new activist events, usually sent to Valley readers only. Editor, Jack A. Smith (who writes all the news articles that appear without a byline or credit to other publications). Copy Editor, Donna Goodman. Calendar Editor, Rocco Rizzo. If you know someone who may benefit from this newsletter, ask them to subscribe at email@example.com. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address.
1. THE AWFUL FACTS OF WAR — After five years, the occupation "has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols, who sacked Baghdad in the 13th century."
2. FIVE YEARS AND COUNTING, END THE WAR NOW! — Thousands of peace demonstrations will be taking place throughout the U.S. and around the world March 13-22 to commemorate the anniversary.
3. NO MASS PROTEST IN WASHINGTON —Mass protests will take place in many national capitals March 15, but not in the U.S. We explain why.
4. CLINTON, OBAMA AND THE IRAQ WAR — Both candidates for the Democratic nomination say they will end the war. Do you believe it?
5. BEHIND COLOMBIA'S AGGRESSION — Would Colombian President Alvaro Uribe have sent his army across the border into Ecuador without prior approval and logistical support from the U.S.?
6. NEWS MUSE — 3 short items: Prince Harry's lèse-majesté…. America keeps breaking new records…. How dare those Cubans!
7. CHECK IT OUT — A grab-bag of important articles and videos to choose from.
8. HERE'S WHY CLINTON & OBAMA AGREE ON CUBA — The rhetoric is different, and one is somewhat to the left of the other, but in the end there is agreement on regime change.
9. LOCAL MEETING ON ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT — "Speaking Out Against the Occupation of Palestine."
10. WHAT'S NEXT FOR VENEZUELA? — President Chavez suffered a setback in December when his constitutional changes were rejected, and for a period of time, he says, “I'm obliged to apply the brakes."
PART 2 - THE CALENDAR
(This was sent to Hudson Valley readers ONLY Feb. 3)
A number of readers say they find our "Check It Out" feature, listing various articles and brief videos of note, to be useful, so we're making it a bit longer and will run it every issue…. We've added a small feature which we plan to continue — News Muse. It's a few short items, with a touch of irony and irreverence…. We've been too busy to write the last article in our series about poverty and inequality in America, so it'll be in the next newsletter….Issues of this newsletter and the calendar with updates are online at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com/.
1. THE AWFUL FACTS OF WAR
Several articles in this issue pertain to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so here very briefly are some updated facts and figures about these conflicts:
The Oxford Research Bureau, an established British polling organization, recently estimated that 1.3 million people have died in Iraq as a result of the five-year U.S. invasion and occupation. This figure supports a similar survey several months ago published in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet.
American battle dead in Iraq are about to reach the 4,000 mark in few days. All told, according to a recent tally by Michael Munk, "the official casualty total reached at least 63,830. The total includes 32,558 dead and wounded by what the Pentagon classifies as 'hostile' causes and 31,272 (not updated since Jan. 10) dead and injured from 'non-hostile' causes." In addition, 308 allied coalition troops have been killed in Iraq. Nearly 450 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated in October that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over a 10-year period — a likely time period — will amount to $2.4 trillion. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a former World Bank vice president, declared Feb. 27 that the war so far in the last five years had cost $3 trillion when all present and derivative future expenses are included. These costs extend from the annual military budget and supplemental war costs, to the price for long term medical care and other benefits for veterans, and to the interest on the Iraq war portion of the national debt in the years to come, with much else in between. The Iraq war is already the second most expensive war in U.S. history, following World War II in cost.
Public opinion polls in Iraq show that 80% or more Iraqi people want the United States to withdraw from their country right away. In addition, and totally contrary to Washington's view that it is necessary to remain in Iraq in order to prevent a catastrophic civil war, comes this news from the Washington Post of Dec. 19, 2007: "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of 'occupying forces' as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month."
In this connection it must be understood that although the secular Ba'athist Party government of President Saddam Hussein emphatically favored the Sunnis over the Shi'ites, there were few antagonisms within the population between adherents of both sectors of Islam. The rate of intermarriage was quite high and relations between each community were fairly good. The war ripped them apart, as Sunnis resisted the invasion and occupation while the Shi'ite leadership, which Washington courted, remained essentially neutral, awaiting their turn to take power as a consequence of the destruction of Baghdad's secular government.
The U.S. Army of Occupation today, not including forces from allied countries, amounts to 157,000 troops, 30,000 more than when the Democrats took over Congress in January 2007 on the basis of winning the antiwar vote. In addition, about 130,000 civilian “private contractors” hired by some 630 companies are paid by the United States to service the Occupation Army, not to mention tens of thousands of armed mercenaries that perform protection services and other functions related to the war.
The military "surge" the Bush Administration initiated in January 2007 has temporarily lowered the official Iraqi casualty count from an average monthly total of 568 civilian dead before the "surge" to a total of 485 in January 2008. The official count, of course, has always underestimated the civilian toll.
The Bush Administration's propaganda surrounding the surge is intended to create the public impression that the Pentagon is on the road to military success. This charade appears to have neutralized that segment of U.S. antiwar sentiment primarily based on the perception that the war was unwinnable, causing some congressional Democrats to cautiously back away from the issue for the last few months.
Writing in the December issue of Current History, Nir Rosen, a frequent commentator on Iraq, summarized the dreadful situation in that victimized country with these words: "There is only ignominy left for the Americans, and slaughter for the Iraqis. Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols, who sacked Baghdad in the 13th century."
2. FIVE YEARS AND COUNTING, END THE WAR NOW!
Thousands of peace demonstrations will be taking place throughout the U.S. and around the world March 13-22 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Washington's unjust, illegal war and occupation in Iraq.
The antiwar movement, which expresses the sentiments of the majority of the American people, confronts an arduous struggle during a presidential election year wherein neither ruling party has or will put forward a plan for swiftly ending the war and withdrawing all U.S. troops.
Similarly, the peace issue — so prominent for the last two years, seems suddenly diminished, though the mayhem caused by the U.S. Army of Occupation continues unabated. In part this is because the Democratic Party has obviously deemphasized the issue for the last several months.
The two biggest mass actions in the U.S. during this anniversary period are expected to be in California, both initiated by ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism). They will be march and rally in Los Angeles March 15, and San Francisco March 19.
There will be no mass national protest in Washington, D.C. — the political and military headquarters of a war that has taken the lives of a million Iraqi civilians — on March 15, the only date in close proximity to the Sept. 19 anniversary when it would have been possible to transport hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to the nation's capital.
The Saturday March 15 date was in line with a decision to hold several days of mid-March protests by representatives of the international peace movement at London's World Against War Conference in December. Most global actions will take place during the March 15-16 weekend, including those in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ireland, Korea, United Kingdom, Norway, Spain and Turkey, among other countries. We will discuss the reason why Washington is not the centerpiece of world demonstrations on this historic occasion in the article directly below.
The main days for protests in many American cities and towns will be March 15, 19 and 22, but there will be events on just about all days in the mid-March period. Most of the weekly peace vigils in the U.S. will focus on the anniversary. Such vigils are often overlooked or taken for granted but they constitute the very presence of the peace movement in innumerable villages and small towns throughout the country.
(See our Part 2 Calendar, sent March 3, for details of the many actions in Washington, New York City and elsewhere which we will only treat briefly in this article. (Readers outside the Hudson Valley who do not receive the Calendar may gain access at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com, along with some past articles.)
Following are events in Washington, New York City and the Hudson Valley during mid-March, followed by a partial listing of cities and towns nationwide on March 15 and 19.
WASHINGTON: The Washington-area events begin March 13-16 when Iraq Veterans Against the War conducts a Winter Soldier investigation similar to that originated by antiwar Vietnam vets in 1971. GIs will tell their stories about military excesses and atrocities committed by American forces in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, focusing principal responsibility on the U.S. government. The hearings will take place in nearby Silver Spring (MD) at the National Labor College, 10000 New Hampshire Ave. (The website for how to watch or listen to the hearings is at http://ivaw.org/wintersoldier/howtowatch.)
We're told: "The four-day event will bring together veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan — and present video and photographic evidence. In addition, there will be panels of scholars, veterans, journalists, and other specialists to give context to the testimony. These panels will cover everything from the history of the GI resistance movement to the fight for veterans' health benefits and support."
March 18 will be CodePink's "Action Day to Take Back the Constitution," at various locations in the nation's capital from 9 a.m.- 8 p.m.
March 19 will consist of a full day of actions, including a large civil disobedience component as pacifist groups and others offer nonviolent resistance at the Internal Revenue Service headquarters, at war profiteer corporations in the K St. Corridor, and the Veterans Administration among other locations. There will also be a march on Democratic National Committee headquarters. World Can't Wait and other groups will gather in Lafayette Park at 1:30 p.m., with many demonstrators wearing orange jumpsuits to express solidarity with prisoners who have been tortured in Abu Ghraib and other locations around the world.
NEW YORK CITY: On March 19 in New York City, starting at 12 noon, the Granny Peace Brigade will hold a "knit in" at the Times Square Recruiting Center, 43rd St. and Broadway. They say: "Our military amputees need stump socks. Iraqi babies need blankets. Please start your knitting and join us on the first day of the sixth year of this bloody crime." Uptown, Westside Peace Action will have a march from W. 86th St. to Columbus Circle, at a time to be determined.
Three days later in NYC, March 22, there will be a "River to River: Stand up for Peace" in the form of a human chain along the south side of 14th St. from Ave. A to 11th Ave., 12 noon-1 p.m., sponsored by UFPJ. (Gather at 11:30 a.m.; take any subway to 14th St. and you will be directed from there.) "Both ends will march toward each other starting at 1 p.m., for a one hour march. The events conclude with a brief commemoration featuring the tolling of a bell, five minutes of silence, and taps.
HUDSON VALLEY: There will be scores of rallies and vigils in New York State March 19. In the Hudson Valley, No War Westchester will hold daylong actions at the White Plains campaign offices of Sen. Hillary Clinton and Rep. Nita Lowey. There will be a 6-8 p.m. fifth anniversary vigil in Stone Ridge at the intersection of Rts. 209 and 213. On the same day in Carmel, local activists will hold a "Honk to End the War" protest on the steps of the Putnam County Courthouse at the junction of Rts. 52 and 301 from 1:30 p.m. to 3 or 4. In Middletown the same day, Raging Grannies will be at Orange County Community College at 11:30 a.m. in front of the Commons building on South St. to bring awareness to the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, Sponsored by Orange County Peace.
The Valley's March 22 actions include a 1:30 p.m. peace walk to "bring the troops home now" beginning in West Capital Park, in downtown Albany, sponsored by various groups in the Capital District. In Kingston/Town of Ulster the 22nd there will be a 12 noon-2 p.m. protest in front of the Recruiting Station in the Kings Mall on Rt. 9W. From 2-4 p.m. the procession will vigil on 9W across from the Mall in front of the Barnes and Noble Shopping Plaza. It's sponsored by the Saugerties Committee for Peace and Social Justice.
NATIONWIDE: On March 15, the big Los Angeles rally starts 12 noon at Hollywood and Vine. Other rallies and marches this day will be held in Austin (TX), San Diego (CA), Albuquerque (NM), Cuyahoga Falls (OH), Lancaster, (PA). Sioux Falls (SD), Chattanooga (TN), and additional locations.
On the 19th, San Francisco's 5-8 p.m. march and rally to "End the War Now" will start at Civil Center. In Los Angeles, Youth and Student ANSWER has initiated a coalition of students from many schools to shut down the Hollywood Military Recruitment Center at 4 p.m. Other demonstrations will be held in Chicago at 6 p.m., and Miami and five other Florida cities starting at 5 p.m., among other actions.
THE IMPACT: All told, despite the absence of a mass protest in the nation's capital, there will be a huge outpouring of antiwar sentiment throughout America in mid-March. It must not stop here. To be truly effective, these public manifestations have continue throughout the electoral period right up to Election Day.
Continued antiwar ferment will have little impact on warhawk Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican candidate. But what about the impact on the Democratic presidential candidate and that party's representatives in Congress — especially since they all realize that the overwhelming majority of Democrats who oppose the war will still vote for them no matter how they procrastinate?
It is not sufficient for the Democrats to simply criticize the Bush Administration's handling of the conflict, or for some to claim they've always opposed the war. So far — despite conveying the impression that they want to end the war fast and bring the troops back home — the candidates have gone no further programmatically than promising to gradually withdraw a portion of the Army of Occupation over time — a process that will guarantee a continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq for many years or decades.
If the Democratic Party is at all serious about ending this war it must publicly propose, no later than its convention in Denver Aug. 25-28, a concrete program for its presidential candidate upon taking office, to quickly remove all U.S. armed forces from Iraq, a matter that could take a few months at most. Five years of a tragic, criminal war inflicting pain and chaos upon the entire Iraqi people, at huge cost to the American taxpayer, is quite enough. No more excuses and equivocation: End the war now, and bring the troops home — nothing less.
The question is, will the Democrat Party do it? And if the answer turns out to be "no" by the end of August, the next question becomes, "what then will the committed antiwar voter do about it?"
3. NO MASS PROTEST IN WASHINGTON
There will be no mass antiwar demonstration in Washington on Saturday, March 15, the only date near the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war when it is possible to bring hundreds of thousands of people to the nation's capital.
A demonstration on March 15 was contemplated in December by an ad hoc coalition of many different antiwar organizations after a series of conference call meetings and other contacts sponsored by the Camp Casey Peace Institute, which was founded by antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who played a major role in bringing the groups together.
On Dec. 3, before final agreement was reached, the Activist Newsletter carried an article noting that these meetings represented "the first time since the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq [that] almost all of the major peace organizations in the U.S. participated in a conference to discuss a possible unified future antiwar protest [including UFPJ and ANSWER]."
Later in December, although UFPJ decided not to participate, the newly named Year5 Coalition composed of 17 different antiwar coalitions and organizations emerged from these discussions and publicly announced that it was calling for a mass unified demonstration on March 15. Among the signatories were the ANSWER Coalition, CodePink Women For Peace, World Can’t Wait, After Downing Street, Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, National Council of Arab Americans, Grassroots America, Democracy Rising, Voters for Peace, and others.
There were two reasons for naming that date. First, it was in accord with the dates selected by an international peace movement conference in London also held in December. Second, it had do with the logistics of conducting mass protests in Washington, where the great majority of participants travel from distant cities. Saturdays are always best — people are off from work and they can rest up on Sunday after a grueling day of standing and marching outdoors all day, sandwiched between long car and bus trips without much sleep. The next Saturday, the 22nd wouldn't work out because that Sunday was Easter and fewer people would show up.
In addition to announcing the demonstration, Year5 proclaimed its support for the civil disobedience protests being planned for March 19 in Washington, and also stated that the Saturday gathering "will support the Iraq Veterans Against The War Winter Soldier Testimonial," which was to take place in Silver Spring in Maryland March 13-16.
Then it all fell apart. Here is what happened next, according to a statement issued by the ANSWER Coalition March 3:
"Not all antiwar groups concurred that it was a good idea to carry out a mass march in DC on the fifth anniversary. That was the stated position of UFPJ, for instance. But 17 organizations did issue a call for the March 15 national march in Washington DC.
"The day following the announcement by the Year5 Coalition a public letter was sent and circulated by the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) asking that there be no national mass march in DC or any protests at all in DC against the war from Thursday March 13 through the weekend ending Sunday March 16. The IVAW explained that it was planning its own event called Winter Soldier…, an indoor event that will feature the live testimony from Iraq veterans and others about war crimes committed in Iraq. IVAW asked that there be no mass march during their four days of testimony.
"Following the IVAW’s public letter, the majority of the groups in the Year5 Coalition agreed not to proceed with the March 15 mass action in DC. The ANSWER Coalition was strongly committed to organizing, along with the other groups, a truly massive action in DC that would repudiate the Bush administration’s lies about the 'success' of the occupation. The Democratic Party and the mass media have given Bush a free ride and the best refutation of these lies is by bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets.
"ANSWER also strongly supported the efforts of the IVAW to organize the testimony about war crimes. We felt that it was possible to organize a massive march of the people that would both powerfully support Winter Soldier and contribute to a resurgence of the antiwar movement. We were in the minority. As a result there will be no March 15 national march in DC. The ANSWER Coalition is, however, organizing mass demonstrations in Los Angeles on March 15, in San Francisco on March 19, and is actively building for scores of important local and regional actions that will be taking place throughout the United States between March 12-19." (ANSWER's website is at http://www.answercoalition.org/.)
This newsletter has supported ANSWER since its founding a few days after 9/11 to mount an opposition to what it correctly perceived would be the Bush Administration's exploitation of this tragedy to launch aggressive wars. This came at a time when most of the movement was virtually in hiding for months during the national post-attack upsurge in hyper-"patriotism." ANSWER has repeatedly proven its ability to organize huge antiwar demonstrations while not sacrificing it's anti-imperialist stance, and it has been the foremost exponent of unity-in-action within the peace movement.
We think it is most unfortunate that it became necessary to cancel what would have been a huge protest in the capital of the aggressor state on the fifth anniversary of this cruel war. IVAW argued that a one-day mass protest would "compete" and "conflict" with the four-day Winter Soldier hearings, convincing a majority new coalition to back off and nullify the planned action.
Logically, in our view, a memorable demonstration against the war that also explicitly declared strong support for Winter Soldier as well as the March 19 actions would have been a significant complement to IVAW's action as well as a major thrust for peace.
But that is past now, and an exciting time of mid-March activism is next on the agenda — hopefully followed by a period of less disunity in our movement, though it remains doubtful, and more cooperation in making our movement a decisive force.
4. CLINTON, OBAMA AND THE IRAQ WAR
If right wing Republican Sen. John McCain wins the November presidential election, he says the war in Iraq will continue indefinitely until a U.S. victory, even suggesting seriously that 100 years in Iraq "would be fine with me."
But what if, as most of the peace movement hopes, Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama becomes president? Both pledge to end the war. Clinton says "It is time to begin ending this war -- not next year, not next month -- but today." Obama most recently has declared: "I will bring this war to an end in 2009." These are encouraging words. What do they mean?
Given that Clinton approaches the Iraq war from the political center-right perspective that characterizes her foreign policy outlook, and Obama from the centrist vision that forms his view of international affairs, it is constructive to delve deeper into their campaign pronouncements. After all, neither contender has refuted earlier statements that not all U.S. troops will be removed from Iraq by the end of their first term in January 2012.
Clinton supported the war from the beginning, ignoring the grave doubts expressed by progressive Democrats who participated in the historic "preemptive" antiwar demonstrations that took place from September 2002 through March 2003, when the invasion began.
During the 2004 election campaign Sen. Clinton adopted the platform embraced by Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, which amounted to criticizing President Bush for a blundering inability to attain an unambiguous victory against the resistance movement, declaring that only the Democrats could win the war. Under great constituent pressure during the 2006 congressional election campaign, Clinton began gravitating toward a limited antiwar position which accelerated last year when she entered the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Obama opposed the war beginning in September 2002 as an Illinois state legislator through his 2004 campaign for a Senate seat, promising at the time not to vote for further funding of the war. But when he entered the U.S. Senate in January 2005 he began to distance himself from the peace issue. During his first two years in the upper chamber he voted along with Clinton to fund the war several times, allocating over $300 billion in the process.
The March 9 New York Times described Obama this way: "He was cautious — even on the Iraq war, which he had opposed as a Senate candidate. He voted against the withdrawal of troops and proposed legislation calling for a drawdown only after he was running for president and polls showed voters favoring it…. He disappointed some Democrats by not taking a more prominent role in opposition to the war — he voted against a troops withdrawal proposal by Sens. John Kerry and Russ Feingold in June 2006, arguing that a firm date on withdrawal would hamstring diplomats and military commanders in the field."
By 2007, as the presidential nomination campaign season got underway in a party where 90% of its supporters wanted to end the war within a year, Clinton and Obama declared themselves antiwar candidates. They voted that spring in favor of a proposal to begin the gradual withdrawal of some American troops. A few months later, not wanting to be outdone by the other, both for the first time voted to cut off funding on a supplementary war spending bill that was already doomed, and thus they would not be held accountable.
Here is Clinton's position today, according to her campaign website March 10: "We have heard for years now that as the Iraqis stand up, our troops will stand down. Every year, we hear about how next year they may start coming home. Now we are hearing a new version of that yet again from the president as he has more troops in Iraq than ever and the Iraqi government is more fractured and ineffective than ever. Well, the right strategy before the surge and post-escalation is the same: start bringing home America's troops now."
Clinton promises to begin a "phased redeployment" of American troops within her first two months in office. She would "focus American aid efforts during our redeployment on stabilizing Iraq, not propping up the Iraqi government." In addition, a President Clinton intends to launch an "intensive diplomatic initiative" that would bring together U.S. allies, the UN, "other global powers, and all of the states bordering Iraq," the purpose being "to create a stable Iraq."
Clinton's campaign headquarters then declares: "And as we replace military force with diplomacy and global leadership, Hillary will not lose sight of our very real strategic interests in the region. She would devote the resources we need to fight terrorism and will order specialized units to engage in narrow and targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region."
Here is Obama's position, based on his March 10 website, which makes no mention, incidentally, of the Feb. 19 pledge to end the war next year: "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months [May 2010]. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats [and to train Iraqi troops, it is stated later]; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.
"The best way to press Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future is to make it clear that we are leaving. As we remove our troops, Obama will engage representatives from all levels of Iraqi society – in and out of government – to seek a new accord on Iraq’s Constitution and governance. The United Nations will play a central role in this convention, which should not adjourn until a new national accord is reached addressing tough questions like federalism and oil revenue-sharing.
"Obama will launch the most aggressive diplomatic effort in recent American history to reach a new compact on the stability of Iraq and the Middle East. This effort will include all of Iraq’s neighbors — including Iran and Syria. This compact will aim to secure Iraq’s borders; keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq; isolate al Qaeda; support reconciliation among Iraq’s sectarian groups; and provide financial support for Iraq’s reconstruction."
Listening to the speeches and reading the statements of Clinton and Obama, the average antiwar voter will conclude that the war will soon be over if either gets elected. Such a conclusion, however, is not accurate, even though both Democrats cannot be compared to an unmitigated warhawk like McCain. It is important to read between the lines and to look for omissions in the comments of Clinton and Obama.
The first omission is that no mention is made of removing all U.S. troops. Here are some of the others: The number of American soldiers and marines who will remain is not specified. There is no mention of a date for ending the occupation. No information is given about where U.S. combat troops will be 'deployed' — all back home? or much more likely, in the region around Iraq such as Kuwait or Turkey, ready to reenter when American forces inside Iraq need support? There is no reference to the U.S. Air Force, which, perforce, will play an expanded bombing role as combat troops start moving out. What about the Navy's enormous war-fighting force in close proximity to Iraq? How about the private mercenary army Uncle Sam has working in Iraq, along with those 'contractors' supplying the occupation force?
And just because the candidates speak of removing "combat troops" doesn't mean the fighting will end. Here is the scenario we predict unless Clinton and Obama really get serious about ending the war:
Between 30,000 to 60,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq indefinitely. About 20,000 or so will be from the Special Forces — some of the Pentagon's best fighters, but they are not part of the Army's combat brigades. They will focus on crushing al Qaeda and other resistance forces. Other troops will protect U.S. installations, the Green Zone, the huge new embassy, and the oil wells. Others will train the Iraqi army and police forces — an absolutely essential task. Then there is the Air Force, which is an essential support for the Iraqi Army when it goes on serious missions. An unspecified number of mercenaries will continue to protect American and Iraqi officials and politicians, as well as truck convoys, plus thousands of contractors will remain to perform functions for the occupation forces.
This is not about ending the war. It is about carrying out the war by training a very large Iraqi Army, entirely paid for by the U.S., to do much of the fighting instead of U.S. troops, but keeping a significant number of American forces in Iraq to back up the Iraqi soldiers and to safeguard Washington's interests. Needless to say, the Iraqi government will continue to be controlled from the U.S. And American leaders are hardly going to turn their backs on Iraqi oil, or give up a strategic military position in the very heartland of the oil-rich and Islamic Middle East.
Clinton and Obama actually share much in common regarding war and U.S. foreign and military policy. For instance, both candidates strongly support the Afghanistan war and will send more U.S. troops to that country. Both also support expanding the U.S. Armed Forces by 92,000 more troops, in order not to run short of combatants for Bush's broader War on Terrorism, which they evidently plan to continue for the indefinite future.
Both are critical of the Iraqi government for not being able to fulfill Washington's command to develop unity among the contending factions and for fulfilling America's many so-called benchmarks of performance. It's almost as though the U.S. is a self-sacrificing, benevolent and friendly country bending over backwards to help the incompetent, undisciplined Iraqi people, instead of an aggressive occupying power that has decimated the entire country, causing over a million deaths in the process.
Both want a bigger military and support the annual militarist budget. Both back the geostrategic U.S. policy of extending economic and political hegemony throughout the world, and do not propose veering away from the expansionist, interventionist international policy Washington has pursued since the end of World War II.
Both Democrats speak of the war as emanating from the Bush Administration's hubris, mistakes, blunders and untruths. This is true in part. But they do not mention the much more important part: The U.S. war in Iraq is illegal in terms of the UN and international laws to which Washington is a signatory. It is unjust in terms of age-old and accepted just-war theory, and universal ethical principles. It is immoral on the face of it. And of course it is a manifestation of imperialism.
Clinton and Obama conceal this reality because to acknowledge that the war is unjust, illegal and immoral would leave no credible alternative but to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq immediately, to modify the nature of American foreign policy, and to pledge massive compensation to the Iraqi people.
5. BEHIND COLOMBIA'S AGGRESSION
It is extremely doubtful right wing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe would have sent his army across the border into Ecuador in early March to kill a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Raul Rayes, and some 23 guerrillas, without prior approval and logistical support from the U.S.
The Bogotá government is Washington's main outpost in South America, receiving protection and $600 million a year largely for counter-guerrilla operations. The two governments confer frequently. Each also had to know that an incursion into Ecuador would provoke Venezuela.
The governments of Ecuador, to the southwest of Colombia, and Venezuela to the northeast, rushed troops to protect their borders and accused the Bogotá regime of aggression. Nicaragua backed their stand. Venezuelan progressive President Hugo Chavez warned Uribe that any intervention into his country would be met with an armed response.
President Bush entered the situation by praising Uribe, despite his illegal action, and charging Chavez with "provocative maneuvers," that were actually defensive and symbolic. It must be understood in this affair that Washington's principal objective in the northern part of South America is deposing Chavez, which it sought to do in the unsuccessful coup attempt of 2002. Uribe, for his part, despises the left wing Chavez.
The uproar provided Uribe with an opportunity to join the Bush Administration's campaign to discredit Chavez at a time of gathering right wing opposition in Venezuela to the Caracas government following the December defeat of its proposal for constitutional changes.
Uribe publicly charged Caracas with "terrorism," support for "narco-terrorists" and for "FARC terrorists," but offered no convincing proof. He also asked the International Criminal Court to put Chavez on trial, which will come to nothing. Bogotá further claimed that a FARC computer seized where Rayes was slain contained information suggesting Chavez paid the rebel group large sums of money — but evidence to make the allegation stick was completely missing.
Chavez denied the charges but did note that the Uribe government "calls FARC terrorists, but we do not. They are guerrilla forces." (For a look at the Chavez government and its political goals, see our article below on Venezuela.)
On March 5, the Organization of American States approved a resolution accusing Colombia of violating Ecuador's sovereignty. After several days of criticism, Uribe finally apologized and stated he will never do it again. All three of the countries then agreed to resume normal relations, but tensions between Venezuela and Colombia remain very high. And the Bush Administration, acting on its own and through Uribe, will continue doing its best to bring about regime change in Venezuela.
6. NEWS MUSE
PRINCE HARRY'S ACT OF LÈSE MAJESTÉ: As much as we revel in disrespecting monarchy, it must be admitted that Britain's Prince Harry, third in line to the throne, is an aristocratic blueblood of a somewhat different color. We're not singling him out because the young officer in Her Majesty's army got himself secretly posted to the Afghan front lines. After all, it's an imperialist war. Harry was pulled back to England Feb. 29 after a media blackout on his presence in the battle zone was broken. Knowledge of the prince's proximity endangered Harry's fellow soldiers for obvious reasons. What gained our attention was the lèse majesté contained in remarks he made to the press when his cover was blown and was asked how he felt about going back home: "I generally don't like England that much and, you know, it's nice to be away from all the press and the papers and all the general shite that they write." The British version of the word is occasionally pronounced to rhyme with smite, and thus an "e" is appended when necessary. And of course the whole situation could be a publicity stunt to humanize the monarchy and divert attention from some of its less savory frolics.
AMERICA KEEPS BREAKING NEW RECORDS: February was a great month for the good old USA. We broke two more historic records, it was announced on Feb. 28. The Pew Center on the States reported that the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. now totals a spectacular 2,318,258. This means that one in every 100 of us now reside behind bars — another world record for our side. We are way ahead of that pretentious police state China. With four times our population they only managed to jail 1.5 million. Tough luck, losers! According to the report, the U.S. spent almost $50 billion on "correction" in 2007, almost five times more than two decades ago. This is especially impressive because the crime rates has gone down significantly throughout the last 20 years. It was clever of our loyal judges and guys in blue to compensate for fewer crimes with longer sentences and the wholesale jailing of millions of pot smokers. But that's far from all. The ACLU reported Feb. 27 that the FBI's "U.S. Terrorist Watch List" had now grown for the first time to over 900,000 people who possibly qualify as terrorists. According to an ABC News report, "the list may be growing not because of swelling legions of foreign terrorists. Instead, it appears the FBI may be adding tens of thousands of names belonging to U.S. persons it suspects of being domestic terrorists — people who have no known ties to international terrorist organizations." Sweet Jesus — don't WE feel safer!
HOW DARE THOSE CUBANS! Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, representing the Havana government headed by President Raul Castro, had the gall at the UN Feb. 28 to sign two key human rights mandates — the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. And the UN let them do it! Don't they know that Cuba is said to be holding about 200 political prisoners? The Cuban commies say these heroes were actually on the U.S. payroll all the time. What's wrong with that — aren't we on the U.S. payroll? According to Reuters news agency, Perez Roque also said that "Cuba would open its doors in early 2009 to regular international scrutiny by the recently created U.N. Human Rights Council." Have they no shame?
7. CHECK IT OUT
WHAT HAVE UNIONS DONE FOR US?: Find out from this hilarious brief video of a company meeting in Australia evidently called by the boss of one of the world's great corporations. It's at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=184NTV2CE_c .
BIG GENDER IMBALANCE IN MEDIA: Despite certain advances in recent years in the depictions of women in the mass media, an exhaustive new study makes these three points: "(1) Gender imbalance reigns across the media. (2) System wide, when females are presented they are shown in a hyper-sexualized way. (3) The highest concentration of this imbalance is in animated films and G-rated programming," which children are more likely to see. In general, "males outnumber females nearly 3 to 1 in movies [and] male narrators outnumber female narrators 4 to 1." An article about this study written by Sara Voorhees of the Women's Media Center and titled "Where Are All the Girl Ninjas?" is at http://www.alternet.org/story/77347/. The Women's Media Center website is at http://www.womensmediacenter.com/index.html.
TORTURE HITS HOME: That's the headline on the March/April Mother Jones magazine containing several articles about U.S. use of extreme violence on prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. It's online at http://www.motherjones.com/toc/2008/03/index.html.
THE WATER CURE: It is conservatively estimated that between a quarter million and (much more likely) a million Filipinos died from various causes as a direct result of the U.S. colonial conquest of the Philippines between 1899 and 1902. Washington's military "mopping up" operation lasted another decade. All told, some 4,320 U.S. troops died in this early "counterinsurgency" conflict, a third of them in combat, the rest from disease. The U.S. waged a horrendous racist war against a population seeking national independence — similar to its brutality against the Vietnamese people six decades later — burning down villages, operating concentration camps, conducting search and destroy missions, and engaging in tortures, particularly the "water cure," which is today infamously called "water-boarding." The American peace movement of this earlier period was strongly anti-imperialist. Democrats in the 1900 election referred to Republican imperialism as a major issue of the campaign. The Feb. 25, 2008, issue of The New Yorker contains an important article titled, "THE WATER CURE — Debating Torture and Counterinsurgency a Century Ago," by Paul Kramer, a history professor at Iowa University. The article describes the domestic controversies and public hearings of the time, initiated by antiwar sentiment, concerning revelations of widespread American atrocities. This article may be located at http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/25/080225fa_fact_kramer
FACE OF THE ENEMY: A moving short antiwar video with fine music, produced by the Ya-Ya Network (Youth Activists-Youth Allies), is worth viewing. It’s a series of still photos about the war and opposition to the war called "The War Will Not Be Televised," and subtitled, the "Face of the Enemy." Ya-Ya explains: "Since the government and corporate media have colluded to ban any disturbing images of the war and its consequences, we decided to do it ourselves." Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DUw7ZL1HGc
GOOD MORNING, HAMAS: That's the title of a March 3 article by Uri Avnery, a principal leader of Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc) and often a voice of political sanity. Avnery believes the Tel Aviv government should enter into talks with Hamas, the governing organization in Gaza. He rejects the argument that Israel shouldn't meet with Hamas because it refuses to recognize Israel. "All this matter of 'recognition' is nonsense, a pretext for avoiding a dialogue," he argues. " We do not need 'recognition' from anybody. When the United States started a dialogue with Vietnam, it did not demand to be recognized as an Anglo-Saxon, Christian and capitalist state …. If A signs an agreement with B, it means that A recognizes B. All the rest is hogwash." The article may be located at http://zope.gush-shalom.org/index_en.html or http://www.counterpunch.org/avnery03042008.html. Meanwhile, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in late February on a Tel Aviv University Poll that found “64% of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit."
KILL 100 TURKS AND REST: Just as we were about to send out this newsletter, in came another amazing piece by Uri Avnery about Israel and Gaza (the title in our headline, he explains, comes from an old Jewish folk tale) and we think it, too, is a "must read" for its common sense and humanity. It's at http://zope.gush-shalom.org/index_en.html.
EARTH, MOON, AND ALL OF US: A reader sent us a photo of our planet and its moon taken through a telescope from the spacecraft that is orbiting Mars, along with the comment, "We had better take care of that tiny blue sphere." The photo, which can be enlarged, consists of a small slice of blue and an even smaller slice of gray in the black vastness of space. It's starkly beautiful, and makes one think. Here:
THE TEACHERS UNION IS LEARNING: The leadership of the million-member strong American Federation of Teachers (AFL-CIO) is a strong supporter of the U.S. war in Iraq, much as it supported the Vietnam war in the 1960s-70s. University of San Francisco Professor Stephen Zunes has traced this major union's role in supporting the most reactionary aspects of Washington's foreign policy over the years. He notes, however, that after many failed previous attempts, elected union delegates "adopted overwhelmingly" a resolution calling for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq. "The AFT is no longer monolithic," Zunes concludes in a Feb. 13 article in Foreign Policy In Focus. "There is a strong and growing tendency within the AFT to change directions. And, given the AFT’s important role politically, this could not come too soon." The article is at http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/4962.
GOODBYE IMF AND WORLD BANK? One of the most important developments in the world today is that a number of poorer and developing nations, especially in Latin America and Asia, are pulling away from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other institutions of U.S./Western dominance — a symbol of Washington's declining power even as it appears to be enjoying the apex of its strength. Noam Chomsky, one of the foremost critics of imperialism, comments on such developments in an interview conducted by Foreign Policy in Focus. "The IMF," he notes, "has been mostly thrown out of South America." It is at http://www.alternet.org/story/76657/.
8. HERE'S WHY CLINTON & OBAMA AGREE ON CUBA
"You are really twisted if you don't recognize that Barack [Obama] will be the best thing that has happened to the Cuban people in many a moon. Lumping him in with McCain and Clinton is unforgivable."
This brief communication was in response to our Feb. 19 article titled, "Presidential Candidates Prepare to Gang Up on Cuba in Post-Castro Era." The article attracted 23 email replies from readers, and all but two favored our view that the leading Republican and Democratic candidates "remain committed not only to 'regime change' in [Cuba…] but to replacing socialism with capitalism, and Cuba's independence with subordination to the Yankee colossus 90 miles to its north." We're sure others disagreed, but didn't write.
We take our critic seriously, and recognize that Sen. Obama's perspective on Cuba is more liberal than that of Sen. Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic Party nomination as presidential candidate, and much further so regarding Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. What follows is an effort to explain why the candidates of both parties, despite political differences in approach to Cuba, generally seek the same end, even when its attainment depends on interfering egregiously in the affairs of a sovereign state.
There are three identifiable political views about U.S. relations with Cuba that are put forward within the ruling political structure. The first is advanced principally by the Republicans, and this certainly includes McCain; the second mainly by the Democrats; and the third by Democrats, including some liberals, and Republicans. The first and second are nearly identical and have alternated as White House policy since the Cuban Revolution triumphed on Jan. 1, 1959.
The third position advocates a seemingly less hostile U.S. approach — and has not yet been tried. Left progressives view this as an improvement over positions one and two. But they also recognize that instead of leaving Cuba unmolested to determine its own future, all three positions — from far right to liberal — are intended to bring about the eventual transformation from socialism to capitalism without regard for the preferences of the Cuban people.
Washington invariably promotes the falsehood that the majority of Cubans want to overthrow their government and restore capitalism under the protection and guidance of benevolent old Uncle Sam. This may be the desire of the old guard "anti-Castro" counter-revolutionary sector of over one million Cuban émigrés in the U.S. But no objective observer suggests this is the view of more than a small minority of the 11.4 million Cubans living in Cuba. The socialist system is supported by the Cuban masses, but it is seen to require reforms to improve the income and standard of living of the people — a goal that is a priority for newly designated President Raul Castro.
The American superpower has not reconciled itself to the existence of electoral or revolutionary socialism in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington views socialism as a threat to the economic and political hegemony it has exercised in this huge region for 110 years. There is no evidence that Obama, Clinton or McCain think differently.
First of the three positions within the ruling parties is the hard right wing offering. This employs maximum economic and subversive pressure, including continuous stiffening of the trade embargo and travel restrictions; intensification of propaganda and threats; refusal to talk rationally with Havana's Communist Party leadership, and pandering to the counter-revolutionary wing of the Cuban émigré community in southern Florida and New Jersey.
This has been the position of the Bush Administration and most of the governments led by 10 American presidents since the Cuban Revolution terminated 58 years of Yankee domination.
Second is today's center/center-right view. This perspective, largely embraced by the majority of Democratic politicians, is based on a Cold War point of view very similar to the right wing but the Democrats slightly toughen it and soften it to suit political opportunities of the moment. President Jimmy Carter temporarily softened travel restrictions before they were reinstituted. President Bill Clinton attempted to cripple Cuba by implementing the vicious "Cuban Democracy Act" (the Torricelli Bill) and a few years later by promoting and signing into law the vindictive "Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act" (the Helms-Burton Bill), which in effect prohibited not just U.S. but foreign companies from trading with Cuba. But he also okayed a limited "humanitarian" breach in the economic embargo to allow Havana to import some agricultural products and medicines from the U.S.
Sen. Clinton is terminally embedded in this camp, like a beetle encased in ancient amber. Sen. Obama shares much of this classic Cold War outlook but he also tilts toward the third perspective.
This third position has drawn growing support during the last decade from liberal and some centrist Democrats, farm-state and certain business-oriented Republican politicians, various American corporations, a sector of the émigré community, and some influential think-tanks. This trend probably will grow much stronger in time, based as it is on the reality that Washington's harsh Cold War stance toward Cuba has been a counter-productive failure that not only was unable to dislodge socialism but has provoked world disapproval. For example, last October, for the 17th year in a row, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to oppose Washington's blockade of its small Caribbean neighbor.
The third coalition, into which Obama tentatively has planted one foot, not two, is based on various self-interests as well as common sense. America's farm states want to increase their exports to Cuba. The corporations are perturbed because government policy prevents them from competing with scores of foreign companies now trading and investing in Cuba. Some U.S. oil companies are anxious because they cannot explore for petroleum in Cuba's territorial waters. A substantial number of Cuban émigrés in the U.S. are upset by President Bush's tightening of family travel restrictions and the imposition of limitations on sending remittances to relatives in Cuba.
Nearly 25 Senators and about 100 House members, mostly Democrats (including Rep. Maurice Hinchey from the Mid-Hudson Valley), joined by some farm-state and other Republicans, have sought to soften the travel ban, to lift the trade embargo, and to encourage agricultural and medical exports to Cuba. Two powerful House Democratic committee chairmen, Reps. Charles Rangel (NY) and Max Baucus (MT) seek the relaxation of travel and trade constraints.
We suspect a few of these politicians might be inclined to go further — even to the extent of declaring that the nature of Cuba's socio-economic system is for the people Cuba to decide, not the U.S. government — but none so far have publicly suggested that Cubans have a right to construct a revolutionary socialist society led by a Communist Party on the Empire's very doorstep. Over 90 years of unrelenting government and media attacks on communism and socialism have made it imperative for lawmakers to pledge allegiance to capitalism über alles or forego their careers.
In most cases these legislators view the relaxation of tensions with Havana as a mechanism to promote "democracy" and "change" in Cuba — code words, in the final analysis, for getting rid of the communists and bringing about the resurrection of capitalism, which of necessity would place this beautiful island nation once again behind the imperial aegis of the modern-day Zeus resident in Mount-Olympus-on-Potomac.
Sen. Clinton's position on Cuba has never deviated from its center/center-right "regime-change" launching pad. She supports the embargo and travel restrictions, and of course never repudiated the Clinton administration's tightening of restrictions. She opposes normalizing relations with Cuba until its system changes, supports continued funding for TV Marti, an expensive propaganda arm of the U.S. government that rarely is seen on the island because Havana predictably blocks its signal, and terms Obama's call for talks with Cuban leaders and easing some limited travel strictures as an example of her opponent's naiveté.
Commenting Feb. 19 upon President Fidel Castro's statement about stepping down, Clinton declared: "The new leadership in Cuba will face a stark choice — continue with the failed policies of the past that have stifled democratic freedoms and stunted economic growth — or take a historic step to bring Cuba into the community of democratic nations…. I would say to the new leadership, the people of the United States are ready to meet you if you move forward towards the path of democracy, with real, substantial reforms…. The United States must pursue an active policy that does everything possible to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and opportunity in Cuba."
In translation, Clinton argues that until Cuba becomes a capitalist democracy, the U.S. embargo and other restrictions will remain frozen, as does Washington's commitment to regime change in Havana. Does this mean, by comparison, that Obama is "the best thing that has happened to the Cuban people in many a moon," as our critic has suggested? Hardly.
In his statement Feb. 19, Obama said the long-time Cuban leader's declaration "should mark the end of a dark era in Cuba's history.... Fidel Castro's stepping down is an essential first step, but it is sadly insufficient in bringing freedom to Cuba…. Cuba's future should be determined by the Cuban people and not by an anti-democratic successor regime…. If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo.
On the more positive side, Obama says he wants to eliminate Bush's tightening of restrictions on remittances and visits to families in Cuba (though not easing travel restrictions on other Americans or dismantle the trade sanctions). He has also voted against continued funding for TV Marti as a waste of money.
Most significantly, on Feb. 21 Obama reiterated he would be willing to meet with Cuba's new leader, Raul Castro, who has thrice indicated he wishes to engage in discussions with the U.S. to improve relations. This drew sharp criticism from the Bush Administration, McCain and Clinton. Obama, however, declares that normalization of relations must await hefty concessions that Havana has no intention of granting.
In our view, Obama's positive-sounding positions — while welcome in comparison to the antediluvian antics of Clinton and McCain — are seriously undermined by his Feb. 19 comments.
Obama regards the Cuban revolution and its nearly 50-year successful struggle for survival against U.S. subversion as a "dark era in Cuban history." This seems to us a peculiar designation considering Cuba's previous history of 400 years of slave-based Spanish colonialism followed by some six decades of Yankee domination, including three incursions by the U.S. Marines. He considers Fidel, who led and nurtured this revolution against dictatorship and foreign domination, as the main obstacle to "bringing freedom to Cuba" and assures us that the "successor regime" of Raul Castro is just another obstacle to freedom. Only if there is "meaningful democratic change" — and that without doubt means regime change and the restoration of capitalism — will it be possible to normalize relations and "ease" (evidently not "end") the onerous Yankee embargo.
And this is where the essential political interests of Obama, Clinton and McCain intersect — despite their different political approaches — in a manner similar to how the intersection of liberal and reactionary interests supported the initiation and continuation of the Cold War.
President Ronald Reagan eventually declared the Cold War over when the USSR's precipitous fall appeared irreversible. But Washington's Cuban policy — the product of continuing Cold War collaboration by the ruling parties — is a malignant remnant assigned to crush socialism in Cuba, to curtail its development in Venezuela, to defeat the rebels in Colombia, and to eliminate new obstacles to the reign of capitalism anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.
Unless Vlad The Impaler becomes a compromise write-in candidate should Clinton and Obama be hopelessly tied, a Democratic Administration will be an improvement over the neoconservative Bush regime in Washington.
In time, and with the development of a more powerful movement in support of fair treatment for Cuba, a Democratic government might eventually approve of talks, and even some relaxation of the embargo and travel restrictions — since both measures have not only harmed Cuba but the U.S. as well.
The point of such a new and more rational-seeming U.S. policy would be two-fold. First, by obscuring the outward appearance of oppressing a small country like Cuba, it would convey the impression to the world that Washington was no longer behaving like big-power bully. Second, despite a friendlier approach to Cuba, Uncle Sam would merely utilize this new image to continue pursuing the same regime change in Havana it always sought — unless the White House is finally brought to recognize the right of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean to embrace socialism.
Even so, a less overtly subversive attitude on the part of the U.S., regardless of its continuing ill intentions, would give Cuba some breathing space and permit the society to get its affairs in better shape without constantly having to deal with the latest threats and punishments from its aspiring overlord in the White House.
Left out of Washington's equation are the desires of the Cuban people themselves. They are not, contrary to incessant U.S. claims, seeking to overthrow the Communist Party of Cuba and restore capitalism. They are not willing to surrender their gains from the revolution — from national independence, to the relative equality of Cuban society, to such social advantages as their educational and health care establishments. The Cuban people are not seeking a new system, but they do seek necessary improvements in existing socialism.
The Cuban government is aware of this situation, and evidently is dedicated to sufficiently adjust the economy to provide greater income for the masses, improvements in housing and transportation, and the strengthening of social and economic equality.
As we wrote in the Dec. 3 Activist Newsletter: "At issue isn’t the need for reform but how far the reform should go, particularly in terms of respecting the socialist norms established during the decades governed by the leadership of Fidel Castro." Fidel has relinquished his state posts but remains leader of the Communist Party. He will not block reforms, but his influence will restrain impulses toward measures that could endanger the essential attributes of socialism. At stake, of course, is defining what is an essential attribute under today's post-Soviet circumstances.
Also left out of consideration by our two ruling parties is that Cuba is a sovereign and independent nation that is causing harm to no other country. Washington may champion capitalism and abhor socialism, but does that mean the Democratic and Republican parties have the right to determine Cuba’s future? Is it their right to tell the Cuban people how they should be governed and by whom? That is a decision to be made only by the Cuban people.
If Washington ever wants to be a good neighbor to Cuba, and establish friendly relations on the basis of equality, mutual respect, and non-intervention in each other's affairs, Havana would respond immediately and positively. Unfortunately, there has been no indication, from Obama, Clinton or McCain, that such a policy corresponds to their real objectives or to those of the two ruling parties.
9. LOCAL MEETING ON ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT
About 70 people attended a meeting on Palestine and Israel March 2 at New Paltz Village Hall. The topic was "Speaking Out Against the Occupation of Palestine" — one of the few times it was possible for the audience to hear the Palestinian point of view.
The corporate mass media, echoing the policy of the U.S. government, consistently projects the views of only one side of this 60-year-old struggle, that of the Israeli government. The fact that there is an outspoken movement within Israel that deplores the actions of the Tel Aviv regime toward the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories is equally ignored by the media, more so in America than in Israel.
Speaking at the meeting were two members of the Woodstock-based Middle East Crisis Response (MECR) group — which was initially formed in opposition to the Israeli army's incursions into Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 — and a SUNY New Paltz graduate now living in New York City who presented a film. MECR describes itself as composed of "Hudson Valley residents joined in protest against policies of Israel and the United States in the Middle East." The meeting was organized by CLASP.
The panelists were Joel Kovel, an Ulster County resident, Bard professor, and author of 10 books — his latest being "Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine" (2007), published by Pluto Press; Jane Toby, a Mid-Hudson resident, MECR member and organizer for Woodstock Women in Black; and Jill Ariela, who brought the brief film she helped produce titled "Jerusalem in Exile."
Kovel described the political situation leading up to and resulting from the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, touching upon the occupation of Palestinian land following the June 1967 war, the two Intifadas, the separation wall, and the continuing travail of a people oppressed by settler colonialism supported by U.S. imperialism.
Kovel maintains that the two-state proposal, which is theoretically supported by both the PLO and Israeli government, would be terminally disadvantageous for the Palestinians since they would forever be subordinate to a much more powerful and hostile Israeli state. He advocates transforming Israel, West Bank and Gaza into a single secular and democratic state where the Jewish and Palestinian populations would live as equals, a perspective long in decline but reviving in certain quarters as an alternative to the stagnant status quo. He believes this is the only road under present circumstances that can lead to justice and peace for both communities, though he recognizes that the two-state proposal has considerably more support than the binational concept.
Toby represented the voices of Palestinian people (with whom she lived and worked this winter) through narration and clips from the documentary film she is making entitled "Angels Over Palestine." She spoke of Israel's 40-year occupation, discriminatory legislative policies toward Palestinians, the violence suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of settlers and the army, the ongoing building of settlements in the West Bank, barrier walls, check-points, road systems, annexation of land and forbidding of freedom of movement, and the reduction of a possible future Palestinian state into apartheid-type Bantustans. These practices, she notes, are illegal under international law.
— The MECR web address is http://www.mideastcrisis.org.
10. WHAT'S NEXT FOR VENEZUELA?
About 60 people attended a public meeting at New Paltz Village Hall in February to hear a report on Venezuela from two young New York City activists, followed by special talk by former progressive Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, explaining why she is now seeking the Green Party nomination for President. The event was sponsored by the Caribbean and Latin America Support Project.
Speaking on Venezuela were Karina Garcia, a Columbia University senior who was the leader of the Latino activist group LUCHA, and Ben Becker, the managing editor of the leftist newspaper “Liberation,” and a peace and justice activist who participated in the 2005 World Federation of Youth and Students conference in Caracas.
Garcia provided a thorough "introduction to the historical and economic events that gave rise to Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution." She then charted the rise to power of socialist President Hugh Chavez, now 53, beginning as a youth in the early 1980s and accelerating swiftly as an army officer a decade later.
"When Chavez was first elected to office in 1998," she noted, "80% of the population was living in poverty. This was despite the fact that Venezuela was a comparatively wealthy oil producing country at that time. By mid-2006 the progressive government's social reforms reduced the poverty rate to 34%, and it is lower today."
She then listed the various reforms Chavez initiated in the first years of his presidency to improve the lives of working people and the poor — reforms that ultimately infuriated Venezuela's ruling elite to the point of organizing a coup against him with backing from Washington. Chavez was arrested in 2002 and a right wing regime representing the big corporate interests and elite wealth took power — for just a few days, however. A successful uprising led by the working class and loyal military units restored the progressive government to power.
"Much has happened since that day," Garcia continued. "Beginning in 2005 and more notably after Chavez was reelected again in December 2006 with 63% of the vote, the concept of socialism has been promoted throughout the country. It is being taught in schools, it is seen in street murals and banner signs everywhere, it is mentioned on television and radio.
Closing her statement, Garcia declared: "At each step, the Chavez government has objectively oriented toward socialism. It has weakened the power of the old ruling class. It is breaking the chains that have linked the country to U.S. imperialism. It has empowered the working class and organized the masses to defend the revolution and exercise real power in their neighborhoods and working places."
But it is still a hard and complex struggle with a long way to go, as the next speaker, Ben Becker, made clear. He then carefully reconstructed the events surrounding the constitutional referendum that was voted down on Dec. 2. "Since the old constitution did not enshrine the social and economic rights of working people," Becker explained, "Chavez thought this was the time to do so. The purpose was to hasten the development of socialism."
Instead of introducing a total of 69 constitutional amendments in smaller groups spread over time, it was decided to put them all up for public consideration and decision at once. Actually, a shade under 50% (49.7%) of the people approved the entire package, but 50.3% didn't. It wasn't so much that the masses voted against the constitutional reforms but a number of pro-Chavez people decided to sit out this election because they weren't sure of what was happening.
"This was not a massive defeat by any means," Becker said. "The left was set back, not defeated, but the reactionary opposition has been emboldened and the momentum toward socialism has been slowed, temporary I think. What happened is this:
"Most of the Venezuelan mass media remains in private hands and is strongly opposed to Chavez. In the weeks leading up to the election, it was charging that he wanted to force the country to accept 'godless communism.' They made it appear Chavez was trying to become president — dictator, actually — 'for life' because one of the amendments was to remove the limit on the number of times a president could be popularly re-elected. The U.S. media also suggested it was a grab for lifelong power. The fact that scores of countries do not have term limits, including six of the G8, was disregarded."
But the constant media drumbeat about an impending dictatorship within Venezuela ultimately confused an electorate that not only overwhelmingly re-elected Chavez 14 months ago but would do so again today…. Compounding the media distortions, just before the election the corporations that control food distribution began to create intentional shortages. This generated dissatisfaction among the people just before the election because they didn't know why it was so difficult to obtain basic foodstuffs."
Becker explained that the parliamentary road to socialism, as opposed to outright armed revolution, never succeeded for long in the past because the old ruling classes still held the levers of state power and used them to crush the developing forces of substantial social change. Chile is one example. So far, he said, the present Bolivarian Revolution has come a long distance by relying on the ballot box, the nationalization of much of the oil industry, massive reforms benefiting the majority of the population, and a nationwide education campaign.
"But the former elite still has great power throughout the state," he said, "and in the case of the Dec. 2 referendum used it effectively to stall the development of socialism."
Chavez, it seems, quickly understood that he may have moved too fast. “I'm obliged to apply the brakes," was one of his comments. In early January, he adopted an easygoing attitude about the situation, informing the large nationwide audience that always watches his weekly television program "Aló Presidente” (“Hello President”), that “The main motor seized up, so we'll have to go by donkey instead.” He then inaugurated a period of what he termed "the three Rs— the revision, rectification and re-launching” of his constitutional reforms in order to resume a transition to socialism.
Immediately following Becker's presentation, Cynthia McKinney and her entourage arrived at 8:30 p.m. as scheduled. She had been in New Paltz at a Green Party fundraiser and had earlier accepted CLASP's invitation to speak for 15 minutes at the end of the program.
Leftist McKinney represented one of the poorest congressional districts in the U.S. for 12 years — Georgia's 4th CD — until she was defeated in a 2006 primary that was influenced by anti-progressive forces outside her district and that also allowed non-Democrats to cross over and vote. She not only was a strong opponent of the Iraq war and a supporter of all liberal causes, but also introduced legislation calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
McKinney left her own party last fall in order to seek the Green Party nomination for president in this year's election. "I didn't quit the Democratic Party," she said. "The Democratic Party quit me."
McKinney's website is at http://www.RunCynthiaRun.org.
The website for Ben Becker's newspaper, "Liberation," is at http://www.pslweb.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Liberation.