Feb. 12, 2010, Issue #156
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. TAKE THE PEACE BUSES FROM THE HUDSON VALLEY— Travel with us to the March 20 antiwar march and rally in Washington.
2. WILL RECORD WAR SPENDING BRING VICTORY? — President Barack Obama has increased the Pentagon's perennially-bloated annual spending spree to its greatest magnitude since World War II — $708 billion. This means a big expansion of the war.
3. CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR— Edna St. Vincent Millay's powerful peace poem.
4. MILITARY KEYNESIANISM, WAR AND U. S. ECONOMIC DECLINE— There is a "mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true."
5. MASTERS OF WAR— Since the war manufacturers are expressing delight over the new Pentagon budget, it's time to re-read Bob Dylan's song-poem.
6. ARE ANTIWAR PROTESTS REALLY WORTHWHILE? — Several readers ask questions about antiwar demonstrations, which we answer here.
7. I FEEL LIKE I'M FIXIN' TO DIE RAG— Since the generals are fixin' to intensify the wars, let's remember what Country Joe and the Fish were fixin' to do.
8. KANGAROO GEORGE— Israeli peace movement leader Uri Avnery socks it to special envoy George Mitchell and the White House for fumbling the issue of Palestinian rights.
9. OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS IN LIVESTOCK— The overprescription or other use of antibiotics for animals and humans is leading to the emergence of "superbugs" — drug resistant microorganisms that have led to the deaths of 70,000 Americans a year.
Editor's Note: There will be a part 2 to this issue of the newsletter next week, including a thorough analysis of the Defense Department's important new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which calls for a considerable expansion of U.S. military power.
1. TAKE THE PEACE BUSES FROM THE HUDSON VALLEY
The Activist Newsletter and Peace and Social Progress Now have chartered several buses to the nation's capital Saturday, March 20, leaving from Kingston, New Paltz, and Poughkeepsie in the early hours and returning at night. We will consider establishing other pickup locations farther down the Valley if groups of a dozen or more people commit to boarding at a particular location convenient to our buses.
The roundtrip cost is $60 per person. Several discounts are available for students and low-income people thanks to contributions from readers for that purpose.
To reserve a seat, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, town, email address, phone number, and boarding location of the three listed. When and if other stops are added you can switch to a more suitable boarding location. After emailing, make out your check to Activist Newsletter and promptly mail to Activist Newsletter, PO Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561. Your check will secure your reservations.
Readers, please help us provide additional scholarships to low income activists with any amount you wish. Instructions for handling your check are above. Specify that it is a donation.
We have received messages from some friends in Beacon, Newburgh, Westchester and Spring Valley, requesting that we consider stops at those locations. This depends on the peace groups in those areas. Get a dozen people (or more) for a stop and we can probably do it. Let us know very soon if you are working on this. For readers in the Capital District and more northern locations, our antiwar friends in Albany are also sending buses.
PS for non-Hudson Valley readers. We sent a ton of information about the March 20 Washington rally to our Hudson Valley list. If you want more details about the rally it's archived on our website under 01-29-10 DC Protest.
2. WILL RECORD WAR SPENDING BRING VICTORY?
President Barack Obama has increased the Pentagon's perennially-bloated annual spending spree to its greatest magnitude since World War II — $708 billion. Congress eventually will overwhelmingly approve Obama's war budget request for fiscal year 2011, which takes effect in October.
The Obama administration's funding recommendation was announced Feb. 1. The next day Reuters reported that "Shares of major U.S. defense contractors rose on Monday after the Obama administration unveiled a defense budget... that seeks a 3.4 percent increase in the Pentagon's base budget and $159 billion to fund missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Also released Feb. 1 was the Pentagon's Congressionally-mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which calls for a considerable expansion of U.S. military power, especially in bolstering counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaigns.
The QDR is a strategic guide for America's present and future wars, updated every four years. The new version remains based on an interventionist foreign/military policy that has not changed in essence since the early Cold War years.
As described by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the 2011 war budget reflects the QDR's call for "rebalancing America’s defense posture by emphasizing capabilities needed to prevail in current conflicts, while enhancing capabilities that may be needed in the future."
In addition to the Pentagon request, President Obama also seeks a supplementary $33 billion this year for "Overseas Contingency Operations," the bureaucratically bland title chosen to replace the Bush Administration's "War on Terrorism." The title is about all that has changed in the "terrorism" wars since Bush left office except for the new administration's grave expansion of the Afghan conflict.
The additional money is to pay for the 30,000 troops Obama most recently ordered to Afghanistan, bringing U.S. troop strength to over 100,000, joined by over 40,000 NATO troops, and scores of thousands of mercenaries and contractors. This war is said to cost about $1 million per U.S. soldier per year.
The Obama Administration's $708 billion for fiscal 2011 compares to the $680 billion President Obama approved for this year, which itself was 4.1% higher than President George W. Bush's $651 billion funding for fiscal 2009. A decade ago annual "defense" spending was $280 billion.
At minimum — not including the expensive Pentagon infrastructure that supports America's wars in the Middle East and Central Asia — the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan adventures is over $1 trillion so far. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated two years ago that the final cost to the U.S. of both wars, when all aspects are included, will be over $3 trillion.
The amount of money Washington is spending in Afghanistan alone this year, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Feb 1, is "more than any other country in the world spends on defense, with the exception of China," with four times more people and a defense budget less than one-fifth that of the United States.
Addressing Washington's war money, writer and global analyst Chalmers Johnson comments "It is virtually impossible to overstate the profligacy of what our government spends on the military."
Total U.S. annual "security" spending is over twice that acknowledged in the annual Pentagon budget. Omitted are many expenses from veteran's benefits, homeland security, and interest on past military debts, to nuclear weapons, the cost of America's intelligence agencies, and war-related spending absorbed by other government departments.
This means that the U.S., which contains 4.54% of the world's population, accounts for over 50% of global military expenditures, thus spending more on "security" than all the other countries combined. America's main and seemingly only enemy is al-Qaeda, with perhaps 2,000 decentralized adherents worldwide with varying degrees of commitment and ability.
In his State of the Union Address last month, President Obama specifically exempted "security" money from the "freeze" on many domestic expenses in the national budget, which amounts to some $3.8 trillion, the highest annual amount on record. About a third of this total — $1.3 trillion, another record — is in excess of tax receipts and will be paid with interest, along with many trillions more, by future generations of Americans.
In the interim, China and a few other countries are expected to continue lending money to a debt-ridden Uncle Sam who refuses to introduce a system of progressive taxation to absorb the intemperate accumulation of wealth by the richest 10% of Americans households (which in 2007 enjoyed a net worth of 71.4% of all the assets in the country), or to substantially cut military spending for aggressive wars of choice.
America's hugely disproportionate war funding is more the product of an economic construct known at military Keynesianism (excessive government spending for militarism in order to foster capitalist economic growth) than the official myth of being surrounded by a multitude of formidable enemies. (See article below, "Military Keynesianism, War, and Economic Decline.")
Most of the war money Commander in Chief Obama requested will be directed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The budget includes:
• $25 billion for 10 new Navy ships; •$11 billion for 43 more F-35 fighter planes; • $10 billion for missile defense; • $56 billion for the Pentagon's "Black Budget" (classified programs known only by code names); • $7 billion (to the Department of Energy) for nuclear weapons; • Funding to increase the size of the of the 56,000 Special Operations Command by 2,800 fighters, plus new equipment; • $10 billion to buy more Army and Marine helicopters for small-scale wars; • Money for enough new advanced unmanned drones to increase seek-and-destroy missions by 75%, including doubling production of the advanced MQ-9 Reaper and 26 extended-range Predators (spending for these drones jumps from $877.5 million in 2010 to $1.4 billion in 2011); • Many billions to train, equip and pay for the U.S.- controlled Afghan and Iraq armies; • $1.2 billion more to Pakistan for counterinsurgency; • $140 million to Yemen to fight al-Qaeda. • Additional billions will be spent in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, buying off the armed opposition and bribing officials.
The industry portion of the military-industrial complex is delighted with Obama, according to Todd Harrison, a Senior Fellow for Defense Budget Studies, at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment. In an interview conducted Feb. 4 by the Council on Foreign Relations, he said of the new war budget:
"Given a bigger defense budget and few major program cuts, the defense establishment is elated.... The defense-industry base people read too much into a Democratic administration coming into office and there being real pressure on the federal budget overall because of soaring deficits. They... construed massive cuts in defense spending in the future, particularly in acquisitions. That hasn't proven to be true. This administration hasn't cut defense spending at all but increased it to record levels, and it looks like for the foreseeable future defense acquisitions are going to continue increasing.... People started to realize, 'Hey, this president isn't bad for the defense industry.'"
The U.S. government's extraordinary war expenditures are intended to secure America's position as the world's unipolar hegemon far more than "fighting terrorism" in small, weak countries — all the more so as Washington's domination over global affairs is being challenged by rising nations in the developing world and breakaways by once obedient countries, as in Latin America.
Anatol Lieven, author of "America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism," put it this way: "U.S. global power, as presently conceived by the overwhelming majority of the U.S. establishment, is unsustainable.... The empire can no longer raise enough taxes or soldiers, it is increasingly indebted, and key vassal states are no longer reliable.... The result is that the empire can no longer pay for enough of the professional troops it needs to fulfill its self-assumed imperial tasks."
The main reason the new Quadrennial Defense Review is greatly expanding the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism aspects of the war machine is because the U.S., for all its devastating military power, has been fought to a stalemate in both Iraq and Afghanistan by much smaller, poorly armed guerrilla forces for nearly seven and over eight years respectively.
The main emphasis in the fiscal 2011 war budget is on prevailing in Afghanistan, or at least in conveying the impression that U.S. has not been defeated by a force of fewer than 20,000 scattered irregulars belonging to the Taliban and other groups fighting against the U.S. invaders.
It is worthwhile to note that by Washington's own assessment, there are less than 100 members of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and a vague "several hundred" possibly in Pakistan. Both the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban groups are independent of each other and are only interested in fighting against the U.S. within their own countries, not in attacking America.
Former Indian ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar, writing in his country's English-language daily newspaper The Hindu Feb. 4, commented thusly on Washington's multi-billion dollar effort to control Afghanistan:
"The spectre that is haunting Washington today cannot be overstated: a prolonged war in Afghanistan is unsustainable financially, materially and politically; the NATO allies lack faith in the U.S.’s war strategy; domestic public opposition to the war is cascading in the Western countries; the war has become an Albatross’ cross hindering the optimal pursuit of U.S. global strategies in a highly volatile international situation posing multiple challenges; the war radicalizes the Muslim opinion worldwide and pits America against Islam....
"What lies ahead? Make no mistake that the Taliban are returning to Afghanistan’s power structure — quite plausibly under Mullah Omar’s leadership. The U.S. expectation to 'split' the Taliban will likely prove misplaced. As months ebb away, fighting intensifies and Omar is in no particular hurry, Washington’s pleas to Islamabad will become more and more insistent to bring the so-called Quetta Shura to the negotiating table."
Quetta is across the border in Pakistan. The Shura is the leadership organization of the Afghan Taliban which has been domiciled in Quetta with Islamabad's approval since a month after President Bush invaded their country in October 2001. What Bhadrakumar is suggesting is that the only way Washington can end its long and dreadfully expensive impasse in Afghanistan is to make a deal with the Quetta Shura providing the Taliban with a substantial coalition role in the Afghan provincial and national government.
This is hardly what President Bush had in mind a month after 9/11 when he launched a foolish, macho invasion of Afghanistan rather than depend on worldwide police work and other means to disrupt al-Qaeda. The Pentagon juggernaut "defeated" the Taliban in a matter of weeks, but it couldn't conquer the Afghan resistance after all these years. The same was true of the illegal and unjust invasion of Iraq, of course.
Victory was President Obama's goal as well when he greatly expanded the Afghan war in order to break the stalemate, but negotiations and a return of the Taliban in a coalition government may well be the best outcome he can bring about.
All Obama has gained politically at home for his "Bush Lite" war maneuvers is the near-unanimous support the pro-war Republicans, who otherwise view him with contempt. Most of the Democratic electorate, which constitutes the broad base of the peace movement, seems to oppose the Afghan war and its expansion, but has stayed away antiwar protests because of reluctance to take an open public stand against Obama. This is changing as the disillusionment sinks in, as least among the party's liberal and progressive sector.
The test to see if Democrats come back to the antiwar movement will be the mass march and rally in Washington March 20 being organized by a large coalition of national and local peace groups. The White House will be watching carefully. If it is a highly successful event, it will give pause to an administration sensitive to insistent political currents; if it is relatively small, it could mean full speed ahead for the war machine.
In a Feb. 3 AlterNet article titled, "The Defense Industry is Pleased with Obama," writer Laura Flanders expressed the liberal dilemma in these words: "Who says the president is failing to show leadership? In one area at least, there’s no sign of flag or falter. If anything, the administration’s only becoming more forthright. Sad to say, that area is military build-up."
The Pentagon has learned some lessons since it stormed into Afghanistan and then Iraq, and wound up with unanticipated black eyes. In this sense, President Obama's 2011 war budget and QDR are less aimed at Afghanistan and more at future "Overseas Contingency Operations" against alleged "rogue," "failed," "undemocratic," "leftist," or "terrorist" states. It's Bush all over again, but next time it's supposed to be done right.
Washington, with its "rebalanced defense posture" and unlimited military checkbook, even as the country sinks in debt, will in time attack another small country when one more "contingency" inevitably develops. The White House no doubt expects to win big when it does, given full spectrum dominance, drones and helicopters, the enhanced Special Operations Command, and soldiers, marines, NATO troops, mercenaries, and contractors. But at this stage, with America's track record, it wouldn't be smart to place any bets.
3. CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
By Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
I shall die,
but that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.
Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.
I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me
shall you be overcome.
4. MILITARY KEYNESIANISM, WAR AND U. S. ECONOMIC DECLINE
Given the request by the Obama Administration last week that Congress approve both the highest Pentagon budget in history coupled with spectacular fiscal budget deficit, it seems timely to question the connection between military spending in the last several decades and America's crumbling industrial infrastructure and stupendous national debt. A number of economists are convinced there is an important connection, as does the prominent global analyst and author Chalmers Johnson, best known for his "Blowback Trilogy." a series of books focused on militarism and imperialism.
In his most recent volume, "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic," Johnson devotes considerable space to military Keynesianism, by which he means "the mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true." Social critic Noam Chomsky refers to contemporary military Keynesianism as "The Pentagon System" of economic governance.
The English economist John Maynard Keynes was the advocate of an interventionist government policy to enhance national economies. His "Keynesian" theory was applied in the U.S. during the Great Depression and a couple of subsequent decades, and the American economy responded favorably. There is a variation on his theory — not submitted by Keynes himself — that came to be called military Keynesianism, i.e., excessive government spending in militarism and war to foster economic growth (usually accompanied by a paucity of social programs for the people, as exists in the U.S. today.)
Following is an excerpt from an essay by Johnson that appeared in Le Monde diplomatique in February 2008 titled, "Why the U.S. has really gone broke. The economic disaster that is military Keynesianism."
By Chalmers Johnson
....Our excessive military expenditures did not occur over just a few short years or simply because of the Bush administration’s policies. They have been going on for a very long time in accordance with a superficially plausible ideology, and have now become so entrenched in our democratic political system that they are starting to wreak havoc. This is military Keynesianism — the determination to maintain a permanent war economy and to treat military output as an ordinary economic product, even though it makes no contribution to either production or consumption.
This ideology goes back to the first years of the cold war. During the late 1940s, the U.S. was haunted by economic anxieties. The great depression of the 1930s had been overcome only by the war production boom of the second world war. With peace and demobilization, there was a pervasive fear that the depression would return. During 1949, alarmed by the Soviet Union’s detonation of an atomic bomb, the looming Communist victory in the Chinese civil war, a domestic recession, and the lowering of the Iron Curtain around the USSR’s European satellites, the U.S. sought to draft basic strategy for the emerging cold war. The result was the militaristic National Security Council Report 68 (NSC-68) drafted under the supervision of Paul Nitze, then head of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department. Dated 14 April 1950 and signed by President Harry S Truman on 30 September 1950, it laid out the basic public economic policies that the U.S. pursues to the present day.
In its conclusions, NSC-68 asserted: "One of the most significant lessons of our World War II experience was that the American economy, when it operates at a level approaching full efficiency, can provide enormous resources for purposes other than civilian consumption while simultaneously providing a high standard of living."
With this understanding, U.S. strategists began to build up a massive munitions industry, both to counter the military might of the Soviet Union (which they consistently overstated) and also to maintain full employment, as well as ward off a possible return of the depression. The result was that, under Pentagon leadership, entire new industries were created to manufacture large aircraft, nuclear-powered submarines, nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and surveillance and communications satellites. This led to what President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address of 6 February 1961: "The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience" — the military-industrial complex.
By 1990 the value of the weapons, equipment and factories devoted to the Department of Defense was 83% of the value of all plants and equipment in U.S. manufacturing. From 1947 to 1990, the combined U.S. military budgets amounted to $8.7 trillion. Even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, U.S. reliance on military Keynesianism has, if anything, ratcheted up, thanks to the massive vested interests that have become entrenched around the military establishment. Over time, a commitment to both guns and butter has proven an unstable configuration. Military industries crowd out the civilian economy and lead to severe economic weaknesses. Devotion to military Keynesianism is a form of slow economic suicide.
On 1 May 2007, the Center for Economic and Policy Research of Washington, DC, released a study prepared by the economic and political forecasting company Global Insight on the long-term economic impact of increased military spending. Guided by economist Dean Baker, this research showed that, after an initial demand stimulus, by about the sixth year the effect of increased military spending turns negative. The U.S. economy has had to cope with growing defense spending for more than 60 years. Baker found that, after 10 years of higher defense spending, there would be 464,000 fewer jobs than in a scenario that involved lower defense spending.
Baker concluded: "It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy. In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment."
These are only some of the many deleterious effects of military Keynesianism.
It was believed that the U.S. could afford both a massive military establishment and a high standard of living, and that it needed both to maintain full employment. But it did not work out that way. By the 1960s it was becoming apparent that turning over the nation’s largest manufacturing enterprises to the Department of Defense and producing goods without any investment or consumption value was starting to crowd out civilian economic activities. The historian Thomas E Woods Jr observes that, during the 1950s and 1960s, between one-third and two-thirds of all U.S. research talent was siphoned off into the military sector. It is, of course, impossible to know what innovations never appeared as a result of this diversion of resources and brainpower into the service of the military, but it was during the 1960s that we first began to notice Japan was outpacing us in the design and quality of a range of consumer goods, including household electronics and automobiles.
Can we reverse the trend?
Nuclear weapons furnish a striking illustration of these anomalies. Between the 1940s and 1996, the U.S. spent at least $5.8 trillion on the development, testing and construction of nuclear bombs. By 1967, the peak year of its nuclear stockpile, the U.S. possessed some 32,500 deliverable atomic and hydrogen bombs, none of which, thankfully, was ever used. They perfectly illustrate the Keynesian principle that the government can provide make-work jobs to keep people employed. Nuclear weapons were not just America’s secret weapon, but also its secret economic weapon. As of 2006, we still had 9,960 of them. There is today no sane use for them, while the trillions spent on them could have been used to solve the problems of social security and health care, quality education and access to higher education for all, not to speak of the retention of highly-skilled jobs within the economy.
The pioneer in analyzing what has been lost as a result of military Keynesianism was the late Seymour Melman (1917-2004), a professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University. His 1970 book, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War, was a prescient analysis of the unintended consequences of the U.S. preoccupation with its armed forces and their weaponry since the onset of the cold war. Melman wrote: "From 1946 to 1969, the United States government spent over $1,000B on the military, more than half of this under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations — the period during which the [Pentagon-dominated] state management was established as a formal institution. This sum of staggering size (try to visualize a billion of something) does not express the cost of the military establishment to the nation as a whole. The true cost is measured by what has been foregone, by the accumulated deterioration in many facets of life, by the inability to alleviate human wretchedness of long duration."
In an important exegesis on Melman’s relevance to the current American economic situation, Thomas Woods writes: "According to the U.S. Department of Defense, during the four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce estimated the value of the nation’s plant and equipment, and infrastructure, at just over $7.29 trillion… The amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock."
The fact that we did not modernize or replace our capital assets is one of the main reasons why, by the turn of the 21st century, our manufacturing base had all but evaporated. Machine tools, an industry on which Melman was an authority, are a particularly important symptom. In November 1968, a five-year inventory disclosed "that 64% of the metalworking machine tools used in U.S. industry were 10 years old or older. The age of this industrial equipment (drills, lathes, etc.) marks the United States’ machine tool stock as the oldest among all major industrial nations, and it marks the continuation of a deterioration process that began with the end of the second world war. This deterioration at the base of the industrial system certifies to the continuous debilitating and depleting effect that the military use of capital and research and development talent has had on American industry."....
— Full article, http://mondediplo.com/2008/02/05military
5. MASTERS OF WAR
By Bob Dylan, 1963
Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly
Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain
You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud
You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins
How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead
6. ARE ANTIWAR PROTESTS REALLY WORTHWHILE?
In the last two weeks we've received several emails from activists living in different sections of the Hudson Valley, each asking a few questions about antiwar demonstrations, presumably in response to our efforts to bring local people to the upcoming March 20 Washington antiwar march and rally.
One asked about the effectiveness of peace demonstrations in general; another inquired about the utility of conducting a Saturday protest in Washington when there were very few people on the streets to observe the action — suggesting some local actions might be more suitable. Another suggested we were only talking to ourselves. One query asked why Israel was criticized at a demonstration opposing the Afghan war. Another was concerned about left involvement in peace protests.
We welcome these questions and the editor will answer as best he can:
I believe all public manifestations of opposition to injustice — in this case aggressive wars against weak and poor countries for hegemony and geostrategic advantage — are always necessary and always effective.
I don't have to explain "necessary" for those who oppose the unjust wars and imperialism of the U.S. superpower; it is a given. The havoc in Iraq, or in Vietnam and many other places, was made possible by our tax money, and carried out in our name, by the political and economic system to which most of our readers subscribe. We are living, and often living well, in "the belly of the beast,” as Jose Marti reminded us, and as such we have an immense responsibility to fight the power.
And "effective" doesn't mean there's an instant payoff, like winning a lottery. Effective is sometimes moving an inch when you have a mile to go, but at times it's several inches and occasionally, depending on circumstances, we're movin' right along. If our peace efforts are successful at all it usually takes years to help end a war, and success is hardly guaranteed.
We think local peace demonstrations in the Mid-Hudson region are effective when calculated cumulatively, and in terms of political consciousness raising, and in helping in our small way to build the much larger nationwide effort to stop Washington's wars. So far, in these limited terms, we've been effective in our local organizing, but there's a long way to go.
Patience and persistence are absolute necessities as we campaign for peace, justice and social progress. In the process many people who know little to begin with become far better educated and use their knowledge and experience to educate and organize others. Even when it looks like we're moving at a snail's pace, people are growing and learning, organizing and fighting back, paving the way for the future intensification of the struggle.
Sometimes it takes a thousand little actions by thousands, by millions, of average people like us, before the big action or accomplishment suddenly materializes. "Where did that come from?," some will ask. It came from the thousand little actions; quantity metamorphosed into quality. Every time I drive past the street corner where New Paltz Women in Black have been standing once a week every week for years, or read in an email that Rockland County Peace and Justice will be holding its umpteenth weekly vigil, I think, in effect, "One more little action. If this keeps up we can't lose!" I don't think this is mindless optimism. It's often how history works.
Taking a public stand against injustice and gratuitous mass violence is the moral thing to do, and must be done regardless of outcome. But of course we want political results too.
Occasionally, we get to witness the fruits of our collective labor, as this writer did in 1975 when the Vietnam war ended. What a happy day that was, and remains so in memory.
But it's important to remember that winning may not occur during our residence on this wonderful planet that we seem to be destroying, no matter how many little actions we perform. Like butterflies on a long migration, it sometimes takes generations to complete the journey. One looks at children and grandchildren, student friends and kids in the playground and wonders, hmmm, who will carry on?
Mass demonstrations were taking place for eight years in the U.S. before Washington was pressured in 1973 to pull its troops out of a 12-year war of aggression against Vietnam. Many of those conscripted troops, it must never be forgotten, were strongly for peace and played an important role in ending the war, often continuing to this day as peace vets. The primary credit for ending the war belongs to the extraordinary resistance and sacrifices of the Vietnamese people, and to the worldwide solidarity with their struggle for liberation, but our peace movement, in the very belly of the beast, was an essential ingredient.
Washington ignored our movement, then mocked it and said we were crazies. Then said we were all Reds. Some of us were, of course, and remain proudly so, but in the main the peace ranks were composed of average working people and young students sick of the war and the injustice our country was perpetrating against a terribly poor but ever-so-determined Third World people seeking national liberation, unification, and a better society. Then the government harassed and sought to divide and to repress our movement. Then it withdrew the troops.
Millions of Americans developed politically during this long march for peace — and we see them in the marches and rallies today, a lot older but still carrying on the struggle. They never forgot how important it is to fight back against unjust war, and that once in a long while we win.
And that period's mass antiwar struggle itself, even when peace seemed a distant possibility, was a significant factor — along with the civil rights movement, the student movement, the women's movement, the Black Power movement, the gay and lesbian movement and the left and communist movement — in contributing to make the period between 1960 and 1975 (the "Sixties") one of the most thrilling and progressive in American history. (And it wasn't all work, of course. Who among us who were there can forget the Be-Ins, Woodstock, the dope, Off the pig!, Fixin' to Die Rag, our unforgettable heroic guerrilla Che, Ho-Ho-Ho Chi Minh, the Great Helmsman, and "Power to the people — Right-on!")
Just ask the right wing what the peace movement and these other movements can do. They have been fighting to push it all back for 35 years with considerable success — or haven't you noticed what has happened to our political system in recent decades? I speak specifically of the suffocating blanket of conservatism enveloping our society, and the mysterious disappearance of the Democratic Party's left wing, leaving the Alpha and Omega of American political society situated lopsidedly between the far right and the center. One wonders what happened to the left side of our political brain, where logic and thinking are rumored to repose. Should we ever locate that missing part of our political anatomy maybe we'll remember that we have to do something drastic about our increasingly unequal, undemocratic and dysfunctional society.
As the editor of a left wing newspaper at that time (the Guardian newsweekly) I heard many people in our country during the course of the long peace struggle complain that they "demonstrated over and over and nothing happened," and then quit the struggle years before it succeeded. They lacked the required patience for a protracted campaign against an unjust war. We applaud those millions of Americans who stayed the course for peace.
The Sixties taught me that we have to take a long range view toward the struggle for peace and social progress. In this regard the tenacious determination of the Vietnamese people is exemplary. They struggled relentlessly with unimaginable sacrifice for over 50 years against French colonialism, then imperial Japanese colonialism, followed by the return of the French, who finally were smashed in 1954 at the extraordinary battle of Dien Bien Phu, only to be replaced by the American imperialists until they, too, were booted out.
In recent years I've frequently heard an old complaint: "You're just preaching to the choir." Actually there's nothing wrong with that as long as you reach out to others as well. Look at it this way: Why do you think the churches, mosques and synagogues hold meetings every week? 1. To keep the group together. 2. To inform and educate the members about their ideological beliefs and doing good works. 3. To attract and hold new members.
As a nonbeliever I admire their organizing abilities. We hold meetings, too, but mostly we meet at demonstrations. And in addition to becoming more informed by what we learn at those rallies, and to sharpening our beliefs and letting off steam, and seeing people we know, we do in fact attract new people to our cause at demonstrations.
As an organizer of protests for the last 16 years in our large region of small towns and villages I can tell you the suggestion that "you people only talk to yourselves" is incorrect. The peace movement brings in new people all the time. It also loses people who get discouraged because their efforts don't seem to be paying off.
On the numerous bus trips that we organize from the Hudson Valley to distant demonstrations there are always "new" people. We've transported over 2,000 people on these exhausting day-long journeys to Washington and back (including many who have traveled with us repeatedly), and at one time they were all new. On buses and in large demonstrations we find that on average about 25% of attendees are new to public protesting for peace.
It's different of course when the peace movement is in precipitous decline, as it was throughout 2008 and much of 2009 because the Democratic base of the antiwar struggle seemed to put all its peace eggs in Obama's basket. Meetings attracted relative handfuls of people. A well-organized rally drew 100 mostly familiar faces. A bus trip to the doorstep of the military-industrial complex in the nation's capital a few weeks after Obama took office drew about a fifth of our usual passenger turnout, and the really fine rally we attended attracted about the same proportion. And it was great to be there, among our people, fewer though we were.
But the recent decline is temporary. We've seen it before. Some peace Democrats are coming back after realizing Obama wasn't the progressive peace president they hoped for, and more will follow. Others have come to the same conclusion, but cannot bring themselves to take a public stand against even one aspect of Obama's program. Some others will never come because they assume that Republican wars are bad, while Democratic wars are good. Orwell would have been amused.
In terms of local demonstrations in place of a Washington rally, there will be a number of such protests March 20 timed to coincide with the march and rally in the nation's capital — in Los Angeles and San Francisco in particular, as well as smaller protests in other cities on that day. But the big one is in DC.
The Albany movement and our efforts in the Mid-Hudson region are concentrating on bringing people to Washington March 20. Both regions have organized local peace demonstrations in the last few months that were not very well attended because so many peace Democrats seem to have dropped out. In our protest in Kingston Oct. 17, where thousands turned out a few years earlier, only a small crowd of committed activists showed up. The West Point action in early December with 300 people was the exception because Obama was delivering his Afghan war-expansion speech at the Military Academy.
Antiwar activism in Washington, DC, is of enormous importance because our center of government is also is the center of world military power and violence. That's where the principal warmakers are located — in the White House, Congress, the Pentagon and in the well-appointed office suites of the military-industrial complex.
True, as one of our questioners noted, weekend protests in Washington do not draw huge local street crowds. But they do attract far more peace demonstrators, locally and from out of town, than weekday protests when most peace people are at work or school.
True also, as another reader said, our Hudson Valley local papers and some national newspapers and most TV networks usually distort or underplay Washington antiwar protest activities because the media support the wars. But the news of big demonstrations in the nation's capital definitely gets out through the wire services, many newspapers, the progressive press and the Internet. And major DC protests appear in the international press with regularity, where they are a source of inspiration to the majorities in many foreign countries who oppose America's unjust wars.
I think two points about Washington protests stand out.
One is that the impact upon the participants in large Washington peace actions is usually very beneficial in terms of their enthusiasm and commitment to action, and in firing them up to be more active when they get back home.
This is rarely considered, except by organizers. Marching by the tens of thousands to the White House or the Pentagon gives activists a sense of the power of the movement and their own place in it — even if they have had to travel many hours to and from the seat of government and are wiped out when they finally hit the sack. There is also a positive and energetic impact upon the movements in cities and towns throughout the country after a big protest in Washington.
Second, contrary to their feigned indifference to our movement, the warmakers watch the mass protests in Washington very carefully. They understand big protests in the nation's capital are a reflection of the size and determination of our national movement and the people.
During the Vietnam war President Nixon was obsessed with the peace movement. When the demonstrations in the capital city are very large, the warmakers worry. Nixon sure did, as did Johnson before him. The protests were a factor in Johnson's decision not to seek a second term, and in Nixon's decision to bring the troops home. When the antiwar movement is small, government leaders understand our movement is politically irrelevant and that they don't have to worry about the public consequences of their misdeeds.
Obama, for instance, was well aware in December that a substantial majority of his own political party opposed any enlargement of the Afghan war, but he announced a major expansion of combat anyway, and paid no political price for so doing. Why? Because he was aware that if he brushed aside the fervent convictions of his own peace supporters they would not publicly oppose him even on one issue — such is his power over the rank and file. The White House understood that without the peace Democrats the movement is too weak to mount sustained major antiwar demonstrations.
Had Obama and his advisers been under the impression the peace Democrats would take to the streets en masse along with the other sectors of the movement, and raise prolonged hell, events probably would have taken a different turn.
President Bush was worried by the large protests that took place in Washington in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq — including ANSWER's 100,000-strong protest in October 2002, and the 500,000 it brought to DC in January 2003, among other actions. But he struck in March of that year because he was assured by Congressional Democrats in the House and Senate that they would join with the Republicans to support Bush if he invaded, as they unhesitatingly did. Had House and Senate Democratic politicians remained strongly opposed, even though their party was in the minority, the enormous nationwide antiwar movement from October until the March invasion may well have stayed Bush's hand, at least long enough for the UN/U.S. inspection teams to determine that no weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq.
Unfortunately, the mass antiwar protests dissipated after the war began, as some peace people supported the conflict out of a misplaced sense of patriotism; while others became demoralized and withered away. But there were a number of mass protests in Washington for several more vibrant antiwar years, organized by ANSWER and occasionally joined by United for Peace and Justice. Cooperation between the two big national groups ended in December 2005 when UFPJ effectively split the peace movement by refusing to cosponsor any more rallies with ANSWER.
ANSWER continued to organize mass protests in Washington, including a 100,000-strong rally and march followed by civil disobedience action near the Capitol in September 2007 co-sponsored by Veterans for Peace. By election year 2008 UFPJ was essentially working to elect Democrats and after Obama was elected it virtually ceased operating except as a website.
The big coalition sponsoring the March 20 action in Washington is trying to rebuild the antiwar movement after its setbacks during the last couple of years. The pacifists and political left have remained in place, and it is clear more Democrats are returning to the peace struggle than those who showed up at last year's annual Iraq anniversary march and rally in DC.
March 20 organizers will not venture a crowd estimate at this early stage. Judging from the Pentagon's just submitted record 2011 war budget and the Quadrennial Defense Review, Obama's wars will get wider and more intense this year. The main organizers undoubtedly hope this will bring larger crowds to the protest. A very large turnout will get the peace forces back on track and moving forward. A very small turnout will give the warmakers carte blanche to do as they please.
My answer to the question "what role does the political left play in the peace movement" is as follows: The left (and the pacifists as well, of course) played a significant role for over 100 years — from the struggle against the U.S. invasion and subjugation of the Philippines to just about every other antiwar event since then. Leftists were in the forefront of opposition to U.S. involvement in World War I and the Korean War. They were a decisive organizational influence throughout the Vietnam war and were the main force behind the principal national coalitions of the time. This remained true during the Gulf war, the Yugoslav war, and of course the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We need the left in the peace movement — and a lot of other places, too. They are great organizers and never give up.
On the question of the criticism of Israel at major peace actions: The U.S. peace movement was largely indifferent to the plight of the Palestinian people from 1948 until 2002, and seemed not to notice the continuing military occupation of Palestinian lands seized in the June 1967 war, or to take exception to Washington's political and financial support of Tel Aviv as the expense of the Palestinians.
The 2002 peace movement turnabout was the result of an interesting coincidence. ANSWER was preparing for months to preside over a major antiwar protest in Washington in April of that year. The focus was on opposition to Bush's six-month-old Afghan war and to the possible invasion of Iraq (which did take place 11 months later).
Unexpectedly, Israeli tanks once again began ravaging the Palestinian West Bank a couple of weeks before the rally. ANSWER leaders decided enough was enough. They seized the moment and changed the focus of the rally — putting opposition to this latest onslaught against the Palestinian people first, and the other issues second. After some extremely hectic organizing, ANSWER attracted over 30,000 Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims to the rally, joined by scores of thousands of peace movement people. From the rally there was a march to the capital and it was a mindblower.
By the time the march was over, peace movement indifference to the oppression of the Palestinian people was about to be over as well. I was dubious at first about putting the Palestine issue first, but since the end of that day I've thought it was an extremely wise decision. The event was upsetting to some Jewish marchers and accepted with open arms by others. Much of the trip home on the buses was spent discussing this incredible demonstration.
Some peace organizations held back at first, but in time virtually all of them including United for Peace and Justice came to understand that Israel and its U.S. benefactor were in the wrong and should be openly criticized for it at rallies. Tel Aviv's terror attack on Gaza a year ago sealed the deal for a lot of people.
To this day ANSWER is still attacked by some Jewish groups as anti-Semitic because it cleared the way for the peace movement to begin discussing the issue. In the summer of 2006 we, too, were criticized as anti-Semites and/or "self-hating" Jews for organizing a few local protests against Tel Aviv's attacks on Lebanon and Gaza. Almost every major national and regional antiwar demonstration these days will at least make a token gesture of opposition to the Gaza nightmare and to the U.S. government's support of Israel's intransigence.
I've covered most of the questions. Now to conclude:
Our voices are not yet loud enough to stop wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and to end the occupation of Iraq. But it is morally and politically required for those of us who are conscious of the pain our government is inflicting on others to make an extra effort. That extra effort, combined with hoped-for unity-in-action of all the forces opposed to these wars, is what is needed to rebuild the U.S. peace movement, and to bring the troops home.
We must continue to speak truth to power. We must make demands upon our errant government and political leaders, whoever runs Congress and the White House. We must tell them, if we have any sense of current history: Your wars are not defensive but aggressive. As such we will oppose you, and shout it from the rooftops. We will never stop until you stop!
For peace, justice, equality and social progress.
7. I FEEL LIKE I'M FIXIN' TO DIE RAG
By Country Joe and the Fish
Well, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
He's got himself in a terrible jam
Way down yonder in Vietnam
So put down your books and pick up a gun,
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.
(chorus) And it's one, two, three,
What are we fighting for ?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam;
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.
Come on Wall Street, don't be slow,
Why man, this is war au-go-go
There's plenty good money to be made
By supplying the Army with the tools of its trade,
But just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,
They drop it on the Viet Cong.
Well, come on generals, let's move fast;
Your big chance has come at last.
Now you can go out and get those reds
'Cause the only good commie is the one that's dead
And you know that peace can only be won
When we've blown 'em all to kingdom come.
Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, and don't hesitate
To send your sons off before it's too late.
And you can be the first ones in your block
To have your boy come home in a box.
And it's one, two, three
What are we fighting for ?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,
Next stop is Vietnam.
And it's five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
Well there ain't no time to wonder why,
Whoopee! we're all gonna die.
8. KANGAROO GEORGE
[The following article, which is critical of the Obama Administration's approach to the Palestinian-Israel conflict, was written by Uri Avnery, who at 86 is the best known leader of the Israeli peace movement. This article appeared Jan. 30 on the website of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) which he helped found in 1993, and where many of his articles are archived. He has long sought justice for the Palestinian people within the context of a genuine two-state agreement.]
By Uri Avnery
George Mitchell looks like a kangaroo hopping around with an empty pouch.
He hops here and he hops there. Hops to Jerusalem and hops to Ramallah, Damascus, Beirut, Amman (but, God forbid, not to Gaza, because somebody may not like it). Hops, hops, but doesn't take anything out of his pouch, because the pouch is empty.
So why does he do it? After all, he could stay at home, raise roses or play with his grandchildren.
This compulsive traveling reveals a grain of chutzpah. If he has nothing to offer, why waste the time of politicians and media people? Why burn airplane fuel and damage the environment?
The declared aim of Mitchell is to "get the peace process going again." How? "Get the two sides to return to the negotiating table."
There is a naïve American belief that all the problems of the world could be solved if only the parties would sit down at the table and talk. When reasonable people talk to each other, they will eventually arrive at a solution.
The trouble with this is that the people responsible for the fate of nations are not, in general, reasonable people. They are politicians with passions and prejudices and constituencies, who are driven by the mood of the masses. When one is dealing with a 130-year old conflict, the naïve belief in the value of talk borders on folly.
Decades of experience indicate that negotiations are useless if one of the parties is not interested in an agreement. Worse: negotiations can actually cause damage when one of the parties uses them to waste time while creating a false impression of progress towards peace.
In our conflict, peace negotiations have become a substitute for peace, a means to obstruct peace. They are an instrument used by successive Israeli governments to gain time - time to enlarge the settlements and entrench the occupation.
(In an interview with Haaretz published Jan. 29, Ehud Barak accused the "left" in general, and Gush Shalom and Peace Now in particular, of not supporting Netanyahu's call for negotiations. He got close to accusing us of treason.)
Anyone who now proposes negotiations "without prior conditions" is collaborating with the Netanyahu-Barak-Lieberman government in a ploy to sabotage the chances of peace. Indeed, Mitchell has become - perhaps unwittingly - such a collaborator. When he exerts pressure on Mahmoud Abbas "to come back to the negotiating table," he is playing the game of Netanyahu, who presents himself as the great peace-lover. Abbas is being pictured as a man who has "climbed a high tree and doesn't know how to get down again." There is no occupation, no ongoing settlement activity, no Judaization of East Jerusalem. The only problem is to get a ladder. A ladder for Abbas!
All this for what? What is the kangaroo hopping for? It's all to help Obama, who is thirsting for a political achievement like a man in the desert thirsting for water. The start of negotiations, however meaningless, would be presented as a great diplomatic success.
The other day, Obama himself made a rare gesture: the President of the United States of America declared publicly that he had made a mistake and apologized for it. He admitted that he had not properly understood the difficulties involved in the restarting of the peace process.
Everybody praised the President. Such a courageous leader! Such nobility! To which I would add: And such chutzpah!
Here comes the most powerful leader in the world and says: I was wrong. I did not understand. I have failed. For a whole year I have not achieved any progress at all towards a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Look how honest I am! Look how ready I am to admit mistakes!
That is chutzpah. That is chutzpah, because a whole year was lost due to this "mistake," a whole year in which 1.5 million human beings in Gaza, men, women and children, have been suffering utter destitution, many of them without sufficient food, many of them without shelter in the cold and in rain. A whole year in which more than a hundred Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were demolished while new Jewish housing projects sprang up at a crazy pace. A whole year in which settlements in the West Bank were enlarged, apartheid roads were built and pogroms, under the "price tag" slogan, were carried out.
So, with all due respect, Mr. President, the word "mistake" hardly suffices.
The Bible says: "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). Obama covereth not his "mistake," and that is good. But it is the second half of the verse that counts: "confesseth and forsaketh." No mercy for one who "confesseth" but not "forsaketh." You have not hinted with a single word that you are about to forsake your old ways.
It is chutzpah for another reason, too: You say that you have failed because you did not properly appreciate the domestic problems of the two leaders, Netanyahu and Abbas. Netanyahu, you say, has an extreme right-wing coalition, and Abbas has Hamas.
Sorry, sorry, but what about your own "coalition," which does not allow you to move an inch in the right direction? What about the two houses of Congress, which are completely subservient to the pro-Israel lobbies, both the Jewish and the Christian-Evangelical? What about your fear of your extreme right, which is supporting our own extreme right? What about your inability — or unwillingness — to exercise your leadership, invest political capital in a confrontation with the lobbies and move forwards according to the real interests of the United States (and Israel), as did President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his time, and even, for a short period, Secretary of State James Baker?
The terrible blow dealt to Obama in the Massachusetts by-election has dumbfounded many people. It has changed the texture of American politics and is endangering the health system reforms, the jewel in the crown he has put on his head. It threatens to turn him into a lame duck that may not only lose the midterm elections this year, but even fail to be reelected less than three years from now.
Many ask: what happened to the shining candidate who enchanted the entire United States and mobilized millions of enthusiastic new voters? Where is the man with a vision who aroused the masses with the battle-cry "Yes, We Can"?
How did the inspiring campaigner turn into a so-so president, one who does not excite anyone? How did the candidate, who always hit exactly the right note, turn into a president who is unable to touch the hearts of the people? How did the candidate, who made all the right decisions, turn into a president who cannot make decisions? How did the anti-Bush turn into another-Bush?
It seems to me that the answers lie in one of the fundamental paradoxes of the democratic system. I have thought about this many a time while sitting through boring speeches in the Knesset.
A democratic leader who has a vision and wants to realize it has to pass two tests: to win an election and to govern a country. If he does not get elected, he will not have a chance to realize his dream. If he fails in governing, his election victory loses its meaning.
The trouble is that these two tasks are very different. Indeed, they tend to contradict each other, because they demand very different talents.
The candidate must make speeches, excite the imagination, make promises and convince the voters that he is capable of fulfilling them. These talents can indeed be of help to the ruler - but they do not suffice to enable him to rule. The ruler must make hard decisions, withstand extreme pressures, manage a huge apparatus with many contradictory components, convince the public of his country and the leaders of foreign countries. He cannot satisfy all sectors of the public and all the interest groups, the way he tried to do as a candidate.
The most inspiring candidates often turn out to be disastrous heads of government. They are swept into power by the enthusiasm they evoke in their voters, and then suddenly find out that their brilliant speeches have no impact any more - not on the members of their parliament, not on the public, not on foreign leaders. Their brightest talent has become useless.
I have the impression that Obama's numerous speeches are starting to tire people and are losing their appeal. When he turns his face from left to right and from right to left, from one teleprompter to the other, he starts to look like a mechanical doll. The millions viewing his speeches on TV see him turning to the left and turning to the right, but never really looking them in the eyes.
The candidate is an actor on stage playing the role of a leader. After the elections, when he actually becomes a leader, he can become helpless. The man who plays Julius Caesar in Shakespeare's play can be a great actor - but if he were Caesar in real life, he would not have a clue what to do. (When I put this to an actor, his retort was: "But Caesar himself would not be able to play Caesar on the stage!")
Barack Obama is no Caesar. Rather he is Hamlet, Prince of America. Enchanting, attractive, full of good intentions - but feeble and hesitant. To rule or not to rule, that is the question.
IT IS much too early to announce Obama's political death. Contrary to Mark Antony, who declares in the play "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him," I am not yet ready to bury the great hope raised by him.
A year has passed since he entered the White House. A year wasted to a large extent. Three more years are left until the next elections. True, in the first year, after such a dramatic victory, it would have been much easier for him to do things than in the following three years, but Obama can still recover, draw the necessary conclusions from the experience and manage a comeback.
One of the roads there leads through Jerusalem. Obama must keep his kangaroo tied up at home and take the initiative into his own hands. He must announce a clear peace program, the one about which there is now a world-wide consensus (Two states for two peoples, a Palestinian state in all the occupied territories with its capital in East Jerusalem and the dismantling of the settlements in Palestinian territory) and call upon the two sides to adopt it in theory and practice - perhaps by a referendum on both sides. When the time is ripe, he may come to Jerusalem and address the Israeli people from the Knesset rostrum with a clear and unequivocal message.
In short: exit Hamlet, enter Julius Caesar.
To learn more about the author, link to http://www.avnery-news.co.il/english/uri.html.
The Gush Shalom web address is http://zope.gush-shalom.org/index_en.html
9. OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS IN LIVESTOCK
By Martha Rosenberg
The 2000s were go-go years for antibiotic resistance. Thanks to the overprescription of antibiotics in medical settings and the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in concentrated animal feeding operations (or CAFOs), we've aided the emergence of "superbugs" -- or drug resistant microorganisms. Antibiotic resistance (AR) has led to the deaths of 70,000 Americans a year.
You'd think this would elicit some immediate action to prevent this public health nightmare from growing. But in 2007 when the (now) late Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced legislation to discourage the overuse of the antibiotics responsible for AR, it gained no traction. The reason? Kennedy stepped directly on the toes of two of the country's most powerful lobbying interests -- Big Ag and Big Pharma.
Agribusiness, it seems, cannot keep up its unsustainable feedlot system of raising thousands of animals in confinement, with poor sanitation and unhealthy diets, if it the animals aren't being pumped full of copious amounts of antibiotics.
"It seems scarcely believable that these precious medications could be fed by the ton to chickens and pigs," said the bill's background text. "These precious drugs aren't even used to treat sick animals. They are used to fatten pigs and speed the growth of chickens. The result of this rampant overuse is clear: meat contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria sits on supermarket shelves all over America."
Worse, when the FDA issued a directive in 2008 to ban non-therapeutic use of cephalosporin antibiotics in livestock (drugs also used in humans) to curtail resistance, irate lobbyists stormed Capitol Hill and the Bush administration backed down.
Now, with a new administration and Congress, Kennedy's bill has a House version, support from 300 organizations including the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Preventive Medicine—and a good chance of passage.
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) sponsored in the House by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-NY (who has degrees in both microbiology and public health) would phase out non-therapeutic use of "medically important antibiotics" in livestock and strengthen standards for approval of new livestock antibiotics while still allowing their use in sick animals. Eighty-four percent of grower-finisher swine farms, 83 percent of cattle feedlots and 84 percent of sheep farms currently use antibiotics non-therapeutically, according to the bill. Seventy percent of antibiotics are fed to livestock, not humans, in the U.S.
Nor is use in livestock the only resistance culprit. Antibiotics are also abused by hospitals, clinics and doctors to prevent infection and to "treat" viruses when patients, especially parents of young children, want the psychological reassurance of a pill. Even antibiotic hand sanitizers and laundry detergents contribute to resistance, as do natural antibiotic treatments like tea tree oil. In fact AR might be the ultimate biological demonstration of the principle, "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Europe banned human-use antibiotics in livestock in 1998 and all non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock in 2006, making it a test kitchen for AR reduction, particularly in Denmark, the world's largest pork exporter. In Denmark, antibiotic use is down 51 percent and bacteria and AR bacteria are also down, says the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, with no increase in the cost of meat. Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands have also reported AR reductions as has Australia.
Reductions of antibiotic use are also underway in European hospitals. In Norway, testing and isolating patients with MRSA (methicillin resistant S. aureus, considered the granddaddy of resistant microbes) and prescribing fewer antibiotics has brought down the AR rate, according to an in-depth AP report in January.
On the surface, a bill addressing AR that could return us to pre-antibiotic medicine circa 1908 looks like a no-brainer. That's why the Animal Health Institute (AHI) and newly merged Pfizer/Wyeth (Fort Dodge) and Merck/Schering-Plough (Intervet) animal drug giants are lobbying hard against it. In fact, Rep. Slaughter's PAMTA may be the only bill that pits veterinarians against doctors.
Of course, Big Ag is fighting back. Agribusiness insists that antibiotics aren't causing AR and even if they are, we're not using human drugs, and even if we are using human drugs, we're cutting down on them. and even if we're not cutting down on them, the drugs are FDA-approved and undergo vigorous risk assessment. This parody of defenses includes everything but denying the use of antibiotics in the first place.
Actually, Big Ag's use of antibiotics increased 13 percent from 2006 to 2007 according to the AHI, to offset "high grain prices" and "capture both the economic efficiencies and the health benefits derived from the use of these products," the agribusiness weekly Feedstuffs reported in November 2008. Those "efficiencies" included feeding 10 million pounds of tetracycline—a broad-spectrum human antibiotic used for pneumonia, eye, ear and urinary tract infections, and gonorrhea—to livestock in one year.
In addition to worrying about Rep. Slaughter, agribusiness worries about the public health bent FDA is taking under its new directors, Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, a former New York City health commissioner and Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, MD, the number two officer and a former food safety staffer for Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA. Especially since Sharfstein announced FDA's support of PAMTA at a House Rules Committee on the legislation in June, without even briefing agribusiness.
"You deliberately tried to blindside some of us on this committee, and we don't appreciate that," said Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-IOWA, to the FDA's new senior adviser on food safety, Michael Taylor after determining that Sharfstein's remarks had White House Office of Management and Budget seal of approval. Boswell, who was chairman of the House agriculture subcommittee on livestock last year, was the only pro-antibiotic voice at the PAMTA rules hearings.
Antibiotics are popular with CAFOs and lucrative for agribusiness for two simple reasons: less space and less feed.
Raising turkeys without antibiotics "would result in a decrease in density or an increase in the amount of land needed to raise the additional turkeys needed to meet the consumer demand," said National Turkey Federation's Michael Rybolt at the 2008 cephalosporin hearings, admitting antibiotics enable crowding. It would create greater feed needs, "an increase in manure" and tie up more land for crop production, said Rybolt.
While antibiotics do squeeze more nutrients out of feed by killing gut bacteria and causing "growth" say scientists, a Johns Hopkins University study in Public Health Reports in 2007 found their cost canceled out profits for chicken farmers.
Evidence of AR infections—urinary tract, intestinal, upper and lower respiratory, ear, skin, and even TB and STDs—is not hard to find in hospitals and communities. In fact, MRSA was reported plentiful on Florida swimming beaches at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in 2009.
Antibiotic-resistant microbes are also found in ground water, soil, and in crops and workers near manure lagoons and industrial farms and are in many of the foods we eat. Consumer Reports found over 60 percent of microbes detected in chickens from 22 states were resistant and an FDA inspection found cephalosporin—the antibiotic it tried to ban in 2008—directly injected into eggs at a U.S. hatchery. Bon appetit!
But don't look for many new antibiotics in the pharmaceutical pipeline. There's less money in developing drugs taken for 10 days (unless you're an animal) than in heart, arthritis, diabetes and psychoactive meds taken for life. And recent antibiotic development disasters like Ketek (black-boxed for hepatotoxicity), Trovan (severely restricted for hepatotoxicity) and Zyvox (part of the biggest fraud settlement in U.S. history), don't raise hopes.
Of course there are other ways to attack bacteria. Scientists are looking at algeliferin, isolated from sponge, which can break down bacteria's biofilm barrier, and radiation, ultrasound, chlorine dioxide and ammonia are already in use. (The New York Times reported last month that ammonia gas treatment was shown to produce E. coli-laced "pink slime" in meats used for the school lunch program.)
But scientists are also looking at seraticin, an antibiotic from green bottle fly maggots and bacteriophages, intracellular parasites that multiply inside bacteria like viruses—century-old therapies used before antibiotics were even invented.
Few miss the irony that in using antibiotics when they aren't necessary, we lose the ability to use them when they are.
— Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist who frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. This article appeared in AlterNet Jan. 26.