November 5, 2009 Issue #152
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. PEACE MOVEMENT BLUES — The Afghan war is expanding and the mass antiwar movement is contracting in a big way. Its base constituency, Democratic voters, is pulling back. Why, and what can be done to revive the struggle?
2. THE U.S. IN AFGHANISTAN: Part 1: Eight Years and Counting — Arguing "This is a war of necessity," Obama plans to widen Bush's war of choice in Afghanistan.
3. THE U.S. IN AFGHANISTAN: Part 2: The Origins of a Bad War — Washington's war in Afghanistan is one of several disastrous consequences of U.S. interference and subversion in that country beginning 30 years ago and is now transforming into the "Af-Pak" misadventure.
4. "BRING BACK THE DRAFT" — Bill Moyers said it, in reference to White House plans in Afghanistan, but it was to make a larger and profound point.
5. AFGHANISTAN'S WOMEN AND THE WAR — The plight of the overwhelming majority of Afghan women remains deplorable after all these years of U.S. occupation. They are caught between the Pentagon and the Taliban and want to be rid of both.
6. HONDURAS: OBAMA'S CREDIBILITY ON LINE — "Obama now has a choice," writes Mark Weisbrot. "He can force the coup regime to honor the accord or lose further credibility among governments in the hemisphere and the world."
7. STATE SENATE MAY VOTE ON GAY MARRIAGE — The Assembly has okayed same-sex marriage by a big margin. Now its the Senate's turn, possibly within days or weeks, but nothing's certain.
8. FILM REVIEW OF "CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY" — Michael Moore features the reality of the economic crisis for America's usually-invisible poor and working class, writes Alex Knight.
9. PENTAGON INVOLVEMENT IN TORTURE DEATHS — The Pentagon copied some of the CIA's torture techniques but applied them on a much larger scale to thousands of suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan, and caused many more torture deaths.
10. THE COVER-UP CONTINUES — The New York Times sharply takes the White House to task for continuing the Bush Administration's cover up "of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism."
11. UNCIVIL LIBERTIES: THE ASSAULT ON U.S. MUSLIMS — "Relatively unseen, unknown, and definitely unabated, the assault on U.S. Muslims continues under the government's 'war on terror' and the political right's war on Islam," says Rev. David L. Ostendorf.
12. A NEW GENERATION RISES AT J STREET — Britt Harwood reports: "The conflict between a love of Israel and a desire for peace was the dominant theme of J Street's much-anticipated inaugural conference... in Washington. The conference hosted an unexpectedly large crowd of more than 1,500 mostly left-leaning Jewish activists."
13. CLIMATE CHANGE AND DIET — One of Britain's leading authorities on global warming says "Give up meat to save the planet."
14. TOP TEN IRAN MYTHS — Professor Juan Cole discusses "The top things you think you know about Iran that are not true."
15. NEWS BRIEFS
• Articles that we write for the Activist Newsletter are frequently reprinted on other websites and email listservs, but we hit a mini-jackpot with our three-part article on Iran in the Sept. 27 newsletter. One, two or all three parts were reprinted at scores of websites. Two of our favorite major sites, Asia Times and Dissident Voice, were among those carrying the three parts. Antiwar.com and Asia Times reprinted a slightly different version of this issue's article on U.S. Policy in Afghanistan that we sent just before this newsletter was published.
• The new organization we formed on Sept. 1, Peace and Social Progress Now, has had a busy two months — two street demonstrations and a public meeting in the Mid-Hudson region.
Our first event Sept. 12 was a small sidewalk gathering with signs and leaflets along a busy street in New Paltz, calling for an end to U.S. economic and travel sanctions against Cuba, and freedom for the Cuban 5 anti-terrorists held in American prisons.
The second action was an antiwar rally in Kingston's Academy Green Park Oct. 17, with excellent speakers and music, but attendance at all U.S. peace events is much lower these days. We include an account of the event in our article on rebuilding the antiwar struggle titled "Peace Movement Blues."
And on Oct. 27 at the State University of New York campus at New Paltz we organized a public meeting and book signing with activist and writer Richard Becker, author of the new book "Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire." The Muslim Student Association co-sponsored the meeting on campus, which drew 71 people to hear Becker discuss the history of the conflict from a progressive point of view.
1. PEACE MOVEMENT BLUES
By the Editor
Where is the U.S. peace movement when the White House is preparing to escalate the Afghanistan war for the second time since President Barack Obama took office over 10 months ago?
The Bush era antiwar movement has ebbed and flowed a few times since it abruptly materialized just after 9/11 and then exploded into a massive force in the months leading up to President George W. Bush's unjust and illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003. This was actually the high point of mass activism. A decline began with the invasion and the bipartisan congressional declaration of support for the new war, but the movement remained huge and mounted many large national and local demonstrations for years.
The Democratic victory in the 2006 Congressional election signaled a further erosion of peace activities because of the erroneous assumption that the new Congress would end or limit the wars. Antiwar forces were hardly visible during the 2008 campaign, despite the mayhem in Iraq and Afghanistan, because many efforts were focused on electing Sen. Barack Obama, whom many Democrats considered to be a peace candidate.
The low point was reached earlier this year — a remarkable development during two ongoing wars — about the time President Obama reignited the Afghan war by ordering another 21,000 troops to the battlefield.
The hard core of the movement has remained intact, but is relatively small. The national peace organizations and coalitions are still in place, though most have become less active as their numbers fell and funding diminished. The left wing and the pacifist sector are engaged and active, now focused on ending the Afghan war, and there will be growth as Obama continues to escalate the war.
But the mass base of the movement that confronted the Bush Administration's wars — the Democratic voters — are standing on the sidelines, unwilling to publicly criticize President Obama. This is despite the fact that opinion polls report a majority of the American people now oppose the Afghan war, including some 70% of Democrats.
Over the last year or so I've spoken to a number of local and national peace leaders and many rank-and-file activists about the drop in antiwar numbers. Everybody has felt the decline. As an organizer for the last 15 years in New York State's Hudson Valley region I have witnessed it up close.
For example, seven years ago in October 2002 our group at the time organized an antiwar demonstration of 2,500 people at Academy Green Park in the small city of Kingston. On the same day several buses full of local activists traveled to Washington to attend the ANSWER Coalition's big peace rally that drew up to 100,000 people. The war hadn't even started. It was five months away. This was the beginning stages of the largest "preemptive" antiwar movement in U.S. history.
On Oct. 17 a couple of weeks ago in the same city park, with two wars in progress, 20 co-sponsoring groups and an excellent speaker list— our antiwar rally attracted 100 people. There was no Washington protest to draw crowds away, and the anticipated rain didn't fall. We knew half the participants by name. There were antiwar actions in some 40 cities that day, but the ones we heard from all had lower numbers than in the past. The Capital District movement to our north brought out between 200-250 people for a well publicized and organized Albany demonstration, but a couple of years ago they attracted a crowd of over 600.
Here's one more example. Over the years my co-organizer Donna Goodman and I have arranged for 22 bus trips to bring Hudson Valley activists to distant peace rallies, mostly in Washington. We average between three and five buses. That's roughly 150 to 250 people. Our biggest success was in January 2003, two months before the Iraq war, when we sent seven buses to DC to join an ANSWER protest that attracted a half-million people.
Six years later this March, as President Obama was expanding the war by deploying another 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, we managed to bring 37 people to a demonstration in Washington. Some 10,000 people showed up for a good rally and an exciting march. We were empowered by the rally and proud to have made the effort, but it was dismaying to see how our numbers had dwindled.
In our talks with people about the movement's decline, the main emphasis always pointed to the fact that the constituency upon which our broad peace movement reposes was disintegrating. At issue is figuring out exactly why, and then how to help rebuild our forces.
The question of "why" isn't difficult. In addition to talks with a number of movement organizers and unwavering activists., we have communicated with quite a few readers about this matter in person and mainly by email (over 85% of our 3,500 Activist Newsletter readers voted Democratic last November). The conclusion is that the Democratic voters who have stopped showing up do so for one or more of three reasons: (1) The big majority simply don't want to publicly oppose a war waged by a Democratic president — especially when he is under strong attack by the Republicans. (2) Some think it is a "good" war. (3) Some believe peace demonstrations "don't do any good," and that we're "just talking to ourselves." Let's examine this point by point.
We've encountered point number one before. Many Democratic voters were extremely reluctant to criticize President Lyndon Johnson during the first couple of years in which he widened the Vietnam war. But by the end of LBJ's first full term many Democrats turned on him to the point that he decided not to run for reelection. He was responsible for the passage of progressive domestic legislation far beyond anything Obama will achieve, but his war policy destroyed him.
On the other hand, Democratic voters, with the liberals in the vanguard, stuck with President Bill Clinton during his unjust and illegal bombardment of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999. Clinton learned the big lesson from Vietnam: Launch a short war with few American deaths. He wisely did his dirty work in only three months. And while thousands of Serbian Yugoslavs were killed and much of the civilian infrastructure was wrecked, no American died because the war was conducted from the air beyond the reach of anti-aircraft fire. Now, of course, there are American drones assassinating people in western Pakistan. Sometimes they hit their target, sometimes a wedding party.
Bush served two terms despite his long imperialist wars, in part because the number of U.S. deaths is relatively low (the GI death toll in Vietnam was nearly 13 times greater). Bush was reelected in 2004 because the Democratic Party not only refused to oppose the war but candidate John Kerry kept telling the voters he would be much better at winning than blundering Bush. Given the choice between two pro-war candidates, the voters decided not to change warhorses in mid-carnage.
There was an active antiwar movement during Bush's 2004 reelection campaign but most peace people fell in line behind Kerry, as did United for Peace and Justice, the biggest coalition, and most moderate peace groups. ANSWER stood apart and picketed both political conventions. A week after Bush's depressing reelection we called a local rally to get people up and running again. I opened by remarking that "98% of the American people just voted for war." A woman in the front row interrupted, "No! We voted for Kerry!" Neither Kerry nor Obama (who made it clear in the campaign that he wanted to fight in Afghanistan) was a peace candidate, but most Democrats seemed to think they were.
The American peace movement has to win back the Democratic voters on the issue of ending the Afghan war, and bring them back into the streets to demand peace. Even if a majority of voters want an end to war, the ballot box is meaningless unless there is a candidate running on a genuine antiwar platform. We respect and support the antiwar members of Congress, such as our region's Rep. Maurice Hinchey, but they are up against a large pro-war bipartisan majority and almost always get aced out. Put a million people in the streets on the same day and we'll begin to get results; do it again and again, and we'll end a war.
This brings us to point two, the fact that some peace Democrats think the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is a good war. Government and mass media distortions have succeeding in confusing many people. The movement is partly responsible for focusing over the years almost exclusively on Iraq. Now that the Obama Administration is widening the Afghan war it is essential for the peace forces to increase their educational efforts.
We're trying to do our part in this issue of the newsletter. The two-part article "The U.S. in Afghanistan" contains information that will be useful to our readers in assessing this war, particularly those who think it is just. The article on Afghan Women and the War is important because we're all worried about their situation, which remains deplorable, but the women quoted in this article perceive two oppressors: the Taliban and the U.S.-NATO occupiers (Check out the CNN video link). Also, the Afghan war article by Bill Moyers ("Bring Back the Draft") provokes some interesting thoughts.
I've heard point three before, many times, regarding the alleged inefficacy of peace protests, and that we're talking to ourselves. The Vietnam era was filled with it, and yet — as the Vietnamese government will tell you, the peace struggle in the U.S. was an essential ingredient in ending the war and reunifying the country.
Many people think that because the mass media usually ignores our actions that what we do has no effect. Some say "we demonstrate and nothing happens." I've often been told that all we do is speak to each other. Some say we're so irrelevant the White House isn't even listening. All this is wrong, and I'll explain why.
It is important to understand that we are involved in a very long struggle for peace. We are trying to change the policies of history's most powerful military state, which has been engaged in a hot or cold war, openly or clandestinely, without interruption since it entered World War II, 68 years ago. Many of Washington's martial actions have been neither legal nor just. The mass media is a virtual adjunct of the government as far as foreign military policy is concerned. The U.S. is a militarist state and spends more money each year on wars past, present and future than the military budgets of every other country in the world combined. It has between 700 and 1,000 military bases circling the globe.
This is a tough nut to crack. Our side, the peace and justice side, often doesn't win. And when we do win it sure doesn't happen overnight. Of course the mass media ignores us, but that doesn't invalidate our efforts. Sure, we often demonstrate and nothing happens. We're up against big odds. It's a matter of unceasing struggle, protest after protest, meeting after meeting, year after year.
Mass demonstrations are essential. They are the collective expression of the political opposition of the American people to the aggressive wars conducted in their name by their government, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Yugoslavia and Nicaragua, or Vietnam and Haiti. Our mass protests are acts of public solidarity with the victims of unjust war, and help to strengthen their resistance. And mass protests in Washington, the seat of government and the Pentagon, are necessary to turn the spotlight directly on the warmakers.
Frequently we do speak to ourselves, and it is important to do so. That's why the great religions have been meeting once a week for thousands of years. It's what keeps their movement together, and ours as well. In our own experience, we have found that under normal conditions, between 15% and 20% of the people at every rally or bus trip we organize have shown up for the first time, and many come back. At the beginning stages of new wars the proportion is much higher.
It's untrue that the White House doesn't listen because we're irrelevant. All presidents make a show of indifference to our protests. But when we are of mass size they are supplied with detailed reports about the status of our forces. President Nixon made a big point of laughing off the peace movement, but if you read Robert Dallek's "Nixon and Kissinger" for instance, you will understand he was obsessed with the antiwar movement and carefully calculated its impact.
It is essential for us to keep on protesting against aggressive wars or Washington will run riot with military adventurism. The only significant opposition to a bigger war in Afghanistan will come from that sector of the peace movement willing to confront the power in Washington regardless of who is president. And some members of Congress will speak up, too, and they are strengthened knowing our mass movement is out there.
I believe without doubt that in the cynical and conservative atmosphere choking our country today this movement remains our principal instrumentality against Washington’s unjust wars and imperialist escapades. Without this movement we have no voice! Let us make that voice ever louder as we rebuild the movement and go forward toward the attainment of peace.
2. THE U.S. IN AFGHANISTAN:
Part 1: Eight Years and Counting
The United States invasion and occupation of Afghanistan entered its ninth year in October, and the majority of Americans now tell opinion polls they want it to end. So far the war has failed to achieve U.S. objectives, and it is likely the Obama Administration’s expansion of the fighting will compound the failure.
Al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden and the Taliban’s Mullah Muhammad Omar — Washington’s principal enemy leaders in the Afghan war — are not only alive, free and still taunting the White House after all these years, but appear to believe they now have the upper hand in Afghanistan.
Bin-Laden’s purpose has always been to draw the United States ever deeper into armed conflict with Islamic society in order to degrade America’s image, undermine its economy, and gain recruits. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan played directly into al-Qaeda’s hands, as will Washington’s effort to widen the Afghan conflict, especially as it stabs into Pakistan and alienates its masses of people in the process.
So far the two wars launched by President George W. Bush have cost the U.S. the antagonism of much of the Muslim world, serious erosions of its own democracy and reputation, and over a trillion dollars. Even if the wars end soon, says Nobel Prize economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, the overall expenditure — including everything from long term care for severely injured troops to interest on the war debt — will exceed $3 trillion, enough to rebuild America and help the world
end world poverty and hunger.
Speaking about Afghanistan this summer, President Barack Obama declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." Many war opponents argue that it is indeed a war of choice, and that international police work would have been far more successful and just.
We'll discuss this in Part 2, along with the fact that the Afghanistan war, the Iraq war, and for that matter the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy, need not have occurred had Washington taken less warlike actions in the key year of 1979, as well as 2001 and 2003. The fact that the U.S. has intervened deeply and for long periods over the past 30 years in Afghanistan, is probably not understood by many Americans who think it all began when the World Trade Center collapsed.
Upon assuming office, President Obama instructed the Pentagon to devise a winning strategy for Afghanistan. Within weeks the White House agreed to the outlines of a new war plan submitted by Gen. Stanley McChrystal that was supposed to lead to a U.S. victory. In March, Obama expanded the Afghan war when he heeded a Pentagon request and ordered 21,000 more U.S. troops to join the battle.
Several months later, however, McChrystal reported that the situation has deteriorated to the point where the war — ever more clearly displaying its neocolonial aspect — "will likely result in failure" within a year unless his forces increase by a minimum of 44,000 troops and a maximum of 80,000.
Obama has been engaged in "rethinking" war strategy since receiving the general’s verdict several weeks ago. He is expected to soon decide whether to deploy a larger number of additional troops to join 68,000 American fighters already scheduled for Afghanistan and about 50,000 NATO soldiers. This total presumably includes the 13,000 troops Obama also deployed without informing the American people, until the Washington Post broke the story in mid-October.
The White House is investigating two options for continuing the conflict — both of which would intensify the war and spread it more deeply into Pakistan. As briefly summarized by The Economist Oct. 17 they are "manpower-intensive counter-insurgency (COIN), which aims to win over the Afghan population and build a stable government; and counter-terrorism, which seeks to deal narrowly with threats to the West, mainly through air strikes or raids by Special Forces."
McChrystal, who appears to be supported by top Pentagon brass, backs COIN, which includes a counter-terrorism aspect as well as "winning the hearts and minds" of the Afghan people, an effort that utterly failed when tried in Vietnam, and will fail in Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph Biden and some other administration advisers back the lower intensity counter-terrorism option without greatly expanding the number of troops or engaging in "nation building."
If McChrystal’s minimum request is accepted it means a combined U.S.-NATO force of over 160,000 troops, not including scores of thousands of "contractors" doing duties previously performed by soldiers until recent years.
Scott Ritter, the former UN chief weapons inspector and critic of the war, had this to say about McChrystal's request for more troops in a Truthdig.com article Oct. 29:
"McChrystal operates under the illusion that American military power can provide a shield from behind which Afghanistan can remake itself into a viable modern society. He has deluded himself and others into believing that the people of Afghanistan want to be part of such a grand social experiment, and furthermore that they will tolerate the United States being in charge. The reality of Afghan history, culture and society argue otherwise. The Taliban, once a defeated entity in the months following the initial American military incursion into Afghanistan, are resurgent and growing stronger every day. The principle source of the Taliban’s popularity is the resentment of the Afghan people toward the American occupation and the corrupt proxy government of Hamid Karzai. There is nothing an additional 40,000 American troops will be able to do to change that basic equation."
At this stage the U.S., NATO and their Afghan forces enjoy at least a 12-1 advantage in troop strength against the opposing forces, not to mention air power, drone attacks and an enormous technological, logistics and communications advantage. This increases to 20-1 if McChrystal's minimum kicks in — and that's evidently still not enough to defeat the insurgency. The latest word from the White House and Pentagon is that the new strategy may devolve to holding Afghanistan's 10 largest cities and leaving the countryside to fend for itself, except for air strikes.
Our guess is that Obama will view the issue politically, as well as militarily, and try to merge both positions, increasing the number of troops but fewer than McChrystal desires. No one knows for sure, but he is intentionally creating suspense to magnify the importance of his eventual plan.
The Washington Post reported Oct. 26 that Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently conducted theoretical war games to examine "the likely outcome of inserting 44,000 more troops into the country to conduct a full-scale counterinsurgency effort aimed at building a stable Afghan government that can control most of the country. It also examined adding 10,000 to 15,000 more soldiers and Marines as part of an approach that the military has dubbed 'counterterrorism plus.’"
Complicating the situation, Washington's hand-picked Afghan leader, President Hamid Karzai, is presiding over a thoroughly corrupt government and an alienated population. His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is accused of being drug lord and wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, who has been on the CIA's payroll since the beginning of the war, along with innumerable warlords and disreputable officials. The UN has ascertained that last August's elections were so fraudulent that a run-off election was set for Nov. 7 between the incumbent and his independent rival, Abdullah Abdullah, M.D., who won 30.5% of the vote.
On Nov. 1, Abdullah — who had long been associated with the U.S.-supported Northern Alliance — announced his withdrawal from the second round voting, paving the way for Karzai to be declared winner of a second term. Abdullah angrily attributed his decision to the refusal by the government and election commission to accept his recommendations for changing balloting rules to prevent more foul play. He also knew he didn't have enough votes to win in any event.
The Obama Administration has been increasingly cool toward Karzai, supposedly for corruption but not least because he has publicly criticized some U.S. actions such as indiscriminate bombings. It is reported that the White House would have preferred a Karzai-Abdullah power-sharing arrangement to Karzai alone. Since Abdullah withdrew without calling for an election boycott or public demonstrations on his own behalf, he may yet end up associated with the new government in some fashion.'
Washington swiftly accommodated itself to Karzai's reelection. Obama gently slapped a ruler across his knuckles, and insisted for all the world to hear that he do more in his second term to fight rampant corruption and the country's extraordinary narcotics trade, which makes other big drug cartels look like they are selling dime bags. Karzai nodded agreement, made overtures to Abdullah, and life goes on.
Even though the election has not transpired precisely the way Washington wished, it will have little impact on U.S. plans. President Obama, who heretofore identified Afghanistan as the main danger, not Iraq, now says the danger has spread to Pakistan as well — an unanticipated but logical result of the Bush wars. The tribal areas of Pakistan are the target of increased U.S. air power, missile attacks, pilotless drones, and Special Forces engagements.
The Obama Administration is exerting heavy pressure on the Islamabad government of President Asif Ali Zardari, and investing another $7.5 billion in new aid, to intensify efforts to crush al-Qaeda, the Pakistan Taliban (which was only formed in 2007) and other groups in the mountainous western section of the country. This has created increasing anti-American sentiment among the masses of people in Pakistan who think Zardari is a virtual puppet of Washington. In a public opinion poll last August, some 60% of the Pakistani people viewed the U.S. as the greatest threat to their country compared to India or al-Qaeda.
In order to prevail in Afghanistan — or in Af-Pak, as the two-front war is described — President Obama evidently is considering a major compromise with the Taliban. Associated Press reported Oct. 9 that "President Obama is prepared to accept some Taliban involvement in Afghanistan's political future," both locally and in the central government. In addition the White House and Pentagon will seek to bribe the Taliban to stop attacking U.S. troops, as was done with the Sunni resistance in Iraq, by inducing former opponents to get on Washington’s payroll. The Pentagon is putting aside $1.3 billion to pay Taliban effectives who wish to "reintegrate into Afghan society."
— Continued in Part 2: The Origins of a Bad War
3. THE U.S. IN AFGHANISTAN:
Part 2: The Origins of a Bad War
Most Americans have little knowledge of the complex events that led up to President Bush’s bombardment and invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, weeks after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. The fact is that today’s war in Afghanistan is one of several disastrous consequences of U.S. interference in that country beginning 30 years ago in 1979 and continues to this day.
So far, the main results have been the creation of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the growth of the jihadist movement, the 9/11 attack, the Afghan and Iraq wars, and now the Af-Pak war. Let's trace some of the origins of America's Afghan adventure as President Obama contemplates the extent to which he will, in effect, add fuel to the fire.
Land-locked, rugged, Texas-sized with a population of 28.4 million, and strategically located where the rich geopolitical resources of the Middle East and Central Asia converge, Afghanistan gained independence from colonial Great Britain in 1919. A monarchy was established in this desperately poor country until overthrown by a military coup in 1973.
Another coup took place in April 1978, this time led by the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) backed by the Afghan army and military officers determined to enact reforms to "bring Afghanistan into the 20th century."
The PDPA set about governing by introducing modernizing reforms, including laws conferring equality upon the country’s oppressed women, and improving the lot of working people and subsistence farmers. The law granting rights to women was observed in Kabul and some big cities during the dozen years that the left held power ever more tenuously, but were usually ignored elsewhere in the large territory controlled by the warlords and Islamic fundamentalists.
The PDPA’s immediate establishment of closer relations with the neighboring Soviet Union set off alarm bells in Washington, which feared Moscow would gain an important pawn in the Cold War geopolitical chess game. Within a year President Jimmy Carter and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski decided to subvert the new leftist regime by "secretly" aiding right-wing warlords and ultra-orthodox religious groups who were beginning an armed struggle to overthrow the PDPA government and its hated reforms.
The plan was fully operational by mid-1979. Working with the Pakistani intelligence agency over the next decade, the CIA poured a minimum of $8 billion into the coffers of warlords and fundamentalist fighting groups. Some sources say this figure is much too low. Saudi Arabia was also a very large contributor.
CIA operatives immediately started training the mujahedeen (the collective name of the Islamic fighters) at camps it set up in Pakistan, then in Afghanistan itself. The U.S. also supplied them with sophisticated arms (such as Stinger antiaircraft missiles), military advisers, and logistical information for the next decade.
Writing in "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia," journalist-author Ahmed Rashid said the training camps "became virtual universities for future Islamic radicalism." In the words of William Blum in his book, "Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower," "The war had been a rallying point for Muslim zealots from throughout the world.... Thousands of veterans of the war... dispersed to many lands to inflame and train a new generation of terrorists ready to drink the cup of martyrdom."
(In this connection it must be kept in mind that jihadist fundamentalism constitutes an extremely tiny segment of the worldwide Muslim community of 1.6 billion people, nearly a quarter of Earth's population.)
By the late summer of 1979 the right wing rebel forces were becoming a serious threat to the Kabul regime, which eventually requested that Moscow send troops to help defend the regime. Six months after the Carter-Brzezinski plan went into effect — and one year and nine months after the PDPA took power, the Red Army began arriving in December 1979. (We specify the time period because the Western mass media often suggest that deep U.S. involvement began after, not before, the arrival of Soviet troops.)
As Brzezinski bragged many years later, Washington’s plan from the beginning was to create conditions that would oblige the Soviet Union to become militarily involved in Afghanistan’s civil war, and suffer the same fate as the U.S. in Vietnam in the earlier 1970s. It worked. In time the Red Army found itself sinking in the quagmire that earned Afghanistan the title "Graveyard of Empires."
Among the recipients of U.S. largesse, training and military supplies was Osama bin-Laden, the millionaire scion of a Saudi Arabian family, who also received support from Pakistan and from sources in his homeland, probably including the Saudi royal family, which invested mightily in supporting the war.
Over the years up to 40,000 foreign fighters — mostly Arabs with jihadist leanings but from many other parts of the world as well — arrived in Af-Pak to join the struggle against the left wing government, its unpalatable social reforms, and the Red Army. Most gravitated to bin-Laden's organization, which by 1988 he formally titled al-Qaeda. The title means "The Base," a reference to their training camp. It is known that the CIA set up at least one of bin-Laden's camps, but it may or may not have been The Base in question.
For the next several years following the arrival of Soviet troops, the White House — now occupied by the rightist Reagan administration — continued to build up the rebel forces. During the mid-1980s, President Ronald Reagan began to describe the warlords and fundamentalist armies as "freedom fighters," a description circulated by the mass media and was probably believed by the most Americans at the time.
Moscow began to withdraw in 1987 and completed the project by early 1989. The left wing government managed to hold on until it was brutally crushed in 1992. The civil war then transformed into a war for control of Afghanistan between several of the strongest rebel groups. It lasted four years, claimed up to 65,000 lives in Kabul alone, mostly civilians, and resulted in victory for the ultra-orthodox Taliban in 1996. The Taliban is an national organization as opposed to international al-Qaeda. The group was formed in the middle of the civil war in 1994 by Mullah Omar and consisted of the most orthodox Afghan jihadists. The name means "religious students."
Assuming power, the Taliban immediately imposed a draconian form of Islam and a violent, repressive dictatorship throughout the country. The leftist reforms were quickly abolished. The network of schools for girls, for instance, was closed. Thousands of women students were ousted from colleges.
The consequences of the Carter/Reagan intervention in Afghanistan spawned the conditions that made it possible in the late summer of 2001 for 19 Al-Qaeda operatives armed with box cutters — none of them Afghans — to hijack the four airliners and slam three of them into symbols of U.S. military and financial power in Washington and New York.
The political reasons behind 9/11 tragedy included opposition to America’s support for the suppression of the Palestinians; anger over the 1991-2003 U.S.-UN sanctions that caused over a million Muslim deaths in Iraq, half of them children; Washington’s manipulative intervention in Middle East since the end of World War II; and the Pentagon’s stationing of troops in Muslim countries, particularly — in the eyes of bin-Laden — Saudi Arabia.
President Bush's invasion of Afghanistan in retribution for 9/11 need never have occurred. It was a result of Bush’s bizarre decision to define the attack as a declaration of war against the United States instead of a gross criminal act by a small non-state organization only partially based in Afghanistan and mainly composed of non-Afghans.
The rational alternative — worldwide police work, sanctions, homeland defense and other stringent measures — would certainly have been more successful against al-Qaeda, and far less costly for the United States than eight years of fruitless war. Bush spurned this alternative not because war was a "necessity," as the Obama Administration alleges, but to pursue neoconservative imperialist objectives for obtaining hegemony in the region under Bush’s banner of an endless "global war on terrorism."
Further, just before the invasion, Taliban leader Omar told the U.S. he would turn over bin-Laden to a third country if Washington didn’t attack Afghanistan, as Bush was about to do. Mullah Omar had one condition: he asked the White House to provide evidence that the al-
Qaeda leader was actually guilty. Bush’s response: "There’s no need to negotiate.... There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he’s guilty."
Refusing any negotiations, Bush launched a war. As the attack started, CIA teams were already on the ground in Afghanistan, once again paying off their old retainers — the warlords and various groups defeated by the Taliban five years earlier — with thick packages of $100 bills to resume and intensify the civil war against the Taliban in concert with the invading Americans. At least $70 million was distributed in the first months of the war, mostly to the Northern Alliance, a big loser for power in Kabul in the '90s.
Bush followed the Afghan adventure with a second war of choice in March 2003 — the transparently unjust and illegal invasion of Iraq, backed by the same bipartisan Congress that gave him a blank check for "War on Terrorism" in 2001. This war, too, turned into a costly stalemate, but 120,000 U.S. occupation troops remain in the country, and the Iraqi people continue to suffer mass privation and pain.
Afghanistan is not Washington’s "good war," though it is now characterized in that fashion not only by most Republicans — who demand a wider war — but by President Obama and many Democrats who were critical of "Bush’s" Iraq war.
Now that a Democratic president is directing the war, Bush's campaign for invasion, regime–change and the neocolonial occupation of Afghanistan has metamorphosed into a form of "humanitarian intervention," reminiscent of the Democratic Clinton Administration's terminology to rationalize its illegal and unjust three-month bombardment of Yugoslavia (Serbia) a decade ago. This has gravely weakened the American antiwar movement, which is largely based on Democratic voters who have now markedly reduced their antiwar activism. (See article "Peace Movement Blues.")
We believe the ruthless reactionary Taliban should be kept out of power. In our view, as we wrote in 2001 just after the invasion: "If any brutal dictatorial regime deserved to be overthrown by its own people, the Taliban is the perfect choice. But for the imperial superpower to arrogate the task to itself, with its planes, missiles, self-interest and hypocrisy, bodes ill for the long-suffering Afghan masses and the region in general. Indeed, this projection of U.S. military power deeper into strategically important Central Asia is designed to extend Washington's hegemony closer to several former Soviet republics now discovered to be awash in oil and gas reserves."
Afghanistan is now Obama’s war. Speaking to a military audience recently, he declared that fighting the war was necessary because "those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again." So far, Obama’s troop buildup has inspired more attacks from the Taliban and other oppositional forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the situation will only get worse in proportion to the number of U.S. troops sent to the region.
What is Washington's actual mission in the Af-Pak war? In a statement May 19, Gen. David Petraeus, who heads the U.S. Central Command, declared that "The mission is to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al-Qaeda and other transnational extremists."
This evidently is why President Obama is widening the war in Afghanistan and western Pakistan. But is this necessary? The White House acknowledges that there are at most 100 members of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan at this point, but indicates that more have been driven across the border to Pakistan, without specifying how many.
Is it up to 500? Could it be high as 1,000 adherents to al-Qaeda and other "transnational" extremists? For some reason the Pentagon doesn't say, though it certainly must have a good estimate. In Afghanistan there are many thousands who are associated with the Taliban and similar groups, but these organizations operate strictly within their own borders, as does the Pakistani Taliban, and in no way have threatened to attack the United States.
Does it really require the killing of many hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, trillions of American dollars, and the fixated attention of our entire society to deny the relatively small al-Qaeda a possible haven where it can plot to attack the United States?
Given the counterproductive failure of Bush's wars, wouldn't it be better and far less costly at this stage, if not in 2001, to rely upon international police work, high technology surveillance, tight homeland security, sanctions if absolutely needed, and a multitude of other means short of war at Washington's disposal?
What's to prevent the Obama Administration from accepting this non-military alternative today, now that the neoconservatives are out of power? Two reasons present themselves: politics and international policy.
In terms of politics: It seems to us that the Democratic Party would rather continue fighting a self-defeating war in Afghanistan than to be accused by know-nothings of "cutting and running," of being "weak on defense," and of "lacking patriotism." The Democrats seem to fear these right-wing attacks will cost them votes in today's conservative America, so instead of fighting back politically they effortlessly bend the knee further to militarism and war. The fact is, when it comes to war, both ruling parties essentially see eye to eye.
In terms of international policy: Since the end of World War II — and particularly after the implosion of the USSR and the socialist camp nearly two decades ago — the U.S. has functioned as the world's dominating hegemon based on its willingness to use overwhelming military might to extend its economic and political parameters throughout the world.
A large number of Americans have been manipulated by incessant government and mass media propaganda into believing that Washington's foreign-military strategy is to spread democracy and to keep people safe from the terrorists. Is that what the neoconservative wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were all about? Is the real problem that Bush didn't fight hard enough in Afghanistan — meaning that Obama should deploy another 40,000 U.S. troops right away, and probably more later on? How then does this differentiate the Democrats from the Republicans on the most important issue of the day?
By launching an unnecessary war in Iraq and starting a war in Afghanistan instead of relying on nonmilitary means, the Bush Administration harmed the United States as well as the two victim countries. By following in Bush's footsteps in Afghanistan, Obama is compounding the harm.
Doesn't America have other priorities than to continue the fighting in Afghanistan? The U.S. is a declining superpower in deep economic difficulties. The recession, foreclosures and unemployment are crushing tens of millions of American families. Even without a recession, economic inequality is rampant; government social services for the people are lagging far behind comparable societies; the civil infrastructure is becoming a shambles; the healthcare system remains a wreck, although a relative improvement may be forthcoming soon; and our political system, where our choices as a nation are confined to the warmaking right and center, needs an overhaul.
Meanwhile Washington's spending a trillion dollars a year on "defense." The $680 billion Pentagon budget Obama just signed is only part of it. Can't the U.S. do more for itself and the world by investing that money into making a better America?
Antiwar critic Andrew Bacevich, a fairly conservative former Army officer and currently a professor and author of several important books on the military and U.S. policy, wrote an article in Commonweal Aug. 15 that contained a couple of paragraphs that fit in here:
"If the United States today has a saving mission, it is to save itself. Speaking in the midst of another unnecessary war back in 1967, Martin Luther King got it exactly right: 'Come home, America.' The prophet of that era urged his countrymen to take on 'the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism.'
"Dr. King’s list of evils may need a bit of tweaking — in our own day, the sins requiring expiation number more than three. Yet in his insistence that we first heal ourselves, King remains today the prophet we ignore at our peril. That Barack Obama should fail to realize this qualifies as not only ironic but inexplicable."
We profoundly agree with this quote except for "inexplicable." Obama has a number of attractive qualities, but he is a centrist in a political party of the center/center-right — an improvement over the competing mass party of the right/neocon-right/far-right, but hardly the politician to lead the struggle Bacevich suggests. Just getting him to avoid widening the unnecessary Af-Pak war, much less ending it, is daunting enough.
A majority of the American people want an end to the war, including a large majority of Democratic Party voters — and Obama says he is susceptible to public pressure. The problem is that the Democrats began leaving the antiwar struggle in droves after their party won the elections. They don't want to publicly protest Obama's actions when he is under continual Republican attack on everything but the war. How does supporting a neo-con Republican war help Obama fight the Republicans? It doesn't. It just creates public pressure to keep the war going.
The unintended consequences of the U.S. decision to support the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan in 1979, followed by the Bush wars, has been unacceptably costly to the peoples of the region and the United States. We should be concerned about the unforeseen results that will emanate from President Obama’s moves to continue and expand the Af-Pak war. American imperial hubris got us into Afghanistan, and its certainly time to get out now.
4. "BRING BACK THE DRAFT"
At the end of the Oct. 30 edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, Moyers spoke for a few minutes about the Afghan war. Here are his remarks, followed by a comment from us:
BILL MOYERS: Watching the CBS Evening News on Afghanistan this week I thought for a moment that I might be watching my grandson playing one of those video war games that are so popular these days.
Reporting on the attacks that killed eight Americans, CBS turned to animation to depict what no journalists were around to witness. This is about as close to real war as most of us ever get, safely removed from the blood, the mangled bodies, the screams and shouts.
October, as you know, was the bloodiest month for our troops in all eight years of the war. And beyond the human loss, the United States has spent more than $223 billion there. In 2010 we will be spending roughly 65 billion dollars every year. 65 billion dollars a year.
The President is just about ready to send more troops. Maybe 44,000, that's the number Gen. McChrystal wants, bringing the total to over 100 thousand. When I read speculation last weekend that the actual number needed might be 600 thousand, I winced.
I can still see President Lyndon Johnson's face when he asked his generals how many years and how many troops it would take to win in Vietnam. One of them answered, "Ten years and one million." He was right on the time and wrong on the number-- two and a half million American soldiers would serve in Vietnam, and we still lost.
Whatever the total for Afghanistan, every additional thousand troops will cost us about a billion dollars a year. At a time when foreclosures are rising, benefits for the unemployed are running out, cities are firing teachers, closing libraries and cutting essential maintenance and services. That sound you hear is the ripping of our social fabric.
Which makes even more perplexing an editorial in The Washington Post last week. You'll remember the Post was a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq, often sounding like a megaphone for the Bush-Cheney propaganda machine. Now it's calling for escalating the war in Afghanistan. In a time of historic budget deficits, the paper said, Afghanistan has to take priority over universal health care for Americans. Fixing Afghanistan, it seems, is "a 'necessity'"; fixing America's social contract is not.
But listen to what an Afghan villager recently told a correspondent for the "Economist:" "We need security. But the Americans are just making trouble for us. They cannot bring peace, not if they stay for 50 years."
Listen, too, to Andrew Bacevich, the long-time professional soldier, graduate of West Point, veteran of Vietnam, and now a respected scholar of military and foreign affairs, who was on this program a year ago. He recently told "The Christian Science Monitor," "The notion that fixing Afghanistan will somehow drive a stake through the heart of jihadism is wrong. …If we give General McChrystal everything he wants, the jihadist threat will still exist."
This from a warrior who lost his own soldier son in Iraq, and who doesn't need animated graphics to know what the rest of us never see.
So here's a suggestion. In a week or so, when the president announces he is escalating the war, let's not hide the reality behind eloquence or animation. No more soaring rhetoric, please. No more video games. If our governing class wants more war, let's not allow them to fight it with young men and women who sign up because they don't have jobs here at home, or can't afford college or health care for their families.
Let's share the sacrifice. Spread the suffering. Let's bring back the draft.
Yes, bring back the draft -- for as long as it takes our politicians and pundits to "fix" Afghanistan to their satisfaction.
Bring back the draft, and then watch them dive for cover on Capitol Hill, in the watering holes and think tanks of the Beltway, and in the quiet little offices where editorial writers spin clever phrases justifying other people's sacrifice. Let's insist our governing class show the courage to make this long and dirty war our war, or the guts to end it.
Editor's Note: Of course bringing back the draft for a war of choice, as opposed to truly defending the United States against an attack from another country, would double the size of the U.S. peace movement within a week, and would create a student peace movement overnight. So it won't be done — that's one of the lessons from Vietnam that those who govern America will never forget, which is why there is now a "volunteer" army.
Moyers knows this. The point he's making is that the great majority of Americans are uninvolved with, and are not personally suffering from, the eight-year Afghan war — so most don't care enough to study what's really happening in Afghanistan in order to penetrate the fog of war, much less take a public stand for peace.
This of course would change dramatically if our children or friends or our ourselves were being dragooned to fight in an unnecessary war, in place of the majority of young recruits today who join because it's at least a paying job with benefits and a possible way to a higher education. But Moyers said something else, too, and we believe it to be his main point, in the last six words of the final sentence: "or the guts to end it."
5. AFGHANISTAN'S WOMEN AND THE WAR
One of Washington's spurious justifications for the invasion of Afghanistan was to "liberate" the oppressed women of that country. After eight years of war by the U.S. and NATO, the plight of the overwhelming majority of Afghan women remains deplorable. What follows are two brief interviews and then links to two more interviews — all of which are important for readers who seek information about the real situation confronting Afghan women under the occupation.
We begin by noting that of the most heroic groups in Afghanistan is the underground women's equal rights organization RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan). A member this organization, appearing under the pseudonym "Zoya," was on a speaking tour in the U.S in October. She was interviewed by Democracy Now Oct. 7. Here is an excerpt, followed by a couple of paragraphs by Ann Jones, an American woman working with the women of Afghanistan, and a link to her complete article, plus a link to an interview with Malalai Joya, one of Afghanistan's leading democracy activists on both Democracy Now and CNN.
• By Zoya of RAWA:
Unfortunately, in the past eight years, with thousands of troops, with billions of dollars poured in the country, and with the tens of countries present in Afghanistan, the foreign countries, we see that there's no positive change in Afghanistan. Still our people are suffering from insecurity.
Our people are caught up from different sides by different enemies. From one side, our people are suffering from the Taliban, who has almost 70-80% of Afghanistan under their control. From the other side, the warlords and drug lords have a lot of power in different provinces. And from the third side, unfortunately, the U.S. and NATO bombs are killing our civilians. So, the past few years, I think, taught the foreign countries a new lesson, that as long as they are not changing their policy of supporting and compromising with Northern Alliance fundamentalists [and presumably now with the Taliban], there would be no root change in the political situation.
Today we see that after eight years — the United States occupied Afghanistan under the three banners, under three justifications, which were bringing democracy, liberation of Afghan women, and war, so-called war, on terror. But today we see that terrorism is increasing day by day. The Taliban are much more powerful than before. They are increasing in number. They are getting stronger.
And we cannot talk even about democracy, because the election was the proof that we have no democracy. And also, there's no freedom of speech. There's no freedom of expression in the country. The journalists are suffering, and they have very tough life and very threatened life, as a single word against the warlords and drug lords can result to their murder.
We see that the [oppressed] situation of women was used as one justification to occupy Afghanistan. But today we see that women are suffering from... one side by the Taliban and their rules and laws and suicide bombs, and from the other side, the US-NATO bombs. And mostly, we notice that during the past eight years they killed more civilians than the Taliban and terrorists. Many children, many innocent women were killed. Many times they attacked the wedding ceremonies. They attacked the poor people's houses....
We need a change, a radical change, in the system, which is so corrupted. And it cannot be healed by throwing [in] more troops. So we are in favor of withdrawal of the troops immediately....
— Text from http://www.rawa.org/rawa/2009/10/07/afghan-women-s-activist-zoya-speaks-out-on-eight-years-of-occupation.html
• BY Ann Jones, from The Nation magazine
....The Feminist Majority recently backed off a call for more troops [for Afghanistan], but it continues to warn against U.S. withdrawal as an abandonment of Afghan women and girls. Nearly everyone assumes troops bring greater security....
I've spent years in Afghanistan working with women, and I'm on their side. When the Feminist Majority argues that withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan will return the Taliban to power and women to house arrest, I see in my mind's eye the faces of women I know and care about.
Yet an unsentimental look at the record reveals that for all the fine talk of women's rights since the U.S. invasion, equal rights for Afghan women have been illusory all along, a polite feel-good fiction that helped to sell the American enterprise at home and cloak in respectability the misbegotten government we installed in Kabul.
That it is a fiction is borne out by recent developments in Afghanistan — President Karzai's approving a new family law worthy of the Taliban, and American acquiescence in Karzai's new law and, initially, his theft of the presidential election — and by the systematic intimidation, murder or exile of one Afghan woman after another who behaves as if her rights were real and worth fighting for....
— The rest of Ann Jones' article in The Nation, titled "There's No Hope for Afghanistan If Women Aren't Involved," is at: http://www.alternet.org/story/143564/.
• Malalai Joya is one of Afghanistan's leading democracy activists. In 2005, she became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghan parliament, but was suspended in 2007 for her denunciation of warlords and their cronies in government. She has just written her memoir, "A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Woman Who Dared to Speak Out."
Visiting the U.S. last week she was interviewed by Democracy Now Oct. 28 and later by CNN domestic, then CNN international. The Democracy Now interview was very friendly, of course, but her talk on CNN domestic was abruptly cut off when she criticized not just the Taliban but the U.S./NATO occupation as well. She received far better treatment on the CNN international broadcast. Below we list links to the Democracy Now radio and print interview, and to both the CNN video interviews.
CNN (via Antiwar.com)::
6. HONDURAS: OBAMA'S CREDIBILITY ON LINE
By Mark Weisbrot
Last Friday an agreement was reached between the de facto regime in Honduras, which took power in a military coup on 28 June, and the elected president Manuel Zelaya, for the restoration of democracy there.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, in announcing what she called an historic agreement, said: "I cannot think of another example of a country in Latin America that … overcame such a crisis through negotiation and dialogue." Hopefully this will turn out to be true.
But the ink was barely dry on the accord when leaders of the coup regime indicated that they had no intention of honoring it. Some of them clearly saw the agreement as just another delaying tactic. They have talked of postponing congressional approval of the accord until after the 29 November elections, or even voting not to restore Zelaya.
If the Honduran congress delays or rejects the restoration of Zelaya, it will violate the clear intent of the accord. The agreement states: "The decision the national congress adopts should establish a basis for achieving the social peace, political tranquility and democratic governability the society requires and the country needs." This and other language makes it clear that the negotiators – who have the ability to deliver the votes in congress – agreed on Zelaya's restoration.
Furthermore, justice delayed here is justice denied. Two-thirds of the legally allowed campaign period has already lapsed, under conditions of dictatorship that made free election campaigning impossible.
The Obama administration has itself been divided on what to do about the military overthrow of democracy in Honduras. Hence the mixed signals and vacillation from the very beginning, when the first statement from the White House failed to even condemn the coup.
Those in the administration who think they can now wash their hands of the accord and let the coup leaders turn their back on it had better think twice. The Obama team has embarrassed itself enough by having to be pressured by the rest of the hemisphere to tell the coup government that Washington would not recognize the 29 November elections without prior restoration of Zelaya. Just a few weeks earlier, the Obama administration had blocked the Organization of American States from passing a resolution to this effect.
But now Washington's credibility is really on the line. The Obama team brokered this accord and got a commitment from the coup leaders. If they go back on it, how much will the Obama administration's word be worth on anything else? Everyone knows that Washington has the ability to force the coup regime to comply. There are billions of dollars of its assets in the US that could be frozen or seized. Seventy percent of the country's exports go to the US. The coup regime has no international legitimacy and no standing to challenge the US under international treaties for any economic sanctions that might be invoked.
The Obama administration never used the effective tools at its disposal. Instead it dithered for months, finally cutting off a fraction of its aid to the coup government and revoking some visas. The administration refused to even declare that a military coup had taken place, since this would have required more cuts in foreign assistance.
Most tellingly, Washington refused to denounce the massive human rights violations committed by the dictatorship. These included police beatings, illegal detention of thousands, closing of independent radio and television, suspension of civil rights and even some political murders. The crimes were denounced by all major human rights organizations, inside and outside of Honduras – and by many governments – but the Obama administration maintained a deafening silence.
Based on the recent past, the coup leaders – one of whom was forced to resign his post as foreign minister after leveling racial epithets at Obama – might think they can safely ignore the agreement. But the rest of the hemisphere, and the Honduran people – who have courageously resisted the coup from day one – will not let them get away with it. No one will recognize the November elections if Zelaya is not restored promptly.
Tuesday night, Thomas Shannon, the US assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, told CNN en Espanol that the US plans to recognize the November elections whether or not Zelaya is restored. This would definitely put Washington on a collision course with the rest of the hemisphere, including Brazil. Furthermore, according to diplomats close to the negotiations, both Shannon and Hillary Clinton had given assurances that last week's accord would bring Zelaya back to the presidency.
Shannon's statement to CNN prompted a letter from Zelaya to Clinton, asking whether the US government had changed its position on the coup d'etat in Honduras.
Obama now has a choice. He can force the coup regime to honor the accord or lose further credibility among governments in the hemisphere and the world.
The author is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, and president of Just Foreign Policy. This article was originally published in the Guardian (UK) Nov. 4.
7. STATE SENATE MAY VOTE ON GAY MARRIAGE
The New York State Senate will convene for a special legislative session on the budget crisis starting Nov. 10, and it may also vote on the same-sex marriage bill passed by the Assembly in May by a vote of 89-52.
Gov. David Paterson, who called for the session to take action on the state's $3 billion budget deficit, has encouraged the Senate to also vote on the marriage bill. At issue is whether some two million New Yorkers will have the right to marry a partner of their choice.
The governor strongly favors the legislation, as does New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The Roman Catholic Church is leading the state opposition to the measure. The Assembly initially approved the bill in 2007 but the Republicans, who controlled the Senate at the time, refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Proponents believe there are enough Senate votes to pass the legislation. However, Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn, the Democratic Conference Leader, has yet to commit to including the bill on the voting agenda.
If the measure passes, New York State will join the five other states where gay marriage is legal. They include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont, plus New Hampshire (where it begins Jan. 1). The Maine state legislature approved a same-sex marriage bill in May and it was signed by the governor but implementation was stalled until residents could vote on a ballot initiative introduced by opponents of the bill. The vote was 53-47 against equal marriage rights, which has been the verdict in all 30 states so far where the question was brought directly to the voters.
The push for marriage equality in New York is part of a larger national civil rights struggle for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights. The chronic discrimination against LGBT Americans takes the form of a ban on open military service; lack of federal workplace discrimination and fair housing protections; and the failure to recognize same-sex relationships.
A demonstration in support of equal rights and for passage of the marriage bill during the special legislative session will take place Sunday, Nov. 8, in the Village of Goshen in Orange County at 12:30 p.m. in Church Park by the 5-way intersection. The event will include speakers and live music. It is endorsed by the Young Democrats of Orange County, the Democratic Alliance, and the Alliance for the Realization of Legal Equality.
For more information, contact Sam at Sussman.email@example.com or (845) 304-0830.
8. FILM REVIEW: "CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY"
By Alex Knight
"Capitalism: A Love Story," which opened in 962 theaters last month, is Michael Moore's most ambitious work yet — taking aim at the root cause behind the injustices he's exposed in his other films over the last 20 years.
This time capitalism itself is the culprit to be maligned in Moore's trademark docu-tragi-comic style. And by using the platform of a major motion picture to make a direct assault at the root of the problem, Moore has created space in the political mainstream for a radical conversation (radical meaning "going to the root").
It's a conversation that is desperately needed as the economic crisis continues to devastate low- and middle-income Americans in spite of President Obama's and Congress' efforts to stop the bleeding by throwing trillions of dollars at the banks.
Recently, Democracy Now! reported that while the Dow Jones topped 10,000 for the first time in a year, foreclosures have reached a record level of 940,000 in the third quarter. But with this film airing in major chain cinemas across the nation, the normally taboo topics of how wealth is divided, who owns Congress, and how vital economic decisions are made are now open for discussion in a way they haven't been in the U.S. for decades.
In Capitalism, Michael Moore features the reality of the economic crisis for America's usually-invisible poor and working class. The movie begins with a family filming their eviction from their own home. In a terrifying scene, we watch from inside their living room window as seven police cars roll up to throw the ill-fated family onto the street for failing to make their payments.
Moore explained in an interview, "You see [a foreclosure] really for the first time from the point of view of the person being thrown out of the house." This same bottom-up viewpoint carries the audience through the rest of the film, from the stories of kids in Pennsylvania sent to private detention centers for minor offenses by judges who received kickbacks from the prison company, to airline pilots whose wages are so low they have to go on food stamps.
By grounding the viewers in the human costs of out-of-control capitalism, Moore finds firm footing for launching his attacks on the Wall Street firms that he believes are responsible for this crisis. As the film points out, the richest one percent of Americans now control more wealth than the bottom 95%, a sorry state of affairs that has grown steadily worse since the 1980s. Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan, and his two buddies Larry Summers and Robert Rubin are implicated in Capitalism as responsible parties behind the gutting of regulations and the deliverance of the federal government into the hands of the bankers.
Michael Moore's conversations with congressmen and women about the $700 billion bank bailout passed last October best illustrate this transfer of sovereignty. The congresspeople are remarkably candid in their dismay at what was essentially a blank check to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup.
Representative Baron Hill from Indiana recounts that the bailout bill was pushed through Congress in a similar manner as the Iraq War authorization, under threat of catastrophe and terror. Marcy Kaptur, congresswoman from Ohio, however, does one better. "This was almost like an intelligence operation," she laments. And when Moore asks her if the bailout represents a "financial coup d'etat" by the bankers, she responds, "I could agree with that. Because the people here [pointing to the Capitol] really aren't in charge. Wall Street is in charge."
We also witness Kaptur's courageous honesty on the floor of the House, urging Americans to resist foreclosure by remaining in their homes. Detroit sheriff Warren Evans stands out as another hero in the film when he announces he will cease foreclosure evictions in his jurisdiction because of the damage to the community caused by making more houses vacant and more families homeless. Moore also features grassroots organization Take Back the Land, which has dramatically responded to the crisis by moving evicted families back into their homes in the Miami area.
Regular folks fighting back against a system that is depriving them of income, housing, health care and other basic needs is inspiring stuff to watch, and it's not something we're used to seeing up on the big screen. Capitalism displays this grassroots defiance surprisingly well by humanizing those on the bottom of the pyramid.
One man whose farm is foreclosed on angrily warns, "There's got to be some kind of rebellion between people who've got nothing and people who've got it all." His words are buttressed by a behind-the-scenes look at Republic Windows & Doors, where laid-off workers occupied their Chicago factory and refused to leave until receiving their promised severance pay. For Moore this represents the kind of direct action that everyday people must now begin to take to protect themselves from having to pay for the misdeeds of the wealthiest one percent.
This call to action is well taken. However, one piece lacking in the film's analysis of capitalism is how the system of economic power interlocks with other structures of oppression, for example U.S. imperialism, patriarchy and white supremacy. Capitalism affects different people in extremely different ways, and while some fear losing their jobs, others fear imprisonment, rape, or even being hit by a drone attack. But Michael Moore seems to avoid a conversation about racism, sexism and homophobia in order to appeal to a mythical homogeneous American working class.
And besides a brief comparison to Rome, the movie also shies away from discussing the U.S. role in the world and how a militaristic foreign policy serves the interests of corporate and financial elites — even though opposition to the wars in Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq has never been greater.
Another weakness is how Moore handles Barack Obama with kid gloves. Even while his economic advisers are skewered in the film, President Obama's role in the bank bailouts is downplayed, and he comes out looking like a champion of the people, or at least a potential champion. In this respect Michael Moore bestows honors like the Nobel Committee, not so much for what the president has done, but for the "hope" of what he might do.
So what does Michael Moore propose as an alternative to capitalism? Not socialism, but a kind of economic democracy — an opportunity for average folks to have a say in how their money is used, from the workplace on up to the government. Moore takes us inside co-ops in America where workers vote on decisions about finances democratically, and where salaries are equal and adequate for everyone in the company. In one factory, assembly line workers and the CEO each make about $60,000.
To reinforce his economic prescription, Moore even dug through archives to recover lost footage of FDR's long-forgotten proposal for a "Second Bill of Rights," which called for guaranteeing meaningful work and a living wage, decent housing, adequate medical care, and a good education for every American.
It is striking how such common-sense ideas in our current political climate appear dangerously radical, even coming from the lips of a U.S. president. It seems the overriding purpose of "Capitalism: A Love Story" is to flip these expectations on their heads. For Michael Moore, guaranteeing basic economic security is as American as apple pie; what is radical is a system that would deny such prosperity to bolster the wealth of a tiny few.
If there is to be any solution to the economic crisis that doesn't involve millions more people being thrown out of their homes or dropped from their health care, it will have to involve a sharp break from a system that values private profits higher than meeting people's basic needs.
To this end, Michael Moore has done a great public service by making a film that is essentially an invitation for views outside the bounds of established mainstream discourse to propose what might be done about the economic quagmire we now find ourselves in. It is time for an American Left to come out of the wilderness and speak out with proposals for better ways of organizing our economy. I see no reason to be any less bold than President Roosevelt was 65 years ago.
Here is an excerpt from President Roosevelt's 1944 "Second Bill of Rights" speech:
We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people — whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth — is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights — among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however — as our industrial economy expanded — these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
• The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
• The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
• The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
• The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
• The right of every family to a decent home;
• The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
• The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
• The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
This article originally appeared Oct. 28 in The Rag Blog, http://theragblog.blogspot.com/. Alex Knight is an organizer and writer in Philadelphia. He is currently organizing with Philly Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the People's Caravan. He also maintains the website endofcapitalism.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
9. PENTAGON INVOLVEMENT IN TORTURE DEATHS
Allegations about President George W. Bush's program of torture against suspected terrorists continue to emerge. The CIA is usually the focus, but the latest news reveals some details about the Pentagon's widespread involvement in torturing suspects.
So far no high officials of the Bush Administration, including in the CIA and Pentagon, have been indicted for their roles in devising and overseeing the illegal torture program. President Barack Obama maintains he has ended these illicit practices, but refuses to charge those responsible. He justifies the suppression of democratic accountability by contending that he prefers to "look forward rather than backward."
Critics point out that by not punishing the guilty officials, the Obama Administration is in effect excusing the horrendous misdeeds for which they were responsible. Noam Chomsky says this "is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that still lie ahead" by future U.S. governments.
The U.S. military use of torture has a long history. It was used extensively against Filipinos who opposed the U.S. colonization of the Philippines in the early 1900s, and against Vietnamese who opposed American domination of Vietnam during the 1960s-70s.
The Pentagon copied some of the CIA's torture techniques but applied them on a much larger scale to thousands of suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan, and caused many more torture deaths, according to a report by Muriel Kane posted on The Raw Story Oct. 28. Here's an excerpt:
According to human rights lawyer John Sifton, the CIA tortured some of its detainees in the "war on terrorism" so severely that it had to take measures to keep them alive so they could continue being tortured.
Sifton, who is the executive director of One World Research, told an interviewer for Russia Today that there was both a CIA detention program and a military detention program and that "the CIA program was by far the most secretive.... That's the one that only had a few dozen detainees at any given time — but it's the one that saw the biggest abuses, the most serious forms of torture."
"In the military, there was actually a larger number of deaths than with the CIA," Sifton continued. "The CIA engaged in some horrendous abuses, but they appear to have taken precautions to have actually prevented people from dying — which might sound humanitarian, but in fact was kind of sickening."
"The military wasn't so careful," Sifton added. "The military subjected a lot of people to the same techniques, but without the precautions, and as a result a large number of detainees in military custody died.... While they didn't use the worst forms of torture, like waterboarding, they often used sleep deprivation, forced standing, stress positions.... When you combine these techniques... they cause excruciating pain... and the military used them on thousands and thousands of detainees."
Sifton commented that what he found most shocking was "the cold, clinical fashion in which they went about designing the program. They didn't want to commit outright physical torture ... so they went to psychologists and lawyers and they tried to design a program which was, in their minds, legal. ... They tried to make it legal and safe, but they just made it even more grotesque."
Claims of detainee deaths under torture have been public knowledge for some time, although perhaps not amounting to "a large number" as alleged by Sifton. Last month, however, the Washington Independent reported that in the last few years the military has simply stopped reporting detainee deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq altogether, even those from natural causes.
Full article, plus video of Sifton interview: http://rawstory.com/2009/10/lawyer-cia-prevented-prisoner-deaths-prolong-torture/
10. THE COVER-UP CONTINUES
[Editor's Note: The New York Times is the principal mass media supporter of Barack Obama as candidate and now as president. But in an editorial Oct. 26 the nation's most prestigious newspaper took him to task for continuing to cover up for the Bush Administration's torture policies. The article follows.]
The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration's expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush's cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama's cover-up.
We have had recent reminders of this dismaying retreat from Mr. Obama's passionate campaign promises to make a break with Mr. Bush's abuses of power, a shift that denies justice to the victims of wayward government policies and shields officials from accountability.
In Britain earlier this month, a two-judge High Court panel rejected arguments made first by the Bush team and now by the Obama team and decided to make public seven redacted paragraphs in American intelligence documents relating to torture allegations by a former prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. The prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British national, says he was tortured in Pakistan, Morocco and at a C.I.A.-run prison outside Kabul before being transferred to Guantánamo. He was freed in February.
To block the release of those paragraphs, the Bush administration threatened to cut its intelligence-sharing with Britain, an inappropriate threat that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated. But the court concluded that the actual risk of harm to intelligence-sharing was minimal, given the close relationship between the two countries. The court also found a "compelling public interest" in disclosure, and said that nothing in the disputed seven paragraphs — a summary of evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in Mr. Mohamed's ordeal — had anything to do with "secret intelligence."
The Obama administration has expressed unhappiness with the ruling, and the British government plans to appeal. But the court was clearly right in recognizing the importance of disclosure "for reasons of democratic accountability and the rule of law."
In the United States, the Obama administration is in the process of appealing a sound federal appellate court ruling last April in a civil lawsuit by Mr. Mohamed and four others. All were victims of the government's extraordinary rendition program, under which foreigners were kidnapped and flown to other countries for interrogation and torture.
In that case, the Obama administration has repeated a disreputable Bush-era argument that the executive branch is entitled to have lawsuits shut down whenever it makes a blanket claim of national security. The ruling rejected that argument and noted that the government's theory would "effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law."
The Obama administration has aggressively pursued such immunity in numerous other cases beyond the ones involving Mr. Mohamed. We do not take seriously the government's claim that it is trying to protect intelligence or avoid harm to national security.
Victims of the Bush administration's "enhanced interrogation techniques," including Mr. Mohamed, have already spoken in harrowing detail about their mistreatment. The objective is to avoid official confirmation of wrongdoing that might be used in lawsuits against government officials and contractors, and might help create a public clamor for prosecuting those responsible. President Obama calls that a distracting exercise in "looking back." What it really is is justice.
In a similar vein, Mr. Obama did a flip-flop last May and decided to resist orders by two federal courts to release photographs of soldiers abusing prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. Last week, just in time to avoid possible Supreme Court review of the matter, Congress created an exception to the Freedom of Information Act that gave Secretary of Defense Robert Gates authority to withhold the photos.
We share concerns about inflaming anti-American feelings and jeopardizing soldiers, but the best way to truly avoid that is to demonstrate that this nation has turned the page on Mr. Bush's shameful policies. Withholding the painful truth shows the opposite.
Like the insistence on overly broad claims of secrecy, it also avoids an important step toward accountability, which is the only way to ensure that the abuses of the Bush years are never repeated. We urge Mr. Gates to use his discretion under the new law to release the photos, sparing Americans more cover-up.
11. UNCIVIL LIBERTIES: THE ASSAULT ON U.S. MUSLIMS
By Rev. David L. Ostendorf
Relatively unseen, unknown, and definitely unabated, the assault on U.S. Muslims  continues under the government's "war on terror" and the political right's war on Islam. The outcomes of both are unconscionable as the civil liberties of American Muslims are assaulted and the religious rights of faithful peoples are trampled.
For a nation rooted in the principle of religious liberty, the smothering arc of religious intolerance has been long and despicable. From the western frontier to the New Frontier Christians themselves have fought and re-fought theological and cultural battles for dominance in the uniquely American religious marketplace. The toughest of those fights were instigated and waged by Protestants against Catholics—with anti-Catholicism an ideological bedrock stretching from "proper" Protestants to the Ku Klux Klan. As recently as 1960 the anti-Catholic mantra played a role in the Presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic ever elected to the office.
To this day the notion prevails that the U.S. was established as a "Christian nation," precipitating the harsh and ever-present fog of anti-Semitism and, now, the assault on Muslims. While constituting less than 1% of the U.S. population, Muslims are the focus of extensive FBI surveillance and monitoring in communities across the country. The Somali community in Minneapolis and St. Paul, for example, has been subjected to deep scrutiny for months, following the return of some of its youth to repel the Ethiopian occupation of their homeland. After the U.S. tied their recruitment to an alleged al-Qaeda-linked group, problems began. Somalis are now routinely stopped on the streets, in airports and schools, and not even mosques and "home visits" are out of bounds. A cloud of suspicion hangs over the community and, according to one leader, the government "has created more fear than it has solved the problem."
Last week four Members of Congress  — three of them members of the anti-immigrant House Immigration Reform Caucus — joined the chorus to expose the supposed "dangers" of Islam and U.S. Islamic organizations. Touting a new publication by white nationalist and ardent Islamophobe Dave Gaubatz, the Members dutifully called for an investigation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)  for "infiltrating" (with intern "spies") Congressional judiciary, homeland security, and intelligence committees. Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina —whose anti-Islamic "Wake Up America " agenda called for an investigation of CAIR in 2008—wrote the foreword to [the recent book] "Muslim Mafia." Ironically, the book is based largely on documents taken from CAIR by co-author Chris Gaubatz, who himself infiltrated the organization by way of an internship.
The assault on U.S. Muslims, and on Islam and Islamic organizations, is an affront to all Americans, and an attack on civil and religious liberties. It's difficult enough for Christians in American to thwart the notion that this is not "their nation." It's even more difficult to recognize the swell of a new wave of uncivil liberties unleashed on citizens, refugees, and immigrants whose faithfulness is feared, mocked, and scorned, and linked wrongly and incessantly to "terror." The assault must cease.
[Added by the Activist Newsletter:] On Oct. 23, members of the Congressional "Tri-Caucus" — a coalition comprised of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus — released a statement denouncing the call by four Republican House members to investigate CAIR. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) of Minnesota read the statement on the House floor. An excerpt follows:
.... These charges smack of an America of 60 years ago where lists of "un-American" agitators were identified. We should be affirming the importance of diversity and tolerance for all interns and staff who serve in Congress without suspicion of being identified as "spies."
The idea that we should investigate Muslim interns as spies is a blow to the very principle of religious freedom that our founding fathers cherished so dearly. If anything, we should be encouraging all Americans to engage in the U.S. political process; to take part in, and to contribute to, the great democratic experiment that is America.
We all have experienced the sting of discrimination and we know that there will be challenges ahead. But our message should be firm that the America we believe in welcomes people of all backgrounds to the U.S. Congress. We ask these charges be disavowed and we issue a hearty welcome to interns and staff of all creeds, color, ethnicities and sexual orientation.
Rev. Ostendorf is a United Church of Christ Minister currently serving as executive director of the Chicago-based Center for New Community. He originally posted his article at IMAGINE 2050: http://imagine2050.newcomm.org.
 For links to recent articles about the assault on U.S. Muslims: http://www.google.com/#hl=en&source=hp&q=As+war+on+terror+continues%2C+Muslims+in+U.S.+feel+unfairly+implicated&btn
12. A NEW GENERATION RISES AT J STREET
By Britt Harwood, The Nation
Rachel Jones spent the past week in Washington, DC, at the first annual conference for the new progressive Jewish organization J Street. She was passing out literature for Meretz USA, an American nonprofit that supports the platform of one of Israel's most left-wing political parties.
Politically and socially, Meretz USA is a far cry from Jones's upbringing as a devout Jew in small-town Iowa. The only story Jones, now 24, heard while growing up in her tiny community--a story she now calls "right wing"--was that Israel's borders included Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and that Jewish identity was staked on the country's defense.
Her transformation from a conservative Zionist to a J Street volunteer is a product of the two years she spent in Israel. "I came to it from such a place of love and admiration and desire, and I wanted to just be completely embraced by my homeland, and all these romantic and idealistic pictures of what Israel was supposed to be for me," she said. But instead of finding her "homeland," Jones found the 2006 Lebanon war. The violence she witnessed deeply challenged her religious faith and her confidence in Israel's actions.
The conflict between a love of Israel and a desire for peace was the dominant theme of J Street's much-anticipated inaugural conference, held October 25-28 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington. The conference hosted an unexpectedly large crowd of more than 1,500 mostly left-leaning Jewish activists.
At the opening plenary session on Sunday night, Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's executive director, stated that J Street's role was to "widen the tent" of positions on Israel that can be called "pro-Israel." "In this room of over 1,000 people there are doubtless 1,000 opinions on the issues," he announced, and all the opinions were welcome--so welcome, in fact, that the leadership of J Street has been slow to solidify the new lobby's stances on certain crucial questions. J Street supports a two-state solution in Israel, one based on 1967 borders, and it wants to take a "pragmatic" approach to peace that avoids the static conservatism of AIPAC; but it has not gotten behind any specific timetables or policies.
Throughout four days of discussion panels, the conference covered topics like the Israeli settlements, Iran, human rights and the relationship of various US constituencies to Israel. In spite of some notable absences--Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren declined his invitation--there were nearly 100 speakers on hand, including left-leaning Israeli Knesset members, former US Ambassador Martin Indyk, US Representative Robert Wexler, Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, Senator Chuck Hagel and National Security Advisor Jim Jones. Even Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who has been publicly critical of J Street, decided in a change of heart to speak at the conference.
Beyond the hard politics, the J Street conference was also a fledgling effort to help define the way Rachel Jones and her rising generation of American Jews will identify and engage with Judaism and Israel. Davidi Gilo, president of J Street's board of directors, had hardly opened the conference on Sunday night before he stressed, "I want to extend a special welcome to our young generation...who are seeking a voice that allows them to stand taller when speaking about Israel on campuses." Along with 250 college students who were there to participate in a parallel conference organized by J Street U (J Street's campus activism branch), there were dozens of twenty-something political staffers, think-tank interns and bloggers scattered throughout the crowd.
The few hundred young faces were a welcome sign for J Street leadership and other representatives of older generations of Jews. In the past few years, studies have shown that youth engagement with Judaism and Israel is declining. And as Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, cautioned the audience, "This is a time when many Jews, especially young ones, are walking away from a life that involves Israel." In many cases, younger Jews represent what Ben-Ami calls a new "silent majority," who have felt until now that voicing critical opinions of Israel would expose them to harassment and accusations of anti-Semitism or self-loathing. "Young Jews have no forum to question," Lauren Barr, a college junior, observed. "And so they walk away."
Rabbi Andy Bachman, an opening session speaker, dated the generational divide to 1967, when the Six Day War initiated Israel's occupation of the West Bank. "Whether you were born before or after 1967 really matters here," he said. "If you think about the generations that have grown up since 1967, they see an Israel that is defined only as an occupying nation."
Sarah Turbow, a senior at Yale, and Aimee Mayer, a senior at the University of Maryland, both agreed. "I saw the [Palestinian] wall before I saw the Wailing Wall," Turbow told me. In spite of her family's close connection to early Israeli history, Turbow's view of Israel has to incorporate both pride and informed criticism of Israel's actions during her lifetime. Mayer, who is the president of her campus's J Street U chapter and a member of the national student board, thinks this is why younger Jews are increasingly joining progressive campus groups. "They see it as a human rights issue," she said. "Our generation grew up talking about tolerance and diversity far more than our parents' generation did."
J Street U trains student leaders in old advocacy techniques like letter-writing campaigns, campus dialogues and educational programming; its current approach to youth engagement relies heavily on the hope that new interest can be generated for old political tactics. But can letter-writing campaigns keep up with the Twitterverse? The number of next-gen Jews who registered to attend the J Street conference was in the hundreds; but thousands of young people followed live-blogging from Jewschool.com writers, or tracked the Twitter feed by searching for J Street's hashtag (a number used to tag any Tweets that relate to a certain subject). Ben-Ami opened an audience discussion session by projecting J Street's Twitter feed onto large screens and inviting audience members to live-Tweet their thoughts. J Street has benefited from the blogosphere's interest in the new lobby, but it is unclear whether the exposure has materialized in the form of new membership or political mobilization.
Jewish media outlets like Jewcy.com, Jewschool.com and JDub Records are creating forums for Jewish discussion where traditional institutions fall short. Jewcy.com--which Lilit Marcus, the web magazine's 27-year-old editor, described as "like the Huffington post except Jewish"--was an official media partner at the conference; its involvement enabled tens of thousands of viewers to watch live webcasts of the keynote speeches on its site. It also set up a table at the conference where participants could use FlipCams and free laptops to do citizen reporting on Jewcy.com.
Marcus thinks the Internet is providing community for young Jews who feel its absence. "I grew up in Raleigh," Marcus said. "And I was lucky enough that I came of age in a generation where we had Internet access, and I was able to go online and find sites like Jewcy... And I finally felt like, there may not be a community where I live, but that doesn't mean I have to be outside of this." Jacob Harris, the 29-year-old COO of the Jewish record and event company JDub, thinks that younger Jews are plugging into a culture that allows them to draw their identity from as many sources as they choose. He noted that while young Jews' parents and grandparents more often found their group identity defined by physical spaces--whether at the local Jewish Community Center or the synagogue--younger people "can Twitter at this conference and feel Jewish, or feel connected to Israel."
J Street has begun to embrace this changing definition of community, and it has already served as a forum to allow diverse people to meet and share ideas. To Rachel Jones, J Street felt like home. "This is definitely the first time I've felt embraced by a community that feels similarly to me," she said, "about what Israel is supposed to be, about what it is now, and about what it can be in the future." For young Jews sifting through the complex landscape of political identities, it can be good to have a place, physical or digital, to go.
This article originally appeared in The Nation magazine
Here's an excerpt from the Oct. 31 New York Times conference report:
"J Street has only a small fraction of the resources and membership of more established pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC], and it remains unclear how potent it will be in presenting itself as an alternative. Nonetheless, it has had great success in quickly becoming a major reference point in the complicated debate over President Obama’s Middle East policy as well as the more emotional issue of the appropriate role for American Jews in supporting Israel....
"Despite the controversy, the White House has made unmistakable gestures to lend support and legitimacy to J Street. (the name is a play on the lobbyist corridor on K Street; Washington has no street named J). After including the group in a private meeting over the summer for major American Jewish organizations, it took the more notable and public step this week of sending Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, to deliver Tuesday’s keynote address at the J Street convention....
"Among the missing at the conference was the Israeli ambassador, Michael B. Oren, who declined to attend, and more than a dozen of the 161 members of Congress who had agreed to be included on an honorary committee for the event. The Congressional members who reversed themselves asked that their names be withdrawn after some opponents of J Street asserted that supporting the group was not in Israel’s best interests."
13. CLIMATE CHANGE AND DIET
[Editor's Note: Nicholas H. Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and now a Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, is one of the most influential voices in Britain warning of the dangers of climate change. On Oct. 27 The Times (UK) published an article quoting Lord Stern (he's a baron) saying — according to the headline — "Give Up Meat to Save the Planet." Here's an excerpt.]
People will need to turn vegetarian if the world is to conquer climate change, according to a leading authority on global warming.
In an interview with The Times, Lord Stern of Brentford said: "Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better."
Direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of greenhouse gases. Methane is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas.
Lord Stern, the author of the influential 2006 Stern Review on the cost of tackling global warming, said that a successful deal at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December would lead to soaring costs for meat and other foods that generate large quantities of greenhouse gases.
He predicted that people’s attitudes would evolve until meat eating became unacceptable. "I think it’s important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating," he said. "I am 61 now and attitudes towards drinking and driving have changed radically since I was a student. People change their notion of what is responsible. They will increasingly ask about the carbon content of their food."
....UN figures suggest that meat production is responsible for about 18% of global carbon emissions, including the destruction of forest land for cattle ranching and the production of animal feeds such as soy.... The UN has warned that meat consumption is on course to double by the middle of the century.
— Our extensive article on meat eating and the impending environmental catastrophe, "Diet for an Endangered Planet," appeared in the Jan. 24, 2009, Activist Newsletter, which may be accessed from the Blog Archive.
14. TOP TEN IRAN MYTHS
[Juan Cole, an author, history professor at the University of Michigan, and president of the Global Americana Institute, posted an article on his website just before the fairly successful meeting in Geneva between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. It was titled "The Top Things You Think You Know About Iran That Are Not True." After a brief introduction, which we omit, he wrote the following.]
• Belief: Iran is aggressive and has threatened to attack Israel, its neighbors or the U.S.
Reality: Iran has not launched an aggressive war in modern history (unlike the U.S. or Israel), and its leaders have a doctrine of "no first strike." This is true of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as well as of Revolutionary Guards commanders.
• Belief: Iran is a militarized society bristling with dangerous weapons and a growing threat to world peace.
Reality: Iran's military budget is a little over $6 billion annually. Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets. Moreover, Iran is a country of 70 million, so that its per capita spending on defense is tiny compared to these others, since they are much smaller countries with regard to population. Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates.
• Belief: Iran has threatened to attack Israel militarily and to "wipe it off the map."
Reality: No Iranian leader in the executive has threatened an aggressive act of war on Israel, since this would contradict the doctrine of 'no first strike' to which the country has adhered. The Iranian president has explicitly said that Iran is not a threat to any country, including Israel.
• Belief: But didn't President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten to 'wipe Israel off the map?'
Reality: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did quote Ayatollah Khomeini to the effect that "this Occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" (in rezhim-e eshghalgar-i Qods bayad as safheh-e ruzgar mahv shavad). This was not a pledge to roll tanks and invade or to launch missiles, however. It is the expression of a hope that the regime will collapse, just as the Soviet Union did. It is not a threat to kill anyone at all.
• Belief: But aren't Iranians Holocaust deniers?
Actuality: Some are, some aren't. Former president Mohammad Khatami has castigated Ahmadinejad for questioning the full extent of the Holocaust, which he called "the crime of Nazism." Many educated Iranians in the regime are perfectly aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. In any case, despite what propagandists imply, neither Holocaust denial (as wicked as that is) nor calling Israel names is the same thing as pledging to attack it militarily.
• Belief: Iran is like North Korea in having an active nuclear weapons program, and is the same sort of threat to the world.
Actuality: Iran has a nuclear enrichment site at Natanz near Isfahan where it says it is trying to produce fuel for future civilian nuclear reactors to generate electricity. All Iranian leaders deny that this site is for weapons production, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly inspected it and found no weapons program. Iran is not being completely transparent, generating some doubts, but all the evidence the IAEA and the CIA can gather points to there not being a weapons program. The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, assessed with fair confidence that Iran has no nuclear weapons research program. This assessment was based on debriefings of defecting nuclear scientists, as well as on the documents they brought out, in addition to U.S. signals intelligence from Iran. While Germany, Israel and recently the UK intelligence is more suspicious of Iranian intentions, all of them were badly wrong about Iraq's alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction and Germany in particular was taken in by Curveball, a drunk Iraqi braggart.
• Belief: The West recently discovered a secret Iranian nuclear weapons plant in a mountain near Qom.
Actuality: Iran announced [in September] to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it had begun work on a second, civilian nuclear enrichment facility near Qom. There are no nuclear materials at the site and it has not gone hot, so technically Iran is not in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, though it did break its word to the IAEA that it would immediately inform the UN of any work on a new facility. Iran has pledged to allow the site to be inspected regularly by the IAEA, and if it honors the pledge, as it largely has at the Natanz plant, then Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons at the site, since that would be detected by the inspectors. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted on Sunday that Iran could not produce nuclear weapons at Natanz precisely because it is being inspected. Yet American hawks have repeatedly demanded a strike on Natanz.
• Belief: The world should sanction Iran not only because of its nuclear enrichment research program but also because the current regime stole June's presidential election and brutally repressed the subsequent demonstrations.
Actuality: Iran's reform movement is dead set against increased sanctions on Iran, which likely would not affect the regime, and would harm ordinary Iranians.
• Belief: Isn't the Iranian regime irrational and crazed, so that a doctrine of mutually assured destruction just would not work with them?
Actuality: Iranian politicians are rational actors. If they were madmen, why haven't they invaded any of their neighbors? Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded both Iran and Kuwait. Israel invaded its neighbors more than once. In contrast, Iran has not started any wars. Demonizing people by calling them unbalanced is an old propaganda trick. The U.S. elite was once unalterably opposed to China having nuclear science because they believed the Chinese are intrinsically irrational. This kind of talk is a form of racism.
• Belief: The international community would not have put sanctions on Iran, and would not be so worried, if it were not a gathering nuclear threat.
Actuality: The centrifuge technology that Iran is using to enrich uranium is open-ended. In the old days, you could tell which countries might want a nuclear bomb by whether they were building light water reactors (unsuitable for bomb-making) or heavy-water reactors (could be used to make a bomb). But with centrifuges, once you can enrich to 5% to fuel a civilian reactor, you could theoretically feed the material back through many times and enrich to 90% for a bomb. However, as long as centrifuge plants are being actively inspected, they cannot be used to make a bomb. The two danger signals would be if Iran threw out the inspectors or if it found a way to create a secret facility. The latter task would be extremely difficult, however, as demonstrated by the CIA's discovery of the Qom facility construction in 2006 from satellite photos. Nuclear installations, especially centrifuge ones, consume a great deal of water, construction materiel, and so forth, so that constructing one in secret is a tall order. In any case, you can't attack and destroy a country because you have an intuition that they might be doing something illegal. You need some kind of proof. Moreover, Israel, Pakistan and India are all much worse citizens of the globe than Iran, since they refused to sign the NPT and then went for broke to get a bomb; and nothing at all has been done to any of them by the UNSC.
15. NEWS SHORTS
By Nathan Rosenblum
MOST LEGAL NEEDS OF U.S. POOR ARE UNMET: Inadequate funding has increasingly deprived poor people in America of legal representation in court, according to recent findings by the Legal Services Corporation, the agency with congressional financing to operate over 900 legal aid offices. A big problem is the greatly increased need for legal support at a time of mounting bankruptcies and home foreclosures. Statistics show that about a million people — half those who apply for legal aid — were turned down in the past year. Legal Services Cooperation has received a $40 million funding increase from Washington but this has only partially offset cuts from state governments and individual donations. In some areas, legal aid case loads are larger than workers can handle. The new report estimates that nationally there is only one legal aid representative for every 6,415 people in poverty. Overall, it is estimated that 80% of the legal needs of poor Americans are unmet.
CHILD FARMWORKERS IN AMERICA NEED PROTECTION: Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) has introduced a bill to limit the employment of children in farm work to the same requirements as non-farm jobs. A recent study by Human Rights Watch found that hundreds of thousands of children in the U.S. — some as young as 11 years old — are laboring in the fields. This violates the International Labor Organization's "Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention" to which Washington is a party. The children are exposed to the various hazards of farm labor in America, including injury from stooping long hours, using sharp knives, working in sweltering conditions, lack of access to sanitary facilities, exposure to toxic pesticides, and working 10 or more hours a day. Many leave school before the end of term and begin later in order to work. The new legislation would prohibit children under 14 from engaging in agricultural labor (except on family farms), setting limits on the amount of time they can work, and prohibiting work during school hours. Dangerous work would be prohibited for those under 18 years of age.