HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
1. A NEW YEAR WISH — We need democracy in action to bring about social change — and that comes from the people, not the politicians.
2. AFGHANISTAN: IT'S NOT A JUST WAR — Trying to justify his wider war, Obama misinterpreted the "Theory of Just War" during his Nobel Prize speech.
3. WASHINGTON'S TWO LOST WARS — The United States has already lost the war in Afghanistan, just as it has lost the war in Iraq.
4. HINCHEY, HALL BACK WIDER WAR — Our local liberal Congressmen enthusiastically back escalation of Afghan conflict.
5. VOICES OF WAR AND PEACE — Quotes.
6. NEW MOVEMENTS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE — Progressive power today resides in the people's activist and alternative movements for social/political change.
7. COMING SOON: THE THOUGHT POLICE — One of the recent technological "triumphs" is a device that's supposed to read our minds and emotions to determine if we have "harmful intentions."
8. SIXTEEN DEATHS PER DAY — Every day in the United States 16 workers die on the job, largely because of reckless negligence on the part of their employers.
9. THE PALESTINIAN PLIGHT — A local activist discusses Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people.
10. THE TRAGEDY OF LEONARD PELTIER —One of America's best known political prisoners — a Native American activist — has been denied parole once again.
11. THE VOICE OF COMPLICITY — A poem by Leonard Peltier.
12. OBAMA: A ONE-TERM PRESIDENT? — Better a one-term president who ends a bad war than a two-term president who keeps it going.
13. FIGHTING ANOTHER DUMB WAR — Chris Hedges interviews former Democratic Senator Mike Gravel, who has some interesting insights about President Obama.
14. KEEP CHURCH AND STATE SEPARATE — Americans United criticizes renewed push by conservative church groups to impose religious teachings.
15. GROUPS HIT U.S. OVER LANDMINE TREATY — Human rights and disarmament activists criticize Washington's refusal to ban landmines.
16. NEWS BRIEFS — Hunger increases in U.S., World hunger on the rise, Obama supports revival of Patriot Act.
1. A NEW YEAR WISH
With a new year around the corner, let's look at the year now ending, and then the year ahead.
The year 2009 began with great hopes by many Americans with liberal, progressive or left views. Republican George W. Bush and his neoconservative clique were finally gone after eight dreadful years of right wing governance at home and rampant imperialism abroad.
Many people with hopes for substantial change thought that despite the recession important political and social progress would accompany the new Democratic administration led by President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress with large majorities in the House and Senate.
Many hoped for an end to the unjust wars, militarism and ever increasing war budgets; the replacement of economic teams that favored the wealthy, the banks and Wall Street; a reversal of the growing gap between rich and poor and the disproportionate economic inequality experienced by African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans; implementation of adequate measures to mitigate foreclosures and create jobs for the swelling ranks of the unemployed; a halt to erosions of civil liberties; no more cover-ups of the Bush Administration's war crimes; and serious advances on climate change.
Now, as we are about to enter 2010, many of the high hopes entertained last January have been dashed. President Obama, with his political caution and penchant for compromising with the right wing, hasn't lived up to his advance billing. The Democratic Congress has terribly few accomplishments to its credit because of the large number of Blue Dogs and other conservatives in its own ranks, determined to undermine progressive legislation.
We understood from the beginning that the optimistic talk about the new administration governing from the center/center-left or even from dead center was political daydreaming. Much of what is emanating today from the White House and Congress isn't even from the center but the center-right. This was not the change many people believed in and voted for.
So what about 2010? There will be more of the same unless the liberals, the progressives and the left — and there are many millions of us in America — begin to make a lot of noise. We need democracy in action to bring about social change — and that comes first from the people, not the politicians.
Nothing beats mass movements in motion for pushing political parameters toward the left, after decades of having them moved toward the right. There are scores of people's movements, independent of the ruling parties, that need more people behind them in order to make an impact on the political system.
We think every liberal, progressive and leftist who is disappointed with the way things are going should join up with one or another of the mass movements and left organizations in 2010 and push for real change — for peace, or climate change, or single-payer/public option, or protection of civil liberties, or economic justice, or a score or so of additional categories where the power of the people can make a real difference.
That's our wish for the new year — a wish for many more people and movements in motion for progressive social change. Happy new year, friends.
From Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter, Activist Calendar, and Peace and Social Progress Now.
2. AFGHANISTAN: IT'S NOT A JUST WAR
President Barack Obama delivered a rather odd speech Dec. 10 when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize at ceremonies in Oslo. In the name of peace, he sought to justify former President George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, as well as his own decision Dec. 1 to vastly expand this unnecessary and essentially lost endeavor by ordering another 30,000 troops to the war zone.
In the process, Obama misinterpreted the "Theory of Just War," the subject of this article, which argues it is not a just war.
Most Republicans, especially the neoconservatives, strongly approved of the speech, largely because of its bellicosity and its justification for Bush's foray into Afghanistan. Sarah Palin "liked what he said." Newt Gingrich "thought the speech was actually very good." Karl Rove defined it as "superb," "tough" and "effective." The pro-war Wall Street Journal offered a "Congratulations, Mr. President."
Antiwar Democrats and the peace movement were critical, but many liberal Democrats praised it, though seemingly less for its rationalization of war and imperialism and more for its smooth intellectual style and philosophical wanderings, as when Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the liberal flagship weekly The Nation, focused on the president's "humility and grace."
Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald put it this way: "Much of the liberal praise for Obama's speech yesterday focused on how eloquent, sophisticated, nuanced, complex, philosophical, contemplative and intellectual it was. And, looked at a certain way, it was all of those things — like so many Obama speeches are. After eight years of enduring a president who spoke in simplistic Manichean imperatives and bullying decrees, many liberals are understandably joyous over having a president who uses their language and the rhetorical approach that resonates with them. But that's the real danger. Obama puts a pretty, intellectual, liberal face on some ugly and decidedly illiberal policies."
Obama had little option but to express humility in accepting the Nobel Committee's award that he himself knew was entirely undeserved and an embarrassment, coming as it did just after his big move to widen the Afghan war. Under the circumstances, he carried off the necessary humility sequence quite well, noting that "Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize — Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela — my accomplishments are slight."
About half the Nobel speech was devoted to justifying the Afghan war, while most of the rest was a spirited, idealized, and mendacious defense of the U.S. role in foreign affairs since the end of World War II. Obama's foreign policy resembles a combination of that put forward by Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush (the elder). It continues the dubious tradition embraced by American presidents since 1945 consisting of seeking hegemony and world supremacy based on overwhelming military power.
In attempting to legitimize Bush's Afghan war, Obama declared:
"Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a 'just war' emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.... The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense....
"I believe that all nations, strong and weak alike, must adhere to [just war] standards that govern the use of force.... Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength."
President Obama is incorrect when he suggests that the Afghan war conforms with the theory of just war. Here's why:
Over the last 1,500 years, secular and religious ethicists have developed the theory of just war. The Roman Catholic Church is a major organizational upholder of the just war concept, but the theory enjoys universal application and is embraced in international law and the UN Charter. This is not a pacifist theory because it finds some wars just and some unjust. For instance, U.S. participation in World War II against German and Japanese imperialism is considered just, but its role in Iraq is termed unjust. Justness, not nonviolence, is the international criterion.
There are nuanced differences in the interpretation of just war theory, but there is general agreement on its six principal stipulations — all of which be must honored for the resort to war to be considered just. Four of the points are relevant to Afghanistan, the most important being "Just Cause." This means war is permissible to confront "a real and certain danger" — either an attack or imminent attack from another country — and includes self-defense or the defense of others from external aggression.
Afghanistan neither attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, nor was it threatening an imminent attack. This rules out the just cause of self-defense. We will explain this before moving to the other three points.
Al-Qaeda, a small decentralized fundamentalist religious organization on the fringes of Islam was responsible for the attack, not the state or government of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was formed in Afghanistan by Osama bin-Laden, a Saudi exile, in 1988. Its members were drawn from foreign Muslim jihadist fighters taking part in the Afghan civil war (1979-1996) against a left wing government in Kabul that was being defended by Soviet troops, followed by a war between the various Afghan factions after the left was overthrown in 1992. The U.S. financed the anti-government civil war, as did Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on a lesser scale. Al-Qaeda was among the beneficiaries of Washington's support.
Most al-Qaeda recruits returned to their own countries in the Middle East and Europe after the war. Some set up small branches of the organization where they lived. A sector of al-Qaeda, including bin-Laden, remained in Afghanistan with the approval of the fundamentalist Taliban government, which emerged victorious from the civil war in 1996. (For Washington's deep involvement, including financing the civil war, see the archived "The U.S. in Afghanistan Part 2: The Origins of a Bad War" in the Nov. 5, 2009, Activist Newsletter.)
No Afghan was among the 19 Al-Qaeda suicide operatives, armed with box cutters, who hijacked four airliners on 9/11 and slammed one of them into the Pentagon and two others into New York's World Trade Center, killing about 3,000 people.
Much of the planning for the attack evidently took place in Europe and then in the U.S. There has never been any proof that Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar was aware of the Sept. 11 plan, much less a party to it. Just hours after the Washington and New York City destruction, the Taliban authorities denounced the attacks. At the same time, Afghanistan's Taliban ambassador to Pakistan stated to the media "We want to tell the American children that Afghanistan feels your pain. We hope the courts find justice."
President Bush immediately rejected suggestions for a major international police effort to apprehend the leaders of the attack. Instead, after conferring with his neoconservative advisers, he defined this small-group terrorist raid as an act of war carried out from Afghan territory with the connivance of the Taliban government. This allowed Bush to declare an open-ended "War on Terrorism," paving the way a few weeks later for his invasion of Afghanistan, and then Iraq in March 2003.
Another of the just war points is "Last Resort. This means a country may resort to war only after exhausting every other possible alternative. This is reflected in the UN Charter, which calls for serious efforts to resolve differences nonviolently through diplomacy or the courts, before the resort to military means. Bush rejected an offer by the Taliban to produce bin-Laden if the U.S. wouldn't invade. Its only stipulation was that Washington provide proof that the al-Qaeda leader actually committed the crime, as would any country asked to surrender a suspect to another country. Bush swiftly refused, ruled out any negotiations, and began a bombing campaign and invasion. President Obama said in Oslo that "America did not seek" the Afghan war, but war was Bush's first resort, not last, as was the case 18 months later when he attacked Iraq.
A third stipulation is "Right Intention" — i.e., fighting only on behalf of an expressed just cause without a trace of ulterior motivation such as the acquisition of power, land, resources, riches, etc. As we note in the article below (Washington's Two Lost Wars), Bush's ulterior motivations were to interject U.S. military power into Central Asia and also to occupy a country adjacent to Iran, another neoconservative target for regime change at the time.
The last point is "Proportionality," meaning that the quantity of violence, damage and costs is proportionate to the expressed reason for resorting to war. Given the violation of the Just War standards of just cause, last resort, and right intention, the disproportion involved in Bush's bombing, invasion, occupation and continuing warfare is self-evident. In any event, Bush's expressed reason for war was that the Taliban did not hand over bin-Laden, but that was terminally modified by the U.S. refusal to provide the evidence required for extradition.
Thus, despite President Obama's efforts to define Bush's invasion of Afghanistan as just, he has decided to send another 30,000 troops, on top of approximately 30,000 sent earlier in this year, to fight in a manifestly unjust war.
3. WASHINGTON'S TWO LOST WARS
The United States has already lost the war in Afghanistan, just as it has lost the war in Iraq.
President Barack Obama's vast expansion of the Afghan war announced Dec. 1, and the extension of the violence into neighboring Pakistan, are intended to camouflage the reality of defeat, as was the Bush Administration's "surge" in Iraq.
The U.S. is the world's only superpower and history's unparalleled military colossus. But after six decades of extending its hegemony to the point of virtually dominating the world, Washington recognizes it is declining as a global economic and political power as other countries and blocs gain strength.
Those who rule America understand that the process of decline will accelerate if the Pentagon's vaunted war machine suffers the worldwide public humiliation of being bested in two wars by small forces of decentralized, irregular combatants with rifles, homemade munitions, and suicide belts.
And bested they have been, though neither Washington nor the corporate mass media will admit this truth after having suffered the setback of disgrace in Vietnam. But how else can America's present position in Iraq after nearly seven years, and in Afghanistan after over eight years, be explained?
Although its original plans crumbled when it was unable to defeat a small enemy, Washington wants to make sure that when its foreign legions finally come marching home from Afghanistan and Iraq, they will do so to the cadence of martial music proclaiming "Mission accomplished.... Best Army in the world.... All heroes.... Democracy wins!"
Let's first look at Iraq in terms of the fighting and Washington's war objectives, followed by Afghanistan and President Obama's expansion of the war.
The mighty U.S., which invaded Iraq in March 2003, was fought to a standstill from the summer of 2003 to the end of 2006 by up to 25,000 mostly Sunni guerrilla resistance fighters belonging to various small groups, nationalist or mujahedeen. The resistance largely evaporated two years ago because of President Bush's "surge," but this had nothing to do with military defeat. The struggle was subverted mainly by three things:
(1) The Shi'ite refusal to take part in the opposition to the Bush Administration's unjust and illegal invasion and occupation — knowing that when the invaders left they would be in charge — and by the Shia government's antagonism toward the Sunni combatants. (2) The entry of al-Qaeda, which before the war was never allowed into Iraq, and its indiscriminate war against civilians that undercut the resistance and dismayed Sunni nationalist ranks. (3) The "surge" that began in 2007, which was principally based on offering large sums of money to Sunni elders and tribal leaders, combined with paying salaries to thousands of jobless fighters, plus offering to protect the Sunnis from possible retaliation by the puppet Shi'ite government.
President George W. Bush's claimed objective was to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and to punish the Ba'athist government of President Saddam Hussein for conniving with al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. When these lies were exposed they were replaced by two new lies — bringing democracy to Iraq, and protecting the Iraqi people from al-Qaeda.
The real neoconservative objective was far more grandiose — the extension of U.S. hegemony throughout the entire Middle East, not just in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and a few lesser satellites as now. After a quick shock-and-awe victory, a puppet government-in-waiting composed of Iraqi exiles loyal to Washington was to run the country on behalf of U.S. political, economic and military interests.
Thus geographically situated with enormous military power between Iran and Syria, the U.S. was to begin the process of regime change in Damascus and Tehran, providing itself with a spectacular geostrategic prize — absolute control of the Persian Gulf, through which over half the world's petroleum must be transported. And it was all going to happen cheaply because it would be financed largely by Iraqi oil, and perhaps Iran's as well.
The plan to control the entire Middle East failed, though for the next several years the Iraqi government will not turn against the United States; after that it's an open question. The cost of the Iraq war, over the years — including long term interest payments on the war debt — will amount to $3 trillion, enough to end world poverty were it spent for a good cause. And combined with the Pentagon's inability to militarily sweep away a small number of resistance fighters the entire fiasco amounts to a serious defeat for the U.S.
Bush managed, with the backing of the mass media, to mitigate the perceived dimensions of the defeat by conflating the resistance with the crimes of al-Qaeda, by defining the surge as a military victory as opposed to a buyout, and by promoting the illusion that Iraq is now a democracy. Lastly, Bush cleverly decided to sign an agreement with the Baghdad government declaring that all U.S. troops were leaving the country by the end of 2011, suggesting "mission accomplished" and an "honorable withdrawal."
Afghanistan is different but similar. The Bush Administration detected a major geopolitical opportunity in the rubble of Sept. 11, 2001. Instead of massive international police work to apprehend the gang that perpetrated the historic terrorist crime, President Bush launched a "War on Terrorism" to justify new wars of aggression, an idea promoted by his neoconservative handlers.
The first objective of this neocolonial endeavor was to swiftly overthrow the reactionary Taliban government in Afghanistan that harbored a branch of al-Qaeda, and to put authority into the hands of officials totally subordinate to Washington's diktat, watched over by an army of occupation.
As we point out in the article above (Afghanistan: It's Not a Just War), there has not been any proof that the Taliban government participated in the planning or execution the 9/11, or that any Taliban official, including founder/leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, was aware of al-Qaeda plans to seize passenger jets and crash them into symbols of American power. Omar in fact offered to turn over Osama bin-Laden, as the U.S. demanded, if Washington first handed him proof of the al-Qaeda leader's guilt. Bush refused, and launched a war.
The real purpose of the invasion of Afghanistan had two levels. One was intended to show Bush was a powerful, vengeful leader capable of destroying world "terrorism" by fulfilling his shocking pledge to "export death and violence to the four corners of the Earth in defense of our great nation."
More to the point was the second level, wherein the U.S. was to ensconce itself in strategic Central Asia for the first time, protected by an American and NATO army of long-term occupation. Geographically, Washington's military power was now conveniently adjacent to Iran — another neocon target — and in close proximity to the resource-rich former republics of the USSR, prized for their oil and gas deposits. U.S./NATO military bases and airfields were also now in a position to worry if not threaten China and Russia, a big asset during Bush's several-year revival of the Cold War.
In addition to being unable to defeat a poorly armed guerrilla force of 20,000 or so effectives, the U.S. has been defending a thoroughly corrupt, weak and ineffective puppet government, and presiding over the growth of illegal drug cartels that rake in several billion dollars a year from poppy production. Despite Washington's control of the Afghan government, its police and army, the masses of people live unprotected by the central authorities and in extreme poverty. The cultural oppression of Afghan women and girls has improved only very slightly in the cities, and hardly at all in the countryside where the majority of people live.
After eight years, despite the U.S./NATO occupation, the Taliban is now dominant in at least a third of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, and are increasingly active in many others. Afghan Taliban forces based in Pakistan frequently cross the border to reassert control. American forces occupy some big cities but not much territory. Warlords and tribes, some on the U.S. payroll, some backing the resistance, occupy the rest of the country.
Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this month — nine months after President Obama authorized his first addition of 21,000 more troops — "we are losing." This was the same message Afghan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been conveying for months. The generals argued for a wider war to prevent an obvious defeat.
To create the impression that the U.S. is actually winning a war already lost, President Obama is now significantly escalating the conflict, aiming for a military force of 100,000 Americans (it was 32,000 when Obama entered office) and 45,000 NATO troops, plus as many "contractors" who often perform military duties. This action will multiply the death and destruction, and cost multi-billions more dollars the U.S. cannot afford.
The main purposes of the new surge are to • prevent the Taliban from further expanding its territories; • greatly intensify the fighting along and over the border with western Pakistan, including a major increase in drone attacks to kill Afghan Taliban leaders and units with bases in Pakistan; • train, equip and finance a huge puppet Army and police force under U.S. control; • delegate more power to the American-subsidized Afghan warlords in various parts of the country; • and, in a spectacular irony, to seek a strategic compromise with the Taliban that would allow it a role in provincial governments and eventually in the central government, while paying huge sums to Taliban fighters to stop shooting at U.S. troops.
All this, Obama hopes, will allow him to claim "success," though hardly "victory," and eventually extricate U.S. troops "with honor," possibly before the end of his second term. In matters like this, however, things rarely go as planned. It could blow up in America's face. Just ask former Commander-in-Chief George Bush, the instigator of two unnecessary, unjust and utterly failed wars.
The U.S. never should have attacked Afghanistan or Iraq to begin with. Having done so, Washington should have cut its losses and brought the troops home years ago. A substantial portion of the U.S. electorate brought Obama into office under the assumption he would find a way to do so. But here we go again.
4. REPS. HINCHEY, HALL BACK WIDER WAR
The New York Mid-Hudson region's two liberal "peace candidates" — Rep. Maurice Hinchey (NY-22nd CD) and Rep. John Hall (NY-19th CD) — strongly supported President Barack Obama's massive escalation of the U.S. war against Afghanistan.
Hinchey has opposed the Iraq war from the beginning, but he has supported the Afghan war since then-President George W. Bush's invasion and occupation that began in October 2001, though he usually hasn't broadcast his Afghan war views during addresses to antiwar audiences.
In a statement lauding President Obama's Dec. 1 decision to enlarge the war by sending an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Hinchey was critical of Bush because he "abandoned any effective strategy" in Afghanistan. "We are now left to confront the festering problems of an insecure and volatile Afghanistan.... If we were to walk away now, it would be a waste of the last eight years."
Interestingly, as of Dec. 16, Hinchey is still listed among the 24 co-sponsors of a bill introduced in the House Oct. 1 by antiwar Rep. Barbara Lee. The purpose of the bill, H.R.3699, is "To prohibit any increase in the number of members of the United States Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan."
Rep. Hall's district includes West Point, where President Obama announced his decision to escalate the war. He was considered a "peace" candidate when he first won election to Congress in November 2006. His website includes this Dec. 1 statement on the wider war:
"The terrorists who attacked America and New York on 9/11, killing thousands of innocent American civilians, were trained in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. Preventing Al-Qaeda from regaining a safe haven in Afghanistan is absolutely vital to America's national security. I am glad that the President came here to West Point to explain his plans directly to our nation's future officer corps. The new strategy that the President announced tonight includes critical changes that can lead to American and Afghan success against the Taliban leadership and Al-Qaeda: requiring progress and benchmarks to be made by the Afghan government, expanding military presence beyond the cities to Taliban strongholds in the east and south, enabling America's withdrawal by training Afghan forces, and increasing direct economic development to provide economic options besides joining the Taliban."
5. VOICES OF WAR AND PEACE
"The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity."
— Barack Obama, Dec. 10, 2009
"When we talk about war, we're really talking about peace. We want there to be peace. We want people to live in peace all around the world. I mean, our vision for peace extends beyond America. We believe in peace in South Asia. We believe in peace in the Middle East. We're going to be steadfast toward a vision that rejects terror and killing, and honors peace and hope. I also want the young to know that this country, we don't conquer people, we liberate people."
— George W. Bush, June 18, 2002, nine months after invading Afghanistan and nine months before invading Iraq.
"It's easy to get into a war, but hard as hell to get out of one."
— President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
"He that is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death."
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
— Martin Luther King
"It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it."
— Eleanor Roosevelt
"I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty, bloody, dollar soaked fingers out of the business of these [Third World] nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own. And if unfortunately their revolution must be of the violent type because the 'haves' refuse to share with the 'have-nots' by any peaceful method, at least what they get will be their own, and not the American style, which they don't want and above all don't want crammed down their throats by Americans."
— Gen. David Sharp (1966), former Commandant U.S. Marine Corps
6. NEW MOVEMENTS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
The widening war, economic recession, and serious policy disappointments from the White House and Congress are negative developments, but this situation also creates opportunities for the growth of progressive oppositional movements.
True, the political life of the country remains enveloped in a choking fog of conservatism emanating from the right-to-center "consensus" of the two ruling parties. The positive aspect of this situation is that social movements are growing in America, and are demanding fairly substantive change — not the vague "change" articulated by centrist politicians during last year's elections.
We speak largely of the new citizen's movement for single-payer/public option healthcare reform, and the regenerated people's environmental movement demanding significant progress in countering climate change, though each has a way to go organizationally, politically and in demonstrating they have staying power.
These movements are specifically challenging the inadequate, half-way measures emanating from the White House and Congress in response to the demand for severe reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and for building a healthcare system that finally puts people before profits. Working in concert with existing health-related and environmental movements, these newer forces have the potential to transform into energetic mass movements.
Obviously, given the Obama Administration's continuation of America's aggressive military posture, its glorification of the military, and an international perspective based upon extending Washington's hegemony wherever possible, the antiwar movement is of exceptional importance. Lately in the Activist Newsletter we have been analyzing the weaknesses of our peace forces, but we anticipate they will become stronger in the next year.
All three of these large movements are articulating demands that go beyond what the present powers in Washington will accept, much less the neoconservative yahoos of the previous administration. And they are joined by other grass roots organizations growing around such pressing needs as jobs and foreclosures, financial regulation and progressive immigration reform, to name a few.
These movements will be strengthened by the gradual shedding of political illusions by millions of progressives and liberals who assumed the Obama Administration would pursue a center-left reformist agenda. A process of political awakening is gradually taking place.
Locally, within one week — at the West Point protest Dec. 1, the New Paltz picket line against the Afghan War Dec. 5, and the CLASP meeting Dec. 6 — we were approached individually by about a dozen progressive readers of the Activist Newsletter who had strongly backed President Obama in the election. One after another indicated they were, in effect, disillusioned by Obama's penchant for making major concessions to the right wing and the center-right but spurning his center-left supporters and their programs for change.
We think the progressive healthcare and climate change movements have the potential for real growth because their goals — public healthcare for all, and the survival of our planet — are irrefutably essential for the well being of society. As it becomes evident that Washington distains their demands, participants will learn valuable lessons that advance their political consciousness — namely, that insurance companies rule the healthcare debate, big business controls the climate change agenda, and many American politicians are in liege to corporate and financial interests.
The antiwar movement has experienced hard times in the last couple of years, largely because the movement's main constituency by far — Democratic voters — began drifting away when their party gained Congress in the 2006 elections. This process accelerated when Obama was elected last year. A majority of Democrats told opinion polls they opposed the Afghan adventure, but now that it's Obama's war a great many have not yet returned to the peace movement.
But this is changing, not least because of Obama's decision to significantly escalate the Afghan war. The West Point protest, which took place as Obama announced the buildup to an audience of 4,000 cadets and millions of TV viewers, seemed to us the harbinger of a turnaround. Over 300 people were organized to demonstrate outside the Military Academy on very short notice, and the event turned out to be more militant than anticipated.
We think the antiwar movement is going to bounce back, especially as the Obama Administration increases the violence and the financial costs in Afghanistan while expanding the war into Pakistan. The protests set for the seventh anniversary of the Iraq war on March 20 in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities will help determine the movement's future.
A stronger antiwar movement, combined with growing movements for healthcare, climate change and, hopefully a movement dedicated to the welfare of the working people of our country, can become an important factor in American politics. The combination of several movements in action for different progressive objectives is quite powerful. We had that during the 1960s and early 1970s , and it produced many important reforms — so many, in fact, that a conservative backlash against them still reverberates today.
This struggle between right and left views has been brewing for a long time, but it is growing more intense now that the Republicans are out of power and increasingly tilting to the far right. Who's going to prevail? Will it be the right/far right, with its reactionary anti-government populism, religious-right social/cultural views and neoconservative imperialism? The nation got a taste of some of this during the summer at the town hall confrontations. Will it be the vacillating center now in power, the first instinct of which is to compromise with the right? Or the center-left and left with their people-first policies and far more rational international views?
Influencing this outcome are the very progressives and liberals who played an important role in electing Obama because they thought he'd govern from the center-left. Many now are distressed because their candidate is actually doing so from the center-right — a major political difference. What will they do now?
At the same time the needs of the majority of American people have been coldly ignored by both ruling parties for 40 years, and this majority is today experiencing the most extreme ravages of the current recession. These people are situated in the working class, the lower to mid-sector of the middle class, the poverty caste, and the African American, Latino and Native American minorities who suffer cruelly disproportionate hardships.
The political duopoly has done nothing of significance to improve the lot of the masses of people in the years before and during the Great Recession, and it will do nothing when the economic crisis is declared over in a year or two. Both left and right are contending to provide leadership for this marginalized majority of the American people. So what is to be done?
We need big social, political and economic reforms in America that will attend to the needs of working families. We certainly need solid healthcare and climate change policies. And we need to end these endless wars – almost seven years in Iraq and over eight years in Afghanistan. And much more.
This can only happen if the center-left and left are stronger. Clearly, their clout within the two-party system is negligible. Progressive power, and the power of the American people, today resides in the social and activist and alternative political movements for progressive change, most certainly including the peace movement.
One way of becoming stronger is for the progressives and liberals who are dismayed by the shortcomings of the Congress and president they elected to join in these center-left social movements and fight hard for social change from an activist — as opposed to an almost entirely electoral — orientation. This will simultaneously put pressure for change on the Obama government, stand in strong opposition to the active right wing, and build for a progressive future.
7. COMING SOON: THE THOUGHT POLICE
Were the United States ever to transform into a police state the technology is ready and waiting. One of the more recent technological "triumphs" is a device that's supposed to read our minds and emotions to determine if we have "harmful intentions." Following is an excerpt from a Dec. 9 article by AlterNet's Liliana Segura:
This past February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded a one-year, $2.6 million grant to the Cambridge, MA.-based Charles Stark Draper Laboratory to develop computerized sensors capable of detecting a person's level of "malintent" — or intention to do harm. It's only the most recent of numerous contracts awarded to Draper and assorted research outfits by the U.S. government over the past few years under the auspices of a project called "Future Attribute Screening Technologies," or FAST. It's the next wave of behavior surveillance from DHS and taxpayers have paid some $20 million on it so far.
Conceived as a cutting-edge counter-terrorism tool, the FAST program will ostensibly detect subjects' bad intentions by monitoring their physiological characteristics, particularly those associated with fear and anxiety. It's part of a broader "initiative to develop innovative, non-invasive technologies to screen people at security checkpoints," according to DHS.
The "non-invasive" claim might be a bit of a stretch. A DHS report issued last December outlined some of the possible technological features of FAST, which include "a remote cardiovascular and respiratory sensor" to measure "heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia," a "remote eye tracker" that "uses a camera and processing software to track the position and gaze of the eyes (and, in some instances, the entire head)," "thermal cameras that provide detailed information on the changes in the thermal properties of the skin in the face," and "a high resolution video that allows for highly detailed images of the face and body… and an audio system for analyzing human voice for pitch change."
Ultimately, all of these components would be combined to take the form of a "prototypical mobile suite (FAST M2) … used to increase the accuracy and validity of identifying persons with malintent."
Coupled with the Transportation Security Administration's Behavior Detection Officers, 3,000 of whom are already scrutinizing travelers' expressions and body language at airports and travel hubs nationwide, DHS officials say that FAST will add a potentially lifesaving layer of security to prevent another terrorist attack. "There's only so much you can see with the naked eye," DHS spokesperson John Verrico told AlterNet. "We can't see somebody's heart rate…. We may be able to see movements of the eye and changes in dilation of the pupil, but will those give us enough [information] to make a determination as to what we're really seeing?"
Ideally, Verrico says, FAST mobile units would be used for security, not just at airports, but at "any sort of a large-scale event," including sporting events or political rallies. ("When the Pope visited Washington D.C.," he says, "it would have been nice to have something like this at the entrance of the stadium.")
"Basically," says Verrico, "we're looking to give the security folks just some more tools that will help to add to their toolbox."
If you think eye scanners and thermal cameras sound like the twisted props of some Orwellian dystopia, you're not alone. FAST may be years from being operational, but civil libertarians have already raised concerns over its implications.
"We think that you have an inherent privacy right to your bodily metabolic functions," Jay Stanley, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty program told AlterNet. "Just because somebody can build some high-tech piece of equipment that can detect your pulse and perspiration and breathing and heart rate, that doesn't mean that it should be open season to detect that on anybody without suspicion."
Besides, he says, the FAST program is based on "the same old pseudo-scientific baloney that we've seen in so many other areas. As far as I can tell, there's very little science that establishes the efficacy of this kind of thing. And there probably never will be."
Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and bestselling author who has been one of the most vociferous critics of such new high-tech DHS initiatives, concurs. In fact, he says, all the evidence suggests the opposite. "The problem is the false positives," he says.
Beyond the fact that ordinary travelers are likely to exhibit many of the symptoms supposedly indicative of malintent (how many people run to catch a plane and end up overheated and out of breath?), compare the rarity of terrorist attacks with the millions of travelers who pass through a security checkpoint. Statistically, Schneier argues, it's a fool's errand. "If you run the math, you get several million false positives for every real attack you find. So it ends up being as useless as picking people randomly. If you're going to spend money on something, you can spend money on dice — it's cheaper. And equally as effective."
The FAST program, and others like it, have been in the works for a few years. In 2007, New Scientist reported on a DHS project called Project Hostile Intent, which "aims to identify facial expressions, gait, blood pressure, pulse and perspiration rates that are characteristic of hostility or the desire to deceive." Under the purview of DHS's Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA), the project would "include heart rate and breathing sensors, infrared light, laser, video, audio and eye tracking."
According to New Scientist, "PHI got quietly under way on 9 July, when HSARPA issued a 'request for information' in which it asked security companies and U.S. government labs to suggest technologies that could be used to achieve the project's aims. It hopes to test them at a handful of airports, borders and ports as early as 2010 and to deploy the system at all points of entry to the U.S. by 2012."
For full article: http://www.alternet.org/story/144443/
8. SIXTEEN DEATHS PER DAY
Every day in the United States 16 workers die on the job, largely because of reckless negligence on the part of their employers. Most companies are never prosecuted for negligence, even after repeated warnings that their workers are in danger.
In 2007, the last year for which complete figures are available, there were some 5,600 fatalities, plus about four million workplace injuries, according to figures from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which requires that all businesses with over 10 workers report work-related injuries requiring medical treatment beyond basic first aid.
But a critical report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Nov. 16 charges that the injury figures are much too low, suggesting that the real number may be three times higher.
In an article about the GAO revelations Nov. 17, the New York Times reported that "Employers and workers routinely underreport work-related injuries and illnesses.... [E]mployers did not report workplace injuries and illnesses for fear of increasing their workers’ compensation costs or hurting their chances of winning contracts.... [W]orkers did not report job-related injuries because they feared being fired or disciplined, and worried that their co-workers might lose rewards, like bonuses or steak dinners, as part of safety-based incentive programs....
"The accountability office said that 53% of health practitioners had reported experiencing pressure from company officials to play down injuries or illnesses, and that 47% had reported experiencing this pressure from workers.... [Some 67%] had reported observing worker fear of disciplinary action for reporting an injury or illness, and 46% said this fear had some impact on the accuracy of employers’ injury and illness records."
The website 16 Deaths Per Day reports that "Under current Federal law, willfully contributing to the death of an employee is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum prison sentence of six months and a maximum fine of $70,000. Even with these weak penalties, OSHA rarely refers such cases to the Department of Justice for prosecution, so those employers that knowingly allow their employees to work under dangerous conditions are rarely held accountable. In fact, current laws are so weak that millions of dollars of penalties to victim's families have not been paid — in those rare cases when violators are penalized at all."
Legislation is pending in Congress to expand workplace protections to state, county, municipal, and federal employees who are not currently covered by OSHA. It's called the Protecting America's Workers Act and was authored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died earlier this year, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey. The House bill, HR2067, has 51 sponsors in addition to Woolsey, including the Hudson Valley's Rep. John Hall (D, NY-19th CD) and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D, NY-22nd CD). This act will also:
• Increase financial penalties for those who kill or endanger workers.
• Strengthen criminal penalties to make felony charges available for willful negligence causing death or serious injury.
• Expand OSHA coverage to millions of employees who fall through the cracks (like airline and railroad workers).
• Provide protection for whistleblowers.
• Give employees the right to refuse hazardous work that may kill them.
• Improve the rights of workers and families, requiring OSHA to investigate all cases of death.
• Prohibit employers from discouraging reporting of injury or illness.
There is a five minute video about the inadequacy of current laws, and a petition to Congressional leaders calling for passage of HR2067, at http://16deathsperday.com/.
9. THE PALESTINIAN PLIGHT
[The author of this article written for the newsletter is a peace and justice activist in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Among the local organizations he works with is Middle East Crisis Response.]
By Fred Nagel
With so many points of view about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it is hard for the average American to know where to start. And the knowledge some have acquired from religious fundamentalist teachings — Christian, Jewish, or Muslim — is often based on mythology.
Perhaps the best place to begin is on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza. In both occupied territories Palestinian people are among the poorest and most destitute in the world, often without adequate food, potable water, and even basic housing.
Added to this, at least in the occupied West Bank, is the ever-present violence directed at Palestinians by Jewish fundamentalists who have built armed fortresses on hundreds of hilltops. These zealots have one goal in mind: to clear the land of all Palestinians by shootings, beatings, and destroying what is left of Palestinian agriculture. The massive presence of the Israeli Defense Force — with its check points, military incursions, barrier walls and heavy surveillance — insures that there can be no Palestinian retaliation to these attacks. Palestinian homes are routinely bulldozed to make way for more Jewish families, usually paid for by the Israeli government ($75,000 per household). There are now a half million Jewish occupiers in the West Bank protected by tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers.
South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, wrote in the Guardian (UK) in April 2002: "I've been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to use black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at the checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about."
Life for the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza is by most measures even worse. Cut off from the outside world by an Israeli air, sea, and land blockade, their standard of living rivals the worst of the world's great slums. Without dependable sources of food or water, a whole generation of Palestinian children is growing up physically stunted. Moreover, the repeated military attacks on Gaza have left the entire population traumatized. There is simply no way to escape the fighter planes and missile gunships during the Israeli assaults.
According to journalist Chris Hedges Nov. 17, "The Israelis have orchestrated acute misery and poverty in the Palestinian territories over the past two decades in an effort to subdue and ethnically cleanse the captive population. They have reduced Palestinians, many of whom now live on less than $2 a day, to a subsistence level."
Efforts to "punish, humiliate, and terrorize" an entire population are recognized war crimes, as defined most recently by the Goldstone Report. The Israeli government and its Zionist allies in the U.S. have no moral or legal defense when it comes to how Israel treats Palestinians in the occupied territories. All that remains is obfuscation.
The Goldstone report on the Gaza invasion, however, is a good example of how effective the Zionist lobby in the U.S. has been in hiding Israeli war crimes from the public. Richard Goldstone, a Jewish South African, served as chief prosecutor of the UN Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In 2009, he led a UN Human Rights Council investigation of international and humanitarian law violations associated with the most recent Israeli invasion of Gaza. In his own words, his life's work pursuing war criminals "stems from the lessons of the Holocaust."
As soon as his 575-page report came out, The New York Times characterized it as critical of both Hamas, the organization elected to govern Gaza, and Israel. No mention was made of the fact that Goldstone directed the bulk of his condemnation at Israeli "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity," based in part on the 1,400 mostly civilian Palestinian deaths compared to 14 mostly Israeli army deaths during the Tel Aviv's invasion of Gaza a year ago. In every broadcast, NPR and the mainstream media referred to the Goldstone Report as "critical of both sides."
But that wasn't enough for Israel or its Zionist lobby in America. Soon massive pressure was exerted on the House of Representatives to condemn the Goldstone findings. After a one-sided debate, the House on Nov. 3 voted 344-36 for a non-binding resolution condemning the Goldstone Report as "irredeemably biased." Mid-Hudson Rep. John Hall (D, NY-19th CD) was a co-sponsor.
Three days later he UN General Assembly approved a resolution endorsing the Goldstone Report 114-18 with 44 abstentions. Among those voting against the resolution were the U.S., Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Israel.
The U.S. corporate media, echoing Washington's political support for Israel, rarely depicts the Palestinian people in positive light. Despite this, it seems that increasing numbers of Americans are coming to sympathize with the Palestinian struggle against oppression. Later in December, for example, 14 local residents of the Mid-Hudson Valley are traveling to Gaza to take part in a Gaza Freedom March. The group is part of the Middle East Crisis Response (http://www.mideastcrisis.org), an organization in Dutchess and Ulster Counties dedicated to ending Israeli and U.S. war crimes.
The local marchers will join over a thousand international participants in breaking the siege of Gaza by crossing the Egyptian boarder on Dec. 29. Their progress can be followed at http://www.hudsontogaza.blogspot.com/.
10. THE TRAGEDY OF LEONARD PELTIER
[Editor's Note: Native American activist Leonard Peltier is one of America's two best known political prisoners. The other is Mumia Abu-Jamal. Peltier has been held in U.S. prisons for 33 years for a crime he and a multitude of supporters at home and abroad insist he did not commit. He has just been denied parole once again. The following article by award-winning author Peter Matthiessen, who has followed the Peltier tragedy from the beginning, appeared in the Nov. 19 New York Review of Books.]
By Peter Matthiessen
On July 27, 2009, I drove west from New York to the old riverside town of Lewisburg in central Pennsylvania, the site of the federal penitentiary where early the next morning I would make an appeal to the parole board on behalf of the American Indian Movement (AIM) activist Leonard Peltier in his first parole hearing in 15 years.
On this soft summer evening, a quiet gathering of Peltier supporters from all over the country had convened in a small park near the Susquehanna River. Despite his long history of defeats in court, these Indians and whites sharing a makeshift picnic at wood tables under the trees were optimistic about a favorable outcome. Surely a new era of justice for minorities and poor people had begun with the Obama administration, and anyway, wasn't Leonard's freedom all but assured by the Parole Act of 2005, which mandated release for inmates who had spent thirty or more years in prison?
Leonard Peltier, an Ojibwa-Lakota from Turtle Mountain, North Dakota, was one of the three young Indians who were among the participants in a shoot-out with the FBI at Oglala on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation on a hot dusty day in June 1975. They were later charged with the deaths of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams.
Ostensibly searching for a suspect in a recent robbery case, the agents had been warned by tribal police not to enter the property where the AIM Indians had their camp. Their intrusion apparently provoked a warning that led to an exchange of gunfire. Understandably outraged by the deaths of Coler and Williams and in particular by the fact that an unknown "shooter" had finished off both wounded men at point-blank range, their fellow agents would also suffer intense frustration and embarrassment when a dozen or more of the Indians involved, using a brushy culvert under a side road, escaped a tight cordon of hundreds of agents, Indian and state police, national guardsmen, and vigilantes who had the area surrounded.
More galling still, Bob Robideau and Dino Butler, two of the three AIM suspects in the killings arrested during the FBI's huge "ResMurs" (Reservation Murders) investigation, were acquitted a year later in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on a plea of self-defense, as the third and last suspect, Leonard Peltier, would certainly have been as well, had he not fled to Canada. He was arrested there in February 1976, extradited back to the US, and tried separately.
Though originally indicted with the others on identical evidence, he was barred by a hostile new judge, Paul Benson, from presenting the same argument based on self-defense that had led to Robideau and Butler's acquittal. Furiously prosecuted as the lone killer and convicted for both deaths on disputed evidence, Peltier was sentenced in February 1977 in Fargo, North Dakota, to two consecutive life terms in federal prison.
The following year, when Peltier's conviction was appealed, 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Donald Ross denounced the coercion of witnesses and manipulation of evidence in his case as "a clear abuse of the investigative process by the FBI"; the US Attorney's Office, too, would be sharply criticized for withholding exculpatory evidence.
In October 1984, in an evidentiary hearing in Bismarck, North Dakota, ordered by the appellate court to review the possibility of a new trial, the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Lynn Crooks, had to concede that the FBI's own laboratory had failed to verify the claimed ballistics link between Peltier and the murder weapon that was used to nail down his conviction — a shell casing of disputed provenance that Crooks had called "perhaps the most important piece of evidence in this case." Even so, Judge Benson refused to reconsider the conviction.
The following year when the decision was appealed again, Crooks finally admitted that the identity of "the shooter" had never been proven and was in fact unknown to the prosecution even when it was twisting the evidence to ensure Peltier's conviction and make certain that its third and last suspect — by its own description, "the only one we got" — was imprisoned for life. Yet the appellate court, while noting that so much tainted evidence had deprived the defendant of his constitutional right to due process of law, found "no compelling legal justification" for ordering a new trial.
In a TV interview after his retirement in 1989, Judge Gerald Heaney, who had signed that astonishing decision, called it "the most difficult I had to make in 22 years on the bench." The following year, in the National Law Journal, this troubled jurist held the FBI "equally responsible" for the deaths of its two agents; in a letter to Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, he urged commutation of Peltier's sentence.
Questioned on the same 1989 TV show about the perjured affidavits extracted by FBI agents from a frightened alcoholic, U.S. Attorney Crooks declared: "I don't really know and I don't really care if they were false. I don't agree that we did anything wrong, but I can tell you, it don't bother my conscience one whit if we did." Properly outraged by this arrogant refusal to repudiate U.S. government use of fabricated evidence, Sen. Inouye, as a former U.S. attorney, called Crooks "a disgrace to the profession."
I first interviewed Leonard Peltier in Marion Penitentiary in 1981, and that same year, with his original codefendant Bob Robideau, I inspected the Jumping Bull Ranch at Oglala where the shoot-out had taken place. Later, after reading many if not most of the pertinent documents, including the FBI field reports and the transcripts of both trials, I returned to Oglala to interview local people and study the scene again.
Like the FBI, I would hear all sorts of rumors about the many young Indians involved without learning which one had fired the fatal shots; however there seemed to me no doubt whatever that Leonard Peltier had been railroaded into prison.
Unfortunately my long book making that case [In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (Viking, 1983)] was quickly suppressed by libel suits brought by South Dakota's attorney general, William Janklow, and an FBI agent named David Price. Eight years would pass before both suits were summarily dismissed and the book was back in circulation. Meanwhile Peltier's long fight for a fair trial had won his endorsement as a political prisoner by Amnesty International, and his thousands of supporters throughout the world included the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and the great majority of his own people in the more than 250 Indian nations that had formally demanded his release.
In Peltier's first parole hearing in 1996, the examiner filed an internal recommendation in Peltier's favor. (The U.S. Parole Commission, like the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI, is under the aegis of the Justice Department: its examiner informs himself about the case, questions both sides, and appraises the new evidence, if any.) Yet in actions so belated and irregular as to raise suspicion of undue influence, the commission replaced that first examiner with one more to its liking and denied parole.
By then, the few bold lawmakers who had called for investigations had retreated or retired, and Peltier's best hope was executive clemency. To that end, I wangled my way into the Oval Office and pressed my book about the case into President Clinton's hands. In January 2001, during Clinton's last week in office, as FBI lobbyists — the Association of Retired FBI Agents and No Parole for Peltier — marched in front of the White House, I joined attorney Bruce Ellison and filmmaker Jon Kilik in a long meeting with the presidential and White House counsels in which we argued that granting clemency to an American Indian who could offer nothing in return was a bold symbolic step that could only enhance the President's last-minute efforts to prop up his legacy.
The lawyers seemed impressed and hopes were high, but when the clemency list appeared on the Saturday morning of Inauguration Day, Peltier's name was missing. The phone call I dreaded was put through from Leavenworth Prison in early afternoon. "They didn't give it to me," mumbled a stunned voice I scarcely recognized — the first time in 20 years of visits, letters, and telephone conversations that Leonard Peltier's strong spirit sounded broken. With all court appeals exhausted and no hope of mercy from the incoming Republican administration, this aging prisoner was condemned to wait for his next parole hearing in 2009.
In the park in Lewisburg, people agreed that had the shoot-out victims not been "FBIs," Leonard might never have been convicted; at the very least, he would have been paroled many years before. Someone in the park recalled the fear and disruption on the reservations caused by the FBI's huge ResMurs investigation (which was widely perceived as the latest chapter in the long history of oppression and revenge against "the redskins who killed Custer" that had led up to the shoot-out).
The killing that day in June 1975 of a young member of the AIM by a marksman's bullet in the forehead had gone all but unmentioned, someone said, let alone investigated by "the Injustice Department," doubtless because "Injuns don't count." How about Bob Robideau's statement to an FBI man that he had been "the shooter"? Would the Parole Commission take that into account? And was it suspicious that Robideau had been found dead last February in Barcelona? (The official autopsy concluded that he had struck his head in a fall while suffering a seizure.)
With Peltier's attorney Eric Seitz and the two other parole advocates — Dr. Thom White Wolf Fassett, a Seneca elder and United Methodist adviser to Congress on Indian affairs, and an Ojibwa woman named Cindy Maleterre representing Peltier's Turtle Mountain Reservation — I went early the next morning to the prison, passing supporters waving "Free Peltier" signs at the entrance road.
In the hearing room the first to speak were the two sons of the late agent Jack Coler. After testifying to their family's great loss, they suggested that if this man facing them today were to take responsibility and express remorse for those brutal murders he so stubbornly denies having committed, the Coler family might not protest his parole. But the three FBI spokesmen and the assistant U.S. attorney who spoke next were content to repeat the same vilifications and distortions of the facts that won a conviction back in 1977. Locked long ago into their ResMurs myth, they insisted that Peltier was still a danger to the public and cited those provisions in the Parole Act specifying that parole may be denied if the subject's release might "depreciate the seriousness of the offense" or "promote disrespect for the law."
In response to the charge that Peltier has evaded his responsibility for those murders, Eric Seitz countered that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office have evaded responsibility for their own illegal tactics in his prosecution. Otherwise Seitz made no attempt to retry a long historic case in a few minutes, emphasizing instead the prisoner's exemplary behavior record, serious health problems, and other strong qualifications for parole under the commission's geriatric and medical criteria. He reminded Examiner Scott Kubic that in a few weeks, on Sept. 12, when Peltier would turn 65, he would also become eligible for home detention under the new Second Chance program for elderly inmates designed to ease overcrowding in the U.S. prisons.
Thom White Wolf testified that Peltier's incarceration for nearly 33 years has been viewed both nationally and internationally as a gross injustice and a major embarrassment to our country, with a negative effect on the world's view of how the U.S. government treats its native population.
When my turn came, I spoke to the points made in this article, adding how much this inmate had matured over the three decades of our acquaintance, not only as an articulate spokesman for his people but as an artist, self-taught in the prisons, whose work is admired throughout the U.S. And Cindy Maleterre assured the examiner that the prisoner's Ojibwa-Dakota people at Turtle Mountain — including grandchildren he has never seen — had already taken care of the parole requirements of social support, adequate housing, and steady employment (as an arts-and-crafts teacher and alcoholism counselor on the reservation), and were planning to welcome him home with a great feast.
That afternoon we left the prison with the feeling that Examiner Kubic had listened carefully and would recommend parole — a guarded optimism we conveyed to the flag-waving supporters awaiting our report on the public road. But no one forgot how the examiner's finding in Peltier's favor 15 years before had been aborted; in the next weeks, as so often in the past, the prisoner would have to suffer the suspense of desperate hope.
On Friday, August 20, federal inmate #89637-132 received terse notice that his petition for parole had been denied: not until his "15-year Reconsideration Hearing in July 2024," he was informed, would he become eligible to be turned down again. In the unlikely event that he lives long enough to attend that hearing, inmate Peltier will be 80 years old.
In his angry response, Attorney Seitz accused the commission of "adopting the position of the FBI that anyone who may be implicated in the killings of its agents should never be paroled and should be left to die in prison." I entirely agree with Seitz and share his anger. For the prisoner and his supporters, the Lewisburg hearing had been hollow, with a predetermined outcome: The United States v. Leonard Peltier had always been a matter less of justice than of retribution.
Americans — those in public office especially — should inform themselves about this painful case and demand an unbiased investigation that might start with one simple question: If, in the 33 years since his trial, reputable evidence has ever emerged that Leonard Peltier was the lone killer and deserves to be in prison for life, why hasn't the Justice Department produced it?
Without public protest, Peltier will not be granted a fair hearing since his prosecutors know that in the absence of honest evidence, "the only one we got" would be set free. Instead, this man's life leaks away behind grim concrete walls for the unworthy purpose of saving face for the FBI and a U.S. Attorney's Office that together botched the famous ResMurs case and mean to see somebody pay. And who better for this fate than a "radical" AIM Indian who dared stand up to "legally constituted authority" in defense of his humiliated people, as he was doing with such tragic consequences on that long-ago June day?
In reviewing this case with an open mind, as surely he must in fulfilling his oath of office, Attorney General Eric Holder (the assistant attorney general in 2001) might reflect on his own role in the clemency bestowed by Clinton on Marc Rich, the notorious "fugitive felon." He might consider, too, Rich's consequent evasion of even a single day in prison in the harsh light of the 11 thousand days already served by a penniless American Indian who remains innocent before the law, having never been proven guilty.
From the Activist Newsletter:
• The website of Leonard's energetic support group is http://www.leonardpeltier.net/.
• The website of the American Indian Movement contains much information about the Peltier case, plus a petition for his freedom, at http://www.aimovement.org/.
• You may write to him at Leonard Peltier, #89637-132, USP Lewisburg, U.S. Penitentiary, P.O. Box 1000. Lewisburg, PA 17837. Leonard can only receive letters, cards, postcards, photos, (not Polaroid), and postal money orders for his commissary account. He responds to all his mail.
• To purchase a paperback copy of Leonard's "Prison Writings: "My Life Is My Sun Dance" see http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=My+Life+Is+My+Sun+Dance&x=16&y=20
11. THE VOICE OF COMPLICITY
Silence, they say, is the voice of complicity.
But silence is impossible.
Silence is a message,
just as doing nothing is an act.
Let who you are ring out & resonate
in every word & every deed.
Yes, become who you are.
There's no sidestepping your own being
or your own responsibility.
What you do is who you are.
You are your own comeuppance.
You become your own message.
You are the message.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,
12. OBAMA: A ONE-TERM PRESIDENT?
Editor's Note: Garry Willis, the author of nearly 40 books, is a frequent writer for the New York Review of Books, where this article is printed in the Dec. 3 issue. A conservative who turned liberal a few decades ago, he supported Barack Obama during the elections, hoping that he would serve two terms. But now he has an unusual suggestion:
By Garry Wills
I am told by people I respect that Barack Obama cannot pull out of both Iraq and Afghanistan without becoming a one-term president. I think that may be true. The charges from various quarters would be toxic — that he was weak, unpatriotic, sacrificing the sacrifices that have been made, betraying our dead, throwing away all former investments in lives and treasure. All that would indeed be brought against him, and he could have little defense in the quarters where such charges would originate.
These are the arguments that have kept us in losing efforts before. They are the ones that made presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon pass on to their successors in the presidency the draining and self-lacerating Vietnam War. They are the arguments that made President George W. Bush pass on two wars to his successor.
One of the strongest arguments for continued firing up of these wars is that none of these presidents wanted to serve only one term (even Lyndon Johnson, who chose not to run for a second full term). But what justification is there for buying a second presidential term with the lives of hundreds or thousands of young American men and women in the military?
I have great hopes for the Obama presidency, even in his first term, and especially if he could have two terms to realize the exciting new things he aspires to do in the White House. But I would rather see him a one-term president than have him pass on another unwinnable war to the person who will follow him in office.
I know how difficult it will be to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. We go into these places, now, trailing baggage of a deadly sort. There are more hired American contractors in both nations than there are military personnel. What to do with these unaccountable and corrupt bands? We have farmed out so many of our national duties that the contractors, like our banks, have grown too big to be dealt with. Who is to guard our soldiers if not our mercenary bodyguards?
But we had a thousand soldiers wounded in the last three months—a quarter the number of wounded since 2001. These include many lives shattered forever. We sink deeper into blood, with no foreseeable end in sight. Qualified reporters and military officials foresee another 10 years in Afghanistan—and their projections usually err on the short side.
The American people now oppose the war, and it is folly to keep up a war without support back home. We will hear predictions of dire consequences if we don't carry out a commitment, and don't yield to demands of the military to expand forces. We heard that for years about Vietnam. But when we did withdraw, the consequences were not as fatal as those we incurred during the years that saw the deaths of over 50,000 of our soldiers and many more Vietnamese. Some leader has to break the spell before costs mount further while our wars are passed from president to president. Among other things, this will give our military a needed chance to repair the wear and tear on men and equipment that the overstretched regular services and the National Guard have suffered, and to make them ready for other challenges.
It is unlikely that we will soon have another president with the moral and rhetorical force to talk us out of a foolish commitment that cannot be sustained without shame and defeat. If it costs him his presidency, what other achievement can match it?
During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama said he would rather be a one-term president than give up on his goals. Here is a goal no other president we can imagine would have a possibility of reaching. Presidents who just kick the can down the road are easy to come by. Lost lives and limbs are not.
13. FIGHTING ANOTHER DUMB WAR
By Chris Hedges
I have spent enough time inside the American military to have tasted its dark brutality, frequent incompetence and profligate ability to waste human lives and taxpayer dollars. The deviousness and stupidity of generals, the absurdity of most war plans and the pathological addiction to violence — which is the only language most who command our armed forces are able to understand — make the American military the gravest threat to our anemic democracy, especially as we head toward economic collapse.
Barack Obama, who is as mesmerized by the red, white and blue bunting draped around our vast killing machine as the press, the two main political parties and our entertainment industry, will not halt our doomed imperial projects or renege on the $1 trillion in defense-related spending that is hollowing out the country from the inside. A plague of unchecked militarism has seeped outward from the Pentagon since the end of World War II and is now sucking our marrow dry. It is a familiar disease in imperial empires. We are in the terminal stage. We spend more on our military — half of all discretionary spending — than all of the other countries on Earth combined, although we face no explicit threat.
Mike Gravel, the former two-term [1969 to 1981 Democratic] senator from Alaska and 2008 presidential candidate, sat Saturday [Dec. 12] on a park bench in Lafayette Park facing the White House. Gravel and I were in the park, along with Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, [former Rep.] Cynthia McKinney and other antiwar activists, to denounce the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a sparsely attended rally. Few voices in American politics have been as consistent, as reasoned and as moral as his, which is why Gravel, on a chilly December morning, is in front of the White House, not inside it.
"I suspect that from the get-go he had an inferiority complex with respect to the military," Gravel, who was a first lieutenant in the Army, said of the president. "It is the same problem [Bill] Clinton had by not serving in the military, by not having an actual experience. You don’t have to go into combat, you just have to get into the military and recognize at the lower reaches how incompetent the military can be. So not having that experience, and only dealing with generals, who of course learn to be charming — it’s the sergeants who inflict the pain — he has this aura about the military. We have acculturated the nation to a military culture. This is the sadness of it all because that sustains the military-industrial complex."
"Obama comes on the scene," he added. "He is endorsed in the course of the campaign by some 19 generals and admirals. These people had no confidence in [George W.] Bush. They recognized that Bush’s unilateralism and cavalier approach to torture was injurious to the American military. They gravitated towards Obama. It turned his head. He thought he could be commander in chief and he could, he has the intelligence, but he does not have fortitude. He lacks courage."
Time is rapidly running out. The massive bailouts, stimulus packages, giveaways and short-term debt, along with imperial wars we can no longer afford, will leave the country struggling to finance nearly $5 trillion in debt by 2010. This will require the United States to auction off about $96 billion in debt a week. Once China and the oil-rich states walk away from our debt, which is inevitable, the Federal Reserve will become the buyer of last resort. The Fed has printed perhaps as much as 2 trillion new dollars in the last two years, and buying this much new debt will see it print trillions more. This is when inflation, and most likely hyperinflation, will turn the dollar into junk. A backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will tear apart the social fabric, unleash chaos and violence, and strengthen the calls for more draconian measures by our security apparatus and military.
Obama uses the veneer of intellectualism to promote the dirty politics of Bush. The president spoke in Oslo, when he accepted the Nobel Prize, of "just war" theory, although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not meet the criteria laid down by Thomas Aquinas or traditional Catholic just-war doctrine. He spoke of battling evil, dividing human reality into binary poles of black and white as Bush did, without examining the evil of pre-emptive war, sustained military occupation and imperialism. He compared al-Qaeda to Hitler, ignoring the difference between a protean group of terrorists and a nation-state with the capacity to overwhelm its neighbors with conventional military force. "The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace," Obama insisted in Oslo. The U.S., he said, has the right to "act unilaterally if necessary" and to launch wars whose purpose "extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor." Obama’s policies, despite the high-blown rhetoric, are as morally bankrupt as those of his predecessor.
"The first time I met him I felt there was arrogance with a touch of cynicism," Gravel said of the president. "Now the cynicism and the arrogance have overwhelmed his intelligence. Like Clinton, he is into power."
Gravel’s shining moment as a politician occurred in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, handed the secret Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. The newspaper published portions of the document, which painted a picture of a failing war at odds with official pronouncements. The Justice Department swiftly blocked further publication and moved to punish newspaper publishers who revealed its contents. Gravel responded by reading large portions of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. His courageous public release of the papers made it possible for the publication to resume. Gravel also launched in 1971 a one-man five-month filibuster to end the peacetime military draft, forcing the Nixon administration to cut a deal that allowed the draft to expire in 1973. He was a feisty and blunt candidate in 2008 who lambasted the Democratic Party and its major candidates for being in the service of corporations, especially the arms industry. His outspokenness saw him banned by the Democratic leadership from later primary debates.
"Obama has wasted an opportunity to be a great president," Gravel lamented. "More than 50 percent of the American people do not buy into this war. He could have stood up and said ‘we are getting out.’ Forget the Congress. Forget the Republicans. Forget the hawks. Forget mainstream media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, which are hawks. He would have weathered that storm because he would have had the American people on his side. And what did he do? He caved in to the leadership of [David] Petraeus and [Stanley A.] McChrystal and adopted a scenario that is a total loser."
"When he hugs his children at night, when he puts them to bed, he has got to begin to think there are little girls like this in Afghanistan who are being killed and maimed," Gravel told me. "If he can’t have that kind of a thought then his arrogance knows no boundaries. I saw this in the Senate during the Vietnam War. People detach themselves from the immediacy of the crime. They vote for the money. They vote for the policy. The picture of people dying is distant. My God, if you are sitting next to me and a bomb explodes and your arm is ripped off that is not distant. It is immediate. I saw the film by Robert Greenwald, "Rethink Afghanistan."
"Don’t be hoodwinked by Obama going to Dover [Air Force Base] to watch the caskets or going to Arlington to salute the graves, with his snappy salute," Gravel says. "Adolf Hitler lionized soldiers dying. This is the old idea that it is honorable to die. It is not honorable to die in vain. People died in vain in Vietnam. They are dying in vain in Iraq and Afghanistan. And more people will die in vain because of the leadership of Barack Obama."
"They don’t hate us because we are free," Gravel said of the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They hate us because we are killing them."
— Chris Hedges was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. — http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/12/14
14. KEEP CHURCH AND STATE SEPARATE
The organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State recently expressed "grave concern" about a renewed push by a coalition of conservative church groups to impose religious teachings on all Americans through government action.
At a New York City press conference in late November, religious right leaders and Roman Catholic bishops unveiled a joint statement criticizing laws that allow reproductive choice and same-sex marriage. The "Manhattan Declaration" indicates that participating religious leaders will defy such laws if they conflict with church doctrines.
The declaration signed by 125 Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Christian leaders, expresses opposition to "abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriage or the equivalent or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family."
Americans United charged that the real agenda is not protecting the religious freedom of churches, but rather attempting to impose those doctrines on all Americans by government decree.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director: "This declaration is certain to be deeply divisive. These religious leaders want to see their doctrines imposed by force of law.... I am optimistic that the people in the pews will not heed their leaders’ misguided call to action. Polls show that most church-goers do not want to see their faith politicized."
Lynn said he was "well aware that religious leaders have vast lobbying power that cannot be ignored" — a reference to the House version of the healthcare reform bill that was revised to curtail women's access to abortion at the behest of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
15. GROUPS HIT U.S. OVER LANDMINE TREATY
Human rights and disarmament activists reacted bitterly in late November to the Obama administration's decision not to sign the 10-year-old treaty banning anti-personnel landmines.
The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL), a coalition of scores of activist groups, called the administration's decision "shocking," while Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the Campaign's most influential members, described it as "reprehensible."
"President Obama's decision to cling to anti-personnel mines keeps the U.S. on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of humanity," said Steve Goose, the director of HRW's Arms Division, who also noted that Washington stood alone among its NATO allies in refusing to sign the treaty.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who spearheaded the drive in the early 1990s to ban Washington's export of the weapon to other countries, decried the decision, which was announced by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly Nov. 24. He said it constituted a "default of U.S. leadership" and charged that it appeared to be based on a review that "can only be described as cursory and half-hearted."
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), another leader of Congressional disarmament efforts, called the review and its outcome "a major insult to the international community that unfortunately far overshadows our contributions in the areas of de-mining and support for landmine survivors."
The decision, which came on the eve of the Second Five-Year Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty to begin Sunday in Cartagena, Colombia, was viewed as a victory for the Pentagon, which has long opposed the treaty, and Republicans wary of all international treaties that may limit Washington's freedom to act in the world as it wishes.
It is likely to add to growing frustration in recent months among Obama's more-liberal political base over his unwillingness to break more definitively with the unilateralist and militarist policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
The U.S. is currently one of only 39 countries that have not signed the treaty, which was opened for signing in 1997 and took effect in 1999 after a campaign led by Canada and Western Europe, as well as hundreds of independent human rights and disarmament organizations that make up the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The ICBL won the Nobel Prize for its efforts in 1997 in recognition of its leadership role in the effort.
In its most recent report, the ICBL, which has since undertaken an initiative for an international ban on cluster munitions, reported that mines remain planted in more than 70 countries where last year they killed or wounded more than 5,000 people — the vast majority of whom were civilians. (Inter Press Service)
16. NEWS BRIEFS
By Nathan Rosenblum
HUNGER INCREASES IN THE U.S. — According to an annual report released recently by the Department of Agriculture, hunger in the United States has been increasing at the fastest rate since the department began recording in 1995. About 49.1 million people (16.4 % of the population) or 14.6% of all households in the United States suffer "food insecurity" and "very low food security." This is an increase of 3.5% from 2007. Many of those affected are working class people above the official poverty line. While the poverty rate (which has substantially increased) is 13.2 %, or about 37.3 million people, the actual number of people living in poverty is more likely about 70 to 80 million people or at least a quarter of the population.
Of those suffering from very low food security, 5.2 million are children. Some 17 million children were in households that had insufficient food (up from 12 million in 2007) and almost 1.1 million children suffered absolute hunger. About 5.7% of Americans have reduced food consumption or otherwise changed their eating patterns due to money problems. Use of food pantries increased from 3.9 million households to 4.8 million this past year. African American and Latino households were more than twice as likely as white families to report food insecurity.
WORLD HUNGER ON THE RISE — Worldwide hunger has continued to increase, says the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. About 1.02 billion face the prospect of hunger and of these 200 million are children. Every six seconds, a child dies of hunger. Count: One, two, three, four, five, six — another has just died. More than 90% of the children in this unconscionable cohort, are from Asia and Africa. The main problem is poverty. Other causes include the use of cropland to grow biofuels, large agribusiness which destroys the livelihoods of small farmers, fuel costs which make shipping more expensive as well as droughts and floods. Effects have been exacerbated by the economic crisis and global warming. Hunger has decreased in Asia (from 40% in 1990 to 30% last year) but has continued to increase in Africa (up from to 34% last year to 38% this year). About $44 billion dollars would be required in aid to third-world counties up from $7.9 billion now allotted. Obama has pledged $2 billion dollars in aid. The cost of the Iraq war will amount to $3 trillion.
OBAMA SUPPORTS REVIVAL OF PATRIOT ACT — The Obama administration supports continuing sections of the Patriot Act that are coming up for renewal at the end of December. These include National Security Letters, the "Material Support" statute, and the FISA amendments. The National Security Letters (NSL’s) are issued to force libraries, banks, credit reporting companies, and Internet service providers to hand over information about customers, including financial transactions and books borrowed. This is not revealed to the person being investigated, and it is illegal to even mention that one has received an NSL, even to an attorney. The "material support" statute is a vaguely worded document that allows anyone providing support to a "terrorist" or "terrorist group" to be charged with a criminal act. This includes a defending attorney (Lynne Stewart is the best known example) or a charity donation (such as giving money to a hospital in Gaza). The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 allows for the collection and reading of international phone calls and emails without a warrant or suspicion of criminal activity. President Obama has long been open in his support of the act. He voted for the renewal of the act in 2006 and the immunity for phone providers that assisted with the warrantless wiretaps.